Sunday, July 15, 2007

Shock! Cars are "greener" than trains

Amusing that British trains weigh twice as much as Japanese trains! What a lot of oiks the Brits have become under the influence of socialism and its related pathologies!

It can be greener to drive than catch the train, according to a rail industry study which reveals that trains are losing their environmental advantage. Modern diesel-powered trains are so polluting that a family of three or more would be responsible for at least double the carbon dioxide emissions on many routes when travelling by rail compared with driving in a typical medium-sized car. The study concludes that the Virgin Voyager, the most advanced diesel train on the network, has the highest emissions of any British train and that its performance compared with cars is steadily worsening as motor manufacturers improve efficiency.

The study, commissioned by the Rail Safety and Standards Board, urges the Government to electrify key sections of the rail network to allow greener electric trains to replace diesel ones. On several long-distance routes, such as London to Hull, diesel trains run long distances under electric wires because short stretches of track have not been electrified.

Only 40 per of Britain's rail network is electrified, the lowest proportion of any large European country. The best-performing electric trains are operated by GNER between London and Edinburgh and emit only 40g of CO2 per passenger-kilometre (g/pkm) compared with 112g/pkm for Voyagers. By 2022, more efficient power generation will have reduced the emissions of the GNER trains to 28g/pkm. But the emissions of the Voyagers, which are only five years old and are due to remain in service until after 2030, will be unchanged. On present trends, emissions from the average car will have been reduced from 131g/pkm to 98g/pkm by 2022. The numbers are based on the existing average passenger loads on cars and trains. Cars carry an average of 1.6 people and, across the whole day, a third of train seats are occupied.

The study says: "As the efficiency of cars progressively increases, the difference in emissions between cars and high-performance trains will narrow and it will be increasingly difficult to make an environmental case for transferring people on to diesel-powered railways." Its author, Roger Kemp, Professor of Engineering at Lancaster University, said that the Government should focus on attracting business travellers, rather than families, to rail. "It's not politically correct to say so, but the Government is better off encouraging families into low-emission cars and getting business people, who tend to travel alone in large cars, to catch the train."

Professor Kemp said that he was sceptical about the experimental running of trains on biodiesel, made from plants. "I'm very doubtful of the claims made for biofuels because the overall CO2 can be even greater once you take into account what is emitted in production." He said that modern trains tended to be less efficient than older ones because they were much heavier. Safety regulations have added to the weight by requiring more robust bodies and crumple zones. New trains also carry more equipment, such as air-conditioning and motors for sliding doors, and have space-consuming lavatories for disabled passengers. Britain's long-distance trains typically weigh more than a tonne per seat. By contrast, Japan's bullet trains weigh only 500kg per seat as they are made using lighter, more advanced materials.

The Government is expected to address the environmental challenge facing the railways in a 30-year strategy being published this month. Ministers have already admitted that some trains on rural lines, such as the diesel Sprinter, are less efficient than 4x4s because they are often almost empty. Douglas Alexander, when he was Transport Secretary, said last year: "If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter, it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive." An official at the Department for Transport said that the strategy would not set specific targets on electrifying more of the network because of uncertainty over how much electricity would be generated in future from low-emission sources. Some companies which operate electric trains, such as Virgin West Coast and C2C, carry systems that allow them to capture and reuse the energy usually lost during braking.


Dumb gets yet dumber in Britain

Britain's Leftist government will not be happy until British education is totally destroyed -- in aid of making everyone "equal" of course

Pupils taking GCSE [Middle school] exams will be asked multiple choice questions for the first time and be allowed to take unlimited resits. It has also emerged that, under a planned overhaul of the system, up to half of GCSE English marks would be awarded for basic skills such as punctuation. The planned reform of the exam system has fuelled accusations that testing standards are being lowered. Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English education at King's College London, told the Times Educational Supplement: "If you make 50 per cent of the GCSE about doing the basics, you are dumbing down. "The subject is about so much more than being able to communicate accurately. And if you're still doing basic skills at GCSE level, Heaven help you. It's pretty boring."

Ministers said last night that the overhaul was an attempt to ensure all school-leavers gain basic numeracy and literacy skills. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, denied reducing GCSE English to "primary school level" and insisted that the changes would ensure that pupils who passed were ready for the workplace. He added that students would still be required to have "deep and broad subject knowledge".

Under the revamped exam system, maths and information and communication technology students would potentially be awarded up to 50 per cent of the total marks for under standing the basics, known as "functional skills". One suggested question for an English test reportedly asks pupils which word is spelt incorrectly in the sentence: "Be careful, the kettel is hot."

Michael Gove, the Shadow Children's Minister, said: "The idea that 16-year-olds should be tested on how to spell "kettle" and the principle that this exam should be based on tick-box multiple choice tests undermine any claim to higher standards. "Ministers need to get a grip if these exams are to be genuinely testing." The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that no decision had been made on the 50 per cent figure, and emphasised that the reforms were subject to pilot tests.


"Honor killings" in Britain no longer to be played down because of political correctness

A RACIAL equality group has branded as 'obvious' calls to by-pass political correctness in investigating so-called 'honour killings'. The comments come in response to those made by MP for Bromley and Chislehurst Bob Neill last Wednesday.

So-called honour killings are when a member of a racial group kills a family member to preserve their 'honour' if they fall in love with someone from a different racial group. Mr Neill quizzed the outgoing Attorney General Lord Goldsmith over whether he thought that honour killings should be a top priority for police. The senior lawyer said that he was concerned that police were not "robust" enough in tackling the crime.

It is believed that police are re-examining around 2,000 deaths and murders between 1996 and 2006 on the basis that they may have been honour killings. Speaking afterwards Mr Neill said: "All homicide, whatever the motive, should have the same priority. The very idea that there is anything honourable about these crimes is based on a flawed ideology that has no place in our society."

Director of Bromley's Racial Equality Council, Ali Jafarey, said: "That's obvious. It's just common sense. Who would agree with such behaviour? The Tories are becoming a bit obsessed with political correctness."

Borough Commander of Bromley police, Charles Griggs, said: "The tragic killing of Banaz Mahmod has demonstrated the need for a robust approach in the way we investigate violence within the home. However, murder is murder wherever it occurs and I can promise you that our approach, whilst respecting people's beliefs and cultures, will be firm, thorough and fair."

Mr Neill added: "Lives may have been lost as a result of political correctness and I really hope that the police take a lead from Lord Goldsmith and that the new national strategy begins to redress the current problems. "I also welcome Lord Goldsmith's admission that such "honour killings" are particularly bad as young women must be able to rely on family support. That is a fundamental belief in any just society."


Laser improves corneal transplants

Patients who need sight-saving eye surgery could get their vision back more quickly and avoid infection with a revolutionary laser-surgery technique, surgeons say. Corneal graft surgery, one of the earliest forms of transplant operation, has been performed for more than 100 years without any fundamental changes to the methods used. But although the operation itself is fairly straightforward, recovery often takes a long time.

By using the latest technology designed for laser eye surgery, surgeons can now achieve a better fit for grafts, putting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle and helping to accelerate the healing process. Patients can recover perfect vision with or without their spectacles or contact lenses after about six months, roughly halving the recovery time.

The surgery involves the removal of the central part of the cornea, the clear front window of the eye, and its replacement with a corneal graft - about only 0.5mm thick - from a donor. Traditionally surgeons have done this under the microscope using a "cookie-cutter" knife, with the circular graft being secured to the eye with tiny stitches. But the latest femtosecond lasers can cut the cornea into a precise tongue-and-groove pattern to achieve a better fit with the graft, meaning that surgeons need to use fewer sutures and can remove them more quickly after the operation.

Each pulse of light from the lasers is extremely short, lasting only 50 to 1,000 femtoseconds (or quadrillionths of a second). These ultra-short pulses are too brief to transfer heat or shock to the material being cut, which means that extremely fine cuts can be made with no damage to surrounding tissue.

Previously, patients have had to attend regular check-ups for at least a year to ensure that the stitches did not slip out of place and allow bacteria to infect the eye. Sheraz Daya, an eye surgeon who has pioneered the use of the technique in Britain at the Centre for Sight clinic in East Grinstead, West Sussex, said that patients also recovered their sight more quickly than usual after the operation. Of six NHS and private patients whom Mr Daya has operated on using the technique, most recovered perfect vision after six months, he said, including two who now no longer need to wear spectacles.

He suggests that the lasers could be used in about half of the 2,500 corneal transplant operations carried out in Britain each year. "Rather than trying to attach the flat surface of the eye to a flat surface, with the femtosecond laser we can precisely cut the graft to fit on the eye, forming a stronger bond," Mr Daya told The Times. "This means fewer stitches are required, and they can be taken out after just a few months. Patients can cut down on the time off work and also recover their vision quicker, as it is usually fuzzy or misty in the affected eye until the cornea settles down. Most get an acceptable degree of vision back within three months, which becomes perfect by about six months." Dr Daya added that the new technique also reduced the chances of fragile cornea grafts being torn during the cutting process.

Larry Benjamin, honorary secretary of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and an eye surgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Buckinghamshire, said that the new technique could also avoid astigmatism, where the transplanted cornea becomes misshapen, producing blurred images, and may require further surgery.


"Fat tax" proposal shows a severe case of imaginitis

Once you make unproven assuptions, all sorts of crazy conclusions are possible. More crazy epidemiology

A "fat tax" on salty, sugary and fatty foods could save thousands of lives each year, according to a study published on Thursday. Researchers at Oxford University say that charging Value Added Tax (VAT) at 17.5 percent on foods deemed to be unhealthy would cut consumer demand and reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes. The purchase tax is already levied on a small number of products such as potato crisps, ice cream, confectionery and chocolate biscuits, but most food is exempt.

The move could save an estimated 3,200 lives in Britain each year, according to the study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. "A well-designed and carefully-targeted fat tax could be a useful tool for reducing the burden of food-related disease," the study concluded. The team from Oxford's Department of Public Health said higher taxes have already been imposed on cigarettes and alcohol to encourage healthy living. They used a mathematical formula to estimate the effect of higher prices on the demand for foods such as pastries, cakes, cheese and butter.

However, they said their research only gave a rough guide to the number of lives that could be saved and said more work was needed to get an exact picture of how taxes could improve public health. Any "fat tax" might be seen as an attack on personal freedom and would weigh more heavily on poorer families, the study warned. A food tax would raise average weekly household bills by 4.6 percent or 67 pence per person.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has previously rejected the idea as an example of the "nanny state" that might push people away from healthy food.

The Food and Drink Federation has called the proposed tax patronizing and says it would hit low-income families hardest. It suggests that people eat a balanced diet. The British Heart Foundation said it does not support the tax. "We believe the government should focus on ensuring healthy foods are financially and geographically accessible to everyone," it said.


NHS aged-care "lottery"

An "unjustifiable postcode lottery" means that some elderly people are 160 times more likely than others to get long-term care paid for by their local authority, according to a report.

Age Concern found that Derby City Primary Care Trust paid for seven people to be looked after last year, or 0.26 people per 10,000, while Harrow PCT funded the care for 826 people, or 41.75 people per 10,000. Age Concern said that this was despite Harrow having a younger population. "Individuals face a postcode lottery in getting NHS continuing care. There can be no justification for such huge variations," Gordon Lishman, director general of the charity, said.

From October 1, a national framework will exist for PCT staff to determine who receives continuing care, in which the NHS fully funds care outside hospital. The new criteria should increase the numbers of people receiving continuing care by about 7,000, at a cost of œ220 million.


Controversial BBC chief knew that footage of Her Majesty was misleading: "Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC One, was facing a battle to save his job yesterday after the corporation's Director-General described the edited footage of the Queen shown to the media as "incorrect and misleading". Mark Thompson said that he planned to introduce a series of measures to tighten standards after the error, which Mr Fincham was forced to admit having known about on Wednesday evening, although he did not apologise until Thursday. Mr Fincham's fate will most likely be decided by a meeting on Wednesday of the corporation's regulator, the BBC Trust, for which Mr Thompson has been asked to provide a full report as to how pictures of the Queen walking into a photo shoot came to be presented as footage of her storming out."

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