Friday, September 07, 2007


I wondered when the fruitcakes would get around to this. It took a British fruitcake

Israel is an apartheid state," was the most often-heard charge, closely followed by calls for a boycott. The West should cut its economic ties with the Jewish state, the speakers urged, and engage the "democratically elected" Islamists now running Gaza.

No, this was not a Hamas rally somewhere in the Palestinian territories. This was Brussels, where the European Parliament last week played host to the "United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace." If the conference title's inversion of the truth is reminiscent of Communist-style propaganda, this is no coincidence. The meeting was organized by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, a Soviet-era body founded around the time of the 1975 U.N. "Zionism is racism" resolution.

That anti-Semitic resolution was revoked in 1991 but the committee continued its activities in the resolution's original spirit. Speaker after speaker at the European Parliament on Thursday and Friday presented the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an exclusively Palestinian perspective. Israel was accused of human rights violations while Palestinian terrorism and incitement went unmentioned.

The delegates invoked the Israeli occupation as the underlying cause for the conflict without mentioning the Palestinian rejectionism and violence that prevent further Israeli withdrawals. The "right of return" of millions of Palestinians, which would lead to the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, was upheld despite the official claim to favor a two-state solution.

Amid this standard-Israel-bashing, a few delegates managed to come up with a few innovative charges against the Jewish state. There was Clare Short, a member of the British Parliament and Secretary for International Development under Prime Minister Tony Blair until she resigned in 2003 over the Iraq war. Claiming that Israel is actually "much worse than the original apartheid state" and accusing it of "killing (Palestinian) political leaders," Ms. Short charged the Jewish state with the ultimate crime: Israel "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming."

According to Ms. Short, the Middle East conflict distracts the world from the real problem: man-made climate change. If extreme weather will lead to the "end of the human race," as Ms. Short warned it could, add this to the list of the crimes of Israel.


BBC bows to demands for objectivity

The BBC has scrapped plans for "Planet Relief", a TV special on climate change

The decision comes after executives said it was not the BBC's job to lead opinion on climate change. Celebrities such as Ricky Gervais were said to be interested in presenting the show, which would have involved viewers in a mass "switch-off" to save energy. The BBC says it cut the special because audiences prefer factual output on climate change.

Environmentalists slammed the decision as "cowardice". "This decision shows a real poverty of understanding among senior BBC executives about the gravity of the situation we face," said activist and writer Mark Lynas.


Britain launches global healthcare plan for poor countries

Talk about the blind leading the blind!

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched an international initiative, which aims to improve healthcare and sweep away killer diseases in some of the world's poorest countries. The International Health Partnership (IHP) is bidding to help developing countries make better use of foreign aid by cutting bureaucracy and building stronger national healthcare systems. "We could be the generation that is able to say that we conquered these diseases and that, I think, places a moral duty on us to work together," Mr Brown told a press conference at his Downing Street office. "There is no greater cause than that every child in the world should be given the benefit of healthcare - that a life free from the scourge of preventable disease, a gift that was perhaps unimaginable even 10 years ago, is a gift that today can be achieved and would enrich us all."

Mr Brown said that his ultimate goal was to wipe out diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio, tuberculosis and measles. The IHP brings together bodies including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the governments of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. It is being launched to give new impetus to efforts to meet United Nations Millennium Development Goals on issues like child mortality and the number of mothers dying in childhood.

In July, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the international community was "seriously off-track" on some of the goals, which were set in 2000 and are due to be met in 2015. The first wave of developing countries which will hook up with the IHP includes Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, Cambodia and Nepal. But Mr Brown said he expected other nations, both donors and developing countries, will get involved as the IHP evolves.

Officials say that over the next couple of years, the first seven countries will identify particular problems in their national health care systems before working with international partners to address them. The developing countries have committed to prioritising healthcare issues, while the donor countries have pledged to work together more - freeing up resources to fight diseases by slashing red tape - as well as providing more long-term and predictable funding.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenburg, who worked with Mr Brown on the plan, illustrated the need for more coordination between donor countries. "There are so many different countries, so many different donors, so many different UN agencies, so many different NGOs working in the same countries with the same issues but without any coordination," he said. "So it is a big problem that in many developing countries, they have to do a lot of bureaucratic work."

The project does not involve new funding, but the British Government disputes claims that this could limit its impact, saying that global aid for health has doubled since 2000. "This is about making what we do more effective, adding up to greater than the sum of its parts... It's about getting a bigger bang for your buck," a senior British Government source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Oxfam director Barbara Stocking welcomed the launch of the IHP, but said it needed extra cash to achieve its goals. "This initiative will only succeed if enough countries get behind it and if it mobilises additional aid to provide coordinated and expanded state health provision," she said. Major economies including the United States and Japan have not signed up for the IHP.


Negligent cancer screening in the NHS

A patient who found out that she had breast cancer after she was allegedly given the all-clear by a consultant told a medical disciplinary hearing that she did not want other women to suffer the same fate. Jane Andrews, from Winchester, was giving evidence at a General Medical Council hearing in Manchester yesterday into allegations that Lan Keng Lun failed to carry out breast screening assessments to the required standards at the Epping NHS Breast Screening Service at St Margaret’s Hospital.

It is alleged that eight other patients were affected by below-standard screenings at the service run by The Princess Alexandra NHS Trust. Dr Lan had been the consultant radiologist at the service since April 1998 and director of breast screening since March 2003. The hearing was told that Ms Andrews was recalled to the service after a mammogram on March 10, 2003, revealed issues, such as an abnormal lymph node, that needed further assessment. She was seen by Dr Lan on March 26, when he examined her breasts clinically and by ultrasound scan, but is alleged to have failed to take an ultrasound image of the abnormal lymph node. Ms Andrews told the hearing that Dr Lan said she had three cysts that had all yielded aspirate. However, in a letter to Ms Andrews’s GP, Dr Lan said that only two of three cysts yielded aspirate and there was a definite lump felt in the outer part of the left breast, which he claims he told her to keep an eye on.

Ms Andrews, who is in her late 50s, said Dr Lan suggested that she return after three years but advised her to continue to check her breasts in that time. She said: “As far as I was concerned the clinical outcome was satisfactory for both of us, I didn’t have any doubts I had healthy breasts.” But months later Ms Andrews felt an ache under her arm when moving furniture and discovered the lump a short time afterwards, which was diagnosed as cancer. She claims that an earlier diagnosis could have increased her chances of survival.



The food additive warriors have obviously got desperate but their last fling has won them the publicity battle by fraud. The extraordinary study below (Summary from The Times plus journal abstract) tells us NOTHING about actual food. Prior studies have not given the adverse effects hypothesized so this time they just gave kids cocktails of chemicals in fruit juice. And some kids were slightly affected by some of the cocktails.

But the procedure is scientifically amazing. Components of any complex process must be examined in situ if we are to draw any bottom-line conclusions -- witness the poor transferability of in vitro to in vivo results. It is entirely possible for a chemical to be deleterious in one situation or combination and not in another. And it is known that the interaction of chemicals in food is very complex. So this research tells us nothing about what effects the chemicals would have in their normal applications.

Furthermore, the practice of giving a cocktail of chemicals also renders the whole exercise a virtual nullity. For all we know, the adverse effects could all have been caused by just one chemical in the mix! Normal scientific procedure is one of control. We try to vary NOTHING BUT the one variable under examination. That is the only way we can be sure that any given variable has some effect. So this study tells us nothing about any of the variables concerned.

It is of course possible that the various chemicals have to interact to produce a deleterious effect but that just underlines how negligent it was not to test their effect in situ. If interactions are important, it is important to show that the interactions being examined are real-life ones.

Sadly, however, despite its scientific nullity, the study would seem to have given the food fanatics the ammunition to get banned many useful additives that make food safer and more attractive. That they published such irresponsible rubbish is however another blot on the escutcheon of Lancet and shows again what a political propaganda outfit they have become. The irrational Greenie nature-worshippers have been facilitated in another one of their Quixotic crusades.

Britain's food watchdog is warning all parents today of a clear link between additives and hyperactive behaviour in children. Research for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and published in The Lancet has established the "deleterious effects" of taking a mixture of artifical extras that are added to drinks, sweets and processed foods. It has led the FSA to issue the advice to parents who believe their children to be hyperactive that they should cut out foods containing the E numbers analysed in the study.

Scientists from the University of Southampton, who carried out research on three-year-old and eight-year-old children, believe that their findings could have a "substantial" impact on the regulation of food additives in Britain. But the FSA has been accused of missing an opportunity to protect children and all consumers by failing to impose a deadline on manufacturers to remove additives such as Sunshine Yellow and Tartrazine from their products.

In the biggest study of its kind the researchers recorded the responses of 153 three-year-olds and 144 eight to nine-year-olds to different drinks. None suffered from a hyperactivity disorder. The children drank a mix of additives that reflected the average daily additive intake of a British child. The mixture was not a product currently on sale.

After consuming the drinks - a cocktail of controversial E numbers and the preservative sodium benzoate - the children were found to become boisterous and lose concentration. They were unable to play with one toy or complete one task, and they engaged in unusually impulsive behaviour. The older group were unable to complete a 15-minute computer exercise. Results varied between different children but the study found that poor behaviour was observed in children who had no record of hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder.

The results are certain to cause concern and it is likely many parents will remove or cut down on food and drink products that might provoke such reactions in their children. The problem for many parents will be how to police children's eating; although most foods are labelled, some sweets are sold loose in shops and school canteens. Schools can now expect to be inundated with requests for the ingredients of food and drink on offer to their pupils to be made known.

Jim Stevenson, head of psychology at the University of Southampton, who led the research, said yesterday that he thought there could be swift action against artificial colourants but that it could take longer to phase out use of the preservative sodium benzoate. At a briefing to publicise the results, however, he said that the FSA's advice was the most sensible course of action at present. Hyperactive behaviour was also caused by genetic, developmental and emotional factors and a change of diet was not a panacea.

But Richard Watts, food campaigner for the pressure group Sustain, said that the advice would cause confusion. "The agency needs to toughen up the rules quickly. I don't know why they did not give food companies a deadline to remove the additives. I think as an urgent next step any food with these additives should be classed as junk food and banned from TV advertising to children." He was also concerned about soft drinks available in schools and wanted the School Foods Trust to review the use of sodium benzoate. Ian Tokelove, spokesman for the Food Commission, said: "Manufacturers should clean up their act and remove these additives, which are neither needed or wanted in our food".

The FSA defended its stance and said the matter had to be resolved by the European Commission. Dr Clare Baynton, of the FSA, made it clear that the additives were safe and approved for use in food, and that further assessment was required. She put the onus on parents to monitor their children's diet. "It is for a parent to know what foods their children are susceptible to and whether their children react to to specific types of food."

The study builds on tests conducted on the Isle of Wight in 2002 which were inconclusive about links between additives and hyperactivity. Julian Hunt, of the Food and Drink Federation said: "It is important to reassure consumers that the Southampton study does not suggest there is a safety issue with the use of these additives. In addition, the way in which the additives were tested as a mixture is not how they are used in everyday products.


Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial

By Donna McCann et al.

Background: We undertook a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover trial to test whether intake of artificial food colour and additives (AFCA) affected childhood behaviour.

Methods: 153 3-year-old and 144 8/9-year-old children were included in the study. The challenge drink contained sodium benzoate and one of two AFCA mixes (A or B) or a placebo mix. The main outcome measure was a global hyperactivity aggregate (GHA), based on aggregated z-scores of observed behaviours and ratings by teachers and parents, plus, for 8/9-year-old children, a computerised test of attention. This clinical trial is registered with Current Controlled Trials (registration number ISRCTN74481308). Analysis was per protocol.

Findings: 16 3-year-old children and 14 8/9-year-old children did not complete the study, for reasons unrelated to childhood behaviour. Mix A had a significantly adverse effect compared with placebo in GHA for all 3-year-old children (effect size 0ú20 [95% CI 0ú01-0ú39], p=0ú044) but not mix B versus placebo. This result persisted when analysis was restricted to 3-year-old children who consumed more than 85% of juice and had no missing data (0ú32 [0ú05-0ú60], p=0ú02). 8/9-year-old children showed a significantly adverse effect when given mix A (0ú12 [0ú02-0ú23], p=0ú023) or mix B (0ú17 [0ú07-0ú28], p=0ú001) when analysis was restricted to those children consuming at least 85% of drinks with no missing data.

Interpretation: Artificial colours or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the general population.

The Lancet, September, 2007

A partial halt to "social promotion" in Britain?

Underachieving children could be forced to spend an extra year in primary school under proposals unveiled by the Conservatives. Eleven-year-old pupils would be compelled to resit their final year with children a year younger, while their peers started secondary school. David Cameron claimed that this could be part of a "genuine schools" revolution aiming to raise literacy and numeracy standards.

The Conservative leader vied for the spotlight yesterday with Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, with rival announcements timed to coincide with the start of the school year. Mr Balls admitted that improvements in education had slowed in the last year and that schools still had "some way to go to deliver a world class education".

He is writing to all primary and secondary school head teachers for the first time in his tenure, asking them to redouble their efforts, particularly with basic skills and discipline. The letter will focus on the Government's "personalisation agenda", under which individual children can be targeted and taught at a level suited to their ability. As with Mr Cameron's plans, this could result in pupils moving on to key stages at different ages from their peer group.

During the autumn term, up to 500 schools will trial new personalised approaches to assessment and testing, backed by one-to-one tuition for pupils at risk of making slow progress. A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "Mr Balls will be looking closely at the experience of these schools and will not hesitate to accelerate national roll-out where personalised teaching techniques, one-on-one coaching and catchup classes are proving to work."

Mr Cameron's comments will be expounded in tomorrow's launch of a review by his party's public services improvement policy group. The report will propose that the worst performers in year six should be made either to catch up at summer classes or to repeat the whole academic year. Mr Cameron promised to "look carefully" at the measure, which is already used in the US and some European countries. He also supported giving extra money to schools for each pupil they take from a disadvantaged background, and said there should be a "bonfire of controls" to free teachers from bureaucracy and targets.

Mr Cameron pledged to stop the closure of special needs schools and to give schools the final say over whether pupils were expelled.

The report also suggests that A/S levels should be scrapped so that students can concentrate on their A-level exams. It proposes that ability sets should be introduced across the curriculum, and that league tables should be simplified and restructured.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said that making 11-year-olds stay back rather than go on to secondary schools would be "very much a backstop". He added: "We can't have children going from primary school into secondary school without the skills necessary to make the most of what they are going to be taught in secondary schools."

But Mr Cameron's announcement was criticised by the Government. Jim McKnight, the Schools Minister, said: "Proposals for what the Tories have called a `remedial year' would stigmatise the very children who need extra help. They would increase class sizes and make it difficult for teachers and parents to plan ahead."


Sir Edward Elgar now politically incorrect but still great

The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Edward Elgar's birth fell on June 2, 2007. This anniversary has been the spur for some strange commentaries in Britain: Elgar's music isn't modern enough; its tub-thumping pomp and circumstance state music doesn't reflect contemporary, multicultural Britain. How symbolic, some say, that Elgar's face has just disappeared from the twenty pound note to be replaced by that of sensible Scottish economist Adam Smith.

This is political correctness gone barking. It is sobering to see that true greatness of spirit can still be blithely consigned, by some, to an imaginary junk heap of artistic detritus. Sensibly, the general public won't have a bar of these musings, and no doubt Elgar's music will continue to be comprehensively celebrated and performed.

Australian artists, for many years on the receiving end of condescension from points north, can relate to Elgar's long struggle to establish himself as composer and artist in a hostile cultural environment. Anyone who tries this face-to-face on Australians these days is in for a rude surprise, though there really isn't any cure for parochialism and snobbery, which are without end. However, in some parts hereabouts, there is now, somewhat inevitably, an Australia-first campaign whereby anything English is hammered-they think-into the ground-psychic punishment for past colonial sins of omission. Percy Grainger, for example, is held up a preferable alternative to Elgar.

As a republican, I have no desire to linger in antique realms, but I'm not going to be bludgeoned into rejecting greatness when it is there before me. English critics are partly to blame for Elgar's reputation abroad with their endless references to Elgar's Englishness. Elgar's music belongs to the world, not just to England. (There is a specific Australian connection in Elgar's music. He sets Adam Lindsay Gordon's poem `The Swimmer' as the last song in Sea Pictures-`O brave white horses! you gather and gallop, / The storm sprite loosens the gusty reins . . .') If I stand on Bondi beach on a wild afternoon, hearing the surge of Alassio in my head, or, in mourning, recall that last restatement of the `Spirit of Delight' theme at the end of the Second Symphony (`the passionate pilgrimage of a soul'), this is not reflux nostalgia. Here is the music equal to the depth of life. If you want, there are certainly plenty of alternatives to choose from.

Grandeur of spirit, and passion, in art, will never be consigned to a use-by date. Elgar's story is a remarkable one of persistence through the awfulness of the English class system to the creation of great music, the first Britain had experienced since the time of Purcell. Elgar had a large chip on his shoulder because he, and his wife Alice, had to pay heavy dues in getting to this position of eminence. If, as I read, Elgar tried to wangle a peerage for himself, it would have been only what he deserved. Such splendour in the Malvern grass-the symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Cello Concerto, the Enigma Variations, The Dream of Gerontius, Falstaff, the mass of ceremonial, occasional and salon music: all this music speaks of the seriousness and loveliness of the world, often with nobility, sometimes with wistfulness and melancholy.

You don't have to be Roman Catholic to enjoy The Dream of Gerontius. What sort of mindset is it that can't enjoy music of this kind because it doesn't fit the listener's prescriptive personal agenda. There are people who claim to be living, mentally, always in the present moment. The radical, the cutting edge, are what they crave. When you have the pile of bicycle parts waiting for you at the Whitney Biennial, why go mooning over some Degas? How tedious to sit through hours of Tristan when some hipster rap group is about to let loose at the latest in venue. But what if Elgar or Degas or Wagner are, emotionally and creatively, more radical and cutting edge, than they they have ever begun to conceive. I live only in, and for, the present moment. Too bad if the present moment is dullness enbalmed and then overhyped by the usual organs of capitalist increase.

Thus do some go their weary way, unaware of the marvels about them, forever out of reach because of ideological posturing or just plain ignorance. Well, I'm not forsaking Elgar for any whim of contemporary fashion and, if you don't know the music of this composer, do yourself a favour that will repay you in kind one hundredfold.

Knowing he had composed a masterpiece, Elgar wrote at the end of the score of Gerontius the following words of Ruskin: `This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another; my life was as a vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.' However much these words apply to Gerontius, they also apply to the whole. The grocer's daughter who became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom once told the nation, in very different circumstances, to rejoice; and we may well say of the piano tuner's son who became a composer of world renown: rejoice that such a person may triumph, and that such music can be.


Britain: Politically correct attitude betrays little kids: "Council chiefs let gay foster parents sexually abuse children in their care because they were scared of being seen to discriminate against them, a report has concluded. Managers and social workers at Wakefield Council, West Yorkshire, were reluctant to investigate Craig Faunch and Ian Wathey despite concerns about their behaviour, the inquiry report by the former Surrey social services chief, Brian Parrott, said. Faunch and Wathey, of Pontefract, were jailed for six and five years respectively in June 2006 for sexual offences against four boys in their care. The report said that the children were let down by “failures in performance”. Faunch and Wathey had 18 children placed with them in 18 months. Suspicions were raised when Faunch photographed one of the victims urinating. But social workers decided that the men had been simply “naive and silly”, a trial at Leeds Crown Court had heard. “The fear of being discriminatory led them to fail to discriminate between the appropriate and the abusive,” concluded the report."

More brilliant British bureaucracy: "Almost 500 million pounds of taxpayers' money will be spent on covering the costs of the bungled implementation of a new payment system to English farmers, a parliamentary inquiry reports today. The Single Farm Payment Scheme, introduced two years ago, aimed to pay farmers for their stewardship of the land rather than the number of animals they reared for meat. But farmers have faced severe financial hardship as they waited months for their cash, and it may take another 18 months for the system to be running smoothly. By the payment deadline of March 2006 only 15 per cent of the 1.5 billion due to English farmers had been made. Even in May this year 24 farmers were waiting for their 2005 subsidies. MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which ensures that public spending is value for money, say that the Government's handling of the Common Agricultural Policy reform is a textbook case of how not to set policy.... MPs are also concerned that the Government pressed ahead with a "highly risky project" at a time when the Rural Payments Agency was making 1,000 of its 2,800 staff redundant. The agency then had to bring in casual staff to process the claims. Farmers were frustrated because they were unable to get any information from officials about the status of their claims."

Brits to hand over more control of their lives to the EU whether they like it or not: "Gordon Brown's refusal to hold a referendum on the European reform treaty will face a fresh challenge today, with the start of an official cross-party campaign calling for a public vote. The Prime Minister is determined to avoid a referendum, which ministers believe would almost certainly be lost ? not necessarily because of the issue but because of the low esteem in which the EU is held by the public. But he has issued two clear warnings this week that any attempt by the rest of Europe to water down the opt-outs from the treaty secured by Britain at the Brussels summit in June would mean that he could not sign up."

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