Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stupid Brits to jump on the folic acid bandwagon. Who cares if it gives people bowel cancer?

Because America does it, it must be OK, seems to be their reasoning. The article below says that the experts have found no evidence of harm from folates. They were not looking very hard. I can find plenty and I am only a desultory reader of the relevant literature. Note this recent expert comment about folates and bowel cancer:

"Other reasonable hypotheses about one-carbon metabolism and colorectal carcinogenesis, based on our current understanding of the biochemistry and underlying mechanisms, have also not been proven correct. In a recently published placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial among 1021 men and women with a recent history of colorectal adenoma, supplemental folic acid at 1 mg/d for up to 6 years did not reduce the incidence of subsequent colorectal adenomas and might have increased it."

WHOA! The folate that Americans get compulsorily added to their bread did no good and seems to have done harm?? And do we see a double blind controlled study contradicting epidemiological inferences?? Who would have believed it! They go on to admit that two animal studies have shown that folate INCREASES cancer. Aren't you glad that your government is dosing you up with the stuff and giving you no say in the matter?

The addition of folate to our bread is more and more looking like an iatrogenic disaster to come. I think I should note once again that a folate expert has reported that the addition of folate to bread seems to have caused an upsurge in bowel cancer among Americans.

Bread should be fortified with folic acid by law to cut the risk of birth defects, the Food Standards Agency decided yesterday. The FSA board, which was split on the issue when it was last discussed in 2002, decided unanimously to back a recommendation from its scientific advisers for mandatory fortification of flour or bread, whichever is the more practicable.

In the US, Canada and several other countries, mandatory fortification has already cut sharply birth defects such as spina bifida. But Britain has hung back because of doubts about possible side-effects, and fear that "compulsory medication" would cause a public outcry.

The recommendation will now go to ministers, who will decide whether to implement it. If they do they could face opposition in the House of Commons but will be able to cite a mass of evidence gathered by the FSA.

The mandatory fortification of bread would include regular white and brown bread, but not wholemeal, enabling objectors to opt out. It would also be accompanied by controls on food that are already fortified voluntarily by manufacturers, such as some breakfast cereals, to avoid any possibility of an overdose.

The FSA board was given a range of options to consider, including the present policy of advising women planning pregnancies to take folic acid supplements. But half of pregnancies are unplanned, and the advice does not reach women in lower social classes whose diets are the most likely to be deficient. It has had relatively little effect.

The levels of fortification recommended by the FSA are 300 micrograms per 100 grams of flour, which it estimates will increase the average intake of the UK population by 78 micrograms a day. That should cut the incidence of neural tube defects by between 11 and 18 per cent, or between 77 and 162 cases a year. Greater reductions than this have been achieved abroad, and range from 27 to 50 per cent. But direct comparisons are difficult because they depend on the level of folic acid in the diet of each country before fortification began, and on eating patterns. The US achieved much greater increases in folic acid intake, probably because the amounts added to food exceeded the recommendations.

Dame Deirdre Hutton, chair of the FSA, told the board meeting in Nottingham that she supported the measure. "I don't believe it is the ultimate solution. I believe it is the best pragmatic solution we can get," she said.

The FSA board wants further advice on how folic acid can be added to bread without affecting cakes or biscuits. It called for more debate on how products fortified with folic acid should be labelled. Andrew Russell, the chief executive of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, said: "We are delighted that the FSA board has taken the decision to recommend mandatory flour fortification to ministers. "It is a rare opportunity to benefit from a vitamin, and significantly improve public health. Now that the science has been listened to, we look to health ministers to speedily implement this life-saving measure." Between 700 and 900 pregnancies per year in the UK are affected by neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida. The majority are terminated when the defects are detected in antenatal checks.

The FSA estimated that the cost of NTDs was 136 million pounds a year, of which the greatest cost was in treating babies who died soon after birth. Of the 800 affected pregnancies each year, 110 end in stillbirths or deaths early in life; 79 in births of children who require treatment but have good life expectancy, and 611 in terminations.

The FSA's decision is in stark contrast to that of 2002, when the measure was rejected. The fear then was that fortifying flour with folic acid would conceal vitamin B12 deficiencies in older people, leading them to medical problems. The unknown effect of excessive folic acid consumption on cancer risk also caused concern. Since then, the US has found no evidence of harm.


'Magic bullet' devised to beat cancer

Sounds interesting

A new targeted therapy against cancer has shown impressive results in animal experiments. By using a beam of ultraviolet light to activate antibodies inside the tumour, a team at Newcastle University has created "magic bullets" that can use the body's immune system to destroy tumours while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.

They use antibodies - the body's own natural defences - that are injected into the tumour. But before injection, the antibodies are "cloaked" by attaching them to an organic oil that renders them ineffective. Once in place, a beam of ultraviolet light breaks up the cloaking chemical, bringing the antibody back to life. The antibody then binds to T-cells, the body's defence system, and triggers them to target the surrounding tissue.

Antibodies are the big growth area in cancer therapy. Drugs such as Avastin and Herceptin have shown good results in shrinking tumours, and 20 antibody drugs have so far been licensed, with many more in the pipeline. But targeting them precisely and avoiding damage to surrounding healthy tissue have proved stumbling blocks. The team, led by Colin Self, believes that its technique could reduce or eliminate these problems.

Two papers published today in the journal ChemMedChem report that in a small animal trial, the technique elimated ovarian cancers in five out of six mice, and greatly reduced the tumour's size in the sixth mouse.

The body is not very effective at using its own defences to fight cancer, possibly because it fails to recognise the tumours as a threat. The aim of the technique is to activate the killer T-cells to attack cancer cells and destroy them.

There are risks in activating T-cells, as the failed human trial last year at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow proved. In that trial, an experimental antibody treatment called TGN1412 caused such a huge response that six healthy human volunteers suffered serious injuries as their activated T-cells attacked almost every organ in their bodies.

The trial showed just how powerful boosting the T-cell response can be. The Newcastle technique ought to avoid these dangers because the T-cell response will be local - inside the cancer - and not general.

However, the process will require extensive testing in animals and human trials before it has any chance of reaching a cancer clinic. David Glover, an expert in antibody technology and in drug trials, estimated yesterday that even if all went well it would be a decade before such a product could reach the market.

Light-activated therapies have achieved some success against cancers, particularly skin cancers, but have been used previously to activate chemotherapy drugs, not T-cells. There are some limitations, as light cannot always reach internal tumours very easily. But Professsor Self suggested yesterday that in an operation to cut out a prostate tumour, for example, the method could be used at the end of the operation to destroy any remaining tumour cells that the surgeon had been unable to remove, and hence prevent recurrence.

The method offers a further refinement, in which the cloaked antibody is linked to a second antibody directed against the tumour in a "double whammy". When uncloaked, it recruits T-cells to attack the tumour at the same time as the antitumour antibody also attacks it.

Professor Self said yesterday that his team had "very exciting" new results that confirmed the findings and that he was raising money for a human trial. This will be aimed at treating secondary skin cancers in patients who are already suffering cancers of the internal organs. The aim will not be to cure them, but simply to see if the skin cancers can be controlled, as a proof that the technique works in human beings.

Professor Self said: "I would describe this development as the equivalent of ultra-specific magic bullets. This could mean that a patient coming in for treatment of bladder cancer would receive an injection of the cloaked antibodies. She would sit in the waiting room for an hour and then come back in for treatment by light. Just a few minutes of the light therapy directed at the region of the tumour would activate the T-cells causing her body's own immune system to attack the tumour.
"While our work indicates that sunlight doesn't activate these antibodies, patients may have to be advised to avoid direct sunlight for a short time."

BioTransformations Ltd, the company set up by Professor Self to develop the technology, hopes to begin clinical trials on patients with secondary skin cancers early next year.


British Conservatives to cut immigration

Tory leader David Cameron pledged to cut net immigration into the UK, to ward off "unsustainable" pressure on the country's public services and infrastructure. In his first major speech on immigration, Mr Cameron set out his "modern Conservative population strategy" to slow the rate of growth in the numbers of people living in the UK. A Tory administration would set annual limits on economic migration from outside the EU "substantially lower" than the current rate, set up a Border Police Force with powers to track down and remove illegal migrants, and impose transitional controls on the right of nationals of new EU states to work in the UK.

And Mr Cameron said he would raise the minimum age for spouses coming to Britain to 21 and demand that they are able to speak English. A failure to reduce net immigration would "make it more difficult for a Conservative government to deliver its vision of opportunity, responsibility and security", he warned.

The Conservative leader also cautioned: "The promises that Gordon Brown makes - whether on improving the NHS, the education system or housing provision - will quite simply be overwhelmed by his failure to deal with the root causes of our demographic challenge."

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest, on current trends, the UK's population will rise from 60.6 million to more than 71 million by 2031, increasing pressure on housing, healthcare, schools, the transport system, energy and water supplies. Some of the increased pressure comes from Britain's ageing population, as well as the "atomisation" of society through divorce, family break-up and later marriage, which means more single-person households, said Mr Cameron. But with 190,000 more people coming to the UK from abroad than leave the country each year, the bulk of the population rise - around 70% - is driven by immigration.

"Of course we should recognise that in an advanced, open economy there will be high levels of both emigration and immigration," said Mr Cameron in his speech in central London. "But what matters is the net figure, which I believe is currently too high... It is time for change. We need policy to reduce the level of net immigration. And we need policy to strengthen society and combat atomisation."

Immigration minister Liam Byrne accused Mr Cameron of "rehashing platitudes". "He talks of a limit on immigration numbers but nowhere does he say what this would be," he said.


Reducing emissions could speed global warming (??)

There's no such thing as a happy Greenie and Prof. Lovelock is unhappy about EVERYTHING

A rapid cutback in greenhouse gas emissions could speed up global warming, the veteran environmental maverick James Lovelock will warn in a lecture today. Prof Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia theory that the planet behaves like a single organism, says this is because current global warming is offset by global dimming - the 2-3§C of cooling cause by industrial pollution, known to scientists as aerosol particles, in the atmosphere.

His lecture will be delivered as Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, launches the results of a public consultation on the Government's proposed Climate Change Bill which is intended to cut Britain's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Prof Lovelock will say in a lecture to the Royal Society: "Any economic downturn or planned cutback in fossil fuel use, which lessened aerosol density, would intensify the heating. "If there were a 100 per cent cut in fossil fuel combustion it might get hotter not cooler. We live in a fool's climate. We are damned if we continue to burn fuel and damned if we stop too suddenly."

Prof Lovelock believes that even the gloomiest predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are underestimating the current severity of climate change because they do not go into the consequences of the current burden pollution in the atmosphere which will last for centuries. He argues that though the scientific language of the IPCC, which reported earlier this year, is "properly cautious" it gives the impression that the worst consequences of climate change are avoidable if we take action now....

According to Professor Lovelock's gloomy analysis, the IPCC's climate models fail to take account of the Earth as a living system where life in the oceans and land takes an active part in regulating the climate. He will argue that when a model includes the whole Earth system it shows that: "When the carbon dioxide in the air exceeds 500 parts per million the global temperature suddenly rises 6§C and becomes stable again despite further increases or decreases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. "This contrasts with the IPCC models that predict that temperature rises and falls smoothly with increasing or decreasing carbon dioxide."

He argues that we should cut greenhouse gas emissions, nonetheless, because it might help slow the pace of global heating. We also have to do our best to lessen our destruction of natural forests but this is unlikely to be enough and we will have to learn to adapt to the inevitable changes we will soon experience.

The pro-nuclear Prof Lovelock will say that we should think of the Earth as a live self-regulating system and devise ways to harness the natural processes that regulate the climate in the fight against global warming. This could involve paying indigenous peoples to protect their forests and develop ways to make the ocean absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere more efficiently.

Prof Lovelock intends to add: "We are not merely a disease; we are through our intelligence and communication the planetary equivalent of a nervous system. We should be the heart and mind of the Earth not its malady." ...


Out-of-hours NHS care 'failing'

The NHS is failing to offer sufficient out-of-hours GP care for severely ill patients, experts have said. Existing services are "inadequate and inflexible" and there is a need for better diagnostic facilities, the Royal College of Physicians taskforce said. The group also said hospital care needed to be redesigned for those with non-life threatening life conditions that none-the-less require treatment. The government said care was improving after record investment.

The taskforce, which included a range of health professionals, looked at acute medical care. This includes the care of patients with respiratory problems or chest pains or complications linked to epilepsy or diabetes, which are not yet emergencies but could become so. The taskforce said poor standards of weekend and evening GP cover, which is now done by co-operatives of health professionals and private firms after family doctors were allowed to opt out in 2004, was forcing some patients to turn up at hospital for "reassurance".

The report recommended that local navigational hubs be set up to sign-post patients to the right services. And it called for specialist outreach clinics to be set up in the community to bring expert care out of hospitals. It said out-of-hours cover needed better access to diagnostic facilities, which includes scans and blood tests, to create a "see and treat" culture rather than the "see and greet" one that currently exists.

The experts also said hospital services needed to be redesigned to ensure "rapid streaming of patients". The experts said that all too often even patients already in hospital can find themselves moving slowly through the system seeing nurses, junior doctors and then consultants when they really need urgent help. They said acute medical units, rapid assessment, diagnosis and treatment centres which are becoming increasingly common in hospitals, need to be located near other key services such as the emergency department and critical care.

RCP president Professor Ian Gilmore said NHS professionals were facing a challenge - "to change what we do, when we do it and how we do it". He added: "For doctors, nurses, managers and all those involved with the care of acutely ill patients, this task will not be easy, but the status quo is not an option if we are to give these patients a consistently high standard of care."

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said the government welcomed the report but was already making sure that people have access to care around the clock. "Primary Care Trusts must deliver high quality out-of-hours care, and in addition, patients have access to a range of other services that can provide urgent care out-of-hours including NHS Direct and NHS walk-in centres," he said. "We have invested record amounts in out of hours services and patients are seeing the benefits - eight our of ten patients say that they are satisfied with the service, and six out of ten rated the service as excellent or good."


As a great fan of Ayckbourn, I am delighted by this news: "An early play by Sir Alan Ayckbourn has been found more than 40 years after it was presumed destroyed, completing the 70-volume canon of his manuscripts. The satires about middle-class manners by Ayckbourn have established him as one of the most highly regarded playwrights in the world, but he was an actor in Scarborough when he wrote Love after All, his second play, in 1959. It was another nine years before he made his name with Relatively Speaking, which became a hit in the West End. The manuscript was discovered by staff from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, where Ayckbourn’s archive is based and his plays are still premiered. Working with curators from the Department of Manuscripts at the British Library, they found it in the archives of the Lord Chamberlain who, until 1968, vetted every play before it could be performed".

Britain now closing libraries: "Proposals to close library buildings across England are being explored by a government advisory body even though more than 100 buildings are estimated to have been lost in the past two years, The Times has learnt. Two years ago a damning report by the Commons Select Committee for Culture condemned the shabby and neglected public library services, with their backlog of building repairs and refurbishments. MPs had urged the Government to give libraries access to lottery money, calculating that up to two thirds of a billion pounds would be needed to wipe out the backlog of repairs. Campaigners, who are already outraged that libraries are being turned into centres for fitness classes and Pilates, were shocked to discover yesterday that the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the government agency in charge of the sector, is addressing the problem by examining whether there are too many library buildings."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oxford University students stirring the pot again

They have a long tradition of it:

"Less than a month after Columbia University gave Holocaust denier, Iranian president Ahmadinejad, a platform in the name of freedom of expression, the Oxford University debating society has contacted Holocaust denier David Irving using the same argument and asked him to participate in one of the society's forums in November. The club also wants to invite Belarus dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, and chairman of the British Nationalist Party (BNP), Nick Griffin.

Debating society president, Luke Tryl, told the British Guardian newspaper that the Oxford Union debating society "is famous for is commitment to free speech" and that the three had been invited despite their "awful and abhorrent views" He argued that the students at Oxford are intelligent enough to challenge and ridicule them....

Last month Irving told the Guardian that his views on the Holocaust have not changed at all and that his views have become stronger over the years. In several books he plans to publish soon, Irving maintains that "the Jews are the architects of what happened to them in the Second World War" and that the "Jewish problem" has been the cause of most wars in the past hundred years. Irving also claims that the gas chambers in Auschwitz never existed and that the camp was not an extermination camp and has only been publicized because it was well preserved.


"Stirring the possum" (saying deliberately provocative things mainly for amusement) is a popular tradition in Australia too. And if students cannot rebel against conventions, who can? I think Irving is mainly a publicity-seeker these days too. What he says does vary a lot from time to time.

Brits don't recognize Michael Moore's picture of their health system

The fourth estate has always had a bad name, but it seems to be getting worse. Journalism should be an honest and useful trade, and often still is. But now that journalism has more power than ever before, it seems to have become ever more disreputable. In recent years it has been brought lower and lower by kiss-and-tell betrayals, by "reality" TV, by shockumentaries and by liars, fantasists, hucksters and geeks of every kind, crowing and denouncing and emoting in a hideous new version of Bunyan's Vanity Fair.

Outstanding among these is Michael Moore, the American documentary maker. He specialises in searing indictments, such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, and has, without a doubt, a genius for it. Although his films are crude, manipulative and one-sided, he is idolised by millions of Americans and Europeans, widely seen as some sort of redneck Mr Valiant-for-truth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. His latest documentary, Sicko, was released in cinemas last week. Millions of people will see it and all too many of them will be misled.

Sicko, like all Moore's films, is about an important and emotive subject - healthcare. He contrasts the harsh and exclusive system in the US with the European ideal of universal socialised medicine, equal and free for all, and tries to demonstrate that one is wrong and the other is right. So far, so good; there are cases to be made.

Unfortunately Sicko is a dishonest film. That is not only my opinion. It is the opinion of Professor Lord Robert Winston, the consultant and advocate of the NHS. When asked on BBC Radio 4 whether he recognised the NHS as portrayed in this film, Winston replied: "No, I didn't. Most of it was filmed at my hospital [the Hammersmith in west London], which is a very good hospital but doesn't represent what the NHS is like."

I didn't recognise it either, from years of visiting NHS hospitals. Moore painted a rose-tinted vision of spotless wards, impeccable treatment, happy patients who laugh away any suggestion of waiting in casualty, and a glamorous young GP who combines his devotion to his patients with a salary of 100,000 pounds, a house worth 1m and two cars. All this, and for free. This, along with an even rosier portrait of the French welfare system, is what Moore says the state can and should provide. You would never guess from Sicko that the NHS is in deep trouble, mired in scandal and incompetence, despite the injection of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money. While there are good doctors and nurses and treatments in the NHS, there is so much that is inadequate or bad that it is dishonest to represent it as the envy of the world and a perfect blueprint for national healthcare. It isn't.

GPs' salaries - used by Moore as evidence that a state-run system does not necessarily mean low wages - is highly controversial; their huge pay rise has coincided with a loss of home visits, a serious problem in getting GP appointments and continuing very low pay for nurses and cleaners.

At least 20 NHS trusts have even worse problems with the hospital-acquired infection clostridium difficile, not least the trust in Kent where 90 people died of C diff in a scandal reported recently. Many hospitals are in crisis. Money shortages, bad management, excesses of bureaucrats and deadly Whitehall micromanagement mean they have to skimp on what matters most.

Overfilling the beds is dangerous to patients, in hygiene and in recovery times, but it goes on widely. Millions are wasted on expensive agency nurses because NHS nurses are abandoning the profession in droves. Only days ago, the 2007 nurse of the year publicly resigned in despair at the health service. There is a dangerous shortage of midwives since so many have left, and giving birth on the NHS can be a shocking experience.

Meanwhile thousands of young hospital doctors, under a daft new employment scheme, were sent randomly around the country, pretty much regardless of their qualifications or wishes. As foreign doctors are recruited from Third World countries, hundreds of the best-qualified British doctors have been left unemployed. Several have emigrated.

As for consultants, the men in Whitehall didn't believe what they said about the hours they worked, beyond their duties, and issued new contracts forcing them to work less. You could hardly make it up.

None of these problems mean we should abandon the idea of a universal shared system of healthcare. It's clear we would not want the American model, even if it isn't quite as bad as portrayed by Moore. It's clear our British private medical insurance provision is a rip-off. I believe we should as a society share burdens of ill health and its treatment. The only question is how best to do that and it seems to me the state-run, micromanaged NHS has failed to answer it.

By ignoring these problems, and similar ones in France's even more generous and expensive health service, Moore is lying about the answer to that question. I wonder whether the grotesquely fat film-maker is aware of the delicious irony that in our state-run system, the government and the NHS have been having serious public discussion about the necessity of refusing to treat people who are extremely obese.

One can only wonder why Sicko is so dishonestly biased. It must be partly down to Moore's personal vainglory; he has cast himself as a high priest of righteous indignation, the people's prophet, and he has an almost religious following. He's a sort of docu-evangelist, dressed like a parody of the American man of the people, with jutting jaw, infantile questions and aggressively aligned baseball cap.

However, behind the pleasures of righteous indignation for him and his audience, there is something more sinister. There's money in indignation, big money. It is just one of the many extreme sensations that are lucrative for journalists to whip up, along with prurience, disgust and envy. Michael Moore is not Mr Valiant-for-truth. He is Mr Worldly-wiseman, laughing behind his hand at all the gawping suckers in Vanity Fair. Don't go to his show.


Monday, October 29, 2007

More stupid "organic" propaganda

It assumes that "antioxidants" are good for you -- a myth. Antioxidants are the medical equivalent of global warming -- used to explain just about anything purely on the basis of theory. They can actually be dangerous and can shorten your life

The biggest study into organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people's lives. The evidence from the 12m pound four-year project will end years of debate and is likely to overturn government advice that eating organic food is no more than a lifestyle choice. The study found that organic fruit and vegetables contained as much as 40% more antioxidants, which scientists believe can cut the risk of cancer and heart disease, Britain's biggest killers. They also had higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc.

Professor Carlo Leifert, the co-ordinator of the European Union-funded project, said the differences were so marked that organic produce would help to increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. "If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can't get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day," he said.

This weekend the Food Standards Agency confirmed that it was reviewing the evidence before deciding whether to change its advice. Ministers and the agency have said there are no significant differences between organic and ordinary produce.

Researchers grew fruit and vegetables and reared cattle on adjacent organic and nonorganic sites on a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University, and at other sites in Europe. They found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organic herds were up to 90% higher than in milk from conventional herds. As well as finding up to 40% more antioxidants in organic vegetables, they also found that organic tomatoes from Greece had significantly higher levels of antioxidants, including flavo-noids thought to reduce coronary heart disease.

Leifert said the government was wrong about there being no difference between organic and conventional produce. "There is enough evidence now that the level of good things is higher in organics," he said.


Competitive sport making a partial comeback in British schools

In Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), written by an alumnus of Rugby school during Thomas Arnold's headship, the eponymous hero states: `[F]ootball and cricket, now one comes to think of it, are such much better games than fives or hare-and-hounds, or any others where the object is to come in first or to win for oneself, and not that one's side may win.' It's not therefore competition per se that was deemed morally suspect, but self-interest - hence the emphasis on team sport. Moreover, the moral claims made on behalf of certain team sports drew on their intrinsically competitive nature, indeed, made of it a virtue. Instrumental it may be, but the ends are not extrinsic to the means.

Adding a touch more Empire to this morally robust mix, a later Victorian homilist, TL Papillon, was equally certain of sport's value to a public school boy, especially one who, lacking academic aptitude, `has devoted a great part of his time and nearly all his thoughts to athletic sports': for he will still bring `away something beyond all price, a manly straight forward character, a scorn of lying and meanness, habits of obedience and command and reckless courage. Thus equipped, he goes out into the world, and bears a man's part in subduing the earth, taming its wild folk, and building up the Empire.' (4) It is doubtful that any equivalent rhetoric exists for pedometers.

In an article published in The Tribune in December 1945, George Orwell famously echoed the sentiments above. But he did so darkly: `Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.' (5) The occasion for such a tirade may have been Arsenal's defeat of Dynamo Moscow, but it doesn't take a historian to figure out that the context of recent World War, and incipient Cold War, provided the frame through which Orwell rendered competitiveness as the essence of militarism. Furthermore, the focus of Orwell's declamation is illustrative. For it is always in terms of the competitive element, the very element both regulated and exalted in sport throughout its nineteenth-century development, that sport is judged. The disparagement of school sport during the late 1980s and 90s is no exception. On the basis that competitive sport cultivated selfishness, competitive sports days appeared as free-market induction sessions. While many lost their livelihoods during the 1980s and early 90s, in the anti-competitive parallel sporting universe, wrongs were to be set right by ensuring that eggs were glued to spoons.

But times change. `It was an absurd and perverse political correctness which caused competitive sports to be banned in some schools and I hope we never see a return to such nonsense' announced then education secretary Alan Johnson earlier this year (5). Indeed, school sport has rarely been so high up the policy agenda, nor investment so forthcoming. As last year's School Sport Survey extolled: `Physical Education (PE) and sport play an important role in school life. They help to raise standards, improve behaviour and health, increase attendance and develop social skills.' In other words, school sport does a lot of things the government is keen on doing. Not only that, it also seems to be pretty successful. As David Conn reported, in 1994, only 25 per cent of primary and secondary school pupils in Britain were doing the recommended two hours of PE a week (6). The figure is now 86 per cent (7).

There's no doubt that the stats are impressive. But it's what is driving the newfound sporting zeal that is more troubling. As with many other aspects of education, school sport seems to be acquiring its current meaning in a context of social estrangement. In this sense it appears as no more than a vital mediation between the dislocated state and the populace it seeks to manage. But in the process of reducing school sport to a policy mechanism, a management tool, the authorities run the risk of emptying sport of content, reducing it to an abstraction, units of exercise applicable to everyone - sporty or not. As such it can just about refer to anything that involves a degree of movement, hence its ability to colonise informal aspects of kids' lives - dance or skateboarding, say - and institutionalise them as another school sport.

Likewise, competition changes meaning, and becomes more of a byword for participation, a demand that children find something they're good at. To wit, James Purnell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport: `Schools are offering a greater variety of sports than ever before and children now have more opportunities to try out and find a sport which is right for them.' (8) That is by no means a terrible thing, but as the deathlessly quantitative nature of the research indicates, the aim seems to be to increase the numbers participating in `sport' without thinking about what they're actually participating in. Ed Balls at least has the advantage of honesty here: `The way in which schools provide sports after [the age of 11] has a big impact on participation. Particularly for girls. If you have a wider range of sports on offer, more alternative sports, more things like frisbee or yoga which are as health driving as any other in schools.' (9)

Though Orwell or Thomas Arnold would have argued about the worth of sport, they would at least have agreed that such meaning as it had lay in its inherently competitive nature, and the self-realisation and expression that entails. Today's notion of school sport is in danger of limiting the latter to aerobics.


Scotsmen criticizing Scots is "racial hatred"??

Sir Jackie Stewart, the former motor-racing world champion, has accused his fellow Scots of being lazy and overdependent on public sector "jobs for life". The racing legend, from Dumbarton, who now lives in Buckinghamshire and Switzerland, said he was astonished at how workshy his countrymen had become. Stewart, the son of a garage owner who overcame dyslexia to become one of the country's greatest sportsmen, said he rarely heard a Scottish voice when he visited hotels and restaurants in his native country.

Praising Poles and Australians, who he said were prepared to work hard in the service industry, he accused Scots of relying on cosy jobs in the country's burgeoning public sector. "I am constantly disappointed by the fact that the Scots don't want to work," he said. "In things like the service sector which is absolutely vital for tourism, I'm served by South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders and Polish people who are really working hard.

"I think social services are too prolific. If you have a job in government you're not going to be sacked. You have a job for life. You don't have to work too hard and you don't have to present yourself well because it is not competitive."

The 68-year-old's comments have reignited the debate provoked by Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun, who claimed Scotland was a nation of subsidy junkies. As a panellist on the BBC's Question Time programme earlier this month, MacKenzie, whose grandfather was born in Stirling and was allegedly a Highland Games champion, accused Scots of living off wealth created in the southeast of England. "Scotland believes not in entrepreneurialism, like in London and the southeast. The reality is that the Scots enjoy spending it, they don't enjoy creating it, which is the opposite of down in the south," he said.

MacKenzie, who is being investigated by police for allegedly inciting racial hatred, said he was delighted a prominent Scot had now endorsed his comments. "The Scots may not want to take notice of someone like me but I hope they take notice of someone like Sir Jackie," he said. "When their own countrymen and someone who has made a success of their life starts making these statements then maybe Scots should think a bit more rather than hitting out. I am not anti-Scot but I am anti the fact we are subsidising a part of the country that should be able to look after itself."

In a separate interview Stewart recalled his own youth when he used to serve petrol in his father's garage in Scotland. "I have heard too many of my compatriots saying: `Oh, I wouldn't want to do that job, it's too menial'," he said. "But I was proud to be involved in a service industry, it taught me how to communicate, gave me confidence, and encouraged me to be positive, because I knew that if I was nice to people, they would like it and give me a bigger tip."

Other Scots disagreed. Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland's richest man, said: "Everyone is born with the same intelligence, just some are dealt a bad hand in terms of opportunity. No one wakes up and thinks they don't want to work, or go on the dole. It just happens that some people find themselves in tough situations. Sometimes they just need a little bit of extra help." Gordon Ramsay, the Glasgow-born celebrity chef, added: "Scots have tenacity, hunger and determination and, most importantly, a pair of balls. That costs nothing and that is how they will succeed


Evangelical atheism

Richard Dawkins's campaign urging atheists to `come out' and be counted, is oddly reminiscent of an evangelical rally where born-again Christians are implored to rush down to the stage.

Closet atheists in the pious USA and worldwide are to be welcomed with open arms into the sceptical fold. And if sales of Dawkins's The God Delusion and other recent books like it are anything to go by, there is no shortage of people ready to join up. While some critics have labelled Dawkins and co `atheist fundamentalists', the real similarity between atheism and religion today is less fanaticism than a palpable yearning to belong. There is nothing wrong with this very human impulse, but non-belief is an odd basis for belonging.

Of course, the resurgence of interest in atheism is a reaction to the perceived rise of religion, whether in the form of Islamic fundamentalism or US-style Christian conservatism. But in taking their cue from resurgent religions, atheists also adopt something of their inward-looking focus. From attempts to popularise the term `bright' as a positive identity to calls for atheists to be included on the roster of BBC Radio 4's `Thought for the Day', it seems that some want to establish atheism as an alternative, non-religious camp for people to belong to. But atheism itself ought to be the least interesting thing about atheists, who surely have various and often conflicting beliefs and passions of their own.

The most promising term used by some atheists to describe a more positive outlook is humanism, evoking a rich tradition going back to the Renaissance. But this won't serve as a label for the non-religious for the simple reason that humanism does not preclude religious faith. Indeed, those of us with a positive belief in the human potential do not especially need to distinguish ourselves from others who share that belief while also identifying with a religious tradition. Certainly we will object to religious bigotry, but then so do most avowedly religious people. And equally, we will share opposition to antihuman ideas propagated by some atheists, such as biological determinism: the idea that humans are little more than fleshy machines.

The desire to establish atheism as an alternative identity is ultimately conservative. Rather than joining together with others who share a positive vision of the future, self-styled atheists define themselves against an external threat. Worse, it is no longer the conservatism of religion that worries non-believers, but its radicalism, its seemingly irrational passion. Where once religion was disdained as `the opium of the people', today it is seen as more akin to the alcopop of the people: a dangerous and toxic influence that makes people behave in irrational ways. If coming out as an atheist means subscribing to an ersatz religion with the fire taken out, atheists can expect to remain in the cold.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Britain: A country wrecked by unlimited immigration

One of the most telling points in the excellent piece in yesterday's Daily Telegraph by my colleague Jeff Randall, on the dishonesty of government statistics, was to do with immigration. Slough says it has so many immigrants it needs more money: the Government says it hasn't. For decades, bare-faced lies have been told by our rulers about immigration.

When Enoch Powell was vilified in the late 1960s for drawing attention to the problem, the then social services secretary, Dick Crossman, ordered officials to conceal what he and they knew to be the true figures. Is this deceit still going on? Perhaps. But - and this may be even worse - the difference between the statistics and reality may be down to sheer incompetence. The truth is that we have no idea how many people are in this country. That is a scandal.

We have no idea because this Government decided, when it came to power in 1997, that it would be a good idea to stop proper enforcement of border controls. Jack Straw, our smug so-called Justice Secretary, was home secretary at the time, and was responsible for this. His successor, David Blunkett, boasted continually about getting tough on illegal immigrants, promising round-ups and deportations of those with no right to be here. It never happened.

The result is that parts of the country, notably in and around London, are suffering from terrible overcrowding. Coupled with the Government's insane decision to allow unfettered rights of access to Britain by the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004, this has put a crippling strain on housing, the health service, schools and the police.

Immigration is not a racial problem: it is a problem of numbers, and one the Government not only refuses to admit, but will not even attempt to quantify. This week, we were told there were 11,000 foreigners in our prisons - one in seven of those inside - and the Government, with typical incompetence, is struggling to negotiate deals to have these people serve their sentences back home.

Yesterday, an independent body called the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit said that the Government's plans to build three million new homes by 2020 were not nearly adequate. Of course they are not, because of the state's determination to allow unlimited immigration and, with it, the end of the indigenous cultural identity. The tensions of what used to be called "multi-culturalism" are dangerous enough: but so are the practical issues.

Large parts of England will be concreted over to accommodate all these new people. There will have to be new roads, railways and airports. And since we are already full up, and our public services buckling, where are we going to put everyone?

Labour has covered up its failure to control our borders by saying that our economy needs immigrants. Well, if you are determined to have a welfare state that tolerates about eight million economically unproductive people of working age - the unemployed, those in "training" and those on various benefits because they believe they are unfit for work - then of course you will. It is time someone got serious.

The present Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has hardly put her head above the parapet on this one. Between now and the next census in 2011, she might like to do a little housekeeping. That means locating and deporting all those with no right to be here. It would not be that difficult.

More here


In the cause of equal rights, feminists have had much to complain about. But one striking piece of inequality has been conveniently overlooked: lifespan. In this area, women have the upper hand. All round the world, they live longer than men. Why they should do so is not immediately obvious. But the same is true in many other species. From lions to antelope and from sea lions to deer, males, for some reason, simply can't go the distance.

One theory is that males must compete for female attention. That means evolution is busy selecting for antlers, aggression and alloy wheels in males, at the expense of longevity. Females are not subject to such pressures. If this theory is correct, the effect will be especially noticeable in those species where males compete for the attention of lots of females. Conversely, it will be reduced or absent where they do not.

To test that idea, Tim Clutton-Brock of Cambridge University and Kavita Isvaran of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengalooru decided to compare monogamous and polygynous species (in the latter, a male monopolises a number of females). They wanted to find out whether polygynous males had lower survival rates and aged faster than those of monogamous species. To do so, they collected the relevant data for 35 species of long-lived birds and mammals.

As they report this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the pattern was much as they expected. In 16 of the 19 polygynous species in their sample, males of all ages were much more likely to die during any given period than were females. Furthermore, the older they got, the bigger the mortality gap became. In other words, they aged faster. Males from monogamous species did not show these patterns.

The point about polygyny, according to Dr Clutton-Brock, is that if one male has exclusive access to, say, ten females, another nine males will be waiting to topple the harem master as soon as he shows the first sign of weakness. The intense competitive pressure means that individuals who succeed put all their efforts into one or two breeding seasons.

That obviously takes its toll directly. But a more subtle effect may also be at work. Most students of ageing agree that an animal's maximum lifespan is set by how long it can reasonably expect to escape predation, disease, accident and damaging aggression by others of its kind. If it will be killed quickly anyway, there is not much reason for evolution to divert scarce resources into keeping the machine in tip-top condition. Those resources should, instead, be devoted to reproduction. And the more threatening the outside world is, the shorter the maximum lifespan should be.

There is no reason why that logic should not work between the sexes as well as between species. And this is what Dr Clutton-Brock and Dr Isvaran seem to have found. The test is to identify a species that has made its environment so safe that most of its members die of old age, and see if the difference continues to exist. Fortunately, there is such a species: man.

Dr Clutton-Brock reckons that the sex difference in both human rates of ageing and in the usual age of death is an indicator that polygyny was the rule in humanity's evolutionary past-as it still is, in some places. That may not please some feminists, but it could be the price women have paid for outliving their menfolk.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Must support homosexuality to be a foster parent in Britain

A Christian couple who have taken in 28 children have been forced to give up being foster parents after they refused to promote homosexuality. Vincent Matherick, 65, and his 61-year-old wife Pauline were told by social services that they had to comply with legislation requiring them to treat homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality.

They said that officials had advised them that if children in their care expressed an interest in homosexuality, they would be expected to take them to gay support group meetings.The couple said that while they would neither condemn nor condone homosexuality, they could not actively promote it because of their religious beliefs. The couple, who faced being removed from the carers' register, decided to stop fostering early. As a result, their 11-year-old foster son is being moved to a children's unit.

Mr Matherick, a Christian minister and a primary school governor, said: "We have never discriminated against anybody but I cannot promote homosexuality when I believe it is against the word of God. It's terrible that we've been forced into this corner. "They were saying that we had to be prepared to talk about sexuality with 11-year-olds, which I don't think is appropriate anyway, but not only that, to be prepared to explain how gay people date."

Mrs Matherick said: "We feel we are being discriminated against as Christians, and many others are finding themselves in our position." The Mathericks, who have three children of their own, are ministers at the non-conformist South Chard Christian Church, near their home in Chard, Somerset. They have cared for 28 children through Somerset County Council's social services department.

In February this year a social worker told the couple that the council was obliged to implement the Government's sexual orientation regulations. The rules, enacted this year, make it illegal for the suppliers of goods or services to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality.

David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, said: "It's absolutely horrendous that Christian men and women doing their bit for the community are being discriminated against because of their beliefs. I'm quite certain that social services would never dare to ask a member of any other established religion to agree to such a stance on homosexuality."

Valerie Riches, the founder president of Family and Youth Concern, said: "This is rather typical of the distorted view of equality that this Government seems to have."

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said that it was obliged to implement the regulations. "I am not suggesting that it is not very difficult for some people, but there is still an obligation under the law," he said. A spokesman for the council's children's and young people's directorate said it was about "equality issues" not homosexuality. "It is not about promoting homosexuality, it is about foster carers being aware of equality issues," he said, adding that the council did not expect to lose any more carers as a result of the rules.


Age differences in grade-school classes

Some reflections by Prof. Brignell below on the latest British panic. In any given class some kids will be younger than others. How awful!

Long ago in the dim dawn of pre-history, your bending author experienced the first day at grammar school. At the end of the day he was taken aside by the form master, who explained the special problems he would experience as the youngest boy in the class, born (like Number Watch) on July 13th. That advice came from the accumulated wisdom that can only accrue from a century of existence as an institute of learning. That school was wantonly destroyed for ideological reasons and, when the demolition ball crashed through the elegant gothic arches, not only the fabric was destroyed but also that priceless store of wisdom. Now instead of wisdom we have what Kingsley Amis called "pseudo-research into non-problems" as illustrated by this heading in The Telegraph:

Pupils born in summer more likely to struggle

How things have changed! Now schools no longer run themselves, but are subject to endless interference and targetry by Government ministers and underemployed bureaucrats. Pupils are repeatedly tested into a state of coma. Expensive research is commissioned to replace what was once common knowledge. Stupid interventions and "urgent action" are thought up at the drop of a hat. "Equity" and "efficiency" are the watchwords, while teachers and parents are deemed too stupid to be able to make the allowances that they once made without instruction from above.

Furthermore, changes are suggested that are self-evidently nonsense. However many children are "held back" there is always going to be one who is the youngest in the class, while those held back now become the eldest, so there is always a difference of one year between them. Even common sense is no longer common.

The dangers of fried food and a fried planet

Claims that the `obesity epidemic' is as bad as climate change suggest that modern society is bingeing on scare stories

Just when you thought we were all going to fry because of climate change, it looks like our taste for fried food will do us in even sooner. According to headlines across the British media this week, obesity is `as bad as climate risk'. But the comparisons with climate change shouldn't leave us quaking in our boots. Rather, they show up how our fears for the future have become independent of any reason to be fearful. And once we recognise those fears for what they are - a product of political and social changes rather than real dangers - we will be in a better position to deal with them.

The UK health secretary, Alan Johnson, made the obesity and climate change comparison this week, when he said: `We cannot afford not to act [on obesity]. For the first time we are clear about the magnitude of the problem. We are facing a potential crisis on the scale of climate change and it is in everybody's interest to turn things round. We will succeed only if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed at every level in every part of society.' (1)

Johnson's comments were the prelude to a report published today by the obesity group of the UK government's Foresight programme. Foresight is an initiative to facilitate better planning by making forecasts decades ahead on how society might turn out.

The report's `key messages' document suggests that: `By 2050, Foresight modelling indicates that 60 per cent of adult men, 50 per cent of adult women and about 25 per cent of all children under 16 could be obese. Obesity increases the risk of a range of chronic diseases, particularly type-2 diabetes, stroke and coronary heart disease and also cancer and arthritis. The financial impact to society attributable to obesity, at current prices, is estimated to become an additional o45.5 billion per year by 2050 with a seven-fold increase in NHS [National Health Service] costs alone.' (2)

The report says that our modern, `obesogenic' environment is very bad for us. We eat more energy-dense foods while having less and less need to expend this extra energy because we use mechanised transport and have sedentary lives. While `personal responsibility plays a crucial part in weight gain', the reports suggests that we will need a society-wide response to the problem if we are not all to become great mounds of lard suffering from multiple chronic illnesses and facing an early grave.

As the chairman of the National Obesity Forum, Dr Colin Waine, told BBC News on Monday, the effects of the obesity crisis `will hit us much earlier than climate change'. Waine warned: `We are now in a situation where levels of childhood obesity will lead to the first cut in life expectancy for 200 years. These children are likely to die before their parents.' (3)

Things are looking bleak, it would seem. But like a portion of fries, we should take these claims with a pinch of salt. Firstly, the good news: while all these doom and gloom predictions are flying about, the reality is that we are living longer, healthier lives than before. Figures from the UK Office for National Statistics suggest that between 1981 and 2004, life expectancy rose for men from 70.8 years to 76.6 years, while for women the rise was from 76.8 years to 81 years (4).

As the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee noted in 2005: `Life expectancy in the UK and other developed countries continues to increase by about two years per decade.' (5) Given that people most often start families in their twenties and thirties, such figures suggest that each generation will live between four and six years longer than the previous one, all other things being equal. Even if obesity slowed that progress down, it is unlikely to reverse it. Statements like those from the National Obesity Forum are simply alarmist.

One of the main reasons for this success is our increasing ability to tackle the kinds of chronic diseases that are widely associated with obesity. According to the British Heart Foundation's Heartstats website: `Death rates from cardio-vascular disease (CVD) have been falling in the UK since the early 1970s. For people under 65 years, they have fallen by 46 per cent in the last 10 years.' (6) According to Cancer Research UK's CancerStats pages, overall mortality rates for cancer fell by 17 per cent between 1976 and 2005, despite the fact that incidence has been rising, mainly as a result of people living long enough to develop cancers (7).

Secondly, the basis on which the government's Foresight report has been produced is questionable. The authors assume that obesity is caused by an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. But as the Australian writers Michael Gard and Jan Wright point out, researchers have struggled to confirm this thesis. It might be true - but studies looking for an increase in calories consumed have tended to find that we're actually eating less than in the past, while studies looking to confirm we take less exercise have also been inconclusive. Yes, it's true we have many labour-saving devices and transport options now - but there are also many more options for physical activity, too. Women, in particular, would have been strongly discouraged from taking part in sport 50 years ago but now are as likely to be active as men.

Nor has the world of work changed as much people assume. In the past, only a quite small proportion of the population spent their days as miners or road diggers - most people had sedentary jobs back then, too. The kinds of jobs we do may have changed, but the energy involved may not. There is little reason to assume that manning a station on a production line, for example, was any more energetic than filling shelves in a supermarket or flipping burgers. Oh, and people may not have noticed, but despite all their physical activity, poor manual labourers have always tended to die at a younger age than double-chinned, deskbound bank managers.

Our scepticism should be further increased by the fact that the forecasts in the report are based on computer models. Such models have a laughable track record in relation to major health problems in the UK. Remember when millions of people were going to die from AIDS? Or when hundreds of thousands were going to die from variant-Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD)? In truth, the numbers of deaths were a fraction of those predicted by the models. We should be very wary of taking models seriously in such circumstances.

Thirdly, there is the assumption that `obesity equals disease'. But on closer inspection, people in the `overweight' or even the `mildly obese' categories have broadly similar health outcomes to people in the `ideal' weight range. And what are all these fat people going to be treated for? It would appear that cases of type-2 diabetes will rise, but the major diseases said to be caused by obesity are cardio-vascular disease and cancer: the things that are already killing most people, but for which mortality rates have been falling. The worst-case scenario is that, if we become obese, these diseases might get us a little bit quicker than they would have done anyway. How will that put an extra strain on health services?

Finally, the report is pretty damning in one respect: despite suggesting that there is a need for a national, we're-in-this-together approach to tackling the problem of obesity and exercise, there is no proof whatsoever that government intervention in these areas has a positive effect - a fact that the report admits. Today, there is ubiquitous advice to `eat healthily' or `be more active'. There is pressure from government, the media and society generally to get thin and get moving, with the message that being fat is going to kill you. And yet in Britain, as in many other countries around the world, people are still getting fatter.

If government intervention doesn't work, then the policies that the UK government is now hinting that it will implement - from more weighing of schoolkids and examinations of their body mass index, to greater labelling of foods and banning `trans' fats - are highly unlikely to transform Britain into a thin and healthy nation. They may well, however, make chubby schoolchildren feel stigmatised and guilty as they are weighed in the classroom, and ruin the joys of food for the rest of us.

In a sense, it doesn't matter if the latest government campaign doesn't make us all super-healthy - because the recurring panic about obesity doesn't really have anything to do with how much we weigh. Instead, what the Foresight report shows is that there is a template today for social panics. The comparison between obesity and climate change is striking: fears about both of these phenomena spring from the same source, a general sense of anxiety, and both the alleged dangers of obesity and climate change are increasingly framed in a similar way. So like reports on climate change, the Foresight report started out with a literature review; then it created `scenarios' about how the world might change over the next few decades; finally computer models were employed to predict how the disaster might unfold. We're even assured that the report is a product of the work of `250 scientists' - looking uncannily like a poor man's version of the `2,500 scientists' involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is a straight rip-off of the IPCC method of working, with the aim of acquiring the kudos that the recent Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation has won in recent years.

There are other similarities between the fat and climate panics. According to anti-obesity campaigners, today's spread of flab highlights the essential problem of human greed, even more than global warming does. We want too much - and it's going to come back to haunt us in the future. We must learn to change our ways and the government will jolly well tell us how to do so if we don't make the necessary changes by ourselves. This fearful attitude towards future disaster, a disaster we have apparently brought upon ourselves, seems to float free of any particular issue. Just fill in the gaps with obesity/climate change/bird flu/whatever and you have a ready-made panic, complete with independent, neutral, evidence-based, scientific authority, in response to which Something Must Be Done - usually by the government, because we feckless individuals are too weak to do it ourselves.

A more useful approach to social problems would be to realise that society will face challenges of all sorts in the coming years. Through science, technology and innovation, we have been able not only to solve the immediate problems we face, but also to take society forward in the process. What is evident from the seemingly endless series of panics about the future is that society has lost confidence in its ability to solve problems. This gives rise to a view of the future as being filled with disease and destruction; the future is apparently something we must guard against, by making changes to our behaviour, rather than something we mould through positive human action.

As such, we cannot stop the obesity panic by trying to lose weight, nor allay fears about global warming by emitting less carbon. We can only solve the problem of these recurring panics by regaining confidence in our ability to shape the world rather than just our waistlines


New hope for twisted spine sufferers

A painful and progressive spinal condition could be halted by drugs used to treat another disease, a genetic study has found. The IL23R gene has been found by scientists to be implicated in the development of ankylosing spondylitis, having already been shown to be involved in Crohn's disease.

Michael Brown, of the University of Oxford, said that the identification of the gene was a big breakthrough and meant that there was hope that an existing treatment could be used. "We already know that IL23R is involved in inflammation, but no one had ever thought it was involved in ankylosing spondylitis," Professor Brown said. "A treatment for Crohn's disease that inhibits the activity of this gene is already undergoing human trials. This looks very promising as a potential treatment for ankylosing spondylitis."

The gene was identified with a second, called ARTS1, in a study funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Arthritis Research Campaign. Details have been published in the journal Nature Genetics.


Friday, October 26, 2007

This Could be a Problem for British Leftists

Take away abuse and lies and most of them would be struck dumb:

"Disgruntled fans of Sheffield Wednesday who vented their dissatisfaction with the football club's bigwigs in anonymous internet postings may face expensive libel claims after the chairman, chief executive and five directors won a high-court ruling last week forcing the owner of a website to reveal their identity.

The case, featuring the website, is the second within days to highlight the danger of assuming that the apparent cloak of anonymity gives users of internet forums and chatrooms carte blanche to say whatever they like.

In another high court case last week, John Finn, owner of the Sunderland property firm Pallion Housing, admitted just before he was due to be cross-examined that he was responsible for a website hosting a scurrilous internet campaign about a rival housing organisation, Gentoo Group, its employees and owner, Peter Walls.

Exposing the identity of those who post damaging lies in cyberspace is a growth area for libel lawyers.


Must not Notice Skin Color

We read:

"Children were left in tears after they were separated according to their skin colour for school photos. More than 100 boys and girls aged from seven to 11 were lined up from the fairest skinned to the darkest.

But the segregation left several of the pupil so upset they cried to their parents when they got home. One angry mum said: "My 10-year-old was told to go further back in the line as she was not white enough. She came home devastated saying, 'I wish my skin was lighter mummy.'" Another parent, Ann Andrew, 49, said her daughter, Angela, 10, came home in tears and said: "My school's so racist."

Headteacher Val Hughes said pupils had been divided up according to skin tone but claimed it was to make it easier for the photographer. In a letter to Mrs Andrews she said: "Some classes were organised lightest to darkest skin tone and some darkest to lightest. This meant the photographer did not have to keep readjusting his reflector screens."


The de-moralisation of health care

By Melanie Phillips, writing from Britain

How in God's name have we come to this? In three hospitals in Kent, at least 90 patients have died from a superbug infection caused by filthy conditions with unwashed bedpans, staff `too busy' to clean their hands and - most appalling of all - nurses telling patients with diarrhoea to `go in their beds'. This unspeakable situation reveals not just callousness towards suffering and indifference to human dignity but a breakdown of some of our most basic civilised values.

Nor is this an isolated scandal. Last October, an internal memo warned the Government that virtually every NHS trust was reporting superbug infection. The health service, in other words, is institutionally polluted. The Government's response? To ignore this crisis, and then belatedly to bring forth Gordon Brown's pathetic commitment to a sporadic hospital `deep clean'. What has happened to the duty of care in our flagship public service? What has happened, indeed, to our sense of common humanity?

Two things have combined to cause this awful situation. The first is the Government's Stalinist control of the NHS which directly conflicts with patient care. The Kent hospitals focused on meeting waiting time targets to the exclusion of just about everything else; and the NHS management's byzantine structure ensures an almost total absence of accountability.

But that is far from the full explanation. Much more important is what has happened to the nursing profession, where there has simply been a collapse of that ethic of caring first promulgated by the inventor of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. Of course, it must be said that there are still many dedicated and caring nurses of whom Nightingale would be proud. But in general, her ethic has been all but destroyed.

Nursing is not a job but a vocation. That means it is governed by a sense of moral duty to the patient rather than by the self-interest of the nurse. That sense of vocation lay at the heart of Nightingale's vision. It was no accident that in her seminal Notes On Nursing, published in 1860, she wrote that `the greater part of nursing consists in preserving cleanliness'. It was not just that cleanliness was essential for recovery and health. Keeping both hospital and patients clean meant the nurse needed to have the most elevated of motives to put the care and dignity of her patients first.

Accordingly, lowly functions such as washing, dressing and administering bedpans - where dignity was most fragile - were the functions that in nursing were invested with the highest possible significance. Simply, these were moral acts. Accordingly, wrote Nightingale, if a nurse declined to do these kinds of things for her patient because she was so concerned about her own status, nursing was not her calling. `Women who wait for the housemaid to do this, or for the charwoman to do that, when their patients are suffering, have not the making of a nurse in them.'

Florence Nightingale belongs in the first rank of pioneering Victorian feminists. But the tragedy is that modern feminism has all but destroyed what she stood for. In the 1980s, nursing underwent a revolution. Under the influence of feminist thinking, its leaders decided that nurses were treated like skivvies by doctors, who were mostly men. To achieve equality for women, therefore, nursing had to gain equal status with medicine. So nurse training was taken away from the hospitals and turned into an academic subject taught in universities.

This directly contradicted an explicit warning given by Florence Nightingale herself, that her 'sisters' should steer clear of the `jargon' about the `rights' of women, `which urges women to do all that men do, including the medical and other professions, merely because men do it, and without regard to whether this is the best that women can do.' That, however, was exactly what the nursing establishment proceeded to do. Since caring for patients was demeaning to women, it could no longer be the cardinal principle of nursing. Instead, the primary goal became to realise the potential of the nurse, to deliver equality with the male-dominated medical profession.

In her book The Project 2000 Nurse, Ann Bradshaw, a specialist in palliative care, described how this agenda removed caring, kindness, compassion and dedication from nurse training. Student nurses now studied courses such as sociology, gender studies, politics, psychology, microbiology and management. They were assessed for their communication, management, problem- solving and analytical skills. `Specific clinical nursing skills were not mentioned,' she wrote. In short, nursing ditched its core vocation to care.

I wouldn't have believed this possible had I not been forced to witness how my own mother was treated in a London teaching hospital a few years ago. She suffered under a wretched double burden of multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. In that pitiable condition, which meant she could barely walk, she broke her hip and was admitted for surgery to a fracture ward. If I hadn't been on hand every day, she would have starved. After surgery, she was unable to move at all in her bed. Yet the nurses made no attempt to help her to eat; nor did they even deign to move her pillow to make her more comfortable. Yet when I protested, I was told by the senior nurse on duty the bare-faced lie that an hour previously my mother had been 'skipping round the ward'.

It was then that I realised that all the excuses about NHS failure being caused by lack of money were a lie. It was then that I understood that there was, instead, a lack of something infinitely more profound - conscience, kindness, a sense of duty to others - and that the image of the NHS as the embodiment of altruism was a grotesque illusion. If you were old and incapable, it was an encounter to be feared. The memory of my mother's terrible experience still makes me cry; and I weep also for all those poor souls who have died at the hands of the NHS in Kent, and all those other frail and powerless patients who are being treated so abominably in hospitals up and down the country.

What's happened in our hospitals surely reflects a still wider social breakdown. Our society seems to have turned into a Darwinian nightmare in which the fittest prosper mightily while the old and weak are tossed aside as of no value. That's why we starve and dehydrate some elderly people to death. That's why we turn a blind eye to the dreadful conditions in so many old people's homes. And that's why nurses become managers, and preen themselves as expert professionals in meetings and seminars and conferences and away- days while patients in their hospitals are left to die in their own filth.

And what about the Labour Party, for which the NHS is the ultimate symbol of its own superior social conscience? Are Labour MPs agitating about the filth in our hospitals and the deaths it is causing? Dream on. Labour MPs are currently wholly occupied with inspecting their own navel and analysing who is up or down in the Gordon Brown/David Cameron circus. And as for the Health Secretary, while patients are dying as the direct result of the system over which he presides, he appears to think that the biggest threat to the future of the very planet is that people are too fat.

Our NHS is now the symbol of a society that has lost its moral compass along with its heart and soul.


A major Greenie fortress crumbles

"Nature" magazine is the house-journal of the Warmists so their publication of the article below is a big deal -- particularly since they are now parroting the line of -- no, no, it can't be true -- GEORGE BUSH!

TWO British experts have backed the Australian and US governments' refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, saying emissions caps are the wrong tool for tackling the problem. "Time to ditch Kyoto," British social scientist Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and leading climate change researcher Steve Rayner of Oxford University, who holds dual US-British citizenship, wrote in the journal Nature. "The Kyoto Protocol is a symbolically important expression of governments' concern about climate change. But as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, it has failed," they wrote. They said the world should instead raise spending on clean energy research to tens of billions of dollars a year as part of a broader plan "on a wartime footing".

Governments should view global warming as a strategic challenge, like the US drive to put a man on the moon in 1969 or to help Europe recover after World War Two, and move away from Kyoto-style caps on greenhouse gas emissions, they said.

The 1997 Kyoto pact obliges 36 industrial nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. Australia and the US have refused to sign up to the agreement. But many nations are over target in a sign that Kyoto is no "silver bullet" for slowing climate change, Mr Rayner told Reuters.

The two urged governments to consider carrying out more research instead of tightening Kyoto-style caps. The world's environment ministers will meet in Bali, Indonesia, from December 3-14 to launch negotiations on a successor to Kyoto. "Investment in energy research and development should be placed on a wartime footing," the experts wrote of efforts to create clean energy such as wind and solar power. "It seems reasonable to expect the world's leading economies and emitters to devote as much money to this challenge as they currently spend on military research - in the case of the United States, about $80 billion a year," they said.

They said Kyoto had been modelled on treaties for protecting the ozone layer and curbing acid rain that focused on cuts in a few pollutants. But climate change affected the entire economy and solutions had to be more complex than caps on a few gases.

As part of the answer, they said the world should focus on curbs by top emitters rather than seeking agreement among 176 states that have ratified Kyoto. The top 20, led by the US and China, account for 80 per cent of all emissions.

Mr Prins and Mr Rayner noted that many Kyoto backers had criticised President George W. Bush for bringing major emitters together for talks in Washington last month. But such talks may be a necessary first step to a broader deal, they said. Mr Bush rejected Kyoto in 2001, saying its emissions caps would be too costly and that Kyoto wrongly omitted goals for poor nations. Kyoto backers see it as a tiny first step to slow the effects of climate change such as more floods, heatwaves and rising seas.

But Ben McNeill from the Climate Change Centre at the University Of New South Wales defended Kyoto today, saying the clean development mechanism and targets were important keys to slowing global warming. "Emissions targets dictate for example how effective a carbon emissions trading scheme is. In other words a carbon trading price, and that's a very important part of our strategy in the next decade or so to reduce carbon emissions and combat global warming," Dr McNeill told Radio Australia.

The two experts said the world should create markets in greenhouse gases but efforts so far had failed to produce stable prices high enough to spur a major shift away from the fossil fuels widely blamed for causing global warming. They said that, instead of ordering deeper Kyoto-style cuts in emissions beyond 2012, countries should develop policies only after experimenting with various ideas. "Although a bottom-up approach may seem painfully slow and sprawling, it may be the only way to build credible institutions that markets endorse," they wrote.


Social class effect on health accelerates for British women

Life expectancy for professional women has shot up by 30 months to 85 years in only the last four years, while the gap between the top and bottom classes has widened. Figures from the Office for National Statistics published yesterday show that females in high-status, well-paid jobs such as medicine, law and finance are living longer than ever. Their counterparts in clerical and manual jobs, however, are struggling to keep pace as their lifestyles and life expectancy emulate their male colleagues.

Diet, drinking and smoking are taking their toll on women in the lower social classes but health experts suggest that females at the top are in better shape than ever, have quicker access to healthcare, are no longer dying from breast cancer and can afford better holidays. Some epidemiologists also suggest that women get a psychological boost from a high-status job where they are largely in control.

The figures show that the life expectancy at birth for women in the top social class, or those who married into it, jumped from 82.6 years in 2001 to 85.1 years in 2005, an increase of 2.5years. This rise is at a much faster rate than the rest of the past 30 years where life expectancy has gone up about two years in every ten. During the same period the life expectancy for women in the lowest social class - unskilled workers and labourers - rose from 77.9 to 78.1 years, an increase of only ten weeks.

In male mortality, the opposite appears to be happening. Life expectancy in men has been catching up with women over the past 30 years, but since 2001 the increase has dropped slightly and the gap between the social classes has slightly narrowed. Life expectancy for men in the professional classes rose from 79.5 years in 2001 to 80 years in 2005. At the same time the life span for unskilled workers rose from 71.5 to 72.7 years. A similar picture occurs in life expectancy from the age of 65. A women in Social Class 1 now aged 65 was expected to live to 85 in 2005, but is now expected to carry on to 87. However, the corresponding figures for women in Social Class 5 only rose from 81.9 to 82.7 years.

Eric Brunner, a reader in epidemiology at University College London, could not fully explain the acceleration in life expectancy for woman in the top social classes in the past four years. But he said that access to cash and high self-esteem has a big impact on health and longevity. "Money, wealth and resources, particularly psychological, mean that women feel more in control of their lives." Women are also categorised in Social Class 1 if they are married to men working in the professions, so many of them may be able to take on part-time jobs or not work at all.

Alcohol, smoking, poor diet and better health services in earlier life would all be factors in the widening gap between the social classes. "There are different smoking patterns in men and women over the last 40 years," said Dr Brunner. "The peak mortality rates for men with lung cancer was in the early 1970s while the peak rate for women was in the mid-1990s." In addition, there was a much greater class divide in obesity levels among women, with far more obese females in the lowest classes. There is no significant difference among men.

Professor Mel Bartley, a director of the Economic and Social Research Centre, said that women in the top social classes were more likely to get breast cancer but now less likely to die from it. Better screening techniques and drug treatments such as Tamoxifen had had a huge impact on mortality in recent years.

More here

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mental illness soars in UK's cannabis hotspots

I think that the claims below are probably broadly right but we must not discount that Britain has more and more blacks and that they tend to live in certain areas, that they are often drug users and that they are more prone to mental illness. These results should really be broken out by race for us to be sure of what is going on. It could just be that we are seeing nothing more than an effect of Britain's ever-increasing immigrant population

The devastating effects of skunk cannabis on the nation's mental health are revealed here for the first time, showing where the drug has hit hardest around the country. Some areas have suffered a tenfold increase in people mentally ill from using the drug. Nationally, skunk smokers are ending up ill in hospital in record numbers, with admissions soaring 73 per cent. The number of adults recorded as suffering mental illness as a result of cannabis use has risen sharply from 430 in 1996 to 743 in 2006. The government data shows how the damaging effects of the drug have swept across England. Hospital hotspots for cannabis abuse include Manchester, London, Cheshire and Merseyside.

And, as the debate over the drug's dangers continues, figures released by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse (NTA) show that more than 24,500 people are in drug treatment programmes for cannabis - the highest ever. It is the most commonly misused drug by children, accounting for 75 per cent of those requiring treatment. That's 11,582 under-18s - more than double those in treatment for cannabis abuse in 2005. And more adults (13,087) are in drug treatment programmes for cannabis abuse than for crack or cocaine.

This news comes as pressure grows on the Government to reclassify cannabis to its former class B status, with the fears of police now being echoed by the Forensic Science Service, which says skunk cannabis - a highly potent form of the drug - accounts for 75 per cent of all seizures. Cannabis remains Britain's most commonly used illegal drug, with more than 4,000 kilos confiscated by police and customs officers in the first six months of this year.


A "softer" paternalist

What gives HIM the right to make decisions for other people? Should we say "Sieg heil" to him?

A radical plan to improve the nation's health - including a workplace "exercise hour" - has been unveiled by a leading Government adviser. New figures today show England is the fattest country in the EU. Now Professor Julian Le Grand, chairman of Health England, hopes to encourage people to improve their diets, give up smoking and exercise more.

He proposed the introduction of a smoking permit, which smokers would be required to show each time they bought tobacco. It is then their choice to go smoke free and not buy a permit.

Companies with more than 500 staff would have an " exercise hour". Employees would have to deliberately choose not to join in. The proposalsare the opposite of the Government's approach which requires people to opt in to healthy lifestyles. Instead it would be up to them to make the unhealthy choice.

In his speech to the Royal Statistical Society last night the professor, a former aide to Tony Blair said: "It is not like banning something, it's a softer form of paternalism."


Permissiveness is degrading English civility

To understand the opening comments below, you need to know that Rugby is a form of football favoured by middle to upper class Brits while "football" (soccer") is working class. The bad behaviour of English soccer fans abroad is notorious. The author, Janet Daley is American born. Her surname is Irish. It is unlikely that an English person would comment on class differences so forthrightly. She is nonetheless a frequent writer in English conservative publications

So the England rugby fans apparently managed to find their way out of Paris without wrecking a single bar, overturning a single car or bottling a single South African supporter - let alone waging a pitched battle on the Champs-Elysees with a squad of armoured police. Even those who arrived without tickets, drank with abandon and were reduced to sleeping rough in the streets - a sure-fire prescription for carnage if this had been a football World Cup - made no trouble for the authorities.

There are a few commentators who staunchly insist that this is not about class: that the difference between what Dave Tattoo and his mates would have done to Paris after losing a football World Cup final, and what the sad but non-violent rugby fans did, is nothing to do with the ugly social divide that still pervades Britain.

Well, delude yourself if you like - but this is about class. What confuses the issue now is that class is not all about money. Many thugs who travel abroad in fervent pursuit of the ultimate football fan's trophy - a charge of grievous bodily harm - are high earners, at least by the standards of their parents' generation. (After all, how else could they afford the trip?)

But what is so devastatingly depressing is that the class barrier in Britain is so immutable that even relative affluence cannot touch what lies at the heart of it. Since I arrived in this country, there has been a succession of optimistic prophesies about the end of the class system. When I got here in the 1960s you were in the midst of one: a great wave of creativity had arisen from the proletarian provinces - John Lennon and David Hockney, John Osborne and Kingsley Amis. Surely this was the dawn of a new age of egalitarian meritocracy in which it was positively fashionable to have working-class roots? Look at the photographs of the England football team who won the World Cup in 1966. How respectable and middle class they appear - and how gentlemanly was their behaviour on the pitch by comparison to the rich sociopaths who now dominate the game.

Whatever happened to the decency and civility that was personified by Bobby Moore and the Charlton brothers? What happened to the desire of young working-class men to rise above the violence and borderline criminality that lay in wait for people of their backgrounds whose self-discipline was allowed to slip?

It disappeared under a new wave of garbage culture and what seemed to me - a shocked outsider - like a positive conspiracy to maintain the separateness of working-class life, engineered jointly by sentimental media hokum and patronising middle-class guilt.

Whole genres of television programmes, whole tranches of truly appalling down-market magazines appeared on the scene, all apparently designed to celebrate the most degrading forms of working-class life. And as cynical and manipulative as these cold-blooded marketing exercises were, to criticise them was to invite charges of snobbery: as if no form of "entertainment", however debased, should be regarded as too low to be an insult to this audience.

Schooling, which should have been the real answer to it all, was dominated by an educational establishment steeped in bourgeois guilt. I can remember having heated arguments with teachers and education officials who were adamant that children's ungrammatical regional dialects should not be corrected. "Correct" English, they insisted, was just a middle-class fetish which should not be imposed on children from "other" backgrounds. So generations of working-class children had their feet set in social and cultural concrete by schools that refused to teach them how to speak and write their own language properly.

It happened again and again: in the 1980s there was another burst of meritocratic aspiration which saw a further wave of people break free from the limitations of their backgrounds - only to be ridiculed as "Essex men" whose vulgar tastes and flashy wives still put them beyond the pale no matter how much they earned.

Now we have a new incarnation of the old division with "chavs" [flashy working class youths] and reborn Sloane Rangers. And a poll at the weekend states that 89 per cent of respondents believe that people in Britain are still judged by their class.

The Labour Government, convinced (rightly) that education is the answer to this, is trying to force universities to accept students whose schooling has been so inadequate that they cannot even achieve the low level of qualification needed to be admitted legitimately. Social engineering is too subtle a term for this distortion of university entrance criteria: it is not so much a bending of the system as a bludgeoning that threatens to devalue what makes higher education so worthwhile. If education is the answer, then it must be allowed to do what only education can do: provide the rite of passage to an examined life.

That life requires an attitude which takes self-respect and the value of personal achievement for granted. Implant and nurture those things and the rest - aspiration, motivation and social mobility - will follow.

In Danny Danziger's book Museum, a collection of essays by people who work at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a revelatory chapter by the head of security. The uniformed guards in the galleries at the Met are all graduates. This may be why they exercise far more discipline over the groups of schoolchildren than their British equivalents do: first, they feel more real commitment to the art, and second, they see no reason why everyone - from whatever background - should not be expected to behave in a museum.

Two of them became so involved with the objects they were guarding that they went back to university to get higher degrees and became museum curators. Ask yourself what the chances would be of that happening here, and even what response there would be to the suggestion that all museum guards should have higher education?

Forgive the homily, but it seems to be necessary to say this: self-respect comes to people from the expectations of others. If you, as a society, do not expect correct speech, decent behaviour and a sense of responsibility from some of your fellow citizens - do not, in other words, demand from them what civilised life requires - then you deny them the chance to enter that life more effectively than if you had barred the gates to every centre of learning in the land.


So health care for the poor is better in England and Canada? Guess again

Post below lifted from Chris Reed. See the original for links

From a new study by Princeton scholars:
This paper reexamines differences found between income gradients in American and English children's health, in results originally published by Case, Lubotsky and Paxson (2002) for the US, and by Currie, Shields and Wheatley Price (2007) for England. We find that, when the English sample is expanded by adding three years of data, and is compared to American data from the same time period, the income gradient in children's health increases with age by the same amount in the two countries.

In addition, we find that Currie, Shields and Wheatley Price's measures of chronic conditions from the Health Survey of England were incorrectly coded. Using correctly coded data, we find that the effects of chronic conditions on health status are larger in the English sample than in the American sample, and that income plays a larger role in buffering children's health from the effects of chronic conditions in England.

We find no evidence that the British National Health Service, with its focus on free services and equal access, prevents the association between health and income from becoming more pronounced as children grow older.

Got that? Poor kids fare better in the U.S. system, with all its flaws, than in England with its single-payer system. Oh, but that's England! Canada is what we want to be like! Michael Moore says so! It must be true. Guess again. Here's the summary of a new study by Baruch College scholars:
Does Canada's publicly funded, single payer health care system deliver better health outcomes and distribute health resources more equitably than the multi-payer heavily private U.S. system? We show that the efficacy of health care systems cannot be usefully evaluated by comparisons of infant mortality and life expectancy. We analyze several alternative measures of health status using JCUSH (The Joint Canada/U.S. Survey of Health) and other surveys.

We find a somewhat higher incidence of chronic health conditions in the U.S. than in Canada but somewhat greater U.S. access to treatment for these conditions. Moreover, a significantly higher percentage of U.S. women and men are screened for major forms of cancer. Although health status, measured in various ways is similar in both countries, mortality/incidence ratios for various cancers tend to be higher in Canada. The need to ration resources in Canada, where care is delivered "free", ultimately leads to long waits. In the U.S., costs are more often a source of unmet needs.

We also find that Canada has no more abolished the tendency for health status to improve with income than have other countries. Indeed, the health-income gradient is slightly steeper in Canada than it is in the U.S.

Got that? Poor people fare slightly better in the U.S. health system than they do in the Canadian system. On a scale of 0 to 100, relevance of these studies to the U.S. health debate: 100.

On a scale of 0 to 100, the likelihood they ever will become part of the U.S. health debate: 0. Just wonderful.

NOTE: The Canadian study above does have some problems. See here. But when one of Canada's leading Leftist politicians goes to the USA for medical treatment that probably tells us more than any statistics. And Stronach is one of many Canadians who go to the USA for treatment that they cannot get in Canada

Man rips out teeth with pliers to beat NHS wait

He was in pain from toothache but was told to wait 3 weeks before he could be treated

A BRITISH man has pulled out seven of his own teeth because he was told to wait three weeks for an appointment to see a National Health Service dentist. Taxi driver Arthur Haupt used pliers and a technique he had learned in the army to carry out the DIY dentistry. He couldn't afford the $170 per tooth treatment he was quoted by a private practice.

"If you can't get anyone else to take your teeth out, you take them out yourself, don't you?" said Mr Haupt, 67, from Melton, in Leicestershire in England's east Midlands. "When they told me to fill out a form and how long I would have to wait I said, 'I've got gob ache now, not in three weeks time'.


Brits beginning to face environmental facts

Ministers are planning a U-turn on Britain's pledges to combat climate change that "effectively abolishes" its targets to rapidly expand the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Gordon Brown will be advised today that the target Tony Blair signed up to this year for 20% of all European energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 is expensive and faces "severe practical difficulties".

According to the papers, John Hutton, the secretary of state for business, will tell Mr Brown that Britain should work with Poland and other governments sceptical about climate change to "help persuade" German chancellor Angela Merkel and others to set lower renewable targets, before binding commitments are framed in December. It admits that allowing member states to fall short of their renewable targets will be "very hard to negotiate ... and will be very controversial". "The commission, some member states and the European parliament will not want the target to be diluted, though others may be allies for a change," says a draft copy of Mr Hutton's Energy Policy Presentation to the Prime Minister, marked "restricted - policy".

The revelations came as scientists announced that carbon emissions were accumulating in the atmosphere far more quickly than predicted. The sharp increase found by the Global Carbon Project is attributed mainly to Chinese coal-burning and a weakening of the ability of oceans and forests to soak up carbon dioxide.

The leaked papers admit to "a potentially significant cost in terms of reduced climate change leadership" if Mr Brown is seen to be driving a plan to let European member states fall short of their renewables targets. They also reveal different priorities across government departments about how to get renewables to 20% of the electricity mix. Although Germany has increased its renewable energy share to 9% in six years, Britain's share is only 2%, with its greenhouse gas emissions rising.

Last night campaigners expressed alarm at the new direction of government policy. "Gordon Brown is now in danger of surrendering any claim to international leadership on climate change and would rather support nuclear power and scupper the European renewable energy target," said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace.

Mr Hutton will tell Mr Brown that there are severe practical difficulties about meeting the 20% target. These include persuading the Ministry of Defence and the shipping industry to accept more offshore wind power, as well as increased research and development costs for marine and tidal power. One of the main objections of government to meeting the renewables target set by Mr Blair is that it will undermine the role of the European emission trading scheme. This scheme was devised by the Treasury under Mr Brown and allows wealthy governments to pay others to reduce emissions. "[Meeting the 20% renewables target] crucially undermines the scheme's credibility ... and reduces the incentives to invest in other carbon technologies like nuclear power", say the papers.

The government is clearly worried about its ambition to introduce more nuclear power as soon as possible. Mr Hutton will tell Mr Brown that he expects a second legal challenge by Greenpeace. "[It is] most likely to be on the basis of pre-judgement, concerns about waste, a flawed consultation process or inaccuracies."

Analysis by Mr Hutton's department suggests it could cost the UK 4bn pounds a year to achieve a 9% share of renewable energy by 2020. The shift in stance is due to be discussed at full cabinet next week. Last night a spokesman for the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said: "We don't comment on ministerial meetings with the PM.