Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the first day of Christmas...

Three lighter posts from the Unhinged Kingdom to start with today: Post below lifted from Adam Smith blog. See the original for links

My true love sent to me: a partridge in a pear tree. In the original song it seems that 'my true love' is God, that the partridge symbolizes Christ, and the pear tree represents the Cross. Well, maybe.

But in Britain, until this year, if you wanted to deal in game - not just partridges but pheasants, hares, grouse, moor game, woodcock, deer, or rabbits, you needed a licence from the local authority under section 18 of the 1831 Game Act (plus an excise licence from the Post Office under section 14 of the 1860 Game Licences Act). The 1831 legislation laid down strict rules on when game could be sold - an attempt to ensure that breeding cycles were not disrupted. Freezing and refrigeration of course make a nonsense out of this, but our politicians seem to have overlooked this for the last half century. That is how laws are made.

The requirement for a licence to shoot game has been scrapped, but shooting on Sundays and Christmas Day is still banned, thanks to a campaign by the League Against Cruel Sports. (I guess it's not so cruel to shoot things Monday-Saturday.)

Critics also argued that Sunday shooting would disrupt people's lie-in, and could prove dangerous as people went for a Sunday stroll. Still, they told us that nobody wanted to shop on a Sunday too, and now (even though our rulers allow the shops to open only a few hours) Sunday is a hugely popular shopping day. We really should scrap all this regulation.


Red Ken's bureaucracy defeats the Greenies!

Transport for London, run by far-Left Mayor "Red Ken" Livingstone, claims that pedicabs (a glorified bicycle) are the same as taxicabs. It has resorted to litigation against a company called Bugbugs - which operates pedicabs - in pursuit of the point. Post below lifted from The Croydonian. See the original for links and pics

"Bugbugs had sought to strike out, on the grounds of abuse of process, a claim made under CPR Part 8 by the respondent, Transport for London ("TfL"), for a declaration that a pedicab is a "hackney carriage" for the purposes of section 4 of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 ("the 1869 Act"). The Master dismissed Bugbugs' application to strike out TfL's claim. He gave permission to appeal".

And the appeal failed. I am not going to go off on a 'the law is an ass' rant since that would be a - dull and b- not entirely justified as this and previous litigation revolve around whether a pedicab is a hackney carriage or a stage carriage. What is more noteworthy is that TfL is behaving like a classic monopolist and attempting to destroy a competitor by loading it with an unsupportable regulatory burden. Apparently the old bale of hay law has been repealed, but the added weight of insurance and so like will inevitably wreck the ability of pedicab riders (that would appear to be the technical term) to make a living. And meanwhile, how many accidents have been caused by the riders, public nuisances etc etc? Few I imagine.

The company itself appears to be achingly right on - "It is a not-for-profit organisation, limited by guarantee and run by a board of trustees. It was founded in 1998 and its aims include the provision of a sustainable emission-free integrated form of passenger transport and the creation of work and training opportunities for people from all backgrounds and nationalities". Doubtless regular users are Guardianistas to a wo/man, and occasional users tourists. I went for a ride in one in Edinburgh in the summer and it was rather fun.

So well done TfL. What a great day's work - an almighty spoke has been rammed into the wheel of both a harmless diversion for denizens of the metropolis and the ability of folk to make a living.


The super-efficient British cops will get their man!

Unless there is a serious problem, of course. Post below lifted from Adam Smith blog. See the original for links

Alain Roberts climbed Portland House the other day - a tall building (mainly full of quangos) near London's Victoria Station. He did it all with his hands and feet - he used no ropes, pitons or other kit. At the top he was promptly arrested. The charge? Wasting police time.

Now I don't know what makes the police think their time is so valuable that the antics of this harmless eccentric amount to a waste of it. Presumably they reckon that while they were taking tea on the roof and waiting for 'Spiderman' Roberts to arrive, they could have been out booking motorists for doing 36mph, or harrassing middle class citizens for trying to stop thugs breaking into their homes.

The police didn't have to be there. Their action reminds me of the supposed lawyer's bill: To crossing the road to update you on your case, 100 pounds . To crossing back after realizing it wasn't you 100 pounds. We seem to live in a society where we invent crimes for no good reason. Why punish people for smoking weed (or tobacco for that matter) when the only person caused any harm is themselves? I'd really prefer it if the police sat at home rather than having to think up new reasons to arrest folk.


New hope from Britain in battle against Clostridium difficile

A vaccine that operates on the same principle as the jab for diphtheria and tetanus could be used to stamp out cases of the virulent hospital superbug Clostridium difficile, researchers say. Scientists will start recruiting patients next year for clinical trials of the vaccine, which has the potential to prevent thousands of deaths in British hospitals each year.

The vaccine, given to healthy patients last year to check its safety, works by using a small quantity of formaldehyde to neutralise toxins emitted by the bacteria. In laboratory trials and tests on at least three patients with chronic C. difficile infections, it rendered these toxins harmless, helping the immune system to fight off illness naturally. A jab against C. difficilecould be provided to at-risk groups within eight years, the researchers suggest.

C. difficile is the most common form of hospital-acquired infection and diarrhoea in the Western world. It contributed to the deaths of nearly 4,000 people last year. Cases of the superbug, which is harder to control than MRSA, increased by 8 per cent last year compared with 2005.

Acambis, the company developing the vaccine, said that it was negotiating with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency on whether British patients could take part in the next stage of the trials. The company, based in Cambridge, East Anglia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that it had identified a number of vaccine formulations and planned to begin the second phase of trials towards the end of next year.

The bacterium occurs naturally in the intestines of 3 per cent of healthy adults and two thirds of infants, where it rarely causes problems. However, it can cause illness - from mild to severe diarrhoea, or in some cases severe inflammation of the bowel - when its growth is unchecked. Treatment with antibiotics can disturb the balance of "normal" bacteria in the gut, allowing C. difficile to thrive.

Michael Watson, the executive vice-president for research and development at Acambis, said: "Formaldehyde may be best known as the pickling ingredient for Damien Hirst's shark, but it's also a key ingredient in vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. "In a typical C. difficile infection the toxins break apart and irritate the lining of the bowel. Our vaccine is designed to prevent this and render the toxins harmless, so they can be destroyed by the immune system."

Most people can recover from an infection naturally but patients whose immune reaction is weakened by age or illness have trouble fighting off the bug. Infections can be treated with antibiotics but an estimated 20-30 per cent of patients suffer a relapse.

The vaccine could provide a longer-term solution to the problem, and counter the emergence of drug-resistant strains, Dr Watson said. "We estimate that between 2010 and 2015, patients could start seeing the benefits," he added. The NHS is also using technology invented to protect Britain against biological weapons to fight superbugs. Air disinfection units, which kill up to 98.5 per cent of germs in the air, including drug-resistant strains of C. difficile, E. coli and MRSA, have been approved for use in hospitals after tests at Porton Down, the Government's bio-warfare research centre in Wiltshire.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospitals trust in Kent, where at least 90 patients died as a result of C. difficile infections, will be the first to use the technology.


Harvard's deep pockets lure bright Brits

A record number of talented British teenagers are snubbing Oxbridge and applying to Ivy League universities, lured by more substantial American bursaries. Students from families whose household income is 90,000 pounds qualify for financial assistance at Harvard. It also recently raised its threshold for free tuition and board for the poorest students.

Leading British schools say that some of their highest-achieving pupils no longer see Oxford and Cambridge as the pinnacle. Instead they are attracted by the broader curriculum and supposedly superior facilities at Ivy League universities - an elite group of eight in the northeast of the United States. It raises fears that the cream of British students will increasingly look abroad, potentially undermining the global standing of our top universities.

The number of British students applying to Harvard was 197 five years ago. By last year it had risen to 290. Applications to Yale from British teenagers have more than trebled from 74 in 1997 to 234 last year. Harvard students whose parents' income is less than 30,000 pounds have all tuition fees, accommodation, living expenses and flights home paid by the university - a package worth almost 25,000. Those with household earnings of between 30,000 and 90,000 pounds have to contribute only between 4 and 10 per cent of their income. Even families earning more than 100,000 can be entitled to assistance if they have dependants such as elderly relatives, or more than one child at university. William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, said: "We just take the best people wherever they apply from, and we fly to the UK every year to talk to schools about it."

Leading independent schools said that an increasing number of pupils had set their sights on the Ivy League. Clarissa Farr, High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School in London, said that about 15 sixth-formers were applying to American universities this year, a big increase on previous years. She said: "They see themselves operating on a worldwide stage. Our students still see Oxbridge as very desirable, but other pinnacles are appearing beyond those mountains." For many, she said, the attraction was that students did not need to choose their specialist subject until their second year. Ms Farr added: "The American universities are very well resourced and their facilities are much bigger. There is also a huge range of scholarships and bursary programmes."

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College in Berkshire, said that about 10 per cent of his pupils were applying to American universities this year. He said: "I think British universities have had it too easy for too long, with students queueing up to join them. It's a stimulus to British universities and good for them to have some com-petitition. US univerities offer a great deal that UK universities don't: far broader courses, much greater recognition of all-round achievement and richer extracurricular life. They have a more generous student/teacher ratio."

Vicky Tuck, Principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, said that more than a dozen of her pupils had applied for American universities this year. "There has certainly been an increase over the past two or three years," she said. "Some of the girls see their life prospects being enhanced by going to a good US university. "American universities are so well funded through philanthropic donations, it's just astonishing. I had one pupil from Poland who was offered places at Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT had a huge bursary and she couldn't afford to go to Cambridge, so she went to America instead." Mrs Tuck said that in such a competitive markent Oxbridge could start to lose some of its best candidates. "People who want the best will go overseas if they think they're not getting it here."

Students at British universities are now an average of 30,000 pounds in debt when they graduate. But the brightest applicants can emerge debt-free from an American education because at some Ivy League universities admissions tutors have no idea whether applicants can afford their fees and are determined to attract elite students from around the world, regardless of cost. They can easily afford to do so with alumni donations creating huge endowments. Harvard's is worth $35 billion which is more than the combined annual funding for all English universities.


Jeremy Clarkson on Christmas correctness

If you are a frizzy-headed, saggily breasted, left-threaded lunatic, Christmas is not a time for giving or receiving. It's not quality time for the family. Nor is it a time to worship the baby Jesus, because of course that's not multicultural or Winterval enough.

Christmas for these people is mostly a time of industrial-strength guilt. All year they feel guilty for being paid and comfortable but at Christmas they can really turn up the heat in the sauna of shame. They are guilty about the carbon vapour trail left by their cranberry sauce as it came over from America. They are guilty about the sheer volume of presents they bought for Tarquin. They are guilty about having central heating and a well-toned tummy, and teeth.

And so, to assuage the guilt, many have been buying charity Christmas presents for random families in Africa. All you do is make a donation to Oxfam and it will send a gift down the chimney of some mud hut in Mozambique. You may think this is all jolly noble, and I'd have to agree if the presents were iPods or Manchester United football shirts or something the average African villager might actually want.

But unfortunately we are talking about a bunch of fair-trade lunatics so what they've actually been buying is goats. Hundreds of them. Oxfam says this is a brilliant idea, and ActionAid even posts a quote from Elias Nadeba Silva, a farmer, who was given one last year. "I have great plans for my field," he said, "and my family is very grateful for ActionAid's help . . .

"But next year, no more goats, Okay? I'd prefer a copy of Mothership by Led Zeppelin."

Other popular choices from well-meaning idealists in the media-fuelled parts of eastern London include cans of worms, piles of dung, catering packs of condoms and the materials for making toilets. Who wants that for Christmas? "Daddy, Daddy. Santa's been!! He's been!!!! And he's brought me . . . an Armitage Shanks Accolade back-to-wall bog, which combines classical elegance with a contemporary style."

I can only begin to imagine the look of desperation on the little lad's face. That crushing, all-enveloping sense of overwhelming disappointment. Someone in faraway England has gone to all the bother of buying him a Christmas present. It's probably the only one he'll get. And it's a bloody bog.

Think about it. We're told that we should never buy our wives or girlfriends anything with a plug, because this is bound to be something they need, rather than want. And exactly the same thing holds true the world over. No child anywhere wants a lavatory for Christmas. You need a lavatory. You want teddies and footballs and BMX bicycles. And AK47s. It is hard, honestly, to think of a more useless, patronising and stupid present than a toilet. Not even a gift-wrapped copy of the worst book ever written - Versailles: The View from Sweden - comes close.


British diplomat gets a pounding

Taking the steps needed to combat global warming would also boost the economy, improve air quality and ensure cleaner water, a British official told state lawmakers at a hearing on climate change.

But one legislator challenged the international scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to warming the world and implied that the globe might not be heating up, something conceded even by many skeptics of man-made climate change..... Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, questioned the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming. He pointed out that most scientists in Christopher Columbus' day believed the Earth was flat and that a squadron of fighter planes lost over Greenland in 1942 was found in the 1990s under 250 feet of ice, even as the world was reportedly getting warmer.

Seabaugh said he believed the theory of man-made climate change was being pushed by industries that could benefit financially. "That is the reason why I remain highly skeptical of the hysteria over global warming," he said.

Rickerd later disputed Seabaugh's characterization. "It isn't hysteria," he said. "It isn't a bandwagon." The British envoy said while some areas of the world have cooled, the average global temperature is rising.

In a separate presentation, self-proclaimed global warming skeptic Harold Brown, an agricultural scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, said many were worried about "global cooling" as recently as the 1970s. He also said some of the direst effects of a warming world, such as an increase in the number of deaths because of heat-related illnesses, might not be as bad as some feared, even if climate change were to continue.

"Global warming is a wonderful environmental disease," he said sarcastically. "It has a thousand symptoms and a thousand cures and it has tens of thousands of practitioners with job security for decades to come unless the press and public opinion get tired of it."

Environmental groups, meanwhile, said lawmakers needed to quit rehashing a debate about climate change that green organizations consider settled.

More here

NHS told to return to the past

Nurses should take back responsibility for cooking and cleaning in hospitals instead of letting private contractors do the work, a medical expert says. Many doctors are afraid of being treated in their own hospitals, while a lack of support from the Government has left elderly patients at risk from hospital-acquired infections and malnourishment, according to academics writing in the British Journal of Hospital Medicine. Dame Betty Kershaw, the Emeritus Dean of Sheffield University School of Nursing and Midwifery, says that the NHS is offering an extremely poor service to older people in clinical settings and those being cared for in their homes. Recent attempts by ministers to lower rates of MRSA and Clostridium difficile infections through a “deep clean” of hospitals will not have any significant impact, she writes.

Dame Betty, a former president of the Royal College of Nursing, recommends giving responsibility back to nurses for tasks such as cleaning and catering. “We must return the power and control of nursing care to the ward sister (or the equivalent senior nursing post in the community) if we are to improve standards, address the serious loss of patients’ dignity and deal with the growing number of hospital-acquired infections,” she says. “The proposed ‘deep clean’ will be merely papering over the cracks. Cleaning staff need to be employed by the NHS, not contracted out.”

Gordon Brown announced the “deep clean” at the Labour Party conference, insisting that “a ward at a time, walls, ceilings, fittings and ventilation shafts, will be disinfected and scrubbed clean”. Health workers believe that the high volume of bed turnover in wards is a more serious issue. But the latest official report from the Department of Health suggests that dirty wards and high bed-occupancy rates no longer contribute significantly to the spread of MRSA.

Dame Betty is joining a debate prompted by Sir Roy Calne’ Emeritus Professor of Surgery at the University of Cambridge, who in a previous editorial for the journal declared that attitudes and standards in the NHS had changed so much that many doctors were afraid of being treated in their own hospitals. “As a consequence of bad treatment of nurses, the unions have become very strong and discipline has deteriorated, so that it is almost impossible to dismiss an unsafe nurse whose poor practice endangers patients,” he said.

Like Dame Betty, Sir Roy wants to see ward sisters in control of ancillary activity. He believes that a two-tier system of NHS treatment now exists, putting elderly patients at particular risk. He compared the high standards of flagship units with the “dismal” environment of geriatric wards, which were so dangerous they had become “a lottery for euthanasia from infection and malnourishment”.

The health workers’ union Unison says that the number of cleaners in the NHS has halved in the past 20 years. There have been concerns that hospitals are hiring the cheapest cleaning contracts and cutting corners. The standard of hospital food has also been recently criticised by the Healthcare Commission and the Royal College of Nursing.

Sir Roy said that boosting pay and morale among nurses would help to restore standards. “The shortage of nurses as a result of poor pay and perceived poor status has forced us to rely on the services of nurses from abroad, often from countries which can ill afford to lose their nurses,” he wrote.

Ministers argue that the increased focus on tackling hospital-acquired infections has contributed to a 27 per cent fall in the probability that a patient will acquire MRSA compared with 2001. But the Government is still expected to miss a three-year target to halve rates of MRSA by April.

A report published by the Department of Health concludes that high bed occupancy, greater use of temporary nursing staff and low cleanliness scores were correlated with higher MRSA rates up to 2003-04, but that in recent years these links have weakened to the point where they are not statistically significant. “One possibility is that trusts have become significantly better in recent years at understanding and meeting these challenges,” the report adds. Ann Keen, the Health Minister, said: “We have given the NHS comprehensive guidance on infection control and this report is consistent with our interventions and support beginning to bear fruit.”


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