Friday, February 22, 2008

Twisted British law again

Courageous Indian defended himself against an habitual criminal -- How awful!

A shopkeeper could be charged with murder after an armed robber who tried to steal the day's takings was stabbed with his own knife during a struggle. Tony Singh, 34, described as a hard-working family man who often works 13-hour days, was ambushed as he shut his shop on Sunday evening by Liam Kilroe, 25, a career criminal who was armed with a knife.

Mr Singh fought back and, after a fierce hand-to-hand struggle, Kilroe was seen by witnesses to stagger away clutching the knife to his chest. Kilroe was taken to hospital, where he died, and Mr Singh was detained by police. He is now waiting to discover whether he will be charged, and is on police bail until February 29 pending further inquiries.

Lancashire police confirmed that papers had been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will decide whether Mr Singh should be charged with one of three offences: murder, manslaughter or assault.

Mr Singh, who suffered injuries to his neck and back during the struggle and had to be treated in hospital, insisted yesterday that he had acted in self-defence. The shopkeeper, who runs the Lifestyle Express general store in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, said: "I feel lucky to be alive. All I was doing was trying to stop myself getting hurt. The guy could have killed me. "I have got some injuries to my face and I am pretty shaken up but, thankfully, I am OK and able to return to work. It could have been so much worse. If one of the wounds had gone one inch either way, then it could have been fatal for me."

Kilroe, of Billinge, near St Helens, who had convictions stretching back nine years, was in breach of bail conditions at the time of his death. He had failed to appear in court to answer charges that he carried out armed robberies at a shop and post office with an imitation firearm. In one raid a postmaster was hit over the head with a handgun but the robbers fled empty-handed. In a second robbery, at a general shop in Croston, Leyland, they forced a woman behind the counter to open the till at gunpoint and hand over 8,000 pounds. Kilroe's trial was scheduled to go ahead in his absence earlier this week at Preston Crown Court until Judge Christopher Cornwall was told that the accused had died.

Mr Singh had just shut his store at 9.40pm on Sunday and was about to drive home when Kilroe struck. He smashed the driver's side window of Mr Singh's Ford Focus with the butt of his knife and reached in to demand the takings. The shopkeeper resisted. At the end of the struggle Kilroe was seen to stagger away from the scene with the knife in his chest then stumble to the ground. A number of people witnessed the confrontation and have given statements to police. Mr Singh's customers and fellow shopkeepers offered their support yesterday. One said: "Tony is a much-loved shopkeeper who has worked hard all his life."

Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell, of Lancashire police, who is leading the investigation, said: "Police and an ambulance attended the scene and found the driver and passenger windows of the Focus smashed. Liam Kilroe was dead by the car and another man was in the car with stabbing injuries to his head and back. "There had clearly been a struggle between the two men and we have recovered a knife which I believe to be Liam Kilroe's. We have had a number of consistent accounts from eye witnesses to the incident and further inquiries will be made."

A spokesman for Lancashire police said that the Crown Prosecution Service had asked them not to divulge details of the struggle because they would form the basis of their decision whether or not to prosecute Mr Singh. He said: "A file will shortly be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for them to make a decision on finalising the case. Depending on their decision there will either be a charge or no further criminal action and the incident will be passed to the coroner."


Global Cooling: Amazing pictures of countries joining Britain in the big freeze

Even the mainstream media are now talking about global cooling. Heading above and story below from Britain's "Daily Mail". There is a similar article on Newsmax

Yesterday's picture in the Mail of a cascade of icicles in the Yorkshire Dales was a reminder of how cold Britain can be - something many of us have forgotten in this unusually mild winter.

But it really is remarkable how little attention has been paid to the extraordinary weather events which in recent weeks have been affecting other parts of the world. Across much of the northern hemisphere, from Greece and Iran to China and Japan, they have been suffering their worst snowfalls for decades.

Similarly freakish amounts of snow have been falling over much of the northern United States, from Ohio to the Pacific coast, where in parts of the state of Washington up to 200in of snow have fallen in the past fortnight.

In country after country, these abnormal snowfalls have provoked a crisis. In China - the only example to have attracted major coverage in Britain - the worst snow for 50years triggered an unprecedented state of emergency. Large parts of the country have been paralysed, as rail and road transport ground to a standstill. More than 25,000 miles of power lines collapsed under a weight of snow and ice they were never designed to cope with. Snow has devastated thousands of square miles of farmland, threatening severe food shortages. The total cost of the disaster to the Chinese economy may be more than £10billion.

In Afghanistan, freezing weather and the worst snow for 30 years have killed more than 900 people. In neighbouring Tajikistan, according to aid agencies, the coldest winter for 50 years, along with soaring food prices and a massive energy crisis, threatens a "humanitarian catastrophe".

In Greece and Turkey, where temperatures dropped as low as minus 31 degrees Celsius, hundreds of villages have been cut off by blizzards and drifting snow. In Iran, following heavy snowfalls last month, its eastern desert regions - normally still hot at this time of year - have seen their first snow in living memory. In Saudi Arabia last month, people were amazed by the first snow most had ever seen. On the Pacific coast of Japan last week, heavy falls of snow injured more than 50.

Meanwhile in the U.S., similarly abnormal snowfalls have hit more than a dozen states. One Massachusetts town reported 12ft drifts after its heaviest snows in 30 years. In Wisconsin, the state governor declared a state of emergency as schools and airports were forced to close by up to 20in of snow - and even this was dwarfed by the blizzards which dropped as much as 16ft of the white stuff on parts of Washington state.

In light of such similar news from so many places round the world, it may not seem surprising that U.S. satellite data for January shows the extent of snow cover in the northern hemisphere as reaching its highest level since 1966, 42 years ago - and that temperatures were lower than their average for the whole of the 20th century.

Furthermore, it is not only in the northern hemisphere that records are being broken. Following last year's freak snowfalls in such southern cities as Buenos Aires and Sydney, satellite observations from the other end of the world have this winter shown ice cover round the Antarctic at easily its greatest extent for this time of year since data began in 1979, 30per cent above average.

Yet so far in our corner of the world, we have been remarkably slow to notice what was going on elsewhere, and to put the different elements of the story together. Doubtless much of the reason for this has been that, in Western Europe, we have (until the recent cold spell) enjoyed yet another comparatively warm winter - probably thanks to changes in warming sea currents which scientists find hard to explain. (Although Alpine ski resorts have seen their best snow conditions for many years.)

This is why we saw reports of balmy, prematurely spring-like weather, with primroses and blossom coming out earlier than usual and the curator of Kew Gardens suggesting "there is no winter any more" - just when much of the rest of the world was shivering through the coldest January and February since The Beatles were still together.

But one of the oddest features of this great freeze is how little it was predicted. We are so used to hearing that the world is inexorably warming up thanks to rising CO2 emissions, and that recent years have been the hottest since records were kept, that no one prepared us for the possibility that there might suddenly be such a dramatic exception to the accepted trend.

So far, the leading advocates of the global warming thesis have remained fairly quiet about the 2008 freeze, although some may explain that "freak weather events" such as we are now witnessing are just what we should expect to see as Planet Earth hots up - even if this produces the paradox that warming may sometimes lead to cooling.

Global warming "sceptics", on the other hand, are inevitably pointing to these record snowfalls as evidence that global temperatures are no longer rising as the CO2 theory predicts. We may, they suggest, be seeing the start of a period when temperatures reverse their generally upward trend over the past 30 years, as we did in those decades before 1978 known to climate scientists as "the Little Cooling".

The truth is that it is still much too early to draw any long-term conclusions from 2008's great freeze. But it is one of the most startling developments to have emerged in the world's weather patterns for a long time - not least in that it was so unexpected. At least it raises important questions over how our global climate is evolving which the scientists will have to try to explain. To the millions of people whose lives have been seriously disrupted by this year's freeze, the concept of global warming must seem awfully remote.


`Counterknowledge': when fiction masquerades as fact

From 9/11 to homeopathy, `counterknowledge' thrives thanks to a mad mixture of postmodern political correctness and capitalist greed

For anyone who still believes in the methodology of the Enlightenment, sitting around the table at a twenty-first century dinner party can be intellectual torture.

Your fellow guests tuck hungrily into a menu of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, junk history and (above all) quack medicine. Yet they will also have the nerve to insist that they reject the `medieval superstition' of religion.

We are facing an epidemic of gullibility caused by what I describe in my new book as `counterknowledge' - fiction masquerading as fact. The chief medium of dodgy empirical claims is, unsurprisingly, the internet, which enables people to construct do-it-yourself conspiracy theories and turn them into cyberspace cosmologies within the space of 24 hours.

There is no point pretending that we can (or should) police the internet. What we must do, however, is relentlessly attack trusted institutions that are allowing the pollution of the public domain by counterknowledge.

The real villains of my book are not the snake oil merchants themselves: they are the governments, universities, medical professionals, major publishing houses and newspapers that circulate patently false empirical claims. Let me give you some examples.

Constable Robinson publishes a book called 9/11 Revealed, by Ian Henshall and Rowland Morgan, that recycles every brain-dead `alternative explanation' for the terrorist attacks, including the Pentagon being hit by a missile and the Twin Towers being demolished by pre-rigged explosives. I bought my copy in WH Smith at Paddington Station in London.

Six British universities offer degree courses in homeopathy, a form of 200-year-old quackery whose claims are so risible that the press was mocking them even in the early nineteenth century. The Prince of Wales regularly abuses his constitutional position to lobby on behalf of this witchcraft. Boots the Chemist sells shedloads of homeopathic `medicine' every day.

Patrick Holford, Britain's leading `nutritionist', claims that Vitamin C is proving more effective than AZT against HIV in laboratory tests. He holds no degree higher than a 1970s BSc in psychology, but has been made a visiting professor at the University of Teesside.

British and American universities regularly teach `Afrocentric history', built around a series of claims - for example, that the Greeks stole their philosophy from the Egyptians - which are designed to raise the self-esteem of black students. These claims are fantasies. But then all claims are fantasies, according to the dreary postmodernists who hold sway in the cultural studies faculties of these universities.

How have respected institutions allowed themselves to be drawn into pushing counterknowledge? The answer lies in a mixture of postmodern political correctness and capitalist greed - and the two mix very well together.

I am a capitalist and a conservative. But I also believe in a public domain in which facts must be demonstrated to be true. Many of my allies in this battle are Marxists who believe the same thing. The crucial conflicts of the future may not be between ideologies, but between fact and fantasy. The enemy consists of `9/11 Truthers', Afrocentric historians, homeopaths and `scientific creationists'. An ill-assorted bunch, certainly - but, unfortunately, their stuff sells.


Fat Fascism building

Obesity needs to be tackled in the same way as climate change, a top nutritional scientist has said. The chairman of the International Obesity Taskforce wants world leaders to agree a global pact to ensure that everyone is fed healthy food. [Like what? McDonald's can prevent heart disease. But maybe that is not what he had in mind] Professor Philip James said the challenge of obesity was so great that action was needed now, even without clear evidence of the best options. He also called for stricter rules on marketing and food labelling.

Professor James, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, was speaking in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He commented: "This is a community epidemic that is actually a response to all the wonderful apparent industrial and economic development changes that we've seen, with a collapse in the need for physical activity, and now a targeting of children to make profits by big industry in food and drink. "We have to change that, and it will not come unless we have a coherent government-led strategy. The issue is: have we got the political will?"

He added that it was important that all food used a "traffic lights" labelling scheme so that consumers could immediately assess fat, sugar and salt content. "This is a form of public education which is being resisted mightily in Brussels with intense lobbying of commissioners who've just announced that they won't go down the British road," he highlighted. "So we're in the process of trying to make it clear that if you're concerned about the health and economics of a society you should take this seriously."

Ten percent of the world's children are either overweight or obese, twice as many as the malnourished, said Professor James. "A huge range of analyses show that we have not been looking at the problem of children's nutrition and well-being properly. "They're disadvantaged from birth, their academic achievement is impaired, their earning power is diminished, and they almost certainly have a life expectancy which is less than that of their parents."

New data from Scandinavia showed that the weight of a child at the age of 7-12 predicted whether or not they were going to die early from heart disease or other problems, he said [but die later of other problems]. "We now have to think in a totally different way and recognise that it's the life cycle," he added. "Because these children start off being born small, they are then exposed to totally inappropriate environments, and they are therefore super-sensitive."

Another expert, Professor Rena Wing, presented research at the AAAS in Boston suggesting that large-scale changes in diet and exercise were needed to prevent obesity [They sure are!]. A study of 5,000 men and women who lost an average of 70lbs (30kg), and kept the weight off for six years, shows that large lifestyle changes - such as exercising 60 to 90 minutes a day - were needed to keep people slim. "The obesity epidemic won't go away simply because people switch to skimmed milk from whole milk," she said. "They need to substantially cut their calories and boost their physical activity to get to a healthy weight - and keep minding the scale once they do."


Cheaper chickens: a slap in the face of British food snobs

The outraged reaction to Tesco's decision to sell chickens for $4 is stuffed with an unpalatable mix of snobbery and fearmongering

Tesco hits a new low with arrival of the 1.99 pounds ($4) chicken', screamed a headline in the Independent. When the paper said `low', it wasn't referring to the price. `While Sainsbury's has committed to massive improvements in animal welfare, Tesco is showing its ethical credentials with this race to the bottom', declared the research director of Compassion in World Farming. The fact that a supermarket could be widely criticised for cutting its prices reveals much about the topsy-turvy, screwed-up debate about food today.

Tesco's decision to slash the price of its Grade A broiler chickens, rather than making the more ethically acceptable free-range variety cheaper, comes almost immediately after celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched a television crusade against broiler production. In Hugh's Chicken Run on Channel 4, Fearnley-Whittingstall produced two crops of chicken side-by-side: one using typical intensive methods; the other using free-range principles. The intensively produced chickens, bred to grow quickly, had less space to move in, were kept awake almost constantly and suffered from leg problems. As a result, some of them - though not many - had to be destroyed. The free-range chickens, bred to grow more slowly, were able to roam around outdoors. However, some of the free-range birds also had to be destroyed because they acquired an infection - something which the broiler birds stuck indoors were never exposed to.

In his show, Fearnley-Whittingstall frequently argued that in selling such cheap chicken (it was `two-for-a-fiver', then - now you can get three for six quid), Tesco was complicit in the lowering of welfare standards for chickens. So it must have felt like a personal slap in the face for the posh River Cottage chef when Tesco launched its latest deal to make the birds even cheaper. `I'm very surprised [at Tesco] because everybody is selling out of free-range chicken', said Fearnley-Whittingstall. `To launch a 1.99 chicken is in direct contradiction to a statement [Tesco chief executive] Sir Terry Leahy made last summer, when he said he didn't want to get into a food price war on chicken.'

Tesco, however, is unrepentant. It has promoted the latest price cut as a helping hand to families suffering from `mortgage worries, energy price rises and inflation'. Yet it seems that for a big company to ignore the ethical pestering of a celebrity do-gooder and provide its customers with what they want - good, affordable food - is beyond the pale these days. Numerous commentators and reporters are attacking Tesco for acting `unethically'. Ironically, Hugh's Chicken Run seems to have communicated at least one clear message to viewers: you can get two chickens for a fiver at Tesco! Sales of bog-standard chicken rose by seven per cent after the series ended. This suggests that while the ethical hectoring of food snobs like Fearnley-Whittingstall might get liberal and green-leaning commentators hot under the collar, it doesn't have much of an impact on the British public. When you've got a family to feed, having access to a good dinner for relatively little money is a good thing - and if we really gave a damn about chickens and their `feelings', well, we wouldn't eat them in the first place.

Of course, Tesco is not providing cheap chicken for the love of it. Rather, it thinks that a high-profile promotion such as this will get more shoppers into its stores and increase its turnover. Sainsbury's, on the other hand, has always pitched itself as being a bit classier, middle-class and right-on than Tesco, and so it uses a bit of PR about its ethical values to get a different kind of shopper into its stores. Both companies are interested primarily in making money. But as long as that means producing and selling food cheaply and efficiently, surely that is good news for the rest of us?

Underpinning the reaction to Tesco's price cut is a feeling that food is becoming too cheap - that we no longer know the true value of what we eat. If only we would pay more for our meals, then they would be tastier, healthier and more `ethical'; they would be more morally filling, apparently. It is certainly true that you get what you pay for, and it's nice to have the option of a `posh' chicken every now and then. But it is far from clear why returning to the days when food absorbed 30 per cent or more of the average household budget is anything to celebrate. Such a reversal would inevitably mean sacrificing other things that we enjoy doing, and it would put some foods out of the reach of poorer families altogether. The food snobs' explicit attempt to prevent food from being made cheaper could have a detrimental impact on people's living standards.

What really underpins the outraged reaction to ever-cheaper chicken is snobbery: a sense that the dumb masses don't know what is good for them. Some anti-Tesco (or perhaps Tescophobic) commentators write about the `zombies' who work and shop there, and claim - without a smidgen of evidence - that cheap meat is poisoning poor people. Better if they didn't have meat at all, I suppose, and lived instead on tinned beans and potatoes. Indeed, the chicken snobbery is liberally basted with a mixture of fears: that the food we eat will not only poison our bodies (through making us obese and stuffing us with additives), but will also poison our minds (through making us think that animal cruelty is okay) and poison our communities (through driving the local butcher and baker out of business).

This sense of superiority over the thick, cheap meat-scoffing masses permeates today's food campaigning: it's there in the blame-the-parents scaremongering of Jamie Oliver's TV and political crusade to improve school dinners and police the lunchbox, and in the food fears spread by the likes of Sun columnist Jane Moore and the anti-supermarket rant Tescopoly by Andrew Simms. While most of the British public buys and enjoys cheap and nutritious food, and then gets on with the more interesting parts of their lives, sections of the commentariart bizarrely work themselves into a frenzy about dangerous chickens or turkey twizzlers.

Our food is not killing us. In fact, never in the history of Britain has such a wide variety of safe and healthy food been affordable to so many. When the well-to-do start lecturing companies and customers about their selling and eating habits, it's not just the chickens that need a good roasting.


New conditions for obtaining British citizenship proposed

Immigrants with children and elderly relatives [who apply for citizenship] may have to pay a special levy to help to fund public services, under proposals to be published in a Green Paper today. The money would go into a British trust fund as part of a package of proposals for "earned" citizenship aimed at encouraging applicants for British passports to contribute to society. It is estimated that such a fund could raise up to 15 million pounds a year. A document leaked to Channel Four News states: "Money for the British trust fund will be raised through increases to certain fees for immigration applications, with migrants who tend to consume more in public services - such as children and elderly relatives - paying more than others."

The Green Paper also contains a proposal that immigrants who have worked in Britain for five years be put on probation for an additional year before they can become full British citizens. The document says that this would be to "incentivise immigrants to make the commitment to becoming British citizens and fully integrate into society". A Home Office spokesman said last night: "We are not commenting before the Green Paper is published."

Gordon Brown has already suggested that applicants should be asked to undertake community or voluntary work as a way of introducing them to British institutions and people. Ministers have rejected a points-based system for citizenship or fast-tracking applicants to a passport. They are, however, looking at barring people from becoming citizens if they have been convicted of a serious criminal offence. The existing citizenship requirement is that a person must have lived in Britain for five years, passed a test in English and demonstrated a knowledge of life in Britain.

Before he became Prime Minister Mr Brown said: "In any national debate it is right to consider asking men and women seeking citizenship to undertake some community work in our country or something akin to that which introduces them to a wider range of institutions and people in our country prior to enjoying the benefits of citizenship."

Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, who has been drawing up the proposals, said that the message had to be that becoming a British citizen was not something that was simply handed out but should be earned. In a recent speech he said that Britons had made clear that they thought newcomers should pay taxes and that no favours should be given to the rich. "I asked people whether successful migrants - like high-earning footballers or surgeons - should get ahead faster. I got a pretty blunt answer. Treat everyone the same. Just make sure no one's dodging their dues." He added that people wanted applicants to obey British laws. "When an offence is serious, I am afraid we do want to show newcomers the exit door," Mr Byrne said.


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