Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Governors and Call Girls: Some thoughts upon Eliot Spitzer's downfall


No doubt it signifies a mixture of moral frivolity and profound lack of sexual imagination, but one of the first questions that occurred to me when I read of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's involvement with a high-class (or perhaps I should say expensive) prostitution ring was: What acts does a woman perform to be worth $3,000 per hour, compared with one who charges "only" $1,000?

Of course, I have long realized that there is a hierarchy among prostitutes, as there is in all professions. My first patient with tertiary syphilis, for example, was an old prostitute, impoverished, raddled, and toothless, who still plied her trade on waste ground for the price of a cigarette. Her pimp was also her husband, and her cries of despair when he abandoned her still ring in my mind's ear. I have never encountered desolation deeper than hers.

Another of my patients was a smartly dressed black woman whom I initially took to be a business executive. She was a dominatrix. She had her own website and flew around the world flogging the prominent of many nations. She was particularly proud of her connection, if that is the word I seek, with a senior judge in one of the southern states of the U.S. She had a large house and an expensive car and was proud of her success. It was skilled work, after all, and she provided value for money, or else her clients would not have retained her services. Many of them, indeed, were in love with her. She was so amusing that I could not condemn her, even in my heart.

This reminds me that prostitutes in literature have generally been treated kindly. No literary intellectual ever won his spurs by denouncing what everyone else had already denounced with pursed lips and a tut-tut. We do not think of Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet as wicked, but rather as good-time girls with hearts of gold. Maupassant's stories favor prostitutes over their respectable, bourgeois clients. In Russian literature, fallen women serve to illustrate the possibility and power of redemption (and the generosity of authors). The demand for paid sex has generally been more severely condemned in literature than the supply.

One might have supposed that in a relatively liberal sexual environment such as ours, the demand for prostitution would decline, but that does not seem to have happened. This suggests that raw, biological frustration of the sex drive is not at the root of the demand. Appetites not only grow with feeding, but diversify with it. The limits or boundaries of licit and illicit change, but the demand for the illicit remains constant.

Mr. Spitzer can hardly have been driven to act as he did by the kind of sexual frustration that is said to be common in Muslim countries, where all contact with females before and outside of marriage is forbidden. He is both rich and powerful, and in our society men of that sort do not usually have much difficulty finding someone with whom to have an affair, if they feel the need. Moreover, one might have expected a man like Mr. Spitzer - who built his career on the prosecution (or was it the persecution?) of very rich men who supposedly had broken the rules without any compelling need to do so - to behave with circumspection, if not extreme caution, with regard to breaking rules, moral or legal. He who rises by moral outrage, after all, tends to fall by moral outrage.

On the other hand, the very dangerousness of what Mr. Spitzer did may have been what made it so exciting to him. For those with such a turn of mind, there are few pleasures greater than that of breaking rules and getting away with it; it heightens the esteem in which they hold their own intellects.

But there are other advantages in resorting to a prostitute. Prostitutes exact no emotional commitment; unlike in a proper affair, the balance of power remains firmly and predictably in favor of the man who hands over the cash. Not only can he suit his tastes and indulge his fantasies, but the possibilities of blackmail, emotional and financial, are much less than with an affair of the heart. Spurned lovers are notorious for seeking vengeance, but prostitutes are professionals, to whom a reputation for discretion and the hope of future business are important. They do not recriminate when their clients no longer come to see them. So there is safety as well as excitement in the transaction.

What of the supply - that is to say, of the prostitutes? Why do they become prostitutes? If there were no necessitous women in the world, would prostitution survive?

It would. Although middle-class sentimentalists like to think that all prostitutes are driven to the profession as snowflakes before the storm, with absolutely no choice in the matter (because no one would do voluntarily what prostitutes do), a moment's reflection shows that this cannot be so. For even if some young women are brought into Europe from Africa and Latin America and forced into sexual slavery, the fact remains that most prostitutes were not forced by circumstances but chose voluntarily to ply this particular trade. No one's circumstances are so dire that they lead to prostitution as surely as life leads to death; if desperate circumstances inexorably made prostitutes, after all, we would have more prostitutes rather than fewer.

Besides, whatever the social origins of most prostitutes, by no means do all of them come from backgrounds of deprivation. Recently in England, in the small town of Ipswich, a man was convicted of murdering five prostitutes (serial killers quite often choose prostitutes, as if to avenge some terrible sexual humiliation). Two of his victims, at least, were of middle-class origin; one had spent her childhood playing the piano and riding ponies. Interestingly, prostitution disappeared from the town in the wake of the murderer's activities, suggesting that this way of earning a living was not an unavoidable reaction to circumstances.

Quite near where I once lived, by a reservoir around which I often took walks, the body of a 16-year-old girl was found. She had run away from her middle-class home to what she thought was the glamour of the streets and of prostitution; she was bored by respectability and the prospect of a normal career. Her pimps had plied her overenthusiastically with heroin; she had died, and they dumped her body in the hope that it would not be found.

The supply side of prostitution, therefore, is not to be laid wholly at the door of desperate material circumstances. How, then, is it to be ranked with mankind's other moral weaknesses? I have discussed this matter with quite a few prostitutes in my clinic, and even those who have not studied moral philosophy have been able to justify their ways to me, if not to God, with plausible and even sophisticated arguments. They would not have been prostitutes, they said, if there had been no demand for prostitutes; and many of their customers, perhaps even most, were drawn from the supposedly respectable portions of society. From what standpoint, then, did society look down on them?

For Mr. Spitzer, I suspect, they would have had nothing but contempt: a stern moralist who was no better than the pathetic traveling salesman who wants a bit of furtive fun, or sexual release, with a rather less expensive prostitute on his nights away from his wife.

"You men!" says Sadie Thompson at the end of Somerset Maugham's great story "Rain," about a Protestant missionary seduced by a prostitute in the South Sea. "You filthy, dirty pigs! You're all the same, all of you." The prostitutes would agree with her: For them, Mr. Spitzer would be the exact moral equivalent of the missionary Davidson, who is seduced by Sadie Thompson while he tries to convert her to virtue, and then kills himself by cutting his throat in the tide. He, like Mr. Spitzer, did not live up to his own standards because, in the jaundiced view of the profession, no man ever does.

Besides, asked the prostitutes, in what way is it worse to sell one's body than to sell one's soul? How many people have never done something they knew to be wrong, merely to continue in employment? How many women, not considered prostitutes, have let the material prospects of their suitors affect their decisions to marry them?

All this rationalization, however, founders on one simple question: Would you, I asked them, want your daughters to follow in your footsteps, even if they could earn a lot of money by doing so? Not a single one has ever replied yes to that question; all were vehemently against.

We can call prostitutes sex workers, and prostitution the sex industry, but the oldest profession is also the oldest subject of opprobrium. I shall never forget the immortally distasteful words of a 15-year-old patient of mine, who was very easy with her sexual favors, and who may very well one day have decided to do for money what for the moment she did for fun. "My mum," she said, "calls me a slut. But I'm good at what I do."


Two tales of great heroism in the Middle East, one from Britain and one from the USA. The egotists of the Left would understand neither.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The facts that shatter British Labour's big immigration myth

By ANTHONY BROWNE (Author of Retreat of Reason. Review here)

There is a traditional pattern to any discussion about immigration. First, the Government and its supporters in the (often taxpayer-funded) immigration lobby declare various reasons the public should support their policies. Otherwise we would face a serious shortage of workers, economic growth would stagnate, there would be fewer people in the workforce to help pay the country's pension bill, the NHS would collapse or that the country would suffer without the enriching force of multi-culturalism.

These arguments are then unquestioningly trumpeted by the BBC and by much of the rest of the Press which instinctively wants to support mass immigration on the basis it is the morally decent thing to do. But then someone suddenly points to holes in the arguments, often in cold, factual ways. These critics inevitably get pilloried. In my case, when I started pointing out some of the downsides of immigration, I was denounced by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett in the Commons for "bordering on fascism."

In an earlier generation, Ray Honeyford, the Bradford headmaster, was hounded out of his job for declaring that children who are born and grow up in England should speak English. Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch, has been regularly demonised for the counterarguments he has put forward. But the beauty about truth is that, in the end, it will out. Ultimately, it is realised that mass immigration's critics have many valid points, and ministers are forced to change their tune (of course, rarely with any public admission that they were wrong). And so the same government that promoted multiculturalism and attacked its critics is now having to admit that multiculturalism was wrong. In the same way, a government that once insisted the NHS would collapse without foreign workers is now having to impose curbs on foreign medical staff. And the very immigration lobbyists who previously denounced those who said people living in Britain should speak English now concede that they should for their own (and society's) good.

And so is the case with that final defence for mass immigration - the argument that it benefits the British economy. The trouble is that the claim that our economic boom was based on mass immigration (rather than a credit bubble) seems a little thin now that our economy is collapsing with immigration still at record levels. The belief that we needed Eastern Europeans to fill 600,000 vacancies in our employment market seems a tad stretched given that a million or more Eastern Europeans have come - and we still have 600,000 vacancies. The argument that we are desperately short of workers looks faintly ridiculous now that we are all increasingly aware that there are more than 5 million people of working age out of work and living on benefits - and there have been for the past ten years.

The Government's final justification was that immigration is a major boost to economic output - pumping the economy by 6 billion pounds a year. This figure is parroted so often that it has become received wisdom. But unfortunately, the argument is utterly misleading. Ignore the very serious questions about how the 6 billion figure was arrived at, and take it at its face value. The real problem is that while immigration does boost the overall size of the economy (more people working means more output), it also boosts the population. And what people really care about is not how big the economy is but how well off they are - their standard of living and quality of life.

In short, what matters is not the total Gross Domestic Product, but the GDP per capita. This is the mind-numbingly obvious flaw in the Government's argument. Although a growing population means more output it also means more people to consume that output. Almost all the resultant increase in GDP goes to the immigrants themselves (which is why they come to the UK in the first place). In fact, using the Government's own figures, the effect of immigration on GDP per capita is minimal 28p a week. That too is an average figure --while the affluent who employ immigrants tend to benefit, the poor who compete with them lose out.

When Sir Andrew Green first pointed out the 28p a week figure, he was, of course, pilloried. But, although his claims are about to be confirmed by the House of Lords committee, it is probably too soon for ministers to admit the folly of their beloved 6 billion argument. But as the truth slowly emerges, it can only be a matter of time before the Government finally abandons its policies of encouraging mass immigration to this already crowded island. Only then can we expect the level of immigration to be lowered.


"Women's studies" dies in Britain

Women's studies, which came to prominence in the wake of the 1960s feminist movement, is to vanish from British universities as an undergraduate degree this summer. Dwindling interest in the subject means that the final 12 students will graduate with a BA in women's studies from London's Metropolitan University in July.

Universities offering the course, devised as the second wave of the women's rights movement peaked, attracted students in their hundreds during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the mood on campuses has changed. Students, it seems, no longer want to immerse themselves in the sisterhood's struggle for equality or the finer points of feminist history.

The disappearance of a course that women academics fought so long and hard to have taught in universities has divided opinion on what this means for feminism. Is it irrelevant in today's world or has the quest for equality hit the mainstream? The course's critics argue that women's studies became its own worst enemy, remaining trapped in the feminist movement of the 1970s while women and society moved on. "Feminist scholarship has become predictable, tiresome and dreary, and most young women avoid it like the plague," said Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for public policy research in Washington and author of Who Stole Feminism? "British and American societies are no longer patriarchal and oppressive 'male hegemonies'. But most women's studies departments are predicated on the assumption that women in the West are under siege. What nonsense."

Others believe young women have shied away from studying feminist theory because they would rather opt for degrees that more obviously lead to jobs, especially since the introduction of tuition fees. "[Taking] women's studies as a separate course may not feel as relevant to women who go to university to help them enter the job market," said Jean Edelstein, an author and journalist. "As the feminist movement has become increasingly associated with extreme thoughts, women who may have previously been interested in women's studies may be deterred by these overtones."

Anyone ruing the degree's demise can take heart: many gender and equality issues are now dealt with by mainstream courses, from sociology and law to history and English. And many universities, including Oxford, still offer the course to postgraduates. Mary Evans, visiting fellow at the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics, said: "This final closure does not signal the end of an era: feminist ideas and literature are as lively as ever, but the institutional framework in which they are taught has changed." Ms Edelstein added: "Feminist critique should be studied by everyone. If integration into more mainstream courses means more people looking at gender theory and increases the number of people who are aware of the issues, then that is a good thing."

But Dr Irene Gedalof, who has led the London Metropolitan University women's studies course for the past 10 years, defended the discipline. "The women's movement is less visible now and many of its gains are taken for granted, which fuels the perception there is no longer a need for women's studies. But while other disciplines now 'deal' with gender issues we still need a dedicated focus by academics. Despite the gains women have made, this is just as relevant in today's world," she said, blaming the course's downfall on universities' collective failure to promote the discipline.

Given that graduate courses in women's studies are thriving in many countries, such as India and Iran, the decision to stop the course here has surprised many. Baroness Haleh Afshar, professor in politics and women's studies at the University of York, said: "In the past quarter of a century, women's studies scholars have been at the forefront of new and powerful work that has placed women at the centre but has also had echoes right across academia. In particular, it is important to note the pioneering work of Sue Lees, which began at the Metropolitan and still has a long way to go. I am desolate to see that the university has decided to close it."


Class size isn't everything

Why teachers may be wrong about this class issue

"Strike threat over class sizes" is a familiar Easter headline as the teachers' unions hold their annual conferences. This year was no exception, with the National Union of Teachers demanding legislation to set a maximum limit of 20 pupils per class and delegates describing large state-school classes as a "national scandal". Their indignation acquired an extra edge when Jim Knight, the schools minister, told another union conference that classes could work well with as many as 70 pupils, provided there are sufficient teachers' assistants around.

Unfortunately for the NUT, research provides little evidence in favour of small classes. The best that can be said is that they lead to significant gains in academic test scores for pupils in the very early years of schooling, particularly if they are disadvantaged. But among children in Year 3 and upwards, class size has no measurable effect on literacy and numeracy levels. These results emerge from large-scale American studies as well as a current project at the London University Institute of Education.

The usual explanation - that schools put the less able and less well-behaved children in smaller classes - is exploded by the most recent research, which takes account of such factors as prior attainment and home background.

It is all monstrously counter-intuitive. All over the world, politicians promise smaller classes as a token of their commitment to education. Despite their outstanding past results in subjects such as maths, east Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have policies to reduce class sizes. Here, parents pay thousands of pounds to fee-charging schools, where primary-age classes have 10.7 pupils on average, against 26.2 in the state sector. Given that teachers' salaries account for the lion's share of any school's costs, parents are being overcharged, if the research is correct, by something like 100 per cent. Can everybody be mad? It is surely common sense that children in small classes, whatever their age, ability and background, will get more of the teacher's attention and therefore learn more.

In fact, research proves at least part of the common sense. The latest findings from the Institute of Education project, presented to the American Educational Research Association this month, found that the larger the class, the less the pupils concentrated on their work (or engaged in "on-task behaviour", to use the jargon). This was particularly true of low attainers in secondary schools who, in a class of 30, spent twice as much time off-task as they did in a class of 15. However, class size had no effect at all on medium and high attainers in secondary school. And for children older than six, the research remains clear: the effects of small classes on test scores are nil, zero, zilch.

How do we explain it? The "progressive" lobby in education would argue that teachers do not sufficiently adapt their teaching to take advantage of small classes. They may, for example, still spend most of their time addressing the class as a whole and fail to use the greater opportunities to give individual attention. They may even use less small-group work because the class as a whole is easier to control. The "traditionalists" would argue that, on the contrary, teachers adapt their methods too much. Given a small class, they drop whole-class teaching, which, regardless of numbers, is the most effective method of instruction.

Another possibility is that, leaving aside the first year or so of primary school, the academic benefits of small classes kick in only when the pupil numbers drop well below 20, and perhaps below 15, as they do in the fee-charging sector. Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education, argues that most teachers can't do anything in a class of 20 that they couldn't do in a class of 26. The individual attention they can give to children is still limited. The difference to the Treasury, however, is enormous, because the class of 20 entails an increase in teacher costs of more than 25 per cent. There are, Wiliam argues, more cost-effective ways of using public money.

To my surprise, I find myself in sympathy with Jim Knight. He is not the first minister to suggest that, with the growth of computer-aided learning and the advent of teachers' assistants, it is absurd to talk of "class size" at all. Margaret Hodge, then chairing the Commons education select committee, put forward a similar argument in the New Statesman ten years ago. There may be some occasions, in secondary schools at any rate, when children manage perfectly well in groups of 75; others where they should get half an hour of individual tuition.

Small classes serve as a convenient slogan for unions and politicians, because they are easily understood and accepted by the public as self-evidently a good thing. It is time we moved beyond them and thought more creatively about how we use educational resources.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brits host outspoken video about Islam

Dutch MP Geert Wilders has released his frank film about the Koran -- on a British website. Sad that it took a British site to stand up for freedom of speech after an American site backed out. No-one expected a European site to host it, of course. Excerpts from one report below:

"Mr Wilders, 44, who has built his political career campaigning against the alleged "Islamisation" of the West, argued that the film was a legitimate exercise in freedom of expression; however, many mainstream politicians and Muslims said that it was gratuitously insulting. Speaking just before the release of Fitna, an Arabic word meaning strife, Mr Wilders said that he understood that Muslims could be upset about the film but added: "It remains widely within the framework of the law . . . My film was not made to provoke violence."

Viewers had only a few minutes to see it on the Freedom Party website before it disappeared because of "technical difficulties". It then became available in Dutch and English on LiveLeak, a British-based video-sharing website, sparking fears that extremists could also target British interests.

The company that runs the website defended its decision to host the film last night, saying that there was no legal reason to censor it. " has a strict stance on remaining unbiased and allowing freedom of speech so far as the law and our rules allow," it said. "There was no legal reason to refuse Geert Wilders the right to post his film and it is not our place to censor people based on an emotive response." The website said that it did not endorse Mr Wilders or his views.

Even before seeing the film, demonstrators took to the streets in several countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia, to vent their fury at the Netherlands, and the governments of Pakistan and Iran have criticised the project. Mr Wilders seemed to have rushed putting the film out after an American server withdrew and a Muslim organisation said that it would seek a court injunction today.

The film opened with a Koran being opened and the text of a sura (a verse from the Koran) which it translated from Arabic as imploring the faithful to "terrorise the enemies of Allah". It was followed by images of aircraft flying into the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, with extracts from phone calls to the emergency services on that day. Further images of bloodstained bodies in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, in which 191 people were killed, followed.

It showed statistics of the growing Muslim population and images of female genital mutilation, a hanging of suspected gay men, beheadings and bloodied children, all following the words: "The Netherlands in future?"

More here

See the video here. No doubt various deep-thinking Muslims will use violence to protest a film which claims that they are violent.

Britain's socialists make "1984" look libertartian

A new national [British] curriculum for all under-fives risks producing a "tick-box" culture in nursery schools that relies too heavily on formal learning and not enough on play, teachers' leaders will claim today.

The new Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS), which becomes law in the autumn, lays down up to 500 developmental milestones between birth and primary school and requires under-fives to be assessed on writing, problem solving and numeracy skills. It will apply to about 25,000 nurseries, plus registered childminders in England.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it was not yet clear how the early years curriculum would be evaluated by the schools inspectorate Ofsted. He said, however, that there was a danger that teachers could allow compliance with the new framework to become more important than creativity. "The curriculum itself is not the danger," he said. "The danger is that external examiners will develop a tick-box attitude to every aspect of the curriculum to see if staff have done it." He added that the worst thing for the early years curriculum would be for it to be a "compliance curriculum".


Arbitrary NHS rules stop help for tragically infertile woman

A woman who went through the menopause in her teens has been refused fertility treatment on the NHS.

Catherine Storey was left infertile at 18 when she had a premature menopause. She is now 20 but has been refused IVF on the NHS because her boyfriend Martin Sear already has children - even though they live 300 miles away.

The couple took out a bank loan and travelled to a clinic in Barcelona. But after spending 13,000 pounds on two rounds of IVF, Miss Storey, an administrative assistant with a fire alarms company from Cramlington, Northumberland, is still not pregnant and has run out of money.

She said: "If I had fallen in love with a different man or lived in a different part of the country I could have been able to have IVF for free."

A Newcastle Primary Care Trust spokesman said: "The local NHS policy says to have access to IVF treatment, couples must have no other living children in this or any previous relationship for either partner, have had a minimum of three years unexplained infertility and no history of failed sterilisation reversal in either male or female partner."


Official: Immigration into Britain "too fast"

A government minister today said that the effects of immigration were moving too quickly for some areas of the UK and local services were being put under pressure. Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said that although there were some parts of the country, notably the north-east of England, and Scotland, that wanted immigration to boost their populations, generally its impact needed more control. "There have been communities in different parts of the country where the pace of change has been too fast and transitional pressure has been put on public services," he said on The World at One. "We do need a new balance in migration policy," he added.

The effects of globalisation are now being felt outside the country's main cities. Cumbria police recently revealed that its budget for interpreters had risen 386% since 2003 and schools across the country are having to provide for pupils speaking a variety of languages other than English.

A recent study compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicted that a record number of highly skilled migrant workers, such as teachers, will enter Britain over the next four years, contributing an estimated 77bn pounds to the economy. The CEBR report forecast that there would be 812,000 such migrants in the UK by 2012, a 14% increase on the 715,000 recorded last year.

Migrants added 6bn pounds to the British economy in 2006 and their impact was a net benefit to the country as a whole, said Byrne. But the minister said that the UK had no need for low-skilled workers coming from outside of the EU. A points-based system for migrants wishing to come to the UK was introduced at the beginning of this month. But the government has not said when the system for low-skilled workers will come into effect, meaning that in practice low-skilled workers from outside the EU will not be allowed entry for the foreseeable future.

The new regime involves tougher penalties for employers who employ illegal immigrants. But it also simplifies the system used to determine whether foreigners are allowed into the country to work. This, along with the economic downturn, will deter some migrants from moving to the UK, the minister said.


Your government will take care of it: Not in bumbling Britain

At first glance, the Financial Services Authority's review of its own role in the Northern Rock saga reads like a brilliant self-parody. One wonders for a moment whether the author, in a mad moment of Swiftian mischief, has deliberately set out to portray her colleagues as a bunch of Pooterish pen-pushing, paperclip-counters.

There is the slavish and pedantic attention to the trivial detail. "We reviewed 129 files [lever arch or equivalent] ..." the report proudly assures us early on. There's the blizzard of confusing acronyms - MRGD, ARROW, RMPs, C&C, IRMs and HoDs. There's the reluctance to call a spade a spade. "The supervision of Northern Rock was at the extreme end of the spectrum of the supervisory practices we observed." There's the absurd faith in frequency of meetings as the FSA's measure of effective supervision. The more the better, obviously.

There's the obsession with inanimate systems and processes rather than people. Reading the executive summary (we don't get to see the full report for another month), one gets no impression at all that the FSA is staffed by 2,000 educated and thinking human beings - people, we might hope, attuned to the currents in financial markets, understanding of the temptations that might persuade bankers to make reckless decisions and capable of bringing common sense, brainpower and personal judgment to the regulatory process. And there's the bureaucrats' refusal to accept that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the organisation or its philosophy. Or at least nothing wrong that hiring a few more administrators can't solve.

The report is not a whitewash, however. Indeed, by its own lights, the FSA is brutally self-critical. It blasts itself for its lapses of officialdom - the failure to keep good records, the paucity of meetings, the glitches in line management procedures. As such, the FSA risks being accused of abject hypocrisy. These are just the failings it cannot tolerate in the firms in regulates. Poor record-keeping is high up in the FSA's hierarchy of deadly sins.

But the wider message from the report is that the FSA does not try to run a zero-failure City and that the Rock implosion and run would probably have occurred even if the FSA had been operating as it would have liked. Perhaps FSA officials could have impressed their concerns more forcibly on Rock directors, perhaps the bank would have been advised to diversify its funding a bit more, but nobody at Canary Wharf seems to be terribly convinced this would have made a difference.

FSA officials have admitted privately that they would have been unlikely to exert their powers to force Rock to change its ways in those benign, pre-2007 credit market conditions. In short, but for the shortcomings in depositor protection, Rock was, in the eyes of the FSA, just one of those unfortunate things - an inevitable rare failure, but a price worth paying for a system in which competition and innovation are allowed to flourish for the benefit of customers.

It will be a few decades before we know if this is a fair assessment. Any more bank collapses and the FSA's private view that this was a once-in-two-centuries probability event will sound very hollow. Anyway, it is much too early to argue that the price is worth paying when we don't yet know what that price (for taxpayers) will be.



A two-day bilateral summit is to culminate today (27 March) with the signing of a new accord that will see France help the UK develop a new generation of nuclear power stations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown are to seal the agreement on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium in North London, the home of Arsenal football club.

Speaking on Tuesday on the eve of Sarkozy's arrival, UK Business Minister John Hutton said he wanted Britain to become "the number one place in the world for companies to do business in new nuclear". "I believe that the revival of nuclear power in Britain today [.] has the potential to be the most significant opportunity for our energy economy since the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas," said Hutton, according to Reuters.

EDF, the state-controlled French power utility, said it wanted to build four new plants to help replace Britain's ageing stock of 23 nuclear power stations, which currently provide about 20% of the UK's electricity. The new reactor would be the state-of-the-art EPR model developed by French group Areva, which is also partially state-owned. The deal would allow Britain to regain the expertise in nuclear power engineering that it lost following a planned phase-out of atomic power. The last of Britain's existing nuclear plants is scheduled for closure by 2035, leaving the country with a potential energy gap.

In Brussels, the European Commission has recently backed the technology, saying it will be needed if Europe is to meet its ambitious climate change goals and reduce CO2 emissions by a quarter by 2020. "Energy consumption worldwide is likely to double between 2000 and 2050, and nuclear energy will remain a key element in future low-carbon energy systems," the Commission said in September last year, presenting its new Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP)

Speaking in October 2007, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU must hold a "full and frank" debate on the nuclear issue. "Member states cannot avoid the question of nuclear energy," he said. Environmental groups have applauded the Commission's move to open the nuclear debate but argue that the technology is dangerous and not required to reduce CO2 emissions.


Ho hum! London's new airport chaotic: "Thousands of families heading on holiday this weekend face chaos after Heathrow's new 4.3 billion pounds terminal was reduced to a shambles on its opening day by the complete failure of its baggage system. British Airways will begin today to wrestle with a huge backlog of passengers, many of them left stranded at Terminal 5 overnight, after the airline cancelled at least 34 flights. BA, the sole occupant of the new terminal, suspended baggage check-in shortly before 5pm and dozens of flights departed half-empty last night carrying only those passengers who had only hand luggage. Passengers on in-bound flights had to wait up to four hours for bags to be unloaded. The problems, which BA blamed on staff not being familiar with new systems, forced many outgoing travellers to abandon their plans and head home. The disastrous opening was a severe embarrassment for BA and BAA, the Spanish-owned company that operates Heathrow. Both had spent five years claiming that the new terminal would transform passengers' experience of Heathrow and work efficiently from Day 1." [The expected British bungling]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Another colossal British absurdity

Schools to be forced to keep quota of problem pupils. Discipline be damned!

Successful schools will be forced to take a share of disruptive pupils to prevent them from monopolising the best-behaved children, the Government announced yesterday. Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, said that schools which excluded pupils would have to accept the same number that had been expelled by another school. This "one out, one in" policy would prevent oversubscribed schools from dumping badly behaved children on to their less successful neighbours.

Speaking at the NASUWT teaching union's annual conference, Mr Balls said that he accepted the recommendations of a behaviour review published yesterday, which said: "A school that permanently excludes a child should expect to receive a permanently excluded child on the principle of one out, one in."

Sir Alan Steer, the head teacher of a specialist school and author of the report, said: "I didn't feel we should have a situation where a school has a perverse incentive to exclude, knowing it would not have to accept a child with difficulties. We didn't want a situation where schools were exporting without accepting their responsibility to import where they could." Sir Alan said that the rules should also apply to oversubscribed and faith schools, otherwise they could use exclusion as a way of creating a space for a child on a waiting list. He said that head teachers had a social responsibility to neighbouring schools to take on challenging pupils.

New legislation requiring all secondary schools to form behaviour partnerships with neighbouring schools would be passed, Mr Balls said. More than 90 per cent of schools already belonged to one, he added. He had taken into consideration an earlier report by Sir Alan, which recommended that clusters of secondary schools pool their resources and expertise to deal with problem pupils.

In his latest report, Sir Alan questioned whether some schools were paying lip service to the partnerships. It said: "Informal soundings make me sceptical that all these schools are actually engaged in meaningful partnership working . . . Credible evidence is lacking on the impact partnerships are making where they do exist."

Mr Balls said that there would be an overhaul of "alternative provision" for children excluded from mainstream education, with a White Paper setting out his department's plans. The overall quality of pupil referral units was not good enough, the minister said, adding that he wanted more voluntary and private sector provision. This will include "studio schools", already successful in the United States, which offer vocational training for expelled pupils.

Mr Balls said: "We will launch pilots to develop new and more effective forms of alternative provision, including high-quality vocational training with a clear pathway to qualifications and a job." He added that he wanted to "shine a light" on the sector; data on the performance of excluded pupils, educated in alternative settings, would be published for the first time.

Mr Balls said that standards of behaviour continued to concern parents, teachers and children. He also announced a "root and branch" review of the school governing body system. Sir Alan said that the responsibilities of parents - as well as their rights - should be set out in the Children's Plan, published last year by Mr Balls's department. A pilot scheme that provided parent support advisers in schools was successful, he said, and should be extended across most, if not all, schools. However, the 100 million pound funding provided for the programme over the next three years was insufficient, he added.


British Muslim leader accuses police of being 'over cautious' in stopping Asian gangs pimping white girls

A muslim leader has accused the police of failing to tackle Asian gangs suspected of prostituting young white girls. Officers are accused of being "over cautious" when investigating Muslim criminals because they fear being branded racist. Last night Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, said the police were differentiating between criminals on the basis of race. He claimed, driven by fear of race riots in places like Blackburn and Oldham, officers were "overtly sensitive" and not clamping down on the sordid practice.

His controversial comments in this week's Panorama reignite a massively controversial issue which exploded over a Channel 4 documentary in 2004. That programme which claimed Asian men in Bradford were grooming under age white girls for prostitution was pulled from C4's schedules. This was because police claimed at the time that it could provoke racial violence during the local election campaign.

Now the BBC is to risk the wrath of police officials and campaigners by airing a programme which will look at the same issue. Speaking as part of the Panorama investigation, which airs tomorrow (Thursday), Shafiq said: "I think the police are overcautious on dealing with this issue openly because they fear being branded racist and I think that is wrong." "These are criminals they should be treated as criminals. They are not Asian criminals, they are not Muslim criminals, they are not white criminals. They are criminals and they should be treated as criminals." He said that some of the criminals were Asian gangs looking to supplement their income, after the cost of drugs has fallen over the last few years.

Shafiq said "I am the only Muslim leader in the UK that speaks up against this sort of thing and I do it because these teenage girls are somebody's sisters and they are somebody's daughters. I have got two daughters and I wouldn't want that to happen to my daughters. "If there is a drug dealer grooming a white teenager into prostitution then I don't want the police service or local authority not to be open about it."

Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, also raised concerns about the issue yesterday. He said: "Everybody is affected by political correctness. The reason why it is so important is because things like this. "Young girls are having their lives threatened and ruined because people pussyfoot around and they are too scared to do anything in case they make a mistake and are accused of racism. "That's why we have to tackle the culture of political correctness everybody is affected by and I think the police are probably more affected and hamstrung by it than most organisations."

His comments come as Professor David Barrett of University of Bedfordshire also raised deep concerns about the issue in the BBC1 programme. He claimed evidence suggested that those operating the practice were "absolutely" likely to get away with it. The programme will controversially reveal the ethnic pattern of the crime which is largely Asian in northern England, Afro-Caribbean in the West Midlands and elsewhere white, Turkish and Kurdish.

The Government, reacting to concerns, has revealed it will introduce new crime-fighting targets aimed at specifically combating the little-publicised problem. But there are concerns that the practice, mostly operated by drug dealing gangs, has been of little priority to the various authorities. Figures suggest there are in the region of 5,000 British children being used as prostitutes.

On the programme Vernon Coaker under secretary of state with responsibility for policing reveals the new measures will be come into force next month. The government also plans to introduce a new warning video for use in schools over the issue. But despite funding a Home Office study almost ten years ago which revealed how the problem can be tackled, the police has a low prosecution rate. Coaker told Panorama that using powers under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 there have been just 44 convictions for grooming and pimping young children. Police attempts are said to be frustrated by a code of silence.



To all of the ill-effects blamed on man-made global warming, we might add one more. It appears that an obsession with climate change can make sane people warm to mad ideas. Take the Soil Association proposals to make it harder for produce from Africa to be labelled as organic, in order to cut the amount of fruit and vegetables flown into the UK. The justification is that this will reduce "food miles", CO2 emissions and man-made global warming, and thus protect the developing world from the impact of climate change. The likely effect will be to put some of the most downtrodden farmers in the world out of work.

So how do we save Africa from a possible future disaster? Apparently, by creating a real disaster in the here and now: making poor Africans even poorer. That sounds like madness - or plain badness - to me.

Air-freighted produce makes up 1 per cent of total UK organic sales - and those remain a tiny niche in the grocery market. Only a mind as sharp as an organic Kenyan banana could seriously believe that this is a big factor in Britannia's "carbon footprint". Indeed, the whole notion of "food miles" is hard to swallow. Research suggests that growing food in the sunshine of Africa and flying them to Europe produces less carbon - not to mention more taste - than growing them under glass and artificial heat in Britain or the Netherlands. Greenhouse effect, anybody?

Some of us might even suspect that, under the fresh-looking label of environmental concern, the UK organic lobby is expressing soiled Little Englander prejudices about keeping out "foreign muck". BA and Virgin Atlantic are flying in farmers' representatives from Ghana and Kenya to put their case against the new restrictions on organic air-freight. Even this old man of the Left can see that here the corporate giants are on the side of the angels, while the "radical" organic fruitcakes are flying in the face of progress and equality. We should defend the freedom of African farmers to air-lift their produce on to our plates.

Of course, in an entirely sane world, these African farmers would not have to jet around the world to demand their right to use backward and back-breaking "organic" methods which, as one village co-operative member told The Times, are simply "the way our fathers and grandfathers farmed". In a saner world they would be raising investment in the sort of industrialised and, yes, chemically assisted agricultural methods necessary to feed their people properly as well as to fly us fresh fruit and veg all year round. But in the current mad climate surrounding climate change, no doubt that will be thought bananas.



Plans to force motorists to run their cars on "green" petrol could lead to higher levels of greenhouse gases, the Government's leading environment scientist warned yesterday. Professor Robert Watson said it would be "totally insane" to promote the use of biofuels for environmental purposes if it was found that their production contributed to greater carbon emissions through the destruction of forests. He called on the Government to delay the compulsory use of "green" petrol and diesel until a review has been completed into the sustainability of their production.

From next week, 2.5 per cent of all fuel sold at British pumps must be derived from biofuels, a figure expected to rise to five per cent by 2010. The move, under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO), is aimed at reducing the impact of fossil fuels, regarded as a major contributor to climate change. But scientists fear it could have the opposite effect.

Last month, a study by the Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota, published in Science magazine, warned that clearing forests, grassland and peatland to plant crops for biofuels released more carbon than it saved.

Prof Watson, the chief scientist at the Department for the Environment, said yesterday that it was time to heed the concerns. "It would obviously be totally insane if we had a policy to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of biofuels that's actually leading to an increase in the greenhouse gases from biofuels," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.


British tea advert cleared of racism

OK to imply that blacks are highly sexed, apparently! I don't think that would pass muster in the good old U.S. of A.

"A light-hearted TV advert for Twinings tea in which three white women flirt with a young black American has been cleared of playing on negative racial stereotypes. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it had decided not to uphold a lone complaint from a viewer who believed the ad suggested black men were sexually promiscuous and existed to provide sexual services for white women.

In the plug for Earl Grey, Stephen Fry is seen behind the counter of a tea shop as the black male, named Tyrone, writes a message on a blackboard informing customers that the drink "puts the zing in your ding-a-ling".

Dismissing the claims of racial bias, an ASA panel described the innuendo used to promote the aromatic beverages as unlikely to cause widespread offence. The panel observed: "Although we acknowledged the innuendo was mildly sexual, we did not consider that it was reliant on the young man's ethnic origins or a racial stereotype.


The unfolding superbug disaster in Britain

Superbugs kill at least 10,000 people in Britain each year - 20 times the number who die of Aids. Why is the British government funding AIDS research much more than superbug research? And why are known preventive measures not being taken?

Like many, Brian Clinch was under the impression that, despite the failures of the past, the British health service was tackling the frightening epidemic of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. That was before a visit to Norway made him realise that this record-breaking tide of resistant infections is far from under control and is also a problem of our own making. Clinch, a former RAF pilot from Dorset, has kidney failure and needs dialysis three times a week. It was only when he went for dialysis treatment in the Norwegian city of Stavanger three months ago that he discovered he was one of the tens of thousands of Britons unwittingly infected with the deadly superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The day after arriving in the oil-refining port on Norway's Atlantic coast, he went to the city's university hospital. Dialysis had been arranged on the understanding that he had been tested for MRSA in the UK. But a routine throat swab in Stavanger showed Clinch was carrying MRSA. "All hell broke loose," he says. "The results of the MRSA tests arrived after they'd given me one session of dialysis. They were angry and deeply unimpressed with the dialysis centre in England. "I felt like a complete pariah. I was taken into an isolation room and everyone put on gowns, masks and bootees before they came anywhere near me. It's obvious they are frightened to death of getting these infections in Norway, and are doing everything they can to keep them out."

He is right. Norway, with its population of 4.7m, had only 332 cases of MRSA in 2006, and has the lowest rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Europe. About 1 in 200 of the infections found in patients' bloodstreams in Norway is caused by a treatment-resistant "superbug", while in Britain, getting on for half of all infected patients have been colonised by strains of bacteria that normal antibiotics cannot treat.

Norway, which, like Britain, runs a publicly funded health service free at the point of delivery, prides itself on its "search and destroy" policy for killer infections. But the contrast between its health services and our chaotic hospital system is a stark reflection of a difference in approach that has much more to do with attitude than money.

The public area of Stavanger's 950-bed hospital resembles nothing so much as an up-market hotel. Leather armchairs are arranged around a virtual log fire; seemingly relaxed visitors sip coffee and nibble pastries. The town is comparable to Ipswich in size and affluence, but first impressions of the hospital suggest it is wealthier. But beyond the reception, the 1970s-built wards tell a different story. Norway's cash-limited national health service is suffering exactly the same colossal pressure as our own NHS.

In the infectious-diseases unit there are 19 people on trolleys in the corridor. At least 11 more lie in the corridors of other departments. The wait may be long, and patients may end up temporarily in the wrong department as staff struggle to allocate beds. It is a sight familiar to anyone who has observed the treatment lottery of the British NHS, and the enormous battle between restricted supply and limitless demand for healthcare. But even under the pressure of winter infections, Stavanger's problems with capacity are not reflected in infection rates.

The atmosphere is busy but calm. The gleaming corridors are populated with cheery cleaners; there is a sense of belonging among the workforce that is often absent among the clock-watching agency workers who increasingly maintain large chunks of our own hospitals.

Stavanger has a policy of not moving infected patients around; if they have several conditions, doctors from different specialities come to them, not the other way round. And isolation rooms are available, complete with negative air pressure to prevent infections from being wafted outside. Barrier nursing methods involving gloves, aprons and scrupulous hand-washing are strictly applied with infectious patients.

Jon Sundal, the head of infectious diseases at Stavanger, complains of a relentless battle to keep his unit under control. "There is a shortage of nurses - the five new single rooms cannot be staffed," he says. Nevertheless, even with bed occupancy running at over 100%, conditions in his hospital offered a stark contrast to the grime of most of Britain's healthcare facilities. "We saw the writing on the wall early on with antibiotic resistance," says Olav Nataas, head of medical microbiology at Stavanger. "We had one serious outbreak in the 1980s, and since then we just haven't allowed it to happen, except when we sent some waiting-list patients to Britain for hip replacements and they came back infected. "I don't think hospital cleaning has much to do with it. What works is screening. You test everyone, and you isolate and treat everyone you find with it. In England you can't do that now because you have too many cases."

It is legitimate to ask if Britain's NHS has lurched into a ruinously expensive crisis that may yet see the entire service implode. It is also legitimate to ask how our microbial surveillance system, let alone our hospital cleaning services, has failed us so badly: why did scientists not warn us of this disaster in the making, and is it too late to do anything about it?

The global use of antibiotics since the 1940s has achieved a simple Darwinian consequence: the fittest bacteria survive. Antibiotics work by disrupting the production of components needed to create new bacterial cells. Penicillin, for example, selectively interferes with the construction of bacterial cell walls, which have a different structure to the cell tissue of humans and other mammals. By the end of the 1940s, about half of the Staphylococcus aureus strains tested in hospitals had adapted to produce an anti-penicillin toxin called penicillinase. Within months of the launch of the antibiotic methicillin in 1960, the first resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus were emerging. Shortly after that, bacteriologists began finding strains impervious to up to four common antibiotics.

Warnings about the dangers of antibiotic overuse started to emerge from laboratories, but because relatively few patients were affected and nobody knew what to do about it, the situation was ignored. Antibiotics continued to be consumed in ever-growing quantities by sick humans and farm animals alike.

The problem took off in 1991, when Britain contributed its own supercharged strain to the world lexicon of multi-drug-resistant superbugs. MRSA-16 first appeared in Northamptonshire, rapidly infecting 400 patients and 27 staff in three hospitals. Within 18 months it had been reported in 135 more hospitals. Nobody knows how it spread. Along with another British strain, MRSA-15, it went on to infect patients around the world, a pattern that continues. A meticulous Health Protection Agency study, mapping how the new strains popped up unexpectedly in new hospitals, was published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology in 2004. But it was too long after the event to shed any light on how the infection had carried. Now research funding is focused on firefighting - casting around for ways to damp down the effects of the pathogens.

It is not just MRSA that is sweeping across Britain like a plague. Streptococcus, enterococcus and Escherichia coli (E coli) are among a host of bugs emerging in resistant forms and causing everything from pneumonia to tuberculosis, bone destruction and lethal damage to the heart. In addition, we are facing "hyper-virulent" new strains of the bacteria Clostridium difficile (C diff), which have colonised the sites left free by the effect of antibiotics, which kill off many harmless bacterial colonies in their path. Although C diff is not resistant to treatment, its spores linger indefinitely and, until recently, NHS staff were largely unaware of how to kill them. Consequently, it is the biggest killer of the current superbugs.

In 2006 it was mentioned on the death certificates of 6,480 people, against 1,652 deaths officially attributed to MRSA. However, these figures are recognised to be underestimates, as many superbug deaths are never identified. Mandatory surveillance of MRSA bloodstream infections is a recent innovation, the number of people carrying it with no symptoms is not recorded, and the formal collection of figures for death and disease associated with C diff (which causes unstoppable diarrhoea or gut perforation) only began in April 2007. The government estimates the annual cost of treatment for such cases to be over œ1 billion.

Officially, the total number of MRSA infections is 7,000-8,000 a year, while C diff is running at an annual 55,600 cases. Many experts believe the real total for all superbug infections is nearer 300,000 - how many are fatal is believed to be vastly higher than the official figures suggest. There is no way of knowing the true figure, as relatively few people are tested.

Meanwhile, a variety of new resistant pathogens are waiting in the wings. In September 2006, a variation of Staphylococcus aureus that produces a toxin called Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) claimed its first British victims. Since then, anxiety over this threat has escalated. The pathogen selectively attacks the young rather than the old; it gets into bones and joints, causing crippling damage.

A multi-drug-resistant version of a common food-poisoning bug, ESBL (extended-spectrum beta-lactamase) E coli, is also causing anxiety. First identified in the 1980s, it has spread steadily to cause an average of 30,000 cases of blood poisoning and urinary-tract infections a year. Although it has officially been blamed for 57 deaths so far, the true total is believed to be many thousands. Government scientists think the source is meat and milk, colonised by superbugs as a result of overuse of agricultural antibiotics.

Jodi Lindsay, a senior expert at St George's hospital, London, and a world authority on superbugs, says: "It is inevitable things will get much worse. We don't know enough about how these bacteria behave, because not enough research is being done. We have increasing numbers of surgical operations, elderly people with long-term serious disease, and diabetics. All these patients have compromised immune systems and are at risk. Not only that, there is potential for new, really virulent strains of bacteria, capable of attacking healthy people."

Mark Enright, professor of molecular epidemiology at Imperial College London, says the real number of deaths in the UK from MRSA and C diff is "easily more than 10,000". He shares the concern that reservoirs of superbug infection in hospitals will increasingly spill out to attack otherwise healthy people: "You could be carrying a resistant form of MRSA and it could then get in through a superficial injury."

There is evidence that such a problem is already occurring in other parts of the world. A new form of MRSA, USA300, has emerged not in hospitals but in the wider community in America. It is killing 18,000 a year - considerably more than the number killed by HIV/Aids, and, most worryingly, the victims include a number of otherwise healthy children. The latest flurry of anxiety was in Brooklyn, New York, in October, when Omar Rivera, a previously fit 12-year-old, suffered the telltale crop of pus-filled spots associated with USA300. Within days he was dead. In other parts of America, three other children, aged 4, 11 and 17, died the same month.

A team at the University of California in San Francisco has been tracking the infection. Last month they published a study showing that a variant of USA300 was spreading in gay communities on the East and West Coasts. And a new "community" strain of C diff in the US has targeted children, pregnant women and new mothers, with fatal results. There has been at least one similar death in the UK, but testing was not available to confirm if it was the same pathogen.

Europe also has a "community" MRSA: ST80. Officially it is considered less of a threat because, it is argued, levels of poverty in western Europe are not as severe as in the US. Without the immune-system damage caused by malnutrition, the infection is less likely to cause an epidemic.

All that is known about USA300, and other virulent community-acquired strains of staphylococcus, is that they generally include Panton-Valentine leukocidin, and that this lethal toxin can jump between different types of bacteria. If a PVL-carrying bacterium infects someone already carrying a cold virus, it can spur the onset of a deadly form of necrotising or tissue-killing pneumonia, which kills 60% of those who develop it. Although guidelines for GPs to alert them to this new threat to public health are being issued later this spring, Lindsay and other scientists complain that Britain persists in spending too little on basic research to tell us more about the nature of these brand-new infectious agents.

Many scientists have also attacked our slow and patchy response to the problem of antibiotic resistance. "In the early 1990s, microbiologists were divided," says Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University. "For everyone who argued the case for containment, there'd be many more who maintained that Staph aureus had been with us for ever, and it did not make much difference if strains were methicillin-resistant or not."

As a result, investigating how microbes developed their resistance, how infections spread, why particular resistant strains appeared in some areas but not in others, did not seem that important to healthcare planners. Microbiology began to feature less and less in medical training. According to the Royal College of Pathologists, there are now only 645 fully qualified hospital microbiologists in Britain, of whom only 387 are working in the NHS in England. Up to 10% of hospital microbiology posts are unfilled because of a shortage of qualified applicants.

At the same time that the superbugs were taking hold, those with the expertise to tackle them were keen to work instead in Aids research, with its support from glamorous figures such as Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor. The pattern inexplicably continues. According to the Department of Health, 3.8m pounds has been spent by the government since 2002 under the umbrella of "clinical microbial research", while 14m a year is spent on Aids, which kills fewer than 500 here annually. And it has become clear that a recently allocated 16.5m that microbiologists believed was for research into antibiotic resistance will be shared with research projects on sexually transmitted diseases and hepatitis. "Asking why we put so much money into Aids research is a very good question," said Brian Duerden, government inspector of microbiology and infection control. "Medical research is highly political and highly fashion-driven."

Dr Peter Dukes, programme manager of the Infections and Immunity Research Board at the Medical Research Council (MRC), blamed the paucity of research proposals and the shortage of researchers in the field of antibiotic resistance: "When the MRC offered to fund a research project six years ago, 20 proposals were received and only one was good enough to sponsor." Given America's sinister new USA300 infection, our persistent preoccupation with Aids may soon look very misguided indeed.

Microbiologists who have remained in the NHS are dismayed that their warnings of disaster from antibiotic resistance have been ignored by hospital managers focused on performance indicators and productivity targets, which concentrated on waiting times. "We needed to do more screening, but there were never the resources. Even now they are cutting back," said a consultant intensive-care specialist at a large provincial hospital. "There used to be two consultant microbiologists here, but one left and was not replaced. So we had no expert on intensive-care ward rounds to advise on appropriate antibiotics and infection control."

New government directives require hospitals to carry out MRSA screening on patients being admitted - though not those having outpatient or day-surgery procedures. The consultant said the extra testing burden, without any extra staff to do it, had meant that vital surveillance for other new infections was not happening.

In addition, as pressure has been ratcheted up to channel funds into meeting a range of "patient episode" productivity targets, basic hospital cleaning has been scaled back and contracted out. Those working in healthcare seem increasingly ignorant of the basics of hygiene. Healthcare workers increasingly fail to wash their hands as they race between beds, which are meant to be kept 100% occupied. Increasing numbers of patients are unnecessarily admitted to wards from accident-and-emergency departments, simply to avoid breaking the maximum four-hour permitted A&E wait. In December it was reported that the hotel costs of caring for extra patients who were not actually sick enough to need treatment had wasted 2 billion over the past five years.

Many microbiologists point to the decline of attention to hygiene as a basic function of healthcare as nurse training has become increasingly academic and classroom-based. "The only infection-control procedure proven to work is scrupulous hand-washing, a basic approach explained by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean war and seemingly lost in the intervening 150 years," said Richard Wise, former chairman of the government's specialist advisory committee on antimicrobial resistance, and adviser to the Health Protection Agency Board. "Not washing the hands between patients should be made a disciplinary offence."

Most hospitals have bottles of alcohol-based hand disinfectant by their doors, but Duerden says that until recently their inefficacy against C diff spores was "not common knowledge" outside microbiology circles - an unacceptable level of ignorance, insists Wise, who said it had been known about "for donkey's years".

Olav Nataas, however, insists the search-and-destroy process is key: "We know hand-washing is never 100%," he says. "This preoccupation with cleaning is not the main issue. It is identifying the infection as rapidly as possible and treating it in a way that does not risk others."

It is this uncertainty among Britain's scientists, healthcare administrators and politicians that has led to the latest disagreement about hospital cleaning. This month, every hospital in Britain is meant to have completed a special "deep clean", for which an extra 57m has been allocated. How exactly a deep clean is performed is less clear. There are no prescriptions for cleaning materials, training for cleaners, or methods of checking whether things are actually clean.....

Many patients have paid a high price for our confused health policies. In Britain's worst outbreak of superbug infection, there were 90 deaths and 1,170 C diff infections across three hospital sites in Maidstone, Kent, between April 2004 and September 2006. A report on the disaster by the Healthcare Commission in October described patients being left to lie in their own infection-laden excrement, a shortage of nurses and an ignorance of the risks of moving infected patients between wards. There were a further 33 avoidable deaths from C diff between 2003 and 2005 at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire. An inquiry found that managers ignored advice to isolate those infected and instead concentrated on shutting down more beds to cut costs.

The cost of compensating superbug victims is also soaring. The NHS Litigation Authority has paid out 12.5m for 287 cases, plus a record-breaking 5m in January to the actress Leslie Ash, 49, whose career has been ruined. An anticipated 1m will go to Shaun Franks, 39, who underwent surgery for a broken ankle. His leg was taken over by an immovable colony of MRSA, which could only be eradicated from his body by amputation of the leg. During his treatment, staff at Northampton general hospital unwittingly used an antibiotic that accelerated the growth of the MRSA. "It has been a nightmare," said Franks. "I lost my job, my relationship - everything. Every time I thought I was getting better, it would come back again."

There is no question that ignorance of good practice has played a significant part in the spread of superbugs in Britain. A study in the late 1990s by Otto Cars, an expert in infectious diseases at Uppsala University, Sweden, compared antibiotic use across Europe. British doctors were administering over 18 daily doses per 1,000 people, compared with 13 in Germany and Sweden and 11 in Denmark. Most of the prescriptions were for coughs and colds - 90% of which are caused by viruses, not bacteria.

Duerden admits that the first comprehensive campaign to educate GPs and the public about the overuse of antibiotics only got off the ground eight years ago with the launch of a cartoon character, Andybiotic. But a survey of almost 11,000 adults published in the British Medical Journal last year indicated that most people still did not understand the risks.

Hajo Grundmann, now a senior infection-control adviser to the Dutch government, worked for seven years in Britain's NHS before returning home in 2001. He runs the Eurosurveillance database, monitoring levels of antibiotic-resistant infections in 31 countries. Britain has the highest rate in western Europe. "It is connected with the high workload," he says. "I worked in Nottingham. We were able to isolate MRSA cases at first, but when the waiting-list initiative came in, there was huge pressure on beds. As soon as the pressure goes up, hand-washing goes down. But the British problem is also due to people's attitudes. It just has not been taken seriously enough." ....

There are, however, measures being launched by the government: to increase the number of hospital matrons to 5,000 to oversee hygiene by May, and make available 270m a year for hygiene campaigns, extra infection-control nurses and pharmacists to tackle over-reliance on antibiotics.

But that does not explain why we continue to invest in areas such as Aids research, or the hypothetical risk of pandemic flu, yet hope that drugs developed in the middle of the last century will protect us against new infections that are killing thousands each year.

More here

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Britain's anti-military teachers are depriving their pupils

What is the moral distinction between allowing an accountant or a lawyer into a school to talk about career prospects to a class of 12-year-olds, and giving a military officer the same freedom to tell them about the Army? According to the National Union of Teachers, one is useful advice, the other is propaganda. Yesterday the NUT debated a motion that stated that: "Teachers and schools should not be conduits for either the dissemination of MoD propaganda or the recruitment of military personnel." The motion, not surprisingly, was passed. One should never underestimate the vacuous posturing of the NUT.

Strip away all the concern about "glamorising war" and it is clear from the debate that the very presence of military personnel in schools is anathema to the NUT. One delegate in a speech said: "Let's just try and imagine what that recruitment material would have to say were it not to be misleading. We would have material from the MoD saying, ?Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people's countries'."

If teachers cannot understand the difference between political opposition to the war in Iraq and the role of the Army in the defence of the realm, then pity the pupils they claim to teach. It is one thing to grandstand at an NUT conference about the so-called iniquity of an illegal invasion. It is quite another to undermine a profession, which is an essential pillar of the State, in front of a class of impressionable youngsters.

The timing is spectacularly inept. Barely a fortnight ago RAF servicemen in Peterborough were being advised to shed their uniforms before they went out on the streets, for fear of being exposed to insults and attacks. Recruitment is at a record low despite British troops in Afghanistan facing military action as intense as any since the Korean War. A recent poll suggested that only 23 per cent of the population is well informed about the Army and its role. One might have thought that, in these circumstances, teachers had a responsibility to redress the balance - to explain that the Army is there for society's protection, rather than as the unacceptable face of armed aggression, and to condemn the thugs who assault or insult young squaddies.

But if the teachers' role is questionable, what about political leaders? In Scotland last week, Alex Salmond chose the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to send out an egregious message that suggested that British troops stationed in Basra do not believe they should be there at all. "Their views about the rights and wrongs of conflict are very similar to the rest of us," he claimed. There is a breathtaking arrogance about this - not only the assumption that his own views about the war are shared by the majority of the population, but that soldiers, whom he has never visited, have lost confidence in their role. It is also irresponsible. For the First Minister of Scotland to undermine the commitment of the UK's Armed Forces abroad does little to suggest that he has made the transition from left-wing gadfly to national leader.

This kind of view is, in truth, far closer to propaganda than anything that the earnest military officers who go into schools - always at the invitation of head teachers - seek to convey. They are there to explain the role of the Armed Forces, and these days, all too conscious of the delicacy of their position, they lay emphasis on issues such as citizenship and training for the future. They draw attention to the army values of courage, discipline, respect for order, loyalty and integrity; their motto is "inspire to achieve". You can see why the NUT wants to eject them.

What the Army is offering is precisely the kind of structure that is so often lacking in the lives of today's generation of young people. Just over a year ago, I spoke to a 22-year-old who had returned with the Black Watch from Basra. He had seen one of his comrades killed by a roadside bomb; he had been in a tank that had narrowly escaped being blown up after a sustained attack from insurgents; he had lived through the blazing heat of an Iraqi summer. He was about as far removed from the Salmond caricature as one can imagine - he was proud of what his regiment was doing, defended the presence of British troops in Iraq and talked convincingly about the dangerous vacuum that would be created if they were pulled out.

But it was what he told me about his personal circumstances that struck me most forcibly. I asked him whether he regretted the years he had been away from home and his friends in Fife. Certainly not, he said - his only regret was that his time in the Army would, inevitably, be limited. "What might you have done if you had not joined up?" I asked. "I'd be in jail, nae doubt," he said matter of factly. Among the kids he had grown up with, at least half, he reckoned, had dropped out of school early and taken to a life of crime. He had been saved by the Army, he said - it had given him not just an alternative, but also a way of rethinking his life.

Curiously, he was echoing a man who will certainly not be quoted by the NUT this week. The Duke of Wellington once explained how the Army introduced order into the chaos of young lives. "All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do," he said. "That's what I call guessing what is on the other side of the hill'."

Most head teachers, who welcome service personnel into their schools, will know what he meant. They should make it clear that teachers have a duty of care towards their pupils, and that includes presenting them with an even-handed picture of the relationship between a society and its Armed Forces. In previous times the Army has saved the nation from destruction. It may be called upon to do so again. Guessing what is on the other side of the hill is part of our history and should be part of our education


Government schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran

This shows clearly what nuts the NUT are: They say that members of Britain's own armed forces should be kept out of schools but preachers of Jihad should be given privileged access. This shows vividly what deliberate wreckers the far-Left are. They are so filled with hatred of the world around them that they just want to smash things in any way they can. Tearing down, not building up is their thinly camouflaged aim

State schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran, the largest classroom union demanded yesterday. The National Union of Teachers' conference also said existing religious schools - almost all of them Christian - should have to admit pupils from other faiths. The union's general secretary Steve Sinnott said that allowing Muslim imams to preach in schools would be a way to reunite divided communities.

But the proposals prompted immediate outrage. Conservative Party backbencher Mark Pritchard said: "This is just further appeasement for Muslim militants. "We should just follow the existing laws on religious education, which state that it should be of a predominantly Christian character. All this will do is further divide many communities that are already split on religious lines."

Speaking as delegates met at the hard-Left-dominated union's annual conference, Mr Sinnott admitted that his plan would amount to religious indoctrination inside taxpayer-backed schools rather than simple teaching of what different religions believe. He said: "This is more than simple religious education, it's religious instruction."

The proposals include providing private Muslim prayer facilities in schools. But Mr Sinnott stressed that no pupils would be forced to have any religious instruction. The union, however, also called for all daily religious assemblies, which by law are supposed to have a Christian character, to be abandoned. It also said local authorities should take control of all state school admissions, removing the right of faith schools to choose which pupils they take.


No way to combat terrorism

The British government have some dangerous bedfellows in their attempt to prevent violent extremism

Should government be picking winners within Muslim communities in order to combat the threat of violent jihadism? And does it work - any more than the corporatist strategy of picking winners among big enterprises succeeded in the 1970s? This approach is a key strand of the Government's new national security strategy, launched last week. The flagship programme for delivering it is the Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund (PVE), amounting to 45 million pounds over three years. It was created after the 7/7 bombings, reflecting Tony Blair's belief that the Muslim Council of Britain had not done enough to fight the extremists.

Blair and Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, contended that local authorities, police and communities were best positioned to identify those grassroots Muslim groups who could challenge advocates of violent Islamism.

But key local authorities are now in revolt. According to the Local Government Chronicle, many councils are refusing to adopt a target to "build resilience to violent extremism" for fear of damaging community relations. Their Muslim constituents are said not to like PVE because they think the programme stigmatises them. And non-Muslims are said to resent the fact that Muslim groups seem to be benefiting.

A more serious point is whether local government is able to choose appropriate Muslim partners. Yes, municipalities enjoy on-the-ground expertise. But what kind of grassroots expertise? Can they really discriminate between different varieties of Islamism? If even MI5 finds difficulty drawing the line, what hope for aldermanic worthies?

Earlier this year Paul Goodman, the Shadow Communities Minister, pressed Ms Kelly's successor, Hazel Blears, to confirm that money was not falling into the hands of extremists. Blears could not supply that reassurance, though she is the least blameworthy figure in all this. More than any other Cabinet minister, she "gets" radical Islamism. But it is infernally difficult, even for her, to monitor which groups are worthy recipients and which aren't. It was symptomatic that it took her department six months to answer Goodman's previous inquiries on where the funds were going. And even if they are not going to unworthy causes, are these schemes effective?

The list of grant recipients is strange. Even Conservative councils are not very rigorous in choosing partners. For example the Channel 4 Dispatches programme exposed hate preaching at the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham. A preacher, Abu Usama, urged that homosexuals be thrown from mountains. Yet the Green Lane mosque is one of the partnership organisations approved by Birmingham City Council. Indeed, the Green Lane mosque is also a well-established interlocutor of the West Midlands Police. West Midlands Police still aver that men such as Abu Usama enjoy the "street cred" to stop radicalised young Muslim men from tipping over into violent jihadism.

Kensington & Chelsea Council has turned to the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre to deliver a "parental empowerment programme" that aims "to foster modern, inclusive and Islamically sound relationships between parents and children. Parenting techniques are imparted and discussed from an Islamic and wider social perspective by a trained Muslim NHS psychotherapist."

Why is it the duty of a council to "foster Islamically sound relationships between parents and children"? Who defines what is "Islamically sound"? How does picking a Muslim psychotherapist - apparently on sectarian grounds - help to prevent violent extremism?

Likewise, Westminster City Council relies on the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre (which is not even in the city) to organise a "young people's leadership and debate programme" on foreign policy. Why should Tory councils turn to them, of all people? The centre's name appeared in a statement on the website of Hizb-ut-Tahrir asserting that "the Muslim community in Britain has unequivocally denounced acts of terrorism. However, the right of people anywhere in the world to resist invasion and occupation is legitimate". The statement also denounced the proscription of Hizb-ut-Tahrir - a key objective of David Cameron.

Such partnerships are reflective of the greatest weakness in PVE - and of much the Government's "contest" strategy for combating terrorism. As its name suggests, it is largely about countering violent extremism. It isn't necessarily about countering non-violent extremism.

The interplay between violent and non-violent radicalisation lay at the heart of Mr Cameron's remarkable recent address to the Community Security Trust. Cameron believes that it is not enough simply to be against jihadism on these shores. He is deeply disturbed by the sectarianism of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and associates such as the Cordoba Foundation - which receive PVE funds.

It's as if the Government responded to a violent insurgency from the neo-Nazi terrorists of Combat 18 by turning to Nick Griffin of the BNP, on the ground that he enjoys nationalist "cred" with alienated skinheads. After all, Mr Griffin is non-violent and believes that whites should participate in the political process. Perhaps he might stop bombs from going off. But what price would he exact for it - and what kind of society would we then be living in?


Scotland: NHS admits it is failing thousands suffering chronic pain

Thousands of patients living with incurable pain are being let down by the Scottish NHS, according to a hard-hitting report by the health service's own watchdog. Despite four official investigations in the past 14 years highlighting worrying gaps in care, the research reveals there has been very little improvement.

Specialist support for people who suffer chronic pain is patchy and inadequate, patients are confused and clinicians are frustrated, say the authors. They are demanding action from the Scottish Government and health boards to ensure patients, who can wait years for the treatment they need, get faster access to the right medical help.

It is estimated that 18% of the population, 900,000 people, suffer some form of chronic pain. This is discomfort from injury or disease which persists beyond the typical healing process. One-quarter of people diagnosed are unable to continue working because of the condition, yet just 3% of sufferers are sent to the specialist clinics.

NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, which monitors standards in the health service, has published the latest report. It notes the Scottish Office first described services as patchy in 1994 and further documents published by very experienced people in 2000, 2002 and 2004 raised the same issues. "Despite all of this, very little progress has been made. Access to specialist services is poor." NHS QIS found not one health board could accurately describe the services they did offer.

Dr Pete Mackenzie, who worked on the report, said: "There are major blackspots around the country where there is almost a complete lack of service. The chances of (being told there is no hope) are much greater if you live in an area like that." Dr Mackenzie said, there was frustration about the pace of progress, adding: "It is fair to say many of us, and particularly the patients with chronic pain, feel reports come and go and nothing much happens."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are considering the recommendations relating to the Scottish Government, and the Health Secretary will use her address to the national conference organised by the Pain Association Scotland on May 20 to set out her response. "We have for a number of years been encouraging the development of a managed clinical network approach to chronic pain."


Britain and France join forces on immigration

In a token sort of a way

Plans for a joint drive by Britain and France against illegal immigration could backfire by forcing "soft targets" to return to dangerous countries, refugee groups have warned. The initiative will be announced by Gordon Brown and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrives in Britain for a two-day state visit tomorrow. The leaders will also set out plans to co-operate over the crisis threatening world money markets, nuclear power and defence.

Mr Sarkozy, who will be accompanied by his new wife, Carla Bruni, will be welcomed by the Prince of Wales. The couple will stay at Windsor Castle. The immigration package is likely to be agreed by the leaders on Thursday. It includes proposals to arrange joint charter flights to return failed asylum-seekers to their home countries. Mr Sarkozy wants international co-operation over immigration to be a theme of France's European Union presidency from July and will set the tone this week. The leaders will also promise to increase numbers of officials checking lorries at Channel ports and fresh action against people-smuggling gangs.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "Our leaders would do better to focus on joint initiatives to make countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan safe for people to return to - rather than forcing them to go back when it is clearly not safe." Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, urged Mr Sarkozy to be sceptical of Britain's approach to deporting asylum-seekers, which often resulted in "soft targets" being singled out for removal. [That's true. Asian kitchenhands are at risk but criminals can stay as long as they like]


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Amazing: Mentally ill teachers asked back to school in Britain

Is there no end to socialist "caring"?

Teachers who have been declared unfit to work in the classroom are being approached in a "desperate" recruitment drive to fill vacancies in key subject areas, the National Union of Teachers said yesterday.

Letters from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), the main schools recruitment body, have been sent to teachers who have left the profession, including those who have retired on the ground of ill health. Describing teaching as "great fun"[In British schools? What a laugh!], the letters boast that teachers now earn more and work less hard.

One letter was sent last week to John Illingworth, a former primary school head who made news headlines two years ago when he broke down in tears at the NUT annual conference and said that he was leaving the profession because of mental illness brought on by workplace stress. Mr Illingworth, a former NUT president, said that he found the letter outrageous in its lack of sensitivity towards mentally ill colleagues and in its misleading claims over teacher pay and workload. "I was forced to leave teaching two years ago because of mental illness," he told the union's annual conference in Manchester yesterday, adding that he had been declared "unfit to teach".

"I take that letter as a joke. But there are some very ill people out there who have left teaching and are still very ill. "This letter could be extremely damaging to their health. It is outrageous that a government agency is sending out such letters to ill teachers." He questioned why the agency had not found out which teachers had left the profession owing to mental health problems, adding that he would not be surprised if the letters had been sent to teachers who had died.

Mr Illingworth, originally a maths teacher, suggested that the agency could be writing to retired teachers of shortage subjects. Although there is no overall teacher recruitment crisis, there are shortages of maths, science and modern language teachers. He read delegates extracts of the letter that he had received from Graham Holley, chief executive of the agency, claiming that a lot had changed over the past two years. "Salaries are much better. Teachers are on average earning 10,000 a year more now than they did 10 years ago. "The number of teachers working part-time has increased and the workload has improved, with teachers saying they spend significantly less time working at home," the letter said.

But Mr Illingworth contested these claims. "This isn't a half-truth. It isn't even a quarter-truth: it's damned lies," he said to applause. Starting salaries for graduate teachers had increased by about 6,000 since 1997, and, in real terms, teacher salaries were less than two years ago, he said. The latest survey on primary teacher workload, published last week by Cambridge University, showed an increase in average weekly working hours by two hours to 56 hours.

"We shouldn't be trying to encourage people into teaching on the basis of lies because, if we do, half of them will leave in the first three years of teaching. I know there's a crisis among teachers. That's why desperate measures like this are being taken. But the answer to that is to reduce teacher workload, improve our pay and keep us all in the job," he said.

A number of delegates approached him after his speech to say that they knew of similar letters being sent to NUT members, including those with mental ill health. It appeared that the Teachers Pensions Agency had passed to the TDA the names and addresses of teachers who had left the profession - something that the NUT said it would investigate. About 12,000 teachers return to the profession every year, joining a workforce of approximately 440,000 in England. But between a third and a half of teachers leave within five years of starting work.

A TDA spokesman said that it was actively encouraging qualified teachers to return to the profession. "Pay progression opportunities and flexible working arrangements have significantly improved over the last five years," he said. "Teachers are now also supported by an increased wider workforce, which frees up their time to do what they do best, which is to teach."


Girls' computer game condemned

Shoot-em-up games are OK but encouraging weight loss is bad??

"A website that encourages girls as young as 9 to embrace plastic surgery and extreme dieting in the search for the perfect figure was condemned as lethal by parents' groups and healthcare experts yesterday. The Miss Bimbo internet game has attracted prepubescent girls who are told to buy their virtual characters breast enlargement surgery and to keep them "waif thin" with diet pills.

Healthcare professionals, a parents' group and an organisation representing people suffering anorexia and bulimia criticised the website for sending a dangerous message to impressionable children.

In the month since it opened the site, which is aimed at girls aged from 9 to 16, has attracted 200,000 members. Players keep a constant watch on the weight, wardrobe, wealth and happiness of their character to create "the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the world". Competing against other children they earn "bimbo dollars" to buy plastic surgery, diet pills, facelifts, lingerie and fashionable nightclub outfits. The website sparked controversy when it was introduced in France, where it attracted 1.2 million players.


And all the government propaganda attacking "obesity" is OK? Somebody is deeply confused here.

Anorexia is mainly an hereditary mental illness anyway, nothing to do with looking at slim actresses etc. It's a type of OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder).

MRSA and C difficile superbug deaths at 10,000 a year in Britain

Dirty NHS hospitals at fault

The number of patients in British hospitals dying from superbug infections has reached more than 10,000 every year, according to an expert. The new figure is about 20% higher than the official toll of 8,000 a year. Mark Enright, professor of molecular epidemiology at Imperial College London, said that the real number of those succumbing to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (C difficile) in the UK is higher than the government's records show. "I think it is at least 10,000 a year," he said. "A lot of people are never tested for these infections and their deaths are put down to something else."

"Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now so well established here, we will never get rid of them," said Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University and a world expert.

Latest European figures show that Britain's hospitals are still teeming with treatment-resistant bacteria. While strict hygiene measures have ensured low infection rates in other countries, microbiologists here are privately admitting that Britain's problem is so out of control, it will be impossible to prevent the high level of deaths from continuing. The government's pledge to reduce rates of MRSA to half the 2004 level is unattainable, they say.

According to figures from Eurosurveillance, at least 42% of MRSA bacteria in British hospitals are "superstrains", compared with rates of 20% or lower elsewhere. In the 31-nation European antisuperbug league table, Britain lies close to the bottom, with an infection-control performance better than those of only Malta, Greece, Portugal and Romania.


Cod liver oil lubricates your bones! "A regular dose of cod liver oil reduces the quantity of painkilling drugs needed by people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a study in Scotland has found. The finding, published in Rheumatology magazine, is significant because cod liver oil is benign, whereas nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, which are commonly taken by RA patients, can have serious side-effects. The study was carried out over five years by researchers from rheumatology units in Dundee and Edinburgh.