Saturday, March 08, 2008

Nurse left to go blind by NHS

Don't you love government health insurance?

A retired nurse who worked for the NHS for decades has been denied treatment which could save her sight. Cora Slade was told the NHS would not fund the injections she needed for her condition, even though it might leave her blind within two years. The 74-year-old, who retired in 1997, 'did not meet the criteria' for the treatment, which was available to patients in other parts of the country. She said: 'They have turned their back on me.'

Mrs Slade, who cares for sick husband Don, was diagnosed with wet age-related macular degeneration in her left eye in May. She has the dry variety in the other. She spent 2,400 pounds on injections of Lucentis after being told she did not qualify for NHS treatment. The mother-of-three, from Sidmouth, Devon, said: 'They were savings for old age so we wouldn't be a burden on the state. 'If I go blind in both eyes, they will have to pay to look after my husband.'

Devon Primary Care Trust insisted its funding guidelines were generous. Board member Dr Nick D'Arcy said: 'We do all we can to ensure applications for funding are dealt with fairly, on clinical grounds.'


British culture boss criticised for anti-patriotic attack

The culture minister, Margaret Hodge, is facing a chorus of criticism from across the political spectrum after attacking the Proms for not being multicultural enough. The minister said the annual series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall failed to attract a diverse audience and unite different sections of society

Many view the flag waving and patriotism of the Last Night of the Proms as one of the greatest expressions of Britishness and a high point of the cultural calendar. But the minister suggested that it failed to attract all those living in multicultural Britain.

Downing Street was forced into an immediate U-turn and denied that the Government, or Mrs Hodge, had attacked the Proms. Gordon Brown's spokesman praised the concerts as a "wonderful, democratic and quintessentially British institution". He said: "The Prime Minister's position on this is quite clear - he thinks the Proms are a good institution." Privately, Mr Brown, who has championed the values of Britain, was said to be angry that Mrs Hodge's remarks had not been cleared with Downing Street.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, said: "Margaret Hodge is wrong. We need more things where people celebrate Britishness and people think the Union Jack is a great symbol of togetherness. It is a classic example of a Labour politician not getting the sort of things people like to celebrate - culture and identity and a great British institution." Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said: "There is probably no better example in the world of a series of concerts that attracts a huge audience to often quite challenging classical music."

Mrs Hodge's comments came in a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research think tank. She praised "icons of a common culture" including Coronation Street and the Angel of the North and said culture could enhance a sense of "shared identity", but she singled out the Proms for not doing that. She said: "The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events - I'm thinking in particular of the Proms - is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this. "I know this is not about making every audience completely representative, but if we claim great things for our sectors in terms of their power to bring people together, then we have a right to expect they will do that wherever they can."

A BBC spokesman defended the Proms saying: "We are proud that the BBC Proms is world-renowned for the way it combines excellence in classical music with an ongoing commitment to bringing it to the widest possible audience. "Indeed, this has recently been recognised by three nominations for audience development in the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards."

The Proms were founded in 1895 to give everyone the chance to hear live classical music with low ticket prices. It is the biggest classical musical festival in the world with more than 70 concerts in the Royal Albert Hall over eight weeks in the summer. It climaxes with the Last Night which features patriotic pieces including Land Of Hope And Glory, Rule Britannia and the national anthem.


The enemy within

Post below lifted from Prof. Brignell. See the original for links

When your bending author was an industrial apprentice half a century ago there was an undeclared war going on. It was being conducted by communists and their target was the British economy. They had infiltrated the main trades unions and had effective control over vital swathes of industry. If you worked in a section of the factory where there was a communist shop steward you could feel the constant apprehension. The workers put on a face of treating it all as a joke, but they betrayed themselves in unguarded moments. It was a stressful situation for a teenager to be in and the stuff of subsequent nightmares. The activity was little short of persistent industrial sabotage. Then and since, people have derided the very idea that this happened. Revelatory accounts such as the dramatic film, The Angry Silence, with Alfred Burke as the sinister agent provocateur, or the more comic yet cogent treatment in I'm all right Jack are routinely dismissed as wild exaggerations, but they were not.

Now a similar war is going on, but most of the participants and some of the methods are different. The colour has changed, but the objective is the same, as are some of the people (Danny the Red is now Danny the Green). The way to bring down a modern state is to cut off its access to energy, and that is the objective of the new war. The infiltration goes on, but it is more ambitious and more successful, the target now being the leading components of the scientific, media and political establishment.

There is no more blatant example than that unspeakable travesty of a journalist Johann Hari. The lefty-greeny faction likes to throw around words like fascism, but this man is a genuine fascist. He is a demonstrable liar who wishes to cast aside democracy and install authoritarian government. There has been yet another example of his ruthless mendacity in his attack on Spiked. Without any evidence he trots out the old canard of an ad hominem assault of his targets being funded by Big Oil. How even The Independent, which has so egregiously betrayed the hopes that were raised by its foundation, can tolerate the fellow is a mystery.

Today's most extreme prophet of doom

Throughout history, prophets of doom have always got a hearing -- and humanity has not changed

In 1965 executives at Shell wanted to know what the world would look like in the year 2000. They consulted a range of experts, who speculated about fusion-powered hovercrafts and "all sorts of fanciful technological stuff". When the oil company asked the scientist James Lovelock, he predicted that the main problem in 2000 would be the environment. "It will be worsening then to such an extent that it will seriously affect their business," he said. "And of course," Lovelock says, with a smile 43 years later, "that's almost exactly what's happened."

Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if maverick - independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.

For decades, his advocacy of nuclear power appalled fellow environmentalists - but recently increasing numbers of them have come around to his way of thinking. His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report deploys less dramatic language - but its calculations aren't a million miles away from his.

As with most people, my panic about climate change is equalled only by my confusion over what I ought to do about it. A meeting with Lovelock therefore feels a little like an audience with a prophet. Buried down a winding track through wild woodland, in an office full of books and papers and contraptions involving dials and wires, the 88-year-old presents his thoughts with a quiet, unshakable conviction that can be unnerving. More alarming even than his apocalyptic climate predictions is his utter certainty that almost everything we're trying to do about it is wrong.

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do." He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests."

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? "No we don't. Because we can't." And recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a waste of time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to little more than "ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. "Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam ... or if it wasn't one in the beginning, it becomes one."

Somewhat unexpectedly, Lovelock concedes that the Mail's plastic bag campaign seems, "on the face of it, a good thing". But it transpires that this is largely a tactical response; he regards it as merely more rearrangement of Titanic deckchairs, "but I've learnt there's no point in causing a quarrel over everything". He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy. "You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

This is all delivered with an air of benign wonder at the intractable stupidity of people. "I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they're doing. They want business as usual. They say, 'Oh yes, there's going to be a problem up ahead,' but they don't want to change anything."

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."

Faced with two versions of the future - Kyoto's preventative action and Lovelock's apocalypse - who are we to believe? Some critics have suggested Lovelock's readiness to concede the fight against climate change owes more to old age than science: "People who say that about me haven't reached my age," he says laughing.

But when I ask if he attributes the conflicting predictions to differences in scientific understanding or personality, he says: "Personality." There's more than a hint of the controversialist in his work, and it seems an unlikely coincidence that Lovelock became convinced of the irreversibility of climate change in 2004, at the very point when the international consensus was coming round to the need for urgent action. Aren't his theories at least partly driven by a fondness for heresy? "Not a bit! Not a bit! All I want is a quiet life! But I can't help noticing when things happen, when you go out and find something. People don't like it because it upsets their ideas."

But the suspicion seems confirmed when I ask if he's found it rewarding to see many of his climate change warnings endorsed by the IPCC. "Oh no! In fact, I'm writing another book now, I'm about a third of the way into it, to try and take the next steps ahead."

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock's predictions of doom, and his good humour. "Well I'm cheerful!" he says, smiling. "I'm an optimist. It's going to happen." Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when "we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn't know what to do about it". But once the second world war was under way, "everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday ... so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that's what people want."

At moments I wonder about Lovelock's credentials as a prophet. Sometimes he seems less clear-eyed with scientific vision than disposed to see the version of the future his prejudices are looking for. A socialist as a young man, he now favours market forces, and it's not clear whether his politics are the child or the father of his science. His hostility to renewable energy, for example, gets expressed in strikingly Eurosceptic terms of irritation with subsidies and bureaucrats. But then, when he talks about the Earth - or Gaia - it is in the purest scientific terms all.

"There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That's the source of my optimism." What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."


New 'thin pill' could replace surgery

A new generation of diet pills that could achieve the same dramatic weight loss as surgery could be available within a decade. A team at University College London is working towards developing a weight loss pill that makes people feel they are full after eating a small amount of food. The stomach has to expand to digest food, the basic process by which the body harvests calories from meals, but scientists have found a way of stopping this from happening.

The pill could offer an alternative to stomach stapling - gastroplasty - in which a band or surgery is used to reduce the size of the stomach. This can result in weight loss of up to 7st in a year. However, surgery can be risky with one in every 100 patients dying within 12 months. The potential new drug is described in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics by Dr Brian King and Dr Andrea Townsend-Nicholson. "It is chemical gastric banding," said Dr Townsend-Nicholson, adding that the pill could be available for use within five to 10 years.

The team found two proteins - P2Y1 and P2Y11 - which are receptors that pick up signals from nerves to control the size of the gut. These were identified in the guinea pig, but are also present in humans. Dr King said: "This would be a brand new approach to weight control." Dr Brian King says: "The mechanisms we have identified are important to the normal workings of the stomach - a hollow organ which actively relaxes to help accommodate the size of your meal.

The human stomach has a 'resting' internal volume of 75 millilitres (one tenth of a pint) but, by relaxing its muscular wall, can expand to an internal volume of two litres (3.5 pints) or more - a 25-fold increase in the volume it can accept. "This expansion is controlled by nerves inside the stomach wall and these release molecules that stimulate the P2Y1 and P2Y11 receptor proteins embedded in muscle cells in the gut wall. The mechanism of this slow relaxation of the stomach might represent a future drug target in the fight to control weight gain and reverse obesity. "We are looking to identify drugs that would block the P2Y11 receptor and, therefore, prevent slow relaxation of the stomach. As a result of blocking the P2Y11-based mechanism, meal size would be smaller, offering the person a better chance of regulating their food intake.

"This would be a brand new approach to weight control. At present, the most successful way to help obese patients lose weight is gastric banding or stomach stapling, both of which reduce the maximum volume of the stomach. "But these are also tricky surgical procedures, not without attendant risks. A pill that could replace this surgery, yet have the same effect, might be a useful alternative."

If the gastric bypass is anything to go by, there may be side effects. In the wake of stomach stapling, high fibre foods and foods with a more dense, natural consistency can become very difficult to eat relative to highly refined foods. There can be vomiting and severe discomfort if food is not properly chewed or if food is eaten too quickly. However, the UCL team believes that any possible side effects of chemical gastric banding are likely to outweigh the adverse health consequences of obesity.

Figures released in January showed that more than one million prescriptions for obesity drugs are now given to patients by GPs.


Yet another black psychopath in "multicultural" Britan: "A gym instructor scuffled violently with court guards yesterday as he was found guilty of bludgeoning to death a student who performed on the junior version of Stars in Their Eyes, her mother and younger brother. Pierre Williams, 33, used a steelheaded hammer to kill his former lover, Beverley Samuels, a 36-year-old nurse, her daughter, Kesha Wizzart, 18, and son, Fred, 13. Three security guards rushed to restrain Williams, who was bundled down to the cells at Manchester Crown Court after the verdict, loudly proclaiming his innocence. He was banned from the dock by the judge, when he sentenced him later to at least 38 years in prison. Mr Justice Pitchford concluded that only Williams, who had a history of sexual violence towards women, could know what terror and pain he had inflicted upon his victims before they died".

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