Monday, June 30, 2008

'I despise Islamism' says award winning British author

He is known for his polished prose, critically acclaimed novels -and for keeping a decidedly low profile. But today the Booker-winning novelist Ian McEwan found himself at the centre of an uncharacteristic row. During an interview with an Italian newspaper, the author launched a stinging attack on Islamism, saying he despised it and that it wanted 'to create a society that I detest.'

The fiercely private Mr McEwan, whose books include On Chesil Beach and Atonement which was recently made into a film starring Keira Knightley, was prompted to make the comments in defence of his friend Martin Amis. 'A dear friend had been called a racist,' he said. 'As soon as a writer expresses an opinion against Islamism, immediately someone on the left leaps to his feet and claims that because the majority of Muslims are dark-skinned, he who criticises it is racist. "This is logically absurd and morally unacceptable. Martin is not a racist. 'And I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on - we know it well.

He went on: 'When you ask a novelist or a poet about his vision regarding an aspect of the world, you don't get the response of a politician or a sociologist, but even if you don't like what he says you have to accept it, you can't react with defamation. 'Martin is not a racist, and neither am I.'

Mr McEwan made his comments to Guido Santevecchi, a London correspondent for Corriere della Sera, and it is even possible he could now be investigated by police for a hate crime.

The novelist had spoken on the topic before and last year told The New York Times 'All religions make very big claims about the world, and it should be possible in an open society to dispute them. 'It should be possible to say, "I find some ideas in Islam questionable" without being called a racist.'

Mr McEwan's comments, however, are nowhere near as strong as those made by Martin Amis. 'The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order', he has said and in an open letter to columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a Muslim 'Islamism, in most of its manifestations, not only wants to kill me - it wants to kill you.'


A different climate meeting

The Warmists are always having conferences and meetings. But others can have them too. A report:

Yesterday (25 June) I attended a lunchtime seminar in Westminster, organised by the Centre for Policy Studies, on climate change and the case against CO2 as the driver of global temperatures. Chaired by Nigel Lawson, there were several other peers in attendance, and more Ph.Ds and professors than you could shake a stick at. The speaker was Dr Fred Singer, the 84-year-old American climate scientist and author of 'Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years' and one of the founders of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), set up to examine all the evidence on the subject, including that ignored by the politicised IPCC.

The London seminar was the last in a series that Dr Singer had held around Europe, where he had also had a meeting with the EU Environment Commissioner. Apparently, after listening to Dr Singer's views, the commissioner replied that they were very interesting but he would have to seek the views of scientists!

Dr Singer gave a presentation on the NIPCC paper 'Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate' (, of which he was the editor. He showed that the most damning evidence against man-made climate change was the 'fingerprint' method of comparing what the climate models predict should be happening to atmospheric temperatures and what measurements show actually is happening - and they are totally different.

There was a question and answer session after the presentation. In response to a question from the Bishop of Chester about what was driving the whole climate change scare, Dr Singer described the financial beneficiaries (activists, scientists, industrial organisations) and ideological factors. CO2 control was also the perfect vehicle for promoting world government.

One of the issues stressed by Dr Singer was that climate policies are negatively impacting energy policies, making energy much more expensive. In his view we need to be seeking economic growth throughout the world, which can only be achieved with access to relatively cheap energy. Since the end of the current interglacial cannot be too far away, we need to be wealthy enough to have the resources to adapt to the potentially catastrophic effects of the severe cooling that is inevitable within the next few thousand years.

Dr Singer believes that continued cooling over the next ten years, plus the economic consequences of the sharp increase in energy prices that is now occurring, will be needed to cause a break in the ranks of politicians towards trying to control CO2. More recognised academics need to speak out on the issue to keep the pressure up. All in all, a very interesting meeting.

There is another issue that came up in the Q&A session that we need to take seriously. There was a question from Nick Riley, who described himself as a geologist and zoologist, about the 'acidification' of the oceans from extra CO2. Dr Singer replied that the oceans were not acidifying but they were becoming less alkaline. Riley mentioned that there had been an acidification event some 55 million years ago (he didn't say what caused it) that took some 100,000 years for the oceans to recover from.

I have done a quick Google search this morning and found this paper by Riley: which shows that he is promoting carbon sequestration and is either a true believer or is making money from CO2 alarmism.

I think I may have mentioned before that I can see the Greens and their fellow travellers changing tack once it becomes irrefutable that CO2 is not driving temperatures, and ocean acidification is likely to be their next scare. It strikes me that, with current atmospheric CO2 levels at a very low level in terms of geological time, the likelihood of the oceans becoming acidic must be remote if they did not do so when atmospheric levels were much higher. If the event Riley referred to is true, it clearly didn't kill all life in the oceans, and corals date back some 250 million years and they obviously survived. I think we need to have the answers ready on this, though, for when the Greens say we must reduce CO2 emissions, even if they don't affect climate after all.


Attack on British university standards

Universities told to favour poor schools

Universities are to be told to give preferential treatment to pupils from poorly performing state schools in a move that is likely to anger independent schools. The government is to endorse proposals that admissions staff should tailor offers to candidates according to the quality of school they attended. The report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, is intended to devise ways of increasing the number of pupils from the poorest families reaching top universities. Only 29% of university students come from the poorest socio-economic groups. At Oxford and Cambridge the percentage is even lower – 9.8% and 11.8% respectively.

Ed Balls, the schools secretary, and John Denham, the universities secretary, are expected to give public backing to the report from the National Council for Educational Excellence on Tuesday. It will say that universities should take into account all available “contextual data” about the performance of a school’s A-level candidates and the number of pupils it sends to university.

The effect is likely to be an increase in the number of pupils from poor schools who are required to get lower A-level grades than those from grammar or independent schools. Last month freedom of information requests by The Sunday Times showed seven top universities had already introduced versions of such schemes.

The report will argue that pupils from the poorest families are being let down by the state school system. It will present new research showing that 11-year-olds from poor families with the best test results are only half as likely as those from better-off households still to be high achievers when they reach the age of 14. It will be presented to Balls and Denham on Tuesday by Steve Smith, the vice-chancellor of Exeter University, Alison Richard, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, and Les Ebdon, the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University. The council will present its findings to Brown in the autumn.

“There is a massive gap in your chances of going on to higher education depending on what socio-economic group you belong [to] and there has hardly been any improvement in the situation. That is what we have to put right,” said Smith, who has drawn up the report. He has been helped by Sir Michael Barber, a senior Downing Street aide under Tony Blair.

Independent schools will also regard as hostile a recommendation for a delay until at least 2012 before universities make offers based on the new A* grade at A-level. The grade, which will be awarded for the first time in 2010, was intended to help universities distinguish between the surging numbers of students gaining three As. Last year more than a quarter of A-level exams taken were given an A grade. Cambridge turns away more than 5,000 candidates a year with three As and is one of the universities planning to use the A* in its offers.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckinghamshire University, was critical of the proposals. He said: “Discrimination of that kind will undoubtedly weaken our universities and make it harder for them to compete in the world league. It introduces institutional unfairness.” Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington college, said: “I think there’s always danger where you artificially prop up a system. The real effort ought to be to bring up the standard of state schools to independent schools.”


The latest craziness in Brtain's socialized medicine

Nurses to take charge of surgeries

The government will take on the medical profession this week by pressing ahead with reforms that will see greater power being transferred from doctors to nurses. Alan Johnson, the health secretary, is expected to follow up plans to introduce at least 150 large health centres, known as polyclinics, by announcing an expansion of surgeries run by nurses. The centres will replace lone GPs, many of whom the government believes are unable to provide evening surgeries or other modern patient services.

This is likely to escalate a row between the government and doctors over reform. Lord Darzi, the health minister in charge of a review of the National Health Service, has accused some doctors of being “laggards” and protecting their “professional boundaries”. Darzi has already said he wants to see nurses doing minor surgery in hospitals. This week he is expected to lay out proposals for more nurses to set up surgeries. They will be encouraged to establish not-for-profit firms to run the practices by being allowed to opt out of the NHS without losing pension rights.

Darzi will also outline plans to publish the death rates of hospital doctors so patients can compare their chance of survival according to who treats them. Death rates at NHS hospitals are available for heart surgery. Success rates for about 50 other conditions are expected to be published on the internet to allow patients to shop around.

Patients are also expected to be given personal health budgets and will decide how the money is spent on treating long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

An “NHS constitution” will set out patients’ rights and responsibilities, including the right to be told why they have been denied a drug a doctor recommends.

Johnson has admitted that access to NHS drugs is a lottery and will order the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the government’s rationing watchdog, to assess drugs more quickly. He said: “What we have heard from patients is that one of their major concerns is the perceived ‘postcode lottery’ in access to drugs. “The draft constitution will address this by making it explicit that patients have the right to Nice-approved drugs and treatment if clinically appropriate. “We will also speed up the national process for appraising new drugs. If a decision is then taken not to fund a drug then your local NHS will have to explain that decision to you.”

Hamish Meldrum, chair of the British Medical Association, suggested the government’s plans for nurses to run surgeries would have limited impact because patients would choose to be treated by doctors. Meldrum said: “There are obviously certain things that only doctors can do. “It is all very well saying patients should have choice about where they are treated but there are certain treatments nurses cannot do, so there will be a limited choice. Patients usually prefer to see doctors.”

Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said increasing numbers of nurses would run local surgeries in future. Carter added: “We never want to get into confrontations over territory. However, good progressive doctors recognise there are roles for nurses who do highly complex work.”


Alcohol shaping women's bodies

I doubt that the effect described is due to alcohol alone. Being overweight generally would seem a likely factor and that need not be due to drinking

As women catch up with men in the drinking stakes, their waistlines are also catching up with the beer belly, according to health experts. An English dietitian has given the apple-shaped body type a new name - the wineglass - due to the love of the drink. Jacqui Lowdon, from the British Dietetic Association, said it was the result of image-conscious women exercising to keep fit, and yet neglecting to cut back their alcohol intake.

The shape is characterised by weight accumulating in the middle, creating a larger upper body and a thinner lower half. Traditionally seen in women after menopause, this barrel-torso physique is now becoming common in the under 30s. Singers Britney Spears, Charlotte Church and Fergie are seen as examples of this emerging body type.

International health and longevity expert Dr John Tickell cited extended drinking hours contributed to the growing number of "wineglass" figures. "The social pressures on the way we eat and drink are just so different to what they were 50 years ago," Dr Tickell said. "What happens now is that most of the kids don't go out until 10 or 11 or midnight, and they stay out drinking in clubs all night."

Dr Tickell explained that our sedentary lifestyles and intake of excess calories through alcoholic drinks such as wine and sweet alcopops contributed to the skinny-leg, big-belly look. "The evolution of the wineglass shape for women, with the thinner legs, is because we don't use our legs," he said. "We don't play netball, we don't climb stairs - we don't do anything." "This is not a genetic thing; it's a lifestyle thing, the accumulation of excess calories you consume starts to go around the tummy."

Dr Tickell said it was a worrying trend and could lead to a number of health problems. "It was sort of OK for a man to look like an apple but now it's becoming OK for a woman to look like an apple or a wineglass, which is terribly unhealthy. "Wineglass equals high-risk diabetes, breast cancer and bowel cancer and all the other cancers."

Nadia Jacobi, 23, a regular at the gym, said she was aware of the emerging trend. "If you go out and drink all weekend there is no point to doing all the gym training," she said. "If you look on the back of a wine bottle you can see how many carbs the wine has that contribute to how many calories there are and I don't think a lot of people are aware of that."


Anglican schism: "The Anglican Church faces what is in effect a schism this weekend after the declaration last night of conservative evangelicals to create a "church within a church". The new body, called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, will have its own bishops, clergy and theological colleges. Details of the fellowship were announced in Jerusalem last night at a summit of conservative Anglicans, the Global Anglican Future Conference. It follows a protracted battle within the church over gay clergy. Many evangelicals were outraged when it was revealed this month that the civil partnership of two gay priests had been blessed in a London church with a traditional wedding liturgy... The new fellowship will return to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 39 articles of religion, train its own priests and insist on more orthodox practices in its churches."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

British government schools killing off literature

A shake-up of GCSE [middle school] English will allow pupils to study travel brochures or biographies rather than novels, the qualifications regulator announced yesterday.

Exams in English, maths, and information and communication technology (ICT) will undergo a transformation in two years' time. The draft syllabuses were released yesterday by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which is seeking feedback from the public.

Pupils will be able to choose between three English GCSEs, rather than the traditional two. As well as English and English literature, there will be a new qualification in English language.

Although this includes assessment of reading, pupils will be able to pass the exam without studying any plays, poetry or classic novels.

The QCA says: "The aim is to develop students' understanding of language use in the real world, through engaging with and evaluating material that is relevant to their own development as speakers, listeners, readers and writers."

It describes the qualification as an "attractive stand-alone course" for students who have English as a second language. This reflects developments in the school population, and indicates that the exam system is changing to embrace the influx of immigrant families in some areas.

The QCA guidance adds that the English language exam would be suitable for "those needing a language qualification at this level but who are not required to fulfil the range of reading stipulated [in English literature]". It adds: "It provides an opportunity for students to extend their own skills as producers of spoken and written language in contexts that are both practical and challenging."



Gordon Brown suffered the humiliation on Friday of Labour crashing to fifth place in the Henley by-election on his first anniversary as prime minister. The unprecedented result, which placed the government behind the Green party and the far-right British National Party, is likely to raise further questions about Mr Brown's leadership and increase calls for change from Labour MPs.

The Conservatives comfortably held one of their safer seats, vacated by Boris Johnson when he left parliament to serve as London Mayor. John Howell, the Tory candidate, secured a majority of 10,116, increasing the Tory share of the vote from 53.5 per cent in 2005 to 57.5 per cent. In his acceptance speech he said "the British public has sent a message to Gordon Brown to 'get off our backs, stop the endless tax rises and help us cope with the rising cost of living'".

Labour expectations were extremely low ahead of the vote. But even the most pessimistic Labour MPs will be shocked that the governing party won little more than 1,000 votes, lost its 500 pounds deposit and trailed two parties with no representation in parliament.

Martin Salter, the Labour MP leading their campaign in Henley, described it as a "grim result" in which the government "reaped the whirlwind" of voter dismay over the credit crunch and faltering economy. "It is very difficult to divine a clear message for Gordon Brown in a seat in which we had no chance at all," he said.

Labour's share of the vote slumped from 14.8 per cent in 2005 to about 3 per cent - well short of the 5 per cent share required to keep their deposit. Lord Renard, the Liberal Democrat chief executive, said it was "abject humiliation" for Mr Brown.

More here

And below is the high-tax "Green" mentality that lost the election:

GORDON Brown was set to signal today he is prepared to take on public opinion over green taxes. The Prime Minister was to insist "real leadership" is necessary to reduce Britain's carbon footprint.

Announcing a 100 billion pound programme to slash greenhouse gas emissions, Mr Brown was due to say UK lifestyles must change over the next decade. The Government has been under pressure over green incentives such as tax hikes for owners of the most polluting, gas-guzzling vehicles.

But, at a lower carbon economy summit in London today, Mr Brown was to say a low carbon society will not emerge from a "business as usual" approach. "It will require real leadership from government - being prepared to make hard decisions on planning or on tax, for example, rather than tacking and changing according to the polls. It will require an investment programme of around 100 billion over the next 12 years. "It will involve new forms of economic activity and social organisation. "It will mean new kinds of consumer behaviour and lifestyles. "And it will demand creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism throughout our economy and our society."

Thousands of new wind turbines could be built across the UK over the coming decade as part of the radical blueprint being unveiled today. Business Secretary John Hutton acknowledged the "green" power plants would cost more and take up more land than conventional electricity generation, but said Britain had "no choice" about moving to lower-carbon energy.


The Pill ‘has had its day as an effective contraceptive’

An IUD revival? The Dalkon shield must have been forgotten

The Pill is “outdated” and leading to more unwanted pregnancies and abortions because so few women take it correctly, a leading academic has said. Nearly one in 12 women who takes the Pill stands to become pregnant each year by missing occasional tablets, James Trussell, of Princeton University, New Jersey, says.

Increasing access to emergency contraception - the “morning after” pill - would also not have a significant effect on rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortions, he will tell the British Pregnancy Advisory Service conference in London today.

Speakers at the conference on the future of abortion will say that women should use longer-lasting methods such as hormonal implants or intrauterine devices (IUDs) that can be “fitted and forgotten”, but later removed if a woman wants a baby.

The Government wants to encourage more women to use long-acting methods, and guidance has suggested that if 7 per cent of women currently using the Pill switched to a long-acting method, then it would prevent 73,000 unintended pregnancies, saving the NHS 100 million a year.

But Professor Trussell said that few GPs offered long-acting reversible contraceptives or were trained at fitting them, so most women ended up using the Pill by default. “The Pill is an outdated method because it does not work well enough,” he added. “It is very difficult for ordinary women to take a pill every single day. The beauty of the implant or the IUD is that you can forget about them.”

Studies suggest that women miss three times as many pills as they commonly say they do. Computerised pill packs were used to show that although about half of women said they did not miss any pills, fewer than a third actually did.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

A third of British secondary schools have a sex clinic

Nearly 1,000 secondary schools are providing `sexual health services' for their pupils. It means a million youngsters can get contraception, morning-after pills, pregnancy tests and tests for sexually transmitted diseases without any possibility that their parents will be told. A high proportion of secondary pupils are under 16 - the legal age of consent.

The rapid spread of sex services through schools with pupils as young as 11 has been hailed by campaigners who want sex education made compulsory and extended to primaries. Parents can find, however, that their children have not just been given contraception without their family's knowledge. In 2004 there was an outcry after it was revealed that 14-year-old Melissa Smith was given abortion pills without her mother being told. She was encouraged to have the termination by a 28-year-old health worker at her school sex clinic.

The survey of schools was carried out by the Sex Education Forum, an organisation run by the National Children's Bureau, a œ12million-a-year campaign group largely funded by taxpayers. Researcher Lucy Emmerson said: `We are encouraged to find that so many schools are providing sexual health services on-site. This is key to reducing teenage pregnancy rates and improving sexual health.' The survey was made public after a week which saw abortion hit record levels, with a 21 per cent rise among girls of 13 and a 10 per cent increase among under-16s.

Critics say giving out contraception in schools increases pregnancy and abortion by signalling that it is all right for young teenagers to have sex. Jill Kirby, of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies, said: `This is the normalisation of sex for pupils without the consent of parents.'

The survey was carried out among 2,185 schools, two-thirds of the secondaries in England. It found that 29 per cent had an `on-site sexual health service' - defined as distributing condoms and testing for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. One in six of these schools gave pupils the morning-after pill, while one school in 20 offered contraceptive options, with prescriptions available for the Pill, injections or implants.

Sexual advice and the distribution of condoms by schools is a key plank of the Government's 138 million pound Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which was intended to halve the number of pregnancies among under-18s between 1998 and 2010 but is acknowledged to be failing.

Miss Emmerson said parents should not worry about what their children might be offered at school. She said: `Parents with children in those schools will know that the support services will involve sexual health advice and what the range of services on offer are. Also, health professionals always encourage the young person to talk to their parents about any problems.'

Patricia Morgan, a researcher and author on family matters, said: `There is no evidence that giving out condoms works. Children have sex, you get pregnancies and abortions and the spread of infections. If you want progress you should start by telling children not to have sex.'

Government guidelines say that where children under 13 are thought to be having sex, police should be brought in. But opponents say that breaches the children's privacy and makes them less likely to seek help.



Householders will be warned today to expect five years of higher home energy bills to pay for a green power revolution. John Hutton, the Business Secretary, will outline plans for a massive shift away from fossil fuels to wind, solar and tidal power, but will add that the change comes at a price. "We think there will be a cost," he told The Times yesterday.

The plan, which he calls the biggest shake-up in Britain's power generation since the Industrial Revolution, requires 100 billion pounds of new investment but would lead to five years of higher gas and electricity bills from about 2015, he said.

Homeowners will be given financial incentives to fit their roofs with solar panels and there will be ambitious targets to increase their use from 90,000 today to seven million within the next 12 years. The plan also envisages a 90 per cent increase in the use of ground and air-source heat pumps that provide "free" heat by tapping the warmth in the air or the earth. Mr Hutton will also outline a "feed-in tariff" allowing homes that generate surplus electricity to sell it to the national grid as an incentive to switch.

The news comes a day after the chiefs of the big six energy companies gave warning that energy bills, which have already risen more than 15 per cent this year, would rise again within the next few months because of the rising price of oil.

Mr Hutton said the renewable cost would be "relatively modest", set against the current increases in the prices of coal, oil and gas and the scale would depend on movements in world oil prices. But he said that it was a necessary price to pay if Britain was serious about addressing climate change and switching to green technology.

More here

IVF severely limited in the home of IVF

Lots of women outside Britain have 10 or more treatments to get a baby. And infertility is a very common disorder

Thousands of infertile couples are being denied IVF that should be funded by the NHS because only 9 of 151 health trusts are offering the recommended level of therapy. A total of 94 per cent of primary care trusts in England are still not providing the three free cycles of IVF that should be available under national guidelines issued in 2004, government figures have revealed.

The survey of IVF provision last year also showed that all but a few trusts have imposed tough criteria for free fertility treatment, rejecting patients who smoke or who already have children, including those from previous relationships. Most of those that offered treatment paid for one cycle, and four trusts provided none at all. The results - the first to incorporate figures from every trust in England - were published yesterday by the Department of Health. They show that a postcode lottery for IVF is flourishing despite guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The NHS financial watchdog recommended in 2004 that three cycles should be available to infertile couples in which the woman is aged between 23 and 39. Women's chances of conceiving are considerably better when more cycles are offered, to the extent that NICE identified three cycles as cost-effective. The advice is not binding, and the Government has provided no extra funds for it to be put into effect. The Department of Health has asked trusts to provide at least one cycle, and to move towards implementing it in full.

About one in six couples is affected by infertility. Almost 45,000 cycles of IVF are performed in the UK each year, but the level of NHS provision means that more than 30,000 of these are conducted privately, at an average cost of about 2,000 pounds per cycle.

The new figures were published as doctors prepare to celebrate the 30th birthday of Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby, who was born in Oldham on July 25, 1978. Oldham is one of the nine trusts - all in the North West of England - that provide three cycles.

Susan Seenan, of the patient support charity Infertility Network UK, said: "Thirty years after the inception of IVF treatment, in the country that pioneered IVF, and four years after the NICE guideline, it is a complete disgrace that only nine PCTs are offering three free cycles. "We are also disappointed that some PCTs are still offering no cycles at all, and that most are adding social criteria that make it difficult and unfair for patients to access the treatment they need. "There is a real need for a standard set of eligibility criteria that operate nationwide."

The survey was published on the Department of Health's website in response to a parliamentary question from Sally Keeble, the Labour MP for Northampton North. It does not include data from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. It found that seven PCTs offer three cycles - Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale; Bury; East Lancashire; Stockport; Tameside & Glossop; Traf-ford; and Blackburn with Darwen. Central Lancashire offers two or three cycles, and Oldham "a maximum of three". The four PCTs that have suspended free IVF treatment were North Lincolnshire, North Staffordshire, North Yorkshire and York, and Stoke on Trent, though the latter has since resumed provision.

About two-thirds of the trusts (100) offer one cycle, while 35 offer two, and three did not provide full information. More than half (86) specify that a couple must have no children, while another 46 impose other restrictions such as no children from the current relationship, or not more than one child. The survey found that 35 trusts specify no smoking, 30 say that patients must be in a stable relationship, and 33 impose age restrictions beyond those in the NICE guidelines.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "We recognise that there are local variations in the provision of IVF and that this does cause distress to many childless couples who feel that they are not getting the treatment they need. "NICE published their guide recommendations that trusts provide up to three cycles of IVF in February 2004. But NICE and the Department of Health realised that this could not be immediately implanted and so trusts were encouraged to use this as a goal they move towards. The first step is for all PCTs to offer at least one cycle of IVF and the vast majority do so, with almost a third already offering more than one cycle."


What fun! "Labour came a humiliating fifth place behind the BNP and the Greens last night in the Henley by-election caused by Boris Johnson's election as London Mayor. Gordon Brown's first anniversary as Labour leader began with the party securing only 1,066 votes, losing its 500 pounds deposit, and having its working majority in the House of Commons cut to 65, as John Howell, the Conservative candidate, succeeded Mr Johnson in the Oxfordshire seat. The Liberal Democrats consolidated their position in second place"

Friday, June 27, 2008

NHS hospital pronounces ten-month-old girl dead -- despite her being alive

An investigation has begun into how a ten-month-old girl, feared drowned in the Thames, was wrongly pronounced dead by hospital staff. It was believed that the child had died after she fell in during an outing to feed the ducks with her mother and three-year-old sister. She was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, but after efforts to resuscitate her, doctors declared her dead. Police confirmed the tragedy at 11am, more than an hour after officers were first called to the scene on the towpath at Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, yesterday morning.

A faint heartbeat was discovered later, and the girl remains in hospital in a critical condition. Neither the hospital nor the police would give details of how long it took hospital staff to discover that the child was still alive, nor could they confirm how the child got into difficulty in the water.

A spokeswoman for John Radcliffe Hospital said: “A full paediatric clinical team immediately attempted to resuscitate the child in the emergency department of the John Radcliffe. “After a lengthy period of resuscitation, a unanimous decision was made by the clinical team to stop treatment, in the best interests of the child. [It's in her best interests to be dead?????]

“Subsequently, the child showed very fragile signs of life. This does occasionally happen and the child was moved to the paediatric intensive care unit of the hospital. She remains there in an extremely serious and critical condition.”


So now Britain will have degrees in quackery

It's hard to grade nonsense on a scale, but of all forms of medical quackery, psychic surgery must be judged one of the least scrupulous. You might recall the odd television expose of its practitioners - so-called 'surgeons' who appear to be operating on patients with their bare hands, and who seem to be able to remove allegedly diseased tissue without making any incisions. Despite being exposed as hoaxers, 'psychic surgeons' continue to cast their spell over the gullible and desperate – mostly in Brazil and the Philippines. The odd case still crops up in the supposedly less superstitious United Kingdom.

About a year ago the Conservative MP Robert Key wrote to the Department of Health following a complaint by one of his constituents, who had been a victim of such fraudulent "healing." I have the full ministerial reply in front of me. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath told Mr Key: "We are currently working towards extending the scope of statutory regulation by introducing regulation of herbal medicine, acupuncture practitioners and Chinese medicine. However, there are no plans to extend statutory regulation to other professions such as psychic surgery. "We expect these professions to develop their own unified systems of voluntary self-regulation. If they then wish to pursue statutory regulation, they will need to demonstrate that there are risks to patients and the public that voluntary regulation cannot address. I hope this clarifies the current position."

Indeed, it does. It makes it clear that the lunatics have taken over the asylum. For a start, how could Philip Hunt, previously director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, possibly have thought that "psychic healing" constituted a "profession" – let alone one which would "develop its own system of voluntary self-regulation? What might this involve? A code which declares that members must never perform genuine surgery, lest it brings the "profession" into disrepute?

Last week, in fact, the Department of Health published the report which outlines the regulation hinted at by Lord Hunt. It is called the Report to Ministers from the Department of Health Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Traditional Medicine Systems Practiced in the United Kingdom.

It is a scary document, and not just because many of its recommendations stem from something called the "Acupuncture Stakeholder Group". You thought they just used needles, didn't you?

Acupuncture is at the most respectable end of the alternative health spectrum – its practitioners would be affronted to be lumped in with psychic surgeons. Yet what, really, is the difference? There are many "patients" in the Philippines and Brazil who will insist that psychic surgery has cured chronic ailments which conventional medicine failed to alleviate. Such is the power of placebo – the driving force of all unconventional medical treatments, including acupuncture.

A few months ago an investigation into acupuncture, involving 1,162 patients with lower back pain, made a splash in newspapers across the world. The researchers at Regensburg University declared that just 27.4 per cent of those who had only conventional treatments such as physiotherapy felt able to report an improvement in their condition. However, of those who also underwent acupuncture, 47.6 per cent reported an improvement. So all that stuff about "different levels of Qi", "meridians", "major acupuncture points" and "extraordinary fu" is scientifically validated, then? Well, not quite, despite what some of the news reports said.

You see, the cunning researchers of Regensburg had one control group of back-pain sufferers who were told that they were undergoing traditional acupuncture – whereas in fact the needles were inserted entirely at random; and instead being put in to a depth of up to 40mm (as required by the acupuncture textbooks) were merely inserted just below the skin. This was sham acupuncture. And guess what? It worked – within the statistical margin of error – just as well as the "real" acupuncture: 44.2 per cent of the recipients of the sham treatment said that their back pain had been alleviated in a way which they had not experienced through conventional medicine.

Now here's another remarkable thing: the main body of the report produced for the Government last week does not contain the word "placebo" – and it crops up only twice in the appendices. One can understand why the various "stakeholders" who were consulted might have wanted to steer away from this fundamental question, but it's surprising that the chairman of the report, Professor Michael Pittilo, principal of Robert Gordon University, didn't insist upon it.

After all, Professor Pittilo claims that his report was an "echo" of the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee report on the same subject – which had declared that the single most important question that any such investigation must address is: "Does the treatment offer therapeutic benefits greater than placebo?"

That indefatigable quackbuster, Professor David Colquhoun of University College London is on the case, however. His indispensable blog points out that Professor Pittilo is a trustee of the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, which advocates exactly the sort of therapies that this committee is supposed to be regulating.

Pittilo and his band of "stakeholders" have come up with their own way of "regulating" the alternative health industry – which the Government has welcomed. It is to suggest that practitioners gain university degrees in complementary or alternative medicine. Pittilo's own university just happens to offer such courses, which Professor Colquhoun has long campaigned against as "science degrees without the science."

It will be a particular boon to the University of Westminster, whose "Department of Complementary Therapies", teaches students all about such practices as homeopathy, McTimoney chiropractic, crystals, and 'vibrational medicine'.

One can see how this might fit in with the Government's "never mind the quality, feel the width" approach to university education. One can also see how established practitioners of such therapies might see this as a future source of income – how pleasant it might be to become Visiting Professor of Vibrational Medicine at the University of Westminster.

Thus garlanded with the laurels of academic pseudo-science, the newly professionalised practitioners of "alternative medicine" can look down on such riff-raff as the "psychic surgeons". Yet in one way those charlatans are less objectionable than Harley Street homeopaths: they openly admit that they are faith-healers, rather than pretend to academic status; and while they have made fools of their patients they haven't-yet-made a fool of the Government.


Britain to get new border police force?

Plans for a new police border force are to be floated by the government, it has been revealed. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made the admission in a 16-page response to a report by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation. The proposal for a 3,000 strong force, put forward by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), will be in a police reform Green Paper.

The Conservatives accused the government of "playing catch-up". A Home Office spokeswoman said they wanted to use the Green Paper "to invite wider views".

The proposed border force would include uniformed officers and officers from Special Branch. It comes just months after the UK Border Agency was launched - comprised of officers from the Border and Immigration Agency, HM Revenue and Customs and UK visas. At the time the Conservatives dismissed the agency as "lacking the powers to chase people traffickers and employers of illegal labour".

On the idea of a police border force, the Home Office said the Green Paper looked at a "number of proposals for policing at the border, including the Acpo proposal". "No decision has been taken about the future of border policing and we are keen to use the Green Paper to invite wider views," a spokeswoman said.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said such a force would be "welcome but very overdue". "For two years we have been calling for a dedicated border police force - something ministers have consistently rubbished," he said. "Having dithered, the government have now realised their error and are trying to play catch up."

A spokesman for Acpo said it saw merit in creating a separate agency or force to work closely with the UK Border Agency. "The government's focus should be on border control and this agency would focus on security, and would preserve the distinction between operational policing and the government."

The Home Office revealed its plans as the independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, warned in his annual report there was "real anxiety" among senior police officers at the potential use of light aircraft as "vehicle bombs". He also criticised police for overusing anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers, saying their use should be halved.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said aviation security has been a theme of Lord Carlile's reports. In his latest, Lord Carlile highlights the risk of terrorists hijacking executive jets which travel at high-speed across continents. Although there is said to be no intelligence about this, Lord Carlile said senior police officers had concerns, given the large number of private aircraft and small airfields.

Also in the report, the peer criticised police for over-using powers to stop-and search-people under the Terrorism Act - there were five occasions in 2007 when officers did not have authorisation. He said there was an "inconsistency of approach" among chief constables about the powers. It emerged last December that Sussex police had wrongly deployed the measures at Gatwick airport, where they unlawfully stopped and searched hundreds of people.

Lord Carlile's document showed that similar errors were made by the Greater Manchester and South Wales forces last year. The police must obtain ministerial authority before they designate an area a stop-and-search zone under the Terrorism Act 2000. To remain legal, this must also be renewed regularly, otherwise the police could be sued for wrongful detention.

Lord Carlile said 12 people were detained. He hoped they had been informed of the mistake in writing, so they could consider suing the police. The peer also said that 257 people were arrested under terrorism powers in 2007, of whom 126 were eventually released without charge. "The realities of this kind of policing increase the possibility of arrests later found to be of innocent members of the public," he said. But he added: "I am satisfied that the level of arrests is proportionate to perceived risk."

Lord Carlile also expressed "serious worries" about the Crown Prosecution Service's practice of charging terrorist suspects on the basis of less evidence - the so-called "threshold test". He said it contained "at least as many and certainly more concealed risks of causing unfair extended detention" as the proposal for 42 days' detention.


British Tories back have-a-go citizens

The public should be able to use physical force to restrain yobs without fear of being prosecuted for assault, according to a new Conservative policy. Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: "We have a duty to prevent crime, and law-abiding citizens should not be discouraged by either the state or the police."

It was necessary to clarify the law in order to "reignite the citizenry", he said. "If you grab a 12-year-old by the scruff of the neck now, you might be in trouble and this is something that we should be looking at. "People should act sensibly, but they can do a lot to stop crime."

Grieve believes people have become wary of intervening to stop delinquency after a series of cases in which members of the public and teachers have been charged with assault for trying to restrain violent teenagers. The disappearance of traditional reprimands by parents, teachers and neighbours, he said, meant many teenagers were being dealt with unnecessarily by the criminal justice system.

To redress the balance, Grieve wants the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to be given new guidelines for dealing with people who intervene to prevent crime. He argued that it was often better in the long run for teenagers to be tackled by an authority figure than to end up in court with a criminal record, which could start them on the path to serious crime.

Many teenagers who got into trouble, he said, went on to lead law-abiding lives. To illustrate the point, Grieve admitted that when he was 12, he and a friend broke into an abandoned house and smashed it up, shooting out the windows with an air rifle.


Wind turbines are 'unreliable and will cost each British home 4,000 pounds

The Government's plan to build thousands of new wind turbines across Britain is misguided, doomed to failure and will cost every household at least 4,000 pounds, a new report claims. Rather than trying to solve the UK's energy crisis by investing in wind power, ministers should focus on tidal energy, clean coal and nuclear power, it says.

The report from the Centre for Policy Studies - a right of centre think tank - comes on the eve of the Government's announcement on the future of green energy. Ministers will tomorrow reveal how the UK will meet the EU's target for producing 15 per cent of all energy from renewable sources within 12 years.

The plans include a six-fold expansion of wind farms on land, and a 30-fold increase in offshore turbines. To meet the targets, Britain will need to build one new turbine every day between now and 2020. The dash for wind is also being fuelled by concerns that Britain is running out of power. By 2015 new European clean air laws will have shut many coal power stations while many of the UK's ageing nuclear power stations will be shut, leaving a energy gap of up to 32 gigawatts.

"A rush to wind energy is not the answer to these problems," said Tim Knox, of the CPS. The report says wind is unreliable - and only provides power if the weather conditions are right. The UK will need a fleet of coal, gas or nuclear power stations in reserve for when the wind drops.

Turbines are also expensive. The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that wind energy is two and a half times more costly than other forms of non- oil and gas electricity generation, according to the report Wind Chill: Why Wind Energy Will Not Fill the UK's Energy Gap.

The shift to renewables could cost 100 million - or 4,000 for every household in the country, it adds. "It is also impractical," Mr Knox added. "The UK does not have the capability to build the 3,000 new offshore wind farms that are proposed, nor can the national grid handle the enormous new strains that will be imposed upon it. "This matters. The increase in consumers' electricity prices required to pay for and maintain expensive wind energy will contribute to the difficulties faced by the six million householders facing fuel poverty."

A poll carried out for the report found just three per cent of people were willing to pay higher electricity bills to fund renewable power such as wind. Another 37 per cent were "very unwilling," while 24 per cent said they were "fairly unwilling". Only 12 per cent said they were happy to pay more.

The report - written by energy analyst Tony Lodge, concludes: "Greater reliance on wind power could lead to electricity supply disruptions if the wind does not blow, blows too hard or does not blow where wind farms are located."

The wind industry dismissed the criticisms. "The National Grid has said many times they can cope with the variability of wind," said Chris Tomlinson of the British Wind Energy Association. "Never in history has there not been wind blowing somewhere in the UK." Creating thousands of new turbines would be a "challenge", but the job was not impossible, he added.


Another characteristically humorous article from London Mayor Boris Johnson here. Another indication of why he is arguably the second most popular man in Britain (Jeremy Clarkson obviously comes first). If you are familiar with British doings, there is a good article ABOUT Boris by humorist Anne Treneman here. I am a great lover of British humour but I think you may have to know Brits well to "get" it.

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

English Council bans "brainstorming"

We read:
"A council has banned the term `brainstorming' - and replaced it with `thought showers.' Officials Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in Kent feared the phrase might offend epileptics or the mentally ill. Staff have been sent memos about the change and even sent on training courses, reports The Sun.

But Margaret Thomas, of the National Society for Epilepsy, said: `Brainstorming is a clear and descriptive phrase. Alternatives such as `thought shower' or `blue-sky thinking' are ambiguous to say the least. Any implication that the word `brainstorming' is offensive to epileptics takes political correctness too far."


Britons fear the carbon cops are coming

First there were the thought police, then the surveillance society, now Britons fear the carbon cops are coming to ensure compliance with climate change legislation, a survey showed on Wednesday. And with warnings of global catastrophe ringing in their ears some people fear that failure to cut personal carbon emissions will eventually result in enforced carbon behaviour re-education, the Energy Saving Trust said.

It said 41 percent of Britons think the country will need its own Carbon Police Force by mid-century and one quarter believe repeat offenders will have to go into carbon rehab and take carbon addiction classes."The UK's perception is that by 2050 we could have the sort of draconian infringements on our civil liberties that have been highlighted in our research. This need not be the case," said EST chief Philip Sellwood said."The carbon emissions we all produce from our homes and travel amount to over 40 per cent of the UK's total emissions so we all have a part to play."

The survey coincides with the EST's "Emission Impossible, a vision for a low carbon lifestyle by 2050."EST, set up to help people to kick their carbon habit, wants more home power generation, smart meters in homes to help cut power consumption, less water wastage, more reuse and recycling and more emphasis on efficient appliances.

"Our report outlines the Energy Saving Trust's vision for achieving a low-carbon lifestyle by 2050 where we meet our 80 per cent reduction targets without adopting austere lifestyles or making unpleasant personal sacrifices," Sellwood said.


Fathers' day on the way to being banned

If Scotland is a bellwether

Christian references have been removed from Christmas cards and school sports days excised of competitiveness. Now Father's Day has become the latest event to fall victim to the forces of political correctness. Last week thousands of children were prevented from making Father’s Day cards at school to avoid causing embarrassment to classmates who live with single mothers and lesbian couples. The politically correct policy in the interests of “sensitivity” over the growing number of lone-parent and same-sex households, has been quietly adopted by schools across Scotland.

It only emerged this year after a large number of fathers failed to receive their traditional cards and gifts last Sunday. While primary children are banned from making cards for their fathers, few schools impose similar restrictions in the run up to Mothering Sunday. The ban has been introduced by schools in Glasgow, Edinburgh, East Renfrewshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Clackmannanshire. Currently, some 280,000 children in Scotland live in single parent households, accounting for just 7% of the total.

Tina Woolnough, 45, from Edinburgh, whose son Felix attends Blackhall primary, said a number of teachers at the school had not allowed children to make Father’s Day cards this year. “This is something I know they do on a class-by-class basis at my son Felix’s school,” said Woolnough, who is a member of the school’s parent-teacher council. Some classes send Father’s Day cards and some do not. “The teachers are aware of the family circumstances of the children in each class and if a child hasn’t got a father living at home, the teacher will avoid getting the children to make a card.”

Family rights campaigners have condemned the policy as “absurd” and claimed it is marginalising fathers. “I’m astonished at this, it totally undermines the role and significance of fathers whether they are still with the child’s mother or not,” said Matt O’Connor, founder of Fathers For Justice. “It also sends out a troubling message to young boys that fathers aren’t important.”

Alastair Noble, education officer with the charity Christian Action, Research and Education, added: “This seems to be an extreme and somewhat absurd reaction. I would have thought that the traditional family and marriage are still the majority lifestyles of people in Scotland. To deny the experience of the majority just does not seem sensible.”

Victoria Gillick, the family values campaigner, accused schools of politicising a traditional fun activity for children. “Children like making things, and making things for someone is great fun. I wouldn’t call it politically correct, I’d just call it stupid,” she said. “It seems quite unfair to deny those children whose parents are together and who want to make cards from enjoying the experience. Stopping children from making Father’s Day cards is reinforcing the fact that some fathers are not there, it’s actually drawing attention to the issue.”

Local authorities defended the move, saying teachers needed to act sensitively at a time when many children were experiencing family breakdown and divorce. “Increasingly, it is the case that there are children who haven’t got fathers or haven’t got fathers living with them and teachers are having to be sensitive about this,” said a spokesman for East Renfrewshire council. “Teachers have always had to deal with some pupils not having fathers or mothers, but with marital breakdown it is accelerating.”

Jim Goodall, head of education at Clackmannanshire council, said: “We expect teachers and headteachers to apply their professional skills and behave in a common sense manner. They have to be sensitive to the appropriate use of class time and the changing pattern of family life. We trust our staff to act sensibly and sensitively." A spokesman for South Ayrshire council said: “We are aware of the sensitivities of the issue and wouldn’t do anything that would make any child feel left out or unwanted in any way.” Edinburgh city council said the practice on Father’s Day cards was a matter for individual schools.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Social mobility disappeared along with selective schools

"Comprehensives" were supposed to bring equality. They did the opposite

It's a puzzle how Gordon Brown manages to maintain the aura of a serious intellectual. He clearly reads widely. But so, too, do my nephews, albeit books with shorter words. The problem lies not with his ability to read but to draw the correct conclusions. His speech yesterday on social mobility is a case in point - a weird mix of platitudes and outright nonsense. Parents should want their children to do better than they did themselves. Wow. What an insight. And this "cannot be achieved without people themselves adopting the work ethic, the learning ethic and aiming high... We must set a national priority to aggressively and relentlessly develop the potential of the British people." It's difficult to imagine a priority aggressively and relentlessly to hold back the potential of the British people.

The difficulties start when he talks in more than platitudes. Yesterday's speech was predicated on the notion that, while he had been fortunate to be "a child of the first great wave of postwar social mobility", there was then a "lost generation" of "Thatcher's children" who were denied the chance to progress. Mr Brown is right to talk about the reversal in social mobility that took place in the last century. But he is about as far from the truth as it is possible to imagine in describing its cause. Margaret Thatcher did not create the problem; she inherited it.

A 1996 study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed what strikes most people instinctively: education is the great engine of social mobility. "There is a clear correlation between high mobility up the income distribution and a high level of educational attainment. Non-movers are almost five times as likely to have no qualifications as big movers; at the other end of the scale, big movers are more than seven times as likely to have A levels or better than non-movers are." And with the educational opportunities laid out in Rab Butler's 1944 Education Act, which enshrined the tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools, increasingly it was no longer true that where you were born on the social scale determined where you ended up.

As Churchill said to the boys of his alma mater, Harrow School, in 1940: "When this war is won... it must be one of our aims to establish a state of society when the advantages and privileges which have hitherto been enjoyed by the few shall be more widely shared by the many, and by the youth of the nation as a whole."

And this started to happen: the proportion of public-school-educated undergraduates at Oxford was, for instance, on a steady downward path after the Second World War. In 1946 65 per cent of male students were from independent schools. By 1967 only 53 per cent of male students were from public schools. The pattern was even clearer with women, the share falling from 57 per cent of arts undergraduates in 1946 to 39 per cent in 1967. For all the problems with technical and secondary modern schools, grammar schools did a fine job of lifting children out of poverty and into opportunity. Yet today, our comprehensive system has one of the worst rankings in the developed world.

Education was seen by the advocates of comprehensive schools "as a serious alternative to nationalisation in promoting a more just and efficient society" (as Tony Crosland, who would not rest until he had "destroyed every f***ing grammar school", put it). But this was Grade A drivel. Class divisions were made worse, not better. Now those who can afford to do so leave the state system for private education or move to a middle-class catchment area. The rest are stuck with what they are served up. As A.H.Halsey, an adviser to Crosland and one of the leading egalitarian theorists of the 1960s, put it: "The essential fact of 20th-century educational history is that egalitarian policies have failed."

The speed of the process was astonishing. In the late 1960s the state grammar schools and quasi-state direct grant schools easily outclassed the independent sector in terms of academic output. The next decade saw both these meritocratic pillars of the state school system collapse. In 1971 35 per cent of all state schools were comprehensive; in 1981 the figure was 90 per cent, and almost all the direct grant schools had joined the private sector. In destroying the direct grant schools on the altar of equal opportunity, the 1974-79 Labour Government succeeded only in denying opportunity to many poor children.

Mr Brown is right to emphasise the imperative of social mobility. But until he stops speaking in platitudes and starts understanding what has gone wrong, he will never be able to put anything right.


Green driving

British humorist and motoring writer Jeremy Clarkson tells us how

It's no good. I can't sit here any more pretending that there's nothing wrong. Because there is. A man came to my house yesterday to fix the computer and he had a worried look on his face. He lives 20 miles away. The fuel tank in his little van was perilously close to empty and he simply didn't have enough money to fill it up again.

In the past I only ever stopped for fuel when the yellow light had been on for a month and the engine was starting to cough. Yesterday I stopped at a garage simply because its petrol was 4p cheaper than usual. That's a œ2.80 difference per tankful. Which works out at œ300 a year. That's 55 free packets of cigarettes.

Except of course these calculations are meaningless because oil, as I write, is $139 a barrel and no one thinks it's going to stop there. Not with Mr Patel on the economic warpath and Johnny Chinaman part-exchanging his rickshaw for a shiny new Toyota. They say it'll be $150 a barrel by the end of summer.

Global warming was never going to get people out of their big cars because we could see it was all a load of left-wing tosh. But when petrol is œ3 a litre - and anyone old enough to remember 1973 would not discount that as a possibility - you'd have to be a bit bonkers to drive around like your hair's on fire in a car that does only eight miles to the gallon.

Oh it's all very well now. You may be a footballer or a Sir Alan. You may see expensive petrol as a jolly good way of getting the poor and the weak off the roads. Soon, though, you will be hit too.

Think about it. When you have to have a fist fight with an old lady over the last loaf of bread in the shop, and your electricity bill looks as though it's been written in liras, you are going to find yourself in the same boat as my computer man: with a nice car on the drive and no wherewithal to make it go.

Of course there are lots of things you can do to lessen the impact of spiralling fuel bills - all of which are dreary.

Weight is one issue. If you remove that rolled-up old carpet from your boot, you'll be surprised at the impact it'll have on your bills. You could go further and remove your spare wheel and jack too. Maybe you could even go on that diet you've been promising yourself.

Then there's all the equipment. If you use a lot of electrical stuff while driving, the alternator will need to work harder, which means more fuel. Even Terry Wogan needs a bit of petrol. Your heated rear window needs an alarming amount. And air-conditioning? Turn that off and your fuel consumption will improve by as much as 12%.

Making sure that your tyres are inflated properly will save another 5%, and you know the roof bars? If you can manage without, there's another 3% saving right there. At this rate you are well on your way to turning your Range Rover Sport Nutter Bastard into something with the thirst of a newborn wren.

By far the biggest savings will come if you change the way you drive, though. Take the Audi A8 diesel as an example. Officially it will do 30.1mpg. Realistically it'll be nearer 25. With a bit of care, however, you can do 40. Maybe more.

Audi says that its big V8 oil-burner can go 580 miles between trips to the pumps but I managed to get all the way from London to Edinburgh and then back again on a single tankful. That's a whopping 800 miles. It wasn't much fun, at a fairly constant 56mph, with no radio, no air-con and no sat nav. But the savings were massive.

Things I learnt? On a downhill stretch, ease up on the throttle pedal and work with gravity to build up speed. Similarly you can ease off the power and use momentum to get you up the next hill. A cruise control system will not do this. It is a sledgehammer when what you need is the scalpel sensitivity of your right foot.

Look far ahead. If you think you will have to slow down, start the process early. If you use the brakes you are simply wasting the fuel you used to reach a speed that was unnecessary.

Already I'm bored with this. The notion that you have to drive at 56mph, with sweaty armpits, stopping every five seconds to check your tyre pressures, just to save a pound fills me with horror and dread. It would be like being told to lose weight by your doctor - and sawing your arm off. Effective but annoying. Which is why, when it comes to the price of fuel, I want to have my cake and eat it too. And then I want second helpings.

This brings me to the Mercedes-Benz SL 350. Ordinarily I'd dismiss this, the baby of the range, and suggest you bought the mountainous twin-turbo 6 litre V12 version instead. But in these dark and difficult times, I thought I'd give the weedomatic version a chance.

The fact of the matter is this. Officially the V12 version will return 18.7mpg whereas the 350 will do 28.5. That is a colossal difference. And handy too. On my old SL 55, a quarter of a tank would not get me from London to my house in the Cotswolds. A quarter of a tank in the 350 gets me there and back.


IVF safe

Women who want to postpone motherhood to establish a career or find the right partner have been given new hope by research that shows the safety of an advanced egg-freezing technique. The most exhaustive study yet of children born after the freezing procedure found that they appeared to be as healthy as those conceived normally or by IVF, paving the way for its widespread use.

Specialists said that the research, into a method known as vitrification, promises to lift the main barrier to routine egg freezing. While dozens of British women have already done this to preserve their fertility, medical groups had advised against it outside clinical trials because of limited evidence of its safety. The study, led by Ri-Cheng Chian, of McGill University, in Montreal, Canada, assessed the outcomes of 200 children born from vitrified eggs. It found that the rate of birth defects was 2.5 per cent, which is comparable to natural pregnancies and IVF.

Dr Chian told The Times: "I have two daughters. If they wanted to preserve their fertility because they were 35 and not married, I would say, yes, they should use this technique. Even if they were 20 or 25 and wanted to use it for social reasons, I would recommend going ahead. We cannot yet say it is 100 per cent safe, but we are starting to amass good evidence that it is not risky so far as we can tell. "The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says egg freezing for social reasons should happen only in clinical trials, because there isn't enough information yet, but I think that is soon going to have to change."

Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, which offers egg freezing in Britain, said: "This is the sort of evidence we have all been seeking. I think in time it will come to be seen as positively perverse to refuse to allow women to have the chance to establish pregnancies with their own frozen eggs." She said that frozen eggs stored when women were in their twenties or thirties might eventually be shown to reduce the rate of birth abnormalities beyond that seen in the McGill study, which is published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online. Such defects become more of a risk when older women conceive with their own fresh eggs.

Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society, said that the society did not have a firm policy on egg freezing for social reasons. "A single study isn't enough, but if more data like this emerges we would be more relaxed about it," he said.

While it has long been possible to freeze sperm and embryos for use in fertility treatment years later, it has taken much longer to achieve this routinely for eggs. The prospects of wider use have recently been enhanced by the development of vitrification, which involves flash-freezing eggs after special preparation. Up to 95 per cent of vitrified eggs survive the thawing process, compared with 50 to 60 per cent of those preserved by older slow-freezing techniques. Pregnancy rates for vitrification can be as good as for IVF with fresh eggs.

These advances may encourage more women to freeze eggs as a way of preserving their fertility, which starts to decline steeply when from the mid-thirties. Several British clinics offer women in their twenties and thirties the option of storing their eggs, and more than 100 have done so.


Railways inadequate in the home of railways: "Passengers face acute overcrowding on key railway routes because capacity will be exhausted many years before any new lines could be built, according to Network Rail. The infrastructure company is to commission a study into the costs and benefits of new lines on five inter-city routes. But it admitted that a high-speed network was unlikely to be built soon because of funding constraints and environmental concerns. The company is expected to focus on a few short stretches of track operating at conventional speed to relieve the worst pinch points on long-distance routes, including London to Peterborough, Rugby and Swindon. Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Network Rail, said that the Government's plan for expanding rail capacity by 22.5 per cent by 2014 would be inadequate on some routes, which are growing by 10 per cent a year. He said: "Clearly some routes will grow more than that and there may be a problem. The most congested parts of the network are about 80 miles out of London. People used to be prepared to travel for 45 minutes and now it's an hour and a quarter." The high cost of housing in London and fuel prices were two of the factors contributing to the continuing strong growth in demand for rail travel."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You cannot be too careful in talking about blacks

We read:
"An Australian political adviser to London Lord Mayor Boris Johnson has been forced to resign over a racism scandal.

James McGrath was accused of suggesting black people should ``go home'' if they did not like the new Mayor.

Responding to claims Caribbean immigrants could leave the UK if Mr Johnson was elected, Mr McGrath said: ``Let them go if they don't like it here.''


If he had been talking about Americans instead of blacks he would have been applauded.

British doctors dubious about new treatment protocols

Nurses doing surgery?? I think I'd be dubious too

The minister in charge of a review of the NHS has accused some doctors of being “laggards” for obstructing the introduction of new treatments. Lord Darzi, who continues to work as a surgeon, says some senior medical staff are so determined to protect “professional boundaries” that, 14 years after his own practice began using nurses to do minor surgery, others have yet to follow.

He said: “In all areas of healthcare you have innovators, people who really want to change things for the better, and you also have, in other areas of the healthcare system, people who are lagging behind and need to catch up. “They will eventually catch up once they know that, if you start thinking about what really matters to patients, how you can improve the care you provide, you get over all these different obstacles.”

Darzi, who has been in bitter conflict with doctors over the introduction of polyclinics, is backed by Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer. This weekend, Donaldson accused some surgeons of obstructing changes that would make operations safer because they objected to their “professional autonomy” being eroded. He said: “The culture of medicine has been one of clinical autonomy. Doctors are trained to take decisions, to feel they are in charge, to lead teams. They want to do what they feel is best and anything that suggests that they should standardise their practice in any way is sometimes seen as degrading of their professional ethos.”

Donaldson, who as chairman of the World Health Organisation world alliance for patient safety will this week launch an airline-style danger checklist for surgeons, added that one British doctor told him such checks would reduce consultants to “factory workers”. Donaldson said: “I was talking about a way in which standard operating procedures are used in the airline industry and he said: ‘Well, if you bring that into medicine, we might as well go and work in factories.’ “I think it is a new idea for some traditional people holding traditional attitudes in medicine and I think we need to break those down and get people thinking and learning from other industries.”

Darzi, who will publish his review on the NHS at the end of this month, also says doctors and nurses must treat patients as customers. He says that if patients don’t like the quality of care they are receiving they should go elsewhere. His report will include proposals to routinely invite patients to grade the quality of nursing care they receive during their hospital stay, including how comfortable they were made to feel on the ward and if they were treated in a kind and compassionate manner. Results of these questionnaires will be published so that patients can shop around for the hospital with the most compassionate nursing care.

Darzi, who still practises his keyhole surgery specialism two days a week at St Mary’s Hospital in London, said he recently had a patient who requested a referral to his unit from outside its catchment area. He said more details of the most advanced surgery will be made available to patients as part of his review. This will make it easier for patients to find out where the latest technology is used.

Darzi said: “Have patients been treated as customers? When you go to a restaurant you look at a website and find out exactly what people said about that restaurant. In future I want to show which hospitals, doctors and nurses are actually bringing innovation into their healthcare.” Darzi is to set up a new website featuring all the latest innovations in medicine to encourage hospitals to adopt new treatments more quickly.


British equality bill to ban age barriers.

More British wackiness. Fools step in where angels fear to tread

Elderly people would have the right to join youth clubs or go on 18-30 cruises under new equality legislation to be introduced this week. Ministers are to give pensioners new protection against age discrimination. The law would stop insurance companies, 95% of which impose an upper age limit, refusing life insurance or holiday cover to senior citizens or charging more on the basis of their age.

The new law would give teenagers the right to join clubs that have traditionally been the preserve of the elderly, while middle-aged clubbers could not be refused entry to a nightclub on the basis of age alone.

Gordon Lishman, director-general of Age Concern, said: "People are often surprised to learn that ageism is the most commonly experienced prejudice in the UK. But both young and old find they come up against barriers created by their age. People over a certain age pay a huge premium on insurance just because of their age. They can also be denied certain types of health treatment because doctors don't think it is worth treating them. This is unfair and unjust."

The Single Equality Bill will also offer new protection to gays and ethnic minorities. Public bodies will have a duty to promote equality while schools will have to develop strategies to prevent gay bullying.

The bill is expected to stop short of demanding that companies introduce compulsory pay audits that would reveal whether men and women of equal experience and seniority are paid the same, after opposition from business. Less stringent measures to improve transparency on equal pay are to be introduced.


Poll: most Britons doubt cause of climate change

The majority of the British public is still not convinced that climate change is caused by humans - and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem, according to an exclusive poll for The Observer. The results have shocked campaigners who hoped that doubts would have been silenced by a report last year by more than 2,500 scientists for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found a 90 per cent chance that humans were the main cause of climate change and warned that drastic action was needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The findings come just before the release of the government's long-awaited renewable energy strategy, which aims to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent over the next 12 years.The poll, by Ipsos MORI, found widespread contradictions, with some people saying politicians were not doing enough to tackle the problem, even though they were cynical about government attempts to impose regulations or raise taxes.

In a sign of the enormous task ahead for those pushing for drastic cuts to carbon emissions, many people said they did not want to restrict their lifestyles and only a small minority believe they need to make 'significant and radical' changes such as driving and flying less.

'It's disappointing and the government will be really worried,' said Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the government's Sustainable Development Commission. 'They [politicians] need the context in which they're developing new policies to be a lot stronger and more positive. Otherwise the potential for backlash and unpopularity is considerable.'

There is growing concern that an economic depression and rising fuel and food prices are denting public interest in environmental issues. Some environmentalists blame the public's doubts on last year's Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, and on recent books, including one by Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, that question the consensus on climate change.

However Professor Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, said politicians and campaigners were to blame for over-simplifying the problem by only publicising evidence to support the case. 'Things that we do know - like humans do cause climate change - are being put in doubt,' said Lomborg. 'If you're saying, "We're not going to tell you the whole truth, but we're going to ask you to pay up a lot of money," people are going to be unsure.'

In response to the poll's findings, the Department for the Environment issued a statement: 'The IPCC... concluded the scientific evidence for climate change is clear and it is down to human activities. It is already affecting people's lives - and the impact will be much greater if we don't act now.'

Ipsos MORI polled 1,039 adults and found that six out of 10 agreed that 'many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change', and that four out of 10 'sometimes think climate change might not be as bad as people say'. In both cases, another 20 per cent were not convinced either way. Despite this, three quarters still professed to be concerned about climate change. Those most worried were more likely to have a degree, be in social classes A or B, have a higher income, said Phil Downing, Ipsos MORI's head of environmental research.'People are broadly concerned, but not entirely convinced,' said Downing. 'Despite many attempts to broaden the environment movement, it doesn't seem to have become fully embedded as a mainstream concern,' he said.

More than half of those polled did not have confidence in international or British political leaders to tackle climate change, but only just over a quarter think it's too late to stop it. Two thirds want the government to do more but nearly as many said they were cynical about government policies such as green taxes, which they see as 'stealth' taxes.


Kids should learn to be tough

"Happiness lessons" that are used in many schools to teach children to be sensitive, empathetic and caring are under threat from a new hardline approach that advocates mental toughness. Academics say that instilling a robust attitude among pupils can improve their exam performance, behaviour and aspirations dramatically. Mentally tough children are less likely to regard themselves as victims of bullying and will not be deterred by initial failure. Having this outlook can be learnt, according to Peter Clough, head of psychology at the University of Hull.

Along with AQR, a psychometric-testing company, he is conducting a long-term study of children and evaluating their mental toughness. His ideas - based on sports psychology - have been used in industry. Dr Clough claims that a simple test and follow-up techniques can transform performance. He said: "We know that students with higher levels of mental toughness perform better in exams. They are also less likely to perceive themselves as being bullied and are more likely to behave more positively. "We also know that by using a variety of techniques - many of them very simple - we can increase an individual's level of mental toughness."

Dr Clough is working with 181 pupils aged 11 and 12 at All Saints Catholic High School in Knowsley, Merseyside. He will help to make them mentally tough and hopes this will "open doors of opportunities that they would not previously have considered". Parents and teachers are also being shown the intervention techniques.

Dr Clough said: "There is no point in working with pupils who then go into a classroom environment where nobody understands the process, and home to parents who have no interest. Showing the teachers how the techniques work means that the benefits that pupils are getting from this study can be repeated year after year."

Dr Clough and his team measured the levels of resilience and emotional sensitivity of pupils using a questionnaire. They then picked almost 40 pupils with low scores. They are now using techniques to improve their rating, such as visualisation, anxiety control and relaxation, improving their attention span and setting goals.

It comes a week after two academics said the emphasis on Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) was "infantilising" students. Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone, of Oxford Brookes University, said that teenagers were encouraged to talk about their emotions at the expense of acquiring knowledge. This left them unable to cope on their own. They pointed to the increased presence of parents on campus, and of counsellors and support officers, saying that "everyone was looking for a disability to declare".

Dr Clough said that he helped children to set realistic goals and used techniques that worked rapidly. These include imagining scenarios and random-number tests that forced them to concentrate. He said: "Really concentrating is a skill a lot of them have never had. We try to get them to realise they are in control of their lives and need to stick a foot in the door when they get the opportunity. No one else is going to make that decision. "They don't recognise that people who are successful sometimes have less ability but more drive. They are drawn to a 'shortcut culture' of instant success and dream of winning The X Factor, but don't see that you need to practise before auditions."

Of happiness lessons, which aim to boost self-esteem, Dr Clough said: "All the positive thinking in the world isn't going to make a third look like a 2:1."


Archbishop Jensen defends keepers of the Bible

Note that unlike "modernists" such as Spong, His Grace does not need to wear a pectoral cross etc. in order to reinforce his Christian identity

SYDNEY'S Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen, has defended a breakaway conference of church leaders in Jerusalem as the true keepers of the authority of the Bible. In an interview with the Herald before the opening yesterday of a conference of 1000 conservative Anglican leaders from 27 countries - including 280 bishops - Dr Jensen described the formal separation of the church into conservative and liberal groupings as a tragedy. The split has emerged since the ordination in the United States five years ago of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson.

"We're not dealing with the secular world here. We're dealing with the Christian church, and the Christian church has a constitution which is the Bible," Dr Jensen said. "Now the difficulty here is for a person to claim to belong to the Christian church while at the same time breaching the constitution. It's as if you're a member of a clan and you decide to break the rules of a club. That's understandable to the man on the street, surely."

While he remained committed to the Anglican Church - and refuses to describe the present situation as a split - Dr Jensen said the church would not reunite until the divisions over human sexuality were resolved. "I am passionately committed to being Anglican. I respect very much Christians from other denominations and I don't think being Anglican is the greatest thing in the world, but I believe in it and our intention is not to leave the Anglican Communion," he said. "There is no reason why we should leave the Anglican Church because we have not shifted. It is others who have shifted. We are committed to the Anglican church and want to see it do as well as it possibly can."

Dr Jensen said he would not attend the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican leaders called by the Archbishop of Canterbury in England next month. "I have decided, as have a number of leading bishops, particularly from Africa, that no, we're going attend this conference alone while this crisis remains unresolved. In the meantime we'll be here and we're working on what the future is going to look like," he said.

Dr Jensen said gay men and women had no reason to feel discriminated against by the stance he had taken on human sexuality. "Furthermore, we strongly abhor any violence or unjust discrimination towards those kinds of people in the community," he said.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Cancer pair win fight with NHS for top-up drugs

Two women suffering from cancer have won legal battles for the right to pay privately for life-prolonging drugs without having their National Health Service treatment withdrawn. Several hospital trusts have also broken ranks to allow dying patients to pay immediately for the additional drugs that their doctors have said they need.

The moves are a sign that the government’s ban on so-called co-payments is beginning to crumble. In the face of a campaign led by The Sunday Times, Alan Johnson, the health secretary, has already announced a review of the policy which is due to report in October.

Melissa Worth, a solicitor at the law firm Halliwells, who is representing eight patients fighting for the right to co-pay, said: “Many more NHS trusts are finding different ways of allowing patients to pay for cancer drugs. “The government has now publicly acknowledged there is a problem and people are realising that what is most important is that patients get the best possible care.”

Andrew Haldenby, director of the think tank Reform, which includes Doctors for Reform, a group of 1,000 doctors campaigning for change, said: “This is a victory for common sense. It has become clear that many doctors have rejected the bureaucratic rules of the NHS to act in the best interests of patients. They deserve praise for looking beyond the guidance to act in a way which shows the true values of medicine. These cases also show the government had to order a review as its position is unsustainable.”

One woman, who took legal action against Weston Area Health NHS Trust in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, has been told she can pay for Avastin, the bowel and breast cancer drug, in the hospital’s private wing while receiving the remainder of her care on an NHS ward. The trust, which runs Weston General hospital, said: “This patient is having complete treatment on the NHS and has chosen to purchase separate treatment as well. Because the hospital has a unit for private patients on site, it has been agreed that the patient can receive Avastin on that unit.”

Another woman, who has bowel cancer and is taking legal action against the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, has been advised that she will also be able to pay for Avastin without being denied NHS care. The woman’s husband, who does not wish to be named, said the trust had told them it would not object, “provided we were not getting treatment in the private [wing] and on the NHS in the same episode of care, on the same visit. Effectively, we have won the right to pay.” The Royal Marsden has declined to comment on the case.

The Velindre NHS Trust in Cardiff faces a judicial review after refusing to allow a woman to buy a cancer drug.

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, ABM University NHS Trust in Bridgend and University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust are also allowing some of their NHS patients to pay for additional drugs.

Many dying patients are still being denied the chance to spend their savings on cancer drugs, however, because their trust plans to retain the ban until the government review ends. Sue Matthews, 57, a former physiotherapist from Buckinghamshire and the wife of an NHS orthopaedic surgeon, says this could be too late for her. Matthews, a mother of two with bowel cancer, wants to be able to pay for the drugs Avastin or Erbitux without losing her NHS care. She said: “It could all be too late for me. “If the government turned round now and said, ‘We realise it has been happening in other areas of the NHS and we are prepared to accept it now’, that might be of some use to me. But he [Alan Johnson] is just trying to placate people and for those in my position it doesn’t help at all. “Some of these reviews go on for years. I will be dead by then.”

Another cancer patient, Jonathan Chapple, a retired company chairman from Kingston, southwest London, was asked by an NHS trust to pay £55,000 upfront for all of his cancer care when he asked to top up with the drugs that doctors said would give him the best chance. Like Matthews, Chapple, 69, was told by doctors that Avastin or Erbitux, which are not routinely funded by the NHS, were most likely to extend his life. His oncologist at the Royal Marsden told him that he could not continue to receive NHS care while paying for the drugs, however, and he was advised to transfer to the hospital’s private wing. Chapple said: “Having paid all my life for NHS services, to be put in this position feels immoral.” He is now travelling to a private clinic in Germany for treatment.

The Royal Marsden said: “In line with all private providers, we do ask for a deposit upfront and this is judged on the individual patient and their treatment pathway.”


Intelligent people 'less likely to believe in God'

The correlation is undoubted but the reason why is the interesting part. That more intelligent people are far more likely to be exposed to the Leftist and anti-religious attitudes that prevail in the academy is certainly a large part of the explanation. But why is the academy Leftist? It was not always so. The great universities were mostly religious organizations originally. It is the influence of Leftism. From the French revolution on, Leftists have always resented any authority other than themselves

Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, said many more members of the "intellectual elite" considered themselves atheists than the national average. A decline in religious observance over the last century was directly linked to a rise in average intelligence, he claimed.

But the conclusions - in a paper for the academic journal Intelligence - have been branded "simplistic" by critics. Professor Lynn, who has provoked controversy in the past with research linking intelligence to race and sex, said university academics were less likely to believe in God than almost anyone else. A survey of Royal Society fellows found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God - at a time when 68.5 per cent of the general UK population described themselves as believers. A separate poll in the 90s found only seven per cent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God.

Professor Lynn said most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence - and their intelligence increased - many started to have doubts. He told Times Higher Education magazine: "Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God." He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.

But Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, London, said it failed to take account of a complex range of social, economic and historical factors. "Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which - while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism - is perhaps not the most helpful response," he said.

Dr Alistair McFadyen, senior lecturer in Christian theology at Leeds University, said the conclusion had "a slight tinge of Western cultural imperialism as well as an anti-religious sentiment".

Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability - or perhaps willingness - to question and overturn strongly felt institutions."