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."

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