Tuesday, August 19, 2008

John McCain and Britain's David Cameron are best suited to defy Russian aggression

McCain and the British Conservative leader were decisive while Gordon Brown (the British Labor Party Prime Minister) and Obama dithered

Suddenly we have a very different picture of the sort of political leader that we need. The world is not the same place that it was when the four main players on the Anglo-American political scene came on to the field. Barack Obama and John McCain began their contest in an atmosphere of relative security and prosperity. David Cameron emerged at a time of such general contentment that work-life balance seemed like the most urgent question facing the nation. (Remember that?)

When Gordon Brown took office he was immediately presented with a series of what seemed at the time to be testing crises that he surmounted with stoical authority: now the floods, the amateurish terror attacks and the brief revival of foot-and-mouth disease seem like flea bites. Where is he now that we are facing the most genuinely terrifying international confrontation in a generation? This is the man who has reminded us repeatedly (and rather plaintively) of the triumphal opening chapter of his premiership, implying that he would like nothing more than another opportunity to display Courage Under Fire. And he is missing in action. Gone AWOL? Hidden deep in his bunker surrounded by reassuring aides? Paralysed by the collapse of relations with his own Foreign Secretary? Hunched over his plans for a great autumn relaunch? Who knows?

Mr Cameron, meanwhile, cleverly filled the vacuum by taking himself off to Georgia to utter an uncompromising message of defiance to the Russians - and to deliver an unambiguous message to the British media that he wasn't just a politician for the soft times. He may have the luxury that Heaven bestows on opposition politicians of being powerless and therefore not encumbered with the problem of actually having to make anything happen, but his statements were unequivocal enough to commit him to a course of action in office - which is brave enough.

So in Britain we have seen a startling role reversal: the man billed as a brusque but resolute presence who came into his own in times of danger and anxiety has disappeared from the scene. And the one who was supposed to be cuddly and consumed with lightweight lifestyle issues is bestriding the world stage handing out ultimatums to an aggressive superpower.

In the United States, the story is taking a more predictable but no less riveting course. John McCain was always going to be the net gainer in a foreign crisis. Not only does he have precisely the experience - both personal and political - of coping with war and international threat, but his manner and his presence seem designed to be both reassuring and inspiring.

More here

British universities pay women to study science

Affirmative action madness: Cash awards, often unrelated to merit, are being used to filll places on undersubscribed university courses

Women can win cash payments of $2,000 a year to study science as universities struggle to fill places on undersubscribed courses, an investigation has found. An undercover reporter was told by Leicester University physics department that she was a strong candidate for the money partly because women were "underrepresented" on the course.

The policy, which critics argue is the result of "social engineering", is evidence of the booming market in cash awards to fill some courses. Other offers made to reporters posing as applicants last week included an institution paying up to $2,000 cash to all comers, regardless of their income. Another was offered $1,000 a year for choosing a less popular course.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University's centre for education research, said using gender as a justification for offering money was "really quite alarming". "It's all about the social engineering from government. The universities have to respond," he said.

The inquiries about degree places were made during clearing, the method by which institutions scramble to allocate unfilled degree places after A-level results are released. The process began last week following the publication of record A-level grades, which showed nearly 26% of exams resulting in an A and a further 25% scoring a B; 11% of teenagers scored at least three As.

The market in awards is unrelated to income and operates outside the usual hardship assistance given to students from poor families. They are often described as scholarships and linked to grades, although these are often not high. Leicester is a well-respected university - ranked 19th equal in The Sunday Times University Guide - but physics courses nationally are hard to fill because there has been a near-halving of A-level pupils studying the subject in the past 25 years.

The department told the reporter that she had a strong case for $2,000 a year partly because she was from an "underrepresented" group as well as being a good candidate. About 30% of Leicester's physics intake are women and, although this is above the national average, she was told: "You tick that box because you are female."

Almost every undergraduate course in England costs students the maximum $6,290 tuition fee. Institutions have been reluctant to appear cheap, and they market the cash awards as scholarships, paying them directly into students' bank accounts rather than reducing fee bills.

Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne offered a reporter $2,000 a year simply to take up a place - the cash is not means-tested and is open to any British or EU student. The reporter told the staff member: "It's a pretty good offer. It's basically just cutting the tuition fees, isn't it?", to which the staff member replied: "Yes". Westminster University told a reporter he was highly likely to receive a "silver scholarship" worth $4,000 a year - if he had applied earlier, his three As would have won him twice as much money.

Hull told a reporter that grades of ABB were enough for a 50% fee reduction to study economics - worth $9,000 over the four-year degree because the university wanted to "encourage good students to come, people with grades like yours, we need more of them". Bangor offered $1,000 a year to a reporter to study subjects including chemistry, languages and law. "There is no condition," said a staff member. "It's to assist in recruitment of the sciences."

Smithers said the boom in cash awards was because universities were "trying to lift themselves through the league tables and they are like a football team paying to attract new talent". Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The shift towards a market in higher education is inevitably bringing about a consumer culture."

All the universities contacted last week said financial incentives were a sensible way to attract talented applicants and that they had generous additional bursaries to help low-income candidates. [So you get money if you are smart and money if you are poor and money if you are female. How come mainstream men need no help? Sounds like gross bigotry against mainstream men to me] "It's part of the reality for a competitive marketplace," said Matthew Andrews, academic registrar at Oxford Brookes University. Applicants to highly ranked institutions, by contrast, can expect no payment as thousands of applicants with three As are being turned away.

Independent and grammar pupils have dramatically widened their lead over comprehensives, with four or more As now commonplace. Some of the strongest performances are at girls' schools. Minette Monteith, 18, from Perthshire, left Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucester-shire with five As.

Monteith, who has been talent-spotted as a potential rower for the 2012 Olympics, was turned down by Cambridge, Imperial College London, Ddinburgh and St Andrews. She won a place at Edinburgh to study medicine through clearing only last week. "I'm very happy with the course I've got now, but I didn't really see what more I could have done," said Monteith.


NHS watchdog to tell patients how to buy medicine unavailable on health service

Patients are to be given advice on drugs rejected by the NHS - so they can choose to buy them privately.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is drawing up plans to provide patients with independent medical guidance on treatments for diseases such as cancer. The advice would include drugs that NICE has ruled the NHS should not use because they are too expensive. For the first time patients would be able to receive impartial guidance on the health benefits of unapproved treatments and compare them with those available on the NHS. They could then decide if they want to pay for them privately rather than opting for the free drugs, which can be less effective.

The development follows growing public anger over the number of drugs and treatments being blocked by the Nice because they are not 'cost effective'. Many are available abroad and can offer people longer life expectancy or health benefits. Last week the watchdog ruled that four kidney cancer drugs costing around o24,000 a year per patient did not represent value for money.

Under current health service rules patients who choose to buy drugs that the NHS deems too expensive are made to pay for the rest of the care. But ministers are expected to end this following a review of the system which is due to report in October. It is expected this will give the green light for patients to 'top up' their treatment. As a result, NICE - which is currently only responsible for deciding which treatments are available free on the NHS - is preparing to publish guidance on drugs they have ruled against.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Andrew Dillon, the chief executive, revealed his organisation was preparing to play a central role if the Department of Health give the go-ahead to so-called "co-payments" in the autumn. He said: "If the Government wants to go in that direction we are absolutely the right organisation to support the process for doing so. "One of the things we think we could do really well would be to provide entirely independent objective information for individuals to make up their own mind. We think we could do that very well and would be happy to do that."

NICE has faced criticism for rejecting a series of drugs widely available in Europe and America - sparking allegations that it is putting financial considerations above medical benefits. The disclosure that it is now preparing to offer advice to patients buying their own drugs will underline concerns that the development of expensive new drugs is leading to the emergence of a "two-tier NHS".

There are also fears that patients unable to afford 'top ups' will be angered at learning they may not be receiving the best treatment available.

It is understood that the information will largely be provided on-line via a new website called "NHS Evidence". The site is being established to offer advice to NHS doctors and hospitals but could be extended to provide patients with clear information on different treatments and drugs available. If co-payments are permitted the medical benefits of privately-available drugs will also be set out. The NHS will also be able to detail the likely costs of a prescription.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, welcomed the move. "One of the big dangers of allowing people to top-up their treatment is that consumers aren't informed and they can be susceptible in a moment of crisis to pressure from pharmaceutical companies," he said. "These drugs can be very expensive and I would welcome the provision of a source of independent, reliable advice."

Medical experts and patient groups said the development may also put more pressure on NICE to approve drugs which have medical benefits which are currently unavailable on prescription. Christoph Lees, an NHS consultant and founder member of the Doctors for Reform group, said: "The fact that NICE are preparing to offer advice shows that the realisation is finally filtering through that you can't withhold information on good drugs which are out there and what they can do, even if the NHS can't afford it. "But that has got to be balanced with some sort of mechanism to make sure that people can afford access to these treatments."

Michael Summers, vice chairman of the Patients Association said: "Any information which is available is obviously valuable. But people would have less need to top-up if NICE did not reject cancer drugs available elsewhere."

Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "It seems that the Government is intent on pre-empting the outcome of its own consultation on top-up payments and that it wants to assist people to buy their own drugs, rather than have them provided on the NHS. "But Labour are still avoiding two key questions: if patients buy top-up drugs, will that prejudice their access to NHS treatment? Secondly, why is access to new cancer medicines worse in the UK than in the rest of Europe and America?"

NICE is under mounting pressure after barring four kidney cancer drugs available in other countries last week. Charities and patients are preparing to make official complaints about the approval process with one sufferer claiming he was "patronised and bullied" by the process.

Sutent, one of the drugs rejected, can double life expectancy to 28 months for people diagnosed with kidney cancer. A report has claimed that more than 1,000 patients had been turned down for cancer drugs over the past two years because of a "postcode lottery" in treatment.

Patients are also being forced to mount legal action to get hold of drugs that NICE have not yet approved. A grandfather told he only has two months to live has mounted a legal challenge to gain access to a drug that could possibly extend his life expectancy by up to three years. Colin Ross, 55, of Horsham, West Sussex, who has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells is fighting for the drug Revlimid after being refused it by West Sussex Primary Care Trust because it has not yet been granted approval by NICE.


From food to sex: defend spontaneity

Whether we're drinking or fornicating, why are we always being told to `stop, think, proceed with caution'?

It was only an innocent desire for a snack. I nipped into a supermarket for a pint of milk and a little `treat' - a multi-pack of Twix biscuits. However, it seems you can't even enjoy a chocolate bar these days without a health warning. On the front of the pack was a helpful suggestion: `Be Treatwise.' Apparently, I should get to know my GDAs, and each bar in the pack I had just bought contains `6%' of my kcal GDA. A quick examination of the back of the pack revealed that kcals are in fact what we normally call `calories' and `GDA' means Guideline Daily Amount.

`Treatwise' may have been around for years, but I had never noticed it before. Is it necessary? I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to work out that if I have a biscuit with my cup of tea, I'm not likely to experience any negative consequences. In fact, having just engaged in this activity for research purposes, I can confirm it is actually jolly nice. But if I scoff an entire pack of these chocolate, toffee and biscuit fingers - all 1,107 calories' worth - I'm likely to start putting on weight. More importantly, I hope such gluttonous behaviour would make me want to vomit.

`Be Treatwise' is supported by Britain's big confectionery producers, including Mars and Cadbury. It is essentially the industry telling you to eat sweets responsibly. And chocolate makers are not alone in suggesting that you stop before you indulge. `Drinkaware' is funded by Britain's big brewers and distillers; its website encourages readers to `Respect Alcohol, Respect Yourself'. Drinkaware supports the government's `Know Your Limits' campaign and reminds us that drinking any more than our recommended number of `units' per day - three for men, two for women - could be dangerous.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the companies behind these ventures. After all, nobody's forcing us to use their products. We keep buying them because we like them. Yet because of today's overblown panics about obesity and binge drinking - and because the producers must be seen to be doing the responsible thing - we are constantly reminded that there's a potential downside to consumption. Even if it's absolutely bleedin' obvious. Take this example from the website of single-malt whisky, Glen Grant:

`Enjoy your evening. Drinking should be a pleasurable activity, and certainly after the first drink you may experience a warm, mellow feeling. Your inhibitions may also be lowered which could make for a relaxed experience. However, as you would expect, the more alcohol you consume the less alert and the less inhibited you are likely to become. Your judgement will become impaired as will your coordination.'

Then things really take a turn for the worse: `It doesn't take a genius to realise that this could cause problems. If you continue drinking after this point, you could experience mood swings and possibly put yourself in compromising or dangerous situations. People who have drunk too much are unattractive and can be off-putting, miles away from the sophistication and relaxation that they could be enjoying.'

Some may argue that one of the main aims of having a few drinks is to end up in a compromising situation [LOL!], with our inhibitions relaxed; but maybe the makers of Glen Grant don't get out enough.

So the message is: sugary sweets will make you fat if you eat enough of them; alcoholic drinks will get you drunk if you imbibe a lot, and nobody likes a drunk. And if you chronically eat or drink to excess, it can cause health problems. Like the nice people at Glen Grant point out, this kind of thing `doesn't take a genius'.

There's something slightly dishonest about this trend. The manufacturers put these statements on their products, but must actually hope that we buy them anyway. And we carefully peruse various items on the supermarket shelf before consuming them anyway, while feeling a little guilty thanks to the `wise' and `aware' information. It all becomes a rather pointless ritual.

It is also irrational. Big corporations have effectively been placed in a situation where they must ask us not to buy their products. A similar situation applies to energy companies: they seem to spend more and more time telling us how we can save money and the planet by using less of their product. One energy company in the UK is even encouraging children to become `climate cops' and inform on their parents if they waste electricity (see Children, Forward to the Glorious Green Future!, by Lee Jones).

Such a screwed-up arrangement suits governments, though. Out of touch, and feeling like society is out of control, the political class knows that moralising our behaviour is one of the few ways in which it can exercise some influence. Hence, there is a relentless desire to make us stop and think about everything we do.

Spontaneity, in this view, is the road to ruin. So we are told to be `treatwise' and `drinkaware', and reminded to leave nothing on standby because it wastes power. This is also why governments think condoms are superior to the Pill - because you have to think in advance that you would like to have sex, and then fiddle about in the dark to get it on before you can get it on. As the new Department of Health posters instruct us: `Think B4 sex.' No danger of spontaneity there.

It's like a Green Cross Code for life in general: stop, think, proceed with caution. It is the essence of Puritanism - hectoring from on high disguised as an invitation to self-restraint.


Prince Charles wrong on GM, says British government minister

A senior minister has accused Prince Charles of "ignoring" the needs of starving people in the developing world by attacking genetically modified crops. Phil Woolas, the environment minister, said it was "easy for those with plentiful food" to ignore Third World hunger. He told The Sunday Telegraph that the Government would press ahead with GM crop trials and look at moving to a more "liberal" regime in Britain, unless scientific evidence showed that the crops had done harm.

The defiant stance came days after the Prince called GM a "gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong". The Prince told The Daily Telegraph last week that future reliance on corporations to mass-produce food would drive millions of farmers off their land.

Ministers were privately furious about the attack, which they believe risks becoming a constitutional crisis. One Labour source said the Prince had "overstepped the mark". Mr Woolas said: "I'm grateful to Prince Charles for raising the issue. He raises some very important doubts that are held by many people. But government ministers have a responsibility to base policy on science and I do strongly believe that we have a moral responsibility to the developing world to ask the question: can GM crops help? "It's easy for those of us with plentiful food supplies to ignore the issue, but we have a responsibility to use science to help the less well off where we can. I'm asking to see the evidence. If it has been a disaster, then please provide the evidence."

Mr Woolas disputed the Prince's claim that the crops had caused climate change, adding: "I don't understand the reasoning behind the assertion that this is dangerous for climate change."

While Mr Woolas chose his words carefully, privately ministers are furious. Gordon Brown is said to be determined that anti-GM campaigners will not dictate his policy. The destruction of a GM trial in North Yorkshire two months ago is said to have hardened his stance. A Labour source said: "Usually we welcome Prince Charles's contributions to various debates, but on this issue he seems to have overstepped the mark."

Mr Woolas said the Government will base its future strategy on a number of tests, the crucial one being: "Should the UK change our policy on GM to one that is more liberal?" He added: "The Government has not got a predetermined decision."

Sources close to the Prince stressed that he had not been trying to cause a political row. "This was in no way an attempt to lay down a challenge to Government policy. The Prince's considerable interests in the environment are non-political: he simply cares for the future."

Prof John Wibberley, of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, has offered support to the Prince. "The Prince of Wales is a very welcome champion of farmers not only nationally but internationally. As a farmer himself, he is all too aware of the brilliance that most possess in cherishing the countryside and their farms," he said.


Beijing Olympics: British athletes do well: "Britain's athletes have won four more gold medals in Beijing as their remarkable success over the weekend is hailed as the "greatest in British Olympics history". Sailors, cyclists, rowers and a teenage swimmer claimed eight golds in 48 hours and placed Britain third in the medal table ahead of Australia and Germany. Britain now has 11 gold - more than Athens - five silver and seven bronze medals to its name with another week to go. The homegrown Olympic squad is tipped to win a possible eight more golds. Prime minister Gordon Brown described the weekend as "unprecedented", while Buckingham Palace said the Queen was taking such an interest she had decided to invite all the Olympians to a reception on their return". [I suppose I expose myself to the charge of being curmudgeonly but I feel that I should note that the triumphs were no accident. Britain has spent a huge amount of charity money on preparing its athletes. Whether that is a good use for charity money I will leave for others to judge]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, you would do well to reflect on this...As a member of the British Swimming elite team, Adlington is funded by UK Sport.
For the last few years she has been in one of the lowest funding brackets, category C, which has given her an income of between £8,000-£10,000 a year. Out of that she and her family have had to fund her full-time career as a swimmer - her travel, their travel, accommodation and kit.

Two gold medals, basically paid for by her family, NOT by much charity!!