It's the little things, always the little things, that get you in the end. For me, it was having to be police checked to take my child on a school trip to our local High Street. Sure, I realise that for quite some time the usual suspects have been banging away about erosion of our civil liberties, but it's easy to turn a blind eye when you are not being actually arrested. Laws were being passed one after another, changing our rights. But, to be honest, most people just don't understand or have enough time to read the small print of legislation. Not even the MPs who vote it through.
A lot of the time we feel it is nothing to do with us. We noticed the smoking ban as we huddled under patio heaters, but took little notice of the odd person being locked up for 28 days for having a beard and having looked at some odd websites. We have become so inured to the continual health warnings that emanate from this Government of puritans that sometimes I think our culture of public intoxication is, in itself, a simple form of resistance to it all.
We were led to believe that the world changed so much after September 11 that endless checks on freedoms were necessary. We were scared and therefore allowed security to trump liberty, as there is no liberty for the dead, is there? We accepted this notion passively but are now agitated in airport queues. I always struggle with the difference between lipstick and lip gloss as a matter of national security. The armed police stalking around frighten rather than reassure me. Now, they have the right to stop and search anybody and any car in designated areas, but I do not feel safer.
Should I want to protest about this, I could, of course, go on some kind of demonstration, as long as I pre-arrange it with the police and if I make sure that I do not go within 1km of the Houses of Parliament. This is part of another ridiculous new Act. And there is a law that means that if I took a picture of a policeman standing still I could be liable for a ten-year prison sentence. Why? We are now all suspects and subject to a massive amount of surveillance. Thousands of CCTV cameras record endless footage. They don't prevent crime but blurrily remind us that no space is unobserved. We have sleepwalked into a society in which, because technology watches us, we no longer watch out for each other.
All of us will have felt the chipping away of small freedoms. I was astonished to know that because I had more than 20 people to my last party it was legally classified as a rave. At my age! Read the Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003. But even to spin a few records in a pub one now has to declare what kind of music will be played. It's a kind of insanity. Mozart or basement? You can see how racially sensitive this legislation is.
Perhaps, though, freedom of expression and of association are rather vague terms until some New Labour apparatchik starts reining them in, all the while talking to us as if we were five.
This weekend, all over the country, The Convention on Modern Liberty organised a series of events to discuss these issues. Have we left it too late? I think not. Now is the right time to put our feet down. Why, for instance, must I be made to think of myself as a potential paedophile, rather than a parent? Something has gone badly wrong. Culturally we could read the runes. Although we have less faith in politics and institutions than ever before, they have been shoring up their power.
Simultaneously we have been bombarded by advice from lifestyle experts. Smoking, eating and drinking are no longer regarded as private choices but subject to public scrutiny. Much of what we do is bad for us. Television reinforces this with experts who make people examine their own faeces or get `made over'. We have not been nannied but bullied on to the naughty step, forever infantilised.
More seriously, we have been lied to. While freedoms have been curtailed at home we have flown people round the world to be tortured. In the dying days of this administration, Jack Straw and David Blunkett have been wheeled out to tell us that comparisons with a police state are crazy. No one is saying that, we are simply staging a fight-back.
Liberty does not belong to any particular party. The Convention on Modern Liberty brings together Left and Right in a powerful coalition. Something that has been fairly abstract in people's minds is being made real. And part of that is surely connected to the economic downturn. Every day it becomes more clear that where this Government, and indeed the one before it, should have regulated our monstrous financial institutions, they didn't. They gave them freedom. The free market, remember, would save our souls and supposedly our public services. Now it all looks crazy because instead they over-regulated everywhere else. We cannot know the data kept on our own children. Surveillance is hard-wired into every aspect of our lives.
All this is done because we need protecting, not only from terrorists and criminals, but from ourselves. The truth is, though, no one feels more secure, they just feel their liberties shut down bit by bit. As Joni Mitchell sang all those years ago: `Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got till it's gone.' But we are starting to know, because though we feel bewildered by all the jargon and legalese, we feel in our bones we are losing what made this country great. Times have changed, yes, but ancient and hard-won freedoms, which may make things difficult and messy sometimes, are part of our quality of life.
The challenge for the next Government is how far it is prepared to restore what has been lost. Freedom is not a theory, it's a practice. It is precious. We don't need protecting from ourselves. We need protecting from those who would take away our freedom. The enemies of freedom have shown themselves to be not simply murderous bombers but smiling legislators who know what is best for us. In the name of keeping us safe, they have imprisoned us. Time to break out.
Milk could help prevent Alzheimer's Disease
This report is preliminary to the completion of a proper double blind trial so the crucial evidence is not yet in. The main finding so far appears to be that B12 is most easily absorbed from milk
Drinking two glasses of milk every day could help protect against memory loss and Alzheimer's disease in old age, according to research. Scientists working at the University of Oxford have discovered that milk is one of the best sources of a key vitamin thought to reduce the neurological damage to the brain that can lead to forms of dementia. Elderly patients with low levels of the vitamin, known as B12, suffer twice as much shrinkage of the brain as those with higher levels of the substance in their bodies, the researchers found.
They now hope that increasing the intake of vitamin B12 among the elderly could help to slow cognitive decline. They are conducting a clinical trial that aims to show that it may be possible to treat memory problems in the elderly with vitamin supplements. They also believe it may be possible to protect people against devastating degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, which affects 150,000 new patients every year in the UK, by improving their dietary intake of the vitamin.
Professor David Smith, from the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, said drinking just two glasses of milk a day would be enough to increase levels of vitamin B12 to an adequate level. He said: "There are 550 people who come down with dementia, mainly Alzheimer's, every day in the UK - it is a major epidemic. "These patients have had nerve cells that have died, so it is unlikely we are ever going to be able to find ways of repairing that damage or treating them with drugs. "Instead we have to look at preventing it in the first place. Our study shows that consuming around half a litre of milk or more per day, and it can be skimmed milk, could take someone who has marginal levels of B12 into the safe range. But even drinking just two glasses a day can protect against having low levels."
Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins and is found mainly in meat, fish and dairy products. The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that while meat contained some of the highest levels of the vitamin, it was poorly absorbed by the body when eaten. Instead Professor Smith, together with colleagues at Oslo University and Bergen University, in Norway, found the highest levels of vitamin B12 absorbed by the body came from milk, despite having lower B12 concentrations than meat. Around 55 per cent of the vitamin in milk entered the blood stream. Fish provided the second highest source of the vitamin, followed by other dairy products.
Professor Smith said: "In meat, B12 can be tightly bound to protein and this bond has to be broken down by acid in the stomach before the body can use it. "Older people have lower levels of acid and so it is much harder for them to get B12 from certain foods. In milk, the binding is readily reversible."
Brain scans of patients who have a vitamin B12 deficiency have revealed that they suffer more brain loss, or atrophy, than those with higher intake of the vitamin.
Professor Smith and his team found in a separate study that even elderly patients eating enough vitamin B12 to be considered to have normal concentrations of vitamin B12 were at risk of increased brain atrophy. He found that those in the lower third of the normal range suffered twice as much brain loss, about one per cent a year, than those who had higher concentrations of the vitamin in their bodies.
It is thought that vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining the sheath that forms around and insulates nerve cells. Without adequate levels of the vitamin, this sheath cannot be kept in a good functional state, leading the cells to malfunction and die. Previous studies by the group have indicated that chocolate and wine may have a similar effect.
Professor Smith said: "There is a beautiful dose effect with foods that contain high levels of vitamin B12, but the causal relationship with cognitive function is far from clear and we need more work on this. "We are currently preparing to unmask a two-year trial of 180 people over the age of 70 with memory problems, who were either given Vitamin B12 or a placebo. "We have been taking volumetric MRI scans to look at whether the vitamin treatment has slowed down the atrophy in the brain. "We need to do more clinical studies on vitamin B12 before we can start offering advice to help protect against dementia and cognitive decline, but until then prudence would suggest adopting a healthy lifestyle and a diet that is high in vitamin B12."
Alzheimer's disease has recently been thrown into the spotlight after author Terry Pratchett, 60, announced in 2007 that he has been diagnosed with a rare form of the disease called posterior cortical atrophy. He has since donated more than $1 million to the Alzheimer's Research Trust and become a high profile campaigner for Alzheimer's research. Around 700,000 people in the UK live with dementia.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, welcomed the latest research but said it was vital more research into Alzheimer's disease received funding. She said: "With vitamin B12 deficiency a common problem among elderly people in the UK, and further links between this deficiency and dementia, these findings will be of particular interest close to home and could encourage us to move dairy products higher up on the shopping list."
Curtains and pyjamas to become weapons against superbugs
Hospital curtains, bedding, and even patients' pyjamas could become weapons in the war against hospital superbugs
A study has found that an antimicrobial treatment, which could be incorporated into dozens of surfaces on the ward, can kill MRSA on contact, reducing the risk of infection between patients. Scientists hailed the discovery by researchers from Imperial College London as a "very significant" step in the war on hospital superbugs which kill 10,000 people a year. The study found the product was 1,000 times more potent than its rivals in eliminating MRSA, and could be used on dozens of surfaces, creating environments which eradicate bugs instead of harbouring them. Paint, light switches, medical equipment, staff uniforms and even pens and paper could be treated with Cliniweave, which uses a technique invented by a British company to incorporate an antimicrobial compound into textiles.
The five-year study, published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, found that within 60 minutes the treatment eliminated MRSA entirely. In tests on three rival treatments, the bug continued to multiply. The agent in Cliniweave works by destroying the enzymes in existing bacteria and preventing their multiplication.
Professor Mark Enright, professor of microbiology at Imperial College London, which carried out the study, said: "The results are very promising; a fabric that can kill bacteria on contact could be a really significant way to reduce levels of infections in hospitals". The leading infection expert said professionals had long known that different parts of the ward could form "hotspots" for infection, but said treatments for surfaces had shown limited effectiveness until now.
Separate research published by The Lancet found that in hospital wards tackling superbug outbreaks, MRSA could be detected on dozens of surfaces. Of the sites tested, 41 per cent of bed linen was found to be contaminated, along with 40 per cent of patients' clothing, and 27 per cent of furniture, including bed frames.
Nottingham University Hospitals trust have now begun replacing curtains on 100 wards at two sites with fabric treated with the product, which has already been introduced to wards at hospitals run by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals trust.
Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, said the study findings appeared to be "extremely significant". He said: "We know that MRSA is often found on surfaces in hospitals, and anything that we can do to reduce the number of places from where patients can become contaminated should be pursued when so many lives are at stake."
Prof Enright said his team were now seeking funding to carry out further research to establish the effectiveness of the product in hospitals, where it could be used to treat as many surfaces as possible. "We want to carry out a trial using two intensive care units, where we can treat as many fabrics as possible - the staff uniforms, the bedding, the paint on the walls - to see how far we can reduce the risk of infection," he said.
George Costa, managing director of Intelligent Fabric Technologies (IFT), which invented Cliniweave, said the technology meant antimicrobial treatment could be incorporated into dozens of textiles ranging from paint to plastic. IFT part-funded the peer-reviewed research, but played no part in the design of the study, or in carrying out the work or interpreting the findings.
While the risks of infection with bugs such as MRSA can be reduced if those who come into contact with patients have washed their hands, environments harbouring bugs leave staff, relatives and patients at constant risk of picking up new bacteria which can infect wounds and get into the bloodstream, sometimes proving fatal. Latest annual figures show there were more than 1,500 deaths linked to MRSA in NHS hospitals in 2007, although the number of infections has since begun to fall.
Figures published in December showed the number of infections reduced by one third in 2008, after new measures were introduced by hospitals to promote hygiene. Latest annual figures show in total almost 10,000 people died from hospital infections, including MRSA and Clostridium Difficile.
Can we please have less politics in our exams? Plea from a British 16 year old.....
Joe Iles is 16. He's about to do his GCSEs and hopes to study Latin, German, Further Maths and English or History at A Level (so he's no slouch). After that, he's thinking of studying Classics and Modern Languages at University. But he's not happy with the school curriculum, and was inspired to write for School Gate after the Cambridge Primary Review criticised the restrictions for children at a younger age. He thinks that there's too much politics, that these are pushing out proper learning, and that social issues are being pushed far too hard... So, over to Joe:
In recent years, it seems that the school curricula are featuring more and more in public debate. There was considerable press coverage of a study last week which revealed that in primary education, the focus has been steered away from the arts and humanities leaving children "tied to their desks" struggling with the nine times table. The report claims this has "squeezed out" other areas of learning, rendering children's artistic capacities under-developed and neglected. Furthermore, the report claims not only that the curriculum has been narrowed, but that what remains has become heavily "politicised".
As a current GCSE student, I can identify with this "politicisation". It seems to me as if the GCSE curricula, above all for science, no longer focus on understanding the subject. The core biology science curriculum now calls for very little knowledge of the biology that we had studied in the years preceding GCSE, but seems to be a governmental attempt to raise awareness of current social issues. For example, section A of the core biology exam concentrates on contraception, drugs, alcohol, smoking, obesity, anorexia and the MMR vaccines, whilst section B tackles broader issues such as global warming, GM crops, creationism vs Darwinism and alternative energy sources.
Perhaps this is the best solution to the some of the social problems that Britain faces today. Maybe through education, education and education, Labour may finally succeed in reducing teenage pregnancies, child obesity and begin to steer Britain towards a greener way of life. Perhaps indeed, learning about the advantages and disadvantages of wind and solar power is vastly more useful to the average sixteen year old than a full understanding of the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. In this way, the younger generation may begin to have a much clearer idea of current affairs, enabling us to partake more readily in the critical issues of the day, making us more informed voters and leaders of tomorrow.
An important aspect of the "politicisation" of the curriculum is the use of exams. Not only are the social issues agenda studied in class, but students must take exams on these topics, requiring an in depth analysis of the themes, and also meaning that students' grades at GCSE depend on their knowledge of the subject in hand, encouraging a much more motivated and engaged learning process.
However, one of the key problems with sitting exams about topics of this nature is that the exam board are required to write mark schemes clearly detailing the answers that they want within a rigid framework. This leaves no room for debate on the part of the student, meaning that instead of producing insightful, perceptive and interesting answers, pupils tend towards putting down what they think the mark scheme is most likely to have as an acceptable response. For example, in a question about embryo screening, the advantage of screening embryos in accordance to the mark scheme was to reduce health care costs for the parents. I found it a little disconcerting, if not positively concerning, to discover that my answer that it would improve the quality of life for the child, did not feature. Is it right to present these issues to pupils in such a way that they are blinkered into one channel of thought? Is it not more productive to allow pupils to debate current affairs in such a way that they are able to access all viewpoints and form their own opinions? Arguably, the government is now more concerned with indoctrination than discussion.
In my view, it must be asked if the science curriculum is really the right place for these social issues to be debated and taught. Indeed, if education is really the process by which someone's innate intelligence is led out, then perhaps topical issues should be addressed elsewhere. Arguably, in the hours that we spend in full time education, it is more important to develop an understanding of the basics of the world around us; to understand the science behind the issues as opposed to an awareness of the actual issues, and indeed problems, that science can both cause and solve.
Furthermore, those who are employed to teach Biology, Chemistry and Physics may well become frustrated by the deviance of the curriculum from their chosen subject. Thus, their passion for the subject, presumably because of which they chose teaching in the first place, diminishes. Can pupils really find a topic which frustrates their teachers engaging?
For the pupils, this intervention and politicisation can become annoyingly transparent. Having studied global warming in all three sciences, Geography, English, French, German and Spanish, I have found that its initial shock has now ceased to have an impact. The topic has become stale, and my will to change for the better has been weakened.
There is no doubt that there are a number of social issues, concerning young people, which need to be addressed in one way or another. My question is whether GCSE science is really the place for it. Maybe PSHE is a more obvious option, but the problem is that PSHE is not regarded with anywhere near the same level of importance. I think that as young people, we do need to understand the current topics being debated, but it is possibly more beneficial to be invited to participate seriously in balanced discussion, as opposed to having to show we know the effects of smoking in part b) of question nine."