Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who's suffering from a brain-eating amoeba?

This is a very sad and somewhat weird story:

What was bothering Aaron was an amoeba, a microscopic organism called Naegleria fowleri that attacks the body through the nasal cavity, quickly eating its way to the brain. The doctors said he probably picked it up a week before while swimming in the balmy shallows of Lake Havasu.

Such attacks are extremely rare, though some health officials have put their communities on high alert, telling people to stay away from warm, standing water.

...According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], Naegleria infected 23 people from 1995 to 2004. This year health officials say they've noticed a spike in cases, with six Naegleria-related cases so far — all of them fatal.

Beyond the immediate obvious reactions when reading this, two things struck me. First was the knee-jerk reference to Global Warming:

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational water-born illnesses for the CDC.

"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

Incidentally, what kind of weirdo acquires a recreational water-born illness? "Why did you get hepatitis?" "Oh! I was bored and it seemed like something to do."

The second was rather more cheering. Contrast the sense and reasonableness of this comment:

Texas health officials also have issued news releases about the dangers of amoeba attacks and to be cautious around water. People "seem to think that everything can be made safe, including any river, any creek, but that's just not the case," said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

with the sort of `something must be done, the state will buy everyone a full-size cocoon, a gas-mask and a sherbet lemon'-type statements we now get regularly from British politicians.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Abandon all hope

I fear that Richard North at EU Referendum is right when he says:
As election fever intensifies over the weekend, however – with a torrent of coverage expected in the Sundays, an air of gloom descends on the Tories in the certain expectation of two things: an early election, and a complete wipe out. We would like to think that the Tory support for a referendum could make the difference and salvage Cameron's declining fortunes, but life ain't like that. The Boy has completely blown it, as we always knew he would.

But, not only will a Tory defeat mean the end of Cameron, it will also mean the end of any hopes we ever had of a referendum. Not even Lady Thatcher can change that dismal prognosis – it will be the end of hope.

I don't know about anybody else, but the dismal end of hopes that sanity might prevail makes me feel despairing. In particular I feel that a moment of triumph for Antonio Gramsci is upon us:

To few ... is Antonio Gramsci a familiar name. That is to be regretted because the work of the late Italian Marxist sheds much light on our time. It was he who first alerted fellow revolutionaries to the possibility that they would be able to complete the seizure of political power only after having achieved "cultural hegemony," or control of society's intellectual life by cultural means alone. His was an incremental, rather than an apocalyptic, revolution-the kind, that is, that we have been witnessing in the United States, and the Western world generally, since the 1960s. With this in mind, we ought not to treat the contemporary "culture war" lightly; the fate of what remains of civilized life may well be decided by its outcome.

Few Leftists now adhere strictly to the original tenets of Marxism, or even to those of Marxist Revisionism, but, what is every bit as dangerous, they, like Gramsci, often succumb to a temptation that appears to be irresistible to those who dream utopian dreams: the passion for negation that often shades into nihilism. Utopianism and nihilism may seem to be antithetical, but they are not; both derive from the same source-undying hatred of the world as it is.

Brown, whatever his religious background, is a true child of Gramsci. No other intellectual heredity is possible for a man who says that

"We've moved our schools from being below average to being above average. We've now got to make them world class."

when this sort of thing goes on:

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls is writing to all head teachers setting out priorities for the new school year.

Mr Balls says he wants to tackle the "devastating impact" of absenteeism and poor discipline.

and this:
A-level maths standards have dropped to the point where B-grade students score little better in a basic university test than they would if they were randomly guessing, according to a new study.

The study, which monitored the performance of first-year electronics students at York University in maths tests over the past 15 years, also shows that if today's A-grade students had sat the test 15 years ago, they would have come bottom of the class. The researchers said their findings were replicated in York's physics department.

The findings come just a week after A-level results showing overall pass rates of 96 per cent and record numbers gaining A-grades. They will lend weight to claims that A-levels are no longer the academic "gold standard".

and this:
12m workers have the reading age of children

Up to 16 million adults - nearly half the workforce - are holding down jobs despite having the reading and writing skills expected of children leaving primary school. MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee claim that a major government scheme costing billions of pounds has done little to improve the quality of adult literacy and numeracy teaching.

These all say to me that Brown is talking through his hat. Again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I don't lay any claim to special knowledge or understanding, but here's a link to a summary of several people who do.

The big question is Tienanmen Square or the Berlin Wall?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting Brown to details

Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have had a two stage plan to liberate the UK from excessive bureaucracy. It went:
1) take all power away from corrupt and short-sighted local ward bosses and local civil servants and give it to central government;
2) give it back to the people and truly representative local institutions.
Many conservatives and libertarians say that stage 1 happened but stage 2 did not.

Perhaps that was where the rot started. Maybe that was when national politicians spotted that the British public was so gullible, so naive, and above all, so lacking in perspective that they (the national politicians) can get massive credit for saving Tiddles the kitten from being drowned by forming an action plan to do away with water-butts.

Whether or not that is true, am I the only one to be mortified by this:

In his interview with The Sunday Times, Brown ... announced new measures to improve the health service, including:

— Introducing a programme of “deep cleaning” of hospital wards, in which all beds, doors, fixtures and fittings are scrubbed and steam-cleaned with high-strength disinfectant at least every 18 months.

— All cervical screening test results will be issued within 14 days, benefiting 4m women every year. At present, more than half of patients wait six weeks or more for their results.

— Extending the age range of women eligible for routine breast cancer screening to 47 to 73. The current age range is 50 to 70, meaning an extra 200,000 women a year will be routinely screened.

— Extending the upper age limit for routine screening for bowel cancer from age 70 to age 75 by the end of 2009. As a result, about 1m men and women will be added to the screening programme.

— Delivering the 2005 manifesto commitment to ensure an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral for all patients with breast problems.

Is this really the level of detail a Prime Minister should be concerned with? Does this not show how moribund is the political process? Doesn't it also demonstrate why the NHS is totally screwed?

Critics, however, are likely to claim that Brown still lacks a “big idea” to distinguish himself from his predecessor.

You're telling me!

I have a few action points for Mr Brown. I offer them in all humility. I feel confident that one or more of them will address the BIG IDEA issue.

  • create a Ministry for Paper
  • appoint a weights and measures czar
  • institute a weekly national shoe inspection. Don't just check the uppers, either. Who knows what may lurk on the nation's soles.
  • create a Task Force for the Delivery of Waste Collection
  • make compulsory the monthly cleaning of mouse-balls on all publicly owned PCs.
  • require daily multiplication tests for the over-seventies
  • permute the words of the title of the Task Force
  • nationalise Polly Toynbee
  • invite Margaret Thatcher to tea. Oh sorry! You've done that.
  • make everyone stay at school until they're clever
  • introduce capital punishment for losing national sports' teams
  • privatise Tony Benn
  • institute weekly lessons in schools on `How to remove your money from a failing bank'
  • outsource tea-drinking to Mumbai
  • avoid the row about the upper house by populating it entirely with contestants from Big Brother (apart from Jade, of course)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Prime Minister - Gordon click

My brother-in-law always used to refer to Rabbi Lionel Blue as `Rabbi Lionel click' since, whenever he came on the radio to give his Thought for the Day, said brother-in-law would turn it off.

I was reminded of this this morning when listening to the Today programme on Radio 4. The key ten past eight slot was devoted to an interview of our blessed leader by the equally blessed John Humphrys, whose first question was, as I recall: `What are you going to tell the Labour Party in your conference speech?'

I cannot faithfully reproduce the Prime Minster's reply since I turned it off after not very long. You can go and check on Listen Again at the BBC website if you like, but what I remember is a long list of feel-good points with absolutely no description of how they were to be achieved or who would do the achieving:

Brown said:
"Improved health care;
better services;
safer streets;
less gun crime;
improved education;
jam today;
life in the fast lane;
apple pie;
social justice;
us and them;
money, money, money;
soak the rich"

or something like that- as I explained, I'm a little hazy.

This seems to represent a new low in politics-when a politician admits to planning to tell his colleagues a list of sound bites and nothing else. It's understood (bouffe, c'est normale, as my French colleagues would say) that politicians will treat the general public like this. In addition, one suspects that Brown treats his family in the same way ("breakfast, cornflakes, jam and toast, delivery, kiss, briefcase, official car, duty, bye" seems to cover much of it), but surely not his colleagues?

The infantilisation of the British public is a long-running project. How nice it is to hear that the Labour party are not being left out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Here's a link to a link/quotation but never mind. If you follow the link you get not only this and more:
The pope has generated a bit of controversy.

First, he permitted congregations to go back to the old custom of praying in Latin. (More about that later.) Then he announced that only the Catholic Church qualifies as a real church. Protestants, as far as the pope is concerned, simply don’t make the grade!

And with that, over 40 years of ecumenical dialogue go down the tubes. Protestant leaders are offended. The churches whose founders long ago broke away from the Catholic Church feel they are considered less-than-Christian by an institution they previously rejected as “too Christian.”

No doubt, in short order, a multitude of Jewish leaders will express their own concerns over the pontiff’s lack of tolerance for those whose beliefs are different from his own. After all, a spirit of cooperation fostered by the Second Vatican Council back in 1965 has allowed people of diverse faiths to share their beliefs in mutual respect. Why, we’ve even witnessed the intriguing phenomenon of cardinals, in full “uniform,” visiting rabbinical students to observe the study of Talmud. How, many are asking, could the pope jeopardize this d├ętente with his bigoted condemnation of non-Catholics?

I have one thing to say to the pope: “Hear! Hear!” What do his critics want from the man? He’s got a religion to run!...

but also this:
Interesting... It never occurred to me that as a Protestant, I count as gentile and worship Baal, as long as there's a Catholic next to me that "does God"...

It's got to be worth it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Umbrella blog

My small number of regular readers may have noticed substantial changes.
The most important is that I've joined Umbrella Blog. To quote Richard North:
It aims to provide easily accessible reference to a "family" of blogs, allowing the reader to see at a glance what has been posted, and to give enough information about each post to enable readers to decide whether they want to read more.

That way, Umbrella Blog is a convenient time-saver and a quick source of information, removing the need to trawl through a large number of blogs yet enabling readers to pick up information they might otherwise have missed.

As the "family" of bloggers expands, we aim through them to cover a wide range of subjects, providing a complementary overview of the issues of the day, with analysis and insights that the MSM rarely offers.

For a fuller explanation go here.

I hope readers will approve.

Peregrines, pesticide and plasmodium

What is it about modern man, that human deaths overseas are less important than Nature at home?

We're talking the use of DDT to kill malaria-carrying mosquitos here. You may think DDT is not used any more- I did. Like most people, you may have believed that the 1972 US ban was a worldwide prohibition, whereas
DDT has not been banned for public health use in most areas of the world where malaria is endemic.
the fact that DDT is not formally banned in developing nations does not necessarily mean that those nations have the option to use it. Developing nations are typically heavily dependent on aid from agencies that made the aid contingent upon non-usage of DDT. The British Medical Journal of March 11, 2000, reports that the use of DDT in Mozambique "was stopped several decades ago, because 80% of the country's health budget came from donor funds, and donors refused to allow the use of DDT." Many African nations have been dissuaded from to using DDT in part because the European Union has said that their agricultural exports may not be accepted if spraying was "widespread."
`What has this to do with me or you?', you cry.

Well, not very much, if I'm being honest, but a little. I shall explain.

I have a young colleague, let us call him Tom. He has a very interesting career trajectory. He trained as a vet-qualified even. Then he became interested in statistics , so did a Master's degree and then a PhD in stats. We were talking the other day, initially about the latest Foot and Mouth outbreak, but somehow the topic turned to malaria and DDT. I had recently read that
Robert Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health said in 2007 that "The ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children."
and was expressing my shock and dismay at this figure when he said, rather sharply, `they'll spray it everywhere and kill the peregrines again!" When I taxed him as to what he meant, he expressed very strongly the opinion that peregrine numbers had boomed since DDT was banned
and he did not wish to see its return. Taking a deep breath, I asked him whether the peregrines were more important than 20 million children and he hedged a little, weakly implying that I wasn't describing the choice that actually confronted us. Another colleague bitingly suggested that perhaps peregrines offered more tourist appeal than children so this was obviously the right choice for developing countries and still Tom did not relent. For him, peregrines at home were more important than dead children overseas.

It's hard to know where to begin in analysing this story. One could pick on the willful ignorance:
this species can be found everywhere on Earth, making it one of the world's most common falcons
yet DDT would only be used in South America and Africa and is now used only inside houses to
prevent malaria so is unlikely to poison peregrines (or any other bird) significantly; one could pick on the choice of peregrines over people; or one could pick on the subtext: that there are enough people anyway or perhaps, too many.

For me, it seems to be an example of the unspoken and unspeakable position of a significant proportion of the new left-wing intelligentsia: whatever we say, people `over there' are not important - unless they're `trophy classes' like the Palestinians - whereas animal rights and the environment matter deeply. There are too many people in the world. I want me and mine to live so why don't all but a few of the people a long way away just conveniently fail to survive.

You'll probably think I'm being much to harsh, but have you been listening recently? Underneath the surface (and particularly amongst a proportion of the under thirties), this is the message: dolphins and peregrines have a right to live but children do not.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I keep on saying to people that a hundred years ago it was excusable to advocate communism and many other things but that the last century was the greatest experimental laboratory the world has ever known and at the end of it there's absolutely no excuse for much of the nonsense which is still advocated.

It occurs to me that another instance of this is the argument about `gun control'.
Here's a quote from the article by Richard Munday:
" Virginia Tech reinforced the lesson that gun controls are obeyed only by the law-abiding. New York has “banned” pistols since 1911, and its fellow murder capitals, Washington DC and Chicago, have similar bans. One can draw a map of the US, showing the inverse relationship of the strictness of its gun laws, and levels of violence: all the way down to Vermont, with no gun laws at all, and the lowest level of armed violence (one thirteenth that of Britain)."

Here's some more:
" In Britain, however, the image of violent America remains unassailably entrenched. Never mind the findings of the International Crime Victims Survey (published by the Home Office in 2003), indicating that we now suffer three times the level of violent crime committed in the United States; never mind the doubling of handgun crime in Britain over the past decade, since we banned pistols outright and confiscated all the legal ones."

Do I really need to say any more? Do the liberal, intellectual types with whom I spend my days have a leg to stand on? No, but it won't stop them telling me how stupid and violent and fat Americans are.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"We hate America"

I don't know what to say about The Independent's front page this morning:

An assassination that blows apart Bush's hopes of pacifying Iraq

Last week: George Bush flew into Iraq to meet Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, leader of Anbar province.
This week: General David Petraeus told the US Congress how Anbar was a model for Iraq.
Yesterday: Abu Risha was assassinated by bombers in Anbar

but the gloating is impossible to ignore (as is the lack of judgment and perspective). Perhaps the paper should be renamed The Daily Schadenfreude.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Call me Pollyanna-ish but I'm feeling optimistic

Here's some reasons.
When Der Spiegel says
"Ramadi is an irritating contradiction of almost everything the world thinks it knows about Iraq -- it is proof that the US military is more successful than the world wants to believe. Ramadi demonstrates that large parts of Iraq -- not just Anbar Province, but also many other rural areas along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers -- are essentially pacified today. This is news the world doesn't hear: Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest, a city that once formed the southwestern tip of the notorious "Sunni Triangle," is now telling a different story, a story of Americans who came here as liberators, became hated occupiers and are now the protectors of Iraqi reconstruction.";
when Barroso cocks-up again:
"With a new draft of the treaty due out tomorrow, it seems that there have been some 200 changes to the original draft, some of which involve serious additions to EU powers and some directly challenge Mr Brown's fabled "red lines".

Some of these issues relate to jurisdiction over foreign policy but Britain's "opt-in" over justice and home affairs is also being challenged, while other details – yet to emerge – may have profound popular impact.

On the back of this - with a maladroit sense of timing which could only come from an apparatchik totally divorced from the realities of politics – Barroso has announced that he is to carry out a fundamental review of the EU budget, including a "close look" at Britain's rebate.

"We will have a discussion on this with no taboos. I will talk to Mr Brown," says el presidente. "The two go together. It is not a coincidence that we are talking of a reform treaty and reform of the budget."

and pours petrol on the flames;

when the TUC votes for a referendum;

when the Belgian politicos overstep the mark amidst a country tearing itself apart;

and when the BBC starts to feel the pinch ;

you know that things could be a lot worse.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This is where I came in

My last post, long ago, was about F&M and now here we are again.

The previous outbreak was, according to the HSE, the responsibility of the government lab. at Pirbright (FT report):

"Because Merial handles far larger quantities of foot-and-mouth virus for vaccine production than the IAH does for laboratory science, the investigators concluded that the escaped virus probably originated with the company. “But this in no way implies any culpability by Merial,” Mr Podger [the chief exec. of the HSE] told a press conference.

Indeed, the IAH was responsible for all the specific breaches in biosecurity identified in the HSE report."

Now here's the good old Beeb:
"But the Health and Safety Executive said it was not clear which of the two labs which share the site - Merial, a private pharmaceutical company, and the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) - were responsible."

Presumably, the Beeb plays it this way because it doesn't want to drop the line that it was all the fault of evil private industry. I had hoped to give a link to their initial surprise at the finding but I've lost it.