Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Malaysian Flight MH17

I have been following the news reports of the terrible disaster of MH17 with disbelief and horror.

Nearly three hundred innocent lives, including those of eighty children, were blotted out in a moment because of a conflict which was nothing to do with them. The stories which are coming out about the victims are unbearably tragic. The global fight against the scourge of AIDS has also taken a knock because irreplaceable experts on the disease who were on their way to a conference about it were among the dead.

Let us hope that the black box flight recorders whic were handed over to Malaysian investigators earlier this week have not been tampered with and that this handover marks the beginning of a move to sanity on all sides about the need to establish the truth about this ghastly crime and bring those responsible to justice.

I hope that both all airlines and all governments and military forces will also take action for improved protocols to reduce the risk of any such atrocity happening again.

Quote of the day 23rd July 2014

“Life is just repeated attempts at trying to do better.”
 
 ( Richelle E. Goodrich )

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Girl Summit 2014"

The Girl Summit today aims to rally a global movement against the evils of child, early and forced marriage, and Female Genital Mutiliation for all girls within a generation.

Doing this will help preserve girls' childhoods, promote their education, reduce their exposure to violence and abuse, and allow them to fulfil their potential in life.

You can read more and pledge your support here.

Quote of the day 22nd July 2014

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination.”
 
( Tommy Lasorda )

Monday, July 21, 2014

Quote of the day 21st July 2014

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. The desire and ability to press on has and always will solve the problems of the human race and divide those who achieve from those who might have been.”
 
( Jeffrey Fry )

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Congratulations to "Hands across the Border" on a great launch event

I attended with my wife and son the initial stone laying this afternoon for the "Hands across the Border" project to build a cairn on the Anglo-Scots border at Gretna, called "The Auld Acquaintance" which, obviously, is a reference to the traditional Scottish poem and song "Auld Lang Syne."

There were about 2,000 people there on the first day, which was brilliantly organised.

The cairn is to commemorate the friendship between the four nations of the Union.

The site will be open for the next eight weeks for people who want to lay a stone as part of the cairn. Directions to the site can be found at the "Hands across the Border" website here.

Quote of the day 20th July 2014

"The advantage of using proxies is that it is possible to deny responsibility for what happened, but the disadvantage is that it is much more likely that a horrendous accident will occur"

(Patrick Cockburn writing in the Independent and i about great power use of proxy forces in the specific context of the disaster of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oxymoron of the Century

You really couldn't make it up.

It's been pointed out tonight on Twitter that there is an article on the "Stop the War Coalition" website here with the title "Time to go to war with Israel as the only path to Peace in the MIddle East."

The article was written on 5th May, so it obvously pre-dates the recent horrendous round of fighting between Israel and Hamas - both the thousands of rockets fired from civilian areas under the control of Hamas at Jewish civilians, and Israel's response.

You don't have to agree with everything Israel has done in response, (and I certainly don't, although I have more sympathy for Israel than I do for Hamas) to see that the idea of a campaign called "Stop the War" publishing a piece saying that it is "Time to go to war with Israel" as a means of obtaining peace is rather self-contradictory. What an oxymoron!

Hands across the Border: help build a cairn tomorrow

The "Hands across the Border" campaign, a group of people who whether they are Scottish, English, Welsh, Irish or simply British, wish to show that we value the Union will be building a cairn at Gretna on the Anglo-Scots Border, starting tomorrow (Sunday 20th July) from shortly after mid-day with the first stones to be laid shortly before 2pm.

The cairn is to be called "The Auld Acquaintance" which, obviously, is a reference to the traditional Scottish poem and song "Auld Lang Syne," which was first written down by the great Scots poet Robbie Burns and is about the wisdom of preserving old friendships.

Directions to the event can be found at the "Hands across the Border" website here.

I believe that all parts of the UK have gained more than they have lost from the Union over the past three hundred years and that all parts of these islands would be worse off if that union were dissolved. I will be laying a stone tomorrow both in the hope that the union endures after the Scottish referendum in a few weeks time and to mark the fact that, however Scotland votes, the Union of the four nations of the United Kingdom has been a force for good.

Assisted Dying

I have rarely heard a debate in which both sides put forward so many strong speakers and such compelling arguments as in yesterday's House of Lords debate on assisted dying.

It was quite clear that both sides were motivated by compassion and that both sides were raising very real and genuine concerns.

If the bill does not progress we will continue to have tragic cases of dying people in great pain and discomfort who wish to end their lives and are prevented by the law from doing so.

But if it does, and despite the strong safeguards written into the bill, I do think that the opponents have a very serious point that some vulnerable and sick people may feel pressured into asking for assisted death because they think they are a burden.

This bill was based on a similar law enacted in the US state of Oregon. One of it's opponents pointed out yesterday that in at least one case in that state people who were suffering from painful and terminal cancer found their hellth care provider was not prepared to pay for treatment but was prepared to pay for assisted suicide.

At the moment I am with Lord Mackay, who said that although he was against the bill he supported a second reading so that the many complex issues could be debated in more detail. I think that is an excellent idea - this is a question with no right answer but if more discussion helps us as a country to improve the way we treat the terminally ill that would be a very good thing.

Quote of the day 19th July

"The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

(Thomas Jefferson)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Theresa May writes on tackling crime

Home Secretary Theresa May writes ...


We want to make Britain an even safer place to live, work and raise a family.

Parents want to be sure their children are safe, pensioners want to feel secure in their neighbourhoods, and people deserve to be protected so they can work hard and get on in life.

Under Labour, the police were bogged down with too much paperwork, meaning cases were often not dealt with and the victims of crime neglected. People didn't feel safe on the streets.

But thanks to our action plan to tackle crime, and the hard work of police officers, crime is now down by more than 10% since 2010.

We need everyone in the country to get behind our plan - so please add your name today.

Our action plan to tackle crime is helping to give people greater security by:
  1. Freeing the police to fight crime by cutting red tape and scrapping unnecessary targets
  2. Giving criminals tougher sentences so communities are protected and justice is done
  3. Giving the police the powers they need to tackle criminals, using the latest tools and techniques
  4. Stopping people from becoming criminals by tackling the root causes of crime
  5. Making the police answer to the community to help drive down crime in your area
Show your support today and let's carry on making Britain a safer place for hardworking families.

Thanks,
Theresa May
Home Secretary

Donate 10 pounds today

Quote of the day 18th July 2014

"Nothing is ever easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody."

(Calvin Coolidge)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Concern at West Cumberland Hospital report

Today's Whitehaven News has a very disturbing article which you can read in full  here, about a confidential report (leaked to the paper) sugesting that  major decisions are needed, including which hospital services should be concentrated on which sites.

Health chiefs are calling it “radical change on a scale previously unseen”.

And the report  warns: “The ever increasing cost of services...is not sustainable and the local NHS and the county council will be bankrupt if things carry on as they are.”

It is apparently a draft document, subject to more work and change and has not yet become official policy. In the report health chiefs admit that “not all services are as safe as they should be” and that the future of healthcare “will involve taking difficult decisions”.

The Whitehaven News said they understand from the interim document that more hospital services at West Cumberland Hospital are in danger of moving to Carlisle.

Mental health: Yewdale Ward, at the Whitehaven hospital could close, with mental health inpatient services instead focused at Carlisle. The report states that there are major opportunities to improve home treatment, thereby reducing hospital admissions. Such changes would be subject to fuller public engagement, it says, and would require formal consultation

Maternity services: Another independent review of the future of maternity services is likely across Cumbria. Scenarios have apparently been considered regarding local services but the detail is not given. The Whitehaven News’ Don’t Move Our Mums campaign was launched in 2006 to fight one of the suggested options which was to move consultant-led maternity care to Carlisle. It is not yet clear if this could be an option this time.

Emergency services: It is likely that there would be more concentration of some urgent care and acute medicine at Carlisle. Acute stroke care may move from Whitehaven.

Under emergency care the report states that people will still “need to be able to access A&E at West Cumberland Hospital and to access continued provision of lower risk medical interventions and admissions”.

It adds that over time higher risk/complex patients will need to be admitted to the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, “in some cases following stabilisation at West Cumberland Hospital”.
Elective (planned) operations: These would be significantly increased at the Whitehaven hospital, as previously stated in The Whitehaven News. High risk elective procedures would be concentrated at Carlisle.

Children’s services: A smaller number of children would be admitted to hospital with more emphasis on supporting children and families in the home environment, focusing on assessment rather than admission, according to the draft report.

The interim plan, from Cumbria Clinical Commissioning group (made up of GPs from around the county who hold the purse strings for healthcare) also says a number of public consultations may be needed:

“Change is never easy and we would like to give reassurance that we will be mindful at all times of our statutory obligations in relation to patient, public and stakeholder engagement and to those relating to formal public consultation.”

I believe we need to maintain as many servuces at WCH as is safely possible and am very concerned by the suggestions being made.

National Grid to consider tunnel under Morecambe Bay

A £38 billion tunnel under Morecambe Bay has emerged as a front runner for getting wind and possible nuclear power from the "Energy Coast" of West Cumbria to the National Grid.

Anyone who has been following the discussion about energy generation in West Cumbria will know that something like this has been on the cards for a while. A new nuclear plant near Sellafield looks increasingly likely, and whatever the handful of anti-nuclear nutters will tell you, the great majority of residents of West Cumbria have repeatedly shown by electing pro-nuclear MPs and councillors that they will welcome this. New Nuclear build does not make a new grid connection necessary - it merely increases the shortfall of existing grid capacity.

Because of the huge amount of offshore wind, other renewables, and conventional power generation which is already under construction or built on the Cumbrian Coast, we already need to double the capacity of the areas National Grid connections. Nuclear makes the difference between having to double it and needing to triple it.

And I am not in favour of putting hundreds of huge overground power pylons through the Lake District National Park. I fought the last election on a platform of putting the new power connections through an offshore route, and still support that policy.

I would like to see the Energy and Tarnsport departments look very seriously, with the NAitonal grid, at the possiblity of combining a grid connection with a transport link - be it a tunnel or bridge - over the Duddon and Morecambe Bay estuariies to gain economies of scope. But if we are not going to do that, the proposed tunnel is a great deal better than most of the possible alternatives.

The current proposal, unveiled this morning by the National Grid as their preferred option,   is to install new cables from West Cumbria to Carlisle and new cables from West Cumbria to Heysham via a massive underwater tunnel across Morecambe Bay.

The plan would also need a line of 152ft-high pylons, spaced 400 yards apart, stretching through Whitehaven and to Carlisle northwards and through the Barrow area to the south..Work is not expected to start until the next decade.

Sadly, National Grid said there were no plans to incorporate any kind of transport system for vehicles as part of the tunnel, which could cost up to £3bn.

Personally I think that would be money very well spent.

Other possible routes include new cabling across South Cumbria from west to east and an offshore route which would go out into the Irish Sea before coming back on land at Heysham.

National Grid’s project manager Robert Powell said: “The discussions we’ve had over the course of several years have given us invaluable information which has helped us develop and refine the options for connecting new power generation into our network.

“We’re now at a crucial stage of our project.

“We’re getting ready to share with local communities all the work that we have done to date and to seek their views on our findings including what we have identified as our ‘emerging preference’ at this point.

“We promise to listen, to learn from what we hear and then to seek to develop the project in a way which achieves a balance between meeting our country’s future energy needs and protecting the very special landscapes it touches upon.”

National Grid has been working on the project for the last five years, with concerns being raised about the project’s potential impact on the Cumbrian landscape.

1.8 million more people in work

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, since the election, there are now 1.8 million more people in work, and with the security of a pay packet – clear evidence our long-term economic plan is working.
These strong jobs numbers are another clear sign that our long-term economic plan is working, building a stronger, healthier economy: more people have the security of work than ever before, the number of people looking for a job is down this year by the biggest amount since 1995, and the number of young people relying on benefits has had its biggest annual fall since 1997.
We have been backing businesses across Britain with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes as part of our long-term economic plan, helping them to create more jobs, and now 1.8 million more people now have the security of work. Each one of those jobs is another family who can now have more peace of mind about their future.
But we know that families are still feeling the impact of Labour’s Great Recession. The foundations of a broad based recovery are now in place, but we cannot be complacent. The only way to get living standards up sustainably is to build on these foundations, keep growing the economy and keep backing businesses to create more jobs. The biggest risk to families’ economic security would be abandoning our plan which is delivering exactly that.
 
Key statistics
· Employment: 30.6 million (up 254,000 this quarter and up 1.8 million since the election).
· Employment rate: 73.1 per cent (up 0.5 points this quarter and up 2.8 points since the election).
· Unemployment: 2.12 million (down 121,000 this quarter and down 372,000 since the election).
· Unemployment rate: 6.5 per cent (down 0.4 points this quarter and down 1.5 points since the election).
· Claimant count: 1.04 million in June (down 36,300 on May and down 451,000 since the election).
· Total weekly pay: in May 2014 this was up by 0.4 per cent over the year.

Quote of the day 17th July 2014

"I'm happy with my team. I'm pretty happy with his team too."

(David Cameron's response to a question at PMQs from Ed Miliband about the reshuffle.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Time the press let go of the "Government bashes teachers" narrative

The mainstream media sometimes gets narratives into it's head whch are next to impossible to shift regardless of whether they still meet the facts.

Since approximately the time when the late Sir Keith Joseph replaced Mark Carlisle as Secretary of State for Education - yes, it really does go back that far - one of those narratives has been "Government attacks Teachers."

It doesn't matter which party is in government or which individual is Secretary of State, every attempt to drive up standards in schools is presented by the media as bashing teachers.

As the press coverage of his departure from Education to be the new Chief Whip demonstrates, Michael Gove is the latest in a long line of education ministers, Tory and Labour, to be depicted in this way by the media. Sometimes it's true: often it is rubbish.

Hence my "Quote of the day" from Chris Patten this morning, about the need to find language in which we can talk about the need to drive up standards in education without it being presented as an attack on the teaching profession.

The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, may have to take a leaf from one of her predecessors, John MacGregor, who got so fed up with the newspapers and TV interpreting anything he said of substance as an attack on teachers, that he decided to stop saying anything of substance other than praising teachers.

John MacGregor told a group of Young Conservatives including myself that he was disappointed that anything he said which could be twisted into criticism of the teaching profession always was, but whenever he praised the profession, the newpapers and TV just didn't publish it. He told me that he had eventually told his press officers to say to the media that his next few speeches would concentrate on praising the excellent work of Britain's many good teachers, and until that message was printed and broadcast the Secretary of State would not have anything else to say to them.

The same delight in negativity and promoting conflict, especially in the world of education, was apparent when the speaker was someone other than a minister, too. I can recall attending a meeting of the Board of the Conservative Education Association, which was a grassroots pressure group rather than an official party body, and had its' differences with the then Secretary of State for Education, John Patten: one of his junior ministers let slip to me that the education ministers regarded us as "the enemy" which was a strange thing to say to a fellow Conservative.

A good friend of mine who was chairman of this organisation had invited the TV cameras to attend and record part of the meeting on the condition that the broadcast would show things which the group agreed with the government about as well as those we didn't. (As Nick Clegg knows to his cost, politiians who break election promises as easily as the media break promises like that one get absolutely pilloried.)

After the formal meeting the TV people invited us to do short one-to-one interviews on camera about what we would most like to see happen to improve education.

When the interviewer asked me before switching on the cameras what I was going to say, I replied that I wanted the government to listen to teachers. He asked me if I was willing to make that more aggressive and say that they were not listening to teachers. I replied that I was not prepared to say that, because going on television with a message worded like that was not the best way to achieve it. The conversation concluded:

TV Journalist: "Are you saying that it is more important to you to influence government policy than to get on Television?"

Me: "Exactly."

TV Journalist (with a wry smile): "It makes it so much harder for people like me when people like you realise that."

I was not interviewed. I do not regret this.

I do regret the role of the media in contributing to negative attitudes to education and for a lack of respect for teachers for which politicians have, often unfairly, taken the lion's share of the blame.

Sound and Fury signifying nothing ...

Following David Cameron's nomination of the former Education minister and current Lerader of the House of Lords, Lord Hill, as Britain's next EU Commissioner, the newly re-elected President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz was asked about the nomination by a journalist.

Schultz, a German socilaist, said that

"I cannot imagine Hill, whose views - in as far as he's got any - are radically anti-European, getting a majority in the European Parliament."

This was an exceptionally silly comment from someone who now admits according to Reuters, that he has "no personal knowledge" of Lord Hill's views.

The UKIP leader called his comments a "declaration of war" at almost exactly the same moment that Mr Schultz was back-pedalling away from them, blaming the journalist who asked the question for telling him that Lord Hill was supposedly an extreme Eurosceptic. Apparently his friends have today told him something different. I would take both sets of information with a pinch of salt.

I note that Lord Hill's nomination was welcomed by a number of prominent business organisations such as the CBI. Whatever the President of the EP originally said, I doubt if Lord Hill will have too much difficulty getting confirmed. I hope he is given a role which helps him to make the EU more business-friendly - goodness knows that business in both Britain and the rest of the EU needs that in the present climate.

Grant Shapps writes: Labour want to raise your taxes

 
Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps writes:
 
Harriet Harman has let the cat out of the bag: Labour want to raise your taxes.

In a radio interview on LBC, she said 'I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes'.

Ed Miliband has previously said 'people either side' of £26,000 a year are on middle incomes (BBC Breakfast, 28 February 2011).

So millions of hardworking taxpayers would pay the price for a Labour Party that hasn't learnt its lesson.

Harriet Harman quote
 
While we have frozen fuel duty and cut income tax for over 25 million hardworking taxpayers, Labour raised taxes by £1,400 per family when they were in government (Source: IFS, Tax and Benefit reform under Labour, p.24, 7 April 2010).

And now they want to do it all over again.

We can't let them get away with it. Donate £10 to our campaign today and help stop Labour's plans to hit hardworking taxpayers.

Thanks,
Grant Shapps
Conservative Party Chairman

Donate 10 pounds today

Quote of the day 16th July 2014

"We need to find language which enables us to talk about improving education without it being presented as an attack on teachers."

(Lord Chris Patten, then an MP and a minister - if memory serves, an education  minister.

I was reminded of this comment and similar opinions expressed by other past education ministers such as John MacGregor when I read the flood of comments about Michael Gove on his being moved from Education to be Chief Whip.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose ...)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quote of the day 15th July 2014

"In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves ... self-discipline with all of them came first."

(Harry S Truman)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Matthew Parris on the real meaning of Martin Niemoller's iconic poem


Matthew Parris had a powerful and disturbing piece in Saturday's Times about the real meaning of the anti-nazi poem usually attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller and the way people remember it.

The poem describes how the Nazis worked through a list of victims and the author did not speak out, and then concludes with the words

"Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak up for me."

Matthew argues that people often incorrectly remember the earlier groups listed in the poem as being those victims of the nazis that the person remembering the poem does in fact feel sympathy for.

Hence a centre-right politician used the poem including the line "First they came for the industrialists" when only those industrialists who annoyed the Nazis for some other reason like being a Jew, Freemason, or political opponent, were in fact victimised by the Nazis. Parris says he has heard black people include "the blacks" and suggests that many gay people think Niemoller included a line about the Nazis coming for gay people but that he did not in fact include either line.

Matthew Parris argues that a key part of the message of the poem is that the Nazis got their way not only by picking off groups of human beings they disliked one at a time, but that they started with the most unpopular groups, those without friends, so that others got used to keeping their heads down or even cheering at first as the pariahs of society fell under the nazi jackboot - only to find that these victims were followed in turn by everyone else.

Matthew's comment can be challenged on some details but, for all that it is incredibly uncomfortable reading, his argument is strong on the big picture.

It appears that Martin Niemoller may have used different lists of victims in different speeches according to whom he was speaking to at the time. In 1976 when he was asked about this he said

"There were no copies or minutes of what I said, and it may be that I formulated it differently. But the idea was anyhow: the Communists, we still let that happen calmly: and the Trade Unions, we also let that happen: and we even let the Social Democrats happen. All of that was not our affair."

Hence the most common original version of the poem is

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Social Democrats, and I did not speak out because I was not a Social Democrat.

Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak up for me."

I don't know if people would listen long enough to get the point if you reset the poem in quite as extreme and "in your face" a manner as Matthew Parris suggests - starting with "First they came for the paedophiles," and continuing with "Then they came for the terrorists."

It really is essential to protect children from paedophiles and everyone from terrorists, although in both cases the very fact that the crimes of both groups are so terrible and justly unpopular means that exceptional vigilance is needed not just to catch the guilty but to avoid wrecking the lives of the wrongly-accused.

But Matthew is dead right that each of us should think of the poem as if it starts with some of the groups who we personally dislike.

The poem is sometimes quoted as beginning with "First they came for the Jews."

As we have seen this was not the original, but if you are an Arab or Palestinian, you probably should start the poem with

"First they came for the Jews"

But if you are Jewish, you should probably start with "First they came for Hamas."

If any Nye Bevan style socialists, or anyone else who really hates the Conservative party, is for some peculiar reason reading this blog you should start the poem with "First they came for the Tories"

But if you are a Norman Tebbit style Tory, you should leave the poem much as Martin Niemoller wrote it, except perhaps replacing "Social Democrats" with "Labour party" or "Socialists."

If you are a strong opponent of blood sports you should start with "First they came for the hunters"

And if you are a member of a hunt, that should be "First they came for the Hunt Saboteurs."

If the poem does not make you uncomfortable you are not thinking of it in the right way.

The Anglican Church finally catches up with the 20th century ...

This post is about an important issue affecting the Church of England from the viewpoint of an ordinary member of that church - an "Anglican in the Pew" - with no authority to speak for others.

Thank God that, at long last and thirty years after it should have happened, the General Synod of the Church of England has finally voted that women can be bishops.

I respect those, while totally disagreeing with them, who argue that because Jesus was a man, the priests who in a sense represent Him should also be male.

I respect those - I used to be one of them - who believe that God is calling some women to be priests but that in ordaining them to that role we must carry the whole church with us and include protections for the position of those who take a different view.

But I am afraid I have no time or respect for the ludicrous position of those who, after swallowing the camel of women priests, strain at the gnat of giving those women priests once ordained the same promotion prospects as their male colleagues. Nor can I entertain for a single nanosecond the possibility that the absurd and unfair treatment of women who have dedicated their lives to His service over the last few decades by denying them that prospect could possibly be the will of a just amd loving God.

When the Church of England originally debated the ordination of women priests, both sides took it as read that if it was passed, within a few years the inevitable consquence would be the consecration of women bishops.

If people had realised it possible that after nearly another thirty years of destructive argument, we would until today have thousands of women priests for whom the possibility that they might have a calling to become a Bishop was not recognised, supporters of the ordination of women Synod would almost certainly have tried, and probably succeeded, in passing both measures with appropriate safeguards, in one go.

As one of the three-quarters of ordinary Anglicans who support this reform and bleieve it to be GOd's will, I was incredibly frustrated in 2012 when, despite getting overwhelming majorities among the existing (male) Bishops and the clergy (including the male ones whose promotion prospets will be affected) the motion won only a simple majority among the elected representatives in the "House of Laity" representing ordinary members of the church, failing by just six vote to ge thte necessary majority to come into effect.

I rejoice that this disastrous error has now been rectified.

In a statement issued by Lambeth Palace after the vote, Archbishop Welby said: "Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases disagreeing. The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds."

The Archbishop of York said it was a "momentous day".

He said: "Generations of women have served the Lord faithfully in the Church of England for centuries. It is a moment of joy today: the office of Bishop is open to them."

David Cameron added that it was a "great day for the Church and for equality".

Amen.

Scientists say that 20 minutes of exercise three times a week can cut Alzheimers risk

Several members of my family suffered from some degree of dementia as they approached or passed the age of eighty. This has often been extremely distressing both for the person with this condition and for those who love him or her. One person close to me is now in a home with full-blown Alzheimers, and what this has done to her is so sad that I am unable to find adequate words for it.

So I take very seriously the research by Cambridge scientists which suggests that better exercise could seriously reduce the risk of contracting the condition.

NHS guidelines recommend that we should all take two and a half hours of exercise per week, and that doesn't have to mean something massivley heavy like lifting half our body weight or running - walking or gardening counts. It is suggested that 20 miutes of moderate exercise three times a week is enough to deliver significant benefits.

Something for all of us to think about.

Quote of the day 14th July 2014

“If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you.”

(Attributed to various people including Harlan Ellison)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

The book "The Invisible Gorilla" should be required reading for anyone who is called as a witness in a court case, or called for Jury service at one, and also for everyone who drives a car or flies an aircraft.

The human brain is an excellent device for spotting patterns, but sometimes we get so focussed on spotting particular patterns that we think we see ones which are not really there - the original hunt for witches being the classic example - or equally dangerous, filter out real information we need to know because we are looking for something else.

In one of the "Father Brown" stories G.K. Chesterton had his clerical sleuth solve a murder committed by a "mentally invisible man" - a postman who all the witnesses ignored because they tuned him out of their perceptions - he was just a postman.

Chabris and Simons' book demonstrates how, to a truly frightening extent, we make that kind of mistake far more often than we realise.

The book starts with an account of how a Boston policeman, Kenny Conley, was sent to jail because a jury convictem him of perjury and obstruction of justice: Conley, who was white, was one of a number of officers converging on a murder suspect from different directions. The suspect attempted to evade pursuit by climbing a fence. The closest police officer, who like the suspect is african-american and who was wearing plain clothes, attempted to apprehend the suspect while he was climbing the fence, but fell, and was then himself attacked and assaulted by several uniformed white police officers who apparently mistook their colleague for the suspect. Conley climbed the fence in hot pursuit of the suspect within yards of where this beating was taking place, pursued him for a mile, and did in fact arrest the suspect who all the officers involved had been pursuing.

When there was an inquiry into the assault on the plainclothes cop, Conley claimed on oath not to have seen the beating. When it was established that he had in fact passed very near to that incident, neither prosecutors nor the jury could believe that he was not lying to protect his fellow officers.

After Conley's release from jail a Boston journalist, Dick Lehr, who had originally been of the same opinion, brought Conley to see the authors of the book, because he had begun to have second thoughts about whether Conley might have been so focussed on the suspected criminal that he failed to notice an assault taking place almost under his nose.

The authors produce a huge amount of convincing evidence that most of us make exactly that kind of mistake on a frighteningly regular basis, even when we sometimes put our lives at risk or may vote to send innocent people to jail in consequence. When we are focussed on observing one thing, we can sometimes miss other events, some of which might be serious threats, to a greater extent than we might think possible. And worse, we don't realise we have missed them: we can't believe we could have been looking right at something and fail to see it.

The title of the book is taken from the "Gorillas in our midst" experiment which the authors had made: they found that when a group of test subjects is set to watch a film of a basketball game and carry out some moderately attention-demanding task such as count the number of passes in the game, about 50% of them will not even notice if a person in a gorilla suit walks through the basketball court, faces the camera, beats her chest, and walks on.

If you are having trouble believing this, look at the website for this book at  http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html

where there is a version of the gorilla video and some similar tests and material, which does not take long to view and is utterly convincing.

But when the experiment was first performed, those who didn't notice were not just shocked at what they had missed: when they were shown the film again they were so convinced that what they had not noticed before could not have been there that they accused the experimenters of switching the tape.

A very important part of this book for those of us who drive is the section on how our failure to notice things can put us at increased risk of accidents, and this book changed my opinion on the reasons for the accident rates for cyclists and riders of motorbikes.

Until I read "The Invisible Gorilla" I was aware of the high accident rate involving motorbikes but believed that the main reason for this was the propensity of some motorbike riders to drive in a more risky way. After reading this book I was compelled to modify my views and recognise that some of the increased accident rate for motorbikes may be down to car drivers' mistakes, particularly a failure to spot motorbikes when the drivers concerned thought they were looking out for other traffic but were really focussed on looking for cars and lorries.

This book is an incredibly useful study, written in accessible and entertaining language, into the way our minds and perceptions focus on the things we think we need to know, so that we are not swamped by all the potential observations which surround us every waking moment, but how this can sometimes lead us to ignore things we really need to notice. And not to notice that we have done so.

Quote of the day 13th July 2014

“Common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.”
 
( René Descartes. Note - file under "Irony.")

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Quote of the day 12th July 2014

"Even UKIP supporters might find themseles cheering on Germany. They hate the rest of the world a lot more than Europe."

(Henning Wehn, a German comedian living in Britain who describes himself as the "Comedy Ambassador," quoted in an article in today's Times about the dilemma faced by fans wondering whether to cheer for Germany or Argentina in the World Cup Final)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Quote of the day 11th July 2014

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
 
( Winston Churchill )

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Grant Shapps on the Teacher's strike and Ed Miliband's sponsored silence ...

Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps writes ...



Today's strikes are disrupting the lives of millions. Schools have been shut, damaging children's education and forcing parents to take time off work or scramble round for childcare. Libraries and other public services have closed, causing difficulties to families across the country.

We are clear: these strikes are wrong.

Labour left our economy in a mess. We have taken difficult decisions that have reduced the deficit by over a third - and we need to keep on dealing with our debts to safeguard the economy for the long term.

We can't go back to Labour's way of more spending, more borrowing and more taxes. It would wreck the recovery and put jobs at risk.

Yet Ed Miliband refuses to condemn today's strikes.

There is only one conclusion we can draw from his silence: he's too weak to stand up to the union paymasters who have donated £23 million to his Party.

Share this graphic on Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know about Miliband's £23m sponsored silence:

Ed's sponsored silence
 
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
 
If Ed Miliband can't stand up to the unions on this, there is no way he could stand up to them if he ever got into Downing Street.

Please share this graphic on Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know that Miliband's just not up to it.

Thanks,

Grant Shapps
Conservative Party Chairman
Donate 10 pounds today

Quote of the day 10th July 2014

"Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

 ( Seneca )

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Labour's record on the economy

There is an excellent piece on "Share the facts" here about Labour's record on the economy which is worth reading and remembering.

Could Britain really hand the car keys back to the people who crashed the car last time they were in charge of it?

Quote of the day 9th July 2014

"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

(Carl Sagan)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Labour minister in Wales sacked for abusing his position

Last week, as you can read on the BBC website here, Welsh Environment minister Alun Davies was found to have broken the ministerial code by lobbying the Welsh Environent Agency (for which he was responsible) about a planning application in his constituency.

The opposition parties in Wales had called for a debate about this breach of the code, and in particular about the fact that he had not been sacked for it.

He has now been sacked for a further breach of the code, this time pressurising his civil servants for private information on members of other parties, apparently for party political purposes, as you can read here.

Post and Email

These days the vast majority of paperwork which we used to do in person or by post using paper documents can be done online. Most of the time this is very convenient but there are always exceptions ...

One of the most annoying is when you are doing one of the few remaining jobs which require physical paperwork. As it happens this particularly applies to many things relating to elections, although at least you can download most of the froms online.

I've been filling in a set of forms which has to go to Manchester. Every search I made for the address, every "contact us" link I clicked on came up with an email address or URL.

I was told "Doing things online is much cheaper than other contact methods, so means we can spend more on essential services." (sic).

All very well but this particular job required a hard copy which I am legally required to return by next week.

At last I found the "If you can't find what you want online" page. Phew!

Quote of the day 8th July 2014

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
 
( E.F. Schumacher )

Monday, July 07, 2014

Hands Across the Border - Rory Stewart MP writes ...

Here is an extract from a note from Rory Stewart MP
 
Right on the border, in a field at Gretna (adjacent to the M6), we are inviting families from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to bring stones and build a great cairn. Stone cairns have been built in Northern England and Scotland for millennia, to celebrate a sense of shared space. Together we hope to construct a striking and lasting testimony to the Union.*

We will begin the project on Sunday July 20th and continue every day thereafter, for the following eight weeks and hopefully beyond. We would always love to hear from anyone who is coming, but we also want people to feel they can just turn up and make their mark.

Most of all we hope that this is an opportunity for creativity, and for you to put your own personal touch on this testament to the Union.

Join us, everyone - families,, students ,old, young, Scots, English, Welsh, Irish - to say that you want to keep our country together.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Hands Across the Border

* Don’t worry if you don’t have a stone to bring, we have English and Scottish stones on the site.

Quote of the day 7th July 2014

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is, that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't.”
 
( Henry Ward Beecher )

Sunday, July 06, 2014

300-400 attend hospital march

I have just returned from the march this afternoon in Whitehaven to support WCH.

It was an excellent event attended by perhaps 300-400 people and a strong expression of community feeling, shared by people of all political views and none, that our hospital must be defended.

Congratulations to everyone involved in organising the event.

Reminder - hospital march today

A march in suport of services at West Cumberland Hospital will take place this afternoon (Sunday 6th July 2014) in Whitehaven. Meet at the bandstand in the Market Plce at 1.15pm

Quote of the day 6th July

“The man of thought who will not act is ineffective; the man of action who will not think is dangerous.”

( Richard M. Nixon )

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Death of the Oceans

I have been reading an article in the forthcoming "Newsweek" called "The Death of the Oceans" about the possible impact of climate change on the ecosystem's of the world's seas and ocedans, which is nothing short of terrifying.

The article is available to read at the Newsweek site  here and will be in the next print edition in a few day's time.

The basic argument - which I hae seen previuosly backed up by very convincing scientific evidence - is that a large part of the extra carbon dioxide which human activity is pumping into the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans, making them more acidic, and this combined with the effects of fertilser run-off into rivers, seas and oceans may cause an ecological catastrophe.

We must continue to monitor what is happening to our environment, but the evidence that mankind must take more care about our impact on the planet before we cause a disaster for our children get more and more convincing.

Glorious Summer Day for the Whitehaven Carnival

A wonderful afternoon today in Whitehaven with thousands of people enjoying the glorious weather and the Carnival.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the event

March for West Cumberland Hospital tomorrow (Sunday 6th July 2014)

A peaceful protest has been organised by Mirehouse mother Siobhan Gearing to support West Cumberland Hospital tomorrow (Sunday 6th July).

Those who wish to take part are asked to meet at 1.15 pm at the gazebo in Market Place

The march will proceed up the South half of King Street then turn right onto Lowther Street and proceed to Castle Park. A road closure order has been granted while the march takes place

A Facebook campaign group, headed by mum-of-two Mrs Gearing, was launched earlier this year and has gathered around 8,000 signatures on a petition.

Protesters want to ensure that all of the services currently at West Cumberland Hospital remain, and that nothing is transferred to Carlisle or Newcastle.

Mrs Gearing decided to organise a march as she said it was a positive way to show health bosses how much the local community values services at West Cumberland Hospital.

Quote of the day 5th June 2014

“Many much-learned men have no intelligence.”
 
( Democritus )

Friday, July 04, 2014

This year's anniversaries: both the Great War and the real First World War

This year will see the hundredth anniversary of the start of one of the worst wars in history. To my grandfather's generation who were unlucky enough to live through it, the 1914 to 1918 conflict was simply "The Great War."

My grandfather served in a front-line role in the army medical corps during that war, and was one of the lucky ones who came back. His brother was one of the millions who didn't, dying as a result of enemy action at the age of eighteen, exactly six weeks before the end of the war.

When another war on the same horrific scale broke out twenty years later, "The Great War" was no longer a unique description. Historians had to find a new naming convention, and they settled on the titles of the First and Second World Wars for the two gigantic 20th century conflagrations.

The only thing is, as The Economist points out here, there had already been several previous wars which were global in scope.

The most truly global of the conflicts prior to 1800, which is usually referred to as the Seven Years' War by British historians because that's how long fighting in Europe lasted, began 260 years ago this May. And this probably has the strongest claim to the title of the first World War even if we don't use the name.

Historians are not, sadly going to put the names on a sensible footing, any more than paleontologists are going to agree with the late Stephen Jay Gould that Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard) is a far better name for the giant dinosaur popularly called by that name than Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard). But it would make more sense to refer to the "Seven Years War" between 1754 and 1783 (yes, that's nine years) as the First World War, to resurrect the contemporary title of "The Great War" for the 1914-1918 conflict, and rename the series of wars which ended in 1945 with the surrender of Japan after nuclear attack as either the First Nuclear War or the Second Great War.

Between May 1754 and the Treaty of Paris in 1763 there was fighting on every continent except Australia. My distant relative Lord Macauley, who considered Frederick the Great of Prussia to be mainly to blame both that war and the "War of the Austrian Succession" which preceded it, wrote of Frederick that

"In order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America."

Which is not entirely fair, as the fighting in North America started in May 1754 because another figure who was to become even more famous in history, a subaltern called George Wasbington, exceeded his orders by attacking a French patrol. US historians refer to the conflict as "The Frendh and Indian War" because that is who the colonists who were to found the USA were fighting, and their conflict would probably have happened whether or not Frederick had siezed the province of Silesia, the theft for which Tom Macauley was excoriating him. But it's a great line.

And it shows how much, for good or ill, the human world has been interconnected for two and a half centuries. It is still more so today.

A difference between Tory and Labour

Labour has been making much of their support for a new law which would enshrine in legislation the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid.

Labour themselves first made that commitment when they were running the country a decade ago.

Yet it was the present coalition government which actually hit that target last year for the first time ever, as you can read at

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300084/Prov-ODA-GNI-2013a.pdf

There is a graph on the site which shows that Labour in government never got the share of aid above 0.5%. And that was at a time when they had inherited a very strong economy from Ken Clarke and it was far easier to find money for things.

Writing targets into law is not actually the best way of hitting them: it's just the best way to score a political point.

Cumbria - a great place to live and work

I certainly agree with the point made in a letter by Les Hanley to the Whitehaven News which suggested we all ought to broadcast the fact that Cumbria is a great place to live and work.

Hopefully there will be a hastag and appropriate links for this in the near future.

Quote of the day 4th July 2014 - Labour don't know whether to be more scared of Ed winning or losing

Hat tip to Guido Fawkes for the following quote from a Times article by Jenni Russell, who was expected to be sympathetic to Ed Miliband (he is her child's Godfather.)

The article is called "Ed and his team would be a disaster at Number 10"

It opens with an account of Ed Miliband and a couple of aides turning up at Financial Times event after most of those who had been present earlier had gone, and after accusing him of “arrogant indifference” and warning of the “stifling sterility of Mr Miliband’s lack of interest” in radical ideas, Russell concludes:
“This strategy might just win Mr Miliband the election, but it is a hopeless strategy for government. A leader who can’t inspire confidence, build alliances or enthuse his colleagues will fall apart in No 10. One shadow minister told me that there was little time left to change. He was afraid of losing, but winning might be worse.
‘What some of us fear is that we’re going to win, but Ed could be such a terrible leader we’ll be out for a generation after that.’"

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Copeland Council underspends by £1.2 million

It was announced this week that Copeland Borough Council has underspent by £1.2 million during the 2013/14 financial year.

Although that isn't a vast amount of money by the standards of a district council, it is a lot more than was saved by some of the most painful of the cuts they have made.

This is an authority that has been closing public toilets, shutting the civic hall, getting volunteers to cut verges, and generally taking an axe to public services while blaming it all on central government "cuts."

More details in the Whitehaven News here. Their leader comment included the following:

"Copeland spent £1.2 million less than it budgeted for last year; while at the same time implementing a devastating cull of services that continues to affect us all. Many will agree with Councillor Alastair Norwood amd others who find the situation a little baffling."

You never expect a council's forecasts to be dead on, and the long-term problems are not necessarily as bad with an underspend rather than an overspend. But when a Labour council which has been blaming all their measures to clobber people on treasury austerity turns out not to have spent a significant amount of the money the treasury - and the taxpayers - actually did give them, you do wonder what on earth is going on.

Couldn't have anything to do with the timing of elections, and particularly that the council comes up for re-election next year, could it?

Hmmm.

Brian Monteith on how to deal with Salmond

Former MSP Brian Moneith has a very well argued piece on Conservative Home here about how pro-unionists should deal with and debate First Minister Alex Salmond.

Anyone reading this who was involved in the late and unlamented Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in the early 1980's will give a wry smile both at where this article appeared and at the fact that I have given a link to it and praised it.

Brian Monteith was elected Chairman of FCS in 1982-3 as a leader of the hard right faction who referred to themselves as "sound" and were generally known to their opponents as "Libertarian."

The current Executive Editor of Conservative Home is Paul Goodman, who defeated Brian in the FCS Chairmanship election the following year and was leader of the moderate faction within FCS (usually known to the libertarians as "wets" although that title was misleading as the border between the moderates and libertarians was sufficiently far to the right that the moderates included hardline Thatcherites like Mark Francois MP). I was one of Paul's more outspoken supporters at the time.

However, I am not going to be childish enough to refuse to praise a good article because I didn't agree with the author's views and actions thirty years ago.

Brian argues that use the last two-and-a-half months of campaigning for the INdependence referendum to mount a personal assault on the First Minister would be a huge mistake.

"It would distract voters from the real issues that will affect their livelihoods; it would play out the campaign on the ground that Salmond prefers – personal jousting; and it would look like the establishment doing down the little man, winning him public sympathy. For despite Salmond being First Minister, he is still seen as the Scottish underdog taking on the unionist establishment, hence his continued popularity." he writes.

"Every politician has his own Kryptonite – with some it’s too much of the sauce at the Parliamentary bar, with others it’s sexual favours and sometimes it is money. Often it is sheer incompetence.

"With Salmond it is over-confidence. His Kryptonite is hubris – for he has a good conceit of himself – and in knowing that, the No campaign should tease him and ridicule him rather than slap him or name-call.

"As Donald Dewar often showed in the early years of the Scottish Parliament, Salmond is not invincible. Indeed, the SNP leader became so discouraged he went back to Westminster in a sulk resigning his Holyrood seat.

"Embarrass the First Minister with his broken promises, his stream of falsehoods, – but say it with a smile, and the Scottish people will see the man for the political chancer he is. A very skilful and adept politician, but a chancer all the same."

Quote of the day 3rd July 2014

“Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.”
 
( Horace Mann )