2005-12-29

List: The 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read

From a Buddhist painter to Robert 'the' Bruce, from a definitive history of the fiddle to a Scots version of 'The New Testament', one could be forgiven for thinking that 'The National Museum of Scotland' had collided with 'The Mitchell Library', but the above are all the subject of books, which this week will be given the full North American treatment. 'The Association for Scottish Literary Studies' ('ASLS'), which is based at 'The University of Glasgow' and is devoted to the teaching, writing and study of Scottish literature, yesterday embarked on a week-long showcase across the Atlantic in Washington DC at the annual 'Modern Languages Convention', designed to blow the dust off our nation's book jackets and display the best that Scotland's traditional and contemporary literature has to offer. For a continent that boasts just one chair in 'Scottish studies' -- in Guelph, Canada (no, we've never heard of it either) -- it's a move that is long overdue.
'What we're trying to do is encourage lecturers, primarily from North America, to teach Scottish literature in their university level courses,' says Ms.Gwen Enstam, who is running the exhibition this year with 'ASLS' manager Mr.Duncan Jones. 'That could be as a "Scottish studies" course, a complete course in its own right or as part of courses such as world literature, where they would usually go for English. 'And if people are putting together anthologies on modern poetry, we're saying Scotland has a great literary tradition here that's being skipped over and a lot of poetry can be included in that.'
'ASLS' has brought nearly 100 titles from 20 publishers to the USA for promotion, with titles as diverse as Mr.George Mackay Brown's 'Greenvoe' and Ms.Louise Welsh's 'Tamburlaine Must Die'. In Scotland, the popularity of books often depends on the time of year and the market trend. Ms.Roanna Branigan, who runs the Scottish books department of Waterstone's West End store in Edinburgh, says that while traditional titles by writers such as Mr.Robert Louis Stevenson and Mr.Neil Munro consistently sell well, there has also been a recent move towards newer writers.
'Lin Anderson's "Driftnet" has sold extraordinarily well since it appeared, as has 'Scotland Today' presenter John Mackay's "Heartland",' she says. ''I also found that during 'The Edinburgh Festival' a lot of people were coming in looking for Anne Donovan's "Buddha Da". 'Although it's written in dialect, American customers loved it.'
Mr.John Paul Smith, of Glasgow's 'Borders' Scottish books department, meanwhile, says that Mr.James Kelman's latest novel 'You Have to Be Careful In the Land of the Free', has been one of their bigger sellers.
'It's one of the more contemporary novels that have sold well. That, along with Ian Rankin's latest novel, "The Flood".'
So given what Scots are reading themselves, and what we'd like others to read about us, is 'ASLS''s list the right one? Many of the books it is taking to the USA are works of literary criticism or theory, or non-fiction collections designed to provide a flavour of what Scottish literature has to offer. With one eye on contemporary fiction, and one on the great classics that every Scot reads at school, we have compiled our own, highly selective, list of the Scottish books we think everyone should read.
  • 'Driftnet' by Ms.Lin Anderson: This crime book has flown off shelves. When a teenage boy is found murdered in a Glasgow flat, forensic psychologist Rhona Macleod finds likenesses between herself and the victim. Could he be the son she put up for adoption 17 years before?
  • 'Sunset Song' by Mr.Lewis Grassic Gibbon: Recently voted the best Scottish book of all time, Sunset Song remains a classic across the land. What young woman wouldn't identify with its heroine, Chris Guthrie, torn between the countryside of her birth and the modern world?
  • 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' by Ms.Muriel Spark: As much a time and a place as a character, Ms.Spark'sJean Brodie came to embody a generation of Edinburgh women. Her unconventional ways and blatant favouritism made her both terrifying and alluring.
  • 'Knots and Crosses' by Mr.Ian Rankin: This is where it all started for John Rebus -- Mr.Rankin's hard-drinking Edinburgh crime-fighter -- with the murder of three girls. When messages made of knotted string and matchsticks start arriving, Rebus realises it's personal.
  • 'Buddha Da' by Ms.Anne Donovan: This beautiful novel won rave reviews when first published three years ago. Though written entirely in 'Glaswegian Scots', it is an easy and lyrical read about a decorator who becomes a Buddhist, and is one of Canongate's selection for the Scottish exhibition.
  • 'Whisky Galore' by Mr.Compton Mackenzie: So what if it perpetrates the old, cliched 'Brigadoon' myth? Scots, English, American or Martian, no-one can resist this tale of ill-gotten whisky gain on a Scottish island in wartime. It's simply hilarious.
  • '44 Scotland Street' by Mr.Alexander Mccall Smith: Without wishing to blow our own trumpet (well, maybe, just a bit), this tale of manners and intrigue in Edinburgh's New Town debuted in 'The Scotsman Newspaper' in 2003 as a daily novel. Mr.Mccall Smith is feted in America almost as much as Ms.JK Rowling.
  • 'Boswell's Edinburgh Journals: High times and low lifes in the Edinburgh of the Enlightenment'. Mr.Boswell's diaries were instrumental in documenting 18th-century Reekie as he drank and debated philosophical thoughts with Mr.Adam Smith and Mr.David Hume, and mixed with the city's seedier side.
  • 'Trainspotting' by Mr.Irvine Welsh: When the movie was released, American cinemas showed it with subtitles. Despite the language barrier, Mr.Welsh enjoys a huge following in the USA -- his uncompromising attitudes make a refreshing change across the Atlantic.
  • 'Selected Poems of Carol Ann Duffy': Passed over for 'Poet Laureate' a few years back, Ms.Duffy is nonetheless Scotland's foremost poet. Whether writing about love, loss, or childhood, Ms.Duffy's voice is clean, clear and accessible. Many see her as a cheerier, modern-day Ms.Sylvia Plat.
  • 'Greenvoe' byMr.George Mackay Brown: When a mysterious military project threatens a way of life unchanged for generations on the Orcadian island of Hellya, chaos prevails. Mr.Mackay Brown's evocative writing conjures up the myths and magic as well as the isolation of island life.
  • 'Kidnapped' by Mr.Robert Louis Stevenson: Mr.Henry James was one of Mr.Robert Louis Stevenson's greatest champions, while Ms.Donna Tartt says she owes much of the style of her second novel, 'The Little Friend', to 'Kidnapped'. Revel in young David Balfour's adventures and marvel at how it engages young and old.
  • 'Lanark' by Mr.Alasdair Gray: A Glasgow institution, 'Lanark' was Mr.Gray's first novel, and arguably his finest. Many shiver at the words Great Scottish Novel, but, if ever a book were worthy of this esteemed title, Mr.Gray's marvellous four-part colossus could be it.
  • 'The Missing' by Mr.Andrew O'Hagan: Mixing autobiography with social commentary, Mr.O'Hagan asks what impact a human being going missing has on livelihoods and communities. Examining a side of Britain often unseen and unheard, he brings light to a country many of us would not recognise.
  • 'New Selected Poems' by Mr.Edwin Morgan: His public appearances sell out in seconds, and he is more universally loved by Scots than the Cairngorms. This includes older poems as well as his more recent work, including a suite of ten poems which tells the history of the earth. Relevant to us all.
  • 'The Wasp Factory' by Mr.Iain Banks: Dark, detached and brilliant, Mr.Iain Banks' first novel remains his finest. Frank is a teenager on a remote Scottish island whose strange obsessions, and the varying degrees of insanity of his family members, become increasingly horrifying. Makes Mr.Stephen King look like Ms.Beatrix Potter.
  • 'Young Adam' by Mr.Alexander Trocchi: The second book on our list to have been made into a film starring Mr.Ewan Mcgregor, Mr.Trocchi's most famous work, set on barges travelling between Glasgow and Edinburgh, has drawn parallels with Mr.Albert Camus's 'The Outsider'. Quite pornographic in parts.
  • 'Waverley' by Sir Walter Scott: For tourists who have arrived at Waverley station and visited the Scott Monument, this is the real thing. The story of 'The Jacobite Uprising of 1745' and the idealistic young Edward Waverley, drawn in to Bonnie Prince Charlie's web. A classic of classics.
  • 'The Cone Gatherers' by Mr.Robin Jenkins: Scotland's 'Of Mice and Men', Mr.Robin Jenkins's haunting novel is set during 'The Second World War' on a Scottish country estate and tells the story of two brothers working as cone gatherers. Mysterious and tragic, it remains a classic moral tale.
  • 'Divided City' by Ms.Theresa Breslin: It's the marching season in Glasgow and young Graham just wants to play football, but he finds himself involved in old rivalries between Catholics and Protestants, and, in newer conflicts, with a young Muslim. This children's book is a timely insight into sectarianism and racism.
'The 20 Scottish books everyone should read', Emma Cowing, The Scotsman, 2005-12-28

2005-12-28

Health & Science: Supermarket Sponge Superbug Scare

A humble kitchen sponge could hold the key to wiping out the deadly superbug MRSA, Scots scientists have discovered. Rife in modern hospitals, MRSA has claimed the lives of thousands of patients, but is resistant to most antibiotics. Now biologists working on a powerful new antibiotic have found the best way to cultivate the cure is on the surface of an ordinary kitchen scouring pad -- and strangely, one brand alone. The experts at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have spent the past five years developing the antibiotic from bacteria found on seaweed from North Berwick, East Lothian. But bizarrely, the antibiotic can only be grown on a kitchen sponge sold in 'Morrisons' supermarkets, at a bargain 89p for a packet of eight (11p each) . Professor Mr.Brian Austin, of the university's microbiology department, at first tried to grow the bacteria in glass containers of meat broth. But he switched to the scouring pads when he realised the potential. He said:
'Until now we have been unable to find a surface on which the microbes that produce the anti-biotic could be grown. 'We have now discovered a particular brand of domestic sponge is the only thing that can produce this antibiotic.'
MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections are killing more than 400 people in Scotland each year and infecting tens of thousands. The bacteria being grown on the sponges attacked and ate away at the superbug and could kill even deadly food poisoning bacteria strains such as listeria. However, Mr.Austin and his team remain baffled as to why the everyday kitchen sponges are such effective cultivators.He said:
'We need to speak to the manufacturers to find out what's so special about these sponges. 'Why won't the bacteria produce these antibiotics on any other supermarket sponges? It could be something very subtle, like how shiny the surface is.'
Mr.Austin has attempted to get in touch with the supermarket to track down the sponge manufacturers, but has so far had no luck. He added:
'The supermarket chain will not tell us who makes them. They will only say that it is a UK company. 'We are trying to find out what makes this sponge so special. Perhaps there is something in it we can use. 'If we spoke to the makers and asked them what they used in the manufacturing process, then there's a chance that we could understand why it is reacting the way it does. 'But I have approached "Morrisons" and have had no formal reply -- which I find a bit strange.'
No-one could be contacted at 'Morrisons' yesterday to comment on the claim. '11p kitchen sponges may hold key to beating MRSA' Louise Gray, The Scotsman, 2005-12-28, We Links: MRSA Support --www.mrsasupport.co.uk/

Intolerance: No Fines For Fast Force

Police officers were accused yesterday of believing they have 'carte blanche' to break the speed limit as figures revealed only a tiny fraction of officers caught are brought to book. Thousands of officers in Scotland trigger speed cameras every year -- yet only a handful are fined or face tougher action. The statistics also reveal huge variations in the number of speeding cases in neighbouring forces, and in how senior officers decide to deal with them.. In 'Lothian & Borders', 2272 marked cars triggered speed cameras last year but no action was taken against any officer. Of 78 unmarked cars which broke the limit, three were given 60_GBP fixed penalties, with nine further cases outstanding. However, in 'Dumfries & Galloway', which has a police force one-sixth the size of 'Lothian & Borders', 15 officers were fined for speeding. In the vast majority of cases, officers were exempted from fixed penalty fines and prosecution because they were speeding on a '999 call' or on other operational duties. Of the five Scottish forces which supplied details of police cars caught speeding, only 34 -- 1.2 per cent -- were fined, taken to court or still had cases pending. 'Lothian & Borders' had the fourth-highest rate of officers caught speeding across the United Kingdom, with 0.82 incidents per officer. The force was behind 'Essex', with 3.26 incidents per officer, 'Bedfordshire' (2.04) and 'Staffordshire' (0.91), and tied with 'The Metropolitan Police', according to the figures obtained by 'Press Association' under 'Freedom of Information' legislation. Police stressed they had to deal with thousands of emergencies every year, some of which require officers to exceed the speed limit. Motoring organisations, however, voiced alarm at the figures. 'The RAC Foundation' said the results showed some forces police were over-using the exemption powers. The group's head of traffic and road safety, Mr.Kevin Delaney, who was a policeman for 30 years, said:
'The exemption rules are widely misunderstood by rank-and-file officers as giving them a carte blanche exemption from the speed limit when driving a police vehicle. 'That is clearly wrong and suggests that something is wrong with police driver training. Forces with the lowest number of camera triggers and higher proportions of officers refused an exemption have clearly taken a stand on this.'
Mr.Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for 'The AA Motoring Trust', said police appeared not to be applying traffic laws evenly.
'I think the vast majority of motorists understand that marked police cars responding to emergencies may be required to break the speed limit. But the number of exemptions given to police in some forces does concern me. 'The figures would suggest inconsistency in the way police who break the speed limit are treated. There should be consistency across Scotland and the UK.'
A spokesman for 'Lothian & Borders Police' said:
'The public expect the police to respond quickly and safely to incidents and as such there are occasions when police will set off speed cameras.'
That message was echoed by Mr.Kenny Macaskill, 'The Scottish national Party' Justice Spokesman, and Lothians MSP, which called for police to be given 'a bit of latitude'.
'They're on duty to serve and protect the public and there are instances where speeding is required. It's a matter for senior officers to sort out the cases where exceeding the speed limit has been necessary from others where it is unacceptable, as it is for everyone else.'
PC Mr.Norman Brennan, head of the campaign group 'Protect the Protectors', said:
'Officers are exempt from speed limits if complying with them would slow their response time when attending an emergency with a view to saving lives or arresting someone committing a crime. 'However, if whilst responding to an emergency call an accident occurs, police officers are subject to road traffic regulations and prosecution like any other motorist.'
'Police accused of acting as though speed limits don't apply to them', Michael Howie, The Scotsman, 2005-12-27, Tu

2005-12-24

Stats: The End for the Everyday Wristwatch?

Mr.Ben Strickland will wear a showy watch to a dressy dinner party. A little bling isn't bad if it's 'manly jewelry,' the Brookfield 20-year-old says. But when he wants to catch the time, Mr.Strickland's main dial is his cell phone. His pal, Mr.Nick Wiera, 21, follows the same code. He has several watches collecting dust at his Brookfield home.
'Ever since I was little, I've gotten watches as gifts, but I just don't like them on my wrist,' Mr.Wiera said during a last-minute Christmas shopping trip with friends at Brookfield Square on Friday. 'I usually look at my cell phone, and that's how I tell the time.'
The usefulness of wristwatches -- once a staple gift at holidays, birthdays and graduations -- could be ticking away as young consumers rely more on their arsenal of electronic devices for the correct time. Cellular telephones, MP3 players and iPods all provide the time of day, along with Internet access, cameras, games and an almost endless choice of other bells and whistles.
'I have the cell phone, and it's all I use to look at time,' said Mr.Nathan Hoeppner, 21, of Sussex. 'It would be a duplication of time devices if I would wear a watch.'
Mr.Justin Nahin, 15, of Hartland, said he lost his watch a while ago and hasn't replaced it.
'I found that any electronic device I can get at a store, like an iPod or MP3 player, Game Boy, pretty much has a watch in it,' he said. 'It's common to include a watch in almost any electronic device. It makes watches seem a bit obsolete.'
Mr.Chuck Reardon, manager of the Time Square watch stand at Brookfield Square, said his business has suffered from what he sees as a trend of using cell phones to tell the time.
'I see our business going down because of it,' Mr.Reardon said. 'But I do see a lot more kids buying the fashion watches like 'Fossil'. They're doing that as a fashion statement more than anything, more than a need for a timepiece. 'We sell a lot with the diamonds in them, or the one's that are flashy. 'We don't sell a lot of watches with dull finishes.'
Ms.Allison Nahin, 17, of Hartland, agrees:
'It's more of a fashion thing than to know what time it is.'
Portable timepieces have evolved for more than a century. From quaint gold-plated pocket watches to tough timepieces that endure high altitudes and deep oceans, the product has adapted to consumer demands, until recently. But Mr.Reardon said watches 'will always be around' because manufacturers will find a market by upgrading their uses.
'I'm hoping someday that there will be phones in watches, like "Dick Tracy",' he said.
But that could be a good definition of cell phones. Comic-strip detective 'Tracy' would voice commands to police colleagues by speaking into a watch that was strapped to his wrist. That was about 50 years ago. Today, about 200 million cell phones are in use in the United State of America. Not every young consumer has abandoned tradition.
'I've worn a wristwatch since I was 13 years old, and I feel naked without one,' said Mr.Nick Aliota, 21, of Brookfield. 'I just need to know what the time is.'
But Mr.Aliota's pal, Mr.Ben Strickland, implied that everyday wristwatch wearers are stigmatized as 'uncool'.
'I'm not a "dork" like him,' Mr.Strickland joked. 'I normally check my phone or my iPod. 'I don't need to wear a watch if I've got the time on my cell phone.'
'Is time up for the watch? Young clock watchers turn to cell phones, iPods', DARRYL ENRIQUEZ, Sentinel.com, 2005-12-23

2005-12-23

Intolerance: Body-Snatchers From America

Body-snatchers stole bones from the corpse of the BBC broadcasting legend Mr.Alistair Cooke and sold them to a medical firm in a macabre trade worth millions of pounds. Detectives in New York have unearthed evidence that the 'Letter from America' veteran, who died of bone cancer last year aged 95, was among possibly hundreds of victims of an illegal harvesting ring that stole parts from corpses in mortuaries in the city. The thieves replaced the stolen bones with PVC plumbing pipes and broom handles to prevent grieving relatives from noticing.
'I'm furious, I'm enraged, I'm outraged,' Mr.Cooke's stepdaughter, Holly Rumbold, told BBC Radio 4's 'The World at One', denouncing the plot as 'corrupt and evil'.
The family's lawyer, Mr.David Grossberg, was equally disgusted, reportedly saying:
'I hope those guys burn in hell for what they did.'
Suspicions of a body-parts trade involving New York undertakers first surfaced when the new owners of a funeral home in Brooklyn discovered irregularities in business records compiled by the previous proprietor. The New York district attorney's office, working with the police department's major case squad, launched an ongoing investigation, which centres on Mr.Joseph Nicelli, 49, an undertaker, and Mr.Michael Mastromarino, 43, a once-successful dentist. Mr.Mastromarino's career fell apart in 2000 after he developed a drug addiction and, according to malpractice lawsuits filed against him, passed out while working on patients because of the extent to which he was under the influence of the painkiller Demerol. His company, 'Biomedical Tissue Services', of New Jersey, traded human body parts -- including arm and leg bones as well as skin and heart valves -- to medical firms for use in reconstructive surgery. However, it is alleged that the company failed to seek permission from relatives of the deceased and routinely forged documentation. Mr.Mastromarino paid undertakers 1_000.00_USD (575.00_USD) for every corpse they referred to him, it is claimed. In the case of Mr.Cooke, mortuary records indicated that a relative had given authority for body parts to be extracted prior to his cremation and used for transplant purposes.
However, when detectives called his family and asked to speak to the person whose signature appeared on the permission form, they found that no such person existed.
The body had also been dissected without their knowledge. Some of his bones were sold for 7_000.00_USD (just over 4_000.00_GBP) to legitimate medical technology firms in Florida and New Jersey. These turn human and animal tissue into products to help repair damaged human spines and dental implants. The paperwork supplied to the companies by Mr.Mastromarino indicated Mr.Cooke's cause of death as a heart attack. It failed to include the information that the journalist had suffered from lung cancer that had spread to his bones. Also, his age was given as 85 -- ten years short of the truth. The use of cancerous bone for transplant operations is banned by the US American 'Food & Drug Administration', and the use of body parts from geriatric donors contravenes transplant protocol.
'I'm most shocked by the violation of the medical ethics that my stepfather's ancient and cancerous bones should have been passed off as healthy tissue to innocent patients in their quest for better health,' said Ms.Rumbold yesterday.
Mr.Cooke's bulletins on life in the United States of America were broadcast for more than six decades. His most famous series, 'Letter from America', lasted for 58 years. He died at his apartment on Manhattan's exclusive Fifth Avenue on 2004-03-30. His body was taken away by undertakers and an urn of ashes returned to his family, who scattered them in Central Park in accordance with a request set out in his will. The family said they could no longer be sure that the ashes they scattered were even his. Police have exhumed three bodies as part of their investigation and reportedly plan to dig up dozens more. Mr.Cooke's daughter, Susan Kittredge, told 'The New York Daily News' she was 'shocked and saddened'. She added:
'That people in need of healing should have received his body parts, considering his age and the fact that he was ill, is as appalling to the family as it is that his remains were violated.'
Body-snatching has come a long way since Burke and Hare roamed the misty streets of 19th-century Edinburgh seeking victims to murder so that they could sell the corpses to medical students for a few shillings. Today's biomedical companies and those in the healthcare and transplant businesses pay handsomely for bones to recycle for use in orthopaedic and dental procedures, and other body parts that can help burns victims or those needing reconstructive or cosmetic surgery. High demand, however, means the source is not always checked as thoroughly as legally required. The United States is one of the world's leading markets for human bones, mostly from China. Students of anatomy shopping online can buy an entire arm, including the hand, for 170.00_GBP, a kneecap for 5.70_GBP or a rib for 4.60_GBP. 'Victim of 'modern Burke and Hare', Jacqui Goddard, The Scotsman, 2005-12-23, Fr

2005-12-18

Stats: Scottish Education Getting Better

More than three in ten pupils at S2 level -- their second year at high school -- are failing to achieve the basic standards in reading, while just under half failed the standards for writing. Just six in ten pupils achieved the requisite standard for maths. The one bright spot is that the number of pupils achieving the basic standards has increased on all three measures since 2002. The worst-performing authority is Glasgow, which had the lowest pass rates for all subjects. Almost six in ten pupils failed the Level E assessment for writing in 2005. Other poorly performing areas include West Dunbartonshire, Clackmannanshire and North Lanarkshire. The new figures will, for the first time, allow parents to compare the performance of pupils at S2 level -- seen by experts as a vital stage in their academic development. The Level E assessment is a national benchmark of attainment across the school curriculum, which the majority of pupils should have reached by the end of S2, when they are typically aged 13 or 14. 'The Scottish Executive' remains opposed to publishing school league tables, although such information is available in England & Wales. Westminster MPs have argued that the publication of results encourages excellence and allows parents to make a more informed choice of which school to choose for their child. Scotland's Education Minister Mr.Peter Peacock, (New Labour Regional MSP for Highlands and Islands, tel: 0146 371 6299) has said parents should not have access to raw data unless the social status of pupils is included. Last night, opposition politicians and parents' groups called for an end to 'the culture of excuse-making' and said 'The Scottish Executive' needed to find ways of engaging with families who had rejected education across the generations. 'The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party' Education Spokesman Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, (Regional MSP for Lothians) [www.jamesdouglas-hamilton.msp.org.uk] said the percentage of pupils achieving Level E needed to be much higher and said Scottish education was suffering under the comprehensive model.
'These very poor figures once again illustrate that Scottish education is suffering from too many politicians and bureaucrats running our schools, too few parents being allowed a choice in selecting a school for their child and headteachers not having enough freedom to decide what is best in their own unique school environment for each individual child. '"The Executive's" comprehensive "one-size-fits-all" approach to schooling in Scotland is becoming more and more discredited. 'Tony Blair could not have put it better himself when he said: "For the better-off, the British education system is full of options. 'But for a middle- or lower- income family, whose local school is the option and which is underperforming, there is nothing they can do, except take what they are given".'
'The Scottish National Party' Education Spokesman Ms.Fiona Hyslop, (Regional MSP for Lothians) [www.fionahyslop.com] said:
'These statistics don't tell us anything new. 'The problem is that they allow "The Executive" to "hide behind" poverty as their excuse for failing these children. 'Generations of parents have been "switched off" by schools and need to be encouraged to get involved in their children's education.'
However, last night education bodies and 'COSLA', the Local Authority umbrella group, said the figures had to be interpreted with care and said what appeared to be poor results may be due to deep-seated social factors, such as poverty and ill-health. The 'COSLA' Education Spokesman Mr.Ewan Aitken said:
'It really infuriates me the assumption that, taken on their own, these figures in themselves tell us anything significant about the effectiveness of our schools. 'Every school has its own context. That context includes issues such as levels of poverty, levels of support from parents and the community, levels of support from business, transport, the quality of the school building, relative mobility of the cohort and much more. 'For example, one school I know of in a middle-class area has low results because every year up to 80 per cent of the school population can change because it serves a barracks. That does not mean the children are doing badly; it simply means that the cohort being assessed is not the cohort that the targets were set for.'
Head of the 'EIS' teaching union in Scotland Mr.Ronnie Smith:
'If the percentage rate in reading or writing changes, it could have something to do with the cohort of pupils being different, or perhaps the difficulty in finding English teachers that year. 'There is absolutely nothing wrong with gathering and publishing these figures, but it serves no real purpose unless we drill down and see if there are any underlying factors.'
'Thousands of pupils failing on the basics', Shan Ross, The Scotsman, 2005-12-17, Sa

2005-12-16

Intolerance: Music In Prisons Project

Live music is being used to try to prevent prison inmates from re-offending. So how did pop, jazz and reggae become weapons to fight crime? As a venue for live music, the chapel at Brixton prison must be one of the strangest. The 'Victorian Gothic' church, on a drab south London afternoon, looks out on a courtyard lined with razor wire, heavy-duty security gates and metal fences. But inside there's music, with songs written by inmates and performed with a yearning that must have matched any of the prayers offered up in this bleak place. This is the 'Music in Prisons' project, in which musicians work with inmates on writing and playing their songs. Jailhouse blues For the performance in Brixton, the atmosphere is upbeat -- but singing a song about a long-lost girlfriend has a sharper edge when you're stuck inside a prison cell. And the Brixton chapel show is full of contrasts -- there's a guy with biceps the size of tree trunks standing in front of an altar statue of a Madonna and child, and for one of the songs, the backing singer is a prison officer in uniform, keys jangling in time to the music. By the end of the show -- a soulful mixture of pop, jazz, rap, reggae and poetry -- there are people dancing in the aisles. The songs are about lost love, loneliness, spirituality, street life and politics. The performers afterwards are exuberant with the energy of playing. There's a singer proud to have overcome his nerves at his first-ever public performance, another -- a musician before entering prison -- talks about the sheer sense of release and self-expression in being able to play again. But should prisoners be enjoying themselves like this? Shouldn't the help be going towards their victims? Can music really rehabilitate criminals? 'No treats for cheats' Mr.John Podmore, governor of Brixton prison, tackles this 'head on' -- saying there were 'no treats for cheats' in his establishment.
'In this prison, if it's not about reducing re-offending, I don't do it,' he says.
And the music project is a form of training that is accessible and really works with inmates, he says.
'It's not about putting on a school play and everyone feeling good about it,' says Mr.Podmore.
Instead it's about finding a way to unlock people who are used to a life of selfishness and unused to personal responsibility.
'In prison, you can get by being selfish, looking after yourself and no-one else, in fact it's almost inherent in surviving in prison.
'But that doesn't help when people have to go out and become part of communities,' says Mr.Podmore.
The music project forces inmates to work together, to learn from musicians, to see positive role models and to think about what they want to say in their songs. And he says it's about making some deeply troubled individuals re-engage with other people and think about how they've ended up behind bars in the first place. Suicidal
'If someone is feeling suicidal, how do you deal with them? You don't just fill them with drugs and take away their shoe laces, you give them a reason to live. Let's give them something positive to think about,' he says.
Mr.Podmore also has a no-nonsense approach to the idea that prisons shouldn't be about making music.
'People who say these are holiday camps don't know what they're talking about. These are not pleasant places to be.'
And he says these inmates will, sooner or later, be walking free -- and the big question for the community outside is what sort of people these ex-prisoners are going to have become? At present, most inmates re-offend once they leave jail. The challenge is to find a way to intervene in this cycle -- and Mr.Podmore says projects such as this can push convicts towards learning different ways of behaving. Drug use But he's also blunt about the scale of the problems that arrive with each inmate -- a large majority will be hard drug users -- and will still be there waiting for them at the gates when they leave.
'Before these guys are released, we want to take out the drugs and the crime and replace them with more constructive things -- maybe music, but also a job and a home.'
Ms.Sara Lee, a musician who is the project's co-ordinator, says her work challenges prisoners who might never have played music before -- and gives them a 'chance to surprise themselves by doing something they had never expected to be able to do'. Inmates can be too scared to play sometimes, she says, but when they succeed in writing, rehearsing and playing their own songs, in front of a prison audience, it can give them confidence and a sense of purpose. Prison Top 10
'People will come out of prison in the end -- and it's far better that there has been positive work to give them a new set of choices, rather than leaving them there and not assisting them to change and develop,' she says.
The project is run by 'The Irene Taylor Trust', set up in memory of Lady Taylor of Gosforth, the wife of Lord Taylor, the late Lord Chief Justice. Music in Prisons has run more than 80 projects across the country -- and its website hosts its own top 10 chart for prison bands (currently headed by a group from HMP the Mount in Hertfordshire, followed by bands from Pentonville and Belmarsh, with Rampton musicians at number 10). And next year it plans to develop 'throughcare' projects in Brixton and Holloway prisons, working with inmates approaching their release date -- using former participants as mentors, in a scheme to be run with 'The Guildhall School of Music and Drama'. One of those former participants, released last year and now singing in clubs in Yorkshire, says she benefited from the chance to get involved in music while in prison, on a project producing a songbook for children.
'They don't patronise you; they work with you, in a way that's supportive.
'It was a release and a way of expressing yourself.
'When you're thinking about your own children, and you can't see them, you put everything into it.'
'Behind bars', Sean Coughlan, BBC News, 2005/12/15 10:51:04 GMT

Intolerance & Money: China moves in Africa

In Johannesburg's bustling 'Oriental Plaza', the Chinese are ruffling feathers... Established under 'Apartheid' for South Africa's Indian traders, 'Oriental Plaza' has in recent months seen an influx of Chinese businessmen selling goods so cheap that long-established shops cannot compete. About 1_900 miles away in the oil-rich seas off Angola, the Chinese are busy bidding for concessions to power their economic boom, while Chinese-made jet fighters swoop over Zimbabwe in exercises that are a reminder of Beijing's support for Mr.Robert Mugabe. Across Africa, China's economic and diplomatic presence is expanding in an accelerating push that is raising both hopes and fears far beyond African shores. Since Mr.Hu Jintao, China's president, used a visit to Gabon last year to announce a new drive to strengthen relations with Africa, the Chinese have been working to cement the gains of the past several years. Its diplomats feature at African summits, flying the flag of 'Third World' friendship and offers to cancel some 1_300_million_USD in bilateral debt. Chinese businessmen snap up commodities, while Chinese doctors treat Africa's sick under assistance programmes that win friends among people often forgotten by the rest of the world.
'China's move into Africa is displacing traditional Anglo-French and United States interests on the continent,' said Mr.Martyn Davies, director of 'The Centre for Chinese Studies' at South Africa's 'Stellenbosch University'.
Reminders of China's ties to Africa stand in many African capitals where Chinese-built stadiums echo an era from the 1950s and 1960s when Chairman Mao's engineers forged anti-imperialist solidarity with Africa's independence leaders. But the current Sino-African business boom is unprecedented, driven by China's increasing hunger for raw materials to power a market-driven economy growing at over 9 per cent/year. In 2004, China's total exports to Africa hit 13_820_millio_USD, up 36 per cent over the previous year while imports -- largely raw materials -- surged 81 per cent to 15_650_million_USD, according to Chinese statistics. Beneath the diplomatic veneer, however, it is clear that China's immediate interest in Africa is oil and its state companies are moving fast to sew up deals in key producers such as Angola, Nigeria, Sudan and Congo. In Angola, China stepped in with a 2_000_million_USD credit line secured by future oil deliveries to upgrade war-damaged Angolan infrastructure after talks between Luanda and western lenders stalled over issues of transparency. China has since displaced the United States of America as Angola's biggest oil customer. Mr.Davies said China's activities in Angola and Sudan, where it has ignored concerns over atrocities in lawless Darfur to become the biggest foreign investor with 4_000_million_USD in projects, showed Beijing was adept at exploiting political openings.
'In key countries, China is becoming the new International Monetary Fund of Africa.'
Mr.Peter Draper, a trade analyst at South Africa's 'Institute for International Affairs', said Chinese competition was visible across Africa, particularly in construction projects as Chinese firms win key contracts for everything from Rwandan roads to an Algerian airport terminal.
'From a long-term perspective, if we engage China the potential for them to become partners increases. 'If we confront them, we will probably come off second best,' he said.
'China makes its economic strength felt across Africa ', Andrew Quinn, The Scotsman, 2005-12-16 Fr

2005-12-15

Stats: China Becomes 4th Economy due to Statistical Change

China will leapfrog Italy, France, and Britain to be officially recognised as the world's fourth biggest economy -- if it revises its 2004 'Gross Domestic Product' (GDP) up by 300_000_million_USD on 2005-12-20 as expected, Standard Chartered economist Mr.Stephen Green said. In a research note, Mr.Green said the additional output will also drastically improve measures of the the Asian powerhouse's economic health.
'As if China's economy was not growing fast enough, thanks to a statistical revision, growth in 2005 looks like being about 30 per cent,' Mr.Green said. 'The recent national economic survey has apparently found another 2.4 trillion yuan worth of output,' Mr.Green said.
He said the new-found figure is equivalent to 17.5 per cent of last year's GDP.
'That is equivalent to finding Indonesia or Turkey hidden in the Xinjiang deserts. 'This is not an insubstantial event,' Mr.Green said.
But he added that this revision does not directly translate into 30 per cent growth for this year as it will have to be spread out over the last few years.
'(This means) China's economy will likely have grown faster than 9.5 per cent in recent years... as if we didn't know that already,' Mr.Green said.
He said the major upward revision in output also has implications for the understanding of China's economy.
'First, China rises rapidly up the table in the world rankings of economies, from a previous seventh place in 2004 to fourth today.
'It leaps over Italy instantly with the 2004 revision, and France with GDP growth in 2005,' he said.
'With the 8 per cent fall of Britain's currency relative to the USD (and thus the yuan - CNY) this year, China will be bigger than the UK economy in USD terms too,' Mr.Green said in the note.
He said output in China is now equivalent to 18 per cent of the US American economy, and roughly 45 per cent that of Japan's.
'It also brings us several years closer to the day when China's GDP overtakes that of Japan and the US,' he said.
But Mr.Green said that far more important than these league table effects is something more tangible -- China's people just got richer.
'"Per capita" GDP rises from 10_561 yuan in 2004 previously to 14_079 in 2005,' he said.
Mr.Green said in the note that it remains to be seen exactly from where the new output is coming, as one of the perennial puzzles for economists is explaining the relatively low level of service sector contribution to China's economy.
'Back in 2003, according to the old figures, 52 per cent of GDP came from industry, and only 33 per cent from services. 'But assuming all the new activity is in services (and that is a big assumption), then we will have an economy which is 41 per cent services. 'This makes China a more normal "low-income economy" -- services usually make up about 50 per cent of GDP in such economies, compared to about 60 per cent in upper-middle income economies,' Green said.
But he said China is still an 'outlier' -- thanks to banks (and officials) preference for industrial development, rather than funding the service sector.
'We think most of the extra output is in services since the statistical apparatus is not that good at measuring the sector. 'The change will also affect our understanding of investment. 'It is still growing fast, but the economy should become a little less dependent upon it,' he said.
He said that at present, gross fixed capital formation will be about 46 per cent of GDP in 2005. If all the new output is in non-investment activities, then this ratio will drop to about 38 per cent. He said this is a much more reasonable figure, closer to the norm of Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea during their fast growth phases, the note said.
'Those who worry about China's investment ratio being too high will be reassured. 'Those who think the banks are still not good at assessing loan applications will remain worried by all the investment activity out there ... and we put ourselves in the later camp,' Mr.Green said.
He said that the newly bolstered GDP will mean China's external debt will be nearer 10 per cent by the end of this year from 13.8 per cent at end of 2004. With non-performing loans officially at 1.28_trillion_CNY as of end 2005-09, the NPL/GDP ratio at year end of 2005 should fall from around 8.25 per cent to 7 per cent, he said.
'The IMF was looking for domestic debt at year-end 2005 to be worth 19.6 per cent of GDP. 'That can now be revised down to about 16 per cent,' Mr.Green said.
He said the budget deficit also falls with the massive GDP revision, and all these are positive for the solvency of the banking sector, as well as for the government's books.
'Of course, tax revenues as a proportion of GDP fall too -- from 20 per cent in 2004. 'But strong tax collection this year means we are not worried about that. 'Even before this revision, the debt profile looked sustainable, even including the government's implicit liabilities,' Mr.Green said.
He said much more will be known in the following weeks on the breakdown of the new output, and more insight into how the government collects and compiles its economic data.
'We are just scratching the surface here. 'In the following weeks we will ... understand more of the ramifications.
'But all in all, this is good news for China; it just got a lot bigger,' he said.
(1_USD = 8.1_CNY) 'China to be world's 4th biggest economy after GDP revision- Standard Chartered BEIJING', Yahoo! Business News, 2005-12-15 09:28am

Computer Analyses Mona Lisa's Emotions

A 'femme fatale' with a mocking, ironic smile -- a man in drag -- an expectant mother, or simply a housewife trying to hide the appalling state of her teeth? The true meaning of 'The Mona Lisa's' enigmatic smile has haunted art lovers for years, but scientists now believe they have hit upon a breakthrough. Using a computer programme designed to reveal the emotions of a face, they have worked out that Leonardo da Vinci's muse was 83 per cent happy, 9 per cent disgusted, 6 per cent fearful and 2 per cent angry. The study, which was carried out by Professor Nicu Sebe at Amsterdam University using 'face tracking' software developed with Professor Tom Huang at Illinois University, involved creating an 'average neutral expression' from a database of young female faces. By comparing this image with key facial features of a picture, such as the curve of the lips and the crinkles round the eyes, the computer programme is able to give a score for six basic human emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear and sadness. According to 'New Scientist Magazine', the technology could be used to create computers that change how they react in accordance with the user's mood. Prof Huang said the findings of the Mona Lisa study 'validate the algorithm in terms of the dominant emotion' of happiness, but added that more was necessary to work out her deeper thoughts.
'If you're interested in things like enigma or mystery, maybe these six categories are not enough,' he said. 'But this is just for fun.
'We really need to talk to psychologists or artists to find out how you model those more subtle aspects of facial expression.'
There have been numerous theories about both the identity of the sitter and what her smile means. They range from the plausible -- a leading candidate to be Mona Lisa was pregnant at the time -- to the more fanciful: that it was da Vinci's alleged gay lover or a self-portrait in drag. Entering into the spirit of the work by Profs Huang and Sebe, Dr Cynthia Mcvey, a psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, tried to explain the apparent conflict in the emotions they found in the Mona Lisa's face.
'She could have been chuffed he wanted to paint her and ... a wee bit disgusted by the old man doing the painting.
'He might have been in the nude or have come on to her for all we know,' she said.
'Or maybe she was annoyed because she had been sitting there for ages and he's still not finished.'
Professor Donald Sassoon, of London University and author of 'Mona Lisa: The History of the World's Most Famous Painting', said da Vinci had deliberately tried to obscure his model's real emotions.
'One of the most important things about the portrait is that Leonardo uses a technique - that he didn't invent, but certainly developed - called sfumato, which means 'smoky',' he said. 'It keeps unclear the corners of the face, particularly the corners of the smile. If you leave these undetermined, we are not quite sure what the expression is, which means we can put our fantasies onto it.'
Prof Sassoon said French academics had started the craze for analysing the smile in the 19th century; previously, it was not considered to be so enigmatic. Asked why Mona Lisa was smiling, he said:
'How the hell do you know why someone is smiling in a photograph? In the 15th century, teeth are terrible so they not going to show them.'
'Cracking da Vinci's coded smile ', Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 2005-12-15, Th

Intolerance & Money: Scotland's Subsidy Increases

Scotland's annual subsidy from the UK has shot up to a record 2_200/head, according to official government figures, having more than doubled since New Labour Party came to power. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr.Gordon Brown's spending bonanza has pushed First Minister Mr.Jack Mcconnell's budget to Scandinavian levels at a time when Scotland's tax burden dropped below that of England & Wales, Poland and Canada. The figures from 'The Scottish Executive' sparked a political storm yesterday 2005-12-14 as MSPs asked why it has failed to translate world-class spending into world-class public services. In its annual survey of the Scottish economy, 'The Scottish Executive' said the government spent 45_300_million_GBP in 2003/2004, putting Scotland in a rare club of countries where state spending is more than half of the entire economy. But only 34_000_million_GBP was generated in tax. This leaves an 11_000_million_GBP gap, which has to be filled by tax collected in England & Wales. Northern Ireland is also heavily subsidised. The figures do not include North Sea oil and gas; but the study shows that even if Scotland had collected every penny of tax raised offshore, it would still have required a 7_000_million_GBP subsidy from the UK. The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Pasty last night demanded to know what was going wrong. Mr.Derek Brownlee, their finance spokesman, said that while some of Scotland's higher spending needs are due to sparse population, the real culprit is
'the Lib-Lab Executive's refusal to look at real reform in public services'.
'The Scottish National Party' has long argued that the annual study, entitled 'Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland' ('GERS') is a piece of statistical 'propaganda'. It says that if oil wealth is counted, then Scotland is subsidising England. But The SNP economic spokesman Mr.Jim Mather, said he was alarmed at the growing disconnect between economic growth and government spending in Scotland.
'If the figures are correct, the [Scottish] Executive has serious questions to answer about their stewardship of Scotland's economy,' he said. 'Is there any other country in Europe that has experienced such a devastating slip in revenue against expenditure?'
The SNP spokesman then said that rising oil prices would help Scotland, but only if the country was independent. The tax haul from oil is expected to almost treble, from 4_300_million_GBP in 2003/2004 to 11_700_million_GBP in 2006/2007. New Labour seized on the 'GERS' report to say it destroyed the case for Scottish independence.
'This is a hammer blow to those who talk about independence, or even fiscal autonomy. This shows that there is money that Scotland gets from being part of the UK which it wouldn't get if it was independent,' a spokesman said.
The SNP counters that, even if an independent Scotland was in deficit, it would simply borrow money on international markets as the UK does. For more than a century, Scotland has received a greater share of money than its population would indicate. 'The Scottish Executive' has long defended this, saying the greater role of agriculture, fisheries and forestry and greater deprivation demands more spending. But the subsidy -- which was just 1_055_GBP/head in 1997/1998 -- is becoming increasingly controversial in England & Wales, where a growing number of MPs want a new system for dividing government funds across the UK. State spending in Scotland is next year forecast to soar to 51_600_million_GBP -- or 52.2 per cent of the national economy. This is not only higher than the UK's 45.2 per cent, but also any country in the developed world save Sweden, Denmark and France. But the tax revenue for Scotland in 2003 -- the last full year where figures are available -- shows Scotland has the seventh lowest tax take among the world's 30 most developed countries. Under the rules of devolution, 'The Scottish Executive' cannot save money -- or even turn down the sums sent from the UK Treasury each year. Its annual budget increase is decided by a system known as 'The Barnett Formula'. 'Political row brews as Scottish subsidy soars to record high', FRASER NELSON AND HAMISH MACDONELL, The Scotsman2005-12-15

Intolerance: Scotland's Environmental Impact in World's Worst 30

Scotland's impact on the environment -- its 'global footprint' -- has been revealed for the first time. The amount of land and sea used to provide the water, energy, transport, materials and food the country needs to support its lifestyle is 2.4 times the global average. Although nowhere near the top of the league -- led by the United Arab Emirates at 5.5 and the United States of America at 5.3 -- it is, along with the UK as a whole, in the worst 30. The environment minister Mr.Ross Finnie, yesterday 2005-12-14 put reducing that ecological footprint at the forefront of The Scottish Executive's sustainable development strategy. He said if everyone on Earth lived the same way as Scotland, the resources of three planets would be needed to sustain our world, making the issue a global as well as a national priority. The Environment Minister said that past attempts to reduce energy, carbon emissions and waste, to change lifestyles and take into account items such as food air miles, had been too short-term. He told a press briefing in Edinburgh:
'Long-term strategic thought is not usually the way politicians operate. But we have to respect the limits of our planet's economy. 'Some say that we cannot change and improve. Not so - we could make £1.3 billion annual savings in energy-use alone if we changed our ways.'
The strategy, outlined in the document 'Choosing Our Future: Scotland's sustainable development', is not a quick fix, he added. It is about long-term thinking for the benefit of future generations, about educating children - and it will need public and business support to succeed. It will also require Scotland's 32 local authorities to 'toe the Executive line'. The Environmental Minister said:
'If government agrees a commitment to renewable energy, then the planning framework should set that out.
'Local authorities cannot then argue we do not need it and deny permission.'
That could apply particularly to wind farms, proposals for every one of which in Scotland have so far provoked protests. Scottish Executive figures indicate that if all mooted wind farms are built, they could meet Scotland's present total demand of 16 GigaWatts of electricity. It has also been estimated that unproductive use of resources costs the Scots manufacturing sector 300_million_GBP annually. Measuring a country's global footprint is not an exact science. 'WWF', the global environmental organisation which devised the system, warns that some ratings have to be treated with caution. For example, a high rating for countries such as Sweden, which is usually seen as eco-friendly, is largely due to its cold climate and the type and amount of heating used to counter it. That applies to some extent to Scotland's attempts at energy saving, although not to waste handling and recycling. Asked what changes he had made to his own lifestyle, The Environment Minister said:
'I'm not the greatest or most patient shopper, but I have changed my 'get in, buy and get out' approach to electrical white goods -- I do now take more time to study the energy-use rating and we use fewer chemicals in our home.'
The deputy first minister and minister for enterprise Mr.Nicol Stephen, said:
'It's not all about the big stuff, although the [Scottish] Executive will be taking a lead on energy use in our buildings.
'It's what the individual can do and I would like to see many more small wind turbines on houses. I'd rather see turbines on houses than satellite dishes.'
'The Scottish Environment Protection Agency', which estimates that the environment is worth 17_000_million_GBP/year to the Scottish public, will meet 'Scottish Natural Heritage', 'Communities Scotland', 'Scottish Enterprise' and 'Highlands and Islands Enterprise' today to discuss a joint approach to making "sustainable development a reality". The Green Party said the strategy looked good on paper, but that Scottish Executive policies were still causing chaos and pollution. But a joint statement from Scotland's environment groups, including 'WWF Scotland' and 'Friends of the Earth Scotland', welcomed its publication. ' Scots 'eco-footprint' two and a half times the global average', FORDYCE MAXWELL, The Scotsman, 2005-12-15, Th Links: Friends of the Earth Scotland (http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/) TreeHugger.com (http://treehugger.com)

Intolerance: Hitler & Nazis Mocked on UK TV Show

The television presenter Mr.Jeremy Clarkson is at the centre of a row after giving a Hitler-style salute and making mocking references to 'The Nazis' on BBC's 'Top Gear'. Mr.Clarkson raised his arm Nazi-style as he spoke about the German company BMW's 'Mini'. Then, mocking the 1939 invasion that triggered the Second World War, he said it would have a satellite navigation system 'that only goes to Poland'. Finally, in a reference to Adolf Hitler's boast that his 'Third Reich' would last ten centuries, Mr.Clarkson said the fan belt would last for 1_000 years. His comments during an edition of the 'BBC Two' programme last month have incurred the wrath of German industrialist Mr.Lanbert Courth, the head of 'The Bayer Corporation' in the UK, who found Mr.Clarkson's antics 'unpleasant and disturbing'. The German government is said to be highly displeased: diplomats pointed out that, had Mr.Clarkson made the Nazi salute on German television, he could be facing six months behind bars as, joking or not, such behaviour is illegal under the country's post-war constitution. David Marsh, a UK businessman and a leading figure in the German-British Forum, who has worked to break down stereotypes between the countries, has written to the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, to complain about Mr.Clarkson's 'odious' remarks. In the letter, he said:
'As a British person with strong links to Germany, I take exception to this poisonous rubbish carried by a publicly funded broadcasting company.
'Such actions are out of place in our society. 'It is no excuse to say that people, often German, who complain about such programmes have no humour or do not understand the British people's quirky characteristics. 'Modern Germany has come to terms with, and made amends for, the crimes and aggressions of the Nazi period and the Second World War. 'It does no good for people such as Mr.Clarkson to dredge up the past in crude stereotypical fashion masquerading as outrageous humour. 'Does Mr.Clarkson consider the effect on Germans who were born after the war who may be watching the programme?'
Mr Marsh said that, had Clarkson made similar slurs against Muslims or Jews, he would probably have been prosecuted. A BBC spokesman said last night that it had yet to receive Mr Marsh's letter, but that it would be dealt with under the corporation's 'rigorous' complaints procedure. The 'Top Gear' programme is broadcast in Germany on the 'BBC World' channel. 'Germans up in arms over Clarkson's mocking Nazi salute', Allan Hall, The Scotsman, 2005-12-15, Th

2005-12-14

Health & Stats: Fibre May Not Be Significant in Bowel Cancer

An high-fibre diet will not help to reduce the risk of getting bowel cancer, according to a major study published today 2005-12-14. Researchers in the USA studied the records of more than 725_000 men and women over a 6-/20- year period to assess the effect of eating a high-fibre diet on the chance of getting the disease. They initially found that the group eating the most fibre was less likely to suffer bowel cancer, but when other factors -- such as alcohol, red meat and vitamin consumption -- were taken into account there was a 'non-significant' effect. Nevertheless eating fibre is still recommended by 'Cancer Research UK' to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. The authors of the report, to be published in 'The Journal of the American Medical Association' ('JAMA'), said previous studies which found eating a high-fibre diet was beneficial had failed to adjust sufficiently for other influences on the chance of getting the disease. The report, by Yikyung Park, formerly of 'The Harvard School of Public Health', Boston, and team, said:
'We did not find support for an association between dietary fibre intake and risk of colorectal [bowel] cancer. 'After accounting for other risk factors, high dietary fibre intake was not associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.'
However, the researchers stressed that people should still eat fibre.
'Although high dietary fibre intake may not have a major effect on the risk of colorectal cancer, a diet high in dietary fibre from whole plant foods can be advised because this has been related to lower risks of other chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes,' the report said.
Of the 725_628 people whose records were examined -- who previously took part in 13 other, separate studies in Europe and the USA -- the researchers said 8_081 cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed. Those who ate the most fibre were found to have a 16 per cent lower chance of getting the disease than those who ate the least amount of fibre. But this apparent benefit fell when the scientists took non-dietary factors, the use of multivitamins and total energy intake into account. And when other dietary considerations were looked at, including red meat, milk and alcohol intake, it virtually disappeared. However, other experts stressed that the study did not prove that fibre had no role to play in reducing bowel cancer rates. In an editorial in 'JAMA', Mr.John Baron, of 'Dartmouth Medical School' in New Hampshire, USA, said the idea that fibre could guard against bowel cancer went back to the 1960s, when it was suggested that low rates of the disease in southern Africa were connected to the population's high-fibre diet. He pointed to previous studies, which found that people who ate the most fibre were 40 per cent less likely to get bowel cancer than those who ate the least. And Mr.Baron added:
'The findings [of the new report] ... provide at least some indications that dietary fibre of some sort is related in some way to colon or rectal cancer risk. 'These findings suggest that colorectal cancer might be sort of a 'fibre deficiency disease', such that a relatively modest minimum intake prevents an increased risk. 'But understanding longer-term relationships with any type of fibre will require more work.'
Professor Mr.Tim Key, an epidemiologist at 'Cancer Research UK', said:
'In this new study the authors suggest that some of the increase in risk for bowel cancer among people with a low fibre intake may be due to other features of their diet -- such as low intake of the vitamin folic acid. 'But, even allowing for the possible influence of folic acid and other dietary factors, they still found that people with the lowest fibre intake had almost a 20 per cent higher risk for bowel cancer.'
'High-fibre diet may not cut risks of bowel cancer', Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 2005-12-14 Links: Beating Bowel Cancer charity (http://www.bowelcancer.org/ )

Energy Shortages if Winter is Harsh (Cont'd.)

North Sea gas reserves are being used up faster than anticipated, MPs said 2005-12-13, warning that energy shortages will be impossible to avert in the event of the predicted harsh winter. Taking evidence from government ministers and energy industry experts, the House of Commons trade and industry committee heard that the UK's gas is being depleted well ahead of schedule. That will make the country more dependent on imported gas, and sharpen the problems caused by the UK's lack of storage capacity. The natural gas reserves in the UK 'Continental Shelf' area are about 600 billion cubic metres, and production is declining from its peak in 2000. According to current official estimates, the UK is expected to be 50 per cent dependent on imported gas by 2010, and 80 per cent dependent by 2020. But during their inquiry, the MPs heard that 'supplies of gas from the UK Continental Shelf had continued to decline at a faster rate than anticipated, leaving a larger shortfall to be made up from imports'. More imports will necessitate more investment in pipelines and storage capacity, but the MPs also heard that current construction plans were not accelerating at the same pace as gas depletion. With forecasters estimating that there is a two-in-three chance of an unusually cold winter, the prospect of gas shortages has been the subject of intense political argument. Ministers have accused business leaders of scaremongering over the situation by warning of industrial shut-downs, but admit that some large companies could indeed experience shortages and supply interruptions. The MPs confirmed that bleak outlook in their report.
'Although it is extremely unlikely that domestic customers and the majority of businesses will suffer any interruptions to their gas and electricity supply, it is very likely that the largest industrial and commercial customers will, if they have the relevant contracts, suffer interruptions,' they warned. And because the UK does not have sufficient storage capacity, they found, 'it is, unfortunately impossible to do anything to change the situation now'.
Energy analysts say that colder weather is just one reason the price of gas is soaring. Other causes are market nerves and the apparent refusal of some European countries to sell as much gas as the UK wants to import. While householders are unlikely to experience interruptions of supply this winter, they will be hit by rising prices. The MPs calculated that for every 10 per cent increase in fuel prices, an extra 400_000/500_000 households in England & Wales and 60_000 in Scotland fall into 'fuel poverty', spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy. Despite government attempts to downplay talk of a gas crisis this winter, Scottish MPs of all parties yesterday insisted there could be severe problems ahead. In the UK's House of Commons, Mr.Brian Donohoe, the New Labour Party MP for 'Central Ayrshire', said that three of the five biggest users of gas in Scotland had warned him that they would have 'immense difficulties' sustaining business over the winter. About 2_000 jobs in Ayrshire could be affected, he said. Mr.Michael Connarty, the New Labour Party MP for 'Linlithgow and East Falkirk', accused gas suppliers of operating an 'invidious monopoly', declaring: 'We are being manipulated by the owners.' Mr.David Mundell, the new Conservative & Unionist Party shadow Scottish secretary, also raised concerns.
'Given that we have more severe weather in Scotland, it is even more important that the government get it right on ensuring major businesses are not driven out by high rises in gas prices and that more vulnerable people are not driven into fuel poverty,' he said.
Responding for the government, The Scottish Secretary Mr.Alistair Darling, said ministers were aware of concerns and were negotiating with the European Commission to put pressure on EU suppliers to make more gas available to the UK. 'North Sea gas drying up faster than hoped ', James Kirkup, The Scotsman, 2005-12-14 Links: DTI Oil & Gas Directorate Institute of Petroleum Assoc. of British Independent Oil Exploration Cos European Oil Industry Association International Association of Oil & Gas Producers UK Offshore Operators' Association BP Shell Statoil USA EIA North Sea factsheet

Money & Stats: Government Tier Expenses Increase

Mr.Keith Raffan, the MSP who quit Holyrood after extravagant and unexplained expenses claims last year, has received another 22_000_GBP from the Scottish Parliament, it was revealed yesterday 2005-12-13. Mr.Raffan's expenses claims were part of a total of almost 10_million_GBP which MSPs claimed in 2004/2005 -- the most charged to the taxpayer since the parliament opened in 1999. Apparently undaunted by the scandals which engulfed two of their colleagues over the last year, MSPs have continued to increase their spending on allowances and expenses to 9.46_million_GBP, up by 100_000_GBP on the year before. Mr.Raffan, the former Liberal Democrat MSP, resigned from the parliament because of ill- health after claiming more than 41_000_GBP for mileage in a single year. He was found to have claimed mileage on at least one occasion when he was out of the country. The row over Mr.Raffan's expenses was followed by the so-called 'Taxigate' affair involving Mr.David Mcletchie. Mr.Mcletchie resigned as leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party after being unable to explain the reasons for a number of taxi claims made on the taxpayer. The figures published yesterday showed that Mr.Raffan claimed 21_709.49_GBP last year in the nine months before he left the parliament -- 255.75_GBP was on travel and 2_095_GBP was in 'winding-up' costs for his office. Most of the 21_709.49_GBP (16_543.49_GBP) was spent on the normal running costs of his parliamentary and constituency offices in the period leading up to his resignation from parliament. Parliamentary authorities are still waiting for explanations from Mr.Raffan for some of his mileage claims and are withholding 6_000_GBP in expense claims as a result. However, Mr.Raffan is understood to be seriously ill and it is not known when, if at all, he intends to return to Holyrood to explain his expense claims. While the total for all MSPs of 9.46_million_GBP does represent a rise on the 9.35_million_GBP figure for 2003/2004, the increase is 1.1 per cent, less than inflation -- a fact that will please parliamentary authorities. The biggest single expense for every MSP comes from running constituency and parliamentary offices -- in many cases this accounts for half the individual amounts claimed. Top of the list this year is Mr.George Lyon, the deputy finance minister and MSP for Argyll and Bute, who claimed more than 67_000_GBP from the taxpayer, including 8_847.23_GBP for accommodation in Edinburgh and 12_959.19_GBP for travel. Mr.Lyon insisted last night that he and his staff were worth the money, pointing out that the big rise in his expenses this year was down to a major refurbishment of his constituency office in Rothesay.
'My staff are worth it not to have them working on second-hand desks, as they were last year. It was not my decision to refurbish the office, but part of a rolling programme of office and computer refreshment,' he said.
Many of the highest spenders were the MSPs from outlying areas, principally because of their large travel costs and the expenses they claimed to stay in Edinburgh during the week. Second on the list was Mr.Lyon's party colleague for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Mr.Jamie Stone, who claimed 56_397_GBP. Western Isles New Labour MSP Mr.Alasdair Morrison, who came third on the list with a total of 56_300_GBP, claimed the most travel expenses, at 19_768_GBP. Fourth was Mr.John Farquhar Munro, Lib Dem MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, with claims for 55_980_GBP. One MSP from the Central Belt, Ms.Wendy Alexander, the New Labour MSP for Paisley North, did make it into the top ten (in seventh position) because of the extraordinary amount she spent on office supplies. Ms.Alexander, a former minister, spent 15_600_GBP on stationery and postage in 2004/2005, nearly 6_000_GBP more than the next highest MSP, Mr.Brian Adam of the SNP, who spent 9_803_GBP -- and about seven times the average spend on postage, about 2_000_GBP. Ms.Alexander defended her claims by insisting that she had orchestrated three major initiatives from her parliament office last year, all of which needed big mailshots to thousands of people in her constituency. She said:
'We ran three major campaigns -- one on the anti-social behaviour consultation, which is a big issue in Paisley, the second about the future of Argyll and Clyde Health Board, and the third on the future of Renfrew Health Centre.'
Sources close to Ms.Alexander said the former minister did not expect to do as much campaigning this year as she will soon be going on six months' maternity leave and the amount she spent on postage was not as much as many MSPs spent in election years. They also pointed out that Ms.Alexander's 15_600_GBP on postage and stationery would not have put her into a league of the top dozen claimants at Westminster. The explanations provided by Mr.Lyon and Ms.Alexander will be enough to prevent any further problems for them personally over this year's expenses, but the ever-rising total will increase the pressure on the parliament to rein in the amount being claimed from the taxpayer by Scotland's elected representatives. The furore over first Mr.Raffan and Mr.Mcletchie has generated a great deal of public suspicion about MSPs and their claims. The parliament has already started a process to make itself even more accountable by producing much more detail about MSPs' expenses this year than was the case previously. Usually, the publication of MSPs' expenses would run to about a dozen pages. Yesterday's publication of more than 700 pages showed how far Mr.George Reid, the Presiding Officer, is prepared to go to try to restore Holyrood's reputation. However, the huge volume of information did not make the process of analysing the MSPs' claims any easier. Apart from a breakdown of travel expenses -- which divided each MSP's claim into those submitted for the member, those for their staff and the claims put in for family members -- most of the rest of the information was not compiled in a usable way. The headline figures for each MSP were accompanied by tens of pages of individual claims, listing everything from each mobile phone bill to individual train fares. None of it, however, was compiled into monthly or yearly totals. Even in the headline figures, there were problems with the new format. Parliamentary authorities decided to withhold the amount spent by each MSP on staff salaries from the general allowances. This was because of data protection rules and a worry that the public might be able to determine individual staff salaries. However, because the Green MSPs pool their resources to pay for all their staff jointly, their staff costs were included in the overall totals, giving two different categories of MSP in the figures -- the Greens and all the rest. Ms.Shiona Baird, MSP, the Green's co-convener, said:
'The publication of these figures is a welcome step towards transparency and accountability of MSPs' use of public money. 'As part of our commitment to openness, Greens have published annual reports, funded by MSPs' own money, detailing how we have spent our funds since the beginning of this session. We are the only group of MSPs to have done this -- we are glad that the parliament is now following our lead.'
A spokesman for the parliament said that the extra material this year was the first of a two-stage process which would see even more information published next year. She said:
'Next year we will be publishing further documentation, including all claim forms submitted by MSPs. 'If there is an entry this year which says, for instance, "taxi 25_GBP", next year you will be able to see whether this is for one taxi journey or five. 'However, we are not looking at individual receipts.'
'Holyrood's big spenders help push up parliament expenses ', Hamish Macdonell, The Scotsman, 2005-12-14, We Links: TheyWorkForYou.com