Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Catholic Church at the Crossroads

The Catholic Church is becoming fair game and is being attacked on all fronts.

Firstly for not reacting sooner and more decisively on sexual scandals involving priests who abused children in their care, and secondly for the cover-up of the extent of the abuse. It is hardly surprising that its flock of worshippers are no longer willing to abide by its teachings.

Celibacy in priests is perhaps the main cause of it all. Unless you allow the clergy some kind of sexual liberation, the church is bound to be an easy target for condemnation which I dare say is self-inflicted.

Sexual impulses are hard to suppress unless of course anybody joining the priesthood is automatically castrated. That would cause uproar as much as female mutilation practised in Africa and some parts of the Far East, which is now considered a total breach of female human rights and a crime against humanity.

The more sensible approach for the church to take is to allow priests to marry and enjoy sexual congress and the comfort of raising a family. That’s what I believe God has ordained.

The new Pope is facing a barrage of criticism for being an Argentinian because of the question of the disputed sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. This is incredibly unjustified and whoever uses this pretext to demean the papacy should be taken to task and severely admonished. The Pope is not a politician and should not be treated as such. He is the spiritual leader of millions of Catholics throughout the world and should be respected for the seal of office he holds.

But reforming the church should now be his premiere task. It is his golden opportunity to revive the church and bring it up to date with the evolution of learning, science and the unlocking of some of the great mysteries of the universe.

Two thousand years since the birth of Christianity, things have moved on at a pace that could never have been visualised. The church must follow suit and readjust itself before it loses credibility as a force for enlightenment and harmonious living. Goodness will then ensue naturally without fear of purgatory and the sizzling fires of hell.

The world will then become a better place to live in and perhaps a little paradise can be found on earth as opposed to the ultimate one in heaven.

Let us in any case dream about a fairytale existence where happiness replaces misery, poverty is abolished and suffering is consigned to oblivion. Then when death knocks at our door, we would have at least sampled some of the joys of what the gods call eternal living.

Dream on, as some people will say, but why not is my simple repartie.

The Art of Leaving

Four years as a brilliant editor at Quartet, Anna Stothard, the young, talented novelist, is leaving Britain for a while to live in Berlin.

Her departure is a hard blow to take, but, being a realist, I can fully understand her quest to discover and conquer new territories, and expand her knowledge of living in different parts of the world.

Although she will be sorely missed by everyone in the Quartet extended family, all that is left for me to say is, bon voyage, Anna, and happy hunting. Quartet will never be the same without your aura and jovial presence. May God bless you.

Are Old Remedies Coming Back to Beat Drug-resistant Superbugs?

Apitherapy, the use of honey as a medicine, has been practised since the times of ancient Greece.

Honey from the manuka, an evergreen shrub originating from New Zealand, was used by Maori and settlers as medicine.

The honey has an anti-bacterial level four times greater than standard antiseptic. It is used to clean wounds, heal stomach ulcers and treat eczema, acne and insect stings. It is a natural medicine used for thousands of years to clean wounds and fight bacteria.

Now, it seems that honey could hold the key to combating the very modern threat of drug-resistant superbugs.

A study has shown that manuka honey can fight back on two fronts. Not only can it help kill MRSA and other superbugs, it can also prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics.

The danger of the rise of bugs which do not succumb to drugs was outlined this month by the chief medical officer. Professor Dame Sally Davies described it as ‘a ticking timebomb’ which could leave millions vulnerable to untreatable germs within a generation.

But a study in Australia offers a solution. At the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) tests were carried out on manuka, kanuka and clover honeys to find which was the best at treating bacteria commonly found in chronic skin wounds.

Researchers looked at key ingredients known to inhabit bacterial growth. The best at doing this was Comvita medical grade manuka honey, made by bees foraging on New Zealand’s manuka trees.

When combined with common antibiotics, the treatment hampered the spread of bacteria on wounds. Crucially scientists found the honey prevented the bugs from developing any resistance to the antibiotic.

Professor Liz Harry , of UTS, said: ‘Manuka honey should be used as a first resort for wound treatment, rather than the last resort, as it so often is.’

The research, in the journal PLOS One, follows a previous study which found that the honey was effective against more than eighty types of bacteria including MRSA.

Commercial honey bought at shops is not suitable as it needs to be sterilised to make it medical grade.

Infections are becoming more difficult to treat as no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s. Many of the old remedies have to be discovered again despite the great advancement in medicine.

There are many a secret that old Egyptians took with them to the tomb. What about the mummies that still baffle the world of medicine? What about the great Pyramids and how they were built? These are mind boggling achievements which we fail to comprehend even today.

Old civilisations died and took some of their secrets with them, which proves that perhaps new discoveries are the unlocking device of the old; nothing is new under the face of the sun.

Julian Barnes: The Would-be Architect of His Own Death

I have always admired Julian Barnes as a writer of immense talent, and when I became a publisher one of my first acts was to issue his first novel in paperback, thanks to Gloria Ferris who was then the editorial director at Quartet.

We used Robin Clark, one of our imprints, to publish the book when the majority of paperback publishers had turned it down. Metroland, the title of the novel, did very well which goes to show that excellence does not always meet with the approval of over cautious publishers, who believe they are masters of their craft.

During the 1980s I must have met Barnes socially on more than one occasion but cannot claim to know him well.

In an article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph I was rather moved to read how he contemplated suicide when his wife of thirty years died of a brain tumour in 2008, aged sixty-eight. Pat Kavanagh was a well-known and highly regarded literary agent, whom Barnes describes as ‘the heart of my life: the life of my heart’.

What a great emotional tribute to pay any woman, let alone one who once left him under a cloud of gossip when she fell in love with Jeanette Winterson, the lesbian author she represented. I got to know Jeanette when I interviewed her for my first book, Women. Then, she was a bright young thing and most engaging to say the least. I’m not therefore surprised that her magnetism – which rarely failed to attract talented women of the high flying calibre which Pat was – had worked its magic.

Given the marital turbulence that the affair must have caused him, we surely cannot fail but applaud Barnes’s courage and his loyalty to the woman for whom his love has never faded. On the contrary, it seems she became more precious to him as he has come to understand the frailty of sexual passion which can consume an individual to the point of destruction. He has learnt to forgive and forget this brief interlude where the sexual impulse took over and build again on roots so deep that time cannot wreck.

Barnes describes the suffering of losing his wife and also notes ‘grief sorts out and realigns those around the grief struck; how friends are tested; how some pass, some fail’. He adds: ‘You might expect those closest to you in age and sex and marital status to understand best. What a naivety. I remember a “dinner table” conversation in a restaurant with three married friends of roughly my age. Each had known her for many years – perhaps eighty or ninety in total – and each would have said, if asked, that they loved her. I mentioned her name: no one picked it up. I did it again and again nothing. Perhaps the third time I was deliberately trying to provoke, being pissed off at what struck me not as good manners but as cowardice. Afraid to touch her name, they denied her thrice and I thought the worse of them for it.’

It’s all biblical stuff but I like him for it. I shall certainly get a copy of his new book, Levels of Life, which is in three parts, the largest being the memoir of his grief.

My Weekend Review

Boris Johnson as Tory leader – what fun!

Can you conceivably imagine our Boris as prime minister, cycling from 10 Downing Street to the House of Commons, escorted by police outriders in order to secure his safety?

The cavalcade, a sight for sore eyes, will certainly compete with the ritual of the changing of the guards outside Buckingham Palace, and will, in the long-run, attract a multitude of foreign tourists, who will no doubt consider the spectacle a great display of English eccentricity.

Nothing that Boris does or is likely to do in the future is predictable. He’s a man full of bounce, masquerading at times as a likeable buffoon, often with the intent of confounding people as to his intended aim, but always with his eyes totally transfixed to enhance his popularity.

Our bonking mayor will perhaps be the first PM who would have enjoyed his dallying with women without ever feeling the remorse of having been caught out.

Even some of the feminists, who would in normal circumstances have felt appalled at his kind of hedonistic inclinations, seem to find him rather cutely loveable, and would secretly, I guess, bear-hug him if given the chance.

He has certainly declared that he would not say no to being prime minister, if he were asked to rescue the country – likening himself to the Roman leader, Cincinnatus, a retired statesman and farmer who was called on to save Rome in 458BC.

The comparison is rather apt. He was offered the dictatorship, which he took for just sixteen days while rescuing the Roman army from invaders, after which he returned to his farm, picked up his plough, and continued from where he left off. Revered for his modesty, Cincinnatus returned briefly to lead Rome during a peasant revolt.

This role model assumed by Boris is rather intriguing. Could he live up to the man whose mantle he would like to inherit, given their totally different backgrounds? Likening himself to the Roman farmer-cum-statesman is perhaps a step too far. But with Boris, the unachievable is not relevant since he has proved time and again that nothing is beyond his reach.

The mayor was cornered by pupils from Norwood school in south London, who were talking part in a BBC news report, for an interview broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme. Asked whether he would like to lead the country, he retorted: ‘Only if I were to be called from my plough to serve. I would not, of course, say no.’

He could not be more categoric in admitting his ambition to become prime minister.

David Cameron should seriously accept the fact that Boris is no easy target to dispose of if the Tories lose the next general election, which on present form seems inevitable. Boris will become unstoppable, and rightly so.

His popularity will eclipse any future Labour leader, and his modus operandi will be hard to resist.

The problem with the present government and its Labour opposition is based on a misguided ideology that political correctness, which is a load of rubbish, and the control of the press – again, a dangerous path to take – are the keys to a true democracy. Instead of going forwards the trend today is to go backwards. It discards the lessons of history, for a new generation of mollycoddled politicians are still in their infancy and are devoid of the wisdom that the street can impart.

The big question now is, can Boris rise to the challenge and give us a glimmer of hope to revive our spirits amid the gloom that’s threatening to engulf us all? Time will only tell.

* * *

Is olive oil the slimmer’s elixir?

Putting olive oil on the dinner table could help you stay slim, because the smell makes us feel full.

This unusual discovery comes after scientists tracked volunteers who ate a 500g yoghurt every day for three months. Some had added olive oil, while others included rapeseed oil, lard or butter.

Those who had olive oil ate fewer calories overall, and none put on weight. Blood tests showed they had higher levels of serotonin, a so-called satiety hormone that makes us feel full.

Scientists at Munich’s Technische Universitaet and the University of Vienna said this was due to an aroma compound not found in other fats and oils. They were able to recreate the results by adding the aroma compounds – but not olive oil itself – to yoghurts.

I must confess I am an olive oil addict. For breakfast, I pour a good measure of the oil on low fat soft cheese, and eat the mixture with two slices of toasted wholemeal bread. At lunch, if I have steamed potatoes I do the same exercise by sprinkling a few drops of the oil to give them an added aroma. And of course a salad taste is totally enhanced by the addition of this magical oil, which I invariably use. In Italian restaurants I dip freshly baked bread in the oil as a matter of habit.

As a young boy I always ate olives in abundance and I must have been weaned on the oil itself – and that is the reason I find myself unable to live without it.

So folks get into the habit of having olive oil with your meal if you want to remain slim, healthy and with an alert and sharp mind. And don’t forget to use the oil to unblock your ears so that you can hear better and avoid the loss of opportunities. You will then feel the joie de vivre for being lubricated throughout your entire body and outlive those who have yet to discover its many benefits.

The Great Green Con

Last weekend, the Mail on Sunday broke ranks with the rest of the media by publishing a four-page spread on ‘the great green con’ that has finally been exposed, to show that global warming is a myth perpetrated by various Western governments for their own unfathomed interests.

The piece, by David Rose, gives conclusive proof that the world is not getting warmer and that scientists are suddenly changing their minds about climate doom – which is costing taxpayers billions of pounds.

It is a scandal of enormous proportions that is likely to rank as one of the most erroneous campaigns ever launched, enabling zealots of the global warming brigade to behave as loose cannons unwilling to question the validity of their beliefs.

In 2009 Quartet published a book by Ian Plimer, a professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide and emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne, entitled Heaven and Earth, in which he offers compelling evidence that our fear of global warming derives from politics and dogma, rather than scientific proof. Climate change politics, he argues, is religious fundamentalism masquerading as science. It panders to the zeitgeist while suppressing information that challenges the popular belief system.

He goes on to say that the hypothesis that humans can change the climate is unsupported by evidence from geology, archaeology, history and astronomy.

CO2 levels have been higher in the Earth’s history without driving climate change, and present atmospheric CO2 is, in fact, at its lowest for five hundred million years. Far from being the cause for alarm, he added, the changes observed today are less than of the past.

We are certainly facing a global threat, argues Professor Plimer, but it is not the threat of global warming; it is the policy responses to perceived climate change and the demonising of those who dissent.

No newspaper at the time was willing to review the book in the hope that it would die a silent death, until the Spectator had the courage to give it great prominence by a staggeringly good review that catapulted the book to sudden unexpected success.

Cover image

Three years on, Quartet has again taken the bold step of publishing another masterly work on the very same subject, by Rupert Darwall, that has so far received great acclaim for its thorough research and brilliant exploration of the facts, understanding the subject more in the context of the history of ideas which offers a mirror to our times.

Rupert Darwall read economics and history at Cambridge, after which he worked at the Conservative Research Department, then in the City as an investment analyst and in corporate finance. His lucidity of perception is astonishingly vibrant and he tackles his subject with a balanced and open mind, which makes his book, The Age of Global Warming, a definite must for its historical analysis of the climate complexities of the world we live in.

All those who had the privilege of reading the book prior to its publication earlier this month have run short of words in describing its excellence. A review in the Mail on Sunday carried with it a compulsive five-star recommendation. It is thanks to Geordie Greig, its editor, who had the vision to take a great risk in challenging the established ideology of global warming and its exponents.

I expect the impetus for future acclaim is just beginning. Get your copy now – before the great rush.

Carla Bruni: A Woman For All Seasons

The more I read about Carla Bruni, the more I like her.

She is a woman of many parts, endowed with good looks, a well-crafted body and an alluring sex appeal. Who could wish for more? Her hidden talents, only her lovers can testify to, but her outward ones are nevertheless beguiling.

Her new album to mark her return to music, which she always said she felt more at home with after four year as France’s First Lady, has kept her firmly in the political arena. The reason being that her lyrics about a discourteous penguin were interpreted as an attack on President Hollande.

Observers point out that ‘Le Pengouin’ was an attempt to settle scores with the president for standing on the steps of the Elysée Palace as Mr Sarkozy walked to the vehicle that drove him from office.

The album Little French Songs, to be released on 1st April, has also a gushing tribute to her husband who she’s described as virile, sweet and unique.

The song at the centre of the controversy says, ‘he has little sovereign airs but, me, I know him, the penguin doesn’t have the manners of the lord of the manor, Penguins are badly brought up’.

A further lyric appears to underline Mr Hollande’s supposed ordinariness. ‘Neither ugly nor beautiful, neither tall nor short, neither cold nor hot, the penguin, neither yes nor no.’

Mr Neither-Yes-Nor-No is one of the nicknames used by some of the centre-right commentators to describe the indecisive left-winger. The song also appears to mock Mr Hollande’s official portrait – a photograph in the garden of the Elysée Palace – ‘Hold on, the penguin, you look all alone in the garden.’

In an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Bruni said it was a denunciation of ‘badly brought up and disagreeable people, who remain a mystery to me. When people speak to me badly I am dumbfounded, since I am both courteous and shy. Courtesy is a grace and I find no excuse for those who don’t have it’.

However, Bruni has confided to friends ‘Le Pengouin’ is about Mr Hollande but refused to admit it publicly.

The song is bound to incense the socialist government, especially coming at a time when the president’s popularity is at its lowest ebb. His girlfriend the Rottweiler will not take this dig at her lover lying down. I expect some fireworks will light the sky when the album is released. What fun!

Mr Sarkozy’s own party is embarrassed by the row, but their spokesman said ‘the rhymes are pretty and the song is well written’.

Carla Bruni is a woman for all seasons. I love her chutzpah and her spontaneity. May her aura remain if only to brighten our spirits when everything around us is so gloomy and dark.

An Easy Way to Look Younger

Modern women have to a larger extent maintained a youthful look through clever make-up.

Researchers have yet again come up with the pleasing theory that the wrong side of twenty can be easily made to look as good as your teens.

They say that bright red lips and dark striking eyebrows – a classic beauty regime favoured by Cara Delevingne – make women look younger. This is because we gauge a person’s age by looking at the contrast between a person’s facial features and surrounding skin tone. The greater the contrast, the younger a woman looks.

The theory goes a long way in explaining why women have used make-up for millennia.

Professor Richard Russell, a psychology professor at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, measured images of the faces of almost three hundred women aged 20-69. He discovered that the ageing process makes the lips, eyes and eyebrows paler, leaving less contrast between the features and surrounding skin tone.

To test his theory of age perception, the researchers artificially altered facial contrast and asked people to guess the age of subjects. According to the conclusions, published by the journal PLOS One, an increase in contrast led people to perceive faces as younger while reducing it made faces appear older.

Dr Russell said: ‘We found that the redness of the lips decreases through ageing but the skin that surrounds the lips actually becomes more red, so the redness contrast between the lips and the rest of the face decreases with age and that certainly is something that can be manipulated through lipstick.’

He added, ‘Teenagers often reverse the process, wearing paler shades of lipstick and plucking their eyebrows to look older.’

Dr Russell and his team worked with Chanel to carry out the study.

It is really incredible what science and research can tell us. The ageing process can be delayed or made to look attractive in a different sense, if we watch our diet, live a healthy life and abstain from excesses.

As for women, clever make-up applied sensibly can definitely enhance their looks and make them appear and feel younger. However, the obsession with youth can be psychologically harmful if it becomes an addiction and is unreasonably pursued. For the vicissitudes of time can never be conquered totally and we have, therefore, at some point in our lives to be ready to succumb to its gentle ravages with an accepted dignity.

What Makes George Osborne so Toxic?

Wednesday’s Budget is make or break for the chancellor.

Like Gordon Brown before him, he has a grim look, a touch of arrogance and a personality problem. He lacks charm, appears distant and inhabits a sphere of his own.

In today’s world, for a politician to succeed he needs to capture the crowd, not only through the strength of his competence, but also through his ability to engage with them and gain their confidence.

So far he has failed miserably on all counts and is now facing his toughest test to date.

The economy is far from stable. His measures have been ineffective and our expectations rather disappointingly glum. He has spent too much time preaching the benefits of gay marriage while Rome was burning. His strategy to reform the fiscal philosophy of the Conservative party has been a disastrous one.

His belief that through taxation you achieve a measure of growth is not only erroneous but laughable. It is only through incentive that you are likely to defeat the recession and get the country working again in a concrete and positive manner. The more you penalise the nation through the burden of heavy taxation, the more you lose the battle to rejuvenate a dormant economy.

Instead of championing the banks he should make them lend more money to struggling firms and make sure they don’t abuse the system by rewarding themselves vast sums of money for failure. By so doing, he is giving the electorate the wrong signal. Why should they bear the brunt of the recession while the people on top sacrifice very little and maintain their exorbitant standard of living?

With his present policies he has technically declared war on the middle classes, who are bleeding, and who will no doubt take their revenge when they turf him out of office the next time round. The country is suffering from chronic depression thanks to his alarming lack of common sense. Perhaps Eton should have taught him more about the lessons of history and less about this reformative nonsense that he seems to be aimlessly trying to put in place.

Britain was such a happy place before he came on the scene. Chaos is everywhere. We are now preoccupied with platitudes more than I can ever recall. Nothing is being done to improve our standard of living. The NHS is in turmoil. Old people are mistreated and left to die. Our prisons are full and we are pursuing people for offences committed decades ago when the possibility of a fair trial is in the hands of the gods.

Let us for heaven’s sake be more realistic and to hell with political correctness, which is at the core of many of our present ills. Trying to gag the press is not the answer; it will come to haunt you.

One could go on forever, talking about issues which have not on the whole made life easier, nor advanced the merits of a true democracy.

I am at a loss for the proper words to describe what’s happening today. The standard of politics is down, the arts are not what they used to be, and our literary pursuits have fallen back to be replaced by porno-trash.

The public have become disillusioned with politicians for their obvious lack of vocation. We need a new Messiah who will save us from their clutches…

In the mean time, we are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.

My Weekend Review

A lot of people who hated Nicolas Sarkozy are now warming up to him.

The diminutive ex-president of France seems to have regained some of his lost popularity after being turfed out of office as the world has become a duller place without him.

His disappearance from politics and the withdrawal of his luscious wife Carla from the social scene – after being the focus of attention in her own right as well as being the First Lady of France – is causing a vacuum that needs to be filled if France is to recover its vanishing glamour with the advent of François Hollande and his rottweiler of a girlfriend.

However, like General De Gaulle before him, he has said, should his country call upon him to serve again, he could stand for president in 2017. The real tragedy is that it might be too late by then to save France from ruination.

The rich are fleeing abroad to escape the lunacy of high taxation and the poor are losing their jobs. The economy is in real shambles and the entire population, apart from those in power, are depressed and in a state of shock. They are asking themselves, how could we have chosen such an imbecile for president? He lacks charisma and his private life is so complicated and bizarre as to cause him great embarrassment and lead to divided loyalties.

His rating in popularity is the lowest of any French leader in thirty years. With the worsening of the economic situation globally, his stock is bound to go much lower than one would have imagined. Can France afford to wait another four years before they see the back of him? That’s the big question looming on everybody’s lips.

The omens are not in the least encouraging. A miracle is needed to get the country going again. Perhaps the return of Sarkozy will do the trick. I am sure he would have learnt from his past mistakes and occasional pomposity to lead France back to the land where reality and common sense replace the unworkable ideology of the Left; they have had their days of glory in the past and are now destined for obliteration. One must remember that incentive is at the core of prosperity. Remove it, and you are a dead duck.

* * *

Women and music should never be dated…

Is it a small wonder that women are outpacing men in brain power or at least they’re their equal despite the fact that their brains are eight per cent smaller than men’s.

Universities are now packed with women and their scholastic performance in general is rated higher than men, who seem to be trailing behind in every field. Women appear to be more competitive, work harder and studiously committed to the task in hand, whereas men tend to lose concentration more easily in pursuit of other activities not closely related to educational achievements.

Scientists have found evidence to confirm what many women feel that their brains are more efficient than men’s. They found that in women the hippocampus, which plays a central role in memory, intelligence and emotion, consumes less energy and uses fewer brain cells on a given task than in men.

The study was prompted by the scientific mystery of why women, whose brains are smaller than men’s, show not the slightest difference in intelligence.

That incertitude has been more puzzling by advances in brain-scanning technology that allow scientists to measure the hippocampus, showing that in men a larger hippocampus, more densely packed with brain cells, is associated with higher cognitive skills. In women, however, the hippocampus is smaller and shows no clear relationship between size and performance.

In the study, in the peer-reviewed Journal Intelligence, neuro-scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, and universities in Madrid, subjected fifty-nine women and forty-five men, aged eighteen to twenty-seven, to a range of psychological tests.

They showed that women outperformed men in inductive reasoning, were better at keeping track of a changing situation and at some numerical skills, while men did better on spatial intelligence.

Their findings imply, say the researchers, that women’s brains are more efficient, needing fewer neurons and less energy to complete a task.

‘There is a positive association with hippocampus shape and cognitive performance in males, whereas for females this association is negative,’ says the paper. ‘The efficiency hypothesis states that people showing better cognitive performance do so along with lower brain activation than people with worse cognitive scores.’

One idea is that in the female brain neurons have more and better connections.

‘At this structural level, females might show greater efficiency requiring less neural material for achieving behavioural results on a par with males,’ the paper added.

What does all this tell us? It is clear from the research that size does not matter in this specific area, that small is beautiful and in most cases more efficient. It also indirectly reminds us that the evolution of women was long overdue and that their contribution to society is now in full gear – and, like music, should never be dated.