Monthly Archives: July 2019

THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS MUST BE SACROSANCT

This present government has yet again caused mayhem by encouraging Scotland Yard to take action against newspapers that had the courage to publish the contents of a secret memo to the government from our ambassador in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, and which caused him eventually to resign.

The Daily Mail, who caused this sensational rumpus by first publishing the confidential memo, has yet again – despite Scotland Yard’s rather bullish threat – published another sensational headline to the effect that Donald Trump abandoned the Iran Nuclear deal as an act of ‘diplomatic vandalism’ to spite his predecessor Barack Obama.

Sir Kim’s bombshell memo to Downing Street – made after Boris Johnson had made a doomed trip to the White House to change the president’s mind – was revealed in leaked cables and briefing notes. The leaks had clearly led to the resignation of the ambassador last week after Boris Johnson had ducked chastising the US president, or as Sir Alan Duncan, a long time Foreign Office minister, suggested Johnson ‘had thrown the ambassador under the bus.’

The latest revelation comes after an extraordinary row over the freedom of the press which blew up over the weekend with Mr Johnson and his rival, Jeremy Hunt, leading the condemnation of Scotland Yard over its threat to prosecute the Daily Mail.

Responding to assistant police commissioner Neil Basu’s incendiary claim that publishing the contents of the documents could be ‘a criminal matter’, Mr Johnson declared: ‘Prosecution would amount to an infringement on press freedom and have a chilling effect on public debate.’ Mr Hunt said that ‘he would defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they received them and judged them to be in the public interest.’

What another mess, organised by Theresa May before her tenure at Downing Street comes to an end. It goes to show that this non-existent government has become a joking matter. The sooner a new administration takes over, the less embarrassment is heaped upon a state of affairs the likes of which we have never seen before. In the meantime, this Scotland Yard masquerade must be withdrawn without further delay.

Contrariness against the experts for a change

Since the death of my wife three years ago after having been blissfully married for over 60 years, I developed a chronic insomnia which began to devastate my health and render me a nervous wreck.

In desperation I now wear a sleep tracker which funnily enough has gradually helped me grab a few hours of much needed sleep although I still have some nights where for no apparent reason I manage as little sleep as 2 hours.

As a result, I was intrigued to read recently that sleep trackers could cause insomnia because users lose sleep worrying about how much they are getting.

That fortunately has not been my experience so far. Fretting over my sleep patterns and monitoring them through an app has not made it harder for me to get the right amount as experts contend.

They maintain that our obsession with getting the perfect amount of sleep – Orthosomnia – can cause stress and anxiety producing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisones which keep people awake.

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Dr Guy Leschzinar, a sleep expert at the Sleep Disorder Centre at Guy’s Hospital in London, says trackers rely on data which doesn’t truly represent sleep.

The consultant neurologist, speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, said ‘we’ve seen a lot of people who have developed significant insomnia as a result of either sleep trackers or reading certain things about how devastating sleep deprivation is for you.

‘If you wake up feeling tired and you’ve had an unrefreshing night’s sleep, then you know you’ve got a problem. If you wake up every day and feel refreshed, are awake throughout the day and ready to sleep at the same time every night, then you’ve probably getting enough sleep for you and you don’t need an app to tell you that.’

In my case if I wake up having had a bad night, then I feel exhausted throughout the day and feel bereft of energy and become inclined not to sleep properly the night after.

What my tracker has done for me is, for some unknown reason, made me go to sleep and look forward to waking up the next morning to discover whether I improved my sleeping pattern. This is probably the reason that sends me to sleep in the first instance, like a gambler who dreams of winning the jackpot, even though the likelihood of not attaining his aim is far greater than his compulsion to not give up and not desert his dream.

Similarly, perhaps the tracker might have become a toy that has given me hope and comradeship, with whom I can play a game, that keeps me in good nick rather than miserably anxious.

Saving a unique beauty…

The banning of ivory, if it truly prevents the killing of elephants, is to be commended but it appears it has its drawbacks.

For it now transpires that it is currently killing hippos, conservationists have said, as poachers and hunters take advantage of a loophole in the new law.

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The Ivory Act, which will come into force later this year, was championed by Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, but conservationists argue that it puts hippos at grave risk as the import of their tusks will still be legal.

Hippo ivory, which resembles that of an elephant, is being increasingly traded globally, with 12,847 hippo teeth and tusks, weighing 3,326kg, bought and sold in 2018. Trade increased from 273 items in 2007 to 6,113 in 2011.

Records show that in 2007 just 4 hippo tusks and skulls made it back to the UK. By 2017 that number has jumped to 18. This does not include the many items that incorporate hippo tusks, such as ornaments, furniture and musical instruments which do not have to be registered with authorities as they are legally traded.

However, hippos are even more endangered than the elephant, while there are 400,000 elephants left in the wild but just 130,000 hippos.

Auctioneers have seen an increased amount of interest in hippo ivory because of the legislation, as restorers worry about its effect on business.

James Lewis, a top auctioneer who has appeared on the BBC show Flog It!, said ‘there is an increased interest in hippo ivory. That interest isn’t coming from carvers or people trying to make new pieces, but from restorers who are concerned about the legislation on the ivory contents of antiques.’

Campaigners have called on the government to close the loopholes to ensure the ban applies to all ivory bearing animals. They have also warned that it is nearly impossible to tell whether a tusk is from a hippopotamus that was slaughtered recently or many years ago, or whether it was poached or legally killed.

Will Travers, president of the Born Free foundation, said ‘authorities were shifting pressure onto hippos by only banning ivory from elephants.’ He said ‘I sometimes can’t tell the difference between different types of ivory, and I’ve been in this for 35 years. It also gives illegal smugglers a cover. Go to Gatwick and ask them to tell the difference between a piece of elephant tusk and a piece of hippo tusk. They won’t be able to. Hippos are already being negatively impacted. We have to have a blanket ban on ivory.’

MPs and celebrities have asked Mr Gove to consider banning ivory at the same time as elephants.

British hunters are also taking advantage of the fact they can legally bring back hippo carcasses as trophies.

Eduardo Goncalves, of the campaign to ban trophy hunting, said ‘despite being classed as vulnerable hippos are the 2nd most popular target animals among British trophy hunters.

‘Over 350 trophies from hippos have been brought back into the UK over the past decade.’

Elephants or hippos have been the target of collectors throughout the world as far as one can remember, but the illegal killing of these animals must be stopped as their extinctions will rob the world of these magnificent animals – a disaster which must never be allowed to happen.

Ivory to me is the best that nature can provide, so we must protect it come what may.

 

A COMEDY OF ERRORS

Whenever I turn on the television to watch what’s happening in Parliament I find myself in a total quandary as to what’s happening there. To start with, this present Tory government is beyond description when I consider the quality of their politicians’ actions and opinions.

Turning my mind back to a few generations ago, when both Labour and Conservative parties boasted men of distinction, as well as a total dedication to their profession, they became the envy of the democratic world. Now they seem replaced by second-rate moguls whose main concern is to seek power at all cost, disregarding all else. Standards have gone haywire and mediocrity has engulfed any call of duty or the vocation once expected of their profession. They promise to make ‘Britain great again’ and give the public the comfort the public seek, notwithstanding the falsity of the economic flimflam which most politicians bounce around, knowing pretty well that the solutions cited are unobtainable.

Boris Johnson might have the charm and charisma to win the present contest and become the Tory leader (and hence the prime minister of a divided nation) by claiming to be its next savior from the rot of its last administration under Theresa May, but the omens for his success are highly debatable given the fact that his present policies, unless reversed, are highly unlikely to get him where he wants to go. And as for Jeremy Hunt, although appearing to be more stable, he is less popular within his own party and although well-meaning, lacks the public appeal of the more boisterous Johnson whose jingoism remains a constant danger.

Johnson’s performance last night in the final TV debate was as a clown, but the biggest faux pas he made was refusing to defend our US Ambassador against Trump’s latest rantings about him and stand by the British government for backing Sir Kim Darroch. Johnson’s contention is that he has ‘a special relationship’. This is clearly a myth. Americans always only back those who are strong, not those who crawl up to them. It’s time we leant from history – this special relationship is simply nonsense.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, his leadership of the Labour party has proved a disaster due to his inconsistency and an inability to make his mind up. That vote of confidence in Theresa May’s Government was especially crass, giving Theresa May the opportunity to negate his threat: she bamboozled him for weeks to seek a common approach to the EU and avoid a no Brexit withdrawal. Doing so, she got a much needed breathing space to stay in power whilst maneuvering her own doomed priorities.

I dread to think what’s in store for the nation in the coming few months. No one can predict the outcome and so, in the circumstances, instability reigns with appalling chaos whispering in the wind.

‘STOP ALL THE CLOCKS, CUT OFF THE TELEPHONE…’

It seems that women are more prone to get breast cancer if they have a disordered body clock. However, being a ‘morning person’ is likely to cut the risk of breast cancer, research suggests. A major study of the genes of 400,000 women found a significant difference in the chances of developing breast cancer between morning people and those who prefer evenings.

The researchers, led by the University of Bristol, believe women who prefer to stay up at night are more prone to have what they call a disturbed body clock. They are also exposed to a greater level of artificial light at night, which has been shown to increase breast cancer risk because it affects women’s hormones. The scientists, writing in the British Medical Journal, stressed the risk was small but significant. For every hundred women who prefer mornings, one fewer would get breast cancer than every hundred who prefer evenings, they found. This pales in comparison with other factors that increase breast cancer, such as drinking and obesity, but with 54,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK every year – and 11,000 deaths – avoiding even a small increase in the risk could make a major difference.

Nearly all living things have an internal mechanism – known as the Circadian Rhythm, or body clock – which synchronizes bodily functions to the 24-hour pattern of the earth’s rotation. It is regulated by the bodily senses, most importantly the way the eye perceives light and dark and the way skin feels temperature changes. The mechanism rules our daily rhythms, including our sleep, waking patterns and metabolism. When it falls out of sync, it can have a knock-on impact on our more general health. The researchers wrote: ‘These findings have potential implications for influencing sleep habits of the general population to improve health.’

As someone who is in a constant struggle to have a full night’s sleep, I found this profound study to be certainly linked to those of us, whether male or female, with a disturbed body clock. My own problem is one of winding down after a turbulent day in the office.

Perhaps the time will come where I will learn that a stress of this kind can be overcome through a regular determination to put health ahead of everything else. I shall try at least… and hopefully get rid of the agony of not sleeping.

 

 

 

 

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Waugh on Wine

The following review by David Platzer appeared last week in the Catholic Herald, under the heading:

Auberon Waugh’s provocative wine reviews just get better with age

I am delighted to reproduce it for the many admires of our beloved Bron.

Waugh on Wine
By Auberon Waugh
Quartet, 180pp, £10/$13

Though Auberon Waugh (Bron to his friends) sometimes remarked that journalism was to be read and thrown away, his own endures 18 years after his death, aged 61, in 2001. The proof of this has been shown this year in two books, both published by Quartet. The first was A Scribbler in Soho, edited and narrated by Quartet’s chairman Naim Attallah. Now there is this gem, a reprint, including William Rushton’s original illustrations, of a 1986 book featuring columns Waugh wrote for the Tatler, the Spectator (whose wine club he directed) and Harper’s and Queen.

The original book was not the first time that Waugh had belied his stricture on the ephemeral quality of journalism, for by 1986 he had already published books of his Private Eye diaries, and columns originally appearing in the Spectator, the Evening Standard and even the New Statesman.

Waugh reveals in his introduction that it was Tina Brown, his former protégé who was then spicing up the staid Tatler before her departure to New York, who encouraged him to write about wine. As the Tatler’s wine correspondent, he disguised himself as Crispin de la Crispian, a Pimpernel-like pen name he dropped in future wine columns in Harper’s & Queen and the Spectator.

Waugh was the most consistently entertaining writer of his generation. He could make his articles enjoyable even to those less than fascinated by the subject. Reading him again on wine, I was reminded of the knowing tone that made Ian Fleming’s writing so compelling. Waugh shared Fleming’s knack for conveying perceptions as certainties and making readers feel that they were in the know.

Reading Waugh gives one that agreeable feeling, not only that one wine is better than another but that one knows why. We get a sense of why we were better off avoiding the then popular favourites, such as Mateus Rosé and “semi-sweet table wines imported from Germany” favoured by “over 70 per cent of wine-drinkers in Britain”, such as Sichel’s Blue Nun Liebfraumilch and Langenbach’s Crown of Crowns.

 

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Just as Fleming could be confidently authoritative with regard to countries and regions in a way unknown in our timid times, so too could Waugh when expressing judgments on the local wines.

The reason why “most of the enormous quantity of wine produced in Spain is pretty poor stuff and some of it is horrible” was because “the country is too hot … the natives … too careless in their wine-making”. Italian wines were better but not treated with enough care.

California’s inhabitants, “for all their psychobabble and personal hygiene are producing very good red wines indeed”. If Californian wines failed to reach “the grandeur or rudeness” of their French cousins, it was “probably because of filthy French habits – not washing their hands before wine-making, working with a dirty, yellow cigarette hanging out of their mouths, breathing garlic over the wine-press, etc. Even the best Californian wine has only one taste – delicious but homogenised, clean but … unexciting … I am afraid it may be the result of too much hygiene.”

All this is good-natured fun with nothing xenophobic about it, any more than when Waugh used the example of a cousin, much richer than Waugh himself, with “acreage of fat fields in Somerset and Devon”, to denounce “the English upper-class habit of serving cheap wine at meals”; in this case “the cheapest jug reds from Spain which he buys in ten-gallon plastic containers”.

Waugh was wrongly accused of being a snob by those who failed to grasp his teases. His priority in praising a wine invariably depended on its cost, just as he would tick off a book if it was too expensive. A self-proclaimed “Burgundian” who also adored a good claret, he often found the price of French wines too high. Again and again he looked for quality at a reasonable price in the reach of even the most modest budget. As Naim Attallah observes in his foreword to this new edition of this book: “Part of the questioning about any bottle that took his fancy was whether it was worth the price … he did not want anyone diddled.”

Waugh wrote that his “life’s ambition”, once his youngest child left university, was to fill the nine wine cellars in his house (once owned by his father, Evelyn) retire from journalism and settle down to “an early retirement at about 51 … in a benign alcoholic haze and write drivelling novels which few people will want to read”. As a fan of the underrated novels he wrote in his youth, I wish he had achieved this ambition.

He ended this delightful collection with an essay on “Evelyn Waugh’s Wine” in which he describes his too often misunderstood father as “a gentle, humorous man – sometimes sad, sometimes gloomy – and nowhere near as bad-tempered as he appeared to the Press.” His explanation for his father’s abandonment of claret, which Evelyn had once loved, is a must for devotees of “Waviana”.

One can only pray that Quartet will give us more treats from the great, much-missed Bron.

More studies should be carried out

The use of chemicals in some products can be a health risk to humans and must be strictly controlled.

For instance, women exposed to a chemical used in some toothpaste, soaps and antibacterial products are at higher risk of osteoporosis, a study suggests.

Researchers found that women with a higher level of Triclosan, which has been previously linked to bowel cancer and antibiotic resistance, were more likely to have the bone disease.

Triclosan is added to some antibacterial soaps and body washes, some toothpastes and some cosmetics. It can also be found in clothing, kitchenware, furniture and toys.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has banned Triclosan from antiseptic and antibacterial hand rubs and handwashes, but no ban exists in Britain.

Unilever is one manufacturer that has phased out Triclosan from its entire range of products in response to consumer demand. It is confident, however, that the chemical is safe.

The new study analysed data from 1,848 women. These with higher levels of Triclosan in their urine were found to be more likely to have bone issues.

Yingjun Li from Hangzhou Medical College School of Public Health in Hangzhou, China said, ‘Laboratory studies have demonstrated that Triclosan may have potential to adversely affect the bone mineral density in animals.

‘However, little is known about the relationship between Triclosan and human bone health.

‘As far as we know this is the first epidemiological study to investigate the association between Triclosan exposure with bone mineral density of osteoporosis in a nationally representative sample from US adult women.

‘The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.’

It is in my view worth banning any chemicals where the possibility of a health hazard is still in the balance until such time as more studies are carried out.

 

If only to save my share of the burden to NHS…

Exercise has proved to protect the heart years later, beginning with counting steps.

As a result, the NHS could save considerable amounts of money as well as lives by handing out pedometers, researchers have claimed.

Patients who were asked to count their steps for 12 months still had the exercise bug four years later. They were among 1,300 people given pedometers and split into two groups for a 12-month British study.

For the first group, the nurse suggested simple measures to increase exercise such as getting off the bus a stop early.

The second control group had the pedometers but were not coached by a nurse.

Both groups were initially doing around 7,500 steps a day, but by the end of the trial those encouraged to do extra steps had added a leverage of 600 more a day. This represented 90 additional minutes of moderate exercise a week.

The habit stuck and those initially encouraged to exercise more were still outstripping those in the control group four years later.

The researchers said just five extra minutes of walking a day would prevent large numbers of heart attacks, strokes and fractures. For every thousand people, there would be 15 fewer heart attacks and strokes and 35 fewer fractures over the study period they said.

Professor Tess Harris had the research at St Georges University Hospital in Tooting, South London. She said ‘an extra half an hour walking a week is not much to ask, but it can really reduce your risk of a heart attack, fracture or strokes. It works out at just five minutes a day.

‘With each stage of these trials we have seen that simple short-term pedometer-based walking interventions can produce an increase in step counts – and now we can see corresponding long-term health effects. This type of intervention can have a long-lasting effect and should be used more widely to help address the public health physical inactivity challenge.’

She said that preventing large numbers of heart attacks, strokes and fractures could also save the NHS a large amount of money. The research was published in PLOS Medicine.

All this is very helpful to me although I personally am much too lazy to practice a much-needed exercise.

I will now certainly try to walk more and banish the laziness that prompts this lack of physical activity if only to save my share of the burden to NHS.

 

Look out for a good sperm


For young ladies desperate to have a baby and, despite having tried to get pregnant with a number of healthy young men and have so far not succeeded.

Perhaps they should now examine their forthcoming target of young men and discover what they eat. It seems that a western diet of pizza, chips and burgers may end up with drastically lower sperm counts.

A study of almost 3,000 men aged 18-20 found those with a diet packed with processed meat, pizza, sugary drinks and snacks have worse quality sperm than those who eat healthily and suggests some of the damage may be permanent.

Most previous research on diet and fertility has focused on older couples trying to get pregnant, rather than the effects on the sperm of healthy young men. This study found vegetarians have higher sperm counts, as do those whose diets include fish and whole grains, making them more fertile.

Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology – the study of diseases and conditions specific to men – at the University of Sheffield says, ‘This just shows the power of diet to the way that testicles function.

‘It’s almost certain that this is down to an effect that those with the better diet are taking more antioxidants.

‘With pizza, chips and red meat we know that the antioxidant stress goes up and that is bad for sperm.’

Men’s diets have worsened over the past few decades, coinciding with the fall in the average sperm count of almost 60 percent. When couples struggle to have a baby, in a third of cases it is because of sperm problems that some men can reverse by improving their lifestyle.

The findings presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna, come from 2,935 men who took a medical exam to determine their fitness for military service. While a normal sperm count contains about 39 million sperm – according to the world health organisation – researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the US found that men with the highly Western diet produce 25.6 million fewer sperm than the healthiest eaters.

The findings also suggest that an unhealthy diet could harm or reduce the amount of cells which produce sperm, which may cause permanent damage as they are not believed to regenerate.

Dr Jorge Chavarro who led the Harvard study said, ‘This is the largest study to have found this in young men.

‘You would be surprised to see how sensitive they are to things that might affect sperm count, because it is a perceived measure of masculinity.’

My advice is simply, for those baby seekers, make sure that your next mate eats healthily before you embark on a fruitful relationship.

 

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Elephants are no dumbos since they count with their trunks through smelling, researchers have found. Their sense of smell is so good that in tests they detected which of two buckets contained more sunflower seeds. This is the first time an animal has been shown to use smell in this way. Others have only done so using sight.

The researchers wrote, in the journal PNAS, that elephants can detect differences between various quantities of food using only smell. Thus, elephants may be unique in their use of olfaction in cognitive tasks. The buckets containing the seeds were opaque and had a perforated lid to let the odour out. The elephants were able to use their trunks to choose the greater quantity of seeds regardless of varying amounts, but were more accurate when the differences between each quantity increased. The best performers had an 80% success rate.

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The scientists who conducted the tests in Thailand suggest that males are better at the task as they need more food. It goes to proof that appearances often deceive especially that elephants are usually not noted for their intelligence. Now we know something that others perhaps don’t…