Unflinching action, not embarrassment, should be reaction to terror threat. The National, June 16
In the wake of the hubristic shambles that was UK prime minister Theresa May’s wholly unnecessary and disastrous attempt to win a broader mandate for her government’s impending Brexit negotiations with the European Union, one could almost be forgiven for forgetting that her nation is engaged in a war that is being fought on its streets and which, since 2005, has claimed the lives of 92 civilians.
In time – in a week, perhaps, or a few months – the current political chaos wracking the UK will pass. Some form of government, "strong and stable" or otherwise, will ultimately emerge. But then, of course, all focus will be upon Brexit.
What a tragic distraction from the very real, and very necessary, call to arms against the threat of terrorism, to which the UK has signally failed to respond in any meaningful way despite the raft of anti-terror legislation that has been launched since the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001 and the 2005 bombings in London.
As the UK parliament’s Home Affairs Committee concluded in 2001, "this country has more anti-terrorist legislation on its statute books than almost any other developed democracy". Today, there’s even more. But none of it, as recent events would appear to testify, has been the slightest bit of use.
It’s been largely forgotten in the wake of May’s spectacular humiliation at the ballot box, but on June 4, the day after the London Bridge attack and just four days before the general election, the prime minister stood outside No 10 Downing Street and made the most extraordinary statement, utterly devoid of self-awareness.
There had been "far too much tolerance of extremism" in the UK, said the woman who, as home secretary, had spent the six years from 2010 to 2016 responsible for policing and national security.
"Enough is enough," she added, as though the 7/7 London bombings that killed 56 people in 2005, the decapitation of soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 and the murders of 27 in the attacks in Westminster in March and in Manchester last month were, in some unfathomable way, not already "enough".
May, apparently insensitive to the fact that most of these killings had been carried out by Islamist terrorists on her watch, spoke unconvincingly of vague measures that might be introduced. "We need," she said, "to become far more robust" in identifying extremism "and stamping it out". That, she added (in a statement that could have been uttered only by an English politician) "will require some difficult, and often embarrassing, conversations".
Embarrassment? Heaven forbid ...
Modern times: London's Muslim mayor confronts threat of Muslim terror. The National, June 8
Even as London’s Muslim mayor of Pakistani heritage led a multi-faith vigil on Monday in memory of the victims of the capital’s latest terrorist outrage, it emerged that one of the three attackers who killed seven and injured 48 on Saturday night in the name of Islamic extremism, was also a Londoner of Pakistani origin.
Perhaps somewhere in the gaping chasm that separated the beliefs and life choices of 46-year-old mayor Sadiq Khan and 27-year-old murderer Khuram Butt may be found some of the answers for which those seeking to tackle the radicalisation of disenfranchised Muslims in the west are now so anxiously searching.
Either way, it was a moment that underlined the complexities of the security situation now facing many western societies ...
Why was UK's terror threat level lowered so quickly after Manchester bombing? The National, June 4
Why did British security authorities choose to lower the UK terrorist threat level from critical five days after the Manchester bombing on May 27?
It is one question that will be uppermost in the minds of many as details of the latest terrorist attack on British soil unfold.
The decision, taken as members of the cell believed to have supported bomber Salman Abedi were still being identified and detained, appeared premature at the time.
Arrests were still being made as recently as Saturday, when a 24-year-old Manchester man became the 17th person to be detained on suspicion of committing terrorist offences in connection with the attack.
But after the rampage in the London Bridge area of the capital on Saturday night, the decision to dial down the threat level so soon appeared irresponsible ...
Wonder Woman: role model or outdated sexist parody of womanhood? The National, June 1
It really ought to have been a red-letter day for Princess Diana of Themyscira, also known as Wonder Woman, when the 75-year-old comic-book pioneer was unveiled on October 21 last year as the United Nations’ honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.
Until then, the superhero whose exploits have been in print every year bar one since 1941 had been enjoying a sparkling diamond anniversary. She had made her big-screen debut with a brief appearance in the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and just two weeks earlier, the United States Postal Service had issued a set of stamps commemorating the iconic DC Comics superhero.
But then, in the presence of her human alter-egos, the actors Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot, protesters rose in the UN chamber and literally turned their backs on the proceedings in silent protest.
In a petition, UN staff expressed amazement that the organisation "was unable to find a real-life woman [who] would be able to champion the rights of all women on the issue of gender equality and … empowerment". It was "alarming and … disappointing" that the UN had picked a fictional character "with an overtly sexualised image … a white woman of impossible proportions [and] the epitome of a ‘pin-up’ girl".
Two months later, Wonder Woman was quietly dropped from the UN’s campaign. The furore did no harm to her career, though – indeed, this weekend’s release of the film Wonder Woman sees her headlining for the first time in a blockbuster set to make global box-office history. Well, not quite global, perhaps. This week, the film was banned in Lebanon – a country still technically at war with Israel – because its star, Gadot, is Israeli.
But that local difficulty aside, the furore at the UN highlighted Wonder Woman’s broader cultural flaw, by encapsulating the contradictions of a character hailed by some as a feminist icon, and by others as a disconcertingly sexist parody of womanhood ...
It sounds far fetched. But icebergs could be a cool solution to water shortage. The National, May 26
There were four of us, rowing in pairs, attempting to break the record for crossing the Atlantic from west-to-east. A few days earlier, we had stood on Signal Hill above St John’s and watched an iceberg sail past the mouth of the harbour.
Viewed from the safety of that vantage point, the monstrous offspring of some distant Arctic glacier appeared awesome. Now with its kin, unseen in the fog but its chilling presence betrayed by a sudden drop in temperature, the adjective that sprang more readily to mind was sinister.
My rowing partner and I shipped our oars and strained our ears. From nearby came the inexplicable sound of water lapping against a shoreline – inexplicable because we were miles from land. The "shore", we realised, was that of an invisible iceberg.
Unlike the Titanic, we would survive our encounter with an iceberg – our own sinking would take place a month later, at the hands of a storm some 250km south-west of Ireland.
The fury of that storm was something to behold, but over the years the memory of it has dulled. What has remained undiminished, however, is the sense of awe engendered by that unseen iceberg, the possessor of a kind of terrible kinetic energy and the very embodiment of that wild twilight zone in which human enterprise, for all our ingenuity, falls short.
It was that sense of helplessness in the face of one of nature’s most extraordinary manifestations that came to me when I read recently of a plan to harvest Antarctic icebergs and tow them north to the Gulf as a source of fresh water.
The "bizarre" plan, as it was described in the UK media, had been mooted by the National Advisor Bureau, a business start-up consultancy based in Abu Dhabi. In fact, towing icebergs from Antarctica to Fujairah was just one of several "what if" ideas for solving the UAE’s water problems first outlined in Filling the Empty Quarter, a book published in September 2015 by Abdulla Alshehi, the electronics engineer who founded the bureau.
Curiously, the late-breaking "news" coincided with the review of the final draft of the national water security strategy by the UAE’s Ministry of Energy, which felt the need to issue a statement that, "as the authority in charge of water affairs, it would like to confirm that such news is just a rumour".
So that’s that, then. But should it be? ...
Manchester bombings show odds are stacked against UK's security services. The National, May 23
After British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and members of her cabinet narrowly escaped death at the hands of an IRA bomb in Brighton in October 1984, the IRA issued a chilling statement, the grim truth of which will be echoing loudly today through the ranks of the British security services.
"Today we were unlucky," said the Northern Ireland terror group. "But remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always."
Last night in Manchester, the luck of Britain’s vaunted and vigilant security services finally ran out.
Today, two decades on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement which saw a negotiated end to the Troubles and the IRA, Britain, along with the rest of the world, is facing a different form of terrorism, with which no negotiation is possible.
As the landscape of terror has shifted, so MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, has adapted and changed almost beyond recognition, pursuing an aggressive recruitment policy that has seen its ranks swollen by bright young school leavers and graduates from minority communities.
Current job vacancies tell the story. MI5 is currently looking for Arabic-speaking foreign language analysts "whose roles go well beyond translation and transcription … to provide intelligence insights to deliver clear analysis which will assist your colleagues in driving forward investigations".
Anyone aged 18 or over, born in Britain and with at least one parent with "substantial ties to the UK", can apply for the job which, with a starting salary of £28,335 (Dh135,000), is highly competitive for graduates and non-graduates alike.
There are other vacancies, for speakers of Persian, Sylheti — a dialect of Bengali language spoken in parts of south Asia including Bangladesh — and Sorani, a Kurdish language. Other vital hires are mobile surveillance officers whose job, to follow suspects and leads on foot and by car, requires that they "blend … into your surroundings [to] gather information and intelligence that will feed directly into the operation you are working on".
MI5 saw a massive recruitment drive after the last bomb attack on the British mainland — the attacks in London on July 7, 2005, that saw 52 people killed in a series of blasts on three underground trains and a bus. Recruitment began in earnest in January 2006, when MI5’s budget was boosted and hundreds of new officers were taken on in counter-terrorism roles.
At the same time, major police forces began working to increase the proportion of staff with ethnic backgrounds.
Ironically, in 2005 it was revealed that MI5 was scrambling to open offices in northern towns and cities with large ethnic populations, including Manchester. "The front line", commented Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of MI5 at the time, was no longer "just in the Middle East or South East Asia".
Like France’s General Directorate for Internal Security, battle-hardened by decades of domestic terrorism, Britain’s MI5 has become highly efficient at traditional counter-terrorism, picking up key words and indicative patterns in "chatter", either on mobile phone networks, email or the internet.
This is a vital skill in the modern world, and one traded widely between nations with common enemies.
It is also a prized asset, as highlighted in March this year when MI6, Britain’s external security service, made an unprecedented public statement dismissing as "untrue … and absurd" claims that its monitoring abilities had been used to spy on Donald Trump.
Such techniques, however, offer little protection against "lone wolf" attacks by crazed or sociopathic individuals. All that can be done is to harden potential targets — although, in a tourist-packed city like London, where does one start? A strong, visible security presence, such as seen on the streets of France, may act as a deterrence or, as in the case of attacks on soldiers guarding the Louvre in Paris, as a provocation for further attacks.
Britain has had its share of lone wolf attacks, often by deranged individuals inspired but not directed by ISIL (which is, nevertheless, always quick to claim the attacker as one of its "soldiers").
Khalid Masood, who on March 17 ran over and killed five pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing to death a police officer outside the British parliament, had no links to terror groups but had sent a WhatsApp message saying he was avenging western military action in the Middle East.
Since 7/7, British security services have staved off a series of potential terrorist outrages, witnessed an average of one terror-related arrest every day for the past year and a steady parade of individuals through the courts.
Just last month, armed police raided a home in north London, arresting six people and shooting a seventh to foil an "active plot", following a surveillance operation.
One of the most shocking incidente since 7/7 was the hacking to death of Fusilier Lee Rigby by extremists in a London street exactly four years to the day before the Manchester concert attack. But this, though it involved two attackers, was essentially an unsponsored lone wolf attack. When it comes to organised, planned conspiracies, the system works.
All this has shown that the system works. Until now, since 7/7 Britain has been spared the type of attack that left 130 dead in Paris on November 13, 2015.
There are, of course, parallels in the Manchester attack with that dreadful night, during which young people were targeted by a bomb during a concert at the Bataclan hall.
But Britain has been spared the form of terrorism that ensued in Paris — perhaps because of the difficulty of smuggling weapons into the island of Britain, perhaps because of the professionalism of the security services, the UK has so far seen no marauding attacks by gunmen armed with automatic weapons.
Last night, however, Britain experienced what many in the security forces believed was inevitable — a large attack which, by its very nature, almost certainly involved a conspiracy by a number of players ...
How a simple sorry when things go wrong could save NHS a fortune. Daily Mail, May 16
When his 20-month-old son Tahmeed died in the Royal London Hospital after a series of catastrophic errors, the last thing his devastated father wanted from the NHS was money.
‘I had buried Tahmeed and I would have given anything to have him back,’ says Taufiqul Karim Suhrid, a cab dispatcher.
But he was shocked when, instead of explaining what had happened and apologising, Barts Health NHS Trust flatly denied the toddler’s death was a result of substandard treatment.
Like thousands of other victims of negligence fobbed off by an NHS frequently unwilling to admit it has made life-changing errors, Taufiqul had no choice but to instruct lawyers to force the trust to hand over his child’s records.
‘I would not have taken legal action, but it was the only way I could find out the truth,’ says Taufiqul, who lives with wife Nargis and their two other children, son Tamjeed, 13, and daughter Tazmeen, two, in Ilford, East London.
The scenario is all too common, says the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers. And as a result, tens of millions of pounds are being wasted by the NHS on legal fees because, say the lawyers, trusts refuse to put up their hands and admit to clinical mistakes and say sorry.
‘There are two ways to reduce the legal bill to the NHS,’ says Steve Webber, chair of the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers. ‘The first is to improve safety. But the second is to say: “Sorry” when appropriate.’ ...
Global cyber attack is warning that the rush to a smart world is dumb. The National, May 14
In January I carried out an investigation for a British newspaper that exposed the extent to which "smart" healthcare systems were becoming vulnerable to hackers.
The report, published in the Daily Mail, revealed that in the previous year alone, at least 28 hospital trusts in the United Kingdom had been hit by so-called "ransomware", a form of computer virus that first encrypts every file on a server, and then demands payment, usually via bitcoin, to free them. Most often it finds its way on to servers when computer users in an organisation carelessly click on a link in an email.
But even more disturbing to read was the growing evidence that many of the smart medical devices – ranging from automated pumps administering drugs to patients in hospitals to pacemakers designed to transmit information to and from remotely located doctors via broadband – were shockingly vulnerable to being hacked.
An independent report by a software security company in the United States had found that one widely used home bedside monitoring system could be used "to reprogram and issue ... commands to pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators, to drain batteries, turn devices off, or even deliver a heart-stopping fatal T-wave shock". Even a moderately talented hacker, concluded the report, could easily "convert the devices into weapons".
To those in the know, none of this is particularly new. In 2013, former US vice president Dick Cheney’s cardiologist revealed that he had had the wireless function of his patient’s pacemaker disabled because "a sophisticated attacker might wirelessly access the device, reprogram it, and … kill the vice president".
None of this seemed to bother the UK’s National Health Service when I approached officials for comment. Ransomware? Storm in a teacup. As for the potential for remote assassination via embedded smart medical device, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said that, while it was "aware of the potential for cybersecurity attacks", there had been "no UK reports of any incidents".
Now comes the news that on Friday 48 NHS organisations have again been hit by ransomware, in an attack that disrupted blood supplies and surgery schedules, locked patient notes, interfered with electronic prescription systems and caused prime minister Theresa May to convene a meeting of Cobra, the government’s national emergency committee.
The NHS was not alone. Security experts say 45,000 organisations in countries around the world were hit in the same, randomly targeted attack.
This episode should, but almost certainly won’t, give us pause for thought. Stampeded by technology and telecoms industries that have been wildly successful in convincing us that access to high-speed internet is nothing short of a human right, we are rushing headlong into an era of unprecedented interconnectivity, without any real grasp of the possible consequences.
Connectivity sounds like a good thing. How convenient to be able to switch on the lights or air-conditioning in our homes via an app on our smartphone or to be able to store our digital photographs and sensitive documents on devices thousands of kilometres away. But how much of this "progress" is actually necessary, or even desirable?
Superficially, it is possible to make a more convincing case for connected medical devices. Manufacturers conjure visions of a world in which devices installed in your home can make a diagnosis at a distance, saving time and money at every step in the care chain.
But for whom? The benefits for the corporations developing the devices, and for the healthcare organisations hoping to cut their costs by deploying them, are obvious, but for the individual they are illusory ...
UK's first coal-free day is historic tipping point in the greening of energy. The National, May 11
Two events took place in the past couple of months which, while overshadowed by seemingly more significant current affairs, will ultimately claim their rightful place in the history of our times.
On Saturday, March 25, a record amount of electricity was generated in the United Kingdom by solar power – six times more, in fact, than was made that day by coal-fired power stations. It was, in the words of the National Grid, a "huge milestone". A little under a month later, on Friday, April 21, a full 24 hours passed in the UK without a single lump of coal being burnt to generate electricity – for the first time since the 1880s.
It was, as Greenpeace UK commented, "a watershed in the energy transition". Only a decade ago, said Hannah Martin, head of energy at the environmental group, "a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again".
Of course, post-Empire, to say nothing of post-Brexit, the UK is no longer the engine of world affairs it was when it kick-started the industrial revolution, but these twinned events nevertheless carry vast historical, economic and political significance.
Furthermore, the story of the decline of Old King Coal, arguably initiated a century ago by a far-sighted energy decision taken in Britain on the eve of the First World War, carries within it prophetic lessons for the future of oil ...
Mike Tyson, reformed delinquent who punched his way out of the ghetto. The National, May 4
Now 50, with his last professional fight a dozen years behind him, the warrior tattoo on his face serves only as an incongruous reminder that the affable businessman in the smart suit was once the world’s most feared boxer, variously loved and loathed by a public enthralled by his prowess in the ring and disturbed by his behaviour out of it.
Iron Mike, once known as "The baddest man on the planet", is in Dubai for the launch of the Mike Tyson Academy, his new fitness and boxing gym franchise. But for all the civilising effect of Tyson’s reinvention as Corporate Mike, when he sits down for a meet-and-greet session at the launch gala at the J W Marriott Marquis on Saturday evening, it will be a brave fan who mentions Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Born Michael Gerard Tyson on June 30, 1966, and raised in Brooklyn’s Brownsville district – "a very horrific, tough and gruesome kind of place", in Tyson’s recollection – the future heavyweight champion of the world seemed destined at best for a life on the margins of society.
In his ghostwritten 2013 autobiography, Undisputed Truth, Tyson recalled how his family relied on welfare for food, and were sometimes reduced to living in condemned buildings with no heat or water.
His father left home when his son was 2 years old. His mother struggled to cope with her three children and, before his teenagers, Tyson had been arrested multiple times for acts of violence and petty crime. At the age of 10, Tyson and his gang carried guns when they went burgling.
At 12, Tyson was expelled from school for endless fighting, and sent to a juvenile prison, where he started boxing. In 1980, his life changed when Cus D’Amato, a boxing manager and trainer, saw the 13-year-old in the ring and declared: "That’s the heavyweight champion of the world."
Tyson went to live and train with D’Amato and his partner Camille Ewald, who became his guardians after his mother died when he was 16. The tough Italian-American from the Bronx was like the father Tyson never had. "If it weren’t for that old, Italian white guy, I would’ve been a bum," he once said. "I wanted to make him happy and prove that all the good things he was saying were right."
He would, but not before D’Amato died, at the age of 77, in November 1985, just 10 fights into his protégé’s professional career. Tyson wept "like a lost soldier on a mission without a general". Later, he said: "I shut down emotionally after Cus died."
Regardless, D’Amato had left his mark. A year after D’Amato’s death, Tyson became world champion ...
As normal drugs fail thousands, is it time to turn to 'miracle cure' cannabis? Daily Mail, May 2
Marijuana is a substance all too readily associated with university students. But now it’s been announced that Oxford University, no less, is planning to develop cannabis-based products.
This is not, however, a sign that the academics have been binge-watching U.S. crime drama Breaking Bad. The university has thrown its name and backing behind a new company developing cannabis-based products for medical treatments.
It’s all above board and legal and the company, Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT), which has been funded to the tune of £10 million by a UK venture capital firm, will investigate the role ‘in biology and medicine’ of cannabinoids — the chemicals in cannabis that affect the human brain and body.
The plan is then to develop ‘new therapies for acute and chronic conditions including pain, cancer and inflammatory disease’.
The company’s website is already inviting people to sign up as volunteers for clinical trials, offering the chance to ‘access treatments before they are widely available’.
Last week, the Daily Mail reported that an 11-year-old boy had become the first patient to receive medicinal cannabis on the NHS.
Without the treatment, Billy Caldwell, from Castlederg, Northern Ireland, was suffering up to 100 epileptic fits a day. His condition is now under control and he has not had a fit in three months, says his mother Charlotte.
She had been taking him regularly to the U.S. to obtain prescriptions for cannabis oil — which contains cannabidiol (CBD). It’s not known how it works, but it’s thought to block or mimic the chemical messages that pass between the brain and the body.
CBD is not psychoactive — unlike one of the main extracts of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol, which causes users to get ‘high’.
Charlotte became desperate when her son was running out and she was unable to make the journey to Los Angeles. Her GP, Brendan O’Hare, wrote a prescription for the drug because, he said, it was a ‘crisis’ situation.
He told the Mail: ‘Whatever the rights and wrongs, we had a child who had benefited and the child’s welfare was paramount.’
It would not, he said, ‘open the floodgates for others. It is a one-off’.
It is clear, however, that countless thousands of other people are self-medicating with cannabis, either by smoking ‘weed’ obtained illegally from acquaintances or dealers, or by obtaining supplies of the extract CBD via the internet.
Last year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform (APPG) estimated as many as 30,000 people in the UK use cannabis for medicinal reasons every day.
Though it’s illegal to sell or possess cannabis the plant — users face up to five years in prison and a fine — until recently CBD was in a grey area.
But that changed last October, when the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) cut off the flow of CBD by declaring it a medicine.
This means no product containing it can be sold without a licence — a lengthy, expensive process designed to prove it meets ‘safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health’.
There is some evidence that cannabis can help with a range of medical conditions.
In September last year, a trial carried out by GW Pharmaceuticals found that patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare and serious form of epilepsy that begins in childhood, had 42 per cent fewer seizures while taking Epidiolex, a liquid form of the CBD extract given by mouth.
And in a report also published in September, based on ‘the most extensive review of evidence in the literature in modern times’, the All-Party Parliamentary Group concluded it was now beyond dispute that ‘medicinal cannabis works for a range of conditions’, with ‘good’ evidence that both CBD or ‘natural’ cannabis was effective in treating chronic pain, stiffness of muscles experienced with multiple sclerosis, nausea, vomiting and anxiety. There was ‘moderate’ evidence cannabis could help with sleep disorders, fibromyalgia (which causes chronic pain), and some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as rigidity.
Controversially, cannabis seems to be creeping towards becoming a legitimate medical treatment — and yet worrying questions about it remain, not least whether it really is such a wonder drug, with organisations such as the British Pain Society pointing to ‘insufficient evidence to justify the recommendation of use of cannabis formulations for pain’.
There is also the question of whether the Government should decriminalise ‘weed’ for medicinal use, or whether the way forward lies with medicines developed in labs from extracts of the drug.
Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies believes its research can help give the UK ‘a global leadership role in this fast-growing field’.
It hopes to bring to market effective new treatments for conditions including chronic pain, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and depression.
More importantly, the development of properly researched and approved prescription drugs based on cannabis could render redundant the debate about legalising cannabis for medical use ...
Individuals have the power to break down dangerous prejudice and stereotypes. The National, April 28
Browsing the Middle East section of the BBC news app can be a depressing business, as a random selection of recent headlines makes clear. "We escaped after ISIL stormed house", "Caught in the crossfire in Mosul", "Too scared to use refugee camp toilet", "Syrian photographer puts down camera to rescue child", and so on and on.
This is the distorting lens through which much of the rest of the world views the region, a world for which the very words "the Middle East" have become synonymous only with war, religious extremism, suffering and death.
It would, of course, be foolish to pretend that all parts of the region are free of these things. But there is so much more to life in each of the countries that comprise the Middle East that never penetrates the consciousness of western news consumers.
This matters, especially at a time when European countries are enduring a rash of so-called "lone wolf" attacks, carried out by deranged social misfits misguidedly seeking to imbue their hopeless lives with some kind of higher meaning by claiming allegiance to an Islamic extremism of which they have very little real understanding.
It matters because the increasing perception in the West of Muslims only as dangerous "others" is fuelling the resurgence of the sort of narrow-minded, xenophobic bigotry that is shifting in dangerous directions political tectonic plates from Washington to London and beyond.
It matters because dehumanising people, reducing millions of individuals to a negative stereotype, makes it easy to hate, fear and despise them – and that, as not-too-distant history has shown, makes it easy for supposedly civilised societies to attack and kill them in large numbers, without any societal compunction or moral qualms.
In theory, thanks to the potentially unifying mechanisms of the modern world, such as air travel, the internet and the spread of a globalised meta-culture, the world is smaller than it has ever been. But, counter-intuitively, this has not made us into one big happy family.
Yes, "ordinary" people can fly to once exotic locations for their holidays, but they holiday in comfort-zone bubbles, cut off from real people, and arrive and leave with preconceptions undisturbed.
The internet, which early pioneers naively theorised would bind us through a sense of community, serves only to herd us into insular self-interest groups, facilitating the spread of fake-news propaganda to reinforce fears and prejudices.
As for global culture, the reality is a western-dominated version of the world, complete with stereotypes, projected through film and other mass entertainment media.
When Hollywood comes to the Middle East, it does so only to stage "exotic" car chases or cinematic drone strikes, always prefaced by the same shorthand shots of sand dunes and camels, set to an Arabian Nights-style soundtrack. Imagine if the establishing shot of every film set in London, regardless of plot or time period, were accompanied by a few bars of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod?
The potential consequences of this drawbridge mentality are immeasurable. The future of a planet faced with challenges ranging from escalating global population growth to climate change and terrorism depends above all on collaboration, the bringing together of political will, understanding and scientific expertise from wherever it may be found.
However, as is clear from political developments in America, the United Kingdom and France – where the fact that far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has made it through to the final round of voting on May 7 reveals the vulnerability of liberal values – politicians cannot be trusted to dismantle the barriers of prejudice and ignorance holding back the unity the world needs so badly.
The tragedy of this is that, when left to their own devices and not being morally and emotionally misdirected by powerful, self-serving agendas, by and large ordinary people get on just fine, regardless of history, religion, race or colour. Evidence of this can be found in the exploits of two remarkable western women, separated by a century but united by a courageous and exemplary brand of open-mindedness.
At first glance there is little commonality between Rebecca Lowe, a British former legal reporter who has just completed an eccentric solo cycling tour of Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE and Iran, and Gertrude Bell, the extraordinary British woman who during and after the First World War played a key role in shaping much of the Middle East as we know it today.
Like T E Lawrence "of Arabia", whom she came to know well, Bell, who was born into privilege in England in 1868 and died in 1926 in Baghdad, where she is buried, traded up her pre-war interest in archaeology and Arabia to become a vital cog in the machine of British imperial policy in the Middle East.
Today, Bell is often blamed for many of the woes of the region for the part she played in moulding Iraq from the remnants of Ottoman Mesopotamia. But, as the film Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman, makes clear to a wider audience, in her travels throughout the region Bell came to know, love and respect the Arabs, bonding with humble tribesmen and sheikhs alike over campfires and in majlises.
Upon the foundations of that respect, in the words of Georgina Howell, the author of the book upon which Werner Herzog’s film is based, she "cajoled … guided and engineered, and finally delivered the often promised and so nearly betrayed prize of independence … Bell stuck to her ambition for the Arabs with a wonderful consistency".
In Bell’s wake follows Rebecca Lowe. It would, of course, be fatuous to compare Lowe’s Tour d’Arabie with Bell’s lifetime of dedication to the interests of the Arab people, often in the teeth of the disapproval of her own countrymen. But although vastly different in scale and purpose, each woman’s achievements were built on a fundamental determination not to be dictated to by prevailing prejudices and to be their own judge of the characters of people as individuals.
Lowe wrote about her 10,000-kilometre odyssey, which began in 2015, in an article for the BBC published earlier this month.
It made a refreshing change to the usual doom and despair. Her aim was to "shed light on a region long misunderstood by the West … to show that the bulk of the Middle East is far from the volatile hub of violence and fanaticism people believe".
Friends believed she would die. One man told her she was "a naive idiot who would end up decapitated in a ditch". In fact, far from losing her head, Lowe found friendship and kindness wherever she went, offered by strangers sharing water, lifts and lodgings.
"Throughout the Middle East, it was the same," she wrote. "Doors were forever flung wide to greet this strange, two-wheeled anomaly who was surely in need of help, and possibly psychiatric care."
Her hosts included the "rich and poor, mullahs and atheists, Bedouin and businessmen, niqab-clad women and qabaa-robed men". Each person and community she encountered was different, "but certain traits linked them all: kindness, curiosity and tolerance".
World leaders are busy people. But how much better – how much more humane – the world might be if they could be persuaded to get on their bikes and meet the real people behind the stereotypes so easily and cynically invoked in the name of divisive politics and votes.
As Bell and Lowe both discovered in their own way, it is hard to demonise, let alone bomb, a person who has given you water in the desert, or food and shelter for the night.
Jailed, but free to speak: the man who could be the Palestinian Mandela. The National, April 20
It isn’t the first time that imprisoned Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti has written a controversial comment-article for a major newspaper in the United States. In fact, it isn’t even the first time that, in giving him a platform in the western media, an American newspaper has glossed over some details of the life of a man who is now 13 years into five life sentences handed down by an Israeli court in 2004.
On Tuesday, The New York Times was called out by its own public editor. It was, Liz Spayd wrote, vital to "fully identify the biography and credentials of authors [to] help people make judgements about the opinions they’re reading".
But behind the smokescreen of protest from Israel this week over the "skimping" on the details of Barghouti’s author’s biography in the Times is a glimpse of an altogether more tantalising prospect – that Barghouti, orchestrator of a mass hunger-strike this week among his fellow prisoners in Israel, may be shaping up to fulfil his long-touted potential as the Palestinian Mandela ...
NHS 'can't afford' to extend mum's life as it wastes millions on other drugs. Daily Mail, April 10
Bonnie Fox is living with an incurable illness. In April 2015 she gave birth to Barnaby, her first child. Four months later her joy turned to horror when, after experiencing problems breastfeeding, she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
That was 19 months ago. Since then Bonnie, 39, has been through six months of debilitating chemotherapy and is now on the twin ‘maintenance’ drugs, Herceptin and Perjeta.
For how long is anyone’s guess — ‘the longest I have heard is 12 years, but I have also heard of women for whom they’ve stopped working after a year’, says Bonnie, from Croydon, Surrey.
Juggling treatments and baby-care, Bonnie has returned two days a week to her demanding job as a project manager, and in June last year she married her partner and Barnaby’s father, Ash, the manager of a Waterstones book store.
Now she has one all-consuming ambition: to live long enough to be there for Barnaby’s first day at school.
Her best hope of that is an ‘end-of-life’ drug called Kadcyla, which ‘would buy me more time with my little boy . . . with Kadcyla I might even see him get to school, which, for me, would be a huge milestone to reach’.
But Bonnie can’t have Kadcyla. On December 29, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) announced that, at a cost of £90,000 for each of the 1,200 patients who, like Bonnie, could benefit from the drug, the price was ‘too high in relation to the benefits it gives for it to be recommended for routine commissioning in the NHS’.
‘Cheated once’ by fate, Bonnie says she now feels ‘cheated again: I was relying on that drug’.
Then she read the news that the NHS is paying silly money for other drugs which, with joined-up negotiating, it could be getting for far less ...
Brexit leaves pro-EU Gibraltar between a rock and a hard place. The National, April 6
It wasn’t exactly the battle of the Falkland Islands all over again, but a fracas on board an aircraft this week between Spaniards and Britons over the sovereignty of a barren rock far from the UK served as a reminder of the extent to which British passions can be ignited by any threat to one of the few remaining outposts of its once formidable empire.
The verbal skirmish – reportedly between two British citizens from Gibraltar and Spaniards travelling on the same easyJet flight to Gatwick Airport in the UK – also highlighted just how precarious and unpredictable post-Brexit Britain’s relations are likely to be with its spurned former European partners.
The fuse was lit last week by a 35-word section in the document setting out the broad strokes of the European Union’s plans for negotiations over the UK’s withdrawal. After the UK left the union, it read, "no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without … agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom".
It was an unexpected clause that immediately raised hackles in Britain and Gibraltar, where it was interpreted as a threat to the sovereignty of the small chunk of the Spanish mainland Britain has controlled for more than 300 years. Gibraltar, said chief minister Fabian Picardo, was "not a bargaining chip … [it] belongs to the Gibraltarians and we want to stay British". Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, was "behaving like a cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children".
Former British Conservative leader Lord Howard even drew parallels between Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, recaptured by a British task force in 1982 after a brief occupation by Argentina.
"Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a task force halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country," Lord Howard said.
The current British prime minister, he added, would "show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar".
Spain, meanwhile, seems to be in the mood to enjoy, and perhaps exploit, Britain’s discomfort over one of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit. On Sunday, the country’s foreign minister said his country would welcome an anti-Brexit Scotland into the EU fold should it vote for independence from the UK. And then, as if determined to taunt the British lion directly, on Tuesday, a Spanish warship sailed provocatively into Gibraltar’s territorial waters, prompting a swift ejection by the Royal Navy.
As one TV commentator noted, the Brexit negotiations hadn’t even begun, and yet "they’ve already been waylaid by a tiny rock on the Mediterranean. Not the best start." ...
Investigation reveals shocking extent of waste within the NHS. Daily Mail, April 4
The profesionally produced video, posted on YouTube, looks and sounds like the sort of human resources promo that Ricky Gervais’s David Brent would make.
‘Morning all, you’ve died and gone to heaven, it turns out I’m president number 67.’ So begins the excruciatingly embarrassing rap song, featuring a middle-aged accountant driving a BMW and wearing a pair of trendy glasses.
In fact, the truth is even more tragic. The wannabe rapper is Mark Orchard, director of finance at Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, who had the video shot to celebrate his appointment as this year’s president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) — president number 67, as it happens.
With a membership of more than 12,000 NHS finance managers, the HFMA’s turnover (last year £8.5 million) is generated chiefly by charging hospital trusts to send their staff on its conferences and courses and to play The Operating Game — a ‘fun’ day-long board game designed to ‘simulate the running of a hospital’. The HFMA is ultimately funded by the taxpayer.
The organisation coyly declines to say how much was spent on the video — there was ‘no specific cost’, as it was shot during three days of recording the organisation’s conference in December.
But while wannabe rap star Mr Orchard might be wasted in accountancy, whatever was spent on one man’s vanity project is a drop in the ocean of resources wasted every year by poor management of the NHS ...
Heartbreaking stories show sepsis threatens adults as well as children. Daily Mail, April 4
This is a tale of two victims of sepsis, the ‘silent killer’ that each year claims the lives of 44,000 people in Britain and leaves another 100,000 with permanent, life-changing injuries, from irreversible damage to internal organs to amputated limbs.
One of them is Liz Frood, a 41-year-old mother and Egyptologist at Oxford University, who in August 2015 was suddenly struck down with what she thought was a mere tummy bug.
The other is Luke Hendrick, a 37-year-old father and drugs and alcohol counsellor from Sidmouth, Devon, who developed a sore throat in July 2014.
They fell prey to sepsis, the fast-moving condition that occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection, caused by anything from a cut finger to the flu, and starts attacking its own tissues and organs as well as the invading bugs.
Neither Liz nor Luke knew what was happening to them: sepsis and its symptoms are largely unknown to the public and poorly recognised even by many doctors.
The tragedy is that the condition is easily treated with a prompt dose of antibiotics, but all too often it’s missed, with terrible consequences — as Liz and Luke’s stories graphically illustrate.
For Liz, who survived, the price of late diagnosis was the loss of both her legs, which turned gangrenous and had to be amputated below the knees on September 22, 2015, a month after she became ill and the day after her son Emeran’s first birthday.
Nevertheless, the plucky New Zealander says: ‘I was lucky.’ Her son will grow up with a mother.
Luke was tragically unlucky. Despite four attempts to get help from three GPs and, near the end, a desperate visit to A&E, no one thought to give him antibiotics for what turned out to be a serious bacterial throat infection.
Life on Mars: possible, but morally and philosophically unthinkable. The National, March 30
The human race is doomed. Not today, almost certainly, and probably not in the next week or so. But, sooner rather than later, the curtain will fall on the last act of this crazy, beautiful, tragic, wonderful carnival we call life on Earth, at which point we (or, at any rate, our descendants) will all wish we had listened rather more carefully to Elon Musk, the 21st century’s prophet of doom.
That, at least, is the apocalyptic vision of humankind’s future according to Elon Musk.
The founder of PayPal is a real-life Tony Stark, of Marvel fame, applying his billions and his feverish imagination not to the creation of flying Iron Man suits but to a series of seemingly more pragmatic projects, each in its own way designed to save life on Earth.
Except, according to Mr Musk, life on Earth cannot be saved. Electric cars, solar power, hyper-loops – all these ventures, designed ostensibly to resist the strangulation of the planet by global warming, are mere stopgaps, placeholders for his ultimate ambition.
Mr Musk’s SpaceX rocket programme, which has already seen his engineers develop reusable rockets and successfully servicing a Nasa contract to resupply the International Space Station, is just part of it, a series of technological stepping stones towards the greatest prize of all: Mr Musk’s place in history as the man who colonised Mars and saved the human race.
Mr Musk outlined his plans to colonise the red planet at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, in September. Of course, he’s not the only one gazing up at the fourth planet from the Sun. Nasa, for its own, federal funding-related reasons, has similar ambitions and, depressingly, a Dutch company is seeking volunteers for a one-way trip to take part in a life-on-Mars reality TV programme. But Mr Musk is the only one confidently predicting he’ll be turning Mars into a home away from home by as soon as the mid-2020s.
Why? "History," he told the audience in Guadalajara, "suggests there will be some doomsday event, and I would hope you would agree that becoming a multi-planetary species would be the right way to go."
It was a jaw-dropping statement, but one that has been greeted with near-universal enthusiasm ...
Scandal of hidden epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs. Daily Mail, March 28
They are the forgotten victims of medical incompetence, the secret army of innocent addicts — hundreds of thousands of them — hooked on drugs prescribed by their doctors for pain, anxiety, sleeplessness or depression.
They had put their trust in the experts, only to descend into a nightmare of dependence on the very pills that were supposed to help them — and then find themselves abandoned to their fate.
Today the Mail exposes the national disgrace of the hidden and ignored epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs, calling for the Government to set up a 24-hour helpline for people hooked on prescription drugs through no fault of their own ...
Beijing-backed bureaucrat a shoo-in as Hong Kong's new chief executive. The National, March 23
In almost any other part of the world, a friendly, on-camera hug between two senior politicians at a public event would have raised no eyebrows. But in the febrile atmosphere of a Hong Kong bracing itself for the "election" of its fourth chief executive since the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997, Tung Chee-hwa’s embrace of Carrie Lam during a public ceremony in December unleashed a torrent of media speculation that the outcome had already been decided – 2,000 kilometres away in Beijing.
Tung, a wealthy Shanghai-born businessman, became the first chief executive of China’s newly created Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong in 1997. Now a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a body that advises Beijing, he remains a man of influence whose embrace speaks volumes.
Lam, 59, isn’t the most popular of the five candidates in the race, the winner of which will be chosen on Sunday. Polls in the past three months have shown her consistently trailing the people’s favourite, former treasury boss John Tsang Chun-wah.
But under Hong Kong’s curious electoral system – a product of the pre-handover negotiations between Britain and China, in which Britain sought democratic concessions from Beijing, and Beijing did just enough to salve British guilt at abandoning millions of its former citizens – the people don’t really count.
The candidates for the top job jump through all the usual hoops, staging rallies, giving interviews and taking part in head-to-head TV debates, but the election is decided by the 1,200 members of an election committee, composed chiefly of Beijing-friendly business and professional interests, lightly seasoned with a sprinkling of government appointees. And their choice must be approved by Beijing.
Like Lam, Tsang is an experienced civil servant. He’s also a natural, charming performer in front of crowds and microphones. Lam, on the other hand, by her own admission in a recent, typically wooden interview, is "a very uninteresting person".
"I have hobbies," she said. She used to love cooking, "but in recent years there is simply no time left for my own affairs or interests … work is my top priority".
Dull might prove deadly in a conventional election, but for a Beijing committed to maintaining Hong Kong’s capitalist system only until 2047 and still smarting over the 2014 pro-democracy protests, dull is good. All the signs are that Lam, who stepped down as chief secretary in January, is poised to become Hong Kong’s first female chief executive ...
Economics, not posturing: resolute Fed chief ignores Trump's bellyaching. The National, March 16
Back in September, when the prospect of Donald Trump becoming American president still seemed unlikely, he launched a scathing attack on the integrity of the woman hailed by Forbes as the third most powerful in the world.
Janet Yellen, head of the Federal Reserve System, America’s central bank, had created a "very false economy" by keeping interest rates artificially low, he said. The Fed, which prides itself on its political independence, he claimed, had done this to support Barack Obama’s presidency, and Yellen "should be ashamed of herself".
Yellen, appointed by Obama in 2014 as the first woman to chair the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System since its creation as an independent agency in 1913, was not ashamed. A week later, after announcing that the Fed had decided once again not to raise interest rates, she told a press conference that "we do not take politics into account in our decisions".
The Fed’s job is to keep US employment high and inflation low. In December, shortly after Trump was elected and with both objectives in hand, the Fed finally raised interest rates, for only the second time in a decade, by 0.25 percentage points. On Wednesday it raised them again, by another 0.25. Contradicting Trump’s claims that he had inherited an economy in "a mess", it was "doing well", Yellen said.
Trump is now in a bind, which probably explains his uncharacteristic lack of a knee-jerk Twitter response to Wednesday’s rate rise. On the campaign trail, as Vanity Fair noted this week, he had "screamed incessantly about … Yellen, accusing her of keeping rates low to juice Obama’s economy". Now president, "Trump wants the good times to keep rolling, accelerating economic growth so that he can pay for his infrastructure plan, military build-up and other passion projects".
After Wednesday’s announcement, Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, predicted in The Washington Postthat "any day now, if he hasn’t already beaten me to it, Trump [will start] tweet-shaming the Fed for raising rates".
In September, when Trump accused Yellen of manipulating the economy for political ends, analysts predicted trouble ahead. The markets "would not enjoy" a Trump dispute with the Fed, wrote Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, in an advisory note. "If he wins, the prospect of a public spat between Trump and Janet Yellen will loom by spring."
Spring is here and, it seems, trouble is in the air ...
The dim stars who are flat-out wrong about the shape of the Earth. The National, March 9
There can be few basketball fans who would dispute the proposition that Kyrie Irving, the point guard with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a genius on the court.
That, at any rate, was the theme of an article in The Undefeated this week, in which Irving’s peers lined up to laud his talents. "His biggest asset," as Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap put it, "is his creativity".
Perhaps. But having a basketball mind is not the same as possessing real-world perspective, it seems. Last month, Irving made headlines when he demonstrated another sort of creativity, revealing that he believed that the Earth was not round, like a basketball, but flat like a pancake.
"This is not even a conspiracy theory," he said during a podcast for a sports channel. "The Earth is flat, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us."
The four-time NBA all-star’s revelation cast light on his contribution to The Undefeated article, in which he credited his skills to "a ton of practice, but also having an imagination that is sometimes out of my world".
Indeed. But the extraordinary thing about Irving’s denial of reality is that he is far from being alone. Other celebrities, including the rapper BoB, who has more than two million Twitter followers, and former MySpace reality star Tila Tequila, have also recently emerged as flat-Earthers ...
Facebook's daddy: Reddit and the original dot.com millionaire. The National, March 2
Filling out his application form for university, Alexis Ohanian reached the housing section and made a decision that would change his life. Faced with a choice of "old dorms" or new, he ticked the box for the former, for no better reason than "it just sounded cooler".
As he wrote in his 2013 book Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed: "I can’t help wondering how much different life would have been if I hadn’t made that seemingly insignificant decision."
At the time, Ohanian’s ambition was to become a doctor, but on the day he moved into halls at the University of Virginia he met fellow freshman Steve Huffman and medicine went out the window. The two video-game-playing nerds quickly became friends and the choice of dorms would prove to be "one of the best, albeit most random, things that ever happened to me".
By the time they graduated in 2005, Ohanian and Huffman had attracted US$12,000 (Dh44,062) in seed funding from start-up investment company Y Combinator to launch reddit.com, a social media site that would be billed as "The front page of the internet". Registered users could post links to news and other items from around the internet, on which the entire community could then pass judgment, "upvoting" or "downvoting" items to create a democratically edited front page.
Within a year Ohanian and Huffman were meeting with potential buyers and "in less time than it took me to write my honours thesis", they had sold the fledgling company to Condé Nast for a little over £20 million (Dh90m) – too early, and for too little, commented analysts. Nevertheless, just 16 months after graduating, 23-year-old Ohanian was a millionaire, living the dot.com dream ...
Mad about Dubai: the prejudice that informs snide western media coverage. The National, February 24
On May 28, 1955, the P&O liner Strathmore docked in London after a 22,000-kilometre voyage from Australia, via outposts of empire including Port Said, the northern gateway to the Suez Canal.
The archived passenger list reads like a census of the British Empire. Secretary, farmer, army officer, pharmacist, florist, librarian, builder, engineer – these were the small cogs that kept the wheels of the giant machine turning. Among the 929 passengers who disembarked in London that day was my mother, 34 years old and four months pregnant with me. Boarding the Strathmore at Port Said, she had travelled home alone. My father, a British soldier, had remained in the canal zone.
Egypt in 1955, a boiling cauldron of anti-British sentiment – stirred by nationalist leader Gamel Abdel Nasser and seasoned by Britain’s refusal to withdraw its troops – was no place for a British baby to be born. That, however, was not the sole explanation for my mother’s departure from Suez, where she had been working as a secretary.
It was only recently, long after her death, that I discovered my mother and the man on my birth certificate had never been married, which explained why I grew up without a father. The manifest offered one clue – though pregnant, she had sailed under her maiden name. I found another in the register of graves at a cemetery in London.
After the death of my grandmother in 1969, my mother had inherited the family grave and in the margin of the register entry I recognised my mother’s handwriting. In June 1955, four months before I was born, she had changed her surname from her maiden name to my father’s – not by marriage, but by statutory declaration.
My unmarried mother’s retreat in disgrace from Suez in 1955 presaged that of Britain itself. The following year Nasser nationalised the canal, triggering the petulant invasion of Egypt by Britain and France, in cahoots with Israel. Widely condemned as an unacceptable last gasp of western imperialism, the invasion was bloody but short-lived. The resentment of my mother and many of her generation towards Arabs, who had defied and finally ejected the failing empire, however, was lifelong.
It wasn’t just about Egypt. The people who had lorded it over the Middle East for generations could not stomach the reality that, even as Britain’s fortunes were waning, so those of the Arab world were waxing – buoyed, in the case of Mesopotamia, Iran and the Trucial States along the Gulf, by the rising tide of oil. This, surely, was by rights Britain’s black gold, the colonials argued, discovered by its oil companies and paid for in two world wars with British blood. That it had to be left behind in the humiliating withdrawal from east of Suez left a bitter taste.
Envy, especially when blended with subtextual racism, is an unattractive characteristic, to which entire countries as well as individuals are susceptible. It can be witnessed to this day in the British media’s ambiguous obsession with the "oil rich" UAE, especially Dubai, and its parallel high-handed irritation that a sovereign state has the temerity to set its own laws and expects visitors to abide by them ...
Trumped: old-school warrior quickly given his marching orders. The National, February 16
To Donald Trump, at least, few candidates must have seemed as well qualified to become his national security adviser as chisel-jawed all-American hero General Mike Flynn, retired.
On paper, the 58-year-old former Lieutnant General had it all, from a distinguished 33-year career in the intelligence branch of the US Army, during which he earned a chest full of medals serving in theatres including Afghanistan and Iraq, to his appointment by president Barack Obama in 2012 as director of the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Then there was his ferocious support for Trump in the presidential election campaign, during which Flynn – once a registered Democrat – was brought on board as an adviser and demonstrated such enthusiasm for his boss’s world view that he was considered for the vice-presidential nomination.
The job of national security adviser, once held by the likes of Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, was a shining consolation. Appointed by the president without congressional oversight, the adviser has the president’s ear on national security matters.
Flynn, the man who had it all, was about to add a final feather to his cap. Unfortunately, he also had something else – a series of inappropriate and curiously timed telephone conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, secretly recorded by the FBI, which have revived suspicions that the Kremlin interfered with the US presidential election.
The scandal has cost Flynn his job, triggered a call by Democrats and Republicans alike for a wide-ranging investigation into his and the administration’s links with Russia and left president Trump looking at best hapless and at worst dangerously compromised ...
First, build your boat: one man's quixotic voyage of rediscovery. The National, February 9
A lifetime or so ago, I stood at the edge of a dirt airstrip in the far south of Venezuela, watching as the de Havilland Twin Otter that had just dropped me off in the middle of nowhere clambered back up into the clear blue sky.
On my back was a large rucksack packed with sufficient supplies (or so I hoped) to see me through the next couple of weeks. In one hand I held a compass, in the other, a book, open at a crude map. Just how crude became clear only as I took in the surrounding tableau of massive, tabletop mountains, rising almost sheer from the river-laced savannah, which had failed to trouble my slapdash cartographer.
I had come in search of a tribe of native south Americans who, disdainful or ignorant of the borders imposed by 16th-century European colonists, continued to roam over the wild and beautiful nexus of territory where Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana meet like three pieces of a giant’s jigsaw puzzle.
The book, which I’d picked up in a second-hand shop in Cambridge, England, had been written only 20 years earlier by an American anthropologist who had spent several months living among members of this small and utterly self-sufficient tribe. He described an isolated society in which every single member had complete mastery of the seven or so basic skills they required to survive. From memory, these ranged from making wooden pots and growing the carbohydrate-rich vegetable manioc to building rainproof grass huts and fashioning canoes from the trunks of trees.
Travelling in South America, I wanted to see this tribe for myself, and so here I was, trekking across the spectacular Gran Sabana in what I hoped was roughly the right direction. Adventure, as someone must surely have once said, only truly begins when one is lost.
I needn’t have worried. Three days later, I found them – or some of them, at any rate – thanks not to my navigation skills but to an orange windsock, visible for miles around. There were no huts, only rather desirable and solid cabanas in which grass roofing played only a token part. No one was fishing or whittling away at tree trunks. In place of the anthropologist’s isolated society, what I found was a modern settlement, complete with a general store, restaurant, guesthouse and tourist office.
The man who ran it offered to rent me a canoe, fashioned from glass fibre, and an outboard motor. Would I like a room with, or without a bathroom? Would I be eating at the restaurant this evening?
Here, the grandeur that had once inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World was diminished by the whirr of generators.
Later, as I sat in the shade sipping an ice-cold Coke, I watched as five or six of the locals exchanged their shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts – one was wearing the complete Manchester United away-strip of the day, as I recall – for traditional "Indian" wear, just in time to greet an aircraft full of tourists who had flown in for an authentic ethnic-experience-and-barbecue evening.
Each member of this tribe no longer had need of the seven or so basic skills upon which their immediate predecessors had depended upon for survival. One of their number, spotting the tourism potential, had made himself the employer of the others, each of whom now had a job, ranging from hotelier to outboard-motor engineer.
Even at the time I could see that my disappointment was an unjustified manifestation of cultural imperialism. Who was I to expect these people to freeze-frame their development solely to afford me a photo opportunity? Why on earth shouldn’t they seek to improve their lot by engaging with the modern world on its terms?
I bought a souvenir bow and arrow and a sun-dried ornamental piranha, waited for the Twin Otter to return and made my way back to England.
Now, something strange has happened. Thirty years down the road, I find myself looking back over my shoulder wistfully to a time when life was altogether more "real" – not for a "lost" tribe which lost touch with all the skills that once defined them, but for those of us whose existence is almost entirely digital.
When was the last time you made something? I don’t mean money, or excuses, or time, but something solid and functional, something that required the transmutation of a natural raw material, such as wood, into a thing of practical use ...
French philosopher who may force Europe to rethink rise of the right. The National, February 9
Until a few weeks ago, the future course of western politics seemed depressingly certain. From Brexit to the American election, centrist elites appeared fatally wounded by populist opportunists, pandering to the masses supposedly failed by globalism.
Would, as in Britain and the United States, other bastions of liberalism topple over the next year or so? Faced by the rise of nationalist parties such as Alternative for Germany, France’s National Front and Italy’s Five Star Movement, European countries seemed poised to return to the petty, insular politics that had led to two world wars. And then Emmanuel Macron came along.
Just as Europe appeared sure to be torn asunder, the 39-year-old former socialist foot soldier has startled France and the wider European community by running for the French presidency and raising an until now unconsidered possibility.
The post-war world as we have known it may not actually be doomed, and Europe’s liberal electorates might not have to wait as long as they feared for the anti-Brexit backlash ...
Bottled water 2: unravelling the environmental impact of a "healthy" fad. The National, February 1
The next time you buy a litre of your favourite bottled water, imagine first pouring six other bottles of the stuff down the nearest sink before you even take a sip. Then, picture that crystal-clear bottle with its label evoking idyllic mountain scenery a quarter full with crude oil.
That, according to the Marine Conservation Society, part of a global collaboration of environmental campaigners determined to end our love affair with bottled water, is what it takes to produce the bottle you have in your hand.
The cost? The release into Earth’s hard-pressed atmosphere of more than 160 grammes of the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide – equivalent to driving almost two kilometres by car.
The industry’s response? That 160 grammes, says the Natural Hydration Council – an industry body "dedicated to researching the science and communicating the facts about healthy hydration" – is "significantly lower than the figure for the beverage sector average".
Perhaps. But the point, say campaigners, is that this is a product that is entirely unnecessary for anyone with access to potable tap water ...
Bottled water 1: why we pay for stuff that drops from the sky for free. The National, January 28
As advertising goes, PepsiCo’s 2001 commercial plugging its bottled water Aquafina, voiced by kooky Friends actress Lisa Kudrow, was refreshingly honest. "Aquafina," went the pay-off line, was "so pure, we promise nothing."
Nothing, other than plain old tap water mixed with a few minerals and decanted into a slickly labelled plastic bottle, was precisely what you got – and, with brands including Aquafina, rival Coca-Cola’s Arwa and Nestlé’s Pure Life, among others, what you still get.
Despite the evocative mountain scenery on the label, Aquafina, just like 40 per cent of all bottled water, comes from public water supplies.
"Sure," noted an admiring US editorial in Advertising Age in 2001, "their tap water is ‘purified’ by a common reverse-osmosis process. But it purifies what is already free of anything the Environmental Protection Agency and the states believe is harmful."
Somehow, though, the public had come to associate bottled water with health and, "if you were PepsiCo, wouldn’t you give the suckers what they want?"
And, for the past 15 years, the suckers have been lapping it up in ever greater volumes ...
Trusts held to ransom, pacemakers hacked: is UK's NHS facing cyber disaster? Daily Mail, January 24
Having your operation cancelled because of a bed shortage or an infection on the ward is something patients dread but, these days, have learned to expect.
However, patients in three North Lincolnshire hospitals were recently offered a very different excuse: hackers had brought down the trust's computer system, forcing the cancellation of all appointments for two days.
Even car park barriers were affected, and the hospitals had to resort to pen and paper.
The network had been taken over by a malicious virus which encrypted files: the hackers demanded a ransom to unlock them.
The trust didn't pay, but the computer system had to be shut down to remove the virus.
While the trust declined to say how the ransomware had infiltrated its system, cyber security experts say the most common way in is through an apparently innocent email with a link sent to staff.
Clicking on the link downloads the malicious software onto the computer, then it spreads to others on the network.
The Lincolnshire hospitals were merely the latest to fall victim to the trend. Just this month, Barts Health Trust (which runs five hospitals in London) was hit.
Fortunately, the trust was able to contain the ransomware virus, but it emerged recently that, in the past year, 28 other trusts had suffered similar attacks.
The NHS insists no ransom money has been paid, but others have coughed up: last year, a hospital in Los Angeles admitted it had paid $17,000 to ransom hackers.
Businesses and hospitals are increasingly being targeted by criminals in this way, says Raj Samani, chief technical officer at Intel Security, a global computer security software company in California.
The 'darknet', the hard-to-access underbelly of the internet, is home to a thriving black market, where 'one can buy around 5,000 email addresses for about £5 and, inevitably, some people will click on the link in the email sent by the hacker and infect their institution's computers with ransomware', he told Good Health.
The number of ransomware programs detected by Intel has escalated from just ten in January 2016 to the 'many hundreds' circulating today.
NHS trusts are vulnerable because so many people are linked to their networks.
The only defence is to ensure everything on your system is constantly backed up, says Mr Samani.
If you are hit, every computer must be disconnected from the network and swept for the ransomware, before the whole system can be rebooted. This is hugely time-consuming.
But it's not just cancelled operations that are the risk — cybersecurity experts fear it is only a matter of time before such attacks hit vital equipment, such as the machines used to communicate over the internet with remote pacemakers ...
With all eyes on the future, Dubai must not lose sight of the past. The National, January 20
I t wasn’t the most attractive beach in the world, but for the four years I lived in the UAE the small, nameless strip of sand tucked behind the breakwater at the southern entrance to Dubai Marina, unknown to tourists and most expatriates, was my launch pad for countless maritime adventures.
Sandwiched between the marina and the vast desalination complex to its south, this was a slice of land that happily had somehow been overlooked by developers. Few ventured down the sandy track that led past a small boat yard to the water’s edge, and it was here that I’d park my car and launch my kayak from that forgotten beach.
One favourite destination was the then-undeveloped tip of the uppermost frond of the Palm Jumeirah, inaccessible by road. Landing to sit in the shade afforded by the overhead monorail bridge, I would eat my sandwiches and watch the holidaymakers at the Palm Atlantis lying side by side on the sand just across the narrow stretch of water.
For the price of a paddle-powered 14-kilometre round trip I had the same stretch of sea to swim in, my own private beach and my own crowds to share it with – nervous bubbler crabs which, if one sat perfectly still, would re-emerge from their holes and continue creating their astonishing patterns in the sand.
Another frequent destination was the most southerly of the twin Logos, the kilometre-long mirror-image islands raised in the shape of palm leaves just off the shore on either side of the stem of the Palm. The northerly Logo, developed as a private retreat, was lush and green, but its southerly sister lay barren, littered with the detritus of an abandoned building site.
Coming ashore to sit on the deserted island felt faintly piratical – like planting a flag and staking a claim to a previously undiscovered territory. It was so close to civilisation – indeed, it had been created by that civilisation only recently. Yet, despite the proximity of the Palm and the comings and goings of vessels from the northern entrance to Dubai Marina, it offered an adventurous sanctuary from the bustle of the city.
It wasn’t entirely undeveloped. Adapting to the human occupation of the Gulf littoral, industrious ghost crabs had colonised this man-made island and, as part of the process of excavating their burrows, were piling up the spoil into miniature towers of sand.
Standing as they did in the shadow of the giant man-made structures of Dubai Marina, the towers created by these crabs had something at once optimistic and yet poignant to say about the relationship between human beings and nature.
All that was almost five years ago. I left the UAE in March 2012. Since then, everything has changed. The breakwater beach has gone, along with the boat yard, both buried beneath a reclamation project protruding a kilometre or more into the sea. The return of the developers to the Palm has also doubtless seen the bubbler crabs evicted from their once-secret beach.
And now, with the announcement this month that a spectacular new marina development is to be built at the opposite end of Jumeirah Beach, complete with berths for 1,400 yachts and the now obligatory iconic building (a 135-metre tall hotel-cum-"lighthouse"), the days of the ghost crabs and their deserted desert island are also numbered ...
The Trump whisperer who tells America what The Donald really meant to say. The National, January 19
When it comes to bare-knuckle political lobbying, 12-year-old Claudia Conway is a chip off the old block. Today her mother, Kellyanne Conway, the Republican pollster credited with turning round Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, will be celebrating her 50th birthday at the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.
As his special counsellor, Conway is looking forward to life as the most powerful woman in the White House, but there’s trouble back home in Alpine, New Jersey. One month ago, shortly after Trump announced the appointment, Claudia began an online petition aimed at her mother and father.
"The Conway family might be moving to Washington DC," she wrote on change.org. "I am sad to hear this, but believe that if I can get enough people to sign this petition, the plan may be reconsidered." Claudia and her three siblings "love our community, friends, and nearby family".
Claudia’s mother was born Kellyanne Elizabeth Fitzpatrick on January 20, 1967, in Camden, New Jersey, where her Irish father owned a small transport company and her Italian mother worked in a bank. Her parents divorced when she was three years old.
"I grew up in a house with my mum and her mum, and two of my mother’s unmarried sisters," she recalled in 2008. It was in this all-female environment in Atco, a "blue-collar farming community", that the foundations of her conservatism were laid. "Family and faith and self-reliance were premier," she told Newsmax.
The only woman to have run a successful US presidential campaign was once a high school cheerleader and in 1983, at the age of 16, won the New Jersey Blueberry Queen beauty pageant. But these two staples of US life offer fewer clues to Conway’s future success than her 1987 victory in a blueberry speed-packing contest ...
Rising toll of drug errors may be symptomatic of under-staffed NHS. Daily Mail, January 17
A van driver survives a major crash with serious, but not life-threatening, injuries — only to suffer a fatal cardiac arrest in intensive care when a bungling doctor gives him adrenaline instead of a sedative.
A cancer patient's allergy to penicillin is clearly recorded in her medical notes, but when she develops a chest infection, she is still given penicillin, and dies after suffering anaphylactic shock.
A great-grandfather being treated for lung disease is killed after a nurse mistakenly gives him an entire day's dosage of a medicine in less than an hour.
Arnold Harper, 56, from Barrow, Philippa Gillespie, 59, from Haverfordwest, and Colin Whalley, 68, from St Helens are just three of the victims of medication errors in NHS hospitals whose stories have emerged in the past 18 months alone.
Inquests into each of their deaths concluded that drug errors had either caused or played a significant part.
And shockingly, their needless suffering is far from unusual.
Just last weekend it was reported that the father of a top NHS surgeon died in hospital after being mistakenly given insulin instead of dextrose.
Robert Welch, 93, a war veteran, died in June last year in the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital, Grimsby, after suffering a cardiac arrest.
The coroner said 'inadequate supervision of relatively junior nursing staff, together with inadequate training in the preparation of medication contributed to the mistake'.
Recent headlines about the NHS crisis have focused on the situation in A&E, the lack of hospital beds and yesterday, the cancellation of even cancer operations — but the crisis is having an effect everywhere, not least in the alarming rise in the number of patients falling foul of medication errors.
It hardly needs spelling out that hospitals are meant to help patients, not poison them.
But this investigation by Good Health has found that medication errors in the NHS are on the rise — by 6 per cent in a year — despite a major initiative to stop them.
We've also discovered that the vast majority of errors were made by nursing staff, reinforcing concerns that many wards may be dangerously understaffed.
Furthermore, in some NHS trusts patients have as much as a one in 200 chance of becoming a victim ...
War and peace: how Martin McGuinness graduated from guns to government. The National, January 13
The slideshow published by the Belfast Telegraph on Monday, juxtaposing photographs from the life of Martin McGuinness before and after the Northern Ireland peace process, eloquently bookended the story of a man regarded by some as a hero and by others as a symbol of the mindless sectarian violence that killed more than 3,500 people and marred the lives of countless thousands more during 30 years of "The Troubles".
One picture shows McGuinness wielding a handgun. It was taken in 1972, when he was a member of the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, the republican militant movement which traced its roots back to the 1916 rising against British rule in Ireland and which by the late 1960s had evolved into a terrorist organisation fighting to end the partition of Ireland, imposed by Britain in 1921 and to see Northern Ireland become part of the Republic in the south. The next, taken in 2007, shows him being sworn in as deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
On Monday McGuinness resigned after a decade in the post. To outsiders, the cause – a row over a failed government scheme to promote environmentally friendly heating – will seem a petty reason to sabotage the hard-won Assembly.
But as anyone familiar with the euphemistically named "Troubles" knows, no excuse for conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has ever been too petty to be seized upon eagerly by one side or the other, still fighting battles that began 400 years ago.
Because of the arcane rules of Northern Ireland’s delicately balanced power-sharing arrangements, imposed by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, McGuinness’s resignation also forces the removal of the first minister, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Arlene Foster, and is almost certain to trigger an election.
But if the Belfast Telegraph’s coverage of McGuinness’s resignation had the air of an obituary, there may yet prove to be more to the gesture than mere political posturing. Rumours that McGuinness, 66, is battling medical problems first surfaced in December and, although on Monday he denied that his health had anything to do with his decision, he looked distinctly unwell. If so, not everyone will wish him a speedy recovery ...
Heads in the cloud: Big Data is Big Brother with a conversational interface. The National, January 6
At first, even the internet experts gathered in Las Vegas for the world’s biggest cloud-computing event thought it was nothing more than a huge joke when Andy Jassy, chief executive of Amazon Web Services (AWS), presented his company’s latest solution for managing the world’s increasingly unmanageable torrent of digital data.
But the 14-metre lorry-hauled "ruggedised" shipping container that rumbled on stage at The Venetian Hotel on November 30 was no joke. Rather, it was an admission that the arteries of the internet are close to being clogged.
The AWS Snowmobile is for companies that have accumulated so much data that it would take decades to upload it to the cloud. The container, a vast hard-drive on wheels, is driven to a company’s data centre and connected by cable. It sucks up the data and, accompanied by guards, delivers it to one of Amazon’s many cloud centres around the world.
In essence, Amazon has resorted to a clunky analogue solution to a growing digital problem. It will come and collect your network-choking digital waste in a large metal bucket.
Mr Jassy told his Vegas audience that when Amazon launched its AWS cloud division in 2006, "the notion of an exabyte of data was completely out there". Today, "you would not believe how many companies have an exabyte of data they want to move to the cloud".
An exabyte is a billion billion bytes or the equivalent to all audio, printed and video material held by the United States Library of Congress, 500 times over.
The problem is that uploading this much data to the cloud via even a fast network connection would take about 25 years. Using 10 Snowmobiles, each capable of holding 100 petabytes of data (one tenth of an exabyte), it would take "only" six months, said Mr Jassy.
The Snowmobile is evidence that our commercially driven obsession with digitising every aspect of our existence is out of control. As of October 2016, internet archive The Wayback Machine, a depository of more than 279 billion web pages, held "only" 15 petabytes of data. That there are now companies out there holding data equivalent to 66 copies of the entire internet is mind-boggling ...
Will Jimmy Fallon be nice or nasty as he steps into Ricky Gervais' shoes? The National, January 5
What with the Golden Globes, the Oscars, the Baftas and the host of other award ceremonies jamming up their calendars, it’s a wonder that the stars of stage, screen and television ever have time to act.
Plus, as British comedian Ricky Gervais liked to point out on each of the four occasions he presented the annual Golden Globes ceremony in Los Angeles, watching the impossibly wealthy and glamorous patting each other on the back year after year can be a little sick-making.
That was why in 2010, after 66 years of handing out its Golden Globes with little more than a deferential bow, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association appointed the controversial Gervais as its first host, hoping to dilute the mutual appreciation and make the awards more palatable in the era of post-modern irony.
But with a host of stars offended since 2010 by the hilariously disrespectful Gervais – particularly and repeatedly merciless towards Mel Gibson – and double-act Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the news that "nice guy" Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, would be fronting the Globes this Sunday appeared to signal that enough was enough.
Yes, NBC Entertainment chair Robert Greenblatt acknowledged when he announced 42-year-old Fallon’s appointment over the summer, the Golden Globes were "the most spontaneous and uninhibited award show on television" (or, as Gervais put it in 2012, "just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem"). But the claim that Fallon’s "playful, disarming comedic brilliance makes him the ideal host to … elevate the sense of fun and irreverence" rang a little hollow ...
If even higher levels of irreverence was really what the producers were seeking, they should have stuck with Gervais. By his own admission, Fallon is a fan, rather than a tormentor, of the famous. As New York magazine has observed, his is "the comedy of unabashed celebration", rather than withering disdain.
As the dust settles on 2016, the best and the worst of us emerge. The National, December 29
As we live through it, every year seems packed with significant events and key players who, for better or worse, seize our attention on the world stage. But as 2016 draws to a close and the white noise of 24-hour news cycles and transient Twitter storms fades into the background, it is already clear that history will remember only a handful of those people, each of whom has taught us something about ourselves and the rapidly changing world in which we live ...
Wisdom has nothing to do with why we take fewer risks as we grow older. Daily Mail, December 28
The young are notoriously impulsive — and with age we become much more risk averse.
But don't flatter yourself that it's because you've become wise over the years.
Rather, say researchers at University College London, it's naturally falling levels of a brain chemical called dopamine that save you from throwing caution to the wind.
As we age, we get less of a thrill from taking risk — so we don't bother ...
Sailing record falls to combination of technology and sheer courage. The National, December 27
"I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston …"
So began the historic voyage of the Spray, a once derelict and ungainly former 11.2 metre oyster sloop, on board which Nova Scotian maritime adventurer Joshua Slocum would become the first person to sail around the world singlehanded.
Slocum was in no hurry – he stopped off in many places en route and the 74,000 kilometre journey took him more more than three years to complete. But the astonishing tale of adventure he told in his 1900 book Sailing Alone Around the World lit a beacon of imagination to which sailors have been drawn ever since.
On November 6 Frenchman Thomas Coville became the latest in a long line of solo sailors to tackle what many consider to be the ultimate test of human courage, when he set sail from the French port of Brest on board Sodebo Ultim, a 31-metre trimaran.
On Sunday – 49 days, three hours, seven minutes and 38 seconds later – Coville crossed a line of longitude off the northwestern tip of France to complete the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, smashing the record set in 2008 by fellow Frenchman Francis Joyon by eight days.
Slashing the record for a solo circumnavigation of the globe from 57 days to 49 is equivalent, in percentage terms, to cutting the world record for the men’s marathon from 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds to a little over 1 hour and 45 minutes.
It’s hard for landlubbers to grasp fully what a voyage like this means. After all, 50 days doesn’t sound like a ridiculous amount of time to be away from the comforts of home, hearth and human companionship – it’s less than two pay-days.
But 50 days out of sight of land, in sole command of a 102-foot bucking bronco of a barely controllable trimaran, travelling at an average speed of 45 kilometres per hour through the worst sea conditions the planet has to offer, represents a challenge that very few human beings are mentally or physically equipped even to contemplate, let alone to handle ...
Bona, the seven-year-old girl whose tweets shamed the world over Aleppo. The National, December 22
It began on September 24, with a three-word plea: "I need peace." That day, 18 more tweets were sent from a newly opened Twitter account attributed to Bana Alabed, a seven-year-old girl trapped with her family in eastern Aleppo.
Within days, the mainstream western media was carrying stories about "the little girl who shames world over Aleppo", as the UK’s Daily Mail headlined a front-page picture of Bana on October 5.
Over the next three months, more than 700 alternately mundane and harrowing tweets and retweets followed. Some were signed by Bana’s mother Fatemah, a teacher credited openly as being the manager of the account, but others were supposedly the work of her daughter.
It ended on Monday, when it became clear that mother and daughter had escaped. The last tweet from the city in Bana’s name, on December 19, read simply: "I escaped from East Aleppo."
In just three months the account had attracted 351,000 followers – among them famous names, including actress Mia Farrow and author JK Rowling, who sent Bana Harry Potter ebooks. But the account also attracted scepticism.
Supporters of the Syrian regime and president Bashar Al Assad himself insisted the account was fiction, designed to manipulate gullible western journalists.
In the "post-truth" era, Bana was also an obvious target for armchair conspiracy theorists. She could obviously not speak English, they said, and her filmed remarks were clearly scripted. And how could she charge her smartphone in the devastated city, let alone have access to the internet?
On December 3, Fatemah responded to some of the allegations. "I recharge my phone with solar panels and our agenda is just for Aleppo civilians like us," she wrote.
But even mainstream media, which had been quick to embrace Bana as "the Anne Frank of Aleppo", began to have doubts. "In an era of internet hoaxes [and] fake news," wrote The New York Times on December 7, the account had "raised some questions of veracity". Bana’s messages were "sophisticated for a seven-year-old … whose native language is not English".
Many tweets were clearly not composed by a child, but no secret had been made of the fact that the account had been set up by Bana’s mother. "Hi I’m Bana I’m seven years old girl," read the introductory biography. "I and my mom are tweeting live from East Aleppo. Account managed by mom."
What all the forensic nitpicking overlooked was a simple, disturbing truth: whoever was handling the smartphone, the feed told the harrowing story of a seven-year-old girl and her two brothers, Mohamed, 5, and Noor, 3, living in daily fear of death. Photographs of the siblings playing, or of Bana reading or celebrating the loss of another baby tooth, were interspersed with footage of bombs going off, graphic images of dead children and desperate pleas for help ...
The speculators depriving NHS patients by selling drugs abroad. Daily Mail, December 13
You rush to the chemist in your lunch hour, only to be told the medicine your GP has prescribed isn't available.
The pharmacist is very apologetic, but no one has it in stock as there are 'supply issues', she says. 'Try again tomorrow.'
But how would you feel if you knew the reason your prescription couldn't be filled is because someone had snapped up all the stock to sell for a profit elsewhere in Europe?
It's not only frustrating, it's dangerous: as a result of drug shortages patients are being harmed and even hospitalised, according to a survey of GPs and pharmacists for the parliamentary All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) ...
How Samuel L Jackson overcame the odds to become Hollywood's surest bet. The National, December 9
The Lifetime Achievement Award handed to Samuel L Jackson during the opening ceremony of this year’s Dubai International Film Festival on Wednesday honours an improbably prolific 40-year career during which the actor has become as ubiquitous as popcorn.
Above all else, moviemaking is a business, and on Jackson’s website, you can find a startling fact to explain the true meaning of the citation: "In recognition of his distinguished service to the film industry."
Jackson is "one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood", and with a catalogue of more than 100 films, has "grossed more money in box-office sales than any other actor in the history of filmmaking".
By January this year, Jackson’s films had raked in US$4.63 billion (Dh17.01bn) at the American box office alone. With five films due next year and two more already lined up for 2018, the 67-year-old, who continues to average four films a year, is unlikely to be dislodged from the top slot any time soon.
But how he got there is an inspirational story of a man who overcame barriers placed in his way by fate, prejudice and biology ...
Why have the men on the moon all outlived their contemporaries? The National, December 8
What was most remarkable about the news this week that Buzz Aldrin had been airlifted out of Antarctica in a medical emergency wasn’t that he had fallen ill, but that he was at the South Pole. The man is, after all, 86 years old, an age when most people would have long ago abandoned golf, let alone bone-chilling jaunts to the harshest place on Earth.
Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong down the ladder from the Apollo 11lunar module on July 21, 1969 to become the second human being to walk on the Moon, is clearly a remarkable man.
But what is most astonishing about Aldrin’s sprightly longevity is that it is not unique among the 12 Apollo astronauts who, between July 1969 and December 1972, left their footprints in the dust of the Moon.
As anyone who has read The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s forensic scrutiny of the characters of the men who led America’s race into space, will know that the dozen who so boldly went where no humans had been before were not exactly physical supermen – certainly not by the standards of today’s athletes.
Like most Americans of their era – especially service personnel, as 11 of the 12 were – they drank, smoked, ate bleeding steaks and fried food with gusto, embraced life with reckless abandon and pursued what passed in Nasa’s early days for physical fitness programmes with only reluctant dedication.
So how come so many of them are, like Aldrin, still alive and kicking? What is their secret, and is it one that any of us ordinary mortals could tap into?
Born between 1923 and 1935, by statistical rights all 12 of the men who, in the words of Andrew Smith’s 2005 book Moon Dust, "fell to Earth", should now be dead. In fact, seven are still alive, with a mean age of 83.
If that sounds unremarkable, consider this: the mean of the predicted life expectancy for American men born in the same years as the 12 Apollo astronauts is 59.5 years, which means that as a group the surviving spacemen have lived for almost two and a half decades longer than their contemporaries.
Even the five who have died did so only after having achieved a mean age of 74, outliving the mass of their Earthbound counterparts by a decade and a half. To put that in perspective, they did almost as well as a male child born in the United States in 2015 can expect to do: that one-year-old’s life expectancy, according to the Population Division of the United Nations, is little better at 76.47 years.
And that, remember, is for someone born 80 years after the youngest Apollo astronaut and 92 years after the oldest.
So how have they done it? What, exactly, is the right stuff that has allowed these 12 men to buck the odds? ...
Hospitals failing to tackle the "funny turn" that can become a stroke. Daily Mail, December 6
Dizziness and blurred vision are symptoms many people might shrug off as a 'funny turn' — but they can also be the sign of a transient ischaemic attack, or mini-stroke, which can itself be a warning sign that a more major, life-threatening stroke is to come.
And it can come soon.
One in 12 people who have these mini-strokes (known as a TIA) will go on to have a full stroke within a week.
Thankfully, relatively simple surgery can prevent a full-blown one — but four out of ten victims of mini-strokes aren't having the operation in time.
Shocking new figures reveal that the chance of having the vital surgery after an early-warning mini-stroke varies wildly across the country ...
Cholesterol? Pah. At 117, egg-loving Emma is old enough to know better. The National, December 2
It’s one thing reaching an age when your friends and contemporaries start dying and you begin to wonder when it will be your turn. It’s quite another to find yourself pronounced the world’s oldest person.
In May, that honour fell to Emma Morano, an Italian woman born in 1899, when the former holder of the title passed away.
On May 12, Susannah Mushatt Jones, born in Alabama in 1899, died at the grand old age of 116 years and 311 days. She in turn had picked up the mantle in June last year, when Jeralean Talley, another American citizen, died at the age of 116 years and 25 days.
Now Morano, who celebrated her 117th birthday on Tuesday, has entered uncharted waters. She’s only the second Italian since 1957 to pick up the longevity gauntlet (although, curiously, and possibly as a great endorsement for pasta and olive oil, three of the young whippersnappers at her heels are also Italians, all in their 114th year). Compatriot Rosalia Spot held the crown for one year and 119 days until her demise at the age of 109 years and 179 days in February 1957 – at which point Morano was a sprightly 58.
Now, 59 years later and 200 days into her reign, Morano is within three weeks of equalling the benchmark set by Misao Okawa, a Japanese woman who made it to 117 years and 27 days before her death last year. At that point, Morano will become the verified fifth-oldest person ever to have lived ...
Keep taking the pills? All that extra vitamin D may be pointless, or worse. Daily Mail, November 29
Just four months ago, the advice on vitamin D seemed as clear as the sky on a hot summer's day.
After an exhaustive, five-year review, Public Health England finally announced that everyone needed 10 micrograms a day 'in order to protect their bone and muscle health'.
The advice had been a long time coming.
It was based on the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a team of independent experts set up by the Government to consider all the available evidence and review the decades-old public guidance on vitamin D.
Vitamin D is made in the skin by the action of sunlight. In spring and summer, when the sun is sufficiently strong, this is the main source for most people and any excess we make is stored in the fat and liver.
However, these stocks are steadily depleted during the colder months.
And while vitamin D can be found in some food — oily fish, liver, egg yolk and fortified cereals, for instance — it's hard to get enough this way, which is why SACN recommends everyone should take the daily 10mcg supplement during the autumn and winter.
Those whose skin is rarely exposed to sunlight, such as the elderly, should take this amount every day of the year.
But now researchers writing in the British Medical Journal have thrown a spanner in the works.
After analysing the results of hundreds of trials involving tens of thousands of patients, they concluded there was 'no consistent evidence that vitamin D supplementation improves musculoskeletal outcomes' if you're not in the at-risk groups such as older people and certain ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, other experts are now saying that official advice is actually causing some people to take far too much vitamin D, which can lead to a range of serious health problems and may even weaken rather than strengthen bones ...
Swords to sorcery: the real-life Game of Thrones engulfing South Korea. The National, November 18
For the South Koreans who are binge-viewing all six seasons of Game of Thrones on HBO Asia, the rise, and now anticipated fall, of their 11th president will be familiar territory.
There are obvious parallels between South Korea’s fragile co-existence with its unpredictable neighbour and the geopolitics of George RR Martin’s fantasy world, in which the dark forces in the north are held at bay by a wall of ice.
But the story of Park Geun-hye, 64, the first female president of a country ranked 115th for gender equality, would not be out of place in the swords-and-sorcery fantasy drama.
The twist is that the central character in the scandal now threatening Park is a Rasputin-like figure rumoured to have exerted almost supernatural influence over the president for personal gain ...
A tale of two airports: how Heathrow's future was given away to Dubai. The National, November 11
At a lonely crossroads in the English countryside stands a small copse of trees, planted in 1972 to celebrate the defeat by locals of a plan to build a badly needed third airport for London in the area. Had the scheme gone ahead, the site occupied by Cublington Spinney today would have been at the centre of Britain’s largest airport. As it is, only birds fly there.
If the need to expand the UK’s runway capacity was acute in the seventies, more than four decades later it is little short of an economic emergency. It is, however, no closer to being met. All of the 13 governments and nine prime ministers since the Cublington fiasco will have recognised the vital importance of this issue, but not one has managed to disrupt the apparently unbreakable cycle of inquiries, consultations, protests and abandoned plans.
There are twin ironies to be found in the shadow of the trees in Cublington Spinney, barely 50 kilometres north-west of Heathrow. One lies in the transformed meaning of the concrete slab at its heart, cast in the shape of Concorde, the revolutionary supersonic passenger aircraft that first flew in 1969 and which in 1972 was seen as the very embodiment of “the tyranny of technology” that the locals vowed to fight. Today, Concorde is no more and the slab serves only as a reminder of the commercial and technological leadership that Britain has steadily and almost wilfully thrown away.
The second irony lies in the date of the “victory” celebrated here in “midmost unmitigated England”, as the self-satisfied wording on the nearby plaque has it (pinching the phrase from Henry James’ description of Warwickshire). In 1972, as the good folk of Buckinghamshire were celebrating the triumph of their not-in-my-backyard self-interest over the greater national good, over 5,500km away the fledging United Arab Emirates was embarking on its first full year of nationhood and the finishing touches were being added to Dubai airport.
In the four decades since, guided by a leadership both willing and able to make big strategic decisions about the future in the interests not of a vociferous few but of an entire nation, the UAE has developed at a furious pace. The physical evidence of this is everywhere, most obviously in the ever evolving skylines of the cities. But the most striking statistical confirmation that from the outset the UAE was determined that not even the sky would be the limit of its aspirations is the fact that last year, with 70 million passengers passing through, Dubai International overtook Heathrow to become the busiest international airport in the world.
More than merely a tale of two airports, this is a story of two systems of government, two different ways of getting done the things that really matter ...
Read more at The National ...
So if it wasn't you, who exactly did cast their vote for Trump? The National, November 11
Just like the bulk of political pundits and mainstream media commentators, opportunistic internet entrepreneurs were caught off guard by the shock result of Tuesday’s United States presidential election.
The day after Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States it was still possible to find "Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump" T-shirts and hoodies online. But the full story of the shock sustained by America’s political system is told in silent eloquence by the stacked boxes of now useless merchandise cluttering up basements and garages across America.
Actually, the true entrepreneur – the type who might have impressed Donald Trump during his 14-season run as host of US TV show The Apprentice – will know what to do: take a thick red pen, cross out the "Don’t" – et voilà: "Blame me, I voted for Trump".
But who would happily wear such a thing? Almost every time Trump opened his mouth over the past 18 months something came out that seemed calculated to offend, insult, terrify or otherwise generally alienate vast swaths of the electorate. So who, exactly, was the Trump voter? ...
The 13-year-old runaway who founded world's largest cattle firm. The National, October 28
In 1870, a 13-year-old boy ran away from home in Adelaide, South Australia, to forge a future in the outback, where fortunes were being made and lives lost by pioneers wresting a living from the harshest of landscapes.
With a one-eyed horse called Cyclops for company and just a few shillings in his pocket, Sidney Kidman could not possibly have foreseen the astonishing events he had set in motion.
Kidman would go on to found a cattle company, S Kidman & Co, which by the First World War had put him in control of an area of Australia much larger than the whole of England.
By the turn of the century, he had already been dubbed The Cattle King, and in 1921, he was knighted by King George V of England for services rendered to the Commonwealth of Australia during the Great War.
Least imaginable of all, perhaps, almost 150 years later, is that his company would be thrust into the global spotlight by a multimillion-dollar takeover battle that has reawakened Australia’s pride in its tough, pioneering past and stirred fears that foreign ownership of S Kidman & Co would somehow undermine that outback heritage ...
The horrible truth: scary movies can both improve and harm your health. Daily Mail, October 25
Many of us love a good horror flick and this Halloween cinema-goers have a choice of two blood-curdling offerings: Ouija: Origin of Evil, a chilling story of child possession; and Attack of the Lederhosenzombies, in which the laughs flow as thick as the blood on the ski slopes.
There's a range of explanations for why horror fans seek out shock, says psychologist Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University.
'It may be about experiencing things we never would in our day-to-day life,' he says.
Watching such films 'may also be cathartic, providing an emotional release for pent-up frustrations'.
But is all that leaping out of your skin doing you any good? Strangely enough, some research shows it could be ...
Perhaps tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios really is in the wrong sport. The National, October 21
As a professional tennis player, you know that you have set new standards of unprofessional behaviour when even John McEnroe, arch bad boy of the sport during the 1970s and 80s, tells you to buck up your ideas.
This week, the 21-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios, ranked No 14 in the world, was fined a total of US$41,500 (Dh152,419) and banned from tournament tennis for eight weeks for his behaviour during the recent Shanghai Masters.
In the process, he became the first player to be suspended for his behaviour since McEnroe was punished for outbursts during the US Open in 1987.
The Association of Tennis Professionals said he had "committed the player major offence ‘Conduct Contrary to the Integrity of the Game,’" and had also been punished for violating the "Best Efforts" provision in its code, "verbal abuse of a spectator" and "unsportsmanlike conduct".
After a first-round victory in Shanghai, in which he easily beat world No 29 Sam Querrey, Kyrgios announced he had been "a bit bored at times" during the match. In the second round, in which he was defeated by Mischa Zverev, a player ranked 110th in the world (since Shanghai, he has risen to No 68), the boredom was replaced by petulance.
Apparently frustrated, Kyrgios "tanked" – almost giving up, patting his own serves over the net and walking off the court instead of returning his opponent’s balls. He abused spectators who booed him and said: "I don’t owe them anything".
Far from being contrite, he later added: "If you don’t like it, I didn’t ask you to come watch. Just leave. If you’re so good at giving advice and so good at tennis, why aren’t you as good as me? Why aren’t you on the Tour?"
This undoubtedly talented but troubled player’s behaviour has been so bad that some in the game are starting to ask whether the Tour really needs a player of his temperament. For Kyrgios, success and fame have all happened quickly – perhaps too quickly. And he now appears to be questioning whether he needs the Tour at all ...
From lightbulbs to iPhones: how to fix the problem of planned obsolescence. The National, October 20
You’re the proud and happy owner of an expensive and shiny piece of kit until, one day, up pops the dreaded message: software update available.
You know you shouldn’t. But then you make the mistake of reading about all the life-changing improvements the upgrade will bring. And now you’re the unhappy owner of a device that’s running far slower than it used to and, pretty soon, you’re forking out hundreds of dollars for the latest version of the perfectly good piece of kit you just threw in the bin.
Welcome to the wonderful world of planned obsolescence ...
Would you know how to save a life with CPR? It's time to learn. Daily Mail, October 18
When Ray Thorpe left the office just after 5pm on June 15 last year, he was in a bit of a hurry.
‘If I finish by 5pm, I can make the train that leaves Leeds Central at 5.16pm but I need to get a move on,’ explains the 58-year-old charity worker.
The half-mile walk to the station from the debt charity where Ray works as an adviser is usually no problem for the keen long-distance hiker.
That afternoon, however, Ray left work late and ended up ‘jogging to the station, ducking and diving past people on the pavements’.
He made the train — just. It was packed and, he recalls, ‘very hot’, but he managed to find a seat. His destination, Pontefract Monkhill, was four stops and 28 minutes away.
Ray’s book that day was Narrowboat Dreams, a present from his daughter Jennifer ahead of a canal trip the family were taking to celebrate Jennifer’s 30th birthday.
The last thing Ray remembers is taking out the book and his reading glasses. Within seconds of the train leaving, Ray was unconscious, his life in the balance.
He had become one of the 30,000 people a year in England who suffer a cardiac arrest outside hospital ...
Is it morally acceptable to accept a Nobel Peace Prize? The National, October 14
A moral dilemma. You’re a doctor whose entire career has been dedicated to seeking a cure for lung cancer. Thousands of people owe you their lives, although many thousands more, unable to overcome their addiction to tobacco, have slipped through your fingers. Then you receive news that you are to be honoured with an award which, as well as recognising your dedication, comes with a sizeable cash prize that could boost your research work.
The only drawback is that the award is called the Philip Morris Prize for Medicine and the investment fund from which its prize money is drawn was set up with profits from the tobacco industry. Could you, in all conscience, accept the award?
It could be argued that a similar moral dilemma confronts those who are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, founded on the profits of an arms manufacturer whose products made possible the slaughter of humans on an industrial scale. But of the 104 individuals and 26 organisations who have received the call from Oslo since 1901, only one has declined the honour.
Last Friday, president Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was named the latest peace laureate for his efforts to end the 50-year-old civil war that has killed 250,000 Colombians. There is, of course, no doubting the sincerity of Mr Santos and his decision to dedicate the prize of $925,000 (Dh3.4 million) to victims of the conflict. Yet we live in an age of historical revisionism, in which past norms are being increasingly examined under the microscope of hindsight and found wanting. Applying such scrutiny to the Nobel legacy, might it not be time to ask whether it remains acceptable to accept a Nobel Peace Prize? ...
After 50 years of madness, will Colombia really pass up chance of peace? The National, October 7
Most of the headline events of 1964 have long passed into the history books. This was the year that Nelson Mandela began his imprisonment in Robben Island; The Beatles recorded their first No 1 album in the American charts; and American involvement in the Vietnam War was in full bloody swing.
But in May 1964, a United States-backed assault by government troops on a remote rural community in Colombia triggered the birth of a left-wing guerrilla group that has been terrorising the South American country ever since, in the process earning itself the dubious distinction of becoming one of the world’s longest insurgencies.
To most outside observers, the fact that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has been in operation for the past 52 years, ostensibly in the cause of a political ideology that crumbled along with the Berlin Wall in 1989, is astonishing enough.
Even more extraordinary, however, is the fact that in a referendum on Sunday, the Colombian electorate may have sabotaged the best chance yet to end a conflict that has cost a quarter of a million lives and hobbled the nation’s economic and social development for half a century ...
Telescopes and the 400-year-old search for extraterrestrial life. The National, October 2
It is, perhaps, a telling observation that the two tools that first gave human beings the ability to explore the world about them in scientific detail, at both the universal and microscopic level, were invented at about the same time.
On October 2, 1608, 408 years ago, Hans Lippershey, a German-born grinder of lenses and maker of spectacles from Middelburg in The Netherlands, made the first recorded application to patent an instrument "for seeing things far away as if they were near by".
History credits his out-patented rival Zacharias Janssen, who was from the same town and is also believed to have been working on a telescope, with the invention of the microscope instead.
As described in the documents filed with the parliament of The Hague, Lippershey’s invention was a relatively crude device. A tube of about 4 centimetres in diameter and 50cm long was fitted with a convex lens at the front and a concave lens at the eyepiece, and magnified objects fourfold.
Crude or not, in intention if not scope this was the ancestral forebear of the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, which began operating in China this week.
The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (Fast), a true wonder of the age of radio astronomy, is the latest and most advanced expression yet of mankind’s curiosity about the universe and our place in it.
Built in the mountainous region of Guizhou in southwest China at a cost of US$180 million (Dh661m), the imposing Fast employs no lenses. The most powerful terrestrial telescopes pointed at the stars today are scouring wavelengths far beyond the electromagnetic spectrum visible to the human eye. Fast is focused on a narrow band of wavelengths, between 70MHz and 3GHz, straddling very high, ultra high and super high radio frequencies.
What this means is that its 500-metre dish, twice as sensitive and up to 10 times as fast as its nearest rival, the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, is perfectly positioned and attuned to collect a whole range of data from a universe which, despite our leaps in science, remains 96 per cent theoretical.
Fast is likely to broaden our knowledge of everything from pulsars – so far, only 3 per cent of an estimated 60,000 in the galaxy have been found, and the promised discovery of more and weaker types could alter our understanding of how the universe functions – to the contentious concepts of dark matter and dark galaxies.
It could even solve the so-called "small-scale crisis" that is troubling the otherwise widely accepted cosmological model of how our universe evolved and continues to function. This model is based on theories of "cold dark matter" and "dark energy"; problematically, some observations appear to show that on a small scale – in smaller galaxies – the model appears less convincing. One way or the other, Fast could soon resolve the debate.
But it is Fast’s "front page" role that is, predictably, attracting all the headlines – the search for signals from extra-terrestrial life. China claims that Fast, being able to scan up to a million stars, across a broader arc of sky, in a fraction of the time its rivals require to scan only thousands, will outgun all other arrays currently scouring space for signs of intelligent life ...
Syria's White Helmets: victims or actors in a cynical propaganda war? The National, September 30
At first glance, the nomination of the brave men and women of Syria Civil Defence, aka the White Helmets, for a Nobel Peace Prize seems a no-brainer.
Since its formation in 2013, the group of "former tailors, bakers, teachers and other ordinary Syrians who have banded together to save lives from the rubble of bombardment", says it has saved 60,000 lives in the war-torn country. They now have 3,000 members and operate from 120 centres across Syria, "neutrally, impartially and for all Syrians", and they have suffered losses – 141 killed and more than 400 injured.
They are up against stiff competition for the peace prize from a record 376 nominees, including Angela Merkel and the Greek islanders, both nominated for their attempts to ease the plight of refugees.
The White Helmets have nevertheless received the support of a raft of organisations and high-profile western artists, politicians and actors, including George Clooney and Daniel Craig, the latter of whom is a United Nations goodwill ambassador.
But it would take all the ingenuity of a 007 to get to the bottom of a vitriolic propaganda war being waged to ensure that the White Helmets are not the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
There are two versions of the birth of the White Helmets and which you favour depends on which side you take in the Syrian conflict. One says they are a spontaneous coming-together of ordinary Syrians motivated only by humanitarianism. The other says they are agents of western governments.
Whatever the truth, the facts of the foundation and funding of the organisation at the very least poses questions about the overlapping interests of NGOs and the governments that fund them ...
How delay detecting sepsis changed a young family's life for ever. Daily Mail, September 27
On August 2 last year Matthew Parkes and his wife Pamela arrived in Majorca with their four-year-old daughter to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary with a week in the sun.
‘We thought Sophia would love to see where Mummy and Daddy had gone on their honeymoon,’ says Matthew, a 39-year-old former competitive swimmer, who couldn’t wait to start teaching his daughter how to swim in the hotel pool.
But the dream holiday for the family from Cheadle Hulme, near Stockport, soon turned into a nightmare.
On the second day, Matthew and Pamela developed sore throats. Mercifully, Sophia was unaffected, but her parents were both ‘very ill’, as Pamela, 40, a manager for a legal firm, recalls.
‘It didn’t seem like a normal sore throat.’
Matthew and Pamela had been infected with streptococcal A, a common bacterium responsible for many sore throats.
However, while Pamela’s infection would quickly clear up, just two days after becoming ill, Matthew was fighting for his life.
He’d developed sepsis, a life-threatening condition that can be triggered by any kind of infection, as simple as a tummy bug or a sore throat.
The body’s immune system over-reacts to the initial infection, attacking its own tissues and organs.
Caught in time, sepsis can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but even doctors struggle to recognise the symptoms.
Untreated, sepsis will quickly start to kill off tissue and the organs.
Every year it claims 44,000 lives in the UK — many of those could have been prevented.
The good news is that a campaign by the UK Sepsis Trust, backed by the Daily Mail, has resulted in the announcement earlier this month of a nationwide awareness programme.
From later this autumn posters in GP surgeries and hospitals across England will urge patients and parents to ‘Just ask: Could it be sepsis?’
Doctors in Majorca failed to spot the tell-tale signs in Matthew, and after a 24-hour delay in his diagnosis, he was in intensive care and would spend the next seven weeks in an induced coma.
And while he survived, it was at a terrible cost: he’s had both his legs amputated from just below the knee and lost most of his left hand ...
Pneumonia, the old man's friend, not such a pal to would-be presidents. The National, September 15
A little over a century ago Canadian doctor William Osler, one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, wrote that "pneumonia may well be called the friend of the aged".
What he meant, as he went on to explain in his 1909 book The Principles and Practice of Medicine, was that: "Taken off by it in an acute, short, not often painful illness, the old man escapes those ‘cold gradations of decay’, so distressing to himself and to his friends." Usually, death by pneumonia was over and done with within a week.
Osler himself wasn’t so lucky. A decade later, on December 29, 1919, he lost his life at the age of 70 to the disease that had, as he noted, usurped the office of tuberculosis as "the captain of the men of death". But his end, in bed in Oxford, England, was an extended and miserable one, leaving him "very ill and emaciated, in a state of extreme toxaemia [septic shock], and speaking little because speech brought on a bout of paroxysmal coughing", according to one account.
But if pneumonia is the friend of those whose life is drawing to an otherwise long and miserable close, it most certainly is not the ally of those seeking the highest office in American politics, as United States Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton found this week, possibly to her eventual cost at the polls.
By the standards of today’s medicine, Clinton, 68, does not qualify as "the aged". But her public stumble on Sunday under the influence of a bout of "walking pneumonia" serves as a reminder that a disease first recorded (and named) by the Greeks remains a potent threat to us all, humble or mighty ...
What magic is this? Under the hood of banking's ubiquitous card reader. The National, September 14
They crept up on us almost unnoticed. Small, annoying, plastic pieces of mysterious technology easily lost at the back of a drawer or the bottom of a handbag that have become ubiquitous, tediously essential bits of kit for anyone who banks online, whether at home or on the move. They are also sometimes necessary to gain access to a secure, corporate VPN or virtual private network.
Among banks, for reasons best known to the industry, their precise nature varies according to location. In the Middle East, for instance, including the UAE, they are a simple "token", a branded device that looks a little like a calculator and asks only for a PIN before issuing an apparently random number that allows access to online accounts.
Elsewhere in the world, including the US and Europe, they are card-readers – a slightly more sophisticated version of the token, into which bank cards must be inserted to generate a one-off number.
Either way, they do nothing to improve the consumer experience. At best they are a tiresome wrinkle in what has otherwise become the extremely smooth process of online banking. Lose them, and there’s no way you can set up new payments or carry out a range of other online banking acts.
Presented as "an extra layer of protection against online fraud", the device is in fact nothing less than a tacit admission that the digital revolution is fatally flawed. Its very existence is evidence that, for all our digital ingenuity, we have yet to figure out a way of telling if people are who they say they are online ...
Should NHS prescribe cannabis for chronic pain and other conditions? Daily Mail, September 14
Jordan fell into a terrible depression when he was told he was going to die, ‘but the cannabis also helped with that. It even helped with his appetite when he was having chemotherapy.’
Frances learned about the possible medical benefits of cannabis from ‘a friend of a friend’, whose elderly mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the abdominal lining and whose symptoms, including pain which morphine hadn’t touched, disappeared almost overnight after she started taking the drug.
Cannabis is a Schedule 1, Class B drug, which means if Frances had been caught giving cannabis to her son, she could have faced up to 14 years in prison for possession and supply.
Until Jordan was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Frances, a housewife, had never dreamed of breaking the law.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3786378/Should-seriously-ill-patients-given-cannabis-pain-relief-Family-teenager-aggressive-cancer-turned-illegal-drug-resort.html#ixzz4K7ZKPGrW
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on FacebookJordan Lotter was an otherwise fit and healthy 18-year-old when he went to his GP in January 2015 with a pain in his side.
Just 15 months later, Jordan died at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
What he’d thought was a sports injury, or muscle strain from his bricklaying course, turned out to be a an aggressive cancer in his abdomen.
In the final dreadful months of his life, during which Jordan endured debilitating chemotherapy and an operation to remove a tumour blocking his intestines, his mother Frances and father Charles fought desperately to save him, at one point raising money to send him to Germany for a new form of immunotherapy treatment.
Nothing worked and throughout it all ‘he was in terrible pain’, says Frances.
Jordan was given morphine, but needed such high doses that ‘it slowed his whole body down, respiratory system, bowel, everything — and he was so drugged up he was barely aware of his surroundings, it took him out of the game.’
Unable to watch her son suffering, Frances stumbled upon a solution doctors could not consider — cannabis, which she began giving him as drops of oil (administered orally with a syringe like a child’s medicine) last May and which he took until his death on April 4 this year.
The effects, she says, were ‘instantaneous and amazing… it did wonders for his pain, with none of the side-effects of the morphine, which made him sick and gave him horrible dreams.’
But for the last year of Jordan’s life, she risked arrest and prosecution to ease her son’s excruciating pain as he lay dying.
Frances didn’t care. ‘I was fighting for Jordan’s quality of life,’ she told Good Health. Whatever the risks, ‘I would do it again’.
Now a highly controversial report, published today by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform, is calling on the government to legalise cannabis for this kind of medical use, by moving it to Schedule 4, ending the criminalisation of what the APPG says could be as many as a million Britons like Frances.
This, they say, would bring the UK in line with 11 other European countries, including Germany, Italy, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as 24 states in the U.S. as well as Canada, Israel and many Latin American countries ...
Zayn, poor rich kid or casualty of the modern quest for fame at any cost? The National, September 9
On one level, the news this week that 22-year-old British pop star Zayn Malik has pulled out of a concert in Dubai, openly citing anxiety, can be seen as a welcome sign of how far society has come in terms of attitudes to mental illness.
As recently as 2011, when Amy Winehouse, haunted by manic depression, drank herself to death, the troubled singer was remembered in one obituary as a "victim of mental illness in a society that doesn't understand or respond to mental illness with great effectiveness”.
That Malik can share his anxieties so openly with his fans, therefore, can only be a good thing, though revelations about his mental health do cast doubt on the wisdom of his website’s domain name – inzayn.com.
But on another level, the spectacle of a former talent-contest wannabe crumbling under the strain of the fame so many desperately seek speaks volumes about the troubling superficiality of a society in which fame, at any cost, is seen as the ultimate goal ...
Simon Cowell and the whole X Factor phenomenon have a lot to answer for.
Middle England braces for ‘trial of the century’ in The Archers. The National, September 4
London // Middle England is bracing itself for the trial of the century, which begins at 7.02pm on Sunday and is expected to last all week.
In the dock is Helen Titchener, a 37-year-old farm-shop manager and accomplished cheese-maker who faces charges of attempted murder and wounding with intent after stabbing her allegedly abusive husband Rob, in the presence of her five-year-old son, Henry.
Sunday at 7pm would be an odd time for a court case to begin, were it not for the fact that Helen and Rob are not real people, but characters in The Archers, a radio soap opera with six 12-minute shows a week, plus a 75-minute omnibus edition every Sunday at 10am.
The fact that the case is pure fiction has not, however, prevented it becoming a cause célèbre among the long-running programme’s five million devoted listeners, many of whom, with an average age of 56, appear to have lost touch with reality.
The plot line about Helen’s abusive relationship with Rob has provoked storms of fury, on Twitter and beyond. As far back as September last year Timothy Watson, the actor who plays the manipulative cad, was booed and heckled by the middle-class audience when he appeared on stage for a debate during the Radio Times Festival at Hampton Court Palace.
Since his character’s coercive behaviour drove Helen to stab him in April, he has understandably been keeping his head down, beyond offering the observation that Rob is "narcissistic and horrendously abusive. A psychopath [who] has no ability to conduct a proper loving relationship."
Many have welcomed the plot for highlighting the issue of domestic abuse and coercive behaviour in relationships. A fund-raising website set up for the charity Refuge in Helen Titchener’s name — "because for every fictional Helen, there are real ones" — has almost hit its target of £150,000 (Dh732,000).
One devoted fan of the programme is former justice secretary Michael Gove, who says The Archers is "required listening in our house" (as, apparently, it is for several members of the royal family, including Prince Charles). In May Mr Gove said Helen’s plight had added impetus to the government’s plans to change the way the prison system treated pregnant women and mothers with babies.
In December last year the UK introduced a law making "coercive or controlling behaviour" in a relationship an offence. It is not clear if Rob’s behaviour played a part in shaping the legislation, but many fans are hoping that the inevitable plot twist at the end of this week will be that the legal tables are turned and he falls foul of it.
Other fans of The Archers, the world’s longest-running soap opera, miss the days of escapist rural twaddle and are unhappy with the sensationalist direction the show has taken, but in the 65 years and 18,000-plus episodes since it first went on the air this has been a frequent complaint.
Set in Ambridge, a village in the fictional county of Borsetshire in the English Midlands, the show was first broadcast on January 1, 1951, more than two years before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Producer Godfrey Baseley developed the show with the help of the ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food as an entertaining method of conveying topical farming tips to help ease Britain’s post-war food shortages.
At its peak in the 1950s, The Archers was attracting up to 20 million listeners an episode, with plots no more incendiary than an outbreak of potato blight and the occasional hotly contested jam-making competition.
There was one early controversial stab at high drama — the death in a stable fire of key character Grace Archer, bumped off by the scriptwriters on September 22, 1955, supposedly in an attempt to sabotage the launch of the UK’s first commercial television station ...
Bad reaction to EpiPen pricing injects sour note into high flyer's CV. The National, September 2
In an era of escalating health-care costs, "Big Pharma" is a familiar bogeyman, portrayed as a faceless corporate entity greedily exploiting human suffering.
Rarely do its critics get the opportunity to personalise the monster with a face or a name, but in the past week, Heather Bresch, the chief executive of American company Mylan Pharmaceuticals, has supplied them with both.
Back in 2007, Pittsburgh-based Mylan went global when it bought the generics business of Merck, a major player in the pharmaceuticals market, for US$6.7 billion (Dh24.61bn). Generics are versions of branded drugs, which anyone can make once the patent, held by the company that invented them, has expired.
Among the 400 products Mylan inherited was EpiPen, an auto-injector used to administer a dose of adrenaline and carried by people with severe allergies who are at risk of anaphylactic shock, which can prove fatal.
As chief operating officer, Bresch was in charge of absorbing the new products into Mylan’s portfolio. Last year, she told Fortune magazine she was "particularly proud of the hidden gem" she had found. The EpiPen was "my baby".
"Cash cow" would have been a better description. At the time of the takeover, the 25-year-old, near-monopoly, market-leading product was making less than $200 million a year. By 2014, it had become Mylan’s first $1bn seller, not through ingenious marketing or sales, but thanks to regular, ruthless price hiking.
This week it emerged Mylan had methodically jacked the price of EpiPen by 461 per cent, from $56.64 to the $317.82 it costs in the US today.
At the same time, according to documents with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, the value of Bresch’s annual personal compensation package rose 671 per cent, topping $25m in 2014.
The subsequent outrage, which has led to calls for Bresch to explain herself to Congress, has been further stoked by revelations that there’s about $1 worth of adrenaline in an EpiPen, which costs $6 to $7 to make.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has weighed in, calling for a reduction in the price, saying: "It’s wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients."
But EpiPen is only part of the problem. In June, an analyst with Wells Fargo had already raised concerns about Mylan’s general pricing strategy, noting the company had boosted the prices of 24 products by more than 20 per cent and seven others by more than 100 per cent. The price of Ursodiol, used to treat gallstones, had gone up by 542 per cent.
It has also now emerged that on August 9, just before the EpiPen scandal broke, causing Mylan’s stock price to stumble, Bresch sold more than 100,000 of her 928,518 shares, netting $5m.
None of this is illegal, and as a public company operating in a capitalist system, Mylan is legally obliged to make as much money as it can for its shareholders. But Big Pharma is frequently held to moral standards not applied to other industries ...
How Uber became a force for social change in the Middle East. The National, August 30
For those who have been under a rock since Uber arrived in the UAE in 2013, it works like this. You download the Uber app to your smartphone, register your credit card details (Uber is trialling cash payments), enter your destination and, presto, thanks to the magic of GPS, a car finds you. No heat, no hassle, no sweat.
But while the consequences of the Uber revolution for individual users might be fairly obvious, calculating the impact on wider society is not so easy.
Uber was founded in March 2009 by serial tech entrepreneurs Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick. The app was released the following year and, to cut a short story even shorter, both men are now worth about US$6 billion (Dh22.03bn) each.
Operations began in San Francisco, where the model that would be rolled out across most of the world was developed. Today, you can even book a driverless car in Pittsburgh in the United States.
"We are a technology company, not a transport company," an Uber spokesperson told The National. "We do not own cars or employ drivers." Instead, its app acts as a go-between, signing up and connecting drivers and riders and handling the financial transactions between them, and Uber makes its money by taking a slice of the action.
And those slices worldwide add up to an awful lot of money. In December, when Uber embarked on a new round of finance-raising, seeking $2.1bn to fund ambitious expansion plans, the company was valued at $62.6bn.
As of last week, Uber is available in 74 countries and about 500 cities. Until this week, these included both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the first cities in the Middle East to join the Uber party, where the app went live in September and December 2013.
The region was one of Uber’s fastest-growing, and the company, said a spokesperson, had "committed to investing $250 million in the region". Last month, Uber and the other private taxi service in the UAE, Careem, said they were open to providing more affordable taxi-sharing services if government regulations were to allow it.
Since launching in the UAE, Uber is now available in nine countries and 15 cities in the region, including Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Manama and Doha. Business is especially brisk in Saudi Arabia, where on June 1 the Public Investment Fund announced it was investing $3.5bn in the company.
Around the world, Uber isn’t the only company doing what it does, but with vast funding at its disposal it regularly steamrollers local competition to become the only ride in town. When Uber cut its fares in Abu Dhabi in April, Careem did not follow suit. Though generally cagey about its vital statistics, a local Uber spokesperson says, "we are confident we are the leading app in the region. In this last week alone [July 24 to July 30], our app was downloaded three times more than our competitor."
In the West, Uber has faced multiple protests and legal actions from licensed taxi drivers and other entrenched interests, including entire cities, almost all of which it has overcome (apart from in China where it has merged with once arch-rival Didi after burning through $2bn trying to see it off). There have also been protests by customers outraged by Uber’s "surge" pricing, which sees fares rocket at times of high demand.
Uber has never pretended to be a social enterprise. Elsewhere in the Middle East, however, it could be argued that, as needs must, it is becoming an instrument of social change in its bid for global domination.
In October last year, Uber teamed up in Egypt with HarassMap, an initiative that tracks reports of sexual harassment in the country, to improve driver screening and make driver education and training to prevent sexual harassment mandatory, pledging to take a lead in corporate prevention. A similar initiative is under way in Pakistan.
But perhaps the most seismic social shock is being felt in Saudi Arabia, where, reflecting the ban on women driving, 80 per cent of Uber’s customers are women. The kingdom’s recent investment – as Uber’s largest single investor, the government now has a seat on the company’s board alongside Camp and Kalanick – has been simultaneously hailed as a significant move towards women’s liberation and condemned as a tool for the obverse.
"They’re investing in our pain, in our suffering," Hatoon Al Fassi, an historian at Qatar University, told Bloomberg when the deal was announced in June. "This institutionalises women’s inferiority and dependency."
In a blog, Faisal Abbas, editor-in-chief of Saudi-owned television network Al Arabiya English, wrote: "Nobody should view the Uber investment as a way to enforce the driving-ban."
On the contrary, he added, it was a "pratical ‘work-around’ that actually empowers women and facilitates their movement and productivity … Have those who called for the boycott thought that they may be stopping a mother from taking a crying child to the hospital? Did they think that they could be preventing a … female graduate from getting a job?"
A clue to where the women-driving debate might be going in Saudi Arabia was, perhaps, to be found in Uber’s frank response. "Of course we think women should be allowed to drive," Jill Hazelbaker, an Uber spokeswoman, told The New York Times. But "in the absence of that, we have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before and we’re incredibly proud of that".
One way or another, Uber is changing the way people go places. Is it pricey? Sure. Is it just a status symbol? Maybe. Is it worth it? Try standing in the harsh midday sun in Abu Dhabi in July, waiting for a taxi that never comes, before you answer that.
Global warming raises spectre of comeback for long dead killer diseases. The National, August 29
Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, unpredictable weather patterns leading to widespread flooding and, conversely, drought – the known consequences of global warming are bad enough.
But to that catalogue of disastrous outcomes may now be added a previously unconsidered horror, right out of the Hollywood scriptwriter’s playbook: the return of deadly “zombie” diseases, reawakened from slumber by the melting of ice that has entombed them for decades, or even centuries.
Earlier this month an outbreak of anthrax in the far north of Russia claimed the lives of a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother, among 41 children and 31 adults struck down by a disease not seen in the region since 1941. Hundreds of reindeer are also reported to have died.
It is not yet clear where the anthrax came from, but scientists are examining two grisly possibilities – that the dormant but still infectious spores were released from the remains of infected animals, or even humans, buried more than 70 years ago and now being increased exposed as the region’s permafrost melts.
In either case, Alexei Kokorin, head of WWF Russia’s climate and energy programme, told the media earlier this month, back then “they didn’t bury deep because it’s hard to dig deep in permafrost”.
Now, however, that permafrost is on the retreat, raising concerns about what might lie beneath. Summer thawing in the region normally melts the ice to a depth of about 30 centimetres, but this year it has exceeded a metre, exposing shallow human and animal graves.
It isn’t the first time a long-dormant virus has risen from the dead. In a paper published a year ago a team of French and Russian scientists revealed that since 2003 no fewer than four new viruses had been discovered in a single 30,000-year-old sample of permafrost. According to a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States in August 2015, all four were viable and still capable of infecting hosts.
Luckily for us, the targets of these primitive, so-called “giant” viruses – so large they can be detected with a normal microscope – are only certain types of amoebae. But, the authors cautioned, “the fact that [these] viruses retain their infectivity in prehistorical permafrost layers should be of concern in a context of global warming”.
Other viruses poised to emerge from icy tombs might not be so benign.
Smallpox, caused by the variola virus, is believed to have first infected human beings about 10,000BC. By the 18th century it was killing half a million people a year in Europe alone and in the 20th century claimed the lives of as many as 500 million people worldwide.
It was the first disease to have been fought on a global scale and in 1980, after an 18-year immunisation campaign, the World Health Organisation declared that, apart from a few samples kept in secret and highly secure laboratories, it had been eradicated.
Or maybe not. After the recent anthrax outbreak in Russia, scientists there told The Siberian Times they feared “born again” smallpox could rise from the graves of victims buried more than 120 years ago.
In the mid- to late-1800s several smallpox epidemics ravaged settlements north of the Arctic Circle, wiping out whole communities. “There was a town where up to 40 per cent of the population died,” Boris Kershengolts, deputy director at a Siberian biological research institute, told the paper. “Naturally, the bodies were buried under the upper layer of permafrost soil, on the bank of the Kolyma River.”
Now, over a century later, he said, “Kolyma’s floodwaters have started eroding the banks”, exposing the graves.
Scientists from the Virology and Biotechnology Centre in Novosibirsk had examined corpses, partially preserved by the ice, and found signs of smallpox infection and telltale fragments of the virus’s DNA – not enough to infect, but a possible harbinger of worse to come.
The Yakuta region of Siberia appears to be full of surprises. In 2003 a Russian scientist hoping to find ice-preserved mammoth cells suitable for cloning excavated a pair of well-preserved legs. The necessary cells proved elusive. But Vladimir Repin and colleagues from the Geocryology Department at Moscow State University continued their work in the area known as Mammoth Mountain and were eventually rewarded with an altogether unexpected discovery – a strain of the bacteria Bacillus cereus.
It was, they wrote in a paper published in the journal Genome in August 2013, “a long-term survivor of the extremely cold and close environment” and was believed to be “as ancient as the permafrost sample from which this strain was isolated”. Three million years old, in fact and, to the surprise of the scientists, still capable of being cultured in a lab.
“It seems astonishing that bacteria trapped in frozen soil can survive soil radiation and other damaging agents at temperatures of nearly –3°C and under the conditions of a closed environment and almost total deprivation of energy sources,” they wrote.
Modern strains of Bacillus cereus are associated with food poisoning in humans, and can occasionally prove fatal. Quite what the “F” strain found at Mammoth Mountain might be capable of remains uncertain, but it was “surprisingly” similar to modern strains of the bacteria.
Perhaps even more surprising was that Anatoli Brouchkov, one of the team, injected himself with the bacteria, believing its resilience and longevity meant it might hold the key to human immortality. He claimed to feel healthier and stronger, but science may – or may not – have a long time to wait to see if he’s right.
Ice isn’t the only medium that can offer refuge to dormant bacteria. In October 2000 scientists at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University reported the discovery of a “previously unrecognised spore-forming bacterium” that pre-dated the dinosaurs. More than 250 million years old, it was found trapped in a bubble of fluid inside a salt crystal 1,850 feet underground in the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas.
“We all feel reasonably comfortable that this particular organism isn’t going to attack anything,” one of the scientists said at the time.
Some “Jurassic” microbes could even do us good. In 1995 the prehistoric bacteria Bacillus sphaericus, trapped in the stomach of a bee which in turn had been entombed in amber, was revived by scientists at California Polytechnic State University after a slumber of more than 25 million years. DNA analysis showed it was related to bacteria alive on the Earth today but it “appear[ed] to be harmless species”, they concluded.
The find offered a chance to study the evolution of bacterial species, wrote the authors of a paper published in Nature, “and may represent a brand-new source of pharmaceutical drugs and industrial enzymes”. In fact, it is now used as an insecticide, to kill the larvae of the mosquito and other insects.
Nigel Brown, emeritus professor of molecular microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, says we should not be unduly worried about the prospect of microbial “comeback killers” returning from the grave.
From a scientific perspective, finding anthrax in the permafrost was “feasible and not surprising”, he says. “Yes, it is slightly scary, but then there are lots of scary things in science. Due precaution has to be the rule in such circumstances.”
Anthrax, he says, doesn’t need a deep freeze to survive. “It forms a very resistant spore, and it’s the spore that survives for a long time and causes the infection. If you add to that very low temperatures … well, after all, that is how microbiologists keep their micro-organisms – in the freezer.”
For proof of the ability of anthrax to survive in normal temperatures and conditions, he says, we need look no further than the small Scottish island of Gruinard, quarantined for half a century after British scientists seeking to develop biological weapons tested the killing power of weaponised anthrax on a flock of sheep in 1942.
One of the sobering conclusions of the experiment, which left the island dangerously contaminated until its topsoil was removed and the ground sprayed with formaldehyde in 1986, was that 100kg of anthrax spores unleashed on a city would kill three million people.
Not all bacteria are as resilient as bacillus anthracis, which explains why archaeologists excavating the sites of mass burials in London ahead of railway projects aren’t toppling over after exposing the bodies of victims of the bubonic plague.
Bubonic plague killed 15 per cent of London’s population in a single year in the 17th century. Most were thrown into communal burial pits, 36 of which were identified and mapped in 2014 by Historic UK. Several lie under what are now public squares in the heart of the city.
Opening them up is safe, says Professor Brown, “for two reasons, relevant to many diseases, not just Bubonic plague. One is that relatively few infectious organisms go through this spore stage, which the anthrax bacillus does, so they’re not highly resistant to temperatures and chemicals in the environment.”
Bacteria such as Yersinia pestis, which causes the plague, “are much more sensitive. Also, they require fairly rapid passage from host to host in order to survive.”
As Earth’s changing environment threatens to expose more micro-organisms from the past, it would, he says, be a useful if time-consuming exercise for science to draw up a list of the most resilient, and thus most potentially dangerous, organisms.
In the meantime, should we be running around and panicking about the prospect of an historic pandemic rearing its ugly head once again?
“No more than we should be running around and panicking about other aspects of global warming,” he says, which sounds suspiciously like science-speak for “Yes”.
“There are a large number of, shall we say, unintended consequences of global warming, and this is one of them.”
And, living in the beautiful but low-lying English county of Wiltshire, which over the past few years has been increasingly prone to disastrous flooding, he has other more immediate concerns linked to climate change: “I won’t be fleeing for the hills,” he says, “unless we get any more flooding this year”.
Or, as a Bloomberg report put it at the beginning of this month, for now, at least, “anthrax-spewing zombie deer are the least of your warming planet worries”.
It is not the first time a long-dormant virus has risen from its slumbers. In a paper published a year ago, a team of French and Russian scientists revealed that since 2003 four viruses had been discovered in a single 30,000-year-old sample of permafrost.
Becoming Barbra: how Streisand
Who knew? Barbra Streisand pronounces the second syllable of her surname as "sand" and not "zand", which is how the rest of the world has been saying it ever since her recording debut was crowned album of the year at the Grammys in 1963, kick-starting a career in music and film that has spanned six decades.
At the age of 74, Streisand, a double Oscar winner who always insisted she was "an actress who sings", is on tour again in the United States and promoting her latest album (her 35th). But the news that has been making headlines around the world this week was her revelation that Siri, Apple’s virtual personal assistant, has been mispronouncing her name.
Her name, she told National Public Radio, is "Streisand with a soft S, like sand on the beach. I’ve been saying this for my whole career."
She has, and it has been a long battle. A recording exists of Streisand correcting a BBC Radio presenter’s pronunciation during a radio interview in April 1966, while she was in London for the musical stage show Funny Girl. Fifty years on, she’s still at it.
"I called the head of Apple, Tim Cook," she said, "and he delightfully agreed to have Siri change the pronunciation of my name, finally".
She’s very attached to that name. She was born Barbara Joan Streisand on April 24, 1942, but changed her first name to Barbra at the start of her career after a suggestion that she should try something a little more anodyne. According to the programme notes for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1967, the name change was "an instance of partial rebellion … she was advised to change her last name and retaliated by dropping an ‘a’ from the first instead".
It was an early demonstration that the feisty girl from a humble background in Brooklyn was determined to be her own boss. "Ms Streisand," The New York Times noted this month, "has always been in charge – of her image, of her career … ever since she started singing in Greenwich Village nightclubs as a gawky teenager".
That career began in July 1960, when Streisand, then an 18-year-old struggling actress, entered a talent contest in a Greenwich Village bar because she was "out of money and out of work" ...
Read more at The National ... www.thenational.ae/arts-life/newsmaker-barbra-streisand#full
The dancing Olympic strongman who raised plight of low-lying islands. The National, August 19
For all the heavy-handed climate-change messaging of the opening ceremony at the Maracanã Stadium, replete with dancing trees, the symbolic distribution of seedlings to all competitors and the projection of gloomy videos documenting the threat of rising sea levels, it took the endearing antics of a dancing weightlifter from a country few had heard of to truly place the issue of global warming centre stage at the Olympics in Rio.
The central Pacific republic of Kiribati, until 1979 a British colony, is a collection of 33 coral atolls about as far from anywhere as it’s possible to be. Peer at it on Google Earth, as if from space, and it’s surrounded by nothing but the vastness of the ocean. The south-western coast of the United States, more than 5,300 kilometres away, is the nearest significant land mass. In the other direction, Australia’s east coast is 6,300km distant. The naming of its settlements mixes influences from distinctly colonial/western (London, Paris, Poland) to unmistakably desert island (Banana).
The Pacific is threatening to wipe the low-lying island country off the map, as millions of TV viewers around the world now know, thanks to David Katoatau, a contagiously cheerful citizen of Kiribati, who while lifting his way into the hearts of sports fans everywhere, simultaneously raised global awareness of the plight of his homeland.
As flag-bearer for Kiribati’s team of three, the short, stocky Katoatau danced his way onto the Olympic stage in Maracanã, executed a faintly disturbing routine after every lift during the competition – described by one newspaper in a pun on the weightlifting discipline clean-and-jerk as "clean and twerk" – and half-danced, half-skipped off stage to resounding applause after coming sixth in his weightlifting category.
Here was a man made for social media – Twitter went crazy for the underdog with a fun way of delivering a solemn message.
Katoatau should have been instantly forgettable as just another also-ran competitor in the grand Olympic scheme of things, but intrigued journalists sought him out, and he improbably managed to steal a sizeable share of the spotlight that was shining on the likes of high-profile multiple medal-winners such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ...
How Wikipedia revolutionised the world's access to knowledge. For free. The National, August 17
Fifteen years ago, US biologist Gaytha Langlois chose the poodle as the subject for her brief but historic contribution to an experiment that would revolutionise the way the world shared knowledge.
On January 17, 2001, two days after the launch of Wikipedia, Prof Langlois submitted one of its first entries. The "standard poodle", she wrote, was "a dog by which all others are measured".
Those eight words were a humble start and few could have predicted how what appeared to be a passing idealistic experiment in free knowledge-sharing would take off. But as the site celebrates its 15th anniversary, Wikipedia is the big dog in the encyclopedia world by which all others are measured.
In the past 15 years, Wikipedia, like that entry on the poodle, has matured and grown out of all recognition. Today, the poodle article, amended and edited by dozens of voluntary contributors over the intervening years, is more than 5,000 words long. It is backed by 59 references and, like the rest of Wikipedia, rather less subjective and substantially more informative and reliable than it used to be.
Which is not to say its open-editing policy does not expose it to the occasional spot of mischief, or even downright vandalism, which keeps the site’s administrators on their toes.
Last week, the Daily Dot website noted that Wikipedia users were "stealthily changing the entries of Olympic athletes … providing some pretty hilarious and on-point analysis of the Olympic games". After Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps beat South African rival Chad Le Clos in the 200-metre butterfly, Le Clos’s Wiki page was serially amended, noting on one occasion that he had been "blown out of the water by the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln".
Any vandalism, says Wikipedia, is forbidden, and while editors are "encouraged to warn and educate" vandals, administrators can block persistent offenders without warning.
But such a weakness is also Wikipedia’s strength. Overshadowing the claims of the ancient libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum as storehouses of all human knowledge, Wikipedia has become, as it says, "the largest collection of free, collaborative knowledge in human history". Rejecting the traditional model in which knowledge is filtered through experts, Wikipedia has been written and edited by hundreds of thousands of unpaid volunteers ...
Why thousands of NHS patients could benefit from bespoke hip replacements. Daily Mail, August 16
Thanks to his two hip replacements — one off-the-shelf, the other custom-made — Jason Mottram is an unusual walking case study.
And for the 170,000 NHS patients who will undergo hip and knee replacement surgery in the next 12 months, his is a cautionary tale of two joints.
Eight years ago, just before his 38th birthday, Jason’s left hip joint was fixed with a standard, off-the-shelf implant like those routinely used in the NHS.
‘I’d had little niggles for a few years but that summer it suddenly came to a head,’ says Jason, 45, from Loughton, Essex.
Playing tennis once or twice a week, he started to feel a sharp pain at the front of his thigh, which he first dismissed as groin strain.
When the keen amateur footballer, squash and tennis player finally went to a doctor, he was shocked to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a disease associated with much older people.
‘I was told I was unfortunate, but I had played a lot of the sports that put the most pressure on the hip joints,’ he says.
Determined not to miss out on kicking a ball around with his sons Sam and Luke, then five and three, Jason opted to have a hip replacement.
But to his consternation, it left him with one leg 1.5cm shorter than the other.
He endured a year of pain and limited mobility as his body struggled to adjust to an implant that, as he later discovered, bore little resemblance to the anatomy of his original hip.
The imbalance was caused mainly by the incorrect length and angle of the implant shaft inserted into his thigh bone.
The discrepancy was ‘really dramatic’, he says. ‘I really struggled with it. I had to get all of my shoes and trainers adjusted with inserts because I was literally lopsided.’
Six years later, Jason’s other hip had deteriorated to the point where it too had to be replaced. But this time, the City accountant’s company health insurance paid for a bespoke implant ...
Elon Musk, messianic billionaire with a master plan for saving us from us. The National, August 5
Multibillionaire Elon Musk is a man on a mission. Well, several missions, actually, all of which appear to be rooted in a messianic conviction that he’s the one to save humankind from the collective error of its ways, on and off the planet.
Not for nothing did Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr base his film portrayal of the fast-talking, all-knowing, billionaire engineer Tony Stark on Musk, after a visit to his SpaceX headquarters that left him "blown away".
With Monday’s news that Tesla Motors, Musk’s electric-car company, was buying SolarCity Corp, his solar-power company, for US$2.6 billion (Dh9.6bn), this week the focus was very much on Musk’s terrestrial ambitions.
The takeover of one of his loss-making companies by another was "a perplexing deal", concluded a Reuters analysis. Shares in both fell.
It all made perfect sense to 45-year-old Musk, who had outlined what he called his "Master plan, part deux" in a blog last month. "The first master plan that I wrote 10 years ago is now in the final stages of completion," he began, sounding a little like a parody of an Iron Man villain.
His expensive first-generation Tesla electric sports cars had been mocked as green status symbols for the rich, but they funded the mid-range versions that in turn would allow Tesla to embrace all "major forms of terrestrial transport".
The problem, wrote Musk, was simple. Either we achieve a sustainable energy economy or "civilisation will collapse" – and that was where he and his master plan (part deux) came in. Working together, SolarCity Corp and Tesla would create "a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works, empowering the individual as their own utility, and then scale that throughout the world", while expanding Tesla’s electric- and ultimately autonomous-vehicle ambitions.
Oh, and then there’s the colonisation of Mars.
Elon Reeve Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 28, 1971. His father, Errol, was a successful electromechanical engineer; his Canadian mother, Maye, a model. After the pair divorced in 1980, Musk spent the next few years with his father. Perhaps some of his father’s technical know-how rubbed off – at the age of 12, Musk made a video game that he sold to a PC magazine for $500. A weaker version of Space Invaders, it wouldn’t be Musk’s last venture into space.
At the age of 17, Musk left South Africa for Canada, where he acquired residency through his mother. After two years studying in Ontario, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1995 with degrees in physics and economics.
That year, at the age of 24, he made a crucial decision. Two days into a doctorate in applied physics at Stanford University, he quit, finding the call of the rapidly evolving internet "irresistible".
On his Forbes List entry, Musk is described as a "self-made" man, with a personal net worth of $12.6bn, who is "trying to redefine transportation on Earth and in space". "Self-made" isn’t entirely accurate. When Musk and his brother Kimbal started their first company in 1995, it was with $28,000 of their father’s money.
Innovative for its time, Zip2 gave internet-unsavvy businesses a map-based way of connecting with potential customers. The Musks ate and slept the project, living in their small rented office in Palo Alto and showering at the YMCA, all of which paid off when Compaq bought the company for more than $300 million in February 1999. Elon’s share was $22m. As a new dot-com millionaire, he bought a swish condo, a $1m McLaren F1 (that he subsequently crashed, uninsured) and a small aircraft (plus flying lessons).
But he was only playing at being a playboy. He immediately ploughed the bulk of his windfall into co-founding X.com, an online banking service, and the rest is start-up history. X.com evolved into PayPal. When it was bought in October 2002 by eBay for $1.5bn, Musk, the largest shareholder, pocketed $165m.
In June 2002, he founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. Tesla Motors followed in July 2003, then SolarCity in 2006.
Along the way Musk has found time for children – six, with his former wife Justine Wilson, a Canadian writer he met while at university in Ontario and married in January 2000. Their first son, Nevada, died of sudden infant death syndrome at the age of 10 weeks.
In 2012, she gave an insight into her ex-husband’s character in an article she wrote for Marie Claire. When she complained that she felt like just another one of his employees, Musk retorted: "If you were my employee, I would fire you."
In 2008, they divorced. Six weeks later, he was engaged to Talulah Riley, a young British actress. They married in 2010 and have had an on-off relationship ever since, divorcing in 2012, but remarrying 18 months later. Musk filed again for divorce in 2014. Though the petition was later withdrawn, in March this year, it was Riley’s turn to fill out the paperwork.
During one temporary separation from Riley, Musk discussed with his biographer, Ashlee Vance, the difficulties of fitting relationships into his insanely busy life. "How much time does a woman want a week?" he asked. "Ten hours? That’s kind of the minimum?"
A few years ago, wrote Vance in his 2015 biography, most people would have lumped Musk "into the category of people who hype up jet packs and robots and whatever else Silicon Valley decided to fixate on for the moment". But since then he has transformed himself "from big talker to one of Silicon Valley’s most revered doers".
Just how revered was illustrated last week, when Musk praised an obscure 1929 history book he had been reading. Instantly, the price on Amazon of the out-of-print Twelve Against the Gods jumped from $6.35 to $99.99, before quickly selling out. The theme of the book? The achievements of 12 characters from history, including Napoleon and Alexander the Great, "whose destiny was larger ... than our own".
Whatever Musk achieves with renewable energy on Earth, it’s in space that he hopes to make his ultimate mark. By designing and building its own cut-price rockets to deliver commercial payloads into space, SpaceX has taken on major corporations that have been involved with space exploration since the beginning and even entire countries. His family, he once joked, half expect the Russians to assassinate him.
In May 2012, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets – a nod towards Han Solo’s clunker in Star Wars – successfully delivered SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft into orbit for its historic rendezvous with the International Space Station. SpaceX, now contracted to Nasa for a dozen such delivery trips, was the first private company to deliver a payload to the ISS.
The company’s next project is Falcon Heavy. When it launches later this year, it will be the world’s most powerful rocket, capable of lifting into space more than twice the payload of Nasa’s defunct Space Shuttle.
Alongside its price-and-payload menu for both spacecraft, SpaceX itemises the payload each would be capable of carrying to Mars – the Red Planet is Musk’s ultimate goal. In 2010, when he started talking about his interplanetary colonial ambitions, few took him seriously. Today, there are few who don’t. Certainly, wrote Vance, his thousands of employees at all three companies are aware that "putting man on Mars" is "the sweeping goal that forms a unifying principle over everything he does", and knowing that helps them cope with his demands.
After all, wrote Vance, while "Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to … save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation".
In the past few years, SpaceX has become the private Nasa, developing new technologies that make the colonisation of Mars a realistic prospect. Musk believes that becoming "a multi-planet species" is essential for humankind’s survival, and that making "cheap" reusable rockets is the key. The United States, he says, "would never have been pioneered if the ships that crossed the ocean hadn’t been reusable".
In December last year, after several failed attempts, SpaceX managed to return a Falcon 9 to Cape Canaveral for a soft touchdown and subsequent reuse. In April, it pulled off another significant first, landing a Falcon 9 on a drone ship after re-entry – taking drones to where reusable rockets are going to come down will save a lot of fuel, making missions to Mars all the more feasible.
Next month, all eyes will be on the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Musk has promised to reveal his plans "for establishing a city on Mars", perhaps within a decade.
As space writer Robin Seemangal noted, such ambition isn’t to be taken lightly, coming from a man "who just pre-sold over 276,000 Tesla Model 3 electric cars, landed a 14-storey rocket on a wobbly ship in the ocean and sent a spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station – all in a matter of weeks".
Could testosterone treatment do for many men what HRT has done for women? Daily Mail, August 2
Peter O’Brien can’t quite remember exactly when he began treatment for his low testosterone.
‘About five months ago,’ he says, waiting for the kettle to boil in the kitchen of his home just outside Bath.
His wife Lucy, however, can tell you precisely when it was. ‘It was February 16,’ she chips in, and they laugh.
She knows for certain because within three days of starting to apply testosterone gel to his skin, her 52-year-old husband, who hadn’t been himself for two years, suddenly rediscovered his interest in sex.
He’s not the only one.
A group of 65-year-old men experienced similar effects when they were given testosterone gel during a year-long study published last month in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
As well as improved libido, the men reported having more frequent sex and night-time erections compared with those who were given a placebo gel.
It’s the kind of research that has men of a certain age asking themselves whether they should be having the treatment, too.
In fact, an improved sex life isn’t the only benefit of restoring testosterone — men with low levels can suffer a range of symptoms, including night sweats, joint pain, muscle loss, irritability, loss of memory and even depression.
Put simply, testosterone deficiency can make a man’s life as much of a misery as the menopause does for many women.
Fortunately, the solution is simple — a daily dose of testosterone, usually administered as a gel rubbed into the skin on the shoulders (where others are unlikely to come into contact with it).
Unfortunately, the medical profession is bitterly divided over who needs it ...
Mysterious desert site gives up its treasures but holds on to its secrets. The National, August 1
Since its first chance sighting from the air in 2002, the archaeological site of Saruq al-Hadid, lost for thousands of years in the desert dunes about 60 kilometres south of the Burj Khalifa, has yielded a treasure trove of 12,000 finds, 3,000 of which were unearthed in the past year.
But despite this wealth of evidence, one word dominated proceedings as archaeologists gathered in London at the weekend to present their latest findings from Saruq al-Hadid at the annual seminar organised by the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia: mystery.
What is known is that from about 5,000 year ago, peaking during the Iron Age about 3,000 years ago but active all the way through to almost the early Islamic period, this remote desert site was an important centre of metalworking activity, where skilled craftsmen produced objects in bronze, iron and gold in such numbers that it can only have been for trade with the wider region.
It was the tell-tale ore, scattered around on the dunes and staining the sands, that first drew the attention of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, as he flew over the site in a helicopter 14 years ago. Many of the objects subsequently found at Saruq Al-Hadid can be found in the dedicated museum in Dubai’s historic Shindagha district. One, an elaborate gold ring, has inspired the design of the symbol for Dubai’s Expo 2020.
"There is no doubt that it is a really important site," said Derek Kennet, senior lecturer in Durham University’s department of archaeology.
But what we still don’t know is why it was situated where it was. About 40 kilometres inland from the present day port of Jebel Ali, it was hardly conveniently placed for the export of goods by sea, or for access to the precious copper ore in the distant mountains of Oman ...
Conflicted billionaire Michael Jordan finds social activism is no slam dunk. The National, July 29
During a dazzling two-decade career, encompassing two Olympic golds and six NBA championships, the basketball legend nicknamed His Airness was far too busy flying high and amassing earnings in excess of US$90 million (Dh330.6m) to pay much attention to the day-to-day concerns of his fellow black Americans.
Unlike many equally high-profile contemporaries, Michael Jordan hasn’t used his fame to speak out on issues of race, or engage with political activism.
The contrast could not have been greater with the current crop of NBA stars, many of whom have spoken out over the past few weeks in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
So when, on Monday, Jordan declared he could "stay silent no longer", speaking out on the wave of shootings of African-Americans and police officers, many in the black community were relieved Air Jordan had finally come down to earth. It was, as one commentator noted, "the most socially conscious statement he’s ever made publicly".
The only problem was that, in an effort to offend nobody, in the eyes of some black activists, he landed flat-footedly on the fence ...
A pill too hard to swallow: how the NHS is limiting access to high priced drugs. BMJ, July 28
A joint investigation by The BMJ and Cambridge and Bath universities uncovers how NHS England tried to limit access to expensive new drugs for hepatitis C. Jonathan Gornall, Amanda Hoey and Piotr Ozieranski report.
Highly priced medicines are challenging health systems around the world in unprecedented ways. And none more so than the new sofosbuvir based antiviral drugs introduced by Gilead Sciences in 2014. Offering greatly reduced treatment durations and high cure rates, these medicines hold out the real prospect of eliminating hepatitis C in countries where they are widely administered, with all that implies for long term savings in healthcare costs.
But launch of these drugs has ignited a global debate about high priced medicines. With launch prices ranging from around $90 000 (£69 000; €82 000) per patient in the US to almost £35 000 in England and €41 000 in France,1they have sparked a US Senate investigation (box), been raised at both the G7 and G20 summits, and has been a major consideration for to a UN high level panel on access to medicines.
The hepatitis C medicines have intensified tensions between drug companies’ duty to put shareholders’ interests first and governments with limited health resources. Sofosbuvir is not the first high priced medicine. Many novel cancer medicines provide only marginal benefits but cost over $100 000 per patient a year. But because hepatitis C affects so many people it has become a pill too hard to swallow for budget planners. Rationing, in their view, became inevitable.
Now there is new evidence about the extent to which hepatitis C treatments have challenged one of the most developed systems for assessing the value of new therapies and delivering them to patients: the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in England.
In a joint investigation, The BMJ and researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Bath, show how NHS England, unable to budget for broad access to these drugs, tried to alter the outcome of the NICE process and, when it failed, defied NICE’s authority by rationing access to the drugs. Our investigation finds that NHS England was unable to adopt innovative funding mechanisms to reduce the price because of NHS procurement law.
In interviews with clinicians, patient groups, and drug company representatives, a picture emerges of how NHS England failed to plan ahead for expensive drugs it knew were in the pipeline, exaggerated the numbers likely to come forward for treatment and the financial burden for them in its submissions to NICE, and, in a “shroud waving” exercise, claimed thousands of other NHS patients would die if NICE gave the go ahead to the hepatitis C drugs.
The case shows how high prices for high prevalence diseases places huge stress on health systems and reveals the limitations of conventional cost effectiveness analysis. Although NICE may deem such medicines to be cost effective, the NHS is ill equipped to deal with the budgetary allocations required. This leads to conflict and damaging delays for patients. It also reveals an urgent need for reform to allow better deal making, transparent pricing, and new payment models, such as the one used to make the hepatitis C drugs available in Australia.
Report condemns Facebook for failing to stem rising tide of anti-Islamic hate. The National, July 25
Islamophobia on Facebook has been "much more prevalent than previously thought" and is "being used by groups and individuals to inflame religious and racial hate", according to research carried out by the UK’s Birmingham City University.
With under-resourced police forces overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and social media companies ineffective at policing their platforms, Muslims should not ignore abuse but report it at every opportunity, says the author of a paper published on Monday in the International Journal of Cyber Criminology.
A nearly two-year study of 100 Facebook pages carried out between 2013 and 2014 revealed 494 instances of Islamophobic abuse. Many were posted under the umbrella of known far-right UK-based organisations such as the English Defence League and Britain First and clearly breached British anti-hate laws, yet escaped both censure by Facebook and prosecution by the police.
According to the paper, Islamophobia on Social Media: A Qualitative Analysis of Facebook’s Walls of Hate, Muslim women in particular were targeted for abuse, singled out on 76 occasions in writing and in illustrations as a security threat because of the way they dressed.
Accusing Muslim women of being a security threat was one of five main themes of anti-Islamic abuse identified by Imran Awan, an associate professor in criminology at Birmingham. The other themes were saying that Muslims should be deported, that they were terrorists or rapists and that there was a war between "them and us".
Dr Awan accused Facebook of a "laissez-faire" attitude to anti-Islamic abuse and called on it to strengthen its community standards, which he dismissed as ineffectual and weak ...
Behind every great man: could this woman really be America's next first lady? The National, July 22
To plagiarise a phrase from the late great British comedian Caroline Aherne, what was it that first attracted Slovenian-born fashion model Melania Knauss to the multibillionaire property mogul Donald Trump?
If the 20,000 party faithful hanging on the current Mrs Trump’s every word at the Republican National Convention on Monday were hoping for some kind of warm, fuzzy insight into the man behind one of the most disturbingly divisive American presidential campaigns in history, they were disappointed.
Wheeling out the spouse has always been a hazardous gambit on such occasions, but Trump was presumably confident that parading his striking other half, the beautiful yin to his yang, would soften his image and guarantee valuable evening-news coverage. How right, and yet how terribly wrong, he was. Instead of something sweetly personal, Melania served up a series of stale, unimaginative platitudes. Worse, they were platitudes that had been cooked up and delivered fresh by the first lady, Michelle Obama, in a speech in 2008.
Instead of repackaging her husband for broader consumption, Melania instead rebranded herself as a laughing stock. The New York Timesspeculated on Tuesday that her speech had been written weeks ago by two highly regarded masters of the art, but Melania apparently took it upon herself to rewrite it, in the process presumably assuming that no one would recall words uttered by Mrs Obama at a Democratic convention eight years earlier. By Wednesday, a speechwriter for the Trump Organization was taking the fall, saying she was the one who included the offending words, despite the Trump campaign denying earlier that any plagiarism had occurred.
Matt Latimer, a White House speechwriter for George W Bush, told the newspaper: “It just shouldn’t have happened. This was an easy home-run speech: a successful, attractive immigrant talking about her husband."
Melania Trump, now 46, was born Melanija Knavs in Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) on April 26, 1970. She would later change her name to the more Germanic-sounding Melania Knauss. The biography on her own website is thin on childhood details, skipping directly from her birth, with no mention of parents or her older sister, Ines, to the beginning of her modelling career at the age of 16. More details, however, can be found in Melania Trump, The Inside Story, a book published this year by two Slovenian journalists with the ominous subtitle From a Slovenian Communist Village to the White House ...
The great 'land grab': anti-Muslim prejudice and food security in the Gulf. The National, July 22
Browsing the well-stocked aisles of your local Carrefour or Spinneys, it’s difficult to imagine the phrase "food crisis" having any resonance here. But in 2007 to 2008 and again in 2010 to 2011, Arabian Gulf states, heavily dependent on food imports, found themselves in a difficult situation.
Earlier this month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published their joint global agricultural outlook for the next decade and, on the whole, they concluded the future looks bright. Prices for the main crops, livestock and fish products all fell last year, "signalling that an era of high prices is effectively over". Meat prices fell from record highs in 2014; dairy product prices "continued declines that started in 2013 and 2014; while "crop prices fell further from their peaks in 2012".
The main factors behind these lower prices, the report concluded, were "several years of robust supply growth, weakening demand growth due to the overall economic slowdown [and] lower oil prices".
Great. Except, anyone responsible for food security in the oil-rich, soil-poor states of the Gulf who recalls the FAO-OECD’s predictions for the period 2007 to 2016 will doubtless be taking the optimism with more than a pinch of salt ...
Behind every great woman: Philip May, Theresa May's rock. The National, July 15
It’s no coincidence that some time in the past few days or weeks, Philip May’s LinkedIn page was shut down. Being married to the British government’s home secretary is one thing, but it’s quite another to contemplate the inevitable close scrutiny of the world’s media as the husband of the country’s prime minister.
Theresa May, who succeeded David Cameron on Wednesday after he was ousted by his referendum failure to keep Britain in the European Union, values her privacy – an unusual trait in an era of high-profile, attention-seeking politicians.
But if little is known about the private life of Britain’s new leader, the British media has discovered in the past few days that there’s even less to be unearthed about the UK’s new “First Husband", the man once described by his wife, in a rare personal interview, as “a real rock for me" ...
Philip John May, 58, was born in the eastern English county of Norfolk in 1957. Like his wife, he wasn’t born into privilege. His father, John, was a sales representative for a shoe firm, and his mother, Joy, a French teacher. Theresa’s father was an Anglican vicar and, as the genealogy site Findmypast revealed this week, both her grandmothers were in domestic service.
At a young age, Philip and his family moved to Merseyside on England’s west coast, where he did well at a selective state grammar school near Liverpool.
Back then, a university education was still free in the United Kingdom, and May read history at Lincoln College, Oxford. It was there, in 1976, that he met Theresa Mary Brasier, one year older and two academic years above him, who was studying geography at St Hugh’s College.
They were introduced, as Theresa recalled on the BBC Radio programmeDesert Island Discs in 2014, by Benazir Bhutto, the future prime minister of Pakistan, then a fellow student at Oxford.
The occasion, Theresa recalled, was “an Oxford University Conservative Association disco, of all things". She was talking to Bhutto, when a man wandered over, “and she said: ‘Oh, do you know Philip May?’." They danced, “and the rest is history, as they say".
Pressed by the show’s host, Kirsty Young, for her first impressions, Theresa said only: “I quite liked him. We were jointly interested in politics and we were meeting at the Conservative Association, so we had some common interests to start off with."
Common interests, but although at the time it seemed Philip was the one bound for a career in politics, not a common ambition. Instead, as Theresa’s constituency association chairman said this week, Philip would prove to be “a really nice bloke who is conscientious about his wife’s work – the perfect partner to a prime minister".
In 1979, Philip was president for a term of the Oxford Union, a debating society known as a breeding ground for future leaders – Bhutto herself served as president in 1977; others have included such political luminaries as 19th-century prime minister William Gladstone and modern Conservatives Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, whose own prime ministerial ambitions were recently eclipsed by Theresa May’s.
After university, Philip and Theresa both embarked on careers in finance. He started as a stockbroker at De Zoete & Bevan in 1979, and has remained in the City, spending the past decade as a relationship manager with fund management company Capital Group.
After graduating in 1977, Theresa joined the Bank of England, before moving to banking support organisation the Association for Payment Clearing Services. But she had grander ambitions from the outset, telling friends at Oxford that she intended to become prime minister.
On September 6, 1980, the couple married at Theresa’s father’s church in Oxfordshire. Between 1986 and 1994, she cut her political teeth as a Conservative councillor for the London borough of Merton.
He, meanwhile, was establishing a reputation in the City as a quiet but effective operator – a reputation that would extend to his role as the husband of an MP after his wife was elected to represent the seat of Maidenhead in the 1997 general election.
In the City, a source told The Guardian this week, Philip was the antithesis of a “stereotypical investment manager with a big ego". Quiet and keeping himself to himself, he had “very good integrity and never trades off his wife’s name".
Theresa has described herself as “not a showy politician", and he’s the husband to match. A Conservative Party source told The Guardian: “Theresa May is the most unclubbable of politicians – and he is incredibly quiet. At party conferences, he is always three or four paces behind her and very happy not to be in the limelight."
On Desert Island Discs, Theresa spoke only briefly about her private life, but did offer a tantalising glimpse of the “many happy evenings" she and her husband had spent socialising with friends in the village hall in Sonning-on-Thames, the picturesque, upmarket riverside village in Berkshire where their neighbours include George and Amal Clooney and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
Shortly after the Mays married, while Theresa was in her mid-20s, both her parents died within a few months of each other. Her father, 64, was killed in a car crash; shortly afterwards her wheelchair-bound mother succumbed to multiple sclerosis.
An only child, Theresa had coped, she said, because “I had huge support in my husband … He was a real rock for me and he has been all the time we’ve been married".
That support would continue through years of frustration as she doggedly pursued her ambition to become a member of parliament. She made three attempts in five years before she was successful, finally being elected in 1997.
At home, she told a news crew during the campaign, she and her husband had put everything other than the fight for the seat on hold as “ATE – After The Election".
Footage from the count shows Philip standing by her side, beaming with pride as the result is read out. This most-private of public couples hug briefly, almost politely, before Theresa steps forward briskly to give her victory speech.
In an interview at the beginning of this month, Theresa spoke about their sadness at not being able to have children because of health issues. “We were both affected by it," she told the Daily Mail. “You see friends who now have grown-up children, but you accept the hand that life deals you."
Six days later, Andrea Leadsom, then Theresa’s only remaining rival for the post of leader of the Conservative Party, caused outrage by suggesting that, because she didn’t have children, she was somehow less qualified to run the country. It was a catastrophic misjudgement that sank Leadsom’s chances.
Philip has remained steadfast and all but invisible throughout his wife’s steady ascent. Her first high-profile political appointment came in 1999, two years after she was elected as an MP, when she was made shadow secretary of state for education and employment by then Conservative leader William Hague. In all, she has served under four party leaders, in roles with responsibilities for education, women, transport, environment, and work and pensions, and from 2002 to 2003, was chair of the Conservative party.
In May 2010, she finally entered government, when the newly victorious Cameron made her home secretary. A notoriously tough role, she held it until her promotion on Wednesday, by which time she had become the longest-serving incumbent in the office for 50 years.
Philip hasn’t put a foot wrong, as his wife battled as home secretary with challenging issues including immigration, cuts to the UK policing budget, the deportation of suspected terrorists and widespread rioting during the summer of 2011.
But the couple had a taste of the political havoc that could be wreaked by a less diligent spouse in November last year when a rumour began to fly around social media that Philip was a major shareholder in the security company G4S.
If true, it would have been a serious matter for Theresa, whose department was responsible for awarding contracts to the company. As G4S was quick to make clear, Philip had no interests in the company whatsoever.
In the past few days, inevitable comparisons have been made between Theresa, Britain’s second female prime minister, and the first, Margaret Thatcher, who served from 1979 to 1990. But as newspapers have searched for fragments of gossip about her partner of three decades, attempts to draw parallels between him with Thatcher’s occasionally gaffe-prone husband, Denis, have fallen flat.
Philip’s school motto was “Ambition, respect, pride". How he will cope now his wife has joined the elite club of world leaders remains to be seen, but it seems his ambition has always been to serve hers, with respect and pride. As she faces the daunting post-Brexit task of extracting her country from the European Union, Britain’s new leader can be confident that Philip will always have her back as First Husband.
Mute and cute or a disturbing role model? The weird cult of Hello Kitty. The National, July 7
She’s five apples tall, collects “small, cute things, like candy, stars and goldfish" and her bland, expressionless face is used to sell everything from nail polish to motor oil.
Despite her declared weakness for all-American spelling, “delicious cookies" and “mom’s apple pie", Hello Kitty, designed in Tokyo, was born and lives to this day near London, England. And notwithstanding that name and all appearances to the contrary, she might not even be a cat.
Let’s face it. There’s something strange about the international Japanese marketing phenomenon that is Hello Kitty, whose latest venture is a live stage show that’s in the UAE for four performances this week.
Right-thinking parents here, as around the world, find themselves on the horns of a cute, furry dilemma. Should they take their young daughters to the shows, in the Western Region, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, and tell themselves that Hello Kitty is nothing more or less than a harmless personification of cuteness that will simply delight their child? Or should they say goodbye to Hello Kitty, on the grounds that she’s a cynical front for a weird Japanese subculture peddling outdated messages and products for today’s young girls? ...
Iraq war was premature and legally questionable, says Chilcot report. The National, July 6
Tony Blair used faulty intelligence to lead Britain into a war in Iraq that was badly planned, woefully executed and legally questionable.
The intelligence was presented by the former prime minister “with a certainty that was not justified" as he persuaded the UK parliament to join the US-led invasion in 2003, the long-awaited Iraq inquiry concluded on Wednesday.
The 2.5-million-word report, the result of a seven-year, £10 million (Dh47m) inquiry chaired by career civil servant Sir John Chilcot, stops short of accusing Mr Blair of personally seeking to exaggerate the threat posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein to justify the invasion.
However, it concludes that the decision to attack was made “on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments" which were not challenged by the British government “and should have been".
After the publication of the report Mr Blair said: “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer" without Saddam Hussein.
Later he came close to tears when he said the decision to go to war had been “the hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision I took in 10 years as British prime minister", and he had “more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe".
Sir John said the people of Iraq had “suffered greatly" as a result of the invasion and subsequent instability. By July 2009, he said, this had “resulted in the deaths of at least 150,000 Iraqis – and probably many more – most of them civilians".
Listening to his words were families of some of the 179 British servicemen and women who died in Iraq before the UK’s withdrawal in April 2009. Sir John paid tribute to them, but added: “We should all recall the continued suffering of innocent people in Iraq."
The report was published three days after 250 people were killed by a truck bomb in Baghdad, the single deadliest attack in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
Saddam Hussein, concludes the report, was “undoubtedly a brutal dictator who had attacked Iraq’s neighbours, repressed and killed many of his own people, and was in violation of obligations imposed by the UN Security Council".
But the UK, Sir John said, “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort" and “the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory" ...
How tragedy drove MS doctor to discover secret to keeping the disease at bay. Daily Mail, July 5
George Jelinek will never forget the day he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
‘It was Sunday, April 19, 1999, at about 4pm,’ he says. ‘In an instant I felt the bottom fall out of my world.
‘I knew exactly how bad MS could get and the news was utterly devastating.’
He was 45, a father of three and a professor of emergency medicine at the peak of his career.
Eighteen years earlier, his wheelchair-bound mother, Eva, worn down by a 16-year losing battle with the same disease, had taken her own life at the age of 58.
Professor Jelinek and his four siblings had only been able to look on helplessly as their mother, in constant pain, had become totally dependent upon others.
His own symptoms first occurred just six days before his diagnosis. He noticed ‘an unusual sensation in the big toe of my left foot’ while at work.
Over the next couple of days, he grew increasingly concerned as the strange numbness spread quickly to his foot and then up his leg.
Even though there was no pain, he assumed he had some kind of back injury, such as a slipped disc.
Looking back, he says: ‘My very first thought should have been “I’ve got MS”. It’s known to run in families, I was the right age and the symptoms were typical. But denial is a wonderful thing.’
By the Sunday, when he finally managed to see a neurologist, the numbness had spread to his waist and he was ‘in a bit of a panic’. But Professor Jelinek was still puzzled when the specialist started talking about MS and his mother.
‘I can recall very clearly the second the penny dropped because it was a massive penny that suddenly fell from the clouds and smashed on the table.’
No one knows what triggers MS, a condition in which the immune system attacks the cells that cover and protect the fibres of the nervous system.
This interferes with the messages between the brain and the rest of the body, causing a wide range of problems, from stiffness and spasms to a devastating loss of basic bodily functions.
There are two main types of MS, which affects three times as many women as men.
‘Relapsing-remitting’, in which new symptoms appear or old ones return for anything from a few hours to days, affects 85 per cent of patients.
With ‘progressive’ MS, symptoms steadily get worse. There is no cure, and while it does not kill, there are risks from complications, such as infections.
Eva Jelinek’s symptoms began soon after she was in a car crash on her way to work as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital.
Thrown through the windscreen, she sustained serious head injuries.
The young George was with his mother the night before she died ‘and I remember she was tearful when I said goodnight, but, of course, I had no idea of the significance’.
When he was told he, too, had the disease, he knew what was coming. ‘I’d lived this diagnosis with my mother. Now that diagnosis was mine and I knew exactly where it was going to take me.’
But that wasn’t where it would take Professor Jelinek.
Instead of waiting for the disease to overwhelm him, he embarked on a journey of discovery and research, tracking down and analysing hundreds of half-forgotten medical papers, some dating back to the Thirties, and collaborating with a community of MS sufferers he began to build around the world.
In the process, the Australian emergency specialist changed career in his late 50s, leaving St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne three years ago to set up a pioneering neurology research unit at the University of Melbourne.
What he has learnt, he believes, saved his life. Seventeen years on from his diagnosis and aged 62, the father of five says he has ‘no symptoms — I’m perfectly well’.
In fact, swimming and running regularly, ‘I’m actually fitter and healthier than I have been at any time in my life’.
His secret? As he reveals in his new book, Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, it’s the result of a simple, evidence-based recovery programme that is centred on dietary and lifestyle changes ...
Maldives: the paradise holiday destination where democracy is taking a break. The National, July 1
Not every ex-president forced into exile would have the chutzpah to allow himself to be filmed laughing and shrieking with delight as he takes part in an impromptu office-chair derby. But then Mohamed Nasheed, the 49-year-old former president of the Maldives, and the country’s first to have been democratically elected, is no ordinary ex-president.
The extraordinary footage of Nasheed flying down a corridor on his five-wheeled steed was shot last month during behind-the-scenes fun and games at the British literary event Hay Festival, where he gave a talk about the Arab Spring, and was quickly leaked to the media.
Nasheed had good reason to celebrate. Having fled apparently trumped-up terrorism charges in the Maldives earlier this year, he had just been granted political asylum in the United Kingdom.
On Tuesday, however, he had rather less to laugh about when his country’s supreme court upheld the 13-year prison sentence hanging over his head ...
Anti-Muslim hate soars in wake of Britain's toxic Brexit debate. The National, June 29
Incidents of anti-Muslim hatred in the UK increased by more than 300 per cent in 2015, according to a report by an organisation that monitors Islamophobia in collaboration with police.
The report comes less than a week after Britons voted by a narrow majority to leave the European Union following a Brexit campaign accused of stoking mistrust of immigrants and other minorities. Since the vote, there has been a sharp increase in hate crimes and incidents of racial abuse.
Muslims in Britain now find themselves in “uncharted territory", said Shahid Malik, chairman of the organisation Tell Mama (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which supports victims of Islamophobic hatred.
The 2015 statistics paint “a profoundly bleak picture of the explosion of anti-Muslim hate [in the UK] ... both online and on our streets with visible Muslim women being disproportionately targeted by cowardly hate-mongers", said Mr Malik, a former Labour minister for race, faith and community cohesion.
Tell Mama — which documents incidents of Islamophobia across the UK by collating data independently and in collaboration with 15 police forces — recorded a 326 per cent increase in anti-Muslim incidents on the streets of Britain in 2015. In many cases, it said, victims reported that “they did not see bystanders challenging abusive perpetrators, which compounded the insecurity and alienation that they felt".
The organisation received direct reports of verbal and online harassment and abuse from more than 1,100 Muslims the same year, and collated details of a further 1,400 incidents recorded by the police.
Tell Mama fears the Brexit referendum result may have emboldened anti-Muslim bigots ...
Isolationist and bigoted: Brexit Britain's ugly new face shocks the world. The National, June 25
After two days of ominous thunder storms, one half of the British people woke on Friday morning to bright sunshine and the golden dawn of an independence day.
For the rest, who had gone to bed on Thursday night lulled by exit polls that suggested the great British electorate would resist a toxic campaign blaming immigrants for every ill, the news that Britain had indeed voted to leave the European Union was nothing short of a waking nightmare.
In a quixotic bid to regain an ill-defined dream of sovereignty and throw off the perceived regulatory shackles imposed by faceless Eurocrats, 17.4 million voters chose to abandon an economic and political alliance that is all anyone in the UK under the age of 43 has ever known.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the right-wing UK Independence Party (Ukip) who has been the most prominent voice in the Leave campaign, told jubilant supporters the result was a victory “for real people, for ordinary people, for decent people".
Mr Farage, a millionaire former commodities broker who has successfully rebranded himself as a man of the people, said Britain should declare June 24 as its own Independence Day. Presumably forgetting the murder just eight days earlier of British MP Jo Cox, he hailed a revolution that had been achieved “without a single bullet being fired".
On the contrary, tweeted Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, leaving the EU was “a very sad decision that will do huge damage to Britain’s prosperity and Europe’s stability".
“God help our country," tweeted Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, a sentiment shared by large numbers of younger voters. The hashtags “NotInMyName" and “WhatHaveWeDone" appeared on Twitter, with many expressing their shame at the decision. “Don’t think I have ever felt more depressed about the future of this country than this morning," tweeted one. Another pointed out “the irony that everyone who voted remain is now looking for ways to leave Britain".
The wider world also reacted with shock. British voters, declared the Los Angeles Times in an op-ed that spoke for many bemused onlookers, had “wilfully walked off a cliff". Brexit was “an isolationist catastrophe [and] a defeat for Britain, Europe and the global economy".
After months of bitter campaigning, characterised by wild claims and anti-migrant rhetoric by the Leave camp, it was all over before the first EU-standardised boiled egg had been cracked open on a British breakfast table. At 4.40am on Friday veteran BBC broadcaster David Dimbleby told surviving viewers of the BBC’s all-night referendum marathon that it was now statistically impossible for the Remain camp to win.
During the all-night coverage, “David Dimbleby" briefly supplanted “Kim Kardashian" as the top Google search in the UK.
In the end, 52 per cent of 33 million voters in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar had opted to turn their back on over 40 years of British engagement with the great European project. With 48 per cent backing continued membership, however, the UK is now a clearly and bitterly divided country, and one now facing years of economic and political uncertainty.
As had been predicted, the London stock market fell sharply and, as capital sought safe havens in shelters ranging from gold to Swiss francs, the pound fell more than 10 per cent to under US$1.33, its weakest since the 1980s.
Before most people had got to work, prime minister David Cameron, who led the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, had resigned from his job.
“The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered," he said, his voice breaking towards the end of a statement delivered outside 10 Downing Street shortly before 8.30am.
It was, he said, only right that a new prime minister should begin the exit negotiations with Europe and make the decision when to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the as yet untested mechanism for a state’s withdrawal from the EU. He would stay on for three months and hoped to see his successor in the post before the Conservative party conference in October.
In the wings lurk Boris Johnson, an MP and former mayor of London, and Michael Gove, a former Times columnist-turned-MP who currently serves as Mr Cameron’s justice secretary. Both have been accused of backing the Leave campaign solely in the hope of furthering their own careers, and both will now doubtless make their bid for the leadership.
On Friday morning Mr Johnson, who had reversed his earlier support for the EU to join the Brexit camp, was heckled as he left his London home by protesters, many shouting “Shame on you".
Outside Downing Street, meanwhile, Mr Cameron said he would do “everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination".
Mr Cameron has only himself to blame. In effect, British voters have just taken part in an elaborate internal leadership contest for the Conservative party. The referendum was promised by Mr Cameron in 2013 to appease backbench MPs who feared the impact of Mr Farage’s right-wing party and its divisive rhetoric about immigration and sovereignty.
To a large extent, the motive for the referendum has evaporated – Mr Farage failed to win a seat in the House of Commons and today Ukip has just one MP, a disaffected Tory who switched camps. Ironically, the party does have 24 Members of the European Parliament, including Mr Farage, all of whom will now lose their jobs in Brussels.
Mr Cameron did his best to put a brave face on the outcome. While Britain was “not perfect", he said, “I do believe we can be a model for the multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, that people can come and make a contribution and rise to the very highest that their talent allows."
That was an optimistic prognosis in the wake of battle won by a campaign widely condemned as blatantly racist and, in the words of the British historian Simon Schama, “about the hatred of immigrants".
Just a week before the vote a Ukip campaign poster featuring a photograph of Syrian and Afghan refugees crossing from Croatia into Slovenia had been condemned as “anti-human", “a blatant attempt to incite racial hatred" and “scaremongering in its most extreme and vile form".
The referendum campaign has seen the UK sharply divided between a disgruntled white working class willing to blame all its woes on migrants and the EU, and a university-educated metropolitan “elite". The impact of such divisive populist politics was brought home shockingly just over a week ago, when Jo Cox, a British Labour politician who had campaigned on behalf of Syrian refugees, was stabbed and shot to death in her Yorkshire constituency. In court, when asked his name the man accused of her murder said only, “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain".
Two days ago, when crowds gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square in memory of Cox, a mother of two young children and a former head of policy and humanitarian campaigning for the charity Oxfam, a plane trailing a “Leave" banner flew repeatedly overhead.
The result of the vote is running like a shockwave through Europe, where there are signs that right-wing parties are already moving to capitalise on Brexit amid fears that the entire European edifice may crumble.
In a statement, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said it was “not a moment for hysterical reactions", but he was “fully aware of how serious, or even dramatic, this moment is politically". There was, he added, “no way of predicting all the political consequences of this event, especially for the UK".
In France, which next year goes to the polls in a presidential election, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen declared a “victory for freedom" and called for a “Frexit". It was, she tweeted, “now time to bring democracy to our own country". Likewise, the far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who has condemned what he calls the “Islamisation of the Netherlands" and called for the Quran to be banned, demanded a referendum for the Dutch.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess. For a start, Europe will presumably have to find a stand-in for Britain’s planned presidency of the Council of the EU next year. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, has called for a “speedy and clear exit negotiation". But although Mr Cameron plans to get things rolling with a visit to the European Council next week the negotiations that will end with Britons having to surrender their EU passports could take upwards of two years.
Germany and France, keen to dissuade other nations from following suit, are unlikely to make things easy for Britain or for Mr Cameron’s successor.
Many things are now uncertain, including the status of the tens of thousands of Britons living abroad in Europe, and that of the Europeans living in Britain. Certainly, many of those who happily voted for a Brexit will find themselves less amused by the long non-EU airport queues at holiday destinations, while many Britons’ holidays in Europe this summer will be rendered more expensive by the weaker pound.
The “leavers" may also feel differently if, as predicted by many experts, London ceases to be the financial capital of Europe, inflation soars, mortgage interest rates rise and property prices collapse. As for freeing themselves from EU bureaucracy, any firms still hoping to sell their goods in Europe will continue to have to comply with EU regulations.
Brexit could also trigger further disintegration of the UK. Scotland voted 65.59 per cent to 33.41% to remain in Europe, raising the prospect of a second independence referendum north of the border.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Friday it was “democratically unacceptable" for Scotland to be dragged out of the EU against its will and that preparations would now begin for another independence vote.
J K Rowling, the Harry Potter author who lives in Edinburgh and opposed independence from England in the 2014 Scottish referendum, tweeted to her 7.5 million followers: “Cameron’s legacy will be breaking up two unions [and] neither needed to happen."
With Northern Ireland, part of the UK, also voting to remain in the EU, republican party Sinn Fein has been quick to point out that the vote has revitalised the case for a united Ireland; the Republic of Ireland has been a member of the EU since 1973.
At 72 per cent, the turnout for the Brexit referendum was almost as high as that for the first post-war general election in 1945, the year the idea of European integration was conceived in an attempt to counter the toxic nationalism that had twice torn apart the continent. All told, world wars one and two cost the lives of more than a billion people, 1.5 million of them from Britain or its then colonies.
In a speech in September 1946, Winston Churchill, Britain’s charismatic wartime leader, spoke of the “tragedy" that had engulfed Europe, sparked by “frightful nationalistic quarrels". The solution, he said, was to build “a kind of United States of Europe".
That process began in earnest in 1957 when six nations, including France and West Germany, signed the Treaty of Rome to create the European Economic Community. Other countries followed suit, including Britain in 1973. Membership, said Edward Heath, the British prime minister who led his country into Europe, would “enable us to be more efficient and more competitive in gaining more markets not only in Europe but in the rest of the world", while in their everyday lives Britons would find there would be “a great cross-fertilisation of knowledge and information, not only in business but in every other sphere".
But the British electorate has always been indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the European Union. The first Euro MPs were elected in 1979 and even then, with a turnout of just 32.2 per cent of the electorate – the poorest showing of the nine countries that took part – the apathy of the average British voter was obvious. In the seven EU-wide elections that have followed, the highest turnout in the UK was 38.52, recorded in 2004, and in 1999 participation fell to a dismal 24 per cent.
The European Union assumed its current form with the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, which in 2002 led to the creation of European citizenship and the euro currency, adopted by 12 of the member states. Britain baulked on both occasions, parliamentary rebels urging an opt-out of the Maastricht chapter protecting workers’ rights, and later refusing to abandon the pound.
In 2012, almost seven decades after Churchill’s speech urging European unity in the name of peace, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union for its contribution to “the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". To what extent Britain will continue to uphold such ideals now remains to be seen.
65 million and rising: there are now more refugees on Earth than ever before. The National, June 20
A shocking new report from the UN reveals there are now more refugees on the Earth than ever before in human history.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that by the end of last year 65.3 million people – equal to the population of France – had been forced from their homes by poverty, war or persecution.
And half of them are children, many separated from parents.
The agency’s annual Global Trends report, published on Monday – World Refugee Day – says one person in every 113 is a refugee, in “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent".
With continuing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine, the Mena region accounts for more displacement than any other region.
This is the first time the world’s refugee population has exceeded 60 million, and it is a sharp rise of almost 10 per cent over the 59.5 million in 2014.
If refugees were the citizens of a single country, it would be the 21st largest nation in the world.
The rate at which the problem was increasing was almost incomprehensible, said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Every minute 24 people flee their homes," Mr Grandi said. “This is a striking, striking figure."
There were 98,400 asylum requests from children who were alone, the largest number recorded by UNHCR “and a tragic reflection of how global forced displacement is disproportionately affecting young lives" ...
Incredible journey of NASA chief seeking partners for US mission to Mars. The National, June 16
Nasa chief Charles Bolden, a former United States Marine Corps aviator who flew 100 combat missions during the Vietnam War, and as the pilot or commander of four Space Shuttle flights, became the first African-American in space, is a man on a mission.
On Sunday, that mission brought Bolden to Abu Dhabi, where he addressed an audience of dignitaries, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, at a Ramadan majlis.
“We are going on a journey to Mars," said Bolden, who has spent the past seven years as the helm of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The “we" in that sentence is the single most important word in Nasa’s new playbook, as Bolden’s next remark made clear: “You’re going to help us turn the impossible into the possible and science fiction into fact."
Nasa, long on ambition but short on funds, needs all the friends it can get if it’s to achieve its declared goal of putting boots on Mars by 2030.
And as President Obama realised when he appointed the retired major-general to the top job in 2009, if anyone can persuade those friends to come on board, it’s Bolden, whose whole career has been built on achieving the impossible ...
How the son of a poor tea seller is bringing India's economy back to the boil. The National, June 9
Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, the United States and Mexico – it’s been a busy week of top-level international meetings and ceremonies for Narendra Modi. His whirlwind tour serves as a reminder of how far India has come since the ambitious son of an impoverished tea-seller took over as his country’s 14th prime minister just over two years ago.
The 65-year-old Hindu is India’s first prime minister to have been born after independence from Britain in 1947. This, and the fact that he is at the helm of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) restored to power after a decade-long absence, and with an absolute majority for the first time in 30 years, has ushered in an ambitious era of growth-driven, outward-facing leadership in a country too often mired in the quagmires of history and vicious internal politics.
Every stop on Modi’s five-country lightning tour, the highlight of which was an address to the US Congress on June 7, has been carefully planned to build strategic bridges and develop economic partnerships vital to India’s future.
Wherever he went, his message has been the same: India’s economy is growing rapidly, and the country is not just a market of 1.25 billion consumers, but boasts “skills and a government that is open to business".
But the highlight of the tour was, without doubt, Modi’s two-day visit to the US – home to three million Indian-Americans – during which he was granted a much-prized bilateral meeting with the president, addressed Congress and had talks with various influential business leaders and think tanks.
Crucially, Modi shook hands with President Barack Obama on a civil nuclear deal between The Nuclear Power Corporation of India and US firm Westinghouse, which will shortly see work begin on six nuclear reactors in India. Also on the agenda was India’s bid to join the elite global club that is the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a prospect now closer thanks to promised US support.
All in all, not a bad week for the son of a chaiwala who started out selling tea in a small town ...
You know you've arrived when Hollywood starts trashing your iconic buildings. The National, June 5
If Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, manages to see Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day: Resurgenceupon its release during Eid, he could be somewhat surprised to see his emirate’s most famous building hurtling nose-first out of the sky to land with bang in London, England.
It is not clear from the trailer why the Independence Day aliens – who wreaked such havoc on Earth 20 years ago and are back for more – have chosen such a means of venting their ire.
However, director Roland Emmerich, on a promotion visit to Dubai over the weekend with the film’s stars Jeff Goldblum and Liam Hemsworth, revealed that he wanted another iconic building to destroy on screen.
The sight of the uprooted and inverted Burj Khalifa crashing down like a mighty spear is symbolic of something: the stunning success of Sheikh Mohammed’s ambitious plan to transform the landscape of his city and its profile on the world stage.
When Hollywood starts lobbing your buildings all over the place, you know you have arrived ...
Read more at The National ...
"God came for his champion": Muhammad Ali, a true champ in and out of the ring. The National, June 4
Fear isn’t a word that the world came to associate with Muhammad Ali, the sporting giant who has died at the age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s – the disease widely considered to be the price he paid for his sporting success.
Yet fear of flying almost grounded the 18-year-old Cassius Clay before his professional career had even taken off, almost preventing him from boarding the flight in the summer of 1960 that would take him to Olympic victory as a light heavyweight in Rome.
Legend has it that on the way to the airport Ali stopped off at an army surplus store and bought a second-hand parachute, which he clutched all the way to Italy. In fact, as he revealed in his 1975 autobiography, he merely called the US air force “and asked them to give me a record of plane flights between Rome and America".
Someone told him they couldn’t recall the last time an aircraft had crashed on the route and “that calmed me down enough to take the flight".
Many was the heavyweight boxer who would come to regret that fateful decision. But following Ali’s death late on Friday, the tributes that poured in from the worlds of politics, boxing and beyond were for a man who transcended his sport to become an inspiration for millions enduring prejudice and oppression around the globe.
Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said on Instagram: “May Allah have mercy on the legend Muhammad Ali Clay’s soul. He was a beacon of tolerance and humanity and a shining example of courage and will."
“Muhammad Ali shook up the world," as US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle put it, and “the world is better for it."
The man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, to the delight of boxing fans around the world for two decades, “took boxing from the back pages", in the words of boxing promoter Kellie Maloney. In the process, he fought some of his greatest battles out of the ring, in the name of faith, justice and equality.
The Rev Jesse Jackson told BBC Radio that Ali had been a champion “inside the ring and a hero outside. Champion because he won the boxing matches, hero because he stood up against the war in Vietnam" ...
Internet trolls attack schoolgirl, 15, after prize-winning speech on Palestine. The National, June 2
LONDON // The organisers of a high-profile public speaking competition for young people took down an online video of a prize-winning speech by a 15-year-old London-based Palestinian girl after pro-Israel trolls accused her of “vicious blood libels against the state of Israel" and subjected her to a barrage of abusive comments.
On May 19, Leanne Mohamad, a pupil at Wanstead High School in East London, won a regional final of the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge with an impassioned and eloquent speech entitled Birds Not Bombs.
In the speech, Leanne told the story of her one-year-old cousin, whom she described as a Palestinian refugee, who had not been given treatment for a severe heart diseaseand had died in the past few weeks simply “because he was Palestinian".
She went on to condemn the “aggression, oppression [and] injustice" meted out to Palestinians since the foundation of Israel and claimed that “since 1948, more than 30,000 innocent Palestinian children have been killed".
She asked the audience: “How would you feel if every morning you were woken by bombs, not birds? How would you feel if you didn’t even feel safe in your own home?"
Two days later, Leanne was one of 37 regional winners who went on to the semi-final of the competition, which is organised by the charity Speakers Trust and staged annually among more than 18,000 schoolchildren in London and Essex.
Julie Holness, chief executive of the trust, told The National that a week later, after attention had been drawn to the video on May 27 by two pro-Israel bloggers, “Leanne suddenly started getting the most abusive comments".
Several of the comments posted under Leanne’s video on the Speakers Trust website appeared to breach UK hate-speech laws, with one person calling her a “Jew-hating bitch". The organisation immediately referred them to the police.
Leanne also received abusive messages on her own Twitter account, which was subsequently blocked. In her most recent Tweet, posted on Sunday, she wrote that she was “absolutely appalled to receive such hateful messages from adults on Twitter. I’m 15 years old, you should be ashamed." The police, she added, had been notified.
“It was clear we had to do something immediately," said Ms Holness. “This was about the protection of a minor."
Ms Holness and two of her colleagues had been about to go on holiday but “we all cancelled and came in and agonised over what to do", she said.
They tried in vain to reach Leanne, her parents and her school during the British half-term holiday and eventually “decided to pull the video down until we were able to put it back up with the comments disabled".
The video was reinstated on Wednesday afternoon, with comments disabled and with authorisation from her family, the trust said.
On May 27, Ms Holness said, one of the bloggers had emailed her, posing as a well-known academic from the Jewish community. “He even gave a home address and appeared to copy in his wife," she said. “I thought, ‘This is serious, the Jewish community are livid’, and I dropped everything and answered him very seriously."
Her reply was then forwarded to the Jewish Chronicle, but some words had been changed, she says.
“He added the words that Leanne ‘had breached competition rules’, but that didn’t happen. There are no competition rules that anyone can breach, just the basic rules of public speaking."
In fact the email writer was a blogger who posts as Edgar Davidson at edgar1981.blogspot.co.uk under the title “Confronting antisemitism and Israel hatred".
In his email to the Speakers Trust, Mr Davidson claimed to be “a long-term supporter of the Jack Petchey Foundation", the charitable organisation that funds the Speak Out Challenge. “What I was not aware of," he added, “was that the charity was now in the business of supporting vicious blood libels against the State of Israel … You must surely be aware that supporting hateful and vicious political propaganda puts the Jack Petchey Foundation in breach of its Charity Commission obligations."
On his blog, Mr Davidson claimed that the judging panel of the Speakers Trust had “decided unanimously against sending Leanne Mohamad through" to the final of the competition because “they had the same concerns to those I raised".
Not true, says the trust. Leanne and 21 other semi-finalists simply did not make the final cut, a decision that was taken a week before the Jewish lobbying began.
Mr Davidson did not respond to a request for an interview.
The incident will come as an embarrassment to Sir Jack Petchey, an East End-born former second-hand car salesman turned multimillionaire who in January was knighted for his services to charity. Sir Jack, 90, is also a patron of British youth organisation the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade, which aims to develop “practical life skills [in] Jewish young people" and instil awareness of “Jewish identity, heritage and peoplehood, the awareness of the underlying unity that makes an individual Jew a component part of the Jewish people".
In February Sir Jack married Frances Segelman, a sculptor who is his long-term partner. According to the Jewish Chronicle on February 25, “their nuptials were celebrated with a spirited Hava Nagila and some numbers from Fiddler on the Roof".
Sandeep Shah, a spokesperson for the Jack Petchey Foundation, insisted that “Sir Jack did not play a part" in the decision to take down the video. “We work with organisations of all faiths and none," he added.
Food for thought: what you eat can affect your mental health. The National, May 26
‘You are what you eat" might sound like a cliché, but when it comes to mental health there is growing evidence that what we consume – and what we don’t – could have a significant impact on the way we feel about ourselves and life in general.
Dr Asad Sadiq, a consultant psychiatrist at The LightHouse clinic in Dubai, says it is well understood that a “western" diet of red or processed meats, fast food and sugary foods is a major factor in the rise of diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. But, he says, there is also “a wealth of evidence that poor physical health also causes poor mental health, especially depression and anxiety".
Poor diet is “both a cause and symptom of mental illness", says Sadiq, a former clinical director of psychiatry in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Having a mental illness makes you likely to eat unhealthily, which in turn worsens your mental illness.
“It’s a vicious cycle," he says. “For example, depression results in isolation and a sedentary lifestyle, which in turn leads to reduced exercise and eating food that is easily available." The ensuing weight gain “results in low self-esteem, avoidance of social contacts and physical illness". This in turn “worsens the depression and so on. Another vicious cycle is set up".
According to the Mental Health Foundation, which works to promote mental well-being in the UK, there is also mounting evidence of a physical cause-and-effect relationship between food and mood.
“Nutrition is one of the most obvious, yet under-recognised factors in the development of major trends in mental health," says Dr Antonis Kousoulis, deputy director at the Mental Health Foundation.
“As well as its impact on short- and long-term mental health, the evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems, such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease."
Research shows that nearly two-thirds of people who do not report daily mental health problems consume fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems.
“This pattern is similar for fresh vegetables and salad," says Kousoulis. “Those who report some level of mental health problem also eat fewer healthy foods and more unhealthy food."
Other studies, says Sadiq, have shown that, “for example, vitamin D deficiency contributes to cognitive impairment, depression, bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia" and there are “three dietary products with proven benefit for mental well-being" – benefits that are “greater for children and younger adults as the brain is developing".
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and fish oil, have been shown to prevent psychosis – in which sufferers experience hallucinations or delusions – in high-risk people between the ages of 13 and 25. As a bonus, “they also improve cognitive function, improve learning and prevent heart disease". The UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends at least two portions of fish a week.
Vitamin D has also been found to help prevent and contribute to improvements in mental illness. Though found in milk, yogurt, orange juice, salmon, tuna and mackerel, the body’s natural production of vitamin D is most important and generated through exposure to sunlight – which can be a problem for those who cover up for cultural or religious reasons.
For the rest, of course, it’s important that adequate production of vitamin D doesn’t come at the expense of sunburn.
Fruit and vegetables also improve mental health outcomes, says Sadiq. A “rainbow" diet of at least five pieces a day of multicoloured fruit and vegetables is recommended.
More controversial is the role of “probiotics", live bacteria and yeasts found in yogurt products or taken as tablets, and promoted as having various physical and mental health benefits. In many countries, including Europe, they can be marketed only as foods, as the evidence that they have any medical benefits is considered too weak.
However, in a random-controlled study of 124 patients reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that after three weeks, improvements in mood and cognition were significantly greater among people who had consumed a daily milk drink containing probiotics than those who had been given a placebo.
Ultimately, body weight is one of the key indicators that all is well with our psychological relationship with food.
“A normal and stable weight that doesn’t fluctuate too much is the ideal," says Sadiq.
The standard definition of “normal" is based on the Body Mass Index, or BMI. Any doctor can calculate this, but you can also easily work out your BMI: it’s your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared, and anything between 18 and 25 is considered ideal.
A BMI over 30 is considered obese, “which can result in an increased likelihood of mental illness", while eating too little can lead to anorexia (a BMI less than 17.5 is one criteria).
But a key sign of a mentally healthy diet, says Sadiq, is that “food should be an enjoyable experience and not an anxiety-ridden one".
“Our relationship with food is lifelong and therefore parental education is essential to the setting of lifelong healthy habits."
The key ingredients of a healthy diet are regular, balanced meals, starting with breakfast. And it all begins by making sure the kitchen is stocked with the right foods.
“Meals should be enjoyable and preferably at the table, with the family together, undistracted by phones and tablets," says Sadiq.
It is, he concludes, “better to live to eat than to eat to live, for food is truly a great blessing and should be enjoyed".
Fat of the land: how oil caused the UAE to pile on the pounds. The National, May 24
The men are whip-thin and wiry, bent to the task of launching a heavy wooden dhow from the beach into a mirror-calm sea. The iconic black-and-white photograph, taken by British explorer Wilfred Thesiger in Abu Dhabi in 1948, captures a way of life now gone.
Little more than two generations ago, the forebears of today’s Emiratis lived tough, physical lives, in which every calorie consumed came at the expense of energy expended eking out a meagre living from the sea.
Thanks to the miracle of oil, which first began to flow in the mid-60s, life for many in the UAE and the wider Gulf today bears no comparison. In place of what the admiring Thesiger described as “the satisfaction which comes from hardship and the pleasure which derives from abstinence" is a physically undemanding good life and a cake-stocked cafe on every corner.
The result is an epidemic, a perverse by-product of success that, according to a worldwide study coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, has left 66 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in the UAE medically overweight or obese.
Worse, the research shows that obesity is on the rise among the UAE’s children, with grim consequences not only for their health and happiness, but also for the economic future of a country facing ever-increasing medical costs ...
If you build it, it will rain. Now the UAE plans its own mountain. The National, May 22
It was, surely, an All Fools' Day gag, one of those pranks many newspapers around the world delight in playing on their readers on the first day of April every year.
The story that the UAE was considering building an artificial mountain in the desert as part of its efforts to encourage more rain to fall first surfaced in Arabian Business. It was quickly picked up by western media, agog at the prospect of another spectacular construction first from the home of the iconic offshore palms and the world's tallest building.
It’s a measure of the credibility capital amassed by the UAE’s extreme construction record that even the soberly suited Wall Street Journal reported the story with an entirely straight face.
But like all good April 1st spoofs, this one was laced with elements of truth. In the wake of widespread international coverage of the country’s cloud-seeding programme, everyone knew the UAE was going to great lengths to magic-up water from the sky. For good measure, the article even quoted a named researcher from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which has long been advising the Emirates on rain enhancement technology.
Good one, Arabian Business. Except, the story was published not on April 1st, but on May 1st.
So does that mean the UAE really is contemplating building a mountain? Would such a thing even be feasible – and what impact could that possibly have on the region’s climate?
The quoted source for Arabian Business’s exclusive was Roelof Bruintjes, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, which has long been advising the Abu Dhabi-based National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology in its efforts to generate rainfall.
As quoted in Arabian Business, Bruintjes was virtually garrulous. NCAR’s parent organisation, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, had received funding of US$400,000 from the UAE in February last year to carry out a “detailed modelling study evaluating the effects of building a mountain on the weather”.
“What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be,” Bruintjes told Arabian Business. “We will have a report of the first phase this summer as an initial step.”
Building a mountain, he added helpfully, was "not a simple thing”. NCAR was examining different possible sites across the UAE and, if the plan proved workable, “the second phase would be to go to an engineering company and decide whether it is possible or not”.
But in the past week a veil appears to have been drawn over the project, as if someone, somewhere, appears to be trying to make a molehill out of the mountain.
A spokesperson for NCAR told The National that Roelof was “on travel and not available” to comment. Try the Center for Meteorology and Seismology in Abu Dhabi, he advised, but there, too, no-one was available. “They are all at a conference,” said someone on the switchboard, “until Sunday.” Further calls over the course of Tuesday afternoon went unanswered.
The National did track down Bruintjes by email, but all he would say was that “because the research is in a very early stage and we have no results all media requests are referred to the National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology in the UAE”.
Even Yasmin Al Heialy, the Arabian Business reporter who started this tallest of stories running, declined to discuss how it had come her way.
But as preposterous as the idea sounds, there is solid science behind the concept, according to meteorological experts.
“Without having looked into it, I can see there is an element of logic to the idea,” said Alex Burkill, a meteorologist at the British Meteorological Office.
Mountains do create rain, he says, because of what meteorologists know as the “orographic effect”.
“In simple terms,” he says, “as moist air meets the mountain it is forced to lift. As it does, there is a drop in pressure and temperature pressure which condenses the moisture and forms clouds. And, if there is enough water content, you will get rain.”
But, as Newton’s Third Law tells us, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and one that, in this case, any mountain designer would have to take very seriously into consideration.
Orographic rainfall is all very well, says Burkill, but “it is also worth highlighting the Föhn effect”: once the moisture has been condensed out of the air by a mountain, the air is much drier as it descends down the far side, creating hot, arid conditions – something the UAE really doesn’t need more of. In Colorado, heat differentials of up to 30 degree centigrade have been recorded.
“I imagine that is something else that would be an outcome of such a project,” said Burkill.
Depending on where the mountain might go, bad news, perhaps, for neighbouring nations.
Classic examples of this effect are found in South America – sopping-wet rainforest to the east of the Andes, bone-dry Atacama Desert to the west – and even, to a lesser extent, in the UK, where areas to the west of the Pennines mountain range are much wetter than those to the east.
So, in principle, plonking down a huge mountain somewhere in the path of the UAE’s humidity-rich airflow could conceivably produce rain.
But how on earth to go about building such a thing, when the principle local building material is not rock, but sand?
The UAE has shown it is not shy about tackling gigantic building projects. But even without waiting for a feasibility study to emerge from Colorado it is probably safe to say that if anything scuppers this project it is going to be cost.
And we know this from some curious sources.
In 2011 a Dutch journalist proposed that flatter-than-flat Holland should build a 2,000-meter-high mountain. The proposal for De Nederlandse Berg began as a joke, but the idea took off and Thijs Zonneveld found himself on every talk show and being wooed by some of the country’s biggest engineering firms.
Someone calculated a solid mountain made of reinforced concrete would weigh over 5 trillion kilograms, so attentions turned to creating a hollow structure, which one organisation priced at a little over Euros 1 billion.
In the end, Zonneveld told Der Spiegel in 2011, even he began to take himself seriously. Proof of this can be found on the website diebergkomter.nl, where visitors are invited to invest Euro 50 in a feasibility study for the project.
And Holland wasn’t the first country to consider raising its profile. In 2008 Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, built by the Nazis and, as home of the post-war Berlin airlift, a symbol of German rebirth and reunification, was finally closed, leaving the city with a problem: what to do with the vast, culturally significant site in the heart of the city?
An architectural competition in 2009 produced the usual raft of dull, mixed-use proposals, but it was a spoof scheme by Berlin architect and academic Jakob Tigges that seized the public’s imagination. What Berlin needed he said, was a 1,000-metre-tall mountain on the site.
“We invented this idea of The Berg as a sarcastic proposal, as a criticism of the lack of imagination of the planners,” Tigges told The National. “Symbolically and culturally it was such an important spot, that we felt it needed a big idea, and the biggest we could find was a mountain, which was clearly impossible in Berlin.”
But “the irony that was implicit in the project was not understood everywhere”. The proposal “was kicked out immediately”. Part of the irony of the “design” for the mountain which particularly ruffled feathers, was that it would leave some of the more desirable parts of the city either in permanent shadow or drenched in constant rainfall thanks to the orographic effect it would create.
But after images of the planned mountain appeared in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the story went international. “It even on appeared on Chinese web sites,” recalls Tigges. “They were discussing the financing of the project.”
Journalists in Germany and elsewhere interviewed specialists who speculated on the feasibility of the project. The consensus, says Tigges, “was that it would cost something between five and seven billion euros, and take up to ten years, working day and night, to build”.
Before they knew it, Tigges and colleagues at his creative and architectural agency Mila found themselves under siege. “There were companies from Australia and Japan coming to our office and trying to sell us the technology we would need to build a mountain,” he laughs. “For three months we couldn’t do anything else. We needed extra people to answer all the phone calls and emails.
“All these guys came here to the office with their ties and briefcases and presentations. If I remember correctly, among them was an engineer who wanted to build a 300-metre-high mountain in Abu Dhabi.”
In the end, he says, a city-wide referendum rejected plans to build on the site, which has been preserved as a large park, “so the mountain worked, if you like, as a kind of placeholder for imagination”.
That, perhaps, will be the ultimate fate of the UAE’s jabal after NCAR submits its report this summer. But then again, this is a nation known for having big ideas that became even bigger realities.
Sinéad's blues: a heartbreaking cry for help from rock music's spiritual rebel. The National, May 20
She was gone for little more than a day, tracked by police to a budget hotel in a Chicago suburb and hospitalised after disappearing early on Sunday morning amid reports that she was “missing, suicidal".
The private life of the Irish musician Sinéad O’Connor is as complicated as her career has been controversial. But the increasingly harrowing events of the past few months suggest that, at the age of 49, she is in the throes of deep emotional pain.
In November, she posted a heartbreaking plea for help, hinting at strife within her large family – she has had four children with four different men.
“I don’t matter a shred to anyone," she wrote. “I’ve died a million times already with the pain of it … Please love me … come to the hospital and spend time with me."
By December, she seemed to be on the mend, “happy here in hospital receiving the tender care of educated professionals". But in the past few days, O’Connor’s demons seem to have returned, exposing a family crisis centred on the fact that her 12-year-old son Shane appears to have been taken into care in Ireland.
On Monday, while in hospital, O’Connor posted a shockingly vitriolic open letter on Facebook, addressed to John Reynolds, her first husband and frequent songwriting collaborator and record producer. She accused him and Jake, the son they had in 1987, of abandoning her.
She went on to beg Jake, now 29 and a father himself, to take custody of Shane and “make sure he gets therapy and medication". She will, she adds ominously, “never return to … any of my four children".
Contrast her desperate emotional state with the uplifting lyrics on one of the autobiographical songs on her 2014 album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss. In the haunting 8 Good Reasons, co-written with Reynolds, O’Connor sings frankly of her weariness with life. But, she adds: “I got eight good reasons to stick around." Those eight reasons? The eyes of her four children ...
Love him or hate him, Dubai's latest architect is about to make his mark. The National, May 6
Is Santiago Calatrava “the world’s most hated architect", as the design magCo.Design wondered aloud in December 2014? Well, maybe to the legions of rival architects who have lost a prize commission or two to the flamboyant pen of the Spanish architectural maestro from Valencia.
The list of the disappointed grew even longer this week with the news that a Calatrava design had been selected for the UAE’s national pavilion for Dubai’s Expo 2020, the second high-profile project in the city bagged by the Spaniard this year.
Eight other architectural firms fell by the wayside during the seven-month Expo design competition. Another six went home empty-handed in February, when Calatrava was named as the designer of the vast observation tower planned for Dubai Creek.
One doesn’t have to imagine what the disgruntled losers might be muttering right now, because back in 2014, Co.Design eavesdropped on a symposium featuring two of America’s biggest architectural names, and the term “catty" doesn’t do justice to their comments about Calatrava.
At the time, Calatrava was under fire for his design for the new railway station at New York’s World Trade Center, replacing the one destroyed during the 9/11 attacks. Rather like his design for Expo 2020, the station relies on the imagery of bird flight – in the case of New York, a dove being released from a child’s hands.
Back in 2014, Michael Graves, a celebrated US architect who died last year, described the appointment of Calatrava to design the World Trade Center station as “a waste". Graves dismissed the Spaniard as “arrogant", then, according to the Co.Design writer Karrie Jacobs, launched into “his best Calatrava impression: ‘I will make wings for you, and this subway station will cost $4 billion’." It was, noted Jacobs, “rare to hear important figures in architecture publicly attack a colleague with such undisguised venom".
There has been something of a witch-hunt for Calatrava in the United States, personified by a catalogue of his supposed failures published by The New York Times in September 2013. The “star architect", sniffed the newspaper, “collects critics as well as fans". It then rounded up those critics for a tour of previous Calatrava projects, pointing out supposed flaws and cost overruns.
“What you see over and over again is that rather than searching for functionality or customer satisfaction, he aims for singularity," the president of Bilbao’s architects’ association told The New York Times. “The problem is that Calatrava is above and beyond the client."
But his defenders say cost overruns, delays and litigation are par for the course on major projects, and can rarely be laid at the door of the architect. Besides, as Jacobs pointed out in Co.Design, “the real problem may have … more to do with who and what Calatrava is. He’s an architect whose reputation is based on form, not function [and] in this era, the grand aesthetic gesture is deeply suspect."
Calatrava shrugged off the sniping: “There is so much vulgarity in the everyday, that when somebody has the pretension to do something extraordinary for the community, then you have to suffer."
Yes, the World Trade Center station ran over time, and over budget (from US$2bn in 2004 to $4bn today). But after the station opened last month, something extraordinary happened. Walk through the soaring, cathedral-like main hall outside of rush hours, and you could be forgiven for thinking that dozens of travellers had been swept off their feet by a subterranean hurricane. As the Tribeca Trib reported, they are being swept off their feet by the sheer beauty of the place.
“Sprawled out on the sleek, white marble floor of the main hall," reported theTrib, “they stare skyward, like stargazers on a summer night, awed by the sight and selfie potential of the building’s soaring, 160-feet-high steel-ribbed walls."
As Architectural Record noted in 2013: “Calatrava’s buildings have the power to inspire" ...
The lost ghosts of Vasco da Gama's spice fleet surface after 500 years. The National, April 27
In the end, among all the cannonballs, weapons, ceramics, coins and even a ship’s bell recovered from the 500-year-old watery grave, it was a few humble grains of pepper, remarkably preserved inside a fused mass of rocks, sand and corroded metalwork, that told the most poignant story.
It was the lure of pepper and other valuable spices that in 1498 drove Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama to open up the Carreira da India, a sea route from Europe around the bottom of Africa and across the Indian Ocean to southern India.
Pepper – and the vast wealth that could be made by trading it in Europe – was also the lure that in May 1503, led to the destruction of two of da Gama’s ships on a remote island off the coast of Oman.
The loss of the Esmeralda and the Saõ Pedro, documented in a contemporary account by an eyewitness, has long been known to historians, but for more than 500 years, the precise location of the wreck site remained a mystery.
Now, as a paper published last month in the journal Nautical Archaeology has revealed, that mystery has finally been solved, closing a vital “50-year gap in knowledge of many aspects of how the Portuguese conducted maritime trade and warfare in the Indian Ocean".
Although the “dangerous and often deadly journey" from Portugal to India claimed no fewer than 219 ships and the lives of countless men between 1498 and 1650, very few of the wrecks have ever been found.
The oldest, until now, dated from 1552.
The man behind the find was David Mearns, an American-born, UK-based marine scientist and maritime recovery expert.
In the late nineties, he began painstaking documentary detective work, which would lead to the conclusion that the final resting place of the Esmeralda and the Saõ Pedro was in a bay on the sparsely inhabited island of Al Hallaniyah, about 40 kilometres off the coast of Oman.
“The wreck of the Esmeralda was one of the most important losses in the Portuguese exploration of the Indian Ocean," he says. “It was so early in time, as close as possible to the magical date of 1498, when Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India, and that was one of the things that drew us to it."
Furthermore, “it predates anything else by up to 50 years, so we knew it would have real potential for exciting discoveries".
With the permission of the Oman government, the initial reconnaissance of the site was carried out in 1998 by two men from Mearns’ UK-based company, Bluewater Recoveries.
Mearns and his colleagues had come up with two possible locations for the wreck site on Al Hallaniyah.
The first place they looked, more easily accessible, yielded nothing. Then they hitched a lift on a local’s boat and motored round to Ghubbat ar Rahib Bay.
At this point, says Mearns, it came down to “a question of seamanship".
The two men, both experienced sailors, sat on a hill overlooking the bay, watching the wave patterns, trying to put themselves in the mind of the Portuguese who had lost their lives here 500 years earlier and figuring out where the Esmeralda might have been wrecked.
Agreeing on a likely spot, they snorkelled across the potential site “and in 20 minutes, just looking down from the surface, found the first cannonball", says Mearns. “What a moment." ...
Happy and glorious: how Elizabeth II remained Britain's queen of hearts. The National, April 21
The voice is thin and high-pitched, but carries its message of hope and courage with unwavering authority.
It’s October 13, 1940, a year into the Second World War. Britain is against the ropes, driven out of France by the German onslaught, and evacuating tens of thousands of its children in the face of indiscriminate bombing by the Luftwaffe.
The 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of the king, is making her first ever broadcast on the radio, to shore up the courage of “the children of the Empire, at home and abroad".
“In the end," she tells them, “all will be well, for God will care for us and give us victory and peace."
Even at a distance of three-quarters of a century, there’s no mistaking her conviction that this would come to pass.
A month earlier, Buckingham Palace had been bombed, but despite government pleas, Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret would not be evacuated to Canada.
“The children won’t go without me," their mother famously said. “I won’t leave without the king. And the king will never leave."
For Elizabeth, it was the beginning of a lifetime of public service, which continues this week as she celebrates her 90th birthday, after 64 years on the throne ...
Space oddities: why astronauts must sing and dance for their supper. The National, April 19
So there you are, zooming along at 27,600 kilometres an hour in the International Space Station, poised to take a photograph of Dubai as seen from more than 400 kilometres above the Earth, when along comes another spacecraft and photobombs your snap.
What are the chances of that happening?
Well, next to none. But the wholly implausible conceit was happily swallowed whole by the world’s media last week when British astronaut Tim Peake tweeted a photograph of the coastline of Dubai, partially obscured by the unmanned SpaceX Dragon spaceship.
Of course, Peake and his fellow astronauts knew all about the much-anticipated arrival of Dragon, a moment that had been years in the planning.
Minutes after he claimed on Twitter to have been photobombed, he was busy with the real job in hand, deploying a robotic arm to grab and dock Dragon, the latest cargo ship to arrive at the space station.
Dragon brings to six the number of craft docked at the space station, and its arrival, a triumph of engineering and a remarkable new chapter in the commercial exploration of space, is the real story.
For a start, Dragon delivered the most recent component of the space station. The Bigelow expandable activity module is an experimental inflatable habitat regarded by many as a central part of Nasa’s Mars ambitions.
But a more significant technical first was all but overlooked in the hyperbole surrounding Peake’s snap. Dragon was shot into space by the world’s first reusable rocket, the SpaceX Falcon 9, which returned to Earth to touch down on an unmanned, autonomous barge at sea.
This, concluded Universe Today website, was a moment that “chang[ed] the face and future of space exploration and travel". But 47 years after half the world gathered around television sets to stare in awe at grainy footage of mankind taking its first giant step onto the Moon, for most of us space travel has become a humdrum business.
Not for the first time, US space agency Nasa and its Canadian, Russian, Japanese and European partners were reduced to party tricks to keep their grip on the public imagination and taxpayer funding ...