The cat i' the adage

"The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement" Karl Popper (1902 - 1994)

Monday, February 28, 2005

The stability of the middle east fractures again

The Lebanese government has resigned as thousands take to the streets in defiance of a ban forbidding such assemblies.

It seems we valued middle-eastern stability rather more than those unfortunate to live under its despots and puppet governments. If the idea of democracy gets momentum there are going to be some big surprises to come.

UPDATE

This man likes stability

And Captain Ed has some interesting thoughts on the subject.

If Assad thought that Karami's departure would satisfy the Lebanese, he has made another mistake. Assad or his intelligence services have provided a spark with the Hariri assassination that has turned into a firestorm of Lebanese nationalism, one that has united all of the factions in demanding a complete and immediate Syrian withdrawal. Momentum has turned into an avalanche, one that threatens to bury Assad and his Ba'athists in Damascus.

This is Assad's worst nightmare come true. With the Syrians, especially the Kurds in the northeast, watching the Iraqis vote in the first free multi-party elections ever on their east and the Lebanese on their west showing how fragile the Syrian grip on power truly is, the Assad government may wind up facing similar demonstrations in the streets of Damascus, demanding free multi-party elections -- which would end Assad's grip on power, unless he got in front of the effort immediately.

Friday, February 25, 2005

On voting Labour

Here's Mark Steyn on the electoral choice we face in Britain.

If I lived in Britain, I’d vote for Tony Blair’s Labour Party. Yes, yes, I know he’s a nanny-state control-freak and you can hardly pull your pants on in the morning without filling in the form for the Public Trouser Usage Permit and undergoing inspection from the Gusset Regulatory Authority. But on the One Big Thing – the great issue of the age – he’s right, and he’s reliable. And, sad to say, the British Conservative Party aren’t. Their leader, Michael Howard, has been a cheesy opportunist on the war, supporting it at the time, backtracking later, his constantly evolving position twisting itself into a knot of contortions even John Kerry might find over-nuanced. Most other Tory heavyweights – ex-Thatcher cabinet ministers like Lord Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind – are more straightforward: They’re agin the war. They’d have no time for his frightful American clothes or his ghastly hamburger diet, but, social distaste aside, they’re Michael Moore Conservatives.

Yes. Yes. I don't disagree with any of that. It's a question of weighing the relative importance of the one great issue of the age on which Blair (but not his party) is right, against all other issues (Europe, the growth of the public sector, IR 35, immigration and asylum, Kyoto, extending the powers of the executive, the constitution, interference in personal freedom, etc.) on which he is wrong.

I have heard it said of Arundel Cathedral that the further you are away from it the more attractive it seems. Much the same applies to Tony Blair.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The start of a new Arab world?

Were the successful Iraqi elections the middle east's equivalent of the bringing down of the Berlin wall?

Walid Jumblatt, the druze community leader in Beirut seems to think so:

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."


The assassination of Rafik Hariri has given the US and France a common foreign policy goal and the arab world don't seem any more favourably disposed towards the Syrian regime. An interesting view from Beirut here. With even Al-Jazeera giving him a tough time, could the end be in sight for Boy Assad?

The Independent loses credibility

After Robert Fisk's wildly inaccurate and partisan coverage of the war in Iraq, it didn't seem possible that the Independent could lose much more credibility, but it is trying very hard with a series of apocalyptic articles on the environment.

The Independent, a newspaper published in the United Kingdom, is doing everything it can to position itself as the world’s leading newspaper of environmental doom and gloom. Here’s a sampling of headlines in the past two weeks: “Apocalypse Now: how mankind is sleepwalking to the end of the Earth,” “Greenhouse gas threatens marine life,” “Dramatic change in West Antarctic ice could produce 16ft rise in sea levels,” “Coral reefs may start to dissolve in 30 years,” “Global warming is ‘twice as bad as thought,’” “Countdown to global catastrophe,” and “Global warming approaching point of no return, warns leading climate expert.”

Each article seizes upon the most extreme and outrageous claims of scientists and politicians whose like-minded goal appears to be scaring the world back into the Dark Ages and the U.S. into the Kyoto Protocol.

If the timescales on these catastrophes comes down any more we might have a crucial test of the claims before the global economy is wrecked.

Hockey stick on ice

I've just come across this excellent editorial on the politicisation of climate science in the Wall Street Journal. Kyoto scepticism is gaining traction.

If climate scientists feel their careers might be put at risk by questioning some orthodoxy, the inevitable result will be bad science. It says something that it took two non-climate scientists to bring Mr. Mann's errors to light.

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet--as much as $150 billion a year--on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn't everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?


And over at Climate Audit Steve McIntyre writes of the need for proper controls. Climate scientists should be compelled to disclose all their data and the algorithms from which their results were drawn in order that they may be properly scrutinized. This is not happening to date, which is very suspicious.

Back when paleoclimate research had little implication outside academic seminar rooms, the lack of any adequate control procedures probably didn’t matter much. However, now that huge public policy decisions are based, at least in part, on such studies, sophisticated procedural controls need to be developed and imposed. Climate scientists cannot expect to be the beneficiaries of public money and to influence public policy without also accepting the responsibility of providing much more adequate disclosure and due diligence.


It's hard to argue with that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Worries over Habeas Corpus

The Telegraph leader today captures my worries over the "Prevention of Terrorism Bill" which the government is pushing through the Commons.

Britain is certainly in danger from terrorists; this must be faced. But that does not mean we should surrender the very rule of law of which terrorists wish to rob us. Hard won liberties, from Habeas Corpus onwards, must not be carelessly suppressed by ill-considered legislation.

The principle is clear: the executive, mere ministers, should not put citizens in detention. Under the constitution that is a power reserved to the courts.

Many conservatively-minded people seem broadly satisfied with the Blair government: the economy has not been wrecked as usually happens under Labour, the Unions have been kept in their place and the military response to 9/11 has been surprisingly robust for a team whose sympathies used to lie with CND. But I shall never forgive them for the damage they have done to the British constitution: over Europe, devolution and the House of Lords the government has shown itself far too willing to break with established structures and traditions before fully considering the consequences of change. If this were not bad enough, soon we will wake up in a world where we may lose our liberty on the say-so of a politician and without the right to demand his grounds. It is little comfort to know that the Home Secretary intends to use the legislation infrequently and in our interests. Charles Clarke may be the most trustworthy of men, but he is not going to be Home Secretary for ever. Who knows how these powers might be used by less liberal successors?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ecochondriacs and Hypochondriacs

Philip Stott over at EnviroSpin Watch coins a new word and draws an interesting parallel.

The richer we get, the more neurotic we become. Hypochondriacs worry constantly about their bodily health, and they see every little twinge, however trivial, as evidence of a serious, and often terminal, condition. Ecochondriacs are fundamentally the same, with ecochondriasis being the unrealistic and persistent belief, or fear, that the Earth, and thus we, are suffering from one critical sickness after another, despite the fact that the Earth is the toughest of old boots and life goes on - indeed, is improving for many people (me included).

We, in the prosperous West, have become what Dr James Le Fanu calls the "worried well". Realistically we are better off and healthier than ever before, but it doesn't seem that way to us. We are no longer killed in large numbers by wild animals, famine or infectious disease, so we worry about largely imaginary threats to our well-being - getting our cholesterol down and reducing Carbon emissions, for example.

There will always be people prepared to exploit our irrational concerns, be they politicians, environmental professionals or the drugs companies.

Livingstone refuses to say sorry

Livingstone digs in his heels.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone refused on Tuesday to apologize for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Speaking at a press conference broadcast on international television, Livingstone told London's Jewish community he did not mean to offend them with his comments.

But they have taken offence, and the politically correct have been encouraging us to believe for some time that it is the taking of offence that matters rather than the intention to give offence.

The Macpherson report on the Stephen Lawrence enquiry defined as a racial incident anything 'perceived to be racist by the victim or by any other person'. This has always been rubbish, of course, but if it applies to people who use the word "niggardly" it is difficult to see how Ken can avoid it.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Vegan diet for children deemed "unethical"

Some dietary news:

Putting children on strict vegan diets is "unethical" and could harm their development, a US scientist has argued. Lindsay Allen, of the US Agricultural Research Service, attacked parents who insisted their children lived by the maxim "meat is murder".


If her research into nutrients found only in meat products and their effect on children's development stands up, it is hard to see why parents who endanger their children's health by forcing them to adopt a vegan diet should avoid prosecution under child abuse legislation.

Follow the "hockey stick" debate

There is a great new website for following the current debate over the proxy temperature record.

The site is run by Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, the authors of the recent paper which challenged the research methods and results of Mann, Bradley and Hughes. Under fire is the "hockey stick" model so popular with the IPCC and those who would have us believe that the 1990s was the hottest decade for a thousand years.

The issue is pretty technical - concerning the extraction of Principal Components in analysing tree ring data - but not beyond the understanding of general readers with a mathematical background, and, of course, the issue is of supreme importance in the context of the political debate overy Kyoto: if McIntyre and McKitrick are correct, the supporters of anthropogenic climate change must have greatly exaggerated the warming effects of carbon emissions.

They offer a helpful introduction to the issue which they call non-technical. Judge for yourself how non-technical it is!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Anybody for hunting?

Hunting with hounds is now illegal in the United Kingdom. I have never hunted. I have never wanted to hunt. In fact, if pushed I would say that I don't approve of hunting. So I support the ban? Emphatically not.

I don't want to ban everything I disapprove of, and I am aware that there are aspects of my behaviour that are disapproved of by others and which they might want to ban. Children think that the principal business of government is banning things, but even in a democracy this can lead to tyranny - Tocqueville's "tyranny of the majority".

British taxpayer to fund global warming propaganda

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced a £12M "package of funding"

as the first part of a new climate change communications initiative to change public attitudes towards climate change.


So the orthodoxy is to be enforced with our own taxes. It will be interesting to see how much of scientific rationality can survive this process.

Motives and scientific validity

Dick Taverne, writing in this morning's Guardian, argues that research should not be regarded as suspect merely because it derives from the business sector and is driven by the motive of making profits.

In the end motives are irrelevant to the validity of science. It does not matter if a scientist wants to help mankind, get a new grant, win a Nobel prize or increase the profits of her company. It does not matter whether a researcher works for Monsanto or for Greenpeace. Results are no more to be trusted if the researcher declares his values and confesses that he beats his wife, believes in God, or is an Arsenal supporter.


Logical empiricist philosophers of science, such as Carl Hempel, used to distinguish the "context of discovery" from the "context of justification", stressing that scientific rationality applied only to the latter. For example, Kekule said that the idea for the ring structure of the Benzene molecule came to him in a dream he had of a snake taking its own tail in its mouth; but the source of the idea was quite irrelevant to its scientific validity which depended ultimately on how it corresponded to observable reality. In like manner, the underlying motives of scientists lie on the "context of discovery" side of the distinction. We cannot, or at least should not, dismiss research simply because it is funded by the private sector.

The motives of publicly funded researchers are equally open to scrutiny, and we should not, in any case, assume that truth is more surely found where motives are the purest.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Childhood obesity not a growing problem

A timely report by the Social Issues Research Centre argues that current speculation about an epidemic of childhood obesity is overhyped and distracts attention from the real problem of rising levels of adult obesity. The charts tell the story: for example, this showing the change in Body Mass Index (BMI) for girls between 1995 and 2003.

Hardly a day passes without reports of some new initiative to improve the eating habits of the young. I suspect that this is because those who would force us to be better find it easier to interfere in the lives of children.

The cost of hot air

Happy hot air day!

The Kyoto protocol comes into force and we begin the battle to save the planet. The Junkman estimates that Kyoto costs about $100,000 per billionth of a degree allegedly "saved".

Doubtless, the ineffectiveness will be blamed on the US and Australia's refusal to play the game, but anyone who looks at the issue dispassionately can see that Kyoto could never be anything but a waste of money.

It is truly distressing to see so much money pouring down the drain when it could have been used to address a genuine human need like providing clean water to the world's population. I don't suppose this will concern the army of researchers and administrators who benefit from this farce.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Highly successful man sucks up to Aussies

Somebody called Brian McFadden thinks the British have a lot to learn from Australians. I'm quite sure this is true, but what's his evidence?

He says the British and Irish have got obsessed with his split with Kerry Katona.

Hasn't everybody? I've thought of nothing else all year. Whereas

"Australians read between the lines, they're clever enough not to live their lives by what appears in the newspaper, unlike the people over here," he said.

Commendable restraint from our antipodean cousins who understand how tough life is at the top.

"Sometimes I wish I wasn't so successful, so it wouldn't be as bad."


One day, Brian, the world will be as ignorant of your existence as I was before this morning.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Kyoto a dead duck

"The Kyoto Protocol goes into effect Wednesday, and yet its walls are crumbling down" writes Hans Labohm.

The science is flawed, the hyperbole embarrassing and now the political game is not going well:

The international climate conference in Buenos Aires, last December, has been a disaster for the Kyotoists. The US and Australia have repeated their refusal to join. Moreover, China, India and other G-77 countries have made clear that they will not accept any commitment to reduce emissions as from 2012, when Kyoto Mark I expires. More surprisingly, Italy has announced that it will withdraw from the Kyoto process in the same year. It plausible to assume that other European countries, particularly Russia, will follow suit.


So why has Blair gone so much out on a limb? Labohm suggests he simply doesn't want to be held to blame when it all falls apart, but environmentalists suspect greater cynicism: is Blair merely preparing the way for a return to nuclear power?

Too late to stop global warming

Mark Hertsgaard tries to make our flesh creep at the coming apocalypse.

At the core of the global warming dilemma is a fact neither side of the debate likes to talk about: It is already too late to prevent global warming and the climate change it sets off.

Environmentalists won't say this for fear of sounding alarmist or defeatist. Politicians won't say it because then they'd have to do something about it.


And the rest of us won't say it because we don't like talking bollox.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Venezuela floods: US to blame

President Chavez of Venezuela has blamed global warming for the flooding in his country which has left 14 dead. He also alluded to the US refusal to ratify Kyoto.

He would spend his time more valuably legislating and enforcing standards which ensure that buildings do not collapse in wet weather.

Livingstone shows his true colours

An astonishing outburst from "cuddly" Ken who didn't take kindly to being harassed by an Evening Standard reporter.

On tape the mayor is heard asking Oliver Finegold if he is a "German war criminal".

Mr Finegold replies: "No, I'm Jewish, I wasn't a German war criminal. I'm quite offended by that."

The mayor then says: "Ah right, well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?"


If a Conservative politician or member of the Royal Family said anything like this, we would never hear the end of it, but I expect it will blow over.

UPDATE

Here's an interesting angle:

Tony Arbour, vice-chairman of the Greater London Authority standards committee said: "He has brought London and his office into disrepute, and may have singlehandedly ensured London will fail to win the 2012 Olympics. "I shall be asking my committee and the Standards Board for England to investigate Mr Livingstone's disgraceful behaviour as a matter of urgency."

Record number of anti-semitic attacks

The number of recorded anti-semitic attacks in the UK has risen to a record number.

According to the Community Security Trust, a body that monitors levels of anti-semitism

the "transfer of tensions" from the Middle East to Britain was fuelling the unprecedented levels of abuse.


We rely on Barry Kosmin, the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, to spell out what this means:

"The far right are doing what they've always done," he said. "The new rise [in attacks] is coming from the far left and Palestinian supporters. They're going for Jewish targets rather than anything connected with Israel."


In today's Spectator, Mark Steyn argues that Islam has undergone its own reformation over the last few decades and what has emerged is more fundamentalist and less integrationist. The most visible aspect of this is seen in acts of terrorism but this is only the "tip of the iceberg" threatening western liberal values. The challenge posed by the growth of Islamic populations and the increased radicalism of these components within western societies has been barely recognised, and many European politicians, including, regrettably, British Conservatives would rather look the other way. Today's news of the rise in attacks on Jews in the UK is a timely reminder of what is at stake.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Not enough suicidal asylum seekers?

Oh God!

A branch of the Samaritans has had its application for a £300,000 lottery grant rejected because, it was told, it does not do enough for the disadvantaged, asylum seekers and ethnic minorities.


and, only last month:

The Lake District National Park is to axe the free guided walks carried out by over 100 volunteer rangers because they attract only "middle-aged, middle-class white people".


I'm sure they only decide these things to make us angry. Always works on me.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Cherie and her big mouth

Nothing annoys a New Zealander more than being called Australian, so I can imagine the feelings of the New Zealand audience when visiting superstar Cherie Blair twice managed to confuse their country with the rather larger one a few hundred miles away where the British used to send their serious criminals.

There's a pretty solid rumour that Ms Blair - or Cherie Booth as she usually prefers to be called in her professional life - is being paid a sum approaching £100,000 for her brief antipodean trip in aid of "charity", so diners who paid several hundred pounds each for the privilege were understandably disappointed that she hadn't done sufficient research to identify the country and that the bulk of her speech was spent promoting her recent book.

Every time she opens her mouth in public she puts her foot in it.

We never learn

Feb 6, 2005

Britain urged Sevan not to step down as oil-for-food leader

Last night, Carne Ross, a former senior diplomat who was in charge of Iraq policy at the British mission from 1998 to 2002, said that British officials thought that Mr Sevan was doing such a good job they dissuaded him from quitting.

"We thought he was performing pretty well in the management job from hell,'' Mr Ross admitted. "He was dealing with a very obstreperous regime in Iraq, and a profoundly divided Security Council fighting like cats and dogs."


Feb 8, 2005

Blair to support embattled UN chief

Tony Blair will this week throw his weight behind the embattled United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, after a report castigated the UN for mismanaging billions of pounds in the oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

"We fully support Kofi Annan as secretary general. The Prime Minister has made clear that the secretary general is doing a good job," said a Downing Street spokesman.


What a mess the UN would be in without the inspiring example and integrity of its leadership!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Beyond parody

"What do Cuba, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia Have in Common?" asks Roger L Simon.

Give up? Well, unfortunately it's not that surprising. They are three of the five members of the panel to decide which complaints shall be heard this Spring by the UN Human Rights Commission!


Oh and congratulations to Hezbollah-owned TV station al-Manar for winning the World Health Organization's prize for best anti-smoking and nutrition programs. The WHO, which is a UN "special agency", is to be commended for recognizing the efforts being made to ensure that Hezbollah suicide bombers are the healthiest in the world.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Is alcohol harmful?

Alochol 'as harmful as smoking' the BBC reports.

The researchers found 4% of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol, compared to 4.1% to tobacco and 4.4% to high blood pressure.


The solution: make alcohol more expensive.

As Mark Hastings of the British Beer and Pub Association puts it, this is like tackling obesity by putting up the price of food.

I don't know how they calculate these percentages, but I think it only fair to point out that it is "excessive" drinking that is the health problem. For some time it has been apparent that moderate drinking (and not just of red wine) is one of the few things that really does have a beneficial effect on heart patients. What matters is the dose. There would be many fewer health scares if people could grasp the simple truth that a substance can be good for you in small doses and bad for you in much larger doses.

Fish rotten from neck down

The long awaited Volcker interim report into the UN oil-for-food scam is out. Here it is. 200 pages of smoke and mirrors according to Friends of Saddam but, apparently, it does show an interesting audit trail leading directly to the office of former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Fraud and corruption investigations are notoriously difficult to understand, but I hope that a study of the report itself may lift my confusion. More later.

UPDATE

Rats! Can't open the PDF.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Education By Death

It has been said of Rod Liddle that when he's wrong he's very wrong, and when he's right he's very right. This time he's right.


The Dutch immigration and intervention minister, Rita Verdonk, said this: ‘For too long we have said we had a multicultural society and everyone would simply find each other. We were naive.’


We have all been naive. We were encouraged to confuse multi-racism with multi-culturalism, and, through a desire not to give offence, we found ourselves obliged to tolerate those whose culture execrates the tolerance of our own. The tolerant society is worth fighting for, and, regrettably, it may need be be fought for. This is what the Dutch are waking up to.

Taking Kos seriously

Dean Barnett writes on the influence of the blog Daily Kos and its author Markos Moulitsas on the Democratic Party.

On April 1, 2004, Kos responded to the savage murder of four American contractors in Falluja by writing, "I feel nothing over the death of the mercenaries [sic]. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."


It is difficult to see how the influence of anybody who could write such words could be considered benign. Opposition to the war in Iraq has turned into something much less principled and very much more repugnant: a willingness to side with terrorists and against those Iraqis who favour democracy. Reading the contributions to a recent thread on the DemocraticUndergound website, I was struck by a palpable air of disappointment revealed by a number of posters that more Iraqis had not been massacred in the elections. One contributor even suggested that if he were an insurgent, he would collect a pillow case full of ink-dyed fingers and deliver them to the nearest American commander.

If these attitudes become mainstream in the Democratic party then they are lost ... or we all are.

The guns are silent ... for the moment

The IRA has withdrawn its commitment to complete decommissioning, but apparently remains committed to the peace process.

It is probably wise of the British government to play down the threat implied in the IRA statement, but, at the same time, we should be in no doubt that a threat is intended: this, after all, is the IRA's preferred form of persuasion.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Should al-Jazeera be closed down?

A thought-provoking piece by William F Buckley Jnr at the National Review.

If the news commentary the entire Near East region receives stresses the spiritual nobility of killing in the name of Allah, something should stress the nobility of putting such advocates out of business.

Certainly arguable. In criminal law we do not regard incitement to murder as legitimate under the principle of freedom of expression.

Exposure to sunlight improves skin cancer survival

This is one to upset the killjoys who have us running indoors every time the sun comes out: it looks as if exposure to the sun not only increases the incidence of melanoma, as we have had drummed into us for some time, but it also improves prospects of survival from melanoma; or as the authors of the paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute put it "Melanoma incidence and survival are positively associated, both geographically and temporally".

This is from the summary at EurekaAlert!

Three measures of sun exposure--sunburn, high intermittent sun exposure, and solar elastosis (an indicator of the skin's sun damage)--and a personal history of skin awareness (a measure of early detection) were all inversely associated with death from melanoma. Melanoma patients with higher levels of sun exposure or skin awareness were less likely to die. In addition, both solar elastosis and skin awareness were independently associated with increased survival from melanoma, even after adjusting for certain melanoma characteristics, such as lesion thickness and location. The authors conclude that sun exposure is associated with increased survival from melanoma.


For some time I have been puzzled by the fact that deaths from melanoma have not been increasing, while the complaint itself has become much more common. Now we have a plausible explanation.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Blow for wind power enthusiasts

A German government report on wind power has come to rather negative conclusions. In fact the conclusions are so negative that the report has been shelved.

It appears that the report concluded that greater reliance on wind power would substantially increase fuel bills. At the same time the benefit to the environment of reduced greenhouse emissions from fossil fuel plants could easily be reproduced at a fraction of the cost by fitting existing power stations with modern filters. Wrong answer!

When Jürgen Trittin, Germany’s Green Party environment minister, says "We do not want the findings of this report to be misinterpreted", I think we can assume that he means "We do not want the report to be read".

Steyn's verdict on the Iraqi election

A rebuke to the parochial condescension of the West's elites

I'll second that.

Atkins and epilepsy

There are encouraging signs that diets like Atkins which are high in fat and low in carbohydrates may help suppress epileptic seizures in the vulnerable, by forcing the body to burn fat rather than sugar for energy - a shift which apparently has an anti-convulsive effect.

I am normally sceptical of links between diet and health - it is one of the central myths of our age that disease can be avoided with a careful choice of dietary regime - so I'll wait for further results before declaring victory for Atkins, much as it would please me to be able to do so. I can't help saying, though, that I wouldn't expect the mainstream media to display the same restraint if this were an opportunity to publicise a healthy effect of the orthodox low-fat diet.

Labour's anti-semitism

Labour will not be running a controversial poster of Mr Howard that appeared on the party's website.

The poster that caused most offence showed Mr Howard swinging a pocket watch on a chain and saying: "I can spend the same money twice." Critics said it had echoes of Dickens's Jewish pickpocket, Fagin, or Shylock from The Merchant of Venice.

Judge for yourself whether we should take Labour at their word that no anti-semitism was intended, but either way it will do Labour no harm that the electorate is now better aware that Howard and Letwin are both Jewish. I should not be very surprised if this was the intention.