The Political Cliches That Dominate Brexit:

An Englishman, Scotsman and an Irishman walk into a bar. After a while, the Englishman decides he doesn’t want to stay any longer and insists the other two leave with him”. That, according to the “Independent” newspaper, is one of their favourite jokes about Brexit, “because everyone needs to laugh at what’s happening”. It’s of course a reference to the fact that on 23rd June 2016, Scotland voted by 62% – 38% to remain in the European Union, as did Northern Ireland by 55.8% – 44.2%, but the English & Welsh voted to leave and so provided an overall UK anti-EU majority of 51.89% to 48%.

The fortnightly satirical magazine, Private Eye, regularly publishes what it calls a “EU-phemism” cartoon. In it’s latest edition, it shows two Brussels bureaucrats agreeing that they can’t allow Brexit to distract them from the EU’s “main mission”, namely “bankrupting member states” – a clear allusion to Italy’s budget dispute with Brussels and the possibility (says the Independent) that the country’s latest financial crisis could “blow up the single currency” (the euro).

Some media commentators, however, are distinctly unamused by the Brexit situation. The Spectator columnist, Matthew Parris (a former Conservative MP), has written that the “whole ridiculous thing is driving me slightly mad” What’s the point, he has asked, of “waking up at 3 am and fretting sleepless until sunrise that we are leaving the European Union”. His counterpart at the Guardian, John Grace, has speculated whether “some days it really is better not to get out of bed” . The Mail on Sunday reported on January 13th that many British constituents are telling their MPs they are “sick of the sight and sound of Brexit”.

The London Evening Standard (currently edited by former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne) on 6th February portrayed Prime Minister Theresa May as “living in a bubble, trying to hold back time – but Brexit reality is ticking to a different clock”. Grace has caustically depicted the PM as a badly programmed “Maybot”  incapable of coherent thought who has turned the UK into an international laughing stock. The reason the UK is in its current mess, he declared, is “because of the EU’s insistence on maintaining a withdrawal agreement that she had negotiated and signed up to”.`

The opinion expressed by Grace’s colleague, Ros Howard, is even harsher: She acknowledges that “politicians and empty rhetoric are no strangers”, but considers May to have gone to an even higher level: “She gives the impression of having direction, delivering her words with intense breathless conviction, often reiterating principles and hopes. These can sound like plans but aren’t” Many of May’s phrases, notes Howard, are “vague and aspirational, and become indistinguishable from platitudes”.

None of this will come as a surprise to Peter Bull, a psychologist with York University who has conducted research into how and why politicians avoid giving direct answers to questions. As he explained to another Guardian correspondent, Zoe Williams, “It’s primarily to do with face: Positive face is concerned with making sure they themselves don’t look bad and negative face is about keeping one’s freedom of action and not committing to anything”.

Theresa May’s “signature evasion”, notes Bull, is to answer a specific question with a non-specific answer. She rephrases the question, then answers it as she posed it. In one interview on the BBC’s Sunday morning Andrew Marr Show, analysed by Bull for “Conversation.com”, May gave a straight answer only 14% of the time.

The “Media Helping Media” website offers trainee journalists advice as to how politicians should be interviewed: Political organizations, it points out, “spend a fortune on hiring media training consultants (often former journalists) who coach politicians on how to avoid answering questions and ensure they get their message across. There’s a big business in manipulating the media”.

Raf Weverbergh and Kristien Vermoesen on “finnpr.com” have listed 35 evasive techniques that politicians use during interviews. Among them: Ignoring, querying or attacking the question; Repeating the answer to the previous question; Making a political point (such as criticising the opposition); Refusing, delaying or giving just a fraction of an answer; Implying that the question has already been answered.

Carla Callaghan of the “Daily Record”, the Guardian contributor Sarah Hall and the BBC’s Amy Stewart have all provided a list of politicians’ preferred cliches that the electorate “can’t bear to hear” and many loathe. These include; “We’re all in it together”, “Let me be clear”, “The Great British people”, “There are no easy answers”, “Let me be absolutely open and honest”, “It’s going to take time”, “The dire situation we inherited from the previous administration”, “Our long-term economic plan”, “There’s no instant solution”, “We’re putting in more money into the NHS in real terms than any previous administration”, “Not fit for purpose” and “There’s a job of work to be done”.

Meanwhile,  perhaps the PM should stop arguing that her Brexit withdrawal deal with Brussels (even if there’s a change to the Irish “backdrop”) is the only one available. Neither Parliament nor much of the British public seem prepared to accept this any more.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on February 11th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Tinnitus: The Noises That No-One Else Hears:

What do the American singers Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Will.i.am have in common, apart from having had successful careers? They all suffer from a condition known as “tinnitus”. According to “ranker.com”, Dylan developed it “after a lifetime playing loud music at concerts worldwide, it forced Young to stop recording for a while in the nineties and Will.i.am, a rapper, producer and actor, has announced in a Youtube video that he “doesn’t know what silence sounds like anymore”. There are many other celebrities who have this problem: The actor Steve Martin blames his on a “pistol-shooting scene” for the movie “The Three Amigos”, Barbra Streisand has suffered from it since early childhood and William Shatner believes his was the result of standing too near to the speakers when he was being filmed for his role as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series.

The British musician, Pete Townsend, achieved fame as the lead guitarist with “The Who”, renowned for being “one of the loudest bands in rock history”. Apparently, along with tinnitus, he’s now completely deaf in one ear and has only partial hearing in the other. “Tinnitusterminator.com” has cited suggestions that the German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven may have developed the condition around 1796 “due to his habit of submerging his head in water to stay awake”. There has even been speculation that it might have contributed to the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his left ear: He was known to have impaired hearing, an intolerance of loud noises and to have been troubled by “the ringing and roaring in his head”.

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) has estimated that the condition affects at least 10% of the UK population. Its counterpart in the USA (the ATA) calculates that 45 million Americans “are struggling with tinnitus” and in Germany (states the “Deutsche Tinnitus-Liga), 19 million people have had some experience of it, 2.7 million of them persistently & one million severely.

So what exactly is it? As the Daily Mail journalist, Isla Whitcroft, has noted, although the word originates from the Latin for “ringing”, the noise can be a buzz, hum or even whistle, heard in one or both ears or the middle of the head and has no obvious source. She quotes Dr Veronica Kennedy, consultant audiovestibular physician with the NHS Foundation Trust in Bolton, North-West England, as emphasizing that, for many people, when they have a “mild episode”, their brain screens it out, so they can ignore it. However, “if something happens to exacerbate it – such as exposure to prolonged loud noise – they suddenly notice it and it becomes an issue”, The condition, Whitcroft reports, can be caused by “injury to the complex auditory pathways in the ears and brain, a build-up of ear wax, infection, a perforated ear drum or a head injury”.

Thomas Goulding, a correspondent for the “Independent” has highlighted a campaign called “All Ears” launched in 2018 by three “music lovers”, Matt, Oli and John, who are convinced that the problem is often self-inflicted. They strongly recommend that any “raver” intent on going to a crowded nightclub or a rock concert should wear ear plugs, “to avoid the risk of damaging the hair cells in the inner ear”. Two of them suffer from tinnitus, so they founded “All Ears” to prevent anyone else getting it. They work with live music venues, festivals and other music organizations across the UK to promote safe listening environments.

For anyone who has or acquires the condition, observes Whitcroft, there’s no specific cure. Treatments range from relaxation techniques to sound therapy, although there is now a new invention: “A handheld ultrasound device placed behind the ear for one minute and designed to give temporary relief”. Meanwhile, a University of Nottingham survey has revealed that a third of tinnitus patients are unhappy with what they consider is their doctor’s lack of knowledge and sensitivity regarding this ailment. The BTA’s Chief Executive, David Stockdale, has complained to Whitcroft that sufferers are “either being told to learn to live with the condition or being given inaccurate information”.

The BTA advises that if the wax in your ears is not causing you any problems such as tinnitus, you should leave it alone: It keeps the ear canal lubricated and and protects the ear against dust, dirt and bacteria. If though, it starts to feel blocked, then you should either get some ear drops from your local pharmacy or, preferably, use olive oil to soften the wax. It should then come out after a few days. If not, your local surgery might remove it for you, usually by ear syringing. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recently declared that this procedure is unsafe because it’s difficult to control the water pressure and there’s a risk it will harm the eardrum. Microsuction is now the recommended alternative method – but the NHS doesn’t usually provide this service, so you’ll have to have pay between £65 – £85 to have it done at a private clinic.

* TINNITUS WEEK 2019 will be from Monday 4th February to Sunday 10th February.*

 

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on January 28th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“Taking Back Control”: Reality or Illusion For Post-Brexit Britain?

What’s the difference between the European Court of Human Rights (EctHR) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ)? As the “Politico” analysts, Annabelle Dickson and Quentin Aries, have pointed out, many people are confused about the distinction between these two organisations and hardline “Brexiteers” instinctively dislike them both because they have “Europe” in their titles. The ECtHR was set up in Strasbourg, France, in 1959 under a Convention drafted mainly (affirms the “Law & Religion” website) by British lawyers “ to monitor respect for the rule of law and human rights” and is completely separate from the European Union. Dickson and Aries have noted that several unpopular judgements issued by the ECtHR (such as allowing prisoners the right to vote and making it harder for British politicians to deport terrorist suspects) have been wrongly attributed to the ECJ, which was established in 1952 and is based in Luxembourg.

Among the ECJ’s principal roles, highlighted by the BBC News commentator, Chris Morris, are: Deciding whether the institutions of the EU are acting legally, settling disputes between them and ensuring that the member states of the EU are complying with their legal obligations as specified in the EU treaties. “Taken altogether, this means that the ECJ interprets and enforces the rules of the single market and pretty much everything that the EU does”.

Which is precisely why, according to Dickson and Aries, “some Brits hate the ECJ” and are determined to “take back control” from Europe’s highest court. They quote the view of the Conservative MP, Peter Bone, that during the Referendum of 2016 it became clear that British people “want our Parliament, not foreign courts, to make and interpret our laws”. By contrast, the former Labour Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, believes that 95% of British people “don’t give a toss about the ECJ and 75% haven’t the slightest idea what it is”.

During the referendum campaign, Michael Gove, currently Environmental Secretary and a supporter of the deal with Brussels that Prime Minister Theresa May has been trying to push through the UK Parliament, declared that “it’s hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do. Your Government is not, ultimately, in control of hundreds of areas that matter”.

Holger Hestermeyer, an expert in international dispute resolution at Kings College London, meanwhile considers that “The UK’s particularly strong aversion to the ECJ stems from the fact that, whereas most other EU countries have codified law systems, Britain’s common law has been developed by judges in court, applying statute, precedent and case-by-case reasoning”.

The “Spectator” columnist, James Forsyth, agrees with Hestermeyer that “the most important UK constitutional doctrine is sovereignty of Parliament”. This definition, he emphasized in the magazine’s December edition, has always rested uncomfortably with EU membership: “If Parliament can do what it wants, why could it not do something that goes against EU rules?”. An anonymous British official has complained to Politico that the EU’s demands regarding the ECJ represent an ‘unprecedented’ attempt to impose a foreign court’s will on a third country and could be construed as a form of “judicial imperialism”.

So, asks the BBC’s Chris Morris, is it possible for the UK to achieve a “clean break” and get rid of the ECJ entirely? Not for quite some time after Brexit, he concludes, if Britain wants to negotiate a period of transition and smooth the path towards a full exit from the EU. Moreover, if the UK wishes to stay in the European Air Safety Agency, or the European Arrest Warrant, or the European Medicines Agencies or any number of other bodies that regulate various aspects of our lives, it will have to accept that the ECJ will have a role to play in UK affairs”.

For sure, asserts the Queen Mary University of London law lecturer, Davor Jancic, on lse.ac.uk/brexit, the ECJ isn’t just going to go away and it’s likely to rule on any future UK-EU trade agreement: “Even in the hardest possible Brexit scenario, ECJ case law will continue to matter because for UK businesses to sell their products and services in the EU single market, they will have to respect the standards set by the ECJ. This operates as a permanent limit to the control that Britain can take back and the degree of sovereignty it can restore”.

The eminent barrister, Martin Howe QC, writing in the Spectator, has described the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan as “atrocious”. The transition period, he insists, could run indefinitely, thereby prolonging uncertainty about the future: “During all this time, we would be bound by EU law and by whatever quotas and rules Brussels decides to impose on us; our  fishing industry, for example, would be subject to EU boats in our waters. We would be throwing away in advance our two strongest negotiation cards: The £39 billion that the EU insists we should pay and future access to our market for EU goods”. Why, he queries, is the Prime Minister “so desperate for a deal that she is willing to humiliate her country in this way?”

Filed under: Politics | Posted on January 6th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Enduring Popularity Of Christmas Trees:

Have you bought your Christmas tree yet? If not, you’ve still got plenty of time to acquire one and decorate it. The Guardian estimated on December 8th that there will be around eight million of them on sale around the UK this year, so it won’t be difficult to find one even if you leave it until the last moment. Most of them have been grown on the 320 tree farms belonging to the members of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) which – as in the past 20 years – supplied the 6.70 metre tree switched on outside the Prime Minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street on 6th December.

The 20 metre tree inaugurated that same evening in Trafalgar Square by the Mayors of Westminster and Oslo, however, originated from the forests surrounding the Norwegian capital, was transported by sea to Immingham in North-East Lincolnshire and then brought to London by road. As the London Evening Standard noted, it’s a tradition which dates back to 1947 and is a symbol of Norway’s gratitude for Britain’s support during the 2nd World War. It will remain there as a focal point for both Londoners and tourists until January 5th, when it will be taken down and recycled.

There’s rather less enthusiasm, though, in parts of the country, for the Christmas trees provided by some municipal authorities. The Evening Standard journalist, Ben Morgan, reported on December 3 that the “puny spruce” put up in St James’s Square, Muswell Hill, North London, is so tiny that “it barely peeps over the wooden fence that surrounds it, prompting ridicule on social media”. Rebecca Rowland, a resident in Tyldesley, Greater Manchester, quoted by the Sun columnist Jon Rogers on November 23, believes that the title of “ The Worst UK Christmas Tree 2018” applies more to her own local council’s “half-dead, forlorn looking conifer, sparsely adorned with only a few baubles”, a photo of which she has posted on Twitter. The Council acknowledged that it had not yet been properly decorated but insisted that it is a “living tree” which still has to grow.

Meanwhile, inhabitants of Scartho, North-East Lincolnshire, according to Roger’s colleague, Annabel Murphy on November 27, have described as a disgrace the “pathetic, three-foot tree with just a few bright lights and a tin foil star on top” that has been set up on a roundabout at the edge of the town. On December 6, Gemma Mullin, another Sun correspondent , highlighted the criticism of the Christmas tree installed in Birkenhead, Merseyside, which was being mocked by shoppers as “appalling” and as looking like “a bit of scaffolding” due to its hollow, cone-shaped metal frame. Many councils have attributed their lower expenditure on Christmas trees and accompanying celebrations to the cuts in local authority budgets imposed by the UK Government since the financial crash in 2008 , which have reputedly resulted in local services being slashed by almost 24% in England, 12% in Wales and 11.5% in Scotland.

So, if you are going to get a Christmas tree, what type should you choose? The BCTGA is adamant that real trees help protect the environment and have a much lower “carbon footprint” than artificial ones, most of which are imported from China. It cites Carbon Trust assertions that a real pine or fire tree naturally absorbs C02 and releases oxygen, whereas “if you have an artificial tree at home, you’ll need to re-use it for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree”.

Nowadays, 80% of Christmas trees sold in Britain are of the “Nordmann Fir” dark-green foliage variety, mainly because they have better “needle retention” than the previously more popular, tidy, pyramid-shaped “Norway Spruce” alternative, which retains 10%-15% of the remaining market share. BCTGA’s advises avoiding the “roadside cowboys who are giving the public a bad deal”. You’ll know if a tree is fresh because it will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles: “ Run your hand through a branch, then raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off”.

The Daily Telegraph has pointed out that, in the opinion of the experts, trees which are sold with nets on are less likely to last as long. That’s because the net strains the branches, causing the tree to dehydrate sooner and can also be used to conceal imperfections – so you should select one which is loose and is only netted when you are ready to take it home. Furthermore, remember that the stand you’ll require will add 15 cm to a tree that’s already between 1.82 – 2.13 metres high.

What should you do with your tree after 5th January? Most boroughs publish on their websites the various locations where you can take it for recycling and composting. The other option is to leave it outside for the rubbish collectors – but it mustn’t obstruct the pavement and you should first remove all decorations, pots and nets.

Filed under: Society | Posted on December 10th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

How To Stay Legally Young:

At what age, in your opinion, should someone be classified as “old”: 40, 50, 60, less or more? Your answer – as the University of Kent’s psychology specialist, Professor Dominic Abrams, has pointed out to the Daily Telegraph – will probably depend on your own age. Renee Fisher, a contributor to the Huffington Post, agrees. For a 5-year-old child, she observes, old age begins at 13, for a 13-year old teenager, it’s 30, for 30-year-olds it’s 50, for 50 year-olds it’s 75 and anyone of 75 or above will tell the questioner it’s none of their business and please go away.

The British actress, Joan Collins, and the Spanish film-maker, Luis Brunel, have both been quoted as declaring that age is totally irrelevant unless you are a bottle of wine or a piece of cheese. Ms Collins, now 85 and currently married to the 65-year-old American film producer, Percy Gibson (her 5th husband), has queried why people are anyway so obsessed with age: “I mean, 90 is the new 70, 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 40, so what is this whole ‘act-your-age’ thing?”

The Dutch TV personality, Emile Ratelband – unlike Joan Collins – is not at all happy with his age. At the moment, he’s 69, but wants to be younger. As quoted by the Washington Post commentator, Isaac Stanley-Becker, he considers himself to be physically fit, has low blood pressure, his joints are working well, his eyesight is clear and his mental health is in top shape. All this considered, he feels he’s in his 40’s, not his 60’s – so he’s asked a court in his home town of Arnhem, southeast of Amsterdam, for permission to change his birth certificate details from March 11th 1949 to March 11th 1969”.

The court’s verdict will be issued in a few weeks’ time, but whatever it is, as the Sunday Times’ columnist, Rod Liddle noted in the newspaper on 11th November, “It will be interesting: If a transgender person can insist that their gender, as specified on their birth certificate, is false, then why should someone else not be able to challenge their ‘given’ age. We are what we believe ourselves to be”.

Ratelband applied to the court because the officials in the Arnhem town hall had rejected his request as “crazy”. It apparently wasn’t the first occasion he’d clashed with them: Several years ago they refused to allow him to name his twins Rolls and Royce, after the car manufacturer. This time, he’s more determined, because, as BBC News has reported, he feels discriminated against because of his age, it’s affecting his employment chances and his success rate on the dating app, Tinder: “When I’m 69, I’m limited. If I’m 49, I can ask for a mortgage, get a new house, drive a different car, take up more work. When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I’ve got, I will be in a luxurious position”. He’s also emphasized that the Dutch Government could benefit financially if his age demand is accepted, as he’ll be happy to forfeit his monthly pension of around 1,200 euros.

Helen Mead, a journalist with the Bradford publication Telegraph & Argus, would also like to change her age – but in the opposite direction, to add a decade. Her official retirement age is November 30, 2027, when she’ll be 66 and three months. If she becomes officially ten years older, she’ll be immediately eligible for a pension and be “free to do what she wants when she wants”.

Perhaps the main problem for Ratelband is that, even if the court grants his application, he still won’t really achieve his wish to be considered “young” again. It may take him less time to scroll down for his year of birth when booking a flight with Ryanair or Easyjet – but within a year, he’ll be officially 50 years old, which will place him in or close to the “middle-aged” category. Indeed, a survey cited by Richard Alleyne, the Daily Telegraph’s Science editor, has asserted that”the average Briton believes that youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58. The 23 years in between are your middle age”.

A different study, however, commissioned by the healthcare provider Beneden Health and highlighted by the Daily Mail correspondent Louise Eccles, has suggested that the traditional notions of middle age have started to change, that the lines between what constitutes “young” and “old” have become blurred and “what age you are has become less important in determining how young you feel”.

More than half the people questioned, nevertheless, did acknowledge that the “ tell-tale signs of impending middle age” are: Being frustrated with modern technology, forgetting people’s names, thinking that teachers, doctors and policemen look very young, listening to Radio Two instead of Radio One, falling asleep after one glass of wine, misplacing your spectacles, car keys or bag, not knowing which songs or music bands are in the Top Ten charts and re-reading old novels because you’ve forgotten how they end.

 

Filed under: Society | Posted on November 26th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

World Travel Market 2018: The Unsustainable Boom In Global Tourism:

If you’ve started to plan where to go on holiday in 2019, which possible destinations are on your list? Perhaps Barcelona,Venice, Paris, Mallorca or somewhere much further away such as Machu Picchu in Peru. You’ll assume, quite reasonably, that wherever you choose to go, you’ll be welcome as these places are all competing with each other to attract visitors – which is presumably why they paid to have a stand at the recent World Travel Market (WTM) held in London’s Excel Centre from 5th – 7th November. WTM statistics show that this annual event now “facilitates £2.8 billion in industry deals, caters for 5,000 exhibitors and travel trade professionals from 182 countries and is attended by more than 51,0000 participants”.

It’s clear, however, that the WTM organisers are acutely aware of the growing concern regarding the potentially adverse worldwide impact of mass tourism. Although they provided seminars on topics such as “How Podcasting Can Strengthen Your Brand”, “Instagram And Travel” and “Opportunities For the Travel Industry”, the three-day event focused mainly on the issue of “Responsible Tourism”. On the Tuesday, for instance, the delegates from Barcelona outlined how they are dealing with the challenges posed by the continual influx of visitors into the Catalonian capital and there was a discussion about the effect that the burgeoning numbers of Chinese tourists are having on the most popular global holiday venues.

As the CityLab contributor, Richard Florida, noted on 7th August, many of the world’s cities are witnessing a backlash against tourism: In Venice, Barcelona, San Sebastian and Mallorca, there have been anti-tourism protests accompanied by graffiti slogans proclaiming “Tourists Go Home”. Venice and the Croatian coastal resort of Dubrovnik want to introduce restrictions on cruise ships, Amsterdam is trying to stop tourist shops selling over-priced souvenirs and waffles, the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik is clamping down on the “inappropriate behaviour” of tourists arriving on discounted flights and Rome has prohibited people from eating at, cavorting in or having access to popular sites such as the Trevi fountain.

According to the Barcelona publication “The Local” on July 4th, the battle against “overtourism” in the city began in July 2017 when masked protestors attacked a tour bus,slashing the tyres and writing “El Turisme Mata Els Barris” (Tourism Kills Neighbourhoods”) on the windscreen. Fabiola Manchinelli, Professor of Urban Tourism at the University of Barcelona, quoted by “The Local, has described the situation as “El turismo de borrachera (The drunks’ party). If numbers continue to rise, Barcelona could die of success”.

 

Richard Florida attributes this development to the fact that tourism has become more affordable and accessible, with cut-price airfares and cheap accommodation made possible through online booking services such as Airbnb: “International tourism exploded to 1.billion trips in 2017 – and this is expected to rise to 1.8 billion in 2030. Much of this growth has been driven by Chinese tourists who made about 130 million trips abroad last year.” The Guardian columnist, Martin Kettle, believes that we are all part of the problem, that unless we rethink our holiday choices, the damage and destruction to global beauty spots can only get worse.

The Daily Telegraph journalist David Chazam emphasized on 7th July that France remains the world’s most popular tourist destination, but is now struggling to cope with record numbers of visitors. Christian Mantel. Head of Atout France, the national tourism development agency, told Chazam that they are close to crisis point: “Above a certain quantity of tourists, sites will be forced to turn people away”. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Rome correspondent, Angela Giuffrida, reported on 2nd November that the Vatican is considering limiting visitor numbers due to fears that overcrowding could provoke a stampede and the claim by tour guides that 10 people a day faint while making their way to the Sistine Chapel.

A somewhat controversial phenomenon has been the growing popularity of “slum / poverty tourism”. This is marketed by the tour operators, explains the “Tourism Concern” commentator Mark Watson, “as an alternative to traditional tourism and a more realistic form of experiencing a country – getting in touch with real people and the local culture”. An estimated 40,000 tourists visit favelas in Rio de Janeiro each year and 300,000 the townships in Cape Town, South Africa. However, when residents were asked by Watson what benefits these tours make to their communities, the most common answer was “none”.

In the opinion of Paul Goodman, a writer for “Soapbox”, the main advantage of tourism is that it brings in finance which creates employment for local people and provides an incentive for investment in infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, as well as funding for medical and educational facilities. The principal negative factors include the potential environmental damage (for example, pollution and forest fires), the insecurity implicit in the seasonal nature of tourism work and the commercialisation of culture that can undermine the soul of a tourist destination: “ Local traditions that have a rich cultural heritage are reduced to wearing costumes and putting on acts for the tourists in return for money”.

Filed under: Travel | Posted on November 12th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Sport Business Summit 2018: Football Sponsorship In The Spotlight:

If you’re a football fan, you’ll for sure know which company is the main sponsor for your favourite team. You can’t avoid seeing the name: It appears not only on the players’ shirts but is advertised prominently around the club’s stadium. In the case of Liverpool FC, for example, it’s Standard Chartered Bank, who currently pay £30 million a year for a contract first signed in 2010, was renewed in May and will last until the end of the 2022 / 23 season. Like other Premier League clubs, Liverpool have additional sponsors , principally the Danish beer manufacturer, Carlsberg. The European Sponsorship Association estimates that over the past 26 years, around 6.5 million Carlsberg pints have been served at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium.

Does this mean that Liverpool fans also order the same beer when they go to pubs in the city? Probably yes: As was pointed out in the Nielsen Sports organisation’s “World Football Report 2018” issued to delegates at the recent Sport Business Summit held at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium from 10th-11th October, 51% of football supporters “would choose their sponsor’s product rather than other brands if the price and quality were the same”. This might also mean that supporters of Everton FC, Liverpool’s fierce local rivals, refuse to drink anything connected with Carlsberg.

There is, though, a limit to the amount of money fans are willing or able to spend on the products or services provided by their club’s sponsors. Many of them probably couldn’t afford to travel on either Etihad (Manchester City’s sponsors for £45 million pa) or Emirates Airlines (Arsenal’s sponsors for £40 million pa) or purchase a car made by Chevolret (Manchester United: £47 million pa) and do Chelsea fans really order from Yokohama (£40 million pa) when they need new tyres for their vehicles?

So why are so many brands prepared to finance Premier League clubs to such a massive extent? In the opinion of “brandwatch.com”, it’s because they are eager to tap into the prestige of the game and realise there are vast potential benefits to be derived from the prospective millions of TV viewers and 212 territories of coverage around the world as well as the enhanced social media presence and online visibility. James Evans, a correspondent for “Football Today News”, has nevertheless noted that many people are questioning whether the role of sponsorship is becoming too dominant in a game which is increasingly lucrative in its global appeal and that many supporters resent the rebranding of both team names and entire stadiums.

There’s particular concern about the business sectors in which a large number of sponsors operate. On 30th July, the Guardian quoted a Press Association (PA) report that experts on “problem gambling” are disturbed by the growing number of football clubs that have sponsorship arrangements with betting firms and online casinos. This season, “almost 60% of the clubs in England’s top two divisions will have gambling companies on their shirts – nine in the Premier League and a staggering 17 of 24 in the Championship”. Tottenham are sponsored by AIA (Hong Kong / China: Insurance), Brighton by American Express, Southampton by Virgin Media UK, Cardiff by “Visit Malaysia” (Tourism), Watford by FxPro UK (Forex Finance) and Leicester by King Power (Thailand: Duty Free) – but most of the other Premiership teams have sponsors with direct links to the gambling industry. Among them: West Ham: Betway (Malta), Everton: SportPesa (Kenya), Crystal Palace: ManBetX (Malta), Newcastle: Fun88 (China / Isle of Man), Bournemouth: M88 (Gibraltar), Huddersfield: Ope Sports (Malta), Fulham: Dafabet (Malta), Wolves: W88 (Thailand), Burnley: Laba360 (Malta).

Professor Jim Orford of Gambling Watch UK has told PA Sport that he is worried by evidence that gambling is increasingly seen as a normal “part and parcel” of following and supporting one’s favourite sport or team. According to the Gambling Commission’s most recent statistics, highlighted by the Guardian, “There are 430,000 adult problem gamblers in the UK and another 370,000 children aged 11-16 who gamble every week”. The Premier League apparently declined to comment when asked by the Guardian if football is getting too close to the gambling industry, but “is understood to believe that it is for the clubs themselves to decide with whom they make deals”.

Sponsorship of course is not the only source of finance for the Premier League clubs. The Annual Review of Football Finance 2018 published by the Deloitte Consultancy has emphasised that the clubs also derive significant revenue from broadcasting sources: Under a deal reached in February, during the 2019-2022 “cycle” Sky Sports will pay the Premier League £3.6 billion for 128 domestic matches each season (£9.3 million per game) and BT Sport will pay £885 million for 32 domestic matches each season (£9.2 million per game). It doesn’t include international rights, for which Deloitte anticipates a “further growth in overall value”.

This doesn’t seem to impress the Daily Telegraph journalist, Damian Collins. In an article captioned “Money Is Killing Football”, he has declared that “Football is awash with broadcasting and sponsorship money and that has made a lot of people very rich and others very greedy”.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Sports | Posted on October 30th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

How To Solve The Food Wastage Crisis?

When you go into your local supermarket for your groceries, do you select the items which are at the front of the shelves? Probably not: More likely, you automatically look for the ones, often hidden at the back, which have the longest “best before”, “use by” and expiry dates”. According to research conducted by the National Federation of Women’s Institute (NFWI), reported by ITV News in May, less than half the people questioned understand the meaning of “best before” – a description which indicates that the food might not be at its “optimum quality” after the date specified but is still safe to eat.

As Mark Little, the Tesco supermarket chain’s “ Head of Food Waste” told ITV, many of their customers find the different date codes on the packaging confusing and so base their decision on whether or not to buy a product on its appearance rather than the label. This results in the supermarket often having to throw away perfectly edible food – especially, it seems, fruit and vegetables. On 8th October, the Guardian’s consumer affairs correspondent, Rebecca Smithers, quoted statistics issued by the Government’s advisory body “WRAP” (Waste & Resources Action Programme) indicating that around 7.3 million tonnes of household food worth £13 billion is discarded every year in the UK, 4.4 million tonnes of which still could be eaten but instead is put into the rubbish bin.

Smithers has consistently focused on this topic : On 6th October, she described as “shocking” the daily waste of 24 million slices of bread in Britain and on 25th September published the estimation by the United Nations that a third of the world’s food (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes as calculated by FAO, the Food & Agriculture Organization) is wasted while one in nine people across the globe remain undernourished. The major UK supermarkets, she noted have been held responsible for contributing to the country’s waste mountain “by sticking rigidly to quality specifications and routinely rejecting misshapen, but edible produce grown by suppliers”.

In May, Tesco responded to this criticism by removing “guidance dates” from about 70 of its fruit and vegetable lines and this month (as revealed in Smithers’ 8th October article) announced it will remove date labels from an additional 116 of its items – including apples, oranges, cabbages and asparagus. Although Tesco has portrayed this move as confirmation of its commitment to ensuring that no food that is safe for human consumption goes to waste, some sceptics may dismiss it merely as a ploy to sell more of its products and hence enhance its profits.

The NHS (National Health Service) has attempted to provide clarification of food labelling terminology. On its website, it explains that “use by” dates are for food that goes off quickly, such as smoked fish, meat products and ready-prepared salads. It warns against consuming food or drink after the specified date. “Doing so could put your health at risk. Any instructions, such as “eat within 3 days of opening” should be followed”. By contrast, “best before” dates, which appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods are about quality, not safety. “When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture”.

There are, the NHS emphasises, special criteria for eggs: They have a “shelf life” of just 28 days, so by law, must reach the final consumer within 21 days from when they were laid by the hens, which then provides at least 7 days until the “best before” date expires. After that, the quality of the eggs will begin to deteriorate: “If any salmonella bacteria are present, they could multiply to high levels and could make the person ill”. The Sun newspaper considers “display until” and “sell by” labels to be rather less significant: The purpose of these, so it states, is to help the store’s employees with their jobs: “It means they don’t make any difference to shoppers, so you don’t need to worry about them”.

The Government’s “safety and hygiene” website (www.food.gov.uk) meanwhile cautions consumers not to trust “the sniff test”. Food can look and smell fine even after its “use by” date, it declares, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. It could still be contaminated. Despite this advice, the Chief Executive Officer of Morrisons, Dalton Philips, has admitted to the Daily Mail journalist Darren Boyle that when at home, he has on occasions relied more on the “smell test” than on the “best before” or “use by” dates on the package. Indeed, the bosses of other large retailers such as Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsburys have also acknowledged in the survey referred to by Boyle that they ignore the expiry dates on their own food and “don’t pay attention to the ‘ridiculous’ labels on the food in their own fridge”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on October 16th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

What’s For Dinner? The Food Companies Don’t Want You To Know:

Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”. This is the advice offered by Michael Pollan, an American journalist, activist and author who has critically analysed the connection between the industrial food chains and what we put on our plates at meal-times. Among his many books are “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. In the opinion of Sarah Boseley, the Guardian’s health correspondent, it’s not even necessary to go back four generations. As she pointed out in the newspaper on 12th April, half the food we take home “is made in factories from a long list of ingredients and additives, most of which never found a place in any grand-parents’ kitchen cupboard”.

We have, Boseley observed, become “ a nation of ultra-processed food eaters”, a fact she had already highlighted in a previous article in February when she cited the results of a survey conducted by the Public Health Nutrition journal. This showed that families in Britain eat more ready meals, biscuits and snacks than any of the other 19 European countries investigated, amounting to 50.7% of the diet. Germany is second on 46.2% and Ireland on 45.9%. According to data the Guardian has obtained from the market research organisation Euromonitor, the brands that profit most from this trend are Premier Foods (Mr Kipling cakes, Batchelors super noodles and soups), McVities (sweet biscuits) & Walkers (crisps) – both of which are “designed to make us want more” – Kellogg’s (breakfast cereals), Cadbury’s (chocolate), Wrigley’s (chewing-gum) and Haribo (sweets).

As Carlos Monteiro, a Professor with the Department of Nutrition at the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil, told Boselely, all of these are invariably made from cheap ingredients and produced on a huge scale: For instance, “Some instant noodles are not real noodles and it’s the same with chicken nuggets – you’re not getting real chicken”. Boselely also referred to the belief of Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, that “We need a change in our eating culture and children need to learn to like the taste of real foods. The solution is to make vegetables, fruits and whole grains more available, affordable, acceptable and appealing to all people and the excessive consumption of energy, saturated fats, sugar and salt more expensive and less available”.

The big food companies have responded to these criticisms by insisting that their commodities “can be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet” and that they are implementing changes which will enable customers to make healthier choices”. They also protect both their brand reputations and their profits (as the Sunday Times journalist, Kate Mansey, has reported), by funding scientific research, carried out mainly by university academics, in order to obtain favourable reviews of their products. The fact that, as Mansey has noted, “the food industry is bankrolling the building of laboratories and handing grants to universities across Britain”, has raised concerns about its influence on scientific integrity.

Among the examples provided by Mansey is research subsidised by Nestle which has claimed that “ a daily bar of chocolate could reduce stress for women”, studies part-funded by the French food giant, Danone, suggesting its yoghurt could reduce the risk of heart disease and increase brain function and an investigation financed by the Austrian company Red Bull which concluded that its energy drink “significantly improves driving performance” – a contention later challenged by the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Kate Bratskeir, a contributor to the “Mic Network” has objected indignantly to the sponsorship arrangements the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) allows for companies such as PepsiCo, Nestle, Coca-Cola and McDonalds. She considers these amount to serious conflicts of interest: “The food brands get what they want (their products sold), scientists get what they’re after (funding to perform research) and the public is left with misinformation” – such as that Ocean Spray cranberry juice reduces urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms, M&M, Snickers, Twix & Dove chocolates (all manufactured by Mars) are “miracle foods” and that Danone Activia yoghurt helps prevent colds and flu and is good for your intestine.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of “Authority Nutrition”, Kris Gunnars, declared in his column for Healthline.com on February 20th that “There’s no decency in the way junk food companies do their marketing. All they care about is profit.” Included in the list of his alleged “eleven biggest lies” are that most products with labels saying “low fat”,”reduced fat” or “fat free” are not healthy at all as they invariably contain extra sugar and other additives. Also, that most processed food products containing whole grains aren’t really “whole”, so-called “gluten-free” products are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients, and many food manufacturers use the word “organic” to mislead consumers: “Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy”. Furthermore, the flavour in many processed foods may sound natural, but isn’t: “Orange-flavoured Vitamin Water tastes like oranges but there are no actual oranges in there: The sweet taste is derived from sugar and the orange flavour from artificial chemicals”.

Bon Apetit!

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on October 2nd, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week SS19: Hoping For A “Good Brexit”:

The latest LFW (Friday 14th September – Tuesday 18th September), at which the trends for Spring and Summer 2019 were exhibited, has just ended. It was preceded, as always, by statistics issued by the British Fashion Council (BFC) emphasising the vital financial contribution (£32 billion) the fashion industry makes to the UK economy. The LFW SS19 Prospectus enthusiastically hailed “this season’s packed schedule (which) cements London’s position as an international hub for creativity, innovation and commerce. It features catwalks, presentations and events from over 190 international brands”.

Looming over the occasion, however, was evident and widespread concern regarding the potentially damaging impact on the sector of the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU), due to take place on March 29th 2019. The new chairwoman of the BFC, Stephanie Phair, indeed acknowledged to the Evening Standard’s (ES) fashion correspondents, Naomi Ackerman and Karren Dacre, on 14th September, that the industry faces “extraordinary challenges” from “digital disruption, people thinking about sustainability and Brexit”.

Two days previously, the same newspaper’s business commentator, Joanna Bourke, in a full-page report captioned “Rising costs and a shortage of models: Brands battle Brexit as Fashion Week kicks off”, had highlighted the “new alarms which have been sounding”. She quoted John Horner, chairman of the British Fashion Model Agents Association, as pointing out that “designers rely on recruiting models that nobody else has seen”, hence that if getting European models into Britain suddenly involves more passport and visa costs as well as more bureaucracy, then “ the runways could suffer a dearth of new faces”.

The BFC’s Chief Executive, Caroline Rush, similarly stressed to Bourke the importance of ensuring that the 60% of EU and international models taking part in LFW are still able to easily enter the UK. Meanwhile, the Hackney-based designer Sadie Williams, is especially worried about higher material prices if the UK fails to achieve a favourable free-trade agreement with Brussels, as she buys many of her fabrics from the EU. The womenswear designer, Minki Cheng, is rather more optimistic: “As long as the Government and the creative council are committed to protecting the industry and its talents, we believe London will remain top”.

This was not, however, the gist of an outspoken but unsigned article in the Evening Standard’s Fashion Edition, published on 14th September to coincide with the start of LFW SS19. It was prefaced by the same slogan of “Fashion Hates Brexit” that the English fashion designer, Katharine Hamnett,“known for her ethical business philosophy”, has put on the new version of her T-shirts. She has apparently sold thousands of her previous ones advocating “Cancel Brexit”. The ES writer noted that 90% of British designers had voted to remain in the EU and that Richard Lim, chief executive of the analysts Retail Economics, predicts that “the price of a pair of jeans will, in all likelihood, go up after Brexit”, due to the introduction of tariffs and an exodus of European shop staff, designers, warehouse staff and delivery drivers, resulting in an “inflationary effect on wages”.

According to the editor of the “Ready For Brexit” website, Anna Tobin, “business that’s done unthinkingly now – shipping in cloth from Italian mills, sourcing components from China, Turkey and India – will become a logistical nightmare. The ES article did nevertheless concede that “it’s not all bad”, that the decline in the value of the pound sterling has seen surging numbers of Chinese, Arab and American fashion tourists spending much more money in London’s West End.

A rather different controversy surfaced on the second day of LFW SS19. As the Guardian columnist, Hadley Freeman, observed in “G2” on 13th September, “everyone knows that the row you are seated in at LFW is a reflection of how important you are considered to be”. On 15th September, the newspaper’s “wealth correspondent”, Rupert Neate, revealed that front row seats at some of the shows were being offered for sale for as much as £5,000 each. Examples given were the catwalk that same evening by Mary Katrantzou, “a London-based designer who sells cocktail dresses that cost £30,780”, and for the Victoria Beckham Show on the morning of Sunday 16th September – though Beckham herself was categorical that she was not aware of this.

Caroline Rush has defended the practice of selling front row tickets on the grounds that it enables the BFC to “offer a premium show venue to emerging designers at a reduced rate”. Ironically, many of the remaining tickets to the catwalks – both for sitting in rows further back or standing – are often issued to art and fashion students from as far away as Liverpool or Manchester who travel to London looking forward to attending a show, queue outside for sometimes an hour or more and are then not allowed in because the venue has reached “full capacity”. Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street in particular has acquired a reputation as a location where this tends to occur.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on September 19th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

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