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’Black ops’ strengthen resolve of Reilly and European Commission to push through tobacco reforms


 

Did the Tobacco Industry Arrange for European Commission headquarters in Brussels to be Burgled?

On the night of October 17th/18th last year, burglars targeted three offices housed in an eight- storey office block near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. They entered through the windows, disabled outdoor sensors and then waited for 45 seconds. They knew where the internal alarm was situated.

They took several laptops, although significantly not the chargers. Clearly it was not the laptops they were after, but the information inside them.

The three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which were targeted were the Smoke Free Partnership, the European Respiratory Partnership and the office of the European Public Health Alliance.

All those organisations have one thing in common – they are all engaged in the business of tobacco control.

Qui bono? Who benefits? Who would be interested in breaking into the offices of NGOs involved in tobacco control and why would the burglars be interested in laptops which had information only of interest to those in the tobacco industry?

In a recent interjection at the Oireachtas committee on health, the Minister for Health James Reilly gave a colourful if not altogether accurate description of the “black ops” involved in that break-in.

Disabled alarms

“The intruders abseiled down from the roof to the seventh floor of the building, cut holes in the plate-glass window, disabled the alarms and got into the offices.

“There were a number of offices and they went straight to the Office of Tobacco Control and removed all the hard discs from the computers.

“Who could afford to launch such an operation?”

Who indeed? Florence Berteletti Kemp, the director of the Smoke Free Partnership, said those who carried it out were “top professionals” and knew exactly what they were looking for. “I cannot say who did it, but I will leave it to the public imagination,” she said.

Kemp was one of the speakers at last week’s European Week against Cancer conference in the Aviva Stadium.

She said the break-in “delayed our work for at least a week or two”, but was ultimately a futile act because the most critical information was backed up.

The day after the health commissioner John Dalli resigned over a scandal which involved the tobacco industry.

It had been alleged that a friend of his in Malta had sought a large bribe from a Swedish company which makes a tobacco product called Snus citing his influence with Dalli. Dalli has denied any impropriety.

Coincidentally, Dalli was a stern advocate of the tobacco directive which is currently with the Irish presidency of the EU.

Rightly or wrongly, the tobacco industry was blamed for both events but the actions had the opposite effect, according to Kemp.

“I would say that it redoubled our efforts. It has brought the subject of the power of the industry to the parliament. It was a bad idea. It totally backfired on whoever did it.”

Advancing the directive is now in the gift of the Irish presidency and our fiercely anti-smoking Minister for Health Dr Reilly.

He said the break-in made the European Commission aware “that there was a real danger that the tobacco industry had the upper hand on them and clearly the commission is not going to allow that.”

The tobacco directive has a number of main provisions. The first is to outlaw cigarettes such as those flavoured with, for example, menthol or vanilla; the second is to ensure that health warnings cover at least 75 per cent of the pack face, although some countries want it smaller than that; and the third is to ban so-called slim cigarettes which are mainly marketed at women.

It does not include provision for plain packaging which will be brought in by Ireland unilaterally.

While there is broad agreement on the need for tobacco control, tobacco manufacturing is a big industry in countries such as Greece, Spain, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Agreed position

Dr Reilly acknowledged that there was “very serious” opposition from certain countries, particularly Poland which has Europe’s second largest tobacco industry.

He said the goal of the Irish presidency was to get an agreed position on the directive at European Commission level and then take it to the parliament for approval.

“I’m a great believer in doing what is pragmatic and doing what is quick rather than try to hold out for the perfection that never comes your way,” he said. “There is a real sense that this is an important initiative and it has to be done.”

The Lithuanian presidency, which takes over from Ireland in July, will now be charged with bringing the directive forward.

“The Lithuanian presidency is very supportive of this and they are determined to lead the charge, but it is very difficult to know when it will come into force,” the Minister concluded.

via ’Black ops’ strengthen resolve of Reilly and European Commission to push through tobacco reforms – Health News | Irish Medical News | The Irish Times – Tue, Jun 04, 2013.

Gender Equality in European Research


In April, the European Commission released its latest snapshot of the representation of women in science. The message that emerges from the oddly named report, She Figures 2012: Gender in Research and Innovation, is hardly surprising: Women are still underrepresented in science. The gap appears to be closing—slowly—but more needs to be done if it is to close completely anytime soon.

Some of the report’s main findings:

On average, in 2009 in the 27 E.U. countries, 33% of all researchers were women. There was a very wide range, however: Women were the least well-represented in Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands (21%, 25%, and 26%, respectively) and best represented in Latvia and Lithuania, which in 2009 had (and presumably still has) more female researchers than male researchers. In Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Estonia, Slovakia, and Poland, at least 40% of researchers were women.

Between 2002 and 2009, the number of female researchers grew more quickly (5.1% annually) than the number of male researchers (3.3%) in the E.U.-27. “[W]omen seem to be catching up with men over time,” the report says. Yet, “it must be remembered that the growth rate for women is on a smaller base than that for men so that if it is merely sustained and not radically increased, it will still take a long time to significantly improve the gender balance in research.”

In the E.U.-27, 40% of researchers in both higher education and government were women, but only 19% of researchers in the for-profit sector were women. There are signs that the gap is closing in all three sectors. For example, in 2002, 35% of researchers in higher education were women, but by 2009 that number had risen to 40%.

In 2010, across the E.U.-27, women earned 46% of the Ph.D. degrees across all scientific fields (which, according to the report’s definitions, include not just the natural and social sciences but also the humanities). Between 2002 and 2006, the number of female Ph.D. graduates increased faster than the number of male Ph.D. graduates—but in 2006, the number of women earning those degrees stopped growing and the number of men earning degrees started to decline.

Women accounted for 64% of all 2010 Ph.D. recipients in education, 56% in health and welfare, and 54% in the humanities. Among Ph.D. graduates, gender was approximately balanced in social sciences, business, and law (49% women), and in agricultural and veterinary sciences (52% women). But just 40% of Ph.D. graduates in the natural sciences, mathematics, and computing were women, and in engineering, just 26%.

The report found that 44% of entry-level academic researchers were women—just below the percentage of Ph.D. graduates. For intermediate-level academic positions that number fell to 37%. Just 20% of senior professors were women. And while the representation of women in the professoriate increased at all levels between 2002 and 2010, “[t]his positive progress is nevertheless slow and should not mask the fact that, in the absence of proactive policies, it will take decades to close the gender gap and bring about a higher degree of gender equality.”

Zooming in, similar trends could be found in the natural sciences and engineering, which the report lumps together. In these fields, the representation of women was 35% at the Ph.D. level, 32% in entry-level faculty positions, 23% in intermediate-level positions, and just 11% among full professors. While the proportion of female scientists and engineers went up between 2002 and 2010, the rise was less pronounced in these fields than it was overall.

The report’s authors calculated a “glass ceiling index” (GCI) for various countries, an indicator of how hard it is for academic women to reach full-professorship. (A value of 1.0 would indicate full equality with men.) On average, throughout the E.U.-27, the GCI was 1.8 in 2010—slightly more favorable to women than in 2004, when the GCI was 1.9. Romania was the closest to gender equality with a GCI of 1.3. Cyprus had the worst GCI (3.6), followed by Lithuania and Luxembourg.

Across the E.U.-27 in 2010, just 10% of universities had a female rector.

In 2010, 36% of E.U. scientific and management board members were women. The data seem to show that gender-based quotas work: Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where the share of female board members was 49%, 46%, and 45%, respectively, have such policies. In contrast, in Hungary, Cyprus, Lithuania, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic, less than 20% of board members were women.

In most countries, men had a higher success rate than women in securing funding. The gender gap varies from 1% (Belgium and Portugal) to 11% (Austria). In Slovenia, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Iceland, and Norway, women had higher success rates than men.

The report’s authors conclude that continued and expanded measures are necessary if progress is to continue. “There is no evidence of spontaneous reduction of gender inequality over time. All these policies, and many more, are needed to ensure that constant progress is made towards gender-equality in research and scientific careers.”

“Some people think that if we just wait, it will get better, and that’s one way in which the She figures are extremely important,” says Curt Rice, vice president for research and development at the University of Tromsø in Norway, an E.U. associated country. “They show us that … if we believe it’s important to have women at the top, then we must act.” Rice led an initiative at the University of Tromsø that contributed to boosting the number of women in professorship positions from 9% to 30% in a decade. (You can read our Q&A with Rice here.)

The 159-page report was put together by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission in collaboration with the Helsinki Group on Women and Science. Since 2003, the report has been published every 3 years.

The complete She Figures 2012 report is available on the European Commission’s Web site.

via Gender Equality in European Research | Science Careers.

via Gender Equality in European Research | Science Careers.

The Great Horsemeat Crisis


The Real Culprits are the Banks

The Great Horsemeat Crisis

by CONN HALLINAN

As the Great Horsemeat Crisis continues to spread—“gallops” is the verb favored by the European press—across the continent, and countries pile on to blame Romania (France, Holland, Cyprus, etc.), what is becoming increasingly clear is that old-fashioned corporate greed, aided and abetted by politicians eager to gut “costly” regulations and industrial inspection regimes is behind the scandal.

In a sense it is fitting that the whole imbroglio began in Ireland, where inspectors in Ulster first indentified that hamburgers should have more properly been labeled “horsewiches.” The Emerald Isle has more horses than any country in Europe, and, according to the Financial Times, in 2007 Ireland produced 12,633 thoroughbred foals and has some 110,000 “sport” horses.

The year 2007 was just before the Irish real estate bubble imploded, bankrupting the nation and impoverishing millions. And the year the “Celtic Tiger” died was very bad news for horses. Thousands of the creatures were simply turned loose by their financially strapped owners, and the number of horses sent to slaughterhouses jumped from 2,000 in 2008 to 25,000 in 2012.

The Irish-horse connection goes back to when Celtic speaking people first burst out of Central Europe during the second century B.C.  Celtic cavalry and chariots—the Celts introduced the latter to Europe—were pretty formidable, as the Romans discovered on a number of occasions.

Horses have always been a high status item in Ireland, and during the colonial period the English figured out a devilishly clever way to take advantage of that. According to the Irish Penal Laws of 1692, no Catholic—the vast majority of native Irish were Roman Catholics—could own a horse worth more than five pounds. So the English would go into the countryside, select a thoroughbred, and force the breeder to sell them his horse for a pittance. Sometimes the “buyers” would then turn right around and re-sell the animal to its former owner for hundreds of pounds.

When the Irish first discovered horsemeat in the food chain, they claimed innocence and blamed the Poles. It turns out, however, that a small slaughterhouse in Tipperary was shipping horsemeat labeled as beef to the Czech Republic. The British blamed the Romanians, and Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Sun, took the opportunity to indulge in his favorite sport: ethnic bashing. A “grim Romanian slaughterhouse built with EU (European Union) cash” was the culprit, blared the largest (and sleaziest) tabloid in England.

The Romanians did indeed use EU cash to build a plant, but the slaughterhouse produced records showing that they had correctly identified the meat as horse. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta complained that Romania was routinely made the EU’s scapegoat.

Then the Swedes got into the act and blamed France, and it does appear it was the French company Spanghero that slipped “old Dobbin” into the food chain. Spanghero denied the charge and, in its defense, trotted out yet another animal: a weeping crocodile. “My first thought is for the employees,” said a choked up Laurent Spanghero at a press conference. “My second thought goes to our kids and grandkids that carry our name. We have always taught them the values of courage and loyalty and today we have been plunged into dishonor.”

Except, according to French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon, Spanghero could hardly have failed to notice that the meat it was importing from Romania was much cheaper than what the company normally paid for beef.  A kilo of horsemeat costs .66 cents, a kilo of beef, $3.95. According to Hamon, Spanghero made $733,800 substituting horsemeat for beef.

Then things got really murky.

The Netherlands said the Cyprus-based meat vendor Draap that sold the meat to Spanghold was responsible, and the company’s track record would suggest the Dutch had a point. In 2012 Draap was convicted of selling South American horsemeat labeled at German and Dutch beef.

But it turns out Draap—based in Cyprus but run by a trust in the British Virgin Islands—is owned by the company Guardstand, that in turn owns part of the arms dealing company, Ilex Ventures. According to prosecutors in New York, convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout owns Ilex Ventures. Guardstand’s sole shareholder, reports Jamie Doward of The Observer, is Trident Trust, which sets up companies in tax-free nations. Guardstand helped set up Ilex.

Sorting this out will be nigh on impossible, because tax havens like Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands are not about to give up their secrets, and the powerful corporations that shelter their ill-gotten gains there know how to keep inspectors at bay.

Hypocrisy has been in abundance during the Great Horsemeat Crisis.

Owen Paterson, the British environmental secretary who oversees food safety and a member of the Conservative Party, thundered in Parliament about an “international conspiracy.” However, the current Conservative-Liberal government has instituted cutbacks on inspections by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and turned enforcement over to some 330 local authorities.

“It is a shame that testing by the FSA has been reduced,” Dr. Chris Smart told the Guardian. “I am sure there will be other crises that come along in the next few years.” And given that UK food prices have risen nearly 26 percent that will surely be the case. Inspectors have already uncovered adulterated olive oil and paprika made from roof tiles.

At the heart of this are the continent-wide austerity programs that have driven up the ranks of the poor, requiring low-income families to rely on cheap meat or go without. “Why was horsemeat present in beef burgers?” asks Elizabeth Dowler, a professor of food and social policy at Warwick University,  “Because the price has to be kept as low as possible.” Horsemeat is one-fifth the price of beef, so the temptation is to either adulterate beef with horse, or sell it as cheap beef. “This has the most impact on those with low income and large numbers of children,” says Dowler. “People in this situation have no money to buy better quality burgers, or to go to a butcher and make their own mincemeat. Instead they depend on special 3-for-2 offers. The problem is linked to poverty.”

Horsemeat for some, beer and skittles for the likes of Spanghero.

But the real culprits in this crisis are the banks in Britain, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain that ignited the economic crisis by artificially pumping up real estate bubbles. Up there in the docket with the bankers should be the politicians who shoved through development schemes, waved environmental regulations, and turned a blind eye to speculation. And when everything crashed, the taxpayers—the vast majority of whom never got in on the boom years—got stuck with the bill.

Poor Ireland. The EU enforced austerity scheme has raised the unemployment level to above 15 percent—30 percent for young people—and saddled homeowners with onerous tax and fee hikes. Wages have been cut, health care fees raised more, and welfare butchered. In spite of these “reforms,” the economy grew an anemic 0.9 percent in 2012, and is scheduled to rise to 1.5 percent in 2013, down from the 2.2 the government originally predicted.

And the Irish economy is actually much worse than the figures indicate, because much of the wealth Ireland currently creates goes into the coffers of huge multinationals attracted to the island’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, the lowest in Europe. As the Economist points out, “The Irish people have fared much worse than the Irish economy.”

And the pain for the average Irish working person is due to get worse. The 2013 budget will cut spending $4.6 billion, increase taxes, and add yet more austerity in 2014 and 2015. All of this woe has drawn widespread praise from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which suggests that if a bank praises you, it is time to reach for a barricade.

This is not just a European problem, because the trend toward cutting back on regulations and inspections is worldwide.  For instance, under pressure from the agricultural lobby, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has backed off trying to reduce the amount of antibiotics used on livestock.  According to a recent report by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, 80 percent of all the antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. are used on animals. The result is that antibiotic-resistant salmonella is spreading rapidly in chicken and turkey populations, and turning up in hospitals, clinics and gymnasiums.

Horsemeat is going to be the least of our problems.

via The Great Horsemeat Crisis » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

via The Great Horsemeat Crisis » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

Science Has Identified The Features Of A Trustworthy Face


df0cfcc39e128bda2a6cc024fd35eac6_trust

By Markus C. Schulte von Drach

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG/Worldcrunch

BERLIN – Can we draw conclusions about another person’s character traits based on their facial or body features? We have a tendency to base ourselves on outer appearance when forming first impressions of other people.

Studies have shown that the shape of a face plays a role in our perception of how trustworthy somebody is. British psychologists reported that men with wide faces tended to abuse the trust of other test subjects more than men with narrow faces. The mistrust of other test subjects toward the wide-faced subjects was also greater from the onset.

And now Czech researchers have confirmed those results. They found that the shape of a face plays a role in our judgment of someone’s character – but also facial expression and eye color. Men with blue eyes, write Karel Kleisner of Charles University in Prague and his colleagues in the online scientific journal Plos One, come across as less trustworthy than men with brown eyes.

In an earlier study, the Czech scientists had shown that brown eyes – in men – often went with a certain shape of face that people tend to associate with happy and trustworthy people. Blue eyes on the other hand often go hand in hand with male faces that appear angry, and hence less trustworthy.

Based on this, the psychologists hypothesized that there were significant correlations between face shape and eye color and that brown-eyed individuals were perceived as more trustworthy than blue-eyed ones. This was the basic idea the present study set out to examine, while also examining if eye color alone plays a role in the impression we have of others.

To carry out the study, researchers showed students neutral photographs of 40 male students and 40 female students between the ages of 19-26 and asked them to rate the faces as more or less trustworthy. Those in the pictures were young adults with blue or brown eyes.

Unfortunately the study does not include exactly how many people took part in the test. Kleisner and his colleagues first say that the photographs were rated by “238 participants (142 females and 98 males).” They then go on to say: “Out of a total of 248 raters, 105 judged trustworthiness, 103 attractiveness, and 30 dominance. The raters differed in eye color: 99 had blue; 61 green; and 78 brown eyes.” That makes 238, then 240, then 248, and back to 238. It can only be hoped that the discrepancies are typos, and that the statistical information was correctly calculated.

In any case, the psychologists report that: “All raters, irrespective of their own eye color, perceived the brown-eyed faces as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones.”

The researchers also confirmed a strong correlation between eye color and facial shape. Blue-eyed men with oval faces with a longer chin and smaller mouth, relatively small eyes and fairly widely separated eyebrows were perceived as less trustworthy than brown-eyed men with a broader chin, bigger mouth, bigger nose, and prominent eyebrows that were closer together.

Judging a book by its cover

To see if eye color alone played a role, the researchers changed the eye color on the photographs of the men and showed them to 106 test subjects. This time there was no difference for blue or brown eyes: facial shape was the determining factor.

The psychologists conclude that “although the brown-eyed faces were perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones, it was not brown eye color per se that caused the stronger perception of trustworthiness but rather the facial features associated with brown eyes.” Why there is an apparent relationship between eye color and facial shape is still unclear.

Despite these results, attempts in daily life to draw conclusions from the shape of peoples’ faces and their eye color are best left alone. It is true that a series of studies has shown that when we meet somebody for the first time, we often do identify character traits within seconds. British psychologists David Perett and Anthony Little demonstrated that in their study of students who were instantly gauged as for example conscientious, or extraverted.

But these studies do nothing more than give indications of possible leads – nothing more. A person’s character is formed genetically and apparently also by the influence of hormones in the mother’s womb. A major role in the formation of a personality is also played by a person’s experiences, particularly those made in the various stages of childhood socialization – and those aren’t reflected in the shape of a face. The old chestnut “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is particularly relevant here.

Anybody who fails to take this into account runs the risk of repeating mistakes made by scientists who have in the past tried through systematic observation to link body features with character. In the 18th century, Swiss pastor Johann Caspar Lavater came up with his popular theory of physiognomy so ridiculed by his contemporary, physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.

In the 19th century, Italian doctor Cesare Lombroso also missed the mark when he tried to identify and catalogue typical body traits of “born criminals.” The Nazis later used his work to justify the persecution, forced sterilization and euthanasia of criminals.

via Science Has Identified The Features Of A Trustworthy Face – Everyday fresh news from ALL the WORLD only on Worldcrunch.com |.

via Science Has Identified The Features Of A Trustworthy Face – Everyday fresh news from ALL the WORLD only on Worldcrunch.com |.

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