Sunday, 18 July 2010

Pipsqueak insult may damage ministers' reputations

Emily Rosengreen has been looking into the recent parliamentary row over the cancelled school building programmes.

Emily Rosengreen
The FET, Sunday 18th July
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Ministers fear that Tom Watson’s attack upon Michael Gove in the House of Commons could cause significant harm to parliament’s already damaged reputation.

Tempers were raised in the Commons when Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, voiced his outrage concerning Gove’s handling of a list about school building programmes. His use of the word “pipsqueak” has attracted rebuke for threatening the public image of politicians.

The list in question detailed which building projects would continue and which would be terminated. Gove, the Conservative Education Secretary, has been accused of irresponsibility for the manner in which the list was made public. Furthermore, the list contained twenty-five errors, misinforming some schools about the status of their building programmes.

Following an apology made by Gove in the House of Commons, Watson called him a “miserable pipsqueak” and accused him of having “cynically raised the hopes” of people affected by the errors.

David Miliband, the frontrunner for the Labour Party leadership, has called the incident a “travesty” and insisted that Watson’s insult did not reflect upon the Labour Party as a whole.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Miliband insisted that word choice is important, and that if Watson was going to use insulting language he should “try to say something cooler next time”.

“In private he can use whatever language he likes, but in the House of Commons we have to keep up appearances. Words like ‘pipsqueak’ make us sound like we’re a bunch of toffs.”

David Cameron has taken the opportunity to criticise the Labour Party, claiming that this incident marks a shift in British politics. Cameron told reporters that the Conservatives were no longer the “stuffy, out-of-touch party” and that this title now belonged to Labour.

“I was speaking to Michael about the incident and he called Tom Watson a douchebag, which I think goes to show how different our two parties are.”

While the Conservatives may have benefited from Watson’s choice of language, the Prime Minister admitted that Gove’s actions have been equally damaging, “it’s no good being down with the kids if you’re also utterly incompetent.”

In addition to these problems, the government may be facing legal action from councils and private construction companies that have suffered as a result of the cancelled building programmes.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

BP's crude oil plan fails

Stuart Hawkslee has been examining BP's unsuccessful attempt to create an environmentally friendly oil transportation system.

Stuart Hawkslee
The FET, Tuesday 8th June
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BP, Britain’s largest oil company and one of the world’s environmental thought-leaders, has suffered a major setback in their latest attempt to save the world from climate change.

Having been greatly concerned by the environmental cost of transporting crude oil via pipe lines, BP’s CEO Tony Hayward sought a more natural means to distribute fossil fuels. Inspired by BP’s recent sweeping changes and new large-scale commitments to renewable energy sources, Hayward turned to the natural power of the sea to revolutionise oil transportation.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was chosen as the site for BP’s first experiment, and on April 22 the rig was submerged to allow crude oil to flow into the surrounding waters. Hayward described the plan as “groundbreaking” and “very exciting” at a press conference the following day.

“We expect that the ocean currents in that area will direct several streams of oil to various points along the east coast of the USA, to Mexico and to Brazil.”

Hayward also indicated that BP, originally known as British Petroleum and more recently Beyond Petroleum, might change its name to Beyond Pipelines if the experiment proved to be successful.

However, BP’s faith in the environment’s ability to reliably organise the distribution of 500,000 gallons of crude oil per day appears to have been misplaced. Instead of sending neat streams to the required locations, the forces of nature have allocated the vast majority of the oil to the state of Louisiana. Hayward admitted to reporters yesterday that nature had “got it all wrong”.

“Louisiana simply doesn’t need that much oil. It’s a huge waste. There are shortages all along the east coast, while in Louisiana they have more than they could ever have dreamt. Even the wildlife is rolling in the stuff.”

BP and other environmentalist groups have now expressed fears that the failed operation could lead to a public backlash. Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, has been vocal about his concerns. “We worry that people will lose faith in the reliability of water. This distribution error on the part of nature could have serious repercussions for our hydroelectricity programme.”

Efforts are now being directed to the recapture of released oil in order to limit the damage done to nature’s reputation. Early reports suggest that the Lower Marine Riser Package Cap Containment System could be capturing as much as 462,000 gallons of oil per day.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Pope in abuse blame controversy

Diana Penhale examines recent developments in the Catholic child abuse scandal.

Diana Penhale
The FET, Tuesday 11th May
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The pope has today made significant concessions to the anti-molestation wing of society by admitting for the first time that the Catholic church is to blame for the child abuse scandal. A great amount of support for these comments has already been voiced by the more liberal members of the Catholic hierarchy. However, there are suspicions that discontent may be brewing among traditionalists in the Vatican.

For months the Catholic church has been forced to deal with mounting cases of sexual abuse from across the globe. In small numbers these instances proved manageable, with the church authorities able to resolve such conflagrations through the relocation of priests to different parishes. However, as more and more parishes became occupied by abusive priests, the church has been forced to seek alternative solutions.

In recent weeks the church has been leaning towards a radical policy of attempting to eliminate child abuse altogther. Many influencial Catholics have fiercly opposed this change, calling it an unreasonable encroachment upon their personal freedom. However, its supporters have emphasised that it may be the only practical solution to problem of priest-child infatuations interfering with parochial duties.

The pope’s words have escalated this conflict by accepting moral responsibility for the issue of clerical child abuse. Up until now, the church was able to remain coy about any courses of action that it might take. The previous policy of placing the blame with secular society, the media and the children themselves afforded the church the option of cancelling efforts to eliminate child abuse should an alternative solution be found. Traditionalists now fear that the pope has irreversably committed the church to hardline abolishonism.

However, supporters of this decision have emphasised that the pope’s words were carefully crafted to suggest a path forward that is very positive for the Catholic church. The scandal, said Pope Benedict, is the result of “sin within the church”. The conceptualisation of the abuse scandal as sin may indicate that the pope intends to tackle the problem with an increase in strict religious observance rather than a decrease in sexual encounters with adolescent boys.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The watery demise of an island

Our environmental specialist Stuart Hawkslee examines the impact of rising sea levels on politics.

Stuart Hawkslee
The FET, Saturday 8th May
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How can you determine whether two countries engaged in a territorial dispute truly care for the land in question? In the case of a small island in the Bay of Bengal, it appears that neither India nor Bangladesh were quite as concerned as their military threats in the 1980s suggested.

Known as New Moore to the Indians, and South Talpatti to the Bangladeshis, this small island once warranted regular visits from Indian naval gunships. Presumably it was believed that valuable natural resources might lie beneath the surface.

However, if either country had maintained even a passing interest in this once contested territory, they might have noticed that it is no longer there. Less than thirty years after its appearance in the 1970s, it has retreated back below the waves.

While New South Moorpatti’s passing generated little interest, some quite heated disputes could plausibly be brought to a close by rising sea levels. The Israel-Palestine conflict springs to mind. The coastal Gaza Strip is at risk, not to mention the West Bank, much of which is already below sea level.

What about Britain’s remaining overseas interests? Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands are sources of tension to this day. It is good to know that climate change, for all the damage that it may cause, could potentially improve our relations with Spain and Argentina.

But is this such a bad thing? Would we really prefer to be eating like the apostles, with a few bits of bread and the odd potato? Thirteen Easter eggs is an awful lot, especially when consumed in the space of four days, but the occasional waffle?

Some disputes, however, seem destined to be resolved through other means. Tibet’s struggle for independence from the People’s Republic of China, for example. With the rate of sea level increase as it is, it would take well over a million years (and an as yet undiscovered source of extra water) for the Tibetan capital Lhasa to be submerged.

As it happens, much of the Earth’s low-lying land is disputed by no one at all. What is there to be gained from the loss of the Netherlands, Micronesia or New York? If the Fens are swallowed up by the North Sea, the only dispute that will be avoided is the Boat Race. Would that be worth it? I think not.

Unlike New South Moorpatti, Cambridge would be missed, and so would many of these places threatened by rising sea levels. Such as Norwich, or Bury St Edmunds. And perhaps also Florida. And if in a million years or so Tibet follows them, and if anyone is still alive to see it, I expect that Tibet would be missed as well.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Easter Obesity

Easter has changed a lot in the past two thousand years. Nathan Lynett discusses the role of food in the Easter experience.

Nathan Lynett
The FET, Tuesday 27th April
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How many chocolate eggs did you eat this Easter? A recent survey says that children between the ages of ten and fourteen consumed an average of thirteen Easter eggs this year. That’s a whopping five-and-a-half pounds of chocolate.

For those of you unfamiliar with imperial measurements, five-and-a-half pounds is roughly the same weight as a laptop computer. A sobering thought. “What’s that?” I hear you cry, you readers with experience of midwifery, “the same weight as a small newborn baby?” Yes. Yes, indeed.

When I was born I weighed five-and-a-half pounds. A modern-day festive snack, to be wolfed down over a long weekend. However, unlike the thirteen-egg Easter feasts of today, I did not contain 650 grams of fat. You would have needed to eat about three of me to keep up with the times.

It seems that Easter, once a celebration of fertility and new life, has degenerated into an excuse for gluttony, following hot on the heels of binge-filled Christmases and alcoholic New Years.

Where can we turn? To the Church? Apparently not. Even Christianity has been tainted by the “super-size me” culture. A study of paintings of the Last Supper has shown that the amount of food depicted has increased by two thirds over the last thousand years. The result could hardly be called decadence, but the message is clear nonetheless.

But is this such a bad thing? Would we really prefer to be eating like the apostles, with a few bits of bread and the odd potato? Thirteen Easter eggs is an awful lot, especially when consumed in the space of four days, but the occasional waffle?

While obesity is responsible for reducing life expectancy by an average of six years, it could potentially save millions of lives. In the USA weight issues now comprise the leading medical reason for the rejection of potential military recruits. A group of prominent officers have recently described this as a serious threat to national security.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Could we scoff our way to world peace? Up until now the wave of obesity emanating from America and sweeping across Europe has been looked upon with horror. But what if it continued? To Israel, to Iran, even to North Korea.

Have you ever seen obese people at war? It’s called sumo wrestling. Very few people die from sumo wrestling and everyone gets to eat as many Easter eggs as they like.