Tag Archives: The Guardian

Loneliness linked to phantom cigarettes

By Calvin Palmer

Today’s online edition of The Guardian features an article about the loneliness epidemic sweeping the UK.

The article stresses the health risks associated with loneliness and cites a report that states loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

That assertion is linked to an article in the Mail Online, which proclaims social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, according to research by Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, of Brigham Young University in Utah and data obtained from 300,000 people.

Alas, the Mail Online article does not specify just how loneliness can be equated with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And why is it 15 cigarettes instead of say 10 or five?

Is there a body of knowledge that can precisely show the effects on a person’s health of each cigarette smoked on a daily basis?

And what if a person is lonely and smokes 15 cigarettes a day, does that mean they are effectively smoking 30 cigarettes a day?

It all sounds rather implausible to me and smacks of the kind of junk science that is used to support anti-smoking and anti-tobacco measures the world over.

A photograph accompanying the Mail Online article has the caption: Me, myself and I: Loneliness can be as damaging for your health as smoking, research shows [sic]

Clearly working for the Mail Online means you do not end a sentence with a full stop. I wonder how damaging that can be to a person’s health? It is certainly damaging to your reputation as a working journalist.

And why does the caption only mention smoking when alcohol was also mentioned in the study?

It strikes me the Mail Online, like most of the mainstream media, has an anti-smoking agenda.

What’s the betting that every person associated with that article reaching the public is a non-smoker? I will wager they all like a few pints of beer or a few glasses of wine, hence the link to alcohol being downplayed.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? Well, actually they do.


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Valeska’s T Mobile charms make up for a dire night in the Copa América

By Calvin Palmer

The more I see of Paraguay the more they remind me of Stoke City on a bad day, lots of honest endeavour that produces little in the way of goals or entertainment. Last night’s semi-final against Venezuela in the Copa América was dire.

The 90 minutes of normal time was excruciating to watch as neither side had a player of real quality to break the deadlock. Venezuela perhaps came closest but Paraguay’s defence held firm, and the one time it was breached, the referee assistant’s flag came to the rescue. Vizcarrondo’s header was disallowed for offside.

At 70 minutes, it was plain to see that this game was not only destined for extra-time but also a penalty shoot-out. And so it proved.

Even the dismissal of Paraguay’s Santana for a second bookable offense could not tip the scales in Venezuela’s favour. They huffed and they puffed but could not translate territorial advantage into that all important goal.

The nearest thing to drama occurred when the Paraguay coach and his assistant became embroiled in a slanging match with the referee and one of the Venezuelan coaching staff. The referee banished both men from the touchline and a baseball hatted cop was on hand to see that the referee’s ruling was enforced.

So it came down to penalties and once again Paraguay’s goalkeeper, and skipper, Justo Villar emerged as the hero, saving Lucena’s spot-kick. All it need was for Veron, the Andy Wilkinson lookalike, to score from the spot and Paraguay were through to the final. Veron duly obliged with a fierce shot that gave the Venezuelan keeper no chance.

The Guardian’s coverage of this match also alluded to the similarity between Paraguay and Stoke City. Jacob Steinberg in his summing up states:

“Paraguay are the epitome of anti-football. They’re in the final and they haven’t won a single game.”

The anti-football tag has been applied by a great many football pundits and fans regarding Stoke City in the past, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger being among the vanguard.

The Guardian piece also contains:

 “How do you think Jon Walters would do in this game tonight?” asks Alec McAulay. “You remember him. I am sure.”

Jon Walters is a clodhopper, so he could probably fit in well in the Paraguay midfield.

Clearly Steinberg’s memory does not extend as far back as May and Stoke City’s destruction of Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final of the FA Cup, where Walter’s scored two goals one of which was worthy of goal of the season.

If I were Jon Walters, I would be taking legal advice about Steinberg’s slur.

Paraguay versus Venezuela was certainly not a game for football purists. I spent more than two hours watching the TV coverage by Univision and the moments of interest during that time had little to do with the football action.

First I noticed the game was being played at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in the city of Mendoza. You don’t need to speak Spanish to know that the name translates into Stadium of the Argentine Falkland Islands.

The stadium was originally named Estadio Ciudad de Mendoza but was renamed in 1982 after the Falklands War. Whether it was renamed in honour of Argentina’s war dead, I don’t know but Argentina still claims sovereignty of the islands.

The mainly British Falkland islanders wish to remain British and the UK government has repeatedly told Argentina that no talks will be held over the future sovereignty as there is no issue to resolve.

During the match I kept seeing these white marks appear on the playing surface and they seemed to coincide where the wall of players lined up to defend a free-kick. I noticed too that the referee had what looked like a spray can tucked into his shorts but couldn’t work out what is was for.

Near the end of extra time, the referee awarded a free-kick and the TV cameras showed him using the spray can to mark the spot where the ball was to be placed and then pacing out the distance where the wall should form and spraying a line on the turf. What an excellent idea to stop players in the wall encroaching on the 10 yards they should be from the ball.

Apparently this practice has been in use in Brazil for 10 years; Argentina for three years; Mexico for two years; and has also spread to Uruguay and Chile.

FIFA has approved its use by CONMEBOL, the South American ruling body. I wonder if it will eventually spread to the European game?

Although the football served up by Paraguay and Venezuela for more than two hours was dire, the advert breaks offered some entertainment and the T Mobile ad in particular was most pleasing on the eye.

It features the charms of Latin beauty Valeska Castillo. Apparently she is based just down the road from me in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area and is on the books of the Elite Model Agency in Miami.

I can find no links on YouTube to the T Mobile TV ad I saw, no doubt such links will surface in the weeks and months ahead as her beauty becomes more widely known.

However, I did find a clip of Valeska on Vimeo, which was shot for the Elite Model Agency.

Valeska Castillo – Elite Miami from Lily Manzano on Vimeo.

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British newspaper article on Florida’s pill mills fails to keep up with events

By Calvin Palmer

The Guardian newspaper today carried an article about the thousands of people flocking to the pill mills of Florida to obtain the powerfully addictive painkiller oxycodone.

The White House has described the abuse of prescription drugs as the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, pointing out that people were dying unintentionally from painkiller overdoses at rates that exceeded the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the black tar heroin epidemic of the 1970s combined.

Florida is described as the epicenter of the oxycodone epidemic. Guardian writer Ed Pilkington states that 98 percent of all the nation’s doctors who handle the drug are located in Florida, which “has no comprehensive database recording prescription histories”.

Pilkington goes on: “Even more astonishingly its recently elected governor, the Tea Party favourite Rick Scott, has blocked the introduction of a database on grounds of cost.”

Now, I am no fan of Gov. Rick Scott but I do believe in accurate and fair reporting. I am from the old school of journalism.

Last Friday, if Pilkington had bothered to read or find out, Scott signed a bill aimed at cracking down on clinics that frivolously dispense pain pills.

“Florida will shed its title as the Oxy Express,” he said at a bill signing ceremony in Tampa.

Scott had concerns about the prescription drug monitoring database on the grounds of its effectiveness and privacy. But even he had the good sense to bow to the pressure from elected officials throughout the country to do something about the proliferation of pill mills in Florida.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the advocates for the database, said: “The governor has made a huge turnaround. He has signed a bill today that not only preserves the prescription drug monitoring database. It makes it better.”

The bill tightens reporting requirements to the database from 15 days to seven days, a change critics said the program needed to make it more effective.

The measure also increases penalties for overprescribing oxycodone and other narcotics, tracks wholesale distribution of some controlled substances, and provides $3 million to support law enforcement efforts and state prosecutors.

It also bans most doctors who prescribe narcotics from dispensing them, requiring prescriptions to be filled at certain types of pharmacies.

“The toll our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating and Florida is ground zero,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy after Scott signed the bill.

Even as far back as April, while testifying before a congressional committee with Kentucky Gov. Steve Bershear, Scott pledged to address the problem and give up his push to kill Florida’s prescription drug monitoring database.

So just how much research did Pilkington do for his article? Not a lot, it would appear. His article is lazy journalism at best; inaccurate and biased reporting at worst.

[Based on reports by The Guardian and The Miami Herald.]

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Police officer suspended ‘in public interest’ over G20 protest death

By Calvin Palmer

The officer seen on video footage hitting and pushing newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests was today suspended by the Metropolitan Police.

The officer came forward after an investigation began into the events leading to the death of 47-year-old Tomlinson who apparently died from a heart attack during last Wednesday’s protest near the Bank of England.

A video taken by a fund manager from New York, attending the protest out of curiosity, captures the police officer’s actions in Royal Exchange Passage at 7:20 p.m. The video was handed to The Guardian newspaper.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission spokeswoman said: “The IPCC has called for the officer to be suspended. The Metropolitan Police has now informed us that the officer has been suspended with immediate effect.

“Although decisions about suspension are a matter for the chief officer of the police, when there is an IPCC investigation, the police are obliged to consult with us over the suspension of officers.

“In this case, we have expressed the view that the officer in question should be suspended from duty, in the public interest.”

Yesterday the IPCC announced a criminal inquiry into the death of Tomlinson, after watching the video footage.

A second post mortem examination has been ordered and the officer involved, who has come forward to his senior officer, faces possible assault or even manslaughter charges if prosecutors believe he used excessive force which led to the death of the man.

The second post mortem is expected to focus on whether Tomlinson shows signs of having been bitten by a police dog or of bruising to his legs or body that is consistent with being hit with a baton.

The first post mortem examination was carried out on Friday afternoon and found that the father of nine died from natural causes.

He died minutes after footage showed him being violently shoved to the ground by a helmeted and baton wielding Metropolitan police officer last Wednesday evening.

The second post mortem will be carried out by Dr Nat Carey, one of Britain’s most eminent forensic pathologists.

The family of Tomlinson have asked Carey to conduct the examination on their behalf as have the IPCC.

As Carey’s independence is not in question he will produce a report for both parties.

The Metropolitan Police issued a statement today saying that they had no intention about misleading the public about Tomlinson coming into contact with their officers.

“It is now clear that Mr Tomlinson did come into contact with police prior to his death and that a number of the officers depicted in the footage on a national newspaper’s website have identified themselves as MPS officers.

“To clarify, there has been no denial from the MPS that this was the case, nor any deliberate intent to mislead. This is information that could only have been known as the investigation progressed as this was not known at the time of providing medical aid to Mr Tomlinson.

“It is only right and proper that any circumstances surrounding Mr Tomlinson’s death form part of the thorough investigation by the IPCC.”

The dead man’s stepson, Paul King, 26, a security guard, said: “As the footage shows, it is clear Ian was not a threat, there was no need for such a violent attack on him, especially as he had his back to them.

“He was just walking home to watch the football. He was just minding his own business. We want this officer identified and punished the way any normal person would be. We just want justice for Ian.

“That’s not correct policing. There was no need for that. You see how violently he was pushed to the floor. It’s not right.”

He added: “He has never had any heart trouble is the past, there’s no way he just collapsed and that’s obvious now from the footage. We plan to take things further.”

[Based on reports by The Times and The Daily Telegraph.]

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New York fund manager’s video shows G20 heart attack victim hit by police

By Calvin Palmer

A video shot by a fund manager from New York shows the man who died in last week’s G20 protests in London was attacked from behind and thrown to the ground by a baton-wielding police officer in riot gear.

Moments later Ian Tomlinson suffered a heart attack and died.

The video forms part of a dossier that The Guardian newspaper is preparing to hand to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The dossier also includes witness statements, as well as a sequence of photographs, and sheds a new light on the events surrounding the death of the 47-year-old newspaper seller who had been on his way home from work when he was confronted by a cordon of riot police near the Bank of England.

The fund manager, who was in London on business, attended the protest out of curiosity.

He said: “The primary reason for me coming forward is that it was clear the family were not getting any answers.”

The video footage was shot about 7:20 p.m. last Wednesday and shows Tomlinson at at Royal Exchange ­Passage. The film reveals that as he walks, with his hands in his pockets, he does not speak to the police or offer any resistance.

About 10 police officers, some of them with dogs, are walking down a street. One of them, wearing a riot helmet and high visibility jacket, approaches Tomlinson from behind and appears to strike him on the back of the legs with a baton. The officer then lunges at him, pushing him from behind, sending him crashing face down on to the pavement.

The officers then stand over Tomlinson and do not attempt to help him as he sits on the ground. He appears to try to speak to them before he is helped up by passers-by.

A number of witnesses provided time and date-stamped photographs which substantiated witness statements from people in the area at the time.

Some said they saw police officers attack Tomlinson.

Witnesses said that, prior to the moment captured on video, he had already been hit with batons and thrown to the floor by police who blocked his route home.

Anna Branthwaite, a ­photographer, described how in the ­minutes before the video was shot, she saw Tomlinson walking towards Cornhill Street.

“A riot police officer had already grabbed him and was pushing him,” she said. “It wasn’t just pushing him – he’d rushed him. He went to the floor and he did actually roll. That was quite noticeable.

“It was the force of the impact. He bounced on the floor. It was a very forceful knocking down from behind. The officer hit him twice with a baton when he was lying on the floor.

“So it wasn’t just that the officer had pushed him – it became an assault. And then the officer picked him up from the back, continued to walk or charge with him, and threw him.

“He was running and stumbling. He didn’t turn and confront the officer or anything like that.”

In an official statement on the night of Tomlinson’s death, the Metropolitan Police made no reference to any ­contact with officers and described attempts by police medics and an ambulance crew to save his life after he collapsed – efforts which they said were marred by protesters throwing missiles as first aid was administered.

The force said officers had created a ­cordon around Tomlinson to give him CPR.

“The officers took the decision to move him as during this time a number of missiles – believed to be bottles – were being thrown at them,” it said.

The video footage was branded “shocking” by one senior officer and potentially poses the first crisis for Sir Paul Stephenson since he was announced as the new Commissioner in January.

It is not clear which force the officer belongs to but there will be mounting pressure to identify the individual officer involved and possibly suspend him from duty pending an investigation by the IPCC.

On Monday, the IPCC began managing an investigation by City of London police into the circumstances of ­Tomlinson’s death after The Guardian ­published photographs of him on the ground and witness statements indicated he had been assaulted by police officers.

The IPCC’s commissioner for London, Deborah Glass, said: “Initially, we had accounts from independent witnesses who were on Cornhill, who told us that there had been no contact between the police and Mr Tomlinson when he collapsed.

“However, other witnesses who saw him in the Royal Exchange area have since told us that Mr Tomlinson did have ­contact with police officers.

“This would have been a few minutes before he collapsed. It is important that we are able to establish as far as possible whether that contact had anything to do with his death.”

The IPCC added that Tomlinson was captured on CCTV walking into Royal Exchange Passage.

“This is the aspect of the incident that the IPCC is now investigating,” it said.

The Metropolitan Police commissioner today pledged to co-operate in full with a criminal investigation.

Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said: “My thoughts are with Mr Tomlinson’s family at this time. The images that have now been released raise obvious concerns and it is absolutely right and proper that there is a full investigation into this matter, which the Met will fully support.”

A post mortem carried out by a Home Office pathologist last Friday revealed Tomlinson died of a heart attack.

Before seeing the dossier of evidence, Tomlinson’s ­family said in a statement: “There were so many people around where Ian died, and so many people with cameras, that ­somebody must have seen what happened in the Royal Exchange passageway.

“We need to know what happened there and whether it had anything to do with Ian’s death.”

[Based on reports by The Guardian , The Daily Telegraph and  The Times.]

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Atlantic divides opinion on the benefits of prostate cancer screening

By Calvin Palmer

America and Britain often see eye to eye on a great many subjects but when it comes to prostate cancer a clear divide emerges, according to two newspaper articles.

Both The New York Times and The Guardian carried stories yesterday about the case for prostate cancer screening.

The New York Times headlined its story, “Prostate Test Found to Save Few Lives”. The Guardian on the other hand proclaimed “Prostate cancer screening would cut deaths by 20 percent”.

Both articles were based on two studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, one carried out in the United States and the other in Europe.

The Guardian reported that a national program of screening in the UK would save 2,000 lives a year if its headline is to be believed.

It cited  Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive who said: “Despite the risks of unnecessary treatment, more men as a result of this study will want a PSA test. The government should begin a feasibility study to assess the implications for screening and treatment.

“We still don’t know what the best treatment approach is for early disease, so it’s important we find answers to this as soon as possible through research currently funded by Cancer Research UK and others. Scientists also need to accelerate their efforts to find markers to distinguish between slow growing and aggressive forms of prostate cancer so that we know which ones to treat and which ones are best to monitor.”

The Guardian also addressed the matter of wrong diagnosis, stating that the European trial also threw up the very real risks of being wrongly identified as at risk and having unnecessary and potentiually damaging treatment.

The rate of over-diagnosis – defined as diagnosis in men who would not have clinical symptoms during their lifetime – was as high as 50 percent among those who were screened.

The New York Times did not share The Guardian’s fervor about what a great benefit prostate cancer screening would be for men’s healthcare.  In fact, it talked of the exact opposite.

The PSA blood test, used to screen for prostate cancer, saves few lives and leads to risky and unnecessary treatments for large numbers of men, two large studies have found.

The PSA test, which measures a protein released by prostate cells, does what it is supposed to do — indicates a cancer might be present, leading to biopsies to determine if there is a tumor. But it has been difficult to know whether finding prostate cancer early saves lives. Most of the cancers tend to grow very slowly and are never a threat and, with the faster-growing ones, even early diagnosis might be too late.

Dr Peter B. Bach, a physician and epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, says one way to think of the data is to suppose he has a PSA test today. It leads to a biopsy that reveals he has prostate cancer, and he is treated for it. There is a one in 50 chance that, in 2019 or later, he will be spared death from a cancer that would otherwise have killed him. And there is a 49 in 50 chance that he will have been treated unnecessarily for a cancer that was never a threat to his life.

Prostate cancer treatment can result in impotence and incontinence when surgery is used to destroy the prostate, and, at times, painful defecation or chronic diarrhea when the treatment is radiation.

As soon as the PSA test was introduced in 1987, it became a routine part of preventative healthcare for many men age 40 and older. Experts debated its value, but their views were largely based on less compelling data that often involved statistical modeling and inferences. Now, with the new data, cancer experts said men should carefully consider the possible risks and benefits of treatment before deciding to be screened. Some may decide not to be screened at all.

The New York Times concludes its article by quoting Dr Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

“I certainly think there’s information here that’s food for thought,” Brawley said.

The benefits of prostate cancer screening, he said, are “modest at best and with a greater downside than any other cancer we screen for”.

That is certainly not in accord with The Guardian’s assertion that universal testing saves lives or that the debate has shifted in the light of studies in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Having read both articles, I am inclined to side with the version in The New York Times if for no other reason than the people quoted in its article are medical doctors and, I assume, know what they are talking about.
The Guardian piece does not quote medical doctors. Harpal Kumar graduated from the University of Cambridge with first class honors in Chemical Engineering.  He went on to complete an MBA at Harvard Business School.

His expertise on medical matters is, therefore, about the same as mine — that of an educated person.

The Guardian also spoke with John Neate, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity. His biographical details make mention of working in Britain’s National Health Service but as a manager, not as a medical practitioner.

In fact, The Guardian’s lack of any input from the medical profession seems a strange omission given the subject matter.

Medicine, like a great many things in life, is all about opinions and some opinions are clearly better than others.

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Houston — You have a newspaper!

By Calvin Palmer

The days between Christmas and the New Year are notorious for their lack of news.  Newspapers cut their pagination and look back on the events of the year and the personalities caught up in the news spotlight to fill the pages.

Since setting up this blog site in June, I have turned to newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic in the search of news stories to replicate or comment upon.

Although I live in the United States I am British and, having worked for a British newspaper, my first port of call is one of the four quality newspapers in Britain – in no order of merit, they are The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent and The Times.

However, realizing that more than half the people who visit this blog site are from the United States, I began to look more towards American newspapers, following the adage of ‘Give the public what they want.’

American newspapers are a strange breed and will often use a feature story as the splash on the front page, something that would make British editors wince with disapproval.  A newspaper is all about news and the biggest news story of the day should appear as the splash.

American newspapers also lack the discipline of their British counterparts.  Widows litter stories as a matter of course, simply because someone is too lazy to turn a line.

Headlines are often deadly dull and devoid of any humor.  Even more unforgivable , the same words often appear in headlines on the same page.

I remember The Dallas Morning News once had six stories on its front page, five of which had ‘Police’ in the headline.  British night editors and sub-editors would be hauled over the coals for such an abhorrence.

But for all my professional criticism of the American press, I have come to respect and admire one newspaper in particular, The Houston Chronicle.

It seems to have the attitude of British newspaper, with its emphasis on hard news rather than the diet of floss that other American newspapers serve up.  It is also down to earth in its approach and does not suffer from the pomposity that afflicts The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for example.

The news stories in The Houston Chronicle tend to be to the point, sticking to the essential facts and avoiding swathes of flowery prose.  They are filed in a timely manner and, unlike other publications, I have yet to see any egregious errors in the copy.

But one news event confirmed that The Houston Chronicle was indeed a newspaper after my own heart – Hurricane Ike.  The paper’s superb coverage of this momentous story stands as a testament to the dedication and professionalism of its editorial staff.

The editor and news editors are to be commended for the way they marshaled the journalists and photographers to provide comprehensive coverage of this event.  Those same journalists and photographers put getting the story out above all other considerations.  They manned their posts, saw it through to the end and put their personal lives on hold to bring the news as it happened.

For the coverage of Hurricane Ike, its excellent daily news coverage and high standard of newspaper practice, I name The Houston Chronicle as my Online Newspaper of the Year, 2008.

To the editorial board, journalists, photographers and all those involved in getting the newspaper to its readers, I wish you all a Happy New Year.  And I hope you will forgive me for ‘borrowing’ your stories from time to time.

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