Friday, November 30, 2007

World AIDS Day 2007

Countdown with Tom Tomorrow

Donald Trumped

The British press announces (with some glee) Donald Trump's plans for a £1 billion golf resort in Scotland have been thrown out by Aberdeenshire councillors.

HIV infections rise

Just in time for World Aids Day and in case you are getting complacent about the readjusted HIV figures, a friend sent us this article by John Lauerman writing (November 30, 2007)for News in

Annual HIV Infection Estimate to Rise in Report, Activists Say

The U.S. government's estimate of annual new HIV infections is likely to rise as much as 50 percent, say patient advocates who are pressuring officials to speed the release of the new figures.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said new technologies and statistical analyses show that 50,000 to 60,000 people were infected with the virus in 2005, said Walt Senterfitt, an epidemiologist with the Los Angeles health department and a former CDC adviser. The agency has used an estimate of about 40,000 annual infections since 2001.

World health officials decreased their estimate of the global number people infected with HIV by about 16 percent to 33.2 million earlier this month. A higher U.S. estimate wouldn't necessarily mean that the nation is trending in a direction opposite to the rest of the world, Senterfitt said.

``The old U.S. estimate was back of the envelope,'' he said today in a telephone interview. ``We won't know until the new system has been applied for at least three years in a row.''

Senterfitt and other HIV advocates said that CDC officials have frequently referred to higher estimates of HIV infection in meetings and conferences. An article in the Journal of Medical Virology cited a figure of about 55,000 new annual infections. That article was based on a speech by a CDC official who requested that it be corrected, said Jennifer Ruth, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based government agency.

Under Review

Ruth said the CDC's data on HIV infections is going through a review process for publication in a medical journal. Until that process is complete, CDC's estimate of annual infections remains unchanged, she said.

``Neither the data nor the publication date is finalized and we don't know what the final estimate will be,'' she said today in a telephone interview. ``We really can't speak to what the revised estimate will be, and it will be at least a few months until we're ready to do so.''

HIV advocates have been looking for the new data since 2005, believing that it shows that the need for stronger HIV prevention measures, said David Munar, board vice chairman of the National Association of People with AIDS, based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

``We thought we were going to receive an estimate last year and now they're talking about needing to go through a peer review process,'' he said today in a telephone interview.

``It's clear that the number is not good and the data is going to confirm what's going on: HIV is out of control and we're not making the progress we should be making.''

Link to news report

Teen smoking

Deborah Cohen writing for the Guardian (November 27 2007) in

Sucked in ...

reports a new UK study reveals that teenagers start smoking out of curiosity rather than because they think it's cool. And they are more likely to pick up the habit from their parents than their peers.

According to a new study by the Roy Castle Foundation, seen exclusively by the Guardian, 82% of smokers start before the age of 18. The Liverpool Longitudinal Smoking Study, due to be published next year, reveals that while some teenagers take up the habit to send a nicotine-stained two-fingered salute to adult authority or in the belief that it will win them friends, others start through boredom or stress.

Dr Susan Woods, one of the report's authors, says that although teenagers tend to think people smoke because it's cool or makes them look tough and mature, teen smokers themselves claim to be influenced by curiosity rather than other people. Primary school children, however, are influenced by parental smoking, which is also the biggest predictor of teen smoking.

Until now, government resources have focused primarily on prevention, but results have not met expectations. The majority of children are aware of the harmful health effects of smoking, but are still taking it up in large numbers.

Dr Lisa McNally, a health psychologist specializing in teen smoking, says that adults need to face up to the fact that focusing on prevention alone isn't enough. "Kids get addicted to nicotine very quickly. We need to address the addictiveness of cigarettes. As a society we are quite uncomfortable with the idea of children being addicts."

For image-conscious teens, early development of wrinkles and yellowing teeth could be a deterrent. A game launched in October by the Roy Castle Foundation enables people to

upload a photograph of themselves on to a website and view the ageing effects of smoking on their skin, teeth and eyes etc.

Link to the Guardian article

Thursday, November 29, 2007

HIV statistics revision

Rob Dawson reports for Aidsmap (November 29, 2007)

Stephen Lewis damns UNAIDS over statistics revision; diverts from the tragedy of AIDS

In a passionate speech at the World Health Editors Network in London, a former United Nations Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa and Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, Stephen Lewis, warned that a recent UNAIDS document reporting decreased HIV infections has “undermined public confidence in the reliability of the figures, introducing completely unnecessary levels of doubt, contention and confusion”. Describing the UN as “stubborn and sloppy”, he expressed concern that the report does nothing to convince the world that we are “billions and billions of dollars behind, when it comes to funding all the components of the pandemic, from orphans to second line drugs.”

“For years, knowledgeable epidemiologists have been telling the UN that the figures were too high. They didn't whisper their criticisms: they wrote books and articles,” Lewis said. “But the UN chose a course of delay and dithering. It can never admit that it's wrong. So finally, and predictably, came the moment of truth: the result is an overall prevalence rate that is lower by almost seven million than last year's estimate.”

Lewis also expressed anger that the report did not address the human tragedy and focused too much on statistics.

In conclusion, Lewis stressed that more should be done no matter what statistical calculation is applied to the figures.

“Whether it's 40 million or 33 million, this plague continues to ravage humankind. I simply do not believe that the United Nations has done everything it can possibly do to turn the tide”.

Link to Aidsmap article


BBC News on line reports (November 29, 2007)

Uganda confirms 16 Ebola deaths

A hemorrhagic fever that has killed 16 people and infected more than 50 others in Uganda has been confirmed as the deadly Ebola virus.

The casualties are all in the region of Bundibugyo, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. DR Congo has been battling for five months to contain an Ebola outbreak close to its border with Angola.

Ugandan health officials originally suspected that the Marburg virus was responsible for the deaths, but laboratory testing has shown it to be Ebola.

"From the beginning we've been isolating cases... but we can't say it's contained," Reuters news agency quotes Dr Sam Okware, head of Uganda's hemorrhagic fever task force, as saying. "There may be other people in those villages unknown to us."

The virus thought to be transmitted through the consumption of infected bush meat, can also be spread by contact with the blood secretions of infected people.

Some 174 people have died in DR Congo but only 13 of these have been confirmed as having Ebola.

Link to BBC News story

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

HIV Notification

Michael Carter, writing for Aidsmap (November 28, 2007) in

HIV partner notification services work well for a mainly gay population in San Francisco

reports professional partner notification is a successful and acceptable method of identifying new HIV infections, according to a study conducted in San Francisco and published in the December 1st edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. Most of the patients whose partners were traced were gay men – a population where third-party partner notification is often difficult.

San Francisco has a Partner Services for HIV which provides comprehensive HIV prevention interventions including third-party notification services. The services is staffed by highly trained staff and confidentially notifies the named-partners of individuals with diagnosed HIV infection that they may have been exposed to HIV and offers counseling, HIV testing and referral to appropriate services.

Small studies have suggested that third-party notification is more successful at notifying partners than patient-initiated notification. But third-party notification is not routine in the US. Furthermore, experience of third-party notification with gay men, who often have anonymous sexual contacts, has not previously been encouraging.


HIV partner notification outcomes for HIV-infected patients by duration of infection, San Francisco, 2004 – 2006.
Ahrens, Katherine MPH et al
JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 46(4):479-484, December 1, 2007.

Link to JAIDS abstract

Link to Aidsmap article

Pervasive Silence but HIV epidemic re-emerging

Cheryl Wetzstein writing for the Washington Times (November 28, 2007) in

Silence on HIV/AIDS tied to epidemic's rise

reports an HIV/AIDS epidemic is re-emerging in the United States among homosexual and bisexual men who are no longer frightened about the deadly disease and are returning to sexual risk-taking behaviors, public health officials say in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association released today.

The "silence on this subject is nearly pervasive," University of Oxford public health professor Dr. Harold W. Jaffe and two colleagues wrote in the commentary.

Between 2001 and 2005, the number of reported HIV/AIDS cases among men who have sex with men (MSM) rose 13 percent, from 16,167 to 18,296.

Surveys "document high rates of unsafe sex," and a 10-fold increase in syphilis among MSM may be helping boost transmission of the virus, wrote Dr. Jaffe and colleagues, Dr. Ronald O. Valdiserri of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Dr. Kevin M. De Cock of the World Health Organization.

During the 1980s, community leaders galvanized homosexual and bisexual men with the slogan "Silence equals death." But this year, "AIDS is simply not as frightening as it was," they wrote. Antiviral treatments now allow HIV-positive men to live reasonably comfortable lives and "[y]ounger MSM have largely been spared the visible devastation of untreated HIV infection."

The authors called for public health and community leaders to step up calls for responsible sexual behavior and HIV/AIDS screening and testing. Leaders "must call for the end of stigma toward MSM, which may mitigate the internalization of homophobia leading to sexual risk behavior" and "advocate for legal domestic partnerships as a way to promote stable, longer term MSM relationships," they said.


The Reemerging HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Men Who Have Sex With Men
Harold W. Jaffe et al
JAMA. 2007;298(20):2412-2414.

Link to JAMA commentary extract

Link to Washington Times article

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Schedule and The Keys to His Success


The BBC News on line (November 26, 2007) in

Brain scans 'may detect OCD risk'

reports brain scans may be able to reveal which people are at genetic risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

A team at the Brain Mapping Unit of the UK’s University of Cambridge found individuals with OCD and their close relatives have distinctive patterns in their brain structure. The genes responsible remain unknown, but it appears they change the brain's anatomy, which may aid diagnosis.

OCD is an anxiety disorder in which the person is compelled by irrational fears and thoughts to repeat seemingly needless actions over and over again. It can manifest itself in repetitive behaviors, such as excessive hand washing, cleaning or repeated checking, affects 2%-3% of the population and is known to run in families.

The study, published in the latest edition of the journal Brain, involved using magnetic resonance imaging. The Cambridge researchers scanned the brains of nearly 100 people, including some with OCD and some who were close relatives of individuals with OCD.

They found decreases of grey matter in brain regions important in suppressing responses and habits - the orbitofrontal and right inferior frontal regions.

Researcher Lara Menzies said: "Impaired brain function in the areas of the brain associated with stopping motor responses may contribute to the compulsive and repetitive behaviors that are characteristic of OCD.

"These brain changes appear to run in families and may represent a genetic risk factor for developing the condition.

"The current diagnosis of OCD available to psychiatrists is subjective and therefore knowledge of the underlying causes may lead to better diagnosis and ultimately improved clinical treatments."

But she said there was a long way to go to identify the genes contributing to the distinctive brain structure found in OCD patients and their relatives.

"We also need to identify other contributing factors for OCD, to understand why close relatives that share similar brain structures don't always develop the disorder."

Link to Cambridge University News Release

Link to Cambridge University Brain Mapping Unit

Link to BBC News report

[with link to the journal Brain]


Jane E. Brody writing for the Personal Health section of the New York Times (November 27, 2007) in

A Common Casualty of Old Age: The Will to Live

examines the issue of suicide is more common among older Americans which is more common than in any other age group. The statistics are daunting. While people 65 and older account for 12 percent of the population, they represent 16 percent to 25 percent of the suicides. Four out of five suicides in older adults are men. And among white men over 85, the suicide rate — 50 per 100,000 men — is six times that of the general population.

It also includes the short self Test by Dr. Jerome A. Yesavage and colleagues at Stanford who devised this geriatric depression scale to help detect those in need of help.

Link to the New York Times article

Dr. Yesavage’s
site at Stanford with lots of useful links including the Scale in various languages.
Link to Jerome Yesavage MD/

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bette Davis - The Anniversary

Peter Brookes - The Times

It's still the economy, stupid!

A gift for your kids?

The next president will have to deal with yet another crippling legacy of George W. Bush --- the economy. A Nobel laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz, sees a generation-long struggle to recoup and writes about it in the December issue of Vanity Fair.

"When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page."

The article explains why.

Link to Vanity Fair article

Ellen Greene Singing in Pushing Daisies

Meth Break and Driven to Distraction

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Martin Amis Controversy - Part 1

The Martin Amis Controversy - Part 2

Morland - TheTimes

Shut that door!

The great American humorist James Thurber wrote that his aunt made sure the electric sockets in her house always had a plug in them because she was worried that if they didn't the electricity would leak out. Julian Clokie wonders if the prosecution in a court case in Hampshire, UK, had a similar view of electricity. According to a report in the Portsmouth News, a man owning an electronic stun gun pleaded guilty in court to a charge of "possessing a weapon designed for the discharge of a noxious liquid".

[New Scientist]

More week-end time wasting?

From the Netherlands, an example of 10mg creating interactive experiences for the web.

Link to 10mg

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Do you know what's at the end of the world?

Time Waster?

For some, it's a long week-end. If you have time to kill and still hanker for Mr. Potato Head, you could always try this.

Link to Monoface

HIV still rising in Europe

BBC News on line reports (November 23, 2007 in

Rise in HIV/Aids cases in Europe

The rate of new cases of HIV/Aids in the European Union has almost doubled since 1999.

Estonia has by far the highest rate of diagnosis, followed by Portugal and the UK, according to a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The ECDC says that the proportion of new cases reported per million inhabitants went up across the EU from 28.8 to 57.5 in 2006.

In Estonia, the rate last year reached 504 per million people.

The Estonian government says that, six years ago, 90% of new HIV cases diagnosed by Aids consultation clinics involved drug users who were injecting, but that proportion fell to below half by the end of last year, suggestsing that the virus has started to spread from drug users to their sexual partners.

In non-EU areas of Europe the number of cases is also continuing to rise, with particularly high rates in Ukraine (288 per million) and Russia (275 per million).

The report says that more than half of infections are through heterosexual contact, although homosexual men remain at greater risk.

Higest EU rates

Estonia - 504.2 per million

Portugal - 205 per million

UK - 148.8 per million

Latvia - 130.3 per million

Luxembourg - 118.9 per million

A recent report from UNAids revealed much lower estimates of HIV infection worldwide than had been previously used - from nearly 40 million to 33 million.

But for people living in Europe and parts of Asia, the numbers tell a different story.

There were 26,220 newly diagnosed cases of HIV reported last year in 25 of the EU member states which gives an average of 67 cases per million.

Lowest EU rates

Bulgaria - 11.9 per million

Czech Republic - 9.1 per million

Romania - 8.3 per million

Hungary - 8 per million

Slovakia - 5 per million

Link to ECDC report

Link to BBC news report

UK's sexual health --- bleak

Michael Carter, writing for Aidsmap (November 22, 2007) in

Bleak report on UK's sexual health; HPA urges review of gay men's prevention efforts

reports The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK has issued a bleak report on the state of the nation’s sexual health. Titled, Testing Times it notes an increase in HIV prevalence, a high incidence of syphilis and increases in new cases of herpes and genital warts.

Continuing high rates of HIV diagnoses in gay men and increases in diagnoses of many sexually transmitted infections in this population prompt the report’s authors to write, “current prevention efforts directed towards…MSM [men who have sex with men] are not succeeding adequately.” The report also calls for a review of HIV prevention campaigns targeted at gay men to make sure that they “are based upon proven interventions and authoritative recommendations”.

The report did find that more people attending sexual health clinics are being offered and accepting an HIV test, but an estimated third of all HIV infections in the UK are still undiagnosed.

HPA figures suggest that 2,700 gay men were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2006, a total similar to the highest ever annual number of new diagnoses recorded in 2005.

New cases of syphilis fell in gay men and heterosexual women in 2006 compared to 2005, but there was an increase in heterosexual men.

There was a 3% increase in new diagnoses of genital warts in 2006 compared to 2005. Although most cases of genital warts were diagnosed in heterosexuals, the investigators note that there has been a 64% increase in diagnoses of this infection in gay men since 1997.

Increases were also noted in new diagnoses of genital herpes with a total of 21,698 infection in 2006. Only 7% of these were amongst gay men.

Along with gay men, young adults remain the group most affected by sexually transmitted infections.

The HPA make some 15 specific recommendations including a call for a “priority consideration” of “primary prevention policy and programmes directed towards MSM.”

Furthermore, the HPA recommends “all relevant bodies should give priority to supporting effective ways of addressing the steadily increasing problem of heterosexual HIV transmission within the UK, which disproportionately affects members of black ethnic communities.”

Improved needle-exchange services and heroin substitution services should be a priority, the HPA recommends. And to better understand sexual risk behaviours a new national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyle, should be undertaken.


Health Protection Agency. Testing times. HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the United Kingdom: 2007.

Link to HPA Testing Times Report

Link to Aidsmap report

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Mary Whitehouse Experience - Teddy

Privacy risk

New Scientist (November 17 - 23 2007) warns

Google cell phone software poses privacy risk

They report reactions to a new cell phone operating system designed to encourage web surfing on the go which could trigger a fresh assault on privacy.

On 5 November, Google and 30 partners unveiled a joint venture called the Open Handset Alliance that aims to develop a Linux-based open-source cellphone operating system to be called Android. Anyone will be able to write applications for Android, and Google hopes this will lead to applications that free users from today's clunky handset browsers and web portals.

What worries some privacy experts, though, is the combination of Google's policy of retaining users' search histories and a cell phone’s ability to reveal your location and store the numbers you have called.

Link to New Scientist article [registration required]

Link to Open Handset Alliance

The Queen's visit to Uganda

The Times (November 23, 2007) reports from Uganda in
20 years on . . . a Diana moment

Stephen Wakodo
is HIV-positive. Yesterday he shook hands with the Queen in Uganda. The occasion was a first for both of them

It was a pure Diana moment. The late Princess used to touch, even hug, leprosy and Aids sufferers to show that those unfortunates need not walk the world with a warning bell.

But this was different. This time it was the Queen who shook the hand of Stephen Wakodo, who is HIV-positive. She may have been wearing a long black glove, and the physical encounter may have lasted barely a second, but for an 81-year-old monarch who does not, as a rule, do cuddly-touchy-feely, it was an undoubted first.

Unlike the Princess, who liked to court maximum publicity in her efforts to have Aids patients accepted by society, the Queen’s first encounter with the condition that is ravaging the whole African continent was conducted almost in private. Cameramen were not admitted to the ward in the Mildmay health clinic, peopled with the bedridden and the emaciated – several of them children – in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, where the Queen has arrived to open the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

In a 55-year reign, it was the first time that the Queen had visited an HIV/Aids centre. Observers noted that the Queen’s hand, unlike that of the Princess which generally went naked in the world, was gloved. But then, when the monarch is on parade in public view, it almost always is.

Link to The Times article

Intelligent Design

Another 'Intelligent' Distortion

(Nov 17 - 23, 2007) in

No Religion Please

reports that the Intelligent Design cadre are at it again. Ironically, in an attempt to counter the influence of the PBS Nova Program Judgment Day: Intelligent design on trial the supporters of intelligent design are accusing the producers of the documentary series of bringing religion into US classrooms. The Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, Washington, alleges that teaching materials accompanying the program, broadcast on 13 November, encourage unconstitutional teaching practices.

The teaching package states:

"Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?
A: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false."

According to Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute, this answer favours one religious viewpoint, arguably violating the US constitution. "We're afraid that teachers might get sued," he says.

A lawyer for WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts, which produces the show, says the package is covered by the right to free speech. He declined to comment on the claim that teachers risked lawsuits.

Link to New Scientist article

Also links to the New Scientist Special Report on Evolution

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving, the BBC news on line reports

New York hunger levels 'rising'

Over 1.3 million people, one in six New Yorkers, cannot afford enough food, with queues at soup kitchens getting longer. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger says the number of people who use food pantries and soup kitchens in the city increased by 20% in 2007. Some of the food distribution points are struggling to meet demand.

The coalition blames the situation mainly on increased poverty as well as government cutbacks in food aid.

"This annual survey of food pantries and soup kitchens shows that more working families, children, and seniors are being forced to seek emergency food," Joel Berg, the coalition's executive director, said in a statement.

"Given that hunger continued to increase in the city, even when the economy was still strong last year, it is no wonder that now, when the economy is weakening, lines at pantries and kitchens are getting even worse."

Some food outlets said they would not be able to distribute turkey rations for Thanksgiving because their federal supplies of food had been cut by as much as three-quarters.

Food Bank, a non-profit organization which distributes food to about 1,000 pantries, said its shelves were half full compared with usual levels.

According to a survey, 59% of New York's food program, up from 48% last year, said they did not have enough resources to meet demand.

The US Department of Agriculture says 12.6 million households nationwide, or more than 30 million people - 10% of the population - did not have enough food at some point in 2006.

Link to BBC News story


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Mary Whitehouse Experience - History Today

Steve Bell - The French Strikes

Stem cells

Gina Kolata writing for the New York Times (November 21, 2007) in

Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells

Reports Two teams of scientists announced yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body -- heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The new discovery is being published today in Cell, in a paper by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, and in Science, in a paper by James A. Thomson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin.


Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Adult Human Fibroblasts by Defined Factors
Kazutoshi Takahashi et al
Cell Vol 131 issue 4: November 16, 2007 doi::10.1016/j.cell.2007.11.019

Link to Cell article [pfd]

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Somatic Cells

Junying Yu et al
Published Online November 20, 2007
Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1151526

Link to Science abstract

Link to New York Times report

The BBC News coverage includes a comparison of the two techniques of stem cell creation

Link to BBC News report

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Countdown: Where Does the Buck Stop?

Countdown: Worst Person Nov. 20, 2007

The Queen’s Diamond Anniversary

So many people have commented – which frankly surprised us. We tend to agree with the reported on ABC’s Good Morning America who would rather have not known that, supposedly, His pet name for Her is “cabbage” and She calls HimHun”. We assume that must be phonetic shortening of “honey” rather than a reference to the Germanic origins of the House Of Windsor. But if your are interested

The observations of the contemporary Westminster Abbey service made by did rather tickle us, with his

Truly, madly, deeply? Perhaps, but Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh show no sign of touchy-feely-smiley
in public gaze

Here are a few extracts:

When you have been married for 60 years, which few of us have, perhaps you don’t feel the need to do the touchy-feely-smiley eye-contact stuff any more. Love and companionship travel through the deep roots rather than the waving branches.

During an hour-long service to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary, in the same Westminster Abbey in which they were married amid the grey, postwar austerity of 1947, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh did not look at each other; there was no exchange of surprised, “Crikey, we’ve made it” glances.

In a white wool coat and matching hat, and bespectacled throughout, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England paid close attention to her order of service, putting it down only during the singing of the 23rd Psalm, which was performed at her wedding to the then unfamiliar but by now near-universal Scottish tune of Crimond; she clearly knows the words by heart.

Prince Philip, by contrast, kept the words open in front of him. As Dr Rowan Williams, the Supreme Governor’s highest priest on this Earth, delivered his address from the Abbey’s tall pulpit, the Duke wore one of his favourite slightly bemused expressions, as though not entirely believing that he was being preached to by a wildly bearded archdruid. The Queen fixed the Archbishop with a steady gaze, drinking in his every word.

The Primate of All England, whose sermons sometimes seem as focused as a gas cloud in a distant nebula, was on much sharper form than usual, given that he had something utterly specific to talk about: the longstanding marriage of two individuals.

If you are having a diamond wedding bash, you must wonder who to invite. The family, of course; more than 30 members of the Royal Family, including the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, all seven grandchildren, and the junior Gloucesters, Kents and Michaels, were present. Former King Constantine of Greece and several of Prince Philip’s more obscure German relatives by marriages sat among the congregation of more than 2,000.

Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major had their seats in the choir stalls but Our Tone was too busy peacemaking in the Middle East yesterday to attend. Never mind; his emptiness was filled by the Aga Khan, Sir David Attenborough, a welter of the great, good and worthy, 500 past and present Royal Household staff, and eight excited elderly couples who had been married on the same day as Elizabeth and Philip, and who exchanged brief reminiscences with their 81-year-old monarch as she left the Abbey.

Without the slightest disrespect to the excellent current holder of the post, a specially commissioned work from the Poet Laurate never seems quite the right thing to insert in a solemn service, even when recited by such perfectly enunciated tones as those of Dame Judi Dench. Prince William’s reading from St John’s Gospel, frankly, sounded rather more in keeping with the moment.

Other telltale signs signified that this was 2007, not 1947. Clergy of other religions, from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor to a Zoroastrian and two Muslim clerics, had their honoured place by the altar. And the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who led the guest clergy in prayers, was a woman. They’re quite enlightened up there.

And there was another sign, too, in the choir; two of the young choristers were black. Elizabeth and Philip were married a year before the Empire Windrush brought the first small wave of Caribbean immigrants to Britain. It is sometimes difficult to remember how long ago, and in what a different country, this particular marriage was cemented, and how little else of that grim but somehow hopeful postwar era endures.

Link to the Times article

Transgender Day of Remembrance Newscenter Staff (November 20, 2007) in

National Day Of Remembrance Honors Murdered Trans People

report from Washington, DC that vigils, services and a variety of other events are being held in 250 cities around the world today to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance — the day set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

The day will also draw attention to ENDA, the Employment Non Discrimination Act, which passed the US House of Representatives this month but without protections for the transgendered. It originally included all members of the LGBT community, but its sponsor, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) one of only two openly gay members of Congress, removed gender identity fearing the legislation might not get out of committee.

"Violence towards transgender Americans can be dramatically reduced by affirming individual dignity through equal enforcement of employment and hate crime laws," said Jon Hoadley, the Executive Director of National Stonewall Democrats.

"If we are serious about reducing violence towards transgender Americans, then we must proactively work towards providing all of our community equal protection under the law. It is our actions, rather than words, which will demonstrate our tribute."

The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was organized by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 in San Francisco to honor the memory of Rita Hester who was murdered on November 28th, 1998. The candlelight vigil spread nationwide and then around the world. But Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

While there are no official statistics - the FBI does not keep records of transgender killings - transgender advocacy groups say they number in the hundreds over the past decade. Some studies have shown that crimes against the transgender community accounts for 10 percent of all violent crimes in America.

Federal legislation to cover all of the LGBT community has passed in both the House and Senate. The legislation currently is in conference but Democrats are divided on how to proceed.

Even if a final version is approved by Congress, the White House has threatened a veto.

Link to News report

Adjusting the AIDS clock --- not STOPPING it).

BBC News on line (November 20, 2007) in

UN HIV estimates reduced to 33m

like most news sources (including the New York Times) reports the United Nations has reduced its estimates of how many people are infected with HIV in 2007 from nearly 40m to 33m. Revised figures for India account for much of the decrease, experts say.

But the rate of new cases and mortality levels are declining, although figures still show that there are 6,800 new cases each day and over 5,700 deaths.

Africa has by far the most number of cases, while parts of Asia have the fastest growing rates of infections. Some 22.5m in sub-Saharan Africa have HIV but the number of new cases - 1.7m a year - is a smaller increase than in previous years. In Asia there are 4.9m people with the condition with Vietnam seeing a doubling of cases since 2000. And the number of people living with HIV in Europe - including parts of Asia - has gone up from 1.25m in 2001 to about 2.4m, figures show.

There were 2.5m new cases in 2007, down from a peak in the late 1990s when there were over 3m new infections a year. The fall in annual deaths to 2.1m has been attributed to wider access to antiretroviral drug treatments.

Some 33.2m have HIV, down from 39.5m in 2006.

UNAids said the figures for 2006 were likely to be inaccurate after an intensive assessment exercise in India showed fewer cases than estimated. Other countries, including Nigeria, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, also had their figures reduced.

Experts say the true 2006 figure was likely to be about 32.7m.

Michael Weinstein, of the US group, the Aids Healthcare Foundation, has questioned how accurate the latest figures are. "Because the vast majority of people who are infected with HIV don't know it, there is actually no way to know if this new WHO figures is any more reliable than the previous estimation."

Link to UNAIDS 2007 Update

Link to New York Times report

Link to BBC News report

Monday, November 19, 2007

Martin Rowson - The Guardian

US prison system 'costly failure'

Washington DC-based criminal justice research group, the JFA Institute in its report

Unlocking America

Finds the US prison population has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to the taxpayer. There are now more than 1.5 million people in US state and federal jails and inmate numbers are projected to rise by 192,000 in five years, costing $27.5 billion to build and run jails.

The Unlocking America report recommends reducing the number and length of sentences, changing terms of parole and finding alternatives to prison as part of a major overhaul of the US justice system.

"There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer," said JFA president James Austin.

US crime rates, which have been in decline since the 1990s, are about the same as those for 1973. Yet the incarceration rate has soared because sentences have got longer and those who violate parole or probation are more likely to be given prison terms.

The report said that every year hundreds of thousands of Americans are sent to jail "for crimes that pose little if any danger or harm to society". It cited several examples including a Florida woman's two-year sentence for throwing a cup of coffee at another car in a traffic row.

Of course, its recommendations run counter to the Bush administration's policy of longer, harsher sentences, which the administration claims says has contributed to falling violent crime and murder figures.

The report was funded by the Rosenbaum Foundation and the Open Society Institute.

Link to JFA report: Unlocking America [pdf]

Link to JFA Institute

The Crimes of Joe Orton

What you know not who you are . . .

Joene Hendry writing for Reuters Health (November 15, 2007) in

Adherence to HIV therapy linked to health literacy

Reports a study by Dr. Chandra Y. Osborn, at Northwestern University, Chicago, and colleagues and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found HIV infected patients with low literacy levels often don't understand the medication instructions offered by healthcare providers and are therefore much less likely to be compliant with treatment.

The findings also indicate that African Americans with HIV infection are more than twice as likely to be nonadherent compared with their white counterparts. However, when the data were analyzed, lead investigator found that health literacy mediated the racial disparities.

The level of health literacy was determined by the subjects' overall literacy skills, the researchers explain. Past studies have shown that low health literacy is associated with poor health outcomes and is more common among African Americans than whites.

Osborn told Reuters Health that when the effects of literacy were considered, "literacy was a significant predictor of non-adherence, such that patients with low literacy were 2.1 times more likely to be non-adherent to their medication regimen than patients with adequate literacy."


Health Literacy An Overlooked Factor in Understanding HIV Health Disparities

Chandra Y. Osborn PhD et al

American Journal of Preventive Medicine Volume 33, Issue 5, November 2007, Pages 374-378

Link to Science Direct.: American Journal of Preventative Medicine abstract

Link to Reuters report