The 2017 Election Briefing – England – Britain Elects

A useful introduction from “Britain Elects” to the local council elections due in May.

This new series of briefings will cover the elections to be held across England, Scotland and Wales on 04 May, 2017.

There will be elections to much of the English shire authorities, the principal authorities of Scotland and Wales, the six mayoral contests in England and the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster.

This part, of three, covers England.

Source:  – Britain Elects

Entrenched: Nasty chemicals abound in what was thought an untouched environment | The Economist

NOT far off the coast of Guam lies the deepest point on Earth’s surface, the Mariana trench. Its floor is 10,994 metres below sea level. If Mount Everest were flipped upside down into it, there would still be more than 2km of clear water between the mountain’s base and the top of the ocean.

Such isolation has led many to assume that it and similar seabed trenches will be among the few remaining pristine places on the planet. However, a study led by Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University, in England, has shown that nothing could be further from the truth. As Dr Jamieson and his colleagues report this week in Nature Ecology and Evolution, trenches are actually loaded with pollutants.

Despite the cold, the darkness and the high pressure, ocean trenches are home to ecosystems similar in many ways to those found on other parts of the planet. In one important respect, though, they are different. This is the source of the energy that powers them. In most ecosystems, sunlight fuels the growth of plants, which are then consumed by animals. In a few shallower parts of the ocean, hydrothermal vents provide energy-rich chemicals that form the basis of local food chains. No vents are known to exist below 5,000 metres, though, and no sunlight penetrates a trench. The organisms found in them thus depend entirely on dead organic material raining down upon them from far above.

Since these nutrients, having once flowed into a trench, never make their way out again, Dr Jamieson found the notion that trenches have somehow remained untouched by human activities questionable.

Source: The Economist

Study links same-sex marriage in the US with 7 percent drop in teen suicides · PinkNews

The results of a new study suggests that the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the US is linked to a 7 percent drop in suicide attempts by teenagers.

The study, from the JAMA paediatrics journal, looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between the years of 1999 and 2015.

It notes that there was a 7 percent drop in suicide attempts, around 134,000 fewer teenage suicides each year, from the population overall.

Source:  · PinkNews

Liberation theology in today’s Catholic Church is focus of historic Ibero-American conference at Boston College

Through its ministry and evangelization, the Catholic Church must focus on economically excluded communities, eliminating inequality, and uplifting disadvantaged people throughout the world, according to Hispanic theologians from Latin America, Spain, and the U.S. who attended a historic conference at Boston College.

That message – in many ways distinctive of theological movements of Latin America – will be delivered to Pope Francis in a sign of support for reforms within the Church and throughout societies of the world, according to one of the organizers of the Ibero-American Conference of Theology, which concluded Friday, February 10.

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Visiting Associate Professors Rafael Luciani and Felix Palazzi
Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Professors Rafael Luciani and Felix Palazzi were co-organizers of the conference at Boston College. (Gary Wayne Gilbert)

The weeklong conference examined the role of liberation theology as Pope Francis and the Catholic Church respond to issues of globalization, migration and economic exclusion, said Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Visiting Associate Professor Rafael Luciani, a co-organizer of the conference with his Boston College colleague, visiting associate professor Felix Palazzi.

Source: Boston College Chronicle

How will leaving the European Union affect our food?| The Guardian

Food barely featured in the referendum, but years of jibes about Eurocrats controlling our food standards, and myths about bent bananas, left their mark. Food politics will now come to the fore in ways most consumers might not like.

This was predicted by the few studies which bothered to look at this vital area of UK life. The academic reports on Brexit unanimously anticipated not liberation but a period of turmoil and dislocation in the food system.

Farming was at the foundation of the common market in the late 1950s. The UK, then on its own, also set up a system of market support. The mechanisms differed but the goals were similar. Since the UK joined the EEC in 1973, decades of EU food law has been built, honed by crises – mad cow, food safety, trade deals, expansion.

Source:  The Guardian

There’s a powerful conservative case to be made for gay marriage

On January 1 this year, the tiny territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha in the Atlantic became the latest country to allow same-sex marriage. Its elected council voted for the reform after a consultation found that a majority of its 5600 residents supported the change. After all, isn’t that what’s meant to happen in a representative democracy?

One after another, countries across the world have legalised gay marriage, usually because that is what their people wanted.  Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the US and Uruguay have all taken this step.  Finland is about to follow.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

World cardinals back pope after anonymous attacks by conservatives | Reuters

Senior Roman Catholic cardinals from the around the world defended Pope Francis on Monday against a spate of recent attacks from conservatives challenging his authority.

In an unusual move, nine cardinals in a group advising Francis on Vatican economic and structural reforms issued a statement expressing “full support for the pope’s work” and guaranteeing “full backing for him and his teachings”.

The statement was unusual in that the cardinals – from Italy, Chile, Austria, India, Germany, Congo, the United States, Australia and Honduras – customarily issue statements only at the end of their meetings, which are held four times a year.

The statement said the cardinals expressed their solidarity with the pope “in light of recent events,” which Vatican sources said was a clear reference to the attacks.

Source: Reuters

Sinn Fein renews pledge to campaign for same-sex marriage – BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles where same-sex marriage is still not an option – unlike the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. Within Northern Ireland, there is strong support from the public, and from the leading political parties – except for the DUP, which until their leader’s troubles over the heating fund scandal controlled the Stormont government, was able to block any progress through the Assembly. News that Sinn Fein, the leading opposition to the DUP and is to “actively” campaign for same-sex marriage is to be welcomed.

Sinn Fein has renewed its commitment to actively campaign for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

 Signing a pledge to work to legislate for marriage equality party members Gerry Kelly, Caral Ni Chuilin and Megan Fearon said there is a growing demand for a change in law.
Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin, left, Gerry Kelly and Megan Fearon launch the party's marriage equality pledge in Belfast
Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin, left, Gerry Kelly and Megan Fearon launch the party’s marriage equality pledge in Belfast

Sinn Fein and other parties have tried to force through new laws to lift the ban on gay marriage in five separate votes in the Stormont assembly.

Source: BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

One year on from GIST surgery: (2) Surgery

(Continuing from a previous post, here)

It came as a shock to me that the shrinkage had stopped. I am by nature an optimist, and after the early good response to medication, I rather assumed that this would continue indefinitely. It also didn’t help, the way the news was broken to me. Instead of being told so by a doctor in consultation, I had a phone call from the specialist nurse, who told me that the medication had “stopped working”, and that the surgeon had booked me in for a given date in September 2014. She said I should stop taking the medication In preparation for surgery, and she was booking appointments for some preparatory sessions.

I had several objections to this. The timing was awkward (I was due to be in Rome for a conference at the end of September), but more importantly, I objected strongly to such decisions being taken without any consultation. At this point for the first time, I thought seriously it might be wise finally to transfer to a specialist GIST centre. I’d been happy enough with RSCH as long as the treatment was fairly routine, and primarily about monitoring progress – but when it came to decisions about actual surgery, I wanted much more information. I wanted a second opinion. I told RSCH so, and prompted by a suggestion from Michael Sayers in our listserve group, arranged one with Dr Beatrice Seddon at University College Hospital, London.

When I met her, I was totally impressed at the thoroughness of her preparation for the meeting, how carefully she listened to my story and concerns, and the clarity and detail of her responses. I learned that it was not true that the medication had “stopped working”. It was no longer shrinking the tumour, but would still be effective in preventing regrowth. It was therefore a mistake to have stopped taking it, and I was told to resume. Based on the CT scans to date, she had called for a surgical opinion. This confirmed what I’d been told early on, that surgery would likely include removal of all or most of the stomach – and possibly also part of the pancreas and spleen.  The really difficult, delicate decision I was trying to resolve, was whether it would be wise to stay with RSCH for surgery – or should I transfer for ongoing treatment, and surgery, to a real specialist unit? My conclusion was that given the size of the tumour, at 15cm and therefore classified as still “large”, I wanted a specialist. Based on my very favourable experience of meeting her initially just for a second opinion, I then requested a formal transfer to her care. Ever since, I’ve been very pleased that I did.

One of the first things we did, was discuss a date for surgery. Unlike RSCH, she did not feel that this was urgent, provided we did not delay too long. Because it suited my schedule, we agreed on timing for some time around February. In the meantime, I would continue with 3-monthly consultations and scans. As the time approached, she called for a fuller surgical opinion, which again stated that I faced losing my stomach, pancreas and spleen – and also possibly part of the liver and diaphragm. Each surgical opinion seemed to be getting more dire!

By the time that the date came around, nearly eighteen months after I was first told that I would face such major surgery, I’d had ample time to get used to the idea. I was at least, resigned to the prospect. I checked into the Royal Free early on Tuesday 9th February. After some preliminary discussions with assorted staff, I was wheeled through for anaesthetic – and came to some hours later, thinking that if this was what it’s like without a stomach, it wasn’t any different to before. Apart from the discomfort of assorted tubes and cables hooked up to me, I was not in any particular pain – nor did I experience too much, throughout my stay in hospital.

I was in intensive care for short while. At some stage while there, I had a visit from one of my surgeons, who gave me the good news that they had taken out the stomach and spleen as expected – but nothing more. My memories of this time are blurred – one of the odder features of this recall, as that in my mind’s eye, during this discussion with the surgeon we were sitting in deck chairs on a bright green lawn: definitely not the case. After a short stay in IC, I was moved to a high – density ward instead. One of the first visits I had, was from a pain nurse, who told me not to hesitate to push the pain button whenever I wanted to, which would release pain medication from a store I was hooked up to. I’d also been advised on our listserve group, not to wait for pain to kick in before pressing the button, but to do so pre-emptively. There’s another reason this pain medication was useful. When I first used it, I experienced a strange, floating sensation. When I mentioned this to my surgeon on his second visit, he pointed out that as it is an opioid, its effects are hallucinogenic and soporific as well as just in pain relief. The “soporific” was what interested me. Apart from the discomfort of being stuck in bed with so many tubes and cables, my biggest problem was getting enough sleep at night, when we were constantly interrupted for blood pressure readings, medication and the like. I made a point, after nocturnal disturbance, to give myself a good dose of the pain medication – which quickly put me back to sleep. Just in case I was overdoing things, I checked with the pain nurse. He assured me that I was doing fine. It’s not possible to give oneself too much – the mechanism won’t allow it. He was also able to check a record of what I’d been dosing, and that turned out to be just about exactly what was recommended.

My only other continuing gripe was a permanent problem with dry mouth. I’d been expecting to have no solid food for a while after surgery, but what I was not expecting was that I’d also not be allowed anything to drink – nil by mouth. Initially, all I could get was a wet sponge to wet my lips. Later, I was allowed to take a sip of water, but had to spit it out without swallowing. I had to endure this nil by mouth routine for almost a week. When the day finally came that I was permitted something to drink, I was surprised to find that at the same time, I was allowed to eat “soft” food. Based on my reading and advice on our listserve group on life after gastrectomy, I’d expected to start out on a liquid diet, followed by smoothie type soft foods, semi-solids and then a very gradual return to proper solids. I was surprised to find on the lunch menu I was given, that the soft foods choices were far more solid than I’d expected – including a tuna/pasta bake, a bean casserole, and lasagne, which were three of my choices for two lunches and dinner.

For the first few days, I’d been confined entirely to bed, but soon enough physiotherapists began to call, helping to take short walks around the ward (with assorted tubes hooked up to a stand on wheels), and gave me a few exercises to do in bed. A week after admission, I finally had the tubes removed. Freed of all encumbrances, I found that I was able to walk easily enough around the ward, and more. The great joy at this point, was the ability to get to the toilet myself and take a proper shower.

Finally, late on Friday afternoon eight days after admission, I was discharged and was taken home, to a quiet bed without constant disturbance from nurses and other patients.