News & Current Affairs

January 24, 2009

India PM undergoes heart surgery

India PM undergoes heart surgery

Manmohan Singh

Mr Singh’s surgery comes just months before a general election in India

Doctors have begun heart bypass surgery on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he was admitted to hospital in Delhi, Indian media report.

A team of six to eight surgeons was expected to operate on the 76-year-old leader, after two blockages were found in his arteries, officials said.

Mr Singh previously had bypass surgery in 1990 and an angioplasty in 2004.

The ruling Congress Party says he will still lead the party in the forthcoming general election which is due by May.

Mr Singh underwent tests earlier this week after he complained of chest pains.

He will have “coronary artery bypass graft surgery” performed by doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India’s top state-run hospital, and the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai.

Doctors say that there is “very little risk” associated with Mr Singh’s surgery and that the prime minister should be fit to resume normal duties in three to four weeks.

Succession speculation

This is not a good time for the prime minister to be removed from the political fray, given the tense relations with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Rahul Gandhi

Will Rahul Gandhi emerge as a successor to Mr Singh?

Congress has so far dismissed concerns that Mr Singh’s health would interfere with its current election campaign.

But there has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi has been lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the country’s next prime minister.

Mr Singh has largely been in good health since he was sworn in as prime minister in May 2004, but he recently underwent prostate surgery and has also had cataract treatment.

Mr Singh, who studied economics at Cambridge and Oxford, became India’s finance minister in 1991 when the country was plunging into bankruptcy, and is widely regarded as the architect of the country’s economic reform programme.

The quietly spoken economist-politician is also seen as the cleanest politician in India, a subject dear to voters’ hearts.

Government officials said that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will take charge of cabinet meetings during the prime minister’s absence.

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September 17, 2008

Autism ‘may be missed in girls’

Autism ‘may be missed in girls’

Stressed woman

Girls may show different symptoms

Girls with mild autism are less likely to be identified and diagnosed than boys, a study suggests.

Researchers examined 493 boys and 100 girls with autistic spectrum disorders.

They found the girls showed different symptoms, and fewer signs of symptoms traditionally associated with autism, such as repetitive behavior.

The researchers, who presented their work to a Royal College of Psychiatrists meeting, said this might mean cases among girls are missed.

“We shouldn’t assume autism or Asperger syndrome will look the same in both sexes
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
University of Cambridge

Autism is thought to affect four times as many boys as girls – but the latest study suggests this might not be the case.

Most of the children featured in the study had been seen at the Social and Communication Disorders Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Additional cases came from Sunderland and Finland.

All the children were classified as “high-functioning”. They did not have classic autism, but did have difficulties with socialising and communication.

Relationship obsessions

The researchers, who have yet to publish their research, found that the girls were more likely to have obsessional interests centred around people and relationships.

However, these interests were more likely to be acceptable to their parents, and therefore tended not to be reported to doctors.

Characteristics such as shyness and over-sensitivity, common to people affected by autism, are sometimes deemed to be typically female traits
Judith Gould
National Autistic Society

In addition, these types of obsessions were less likely to be discovered using standard diagnostic questionnaires.

The investigators said more research was needed to analyse how autism spectrum conditions manifest differently in the sexes.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at the University of Cambridge, agreed.

He said: “This is an important clinical issue and there are too few studies addressing it.

“We shouldn’t assume autism or Asperger syndrome will look the same in both sexes.

“There may be many factors leading to these conditions either being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in females, or leading females to require a diagnosis less often.”

Judith Gould, of the National Autistic Society, said: “We hear from many women who have been diagnosed later in life.

“The way autism is presented in women can be very complex and so can be missed.

“It might be that due to misconceptions and stereotypes, many girls and women with autism are never referred for diagnosis, and so are missing from statistics.

“This may mean that many women who are undiagnosed are not receiving support, which can have a profound effect on them and their families.”

Ms Gould said it was also possible that girls were better at masking difficulties in order to fit in with society.

“Characteristics such as shyness and oversensitivity, common to people affected by autism, are sometimes deemed to be typically female traits.

“However if a boy were to display such characteristics, concerns may be raised.”

August 31, 2008

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

D-Day landings

Britain wanted to fuel false rumors of an invasion

British spy chiefs drew up secret plans to use pigeons to spread false rumors about the impending D-Day landings.

The plot in 1943 to drop the birds into German-occupied France is revealed in newly declassified MI5 files released by the National Archives.

Germany had been intercepting pigeons carrying Allied notes, the files say, so MI5 moved to drop false information.

It planned to put extra pigeons over the west coast of France to give the impression the invasion would be there.

The revelations come in newly-released files on World War II called “Channels for deception”.

‘Quite delighted’

One letter to a Capt Guy Liddell said: “On average about 10% only of the birds dropped on the Continent return to their lofts in this country – it must be assumed that a great number fall into German hands.

“During the past few weeks I also understand there has been a great concentration on the Brest and Brittany areas.

“It might therefore be possible to deduce that we have considerable interest in this region.”

It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day
Professor Christopher Andrew
MI5’s official historian

The deception operations surrounding the Normandy landings are considered by some historians to be the most important of World War II.

Codenamed Operation Fortitude, they were overseen by the London Controlling Section (LCS), a special unit formed in 1942 within the Joint Planning Staff at the War Cabinet offices.

LCS controlling officer Col John Bevan was said to be “quite delighted” with the pigeon plot, according to the files.

The first mention in the documents of using pigeons to thwart the enemy comes from MI5’s Lt Col Tommy Robertson.

He said: “The pigeon is sent in a cardboard container – which can quickly be buried or burnt – with a little bag of corn and a questionnaire.

“These birds are dropped over a chosen area in the hope at least some of them will fall into the hands of… supporters of the Allied cause.

“It occurs to me that this is a possible means of putting deception over to the enemy by the careful framing of the questionnaires as presumably the Germans must, if they capture some of these birds, take notice of the type of question asked.”

MI5 letter

Letters can be viewed at the National Archives in Kew, west London

The documents make it clear arrangements were made to go ahead with the plan, but it is unclear if it was carried out.

The official historian of MI5, Cambridge Professor Christopher Andrew, told : “Because pigeons are used to pass on messages, it’s understandable someone thought of this.

“It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day.”

The use of pigeons in intelligence has its origins in World War I when the British dropped pigeons inside baskets attached to parachutes and balloons to gather intelligence.

The D-Day invasion of German-occupied France took place on June 6, 1944 and marked the start of a major Allied counter offensive in Europe.

Members of the public can view the 152 newly-released files at the National Archives in Kew, west London.

August 15, 2008

British protester held in Beijing

British protester held in Beijing

The Free Tibet banner

The banner was unfurled on a building next to an Olympic promotion

A British man has been held by police in China after unfurling a pro-Tibet banner on a building in Beijing.

Philip Kirk, 24, of St Albans, Herts, and Australian-Canadian Nicole Rycroft, 41, scaled the Central Television building to make their protest.

The pair, from the group Students for a Free Tibet, and three other supporting protesters were detained on Friday.

Han Shan, spokesman for the campaign group, said the banner read “Free Tibet” in English and Chinese.

Kate Woznow, also from the group, said the protest happened at the headquarters of the state-owned China Central Television building in east Beijing.

She said Mr Kirk and Ms Rycroft were detained after climbing up part of the building to reveal the banner.

Previous protests

Last week, two other British pro-Tibet protesters, Lucy Fairbrother, 23, from Cambridge, and Iain Thom, 24, from Edinburgh, were deported after scaling a 120ft-high (36.5m) lighting pole and unfurling banners reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet” and “Tibet will be free”.

The activists said the action had been worth it – but their job was not done and there would be more protests during the games.

We are in touch with the Chinese authorities and we are seeking further details
British embassy spokesman

Eight demonstrators from Students for a Free Tibet were also detained on Wednesday after staging a demonstration.

Wang Wenjie, of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, said he did not have any information about the latest protest.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Beijing said: “We are in touch with the Chinese authorities and we are seeking further details.”

Officials expect Mr Kirk to be deported some time on Friday.

Meanwhile, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, warned activists on Wednesday to obey the law in China, which does not allow unauthorized protests.

He said: “No matter Chinese citizens or foreigners, in China if you want to have processions or demonstrations, you should abide by Chinese laws and regulations.”

August 5, 2008

The best transfer of the summer

The best transfer of the summer

Courtesy BBC SPORTS

Nothing excites a football fan over the summer months quite as much as a few new faces.

I have always enjoyed turning up for a pre-season fixture to take a look at the summer signings. The fact that you can never really conclude anything about a player in a pedestrian and more or less completely meaningless game against some local amateur outfit takes a back seat while you try to wrestle with the big questions.

Are they any good? Has the gaffer finally found the missing piece of the jigsaw? Does this guy ever kick the ball with his left foot? How on earth did the manager find someone from the second tier of the Belgian league?

Come to think of it, summer signings probably don’t do any harm to season ticket sales and a constant flow of transfer speculation keeps the local paper ticking over during the fallow summer weeks.

But with the Football League starting on Saturday, just what has been the best bit of business during the summer?
I’m not talking necessarily about the most expensive or high-profile – it could be a wise old head on a free transfer or a real gem unearthed from non-league. What I’m looking for is the most inspired signing of the summer, the player who could make the difference between success and failure.

I’m not going to pretend for a moment that I’m familiar with every decent transfer – that is where you lot come in – but here are a few contenders for your consideration.

Derby County, not surprisingly, have been very busy and I think the striking partnership of Rob Hulse (£1.75m from Sheffield United) and Nathan Ellington (season-long loan from Watford) could be the best in the Championship.

Ellington was terrible last season but the word is that he is desperate to prove his knockers wrong while Rams boss Paul Jewell certainly knows how to get the best out of him. Hulse is a talented footballer but has different attributes to the pacy and athletic Ellington and they should complement each other. Defender Alan Stubbs also looks a good acquisition.

Freddy Eastwood’s move from Southend to Wolves really didn’t work out but he should be a decent acquisition for Coventry, while Arturo Lupoli, once of Arsenal, is an intriguing loan signing for Norwich from Italian side Fiorentina.

Nicky Maynard is an intelligent footballer, with good awareness in and around the box. If Bristol City were a touch predictable towards the end of last season then he should add a new dimension to their game, though at £2.25m from Crewe he did not come cheap.

A couple of veterans worth keeping an eye on are striker Andy Cole and midfielder Lee Carsley. Cole has moved to his home-town club of Nottingham Forest and the 36-year-old wants his final season as a player to end in promotion. A big ask. Carsley has joined Birmingham on a free transfer from Everton. He was a regular last season and I think he could prove to be a brilliant signing. The fact he has been made captain in the absence of Damien Johnson hints at the impact he has already had.

Several teams have looked to shore up their defences. They might not grab headlines but Mark Hudson (Palace to Charlton) and Kaspars Gorkss (Blackpool to QPR) could prove to be important and much-needed captures.

Leeds are desperate to win promotion to the Championship and reports suggest that midfielder Andy Robinson is set to play an important role. Argentine Luciano Becchio remains an unknown quantity but the striker has spent time with Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Mallorca (though last season he played in Spain’s third tier with Merida).

Derby County and Crystal Palace fans no doubt remember Marco Reich, the German forward who is back in English football with Walsall having joined from Kickers Offenbach. He was quality last time he was here and in League One he should have plenty to offer.

David Livermore was very consistent at Millwall but after joining Leeds in July 2006 the midfielder was sold by the Yorkshire club to Hull less than two weeks later. The Tigers loaned him to Oldham last season but after signing for Brighton permanently in July, I expect him to have real presence for the Seagulls.

A colleague of mine is adamant that the signing of the summer in League One is Kieran Lee, who has joined Oldham from Man Utd. I’ve never seen him play – have you? As a full-back/midfielder he certainly provides options for Latics boss John Sheridan.

Liverpool central defender Jack Hobbs is hoping to gain valuable first-team experience on a season-long loan at Leicester from Liverpool. The Foxes have also brought in defender Michael Morrison from Cambridge United. Manager Nigel Pearson is a former centre-half and both could blossom under his tutelage.

Huddersfield boss Stan Ternent, a wily old operator, has gone for experience with the likes of Chris Lucketti (Sheffield United) and Keigan Parker (Blackpool). Watch out for an improved showing from the Terriers.

In League Two, Lincoln boss Peter Jackson has also gone for experience, bringing in the likes of Frank Sinclair and Stefan Oakes.

Most deals at this level have been either free transfers or season-long loans but one move that caught the eye was Shrewsbury shelling out a club record £170,000 for Forest striker Grant Holt. He didn’t really deliver at Forest but has been prolific through pre-season and will be determined to deliver at his new club.

New boys Exeter have plumped for experience in striker Marcus Stewart. The 35-year-old has made more than 500 league appearances and should bring plenty of knowledge, though his scoring record at previous club Yeovil was far from spectacular.

But one of the best deals in League Two has surely got to be Notts County signing defender Michael Johnson on a permanent contract. He made a huge difference after arriving at Meadow Lane on loan last season and remains an impressive and consistent performer.

But how many potentially sensational signings have I missed and how many of the ones listed above do you think will make a big impression over the coming months?

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