News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

The collapse of the UK’s third largest package holiday group has left tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad.

The decision to place XL Leisure Group into administration has also left thousands of staff facing the axe.

Chairman Phil Wyatt said he was “totally devastated” by the failure which has grounded XL’s 21 planes. The company flies to about 50 destinations.

There are 67,000 stranded who booked directly with XL, and another 23,000 who booked via other companies.

The Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) also said the firm had 200,000 advance bookings.

‘Sad day’

CAA EMERGENCY HELPLINE
Customers abroad: +44 (0) 2891 856547
Customers in the UK with advance bookings: 0870 5900927

“We’ve made every effort, myself and my fellow directors, to find new funding for the business – and it’s a very sad day for me personally. I am totally devastated,” XL chairman Phil Wyatt said.David Clover, a spokesman for the CAA, said it was making arrangements to help customers of the four tour companies within the XL group.

“In respect of people who are currently abroad we’re making arrangements and working very closely with the travel industry to organize repatriation flights.

“Clearly though, with XL Airways no longer operating, we’re having to bring in substitute aircraft to bring people home.”

He said package deals are covered by the CAA’s Air Travel Organizers’ Licensing (Atol) scheme and those customers will be offered repatriation flights or their money back if they have an advance booking.

Struggling

However, those who booked directly with the airline or XL.com – who are in the minority according to the CAA – will face a fee.

Anyone yet to take their flights should check their insurance policies, and with their banks or credit card companies about refunds, he added.

XL – which carried 2.3 million passengers last year – is the latest travel business to face financial difficulties, as the industry struggles with high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

But an agreement has been reached whereby Straumur investment bank has acquired XL’s German and French subsidiaries, which Straumur considers to be financially viable and sustainable businesses.

They will continue operations as separate commercial entities.

Share prices in holiday firms TUI Travel and Thomas Cook were up 6% and 7% following the collapse of their rival.

Economic downturn

“As the travel industry matures in Europe, there was always going to be pressure on those operating in the mid-market,” said Lastminute.com chief executive Ian McCaig.

A statement on the XL group’s website said: “The companies entered into administration having suffered as a result of volatile fuel prices, the economic downturn, and were unable to obtain further funding.”

XL COMPANIES
XL Leisure Group
XL Airways UK
Excel Aviation
Explorer House
Aspire Holidays
Freedom Flights
Freedom Flights (Aviation)
The Really Great Holiday Company
Medlife Hotels
Travel City Flights
Kosmar Villa Holidays

BBC travel correspondent Tom Symonds added that the industry would be facing an “enormous challenge” as it deals with the fall out of XL’s collapse.

“XL wasn’t just an airline it was a fundamental link Britain’s package holiday industry,” he said.

“Getting these people to and from their holidays will be an enormous challenge not least because of the shortage of aircraft caused by so many airline collapses in recent weeks.

“XL can’t use its own airliners for among other reasons it has no insurance now.”

The CAA said it was working with the travel industry to bring stranded holidaymakers home, and denied it had been responsible for the grounding of XL’s planes.

Airlines BA, Easyjet, BMI, Flybe and Ryanair have offered to fly some of the stranded passengers home.

Easyjet chief executive Andy Harrison told that its fuel efficient planes had helped it cope with the high cost of aviation fuel although on Thursday it said it would cut up to 60 jobs to remain competitive.

Fuel pressures

Mr Wyatt added that spiralling oil prices had increased the firm’s costs “year-on-year by over $80m”.

“So where many people have been making hay with high oil prices, this is the repercussions of that hay – 1,700 people potentially out of work today in the UK,” he said.

Rival TUI warned that rising fuel costs meant that “airlines with less than robust business models” – such as XL and Futura – were now failing.

It added that the government should take steps to ensure all holiday companies must belong to the Atol scheme, which offers package holiday makers financial protection.

In the US, one flight from Orlando to Manchester managed to set off, while one bound for Gatwick was grounded. A source at the airport said accommodation was being found for the “distressed” passengers.

In the UK, air traffic control prevented three XL aircraft from taking off from Manchester Airport.

The XL group, which is based in Crawley, West Sussex, runs an airline and owns several travel companies, including Travel City Direct, Medlife Hotels Limited, The Really Great Holiday Company, Freedom Flights and Kosmar Holidays.

‘Going nowhere’

The company flies mainly from bases at Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow airports.

Travel writer Simon Calder warned that many thousands of XL customers hoping to fly to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK in coming weeks and days “simply won’t be going anywhere”.

Jim Duwaine, from Portsmouth, said he was given the news when he arrived at Gatwick where he had been due to catch an early morning flight to Menorca.

HELP OFFERED TO XL CUSTOMERS
Flybe – offering flights for 90 euros (£71.50)
BA– offering a one-way discount
Easyjet– flights offered for £75
BMI – provided aircraft to CAA for transport people home
Ryanair – has offered spare plane to CAA for transport

He said: “Absolutely devastated. Got up at midnight planning on going on holiday, but got let down, unfortunately. We’re here, just trying to get some other flights, but it’s not looking good. I think everyone else has got the same idea.”

Other holidaymakers have said they have been quoted vastly inflated prices for replacement flights.

Robert Spurgeon, of Norwich – an XL customer who had been due to fly to Tenerife from Gatwick – said: “We’ve not been told anything but my wife’s been quoted £2,000 for alternative flights.”

Also among those affected are a 130-strong choir on tour to Canada from Wales who were booked on Zoom and lost £50,000 when it folded last month, and then re-booked with XL.

XL is the current kit sponsor of West Ham United but football club said it would end the sponsorship deal and play on Saturday in an unbranded kit.


Are you struggling to make your way home from your holiday destination? Have you paid for a holiday that you may not be able to take? If you were an employee of XL what are your views? Send us your comments
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September 9, 2008

Bush to announce troop reshuffle

Bush to announce troop reshuffle

US soldier in Falluja

The bulk of the 146,000 US troops deployed in Iraq will remain behind

US President George W Bush is set to announce plans to withdraw about 8,000 troops from Iraq by February and to send additional forces to Afghanistan.

Mr Bush will say in a speech on Tuesday that the improving security situation in Iraq will allow a “quiet surge” of troops in Afghanistan in coming months.

A Marine battalion due to go to Iraq in November will be sent to Afghanistan, followed by an Army combat brigade.

There are currently 146,000 US troops in Iraq and 33,000 in Afghanistan.

Any long-term decision about their future deployment will be left to Mr Bush’s successor, who will take office in January.

‘Degree of durability’

The continued decline in violence in Iraq since last year’s US troop “surge” has given President Bush a chance to ease the growing strain on his country’s military.

If the progress in Iraq continues to hold, Gen Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009
President George W Bush

Acting on the advice of his generals, Mr Bush will announce on Tuesday that a Marine battalion, comprising about 1,000 troops, scheduled to leave Anbar province in November will return home as planned without being replaced.

An army brigade of between 3,500 and 4,000 troops will also leave in February, accompanied by about 3,400 support forces, he will say.

“While the progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible, Gen [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker report that there now appears to be a ‘degree of durability’ to the gains we have made,” Mr Bush will say in a speech at the National Defense University, according to the White House.

“And if the progress in Iraq continues to hold, Gen Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009.”

Our correspondent says the withdrawals announced on Tuesday will mark the start of a slow and limited draw-down based on what Mr Bush calls “return on success”. However, it will still leave the bulk of US forces behind in Iraq.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that although a timetable for the withdrawal of the remaining troops did not exist, he had tentatively agreed with the US military to end the presence of foreign combat troops by 2011.

The Iraqi government is currently negotiating a security agreement on the future of US forces in Iraq before a UN mandate expires.

Afghanistan ‘fragile’

In his speech on Tuesday, Mr Bush will also signal that the US will make modest increases in the strength of its forces in Afghanistan to combat the growing threat posed by the Taleban.

Taleban in opium field in south-west Afghanistan, April 2008

Aid agencies point to a 50% increase in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan

“For all the good work we have done in that country, it is clear we must do even more,” he will say.

“Unlike Iraq, it has few natural resources and has an underdeveloped infrastructure. Its democratic institutions are fragile.”

“And its enemies are some of the most hardened terrorists and extremists in the world. With their brutal attacks, the Taleban and the terrorists have made some progress in shaking the confidence of the Afghan people.”

In November, a Marine battalion that was scheduled to deploy to Iraq will instead go to Afghanistan. It will be followed in January by an army combat brigade.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said last month that violence in Afghanistan had reached its worst level since 2001, when US-led forces overthrew the Taleban, with more than 260 civilians killed in July.

Afghanistan’s government said the bloodshed was connected to peace deals Pakistan’s government had sought with Islamist militants in the north-western tribal areas along the border.

Vitamin linked to brain shrinking

Vitamin linked to brain shrinking

Vitamin B12

Many people are deficient in vitamin B12

A vitamin found in meat, fish and milk may help stave off memory loss in old age, a study has suggested.

Older people with lower than average vitamin B12 levels were more than six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage, researchers concluded.

The University of Oxford study, published in the journal Neurology, tested the 107 apparently healthy volunteers over a five-year period.

Some studies suggest two out of five people are deficient in the vitamin.

The rate of shrinkage of the brain as we age may be partly influenced by what we eat
Professor David Smith
Oxford University

The problem is even more common among the elderly, and recent moves to supplement bread with folic acid caused concern that this could mask B12 deficiency symptoms in older people.

The Oxford study looked at a group of people between 61 and 87, splitting it into thirds depending on the participants’ vitamin B12 levels.

Even the third with the lowest levels were still above a threshold used by some scientists to define vitamin B12 deficiency.

However, they were still much more likely to show signs of brain shrinkage over the five-year period.

Liver and shellfish

Professor David Smith, who directs the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, said he now planned a trial of B vitamins in the elderly to see if taking them could slow brain shrinkage.

He said: “This study adds another dimension to our understanding of the effects of B vitamins on the brain – the rate of shrinkage of the brain as we age may be partly influenced by what we eat.”

Shrinkage has been strongly linked with a higher risk of developing dementia at a later stage and Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said further research was needed.

“This study suggests that consuming more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk as part of a balanced diet might help protect the brain. Liver and shellfish are particularly rich sources of B12.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common problem among elderly people in the UK and has been linked to declining memory and dementia.”

Dr Susanne Sorensen, from the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Shrinkage is usually associated with the development of dementia.

“As vitamin B may be given as a food supplement, it may be useful to include tests of vitamin B levels in the general assessment of health of older individuals.

“This is another example of why it is crucial for people to lead a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet rich in B vitamins and antioxidants.

“The best way to reduce your risk of developing dementia is to keep active, eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke and visit your GP to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.”

September 8, 2008

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

CMS (M. Brice/Cern)

The UK alone has invested more than half-a-billion pounds in the LHC

The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, says Sir David King.

The former UK chief scientist will use his presidential address at the BA Science Festival to call for a gear-change among innovative thinkers.

He will suggest that less time and money is spent on endeavors such as space exploration and particle physics.

He says population growth and poverty in Africa also demand attention.

“The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we’ve had to face up to before,” he told reporters before the opening of the festival, which is being held this year in Liverpool.

“This requires a re-think of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society’s inner attitudes towards science and technology.”

Huge expense

Sir David’s remarks will be controversial because they are being made just as the UK is about to celebrate its participation in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest physics experiment.

The Collider, built at the Cern laboratory under the Swiss-French border, is starting full operations this Wednesday.

It will seek to understand the building blocks of matter, and, in particular, try to find a mechanism that can explain why matter has mass.

This international venture is extremely expensive, however. The UK alone has contributed more than £500m to the LHC – the largest sum of money to date invested by a UK government in a single scientific project.

Sir David said it was time such funding – and the brains it supports – were pushed to answering more pressing concerns.

“It’s all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it’s all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson (a potential mass mechanism); but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilization is really crucial.”

Big ideas

Chief among these challenges for Sir David is the issue of climate change. When he was the government’s top scientist, he made the famous remark that the threat from climate change was bigger than the threat posed by terrorism.

He said alternatives to fossil fuels were desperately needed to power a civilization that would number some nine billion people by mid-century – nine billion people who would all expect a high standard of living.

“We will have to re-gear our thinking because our entire civilization depends on energy production, and we have been producing that energy very largely through fossil fuels; and we will have to remove our dependence from fossil fuels virtually completely, or we will have to learn how to capture carbon dioxide from fossil fuel usage,” he said.

Finding and exploiting clean energy sources was now imperative, he said; and Sir David questioned whether the spending on particle physics research in the shape of Cern’s Large Hadron Collider was the best route to that goal.

He even doubted whether Cern’s greatest invention was an outcome that could only have come from an institution that pursued so-called “blue skies research”.

“People say to me: ‘well what about the world wide web? That emerged from Cern’. Brilliant. Tim Berners Lee was the person who invented that. What if Tim Berners Lee had been working in a solar [power] laboratory? Perhaps he would have done it there as well. The spin-out would have come from the brilliant individual.”

September 6, 2008

When sex becomes an addiction

When sex becomes an addiction

(Expressyoureself) — “Californication” star David Duchovny made headlines for voluntarily entering rehab last week. But it wasn’t for drugs or alcohol. It was for another dependency, one that affects millions of Americans but is seldom discussed: sex addiction.

While sex can be healthy for a relationship, some people develop an addiction to porn, affairs, and other behaviors.

While sex can be healthy for a relationship, some people develop an addiction to porn, affairs, and other behaviors.

Sex addiction, also called compulsive sexual behavior, is like a gambling compulsion or alcoholism: It’s about devoting your free time to a behavior that you cannot stop, even if you damage relationships or prompt other negative consequences. That could mean extensively using pornography, having affairs, sleeping with prostitutes, and masturbating excessively, to the point where such behaviors get out of control.

If you think it’s just about primal desire, think again. For many addicts, sex becomes a way to numb out painful feelings, kill time or stop feeling lonely, says Kelly McDaniel, licensed professional counselor in San Antonio, Texas, and author of “Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex and Relationship Addiction.”

“Most people I talk to get to the point where they don’t even like sex,” said McDaniel, who has no connection to David Duchovny and did not speculate about his specific situation.

Who are sex addicts?

Sex addiction is estimated to affect 3 to 6 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic, but the American Psychiatric Association has not classified the condition in its diagnostic handbook. Sexhelp.com, run by psychologist Patrick Carnes, provides an online test to help people determine if they have a problem.

The Internet, providing endless opportunities for porn-watching and cybersex, has fueled a surge in cases of sex addiction, experts say.

“We’re seeing it with epidemic proportions now, particularly with regards to cybersex,” said Mark Schwartz, psychologist and former director of the Masters and Johnson Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. “There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t get two calls” about sex addiction.

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Therapists have recently seen more women with the condition in connection with Internet porn, which has become a “gender-neutral” addiction, McDaniel said. Before, female sex addicts generally tended to have affairs or become sex workers, she said.

Experts acknowledge that people who have affairs or use pornography are not necessarily sex addicts. Such pastimes form an addiction when they generate negative consequences for a person’s relationships, take over free time and become impossible to quit.

Where does it come from?

About 80 percent of sex addiction cases have sexual abuse or emotional trauma in their backgrounds, said Doug Weiss, therapist and executive director of the Heart to Heart Counseling Center. Schwartz also noted that huge numbers of people coming forward as sex addicts have been abused, assaulted or raped.

“When you have abuse in your background, you’re less likely to trust people, [and] you’re more likely to turn to something like sex addiction as a manifestation,” Schwartz said.

Feelings of neglect as a child — whether from divorced parents or parents who both worked and didn’t spend a lot of time with their kids — may also lead to sex addiction, Schwartz said.

Research into the neuroscience of sex addiction has not been conclusive, the Mayo Clinic said. Naturally occurring chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin do contribute to sexual functioning, but it’s not clear how they are related to sex addiction. McDaniel said these two chemicals are lower in the brains of children who have suffered abuse, which may explain why some of them use their own bodies — or, in other cases, food — to increase dopamine and serotonin levels.

A lot of teenagers develop their sexuality with pornography, and then find that relational sex isn’t as satisfying, Weiss said. Porn gives them a “very strong chemical hit,” and alters ways of thinking about sex, somewhat like the classic “ring the bell, feed the dog” stimulus-response mechanism. Addicts thus learn to become sexually attached to objects, and have trouble getting the same kind of satisfaction from sex in a relationship, he said.

For many people, especially women, sex addiction occurs in tandem with another problem such as an eating disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, McDaniel said.

How does treatment work?

A good treatment center will review the reasons why the addiction has come about, along with the brain chemistry of it, McDaniel said. A premier rehabilitation facility would have a combination of individual and group therapy, 12-step support, and possibly psychiatric medications such as antidepressant medications if necessary.

Health Library

  • MayoClinic.com: Compulsive sexual behavior

The 12-step programs, which have components that parallel Alcoholics Anonymous, are the most widely used form of treatment, said Sam Alibrando, therapist and consultant in Pasadena, California. They involve having a sponsor and being available for others in the group at any time. Anecdotally, however, they work less well than AA because sex is harder to give up, said Alibrando, author of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst.”

“Treatment is long-term, and it’s not easy,” McDaniel said. “I really recommend that a woman or a man find someone who’s trained and understands that sex addiction is a brain disease and does not further the shame that comes with this disease.”

Unlike drugs or alcohol, the goal of sex addiction therapy is usually not abstinence, but rather learning to have sex in a relationship, experts say. Similarly, someone who recovers from an overeating disorder does not stop eating entirely but learns how to manage diet. Marriage counseling often becomes part of the treatment, Weiss says.

The goals of recovery vary for different people, says Alibrando. He’s currently treating a couple in which the wife cannot tolerate her husband even looking at other women. On the other end of the spectrum, he has treated couples in which a woman will buy her boyfriend pornography.

“The spectrum is so wide in terms of where people draw the line,” says Alibrando.

Some recovering addicts join support groups requiring that members only have sex with their partners, even prohibiting masturbation.

What’s after recovery?

Weiss considers himself a former sex addict, having recognized his problem in his early 20s. Women weren’t making him happy; he was using pornography and felt “in conflict” about it.

Now, he runs a resource Web site for recovery at sexaddict.com, along with three-day intensive workshops to jump-start recovery for sex addicts.

Weiss said he’s proud of Duchovny for voluntarily seeking help, apparently without prodding from press reports or lawsuits.

“This kind of person who decides to get recovery for themselves without getting exposed” is “likely to get better,” he said. “People who voluntarily get better have a much better chance of staying well.”

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