"A man targeted by marketing companies is making money from cold calls with his own premium-rate phone number. In November 2011 Lee Beaumont paid £10 plus VAT to set up his personal 0871 line - so to call him now costs 10p, from which he receives 7p. The Leeds businessman told BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme that the premium line had so far made £300." (1)
I rather liked this story, as I frequently get cold-calls, and more recently, since a car ran into the back of me last November, frequent calls - unsolicited - from companies which are trying to get me to sign up for injury damages on a no-win no-payment basis. I continually tell them to email me the details they want, whereupon they take my email address, and I never hear from them until the next call. Perish the thought that they should actually email me!
Of course, the man does run his own business from his home address, so there is some justification for a premium number. Premium number regulator Phone Pay Plus said: "Premium-rate numbers are not designed to be used in this way and we would strongly discourage any listeners from adopting this idea, as they will be liable under our code for any breaches and subsequent fines that result."
But I wonder if I can dissuade cold callers and others by telling them that all my calls are monitored. That may well work. It may stop me getting so heated by those irritating callers.
Heating up also features in the next story, on global warming, which is not happening as fast as it was predicted to do:
"Scientists say the slow down in global warming since 1998 can be explained by a natural cooling in part of the Pacific ocean. Although they cover just 8% of the Earth, these colder waters counteracted some of the effect of increased carbon dioxide say the researchers. But temperatures will rise again when the Pacific swings back to a warmer state, they argue."(3)
"This new study adds further evidence that the recent slowdown in the rate of global warming at the Earth's surface is explained by natural fluctuations in the ocean and is therefore likely to be a temporary respite from warming in response to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases," said Dr Richard Allan from the University of Reading.
It's rather gloomy prospects, especially as arctic ice still continues to disappear. I'm sure that the global warming sceptics will find something to complain about, but what I find refreshing is that Professor Xie and his colleagues were not content to try and explain away or ignore the slow down in global warming, but wanted to find a proper scientific explanation for it that was testable by observations.
The global warming scenario was not helped by some rather bad fudges of the data, in particular relating to the so-called "hockey stick", and the abrupt way in which the Mediaeval warm period was airbrushed out of existence. That seemed to be approaching perilously like altering the data to fit the theory, which is the reverse of what Professor Xie's team have done. Leaked emails regarding the "hockey stick" show scientists behaving badly in all kinds of ways, and it probably set back public perception of global warming for a decade. Let's hope that the better approach such as Professor Xie can make up for some of that damage.
As I write that, I can feel the shadow of Nick Palmer looming over me, but I think the evidence - as seen in the complete Guardian special investigation shows otherwise regarding the behaviour of the scientists involved:
"Within the narrower confines of assembling a reliable history of global temperature, the emails have done significant damage to the credibility of scientists. They show that in their desire to give the world a clear message that humans are heating the planet, a group of scientists cut corners and played down uncertainties in their calculations. Their opponents charge that they then covered their tracks by being secretive with data and suppressing dissent."
"'Climate scientists will have to work harder to earn the warranted trust of the public - and maybe that is no bad thing,' says Dr Mike Hulme. While science gets its house in order, we need some perspective. In the midst of a cold winter it may be hard to convince ourselves, but the world is still warming. Humanity is still to blame. And we still, urgently, need to do something about it." (3)
Hiding matters also comes into the story about the NHS, which looks at complaints about hospital food:
"NHS hospitals have been accused of hiding patients' dissatisfaction with the standard of food. There are plenty of complaints about taste but how much is lacklustre 'presentation' to blame?"
The BBC report various chefs, TV presenters, and restaurateurs who commented on photos of the hospital food sent in by readers, although Data Protection forbids us knowing if one of those disgruntled was "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". The comments are a savage critique, but can also be bitingly funny:
"Take this dish for example - overcooked, dry-looking sweetcorn with really badly overcooked broccoli and something that looks like potatoes and ham, with added skin." (chef Mark Lloyd)
"It looks like it has eczema. It looks like it's cold. I wouldn't touch it. It's just horrible looking, isn't it? I'd rather just drink milkshakes and take vitamin pills if this was my only alternative source of nutrition. It would be interesting to compare this with what prisoners get served." (Matt Tebbutt, chef, TV presenter and restaurant owner)
"I was trying to work out what this was," says Tebbutt. "It looks like it might be tripe. Presumably they serve this to give you the motivation to get better and leave hospital." (4)
I remember being in the General Hospital in Jersey in the 1960s as a young boy, having my tonsils out - at operation which was pretty standard at the time; it was felt that it was beneficial to whip tonsils out, so thousands of school children had them taken out. Because of complications, a possible clot in the throat (the same complication that nearly finished off Lloyd George), I had to stay in longer, and eating with a throat which feels sore was difficult. The hospital food was dry with no gravy, and hard to swallow. It was definitely not pleasant, so I don't think modern hospital food is necessarily any worse than that of yesteryear.
As I was reluctant to eat this dried up food, the nurse took me into a room, showed me a funnel and a rubber tube, and told me that if I didn't eat, I'd be force fed using that. While the food may still be receiving criticism in hospitals, I suspect that the attitude of nurses to children has improved considerably. A friend of mine was later in for the tonsils operation, and received the same kind of bullying treatment, but he got round it by biting the nurse's finger hard, something that had never occurred to me to do.
And finally, on medical matters, this report on new developments seems fascinating (to use Mr Spock's well-loved phrase):
"Miniature "human brains" have been grown in a lab in a feat scientists hope will transform the understanding of neurological disorders. The pea-sized structures reached the same level of development as in a nine-week-old foetus, but are incapable of thought. The study, published in the journal Nature, has already been used to gain insight into rare diseases." (5)
I must have a very wicked streak, because whenever I hear something about pea-sized brains, my mind turns almost reflexively to politicians. Now why do you suppose that is? I leave it to the reader to draw the obvious conclusions!
André Maurois knew the problem - Maurois was a quotable French author of the early 20th century. One quote of his that came very much to mind on a couple of occassions last week is (in...
2 days ago