Daily Archives: July 6, 2011

Parts of Iceland Shivered Through Coldest Month of June Since 1959

icelandreview.com | Jul 4, 2011

Last month was recorded to be the coldest June Iceland has seen in more than a decade.

According to information given to Morgunbladid by The Icelandic Met Office, the northeastern parts of Iceland were particularly cool. The average temperature in Reykjavík was 9.2°C and 6.7°C in Akureyri, or 2.4 degrees below average.

Akureyri has not seen such low temperatures in more than half a century, or since 1959, and the summer in Reykjavík has not been this cool since 1999.

Yesterday, Morgunbladid spoke to meteorologist Trausti Jónsson and asked about the cool temperatures in June.

“I can’t say if the weather will improve or not.  There are records of several cold months of June but every such summer has been up and down.

“There are no explanations for the unusual north-eastern conditions; we’ve seen this weather pattern before but it doesn’t mean anything. The northeastern system has been unusually persistent this season with very little sunlight and precipitation.”

In his blog, trj.blog.is, he wrote that every day in June frosty temperatures were recorded somewhere in Iceland; in urban communities he counted fifteen days when the temperatures went below 0°C.

Temperatures have only reached 20°C once this summer, on June 19th of June in Thingvellir and Thyrli, Hvalfjördur, but they have risen above 10°C every day of the month somewhere in Iceland.

What is interesting is that in Stórhöfði the heat record held since 1951 was broken by 0.7 degrees on June the 28th of June when the temperatures reached 15.5°C.

Australian women could fight in Afghanistan under government plans to scrap gender barriers

Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard Photo: AFP

Women fight for militaries around the world but rarely if ever are allowed to take the jobs most closely associated with soldiering – those focused on ground combat in close quarters and even hand to hand. That may be about to change in Australia.

Telegraph | Jul 4, 2011

A policy overhaul to be decided by Cabinet within weeks would remove all gender barriers from the military next year, arguably making the Australian Defense Force the world’s leader on gender equality.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the first woman to lead Australia, and Defense Minister Stephen Smith are among those calling for the change. Smith has said that “what you do in the forces should be determined by your physical and intellectual capability or capacity, not simply on the basis of sex.”

Questions remain, however, about whether troops and the public are ready for women to serve in combat roles.

If Australia’s Cabinet supports the policy change it would be in place by the end of 2012. That could give Australian women a chance to qualify for infantry roles in Afghanistan before 2014, when the country plans to withdraw its 1,550 troops.

Gender boundaries have been steadily retreating in Australian defence services for years.

The government announced last month that women sailors will be allowed to bunk with men in submarines. Previously women had to sleep in female-only six-berth cabins. The shift will enable more women to fill a shortage of submariners by allowing more flexibility in assigning crews.

Australian women also can pilot attack helicopters and fighter jets. The positions closed off to them are mostly in the army, and include infantry, parachute, commando, special air services, artillery, tank and armoured cavalry.

Australia’s current policy on women in the military is similar to those of other countries in Afghanistan, including the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. None allow women in roles where their primary function is to fight enemies at close range, though women are trained to be combat-ready and can potentially find themselves in such gunfights.

Even Israel, which drafts both men and women and is often cited as an example of gender equality in the military, does not allow women to serve in front line ground units such as infantry, armour or special forces.

The Australian government announced its commitment to removing gender barriers after a sex scandal broke at the officers’ academy in April. A female cadet accused a male cadet of secretly filming the pair having sex and showing it two his friends via the internet. Two male cadets were charged by police over the incident.

Critics say the government overreacted by ordering six inquiries into issues including the scandal, the treatment of women in the academy and career pathways for women in defence.

Australian defence officials are devising a series of tests to determine whether an individual soldier is physically capable of coping with combat conditions regardless of gender.

The current combat fitness test includes climbing a 16-foot (5-metre) rope twice without touching the ground while carrying a rifle and wearing a helmet. A soldier wearing a helmet also must carry a soldier similarly dressed over his shoulder while carrying both their weapons 160 yards (150 meters).

There has been no suggestion that those requirements could be reduced, but Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defense Association, said that overseas experience shows that less than 3 per cent of women soldiers would be able to pass them. Women most often fail on the rope climbing because it requires considerable upper body strength, he said.

The association, a respected security think-tank, said there are biomechanical differences between the sexes – differences in muscle distribution, centres of gravity and rate of recovery from physical exertion – that make even physically strong women more vulnerable in combat.

In peacetime training exercises, Australian women soldiers are at least five times more likely than men to be incapacitated by injuries to backs, knees and ankles because of biomechanical differences in load-bearing abilities, the ADA said, citing Defense Department records.

“For a range of operational, moral and occupational health and safety reasons, it would not be fair to our female soldiers to expect them to fight male soldiers continually in a person-to-person physical sense,” the ADA said in a recent issue paper.

The ADA compared combat roles to the sports world. It said there were no serious calls for women to be included in top-tier football teams, for instance, and noted that battlefields are tougher environments.

Eva Cox, spokeswoman for the feminist lobby group Women’s Electoral Lobby, dismissed the ADA arguments as “a lot of rubbish.”

“To decide that women can’t do something because they’re women and men can’t do something because they’re men is just ridiculous,” Cox said.

“The basis of the decision should be your physical capacity to meet certain criteria, not whether you’ve got particular chromosomes,” she added.

Cox believes that Australian society now supports eliminating gender barriers, even in the army, though media commentators have been split on the subject.

Even without serving in the same intense combat roles, Australian women returning from overseas deployments have been referred for mental health treatment at double the rate of their male comrades, a recent Defense Department study found.

The military has been publicly supportive of the new regime to test combat readiness, but not all soldiers are keen on the idea of women serving in such roles as the infantry.

Army Cpl. Stuart Heeney wrote in a letter to “The Soldiers’ Army” newspaper recently that women should remain barred from infantry units because “it will change the dynamic due to human nature.”

“Blokes will be more interested in impressing women than focusing on their job,” he wrote.

The almost 8,000 women in Australia’s army, navy and air force account for less than 14 per cent of total troop numbers and commanders are keen to recruit more.

Hugo Chavez hints at ruling until 2021

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez raises his fist at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on July 4, 2011. Chavez returned to Venezuela Monday after spending three weeks in Cuba, where he had a cancerous tumor extirpated. Getty Images

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has hinted that he wants to rule the country for another decade just a day after returning home following surgery for cancer.

Telegraph | Jul 5, 2011

By Robin Yapp, Sao Paulo

Despite being unable to join in celebrations in Caracas for the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s first declaration of independence from Spain on Tuesday, Mr Chavez gave a defiant address from inside his presidential palace.

Looking pale and thinner than normal, he urged supporters to “start a new long march to June 24, 2021” – the date of the battle which finally sealed independence – adding “for here we go, with the help of God.”

In a televised address broadcast on a giant outdoor screen for the thousands watching a military parade, Mr Chavez added: “I am with you in body and soul. Thank God… thank you for allowing me to be here with my people, despite great difficulties…

“Today we start a new stretch of the big climb to the summit of the country, fully independent, fully sovereign, fully developed, fully socialist, fully humanist.”

Mr Chavez had returned home after nearly a month in Cuba, where surgeons removed a cancerous tumour last month, in the early hours of Monday morning.

In an address from his palace balcony later that day, he referred to his recuperation as “another long march”.

On Tuesday he sought to compensate for missing the military parade by sending a stream of messages on Twitter, thanking Russia for the fighter jets that streaked overhead and China for helping to equip and train Venezuela’s Armed Forces.

A presidential election is due to be held in Venezuela before the end of 2012.

Denmark tightens border controls to curb cross-border crime and illegal immigration

Danish custom officers check a unindentified driver from the Netherlands at the Danish-German border in Padborg, Denmark Photo: EPA

Denmark has tightened its border controls in a move which opponents claim could sound the death knell for the EU’s principle of free movement.

Telegraph | Jul 5, 2011

By Matthew Day

The Scandinavian country deployed an extra 50 customs officers at crossings on the German and Swedish borders in an attempt to curb cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

This figure will rise to 98 by the end of the year.

Denmark, which belongs to the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, also plans to increase video surveillance at crossings and build four new customs houses.

Denmark’s decision to become the first country to break ranks with its Schengen peers has sparked concern for the future of unrestricted travel between EU countries.

The principle of open borders is already threatened by political pressures created by the influx of refugees fleeing the turmoil in North Africa.

Cecilia Malmstrom, European commissioner for internal affairs, warned of repercussions for Denmark if it was found to break Schengen regulations.

“If the Danish government proceeds with a proposal in breach of EU law, we stand ready to take the necessary measures to protect the European values of free movement,” she wrote in her blog.

Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, criticised the Danish move, saying it endangered EU co-operation and solidarity, while Jorg-Uwe Hahn, Europe minister for the German state of Hesse, called for Germans to boycott holidaying in Denmark by “voting with their feet” to punish the Scandinavian country.

Heightening European fears that Denmark’s decision may lead to the unravelling of the Schengen zone France’s National Front immediately seized on the Danish initiative with its latest campaign poster stating “Denmark patrols its borders … why don’t we?”

But Denmark defended its decision, arguing the new border regime was in line with Schengen regulations as its customs officers will not be checking passports.

“It’s been proven that illegal merchandise is being smuggled into Denmark. Cross-border criminality should not enjoy freedom of movement, but people should,” Peter Christensen, the Danish tax minister, told public broadcaster DR.

Vatican’s Secret Archives on display in Rome exhibition

The Vatican archives date back more than 1,000 years Photo: AP

An appeal by the English Parliament asking the Pope to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon will be among 100 priceless documents from the Vatican’s Secret Archives to go on display in an unprecedented exhibition in Rome.

Telegraph | Jul 5, 2011

By Nick Squires, Rome

The parchment document, which bears the red wax seals of more than 80 English lords, cardinals and bishops, was sent to Pope Clement VII in 1530 but failed to resolve the dispute, which eventually led to religious schism and the founding of the Church of England.

It will be displayed alongside documents from the heresy trial of Galileo Galilei, whose scientific theories attracted the hostility of the Catholic Church in the early 17th century.

One of the most unusual documents is a letter written on birch bark in 1887 by the Ojibwe Indians of Ontario, Canada, to Pope Leo XIII.

Other previously unseen documents relate to Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of not doing enough to speak out about the Holocaust during the Second World War.

The Vatican has until now stubbornly resisted calls from historians and Jewish groups to release papers from Pius XII’s controversial papacy, from 1939 to 1958.

The documents, stamped with seals which read ‘Archivio Segreto Vaticano’, are among tens of thousands that are kept in the Secret Archives, a fortresslike building tucked behind St Peter’s Basilica, its approach lined with Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniform.

The archives, which date back more than 1,000 years, will go on show in a special exhibition in Rome’s Capitoline Museums from February to September next year.

It will be the first time they have been allowed out of the Vatican vaults.

The exhibition, “Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Revealed”, will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Secret Archives in their present form.

Last year the Vatican allowed a publishing company to compile a lavishly-illustrated book about the archives, in a bid to dispel the myths and mystique created by works of fiction such as Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

The archives provide one of the key settings in Brown’s thriller, in which Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon, played in the 2009 film by Tom Hanks, races against time to stop a secret religious order, the Illuminati, from destroying the Vatican.

Ibuprofen and aspirin linked to irregular heart rhythm

People who had recently begun using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were found to have a 40 per cent higher chance of flutter Photo: Paul Grover
Nick Collins

Commonly used painkillers including ibuprofen increase the risk of developing an irregular heart rhythm by up to 40 per cent, according to a new study.

Telegraph | Jul 4, 2011

By Nick Collins

The anti-inflammatories, which are widely available in supermarkets and pharmacies, have been previously linked to a higher chance of heart attacks and strokes.

But a new study has shown for the first time a connection between the drugs and atrial fibrillation, also known as irregular heart rhythm or flutter.

The condition is more common than heart failure and stroke, and is linked to a higher long-term risk of developing both.

Experts examined the records of 32,602 patients with flutter between 1999 and 2009 and compared each to ten randomly selected control patients.

People who had recently begun using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which include ibuprofen and aspirin, were found to have a 40 per cent higher chance of flutter, equivalent to about four extra cases per year per 1000 people.

Newer forms of the drugs known as selective COX-2 inhibitors, were associated with a 70 per cent higher risk in new users, or seven more cases per 1000 people each year.

Older people were found to be most at risk from the drugs, and patients with chronic kidney disease or rheumatoid arthritis were particularly vulnerable when starting cox-2 inhibitors.

The threat was lower in patients who had been using the drugs for longer than two months because people who were susceptible were likely to experience symptoms early on, researchers said.

The research, published today in the British Medical Journal, was carried out using Danish medical records at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

The researchers claimed the study “adds evidence that atrial fibrillation or flutter needs to be added to the cardiovascular risks under consideration when prescribing NSAIDs.”

Prof Henrik Toft Sørensen, who led the study, said heart disease patients should not stop taking the drugs but should discuss the potential risks with their doctor.

He said: “The absolute risk is still low. It increases your risk from a very low level to a higher – but still low – level.”

The team hopes to do further trials to establish which patients are most likely to experience the dangerous side effects from the drugs, he added.

In an editorial accompanying the study Professor Jerry Gurwitz of Massachusetts Medical School in the US said doctors should be cautious when prescribing NSAIDS to older patients with a history of hypertension or heart failure.

He said the research had “important clinical and public health implications” because of the high use of the drugs and the increasing threat of flutter with advancing age.

Queen calls for more taxpayer money to maintain Her Royal homes

The cost of repairing the crumbling facade of Buckingham Palace is £3.5 million Photo: ALAMY

The Queen has asked the government for more money to deal with a growing backlog of repairs to Buckingham Palace and other royal residences, newly published accounts reveal.

Telegraph | Jul 6, 2011

By Richard Alleyne

The monarch currently receives £11.9 million a year from the public purse to maintain and repair her homes which include Windsor Castle and St James’s Palace.

But because of a pay freeze she can only carry out emergency repairs to the buildings and says she will need more money to stop the royal households from falling into disrepair.

The current budget means that while a £3.5 million repair to the crumbling facade of Buckingham Palace had gone ahead, other key projects had been forced to be put on hold.

These included replacing lead and slate roofs, refurbishing state rooms and overhauling antiquated heating systems.

Officials at Buckingham Palace claimed that as well as the postponing projects, the Queen had tried to balance the books with increased revenues from her estate.

“However, these initiatives alone are unlikely to be successful in averting the growth in backlog in future years and further funding will be required in due course,” it concluded.

The claims were outlined in the Queen’s Official Expenditure accounts for the year to April.

They show that the cost of supporting the monarchy fell by £1.8 million in the last financial year to £32.1 million, equivalent to a saving of three pence per person.

Thanks to a slight reduction in staff – from 111 to 106 – and a pay freeze, the Civil List spending fell from 14.2 million to £13.7 million throughout the year.

Property management dropped from £15.4 million to £11.9 million and maintaining website and press relations remained about the same at £500,000.

However Royal travel costs rose from £3.9 million to £6 million in 2010/11.

This was mainly due to a one-off repayment of £1.5 million from the trading in of the Royal helicopter keeping costs down last year but was also due to an increase in fees for using RAF aero planes.

This resulted in the royal household chartering more private planes increasing travel fees by £600,000.

The report listed journeys costing £10,000 or more by air or rail.

These included £356,253 for the charter flight costs of the state visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to the United Arab Emirates and Oman in November.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall’s trip to India as part of an official Foreign Office visit in October cost £298,089 in charter flights.

The Duke of York’s charter flight travel in April last year as part of an official UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and Foreign Office visit to Italy and central Asia cost £121,810.

Sir Alan Reid, keeper of the privy purse, said the fall in spending had been achieved through increased income generation, deferral of property maintenance and a pay freeze for staff which will continue this year.

But he warned that it would be “very difficult” for expenditure to reduce “very much further” without having an effect on the royal household’s work to support the Queen and the long-term health of the estate.

“The Queen is very keen that the royal household should continue to reduce its expenditure in line with public expenditure reductions,” he said.

“The decrease in expenditure is due mainly to increased income generation, the deferral of property maintenance expenditure and the implementation of a pay freeze.

“This pay freeze will continue on to this year.”

He added: “Over the past five years, the Queen’s official expenditure has reduced by 19 per cent in real terms and while the royal household will continue to identify efficiencies, it will be very difficult for overall expenditure to reduce very much further without impacting on the royal household’s activities in support of the Queen and the long-term health of the estate.”

The accounts do not include the cost of providing security for the Royal family.