Fewer people in France consider extramarital affairs ‘morally unacceptable’ than people in sub-Saharan Africa consider homosexuality ‘morally acceptable’

This article was published in The Telegraph

By Tanjit Rashid

This is just one of many details to be gleaned in the Pew Research Centre’s new Global Views of Morality interactive survey, which shines a light on people’s peccadilloes throughout the globe.

The Pew Research Centre, a Washington-based thinktank known for its worldwide polls, asked people in 40 countries about behaviour they considered morally unacceptable, morally acceptable, or not a moral issue. Their responses to eight themes – extramarital affairs, gambling, homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, alcohol, divorce and contraception – have now been displayed in a revealing interactive presentation.

The results reveal the gulf in social attitudes between the west and the countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The Pew Research Centre stated: “African and predominantly Muslim countries tend to find most of these activities morally unacceptable, while in advanced economies, such as those in Western Europe, Japan, and North America, people tend to be more accepting or to not consider these moral issues at all.”

But there were notable divergences within regions. Uganda’s controversial legal reforms penalising homosexuality appears to be rooted in the fact that 93% of Ugandans consider the sexual orientation to be unacceptable. But the Senegalese are markedly more tolerant, as over a quarter of those polled in the west African country did not consider the question morally relevant.

Within Europe, the research confirmed certain national stereotypes. In France, a majority of people did not consider it morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, attesting to the French penchant for taking mistresses and extramarital lovers. Against 47% of the French who consider such affairs unacceptable, prudish Brits disapproved to the tune of 76%.

Although countries of the ‘global south’ were the most conservative, notable exceptions include the fact that the Muslim nations of Egypt and Jordan have more liberal views on divorce than neighbouring Israel and even the United States, Canada and Britain. Only 6-7% of Egyptians and Jordanians also consider contraception unacceptable, against 17% of Israelis and Poles.

The latter issue has clearly won the moral battle, with a majority of those polled in favour of family planning. Only in Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana did a majority consider contraception unacceptable.

Michael Lipka, assistant editor at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, drew attention to the fact that Africans were most opposed to contraception, while being most blighted by HIV/AIDS, a virus spread by unprotected sex.


Swedish city embarks on 6-hour workday experiment

This article was published by The Telegraph

Gothenburg’s public sector employees will have their working hours reduced while being kept on the same pay in effort to create a healthier, happier and cheaper workforce

Swedish city has embarked on an experiment in limiting the workday to six hours in an effort to improve productivity.

A section of employees of the municipality of Gothenburg will now work an hour less a day than the seven hours customary in the Scandinavian social democracy famed for its work-life balance.

The measure is being self-consciously conceived of as an experiment, with a group of municipal employees working fewer hours and a control group working regular hours – all on the same pay. The groups’ performances will then be compared.

It is hoped that the experiment will ultimately save money by making employees more productive in their working hours.

Mats Pilhem, the city’s Left-wing deputy mayor, told The Local Swedenthat he hoped “staff members would take fewer sick days and feel better mentally and physically after working shorter days”.

The measure comes as a new labour agreement in France orders employees to avoid checking their professional emails and phones after work while employers are legally obliged to ensure workers come under no pressure to keep up-to-speed out of working hours.

Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, a UK-based think tank, welcomed the proposals.

“Shorter working hours create a more committed and stable workforce,” Ms Coote told The Telegraph. “There are indications you can make savings by reducing working hours,” she added, citing an experiment in Utah where public sector workers were given a three-day weekend.

According to OECD data, there is a correlation between shorter working hours and greater productivity. The Greeks are the hardest working members of the OECD, putting in more than 2,000 hours a year compared with the Germans’ 1,400, but their workers are 70 per cent less productive than their Teutonic counterparts.

New Zealand republicans stage aerial protest

This article was published in The Telegraph

A banner reading “Time for a Kiwi Head of State” flew above crowds greeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Auckland

A plane tows a banner reading

A plane tows a banner reading “time for a Kiwi head of state” as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sail around Auckland Harbour  Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA

As thousands of royalist New Zealanders gathered to greet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Auckland harbour today, an aircraft flew over the adoring crowd towing a banner proclaiming that it was “Time for a Kiwi Head of State.” It is the latest broadside in the Commonwealth realm’s ongoing debate about the monarchy, sparked by this month’s royal tour of the antipodes.

The aerial advert was paid for by New Zealand Republic, a campaign group which advocates the abolition of the monarchy, and completed a two-hour flight over Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour while the Duke and Duchess competed against each other in a yacht-race.

“Our main aim is to make sure as many Aucklanders as possible hear about our campaign and see our core message,” the chairman of the campaign told Fairfax New Zealand.

“We think it’s important that people understand there is far more to the royal visit than just photo opportunities, that there’s actually an ongoing constitutional debate about what is best for New Zealand,” added the chairman, known only as Savage.

This constitutional debate was further stoked last month when the government announced a referendum on whether to retain New Zealand’s current flag, which acknowledges the Queen’s sovereignty with a Union Jack in its top-left corner. A new flag recognising the island nation’s indigenous heritage is proposed.

New Zealand’s Maori monarch, King Tuheitia, the ceremonial leader of the aboriginal tribes who constitute 15% of New Zealand’s population, has refused to meet any members of the Royal family during its tour of the country.

The majority of well-wishers in the Auckland area, however, failed to notice the fly-by protest. Those who did were largely unenthusiastic. As one member of the crowd tweeted: “Just plane rude”.

Artificial blood ‘will be manufactured in factories’

This article was published by The Telegraph

Wellcome Trust-funded stem cell research has produced red blood cells fit for transfusion into humans, paving the way for the mass production of blood

By Tanjil Rashid
1:10PM BST 14 Apr 2014

It is the stuff of gothic science fiction: men in white coats in factories of blood and bones.
But the production of blood on an industrial scale could become a reality once a trial is conducted in which artificial blood made from human stem cells is tested in patients for the first time.

It is the latest breakthrough in scientists’ efforts to re-engineer the body, which have already resulted in the likes of 3d-printed bones and bionic limbs.

Marc Turner, the principal researcher in the £5 million programme funded by the Wellcome Trust, told The Telegraph that his team had made red blood cells fit for clinical transfusion.

Prof Turner has devised a technique to culture red blood cells from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells – cells that have been taken from humans and ‘rewound’ into stem cells. Biochemical conditions similar to those in the human body are then recreated to induce the iPS cells to mature into red blood cells – of the rare universal blood type O-.

“Although similar research has been conducted elsewhere, this is the first time anybody has manufactured blood to the appropriate quality and safety standards for transfusion into a human being,” said Prof Turner.

There are plans in place for the trial to be concluded by late 2016 or early 2017, he said. It will most likely involve the treatment of three patients with Thalassaemia, a blood disorder requiring regular transfusions. The behaviour of the manufactured blood cells will then be monitored.

“The cells will be safe,” he said, adding that there are processes whereby cells can be removed.

The technique highlights the prospect of a limitless supply of manufactured type O- blood, free of disease and compatible with all patients.

“Although blood banks are well-stocked in the UK and transfusion has been largely safe since the Hepatitis B and HIV infections of the 1970s and 1980s, many parts of the world still have problems with transfusing blood,” said Prof Turner.

However, scaling up the process to meet demand will be a challenge, as Prof Turner’s laboratory conditions are not replicable on an industrial scale. “A single unit of blood contains a trillion red blood cells. There are 2 million units of blood transfused in the UK each year,” he said.

Currently, it costs approximately £120 to transfuse a single unit of blood. If Prof Turner’s
technique is scaled up efficiently, it could substantially reduce costs.

Dr Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, said: “One should not underestimate the challenge of translating the science into routine procedures for the clinic.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the challenge Professor Turner and colleagues have set out to address, which is to replace the human blood donor as the source of supply for life-saving transfusions.”

For the moment, factories of blood remain the stuff of fiction.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2014
4/25/2014 Artificial blood ‘will be manufactured in factories’ – Telegraph
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Paperback review

Published in The Telegraph, 12/01/13

The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

This post-apocalyptic tale begins with the end of the world and ends with a new beginning for humanity. After a great deluge floods the world seven miles out of existence, a single hospital remains, designed to keep afloat by prophetic architect John Grampus. In the self-sustaining, self-contained new world that is The Children’s Hospital, it is up to medical student Jemma Claflin, gifted with magical powers, to lead humanity – Moses to Grampus’s Noah. Adrian, a Harvard-educated oncologist and theologian, peppers his uplifting prose with harrowing descriptions of suffering, richly establishing himself as an American fabulist in the tradition of Tony Kushner (the story is narrated by angels, to boot).

Paperback review

Published in The Telegraph, 12/01/13

Jack Holmes and his Friend by Edmund White

Edmund White’s subtle portrait of gay libertine Jack Holmes and his straight best friend, Will, is a sophisticated examination of two selves that has as much to say about essential human desires as about 60s sexual mores. The novel follows the eponymous duo from their first meeting as writers in early 60s New York until the onset of Aids, charting their relationship as it’s shaped by unrequited love, aesthetic failure and the flowering, then foreclosing, of sexual revolution. Jack Holmes and His Friend achieves a greater clarity and a deeper empathy than White’s previous novel A Boy’s Own Story, and for these grown-up virtues it is worthy reading.

Paperback review

Published in The Telegraph, 12/01/13

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Starting from the premise that God is dead, Alain de Botton nevertheless insists secular society could do with the disciplines and practices enshrined by religion. He argues religion offers boundaries and insights that today’s corporations, universities and buildings lack. A Catholic Mass, for example, is a web of techniques to “strengthen congregants’ bonds of affection” and the Jewish Day of Atonement is a “psychologically effective mechanism” for the resolution of social conflict. Universities with relationships departments and e-Wailing Walls might help replace religion, but in penetrating, stately prose, de Botton ultimately presents religion as the greatest source of practical advice on how to live our lives.