Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lazy British managers condemned by Indian steel tycoon

Australians are rarely balls of fire but even they tend to see the Brits as work-shy

A key adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron has launched an attack on the work-ethic of British managers, accusing them of failing to "go the extra mile" and being too keen to clock off at 5pm.

Indian tycoon Ratan Tata made the comments as one of his companies, Tata Steel, proposed to close or mothball part of its Scunthorpe plant, putting at risk 1,200 jobs. The plans would also see 300 jobs lost at its Teesside site.

Mr Tata, who is a member of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Group, and co-chairman of the UK-India CEO Forum, described his surprise at the attitudes of bosses at steel maker Corus and car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which he bought in 2006 and 2008 respectively.

He told The Times: "It's a work-ethic issue. In my experience, in both Corus and JLR, nobody is willing to go the extra mile, nobody. "I feel if you have come from Bombay to have a meeting and the meeting goes till 6pm, I would expect that you won't, at 5 o'clock, say, 'Sorry, I have my train to catch. I have to go home.' "Friday, from 3.30pm, you can't find anybody in their office."

Mr Tata said that things are different in his native India. "If you are in a crisis, if it means working to midnight, you would do it. "The worker in JLR seems to be willing to do that; the management is not," he said.

The 73-year-old added that previously at JLR "the entire engineering group would be empty on Friday evening", but said things had improved. "The new management team has put an end to that. They call meetings at 5 o'clock," he said.

On Friday Tata Group blamed a decline in the construction industry for the cuts in the north east, but it also announced that it will invest £400 million in its Long Products business over the next five years.

Unions said the jobs losses amounted to eight per cent of Tata's UK workforce, pledging to try to mitigate the impact of the decision, while Labour said it was a "hugely worrying" sign for industry.

Tata, which completed the sale of its Teesside Cast Products site in Redcar to Thai steel firm SSI earlier this year, launched a 90-day consultation with unions before the redundancies will start.

The firm said it was "reasonably confident" of achieving most of the job losses through voluntary redundancies, although it could not rule out compulsory lay offs.


Monday, May 16, 2011

A joyous story

Mother's instinct saves her son after blundering doctors wrongly say baby has died in the womb

A woman who was told her baby had died in the womb in a devastating medical blunder has celebrated her son's first birthday. Michael was declared dead during a scan carried out when his mother Melissa Redmond was just eight weeks pregnant.
The mother from Donabate near Dublin was issued with labour-inducing medication but her mother's instinct drove her to seek a second opinion.

To her amazement it was discovered she had not miscarried at all - but was in fact carrying a strong and healthy baby.

Her case sparked a huge review of maternity services in Ireland where it was found the same thing had happened to 23 women over the last five years.

Melissa, 36, said: 'When Michael was born he was perfectly healthy and it was just a joy to hold him in my arms. 'My husband Michael and I were holding him and couldn't believe he was actually here. 'Now, every time I look at him I think to myself, my God - I nearly lost you, I almost didn't know you.'

When Melissa fell pregnant in the summer of 2009, she had already had two healthy children, Cian, now nine, and Tara, four, but had suffered four miscarriages.
So when she was going through her seventh pregnancy, it was recommended she have early scans at six and eight weeks to check on the progress of her unborn baby.
However, when she went for the eight-week scan at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda she was distraught to be told she had miscarried again.

She and her IT specialist husband Michael, 44, took the painful decision to have a D&C procedure - also known as a dilation and curettage - to have their 'dead' child removed. The operation was scheduled for two days later on July 24 and Melissa was also given the abortive drug, Cytotec, to take on the morning of the operation.

However, Melissa's mothering instinct kicked in and she decided to visit her local GP to seek a second opinion. She said: 'I still felt pregnant, even though they had told me at the hospital that I could be feeling the effects of the pregnancy up to a week after losing the baby. 'But I also remembered how I felt during the previous miscarriages and during my previous healthy pregnancies. Call it mother's instinct, but I just felt something wasn't right.'

To both Melissa and Michael's disbelief, the GP's surgery filled instantly with the sound of their unborn son's heart, beating strongly.

Relief soon turned to anger as Melissa realised that had she taken the Cytotec - a powerful abortive drug - that she would have killed her own baby without even knowing. Both she and her husband now want to highlight the shocking hospital blunders and faulty equipment that led to the misdiagnosis.

Michael said: 'There are so many other mothers this could have happened to.
'Their children could have died - viable children.'

Melissa said: 'If this was my first pregnancy, I wouldn't have known any different. I would have just gone with what they said. The only reason I questioned it is because it wasn't my first pregnancy and because I've had miscarriages as well that I knew the feeling. 'I knew to trust my own instincts and my own body, but how many girls have gone in there and it could have been their first one and they wouldn't have been any wiser?'

An internal hospital report uncovered a litany of technical faults and staff failures which almost ended in tragedy. A review by the Health Service Executive (HSE) found inadequate staff training and over-reliance on ultrasound led to 24 women being wrongly told they had suffered a miscarriage.

Recommendations being implemented include developing national guidelines for the management of early pregnancy complications and ensuring emergency gynaecological care has a dedicated early pregnancy assessment unit.

Melissa hopes her experience will encourage other women in similar situations to always seek a second opinion and trust their own instincts.

In the meantime, she is concentrating on enjoying her son's important milestones, from his first Christmas to his first birthday a few weeks ago. Melissa said: 'He is a lovely happy little boy. He is just a joy to have around. He feeds well, sleeps well, everything you could wish for. He is a dream.

'But it's not just the big milestones that make me think of what happened, it's the little ones as well. Every time I look at him and he makes me laugh or I see him smile, what happened never leaves me.

'Maybe it will as time goes on but there are so many milestones at the moment: his first words, his first steps. We could have missed them all.
'I probably will feel differently over time but at the moment I feel it every day.'

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Japanese language traced to Korean Peninsula

Japan's many dialects originate in a migration of farmers from the Korean Peninsula some 2,200 years ago, a groundbreaking study borrowing the tools of evolutionary genetics reported Wednesday.

The findings suggest that Japan's many language variants -- and by extension much of its culture -- did not emerge, as widely believed by many Japanese, primarily from indigenous hunter-gatherers already present on the archipelago for millennia.

More broadly, the study bolsters the theory that agricultural expansion has been the main driver of linguistic diversity throughout world history, the researchers said.

Japanese is the only major language whose origins remain hotly contested.

Some scholars argue the main settlement of the archipelago occurred 12,000 to 30,000 years ago, and that modern Japanese -- both the language and the people -- descend directly from this stone-age culture, which had some agriculture but was based mainly on hunting and gathering.

According the this theory, the migration of other peoples from mainland Asia around 200 B.C. brought metal tools, rice and new farming techniques but had scant impact on linguistic development.

Other researchers counter that this influx from the Korean Peninsula had a far deeper influence, largely replacing or displacing both the indigenous inhabitants and their spoken tongues.

Recent archaeological and DNA evidence support this theory, but researchers at The University of Tokyo wondered if additional clues might be found by tracing dozens of distinct dialects back through time to their earliest common ancestor.

Where that search wound up, they reasoned, could provide powerful evidence as to which school of thought was right.

To carry out the study, Sean Lee and Toshikazu Hasegama used a technique developed by evolutionary biologists to examine DNA fragments from fossils in order to create family trees, often reaching back millions of years.

First applied to languages a decade ago by Russel Gray at the University of Auckland, phylogenetics has "revolutionised" the study of language, even if it remains controversial, Lee said in an interview.

"Accumulating empirical evidence suggests that languages have, astonishingly, gene-like properties, and they also evolve by a process of descent," he said.

Lee and Hasegama created a list of 210 key vocabulary words -- body parts, basic verbs, numbers and pronouns -- and duplicated that list across 59 different dialects.

The researchers chose words unlikely to be borrowed across dialects and "resistant to change," much in the same way biologists seek out so-called "highly-conserved" genes that remain unaltered for thousands of generations.

Computer modelling showed that all of these "Japonic" languages descended from a common ancestor some 2,182 years ago -- coinciding with the major wave of migration from the Korean Peninsula.

The exact timing of the farmers' arrival may go back a little further, Lee said by email, but the core conclusion seems inescapable: "the first farmers of Japan had a profound impact on the origins of both people and languages."

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, also highlights a remarkable, and possibly unique, delay in the transition to agricultural culture.

At the same time that China was undergoing one of the most remarkable explosions of culture and philosophy in human history during its Spring and Autumn Period, Japan was just emerging -- perhaps by choice -- from the stone age.

"What puzzles me is that the hunter-gather population who live in Japan seemed to have chosen a 'harmonious' lifestyle over an 'exploitative' agricultural lifestyle," he said.

"They had knowledge of cultivation but never developed it into full-scale farming."

It is still unknown whether the rice-farmings migrants that landed in Japan two thousand years ago also brought with them a writing system, Lee added.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Nostalgia is the key to happiness

Remembering the good times and forgetting about the bad are the keys to happiness, claims a new study. Researchers found that people with personality traits that allow them to be nostalgic about the past have higher life satisfaction than those who exaggerate or mull over their failures.

They found that extroverted people had the best ability to do this whereas those with neurotic tendencies were the worst.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, suggests that outlook rather than experience and fortune has a strong influence on overall happiness.

It also suggests that by changing certain traits, rather than a whole personality, individuals could greatly improve their happiness levels.

The researchers at San Francisco State University looked at the personality traits and the relative happiness levels of 750 student volunteers.

The used a standardised personality test to see how it relates to their outlook and life satisfaction.

The "Big Five" test assesses how extroverted, neurotic, open, conscientious and agreeable a person is by rating them on a scale for each personality trait.

Each volunteer was asked to describe how accurately each trait describes them on a one to nine scale with one being extremely inaccurate and nine being extremely accurate.

They were assessed about their "time perspective" – a concept coined by Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo to describe whether an individual is past, present or future orientated.

This was done by asking them to evaluate their past, present and future describing whether they felt they saw them in a positive or negative light.

Finally they were tested for overall life satisfaction.

"We found that highly extroverted people are happier with their lives because they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past and are less likely to have negative thoughts and regrets, said the study author Professor Ryan Howell, a psychologist at San Francisco State University.

"People high on the neurotic scale essentially have the exact opposite view of the past and are less happy as a result.

"This is good news because although it may be difficult to change your personality, you may be able to alter your view of time and boost your happiness," Prof Howell said.

The authors suggest that "savouring" happy memories or "reframing" painful past experiences in a positive light could be effective ways for individuals to increase their life satisfaction.

Numerous studies over the last 30 years have suggested that personality is a powerful predictor of a person's life satisfaction.

These latest findings help explain the reason behind this relationship. "Personality traits influence how people look at the past, present and future and it is these different perspectives on time which drive a person's happiness," Prof Howell said.

To assess time perspective, participants were asked such questions as whether they enjoy reminiscing about the "good old days" or whether they believe their future is determined by themselves or by fate.

People's view of the past had the greatest effect on life satisfaction.

Extraverts, who are energetic and talkative, were much more likely to remember the past positively and be happier as a result.

People high on the neurotic scale, which can mean being moody, emotionally unstable and fretful, were more likely to have an anguished remembrance of the past and to be less happy.