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EDITORIALS

Third Front
Too disparate to be cohesive
T
HE launch of the Third Front, spearheaded by former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, in Tumkur district, raises more questions than it provides answers to. That is only to be expected given the imponderables in a situation where no party or alliance is a clear frontrunner in the run-up to the general election.

Combating Left in Bengal
Congress rides piggy back on TMC
I
T came as no surprise when Congress finally blinked in Bengal. It had already accepted Mamata Banerjee as the senior partner of the alliance. But state Congress leaders delayed the inevitable by pleading for two extra seats so that the morale of party workers could be boosted. It finally took an ultimatum from Mamata this week to make the Congress fall in line and accept the alliance on terms dictated by Trinamool Congess.



EARLIER STORIES

Pakistan on the brink
March 13, 2009
Army’s warning
March 11, 2009
Et tu, Naveen?
March 10, 2009
Limits of protest
March 9, 2009
Underachievers at school
March 8, 2009
Mahajot in Bengal
March 7, 2009
Pawar at play
March 6, 2009
Blame-game won’t help
March 5, 2009
Pak terror in sporting arena
March 4, 2009
A destabilisation game
March 3, 2009


Indecent haste
Law-makers pass Bills without debate
T
HE Punjab Assembly passed seven Bills in 15 minutes on Monday. This means there was hardly any discussion on any of the Bills. And this was only expected as the Congress, the main Opposition, has decided to boycott the House to demand, among other things, and quite ironically, an extension of the Assembly session by two days. The Punjab Vidhan Sabha enjoys the reputation of being casual and for having too few and too brief sessions.

ARTICLE

Conflicts of class interests
New era in Indian politics
by Vijay Sanghvi
H
ISTORY proceeds on two levels. The level of events is the realm of human agency, a record of what societies, governments and individuals do. It is a story of great men and women, of great deeds, of calculations and miscalculations, of deliberate designs that succeed or falter. The second level of trends is a domain of impersonal forces, of social processes that cannot be controlled or manipulated by governments and may take years, decades or even centuries before they can be read.

MIDDLE

Snoring and roaring
by R.Vatsyayan
A
S we doze off from lighter to deep sleep, the muscles in the roof of our mouth, tongue and throat relax. On the loosening of the related tissues, the air of breath passing from the passage makes them vibrate. The more narrow the airway, the more forceful the airflow becomes and the sound produced by this effortless way is known as snoring. According to a rough estimate, nearly half of the adult population is a possible snorer the world over.

OPED

Capitalism dying in disgrace
It’s time for a better model
by Harold Meyerson
S
O what kind of capitalism shall we craft? Now that the market fundamentalism to which we’ve adhered for the past 30 years has — by its own criterion of increasing shareholder value — totally failed? Now that Alan Greenspan has proclaimed himself “shocked” that “the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity” proved to be an illusion?

US caught in Pakistani bind
by Anita Inder Singh
T
HE news of the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, combined with reports of some Pakistani Taliban groups uniting against Nato in Afghanistan at the urging of  Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, to join forces  to “liberate”  Afghanistan from western troops, arouse fears about the intention and ability of Pakistan’s civilian and military establishment to rout extremists.

Health
Changes in weather can cause a headache
by Jeremy Laurance
D
ID you get a headache at the weekend? If so, scientists think they know why – it was the weather. A rise in temperature or a fall in barometric pressure, which often accompanies a thunderstorm, may trigger a headache or migraine. After a cold spell last week the temperature rose to 13.8C in London on Saturday, more than 5C warmer than on Thursday – explaining why some people found themselves in pain.





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Third Front
Too disparate to be cohesive

THE launch of the Third Front, spearheaded by former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, in Tumkur district, raises more questions than it provides answers to. That is only to be expected given the imponderables in a situation where no party or alliance is a clear frontrunner in the run-up to the general election. While the principal contenders — the Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA — have, predictably, sneered at the launching of the Third Front, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar has taken a realistic view of the emerging proposition. Mr Pawar may have stated the obvious in saying that if neither of the two alliances get a majority, they will have to talk to the Third Front. Yet, in doing so, he has shown both savvy and candour; savvy in keeping open his lines of communication to the Third Front, and candour in acknowledging the circumstances in which the Third Front could become a critical player.

That underscores both the strength and weakness of the Third Front. Its strength is that it is a platform ostensibly equidistant from the Congress party and the BJP. The platform is ideologically disparate enough to hold all comers, and the lack of cohesion can be projected as the flexibility of those who constitute the grouping. With the exception of the TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, no heavyweight in the sense of a prime ministerial aspirant, has come up on the Front’s platform. Yet this is precisely the Front’s weakness — of being a platform for too many aspiring prime ministers who are not even willing to stand up and be counted now.

Besides Mr Naidu and Mr Pawar, the other obvious contenders are Ms J. Jayalalithaa and Ms Mayawati. Mr Gowda is no less an aspirant though he may have explicitly ruled himself out. There are others who will proclaim their interest and stake their claims after the elections. This means that the cohesion and efficacy of the Front will be tested after the elections rather than in any pre-poll arrangement. The presence of too many heavyweight personalities aspiring to lead the Front and the country is suggestive of confrontations and conflicts that cannot be ignored merely because they are not visible and upfront now.

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Combating Left in Bengal
Congress rides piggy back on TMC

IT came as no surprise when Congress finally blinked in Bengal. It had already accepted Mamata Banerjee as the senior partner of the alliance. But state Congress leaders delayed the inevitable by pleading for two extra seats so that the morale of party workers could be boosted. It finally took an ultimatum from Mamata this week to make the Congress fall in line and accept the alliance on terms dictated by Trinamool Congess. The national party had already surrendered the anti-CPM political space in the state by flirting with the Left, so much so that in Bengal it has had to live with the dubious description that the party resembles a water melon — green from outside but red within. From the perspective of the Congress, the alliance could not have come at a better time. With pre-poll alliances falling apart and the post-poll situation looking increasingly uncertain, an alliance with TMC made political sense. It also sends out the signal that Congress will not be averse to the role of a junior partner in the even more important state of Uttar Pradesh.

It is no ‘magic of Mamata’ but an upsurge of anti-CPM sentiment in Bengal which the alliance hopes to cash in on. The alliance has a token presence of the SUCI, a radical Left party with strong pockets of influence, and is likely to get the support of the Maoists as well, who had earlier made common cause with Mamata against the state government? policies on industrialization and acquisition of land. The steady decline of the CPM in the state was indicated by the reverses it suffered , first in the panchayat elections held last year and subsequently in the byelections to the state assembly last month.

Sections of Congressmen apprehend a ?bad marriage? and their fears are not unfounded. While the national party might succeed in upstaging the CPM in its own backyard in the general election, it does run the risk of ceding ground to Mamata as the only alternative to the Left Front in the state.

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Indecent haste
Law-makers pass Bills without debate

THE Punjab Assembly passed seven Bills in 15 minutes on Monday. This means there was hardly any discussion on any of the Bills. And this was only expected as the Congress, the main Opposition, has decided to boycott the House to demand, among other things, and quite ironically, an extension of the Assembly session by two days. The Punjab Vidhan Sabha enjoys the reputation of being casual and for having too few and too brief sessions. Even then, the proceedings are disrupted and boycotted. The Congress boycott was triggered by as harmless an issue as the Chief Minister’s comparison of a member’s conduct with that of a bird. Instead of taking such comments in good humour or engaging in a battle of wits on the floor of the House, the Congress MLAs took to a path that brings them no credit. The abusive language from the other side did the Akali Dal no credit either.

The Assembly is not alone in sharing the blame for acting in such indecent haste. The functioning of Parliament itself has left the Speaker fuming so often and telling MPs in no uncertain terms how irresponsible and disgraceful their conduct has been. The Lok Sabha too has often passed the Union Budget without even a semblance of discussion. In December last year it cleared nine Bills in just 17 minutes. This is bad enough, but more worrying is instances of undemocratic, undignified conduct by legislators are becoming all too common.

MLAs and MPs are often present in strength when it comes to giving themselves more monetary benefits. But they fail to deliver what is expected of them. They collect the cash without contributing a bit to legislative work. It is strange they spend so much time, money and energy to enter the House. But once elected, they forget their primary duty. If democracy is to flourish, the people should choose their representatives more carefully — those who are informed, responsible and take up issues of public interest instead of wasting the House’s time and public money by their boorish behaviour.

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Thought for the Day

A political leader must keep looking over his shoulder all the time to see if the boys are still there. It they aren’t still there, he’s no longer a political leader.

— Bernard Baruch

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Conflicts of class interests
New era in Indian politics
by Vijay Sanghvi

HISTORY proceeds on two levels. The level of events is the realm of human agency, a record of what societies, governments and individuals do. It is a story of great men and women, of great deeds, of calculations and miscalculations, of deliberate designs that succeed or falter. The second level of trends is a domain of impersonal forces, of social processes that cannot be controlled or manipulated by governments and may take years, decades or even centuries before they can be read. The history of events is what men and women make, but it is the later that circumscribes their choices.

On this premise, one can evaluate happenings in recent times. The events indicate a trend that is totally different from the passage during the freedom struggle and subsequently. The British hand-over of power to Indians was an event that came at the end of a long national struggle.

The transfer of power was an event that had merely changed skin-colour of persons who were to rule India thereafter. Concepts, processes, approaches, laws and their prohibitive nature remained without change to suit new conditions. Even the Indian Constitution was nearly 85 per cent of the India Act 1935 that the British had devised. The Directive Principles were added without assigning responsibility or specific timeframe for its implementation to any agency. The education system developed by the British for their need was adopted without change of even the academic calendar to meet the climatic, social and vocational needs of free Indians.

The event made no impact on religious and ethnic divide or social and educational backwardness of nearly 80 per cent population that had lived under the spell of fatalism for centuries, treating their life as it came as a gift of God or as a curse of the Almighty. The two religious societies were fractured in the same measure in vocation-based castes with similar rigidity of prohibited intra-breeding or sharing bread among castes. They had no aspirations beyond two meals if possible. Even though social dignity was denied, they had a strong sense of honesty and honour. Six million persons perished due to the worst famine in Bengal without even touching a grain of rice that was laden on trucks for dispatch to the fighting armed forces on eastern borders in the 1940s. Their response was due to the fear of God and not because of the fear of the state. Even they knew of inadequacy of the police force to control food riots if they were to break out.

Yet they fiercely fought in the violent flare-up at the time of Partition four years later. For most parts it was in anger and agony of loss of homelands or relations killed in violence. It assumed religious connotation only because they were on the two sides of the religious divide in their loss. Anger had to be vented on someone and the immediately available target were men and women from the other religion.

The Indian National Congress was founded by people of non-Indian origins to function as a debating society rather than for independence. Only after Mahatma Gandhi landed in India and aroused the masses to join him that the Congress became a political movement of mass culture. Even though masses from every class had lent their hand and shed their blood, doors of the party leadership structure were never opened to them. The structure was stuffed with the educated, urban professionals — the upper castes. Illiterates toiling on farms or on vocations were denied their due share despite their numbers.

Estimates of the class fractions of the Indian population vary. Roughly 40 per cent were intermediate castes known as Other Backward Classes. Twenty per cent of the Dalits and 12 per cent of the Muslims constituted the rest of the deprived class. The OBCs among the Hindu and the Muslim societies did not have accommodation in the leadership edifice of any party that came after Independence to share the political space.

First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, adopted a product-mix for governance, the political concepts from the Western liberalism and the economic model from the communist system. Like Russia he also chose to lay emphasis only on metal and machine and not on agriculture that was the source of sustenance for three-fourths of the population.

Twenty years after Independence, the first major step was initiated to improve the farm productivity by Mrs Indira Gandhi.

Her initiative for agricultural reform was shaped by the chronic food shortages of the previous 20 years. But her initiative set off a new social awakening that was not in her calculation. Her election campaign based on the promise of two meals to each as a right broke the spell of fatalism. The economic benefits flowing from the Green Revolution, improved availability of food within easy reach and better wages with the realisation that two meals was a right and not a gift of God were causes for the release of social forces and their acquiring for the first time aspirations for power. But she was not conscious that these socio-political forces with the full bellies would crave for a rightful space within the political structure.

The clashes in Gujarat over the reservations in educational institutes in 1983, the separatist movements in Punjab and Kashmir and the increasing menace of Naxal groups exploiting the socio-economic conditions for violence during her second run of rule did not awaken her to the need that her politics had generated. It was beyond Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers to understand the trend and take corrective measures. The collapse of the Congress was written in these follies. Rajiv Gandhi was not given a second term not because the Opposition painted him corrupt but because the new classes wanted a larger share in power for themselves. No clear mandate emerged from the 1989 election.

It took another 20 years to the OBCs to realise the need for combining their strength. The Dalits stole a march over them by being more organised and united. Kanshi Ram spent 20 years on social awakening and another 20 on the political awakening of the Dalits to stand up together not merely as ‘to be counted also’ but to assert with confidence. Ms Mayawati’s win in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in June 2007 was not just an event. It was another related development in the trend that was set in 1967 by the shifted focus of economic benefits to the rural areas.

The socialist in Ram Manohar Lohia predicted in 1963 that the OBCs would one day dominate the power structure, but in 40 years every attempt by the OBC leaders was for acquiring personal power and not for social and political awakening to unite them. Both the Dalits and the OBCs have always been in conflict as each section was trying to escape its unfortunate circumstance of social, economic and educational backwardness before the other could and ascend to the power structure.

As both are now fully aware of their numbers and their strength in unity, they are entering a new era that would push the numerically less upper class out of the corridors of power. It happened in Tamil Nadu in 1967 and 23 years later in Bihar. And 34 years later, Uttar Pradesh has also achieved it by installing Ms Mayawati as the Chief Minister. That is a new trend where the social forces are circumscribing the events.

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Snoring and roaring
by R.Vatsyayan

AS we doze off from lighter to deep sleep, the muscles in the roof of our mouth, tongue and throat relax. On the loosening of the related tissues, the air of breath passing from the passage makes them vibrate. The more narrow the airway, the more forceful the airflow becomes and the sound produced by this effortless way is known as snoring. According to a rough estimate, nearly half of the adult population is a possible snorer the world over.

It is surprising that the more a person snores, the less he is ready to admit about it. I genuinely believe that I do not snore, but nevertheless my relationship with snoring is as old as I am. My late father was a champion snorer. I had spent my childhood listening to his rhythmic and very loud snores. As a child, many times I was so frightened by his breathing that I used to run away crying from one room to the other of our house. My rendezvous with many other snorers continues even today.

During college days, my room-mate in our hostel was not only an expert in snoring but, to the worst, he was also fond of excessive sleeping. One can well understand that there was no atmosphere of peace in our room. After coming from the college he used to sleep for at least two hours with full-volume snoring. Many a time, after a few snores, he used to exhale a sound from his mouth which resembled that of a horse. Due to the less availability of cubical rooms neither I nor he could change our room for two years.

I can only blame my luck that while travelling either by air or by train, invariably a snorer adores a seat near me. Recently when I boarded a night train from Ludhiana to Delhi thinking that I could sleep and relax in a two-tier AC coach to remain actively engaged in a medical conference the next day, I confronted two snorers who were just putting up on the two upper berths. I do not know how the inhaling and exhaling of these two was in unison which made me unable to sleep. I spent the whole night reading a book and listening to devotional music over the headphone by compulsion. One of them once got up to go to the toilet and again comforted himself and fell fast asleep within a minute and resumed his respiratory music.

Snorers are a threat to peace and tranquillity of the area. We usually come across news stories that couples get divorced if either of them feels disturbed by the snoring of the other in Western countries. The other day a couple visited my clinic and the husband referred about excessive snoring of his wife. Curiously, I asked him since when she had been snoring. The poor man, in his typical reply, told me that they have been married for the past 30 years and, of late, while asleep she snores, but when awake she just roars. I could only commiserate with the husband, but in my heart I was finding similarities with myself.

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Capitalism dying in disgrace
It’s time for a better model
by Harold Meyerson

SO what kind of capitalism shall we craft? Now that the market fundamentalism to which we’ve adhered for the past 30 years has — by its own criterion of increasing shareholder value — totally failed? Now that Alan Greenspan has proclaimed himself “shocked” that “the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity” proved to be an illusion?

Larry Summers, President Obama’s senior economic adviser, cautioned in an interview in Monday’s Financial Times against heeding “those who, just as in the 1930s, tried to learn the lesson that market capitalism didn’t work and needed to be replaced with an entirely different model.” But no one is suggesting an entirely new system. What we need — and what we can build — is a capitalism more attuned to our national concerns.

The Reagan-Thatcher model, which favored finance over domestic manufacturing, has collapsed. The decline of American manufacturing has saddled us not only with a seemingly permanent negative balance of trade but with a business community less and less concerned with America’s productive capacities.

When manufacturing companies dominated what was still a national economy in the 1950s and ‘60s, they favored and profited from improvements in America’s infrastructure and education.

The interstate highway system and the G.I. Bill were good for General Motors and for the U.S.A. From 1875 to 1975, the level of schooling for the average American increased by seven years, creating a more educated workforce than any of our competitors’ had. Since 1975, however, it hasn’t increased at all. The mutually reinforcing rise of financialization and globalization broke the bond between American capitalism and America’s interests.

Manufacturing has become too global to permit the United States to revert to the level of manufacturing it had in the good old days of Keynes and Ike, but it would be a positive development if we had a capitalism that once again focused on making things rather than deals. In Germany, manufacturing still dominates finance, which is why Germany has been the world’s leader in exports.

German capitalism didn’t succumb to the financialization that swept the United States and Britain in the 1980s, in part because its companies raise their capital, as ours used to, from retained earnings and banks rather than the markets. Company managers set long-term policies while market pressures for short-term profits are held in check.

The focus on long-term performance over short-term gain is reinforced by Germany’s stakeholder, rather than shareholder, model of capitalism: Worker representatives sit on boards of directors, unionization remains high, income distribution is more equitable, social benefits are generous.

Nonetheless, German companies are among the world’s most competitive in their financial viability and the quality of their products. Yes, Germany’s export-fueled economy is imperiled by the global collapse in consumption, but its form of capitalism has proved more sustainable than Wall Street’s.

So does Germany offer a model for the United States? Yes — up to a point. Certainly, U.S. ratios of production to consumption and wealth creation to debt creation have gotten dangerously out of whack. Certainly, the one driver and beneficiary of this epochal change — our financial sector — has to be scaled back and regulated (if not taken out and shot).

Similarly, to create a business culture attuned more to investment than speculation, and with a preferential option for the United States, corporations should be made legally answerable not just to shareholders but also to stakeholders — their employees and community. That would require, among other things, changing the laws governing the composition of corporate boards.

In addition to bolstering industry, we should take a cue from Scandinavia’s social capitalism, which is less manufacturing-centered than the German model. The Scandinavians have upgraded the skills and wages of their workers in the retail and service sectors — the sectors that employ the majority of our own workforce.

In consequence, fully employed impoverished workers, of which there are millions in the United States, do not exist in Scandinavia.

Making such changes here would require laws easing unionization (such as the Employee Free Choice Act, which was introduced this week in Congress) and policies that professionalize jobs in child care, elder care and private security.

To be sure, this form of capitalism requires a larger public sector than we have had in recent years. But investing in more highly trained and paid teachers, nurses and child-care workers is more likely to produce sustained prosperity than investing in the asset bubbles to which Wall Street was so fatally attracted.

Would such changes reduce the dynamism of the American economy? Not necessarily, particularly since Wall Street often mistook deal-making for dynamism. Indeed, since finance eclipsed manufacturing as our dominant sector, our rates of intergenerational mobility have fallen behind those in presumably less dynamic Europe.

Wall Street’s capitalism is dying in disgrace. It’s time for a better model.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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US caught in Pakistani bind
by Anita Inder Singh

THE news of the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, combined with reports of some Pakistani Taliban groups uniting against Nato in Afghanistan at the urging of  Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, to join forces  to “liberate”  Afghanistan from western troops, arouse fears about the intention and ability of Pakistan’s civilian and military establishment to rout extremists.

The developments also raise questions about the viability of America’s strategy  towards  Pakistan and more broadly, towards “Af-Pak”.  The compact between three Taliban groups suggests that it will be hard to talk to the Pakistani Taliban.

The Obama administration, perhaps guided by General David Petraeus of “Iraq”  fame, seems to think that the Pakistani army should encourage moderate extremists (whoever they may be) or anti-extremist tribes, to fight militants in Pakistan’s terrorist-infested tribal badlands in the northwest.

Well, the news of three extremist groups uniting against the US will not encourage many hopes for the success of that strategy.

Added to this is Islamabad’s recent deal with extremists in the Swat Valley, where the introduction of Sharia law is the  price it has paid  for an uncertain peace with extremists.    

At another level, President Asif Ali Zardari’s statement that the Taliban control  large parts of Pakistan, not just the tribal badlands, and that the very survival of his country is at stake raises concern  that the gun could be  close at hand in Pakistan, generally.

Pakistan’s army, headed by General Ashfaq Kiyani since November 2007, remains the country’s politically dominant force,  and is responsible for defence and foreign affairs. But Kiyani’s army has yet to turn the tide against extremism.   

Former President Musharraf, frequently lauded by President George Bush as a staunch ally, allowed the Taliban to build  up a formidable military machine in Pakistan’s north-western area and to use it to launch attacks within Pakistan and across the Durand Line.

So Zardari’s civilian government, the Pakistani people, Afghanistan and Nato are all paying the price for the grand folly of Musharraf and his western backers.

The US and Nato, meanwhile,  continue to need Pakistan’s help. The success of Pakistan’s military in quashing extremists in the north-west is the key to Afghan stability.

But the continued flow of terrorists across the Durand Line, and recent attacks on supply lines running through Pakistan to Afghanistan raise the question whether Pakistan’s military are merely inefficient or conniving in those attacks.

If Pakistan’s military are giving Washington sleepless nights about its inability or reluctance to quash extremists, the conduct of politicians does not encourage hopes for domestic stability (let alone democracy).

Even the Supreme Court is not immune to charges of injudicious conduct. The Supreme Court’s ban on Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister and his brother from running for political office, has aroused suspicions that it was acting at Zardari’s behest.

Sharif himself had refused to cooperate with Zardari. Pakistan’s politicians are not acting in a way that will advance democracy or forge the unity essential to fight Pakistan’s home-grown extremism.

So what are the implications for the US of Pakistan’s overlapping domestic crises? Whether it is a question of talking to extremists or fighting them, or just revealing that democratic norms do not count for much in Pakistan, it is clear that the US cannot influence the domestic politics of Pakistan.

This is troubling for Washington because Pakistan’s domestic politics are intertwined with  the help it has given or will give the US and its Nato allies  in Afghanistan, not least because its army enjoys political dominance.

The Obama administration came to power thinking it could shore up Pakistan’s  civilian institutions through development largesse to Islamabad, while making that aid package conditional upon the  Pakistani military’s  willingness to fight the Taliban, with a view to enhancing security in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The latest terrorist killings in Lahore, the pact between Afghan and Pakistani militant groups, the illiberalism of Pakistan’s civilian establishment and the secrecy that veils the intentions of its powerful military all raise concern about the soundness of  America’s Af-Pak strategy.  For the moment the US is caught in its Pakistani bind.

And not for the first time, the limits of “superpower” have been revealed in Pakistan.

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Health
Changes in weather can cause a headache
by Jeremy Laurance

DID you get a headache at the weekend? If so, scientists think they know why – it was the weather.

A rise in temperature or a fall in barometric pressure, which often accompanies a thunderstorm, may trigger a headache or migraine.

After a cold spell last week the temperature rose to 13.8C in London on Saturday, more than 5C warmer than on Thursday – explaining why some people found themselves in pain. Headache sufferers have long suspected that changes in weather can trigger an attack.

Now they have scientific backing for their claims from one of the largest studies of the link. Researchers who monitored 7,000 patients with headaches serious enough to make them seek treatment at a hospital A&E department found the main trigger was a rise in temperature in the previous 24 hours.

The risk of a severe headache rose by 7.5 per cent for every 5C rise in temperature. Falls in barometric pressure in the previous 48 to 72 hours also had an effect, though to a lesser extent. But other effects such as humidity and air pollution had no impact, the findings revealed.

The results of the study, by scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, in the United States, help put a piece of clinical folklore on an evidential base. But they do not explain the link, or what mechanism may lie behind it.

Kenneth Mukamal, who led the study published in Neurology, said: “Our results are consistent with the idea that severe headaches can be triggered by external factors.

These findings tell us that the environment around us does affect our health and, in terms of headaches, may be impacting many, many people.”

About 18 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men suffer from migraines, which are more common among the young than the old, and impose a huge drain on the economy from sickness absence.

Migraines are known to be set off by triggers, including certain foods, alcohol, stress and hormones. But controversy has surrounded the supposed link with the weather. Dr Mukamal added that patients should try to identify the triggers that lead to their headaches.

Although weather-related triggers cannot be avoided, doctors might be able to prescribe drugs to prevent the effects.

Peter Goadsby, the director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Headache Centre and a professor of neurology at the Institute of Neurology, in London, said: “An interesting study that confirms earlier research from Canada that barometric pressure change – and here, increased temperatures – can precipitate migraine. The challenge for clinical science is to link this seemingly odd trigger to the brain mechanisms involved in migraine.”

Dr Andrew Dowson, the chairman of the medical advisory board of the British charity Migraine Action, said: “The study ... recognises three main problems: that the doctors did not diagnose as per the International Headache Society guidelines; that the temperature was not that personally experienced by the patient but rather a central reading for the geographical area; and that the timing of the onset of headache was not accurate (the time of hospital contact was recorded). In addition of course we must recognise that most people with headache do not attend casualty or even call a doctor but simply self medicate and rest.

“I am sure that migraineurs will be interested in these results, which will likely confirm personal observations more often than surprise.”

This week, Friday is forecast to be the day with the sharpest temperature rise in the capital – to 14C – and could push more to reach for their medication.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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