INDEPENDENT 2024-02-29 16:34:24


Si King leads tributes as Dave Myers dies aged 66 – live

TV chef Dave Myers, one half of the Hairy Bikers, has died at the age of 66, according to a statement shared this morning by his co-star and close friend Si King.

He found fame alongside King, his best friend and work partner of 30 years, as part of the motorcycle-riding cooking duo. Together, they have toured the UK – and the world – in search of new recipes, and adventures.

Myers, born in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, first announced he was receiving treatment for cancer in May 2022, but did not specify what type.

In a tribute, King said: “I will miss him every day and the bond and friendship we shared over half a lifetime.”

“I wish you god’s speed brother; you are and will remain a beacon in this world. See you on the other side. Love ya.”

Stars from across the worlds of TV and food have also paid tribute to Myers, with Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood sharing he was “gutted” by the news, while Myers’s former Strictly Come Dancing partner Karen Hauer called him “brilliantly inspiring and kind”.

This Morning Live presenters Kym Marsh and Gethin Jones fought back tears as they announced the news, calling Myers “a gorgeous human being”.

Sainsbury’s set to cut 1,500 jobs in latest cost-cutting effort

Sainsbury’s has said it will cut around 1,500 roles as part of plans that it hopes will cut costs by around £1 billion a year.

The business said that it would cut roles in its contact centre in Widnes, in Cheshire, at its in-store bakeries and a few at local fulfilment centres.

“As we move into the next phase of our strategy, we are making some difficult, but necessary decisions,” chief executive Simon Roberts said.

“I know today’s news is unsettling for affected colleagues and we will do everything we can to support them.”

The supermarket will reduce its workforce by around 1,500 jobs, but subject to consultation. It said the money it saves will be reinvested into the business to give customers “great value, quality and service.”

At Widnes a “vast majority” of its staff will see their employment move to a different company which Sainsbury’s already works with.

All of Sainsbury’s Careline services will now be run by this external company, Sainsbury’s said.

It also plans to move more of its shops “to a more efficient way of freshly baking products”.

“As a result, the supermarket will be conducting a consultancy process with bakers in these stores.

“Sainsbury’s has reassured affected colleagues that it will find alternative roles for them where possible, as it will for any colleague affected by changes proposed today.”

Investment in technology and automation will also mean that the retailer will need fewer local fulfilment centres. A “very small proportion” of staff will be impacted and could be helped to find new roles where possible.

Mr Roberts said: “The proposals we’ve been talking to teams about today are important to ensure we’re better set up to focus on the things that create a real impact for our customers, delivering good food for all of us and building a platform for growth.”

Jimmy Kimmel gives Trump blunt reality check about Biden’s health

Jimmy Kimmel gave Donald Trump a blunt reality check about President Joe Biden’s health during his show on Wednesday night.

Mr Trump and his allies have repeatedly attacked Mr Biden for his age and gaffes throughout the election campaign – despite the fact that the former president is around the same age and is also prone to major gaffes himself, such as confusing Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi.

But, on Wednesday, Mr Biden completed his annual physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where his physician declared that the 81-year-old “continues to be fit for duty”.

Later that day on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Mr Kimmel questioned Mr Trump’s campaign tactic for attacking his rival – given that he, and perhaps other voters, had already made up their mind about who they are going to vote for, regardless of concerns over both candidates’ ages and cognitive abilities.

“People act like the results of Biden’s physical are somehow gonna influence who we vote for, I don’t care if he comes out that doctor’s office in an iron lung,” Mr Kimmel admitted.

“I would be fully OK with a Weekend At Bernie’s type White House situation if it means no Trump,” he added, referring to the movie in which two employees get an invitation to their boss’s beach house only to find him dead upon their arrival.

Concerns surrounding Mr Biden’s health were heightened last month when he was characterised as “an elderly man with a poor memory” in a scathing report by Special Counsel Robert Hur.

The report also claimed that Mr Biden did not remember what year his son, Beau Biden, died from brain cancer, and described part of an interview in which the president had trouble keeping track of the years during which he served as vice president.

Mr Biden called a press conference following the report’s publication in an attempt to put the allegations to rest, but sparked further questions about his memory when he appeared to confuse Mexico with Egypt.

The president’s various gaffes have been capitalised on by the Trump campaign, which last month published a spoof advert depicting the White House as a “senior living” establishment where “residents feel like presidents”.

Hundreds of homes built with crumbling concrete evacuated

Hundreds of homes in Aberdeen, Scotland, have been evacuated over fears of crumbling concrete following investigations into controversial Raac materials.

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – or Raac – is a lightweight alternative to standard concrete that was used mostly in flat roofing but also in floors and walls across buildings during the 1950s to 1990s.

But in the past few years, Raac has failed in a number of settings – collapsing without warning.

This has prompted schools, hospitals and other public buildings to take urgent action.

Aberdeen City Council announced on Thursday that occupants of 299 council properties were being moved out of their homes into alternative accommodation because of the danger.

It follows an independent structural engineers’ report a week ago on the presence of Raac, which recommended that council tenants be moved out as soon as possible.

The council says it has written to its tenants inviting them to meet a housing officer in their home, and has also contacted owners and private tenants of the homes to offer them a meeting with a housing officer to discuss their housing options.

Breaking news: more follows

Black Nazis and Wonka traumatising children: Google’s AI problem should worry us all

When movies give us a worst-case-scenario glimpse of the future of artificial intelligence, they tend to focus on the big picture stuff: roving gangs of human-exterminating robots. A Big Brother superintelligence that watches you use the bathroom. Haley Joel Osment gets frozen in ice. That sort of thing.

But the real danger – at least in the immediate instance – is that our over-reliance on AI is going to fundamentally alter the way we approach basic tasks, particularly those that are creative or research-based. Similar to how studies have suggested that our increased use of search engines like Google has changed the way we recall and store information in our own brains, our use of AI could completely transform the way we learn, and go about our work – and not for the better.

We’ve already seen plenty of instances of the pitfalls of AI – I’ve written about a fair few myself – but one of the more recent examples is perhaps most illustrative of how relying on this technology could lead to serious problems in the future. In response to the popularity of ChatGPT, Google has launched its own AI system, Google Gemini. As well as responding to text prompts, Google’s AI can also generate images based on basic instructions.

However, users quickly found an issue with Gemini’s ability to generate images: when asked to generate pictures of human subjects, it would often make those subjects as ethnically and gender diverse as possible. While that may not sound like a big deal – and could even be viewed as a good thing, considering previous language models’ tendency towards bias and discrimination, such as early versions of Stable Diffusion producing sexually explicit images when given the prompt “a Latina” – this led to some baffling outputs.

If asked to generate a picture of, say, the founding fathers of the United States – a famously male, famously pale group – it might generate a picture of men and women of all races in colonial dress. While that sounds fairly harmless, and even funny, real problems start to emerge when the system is asked to generate images of World War Two, and starts pumping out pictures of Black and Asian Nazi soldiers.

While it isn’t clear why exactly Gemini has gone woke in the worst imaginable way, it’s possible that in trying to avoid issues of potential bias, Google had programmed its AI system to be inclusive by default, without really thinking about how that could go wrong (inclusivity being, generally speaking, a good thing). Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president at Google, suggested this may be the case, writing in a blog post that “our tuning to ensure that Gemini showed a range of people failed to account for cases that should clearly not show a range”.

Whatever the reason, the main takeaway from the episode is clear: this technology is not ready yet. Moreover, there’s a possibility that it will never be ready – or, at least, may never reach the point that it can be fully relied on to produce consistent, dependable results.

We saw a particularly striking example of the dangers of over-relying on AI this week, and it happened in the unlikeliest of places – a sketchy warehouse full of drama students somewhere in Glasgow.

If you haven’t seen the many viral videos and first-hand accounts yet, here’s all you need to know: parents in Scotland paid £35 to take their children to an event advertised as an interactive “Willy Wonka experience”. When they arrived, they were greeted by a sparsely decorated warehouse full of bored actors who didn’t seem to know what they were doing and, worst of all, not a scrap of chocolate in sight. The event predictably descended into chaos, with reports that parents “rioted” over the poor-quality, way-too-expensive day out.

The most interesting part of the story, though, is that the organisers seemed to rely on AI for certain aspects of the “experience”. Promotional materials on Facebook were AI-generated, and so poorly done that the text on them was complete gibberish. Actors were handed script pages full of AI “nonsense”, and when they asked how certain things were going to work logistically they were told to “improvise”.

The whole incident works as a sort of case study of the inherent dangers in people’s approach to this technology. Sure, it doesn’t sound like there was ever going to be a world where the organisers provided a really well-thought-out immersive experience for these kids, but they clearly were under the impression that they could leave large parts of the work to a brand-new technology that they didn’t really understand how to use.

That’s the thing: it’s not necessarily that AI itself is bad. But people will glom on to shiny new toys and implement them in their daily lives without a second thought. To the average person, their smartphone may as well have been constructed by witches for all they know. How often do we just click on the top link of a Google search and take it that that’s the “best” result for what we need? How many times have you bought something on Amazon because Siri recommended it to you?

People are extremely eager to give over huge parts of their lives to AI without really knowing if it’s ever going to be in a position to take on those duties. Sure, for now it’s just a dodgy kids’ show (and to be fair, if you pay £35 for a mystery day out in a spooky warehouse, that’s on you), but is this really a million miles away from what Hollywood wants to do with AI scripts and actors? Tyler Perry just announced that he’s putting a stop to an $880m studio expansion because he believes OpenAI’s new video generation tool will be able to save him money. Is this the same AI that thinks George Washington is a Chinese lady? Good luck with that, Mr Perry.

AI could be the next big technological leap forward, whether we like it or not. But we have to be careful, before we get there, not to give ourselves over to it completely before it’s even ready.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

What’s behind the crisis in council services – and can Labour fix it?

England’s councils are in financial crisis and many will collapse in the coming years, according to the Local Government Information Unit. It warns that, unless the funding system is reformed, more than half the councils who responded to its survey will be unable to balance their books over the next five years.

Two-thirds of councils say they are cutting services, and many are pushing council tax and charges higher. All of which is on top of the deep cuts suffered during the “age of austerity” after 2010.

The problem has been highlighted by the plight of Birmingham City Council, which last year had to issue a Section 114 (s114) notice, in which a local authority’s finance director is required by law to give notice the council can no longer afford to keep operating. It refers to the relevant part of the 1988 Local Government Finance Act. The widening crisis will not be easy to contain.

MPs must be free to speak and vote without fear of violence and abuse

It is a sad necessity that members of parliament need the kind of enhanced personal protection that they are now to be offered. As the home secretary, James Cleverly, says, no politician should have to accept threats or harassment as “part of the job”. Yet they do, and, in the age of social media “pile-ons”, the abuse can be intense. Though there never was some golden age of genteel debate in the rumbustious world of politics, the time is right to guarantee that every member of parliament can speak and vote without fear of such consequences. Recent events in particular confirm that urgent need.

For some MPs, it has meant a rowdy mob surrounding their home. A group of activists protested outside the Dorset residence of Tory MP Tobias Ellwood – accusing him of being “complicit in genocide” and calling for him to demand “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire” in Gaza.

There is, of course, no policy difference that can justify such close-quarters intimidation. Yet it is not so unusual. Recently, Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party, was barracked in visceral terms in the street and, much more grievous, the office of Mike Freer, the justice minister and MP for Finchley and Golders Green, appears to have been the subject of an arson attack, most likely because of his opinions about Israel. He’s revealed he now wears a stab vest when attending public events.