Thursday, September 10, 2009

New look

I have been rather dissatisfied with the template/theme I have been using for the new Wordpress version of this blog. I have however now found a template/theme that I like a little better and have applied it. It is still pretty plain but I think it makes the blog a bit easier to read and navigate.

Have a look at it and see what you think. I have tried it with Firefox, IE and Google Chrome and it seems to be fine with all 3 of those. All I need now is for some Wordpress maven to tell me how to change the background colour to my preferred lemon yellow. To my mind, the mirror site is actually much prettier as it needs only html to generate its effects and I know a bit about html.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Glory be!

Google are now allowing me to post on this site again. They have lifted their block. It's very late in the day however. I have now transferred operations to a new site and I think I will leave that as is. Putting all your eggs in one basket is definitely not wise when the basket is Google.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The latest melting glacier scare

The Warmists are crowing about this report but with a complete lack of logic. If the glacier were melting due to global warming, lots of other glaciers should be melting similarly but the report itself notes that what is happening at this glacier is anomalous (See the last sentence below). So WHY IS it melting? There is a cogent suggestion at the foot of the article

One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago, according to research seen by the BBC. A study of satellite measurements of Pine Island glacier in west Antarctica reveals the surface of the ice is now dropping at a rate of up to 16m a year. Since 1994, the glacier has lowered by as much as 90m, which has serious implications for sea-level rise.

The work by British scientists appears in Geophysical Research Letters. The team was led by Professor Duncan Wingham of University College London (UCL).

Calculations based on the rate of melting 15 years ago had suggested the glacier would last for 600 years. But the new data points to a lifespan for the vast ice stream of only another 100 years. The rate of loss is fastest in the centre of the glacier and the concern is that if the process continues, the glacier may break up and start to affect the ice sheet further inland.

One of the authors, Professor Andrew Shepherd of Leeds University, said that the melting from the centre of the glacier would add about 3cm to global sea level. "But the ice trapped behind it is about 20-30cm of sea level rise and as soon as we destabilise or remove the middle of the glacier we don't know really know what's going to happen to the ice behind it," he told BBC News.

"This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We've known that it's been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier."


A comment from Hermann Burchard []

There is a subglacial volcano near Antarctica's Pine Island glacier, which could explain recent rapid melting of the glacier, as reported by BBC. Wikipedia has a paragraph on this, with the last sentence stating: "The presence of the volcano raises the possibility that volcanic activity could have contributed, or may contribute in the future, to increases in the flow of the glacier."

NHS ordered to pay £100,000 to family of Alzheimer’s sufferer Judith Roe

Rather unbelievably, Britain's "caring" government bureaucrats claimed that Alzheimer's was not a health problem!

The family of an Alzheimer’s sufferer have won a legal battle to reclaim more than £100,000 in care home fees that the local NHS trust had refused to pay because it claimed that her condition was not health related. Health authorities had ruled that Judith Roe, who died aged 74 last October, did not qualify for NHS funding because her condition was deemed to be a social rather than a health problem. As a result, she was forced to sell the home that she had lived in for 30 years for £170,000 to pay for her £600-a-week nursing home fees.

Her family began a five-year legal battle to reclaim the money and the Health Service Ombudsman has now ordered NHS Worcestershire to repay them more than £100,000.

Yesterday Mrs Roe’s son, Richard, 40, urged other families in a similar situation to fight for the care they are entitled to. He said: “The way the health trust behaved was scandalous. It has been very stressful. All the time we were told we were wrong while believing we were right. ”They told me I should count myself lucky because there are people that are more ill than my mother, which was an outrageous thing to say. "I want anyone else going through a similar experience to know they may be entitled to care. Even if they’re being told they’re not entitled, they should fight for it. With us, they made a mistake. They did not carry out their duties properly.”

Mrs Roe, a retired church warden and school teacher, was cared for in The Firs care home and then Henwick Grange Nursing Home, both in Worcester. Her care should have been funded by NHS Worcestershire Primary Care Trust. Mrs Roe died at Worcestershire Royal Hospital on October 30 last year from a combination of pneumonia and physical and mental deterioration as a result of Alzheimer's.

Mr Roe, a manager for Homebase in Telford, Shropshire, said: ”We became very angry because the primary care trust was very arrogant and unhelpful. They took a long time to respond to letters and requests for information.”

Under English law, elderly people must pay for their own residential care unless their needs are health related, even though it is provided free in Scotland. The Health Service Ombudsman upheld the family’s appeal and awarded them the costs of Mrs Roe's care on June 23, eight months after her death.

Paul Bates, chief executive of NHS Worcestershire, which has replaced NHS Worcestershire Primary Care Trust, said: “Decisions around eligibility for continuing NHS care are extremely complex and difficult, even though we have national guidance to assist us. ”The line between the need for healthcare and social care is a very thin one indeed, but the impact for the individual is the difference between free care and care which is means tested. “We would not wish to see Mrs Roe’s experience repeated and clearly there lessons for us to learn. "Mr Roe pursued his claim that the NHS should have funded his mother’s care and all the formal procedures put in place to allow families to do so were followed.”


Blunders cost the NHS £807m: Targets blamed as payouts rise by a quarter

The amount paid out by the Health Service for serious medical blunders and other accidents has soared by almost a quarter in just one year. Last year, the NHS paid out £807million - up from £661million the year before - after the number of claims against it rose. Figures obtained by the Conservative Party show that the overall number of claims has risen by 11 per cent to almost 8,900 in 2008/09.

The 22 per cent surge in payouts mirrors a huge rise in the number of patients killed by hospital blunders. Official records show that 3,645 patients died as a result of outbreaks of infections, botched operations and other mistakes in 2007/08. That was up 60 per cent from 2,275 two years before.

Critics say quality of care has suffered in the NHS over the past few years as doctors and nurses come under mounting pressure to meet Government waiting time targets. Experts say the true toll is certain to be far higher, because many hospitals do not record all 'patient safety incidents'.

About a fifth of the total paid out - some £143million - went to lawyers, rather than as compensation to victims and the families of those who died. Experts say increasing numbers of cases are being taken to court by 'no win, no fee' soliciaccidentstors, who even tout for business in A&E waiting rooms. To cover their extra risk, these 'ambulance-chasing' lawyers get more in costs if they win than would be paid in legal aid cases.

The annual report of the National Health Service Litigation Authority said that clinical claims - including claims for botched operations and wrong drugs dosages - rose by more than 11 per cent while nonclinical claims - which cover general such as falls - were up by more than 10 per cent. It added: 'We have not been able to identify any single factor that might have precipitated the rise.'

Of the 8,885 total claims made in 2008/09, less than 4 per cent will go to court, the report said. But it added: 'The costs claimed by claimant lawyers continue to be significantly higher than those incurred on our behalf by our panel defence solicitors. This remains a very significant concern for us.'

Last night, Conservative health spokesman Mark Simmonds said: 'We need a robust and fair way for patients who have received negligent treatment in an NHS hospital to get the compensation they deserve. 'Instead, we have an inefficient system which incurs vast legal costs for NHS Trusts. 'Our proposals would have required an initial "fact-finding" phase, which would then allow more cases to be resolved without costly litigation. 'But the Government missed this opportunity and as a result hospitals will now have less money to spend on patient care.'


Britain's totally deranged justice system targets a good Samaritan over a fraction of a penny

When nine coppers turned up and found that there was nothing for them to do, they arrested the only guy who happened to be there. No doubt it helped with their "targets". Tick box: One villain arrested. They were really scratching to find something he had done wrong, however. One doesn't expect police to be bright but the lawyers in the Crown Prosecution Service were just as bad. No doubt they had government targets to meet too. It took the threat of a jury trial before anybody started thinking.

But if your car is stolen in Britain don't bother reporting it to the police. They're not interested. Looking into that matter would require some effort from them before they can tick a box. Leftist Britain's target-driven and box-ticking rules have destroyed sanity wholesale

A documentary film-maker was hauled into court on a charge of stealing electricity worth 0.003p. But by the time the ludicrous case was dropped, the bill to taxpayers was more than £5,000. Mark Guard, 44, had to appear at two separate hearings before the Crown Prosecution Service finally saw sense.

Mr Guard, who makes documentaries about crime and the homeless, was filming squatters entering a disused building through an open window at 10pm on August 1. A security sensor inside detected the movement and the alarm was triggered. The squatters fled but Mr Guard, a former electrician, decided to stay behind and turn off the alarm to save neighbouring families from the noise. To do so he had to turn on the electricity in the building for a few seconds, to give him light, and then turn it off.

Nine police then arrived in response to the alarm. When Mr Guard told them what he had done, he was arrested and held in a cell for six hours before being charged. At his first magistrates' court hearing last week, the film-maker pleaded not guilty and asked for the case to be tried at a crown court so a jury could decide.

He said last night: 'When I told the chairman of the bench I wanted a jury trial, he began to realise the ludicrous nature of the case. He said: "Why is this going to a trial in the crown court when it's going to cost £200,000?".' But Mr Guard had to appear again in front of Highbury Magistrates in North London, before the charge was dropped.

Experts estimate that the court hearings cost taxpayers £4,200 - Mr Guard's legal bills were paid from public funds - a night in police cells added £385 and the arrest operation around £600.

Mr Guard, from Knightsbridge, West London, said he was astonished the case went as far as it did. He added: 'I thought I was acting in the public interest. It was late in the evening and I knew families would have struggled to get to sleep if I hadn't done something. 'I even offered to pay 1p to the energy company which supplies electricity to the house, but it's not bothered about collecting such a paltry sum. I've been mugged three times and the police know who did it - but they have never been able to prosecute. 'But on the night in question officers wasted no time in slapping handcuffs on me. I
feel this is double standards. If the charges had not been dropped I would have fought all the way.

'Part of me is relieved that I can get back to making my documentary, but most of me is angry that I've been forced to go through all this.'

Neither the squatters nor Mr Guard broke the law by entering the disused house in Camden, North London, because they did not force their way in. Mr Guard has been following and filming criminals and homeless people in London for two years. Using hidden cameras he has been able to capture drug deals and shop thefts as they happened. In 2006, Mr Guard made news when a building firm paid him £3.5million for a plot of land in Surrey he had bought 11 years earlier for just £1,000.


Oppressed British snappers focus on police

Photographers attempt to reclaim the right to photograph

Relations between police and photographers, already at an all-time low, look set to worsen this week as activists set up a new national campaign group to protect photography, and protesters get ready to take to the streets in Chatham. The national campaign launched last Saturday in the Foundry pub in East London, with more than 200 photographers showing their support for a new photographers' rights website by being snapped holding up a placard saying "I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist!"

Although the campaign is skewed very much toward professional photographers, it claims that it is the rights of all photographers that are currently under attack. According to the site: "Not only is [this attack] corrosive of press freedom but creation of the collective visual history of our country is extinguished by anti-terrorist legislation designed to protect the heritage it prevents us recording." It goes on: "This campaign is for everyone who values visual imagery, not only photographers."

Materials available on-site include a "bust card", that photographers should carry in case they are stopped under anti-terror legislation, as well as a Google map pin-pointing areas of the country known to be problematic for photographers. Supporters of the campaign are encouraged to upload a self-portrait including the campaign slogan "I’m a photographer, not a terrorist". There is also a fan page available on Facebook.

Meanwhile, in Chatham, to mark the recent arrest of local photographer Alex Turner for the heinous offences of being too tall and laying claim to his legal right not to give his name and address to the police, Medway Eyes is planning a meet up in the Riverside Gardens and photo walk on August 15th. Medway Eyes is an informal umbrella organisation that supports, promotes and collaborates with Medway artists and venues.

They have sent an open invitation to photographers and friends, stressing that the event is not a protest, but adding that they will be happy to speak on the subjects of photographers' rights and the value of social documentary photography whilst the group assembles.


Freedom is now flowing from West to East

In August 1989 as communism collapsed, Britain was a beacon to the new regimes. Today Britain is squandering that liberty

I’ve spent much of the past 20 years living in or reporting on the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. Nowadays, with Budapest, Prague and Warsaw two hours away by budget airline, it’s hard to imagine that before 1989, half a continent was imprisoned behind landmines and barbed wire, its citizens terrorised by secret police, intentionally ground down by the endless, intrusive demands of the one-party state. I saw those borders torn down, democracies arise and the basic freedoms that we take for granted — speech, movement and public protest — enthusiastically embraced.

Twenty years ago today the world witnessed the power of the crowd. Hungary’s reformist communist Government permitted the pan-European picnic near the city of Sopron, on the border with Austria, as a symbol of its commitment to a united Europe. The border was to be opened so that about 100 dignitaries and officially approved picnickers could cross freely back and forth. But Hungary was crowded with thousands of East Germans desperate to escape to the West. Many camped near the site of the picnic, waiting for the crucial moment. When the border was opened at three o’clock they surged forward. The guards did not open fire. They stepped back and allowed the East Germans to break through.

This, not the opening of the Berlin Wall in November, was the tipping point. August 19, 1989, accelerated a chain of events that brought down communism and the Soviet Union itself. Such is the power of the crowd.

After 1989 Big Brother was no longer welcome in Budapest, Prague or Warsaw — he moved to London to be ever more warmly embraced by successive Labour administrations. The birthplace of political liberties, the home of the Magna Carta, is now one of the most intrusive democracies in the world. Labour governments have introduced surveillance and monitoring systems of which the communists could only dream. Of course, Britain is not a real police state. But it is certainly sliding further into authoritarianism.

Perhaps because I live abroad, each time I return home I can clearly see quite how subtle and dangerous a process is unfolding. A series of Home Secretaries have presided over a steady, stealthy shredding of our civil liberties. I am amazed at how supine citizens allow local and national government to intrude ever further into their daily lives, logging, tracking and recording everything from household waste disposal to mobile telephone use.

These small changes seem to herald a more dramatic constitutional shift: the rewriting of the social contract under which citizens are apparently regarded not as active participants in society, but, at best as irritants to be monitored, and at worst as potential criminals to be pre-emptively arrested, just as George Orwell predicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The phrase Big Brother has entered common parlance. But Orwell’s book was published in 1949 as communist regimes in Eastern Europe cemented their control through “salami tactics”. These were invented by Matyas Rakosi, Hungary’s communist leader from 1948-56. He sliced away freedoms sliver by sliver, until he established one of the most feared dictatorships in Eastern Europe. When the communists took over a town, for example, they did not appoint the mayor, but a deputy, to work behind the scenes and stealthily take control of the police and municipal administration.

In my more cynical moments I imagine Labour ministers following a similar methodology. They would never say openly: “We intend to criminalise public protest; to grant sweeping blanket powers of arrest to the police and change the very foundation of law, making citizens prove their innocence, rather than have the police and judiciary prove their guilt while demonstrating.”

Nor would they say: “We intend to privatise formerly public spaces and hand over state functions of public order to armies of unaccountable security guards.” Instead, changes are introduced stealthily, rarely debated by Parliament and are nodded through with the acquiescence of the Opposition, in the name of that useful catch-all “security”. Whether by design or not, that seems to me to be happening.

Security is an issue. Communist regimes sought control for its own sake, to preserve their monopolies of power. The Labour Government has had to respond to a new wave of terrorism, perpetrated by British citizens who use the internet and covert communication techniques. Preventing further terrorist attacks is part of a government’s duty. But preventing government from intruding too far into our daily lives is our duty — one we have so far singularly failed to carry out.

In the communist era Hungarians, Czechs and Poles looked to Britain as a beacon of fairness. After 1989 our Parliament, judiciary and free press were models for them. The former one-party states are now vibrant democracies. Despite corruption and a sometimes prickly nationalism, most of the new EU members can be proud of their transformation into modern civic societies.

While our freedoms wither, theirs flourish. It’s a common sight to see far-right demonstrators in front of the Hungarian parliament, hurling abuse and calling for the resignation of the Government. The police watch, nobody is arrested and everyone goes home peacefully. And when the police do use force, there is a vigorous national debate about balancing the right to protest and public security.

Twenty years after the collapse of communism, Eastern Europe is showing us what freedom means. At last, there are signs that we are waking finally from our stupor. in 1989 the East Germans camped on the Hungarian-Austrian frontier showed the world the power of the crowd. So take to the streets, people. While you still can.


British High School exams that fail everyone

Few things are certain in August, except rain when you've planned a barbecue and an almighty row over A-level results. So I can confidently predict that tomorrow our Education supremo, Ed 'I'm Talkin' ' Balls, will grin for the cameras, welcome this year's record pass rate and praise the hardest-working, most intelligent pupils in the history of the world.

Cynics will point out that A-levels are now impossible to fail, unless you don't turn up for the exam. Meanwhile, the teenagers I know, just a few of the 250,000 anxiously awaiting their results, have been through so many hoops over the past two years they feel like human basketballs. This is supposed to be one of the best times in their lives, a period of expanding horizons, full of intellectual excitement and possibility. Instead, they feel exhausted, demoralised and very scared.

Who can blame them? Years of New Labour's social engineering have created a system that is so 'equal' that it fails almost everyone. It fails those at the bottom by giving them false expectations and a dodgy course at a bargain-basement uni where the only thing that is guaranteed at the end of three years is £23,000 worth of debt. It fails the brightest pupils by not stretching them - even steering them away from hard subjects so they get grades that make schools and politicians look better.

Let's be candid. Universities now trust A-levels in roughly the same way that Peter Andre trusts Katie Price.

Meanwhile, teenagers are coached to regurgitate buzzwords and key phrases. There are many words for this numbing production line. Education is not one of them. I can't tell you how upset I was when a clever girl who goes to our local comprehensive cheerfully told me she was doing George Eliot's great novel, Middlemarch, for English A-level and hadn't actually read the whole book. Apparently, too much knowledge could harm her chances in the exam.

As for the really tough subjects, Professor Rosemary Bailey of the University of London has said that A-level maths is now 'more like using a sat-nav than reading a map'.

Our examination system is surely what Albert Einstein had in mind when he said: 'It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.'

How the hell did A-levels go from being a nourishing meal that a young person could get their teeth into to a baby puree fit only for spoon-feeding? Blame New Labour again, with its barmy scheme to get 50 per cent of teenagers into university. Increasing numbers in the sixth form became more important than maintaining the challenging content at A-level.

The tragedy is that a plan designed to improve social mobility has had precisely the opposite effect. At least the excellent shadow education spokesman, Michael Gove, is determined to do something about the dumbed-down exam system. Under the Tories, more points will be given to 'hard' subjects, which means that schools will no longer be tempted to put their pupils in for easy subjects which cut them off from the best careers later on. Personally, I am ready to declare undying love for Michael Gove if he also scraps those wretched AS-levels, which mean our knackered teenagers spend all of their time in the sixth form cramming non-stop for endless exams.

We need to bring back the holy curiosity of inquiry and make A-levels a challenge, not a chore. Don't get me wrong, I'll be as happy as anyone to see the pictures of smiling teenagers tomorrow when they get their results. They've worked hard enough for them. I just hope the reality of life beyond A-levels won't wipe the smile off their faces.


Junk food dummies: How bingeing on burgers and chips can drain your brainpower -- if you are a rat

This generalization from rats has a number of problems. The rats were fed a VERY high fat diet and fat is probably not a large part of a normal rat diet anyway. They would not have good adaptation to it. So once again poor generalizability from rodent studies to humans can be expected

Eating too much fast food will make you thicker in more ways than one, according to a study. As well as expanding the waistline, a high-fat diet of curries, kebabs, burgers and chips can make you less intelligent. The research was performed by scientists at Oxford University on rats. A high-fat diet over less than ten days damaged the rodents’ short-term memory and made them less mentally alert, as well as significantly decreasing their ability to exercise.

The group of biological experts say their results – dubbed a ‘high-fat hangover’ – show an important link between what people eat, how they think, and how our bodies perform.

Andrew Murray, co-author of the study, said: ‘Western diets are typically high in fat and are associated with long-term complications such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure yet the short-term consequences of such diets have been given relatively little attention. ‘We hope that the findings of our study will help people to think seriously about reducing the fat content of their daily food intake to the immediate benefit of their general health, well-being and alertness.’

The research team studied rats fed a lowfat diet, comprising just 7.5 per cent of calories as fat, and compared them with rats fed a high-fat junk food diet, typically 55 per cent of calories as fat. They discovered that after just four days the muscles of the rats eating the high-fat diet were less able to use oxygen to make the energy needed to exercise, causing their hearts to work harder and increase in size. After nine days on a high-fat diet, the rats took longer to complete a maze and made more mistakes in the process than their low-fat-diet counterparts. The number of correct decisions before making a mistake dropped from over six to an average of five to 5.5.

The low-fat rats were also running 50 per cent further by this stage than their fatter and ‘thicker’ counterparts.

Researchers then investigated the cellular causes of these problems, particularly in muscle cells. They found increased levels of a protein called uncoupling protein 3, which made the cells less efficient at using oxygen to make the energy required for running.

The findings are published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology. Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor of the journal, said: ‘It’s nothing short of a high-fat hangover.’

The research funded by the British Heart Foundation may have implications for athletes looking for the best diet for training and patients with metabolic disorders. The scientists are now studying the effect of a short-term high-fat diet on humans.


A name-change meant to deceive travellers

We read:
"A row erupted in Britain on Monday over the rebranding of Oxford Airport as London Oxford Airport - despite being 60 miles from the capital's centre. Officials said they hoped the rebranding of the airport at Kidlington near Oxford in southeast England would raise its international profile and attract more passengers.

But heritage campaigners slammed the rebranding as insulting, saying historic Oxford city, with its prestigious university, did not need to be seen as an offshoot of the British capital. "Good grief. Oxford is a great place in its own right and I find it insulting it is being considered just another offshoot of London," said Ros Weatherall, from the Oxford Civic Society. "Trying to make Oxford seem like a suburb of London is very misleading...

Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in the area around Oxford, said it was a "good idea" which could benefit the whole region. "Oxford and Oxfordshire is a place in its own right but you're linking tourism and business and it's an excellent business opportunity," said Claire Prosser, the chamber's policy executive.

Eight airports currently use the capital's name including London Stansted Airport, which is about 40 miles from the capital and London Luton Airport, 35 miles away.


There's only one airport in London: Heathrow. Thanks to a fast and frequent express rail connection to central London, Gatwick is also pretty convenient. Gatwick is 28 miles South of London. The train goes at about 100mph so it is a fun ride.

Criticising the NHS is not treason : “The deification of this creaking, bloated and massively over-rated money pit has always mystified me. But its reputation as an untouchable and glorious institution is set in stone and, for better or worse, it’s here to stay.”

NHS: No Health Statism : “No system is perfect. But the furthest you can get from perfection is a government controlled monopoly, such as education or healthcare. So it’s no wonder to find the people who are culpable for what passes for healthcare provision defending it to the hilt, as if it was flawless, and claiming that those who criticize it are, ‘un-patriotic’ …. A healthcare system where users don’t have to wait, drugs aren’t rationed, care is not substandard and you’re not more likely to leave with disease rather than a cure is all people request. What we get is the opposite: and to deny that fact (as Cameron et al. have) is to deny us a proper discussion about how our system needs overhauling. The remote political class are trampling over our desire to discuss the problems we face on a daily basis, a fact made even more galling because undoubtedly the majority of them will hold private health insurance.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Like the USA, Britain is very keen on increasing its energy independence -- and replacing coal imports with domestic production is an easy option in that field -- as Britain has mountains of the stuff underground. The Greenies moan but they don't like the only realistic alternative -- nuclear -- either

Coal production in Britain has increased sharply after a surge in new opencast coal mines, undermining the government's claim to be a world leader on combating climate change. Dozens of opencast coal mines have been authorised by ministers and local councils across the UK, reversing a decade-long decline in coal production in Britain and often against intense local opposition. As a result, mining companies are now sitting on 71m tonnes of coal in licensed opencast mines, compared with 55m tonnes in 2007. And over the next few months, the industry is likely to win permission to mine another 15m tonnes from across the UK.

The rise prompted condemnation from leading Nasa climate scientist Prof James Hansen. He said boosting coal production would undermine the UK's position on climate change. "[The] UK will be a joke. It is moral turpitude, depravity, to build more coal-fired power plants or open coal mines, knowing what we know now," he said. "It was one thing to dig coal when we didn't know the consequences, but quite another thing today." "The UK would not be in a position to ask anybody else to do anything," he added.

Figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) - which is leading the UK's efforts to persuade world leaders to agree deep cuts in CO2 emissions at the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen in December - indicate that coal production in the UK grew markedly this year. In the first three months, coal dug from opencast mines, which excavate from the surface, increased by 15%, while Britain's overall coal production went up by almost 10%. Coal imports also increased, by nearly 13%, compared with the same three months of 2008.

The rises will put the UK's claims to be a world leader on climate change and green energy under severe strain in the run-up to the Copenhagen talks. Ed Miliband, the UK energy and climate minister, has warned that no new coal-fired power station can be built unless it eventually includes carbon capture and storage technology to trap part of its CO2 emissions. But this technology will not be proven until 2020, and environment campaigners insist the UK must reduce coal and gas use now if ministers are serious about cutting CO2 emission by 34% over the next decade.

Jim Footner, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said: "Our domestic policies simply don't stack up. It's difficult to lecture large industrialising countries like China and India about their energy use while we're happily considering new coal-fired power stations and digging coal out at an ever-faster rate."

Environmental groups also accuse ministers of wrecking the countryside by allowing opencast mines to proliferate across southern Wales, northern England, the Midlands and central Scotland. For the first time, opencast mines now produce more coal than traditional underground mines.

Climate activists are now focusing heavily on the coal industry. Protesters have occupied a planned 1.7m tonne opencast site at Mainshill in South Lanarkshire, sabotaging a coal conveyor belt at another site nearby. Activists in Wales are staging a "climate camp" this weekend near Ffos-y-fran opencast mine near Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales, where 11m tonnes of coal is earmarked for extraction.

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Green Party, said: "Coal extraction is a dirty business in terms of health impacts, social impacts and environmental impacts - it's not a benign industry in any way. We need to be reducing our reliance on coal now, and looking at alternatives wherever possible."

Ministers in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh are routinely rejecting objections by local residents and in some cases local councils, to push through applications for new opencast mines. Since the 2005 general election, 54 mines have been approved across the UK and only four rejected.

The Scottish government - which boasts it has the world's toughest CO2 reduction targets after pledging to cut emissions by 42% by 2020 - has meanwhile made it easier for the coal industry by relaxing planning regulations on opencast mines. Alex Salmond, the first minister, is also supporting plans for a new 1600mw coal-fired power station to replace Hunterston nuclear power station on the Clyde. Over the past four years, 25 open cast mines have been approved in Scotland and none refused.

The Decc's figures also show that much of this coal is being stockpiled, with stores now at the highest level for a decade. By the end of 2008, more than 18m tonnes of coal was being stored - 30% more than in 2007 - suggesting that power companies are building up strategic reserves of coal to prevent electricity blackouts if the UK's energy imports are threatened or prices increase.

Figures from the British Geological Survey, the Decc and the UK Coal Authority, the agency which oversees the industry, show that last year the amount of coal available from existing open cast mines jumped to 54m tonnes, compared with 38m tonnes in 2007. There was a further 13m tonnes available last year from sites where mining has yet to begin. And this year another 3.7m tonnes of coal has been approved at four new opencast mines. A further 19 opencast mines totalling 14.6m tonnes are now being considered across Britain.

A Decc spokeswoman said: "We don't see this as counter to our climate change message. The UK is at the forefront of global efforts to decarbonise fossil fuels." Ministers are championing carbon-capture technologies by directly funding one scheme and supporting three other projects funded through a new levy on power companies...


Thin Skins Across the Pond

There's been a bit of a fuss in Britain the last few days. It's keyed to Americans taking a look at the performance of their government-run health care system, the National Health Service, or NHS, and finding it wanting.

It seems that more than a few Britons are taking this personally, as if our horror at seeing, for example, Britons routinely denied potentially-lifesaving cancer drugs because of their cost is a hostile, anti-Britain sentiment.

Quite the contrary: If we did not like you, we wouldn't be so horrified.

This debate is more than of passing interest to me because this week the National Center for Public Policy Research will release its newest book, "Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care."

The chapter on Britain is the longest.

Beginning soon, we'll be running a story a day from the book in this blog. As we do, I expect I'll also be editorializing a good bit more about what our friends in Britain have said in defense of their own health system, and their attacks on our own.

In the meantime, I recommend this excellent post on the Classically Liberal blog, which contains several stories from Britain. [See below]


The NHS, life expectancy and America's health care debate

Excerpt from the post mentioned above

Bureaucrats who work for the British government’s health care system are unhappy that their system of centrally planned care is being used as an example of what Americans should fear with Obamacare. One such individual, from the Faculty of Public Health, Alan Maryon-Davis, claimed “The NHS (National Health Service does a damn fine job.” And his proof: “We spend less on health in terms of GDP than America but if you look at health indices, especially for life expectancy, we have better figures than they do in America.”

What is interesting is how Maryon-Davis was able to include so much misinformation into one sentence. It is almost breathtaking. So let’s unpack his claim one phrase at a time. “We spend less on health in terms of GDP than America...” This is true. But does it mean anything?

Americans spend more on cars, in terms of GDP, than do Brits. Does this mean Brits have better automobile transportation than Americans? Not at all, they have significantly less. The British government puts a lid on health care in some very simple ways: they deny it. So you can’t get the treatments in the UK that you can get in the United States.

Americans can choose to spend on these treatments, British subjects can not. If we cut the amount of health care we give out, we could cut our costs significantly. Take one example that was in the news recently, because this British woman, agreed to be interviewed by opponents to Obama’s take-over of health care.

Katie Brickell asked for a pap smear when she was 19. The NHS told her she could not have it. When she turned 20, she was told, she could ask again. She asked again, one year later. Now they told her they had changed the rules and she could only have a pap smear when she turned 25. So, once again she delayed the test. When she was 23 they told her she had cervical cancer, the very thing the test is designed to detect. She said: I gave an interview and everything I saw was truthful...” She said: “I would say to anybody in my situation now that if they had the money, they should go private.”

Luckily she was working a company that also provided private insurance. So she was immediately put on drugs that, so far, have saved her life, and appear to have put the cancer in remission. She has to take two different drugs and she acknowledges, that under NHS care “I would have had to get a lot of clearance to get that level of care. On private, that just was not an issue. If I needed a scan, it was immediate. On the NHS, it was often a two or three-week wait.”

The NHS was doing what it was designed to do: cut the costs of health care by rationing health care according to edits set by bureaucrats as their best guess as to what, is a good idea, on average. The rules are set to cut costs. In most cases a 19-year-old doesn’t need a pap smear, Katie wasn’t “most cases.” The system can’t individualize needs the way that private care can.

Thelma Nixon was told that her case of wet macular degeneration would mean she would go blind. She need injections into the eyes to prevent this. Injections, or blindness, there was no other option. The NHS told her she didn’t fit their guidelines because the cost was too great. So they decided she needed to go blind, after all NHS provides health care at a lower cost than the US and that’s a good thing.

Thelma remortgaged her home while the Royal National Institute for the Blind went to bat for her. The press caught on to the story and started campaigning for her. Since British health care is politically controlled this was causing bad publicity for the ruling party and the NHS relented—for Thelma. Those who don’t manage to create a media frenzy around themselves are not so fortunate.

But Thelma’s initial treatments were paid for by herself, from the house mortgage. And when that ran out a local businessman gave her the funds for two more treatments. Other readers of her local paper rallied to her case and provided funding. ONLY after this media frenzy was created did the NHS relent. They sent up new guidelines for assessment and will not disqualify people from care according to the new policies.

More here

British woman gives birth on pavement 'after being refused ambulance'

Don't you just love that good ol' NHS?

A young mother gave birth on a pavement outside a hospital after she was told to make her own way there. Mother-of-three Carmen Blake called her midwife to ask for an ambulance when she went into labour unexpectedly with her fourth child. But the 27-year-old claims she was refused an ambulance and told to walk the 100 metres from her house in Leicester to the city's nearby Royal Infirmary.

Her daughter Mariah was delivered on a pavement outside the hospital by a passer-by, just before ambulance crews arrived. Today the Trust that runs the hospital said it would look into any complaint made about the advice and care the 27-year-old received.

Ms Blake said she started going into labour at about 7.15am on Sunday, August 2. She said: "I phoned up the Royal Infirmary, it's just across the road, and they said to go into a hot bath, and then to make my way over there. "I went into the bath and realised she was going to come quickly. I didn't think I'd be able to make it out of the bath, so I phoned the maternity ward back and told them to get an ambulance out. 'They said they were not sending an ambulance and told me I had had nine months to sort out a lift.'

Experienced mother Ms Blake today said she knew she had to get herself out of the bath and try to get to the hospital. 'The friends with me would have had no idea what to do. I knew at that point that she was nearly here so I had to get out of the house,' she said. 'I thought if I got across the road then at least somebody would be able to help me. 'I left the house and got to the end of the close, but there was no-one around to help.'

Eventually Ms Blake and her friends enlisted the help of a physiotherapist who happened to be passing on her way to work. She dialled 999 and helped deliver baby Mariah while waiting for emergency services. She even helped remove the cord from around the tot's neck, Ms Blake said today.

She said: 'I don't really remember much after that. Mariah was born, then the paramedics arrived then after that the midwives arrived. I think I went into shock. 'It's just lucky that the physio was there.'

Ms Blake said despite the happy ending she was upset she was told to make her own way to the hospital as, being an experienced mum, she knew she did not have the time.

Today a spokeswoman for the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust said: 'We are disappointed that Ms Blake was not happy with the advice and care she received and will of course investigate any complaint. 'We are pleased that both Ms Blake and her daughter are well and healthy.' [Mealy-mouthed indifference]


British indifference to real crime again

But deny the Holocaust and you are in BIG trouble -- four years and six months in jail worth of trouble in fact

A mother has written to magistrates in disgust after four teenagers who viciously attacked her son walked free from court. Mary Jordan has demanded an explanation after the gang admitted to the unprovoked assault. Oliver Jordan, 18, was taken to hospital after the group of 16-year olds, who had been drinking, battered him to the ground, kicking and punching him as he fell.

Each of them was given a sixmonth referral order, which means they will have to appear before a youth offender panel which will suggest ways in which they can ‘repair the harm caused’. But Mrs Jordan, a driver for a private car-hire company, dismissed the punishment and has condemned the sentence in a personal letter to the magistrates in which she accused them of giving a green light to street violence. The 43-year-old, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, wrote: ‘Did my son need to be brain damaged or dead before you would have given him justice? ‘This is not justice for my son, his girlfriend, my family and her family – you have let us all down. ‘I disagree with what you have done and would like an explanation as to how and why you reached this verdict.’

Recalling the night of the attack in Gloucester, she went on: ‘I shall never forget arriving at the hospital, waiting till the ambulance crew brought my son in … covered in blood, his face all swollen and battered. He may be a teenager to you but he was still my baby. ‘It was the first time in my life that I felt defenceless. I wanted to take the pain away but I couldn’t. ‘His little sister broke down and cried when she saw her brother covered in blood. I stayed with him and watched him start to lose consciousness.’ She added: ‘Opposite my son was a teenager who was being treated for a sprained ankle and swollen hand – well, guess what, he was one of my son’s attackers.’

Gloucester Youth Court heard last week that Mr Jordan and his girlfriend were followed along a street before they were surrounded by a group of youths, some of whom were on bikes and a moped. Prosecuting solicitor Katherine Jones said: ‘The youth on the moped said, “Who’s going to do it?” 'Matters rapidly deteriorated and they rained kicks and punches on Mr Jordan, who fell to the ground and curled up into the foetal position. ‘His girlfriend tried to pull them off, but she was dragged away and thrown to the ground. 'Fortunately residents heard the commotion and came out and one of them phoned the police.’

She added: ‘Mr Jordan had a suspected broken nose, multiple cuts and bruises, a split lip and swollen jaw, while his girlfriend suffered bruising and swelling to the eye, nose and knee.’

Dealing with the four youths, the chairman of the court bench Sue Alexander told them: ‘This attack by a pack fuelled by drink was horrific, shocking and vicious. ‘It must have been a terrifying experience for the victim.’ She went on: ‘There is a stark choice between custody and a referral order – and I can say that you are not going to prison today.’

Mrs Jordan, whose husband Tim, 45, is a factory worker, also asked in her letter: ‘So what do they have to do before they go to prison?’ She went on to explain that her son, who has recently left school, and his girlfriend have suffered flashbacks since the attack in February and now drive everywhere because they are too nervous to walk around.

The parents of the four defendants, who admitted charges of assault causing actual bodily harm and affray, said they were ashamed by their sons’ actions. The solicitor for one of the youths, said: ‘He deeply regrets this. When drink goes in, sense goes out. He let himself and his parents down.’


Nazi slogans 'OK in English' says German court

Rather permissive for a German court:
"A Federal appeals court has ruled that people can be prosecuted for displaying Nazi slogans in Germany only if they are in the German language.

The Federal Court of Justice on Thursday overturned a lower court's ruling convicting a neo-Nazi of transporting a shipment of 100 T-shirts with the slogan, "Blood and Honour," written in English. The slogan is a direct translation of the German "Blut und Ehre," a motto of the Hitler Youth.

The display of Nazi symbols or slogans is forbidden in Germany, but the court ruled that the ban only applied to those written in the German language.

It sent the case back to the lower court and noted that the defendant could still be found guilty, because the shirts also carried banned Nazi symbols.


This is a pity in a way. It would have been interesting to see how an English court ruled on the matter. But now the English will be to embarrassed to prosecute (I hope).

Bright British students are waking up to the uselessness of many degrees

It was while doing his Saturday job at Sainsbury's and "stacking shelves alongside graduates" that Tom Mursell started having doubts about going to university. "I had been accepted to study law at Bournemouth University but was working with a lot of graduates who were extremely pessimistic about the usefulness of their degrees," he remembers. "It's sad that people graduate with so much debt and then can't get decent jobs."

Mursell, now 20, turned down his place at university (despite getting the A-level grades he needed to study law) and launched, a service aimed at – you guessed it – students who feel that university might not be for them.

And who can blame them? Figures released last week by The Office of National Statistics indicate that this year's graduates will enter the worst jobs market in a generation. The jobless total hit 2.4 million – the highest for nearly 15 years with 928,000 in the 18-24 age group alone. That's one in five of all young people out of work. Thanks to the recession, there are fewer graduate jobs available than ever before – numbers have diminished by over a quarter – and those that are available are being chased by on average 45 graduates per job, according to research published last month by High Fliers Research Ltd. Tony Blair's push back in 1998 to get half of all school leavers into higher education has thus had one notable result: the graduate jobs market is now completely saturated.

"The biggest client group I see is recent graduates," says Denise Taylor, a registered careers adviser and author of How to Get a Job in a Recession (Brook House Press). "They've been searching for that elusive graduate job because nothing else will do, but then often have to resign themselves to working as a call centre operator sitting on £12,000 of debt."

This is exactly what didn't appeal to Mursell, and it was his girlfriend's experience with careers advisers at her school that kick-started his business idea. "She was even more sure than me that university wasn't for her, but there was a lot of pressure for her to go," he says. "Then she came back from college one day with a job seekers pack, which made her feel like she was about to join the dole queue. It just wasn't on."

So Mursell set about investigating what the other options might be off his own back. "I learned that there are so many opportunities after A-level, from distance learning to apprenticeships, that you don't get told about at school," he explains. "I set up the website initially as an information resource, but after a few months my inner entrepreneur kicked in and I thought, I could make a business out of this."

Mursell is one of an increasing number of students bucking the university trend, and the success of his site – they now get 15,000 unique users a month, and he and his partner have just taken on a third member of staff – suggests that more and more young people are keen to find out about alternatives to university. Mursell now spends the majority of his time spreading the word in schools and sixth form colleges that "you don't need a degree to be a success in life", and have just launched a Results Day information pack (, which is being sent out to 3,500 schools and colleges. "There is a domineering social feeling that if you go university then you're kind of better in a way," he continues, "which is very wrong."

When A-level results are announced this Thursday, an estimated 50,000 UCAS applicants will be without a university place. There are alternatives, though, and plenty of enterprising young people are seeking them out and pursuing dreams that don't cost £3,225 a year (the price of a university education as per this September).

Laura Griggs, 18, is waiting for her A-level results in maths, biology and PE from Guisley School in Leeds, and wants to become an accountant. The learn-while-you-earn scheme she has joined through the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) means that she can get her qualifications while she works. "I wanted to continue learning but without the debt, plus I am guaranteed a job at the end," she explains. Griggs has already started working at an accountancy firm in central Leeds and is really enjoying the practical experience: "When you finish something on your own it's really satisfying. You feel good about completing a task."

She is earning £13,000 a year for two years during her training, with one day a week out of the office to study. Her plan is to do her chartered accountancy study straight afterwards, aged 20, which is when the big bucks will kick in. Most of her friends are going to university but that doesn't phase her in the least: "Everyone goes to university these days; it's not that special. I just feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders because I am focusing on what I want to do and not getting into loads of debt in the process."

So there are alternatives to university, it's just knowing what they are. Andy Gardner, the university and careers adviser for JFS School in Brent, and La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School in Camden, always gives his pupils a PowerPoint presentation, "What if you earned while you learned?" detailing all the options from advanced apprenticeships at companies like BT and Tesco, to "DIY learning" routes into accountancy, marketing or law while working. Like Mursell, he thinks the pressure to go to university is very real. "Increasingly, I'm hearing that sixth form students feel under enormous pressure to apply for university, even if they are not really committed," he says. "One sixth former likened the UCAS application process to a train ride they couldn't get off."

Tristan Pruden, 18, from Bainbridge, near Wenslydale in North Yorkshire, didn't let himself get pushed into university. "I decided against it a year and a half ago when I realised it would cost me around £7,000 a year." He was considering a degree in architecture before doing the sums and now, as he waits for his results for three A-levels and two A/S-levels, Pruden is readying himself for an altogether different dream: cooking.

Pruden found out about a scholarship for a one-year Cordon Bleu course at the Tante Marie cooking school and got it, thanks to his enthusiasm and the experience he has already gained working in restaurants in the Yorkshire tourist area where he lives. A fan of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, and encouraged by his current restaurant boss, he says, "I've always done a lot of cooking and really enjoy it. I would much rather be hands-on with my learning than sit listening to a tutor."

Having a passion like this, and clear idea of what you want to do, is, of course, a distinct advantage. Lorraine Candy, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, didn't go to university because she knew she wanted to be a journalist.

Candy started out on a local paper in her native Cornwall, securing a job after doing work experience in the summer holidays before her A-levels. "They offered me a job so there was no point doing my A-levels. From there I went to the Wimbledon News where I worked with Piers Morgan. I worked freelance for a local paper in the week and for the nationals at the weekends."

She maintains it was incredibly hard work but that in industries such as journalism, it is gaining work experience that is key: "I don't think a degree matters in journalism. The work experience I got in the four years I would have been at university were invaluable. I was on the Daily Mirror by the time I was 20. I could have wasted that time and been four years behind everyone else."

Subsequently, Candy is a huge advocate for on-the-job training. "At Elle we don't care if people have degrees or not. I don't look for it on CVs – it's totally irrelevant to me. In the creative industries people come through many different routes."

Candy is not the only high-achiever to have given university a miss. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Philip Green, Alan Sugar .... all are just a handful of the big-hitters lacking a degree. And, as Andrew Carroll, a teacher and careers adviser at Wilmington Enterprise College in Dartford, suggests: "Maybe this is a bit punk rock, but I think the people who make the choice not to go to university are probably the leaders of the future."


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

British students lying about family backgrounds to win university places, figures reveal

Sixth formers are lying about their family backgrounds to meet university "social engineering" admissions criteria

Up to 15 per cent of candidates who claimed on their application forms they had been in care later admitted they had "made a mistake", according to figures provided by universities. The revelation comes as universities are under increasing pressure to take into account candidates' social circumstances when offering him places. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, is drawing up a framework which will lead to students from disadvantaged families being given lower grade offers than middle-class students.

Application forms include sections where sixth formers can declare that they were brought up in a care home, that their parents did not go into higher education, or that they attended summer school classes. But it can be revealed that the vast majority of UK universities have no systems in place to check the information being entered by students on their Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) form.

A small number of universities, including three from the Russell group of top institutions, said they later found out that up to one in seven candidates who declared they had been in care on their forms later admitted that they been filled the box "in error".

Critics said that universities were being forced to "socially engineer" their intakes on the basis of potentially false information. Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: "Universities are taking this information at face value but given the huge competition to get in, it is not surprising that people are doing what they can to maximise their chances. "It is possible that the ticks in the boxes are genuine mistakes or they could be an attempt to try something out and then claim it is a mistake if they are found out.

"These attempts to make admissions fairer are actually making them less fair. The best way to get the best candidates is a national examination that distinguishes between students and is externally validated evidence of achievement."

Geoff Lucas, the secretary of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, representing leading public schools, said: "The Government is creating a many-headed monster with this. "The more we go down this road of using information about a candidate's background in deciding who gets places, the less chance there is of verifying it because of the practicalities."

Of the 62 universities which responded to a Freedom of Information request, almost all failed to carry out checks on any of the family background or "contextual" information provided in the Ucas form. Six indicated that they have a follow-up system where those who have been in care are contacted before the start of term to give them additional support. Of those, four discovered that a number of students had provided false information.

Liverpool University said 15 candidates had filled in the indicator "in error" from the 103 that ticked the box, while Newcastle said four applicants were found to have "incorrectly indicated that they had been in care." At Liverpool Hope University, of the 40 care leavers followed-up by the institution, four admitted to having not been in care. Edinburgh University said that of the 18 students contacted to confirm their status, two said that they had mistakenly identified themselves as having been in care. A number of universities have explicitly stated that being in care or being the first in the family to attend university will be looked on favourably in admissions.

A spokesman for Liverpool University said that while being in care did not trigger extra points, the university does "ensure that care leavers are considered carefully so that an appropriate offer is made". At Oxford University, candidates who are predicted three A grades but who also tick three out of five contextual indicator boxes, including time spent in care, are guaranteed an interview. The university said it only checked the information on care leavers at the stage that applicants have received an offer but it was not aware that any candidate had supplied incorrect information.

At Edinburgh University, humanities and social science and geography departments give "additional credit" to students who have parents who have not previously attended university. However, the admissions office does not check if the information provided on parental education levels in the Ucas form is correct.

Nottingham University has no system to check if background information provided in the Ucas form is correct. Yet the university's admission policy says an applicant's examination grades may be "valued more highly" if they have been in care or their parent have not attended university.

Evidence collected by Ucas suggests that some sixth formers do lie in their application forms. Plagiarism software used to vet students personal statements for the first time last year found as many as 400 would-be doctors had lifted 60 per cent of their statements from websites.

Ucas said that the proportion of applicants who indicated they had been in care was less than 1 per cent and had dropped this year compared to last. A spokesman said: "Where such information is used, it does not result in either an automatic offer of a place or a lower grade offer to a candidate."


British schools inspectorate report criticises vocational diploma over poor English and maths teaching

Almost half of teenagers studying for the new Diploma are not receiving satisfactory English and maths teaching, Ofsted will say today in its first inspector’s report on the qualification. The diploma, which the Government hopes will replace A levels, is intended to bridge the gap between academic and vocational qualifications.

Among many of the first cohort of 14 to 19-year-old students taking the diploma there was “little firm evidence of their achievement in functional skills”, including maths, English and IT, inspectors said.

There are currently five diplomas on offer: construction and the built environment; media; engineering; IT; and society, health and development. Inspectors found that pupils chose subjects along traditional gender lines — despite hopes that they would appeal to all young people regardless of their sex.

The diploma is split into two parts — principal learning, in which students are taught about the employment sector and work-related skills — and functional skills, to help them to develop their English, maths and IT skills. “Work in functional skills lacked co-ordination in just under half the consortia visited and, as a result, the quality of teaching and learning varied considerably,” inspectors said.

Chris Keates, the chief executive of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “The fault lies with the way that functional skills are designed, not the quality of teaching and learning.”

Ofsted inspectors were also concerned about the lack of formal assessment of the qualification. “There was little evidence of frequent marking or checking of students’ knowledge and understanding in relation to work they had completed,” the report said.

Schools offering the diploma work together because of the specialist facilities that some courses require. But timetabling clashes lead to some students missing lessons in their own school and having to catch up later, “putting considerable extra pressure on those involved”, inspectors said.

Only 12,000 pupils have taken up the courses so far — less than half the number estimated — and the proportion of children registered as “gifted and talented” who were taking the diploma was low, inspectors said.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, wants the diploma to become the qualification of choice and replace A levels as the gold standard. Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said: “While we are pleased with the progress made so far, we acknowledge that more needs to be done to improve the teaching of diplomas, which is why we are increasing our support for schools and colleges.”


A pathetic Brit relies on lies and innuendo to defame U.S. healthcare

He says that U.S. healthcare "throws out" sickly babies. The truth is absolutely the reverse. It is because U.S. doctors pull out all stops in an attempt to save premature babies that the U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate. Some of those heroic efforts necessarily fail and that is recorded as an infant death. In other countries it would be counted as stillborn or not recorded at all. And he says that he did not go to the top U.S. surgeon because he thought an "apprentice" might operate on him. Did he not think that he could arrange whether or not that would happen? It could not happen without his permission. And in the end he found that the treatment still cost him a bundle on the NHS. His insurer would most likely have given it to him free in the U.S. The guy is just trying to justify his own bad decisions

One of the killer statistics bandied about in the present dogfight over “Obamacare” is that under the UK’s “socialised” medicine, 57 per cent of men with prostate cancer survive to die of something else. In the US, under “free-world” medicine, that figure is 90 per cent. Which means, presumably, that if Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi had been incarcerated in a US jail he’d be eating prison chow for years to come, instead of being released on compassionate grounds. Put another way, the NHS kills.

September will be yet another Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. And, as before, awareness about the second leading cause of death among ageing men will remain abysmal. Those pink ribbons for breast cancer win out every time.

The truth is that the only thing that makes a fellow really “aware” is when he hears the ominous words: “I’m sorry to tell you, the biopsy reveals that you have prostate cancer.” I had that message by phone, at 4.25pm on February 17, 2009.

As Dr Johnson said, death sentences concentrate the mind wonderfully. But, of course, it’s not a death sentence. Go to any of the websites for prostate cancer survivors and the first thing you learn is that only one out of six who have this particular carcinoma die of it, even if it’s left untreated. It’s Russian roulette. With the barrel pointed at your testicles. “Do you feel lucky punk? Well do you?” as the man said.

My situation forced me to engage, in a very practical way, with the current arguments over the NHS and American healthcare. I taught for three months in California last winter. While there I had top-notch health coverage. Under enlightened US law, my employer was obliged to continue that coverage, for minimal co-payment, for 18 months after my leaving their employ. No exclusions. I could, therefore, have state-of-the-art treatment at somewhere such as Cedars Sinai. It would cost me not a cent.

But I’m also covered by the NHS, have been since 1948, and by Bupa: but it covers only half the cost of the surgery. What would you choose with killer cells multiplying like homicidal lice in your groin? I decided on surgery. But which nation’s healing scalpel?

One thing that strikes you, after you’ve done some research, is why is the best treatment for prostate cancer always pioneered in America? Nowadays you can pick from radium seeds (what Rudy Giuliani chose); nerve-sparing da Vinci robotic surgery (what John Kerry chose) or Hifu (high-intensity focused ultrasound). What do they have in common? IiA — Invented in America. What else do they have in common? They are hard to come by on the NHS. Not impossible (except for Hifu, which is not approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), but hard.

Why has America led the way against this horrible scourge of elderly men? Follow the money. Males in the red zone for prostate cancer (roughly 50 to 80-year-olds) are the most lucratively insured sector of the US population. American medicine is not a “service” it’s an “industry”, driven by the bottom line. The spin-off? Research and development goes where the dollars are. Old guys strike lucky.

Now cross the Atlantic. You’re holding the NHS pursestrings, and have the following dilemma:

1. A one-month-old baby with a hole in the heart. Cost to cure, £x;

2. A 30-year-old woman with breast cancer. Cost to cure, £x;

3. A 70-year-old man with prostate cancer. Cost to cure, £x;

but you only have £2x to hand out. Whom do you throw overboard? The iron law of triage in the UK tilts the board against the luckless prostate. America throws the (often unremunerative) babies overboard, which is why (as Michael Moore crows) it has higher infant mortality than Cuba. And old guys strike out.

So, being an elderly man, I should have gone American: particularly as I had resolved on robotic prostatectomy. But I didn’t. Why not? The reason is everywhere on websites, where the consensus is: “Go for the very best surgeon. And be sure to choose one who’s done more than a thousand procedures.”

I could have chosen a leading da Vinci specialist in Los Angeles. But so big is the robotic business in the US that those star surgeons have troops of young surgeons in training with them. Well disposed as I am to teaching hospitals, I did not want to be some starlet’s apprentice work.

If I wanted robotic surgery in the UK the best person, I was told, was Professor Roger Kirby. Kirby is forever raising charity money for prostate cancer treatment but — so expensive and in such short supply is the robotic machinery he uses — that he charges. In point of fact, the charge is modest: less than the cost of every second car that passes you in the fast lane on the motorway.

In a few years time I suspect the NHS will be where the US now is on prostate cancer treatment. At the moment, if you want US standards of treatment in the UK you will probably have to pay, out of your pocket or through medical insurance.

There were some painful incisions on my wallet. But the histopathology revealed that the cancer had been expertly scooped out by Professor Kirby and his pal Leonardo. I felt lucky. And very grateful.


Scrap swine flu phone checks says father of British tonsillitis sufferer who died after misdiagnosis

Another death from Britain's careless swine flu procedures

The distraught father of a teenage girl who died after her tonsillitis was deemed to be swine flu is calling for over-the-phone diagnosis to be scrapped. Karl Hartey accused the Government of having 'blood on its hands' after his 16-year-old daughter Charlotte died from complications arising from tonsillitis. The case will further increase concerns that illnesses, some of them serious, are increasingly being misdiagnosed as swine flu.

Following revelations that 16-year-olds are being employed at a swine flu call centre, there are also fears that many of those doling out advice and the anti-viral drug Tamilfu are not qualified to do so. Last week the parents of a girl of two told how their daughter died of meningitis after she was misdiagnosed.

In the latest case Charlotte Hartey was told she had swine flu over the phone by a local GP. She was prescribed Tamiflu but her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to Royal Shrewsbury Hospital on July 29 where she died two days later after her lungs collapsed when bacteria overwhelmed her immune system. A post-mortem found Charlotte, from Oswestry, Shropshire, died from natural causes.

Her father Karl attacked Ministers over the introduction of call centres, manned by teenagers to diagnose potential swine flu cases. Mr Hartey, 42, said: 'The Government has blood on its hands. 'This was tonsillitis. Every child in the country is likely to get it. We have to change the Government policy on this. 'We have got to go back to old-fashioned doctoring.'

Mr Hartey has begun a campaign to end the telephone diagnoses of swine flu, using Charlotte's memorial page on Facebook to gather pledges of support which will be presented to Downing Street. Six-hundred visitors to the site have so far promised their support since it went live last Thursday.

Mr Hartey, an investment adviser, said: 'We have to ban call centres giving medical diagnosis. We want this to go as high as it possibly can, to the Prime Minister. 'I want him to accept that Charlotte was misdiagnosed. I want him to look me in the eye and say sorry for our loss. 'It won't bring Charlotte back, but it will stop other children being misdiagnosed. 'Charlotte had such a life ahead. Her future was enormous and has been snatched away.

'Charlotte is not the first person to have died because of misdiagnosis. We are fighting a war against call centre advice. 'I am not putting blame on the doctors because they follow instructions from the Government, which says not to see swine flu victims. 'This is a breach of our human rights. The Government is restricting us from going to the doctor.'

Two-year-old Georgia Keeling died from meningitis after being misdiagnosed over the phone and by a paramedic. Her parents were repeatedly told she didn't need to go to hospital and she was given Tamiflu and paracetamol. Salesman Paul Sewell, 21, and his wife Tasha, 22, from Norwich, claimed medics had diagnosed her before they looked at her.

Mother-of-three Jasvir Gill, 48, of Leicester, also died this month days after being misdiagnosed with swine flu. She began suffering from a sore throat and vomiting and was told to take Tamiflu in a telephone diagnosis. Around 12 hours later she had a heart attack and died from blood poisoning caused by meningitis.


Britain to ease up on Muslim fanatics and concentrate on whites instead

LABOUR slammed the brakes on its war against violent extremism yesterday - amid fears it had upset Muslim voters. Millions spent preventing Asian kids becoming terrorists will now be used to tackle right-wing racists in WHITE areas.

Community cohesion minister Shahid Malik admitted he was softening his stance because Muslims felt stigmatised. But a former Labour aide called the move a "dangerous dilution" of the Government's counter-terrorism strategy. Tories branded it a shameless bid to win back Muslim voters who deserted Labour over Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than £45 million a year has been spent on measures to prevent Al-Qaeda recruiting young Muslims in the UK. It included action to break up Islamic ghettos and stop university hate preachers. But Mr Malik, the first British-born Muslim MP, yesterday unveiled plans to broaden the scope of the campaign.

He announced: "We shall be putting a renewed focus on resisting right-wing racist extremism. We cannot dismiss or underestimate the threat." Mr Malik told Sky News: "You speak to any Muslim in this country and they are as opposed as you and I are to extremism and terrorism. "The frustration is they are constantly linked with terrorism as a community as a whole."

His action contrasts with the tough stance of ex-minister Hazel Blears. She broke links with Muslim groups that failed to denounce extremists. Her adviser Paul Richards said: "The good work by Hazel is being undone in the name of political correctness."

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said: "This has been watered down for purely political reasons. Labour has always seen Muslim voters as its own property."


In Britain today you approach others’ children at your peril

There’s just one element of the stories of my childhood that fascinates my own children. It’s not the absence of mobile phones, or the idea of a world before the internet. It’s the fact that so many of my small crises ended in the same way: with my being rescued by the kind intervention of an unknown man. Whether I was a nine-year-old being kicked to the ground by a gang of girls in the park, a 14-year-old lost in the Welsh hills on a walking holiday or a 12-year-old who had taken a bad fall from a horse and couldn’t ride home, it was adult men who stepped in without hesitation to stop the fighting or give me a lift or bandage my grazed arms.

I might as well be telling my children about life with the Cherokee Indians. This isn’t a world they know, where children expect to explore by themselves and where passing men and women are the people you turn to when things go wrong. Their generation have been taught from the time they start school that all strangers may be dangerous and all men are threats. So children have become frightened of adults, and adults – terrified that any interaction of theirs might be misinterpreted – have become equally frightened of them.

When my offspring and their friends have been mugged on buses, or attacked on the street by teenagers, no one has helped. Every passing adult has looked the other way. The idea that it’s the responsibility of grown-ups to look out for one another’s young is disappearing fast. That isn’t making our children safer. It’s making their lives more fearful, more dangerous and more constrained.

Last week the charity Living Streets reported that half of all five to 10-year-olds have never played in their own streets. Almost nine in 10 of their grandparents had played out and so had many of their parents, but now children were kept inside, imprisoned by the twin fears of traffic and paedophiles. As the Play England organisation has found, parents keep them in because they believe that if they aren’t watching over their child, no other adult will do it for them. Older children, too, are affected. Two years ago research by the Children’s Society showed that 43% of parents thought children shouldn’t be allowed out on their own until they were 14.

What began 25 years or so ago as an understandable desire to raise awareness of child abuse is turning into something extremely destructive – an instinctive suspicion of any encounter between grown-ups and unrelated children. It has happened without any political debate or rational discussion. It’s starting to poison our society. And with every passing month it’s getting worse.

Last month in Bedfordshire, 270 children from four primary schools had their annual sports day without the normal audience of proud parents watching them compete. All adults except teachers were banned. The reason? The organisers could not guarantee that an unsupervised adult might not molest a child. They preferred the certainty of ruining the pleasure of hundreds, and the instilling of general paranoia, to the phenomenally slight possibility of a sexual attack.

This is part of an insidious new orthodoxy that’s taking hold: that only authorised adults have any business engaging with children. It is no longer just about sexual abuse. In Twickenham last month the mother of a five– year-old who was being bullied decided to talk to the offender. She knelt by his chair and asked him politely to stop. The next day she was banned from the classroom for doing something that would have been regarded as rational and responsible behaviour at any other time in the past century.

Much worse was to happen a few days later to Anisa Borsberry, from Tyne and Wear, whose 11-year-old was being bullied by agroup of girls. She, too, asked the bullies to stop. In retaliation, and knowing what a powerful weapon this was to use against an adult, the girls claimed Borsberry had assaulted them. Within hours they admitted lying. Nevertheless, the accusation of assault against a child is regarded as so serious that Borsberry was handcuffed in her home and held in police cells for five hours before hearing that no further action was being taken.

Or there is the case of Carol Hill, the Essex dinner lady threatened with dismissal for telling a mother she was sorry her daughter had been tied up and whipped in the playground. Normal, empathetic human behaviour, you might think. That wasn’t the school’s reaction. Hill was suspended for breaching “pupil confidentiality”.

In every one of these cases a woman has been punished for daring to do what adults have always done in every society: uphold norms of behaviour by talking about them. But it has blown up in their faces because new unwritten rules about engaging with children are apparently being invented every day. The extent of society’s neurosis means the consequences of approaching children are becoming alarmingly unpredictable.

That’s as true for professionals as for anyone else. Traditionally, teachers have been thought of as potential mentors for children or confidants for those in distress. Increasingly they are being warned away from that role and told to keep their distance by schools. Nowhere is that made clearer than in a draft advice guide for teachers issued this spring by the Purcell school for young musicians.

The guide begins by telling staff: “Some adolescents experience periods of profound emotional disturbance and turmoil when they may be unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. They may even be temporarily insane. They can thus present a danger to even the most careful of teachers.” This is child as wild animal; one that may bite at any moment. Teachers are told not to talk to pupils after coaching sessions, but to “usher them out of the room in a brisk no-nonsense manner”. They are told never to text pupils from their private mobiles, but to buy a second one for school use. This “should only be used for arranging appointments; chit chat should be avoided”. Nor can a teacher ever be alone with a pupil in a car, except in case of medical emergency, when the child must be seated in the back, a written record made of time, date and place and a telephone call made to the pupil’s parents to justify it.

The guide concludes that these procedures must become second nature, as any child may accuse a teacher and “your accuser could be of unsound mind”. It finishes with this chilling sentence: “It is helpful to think of current pupils as clients, rather than friends, as a doctor does.”

That these norms are taking hold is a sign of a sick society. What we are creating here is mass mutual distrust. First, children were warned about adults; now adults are being warned about children. It is bad for all of us; bad for our humanity, our happiness and our sense of belonging to anything but a narrow, trusted group. It is also disastrous for any hope of improving social mobility or social cohesion. The effects of this coldness and detachment will be worst for those who need adult guidance and contact most: those children who are growing up without strong social networks around them.

The Labour government appears to understand none of these dangers. Obsessed with physical safety, it is bringing in a screening authority this autumn, one that will cover perhaps one in four adults. It won’t acknowledge the psychological and social disaster that’s unfolding now, nor the pointlessness of much of the exercise. Most abuse is, after all, carried out in the home, and determined abusers will always evade the rules. David Cameron has made some of the right noises by saying children’s behaviour should be a matter for all adults. It will take extraordinary determination to dismantle the walls of suspicion that we have begun to build.


IQ a bigger contributor to socioeconomic influence on risk of CV death than conventional risk factors

To translate that heading into plain English: Poor people get more heart attacks not because they are fatter and smoke more (etc.) but because they are dumber. That reinforces the idea that IQ is a marker of general biological fitness as well as being a marker of mental ability. Another indication of that is that high IQ people live longer. I imagine that some readers think I overdo it in attributing so many epidemiological correlations to IQ and social class (which are themselves correlated) but the paper below shows just how important those factors are

A couple of footnote-type comments: 1). It is odd that alcohol consumption was not mentioned in the study. Perhaps they were afraid that they might find that boozers live longer. 2). There is a constant tendency for people to counter generalizations that they don't like with contrary examples, quite ignoring that you can prove anything by examples. So when confronted by the idea that IQ is a marker of general biological fitness, some people say: "What about Stephen Hawking? He's very bright but he's none too healthy". One might reply however that to have lived into his 60s with his severe disability his basic health must be exceptionally robust!

Intelligence appears to play a greater role than traditional cardiovascular risk factors in the relationship of socioeconomic disadvantage with cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, according to a new and unusual study.

This is the first research to properly examine this issue, say Dr G David Batty (University of Glasgow, Scotland) and colleagues in their paper published online July 14, 2009 in the European Heart Journal. "Our findings suggest that measured IQ does not completely account for observed inequalities in health, but probably— through a variety of mechanisms— may quite strongly contribute to them." The findings indicate the need to further explore how the links between low socioeconomic status, low IQ, and poor health might be broken, they observe.

In an accompanying editorial, Drs Michael Marmot and Mika Kivimäki (University College London, UK) say research such as this "is challenging . . . [but it] makes clear that what happens in the mind, whether the influence came from the material world or the social, has to be taken into account if we are to understand how the socioeconomic circumstances in which people live influence health and well-being." [It must have been hard for The Marmot to admit that. He is associated with the dubious WCRF and some equally dubious dietary claims]

Adding IQ to statistical models strengthens their power [But it is SO "incorrect"]

Batty and colleagues explain that controlling for preventable behavioral and physiological risk factors attenuates but fails to eliminate socioeconomic gradients in health, particularly CVD, which raises the possibility that as-yet-unmeasured psychological factors need to be considered, and one such factor is cognitive function (also referred to as intelligence or IQ).

They studied a cohort of 4289 US male former military personnel, from the Vietnam Experience Study, which they say had a number of strengths that enabled them to explore the role of IQ. It provides extensive data on IQ (early adulthood and middle age) and four widely used markers of socioeconomic position: early-adulthood and current income; occupational prestige and education; a range of nine established CVD risk factors; and cause-specific mortality.

They used the relative index of inequality (RII) to quantify the relation between each index of socioeconomic position and mortality. Over 15 years, there were 237 deaths (62 from CVD and 175 from other causes). In age-adjusted analyses, each of the four indices of socioeconomic position was inversely associated with total, CVD, and "other" causes of mortality, such that, as would be expected from previous findings, elevated rates were evident in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged men.

When IQ in middle age was introduced to the age-adjusted model, there was marked attenuation in the RII across the socioeconomic predictors for total mortality (average 50% attenuation in RII), CVD mortality (55%), and "other" causes of death (49%). When the nine traditional risk factors were added to the age-adjusted model, the comparable reduction in RII was less marked: all causes (40%), CVD (40%) and "other" mortality (43%).

And adding IQ to the model adjusted for age and CVD risk resulted in further explanatory power for all outcomes, they say.

Consider IQ when planning health promotion and in consultations

In their editorial, Marmot and Kivimäki say there is probably not a direct IQ effect but rather cognitive function more likely "explains" the link between socioeconomic position and mortality, insofar as intelligence is a determinant of social and economic success in life. Further research will help clarify this issue, they note. [The Marmot is trying to waffle his way out of it. I am not even sure what he means there]

Batty et al say their results suggest that individual cognition levels should be considered more carefully when health promotion campaigns are being prepared and in health-professional-client interactions.


Journal abstract follows:

Does IQ explain socio-economic differentials in total and cardiovascular disease mortality? Comparison with the explanatory power of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors in the Vietnam Experience Study

By G. David Batty et al.

Aims: The aim of this study was to examine the explanatory power of intelligence (IQ) compared with traditional cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in the relationship of socio-economic disadvantage with total and CVD mortality, that is the extent to which IQ may account for the variance in this well-documented association.

Methods and results: Cohort study of 4289 US male former military personnel with data on four widely used markers of socio-economic position (early adulthood and current income, occupational prestige, and education), IQ test scores (early adulthood and middle-age), a range of nine established CVD risk factors (systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total blood cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, body mass index, smoking, blood glucose, resting heart rate, and forced expiratory volume in 1 s), and later mortality.

We used the relative index of inequality (RII) to quantify the relation between each index of socio-economic position and mortality. Fifteen years of mortality surveillance gave rise to 237 deaths (62 from CVD and 175 from ‘other’ causes).

In age-adjusted analyses, as expected, each of the four indices of socio-economic position was inversely associated with total, CVD, and ‘other’ causes of mortality, such that elevated rates were evident in the most socio-economically disadvantaged men.

When IQ in middle-age was introduced to the age-adjusted model, there was marked attenuation in the RII across the socio-economic predictors for total mortality (average 50% attenuation in RII), CVD (55%), and ‘other’ causes of death (49%). When the nine traditional risk factors were added to the age-adjusted model, the comparable reduction in RII was less marked than that seen after IQ adjustment: all-causes (40%), CVD (40%), and ‘other’ mortality (43%).

Adding IQ to the latter model resulted in marked, additional explanatory power for all outcomes in comparison to the age-adjusted analyses: all-causes (63%), CVD (63%), and ‘other’ mortality (65%). When we utilized IQ in early adulthood rather than middle-age as an explanatory variable, the attenuating effect on the socio-economic gradient was less pronounced although the same pattern was still present.

Conclusion: In the present analyses of socio-economic gradients in total and CVD mortality, IQ appeared to offer greater explanatory power than that apparent for traditional CVD risk factors.

European Heart Journal 2009 30(15):1903-1909

"Act on CO2" advertisements on the BBC

The BBC does not of course run advertisements so it is described as a "filler" and is presumably funded by the BBC itself. It is very scary cinematography and completely unbalanced and extreme Warmist propaganda. There is no scintilla of truth in the warnings it gives. It was broadcast in the 9:00 to 9:30 timeslot on August 15 and appears to be aimed at frightening children.

You can see it here. The script is here.

"Blacklisting" now a bad word in Britain

We read:
"The Citizens Advice service has banned staff from using the term ' blacklisting' over fears that it is offensive and 'fosters stereotypes'. The taxpayer- funded quango, which advises members of the public on consumer, legal and money issues, has instead replaced it with 'blocklisting' to avoid appearing 'prejudicial'.

The two terms are both used in IT to mean the same thing. They refer to what are effectively lists of computers or computer networks which have been identified as sending spam and enable mail servers to ban or flag up mail sent from them.

Emails to members of staff at the service say the move has been made to keep 'in line with aims and principles of the Citizens Advice service'. Critics branded it 'daft' and 'political correctness going over the top', but the Citizens Advice has refused to back down, even though critics say it renders everyday communications unintelligible...

The ban on blacklisting applies across the whole of Citizens Advice. A former volunteer said banning blacklisting was 'the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen' and has stopped helping at his local branch because of it. John Midgley, co-founder of the campaign against political correctness, said: 'This is just daft and another example of political correctness going over the top.'