Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another faked "hate crime"

From Scotland:

"A Sikh schoolboy, who prompted an inter-faith vigil to promote peace, respect and tolerance after claiming his hair was chopped off by racist thugs, invented the story.

The 15-year-old, in tears, gave a graphic description of a vicious verbal and physical attack by four white males who struck as he walked near his home in Edinburgh. His story was widely reported because of its unusually aggressive nature. It is the Sikh tradition for males to keep their hair uncut and not to shave their beard or moustache.....

But it has emerged that he cut off his own hair, punched himself in the face and concocted the story. It is understood he was experiencing personal problems. Sources say that he felt torn between his Sikh values and more westernised ones. They said he had wanted to get his hair cut for some time, but was afraid of the reaction of some members of his family and the Sikh community...."


Interesting how the liars are always immediately believed. It is such a great excuse for an orgy of self-righteousness. Hat tip to Gerald Hartup, who also has previous reports of similar incidents.


More Leftist hypocrisy. They make laws that sound good then do their best to thwart them

Labour's flagship freedom of information laws are being blocked by ministers who are increasingly refusing to answer routine inquiries about government policy, new figures show. Seven government departments, including the department in charge of monitoring the new powers, are identified in a Whitehall report as refusing to give answers to more than half of all requests made by the public.

The Foreign Office has the worst record by claiming exemptions for 70 per cent of all requests it has received. In total, of the 62,852 requests made to central government since 1 January 2005, 26,083 have not been granted. And of those questions the Government considers properly resolved many have not been answered to the questioner's satisfaction.

The report also shows that public requests for information have fallen to the lowest number since the laws were implemented. The Department for Constitutional Affairs, which has responsibility for implementing the "right to know" laws, has the second worst record, by only providing full answers to 39 per cent of all requests.

Next month the Government is to go to court to try to prevent the public using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain even innocuous information about "the formulation" of policy after the Information Commissioner, the legislation's watchdog, ruled that ministers must reveal material that does not harm policy-making. Government lawyers are to appear before the Information Tribunal in an attempt to have the commissioner's decision overturned by arguing that all policy-related information must be withheld.

The legal challenge will be followed by the introduction of regulations designed to stop the media from making full use of the new powers. These regulations represent a direct attack on the spirit of the law, once heralded by Labour as the end of the culture of Whitehall secrecy. The media and other organisations will be restricted to a handful of requests a year, while the time taken by officials and ministers to consult and consider requests will now be counted when calculating whether people should be charged for any disclosure.

Figures released by the Department for Constitutional Affairs reveal requests to central government fell to a low of 7,641 between July and September, compared with 13,603 in the first three months after the law came into force. Freedom of information campaigners warn that this might be evidence that the public have become frustrated with their failure to get answers. Overall, the success rate for requests across all departments has fallen by 2 per cent to 60 per cent in the past six months.

While Labour has been happy to release documents embarrassing the previous Tory administration over its handling of "Black Wednesday" - Britain's forced withdrawal from the ERM - ministers have been less willing to let the public use the Act to shed light on Labour's own political controversies. For example, ministers are still refusing to release earlier drafts of the Attorney General's advice on the legality of the war with Iraq. At the heart of its strategy is the Orwellian-sounding Central Clearing House where all sensitive or difficult requests are sent. Set up by ministers before the introduction of the laws, the unit employs 12 staff to monitor the public's use of the legislation.

Maurice Frankel, the director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, says the Government's approach "strikes at the very heart" of the legislation. Michael Smyth, the head of public policy at the law firm Clifford Chance, said that while he acknowledged the Freedom of Information Act had opened up government, the regulations, due to come into force in April, will "emasculate" the media. "The Government dined out on the mantra that the FoI Act was to be motive-blind ... but these bizarre proposals will turn FoI requests into something where motive will become relevant," Mr Smyth said.


UK: 1,000 pound fine for failing to update ID card: "A draconian regime of fines, which would hit families at times of marriage and death, is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme. Millions of people, from struggling students to newly-wed women and bereaved relatives, will face a system of penalties, netting more than 40 million for the Treasury. People would be fined up to 1,000 pounds for failing to return a dead relative's ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least 30 pounds for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a 1,000 pound fine if they do not comply."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Carols are "Torture"??

"Forcing store clerks to listen to the same holiday music over and over could be akin to torture and should change, a British noise pollution group said.


I wonder why none of them seem ever to have complained of being tortured? I guess the Queen gets tortured too. Everywhere she goes they keep playing that same old national anthem.

NHS takes cash meant for charity

They've got a lot of bureaucrats to support

A pioneering scheme to help mental patients may have to close because the Department of Health has pocketed money promised by the Treasury. Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the executive director of the charity Community Service Volunteers, said it was outrageous that £3.7 million had disappeared into the NHS and that all attempts to extract it had failed. Appeals to ministers have been ignored, and only recourse to lawyers and a threat to tell the press what had happened produced any response.

Yesterday the Department of Health said that the money would be with CSV by the end of January — ten months late — although Dame Elisabeth is not counting on it. The money is the final tranche of a £7.3 million grant made by the Treasury in 2004 under the “Invest to Save” programme, designed to show that by investing money to improve services, more can be saved.

CVS won the grant for Capital Volunteering, in which people in London who have suffered mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder are encouraged to get involved in voluntary activities. This can include acting as helpers for other sufferers of mental illness, or activities such as gardening, sports and music. Its results are promising, with 25 per cent saying that they are gaining skills and 17 per cent reporting improved confidence.

At the end of March the Treasury passed £3.7 million to the Department of Health. It should have filtered through to the project via London Strategic Health Authority, Camden and Islington Primary Care Trust, Islington Mental Health Trust and the London Development Centre — a procedure that Dame Elisabeth describes as “pure Yes Minister”.

Somewhere along the line the cash-strapped NHS decided it would hang on to the money. “What authority had it got to do this?” Dame Elisabeth asked. “It is an abuse of power.”

CVS’s efforts to extract the cash have also been worthy of Yes Minister. It approached the Treasury, who condemned what the Department of Health had done as unacceptable. But nothing happened. Dame Elisabeth then went to a higher level in the Treasury, who agreed that the situation could not continue. But it did. Next she went to Ed Miliband, Minister responsible for the Third Sector (voluntary organisations) who said that he was anxious to help.

Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Office Minister, then spoke to Ivan Lewis, Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Nothing happened. “On Monday we took the decision to ask lawyers to sort it out,” Dame Elisabeth said, “and we also said we would be talking to the press.

“Things began to happen. We were told it would be in the ‘next bundle’ at the end of January. That’s not acceptable. Even if we get the money, we have lost £90,000 in interest it would have earned us, and which we need.

“What is distressing for us is that the Government is all the time saying it wants partnerships with the voluntary sector, but our trustees are now asking if this is a risk we want to take. “We’re not alone. There are a number of other organisations who have been let down by the department.”

Dame Elisabeth — the author of Getting Money from Central Government — is not in a mood to compromise. She wants the money, plus interest, immediately, before some of the staff face redundancy.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “They will get the money in January.” She made no mention of interest.



This one is too much fun for me to question the research methods too deeply

Doing housework can cut substantially a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to researchers. A study comparing the beneficial effects of different types of exercise found that moderate housework had the biggest obvious effect.

More than 44,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. Last year 12,400 women died from the disease, most in their postmenopausal years.

Previous research has examined the link between exercise and breast cancer in postmenopausal women, but this is one of the first studies to include a large number of pre-menopausal women. Experts recommend that women exercise for 30 to 45 minutes five times a week to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

The study, part-funded by the charity Cancer Research UK, looked at a range of activities — including work, leisure and household occupations and chores. The pre-menopausal group doing housework spent, on average, 17.7 hours a week doing it while the post-menopausal women spent 16.1 hours. Pre-menopausal women who did housework were found to be about 30 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than pre-menopausal women who did none. Meanwhile, post-menopausal women who did housework were found to be about 20 per cent less likely to develop the disease than post-menopausal women who did none.

The researchers analysed data from 218,169 women from nine European countries, with an age range of 20 to 80 years. They followed the women for an average of 6.4 years, during which time there were 3,423 cases of breast cancer. The average age at which the disease developed in the participants was 47.6 years for pre-menopausal women and 65.6 years for post-menopausal. All forms of activity combined was found to reduce the risk in the post-menopausal women participants, but had no obvious effect in the pre-menopausal women. But the researchers found that all women, both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal, who undertook housework had a “significantly” reduced risk of getting the disease.

The research, published in the January edition of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, concluded: “In this large cohort of women , . . increased non-occupational physical activity and, in particular, increased household activity, were significantly associated with reduced breast cancer risk, independent of other potential risk factors. “Our results . . . provide additional evidence that moderate forms of physical activity, such as household activity, may be more important than less frequent but more intense recreational physical activity in reducing breast cancer risk in European women.”

The authors noted that housework was one of the “main sources of activity” for women living in these countries. Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “We already know that women who keep a healthy weight are less likely to develop breast cancer [Rubbish! Fatties get least breast cancer]. “This study suggests that being physically active may also help reduce the risk and that something as simple and cheap as doing the housework can help. “Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk Campaign recommends that men and women take regular exercise and maintain a healthy body weight to help prevent cancer.”


Let's say farewell to the 'ethnic minorities'

Ten per cent of the British population come from “ethnic minorities”, a reporter on the BBC Today programme told us solemnly on Monday. He was discussing the Conservative Party’s drive to make the choice of candidates better reflect what Tories, too, call the “ethnic minority” population. The reporter added that this should be 10 per cent. By “ethnic minorities” he didn’t (and the Tories don’t) mean Albanians (Christian or Muslim) or the Irish, or Australians, Japanese or Jews.

Labour, meanwhile, has established an “ethnic minority taskforce” chaired by Keith Vaz, MP. His roadshow will not be visiting the Ukrainian community in Derby, or the Polish community in West London. It will not be talking to the substantial number of more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe who do not yet even speak English. Its remit includes third-generation black Christians whose only language is English. It does not include (white) Bosnian Muslims who speak no English at all. Mr Vaz is himself described as coming from the “ethnic minorities”. He (a Roman Catholic whose English is rather plummier than mine) is of Indian (Goanese) origin.

Oh, come on. Ethnic means “coloured” doesn’t it? If not, tell me in what respect not. The word is an adjective. The noun “minorities” is increasingly and unceremoniously dumped these days in favour of a new usage of “ethnic” as a noun in its own right — as though “ethnics” were members of a single tribe. Only one thing unites this wholly imaginary tribe: not their language, not their religion, not their background, not their culture — but the colour of their skin.

What hypocrisy this is. In Britain the word “coloured” is now more or less shunned in polite usage, and for a good reason: use of the term implicitly categorises people by the colour of their skin, which we shouldn’t do unless it tells us something useful and distinctive about the whole set.

What does a description of the colour of someone’s skin usefully convey in modern Britain? Their religion, language or culture? No; the Afro-Caribbean “community” (itself a conflation of two quite distinct groups) is mostly English-speaking and Christian: a culture closer to the British mainstream than that of a (white) Albanian. Indian Sikhs and Bengali Muslims are worlds apart. Those from the Indian sub-continent do not consider themselves to be black. Islam is much closer to Christianity than Buddhism or Hinduism.

Mr Vaz is no more or less representative of a black British voter in Brixton than I would be. A Bangladeshi Muslim in Tower Hamlets is unlikely to want Priti Patel (a new Tory candidate whose family origins are in India and Uganda) to speak for him on the dispute in Kashmir. Do British Indians consider themselves an oppressed minority any more? I doubt they would agree on this. Do prospering immigrants from Hong Kong feel common cause with refugees from Zimbabwe?

A growing diversity — of race, outlook, culture, gender — among our representatives in Parliament is an excellent thing and the Tories and Labour are right to push hard for it. But quotas for skin-colour are surreptitiously insulting, and plain wrong about the category they presume to identify. It’s time we recognised the whole concept of “the ethnic minorities” as the sloppy and ignorant anachronism it is: a category that simply does not exist.



Parents are tackling universities over poor grades and lack of teaching time as they seek better value for money from their children’s degrees. As students increasingly turn to their families to help with tuition fees, Baroness Deech, head of the student complaints watchdog, has given warning that parental disgruntlement will escalate.

Last year the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which was set up to handle student complaints against universities, upheld a third of the 350 cases it investigated. Of those, almost half (43 per cent) involved students challenging exam results. They felt they deserved better grades or were treated unfairly at appeal. Universities had to pay about 260,000 pounds in compensation.

This is known as the “my little Lucy syndrome” — when middle-class parents challenge their son or daughter’s disappointing degree result. While a 2:2 from a top university was acceptable a decade ago, a 2:1 is now a prerequisite for many high-paid jobs. So as parents prepare to pay off their children’s fees to spare them years of debt, they are beginning to question what they are getting for their money.

“Parents will fill in forms saying, ‘My little Lucy has a first-class brain and certainly should have been awarded more than a lower second degree’,” Lady Deech told The Times. “We then go to the university, which says, ‘Well, she had an average brain and a good time here, and did averagely well’. But the parents have invested in her so they want more.”

Although she has yet to receive complaints since the introduction of 3,000 pounds-a-year top-up fees in the autumn, Lady Deech predicts that the number will rise “because of the growth in higher education and the fact that the job market isn’t as exciting for graduates as it was 20 to 30 years ago unless they have a good degree. “So if they find that the degree that they have is lower than they believe their rightful grade to be, they will find ways to challenge that decision.” She suggests that universities employ independent mediators, as in America and Australia. The adjudicator operates an open-door policy, all advice is given and sought in confidence, there are no notes and he or she is either the first port of call, as in America, or the last, as in Australia.

Although her office has received few complaints arising from the recent strike by lecturers, students are already seeking better value for money. Last month, students at the University of Bristol complained after learning that they were to have two hours’ lecture time a week in their final year, instead of a promised six.

The complaints followed a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute, which exposed how older research-led universities often pass off teaching to postgraduate assistants. It found that more than 90 per cent of tutorials and seminars at new universities were taught by academics, compared with 70 per cent at older institutions, with the exception of Oxford and Cambridge.

Last year the OIA’s first annual report also revealed that students studying “subjects allied to medicine” were behind 60 per cent of all complaints. They were followed by students studying creative arts and design, business administration and law. Veterinary students and architects were least likely to complain. Postgraduate students were five times more likely to complain than undergraduates, and non-EU students were slightly more likely to lodge a complaint than EU students. Most complaints were made by white British students (38.5 per cent), followed by African students (19.3 per cent).



Of a sort

A groundbreaking voucher system is being introduced to schools in England for the first time next week in an attempt to meet the educational needs of the brightest pupils. Under the initiative the country's brightest 800,000 pupils will receive vouchers to spend on extra lessons, such as "master classes" at university-run summer schools, online evening classes or even web-based courses from Nasa, the US space agency.

Every primary and secondary school will be told to supply the names of 10 per cent of their pupils who best meet the new criteria for the "gifted and talented" programme when they complete the January schools census. Only 5 per cent of pupils achieving top marks in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds have been eligible for funding under the programme. The new project would ensure that the brightest 10 per cent in each school were selected, regardless of how many pupils met the present criteria. Each pupil will initially receive 151 credits that act as vouchers towards extra lessons.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, and delivered by the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT), a non-profit education company. CfBT will invite companies, independent schools, universities and other educational bodies to offer activities for an agreed fee. The move is an attempt to prove that Labour values gifted and talented pupils and that they can expect a high standard of education in the state, as well as private, sector.

However, the voucher initiative is likely to prove controversial among many Labour backbenchers who oppose the notion of pupils as "consumers" in an education market, and teachers who believe that the plan is divisive and elitist. The Conservatives recently ditched plans to give parents a flat-rate voucher of 5,000 pounds a year to spend at the school of their choice, state or private.

An initial 65 million pounds has been earmarked for the credit system, with extra money coming from the Government's existing 930 million "personalised learning" programme. Lord Adonis said: "The national register set up earlier this year will enable thousands more gifted and talented children to be identified, especially late developers and those underachieving because of social disadvantage. This register will ensure they are identified early and get the appropriate learning opportunities inside and outside school."

Tim Emmett, development director for CfBT, said: "The Government is seeing this as part of school improvement, rather than a lifeboat for a few bright children. If you can raise the metre for 10 per cent of children in a school, you can do it for the other 90 per cent as well."

The voucher scheme follows plans announced earlier this year to cherry-pick the brightest children in English state schools from the age of 11 for places at top universities. The controversial move was denounced by some Labour MPs as a new system of "super-selection" that effectively made the final tests at primary school a university entrance exam. Critics also pointed out that it left little room for late developers, and in particular boys, who do less well in all tests except mathematics at 11. However, it was welcomed by academics as a way of opening up university admissions without lowering standards.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust has already identified 180,000 children aged 11 to 17 from their Key Stage 2 exams, taken by all pupils attending state primary schools. Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust, said he was determined that no child should be overlooked as a result of a poor secondary school education. In a letter sent to all schools, he asked head teachers to help pupils to realise their full potential and told them that he expected each child to achieve straight A grades at A level.


Bug counters to infest kitchens

British food frenzy

What do you look for in a restaurant to celebrate the new year? Good food, wine and atmosphere? No, the authorities are sure that what diners really want to know is how many bacteria are in the kitchen, and how much saturated fat is on the menu. Yummy.

The Times reported this week that the Food Standards Agency is to give every restaurant a cleanliness rating, with orders to post their “scores on the doors”. Eateries will then be graded on the “nutritional value” of their food. Perhaps we should also be told whether they kill vermin humanely, what their policy is on workplace bullying by chefs, and the immigration status of their washers-up.

Anybody would think we were in the middle of a food poisoning epidemic. In fact, Britain’s eateries are not only better but also cleaner and more inspected than ever before, and have mostly stopped putting strychnine or lead in food, like their Victorian forebears did.

It may make the grease police and droppings inspectors of the FSA choke on their low-fat diet, but most of us do not eat out in search of hygiene or “nutritional values”. If we did, we would never eat burgers or foie gras. If we wanted to dine in a clinical environment, we could eat straight from the fridge wearing latex gloves.

Even in these “transparent” times there are some things better done behind closed doors. As Fergus Henderson, chef at the immaculate St John restaurant in Smithfield, says “a scoring system on the doors suggests there is something tainted about eating out”, and risks bringing “magic” restaurants down to earth by “showing their dirty laundry on the door when it’s not dirty”.

It turns out that half of Britain’s remaining cases of food poisoning are not in restaurants at all, but in hospitals, schools and care homes where the food is often unsavoury in every sense. If the authorities want something for their prodnoses and peckstaffs to do, they might start by putting their own kitchens in order.



The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was designed to make U.S. company finance more transparent and company bosses more accountable. In practice it has placed huge bureaucratic burdens on companies domiciled in the USA. The solution? Move domicile! The post below says that the move is on

Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley... London loves you! The more I read about the flood of money coming into the City of London from the United States, the more I am convinced that in the spirit of Christmas and fraternal Anglosphere conviviality, the people of London should say a heartily thank you to Maryland Democrat Paul Sarbanes and Ohio Republican Michael Oxley.

In fact, in the new year I plan to launch a subscription appeal to put up a pair of gold plated statues somewhere in the square mile, depicting these two fine politicians throwing handfuls of dollar bills to a multitude of grateful City of London bankers, fund managers, stock brokers and other sundry worthy capitalists, as great numbers of companies decamp from New York and list in London instead.

And so Paul and Michael, on behalf of all those fine folks here in Merry old England whose Christmas bonus packages have gone through the roof, thank you. We could not have done it without you. God bless globalisation.

If England is less bureaucratic, it shows how exceedingly bureaucratic the alternative is. Prof. Bainbridge has more details about the idiocies of Sarbanes-Oxley


Climate-change panic is not new, nor is unusual weather

During the long, hot summer of 1976, when Britain faced its worst drought in 250 years, the Government considered a number of unusual solutions. An emergency Drought Act was passed on August 6 and, by August 20, the Government had gathered information on the sinking of bore holes, the use of oil tankers to bring water from Norway, and the seeding of rain clouds - a method of forcing clouds to rain by spraying chemicals into the air. But cloud-seeding was ruled out and ministers were told that building a barrage at Morecambe Bay would be a cheaper way access water than importing it from Norway.

A letter of August 23 from the Home Office to the Prime Minister reported on the challenge facing the fire service: "Everything is tinder dry and the particular difficulty this weekend has been caused by higher wind speeds. The fires in Hampshire and Dorset are under control at present but the situation could change dramatically if the wind increases."

Days later, over the Bank Holiday weekend, the heavens opened and the drought came to an end. But the Government had been shaken and said the population needed to have its complacency about water availability "shattered".


How Britain gets people out of those evil cars: "The chance of being assaulted at a mainline railway station has nearly doubled in the past five years, according to figures from the British Transport Police. There were 1,270 violent attacks against passengers at stations last year compared with 702 in 2001 - an increase of 80 per cent. By far the most dangerous station is Leeds Central, where there were 159 attacks. In 2001 there were 75. Next are listed the main London stations - including Victoria and Waterloo - Birmingham New Street and Cardiff Central. The amount of violence had increased or stayed level at all the 61 stations covered by the British Transport Police figures, with the sole exception of Liverpool Lime Street".

Friday, December 29, 2006

Obese may be denied priority NHS care: Patients with 'self-inflicted' illnesses face discrimination

No word yet, however, about fatties, smokers and drinkers being refunded their compulsory health insurance payments

Smokers, people with alcohol problems and the obese could be denied priority treatment on the NHS if they do not try to change their lifestyle. The Cabinet is discussing the controversial idea as part of a drive by Tony Blair to secure his domestic political legacy by pushing through a final round of public service reforms before he departs next year.

Ministers will confront a panel of 100 ordinary people with some of the "tough choices" facing the Government under a consultation exercise giving the public a direct say in the new policies. One question will be whether people whose lifestyle makes them ill should get the same priority as other patients. This would mean changing NHS guidelines saying that people should not be discriminated against "even if their illnesses are to some extent self-inflicted".

A Cabinet review group on public services was shocked by the scale of the burden caused by people's lifestyles. "Ministers were shocked by the fact that half of all years of healthy life are lost as a result of behavioural factors (e.g. smoking and diet)," a Government source said. Ministers want a "cultural change" in public services so the state can support and encourage people to change their behaviour to improve their life chances and well-being. They also want to extend the number of "contracts" between the citizen and the state, such as the 30 pounds -a-week education maintenance allowances paid to over-16s who remain in further education.

Experts warned this month that obesity, which costs the NHS 7 billion a year, could bankrupt it if left unchecked and predicted that the proportion of obese adults would rise from one in five to one in three by 2010. Smoking-related diseases cost an estimated 1.7bn a year, with the same amount spent on alcohol-related problems. The treatment of alcohol-related harm, such as violent crime and traffic accidents, costs an estimated 20bn.

Downing Street sources said no decisions had been taken on whether to change the guidelines and stressed that the public would be asked their views on the issue first. The suggestion is bound to provoke criticism. Forest, the pro-smoking group, has claimed that some smokers have already suffered discrimination. It argues that tobacco revenues, which bring in 7bn a year for the Government, dwarf the cost of smoking-related illness.

The cabinet group, one of six drawing up the Blair Government's last policies, will also look at how public satisfaction measures can improve state-run services. Ministers will try to learn lessons from retailers like Tesco, which has used the technology behind its Clubcard system to offer a more personalised service. The 100 people, a representative cross-section of the British public, will be recruited across the regions in the new year and organised lobby groups will be excluded. In February, they will see the papers discussed by the six cabinet groups and, in March, a public services summit will be held in Downing Street at which the "people's panel" will reach decisions. These will be presented to the Cabinet in mid-March.

Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chairman, is looking at other ways in which the public could influence government policy and the way that services are run. A Blair aide said: "This process of public engagement recognises that politics is changing. The public level of expectations is rising both in terms of the provision which they receive and the right which they have to influence those services. It will identify in more detail the areas which the public want us to focus on and develop a series of radical and progressive solutions."

The cabinet reviews have already provoked controversy. A paper for the security, crime and justice group, leaked at the weekend, suggested that crime could rise for the first time in more than a decade as economic growth slows, and that the prison population, already at a record 80,000, could rise to 100,000 over the next five years. The Government has promised an extra 8,000 prison places but it is not clear how they will be funded. The Treasury has frozen the Home Office budget in real terms from 2008-11 other than for spending on security and anti-terrorism work.

Yesterday David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, challenged the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to address the "chronic shortage" of prison places. He said: "All we have seen from Gordon Brown has been a miserly approach which, as well as putting the public at risk, is short-sighted. The cost of having a serious criminal free on the streets to commit crime far outweighs the cost of imprisoning and rehabilitating that individual."

Source. Tangled Web has some comments.


And yet more encouragement for people to lie to keep out of trouble

Businesses have been warned by a Government watchdog they must individually quiz every member of staff on gay rights - or risk being sued for discrimination. Industrial relations quango Acas has spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money drawing up a detailed 18-question test to establish whether workers are being unfair to any homosexual colleagues. Employers are advised to use the so-called 'audit tool' on all staff, then check their answers against a special score sheet to ensure staff do not have a bad attitude. A poor score earns a 'STOP' warning, which, according to Acas, means the company is at risk of being sued for discrimination.

Questions range from knowing how many gays live in the UK, to whether the business displays a 'rainbow flag' - a symbol of homosexual rights - on the premises. Poor scores are awarded for, for example, any 'jokes or banter' relating to gay or bisexual people. Acas said it was part of the 'Government's drive to promote good practice' on the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Any firm which is alarmed by its results can ask for two free days consultancy, from Acas, paid for by the taxpayer. An expert will help the firm to develop an 'action plan'. The equivalent cost of the consultancy advice is an estimated 1,000 pounds.

Acas is the Government quango in charge of industrial relations in Britain, and provides advice and a reconciliation service to stop disputes reaching the tribunal stage. It has not sent the quiz to businesses, but they are all required to be up-to-date on Acas advice if they want to avoid being sued, and would be expected to download it from the website. In practice, most companies are so anxious about expensive tribunals in litigious modern-day Britain that they make sure they follow all Acas guidelines.

The test, however, was last night dismissed as a politically-correct waste of employers' time and public money. Business leaders said it was more likely to create rather than solve problems, by raising issues which had not previously caused any concern. Matt Hardman, of the Forum of Private Business, said: 'This is indicative of the state we have got ourselves into over discrimination laws. 'They seem determined to go to ridiculous lengths to flag up something which is unlikely to be an issue in most workplaces. 'In instances where it does arise, it will be dealt with informally in the first few weeks of employment and be dealt with quickly, and in an amiable away. It does not require something like this. 'We must be sensible, not take politically correct steps that are perhaps more likely to create problems than solve them.'

James Frayne, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It's bizarre to think that people actually sat down and came up with this idea and thought it was great. 'This is just the latest in a long line of absurd schemes public sector bodies have come up with and which all add up to a small fortune for the taxpayer. Unfortunately, it's very unlikely 2007 will say anything different.'

The questions ask staff if nicknames are more likely to be given to gay members of staff than homosexual ones, or if there is an office equality policy or lesbian, gay and bisexual support group. Answers which Acas wants to see - such as ticking 'no' to the suggestion gay workers are more likely to be teased - receive a green rating, or 0 points. Saying yes would earn a red rating, or two points. A total of 31 points or more earns a 'STOP' rating. This carries the warning: 'Your organisation may well not be properly addressing issues relating to lesbian, gay or bisexual people in the workplace. 'Importantly this suggests that there is a lack of awareness relating to treating people fairly regardless of their sexual orientation, which may mean discrimination on the grounds of people's sexual preferences. 'Remember organisations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, whether perceived or not, leave themselves open to a potential legal challenge under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.' A total of 0-10 is a clean bill of health, while 11-30 means proceed with caution, according to Acas.

Earlier this month, Acas came under fire for warning firms they could be sued unless they ensured office Christmas parties were politically correct. In an extraordinary advice pamphlet, the quango told firms they had a 'duty of care' to drunken staff and could face crippling legal action if they do not get home safely. Managers were also told age discrimination laws could be breached if the music and entertainment caters only for younger staff, and holding a raffle or giving out alcoholic prizes could offend Muslims. It even added a 'proper risk assessment' must be carried out before any decorations were put up, particularly if they could be fire hazards. Businesses said it made holding a Christmas party barely worth their while.

Acas said: 'Promoting equality and diversity and ensuring employees feel valued and can give their best are key issues for today's workplaces. 'This audit tool is designed to give an indication of where (an) organisation is in regard to sexual orientation and gender reassignment.' The organisation added: 'It is definitely not a test; it's designed to bring a sensitive topic out into the open and gauge whether an organisation protects basic equal rights at work whatever the individual's beliefs and practices in their personal lives.'


Indigestion remedies linked to fractures?

Taking potent drugs to combat indigestion can increase the risk of breaking hip and other bones, researchers say. Drugs that restrict the production of acid in the stomach are among the most effective and best-selling treatments in the world, with sales worth more than £7 billion a year. But a study of nearly 150,000 British patients by American researchers found that they increased the risk of hip fracture by as much as 44 per cent.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may decrease cal-cium absorption or bone dens- ity in certain patients, leading to increased risk of fractures.

Many of the one in twenty people who visit doctors in Britain each year complaining of heartburn are prescribed acid-suppressive drugs — or PPIs — to alleviate their problems. Prescriptions for PPIs such as omeprazole — sold under the brand names Losec, Prilosec and Zegerid — rose by more than 5,000 per cent during the 1990s.

A team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, analysed data from the UK General Practice Research Database, which contains information on millions of British patients.

Limiting the study to people aged over 50, the researchers examined 13,556 hip fracture cases and 135,386 control patients. After screening for other factors that might lead to a fall or brittle bones, they found that more than one year of PPI therapy was associated with a 44 per cent increased risk of hip fracture.

They suggest that elderly patients taking high doses of PPIs for long periods should boost their calcium intake.


Brits flocking to Australia

Amusing the reason given below: Sun and sand. No doubt that is a factor but might it not be that escaping high taxes and the high rate of black crime are important too?

Australia welcomed more than 130,000 immigrants in the last fiscal year, most of them swapping the cold of Britain for sun and sand down under. Figures released by the Department of Immigration show Australia welcomed about 8000 more immigrants than the previous year, with the majority choosing to settle in New South Wales.

While many of the new settlers arrived and stayed in Sydney, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said immigrants were finding it easier to settle outside the city. "A network of support services has now been established in regional NSW and throughout Australia and this has made it more attractive for migrants to live and work away from the big metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne," she said.

The biggest increases in immigration were in South Australia and the ACT. South Australia welcomed 9099 new immigrants, an increase from 6364 in 2004-05, while the capital territory became home for 1372 new Australians, up from 1217. A building boom, low unemployment and the aesthetics of Canberra were all behind the ACT's attractiveness, Senator Vanstone said. "The Canberra community is to be congratulated for welcoming these people into their lives so readily and willingly." [Really! Poms are a universal feature of Australian life. Completely unremarkable]


Global cooling in Queensland

If an unusually hot summer in London proves global warming, surely an unusually cool summer in Brisbane proves global cooling!! Or don't the colonies count?

It still hasn't broken the drought, but more good soaking rain across much of the state yesterday seemed to wash away our concerns - at least for a moment or two. As a southerly air stream brought more record cold December temperatures and unseasonal drizzle, many swapped the traditional post-Christmas day at the beach for a rare stroll in the rain....

There were smiles too on the Darling Downs, where the light drizzle was just enough follow-up to storm rain a fortnight ago. Graingrower Frank Stenzel said the 8mm of light rain that had fallen since Christmas Day at his Greenmount property, 25km south of Toowoomba, was a welcome boost for his 120ha crop of sorghum. But Mr Stenzel said he would need a further 100mm in coming weeks to ensure a reasonable harvest. "The cool weather has allowed the rain to soak in and hopefully well get more by the weekend," he said.

The bureau has forecast cloudy skies and patchy rain for today in a band from the northwest to the southeast of the state, slowly clearing northwards. Tomorrow, rain is expected to ease and clear northwards, with temperatures climbing but still generally below average. The highest rainfall recorded yesterday was 29mm at Baralaba, 200km southwest of Gladstone.

Bureau senior forecaster Geoff Doueal said record low December maximums had been recorded at several places, including Brisbane Airport (19.1C), Toowoomba (13.9C), Ipswich (18.4C) and Oakey (15.5C). Emerald's maximum of 16.7C was the lowest December maximum for a century. The previous lowest December temperature was 18.3 in 1907.

More here

And it is indeed a remarkably cool summer here in Brisbane. There is a distinct nip in the air at night. Usually, at this time of the year, I am accustomed to having a warm shower by turning on the cold water only!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Compulsory halal meat in UK schools

Post lifted from Cranmer

Cranmer is indebted to his faithful communicant Ms Dexey for bringing his attention to the fact that Reading schools are serving halal meat to their students with neither their foreknowledge nor parental approval. It is not the option to which Cranmer objects, but the compulsion. The RSPCA condemns the practice of slitting an animal's throat while it is conscious, but issues of cruelty and inhumane treatment have been completely ignored as Berkshire schools bend over backwards to accommodate the sensitivities of Islam.

The reason given is that Reading `has a high proportion of Muslim students'. By the same reasoning, Bradford, Oldham, Leicester, Slough, and most of London should also be serving nothing but halal meat, and now the precedent has been set, it will not be too long before the demands are made.

But Cranmer finds a flaw in this multicultural manifestation. Of course the Christians may object, and without doubt their pleas will fall on deaf ears, but the Sikhs also have cause for complaint, and they have yet to raise their voice on this matter.

Unlike Hindus, some Sikhs eat meat, not least because one of their gurus is recorded as being a hunter. Yet within the Sikh faith are the `kurahit', or prohibitions, one of which is to not eat meat `killed in the Muslim way'. The origins, as ever, have more to do with the politics of identity, but it is a sustained article of belief for Sikhs all over the world - they are simply not permitted to eat halal meat at all. In Reading, they have been doing so without their knowledge.

Consider for one moment if these schools had been serving reconstituted pork disguised as some other meat, without the knowledge of Muslim students or parents. There would be uproar, with a high-powered delegation of `senior Muslims' to Downing Street demanding national repentance and a global apology, to which the Prime Minister would doubtless acquiesce.

In this instance, the sensitivities of other faith groups and the demands of the animal rights activists are subjugated to the demands of the Muslims.


Our small dog was in a bad way – vomiting, and with a dreadful case of the ‘scoots’ as we say in Scotland. We thought he had eaten something nasty, and it would soon pass. But by 6pm we realised that we needed a vet.

It was Sunday evening. Indeed, it was Christmas Eve. But the vet answered the phone straight away, and told us to come round to the surgery. Ten minutes later, he was examining the dog, and fifteen minutes after that, he had diagnosed the problem, given him three injections, bottled up a week’s dose of two different kinds of medicine, told us he would recover just fine, swiped 34 pounds off our credit card, and assured us that it was just fine to call him on Christmas day if we had any further problems. That’s what I call good service.

By contrast, as I say, a few weeks back I needed to see the doctor. It was a Friday evening, and a recorded message told me that the surgery was now closed until Monday. If I had a real emergency I could leave a message and someone – obviously not my regular doctor – would call me. It wasn’t an emergency, so I called back on Monday, and managed to get an appointment ten days later (though in honesty, I could have seen another doctor in a shorter time). The doctor wrote me a prescription, again for two medicines, but I had to walk half a mile up to the chemist to get them. They cost me around £14 (the standard NHS medicines charge), almost half what the vet charged me for his whole on-the-spot consultation and prescription.

Why do vets give such better service? I am sure that doctors are just as dedicated to their vocation. But with the vet, the link between serving your customers and getting paid by them is immediate. It concentrates the mind on giving good service. In the NHS, remuneration is negotiated and paid by government quangos. There is no clear link between getting paid and giving a good service to your customers.

Doctors should be remunerated like vets. And if some people cannot afford their fees, then those people should be subsidized through the welfare system. The rest of us should pay cash. We might grumble at that thought: but we would get such a better service that overall, we would probably grumble far less.

Until that happens, though, next time there is something wrong with me, I shall be consulting a vet.


A British drinker mocks British government alcohol correctness:

It is that time of year again, when the family of experts and authorities gather around to hand out shock-horror warnings that binge drinking at Christmas can be bad for us.

Here is the shocking news for them: we know. And we don’t care. For many of us, Christmas is supposed to be one big binge — a burst of spending, eating and drinking that is less festival of light than heavy session. That, after all, is what the B word means — “a bout, usually brief, of excessive indulgence” — not “a slippery slope into alcoholism”. Hopefully somebody bought the binge-whingers a decent dictionary for Christmas. Given the alternatives — not drinking at all, or not stopping — a binge has always seemed to me the best way to celebrate.

The official abuse of the meaning of “binge” is more than semantics. It blurs the distinction between the social drinking that millions happily indulge in, and the serious alcohol problems that afflict a few. The definition of “binge drinking” has been so watered down that a binge is defined as imbibing double the recommended daily limit at one sitting. So three glasses of wine, or two pints of strong lager, now qualify as a “binge” for women. Men may just be allowed a third pint before falling into the binger category. Less Ho, Ho, Ho than No, No, No.

What is all the fuss about? I grew up in suburban Surrey in the Seventies, and have blurred memories of Christmas as a ten-day bender sprinkled with violence and vomit. Somehow we survived to drink another day. By contrast, Christmas bingeing is viewed with horror today not because we drink more, but because officialdom thinks less of people — especially young people. The anxious authorities are mortified by the spectre of the public letting go, of the masses off the leash and on the lash for a few days.

But be of good cheer, there is life after a binge. Shane Warne is not only the greatest cricketer of his generation. His ability to drink himself stupid between repeated bouts of brilliance has made him a hero to binge drinkers everywhere. As he said when announcing his retirement last week: “I’ll have a few drinks and a few smokes afterwards, and take it from there.”

Some of us might not want to go so far as the binge drinker’s bible (aka the Bible), where it is written (Ecclesiastes 8:15) that “a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry”. But the occasional binge is one of life’s small joys for many. And, as even the Government’s own National Alcohol Harm Strategy admits reluctantly, most who drink more than the official guidelines “will not suffer harmful effects” — no more harmful than a hangover, anyway. The binge-whingers should remember that for millions of us this week, a binge is just for Christmas, not for life.


Australian Labor Party to get tough on welfare

Australia's new Leftist leader would be a "blue dog" Democrat in the USA. And the comparison with Britain is even more amusing. Not only is Rudd to the Right of the British Labour government but he is also to the Right of Britain''s nominally "Conservative" Opposition

Kevin Rudd is pledging to push welfare change harder than the Howard Government if elected next year by encouraging many of Australia's 700,000 "forgotten" people on disability pensions to find work. In a move expected to enrage welfare groups, federal Labor is planning to keep tough criteria for new disability pensioners introduced by the Government in July. Opposition workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong signalled Labor would go further than the Government, saying she wanted to create thousands of new training positions so people on disability pensions could find work.

Under the Government's tightening of eligibility for the disability support pension, people will no longer get the payment if they are judged able to work 15 hours a week - a halving of the previous 30-hour limit. The 700,000 people on the DSP before July are not affected by the revised work-hours test. The Government's welfare changes outraged welfare groups including the Catholic Church, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Uniting Care Australia because they considered the measures too harsh.

Labor wants to provide incentives to existing DSP recipients whom it believes would work if given a chance. According to Labor, these people have been neglected by the Government as too hard to handle politically, and because involving them in work programs could bring an unwelcome boost to unemployment figures. Senator Wong said Labor wanted to be known as a "work-first" party and not one of welfarism.

While the policy was formulated during Kim Beazley's period as Opposition leader, Senator Wong, a member of the party's Left, continues a trend adopted by Mr Rudd. Since being elected to the Labor leadership this month, Mr Rudd has moved to reposition the party on a raft of issues to cast it as economically responsible and avoid being wedged on contentious left-wing issues. Mr Rudd has signalled there will be no repeat of Mark Latham's disastrous Tasmanian forestry policy, and Labor's immigration policy will encourage learning English and getting a job, with integration into Australian society emphasised over cultural diversity. Campaigning on federal-state reform, Mr Rudd has called for an overhaul of responsibilities between the commonwealth and states to improve services in health and education.

Senator Wong said Labor supported moves to cut the DSP rate further, although she confirmed the party's approach would not force people off pensions. Rather it would lure them off benefits by offering training places. "We think those who can work should work," she said. "If we can further reduce welfare payments and get people into work, it'sbetter for everybody. We are and should be a party that understands the value of work. We want to reduce the numbers of people who are long-term welfare-dependent."

The number of people on DSP benefits rose by 21 per cent over the past five years to 700,000. But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, their labour market participation rate is just 46.5 per cent, compared with 70 per cent in most OECD countries.

The Howard Government reneged on one of its core welfare reform promises, to provide a guaranteed 4000 places for disabled people in its Welfare to Work programs. Senator Wong said Labor would offer places to anyone on the pension who wanted them. Welfare recipients could study at TAFE or university courses instead of having to look for work. The changes would apply to people receiving the disability support pension or the sole parents' pension, and who are considered capable of working between 15 and 30 hours a week.

The only training they can now undertake as part of their mutual obligation requirement is short-term and must be run by a member of the JobNetwork or an organisation approved by the agency. Instead of work-for-the-dole projects, eligible welfare recipients could do training, vocational or tertiary courses, as long as they could prove this would increase their chances of work, Senator Wong said. Labor's concession to the welfare lobby will be to ensure that while the disabled and single mothers wait for jobs they receive higher rates of support through boosted welfare payments.


British Leftist antisemitism driving out Jews? "There is an ancient Jewish prayer that says: "Next year in Jerusalem." That, however, is not soon enough for 40 British Jews, who will board aircraft today taking them to Israel, leaving one country in the dying days of 2006 and beginning their new life in a new land and a new year: 5767 under the Jewish calendar. The migration of British Jews to Israel stands in marked contrast to the general decline in immigration to the Jewish state from elsewhere. While the number of immigrants to Israel dropped by 9 per cent worldwide in 2006, arrivals from Britain increased by 45 per cent, the largest rise of any nation."

A new Margaret Thatcher needed in Britain: ""Britons will have to pay ever higher proportions of tax for the rest of their working lives, the Government’s own figures revealed. Despite an unprecedented era of economic stability and growth, the burden of taxation is set to rise or stay constant in every decade for the coming 50 years, according to little-noticed forecasts published by the Treasury this month. The Government’s best estimate of the tax burden it will bequeath to future generations is printed in figures less than two millimetres in size and buried within an obscure document published alongside Gordon Brown’s Pre-Budget Report (PBR). Entitled Long-Term Public Finance Report: an Analysis of Fiscal Sustainability, it revealed that taxes as a proportion of national income will rise from 38.4 per cent this year to 40.5 per cent in 2026 and up to 41.6 per cent in 2056, if current policies are continued. Government spending is set to rise even faster, pushing the country’s finances deeper into the red with every successive decade from the 2030s onwards.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Egg on the Face of British Authorites over Attempted "Hate Speech" Prosecution

We read:

" An English couple who were the subject of a police hate probe after complaining about the town's pro-gay policies will be paid $20,000 to end a discrimination suit alleging their civil rights had been violated.

After the Wyre Borough Council launched a diversity program to train its staff about LGBT issues and started a Lancashire wide scheme to promote gay friendly businesses and organizations Joe and Helen Roberts sent a letter to the council calling homosexuality "immoral".... Council officials turned the letter over to police who began a probe to determine if it violated British hate laws.....

In June the Roberts filed suit against the council. The couple claimed that Wyre Council and Lancashire Constabulary interfered with their human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion under the Human Rights Act.

The case was to have gone to court in January but in an out of court settlement the couple agreed to drop the lawsuit in return for a public apology from the police and council and a cash settlement of $20,000 which Joe Roberts said would be given to a conservative Christian group that opposes homosexuality.


Nice to see that one of Britain's wacky laws can sometimes do something useful.


A recipe for blackouts

Nature seems to like her little ironies, like the cold weather that pursues Big Al round the world as he promotes his global warming scare. So she provided a stationary high, of the sort mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this page, at the very moment that the new gigantic monstrosity on the Thames Estuary was announced. If all those white elephants were in position now they would be providing no power at all, just when the country is immersed in freezing fog and needing it. This letter in the Telegraph almost says it all:

Sir - Once again the public are being misled by the wind industry. These windfarms, which are going to cover over 100 square miles of the approaches to the Thames Estuary, will never power one third of London homes.

If as suggested the installed capacity of the 400-plus turbines is 1.3 Gw (1300Mw) then even with a generous load factor of 30 per cent the average output will only be 390Mw. This would in fact be enough to provide 5Kw to 78,000 homes, about enough to power an electric kettle and a toaster. If, as there frequently is, a high pressure system is sitting over south-east England , then there will be zero output from these windfarms. The claims about carbon dioxide savings are equally dishonest. Using widely accepted data the annual, theoretical savings of CO2 for these turbines would be approximately 1.46 Mt and would reduce global levels by a farcical 0.005 per cent

What your readers really need to know is that these windfarms will receive approximately œ160 million per year in subsidies, paid for by them. This windfarm scandal has gone on long enough and needs to be exposed for what is. We are destroying our landscapes and now our seascapes for nothing more than green tokenism, and are being expected to pay for it as well.

Bob Graham, Chairman, Highlands Against Windfarms, Orton, Moray

Unfortunately it rather understates the case. Time averages are of no significance in this application. The point is that for about 80% of the time these machines would produce no power at all. Fossil fuel generators would have to provide the missing power and then be switched to warm standby while the wind is blowing. Even if CO2 were a significant factor in global warming, the fraction saved would be derisory.

It was a particularly irksome time to read this nonsense, as the announcement of the latest hike in electricity bills came through the letter box on the same day. Ordinary punters have no idea how much they are paying for these religious observances and they cannot see the connection with the front page headline on the same day.

Pity the poor grid controller when the wind drops suddenly: by the time his call for extra fossil power has been answered, the cascade of failures across the network will already have begun to propagate.

From Numberwatch - Post of Dec 22

Tony Blair versus Tony Blair: "On this page a few weeks ago, Tony Blair set out his case for the ID card scheme that his Government is preparing to foist upon the British people over the next eight years or so. This was, presumably, a different Tony Blair from the one whose thoughts I stumbled across at the weekend while digging out books for the local Christmas fair. New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country, published in 1996, was a collection of newspaper articles and speeches that encapsulated Mr Blair's Third Way political philosophy, the prospectus on which he would be elected to office the following year. On the cover, he said: "When we make a promise, we must be sure we can keep it. That is page one, line one of a new contract between the Government and the citizen." So what did he think of ID cards? The answer was on page 68: "Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local community." So much for Mr Blair's new contract."

Pathetic British Tories: "Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are conspicuous by their absence in a list of 12 great Britons who created the institutions that shaped the country's history, compiled by the Conservatives and eminent historians. The ranking was prompted as part of the Tory party's review of the teaching of history in schools and comes after surveys showing that many children lack a basic knowledge of history."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

British Academics seek right to offend

A right that they theoretically have already -- but not of course in practice. See also here under the heading "Staff are silenced by fear of reprisals"

A group of academics is demanding the right to be controversial in a new campaign for freedom of speech. Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) says that in today's political climate it is "harder than ever" for scholars to defend open debate. AFAF says they must be allowed to question received wisdom, and managers should not be able to discipline academics for voicing unpopular views. The group is calling on all university lecturers to sign its online petition.

"Restrictive legislation, and the bureaucratic rules and regulations of government quangos and of universities themselves, have undermined academic freedom," the groups says. "Many academics are fearful of upsetting managers and politicians by expressing controversial opinions. "Afraid to challenge mainstream thought, many pursue self-censorship."

A Leeds University lecturer, Frank Ellis, took early retirement this year before a disciplinary hearing over his comments that there was evidence to suggest white people had higher IQ levels than black people.

Statement of freedom

The statement of academic freedom which lecturers are being asked to sign says two principles are the foundation of academic freedom: "That academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive. "That academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal."

Writing on the AFAF website, Professor Roy Harris from the University of Oxford said: "Getting university authorities to agree to these principles is an essential step towards safeguarding academic freedom for the future." Professor Mary Evans from the University of Kent said: "Universities need to be able to maintain, and even extend their ability to think the unthinkable. "They should not accept a role as mere instruments of state agendas."

Simon Davies, co-director of the policy engagement research group at the London School of Economics, added: "I'm deeply worried about the number of academics who flee in terror at the slightest wisp of controversy. "Rather than engage the world in a spirit of challenge, too many academics have been sedated by an oppressive environment of political correctness and risk aversion."

Source. More detail here under the heading: "Scholars demand right to be offensive".

Cars not Allowed to be "Gay"

We read:

"The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a "bit gay". The ruling is a surprise since the corporation had defended Clarkson robustly when the remarks were broadcast in the summer.

He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show's audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at o13,495. The man said, "No, it's a bit gay", to which Clarkson added: "A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer."


"Gay" is just a general derogatory word among young people but "Ginger beer" is Cockney rhyming slang for "queer" so Clarkson was evidently saying that the car was the sort homosexuals would like. Apparently that opinion may not be stated.

Monday, December 25, 2006


To all who come by here. And let us reflect thankfully on our Judeo-Christian heritage which mandated kindness and impartial justice (Exodus 23), among many other things.

David Irving, the Walking Controversy

I probably should not admit that David Irving does rather give me a laugh at times. I think that, like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, he is to a significant degree an entertainer. His latest comment, describing a particular colour of brown as "n*gger brown", was obviously a big tease, and it got him the headlines he wanted. He is what Australians would call a "stirrer".

Like Chomsky, however, he lets off his verbal grenades among other sensible-sounding utterances and he has certainly got a point with this:

"You can't have a genuine consensus about histories about a subject like the Holocaust... if the proponents of one argument are given the knighthoods and the money and their opponents are locked up in prison."

The pity of it is that Irving is actually an extremely knowledgeable historian as well. I doubt that there is any other historian who has immersed himself in the Nazi period as fully as he has. His books show that and he was also the only historian who immediately fingered the Kujau "Hitler Diaries" as a fake. I say a little more about Irving here.

Bell-ringers are prime suspects

Heard the one about the Tory shadow minister who wanted to dress up as an elf in Santa’s grotto? (Well, they are all going green.) Sadly the punchline is not as funny as the Lib Dem MP lending a hand to the Cheeky Girl. Tim Loughton, the Shadow Minister for Children, was prevented from displaying his elfin charms at a charity children’s Christmas party, because he had not been vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). Welcome to the spirit of Christmas present, where Santas, party helpers, choir members and bell-ringers can all come under suspicion of being undercover perverts, and children must be protected from an honourable, but unvetted, elf.

A report entitled How the Child Protection Industry Stole Christmas, published by my friends at the Manifesto Club, lists seasonal horror stories from around the country. A fat old man offering children gifts if they sit on his lap in a cosy grotto — that’s “grooming”, isn’t it? So Santa often has to be vetted, and even then probably won’t be allowed to put children on his knee, ask for a kiss or do anything more than shake hands under bright lights and even CCTV cameras. All it needs now is for the Santas to claim that they cannot have chubby children on their knee anyway because of health and safety regulations.

Elsewhere, unvetted volunteers are barred from some Christmas parties, photographing Nativity plays is frowned upon, and some churches require all adults in mixed-age choirs to be vetted. Oh succumb, all ye faithful. As for those notorious church bell-ringers they not only need CRB-vetted supervisors, but also parents must be informed that an adult may touch their child’s hand, and young campanologists are given warning not to wear anything “overtly provocative”, presumably in case it rings somebody’s bell.

As Josie Appleton, the report’s author, says: “This isn’t about ‘PC gone mad’. Sadly, these procedures have become entirely normal in schools, churches and community centres across Britain.” Whatever the intentions, the effect can only be to spread bad will and mistrust towards all men. One mother selling letters from Santa on eBay even assures customers: “The magic of Christmas is here . . . I am CRB-checked.” Magic!


New drugs 'could halve treatment'

A new generation of antibiotics could halve the length of time people need to take medication, scientists say. London researchers are developing what they hope will be the first of these - a compound to treat the hospital superbug MRSA in the nose. It tackles bacteria currently "left behind" because they are resistant to standard antibiotics. The anti-MRSA drug will be tested in humans next year and may be available in five years.

It is hoped similar compounds being examined by the team will also prove effective against Staphylococcus bacteria, which cause sore throats and tuberculosis. Developing a way of tackling antibiotic resistance is important because it could mean the antibiotics which already exist could be given a longer life. At the moment, years of work can be put into developing a conventional antibiotic but it may be possible to use it for around only 18 months before resistance develops.

HT61 is being developed as a cream to tackle persistent MRSA bacteria in the nose, the most important part of the body where it is carried. Many hospitals already test people before they come in for operations to see if they are carriers of MRSA. But, like all bacterial infections, it is made up of two forms of bacteria - the fast-dividing sort targeted by existing antibiotics - and non-multiplying, or persistent, bacteria. It is this latter form that lurks in the body and causes repeat infection, and can lead to resistance if it is exposed to medication. HT61, which has been tested in the lab and in "very successful" animal trials, is effective against persistent MRSA bacteria. It will be tested on around 60 people next year.

The team may later seek to tackle MRSA once it has got inside the body. Sir Anthony Coates, professor of medical microbiology at St George's Medical School, who is leading the research, said research so far showed it was "potent against MRSA". Clive Page, professor of pharmacology at King's College London, who is also working on the study, said the work opened up the possibility of a whole family of drugs which could treat persistent bacteria in a range of conditions. He said: "It may lead to us providing a combination of drugs - one to target the dividing bacteria and one to target the persistent form. "If you take something like penicillin, and put this with it, you might be able to get a treatment course which lasts one or two days, rather than the current five to seven."


UK: Millions 'cannot read well enough for karaoke'

Millions of adults have such poor reading skills that they will struggle to keep up with karaoke lyrics at Christmas parties this year, government research has found.

Research for the Department for Education's Get On campaign found classic songs like Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" require the reading skills expected of an 11-year-old, lacked by more than 5.2 million adults. Other karaoke hits, such as "Angels" by Robbie Williams, pose a harder challenge, which nearly 18 million adults will fail.


There's more to childhood than counting calories

The obsession with expanding waistlines is narrowing horizons for children - and replacing adult guidance with health tips.

Last week, in Britain, Sainsbury’s announced that it was financing a £3million programme to help 5,000 obese children and their families. In addition, ‘nutrition nannies’ will be treading the aisles to advise families on healthy eating and staying active. This week, the Chicago mayor asked restaurants with over $10million in annual sales to post calorie counts on their menus, so that kids can moderate their intake. This comes a year after Democratic and Republican heavyweights joined forces to announce a 10-year programme combating childhood obesity.

Increasingly everything that children do is assessed with reference to body mass index (BMI). Indeed, the obesity issue seems to be one of the few areas where adults feel they can give some moral guidance. Adults today have a hard time telling kids what is right and wrong, how they should develop themselves, or why they should exercise self-control. Good now equals active, low fat, and smaller waistline; bad equals inactive, full-fat and bulging belly.

Childhood obesity has become the bottom line justification for children’s activity. A few weeks ago, the government proposed that kids should go on school trips to help combat childhood obesity (see Who killed the school trip?, by Josie Appleton). The same justification is given for why children should also play sport, play outside with their friends, and walk to school on their own. The need to combat obesity apparently also means that they should eat good food, and eat with their family at mealtimes.

Conversely, it is said that children shouldn’t play video games too much, sit at home not doing anything, or eat on their own whenever they like, because that will make them fat.

This signifies a profound narrowing of vision. Questions of self-development and self-restraint are posed in one-dimensional terms of weights and measures. Children’s activity is judged in terms of narrow goals and ends, the numbers of calories that it burns, rather than being seen as simply a normal party of everyday life, or as useful as an end in itself. So long as their arms and legs are moving, it seems, that is okay.

Increasingly children are encouraged to engage in ‘active lifestyle programmes’. The Department of Heath gave some children pedometers to measure the numbers of steps that they take in a day. Schoolchildren in Denver received similar pedometers back in 2002, and have been counting their steps ever since. Experts try to work out what is an acceptable pedometer reading: ‘How many steps per day do children need?’, asks one article, plumping for 12,000 steps for girls and 15,000 for boys.

In Minnesota, an obesity researcher designed a classroom that encouraged children to fidget. An article reports: ‘all of the desks have been replaced with adjustable podiums. Instead of chairs, children stand, kneel or sit on big exercise balls while they work and they are actively encouraged to move about the space.’ The children are adorned with sensors to measure their every movement. Another US company designed a toy known as ‘Fizzees’ (Physical Electronic Energisers), digital pets that children care for by moving around. Lots of jumping makes for a happy Fizzee.

Here, the authorities are trying to attach meaning to children’s everyday mundane activities; government targets are being pursued through activities such as children walking to school or running down to the park, or even just fidgeting. Video games are okay, apparently, so long as they involve activity. Groby Community College in Leicestershire introduced the game Dance Dance Revolution to encourage reluctant girls to exercise. The Nintendo game Wii received cheers from some quarters because it increased kids’ activity levels. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is considering replacing play areas in some of its US restaurants with kiddie gyms, to help them burn off the calories.

Even the question of obesity itself is seen in very flat moral terms. Gluttony was a sin because it meant gorging the self at the expense of higher spiritual goals, such as praying and doing good works. The problem was not so much the kind or quantity of food that sinners ingested, but their motivation for doing so. It was a question of character and inner life, not just of digestion.

Although obesity is now the number one sin with which to scare children, it’s seen in peculiarly pragmatic terms. There is an obsession with measurement. The UK Department of Health released cutting edge advice on how to measure child obesity levels, and called on headteachers to carry out these measurements in primary schools. The problem with obesity reduced to bald statistics: it causes X amount of damage to children’s health, and costs the NHS Y million pounds per year and the economy as a whole Z.

Researchers are busily working out all the various ‘factors’ that influence childhood obesity. One Bristol researcher found that it was influenced by lack of sleep, while another academic found that it was caused by watching more than eight hours of TV a week at the age of three. There are lots of complicated programmes to encourage families to create a new environment for children, with all the correct factors in place. The question is not just that Johnny is greedy and needs to eat less. Instead, there is expert advice on micromanaging families’ every lifestyle choice, from food to mealtimes to weekend routines.

MEND - the charity financed by Sainsbury’s - aims at ‘involving the entire family in healthy eating and an active lifestyle programme’, including everything from ‘changing family attitudes towards healthy eating and physical activity’, recommending ‘practical ways to remove unhealthy food triggers’, and ‘learning to be a healthy role model’. All this is apparently about ‘empowering them with the knowledge and skills to overcome obesity’. This interfering jargon almost makes you miss the Ten Commandments.

These policies are in danger of breeding a new nation of self-obsessed gym goers, who are forever counting their steps and calorie intake. Kids shouldn’t be thinking about their weight, even - or perhaps especially - if they are fat. They should be thinking about winning a game of football, improving their tennis serve, playing games with their friends. They should be having fun, chilling out.

There is more to childhood than not being fat. School trips broaden the mind, sport is fun, walking to school teaches you independence, eating good food with your family is more satisfying and sociable than eating alone. Adults need to work out how to give kids more substantial guidance - on what it means to be a good person, how to develop yourself and exercise self-control - beyond waving your arms and legs around to reduce your BMI.


Sunday, December 24, 2006


There is an interesting site here that uses publicly available data to calculate the cost of getting electricity from wind power rather than from King Coal etc. It turns out to be about as intelligent a policy as sacrificing your children to a false God. And the calculations do not even include the fact that every wind station built has to have a coal station built to back it up when the wind is not blowing -- thus roughly doubling the capital cost of delivering a given amount of electricity. It's about as rational as Devil worship.

An old-fashioned gal: "Liz Hurley turned down jewellery in favour of a pair of shotguns for her birthday. The actress-and-fashion designer rarely graces a red carpet unless she is dripping in expensive jewels, however, when she turned 41 in June she had an unusual present request. She told Ultra magazine: "For my last birthday I was offered jewellery or shotguns. I chose the guns." Liz was reportedly given a pair of Spanish 12 bores."

Saturday, December 23, 2006


The BBC is leading this morning with the ridiculous Chatham House paper on Blair's Foreign Policy record. Who are these people? The author of the document (all five-and-a-half pages of it) is Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, who had a background in Latin American politics before taking over at the RIIA [Royal Institute of International Affairs or "Chatham House"]. It's an astonishingly thin, intellectually hazy, and lazy piece of work. He writes that:

"Tony Blair's successor(s) will not be able to offer unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy and a rebalancing of the UK's foreign policy between the US and Europe will have to take place."

And that's as detailed as the argument gets - basically an assertion of the random political preferences of Prof. Bulmer-Thomas. Margaret Beckett has hit the nail on the head with her response: "This paper is threadbare, insubstantial and just plain wrong. Chatham House has established a great reputation over the years, but this paper will do nothing to enhance it."

So why does this ludicrous piece of junk get on the top of the news? It coincides exactly with the BBC world-view: Blair's a poodle, Bush is an ape, we should bin the yanks and "get deeper into Europe" in some unspecified way. Quite apart from the headline message, the paper is a frustrating read. For example there is a throwaway line about how "The emphasis on aid and debt relief for Africa in return for an improvement in governance may come to look strangely old-fashioned." What does this mean? We are not told.

The sniffy tone doesn't help either: "Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little." That sort of stuff obviously does it for the BBC in a big way, but it doesn't leave any of us any the wiser about how the RIIA think we should run our foreign policy. The only good thing about the report is that it's a good distillation of the intellectual incoherence / fantasy politics at the heart of the pro-euro movement.

More here


Some patients needing orthopaedic surgery are still waiting more than two years for treatment, according to new figures.

The latest official statistics on NHS performance with regard to the 18-week waiting times target showed that some specialities were performing particularly poorly.

In what is widely considered to be the most ambitious target for the health service, the Government has pledged that no patient should wait more than 18 weeks from GP referral to the start of treatment, whether they are an in-patient or an out-patient, by the end of 2008.

Figures released yesterday by Andy Burnham, Health Minister showed that most specialities - including gynaecology, dermatology and cardiology - treat between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of in-patients within 18 weeks. But that figure falls to below 20 per cent in trauma and orthopaedics - which includes hip replacements and broken bones - where the average patient waits an average of 39 weeks for treatment. The new figures show that an average of 70 per cent to 80 per cent of patients who do not require hospital admission are treated within 18 weeks.

When it comes to patients needing hospital admission, only 35 per cent are seen within the target.


Britain: Some political opinions are beyond the pale of polite society

It's getting as politically intolerant as Germany. The BNP is an anti-immigration party.

"The Sugar Plum Fairy in English National Ballet's production of The Nutcracker had to confront angry colleagues before yesterday's matinee performance after she was revealed to be a member of the British National Party.

Clarke said she believed that immigration had "really got out of hand". She added: "If everyone who thinks like I do joined, it would really make a difference."


Here's betting she loses her job soon.

U.K.: Leftist policies bad for employment: "More young people are out of work now than when Labour won power in 1997 by promising to cut youth unemployment, official figures obtained by The Times reveal. There are now 37,000 more unemployed people aged 16 to 24 than in May 1997, with the total rising from 665,000 to 702,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. The unemployment rate has risen to 14.5 per cent among young people, overtaking the 14.4 per cent rate Labour inherited from the Conservative Government. The figures are acutely embarrassing for the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who in 1997 described the youth unemployment he inherited as a "human tragedy", "sickening" and "an economic disaster". Tackling youth unemployment has been one of Labour's priorities, and the target of billions of pounds of public spending on schemes, including the New Deal for the young unemployed. The rise is particularly startling since it has occurred despite ten years of sustained economic growth and the creation of more than two million jobs."

British army recruitment solid too: "Recruitment to the Army has jumped 16 per cent over the past 12 months, indicating that the casualty tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan have not put off teenagers from considering a career on the front line. Defence sources said that the reasons for the rise were complex, but that it was clear that the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan had provided an incentive for many young men and women to join up because of the excitement involved."

Crime a career for young British blacks: "Young men in deprived urban communities see crime as a better career opportunity than the legitimate labour market, ministers have been warned. Dealing drugs and committing other crimes gives those with little education an opportunity to overcome deprivation and gain wealth and status in their neighbourhoods. A report on gun crime commissioned by the Home Office warns: "Dealing in illegal drugs appears to significantly underpin the criminal economy in many locations and seems to be instrumental in legitimising crime as a career option for some individuals. "There are many indications that drug-dealing and other criminality are `out-competing' the legitimate labour market. "For individuals whose employment prospects are limited by a lack of qualifications, and an existing criminal record, a criminal lifestyle can be seen as an attractive proposition."

Charming British illegals: "Three members of an armed teenage gang who killed a woman as she cradled a baby at a christening party were illegal immigrants with a string of convictions. Diamond Babamuboni, 17, and his brother Timy, 15, were under supervision orders when Zainab Kalokoh was shot in the head. Jude Odigie, 16, had been given a conditional discharge. They were convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey yesterday. A 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of murder. All four face long prison sentences. The conviction of the Babamuboni brothers and Odigie, all from Nigeria, raises questions about the Home Office's immigration service and the criteria for deportation. The trio could be sent home after serving their sentences, but John Reid, the Home Secretary, is certain to be asked why this had not already happened."