Tuesday, June 12, 2007


While Israelis are targeted by rockets from Gaza and officials from the "elected Palestinian government" threaten attacks by female suicide bombers, calls for anti-Israeli boycotts based on human rights claims would appear to be both immoral and absurd. But the small group that controls Britain's trade unions has managed to combine both traits, and it is escalating its political warfare in parallel with Palestinian violence. A vote on yet another anti-Israel boycott proposal is scheduled to take place at the end of May, this time by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU).

This is the third such academic boycott campaign in Britain in two years, coming after a divestment debate within the Anglican Church, a "boycott Israel" movement led by British activists in the World Medical Association, and the adoption of a similar program by the National Union of Journalists. Beyond the obvious violations of the academic process inherent in a political boycott, this effort is part of a carefully prepared strategy aimed at isolating the Jewish state.

The crucial difference, however, between the previous attempts and the current boycott battles, including the UCU effort, is the presence of a serious counterweight on the political battlefield to challenge the anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic slogans and myths. Sober and morally-minded British academics on the Left, led by a group known as Engage, as well as the "Fair Play Campaign Group," are particularly active. And under the IAB (International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom), many Israeli academics have also become active in countering the pervasive propaganda and misinformation.

FOR THE radicals, including obsessive ideologues affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party, history, facts and details are irrelevant. While always invoking "the occupation," the decades of Arab warfare, terrorism, incitement and rejectionism are erased from the record. This is not the result of ignorance but of willful conviction, and nothing will change their anti-Israel, anti-US and anti-democracy agendas. They will continue to use terms such as "apartheid" and "racist" to demonize Israel. As made clear in recent statements, it is Israel's existence that they reject, and not specific policies.

However, the main purpose of the confrontations between boycott opponents and advocates is not to convince the fanatics, but to address the much larger group that knows very little about Israel and the conflict. After many years of avoidance, in the false hope that the absurdity of these boycotts against Israel would become obvious, there is now a coherent strategy that has a chance of success.

Via vigorous debate, the goal is to encourage those who are not obsessed by Israel to break with the radicals. In trade union votes, these moderate voices will determine the outcome, and persuading many of the injustice inherent in the one-sided singling-out of Israel can defeat the boycott resolutions. This is a formidable task. The impact of the radical fringe has been greatly magnified by powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Britain that have also been campaigning for years. Well-financed pressure groups such as War on Want, Christian Aid, World Vision, Pax Christi, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch take the lead in singling out and systematically condemning Israel. They repeat the same invented histories, claiming that Israel was "founded in sin," and use invented evidence to condemn Israeli responses to terrorism and aggression. Many journalists who share these prejudices repeat the claims at face value.

AS A result, those who know little about Israel or the Palestinians accept the agendas of the activists. Having heard so much about Israeli "disproportionate response" against attacks from Hizbullah and Hamas, and about the "apartheid wall" (as opposed to a security barrier that has prevented untold attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers), members of the union leadership who focus on other issues accept the attacks against Israel.

There is evidence that some members of this group are beginning to question the obsessive anti-Israel propaganda. In 2005, after the leaders of the Association of University Teachers voted to endorse the boycott, members forced a second vote, which resulted in a reversal. They realized that a partisan boycott was unjust and antithetical to the principles of academic freedom. (A similar re-vote in the case of a second union - NATFHE - was avoided when this group dissolved in a merger with the AUT to become the UCU).

In the Anglican Church, in which the politics resembles the trade union movement, a majority of the leaders overturned the attempt to become involved in a one-sided and counterproductive political attack. More recently, many members of the National Union of Journalists are demanding a revote after being embarrassed by the obvious pro-Palestinian bias formally adopted by their organization, which showed that British media coverage of the Middle East was systematically biased. These changes, while relatively small, demonstrate that attempts to demonize and boycott Israel are not inevitable, and that the inherently immoral and absurd nature of such campaigns can be exposed.


Druze PhD student defends Israel, but bigoted British academics uninterested

As a holder of two degrees from the University of Haifa and a PhD student at the University of London, I traveled to Bournemouth for the meeting of the BritishUniversity and College Union (UCU) as an Israeli delegate on behalf of the Israeli Council for Academic Freedom. The discussions at the meeting regarding the imposition of a boycott on Israeli academia took place in a hostile environment while ignoring all the facts we presented regarding freedom of expression and academic freedom at Israeli institutions of higher learning.

Evidence that Israeli lecturers who hold pro-Palestinian views are able to express their positions uninterrupted both in their research work and lectures, as well as in the media, had no effect whatsoever on the discussions. Even when we presented a list of organizations and research centers that operate in the framework of Israeli universities and boast Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab cooperation, with the promotion of ties between the peoples their top agenda, it did not make a difference.

The same was true when it came to calls by Palestinian lecturers and figures, including al-QudsUniversity President Sari Nusseibah and Minister Raleb Majadele urging the UCU to refrain from boycotting their Israeli colleagues. Boycott leaders in Bournemouth ignored the figures I presented to them regarding the University of Haifa and the fact that close to 20 percent of students there are members of minority groups in Israel - apparently, we will also be subjected to the boycott.

They were uninterested in the fact that Arab students, who view themselves as a national minority in the State of Israel, are represented by a separate student committee and enjoy the freedom to act politically and on the public relations front. They were also uninterested in the fact that Professor Majid al-Haj is the deputy president of the research university, or that the Jewish-Arab center headed by Dr. Faisal Azaiza is considered one of the university's most prestigious bodies.

The truth is that it is clear to this group of lecturers that Israeli academia is least at fault for what is happening in our region, certainly when compared to the freedom of expression at our neighbors' academic institutions. After all, the English know full well that the technological, academic, and cultural achievements in the State of Israel stem first and foremost from the freedom of expression and research in every field in Israel.

Therefore, the figures we presented were futile, because all they cared about was their one and only objective: De-legitimizing the State of Israel with no relation to its academia; presenting it as an apartheid state that deprives its minorities of elementary rights such as education and the freedom of expression.

They were particularly bothered by the fact that a student like me, a member of the Druze community, appeared in the meeting and defended Israeli academia. They protested the fact that I even agreed to study at institutions that are associated with the country's majority population group and teach in its native tongue, Hebrew. I wonder how they would have reacted had I protested the fact that her majesty Queen Elizabeth is the patron of the University of London, and now I am studying in their native tongue, English.



Research councils in the UK said this afternoon that they would still allow collaboration on projects with Israeli institutions despite the decision by the university lecturers' union to back calls for an academic boycott. Research Councils UK, the umbrella organisation for the seven councils, which between them hold the purse strings for œ2.8bn of funding, said it would only get involved in an Israeli academic boycott if it was decided by the government. A spokeswoman said: "We would not stop any collaboration unless it was government policy."

Funding for research from the seven research councils only goes to UK institutions, but does allow for universities to forge collaborative academic links outside the UK.

This afternoon, the impact of an academic boycott on present or future UK and Israeli research remained uncertain. But Research Councils UK was calculating the number of current collaborative projects and how much UK funding it attracted.

Israeli universities have an enviable reputation for research, especially in science, and today the influential Royal Society - the independent academy which promotes natural and applied science - reaffirmed its opposition to blanket academic boycotts. Five years ago, the society's council signed a statement by the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (IHRNASS), affirming its support for the free exchange of ideas and opinions amongst scientists and scholars in all countries in order to stimulate collaborative educational research. The statement opposed any "moratoria on scientific exchanges based on nationality, race, sex, language, religion, opinion and similar factors", because they thwarted the goals of the network.

Any Israeli academic boycott by the UK could, however, have a damaging impact on academic ties with institutions outside of Israel. It emerged today that on the eve of the UCU's boycott decision, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) wrote to the union expressing concern on behalf of its 160,000 higher education members. According to the higher education website InsideHigherEd.com, the president of the AFT, Edward J McElroy, wrote in a letter to the UCU: "The AFT strongly opposes boycotts of universities and faculty, considering them a grave threat to the democratic values of academic freedom and free speech. "The one-sided nature of the proposed resolution demonstrates that the motivation is to express support for a political position rather than advance the principles of free and open scholarship."

Meanwhile, MPs from across the political divide this afternoon added their voices to the growing opposition to a boycott. Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith said the boycott decision was a "pathetic attempt by politically motivated people to destroy the balanced ethos on university campuses and use their privileged position to further their own ends." Liberal Democrat MP and panel member of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-semitism, Chris Huhne, said: "Two wrongs do not make a right, and it is wrong in principle to try to make individuals responsible for the actions of their government. This boycott is misconceived and should be dropped."

Labour MP Denis MacShane, who chaired the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-semitism, said the UCU decision was "completely deplorable and counter productive". He said it was "foolish" because "Israeli academics have been amongst the strongest critics of the Israeli government." He said: "The motion will do nothing to help Palestinian students who are keen to study in the relative oasis of Israeli universities and will exacerbate the position of Jewish students in the UK who already feel harassed, intimidated and uncomfortable on campus."


The dislexia sceptik is onn to sumthing

Academic and supposed dyslexic James Panton thinks the professor who describes dyslexia as a 'social fig leaf' for the middle classes has a point. I don't entirely agree. There are some otherwise highly intelligent individuals who have difficulty with reading but I DO agree that the diagnosis is now far too widely applied. It is in fact often an excuse for poor teaching of literacy

British professor Julian Elliott first hit the headlines two years ago with his claim that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of dyslexia. Last week, he sparked further controversy when he said that `dyslexia has become a social fig leaf for middle-class parents who do not want their children to be considered lazy, thick or stupid' (1). Of course, his argument is a little more subtle than we were led to believe by last week's media furore. So he didn't quite say, as was claimed in the Mail on Sunday, that `Dyslexia is a fantasy' (2).

Rather, Elliott argues that dyslexia `persists as a construct largely because it serves an emotional, not a scientific, function' (3). He says there is no rigorous consensus about how the condition should be defined or what diagnostic criteria should be used: `There are so many different understandings of what dyslexia is, or is not, that the term as used in professional practice has become almost meaningless.' (4) Standard symptoms - such as the inversion of letters, clumsiness, untidy writing or poor working memory - are all commonly found in people who have no reading difficulties at all, as well as in poor readers who would nonetheless not be considered dyslexic. Elliott points out that contrary to the myths of `miracle cures', diagnosing someone as dyslexic tells us almost nothing about how that individual can best be taught to read: `There is no sound, widely accepted, body of scientific work that has shown that there exists any particular teaching approach which is more appropriate for "dyslexic" children than for other poor readers.' (5)

Elliott's views - particularly controversial at the moment, given that the British government has just promised that 900,000 pounds will be spent on training teachers to spot dyslexia in their classrooms (6) - are important. The fact that `dyslexia' is now used to describe a wide variety of learning difficulties, to the extent that it has apparently become all but meaningless, should make us reconsider our use of the word as a scientific label. His even more controversial claim (that dyslexia has now become a `social fig leaf') rings true, too - though he is wrong to think that this is simply a middle-class phenomenon. In truth, the rise of the dyslexia tag points to broader, and more worrying, shifts in the cultural landscape.

I previously argued on spiked that the category of dyslexia has become remarkably woolly over the past few years. In the mid-1990s, figures suggested that as much as four per cent of the population was dyslexic; in the 10 years since, that number has more than doubled. According to the UK charity Dyslexia Action: `About 10 per cent of the population are affected by dyslexia to some degree.' (7) (Emphasis added.) Other studies claim that as many as 15 per cent of us are dyslexic (8). In the US, it is claimed that between 15 and 20 per cent of the population has a `language-based learning disability', of which dyslexia accounts for the greatest proportion (9) (see Can't read, won't read, by James Panton).

I am a good example of this rather woolly category expansion. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, both in primary and comprehensive school, I was tested for dyslexia. I was diagnosed on each occasion as a poor speller, a clumsy and untidy writer, not much cop at mental arithmetic, and not particularly good at organising my thoughts on paper. But I was not, according to the educationalists, dyslexic. The standard prescription was that I should make a bit more effort and spend a bit more time learning the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation. In short, I should pull my socks up.

By the time I was 21 and about to sit my finals at Oxford, I was tested again. This time it was discovered that I was suffering from dyslexia, somewhere on the scale between moderate and extreme. Given that none of my symptoms had become worse - indeed, I had made a very concerted effort to overcome them - it seemed instead that the criteria for diagnosing dyslexia had undergone a significant shift.

I have every sympathy with parents who want to find out why their child is struggling at school, and I know the sense of relief that the diagnosis of dyslexia must bring. For parents who have suffered sleepless nights, convinced that their child is not stupid but unable to explain why he or she cannot learn to read or add up, the dyslexia label must seem like an answer to their prayers. Yet this tendency to categorise more and more children as dyslexic, a tag that now covers a broad range of learning difficulties, creates far more problems than it solves.

By labelling great numbers of children as dyslexic, we do a disservice to those children who really do suffer from severe learning difficulties - those who do need special attention and resources in order to be properly educated and to compete with other children on an equal footing. Expanding the category of dyslexia runs the risk of draining resources away from these children. Moreover, we also do a disservice to the newly labelled `dyslexic children'. Once children, and their parents, have a medical label through which to understand the problems they experience in the classroom, there is a strong temptation to interpret all their experiences through this label. Rather than serving as a springboard to better educational achievement, the category dyslexia can quite easily serve as both an explanation and an excuse for every difficulty a child encounters.

I am glad that I was never diagnosed dyslexic as a child. Instead of thinking my underachievement was the result of a medical problem, I realised that if I was to make my ambitions a reality then I would need to push myself beyond my limitations. I remember smuggling maths books home at night in my first two years at high school so that I could keep up with my peers; I forced myself to read ever more complicated books, and taught myself to speed-read, too. It was only by challenging my limitations that I was able to go on from school to university to postgraduate study, and now to work in the academy.

And yet the temptation to interpret any difficulties I encounter as a product of `my dyslexia' remains strong. It's a little embarrassing to admit to my peers in the senior common room that I failed to get a first-class result in my university exams. perhaps if I tell them I am dyslexic they will be less severe in their judgments. When I can't quite be bothered to open a long and difficult book, or when the complexity of an argument makes the words start swimming in front of my eyes, it is tempting to give up, and to console myself with the thought that these things don't come easy to me because I Am Dyslexic. Worse, I sometimes sneakily think that the things I do achieve are all the more impressive because I am dyslexic.

Professor Elliott is no doubt on to something when he says that parents, who understandably don't want their children to be labelled lazy, thick or stupid, have started to embrace the label dyslexia as an explanation for all their woes. And yet, while it may well be the case that middle-class parents are more attuned to the possibility of having their child labelled dyslexic rather than lazy, to think that the expansion of the D-word is a simply a middle-class phenomenon, as Elliott claims, is to miss broader trends in contemporary culture that have led to an increased diagnosis of dyslexia.

Today, a broad range of social and educational problems is understood in pseudo-medical terms. Over the past few years, along with a phenomenal rise in the number of children and young people labelled dyslexic, we've also seen more children diagnosed as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Just as dyslexia has been expanded to include a host of learning difficulties, so ADHD now describes all sorts of children, from those who exhibit severe hyperactivity symptoms to those who simply won't sit still.

Finding pseudo-scientific solutions to the very many problems that afflict the education sector is now all the rage. Last year, it was reported that the British government was considering giving omega-3 and omega-6 oil supplements to schoolchildren in an effort to improve their behaviour (10). A few months ago, it was suggested that teenagers' capacity to concentrate in class might be improved if the school day were started later because teens have biologically programmed sleep patterns that are different to those of adults (11). The scientific substance of both proposals may, or may not, be sound. But come on - problems with behaviour and concentration in schools are not a product of children failing to eat enough tuna at lunchtime or needing to have a nap in the afternoon, and to argue so is to overlook the various ways in which the education system could be improved across the board.

Not long ago, discovering that your child had a learning disability would have been a little embarrassing; it certainly wasn't something to be discussed at the schoolgates. Yet now, dyslexia has become almost a badge of honour. `Our Tommy can't read because he's dyslexic; Julie can't play netball because she's dispraxic; and though we used to think that little David was just badly behaved, we're really delighted now we know he has ADHD!' In contemporary culture, these labels are no longer things to be embarrassed about - rather they have become signs of just how very `special' our children are.

There is something unhealthy about a culture that employs an ever-expanding plethora of labels to categorise children. The tendency to seek out individuated and increasingly medicalised solutions to social and educational problems suggests that achievement and struggle are undervalued today. In our willingness to label children, we encourage a climate of special pleading that undermines the effort, hard work and the sentiment of `going for it!' that should be at the heart of education. By teaching children to understand that their problems are `natural', we are implicitly shifting the focus of education away from pushing children to achieve to the best of their abilities and turning schools into a kind of doctor's surgery for monitoring differently abled subsets of youth. That can only foster a culture of low achievement and diminished aspirations.


In defence of the offensive

From the squawks of protest over the airing of Diana's dying moments to accusations at Anfield, why are we all so righteously offended?

The urge to display superior indignation, and the desire to be self-righteously offended, are certainly traits of Western society in the twenty-first century. Indignant victimhood manifests itself in various guises: in the pages of the Daily Mail, in Liverpudlians complaining about being insulted by UEFA or Boris Johnson, in anti-tobacco whingers moaning about passive smoking (who now, in Ireland, complain that their mates leave them in the bar to hang outside) and in Christians - who believe ill-thought-out polemics from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens constitute an anti-Christian vendetta.

Like many pervasive malaises in history, such as anti-Semitism, or being fanatically against McDonalds and Murdoch, the urge to take offence is something that transcends left and right. The Deeply Offended are as likely to be lefties who sense the phantom of institutional racism everywhere as they are to be those who cry `It's political correctness gone mad!'

The howls of outrage over Channel 4's decision to show photographs of Diana, Princess of Wales's fatal crash illustrated the vacuity of this predisposition. As usual, ripe condemnation came from people who had not actually seen the programme, Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel. In the end, the photographs weren't outrageous, and the only one featuring Diana explicitly had her face blacked-out. There were consequently less than 20 complaints made to Channel 4 after the programme was aired on Wednesday night. Most of these photographs were in the public domain already, having been printed in the press after the event in August 1997, and what is more, there are far more genuinely shocking pictures of a dying Diana on the internet. But television programmes on Channel 4 remain a collective, public event, in a way that a three-minute video of someone getting his head sawn off on YouTube will never be; only public events provide an opportunity for public opprobrium.

Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel largely sought to exonerate the paparazzi who, in pursuing the Princess's car, were initially blamed for causing it to speed and then crash. It initially succeeded, reminding us that Diana might not have died if she was wearing a seat belt and if her driver wasn't drunk, and that the cameramen did not hinder the emergency services in trying to save her life. But it pushed the viewer's goodwill too far in seeking to make us sympathise with the paparazzi involved. They may have not been culpable, but they were pretty despicable creatures; they may not have been killers but they did make Diana's life pretty intolerable. On the programme, the paparazzi came out with cant like they `were only doing a public service', rather than telling the cold truth: they were trying to flog pictures of a mortally-wounded woman only minutes after having taken them.

But Diana, too, was cynical when it came to the media, falling into the celebrity trap of courting the media when it suited her, and then blaming them for `intrusion' when it did not - she herself actively used television and the paparazzi to shame her ex-husband and deflect attention away from Camilla Parker-Bowles. In many respects, she was little better than those who pursued her into that Parisian tunnel.

Diana apologists, conspiracy theorists and fantasists-in-general no longer hold the paparazzi responsible, but believe the British government was somehow involved, that she was bumped off by MI6 because she was carrying Dodi Fayed's child. Even I was part of this conspiracy, according to Dodi's father. After I wrote a short book in 2004 called Conspicuous Compassion, I received a letter from Mohammed Al-Fayed, accusing me of being involved with MI6. But the sad truth is that, as a study from the journal Fortean Times showed, those who believe in conspiracy theories often have experienced unexpected bereavement, which is why we must put Al-Fayed's consequent behaviour in perspective.

The bereaved fall for conspiracy theories because when horrific accidents happen, they want a reason. Fatal car crashes involving the young and the beautiful seem so unfair, such an affront to our sense of natural justice. But we live in an age where accidents don't happen, in which the word accident has actually been removed from the Highway Code. Unfortunately, accidents do happen and, in any case, Diana's death wasn't even an accident. There was a reason, but it was prosaic and partially self-inflicted, and not fantastical and caused by others.

For the same reason, this week, Liverpool supporters have once again failed to recognise that some of their fans are badly behaved, and are `outraged' at UEFA's suggestion that they are. But Liverpudlians are very good at Deeply Offended Indignation. For instance, whenever someone mentions bringing back terraces, they are always shouted down by Liverpudlians who remind us of Hillsborough (even though it was perimeter fencing, not terracing, bad policing and the behaviour of some of their supporters, that helped to cause that tragedy). Sometimes, a complainant just wants to complain for complaining's sake.


Pesky facts: Abortion Associated with Mental Health Problems, Raises Suicide Risk

Doctors in England testifying before the British House of Commons said abortion is a serious risk to a woman's mental health and can make her six times more likely to consider committing suicide. The doctors cited medical studies backing up their assertions as they commented on a bill to make the information available to women.

Dr. Trevor Stammers, who practices at St. George's University of London and teaches medicine there, said he supported the measure to make women aware of the risks and dangers associated with abortion. He said that in 26 years of medical practice, all of which come after Britain legalized abortion in 1967, he has seen numerous women come to him with physical or mental health problems resulting from their abortion. "The most recent research has shown very clearly that abortion presents a serious risk to the long-term mental health of women and why it is therefore important to know which women are being offered abortion on mental health grounds," he told lawmakers, according to a report in the Evening Standard newspaper.

Dr. Robert Balfour, a consultant gynecologist, agreed with the analysis and pointed to a study of 5,000 women in Finland conducted between 1987 and 2000 showing that those who had an abortion after an unplanned pregnancy were six times more likely to commit suicide than women who carried their baby to term. The newspaper reported him saying that evidence for mental health problems following an abortion is apparent in his hometown in South Wales. Balfour indicated that there were more psychiatric admissions and suicides among women who had abortions than those who gave birth.

In October 2006, some fifteen of Great Britain's leading obstetricians and psychiatrists penned an open letter to the London Times acknowledging the psychological consequences of abortions.

Also last year, a university researcher in New Zealand conducted an extensive study on thousands of women and found that 40 percent of those who have abortions suffer from mental health problems following an abortion. Those problems included depression, addictions to alcohol or drugs, sleep disorders, thoughts of suicide and the problems were much greater than those faced by women who had miscarries or carried their pregnancy to term.


Green tyranny turns up the heat

The article below is MOST unusual from a Scottish newspaper. A sign that the tide is turning?

'THERE is very important climatic change going on right now, and it's not merely something of academic interest. It is something that, if it continues, will affect the whole human occupation of the earth - like a billion people starving. The effects are already showing up in a rather drastic way." Wow! Scary, or what?

Well, actually, not very. That apocalyptic warning was conveyed in an article in Fortune magazine in 1974, on the alarming phenomenon of global cooling and an imminent new Ice Age. The American Institute of Physics awarded the magazine a Science Writing Award. By last year, Fortune's doomsday scenario had discernibly altered to: "The media agrees with the majority of scientists: global warming is here. Now, what to do about it?"

So much for expert and media opinion on climate change. If, however, you are tempted to mock these naked emperors, have a care. Scepticism may soon incur severe penalties. David Roberts, an American climate militant, recently wrote of global warming sceptics, "we should have war crimes trials for these bastards - some sort of climate Nuremberg". Mark Lynas, another Green propagandist, mused: "I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put [climate change denial] in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial."

To listen for two minutes to a global warming zealot is to appreciate how open-minded Osama bin Laden is. The derogatory term 'climate change denier' is part of a massive propaganda exercise to demonise those who dissent from an imposed orthodoxy. The leftist think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has advised supporters, "at least for popular communications, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won. This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective... The 'facts' need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken."

In classic totalitarian style, indoctrination of children is a priority. Last March, pupils at Prestonpans Infant and Nursery School, East Lothian, earned plaudits by objecting to a fund-raising balloon race, on the grounds that balloons might harm dolphins and turtles. They insisted a ban on balloon races be written into the school's 'green constitution'. A promising beginning: with further education, these Young Pioneers [a reference to Soviet youth groups] may eventually be trained to denounce their parents for eco-crimes.

Suppression of dissent is made necessary by the inconsistencies between the Greens' propaganda and observed reality. Their claim that the polar ice-caps are melting and sea levels rising was contradicted even by the recent fourth report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which unobtrusively reduced its 2001 prediction of sea level rises by 52.7%, to preserve a minimal scientific credibility. As for the Arctic ice-cap, shrinkage has been observed - it happens seasonally - but its depth increased as it bunched up close to the Canadian land-mass. At the opposite pole, despite much-hyped film of the Larsen ice shelf fragmenting, the ice mass has increased by 8%. Temperatures in East Antarctica have fallen, which is what one would expect if the sun is the principal agent in climate change.

Al Gore, the Greens' answer to Sergei Eisenstein, has made an ironically entitled film, An Inconvenient Truth, denouncing man-made global warming. It proved an own-goal when the core ice samples featured in it demonstrated that increased CO2 emissions have historically followed 800 years after periods of warming, rather than preceding them. The UN's team of tame scientists is often invoked as definitively authoritative. They are chosen for their compliance with the climate agenda. In this instance, the normal scientific discipline is reversed: the conclusion is preordained and the men in white coats are expected to construct the evidence - a convenient untruth.

The CO2 hysteria is absurd, considering the minute contribution made by human beings. Of course the climate is changing - it always has done, hence the thriving vineyards of Northumberland in the 12th century and the Thames frozen three feet deep in the 19th - but human activity is largely irrelevant. The world's climate is controlled by solar activity, by variations in the earth's rotation and orbit, by external factors in space and, terrestrially, by clouds and volcanic activity. If the Canutes of the IPCC imagine they can control those elements, they are even more infatuated than they appear.

This is not a scientific but a political issue. Fear is the instrument used by governments to increase their power over citizens: the 'War on Terror' is an example. The grand peur orchestrated over climate change affords governments an opportunity to impose unimaginable restrictions on their populations. The UN - the most ambitious criminal enterprise in history - is the instrument of supra-national authority that will rubber-stamp the new tyranny. That assembly of dictators, genocides and thieves cut its teeth on scams such as the Oil for Food programme in Iraq. Now it is casting its net wider.

There is a bad time coming. Life in the developed world will be made a misery with compulsory recycling, statutory imposition of mercury-based light bulbs that damage the eyesight, escalating eco-taxes and myriad regulations that will reduce us to environmental servitude. The Scottish landscape is being raped by hideous, non-productive (but highly profitable) wind turbines. The amoral concept of 'carbon trading' will freeze economic advance in the developing world, as governments trade their populations' access to technology for hard cash destined to repose in Swiss banks. Crooks, both institutional and individual, will make billions.

Dr Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, claimed that, if the Kyoto programme is implemented, "millions of lives will be lost that could otherwise be saved and the eventual impact of climate change on the Third World will be much worse as countries will be less equipped to adapt". The real 'bastards' who will kill millions are the Greens. Nuremberg trials, anyone?


Vast sums spent on NHS record-keeping but records useless when needed

Women wrongly told they are not pregnant but nobody knows who they are

Thousands of women in Britain may have been given faulty pregnancy tests that wrongly indicate they are not having a baby, the Independent has learned. Up to 50 hospitals across the country are seeking to trace women who may be unaware they are pregnant because of a faulty batch of Clearview HGC. There are believed to be 44 potentially erroneous tests but tens of thousands of women may have been given the product in the past three months before the problem was spotted. The NHS is unsure which women received the faulty tests and one general hospital is seeking to alert 1,400 women. Tracing the women is important in case they endanger their baby by drinking heavily or by engaging in other activity unsuitable behaviour.

Clearview HGC tests, made by the US-based Inverness Medical Innovations, are also designed to detect ectopic pregnancies. The abnormality, where the baby grows outside of the womb, can cause severe internal bleeding. The tests are also often used in accident and emergency departments. Last night Inverness Medical Innovations said it was confident that it had rectified the problem, which occurred when an extra strip was added to the tests during production. It said: "We would like to apologise for any inconvenience this recall may have caused to our customers or their patients." Doctors are urging anyone who may have received the tests to visit their GP, local hospital or to buy a pregnancy testing kit from a chemist.

At least three months elapsed between the delivery of the first faulty products to the NHS and a product recall begun last week. The fault was spotted by one unnamed hospital, which contacted Inverness Medical Innovations. The US global health care group then began an investigation that culminated in a product recall on May 31, when it wrote to up to 50 hospitals. It said in a statement: "Our investigation indicated that the fault was caused by one strip of material that was incorporated into 44 tests, so, our investigation indicated the problem was limited to 44 tests. "We determined that these 44 tests could be in up to 50 specific hospitals and we immediately alerted the hospitals concerned. "We are confident that the problem has been correctly diagnosed and is being rectified by changes to our manufacturing process." However it refused to say which hospitals were affected, citing customer "confidentiality."

Kingston Hospital in south-west London disclosed that 1,400 women were tested with Clearview HGC between April 12 and June 1. It said in a statement: "We have been made aware by a supplier that a small number of pregnancy test kits that may have been used at the hospital could be faulty.


Global warming as fashion

The climate debate is reaching a crisis. When I hear the words "global warming", my temperature rises to the point where I want to reach for a gun. Back in 1976 BCCC (Before Catastrophic Climate Change), Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did a Derek and Clive sketch called Cancer, tut-tutting over everything as a symptom of the big C. "I heard that George Stit had moved away from the Willesden area and gone up round Chadwell Heath." "Cancer?" "Yeah." "Tch, Christ. You remember the Nolan twins? . . . They've taken up darts." "Cancer?" "Yep." "Tch." If they were around to remake that sketch in AD (Anno Doom-ini) 2007 it might be called Global Warming.

Man-made global warming has become the new Act of God, to be blamed for everything people fear or loathe. The numberwatch website has an impressive list ranging from A for allergies to W for world bankruptcy. Global warming is now the default argument for putting your pet cause on the side of the angels. The path to the moral high ground is apparently monopolised by those leaving smaller carbon footprints.

Worse, man-made global warming always seems to be the ethical argument for cooling or even freezing man-made development. An Inuit from Greenland shipped in to tell a public inquiry why Stansted airport should not damage Essex woodlands summed up the case. He conceded it wouldn't make much difference to climate change, but "everyone can say that about almost everything they do. It is an excuse for doing nothing". Yet most things we are told to do - from scrabbling in compost to cancelling holiday flights - will not make much difference to anything.

More to the point, the crusade against global warming is now the biggest "excuse for doing nothing", an all-purpose argument that airport expansions must be grounded, road proposals parked, housing schemes demolished and the lights put out on new power stations.

It is hard to see how anybody can be sure of "the truth about climate change", given the highly politicised state of this ostensibly scientific discussion. But we can be pretty certain that there is no history of solving problems through standing still or turning the meter backwards. The farther ahead humanity moves, the better equipped we are to cope with anything.

Not everything that emits more carbon is evil, and treading on a flower is not necessarily a matter of planetary life and death. There's a good reason, for example, why London is the biggest sinner on the new map of UK carbon emissions: it is where more people live, and lead productive lives. Let us all pledge to try to cut emissions of climate hysteria - "before", as they say, "it's too late!" and civilisation freezes over.


Britain shreds marriage: "Cohabiting partners who split up are to get similar rights to divorcing couples under plans to be outlined next month, The Times has learnt. Unmarried women and men will be able to make claims against their partners to demand lump-sum payments, a share of property, regular maintenance or a share of the partner's pension when they separate. They will also be able to claim against their partners for loss of earnings if they gave up a career to look after children. The reforms are to be published by the Law Commission, the Government's law reform body.It is expected to drop any proposal for a time stipulation, so that only couples who had lived together for, say, two years, could bring a claim; or any bar on childless couples."

At last: Arrogant Muslim cabbie banned: "A cab driver who refused to let a blind customer bring her guide dog into his car has been disqualified from driving. Liakath Ali, 21, shouted "no dog" at Paula Thomas, of London, leaving her distraught as she tried to enter the taxi, Westminster magistrates heard. It has been compulsory for licensed taxi drivers to carry guide dogs since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Ali, of Woodstock Road, Bedford, was banned for seven days for refusing to carry a person with a guide dog."

Antisemitics architects in Britain too: "Leading British architects have joined the academic world and have accused their counterparts in Israel of complicity in schemes that contribute to the "social, political and economic oppression of Palestinians," the British The Guardian reported Saturday. The architects, including Will Alsop, Terry Farrell, Richard MacCormac, Royal Institute of British Architects president Jack Pringle and president-elect Sunand Prasad, have signed a petition organized by the group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine. "APJP asserts that the actions of our fellow professionals working with these enterprises are clearly unethical, immoral and contravene universally recognized professional codes of conduct," a spokesman said. "We ask the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) to meet their professional obligations to declare their opposition to this inhuman occupation."

Legal attack on British antisemites: "A top American lawyer has threatened to wage a legal war against British academics who seek to cut links with Israeli universities. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor renowned for his staunch defence of Israel and high-profile legal victories, including his role in the O.J. Simpson trial, vowed to "devastate and bankrupt" lecturers who supported such boycotts. This week's annual conference of Britain's biggest lecturers' union, the University and College Union, backed a motion damning the "complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation [of Palestinian land]". Prof Dershowitz said he had started work on legal moves to fight any boycott. He told the Times Higher Educational Supplement that these would include using a US law - banning discrimination on the basis of nationality - against UK universities with research ties to US colleges. US academics might also be urged to accept honorary posts at Israeli colleges in order to become boycott targets."

Bigoted British journalists show their colours: "The utter hypocrisy of the British National Union of Journalists, which recently voted to boycott only Israel, has now become evident in the face of the silence over the recent move by Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chavez to suppress dissent by the media in his leftist regime. General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistantoo has now imposed massive press censorship. In many other of the hard left's favored countries - Cuba, China, Iran, North Koreaand Zimbabwe- suppression of the press is routine and imprisonment of journalist is common. But there is not a peep about these countries from the British National Union of Journalists who seem to admire tyranny and condemn democracy and openness. Only Israel, which has among the freest presses of the world, is being targeted for sanctions."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up.

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