Monday, April 30, 2007

British Doctors call for health boss Hewitt to resign

Junior doctors have called for Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Health Minister Lord Hunt to resign over "shambolic" medical training reform. The British Medical Association's junior doctors conference called the Medical Training Application Service's problems "gross negligence". The online job application service was suspended amid fears personal details of applicants could be accessed online. The government says it is working hard to ensure the security of the system.

Earlier, the BMA called for Tony Blair to step in to avert more chaos over the online application system. BMA chairman James Johnson has written to Tony Blair warning doctors' anger will grow if the government does not address the problems with MTAS "with the level of urgency they deserve". He said the mistakes had the potential to damage patients' confidence in the proposed new database of individual health records.

The conference also criticised failures in the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) scheme and demanded a review into the waste of public money it claims it has caused. The delegates also raised concerns that the implementation of MMC speciality training would have "grave consequences for patient care".

The issue is also mired in internal feuding, with some doctors calling on their own leadership to resign for participating in the government review. Delegate Dr Andrew Smith said there was "more anger and resentment than ever before". Despite this the BMA leadership had remained engaged in and endorsed the "fiasco that is MMC", he said.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has already apologised for the "terrible anxiety" caused to junior doctors over the scheme. BMA junior doctors committee head Jo Hilborne told the conference that modernising medical careers should have brought an end to uncertainty for senior house officers. But instead, she said it had brought the fear of career stagnation, the danger of falling standards and loss of good doctors. She called the application system a "desperate failure". "The fault is with this government which has systematically ignored the people whose lives are being ruined by their ill-thought out, badly implemented policies," she said.

Conference delegates suggested the system should be scrapped and suggested two possible solutions to the MTAS problems. They said either all candidates starting posts in 2007 must be interviewed for all their choices, or all MMC training be postponed and a return made to the old system (SHO/specialist registrars) for a year while a new application process was devised. The MTAS computer system has previously been criticised for not allowing candidates to set out their experience, meaning the best candidates have not been selected for interview. But it has also been attacked for having too few jobs for the number of candidates.

Conference delegates also passed a motion calling for the National Audit Office to investigate how much public money had been spent on the computer system. And they sought guarantees that no junior doctor would be unemployed as a result of system failures.

The BMA estimates that 34,250 doctors are chasing 18,500 UK posts, due to start in August. But it has warned thousands of NHS doctors could go to work abroad because of their disgust at the process.

Lord Hunt insisted it was not a resignation issue and that all the medical organisations had called for the old system to be changed because it was not working. Earlier he told the BBC action was being taken to make the system more secure. "We have brought in over the weekend some independent experts from outside companies. They are clawing through it to make sure it is secure and we will only open it up again when we are satisfied about that."


Brits getting tired of immigration problems

Having immigrants and the children of immigrants blowing up your buses and trains (among other things) is beginning to get to even the tolerant British -- and since the mainstream parties are trying to ignore the disquiet, a new party that does not ignore that is getting more and more votes

It is, at first sight, a vision of rural bliss - a cream-coloured cottage high in the hills of Mid Wales and two miles from the nearest road. The daffodils are out. Lambs gambol in the fields. Chickens peck around the yard. In the side garden, beyond the rabbit hutch and fishpond, two blonde girls are playing in the sun. Look closer, however, and you spot the incongruities: the two rottweilers in their caged kennel, security cameras, the burglar alarm. You begin to suspect that the owner has chosen this house precisely for its inaccessibility. He has reason to. Nick Griffin is leader of the whites-only British National Party and one of the most hated - and, to his many detractors, hateful - men in the country....

Griffin kisses Jackie goodbye, reminds her to water his newly planted aubretia, and we head off in his Ford Mondeo estate for the fertile BNP territory of West Yorkshire, with its immigrant populations of 10, 20 or even 30 per cent. In the back is a book recording the Scottish National Party's transformation from an extreme to a mainstream party. Griffin's inspiration, however, is Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, who turned "a bunch of crazies into a serious political force"....

He tells me about a life spent mostly on the extreme right of British politics. His parents met while heckling a Communist Party meeting in North London in 1948. During the 1964 general election campaign, Griffin pedalled up and down the street outside his home in Barnet with Conservative posters on his tricycle. By 1974 his father, a Tory councillor and member of the right-wing Monday Club, was so dismayed by Britain's leftward drift that he took his family to a National Front meeting. Griffin, then 15, joined immediately.....

Griffin has earned his 1,800 pounds-a-month BNP salary. The party won three council seats in Burnley in 2002. It now has 49 nationwide, and on May 3 Griffin expects to win many more in what he sarcastically calls "enriched" areas such as inner Essex, the Black Country, West Yorkshire and Lancashire. The party will also be contesting seats in blue-rinse towns such as Harrogate, Bath, Windsor and Torbay. One recent poll suggested that 7 per cent of the electorate would consider voting for it.

Griffin says that membership has risen from 1,300 in 1999 to 10,500, boosted by home-grown Islamic terrorist plots, globalisation and his dramatic acquittal in last year's race-hate trials. Critics insist that the BNP's move towards respectability is purely cosmetic. Griffin retorts, as we join the motorway, that it is "deep and sincere". He admits "past stupidities", and says that he regrets the way that the BNP used to provoke confrontations or to discuss race in a way that was "frankly crude, or cruelly and inaccurately supremacist". He is not racist, he argues. He does not believe that whites are superior. He believes that races are different and that multiculturalism is a recipe for disaster. He opposes miscegenation "because most people want their grandchildren to look basically like them". If the liberal elite had its way, the world would become "a giant melting pot turning out coffee-coloured citizens by the million".

The BNP no longer demands the recriminalisation of homosexuality, but Griffin still expresses disgust at the idea of two men "snogging in public". His revised views on the Holocaust are striking, too. He says that he derided the Holocaust only because the Left used it as "a huge moral club" with which to beat opponents of multiculturalism. He now accepts that millions of Jews were killed, but claims that some historians (he cites David Irving) still question whether it was deliberate genocide.....

In pockets of Britain the BNP is almost a mainstream party now, with ever more people daring to run for office or to put posters in windows. But it still prints its newspaper in Eastern Europe because British plants refuse to, has trouble renting halls and cannot advertise its meetings because they would be picketed. Potential supporters are instead instructed to gather at "redirection points" and told where to go.

In Ripon the meeting point is the town square, where the local BBC radio station interviews Griffin. Ripon and Harrogate are "lovely English towns and we believe they should stay that way. They can't if there are high levels of immigration," he says. On our way to the meeting we pass a painting of a black inmate outside the Workhouse Museum. Griffin splutters. It was poor whites who suffered in workhouses, he says.

About 70 people are packed into a back room of the Golden Lion pub, with not a skinhead or pair of Doc Martens in sight and more tweeds than T-shirts. They are male and female, young and old, working class and middle class, ex-Labour and ex-Tory, several of them Daily Telegraph readers. They are mostly solid Yorkshire folk who have watched immigrants transform areas in which they grew up and believe - rightly or wrongly - that their way of life is under threat. They are bewildered more than hate-filled. They are fearful more than fear-inspiring, and feel gagged by political correctness. They do not come from sink estates. They are stakeholders, people with something to lose. "We're being overwhelmed," laments a retired Latin teacher. "I've nothing against other races. It's just that they keep flooding into the country to breaking point," says a lorry driver. "We can't invite the whole world to live in England," says a former merchant marine officer. Few will give their names.

Griffin and his fellow speakers do nothing to calm their fears. Quite the opposite. In a promotional video he decries the alleged banning of the cross of St George, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and even Piglet because the character offends Muslims. Against a background of soft music and beautiful scenery, a woman's voice decries the millions of foreigners of all races settling in Britain: "The one thing they have in common is there are too many of them."

Michelle Shrubb, a candidate who lived in South Africa, says that a black crimewave is coming to Britain. Nick Cass, the BNP's Yorkshire organiser, declares that "decent British people are fed up to the back teeth with seeing the country fall apart and being called racist when they want to do something about it". The merchandise table offers "It's Cool to be White" T-shirts and "I vote BNP because they look after me" bumper stickers. BNP candidates are presented with rosettes for daring to stand up and be counted. Griffin humorously coaxes about 500 pounds in donations from the audience, then answers questions for an hour. He puts on no airs and graces. He has a pint on the table beside him. He presents himself as an ordinary bloke, like his audience, who is fighting a corrupt elite that bleeds taxpayers for its disastrous social engineering projects and treats them with contempt. He is a shameless populist. He calls the rise of the BNP "a peasants' revolt". He talks of "our people", meaning whites. He mocks those who regard criminals as victims, advocates "damn good thrashings" for wayward teenagers, and says of drug-dealers: "Hang the bastards."

The audience loves it, but this is more than knockabout political rhetoric. Griffin firmly believes all this. Party policy - which he sets - is draconian and xenophobic. The BNP would deport all illegal immigrants, asylum-seekers and subversive foreigners, and offer existing immigrants money to return home. "It's clearly worth talking in terms of six-figure sums to persuade families to go," Griffin says. He would create civilian anti-crime patrols. Anyone who has done National Service would be allowed to keep guns to shoot burglars, and as "a last resort against a tyrannical government". He would restore hanging for the worst murderers, paedophiles, rapists and drug-dealers, and bring back the birch.

He would abolish affirmative action programmes and hate-crime legislation, ban the promotion of homosexuality, prevent the NHS from recruiting foreign workers and stop women soldiers serving on the front line. State schools would restore mandatory (nonhalal) lunches and morning assemblies with Christian worship (minorities should "either accept our ways or go somewhere else"). A BNP government would take Britain out of the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights. Remove the BNP label, Griffin claims, and most Brits would support these policies....

Between umpteen calls on his mobile phone - one is about ways to use Simone Clarke, the ballet dancer identified as a BNP member - I ask if Griffin sees any advantages to multiculturalism. Chicken tikka masala, he replies. And some good sportsmen, though he thinks that England's all-white 1966 World Cup footballers outperformed today's team because they had "common values and identity". Then he lists the downsides - a catastrophic loss of social cohesion, racial harassment and violence, spreading knife and gun cultures and old folk dying in nursing homes surrounded by staff who do not speak their language and feeling "totally alone, alienated and in a foreign place".

He warms to the theme, claiming that some Muslims deliberately use heroin - "Paki poison" - to undermine non-Muslim communities around them. "It's narco-terrorism." Even worse, he says, is the way that hardline Muslim males deliberately seduce and corrupt "thousands" of young white girls in a practice called "grooming" that the authorities downplay for fear of being labelled racist....

The 60 people at that night's BNP meeting in a Batley pub are not thinking in such apocalyptic terms. They have more immediate and prosaic fears about the consequences of immigration - their children being squeezed out of jobs and council housing, the emergence of no-go areas, the undermining of their rights and culture.

"We're frightened to be British," says Ann Nailor, who runs five Age Concern shops. "I feel alienated in my own community," says Neil Feeney, a water company employee. "People who read your paper have no idea about places like this," said Marjorie Shaw, a former policewoman now in a wheelchair. "The BNP are the only ones standing up for this country," adds Lynn Winfield, a pub dishwasher. Griffin fans the flames. He calls the English "one of the most oppressed peoples on earth". He says that when people like him try to speak out about real problems "they try to throw them in jail". He says that bad laws should be broken. He calls global warming "an excuse to say that we, the international elite, have to interfere with every sovereign state in the world, and if we don't you will sink by Thursday".


British courts over-rule deportation of Jihadists

Two of Britain’s most dangerous terror suspects will be on our streets within days, after a hugely damaging defeat for the Government. A map marking routes under Birmingham airport’s flight path was found at the home of one of the men – described as a “global jihadist” – who has family links to two notorious terrorists. The second man is accused of being a former leader of a terror cell in Italy, that authorities feared was on the verge of an attack, probably in Europe.

But the pair, both Libyans, are expected to be bailed next week, after winning their appeals against deportation. The ruling leaves the Government’s anti-terror policy in chaos, after judges threw out much-heralded agreements between Britain and Libya that the men would not be tortured if they returned.

Special Immigration Appeals Commission chairman Mr Justice Ouseley said there remained a real risk that the European Convention on Human Rights would be breached if the two men were returned.

The so-called memoranda of understanding are a key part of the promise by Tony Blair and John Reid to return terror suspects to countries known for human rights abuses.

Yesterday’s decision leaves the planned deportation of at least eight Libyan suspects, including the two who are to be bailed, in disarray, and casts grave doubts over similar agreements with other nations.

The Tories’ terrorism expert, MP Patrick Mercer said: “I find it extraordinary that we have imposed these people on our society. “It will be extremely difficult to keep these men to their bail conditions, particularly with this level of oversight. “They will not be on bail forever and I am very interested to know what the Government will do.”

The two Libyans, granted bail in principle, have been held in the maximum-security prison at Long Lartin, Worcs, under immigration detention. But Mr Justice Mitting said keeping them in after they had won their appeal would be on the “cusp of legality”. Instead they were bailed with strict conditions, including a 12-hour curfew and no access to mobile phones or the internet. They will still be allowed out for 12 hours a day. The two Libyans are accused of travelling on false passports. Both claimed asylum after they got into Britain. One, who can be identified only as DD, had an AtoZ street map in a car parked near his house, marking footpaths under the flight path to Birmingham International Airport. The appeals commission ruled that DD is a “real and direct threat to the national security of the UK” and a “global jihadist with links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda”. The second terror suspect, AS, was also ruled a “clear danger to national security”.

The Government wants to deport eight suspects to Libya. Moves against another four have been put off while they face terror prosecutions here. A Home Office spokesman said: “We are very disappointed with the decision that it is not safe to deport these individuals. “We believe that the assurances given to us by the Libyans do provide effective safeguards for the proper treatment of individuals being returned and do ensure that their rights will be respected. We intend, therefore, to appeal.”


Deadly black gang brawling in London: "A churchgoing teenager who who was also the head of a South London gang was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for the murder of a schoolboy rival. Adu Sarpong had been to a Bible class with friends hours before a bloody street battle with a rival gang in which he stabbed Alex Kamondo, 15, with a kitchen knife. Sarpong, 18, who was convicted at the Old Bailey, was the leader of K Town Crew, which clashed with Kamondo's gang, Man Dem Crew, in Kennington in June. Up to 30 youths fought with knives, hammers, metal bars, bottles and a samurai-style sword... Sarpong plunged the knife into Kamondo's chest with so much force that it broke a rib and the handle snapped off. Kamondo, who lived on the nearby Kennington Park estate, suffered a single 20cm stab wound that pierced his left lung and heart. Sarpong fled but was arrested shortly afterwards. He told the Old Bailey that he had been "pumped up with adrenaline" and heard someone cry out that he had been stabbed behind him, but did not see the stabbing. However, his finger-prints were found on the murder weapon and he was picked out at a series of identity parades by members of the opposing gang."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Britain: Prison terms LESS likely for violent offenders

Like Leftists everywhere, Left-dominated Britain is always ready to excuse its violent criminals -- probably because of the hate and violence in their own hearts (which shows when, as Communists, they gain absolute power)

Violent criminals are less likely to be sent to prison than non-violent offenders, a shocking Home Office report has revealed. In the latest blow to public confidence in the criminal justice system, a report seen by the Yorkshire Post reveals that just 32 per cent of criminals responsible for violent offences - categorised as everything from murder to assault to obstructing a police officer - are sent to prison. But custodial sentences are handed down to more than 36 per cent of offenders convicted of non-violent offences, such as fraud, theft, burglary, criminal damage, drink-driving and public order offences.

The Home Office study on sentencing and re-offending was met with incredulity and outrage last night by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis and other MPs - but Prisons Minister Gerry Sutcliffe insisted the Government had been calling on the independent judiciary to be tougher with dangerous violent offenders. In addition to the sentencing of violent offenders, the report revealed that a widely used alternative punishment to custody, the drug treatment order, has a re-offending rate of 82 per cent.

Another section appeared to contradict Ministers' claims about the dubious long-term effectiveness of prison by stating that "longer custodial sentences are associated with lower proven re-offending rates".

The conclusions emerged yesterday as the Home Office's latest British Crime Survey found public confidence in Britain's criminal justice system was falling. The survey, which questioned tens of thousands of people during 2006 about their experiences of crime, showed that just 42 per cent of people had confidence in the system's ability to bring criminals to justice, down two points from 2005. Only 37 per cent of people believed the system was effective at reducing crime, while 34 per cent thought it met the needs of victims of crime. Both were one point lower than the 2005 responses.

The Home Office "statistical bulletin" on offending, stated: "Violent offenders are less likely to receive a custodial sentence than other offenders." But it sought to lessen the impact of the statement by adding: "'Violence' incorporates a wide range of offences of varying severity." It noted the two most frequent violent offences were common assault and battery, and assault causing actual bodily harm.

On drug treatment orders, the report said they "had the highest actual proven re-offending rate" of any form of punishment in 2004. On the link between the length of custodial sentences and re-offending, the data showed that the longer the sentence, the lower the rate of repeat offending. It also revealed a rise between 2000 and 2004 in re-offending by people imprisoned for less than a year.

David Davis, the Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: "It beggars belief that under this Government, violent offenders are actually less likely to receive a custodial sentence than other offenders. "It is precisely these types of serious offenders, representing the greatest risk to the public, who should receive a custodial sentence to protect the public." Shipley Tory MP Philip Davies, who led a Parliamentary debate earlier this month calling for more and longer custodial sentences, said people would be "astonished" by the report's revelations. He said: "The fact is that the system is soft on violent crime, that drug orders don't work and that, contrary to what the liberal do-gooders say, prison works."

Defending the Home Office, Prison Minister Mr Sutcliffe, the Bradford West MP, told the Yorkshire Post: "We've introduced harsher sentences and made sure there are places in prison for dangerous and violent people, who should be treated more severely. But sentences are for the judges to decide, not for politicians." On drug treatment orders and the effectiveness of prison, he added: "Drug-related offenders are harder to deal with and we recognise they are a problem which is why we've increased funding for drug treatment by 974 per cent since 1997. "But we've got to remember that not everyone should go to prison. We need to tackle and break the re-offending process by offering people a holistic solution involving education and jobs."


British police protect Green saboteurs

What a sick country!

The operation to sabotage the government's GM potato trial was planned with care and under conditions of great secrecy. Two hundred and fifty protesters swooped on the 16-hectare site outside Hull, armed with shovels and filled with indignation. In less than an hour they had moved to invalidate the trial, planting thousands of organic potatoes. Mission accomplished. If only they had got the right field. Activists from yesterday apologised to farmer David Buckton after it emerged that they wrongly identified his land as the site of the GM trial. The field they planted was sown with beans.

By the time Mr Buckton was alerted to the protesters on his land, it was too late to stop the direct action. The protesters were determined to move quickly on the basis that the land would be rendered unsuitable for the GM trials once other root crops were in the ground.

In a statement said: "With the information that we had and the short timescale available to us ... we sincerely believed this to be the correct field. The public were not given sufficient information by the government, who supplied only a four-figure grid reference for the location of the trial." The group said they conducted extensive investigations within the area specified by the environment department and outside. "While it is regrettable that the wrong site and farmer were targeted, we would also like to make it clear ... that people will continue to disrupt the planting of GM crops despite the difficulties faced by this lack of full disclosure," the group added.

Yesterday Mr Buckton, 54, said the mix-up was the strangest event to have befallen his family in four generations of farming. He said the protesters were accompanied by two police officers on horseback. "I told the police officers that it was a bean field but they said the protest seemed peaceful so we'd better let them get on with it. The beans are just about peeping through. The protesters should have been able to see that," he said.

Mr Buckton said he had no great enthusiasm for GM crops. "I certainly wouldn't have been giving up my land to test them, he said." The company BASF plans trials of GM potatoes at two sites: Cambridge, which already has government approval, and in the East Riding of Yorkshire.


New drug of abuse

Worm medicine!

A new recreational drug is sending patients to the hospital with life-threatening symptoms! The case of an 18-year-old girl who collapsed in a nightclub last May after taking a tablet containing 1-benzylpiperazine is highlighting the dangers of this new drug. The teenager who was rushed to a London hospital emergency room was one of seven patients admitted with similar symptoms, including high blood pressure and a low body temperature.

Piperazines were developed to control worms in animals in the 1950s. They are chemically similar to amphetamine and are marketed in the United Kingdom in stores and online as the legal alternative to other recreational drugs such as ecstasy. The manufacturers of the drugs claim they are safe, citing that 20 million pills containing piperazines have been consumed in New Zealand with no deaths or significant long-term injuries. But a prospective study in New Zealand shows 80 cases of patients who went to the emergency room with symptoms similar to those from taking amphetamines, such as nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety and agitation. Fifteen of these patients had seizures after eight hours -- three had potentially life threatening incidents.

The authors conclude, "Clinicians should be aware of the potential presenting features of piperazine toxicity, particularly because commercially available urine toxicological screen kits for drugs of abuse may not detect piperazines."

Source. (Original report in "The Lancet" - Vol. 369, Issue 9571, 28 April 2007, Pages 1411-1413)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Corrupt "social gospel" church hid the secret of the choirmaster who abused boys

The church's infatuation with homosexuals wouldn't have anything to do with it, of course

The Church of England was accused of a cover-up after a choirmaster who systematically abused children in his care was allowed to become a school governor. Peter Halliday admitted sexually molesting boys as young as nine, nearly 20 years ago. But Church authorities did not tell the police. Instead, they allowed him to quietly leave - on the promise he would change his ways.

As Halliday finally began a jail sentence for his crimes, it was revealed he was only caught after one of his victims saw a TV programme on sexual abuse in the Church. When he checked on the Internet and discovered his former tormentor was still working with children, he called police.

Child safety campaigners yesterday criticised the Church's "serious mishandling" of the case. Halliday, 61, was sentenced to two and half years in prison after he admitted ten counts of sexual abuse between 1986 and 1990. Winchester Crown Court heard the former choirmaster at St Peter's Church in Farnborough, Hampshire, was so trusted by his victims' families that the boys were allowed to stay at his home.

Described in court as "a bully and a revolting character", he attacked the boys at his home, during swimming lessons and on camping trips. Now in their twenties and thirties, the victims, one of whom is head of music at a private school, are still coming to terms with what they went through.

The court heard Halliday could have been stopped in 1990 when the rector of St Peter's, the Reverend Alan Boddington, was informed about the abuse. Yet Mr Boddington and the then Bishop of Dorking, David Wilcox, told Halliday he could leave quietly as long as he had no more contact with children. The court heard Halliday was on the board of governors of a secondary school in Farnborough from 1988 to 2000 but had no unsupervised contact with children. When he was seen at a choir concert in 1993, the victim who had already complained to the Church again expressed his concerns. But nothing was done.

Halliday, a married father, would have escaped justice had one of his victims not researched him on the Internet and found he was a school governor and working with a children's choir. After the hearing the Church insisted it had done nothing wrong, saying officials "acted in good faith".

Child protection workers said it had failed, however. David Pearson, of the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service, said: "Had we been contacted by the Church authorities then we would have had no hesitation in telling them to go straight to the police."

Halliday was also ordered to pay 2,000 pounds compensation to each victim. One recalled his horror at meeting Halliday in 1993 on a course. He said: "I was just aghast. Younger brothers of friends were there. I was scared for myself, but also terrified for them."


A church that has forgotten how to repent its sins

More proof that its gospel is a secular rather than a Christian one these days

Turn on the Today programme, and most days you will hear some stonewalling corporate affairs sap, who has undergone "media training" and been told to stick to his script no matter what. It always makes me splutter into my coffee. Asked to defend the leaking of an oil pipeline, he will say: "The important thing is that best-practice policies are in place to ensure that clean-up procedures are strictly adhered to, and we at Polluting Petroleum want to assure you that we have the best interests of local people at heart." Translation: they're covered in oil and their crops are ruined, but I don't suppose many of them have shares in PP or will make a fuss at the AGM. As long as we get through today, we'll be OK.

You might expect such flannelling from business people and politicians. But from the Church of England? Surely not. Yet yesterday produced the worst splutterfest ever. The hapless spokeswoman was the Rev Pearl Luxon. She had been put up by the Church to talk about its role in failing to prevent a paedophile choirmaster, Peter Halliday, from abusing children. As one of the victims said: "When your first sexual experience is of a 40-year-old man forcing himself on you, it's pretty horrific." But the Church told neither the police nor social services and simply asked Halliday to leave.

Was Mrs Luxon, who is in charge of child protection at the C of E, contrite? Not a bit of it. Her first sin was to say that she could not comment on the case at all. "Why?" asked John Humphrys. "This is not a live case. The man has admitted his guilt and will be sentenced today. It is incumbent upon you to comment on this case, surely?"

"No, I cannot comment on this particular case," intoned the robot again. No reason. All she would say, time and time again, was that the Church had "robust policies in place" to deal with child abuse. When Humphrys tried to make her acknowledge that things had gone very badly wrong over Halliday, her answer was so unsatisfactory that it deserves printing in full: "These matters are always reviewed after they occur and we learn from our mistakes and our good practice is improved at all stages when these matters are looked at. Robust policies are improved through learning from the past and from following the guidance and good practice that happens now." Aaargh!

Does this woman have no shame? Has she stopped to think about the consequences of the Church's actions, or rather inactions? Presumably not, as she displayed not a shred of regret, let alone apology. If I were offering her media training, I would advise her to say: "We are desperately sorry that this occurred. We got it badly wrong. We apologise to the victims and will make sure that it never happens again." It's not that hard, is it?


This is definitely a Green religion

Environmentalism may not be saving the planet, but to judge by the news it seems to be conquering the world. Some of us have long thought that it is assuming pseudo-religious status, with its self-righteous claims to absolute truth and demands for sinners to repent. Now comes confirmation that, just as old Labour genuflected to new Labour, so our old state religion has converted to the new one.

The Church of England this week launched a booklet of "green tips" for the faithful entitled How Many Christians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb? (only 4.99, if you still have that fiver). Its eco-commandments include: thou shalt share cars on the road to church, use virtuous green lightbulbs but cast off the Devil's junk mail, and not flush the loo three times before the cock crows.

This is more than a stunt. The C of E is serious about embracing the new orthodoxy. When it launched its Shrinking the Footprint crusade last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury complained that "early modern religion contributed to the idea that the fate of nature is for it to be bossed around by a detached sovereign will, whether divine or human". Possibly those misguided early modern religionists got that idea from the bit in the Book of Genesis about God giving Man dominion "over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth". Yet now the Archbishop condemns notions of nature being "bossed around" not only by Man, but even by God. Creepy.

As with Labour, it is not the power of the new religion that explains this craven conversion but the feebleness of the old. Such is the lack of confidence within the traditional Establishment today, everybody from politicians to church leaders wants to hug environmentalism as a new form of unquestioned authority. Scientists have become the equivalent of high priests in white coats, summoned to condemn heretics; a group of them now demand that the Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle be amended to reflect the one true faith before the DVD goes on sale. Perhaps they would like to burn it, if not for the CO2.

When there is only one recycled hymn sheet in town and you can believe in any shade of politics or religion just as long as it's green, those of us who put our faith in humanity should surely worry more about the new dogma than the old. They all now buy into the same non-plastic bag of fashionable prejudices: that people are the problem rather than the solution, and we must be saved from ourselves. Sackcloth and ashes is the new black. As a wise man once said, kick against the pricks. Or as we might say today, give them a human footprint up the carbon emissions.


Net influx of 185,000 per annum into the UK

In 2005, an estimated 565,000 migrants arrived to live in the UK for at least a year. This was lower than the 2004 estimate, but higher than all other years since the method to estimate Total International Migration began in 1991. In the same period, 380,000 people emigrated from the UK for a year or more; over half of these were British citizens. Australia was the most popular destination for British emigrants followed by Spain and France. Net migration, the difference between immigration and emigration, was 185,000. This was equivalent to adding just over 500 people a day to the UK population.

In 2005, 80,000 citizens from the group of eight central and eastern European countries that acceded to the EU on 1 May 2004 (known as the A8) immigrated to the UK for a year or more. This was 54 per cent higher than the 52,000 estimate for 2004. This can be explained by 2005 being the first calendar year following EU accession, and A8 citizens having increased freedom to live and work in the UK. Over 70 per cent of A8 migrants arriving in 2005 were Polish citizens.

Almost 85 per cent of those A8 citizens migrating to the UK came for work reasons, that is, they were 'looking for work' or had a 'definite job' to go to. Overall, nearly half of all citizens migrating to the UK gave work-related reasons.

'Formal study' is another important reason for people migrating to the UK accounting for almost a quarter of all immigration in 2005.

There are notable differences in the routes that migrants of different citizenships use to enter the UK. In 2004 and 2005, nearly 90 per cent of A8 migrants entered via routes other than the main UK airports (such as via sea ports, the Channel Tunnel, or Stansted and Luton and other local airports).

In contrast, nearly 75 per cent of citizens from Commonwealth and Other foreign countries entered the UK via Heathrow airport. Over 60 per cent of British migrants entered the UK via Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports.


Non-English Britain

Immigration correctness is having huge effects

One in five schoolchildren is from an ethnic minority - almost double the figure a decade ago. The annual school census reveals a Britain where one in eight pupils speaks a language other than English at home. The record figures include more than 40,000 children from Eastern Europe who have enrolled at schools since the enlargement of the European Union in 2004.

The statistics emerged as the race relations watchdog warned that Britain's segregated schools are a "ticking timebomb". The Commission for Racial Equality's director of policy said parents must stop sending their children to schools where most pupils come from similar religious or racial backgrounds. Nick Johnson also suggested schools should be given more money to admit a racially mixed intake. He said: "We're in fear of turning into a mini-America with racially determined schools. "Schools are where our children first learn how to get along with people from other cultures and backgrounds. Racially segregated schools prevent this from happening. This is a ticking timebomb."

His comments came as figures published by the Department for Education and Skills showed the biggest year- on-year increase in ethnic minority pupils for a decade. They account for just under a fifth (19.8 per cent) of England's 6.5 million primary and secondary pupils, up from 11 per cent when Labour came to power. Meanwhile, the number of primary pupils alone who do not speak English as their first language increased by seven per cent from last year to 448,000 - or about one child in seven. Overall, it is around one in eight.

But the Commission for Racial Equality is concerned that there are not enough resources to integrate pupils from such diverse backgrounds. Mr Johnson said he was particularly worried about Tony Blair's controversial city academies and trust schools. He added that some of these are using their extra freedoms to "cream off pupils from certain ethnic backgrounds or religions, thus ... increasing racial tensions".

The Conservatives said ministers had been caught off-guard by the increase in non-native English speakers in schools. Tory education spokesman David Willetts said: "The Government has completely failed to keep up with the rate of change in our school population." A DfES spokesman said: "The Education and Inspections Act 2006 placed a new duty on the governing bodies of all maintained schools, including faith schools, to promote community cohesion."


Pensioner is refused sight drugs – until he goes blind

Socialist "compassion" at work. Elderly people can go blind for all they care

A RETIRED policeman is going blind – because a Yorkshire health trust will not pay for treatment that could save his sight. Leslie Howard, also an ex-Royal Military policeman and former prison officer, suffers from a degenerative eye condition. The drugs needed to save his sight are available on the NHS in other parts of the country. But Mr Howard, 76, has been told by health chiefs not to expect a penny of NHS treatment until he goes blind in one eye and starts losing sight in the other. He fears that after a lifetime of public service the decision by North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust could plunge him into total blindness and leave him and his invalid wife Mary Ann, 70, housebound.

As his case led to a new row over NHS "health rationing", Mr Howard, of Acomb, York, said: "The problem is we have lived too long and are just pieces of meat now – a nuisance. "I was advised to go private but was quoted 1,000 pounds an injection for who knows how many injections. I can't afford that kind of money. I've paid tens of thousands of pounds in taxes and to know that I will now lose my sight because I can't afford private treatment is diabolical."

Mr Howard was diagnosed with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in his right eye in November. It can cause sight loss in three months. He says he was advised by the North Yorkshire and York PCT that it would only consider funding once he had gone blind in one eye and developed a similar condition in his second eye. He added: "It is more than three months since I was diagnosed and it is getting worse by the day. Has the Government lost all sense of compassion as well as economics?"

The head of campaigns at the Royal National Institute of the Blind, Steve Winyard, said: "This is a desperate situation for Mr Howard. His care trust is leaving him to go blind in one eye even though sight-saving treatments are available on the NHS. "We hear of more and more patients being forced to use retirement funds or life-savings to pay for sight-saving treatments that should be available readily on the NHS. "In cases like Mr Howard's, where people can't afford private treatment, patients face the prospect of going blind unnecessarily."

The chief executive of the Macular Disease Society, Tom Bremridge, added: "The so-called 'second-eye' policy is wholly unacceptable on ethical and practical grounds." Losing sight in one eye could affect a person's co-ordination and increase the risk of falls, while not treating the condition meant patients had a high risk of developing the problem in the second eye. Unsuccessful treatment in the second eye could then mean total blindness, Mr Bremridge said. He added: "It also makes no economic sense to deny treatment. The cost of supporting people with sight loss far outweighs the cost of treatment."

AMD sufferer and former Halifax Labour MP Alice Mahon, who took legal action against her PCT and forced a U-turn over its refusal to provide similar injections on the NHS, said: "It is an obscene policy. It's outrageous. "The whole fault is handing over all this funding to the PCTs, so it's a postcode lottery and not a national health service. I am particularly concerned there seems to be discrimination against older people who have paid into the NHS all their lives."

The North Yorkshire and York PCT said yesterday Department of Health guidelines were that, until the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NIHCE) published final guidance on new treatments, NHS bodies should continue local arrangements to manage their introduction.

There was no NIHCE guidance yet for the drugs Mr Howard wanted. So in agreement with other PCTs in the region, the trust was funding such treatments only in cases where there was evidence they would work. If any patient felt they should be considered for treatment the PCT would examine their circumstances, a spokesman added.


And he's not alone:

A WIDOWED grandmother who devoted 30 years of her life to the NHS and twice fought off cancer has become the latest patient in Yorkshire to be warned she faces being denied vital treatment for a condition which causes blindness. Retired midwife Doreen Kenworthy was last week given the devastating diagnosis that she was suffering from the eye condition age-related macular degeneration.

But her shock was compounded when doctors told her the NHS would not pay for treatment until she lost the sight in her affected eye and began to lose it in the other – although further loss of sight could be prevented if she paid out thousands of pounds for private care. Her plight is similar to that of York pensioner Leslie Howard who was refused immediate NHS treatment, although a private hospital group has now stepped in to give him the care he needs. Dr Kenworthy, 56, of Stanley, Wakefield, has vowed to fight to get sight-saving treatment.

"I am not prepared to die of cancer, neither am I prepared to go blind whilst fighting it," she said. "I have never been a supporter of the private sector in my professional life. I believe in Aneurin Bevan's philosophy of free healthcare access for all at all levels. "I understand there are cutbacks, although I don't agree with the way the Labour Government has handled the NHS, but to be told 'Sorry you have to go almost blind before you get help' is dreadful."

Dr Kenworthy, who worked as a midwife and later trained midwives before retiring last year from Bradford University, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, undergoing a year of treatment before the condition recurred in January. The eye complaint was unrelated but she had already lost some central vision in her right eye which began deteriorating a month ago. She was urgently called for tests at St James's Hospital in Leeds where specialists told her she had the eye complaint and further deterioration could be prevented only by drug injections.

She was told these were only provided by the NHS after she lost her sight in one eye and began to lose it in the other – although they were available privately at a cost of up to 1,000 each over 12-24 months. "I did not expect to be told that I couldn't be treated on the NHS but if I went into the private sector I could be treated tomorrow," she said.

Dr Kenworthy, who has twins aged 31 and four grandchildren, said the only option she had to fund the treatment was by remortgaging her home. "To have to tell your children twice you've got cancer, then to say by the way you're going blind in your right eye and can't have any treatment until it affects your other eye is very hard," she said. "It's been devastating to have cancer twice in two years, to fight it, to retire after 30 years in the NHS and then get this on top."



A group of British climate scientists is demanding changes to a skeptical documentary about global warming, saying there are grave errors in the program billed as a response to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." "The Great Global Warming Swindle" aired on British television in March and is coming out soon on DVD. It argues that man-made emissions have a marginal impact on the world's climate and warming can better be explained by changing patterns of solar activity.

An open letter sent Tuesday by 38 scientists, including the former heads of Britain's academy of sciences and Britain's weather office, called on producer Wag TV to remove what it called "major misrepresentations" from the film before the DVD release -- a demand its director said was tantamount to censorship.

Bob Ward, the former spokesman for the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science, and one of the letter's signatories, said director Mark Durkin made a "long catalogue of fundamental and profound mistakes" -- including the claim that volcanoes produce more carbon dioxide than humans, and that the Earth's atmosphere was warmer during the Middle Ages than it is today. "Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements,'' he said. "Somebody has to stand up for the public interest here."

Durkin called the letter "loathsome." "This is a contemptible, weasel-worded attempt to gag scientific criticism, and it won't work," he said. "I don't believe they're interested in quality control when it comes to the reporting of science -- so long as it's on their side." Durkin acknowledged two of the errors highlighted by the scientists -- including the claim about volcanic emissions -- but he described those changes as minor and said they would be corrected in the expanded DVD release.

But the scientists do not want the DVD released without edits to completely remove the material they object to -- something Ward said would fatally weaken the film's argument. "The fact is that it's a very convincing program, and if you're not very aware of the science you wouldn't necessarily see what the errors are," Ward said. "But the errors are huge. ... Without those errors in, he doesn't have a story."

Ward has also complained to Britain's media regulator, which said it was investigating the matter. British broadcast law demands impartiality on matters of major political and industrial controversy -- and penalties can be imposed for misrepresentations of fact.

The decision to broadcast Durkin's documentary on Channel 4 was an unusual move in a country where the role of man-made carbon emissions in heating the globe is largely taken for granted and politicians regularly spar over which party has the greenest environmental policy. As for the former vice president, Gore has been hired as an adviser to the British government, which plans to send copies of his film to schools around England.



A FLAGSHIP EU scheme to cut pollution is "counter-productive" and could damage the Welsh steel industry, the chief executive of Corus warned yesterday. Philippe Varin, pictured right, said the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, first introduced in 2005, was a major contributor to rising electricity prices, one of the firm's big headaches. A 6.2bn pound takeover of Corus by Indian firm Tata steel was finalised earlier this month, and some fear the move will have serious implications for its Port Talbot plant, which employs more than 3,000.

Around 90% of new capacity in the steel industry is being developed in the 70% of the world not covered by the Kyoto agreement on cutting greenhouse gases. The current system involves EU Governments setting an emission cap for all manufacturing plants covered by the scheme. Each firm is then given an allowance, and can sell on any surplus if it cuts its pollution.

But there are many anomalies, including the inclusion of steel but not aluminium, and the lack of a similar scheme outside the EU. Asked by MPs about the impact on the firm if the scheme were not changed, Mr Varin said, "The consequence would be we wouldn't expand at all, then shrink production. We would import steel, we would continue to produce as much CO2 and it would be worse. "Production would be relocated to other countries."


Another triumph of British bureaucracy: "The Government's bungling over farm subsidy payments is clearly far from resolved after it emerged one Yorkshire claimant due more than 20,000 pounds has received just 89 pounds. Susan Maudsley, 60, from near Settle, who had expected subsidies in excess of 10,000 in 2005 and 2006, is a striking example of continuing chaos at the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). The RPA admitted last summer that it was at fault in her case - and yet officials are even refusing to pay out her 2006 subsidy until the previous year has been resolved. Shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice called the case "an outrage" that showed Ministers at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were still failing to get a grip on the RPA which has come under fierce fire over the late payment of subsidies to thousands of farmers."

Friday, April 27, 2007

"Green" garbage collection bad for your health

At the behest of the EU, most of Britain has reduced garbage collection from weekly to fortnightly -- to "encourage" people to recycle!

HANDLING rubbish that has been left out for a fortnight before being collected can increase the risk of health problems including asthma and nausea, a study has found. Researchers found that the level of bacteria and fungal spores in the air above bins that had not been emptied for two weeks was more than 10 times that in locations where there was a weekly collection.

The findings come amid concerns about the public health risks of cutting collections. More than 140 councils in England have moved to fortnightly emptying to encourage recycling and cut costs, despite warnings of an increase in rat and insect infestation.

The spread of fortnightly collections has also raised fears about fly-tipping [illegal dumping]. Government figures show incidents rose by over 10% last year. In 2005/6 there were 1,034,518 cases, up from 926,534 in 2004/5. Caroline Spelman, the shadow local government secretary, said: "Fortnightly collections, designed to be a green initiative, could result in more people driving to the countryside to dump waste." But Ben Bradshaw, the environment minister, said: "There is absolutely no evidence of any connection between alternate weekly collections and fly-tipping."

The new report, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found rubbish left out for longer periods produced tens of thousands more spores. Dr Tom Kosatsky, a medical epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal, said: "If rubbish is decaying for two weeks and is heated by warm weather, it provides a fertile breeding ground for spores. "Exposure to fungi on this level can trigger sore throats, respiratory symptoms, faintness, weakness and depression, asthma and other allergic reactions."

Dr Toni Gladding, a lecturer in environmental engineering at the Open University, said: "Councils introduced the change without recognising there may be a risk to occupational health."



Prof. Brignell comments on the British garbage nonsense -- nonsense that is as destructive as almost all current Greenie ideas are. See the original post for links

For the first time since the Great Stench of London in 1858, the steady improvement in Britain 's hygiene has gone into reverse. There are so many reasons why this further disaster is a typical product of modern British politics:

1. It was dreamt up by unelected Brussels bureaucrats

2. The British Government is desperately trying to cover up its lack of authority by pretending that it is defending its own policies, however dim-witted.

3. It is facilitated by the total lack of effective opposition in Parliament.

4. It is being done in obeisance to the new eco-religion.

5. It involves the diversion of control away from elected authorities to unmovable officials.

6. It is justified by the global warming myth (but an even more bizarre version based on methane).

7. It defies all the basic sciences of human hygiene, such as bacteriology and mycology.

8. It involves ordinary citizens in elaborate rituals, with draconian fines it they get them wrong.

9. It exposes ordinary people, but especially those occupationally involved, to greatly magnified risk of serious disease.

10. It is being done in total defiance of mounting anger among the victims.

11. It is being done against the advice of the Government's own expensive consultants.

12. It will lead to a substantial increase in illegal activity that is distressing and dangerous to the general populace.

It is the abandonment of weekly refuse collection, one of the staples of health protection law since the great Public Health Act of 1875. The enfeebled British Government is obliged to enact this gross and murderous folly or be fined by the EU Commissars for failing to reduce the burial of rubbish. It is self evident to anyone with a modicum of general scientific education that this is a route to human disaster, but if people must have "modern" research, see this in the Times.

The bacterial generation time can be as short as twenty minutes. You don't need a calculator to know that after a week one cell can turn into a figure with rather a large number of noughts behind it. After a fortnight the number of noughts is more than somewhat bigger. Then there are the rodents and insects. One common housefly, musca domestica, can convey millions of bacteria on its feet. Houseflies can transmit intestinal worms, or their eggs, and are potential vectors of many serious diseases such as dysentery, gastroenteritis, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. In the nutritive warmth of a putrid dustbin, the total reproductive cycle can be as short as a week. Dustbins now contain human excreta, particularly of babies, so houseflies complete the closed loop by settling on food. Rats spread several serious diseases. Overflowing dustbins are rodent heaven. The inevitable increase in illegal fly-tipping [illegal dumping in parks and by roadsides etc.] will distribute uncontrolled, festering sources of pestilence all over the country.

Can any sane person of moderate intelligence believe that this is anything but one of the most insane and dangerous policies ever devised by man?

Hope for autism

It would help to know more about which categories of autism were helped by which aspect of the treatment but the evidence that SOME treatment works for some children is encouraging

Toddlers found to have autism who undergo intensive teaching programmes from the age of 3 can raise their IQ by as much as 40 points, according to a three-year study. The research found that intensive, early education, which costs about 30,000 pounds a year per child, also led to “significant positive changes” in language, daily living skills, motor ability and social skills.

The study, conducted by the University of Southampton, will put pressure on the Government to help to fund early intervention for autistic children. It often costs households more than 30,000 pounds a year as one parent is forced to give up work completely to oversee about 40 hours of tuition a week. Most of the money is spent on hiring tutors and a course supervisor who shapes the programme for the child and assesses its progress.

It is the first major study of its kind in Britain, although thousands of families are known to be using the programme, the best known of which is applied behaviour analysis (ABA). It breaks down learning into tiny chunks, using imitation and reinforcement to encourage autistic children to communicate, then speak and follow commands, before moving on to more advanced skills.

Half the 44 autistic children had the treatment for two years, significantly starting at the age of 30-42 months. That is usually the time at which families who suspect their child may be autistic are struggling to get a formal diagnosis.

The children in the study ranged from the high-functioning, with better communication skills and higher IQs, to the low-functioning with poor speech and few social skills. All had a formal diagnosis of autism.

The researchers found that early intervention was more effective with the higher-functioning children who had a higher mental age and better social skills, although all benefited to some degree. [A possible "fudge" there. Overgeneralized results probable]

The first group of children in the study were given 25 hours of one-to-one treatment a week from between three and five tutors, and also from their parents, all using the principles of ABA. This is fewer hours than the 40 a week most parents sign up to. The control group had received the basic speech or language therapy normally offered by local education authorities.

As well as improved communication and social skills, more than a quarter of the children showed “very substantial improvements” in their IQ. In one case IQ increased from 30 to 70, in another, from 72 to 115. Most of the population has an IQ of between 85 and 115. “This form of teaching can, in many cases, lead to major change,” said Professor Bob Remington, deputy head of the University of Southampton School of Psychology. “In practice, the positive changes we see in IQ, language and daily living skills can make a real difference to the future lives of children with autism.”

With one in a hundred children thought to be suffering from some form of autism, the costs are potentially very high. However, John Wylie, chief executive of TreeHouse Trust, a school for autistic children, said: “It has to be compared with the cost of looking after someone with autism which conservative estimates put at 3 million pounds over their lifetime. Spending the money at a time when it can make a difference is surely better than pouring it about when it can make little difference.”


The misleading attack on boys in Britain

The apparent underachievement by boys in school tests is a distortion caused by a feminised examination system and a higher number of boys suffering behavioural problems, according to research. Academics from Durham University have found that the real average difference in ability between girls and boys from 11 years old to A level is less than half a grade.

Alarm over the academic performance of boys has been mounting. Last year almost 57 per cent of boys failed to get good GCSE grades in English and maths. At A level, 25.3 per cent of girls achieved at least one grade A, compared with 22.7 per cent of boys. Last year 43 per cent of first-degree graduates were men, while 59 per cent of 2:1 degrees and firsts were awarded to women. However, Peter Tymms, the director of the Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre at Durham University, and Dr Christine Merrell say that in academic terms boys are not falling further behind.

Professor Tymms said: “The real difference is that boys have a far wider spread — in maths, there are more gifted and talented boys, but also more with special needs.” He added: “If you want boys to do well, you give them a speedy multiple choice. If you want girls to do better, get them to write an essay.” The information was presented at a Royal Society of Medicine conference Boys: Their Nurture and Education.


Foolish British education frenzies

What have been the defining moments of Tony Blair's prime ministership? Last Sunday, the Observer assessed Blair's impact on British society over the past 10 years (1). While the ill-fated farrago of the Iraq war in 2003, the unprecedented `emotional' outburst at the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the ban on foxhunting were correctly identified as `key moments' of his reign, Blair's insistence - before he was elected to government - that New Labour would be primarily about `education, education, education' was oddly absent from the list.

As the Blair years have rolled on, it seems education really has become a laboratory for trying out `big ideas' that will magically provide internal coherence for the government and outward cohesion in society at large. Indeed, over the past week there has been a veritable `scramble for education', wherein union leaders, policymakers and cabinet ministers have shown that they can only relate to society through the prism of the classroom.

One consequence of today's blinkered obsession with schooling is that it encourages a rather myopic dissection of its every facet. Last year, it was the fat content of Turkey Twizzlers that was of prime concern. Now it's whether schools will become `pressure cookers' as a consequence of `climate change'. Teachers have been demanding this week `the right to walk out of hot classrooms during soaring temperatures' (2). It seems the National Union of Teachers (NUT) can predict future weather conditions with an accuracy that would shame the Met Office. Apparently, in future summers there will be frequent heatwaves and thus `schools should close during the summer'. In the past, the old left mistakenly argued that `education is a right'. Now NUT leaders believe that at the first sight of sunshine, there should be a `right' to forget about education altogether. As one teacher put it, `if temperatures soar then it may be necessary to disrupt children's schooling' (3).

Still, this made a brief respite from stories about children disrupting schooling. Normal service was resumed on Wednesday when the education secretary Alan Johnson said that website providers had a `moral obligation' to stop pupils posting offensive school videos that demean their teachers or other children. He said: `The online harassment of teachers is causing some to consider leaving the profession because of the defamation and humiliation they are forced to suffer.' (4) Now, unwittingly appearing on some jokey YouTube clip would hardly be the highlight of anyone's teaching career. But surely this is simply a more hi-tech version of `defamatory' graffiti or cartoon caricatures of teachers that schoolchildren have long enjoyed executing. The difference today is that New Labour launches a campaign against kids acting like, well, kids - with website providers, rather than teachers or government, forced to be the moral guardians.

The seeming inability of ministers to use words and values to socialise children was also in evidence with Johnson's latest initiative: to reward school pupils financially if they don't play truant or misbehave at school. Incredibly, this was accurately satirised in the inaugural episode of the BBC drama, Party Animals, wherein a junior Home Office minister proposed giving delinquents a `good behaviour bond' (ie, a bribe) to entice them to behave (5). Now life is imitating art.

Improving classroom behaviour, we are told, is vital if we're to tackle anti-social behaviour in wider society. The spate of tragic and needless killings of black teenagers in London this year has inevitably been connected with poor educational attainment. And once again, if only poorly disciplined students (and their parents) learned to love their homework assignments, they'd be less open to the nefarious temptations of `street culture'. Steve Sinnott of the NUT called `for a national investigation into the impact of street culture, amid rising concerns over murders and stabbings'. `There should also be better monitoring of black boys' performance', he said (6).

In a roundabout way, Tony Blair (and Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality before him) echoed this view, citing an anti-learning subculture as being responsible for black boys' underachievement and, by implication, for stabbings and murders. It seems neither the government nor the teaching unions bother to read the latest Ofsted statistics. While it is true that black pupils obtain fewer GCSE passes than pupils from other ethnic backgrounds, their attainment rate has increased rather than decreased over the past 10 years (a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that black adults are more integrated into the economy than would have been the case previously) (7). If sections of the British student body are under-performing, those responsible for promoting an `anti-learning culture' are the government and the education authorities themselves.

Increasingly, the UK education system resembles a smorgasbord of anti-aspiration propaganda. If black and other schoolchildren come through the education system believing that the society they live in is both destructive and inherently oppressive, it's little wonder that some students may become fatalistic about their life chances. Bombarded with similar messages in the wider world, too, this will have a more powerfully negative influence on a black student's outlook than the collected works of rappers like the late Tupac Shakur, who are frequently blamed for violence. In fact, many black students I've taught either laugh off the ludicrous excesses of gangsta rap or feel uncomfortable with its decidedly low-rent connotations. The high-profile (but still extremely rare) incidences of teen murders in the capital are born out of social factors rather than songs. Have sociologists and commentators ever blamed Glasgow's gangs-and-knife incidents on the influence of bagpipes or the city's jangly indie bands?

Today, blaming everything on cultural influences means that banal suppositions on gangsta rap somehow influencing teenagers can be taken as good coin. Nevertheless, it's precisely this official belief in cultural determinism that means the education system becomes loaded with ever more demands for `responsibility' (and grounds for meddling) than ever before.

All of these developments have little to do with providing a decent, liberal education system for all. As we've seen over the past week, the classroom becomes both the cause of problems (teacher stress, bullying, even heatstroke) and the solution (namely, getting everyone to behave). For all the current digressions on Blair's 10 years in power, it seems mediating governmental decisions through `education, education, education' has stood the test of time and still largely goes unquestioned. Who needs 10 more years of that?


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wi Fi scare

The evils of radio-waves have been combed over exhaustively for many years but no amount of evidence will ever convince some nature freaks that cellphones are safe -- and now the same performance is revving up over WiFi -- which uses similar radio waves

Being "wired-up" used to be shorthand for being at the cutting edge, connected to all that is cool. No longer. Wireless is now the only thing to be. Go into a Starbucks, a hotel bar or an airport departure lounge and you are bound to see people tapping away at their laptops, invisibly connected to the internet. Visit friends, and you are likely to be shown their newly installed system. Lecture at a university and you'll find the students in your audience tapping away, checking your assertions on the world wide web almost as soon as you make them. And now the technology is spreading like a Wi-Fi wildfire throughout Britain's primary and secondary schools.

The technological explosion is even bigger than the mobile phone explosion that preceded it. And, as with mobiles, it is being followed by fears about its effect on health - particularly the health of children. Recent research, which suggests that the worst fears about mobiles are proving to be justified, only heightens concern about the electronic soup in which we are increasingly spending our lives.

Now, as we report today, Sir William Stewart, the man who has issued the most authoritative British warnings about the hazards of mobiles, is becoming worried about the spread of Wi-Fi. The chairman of the Health Protection Agency - and a former chief scientific adviser to the Government - is privately pressing for an official investigation of the risks it may pose. Health concerns show no sign of slowing the wireless expansion. One in five of all adult Britons now own a wireless-enabled laptop. There are 35,000 public hotspots where they can use them, usually at a price....

So far only a few, faint warnings have been raised, mainly by people who are so sensitised to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobiles, their masts and Wi-Fi that they become ill in its presence. The World Health Organisation estimates that up to three out of every hundred people are "electrosensitive" to some extent. But scientists and doctors - and some European governments - are adding their voices to the alarm as it becomes clear that the almost universal use of mobile phones may be storing up medical catastrophe for the future.

Professor Lawrie Challis, who heads the Government's official mobile safety research, this year said that the mobile could turn out to be "the cigarette of the 21st century".

There has been less concern about masts, as they emit very much less radiation than mobile phones. But people living - or attending schools - near them are consistently exposed and studies reveal a worrying incidence of symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and memory problems. There is also some suggestion that there may be an increase in cancers and heart disease.

Wi-Fi systems essentially take small versions of these masts into the home and classroom - they emit much the same kind of radiation. Though virtually no research has been carried out, campaigners and some scientists expect them to have similar ill-effects. They say that we are all now living in a soup of electromagnetic radiation one billion times stronger than the natural fields in which living cells have developed over the last 3.8 billion years. This, they add, is bound to cause trouble

More here

Attitudes to autism

The following review of Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by Roy Richard Grinker, Basic Books, 2007; Constructing Autism: Unravelling the `Truth' and Understanding the Social by Majia Holmer Nadesan, Routledge, 2005; Send in the Idiots: Stories From the Other Side of Autism by Kamran Nazeer, Bloomsbury, 2006 finds that strange attitudes towards autism have arisen in the absence of much real understanding of it. My own view is that there is no such thing as autism -- merely a range of quite different disorders that happen to have communication problems in common. And the different accounts of autism summarized below do rather bear that out.

Like Roy Richard Grinker, whose daughter was diagnosed as autistic at around the same time as my son in the early 1990s, at the time I `knew little about the condition and knew no-one else who had it'. Autism was then regarded as a rare disorder affecting three children in 10,000. A decade later, the increasing numbers of children with autism are widely described as a crisis and an epidemic, with cases occurring at a rate of 60 per 10,000 births. Grinker, a social anthropologist as well as a parent, observes that the term epidemic `implies danger and incites fear' and wisely cautions that we should `step back and take a closer look at our fears about autism'.

Through a comprehensive review of the history and epidemiology of autism, Grinker shows how a greater awareness of autism among parents and professionals, together with a widening concept of autism, have led to a dramatic increase in the recognition of cases, rather than a true increase in numbers. He challenges the conviction among many parents that an epidemic of autism can be readily attributed to toxins and vaccines and regards the search for environmental causes (and cures) as misconceived: `If there is no real epidemic, we might just have to admit that no-one is to blame.' He insists that `we cannot find real solutions if we're basing our ideas on false premises and bad science'.

For Grinker, the increased recognition of autism in Western society is a welcome sign `that we are finally seeing and appreciating a kind of human difference that we once turned away from'. With insights derived from his studies in India, South Korea and South Africa (as well as in Europe), he shows how in other cultures autism is only beginning to emerge from being hidden, stigmatised and denigrated. While Grinker describes the familiar parental struggle to secure appropriate schooling for his daughter even in the USA of today, he readily acknowledges that `autism is a terrible, life-long disorder, but it's a better time than ever to be autistic'. However, when he claims that `the prevalence of autism today is a virtue, maybe even a prize', he never asks whether the current popularity of autism reflects a perverse celebration of themes of alienation and atomisation in contemporary society - for that we need to turn to a sociologist.

Majia Holmer Nadesan, who also has a child with autism, brings a welcome sociological and historical perspective to her thoughtful and thought-provoking survey of current controversies. For her, autism is not so much a discovery of the 1940s that became an epidemic in the 1990s, as a product of the social and cultural circumstances of the late twentieth century. She argues that the `classical' autism described by US psychiatrist Leo Kanner in his landmark 1943 paper emerged as a result of the development of distinctive concepts and institutions of childhood and child psychology over the preceding half-century. In contrast with the current vogue for identifying autistic personalities in history and literature, she insists that autism was `unthinkable' within the diagnostic categories of nineteenth-century psychiatry, at a time when any child presenting such behaviours would have been `abandoned, neglected or institutionalised'.

Nadesan considers that the expanding range of autism diagnoses in recent years - with a particular emphasis on cases of `higher functioning' autism or Asperger's syndrome - can be attributed to the more intensive parental and professional focus on child development fostered by cognitive psychology and to the scope offered to the more able autistic individuals within the wider culture of information technology. (Though Hans Asperger first described cases of his syndrome in Austria in the 1940s, his work did not become widely known in the English-speaking world before the 1980s.) In a perceptive discussion of `Asperger's as cyborgs', Nadesan notes the way this syndrome has been constructed as `the sublimation of humanity by technology, cloaked in the guise of human genius'. She attributes the impact of popular accounts of `autistic intelligence' to `the public's simultaneous fascination and repulsion with a stereotyped and reified form of "autistic genius"'.

Whereas Grinker uncritically welcomes the wider recognition of autism, Nadesan is alert to the danger that, in technically advanced countries in the late twentieth century, `we have pathologised people' who would formerly have been regarded as merely eccentric.

Nadesan develops philosopher Ian Hacking's theory of autism as a `niche disorder' arising from the interaction of biological and cultural factors in modern society. She challenges the one-sided emphasis on the biological determination of autism evident in both mainstream research and in popular `biomedical' alternative approaches. Emphasising the dynamic interaction of biological and social aspects, Nadesan insists that people with autism cannot be reduced to defective genetic and neurological states. Indeed, it is the recognition that genes, brain and mind are loosely coupled rather than mechanistically determined that offers scope for therapeutic intervention.

Kamran Nazeer, who was diagnosed with autism as a child, is well aware of the difficulties facing even higher functioning adults with autism. Twenty years after leaving his elementary school in New York, he has traced some of his former classmates and now tells their stories.

Craig, whose echolalic childhood phrase provides the title, was a speechwriter for the Democratic Party who became unemployed after George W Bush's 2004 election victory. After a spell in a juvenile detention centre for a serious assault, Andre lives with his sister, works in computers and uses hand puppets to facilitate social interaction. Randall works as a bicycle courier in Chicago and is now back with his parents after separating from his former partner Mike, a writer. Though Elizabeth committed suicide in 2002 at the age of 26, we hear her story from her parents, Henry and Sheila.

The most enigmatic case is that of the author. Born to Pakistani parents, he has lived in Jeddah, Islamabad and Glasgow, studied philosophy and legal theory and is now a policy adviser in Whitehall. Nazeer writes with intelligence and wit, providing finely observed and deeply sympathetic profiles of each of his former classmates, together with thoughtful reflections on matters such as the art of conversation, the question of genius and the challenges facing the families of people with autism. His account of the cruelty to psychologists of adolescents with high-functioning autism is hilarious. He concludes with a discussion of autism controversies with two of his former teachers, Ira and Rebecca, who are both still engaged in autism education, though his old school has now closed.

Nazeer observes that, with the decline of psychogenic theories and the rise of genetics, there is now `a different sense of shame about autism'. He attributes the influence of vaccine theories of causation to a `lingering, perhaps renewed, sense of shame about having a child with a developmental disorder'. He finds the quest for environmental explanations `terribly sad' as parents `throbbing with guilt and shame' have pursued `whatever external cause they could identify, to exculpate themselves'.

When Ira and Rebecca suggest to Nazeer that he is no longer autistic, his rejoinder is that `we all got better, to say it that way'. He insists that it is not `simply that we're all less idiotic than before' but that `we became that way through exposure to the world that lay beyond the horizon of our own selves'. He rejects the `notion perpetrated on' himself and his classmates, `that our minds are singular, glowing, remarkable and untouched by others' - and expectations that people with autism will be socially inept but brilliant with computers. For him, all these preconceptions derive from the same belief - `that autistic people are themselves only, self-enclosed and sealed off to the world'. He dismisses the view that people with autism `can't be reached, or shouldn't be, that self-enclosure is or ought to be permanent'.

In the course of his study Nazeer found `something rather different': `Our autism eased, in each case, because of other people, our parents, friends, and our teachers, of course.' He rejects both `credulity and cretinhood', both the notions that an alienated autistic identity should be celebrated and that autistic children are doomed, without prospect of improvement. He affirms the humanity of people with autism as participants in the networks of human society. `This realisation sometimes expands inside me until I feel as if my organs are going to bruise one another.' Let's hope that writing this book has reduced his risk of internal injury. As he truly writes, his approach `marks a big change compared to how autism is typically thought about'.

For anybody in a quandary over which books to select from the recent profusion of autism-lit titles, here are three excellent choices. If you only have time for one, choose Nazeer's. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry; above all it will make you think about autism.


British eco-imperialism

The UN Security Council this week held its first ever debate on climate change and the potential threat that global warming poses to international security. British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, who chaired the meeting, organised the open session to highlight what she called the `security imperative' to tackle climate change. According to Beckett, climate change can exacerbate problems that cause conflicts and threaten the entire planet. She was clearly very pleased with the UK-led initiative, stating that: `This is a groundbreaking day in the history of the Security Council, the first time ever that we will debate climate change as a matter of international peace and security.' (1)

Not all the Council members agreed with her. The UK, currently holding the rotating council presidency, had to undertake a lot of `behind closed doors' lobbying to even get the Council to agree to hold the open session (2). Even so, the discussion was marked by strong disagreements over whether the Security Council had the authority to deal with the issue of global warming and, as expected beforehand, no resolution was reached.

China's deputy ambassador, Liu Zhenmin, was blunt in rejecting the session: `The developing countries believe the Security Council has neither the professional competence in handling climate change - nor is it the right decision-making place for extensive participation leading up to widely acceptable proposals.' Russia also warned that the Council, whose mandate is only peace and security, was not the place to take concrete action on climate change (3).

The main argument raised against Beckett's proposal was that the Security Council was stepping on to the territory of more democratic bodies, such as the UN General Assembly. The two major groups representing developing countries - the Nonaligned Movement and the Group of 77 - wrote separate letters accusing the Security Council of `ever-increasing encroachment' on the role and responsibility of other UN bodies such as the 192-member General Assembly (4).

However, none of the participants in the debate challenged the substance of Beckett's argument that climate change posed a major risk to international peace and security. The opposition from some of the Security Council's permanent members and from many other states was posed in terms of the Security Council's authority and mandate to deal with such an extensive issue. It would seem that even those states which spoke in favour of Beckett's position, including the EU members and Japan, were less concerned with the substance of the argument than the desire to prioritise the issue of climate change itself. This was also clearly the case for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who hopes that the higher profile given to the relationship between climate change and global conflict will lead the member states to support his initiative to create a new UN Environmental Organisation, in an effort to coordinate action on climate change (5).

Even in the case of the UK, which has been so keen to push the link between climate change and global security, the substance of the argument appears to be of little importance. It is as if any important issue must be, of its very nature, a security risk in our globalised and interconnected world; it seems that every threat is so great that only the concerted action of the world's governments can deal with it. The UK has been keen to situate itself in the forefront of campaigning on climate change and Margaret Beckett argued some weeks ago that she hoped that the UN Security Council discussion would `foster a shared understanding of the way in which climate stress is likely to amplify other drivers of conflict and tension. This can only strengthen the commitment of the international community to the collective action that we urgently need.' (6)

It would appear that the substantive evidence for linking climate change with conflict is secondary to the concern that urgent collective action is taken. Beckett hinted as much in her speech to business organisations in New York the day before the UN Security Council debate: `[T]he, perhaps rather sad, truth is that the international community will not move with the necessary urgency or the necessary resolve if climate change is seen as primarily something that affects insects, animals and plants. To steal a slogan from Amnesty International, we need to show that tackling climate change is about saving the human.' (7)

For Beckett, the key issue is not so much the link between climate change and global conflict but the government's desire to take the international moral high ground in stressing the urgency of action in relation to climate change. It is this that has driven Beckett to engage in presenting climate change as a global security threat. She says: `Particularly over the past year, I have discussed the link between climate and security with many people. Some of them are sceptical. They respond that we can't prove that climate change will lead to this or that particular event - still less that it will cause any one outbreak of violence or hostilities. But that is to misunderstand the issue and the argument. If you are looking for a simple, linear connection between climate change and a particular flashpoint, you are only picking up a glimpse of a much wider picture. The implications of climate change for our security are more fundamental and comprehensive than any single conflict.' (8)

Beckett is clearly not, in fact, arguing that climate change causes conflict in any direct or straightforward way open to evidence-based debate. As the Guardian notes, `Britain refuses to site [sic] examples of global warming-related conflicts' (9). The reason for this obvious: it is not possible to substantiate a linkage between global warming and conflict. Even the alarmist CNA Corporation report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change - released the day before the UN Security Council meeting, in which 11 former senior US generals, including Anthony Zinni, retired chief of Central Command, and Gordon Sullivan, formerly the US army's most senior general, called on the Bush administration to do more to tackle climate change - does not make any clear or direct links, despite arguing that `climate change is a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world' (10).

The generals' report links climate change to conflict only in the most non-specific and indirect terms: `Projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states.' (11) From the generalised nature of the report and its focus on poor and marginal societies, it is clear that the problem it highlights is not climate change as such, but rather the political, economic and social context upon which climate change may have an impact. To see climate change or resource shortages as a cause of conflict would involve depoliticising conflict and naturalising social and economic conditions in the countries under analysis (12).

Even given that there can be no direct link between climate change and conflict, the report gives very little concrete evidence of conflicts in which climate change can be held to have played a major role. It admits that, despite its importance, `no recent wars have been waged solely over water resources' and that `even tense disputes and resource crises can be peacefully overcome' (13). When the report does venture a few cursory attempts to claim examples where resource scarcity is held to be a contributing factor - Rwanda, `furthered by violence over agricultural resources', `the situation in Darfur, which has land resources at its root', the 1970s overthrow of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie `through his government's inability to deal with food shortages', and the 1974 Nigerian coup `that resulted largely from an insufficient response to famine' (14) - it is clear that the meaning and consequences of resource scarcity are social and political questions, not ones of environmental science, and certainly not ones liable to be ameliorated by any reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Beckett follows a similar approach to that of the CNA report in grouping a wide-range of problems together, including those of resource scarcity, land erosion, energy supplies and food production and distribution. Once these social, economic and political problems are reframed in terms of natural resources then she is able to proclaim that we should: `Think of the world today, then, as a dangerously simmering pot. An unstable climate risks that pot boiling over. And we ignore that risk - literally - at our peril.' (15) Of course, if the risks are so great, the cause is ever more vital and heroic: `Now it is time for us to rise to our newest and biggest challenge: to fight the first great war of interdependence, the struggle for climate security.' (16)

Underneath the Churchillian rhetoric that Beckett uses to declare that climate change is a `gathering storm', comparable to the threat posed by Nazi Germany in an earlier era, lies an attempt to re-establish the UK's moral and political standing in the world - not through old-fashioned militarism but through what the government clearly believes to be the UK's strongest card: the power of rhetoric.


Britain's trains -- what the Greenies are wishing on us all

And you thought wobbly old Amtrak was bad!

A week ago a return Virgin Train ticket for the 85 minute journey from Euston station, London, to Birmingham New Street cost me more than œ70 ($168). For the outward journey that bought a seat on a window side of the carriage; but rather than a window, the seat was up close and personal with a beige plastic wall. A pale yellow light allowed me to read, just. The seat-back table was stickier than a poodle dipped in custard. Across the PA came an announcement that at any time we "customers" could move into a first-class carriage, where we could pay an extra œ10 for the upgrade. Halfway through the journey a Virgin employee scuttled through the carriages with a plastic bag the size of a small piggery, into which we could chuck the remains of our snacks.

But Virgin is luxury compared with First Great Western. One journey from Oxford to London Waterloo was plastic-rubbish-bag-free. Customers stepped carefully over floor puddles of food and drink remains, or kicked them aside.

Now for the stations. London Euston, a destination for 55 million passengers a year, is to be demolished and redeveloped at a cost of œ250 million. Early publicity promises a "light and airy thoroughfare" to replace the grey floors and grey-block ceilings that match the grey, dive-bombing pigeons. A tribute to the Brutalist architectural philosophy of the 1960s when it was built, Euston was demolished this month in print by the columnist Richard Morrison, who wrote: "The design should never have left the drawing board - if, indeed, it was ever on a drawing board. It gives the impression of having been scribbled on the back of a soiled paper bag by a thuggish android with a grudge against humanity and a vampiric loathing of sunlight."

Euston is so depressed that even its lavatories have gone on strike. After my trip from Birmingham New Street - a grotesquely ugly station itself - customers were forced to hop and shuffle in line to enter the Euston ladies and gents. Two of the three gates, demanding 20 pence each, were out of order.

Ealing Broadway, west London - there's another wrist slasher of a station. Late last month I booked online for a journey to Oxford, with plans to pick up the ticket at a Fast Ticket machine at the station. With 15 minutes to spare, I discovered every Fast Ticket machine at Ealing Broadway carried an "out of order" sign, strangely reminiscent of those black felt-tip pens on brown cardboard pleas: "Help, down on my luck." The queue to buy tickets was 30 people long. With my train due in less than five minutes, one extra ticket counter was s-l-o-w-l-y opened and my ticket handed over.

Finally, the entirely lift-free Stratford-on-Avon. To board a train to London, customers must carry their bags from one platform up a flight of steps, across a bridge, and down another flight to reach the right platform.

More here

Britain's Anti-education education

In recent years, there has been concern over the underachievement of black boys in UK schools. Compared to a national average of 59 per cent, only 34 per cent of African-Caribbean boys attain five or more GCSE passes. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), seems to think that black boys' cultural outlook is partly to blame. `There is an anti-learning culture whereby learning isn't seen to be cool.' (1) For Phillips, black kids just don't want to learn.

Phillips is right to blame `an anti-learning culture'. But this has little to do with hip-hop `playas' and everything to do with the government and the cultural elites. Blaming the gormless bravado of street culture for hostility to education suggests that Phillips is more in awe of 50 Cent and Eminem than the black kids I teach. Urban entertainers may loom large in the popular imagination, but they're hardly able to dictate the agenda on education, learning and culture. After all, it wasn't Jay-Z who grabbed headlines by declaring that `learning history is a bit dodgy'. That was the former education secretary, Charles Clarke.

Yet this wasn't just a rash comment by Clarke. Instead, hostility to learning for learning's sake currently informs every aspect of the education system. For example, the government has long attempted to put vocational learning `on a parity of esteem' with academic subjects. The drive to vocationalise education won't necessarily bolster the status of NVQ's in Hair & Beauty, but it has cast academic courses in a negative light. When Clarke suggests that academic subjects are dodgy, he really means that they are not `accessible' enough. Middle managers in further education colleges are following suit. At one inner London college at which I have taught, the Sixth Form Centre was constantly threatened with closure by the management, which deemed teaching A-levels as elitist.

Such an anti-learning culture is also prevalent in today's classrooms. Teachers are discouraged from extended their students' vocabulary in case it `alienates' them. And if students are having trouble participating in classroom discussion, teachers are recommended to introduce kindergarten-style games to pass the time. In the past, educationalists would seek to overcome the barriers to learning. Today learning is seen as a barrier to developing that all-important self-esteem. Indeed, the current teaching adverts suggest that learning is an alien concept for most schools. Classrooms are represented as similar to `crazy' youth centres where teachers simply turn up, arrange the chairs and distribute soft drinks. The apparent upside is that adults `get to hang out with Raj' and, in a spectacular reversal of roles, get to learn a `new language'.

This isn't merely the outcome of a daft advertising agency. In PGCE courses, student teachers are encouraged to incorporate as many hip-hop tracks and videos into lessons as possible. But such tricks are more likely to irritate students than bring them onside. Nothing is more grating for clued-up students than teachers getting down with `the kids'. My authority would be seriously undermined if I scribbled `blood, this is the shiznit!' on their work, or delivered sociology in a series of raps. Compared to Trevor Phillips, most of the black students I teach don't take hip-hop's ludicrous postures seriously.

The underachievement of black boys is a concern for educationalists and wider society. But the causes of the problem are varied and complex, and can't just be reduced to students' listening habits. Because there is an obsession with interpreting social groups purely in cultural terms, it is rarely acknowledged that African-Caribbean students are predominately from poorer working-class backgrounds. This isn't to suggest that social class is the only factor in determining their educational performance. But it is an important explanation for why a significant proportion of white and Bangladeshi boys also fall behind the national average.

Nevertheless, softening the education system can't compensate for the negative effects of social and racial inequalities. In fact, the government's measures are likely to make them worse. If learning appears alien and `uncool' to some African-Caribbean students, Trevor Phillips should look less at `the street' and a lot closer to home.


Must not expose the chaos of Britain's schools

A whistleblower who should get a medal is being prosecuted by a rotten system

A supply teacher who covertly filmed her pupils swearing, fighting and attempting to access pornography on the internet was misusing her professional position, a tribunal was told yesterday. Angela Mason recorded footage in late 2004 and early 2005 at 18 schools in London and the North of England for Classroom Chaos, a documentary shown on channel Five. She arrived at classrooms with a miniature camera disguised as a button that allowed her to record pupils smashing furniture and making false accusations that teachers had touched them.

Mrs Mason, from London, was accused of unacceptable professional conduct yesterday at a hearing in Birmingham of the General Teaching Council, the professional body that regulates teachers. She faces a second charge of failing to promote the education and welfare of the children by failing to manage their behaviour properly. Five concealed the identity of all the pupils and schools caught on film before the programme was broadcast.

Bradley Albuery, the presenting officer outlining the case against Mrs Mason, said that by filming teachers and pupils without their knowledge or consent she created a conflict of interest. “She was there not as a broadcaster but as a teacher,” he said. “All of her attention should have been directed at the education of the children. That she took a camera into the classroom shows that her agenda was not . . . focused wholly on the needs of the children.” Mr Albuery said that teachers and students had reacted with anger to the programme. Pupils from one school were “angry and upset”, he said. Another student, who said he could be identified from the footage, felt “embarrassed and humiliated”, the tribunal heard.

During the documentary, which was shown to the tribunal, one boy tells Mrs Mason to “take a nap” when she attempts to restore order to the class. Another is shown using a school computer to look for “anal sex” on an internet search engine.

Mrs Mason admits the secret filming, but denies that it amounted to unacceptable professional conduct, claiming that she acted in the public interest. Mrs Mason, who is married with two children, originally left teaching in the 1970s to work in educational broadcasting but enrolled with two supply teaching companies — Brent Supply Service and Teaching Personnel — to take part in the documentary. If the case against Mrs Mason is proved, she could be banned from teaching.

Clive Rawlings, appearing for Mrs Mason, said that she had embarked upon a “responsible and reasonable” piece of journalism, and that her actions had contributed to the public debate on classroom behaviour. “Angela Mason’s actions were in the public interest in its broadest sense,” he said. “She is merely the messenger, and we submit that you should not shoot the messenger.”

Outside the hearing Mrs Mason said: “It’s not my profession — I left it 30 years ago — but I still feel strongly about it. I believe there is a major public policy issue to do with pupils in classrooms and poor behaviour. I’m standing up for the supply teachers and other teachers who have to endure this every day.”


Al Qaeda regrouping: "British authorities arrest six suspected terrorists. As discussed on yesterday's show with Melanie Phillips and Gerard Baker, and as will be discussed with Lawrence Wright today, the evidence of efforts by al Qaeda to strike in the west is growing, and the indifference of the public to the threat is astonishing. Al Qaeda is regrouping in some strange places like Mali, and while its forces in Iraq are repeatedly defeated and its leadership there killed or captured, the network's propagandists continue to push out messages claiming success there and encouraging jihadists to come to Iraq to join in the war. In the U.S., despite efforts by some serious journalists like Wright and Michael Barone to keep some focus on the threat from al Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere across the globe, the public is repeatedly told by the Democrats and the MSM that the U.S. can withdraw from Iraq and fight terrorism effectively in Afghanistan. This is delusional and dangerous, but so seductive that it will probably take another spectacularly lethal attack for the west to confront the menace with renewed resolve". [More on the British arrests here].