Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why Brits still emigrate to Australia

Australian financial journalist Noel Whittaker says salaries may be much higher in the UK but the cost of living is way above that in Australia. Although it is wildly at variance with the exchange rate, his suggestion that purchasing power parity is reached by equating one Australian dollar to one British pound is in line with what I have observed too

I have just returned from a fact-finding trip to Britain. Let me assure you, from a financial point of view at least, that this is the lucky country. Now I know that Aussies look longingly at the salaries paid in Britain and imagine themselves living handsomely on 50,000 pounds a year, which is equivalent to $116,000 here, but you have to understand that prices there have the same nominal value as in Australia. A main course in a restaurant may be 30 pounds in Britain and $30 in Australia, so the cost of living is more than double ours. Believe me, it's a shock to the system to put 40 litres of petrol in your rental car and discover that the cost is 40 quid or $A88.

But that's not the end of it. There is a VAT (value added tax) of 17.5 per cent on most things you buy, and many restaurants add a 15 per cent compulsory service charge as well. It makes our GST of 10 per cent look cheap.

I discussed wealth-creation strategies with a director of a British firm that specialises in financial planning for high-net-worth people. He was green with envy at our superannuation system, and told me that most of his work revolved around estate planning because Britain had high death duties [Australia has none]. This is a rapidly growing market because property prices have been rising dramatically and more and more families are facing death duties as the family home is not exempt.

We discussed borrowing for investment, which is one of the best strategies to create wealth in Australia because the interest is tax deductible, and income from both property and shares carries great tax concessions. I was amazed to discover that investment borrowing is rarely used in Britain because there are no concessions whatsoever. If you borrow to invest, you pay tax at your top marginal rate on the income from that investment, yet you get no deduction for the interest. Therefore, you may be losing up to 40 per cent of the income in tax while being forced to pay the interest from after-tax dollars.

Housing affordability is a hot topic in Britain, just like in Australia, and some building societies have even gone to the extent of lending far more man the value of the house. One newspaper gave the example of a couple with no deposit who were buying their first home for 152.000 pounds, the average home price. and who were able to qualify for a loan of 190,000 pounds to enable them to consolidate their other debts and get a foothold in the housing market. This means that they will have a negative equity in their home for many years and will be reliant on capital gain to get back to square one. This is a high-risk situation and, to make matters worse, the Bank of England lifted interest rates to 5.75 per cent earlier this month, putting further pressure on home-owners' budgets and increasing the prospect of a fall in home prices.

We had a break in Spain on the way home and the conditions are no different there. In Spain, VAT is 16 per cent and our tour guide in Valencia was bemoaning the fact that home prices had risen so much that she had been forced to take out a 40-year mortgage just to buy a unit [condo].

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 29, 2007

A sane moonbat?

A good email from a British reader:

I thought you'd like to take a look at these two articles. The first, by George "moonbat" Monbiot in The Guardian acknowledges that the recent floods in England cannot be attributed to global warming.

The second in The Daily Telegraph by Charles Clover asserts that the floods are evidence of global warming.

To be honest, I can't be bothered to read them in full. It does make me wonder though, that if the science is settled and climate catastrophe is almost upon us, why aren't the warm-mongers singing from the same hymn sheet?

There's something else that puzzles me. If, when it's hot it's global warming (the heatwave in France a few summers ago) and when it's cold it's global warming (Peru this year) and to prevent global warming we've to cut CO2 emissions, how will anyone know that the measures taken have had the desired effect?

Philosopher Keith Burgess Jackson makes a similar point to the above

Weatherman John Kettley isn't surprised by the current British floods

This year's apparently extraordinary weather is no more sinister than a typical British summer of old and a reminder of why Mediterranean holidays first became so attractive to us more than 40 years ago. Because, while we are being drenched, a heatwave has brought temperatures of 40C (104F) or more across other parts of Europe. To many people the disparity may seem to indicate some seismic and sinister shift in our climate.

In fact, temperatures are exceptional only in eastern Europe, where a band of air has been moving westwards from Asia Minor. Central Europe is experiencing temperatures of 30-35C (85-95F) - just what you'd expect for this time of year, along with the blue skies and light winds.

The weather patterns across Europe are all linked in such a way that the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean never enjoy, or suffer, the same weather at the same time. And now we are feeling the full force of two extreme fronts from the West and East that are usually modified by a third from the South.

While central Europe feels the heat from the East, we have always been influenced by weather systems generated over the Atlantic, picking up energy from this huge pool of water.

We also feel the power of the strong ribbon of winds known as the Gulf Stream - a highly energetic jet, fluctuating several miles above our heads and hugely important in determining our weather. As the summer evolves, the jetstream and rainbands above us are normally gradually pushed to the north-west of Scotland by a third weather system, a milder pocket of high pressure blowing up from the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Ultimately, this more friendly system plants itself across the rest of the country.

But this year that modifying weather pattern has yet to arrive. So the cold of the West has collided with the intense heat of the East. The result is flash floods and torrential downpours.

There is no particular reason for the sluggish movement of the Azores front. It's just one of those things. But a similar situation worked in reverse in 1976 when we enjoyed a fantastic hot summer and it was cool and wet in central Europe - such are the mechanisms of our complex weather machine....

In my view, none of the severe weather we have experienced is proof of 'climate change.' It is just a poor summer - nothing more, nothing less - something that was the norm throughout most of the Sixties and has been repeated on several occasions more recently. Going further back, history also shows that 1912 was an atrocious summer. It was so bad, in fact, that we are still some way short of the torrential downpours that happened that year. It seemed particularly bad at the time because 1911 had been such an exceptionally good summer.

So, taking a long view, there is a pattern of warming and cooling. The Edwardians were experiencing a period of significant warming (much like now) following a cold Victorian spell. There was a period of warming from the Twenties through to the end of the Fifties and, after a cooler period, there has been a further significant warming over the past 20 years.

In the final analysis, this summer may be just such a 'blip' in the charts. But we still have plenty of summer to go and it takes only one slight shift in the jetstream to change rain into sun and bring a late renaissance for holidaymakers here in Britain.

More here

Surgeon breaks cover over NHS beds crisis

Specialist wards full to breaking point. Patients with serious injuries denied care. A health service paralysed by arguments about funding. Martin Bircher, one of Britain's most senior consultants, speaks out:

One of Britain's leading trauma surgeons has broken cover to expose the scandal of a national shortage of emergency trauma beds which is leading to thousands of serious injury victims suffering in agony. In an unprecedented intervention by a senior practitioner in the NHS, Martin Bircher, a consultant at St George's hospital in London, one of Europe's leading centres in the treatment of major accident victims, has revealed a system paralysed by red tape and disputes over funding, which is putting thousands of patients waiting for treatment in specialist wards at risk. His revelations have prompted calls for a review of funding for A&E services and a shake-up in the management of Britain's leading trauma centres.

Mr Bircher says the problem is worsened by the bureaucracy of the internal market. He has become so frustrated that he has broken free of NHS strictures against speaking to the press and agreed to talk to The Independent on Sunday about the suffering patients are put through.

Every one of Britain's specialist trauma beds is full, which means some patients can wait up to three weeks after their accident before badly broken bones can be repaired. The delay, says Mr Bircher, can jeopardise recovery. With nothing but praise for frontline staff, he says patients who have been critically injured in road or other accidents have to wait an average of 12 days - often in agonising pain - before they can receive the vital specialist treatment. This is because only a limited number of hospitals have the expertise to repair smashed bones, and those hospitals have a shortage of intensive care beds. With the average cost of keeping a trauma patient at around 500 pounds a day and up to 2,000 a day in intensive care, this is also a false economy.

Reacting to the revelations Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "It is vital that clinicians are able to prioritise patients according to clinical criteria. It's only if we dispense with central targets and the bureaucratic burdens of the Department of Health that we can give GPs and local hospitals the opportunity to make services more efficient." John Pugh, the Lib Dem health spokesman, added: "This shows how counterproductive the target culture is. Patients are being shunted in and out of A&E to satisfy the expectations of Whitehall. Medical staff should feel free to act in the best interests of patients."

Squabbles over funding

Mr Bircher, who risks censure from the NHS for speaking out, said primary care trust and bed managers are involved in making the final decision as to whether a patient can be moved. If they have to move them there is often a conflict or reluctance because the new area does not want an extra cost. So after initial admission to a general hospital's emergency wards, where lives are saved, patients can find themselves waiting up to three weeks before their real recovery process can begin.

Mr Bircher, 52, cited one patient who had a motorcycle accident earlier this month and was referred to him to decide if she needed surgery to repair her badly broken pelvis. However, he did not receive the request for a week because an initial referral to another hospital was "intercepted by the primary care trust" and rerouted to a hospital that did not have a surgeon with the expertise to make the decision.

He called for emergency medicine to be funded centrally. "These are basic core services that have to be provided," he said. "We shouldn't be sending each other little bills. Trauma and other emergency services like cardiac and stroke services should be top sliced. The money should come from central government funds." Mr Bircher added that doctors and nurses on the frontline in hospitals should not be criticised. He said they do their best but are hampered by layers of managers whose major concern is the budget rather than patient care.

Delays in treatment

He said: "The delays are caused at various levels. If doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, the treating teams, were left to communicate between themselves without bureaucracy, things would happen much more quickly. In the good old days somebody would ring me up about a patient, I'd say send them across, make one call to sister on the ward and it would happen. "Now I'm loath to accept a patient unless I'm sure their injury requires surgery. If I'm unsure I ask them to send X-rays. Even in this technological age this can take two or three days. It's not unusual for them to be delayed or get lost.

"It may be decided that the patient needs an operation and we decide to bring them in. There can still be a delay because bed managers are reluctant to accept a patient for three or four days before the operation is due because of the extra costs. So the patients often come in just hours before the operation. It is not unusual for a patient to arrive in the early hours of the morning, a very short time before their surgery.

"You suddenly find the patient may develop a problem and you can't operate. So you've accepted a patient for a slot and then you can't operate. A much better system would be to have a free flow of patients to the trauma centre where we can get to know them preoperatively. But because trusts all have separate budgets, though we're all playing for the same team, there seems to be a reluctance to accept patients at an appropriate time before the operation. "You can argue whether a patient needs a hip replacement at hospital x or y," he added. "As long as it's done in a reasonable time by a good team it doesn't matter. You can't have these petty squabbles. There just isn't time with trauma."

Patients in pain

His argument is illustrated by Lucy Lynn-Evans, a 21-year-old student from London who was severely injured in a road accident last month. She was riding her scooter to Brighton when she was run over by a 10-tonne lorry which came to rest on her hip. She is alive only because a laptop in her backpack took the full force when the lorry ran over her spine. Her life was saved a second time by the staff at Redhill hospital, where she was initially taken with a smashed pelvis, smashed knee and leg broken in two places. They gave her a blood transfusion - she had lost five pints - and wrapped her hip, described by doctors as a "bag of crisps", in a sheet which was then pulled tight to keep the fragmented bones together.

This is the correct procedure. But Redhill hospital did not have the expertise to repair Ms Lynn-Evans's bones. That would require specialist surgeons and equipment that can be found only in certain hospitals around the country. All they could do in Redhill was put her on morphine and wait for a bed - which at one point she was told could take up to three weeks.

Her pain was so intense, however, that the morphine "only took the edge off it". "I was in a lot of pain, especially when they log-rolled me to change the sheet," Ms Lynn-Evans said from her hospital bed at St George's on Thursday. "It took four people to turn me. The nights were horrible. The mornings were really painful. The three weeks of waiting is an extra three weeks of pain. You just feel like you're going mad. You feel black and despairing. You want with all your heart for someone to make it better. I asked Dad to leave me outside the hospital because then it would be more likely I'd get a bed, rather than waiting by the phone. I felt despair, lying there feeling empty and feeling that I had to tackle this day by day for weeks."

Lack of beds

Ms Lynn-Evans's problem was that she was stable and not going to die; when a bed became available it would go to another more pressing case. At one point a bed became available at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, but before she could be moved John Radcliffe's fund manager had to agree. The fund manager did not arrive at work until 9.30am. By the time Ms Lynn-Evans's case came to the top of the administrator's pile and permission was granted, the bed had gone. Fortunately for Ms Lynn-Evans her mother, Julie, is a psychotherapist who works in child mental health. She is also a broadcaster with a string of top NHS officials in her contacts book. She was able to make a fuss where it counts, and her daughter was moved to St George's hospital in London after only five days.

"Because of the problems with the beds I didn't know where to go to after the accident," Julie Lynn-Evans said. "Lucy was taken to Redhill on the Friday and they saved her life. I cannot thank the doctors enough. But they knew they didn't have the expertise to fix her so I was told not to go to Redhill because they were going to move her. Then at 4am I was told to go to Redhill after all. I'd spent the whole time living through a mother's worst nightmare and yet unable to go to my child. The same night as Lucy, a woman came in from a car crash. She was 63 and had a clot in her lung. Lucy was considered stable, so the woman got her bed. All the time Lucy's having no treatment. As a mother you'd do anything to help your child when you see them in so much pain. But I know that in securing a bed for Lucy, someone else had to wait longer."

Fortunately Lucy is going to make a full recovery, which she and her family put down to the excellent care they have received from surgeons, nurses and doctors at both St George's and Redhill hospitals. The delays, however, caused by bureaucracy and a shortage of beds, could have led to a very different outcome. "The delays not only cause distress to families and patient, but other serious medical issues - thrombosis, bed sores, chest infections and urine and wound infections," said Mr Bircher. "The longer the bone fragments are left displaced, the more the clot begins to form new bone, thus the harder it is to replace the fragment to the correct position.

Patients suffer

"The first step to dealing with the problem is an acceptance and realisation that the system isn't working with trauma and other emergency services in medicine. Sending each other forms and bills is not a good way of doing it. I'm acutely aware that resources are an issue. But basic emergency services should be of the highest quality. If we consider ourselves a leading nation we should have a first-class emergency healthcare system. We do not, and the situation is worsening. "It's pot luck where you go. There's not a defined system. We have to fight every day to get patients in. We have to break through the bureaucracy and develop a new system. There is a lack of intensive care beds in London and around the country which further magnifies the problem.

"Direct funding from the centre, perhaps cutting out the trusts, is perhaps a good idea. One must involve clinicians at the sharp end in the decision-making. Like the Bank of England the politicians should let it go. Doctors, honestly, know best."

Dermot O'Riordan, a member of the council of the Royal College of Surgeons, agreed that a number of services - not just trauma - needed commissioning at a higher level and in some cases co-ordinating nationally, although not necessarily centrally funding. Mr O'Riordan, the RCS council member responsible for the Delivery of Surgical Services Committee, said: "Commissioning of very specialist services, whether elective or emergency, needs to be done at a higher level than a primary care trust. Some need to be co-ordinated by the strategic health authority and some even at national level."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We recognise that a very small number of patients may wait to receive appropriate care. This is because they need very specialised treatment, and critically ill patients waiting for treatment is the exception rather than the rule. "Capacity in intensive care units has improved dramatically in recent years. We now have almost 1,000 more ICU beds than in 2000 and we are looking at ways to increase capacity further."


WE are to blame for China's pollution

The article below embodies the hatred of modern Western society that largely underpins the Greenie movement. Note the superior look on the face of John Vidal, the author of the article, below. We are so lucky to have such an all-seeing headmaster to impart wisdom to us

We've just had the first really big look at the environmental catastrophe now unfolding in China. Courtesy of the OECD, the club of 30 rich nations which was called in by the Beijing government to assess the environmental situation, a monster 260-page report has just been published, which draws together the work of China's leading scientists, the World Bank, and central and local government.

What we are witnessing is the mass poisoning of a people and the ecological devastation of a nation. If this were a war by one people against another, we would call on the UN to step in. But it's a war against nature so we turn away.

Yet it raises ugly questions for us, too. How much of this pollution and the destruction of nature is actually being done in our name? The rich west has moved its manufacturing base to China and all those smoking factories and bright green rivers reflect not just China's dash for development, but the face of western consumerism. Can we really blame the Chinese for all the pollutants being emitted to keep us in cheap goods? Should we step in immediately with better technology?

On the other hand, this is a tacit arrangement. This is not the 18th century European industrial revolution when the technology to limit pollution was undeveloped. The Chinese authorities may have great environmental laws, they have the world's largest current account of credit, they have access to the best pollution abatement equipment in the world, yet they have totally failed to protect their people from harm. We must assume the authorities know what is going on and do nothing because they are powerless.

There are truly brave people at every level of government desperately trying to clean up China, and there are enormous schemes to improve the environment. But the sheer speed and momentum of the dash for growth means no city or administration can keep up with the urbanisation and industrial developments taking place.

The official line is that the pollution will be tackled when enough wealth has been created. Funny that. Isn't that exactly what rightwing American thinktanks and western politicians say when asked why they do not try to protect people? But it just doesn't wash anymore. Let's hear it straight. The Chinese catastrophe is quite simply the product of greed. Ours and theirs.


"Ideal" weight for mothers promoted

Damned if you do and damned if you don't

Mothers who gain or lose a great deal of weight between pregnancies could be putting themselves and their babies at risk, experts have said. Even quite small changes in body mass index (BMI), of one or two units, between pregnancies are enough to have effects, say Jennifer Walsh and Deirdre Murphy, two obstetricians from Dublin. An increase of this size has been linked with a doubling of the risks of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and having a large baby. Greater increases in weight between pregnancies add to the risk of stillbirth and other complications, they say in an editorial in the British Medical Journal.

On the other hand, they add, women losing a lot of weight run a greater risk of having premature babies, or babies of low birth-weight. The message is that women should try to maintain a healthy weight before, during and after pregnancy ? and to be the same weight at any subsequent pregnancies.

Dr Walsh, a specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology at Coombe Women's Hospital in Dublin, and Professor Murphy, Professor of Obstetrics at Trinity College Dublin, say: "Women of reproductive age are bombarded with messages about diet, weight and body image. "There is growing concern on the one hand about an epidemic of obesity, and on the other about a culture that promotes `size zero' as desirable, irrespective of a woman's natural build. "Pregnancy is one of the most nutritionally demanding periods of a woman's life, with an adequate supply of nutrients essential to support foetal wellbeing and growth. "With at least half of all pregnancies unplanned, women need to be aware of the implications of their weight for pregnancy, birth and the health of their babies. "We should ensure that women of low body mass index attain a healthy weight before conception to reduce the risk of preterm birth and low infant birth-weight. "We should also counsel women with a history of previous preterm birth to maintain a healthy weight to prevent recurrence."

The authors cited studies on the effects of weight gain and weight loss. The first, a Swedish study, followed 207,534 women from 1992 to 2001 to examine the link between changes in body mass index and the impact on a baby and mother's health. The second, which was published last year in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that women whose BMI fell by five or more units between pregnancies had a higher risk of premature birth than women whose weight remained stable or increased. The effect was heightened among women who had already experienced one premature birth.

Tam Fry, board member of the National Obesity Forum, said: "I think these doctors are absolutely right. "It's fundamental that we teach girls at school not only to lose weight for their own health but also because of the risks to their child of entering motherhood being overweight." Being overweight was associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, which could result in difficulty conceiving, he said. "There is a known association between overweight and obese parents and the likelihood of a child being overweight themselves. "Women should be aiming for a normal weight before they have their second child. "Women also go the other way and starve themselves to plummet to a goal weight. They try to get down to a certain weight, and that is also wrong."


Britain's Orwellian vision of government housing

Allocated a silver-level needs certificate, Linda is unlikely to get into the most popular development.but after a year's acceptable behaviour she will be given a secure tenancy certificate. This, however, is a floating security given the owners will be able to insist she moves into one of their smaller premises if her needs change. Next door to Linda is one of six extra care homes.they include video monitoring and biosensors to allow 24-hour video supervision from the district health centre.'

Speaking is Jon Rouse, outgoing head of the UK Housing Corporation, which controls all social housing in the UK (1). The slide that accompanied Rouse's recent speech represented the family of four - Linda, Tom, Dick and Harry - as little lego people. Rouse was not warning us of an Orwellian dystopia; this is actually his ideal of what should happen with social housing in the UK.

In Rouse's social-democratic hell, people will not talk about `social housing' - they will talk about `different degrees of ownership'. Even new tenants will be `gifted' two per cent equity - except that this equity is conditional upon good behaviour, and will be recovered in toto if tenants fall into more than eight weeks' arrears. Furthermore equity in the leasehold is conditional, since the Housing Corporation would have the (until now unheard of) right of first buyback, and there is absolutely no right of succession (meaning you cannot bequest the home to your children). In other words, this `equity' is not ownership at all - except that it does come with responsibilities for the repair and upkeep of your home.

Prime minister Gordon Brown has announced that three million homes will be built and that the state will take up the slack left by the private sector's failure to build enough houses to match demand (2). For many, this is a sign that Old Labour is back. Council housing in particular is something of a nostalgia-trip for born-again Labourites like Jon Cruddas, commentator Lynsey Hanley and London mayor Ken Livingstone.

This nostalgia for council housing is hard to take. There is no principle that says that houses built and managed by the state are any worse than those in the private sector. But in practise, social housing has precious little to do with meeting people's needs, and everything to do with state control over supposedly anti-social elements. The Housing Corporation's thinking about dividing people into Gold, Silver and Bronze levels - imposing tenancy agreements, issuing secure (but floating) tenancy certificates, partial equity, video- and bio-monitoring, 24-hour surveillance, retaining the right of first buy-back - are all drawn from the real way that social housing tenants are intrusively regulated by the authorities.

Throughout its history, social housing has always been intimately related to the perceived problem of social order. In Nathaniel Rothschild's `Four Per Cent Dwellings', which opened in 1887, each landing had its own warden, usually an ex-NCO from the army who would enforce curfews and respectable behaviour. When philanthropists decanted tenants into the subscription-funded Somers Town estate in the 1930s, their bedding was burnt and furniture put into a mobile fumigation wagon.as part of a public ceremony overseen by local dignitaries, complete with the burning of papier mach‚ effigies of rats, fleas and other pests.

Similar things took place outside of Britain. In `Red' Vienna's much-trumpeted inter-war municipal houses, Social Democrat councillors enforced a `social contract' with tenants, which committed them to responsible parenting. Where this was lacking, social workers were on hand to remove children to the municipal Child Observation Centres (3).

In the postwar expansion of social housing in Britain, the charity-laden character of such housing was moderated: tenants were more like citizens and less like supplicants. Therefore, other ways of relating to the estate-dwellers had to be found. Labour's Peter Shore (1924-2001) oversaw the racial segregation of Tower Hamlets' Council Stock in the 1970s, as the London borough used divide-and-rule tactics to win the support of white residents with marginally better estates. Then, 20 years later, in the early and mid-1990s, the council turned around and started threatening white residents, who had believed the promise of preferential treatment, with being evicted for racism (4).

Between 1979 and 1997, the Conservative government stopped new council houses being built in Britain, sold off some homes and transferred others to Housing Associations. The declining stock of council homes shifted the social mix, as the more affluent workers moved out of local authority management. This was when people started calling Council Housing `social housing', meaning that it was primarily for housing people who were a social problem.

In the Nineties, local authorities pioneered the systems of social control that would later be generalised under Labour's Crime and Disorder Bill in the form of the ASBO: that is, the Anti-Social Behaviour Order. Before there were ASBOs there were tenancy agreements. On 24 May 1995, 2,500 council tenants in Cross Farm Road, Birmingham, were warned that they would have to put their children under an 8pm curfew. They were told that not annoying or harassing their neighbours - or allowing their children to do so - was a condition of their council tenancies. Breaches were to be heard by a subcommittee of councillors (5). Councils had expanded the terms of their tenancy agreements to include clauses governing social behaviour on top of keeping up rent payments and looking after the fabric of the home.

In June 1995, the Labour Party, then still in opposition, published a housing consultation paper titled A Quiet Life. It was influenced heavily by the thinking of the (mostly Labour) councillors who had enhanced their powers of social regulation through the issue of housing. A Quiet Life proposed special Community Safety Orders, which could be imposed to regulate behaviour, on the same model as the expanded tenancy agreements. These were later renamed Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Just as the councils had done when enforcing their tenancy agreements, so Labour proposed dealing with `problem tenants' through the use of professional witnesses (that is, housing officers) and by the lower standard of proof that is normally used in civil proceedings.

Recently the courts struck down an ASBO that was issued in Manchester on evidence supplied by the council, when it came to light that the reports they had solicited against the unfortunate accused were entirely made up. Manchester City Council had told the courts that they had independent corroboration, which was not true - but it was in keeping with the local authority's contempt for the rights of their tenants.

Brown is right that we need more homes. The market is so restrained by bureaucratic controls that it cannot meet the real demand that exists. It does not matter who builds or manages the homes, private sector or government. But council housing was never just about providing homes; it was always about regulating social behaviour. Those who long for a return to council housing are either ignorant of what a trap it was, or more likely, they look forward to the day when they can tie up more of the people they imagine to be `problem families' in bureaucratic regulations.


US/UK relationship continues: "The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, would not unveil plans for an early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq in talks with the US President, George Bush, Mr Brown's spokesman said yesterday. The two leaders were scheduled to meet yesterday for the first time since Mr Brown succeeded Tony Blair last month. Speculation has been rife in British media that Mr Brown might distance himself from Mr Blair's Iraq policy.... The White House and Downing Street are stressing that little has been disturbed in the "special relationship" between Britain and the US since the elevation of Mr Brown. Although friction may lie ahead on issues such as Iran's nuclear program, US officials appear confident there will be no sudden departures from Mr Brown on the key issues - especially on keeping Britain's 5500 troops in Iraq. Officials in both governments said this week's summit would focus on building a rapport between the leaders, aided by the bucolic setting of Camp David, the mountain retreat where Mr Bush entertains his closest foreign allies. "This will mainly be a reassurance thing," said the British author and political analyst Peter Riddell. "They want to knock down any suggestion that there is distance between them. Yes, they are different people, but they are fundamentally on the same wavelength."

Monday, July 30, 2007

The war on obesity is a war on the poor

`It's the poor wot gets the blame.' That was a popular refrain during the First World War, but it could just as easily be a rousing chorus from the trenches of the War on Obesity. Today there is an assumption that behind every flabby child waddling down the road there are parents who are as thick as mince, with barely enough money to send their overweight offspring to the chip shop for their dinner on the way back from fetching mum and dad's fags. However, two recent pieces of research give the lie to this sketch, suggesting that the middle classes are just as prone to eating crap food and having fat children as the poor.

Just over a week ago, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) published research which showed that the poor, far from having a nutrition-lite diet of fat and sugar, actually ate much the same kinds of foods as everyone else (1). In a detailed survey of the eating habits of 3,278 people from households in the most materially deprived sections of the population, the FSA found that the most significant differences in eating habits were related to age, not social class. Younger people, regardless of social class, tended to consume more low-fibre, high-fat, high-sugar and processed foods than older generations. Poor people were no more likely to be overweight or obese than the better-off.

Then, last Sunday, the UK Independent on Sunday declared that `the nation's higher-paid working mothers bear much of the responsibility for the country's ticking obesity time bomb, and not the poorer working-class families who are usually blamed.' (2) Another study, carried out by University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, found that children growing up in households with incomes greater than œ33,000 per year were more likely to be obese than those in homes with the lowest incomes. Apparently, middle-class households where the mother works are particularly affected: `Long hours of maternal employment, rather than lack of money, may impede young children's access to healthy foods and physical activity.'

The news that middle-class kids get fat too shouldn't be a shock to anyone. It became frontpage news over the past week only because the problem of obesity has, until now, been readily blamed on the ignorance and moral failings of the working classes; that these `middle classes get fat!' findings have been treated as stunning is testament to the extent to which obesity has been associated with moral turpitude amongst the lower classes. And yet, at the same time as these latest studies seem to have exhonerated the poor, they have also found a new enemy in the War on Obesity: working mothers.

Women who hold down a job, run a home and raise children have got enough on their plates already. Now, apparently, they have to bear responsibility for their children's ill-health, too. As Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, told the Independent on Sunday: `I do not wish to condemn these women but I do think the priority has to be the health of the child and its continued health into adulthood. We are in danger of raising a generation of young people with a much shorter life expectancy than previous generations.' (3) Unfortunately, Dr Waine sounds a bit like those people who say `I'm not a racist, but.' No doubt he will assure us that some of his best friends are working mothers.

Whether being a working mother really is going to make your children fat or not (and we shouldn't leap to conclusions on the basis on one study), the question really should be: does it matter? The fact is, the relationship between ill-health and obesity is a complicated one. It certainly appears to be the case that the very overweight have a lower life expectancy than those who are lighter. But whether this is strictly to do with how much fat they have round their waists is another matter. It is not only the amount of body fat they have that makes the very overweight different to slimmer individuals. For example, obese people tend to take less exercise and there's good evidence that exercise (which in this case means walking regularly rather than running marathons) can offset most of the risks of heart disease, type-II diabetes and so on that are associated with being fat. Moreover, somebody who is capable of being really fat (most people wouldn't get really fat even if they stuffed their faces) may have other physiological problems that increase their propensity for chronic diseases. But for the rest of us - from those of `ideal' weight to the mildly obese - the risk of an early death is pretty much the same across the board.

Nor can we predict an individual's adult health from his or her size as a child. As a thought-provoking new paper by the Australian academic Michael Gard bluntly notes, `no study in the history of medical science has ever established a causal link between childhood fatness and adult ill-health or premature death' (4). So, why all the attention given to obesity in general, and childhood obesity in particular? It's not as if obsessing about our weight has made us any happier (or thinner). For Gard, obesity has become a morality play for those who would like to intervene in our lives: `Unfortunately, many commentators talk about the war on obesity as a war between good and evil; good food versus bad food, wholesome physical activity versus evil technology; and responsible versus irresponsible parenting. If we then factor in the inconvenient fact that obesity research has not produced a "smoking gun" which implicates anyone in particular, the stage is set perfectly for protracted and unhelpful arguments about what research does or does not say about the causes of obesity.' (5)

As the American commentator Paul Campos has noted, the best way to win the War on Obesity is to stop fighting it. But the War on the Poor will carry on regardless of the results of studies into eating habits - after all, it's a war that's been raging for well over a century and serves to confirm the innate superiority of those with a bob or two in their pockets. This extract from a popular English Victorian magazine could have been the product of many a modern-day hack: `The Bethnal Green poor. are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact.' (6)

Such an explicit statement of the idea that some people are simply of better `stock' than others would be unacceptable today. Nonetheless, the same idea is implicit in the logic of modern thinking on poverty and obesity. Wealthy people who cook decent meals with fresh ingredients are seen as being morally superior - they care about their health and their children's health, and they care for the planet, too. Poorer people, who apparently only eat microwaveable meals or pizzas biked to their homes during an episode of EastEnders, are looked upon as sinful and slothful - they are, in Jamie Oliver's immortal words, `white trash' and `tossers' who allegedly care little for their own wellbeing or that of their families. Today, the sense of a divide between rich and poor is articulated most frequently through issues of health and diet.

The search for some form of moral superiority, rather than a real concern with health, is the driving force behind the authorities' War on Obesity. That is why a campaign ostensibly against fatness can easily shift its attention from feckless `chavs' to working mothers: because it is underpinned by moralistic judgements about our lifestyle choices rather than hard scientific facts about our eating habits. First `white trash' families and now mums who dare to work - the War on Obesity is a war against those who make the `wrong' choices, who refuse to play by the rules laid down by the new elite, and who instead do things their own way. In this sense, the demand that we `eat healthily' and have the correct body shape (whatever that might be) is at root a demand that we conform.


UK Catholic Church Agency to Cease Adoption Work As Government Forces Homosexual Adoption

Catholic Care, a leading British Catholic adoption agency announced this week that it will cease operations in light of the recently imposed requirement that they must allow children to be adopted by homosexual partners. Catholic Care is the first of the religious social agencies to announce that it can no longer operate under the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR's) that proponents claimed would put an end to "discrimination" in the UK.

According to the Daily Mail, the agency, in operation for a century, announced that a vote of its trustees decided to end its services that had placed about 20 children a year into new families. The decision from Catholic Care came a week after the Catholic bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O'Donoghue wrote a letter to Catholic Caring Services, an adoption charity in his diocese, saying that the needs of the child must come before the desire for parenthood. The Daily Mail quotes him saying, "I favour rejection, thus withdrawal from adoption and fostering from December 2008 if all else fails." "We know that what is best for children is to live with married couples. Dilution of that harms children. Children who stay with married parents do by far the best, whilst those with same-sex couples often fare badly, and certainly never as well as a child with a married couple."

In April, when the Labour government passed the SOR's, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and other religious and ethics groups were united in condemning the move, calling it a means of imposing state-sanctioned secularist doctrine on religious groups orchestrated by the gay lobby. In the weeks leading up to the passage of the secondary legislation, the media was in an uproar over the possibility that adoption agencies run by the Catholic Church might or might not be granted an exception to the law on religious conscience grounds.

Cormac Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales warned that the Church would be forced to end its involvement in adopting children rather than comply with what he saw as a law that suppressed religious freedom. A similar decision was taken earlier by Boston Catholic Charities that ended its adoption services in March 2006 when the state of Massachusetts tried to force them to adopt children to homosexual partners.

In the end, Tony Blair, who was said to have been waffling on the issue, decreed that the Church, or any other group, would not be granted any exemptions but that an "adjustment period" would be granted for such bodies to come to terms with the new order.

Homosexual partners have been eligible to adopt children in Britain since 2002 and most non-religious agencies allow it. But the SOR's took the issue to the next phase in forcing religious agencies to allow it against their stated religious principles. Catholic Care served both Catholic and non-Catholic couples.

In comments to the BBC in the spring, Murphy O'Connor said the SOR's were part of a movement to force Christians out of public life in Britain. "Here the Catholic Church and its adoption services are wishing to act according to its principles and conscience and the government is saying: 'No, we won't allow you to ... you have no space, you have no place in the public life of this country.'"


Sunday, July 29, 2007


Reading the report below in conjunction with various previous reports (e.g. here and here) does lead to the view that cannabis can do serious harm. That is no reason for banning it, though. Alcohol and motorcars do serious harm too. It is more an argument for legalizing it so that any problems can be better dealt with

Cannabis users are 40 per cent more likely to develop a psychotic illness than non-users, a study has found. Heavy users are more than twice as likely to suffer mental illness, according to a group of British academics, who calculate that about one in seven cases of conditions such as schizophrenia is caused by cannabis.

The warnings come as the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary signalled that the "softly softly" era for cannabis may be coming to an end. Gordon Brown said last week that the Home Office would be consulting on whether it had been right to downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug in 2004. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is to ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the evidence.

The paper, published in The Lancet, is written by a group of seven psychiatrists and psychologists from Bristol, Cardiff, London and Cambridge. They have pooled the findings from 35 studies in a number of countries, including the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain, and concluded that there is "a consistent association between cannabis use and psychotic symptoms, including disabling psychotic disorders".

They admit that they cannot be certain that the association means that there is a simple cause and effect, but say that policymakers "need to provide the public with advice about this widely used drug". They go on: "We believe there is now enough evidence to inform people that using cannabis could increase their risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life."

As well as looking at psychotic illness, they looked for evidence that cannabis could cause affective disorders such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Almost all the studies point towards an increased incidence of such disorders. The evidence is less strong, the writers say, but is still of concern.

The study was welcomed by many experts, but others counselled caution. Leslie Iverson, of the University of Oxford, a member of the advisory council, said: "Despite a thorough review the authors admit that there is no conclusive evidence that cannabis use causes psychotic illness. Their prediction that 14 per cent of psychotic outcomes in young adults in the UK may be due to cannabis use is not supported by the fact that the incidence of schizophrenia has not shown any significant change in the past 30 years."

But Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, called it "a very competent and conservative assessment of what research studies tell us about the relationship between cannabis and psychiatric disorders". He said that the risk could be even higher then the authors had estimated, because the cannabis available today was stronger than in the past. "This report cannot tell us whether the risk is higher with the use of the skunk-like preparations which are now widely available, and which contain a higher percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol," he said. "My own experience suggests to me that the risk with skunk is higher. Therefore, their estimate that 14 per cent of cases of schizophrenia in the UK are due to cannabis is now probably an understatement."

Martin Barnes, chief executive of Drugscope and also a member of the council, said: "Cannabis is not harmless, and although it has been known for some time that the drug can worsen existing mental health problems, it may also trigger the onset of problems in some people." "The challenge is to ensure that information on cannabis use and the associated risks is understood by teachers and health professionals working with young people and conveyed in ways that young people will listen to. Since reclassification, cannabis use has continued to fall. We need to make sure this trend continues."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: "The Lancet report justifies SANE's campaign that downgrading a substance with such known dangers masked the mounting evidence of direct links between the use of cannabis and later psychotic illness. The debate about classification should not founder on statistics but take into account the potential damage to hundreds of people who without cannabis would not develop mental illness. "While the majority can take the drug with no mind-altering effects, it is estimated that 10 per cent are at risk. You only need to see one person whose mind has been altered and life irreparably damaged, or talk to their family, to realise that the headlines are not scaremongering but reflect a daily, and preventable, tragedy."

Martin Blakeborough, director of the Kaleidescope Project and a member of the council, said that it would be a waste of public money for the same panel, with the same evidence, to review the issue again. "There is significant danger in reviewing cannabis again, as it takes experts' minds off more important issues. Classification itself, although important, is not as urgent as the increasing epidemic of hepatitis B and C among drug users and the wider community, or the increase of stimulant drugs in our community."


British police tell mother: Don't scold daughter 'because of Maddy'

A mother who scolded her tantrum-throwing daughter in a shop was outraged to be visited at home by police who told her it was inappropriate to reprimand the girl in the light of Madeleine McCann's disappearance. Ruth Ball was at home when police officers knocked at her door and and ticked her off about the way she had chastised four-year-old Leigha. The 24-year-old was told that the method she had used to reprimand Leigha was "inappropriate" in the light of Madeleine's disappearance from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal.

Ms Ball was at a newsagent in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, when Leigha started screaming after being refused sweets. She swept her daughter out of the shop and put her in the car to calm down, standing a couple of feet away with her three-year-old son Jack. A few minutes later she got into the car and drove the family home, thinking no more of it.

The following day a policeman visited her at her home in Luton to tell her off. The officer said it was inadvisable to shout at her daughter and shut her in the car after what happened to missing Madeleine. Ms Ball, who works as a care assistant, said: "I'm deeply sorry for what has happened to Madeleine, but why should I let my daughter get away with things because she was abducted? "I am trying to raise two decent human beings, even though I have been advised by the police to let them run riot, turn into thugs and help keep the prison population going when they're older. "Kids learn young. If they learn now that kicking, hitting and screaming gets what they want, what are they going to do when they're adults?"

Ms Ball added that she was shocked that somebody had taken down her numberplate and called police - but even more shocked that officers had visited her at home. Ms Ball said: "Even the police officer said he didn't see the point in him being here. He had to come and show his face and tell me not to tell her off."

The force has been involved in various scandals and gaffes, including three in the space of a fortnight in May last year. First, an elderly farmer was seized by armed police and thrown in a cell after - quite legally - firing a warning shot at a dog that was threatening his lambs. Then it emerged four police officers had resigned after giving remand prisoners special favours - including sexual liaisons with girlfriends - in exchange for false confessions. Days later, the force was criticised when a private school headmaster was found dead shortly after officers sent letters to parents asking if they had any 'concerns' about him. No arrest had been made at the time. In 2004, a dangerous driving case collapsed at crown court because the arresting officer was teaching golf in Spain on a five-year career break.

A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said: "We received a call from a member of the public concerned for the safety of a young girl she had seen being put into a car. "We attended the address of the owner and it transpired that the child, who was happy with no injuries, had been put in the car after having a tantrum. "If Ms Ball is concerned with what happened or what was said, she is very welcome to contact us."


Pathological denial in Britain

Some in Britain have come up with an ingenuous way of countering the threat of jihad: They pretend it does not exist

One would think this would be rather difficult in the wake of the recent terrorist attempts in London and Glasgow, but the jihad-deniers use these very incidents to make their case. The failure of the bombs to go off, they argue, is proof that the would-be terrorists were an assortment of bungling fools. What's more, they extend this characterization to all those who swear by the cause. On this view, the whole concept of jihad is merely a silly concoction of some misguided dolts.

An article titled Evil plotters? More like sad and crackpot which ran recently in the UK Times offers a startling example of this line of thinking. This is what its author, the well-known British commentator Matthew Parris, writes:

Something is changing in the public mood, and I think it's this: terrorism is beginning to look a bit stupid. Those pictures of that idiotic and slightly overweight fellow with his clothes burnt off looked pathetic, undignified. It has occurred to even the meanest of intellects that concrete doesn't burn. And it isn't just the technical competence of alleged British terrorists that people are beginning to doubt: it's the whole jihadist idea. What world are they aiming for? Most British Muslims, just like most British everyone-else, think it's all pie in the sky: all rather silly. Yes, silly. Not "evil" as the red tops would have it. [...] We're not talking anything as clever as Evil here: we're talking Weird, we're talking Crackpot, we're talking Sad. The idea of using a Jeep to make a terminal explode was, in the latest lingo, a bit gay.

The trivialization and lightheartedness are hardly appropriate, especially since it was only due to sheer luck that the attacks did not translate into mass carnage. Explosives experts have repeatedly confirmed that had the London's terror plot gone as planned hundreds would have been engulfed by the blast and the accompanying fireball.

Neither are all would-be terrorists mere inept bunglers. Does Mr. Paris need to be reminded of that fatal morning of July 7, 2005? Does he recall the carnage that was unleashed then? Does he remember the destroyed double-decker and the twisted underground carriages splattered with blood? Did that look like the work of some blathering `crackpots' or like a horrific terrorist attack?

It is only a matter of good fortune that Britain has not been hit with more strikes like this. Last year Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, then the head of Britain's counterintelligence service MI5, revealed that her agency was monitoring at least 30 high-priority plots. At one point they were tracking more than 200 hundred cells with over 1500 aspiring jihadists among them.

Such is their determination that London Police Commission Sir Ian Blair warned that it was all but inevitable that some would succeed. How irresponsible, then, for editorial writers to trivialize the danger when those most familiar with its extent are almost certain that Britain will be hit again. Worse still, there is a very real possibility that the next strike will make July 7 look like a minor incident.

Various investigations and sting operations in the last couple of years have uncovered a number of plots of breath-taking audacity. A Muslim convert by the name of Dhiren Barot was, among other things, laying plans to detonate a dirty bomb and flood the London underground by breaching the river Thames. An Islamist cell was scheming to bring down a British Airways airliner with bare hands. The idea was to purchase thirty tickets on a British Airways flight and then batter their way into the cockpit. There were also plots to poison London's water supplies and to attack a shopping center with a giant fertilizer bomb.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more plots in the works some of which are no doubt even more destructive and which may well come to our attention only after they have exacted their terrible toll.

Although we cannot predict when and how they will strike next, what we do know is that many of those who plan these atrocities are intelligent and well-educated individuals, not at all drifting dimwits as some would have us believe. We would do well to remember that the ringleader of London's 2005 terror strike - Mohammad Sidique Khan - was a respected teacher. Those responsible for the most recent attempts in London and Glasgow are all highly educated professionals. One of them, Dr. Mohammed Asha, is a neurologist who earned his appointment at a prestigious university hospital on the strength of his distinguished academic record. Another, Kafeel Ahmed, who apparently drove the explosives-laden jeep into the Glasgow airport terminal, is an engineer who was working toward a PhD in computational fluid dynamics. His passenger, Dr. Bilal Abdullah, is a diabetes specialist. Sabeel Ahmed, another man held in connection with this attack, is also a doctor.

The combination of smarts and advanced education is, in fact, a trademark of international jihad. Mohammed Atta held a couple of degrees from universities in Cairo and Hamburg. Several among his band of hijackers also had at least some college education. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second in command, is a cerebral surgeon. Bin Laden is a civil engineer himself. Sheik Khalid Sheik Mohamed holds a degree in mechanical engineering degree from an American university. Ramzi Yousef, one of the planners of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, excelled in math and science and holds an engineering degree from West Glamorgan Institute in Wales. In addition to his technical prowess, he is also fluent in English, Baluchi, Urdu and Arabic. We could go on and on. If truth be told, few other criminal enterprises can boast so many clever and university educated conspirators.

To make light of the threat posed by these determined fanatics - as some in Britain are now trying to do - is self-delusional at best and suicidal at worst. The mortal danger we face at their hands will not go away if we pretend it does not exist. It is like sticking one's head in the sand hoping that the jackal will not eat you. This, however, is a fatally misguided hope, since this enemy is too determined, too driven and too smart to let such an opportunity pass by.


Hundreds of NHS hospital fatalities 'avoidable'

One third of deaths in hospital investigated by a patient safety watchdog could have been avoided, claims a report released today. The National Patient Safety Agency looked into 1,804 fatal hospital incidents reported to it in 2005. It found that 576 were "potentially avoidable" if there had been better communication between staff, faster recognition of the patient's deteriorating state, improved training and more accurate interpretation of test results.

Some 425 of the deaths investigated by the NPSA in 2005 were in acute or general hospitals. Of these, 71 were reported to be related to diagnostic errors, in 64 cases the patient's deteriorating condition was not recognised or not acted upon, and 43 involved a problem with resuscitation after cardiac arrest. The remainder were connected to medication errors, suicide or still-birth.

In 14 of the patients who deteriorated, no checks had been made on them for a prolonged time and changes in their vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate or temperature were not detected. In a further 30 cases, the checks had been made but staff either did not recognise the patient's worsening condition or they did not act. In 17 other cases help was sought but there was a delay.

Professor Richard Thomson, the NPSA's director of epidemiology and research, said: "These are not new concerns but more effort is needed to recognise and act upon them. "This work helps us to further raise the profile of these issues and support a programme of activities involving a range of national organisations and individual experts. Every preventable death is a tragedy, not only for the family but for the staff involved."

The report says all staff should be trained in dealing with cardiac arrest. Among the 43 deaths involving resuscitation, the study found that many of the incidents suggested that "medical and nursing staff did not have the depth of knowledge and skills required".

It said: "In most cases the delay in starting the resuscitation was reported to be because staff did not recognise the acute situation, failed to call the resuscitation team or did not make an attempt themselves to resuscitate the patient."

Fourteen reported incidents related to the use of equipment. One such report said: "During a cardiac arrest, defibrillator found not to have the correct leads and paddle to fit the defibrillator. This caused a delay of approx five minutes during the arrest."

During 2006, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) received 141 reports of adverse incidents involving defibrillators. Many were related to problems with electrodes or batteries. In the first six months of 2007, the MHRA received 86 reports and receives an average of 14 incident reports a month on these devices, some of which are duplicate reports from manufacturers. The NPSA report said: "Several of these incidents occurred in resuscitation situations, when user error may have contributed to the incident, for example, incorrect connection of suctioning tubes."

The report stresses that there may be many similar cases which have not been reported to the NPSA. Researchers said that about 13 million people are admitted to hospitals in England and Wales each year.

The findings come as the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence releases guidance to clinicians on how to manage patients in hospital who deteriorate rapidly. It emphasises making a complete medical assessment of the patient, regular monitoring and improving communication between staff.


Saturday, July 28, 2007


They should be prosecuting the filthy hospital that gave the kid MRSA. It was the MRSA that turned a minor problem into a major one

A headmaster accused of breaching safety standards after the death of a three-year-old boy who fell from a flight of steps while pretending to be Batman insisted yesterday that the child had been told the area was out of bounds.

James Porter, 66, was giving evidence before a jury at Mold Crown Court. He is accused of breaking health and safety laws by allowing infants unsupervised access to the steps in a remote part of the playground. Kian Williams, a pupil at the private Hillgrove School, in Bangor, is said to have been playing as Batman when he leapt from the fourth step and fell headlong. The child did not need treatment for a break in the skin or a fracture but later suffered secondary swelling of the brain and died from pneumonia brought on by a MRSA-type infection, on August 11, 2004. Mr Porter denies charges that he took inadequate measures to protect young pupils from the 13 steps leading from one playground to another. He faces an unlimited fine if found guilty. The trial continues.


British socialists have betrayed the working class kids they purport to help

They hate and have managed to close down as "elitist" most of the schools that were once the highroad to a top education for poor kids -- the Grammar (selective) schools. But talented poor kids are still there

Fifteen pairs of eyes fix on the patient's shrivelled white limb. The toes are black. "It's gangrene," says the surgeon cheerily to his summer school students. The patient says his leg hurts more when he is lying down. "That's probably because less blood can circulate when it's on the level," says a mullet-haired youth with a Rotherham accent. An Asian girl suggests comparing blood pressure in the arm and leg to diagnose arterial disease. Long ringlets from Somerset agrees.

Over 90 minutes they forensically diagnose the patient. No one giggles, or chats, or doodles on their notes. I did science A-levels and I can't follow it all. These 17-year-olds, all from comprehensives and families where no one has been to university, are super-bright. They are the doctors and surgeons of the future, whose knowledge will save us when we are sick.

There has been much national soul-searching of late over Britain's alarmingly bad - and deteriorating - social mobility. Last week, to add to the gloom, our leading universities revealed they are taking fewer students from poorer areas and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation announced that the gap between rich and poor is the largest for 40 years.

Education is the missing link; if poor bright kids don't make it to the best universities to become the surgeons, businessmen and other professionals of the future, the engine of social mobility runs out of petrol. Oxford is the most glaring example with only 53.7% of its students coming from state schools (less than 20% from standard comprehensives). This matters because 90% of our kids go to them and, as I had rammed home to me during my day at the Oxford summer school, intelligence has nothing to do with class, income or accent.

The miracle, as I discovered as I heard more about the lives of the summer school kids, is that these teenagers have made it this far. "I kept quiet about coming here," one lad from Lancashire told me. "Me mates would think I was daft going to school in the holidays." The others laughed and agreed, and one added: "At school you wouldn't let on that you are clever. The others look down on you. You have to hide it." The best thing about summer school is finding that "there are people like you who are on your intellectual wavelength".

They all say they thought they would be the most stupid person on the week-long course. One girl told me she nearly got off the train because she was so sure she couldn't cut it. To them Oxford is not just another world, it's a different planet. Many had unemployed parents, nearly all were on EMA (education maintenance allowance) which is paid to over-16s who are still studying and whose family income is less than 31,000 pounds a year, and nearly all did jobs - waitressing, supermarket checkouts, bar work - as well as their studies.

They all said how proud their parents were that they'd come to Oxford to be students for a week. I had expected their schools to be proud, too - that their teachers would have picked them out, encouraged them to attend (it is hard to get on the summer school, 1,500 apply for 250 places). Not a bit of it. "My school didn't tell me about it," chorus a few voices. They'd found out from the local paper, posters in college, from the internet. Mostly off their own bats. Had their teachers encouraged them to apply? A few obviously had, but the majority implied that the teachers felt that Oxford was "divisive" and "elitist" - not for kids like them. With attitudes like this it's no surprise that we are not getting bright, poor kids into our elite universities. Harvard and the other US Ivy League institutions have teams of scouts truffle-hunting poor kids from bad schools with high SAT results.

A friend told me how he sat in on an admissions board at Harvard where they discussed a bright young black single mother from the ganglands of Los Angeles with SATs at the lowest end of their range but who they believed had the potential to be the mayor of a city, who with their help could be a catalyst for change. They wanted to create social capital. Despite the risks and the other higher qualified candidates, she was in.

At Oxford, by contrast, until 10 years ago the university ran no outreach programmes to get bright kids from unlikely schools and backgrounds into its colleges. Peter Lampl, an Oxford alumnus and himself a poor grammar school boy, was appalled to discover after spending 20 years in America that things here had gone backwards educationally. "I realised," he said, "that a kid like me had little to no chance of making it to Oxbridge or another Russell Group university. Something had to be done." He started funding the Oxford Summer Schools, which have proved so successful that they now run in 10 other top universities and the government is involved in rolling the programme out further.

At the dinner on the last night of the course the sense of thrill, of widening horizons, was palpable. "I thought everyone else would be an egghead, but they're not, they're just like me," said a hipster from Wales. "Oxford just seemed completely out of reach before I came here," said another, "but now I'm going to apply." A week of living in college, going to seminars and hanging out with students who are already there has shown them that this could be their world, too. Half of the kids who come on the summer school apply to Oxford and about 40% of those get in. Of the rest, almost all will get a place at a top university. As one Asian boy from Birmingham put it: "I always thought I'd go to the local college with my friends. Now I'm going to apply to Oxford, Bristol and Edinburgh."

It felt a privilege just to watch the bright young faces, chatting confidently, feeling on the cusp of great things, realising they've got what it takes. During the speeches when Lampl told them that they all had a great future, a black girl on the next table shouted "Yeah!" Lampl told them to work hard for their A-levels, that the next year would have more influence on the rest of their lives than any other. That anything was possible for them. I left feeling humbled. I had expected to go to Oxford since as a child my parents (who met there) had walked me round the quads. At St Paul's school and Westminster I was coached to get in. My time there was fantastic but not productive. I feel ashamed of my immense privilege and how arrogantly I wore it. We need to get our brightest kids, wherever they are from, into our best universities. If we don't, we all suffer.


"Londonistan" shows how sick Britain is

A review by Hal G.P. Colebatch of "Londonistan" By Melanie Phillips

Has this book been reviewed before? If so, in light of the recent terror-bombings in Britain, another review may be called for. British Journalist and George Orwell Prize-winner Melanie Philips has written a chilling book, setting out how confused thinking, left-liberalism and obeisance to political correctness have led to Islamicist terrorism and extremism striking deep roots in Britain.

A major villain, she argues, is Blair -- not former Prime Minister Tony in this case, but Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, who emerges as a man driven by fear of seeming politically incorrect. An employment tribunal found that he had racially discriminated against three officers at a training school who had been disciplined for, in one case referring to Muslim headwear as "tea-cosies," and in another case for having, perhaps in honest mistake, pronounced "Shi'ites" as "shitties" and having said he felt sorry for Muslims who fasted during Ramadan. Sir Ian responded to this finding by declaring that he was "unrepentant," repeating that the remarks were "Islamophobic" and declaring that the police must "embrace diversity." When questioned about the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh for questioning Islamic attitudes to women, Sir Ian responded: "There were lots of fundamentalist Muslims who didn't shoot him," revealing a certain logical gap.

Phillips might have mentioned how, in words reminiscent of the confessions of Darkness at Noon or 1984 or China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, John Grieve, assistant deputy commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Service, and head of its Racial task force, groveled that "I am a racist. I know because Sir William Macpherson said that I am; the Home Secretary said that I am; countless members of the public inquiry said that I am ....The Metropolitan Police Service is an institutionally racist organisation. It must be because Sir William Macpherson said that it is; the Home Secretary said that it is ..."

This was not sarcasm but was intended literally and at its face value. Ray Honeyford commented in the Salisbury Review:

It clearly conveys the impression of a man experiencing inner torment, after having been reduced to the level of a small child by a chastising and tyrannical father. It is not only the words themselves that are disturb, even though they are indeed chilling, coming as they do from the mouth of a mature adult. It is the identity of the person who uttered them that causes the greatest feeling of alarm in the reader.

Melanie Phillips has something shocking on almost every page:

At various conferences to discuss the terrorist threat, senior police officers declared their respect for the Muslim Brotherhood and its mouthpiece in Britain, the Muslim Association of Britain, despite its extremist views and support for terrorism in Iraq and Israel. This enraged secular Muslims who were present, who protested that by cosying up to such extremists the police were betraying the Muslim community.

A particular favorite of the police contact unit appeared to be a Sheik who had called for suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq as a religious duty, and claimed: "We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America!" She documents the reaction of Muslim bodies in Britain to the London terrorist bombing, denial that they were anything to do with Muslims and threat of more to come often being combined in the same sentence.

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke said that "there can be no negotiations about the reimposition of Shariah law, there can be no negotiation about the suppression of equality between the sexes, there can be no negotiation about the ending of free speech. These values are fundamental to our civilization and are simply not up for negotiation." This was attacked as an assault on Islam. All this is combined with a resurgence of Jew-hatred such as we might have thought perished in the West about 1945.

Melanie Phillips quotes a 2004 Home Office survey which found 26% of Brtitish Muslims felt no loyalty to Britain, 13% defended terrorism, and about 16,000 were prepared to engage in or actively support terrorism. A third believed Western society was decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end. The former Metropolitan Police commissioner, Lord Stevens, revealed that up to 3,000 British-born or British-based people had passed through Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps. Other surveys gave at least equally alarming results: a BBC poll found 15% of British Muslims supported the 9/11 attacks. Even though these numbers were minorities, with a total Muslim population of 1,600,000, growing rapidly every week, they added up to very substantial numbers in absolute terms.

Four out of 10 British Muslims want Sharia law (which includes punitive stoning and amputation) introduced into parts of the country, and a fifth have sympathy with the "feelings and motives" of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in the London terrorist bus and tube attacks.

Melanie Phillips claims: "British Muslims are overwhelmingly horrified and disgusted by the louche and dissolute behaviour of a Britain that has torn up notions of respectability. They observe the alcoholism, drug abuse and pornography, the breakdown of family life and the encouragement of promiscuity, and find themselves in opposition to their host society's guiding values."

That, perhaps, is where the other Blair, Tony Blair, comes in. Whether on not things will change under Gordon Brown is hard to say, but it is impossible to deny that the Blair government, for all Blair's military support of the U.S. alliance and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has presided over an ethos, first known as Cool Britannia, which could command little respect or loyalty from anyone. What does one make of a society where trading inspectors prosecute the vendors of pornographic videos on the grounds that their content is less pornographic than advertised, and where the Queen is made to confer a knighthood on a notorious icon of the drug culture? That is another aspect of Londonistan and, along with other elements, goes to make a very disturbing whole. Meanwhile, the director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity said in 2006: "The more fundamentalist clerics think it is only a matter of time before they will persuade the government to concede on the issue of Sharia law. Given the Government's record of capitulating, you can see why they believe that."

I am not always in agreement with Christopher Hitchens, but a comment from him is apt here:

I find myself haunted by a challenge that was offered on the BBC by a Muslim activist named Anjem Choudary: a man who has praised the 9/11 murders as "magnificent" and proclaimed that "Britain belongs to Allah." When asked if he might prefer to move to a country which practices Sharia, he replied: "Who says you own Britain anyway?" A question that will have to be answered one way or another.

The implications of the book are compelling, though to borrow a certain title and call them an inconvenient truth would be an understatement: Britain is going to have to bite on some very tough political bullets if it is going to survive as anything like the nation it has been.


A satirical reply to feminist values

By Britain's irreverent Jeremy Clarkson

We know from Big Brother that today's young ladies have replaced their appealing thongs with pants the size of spinnakers, and now comes news that the sales of stockings are in free fall. Down from 10m sales in 2002 to 5m in 2006. According to The Sun's woman editor - as opposed to the real editor, who's a woman - this is because girls have better things to do these days than get dressed up like a Parisian hooker every time they go to the shops. I absolutely understand that. Getting dressed in the morning is something that should never take more than 20 seconds and putting on a pair of stockings and suspenders can take anything up to three hours.

Actually this is only a guess, based on how long it takes me to undo a suspender belt. Even when I'm armed with a head torch and a pair of scissors. Anyway, I fully appreciate that in a postMrs Robinson world, where women work and raise children, stockings are to the wardrobe what the quill is to online banking. But here's the thing, girls. Tell us that you won't wear stockings because they are impractical and you may well find that we'll give up as well. At the moment we tend not to pick our noses when in your company because it is a bit slovenly. But if you're going to slob around in a pair of footless tights and a sack, then you won't mind if we bury an index finger in each of our nostrils and dig away.

I was at London's City airport this morning surrounded by a group of middle-aged chaps who, I presume, were going to Scotland to watch some golfists. At home, each of these men would, I'm sure, eat all their yoghurt and pretend to be interested in Victoria Beckham's opinion on interior design. But at the airport, with no wives and girlfriends to keep them in check, they quickly reverted to type. By 7.45am they were on their third pint and as I boarded my plane, I believe they were beginning a farting competition.

This is not a criticism. I recently spent a couple of weeks camping in Africa with 20 or so other men and you wouldn't believe how neanderthal we became. Or how quickly. Every morning would begin with a conversation about who'd been for their number twos, what the number twos had looked like, what they'd smelt of, how much more there was to come, and whether any records for sheer tonnage had been set. Then we'd move on to who'd crept into whose tent the night before, what it had felt like, and how long, if we were the last 20 people on earth, it might take for one us to sleep with James May.

You might argue that your husband is not like this, but I assure you that beneath the veneer you see at home, he is. He may do the washing up and take the children to the park, but when you're not around, he's like the light in a fridge. He's a completely different animal, obsessed with bottoms, buggery and belching. So, girls, do you want that sort of thing at home? Really? No? Well get down to the petrol station then and buy some bloody stockings.

You may say that tights are practical and warm but have you seen what they do to a bank robber's face? And hold-ups won't do either. Thanks to all that elasticated rubber, they ruin the shape of your thighs and, in all probability, cut off the blood supply to your feet, causing gangrene. And no man fancies a girl, no matter how sparkling her eyes and wit might be, if she is gangrenous. Pop socks, meanwhile, would be completely banned if I were in power. And anyone found wearing them would be made to parade in nothing else through their local town, and then shot.

It must be stockings, with a suspender belt, because what this combination does is mask everything that doesn't matter and lay bare everything that does. A picture is nice, but before you hang it on the wall it needs a frame. And apart from anything else, if you flash your stocking tops at a man you can, and I mean this literally, get him to do anything you want. Unless you have the figure of a bison obviously, in which case he won't do anything at all. Because he will be too busy being sick. Assuming, however, you have legs which clearly belong on a human, you only need let a man know you're wearing stockings and you will be empowered to a point you may have thought impossible.

I honestly believe that if David Milibandilegs really wanted to solve this Russian crisis, he could simply ask Rene Russo to reenact that scene from the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and Putin would have the Litvinenko murder suspect on the next flight to London. And please, let's not have any of this "ooh, stockings make us sex objects" nonsense because that simply isn't true. We all saw Sharon Stone cross her legs in Basic Instinct and we all tittered in a schoolboy way. But when Rene popped a stockinged leg from that split skirt, I damn nearly fainted with admiration at the size of her brain.

Plainly she'd worked out that what she really needed to gain control over the entire New York police department was not a degree from Harvard. But a pair of 4.99 stockings from Pretty Polly. That makes her smart. As well.


Food faddists damage kids' TV

Children are losing high-quality television programmes that reflect their lives because of underfunding and the pursuit of ratings, campaigners say. Floella Benjamin, the former Play School presenter who led the campaign to create a children’s minister, said it was shameful that so little home-grown television was now made as channels increasingly relied on cheap imports. She told the Social Market Foundation in London that more government funding and legislation was urgently needed. Incentives were vital to help not-for-profit organisations to produce high-quality public service shows for children. Doing so, she said, would prove that the Government was serious about its policy of every “child matters”.

The ban on advertising food high in fat, sugar and salt has cut the advertising income generated from children’s programmes by £30 million, a third of the total. ITV responded by scrapping new commissions and long-running hits, including My Parents Are Aliens, pictured right. Drama repeats have replaced children’s programmes on ITV1 at teatime as the channel competes for ratings with Channel 4.

Laurence Bowen, producer of My Life as a Popat, pictured left, the award-winning ITV children’s comedy about an larger-than-life Indian family living in West London, said that the popular series ended because of budget considerations.“Without a broadcasting Bill that can give Ofcom the teeth to really insist that ITV does children’s programmes, and without any other government legislation to follow that, it’s dead.”

Professor Jackie Marsh, of Sheffield University, said her research suggested that television played an important role in a child’s cognitive, linguistic, emotional and social development. The Government needed to encourage broadcasters to make programmes that reflected the daily lives, cultures and concerns of young people. “Not to do so would deny children their rights to a rich and varied diet of cultural activities.”


There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual themes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Britain: Remembrance Day parade scrapped for first time in 60 years over 'health and safety' fears

Every year since 1945, the town of Horwich has held a parade to remember its war dead. But thanks to health and safety rules, there won't be one this year. And there are fears that Remembrance Day marches nationwide may be threatened by similar safety demands, which put severe pressure on budgets. Organisers in the Lancashire town have previously relied on brief and small-scale road closures put in place for free by the police, to clear the way for the event.

But this year, senior police officers said although they will still make no charge, a team of marshals must be employed to man the route at a cost of about 50 pounds a day. In addition, organisers will have to pay for each road they want closed. To make matters worse, Bolton Council has increased permanent road closure prices from 300 to 800 pounds this year. These costs could bring the final bill to 18,000 - making the November 11 parade too expensive to hold. Usually it would cost only a couple of thousand pounds.

Greater Manchester Police said the extra security is necessary because another force in the West Midlands was successfully sued when Brownies participating in a parade were injured by a car which drove into them while they were marching.

But Bernard McCartin, of the Royal British Legion's Horwich branch, warned that the cost of imposing further safety measures could affect parades across the country. Mr McCartin, 65, who served with the Royal Observer Corps in Lincolnshire, added: 'This is very disappointing, but there is not a lot we can do. "It is a mark of disrespect to every person who gave their lives for this town."

The former mayor of Horwich, a parade leader, added: "Several hundred people watch this event every year with all sorts of organisations from cub scouts to veterans taking part. "It is a further erosion of what we hold dear in the country." A spokesman for the Royal British Legion said it would be looking into the matter. "The issue of proposed local council and police charging to ensure the safety of Remembrance Day parades is of great concern. It is clear that a change of policy has taken place at local level."

Tory defence spokesman Dr Liam Fox said: 'This is a scandal. To hear that people cannot remember those who gave their lives for this country due to overzealous bureaucrats is crazy. "I'd hope the authorities will be reconsidering their application of the rules to ensure that the parade can go ahead."

However, Steve Rock, of Horwich Town Council, said it did not have the money to help to meet the bill. He said: "People will be upset, but the only way to fund it would be to raise council tax next year." The Horwich parade has been held since 1945. It passes through the town and ends at the war memorial. A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said the force did not charge for policing parades but warned that the local authority does charge for road closures. "To address this, the force has suggested a shorter route that would not involve closing roads and, therefore, not cost the organisers anything."

PC Phil Waring, events planner for Bolton, explained why the safety rules had been imposed. "There was an incident in the West Midlands where the police were successfully sued and, as a result, we have to follow new guidelines and make it safer for people."

Earlier this year, health and safety rules ended an annual duck race in Upper Dam, Lymm, Cheshire, which raised money for charity. The event was so popular that council officials insisted that organisers close a nearby road to meet health and safety requirements. But Warrington Borough Council refused to pay for the closure - and the Round Table, which organised the event, said it could not afford the 3,000 pound bill.


Official British vendetta against too-successful IVF doctor continues

They hate private medicine so attacking a high flyer -- even on legal technicalities -- turns them on

Britain's most successful IVF doctor was banned from running his own clinic yesterday after he was found guilty of treating patients without the correct licence. Mohammed Taranissi was stripped of the right to be the "person responsible" for his Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The decision means that Mr Taranissi, whose clinic boasts Britain's best IVF success rates, will be allowed to continue treating patients only if he appoints another doctor or manager to take legal responsibility for his clinic. If he fails to do so, the clinic will have to close after its temporary licence expires on August 9.

Mr Taranissi, who rejects the charges, said last night that he would appeal. If he does, the HFEA is likely to issue special directions allowing him to complete the treatment of existing patients while the appeal is heard.

The sanction is one of the most serious imposed by the authority's licence committee, and has been imposed only once before. Every clinic is required by law to name an appro-priately trained person as the holder of its licence. The person is required to take legal responsibility for the clinic's work and must be HFEA approved. The ruling follows an inquiry into claims that Mr Taranissi treated patients at an unlicensed clinic in 2006. The clinic, the Reproductive Genetics Institute, was Mr Taranassi's second in London. The allegations formed part of a BBC Panorama programme, over which the doctor has started libel proceedings. It is a criminal offence to perform IVF and some other fertility procedures without a licence from the HFEA, and the matter is also the subject of investigations by the police and the General Medical Council.

In January the HFEA obtained warrants to search both clinics, saying that the doctor had failed to provide it with information needed to investigate the allegations. The raids were ruled illegal by the High Court this month, and the authority agreed to pay most of Mr Taranissi's costs. That judicial review did not consider the substance of the charges against Mr Taranissi, and had no bearing on the HFEA's regulatory action. The authority's licence committee met on July 13, and announced yesterday that it was satisfied that Mr Taranissi had committed a "serious breach" of the law by treating patients at an unlicensed clinic. "The committee considered that the clinic [the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre] is a successful one, much appreciated by patients, and Mr Taranissi is a dedicated physician," it said. "However, the committee did not think he had taken sufficient cognisance of the legal requirements of a person responsible to continue to act in that capacity."

The authority has offered the centre a six-month licence, provided that a new person responsible is found. Mr Taranissi was not seeking a new licence for the Reproductive Genetics Institute. Members of the HFEA's executive had argued that the licence should not be renewed at all. Mr Taranissi questioned whether three weeks was sufficient time to appoint a new person responsible, but said that he welcomed the decision to offer a licence. "We are pleased to have been told that we can continue to work, and my priority now is my patients," he said. "The last few months have been extremely distressing for all our patients and staff. The new licence is not for as long a period as we had hoped for, but we are confident that this will be extended and that we can put the unpleasant past behind us and concentrate on doing what we do best.

"The current situation follows the events in January of this year when the chief executive of the HFEA gave what was later described by a High Court judge as `seriously defective' and `highly misleading' evidence to a magistrate in order to obtain warrants to raid our clinic. The High Court subsequently found that these warrants had been unlawfully obtained and we are similarly confident that the grounds for this latest decision will be shown to be wrong.

"HFEA regulation imposes a huge bureaucratic burden on those licensed by them. The HFEA have asked that we appoint a new person responsible to work with me as medical director of the centre. We have made a number of new appointments in the last two months to assist with this regulatory burden and the other requirements of new European legislation."


Britain: Radiation phobics exposed as nutters

People who believe that mobile telephone masts are causing them to feel unwell are deluding themselves, according to a study at Essex University. The three-year study, one of the largest of its kind, found that such people do experience symptoms when they know that they are exposed to radio waves, but they cannot detect when the waves are turned on and off, disproving their belief that they are “radiosensitive”. In double-blind trials -- in which neither participants nor experimenters knew whether the signals were on or off -- no health effects were detected. The finding adds to earlier research suggesting that radiosensitivity is an illusion.

Professor Elaine Fox said that radiosensitivity complainants had genuine symptoms, but phone masts were not the cause. In the past, she said, similar symptoms were reported in relation to TV sets and microwave ovens. It appears that about 4 per cent of the population claim to experience symptoms and tend to project them on to new technologies. The project was designed to investigate whether the effect was caused by phone masts.

Volunteers who claimed to be radiosensitive were matched against those who did not. Both groups were told when the signals were being switched on and off. The radiosensitive group reported headaches and malaise, but the team concluded that the symptoms were triggered by the knowledge of exposure. The researchers then conducted the double-blind trials. If radiosensitivity were a real phenomenon, alleged sufferers should have been able to detect changes and report symptoms. They did not.

Two of the 44 sensitive individuals, and 5 of the 114 controls, judged correctly when the mast was on or off in all six 50-minute tests -- exactly the proportion expected by chance. Professor Fox said: “Belief is very powerful. There are real, clinical effects.” David Coggon, of the University of Southampton, said: “This is consistent with earlier research in suggesting that symptoms of electrosensitivity are psychological in origin.” The study was funded by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme, with half of the money provided by Government and half by the mobile phone industry.


Britain: History education too haphazard

Children must be taught landmark dates in chronological order from primary school, to give them a common sense of British history and identity, Ofsted tells the Government today. Far from knowing the order of key events, such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of Magna Carta, pupils have no overview of history and cannot answer the “big questions” it poses, the schools’ inspectorate has found. Not only are key events in British and world history overlooked, but without a sense of the order in which they occurred, students cannot make any connections with the periods that they have studied.

The damning assessment of pupils’ understanding and the way history is taught in England’s schools, particularly primaries, comes after academics and historians have called repeatedly for a review of the way the subject is taught up to the age of 14. “History is taught in all primary schools, but we are recommending that the syllabus is looked at to promote a coherence in what’s being taught – a core, with some local discretion,” said Miriam Rosen, Ofsted’s director of education.

Dr Rosen acknowledged that history had been squeezed in some primaries, because of their need to raise standards in the three Rs. “We quite understand why schools have focused on literacy and numeracy, but we think they are beginning to see they can link history teaching to make sure it’s not lost and that there’s still a focus on the core subjects,” she added. Her comments appear to be at odds with the latest proposals by the Government to allow schools to teach themes such as creativity and cultural understanding, rather than individual academic subjects, such as history and science, at secondary level.

In History in the Balance: History in English Schools 2003-7, the inspectors targeted their criticism mainly at the education of 7 to 11-year-olds, “which continues to disappoint”. While the teachers themselves often had not studied the subject beyond 14, they were also poorly trained in history and tended to jump from one topic to the next, the inspectors found. They cited one primary, where eight-year-olds studied the Romans one term, learnt how children coped in the Second World War the next and finished with Ancient Egypt.

Although the National Curriculum calls for pupils to develop a “chronological framework” and to make “connections between events and changes in the different periods”, the inspectors said this rarely happened in practice. “Consequently they often have little sense of chronology and the possibility of establishing an overarching story and addressing broader themes and issues is limited,” they wrote.

The inspectors praised history teaching post14, but noted that only 32 per cent of pupils study it at GCSE level and even fewer post16. Although 66 per cent achieve A grades at GCSE, a third of A* grades are from independently educated pupils.

The report echoed concerns aired by academics and historians, including Kate Pretty, principal of Homerton College and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who said that Britain was losing a sense of shared identity, because children were not being taught basic general knowledge in primary school. “It’s not secondary school that instills the deficit, but primaries. It’s the primary view of the great stories in the past, like Alfred burning the cakes, Magna Carta, Columbus sailing the ocean blue – all that sort of stuff,” she said. “The little tiny stories that make up the common thread which you can pull on, we’re expecting students to somehow implicitly know. It’s not about A-level knowledge of a particular subject, but a general web of understanding that binds us to a past. That seems to me is being lost somewhere in all of this.”

The report comes as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority proposes allowing schools from next year to teach themes such as creativity and cultural understanding rather than individual academic subjects from the ages of 11 to 14. The curriculum watchdog is already piloting a new GCSE syllabus in 70 schools where periods of history are replaced by themes including “conflict and its lasting impact” and “people’s diverse ideas”. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said he agreed with many of the points raised by Ofsted, which had been addressed in the revised secondary curriculum introduced last week. “The new curriculum has strengthened the requirement that all pupils need to have a good chronological understanding of history. This is compulsory at primary Key Stages too,” he said, adding that they would improve the training of primary teachers.

However, Michael Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, said the report underlined the dangers of the new curriculum. “The changes Ed Balls [the Education Secretary] announced last week would mean more of the flabby, woolly, ‘theme-based’ teaching this report warns us about,” he said. “Ofsted underlines the importance of rigour and giving pupils a proper connected sense of what went on in the past. Ed Balls’s plans for five-minute lessons and writing Churchill out of the past are the complete opposite of that, and won’t give the next generation the understanding it deserves of our national story.”


Big Macs ferried in after rioting inmates run amok in British immigration detention centre

Rioting foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers were fed McDonald's takeaway meals by prison staff during a 60million pound orgy of destruction which wrecked an immigration detention centre. Fearful that the human rights of inmates would be breached, staff ferried sackfuls of Big Mac meals with fries and soft drinks from a nearby branch of the fast-food chain. The revelation came in a damning official report into the riot at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport last November. More than 500 inmates awaiting deportation wrecked and burned down much of the site, and it took riot squads almost two days to regain control. The report also reveals:

* Walls and doors in the centre were so flimsy that inmates kicked them down with ease, especially after they were soaked by the sprinkler system;

* The fire brigade got lost because there were no signposts to the centre;

* CCTV cameras were easy for rioters to destroy - meaning control room staff had no idea what was going on;

* Increasingly desperate calls to the Prison Service headquarters begging for help were ignored for an hour.

The official Home Office investigation blames the riot partly on the huge pressure on the centre after last summer's foreign prisoners scandal. Hundreds of foreign national criminals were rounded up after being released from Britain's jails without being considered for deportation. Of the 501 men in the detention centre at the time 177 were foreign prisoners awaiting deportation - a volatile group who had 'nothing to lose'. The riot was triggered by inmates watching a TV news bulletin reporting criticisms of Harmondsworth from prison watchdogs. Fires were started and inmates began smashing CCTV cameras and attacking staff, who were unable to contain the violence.

As control room managers lost their grip, staff were ordered to retreat and seal the gates, as police arrived to guard the perimeter. Thirteen riot squads entered the centre next morning but took more than 24 hours to regain control.

During the day a row broke out between senior officials over whether to send food in for rioters. Those who favoured starving inmates into submission were overruled, as managers ordered that 'minimum needs of food and drink' must be supplied. "In the early stages food came from McDonald's," according to the report by senior civil servant Robert Whalley. Yesterday the Daily Mail tracked down a worker at the West Drayton branch of McDonald's who recalled Harmondsworth staff placing a huge order for 3.59 burger meals. He said: "I remember prison officers turning up and ordering around 100 Big Mac meals with fries and fizzy drinks. For a couple of hours they kept turning up with big bags, filling them up with meals and then ferrying them off in Securicor vans and then they'd return for more."

The Home Office was last night unable to provide details of the cost of the emergency supplies. The cost of dealing with the riot and rebuilding large parts of Harmondsworth is expected to top 65million pounds.

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: "This situation required a fast response, and all they got was fast food. "We now know that this dangerous incident happened because the Government was forced to mix foreign prisoners with failed asylum seekers. Because of prison overcrowding, this is still going on."

Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, said work was under way to 'expand and strengthen' removal centres. The Home Office said that five detainees had been charged and remanded in custody in connection with the riot.


Latest on the Lancet agitprop about Iraqi deaths

What fun! Courtesy of Michelle Malkin, there is a scholarly paper here by a statistical mathematician which finds that the "600,000 Iraqi deaths" paper published in 2004 in Lancet is internally inconsistent. Using the paper's own figures, the statistician shows that the authors cannot conclude anything from their "research".

The original paper was so out of line with normal survey methodology that those of us who are experienced in survey research pointed that out long ago but it is interesting to see the same point absolutely demonstrated. It is another example of Lancet prostituting their medical reputation to make political points. They obviously did not do a proper peer review on the paper before they accepted it and that may well be because they were so out of their field that they did not know how to do a proper review of a survey research paper. They should stick to medicine.

It may be noted that the authors of the paper refuse to release their raw data -- a most unusual thing for scientists to do. It suggests that the "research" was a fraud from beginning to end -- rather like the Mann "hockeystick" finding in climate science -- a finding that the IPCC no longer mentions!

Something Michelle seems to have overlooked, however, is that there seems to have been an attempt by Lancet to redact what they originally published. The paper Michelle cites is a version that says only 100,000 Iraqis died. Whereas the original paper said that 654,965 Iraqis died. Is this an admission? Does even Lancet now concede that they goofed? The plot thickens!

British navy not to be scrapped after all: "The go-ahead was given yesterday for the construction of two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers as big as the QE2, but the Royal Navy will have to wait until 2014 for the first one - two years behind previous projections. Under government planning announced nearly ten years ago, the two new large aircraft carriers for the Navy were supposed to come into service in 2012 and 2015. The ageing and smaller carriers they are replacing, HMS Invincible, HMS Ark Royal, and HMS Illustrious, were to be taken out of service by 2013. However, senior defence officials said the new in-service date for the first of the large carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was now expected to be 2014, and the second ship, HMS Prince of Wales,in 2016. In the past the Government insisted that the 2012 date for the first carrier was "nonnegotiable". The delay means that the current carriers will stay in service for longer to prevent a huge gap in the Armed Forces' expeditionary capability."