Thursday, January 31, 2008


Below are two responses to a story I covered yesterday

Realistic education priorities

The online forums were afire. "Thought this was an early April Fool... McEducation... lowering standards... glad I have left the UK... how on earth can a qualification in basic shift management at mcdonalds which will involve taking payment, flipping burgers and making children obese be equilavent [sic] to an a level?"

It doesn't take much to rile the education harrumphers, but their barks are directed up the wrong tree this time. They'd do better to join the outcry against the sneaky plan to close village schools. For, of all the educational faffs and fiddles we have suffered, the latest is the most sensible. This is the decision to let companies - starting with Flybe, Network Rail and McDonald's - award nationally accepted qualifications, of GCSE and A-level standard, to those they train.

The harrumphers should calm down. This is about teaching employees: nobody is suggesting that schools will promptly offer their best and brightest a chance to do A2 burger-flipping instead of Further Maths. Given that you can already get national vocational qualifications from a holiday pottery course or a scuba-diving week, it is not so big a jump.

Note also that the body that is ceding this tiny bit of power is the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which some may mischievously argue does not boast an immaculate track record itself. It is responsible for accrediting exams and regulating awarding bodies, and quite apart from the dog's breakfast of AS/A2 levels and the scandals of doctored A-level results, we have had plenty of concerns about its fiefdom. There have been questions about coursework marking, leaked papers, howlers embedded in questions and unqualified teachers working as markers. It is perfectly well known in the education world that large numbers of GCSE and even A-level papers are marked at high speed by people who are not specialists in the subject, and that when schools appeal against grades, one in four GCSEs and one in ten A levels prove to have been wrongly assessed. Some of the multiple-choice questions have also been dumber and more agenda-laden than would be tolerated by anyone struggling for profits in a real marketplace.

I would rather my offspring could name safe cooking temperatures for burgers or maintenance intervals for rails than merely decode questions like this one from a GCSE physics paper. A newspaper cutting is shown saying: "A recent report said that children under the age of 9 should not use mobile phones except in emergencies"; and the question is: "Below which age is it recommended that children use a mobile phone in emergencies only?" Doh!

I am not out to rubbish the QCA and exam boards. Plenty of good work is done and properly marked. I am just pointing out that hard-headed training executives with beady-eyed shareholders may prove more focused than some exam boards. If a failure in your pupils' procedures and understanding causes rails to break or customers to keel over with E.coli, expensive trouble ensues. Whereas if an Eng Lit exam goes dumb and trendy or a history paper is marked by someone who only knows the set answers, it doesn't create real-life chaos. Or not right away.

In other words, a McQualification, Rail-Level or FlybeCertificate might be more respected than some of the subjects and examiners that already have the blessing of the QCA. This might not be exactly the message that Gordon Brown wants us to take from the initiative, but it might cheer up the doubters.

Academically capable children will (if properly guided by their schools, which is another story) always go for more universal and theoretical academic subjects. Meanwhile, the crying need of drifting youth is to learn things that they can associate with real pay, responsibility and results. There have always been young people who longed to get out of the schoolroom's vapouring cloud of formulae and theories and lists. Some became apprentices, some took menial jobs and after looking around with sharp ambitious eyes simply worked their way up. Others hated their first jobs, yet learnt routine and thoroughness from them and carried them into a better field. I was probably classifiable as academic, but when I started my first dream job as a BBC studio manager, I mainly used the skills I had acquired as a barmaid. Not those that got me D in Latin.

The fact is, some thrive better in work than school. We all know children who groaned through A levels - or dropped out - only to find new vigour in a job. I can think of one right now who, to his parents' consternation, abandoned the sixth form after a period of feeling constantly ill and tired, took a counter job in a bank and is now being rigorously trained, forming high ambitions, and feeling physically well.

But workplace training - with allied certificates and grades - does matter. It removes the dead-end quality from a job, proves that the employer believes in you and, incidentally, reduces the likelihood that supervisors' strictures will be wetly interpreted as "bullying" or victimisation. Equally, in an uncertain economic world it matters that workplace qualifications should be portable.

Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University (itself, ironically, a private company that gives highly valued degrees) has cast doubt on the idea that the new qualifications will be valid outside the company that gives them. He fears that employees might get "locked in" to McFlybeRail. I doubt it. Business people may not be saintly educationists, but they are practical. They'll soon get to know which of their rivals' certificated staff are worth poaching.


Flipping burgers taught me more than A levels

Anyone who believes that a McDonald's A level is an easy option should come to the Friar Street branch on the third day of the Reading Festival. I worked there for two summers during my sixth form. It was dirty and tiring, at times humiliating, but it taught me more about how to work and how to deal with people than all my A levels combined.

On festival days the first order of battle was to secure the toilets. Two employees were posted at each door where, mustering all the authority of their checked shirt and golden arches hat, they collected receipts before letting people use the lavatory. A third employee policed the cubicles themselves: no alcohol, no sex and no drugs. By evening the latter would be relaxed to just Class A substances. Meanwhile the kitchen was frying a burger a second, struggling to cope with the demands of the nation's rockers. Under those conditions if you slacked off, or decided that a task was beneath you, you were out of a job.

McDonald's should not just be allowed to give out A levels, they should become a full degree-accrediting body. It is not that I do not value my A levels. Intellectually, they were thrilling. It is just that, in contrast to my Saturday job in McDonald's, it would be difficult to argue that they were useful. At sixth form I studied maths, maths and extra maths, with a little bit of English for balance. Such a rigorous grounding in the foundations of calculus prepared me for my degree, an advanced grounding in the foundations of calculus, and then perhaps for a master's. But I didn't do a master's. The ability to shovel s***, whether literally (the day the plumbing broke, my worst McDonald's shift) or metaphorically, is, however, a skill that stays with me to this day.


Don't treat the old and unhealthy, say NHS doctors

You've paid for your health insurance all your life only to be told you can't collect on it when you need it? That's a risk you take with socialism. And it's already happening to some extent in Britain

Doctors are calling for NHS treatment to be withheld from patients who are too old or who lead unhealthy lives. Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone. Fertility treatment and "social" abortions are also on the list of procedures that many doctors say should not be funded by the state.

The findings of a survey conducted by Doctor magazine sparked a fierce row last night, with the British Medical Association and campaign groups describing the recommendations from family and hospital doctors as "out-rageous" and "disgraceful". About one in 10 hospitals already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt. Managers defend the policies because of the higher risk of complications on the operating table for unfit patients. But critics believe that patients are being denied care simply to save money.

The Government announced plans last week to offer fat people cash incentives to diet and exercise as part of a desperate strategy to steer Britain off a course that will otherwise see half the population dangerously overweight by 2050. Obesity costs the British taxpayer 7 billion a year. Overweight people are more likely to contract diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and to require replacement joints or stomach-stapling operations.

Meanwhile, 1.7 billion is spent treating diseases caused by smoking, such as lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema, with a similar sum spent by the NHS on alcohol problems. Cases of cirrhosis have tripled over the past decade.

Among the survey of 870 family and hospital doctors, almost 60 per cent said the NHS could not provide full healthcare to everyone and that some individuals should pay for services. One in three said that elderly patients should not be given free treatment if it were unlikely to do them good for long. Half thought that smokers should be denied a heart bypass, while a quarter believed that the obese should be denied hip replacements. Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA's ethics committee, said it would be "outrageous" to limit care on age grounds. Age Concern called the doctors' views "disgraceful".

Gordon Brown promised this month that a new NHS constitution would set out people's "responsibilities" as well as their rights, a move interpreted as meaning restrictions on patients who bring health problems on themselves. The only sanction threatened so far, however, is to send patients to the bottom of the waiting list if they miss appointments.

The survey found that medical professionals wanted to go much further in denying care to patients who do not look after their bodies. Ninety-four per cent said that an alcoholic who refused to stop drinking should not be allowed a liver transplant, while one in five said taxpayers should not pay for "social abortions" and fertility treatment.

Paul Mason, a GP in Portland, Dorset, said there were good clinical reasons for denying surgery to some patients. "The issue is: how much responsibility do people take for their health?" he said. "If an alcoholic is going to drink themselves to death then that is really sad, but if he gets the liver transplant that is denied to someone else who could have got the chance of life then that is a tragedy." He said the case of George Best, who drank himself to death in 2005, three years after a liver transplant, had damaged the argument that drinkers deserved a second chance.

However, Roger Williams, who carried out the 2002 transplant on the former footballer, said doctors could never be sure if an alcoholic would return to drinking, although most would expect a detailed psychological assessment of patients, who would be required to abstain for six months before surgery. Prof Williams said: "Less than five per cent of alcoholics who have a transplant return to serious drinking. George was one of them. It is actually a pretty successful rate. I think the judgment these doctors are making is nothing to do with the clinical reasons for limiting such operations and purely a moral decision."

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients' Association, said it would be wrong to deny treatment because of a "lifestyle" factor. "The decision taken by the doctor has to be the best clinical one, and it has to be taken individually. It is morally wrong to deny care on any other grounds," she said.

Responding to the survey's findings on the treatment of the elderly, Dr Calland, of the BMA, said: "If a patient of 90 needs a hip operation they should get one. Yes, they might peg out any time, but it's not our job to play God."


Laugh at lard butts - but just remember Fatty Fritz lives longer

Some British satire with a serious point at the end

The government is considering a scheme to pay hideously obese people to lose weight, offering them "vouchers and rewards" for shedding enough pounds to enable them to see their own genitals for the first time in 30 years. This is part of a programme which will cost the rest of us, those of us who are merely "chubby" or "fat", some œ327m. If you take the health advice at face value, almost the entire nation is overweight, encased in blubber, our poor arteries clogged like the straws of a McDonald's vanilla milk shake when you get to the bottom of the carton. We are all afflicted and all to blame, etc.

For years we have been cautioned against stigmatising people for a whole array of unfortunate situations - teenage single mothers, divorcees, fat people. But, of course, stigma is the means by which society expresses its disapproval of people who choose lifestyles which, one way or another, cost the rest of society money. Remove the stigma and people think such behaviour is perfectly fine. As a result we have become a nation of obese, sexually incontinent lunatics.

Perhaps instead of offering fat people money, which they will only spend on pies, we should once again stigmatise them. School children could be encouraged to pelt fat classmates with cakes, exclude them from playground activities and subject them to cruel jibes. And pinch them on their horrible fleshy arms during assembly (if schools still have assemblies). Fat adults could be forced to pay for two seats on public transport, could be given the worst seats in restaurants and scolded over their choice of dessert. "Have the fruit salad, you fat pig," and so on. Most obesity is, after all, a consequence of stupidity and indolence and not of some genetic affliction. It is a lifestyle choice which people would be less inclined to adopt if they knew we all hated them for it.

There is another, better approach, of course, which is to leave people alone to live the lives they wish to lead. I was in Austria recently where everybody is truly, grotesquely fat. All of them are huge, flatulent, pasty-skinned spheres of compacted frankfurter sausage, fried potato, sour cream and stale beer, rolling around their pretty mountains belching and singing in a tuneless, guttural manner.

The average life expectancy in Austria is 79.21 years - one of the highest in the world and a good five or six months longer than we can expect to live - and increasing rapidly. In fact, much though the quacks and government ministers might hector us, there is very little correlation between obesity and early death, according to recent studies. So you might conclude that this is a sort of fashionable meddling for the sake of it by a government which is never happier than when telling us how to conduct our lives.


Can you beat this for media deception? The "Briton" was a Pakistani fanatic! "Briton admits plot to behead Muslim soldier. A man has pleaded guilty to a plot to kidnap and kill a Muslim soldier in the British army by cutting off his head "like a pig", a court was told on Tuesday. Parviz Khan, 37, pleaded guilty this month to a series of charges including the beheading plot, which was foiled by police and the MI5 security service a year ago. A British and Pakistani passport holder, Khan was "a man who has the most violent and extreme Islamist views" and who wanted to get physically involved in acts of terrorism, prosecutor Nigel Rumfitt said. He said Khan was "enraged" by the fact there were Muslims in the British army, which Islamist militants portray as fighting Islam in Afghanistan and Iraq, and formed a plan to kidnap a Muslim soldier in the central city of Birmingham."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Incredible British medical negligence again

You are just one of a herd of cattle to NHS doctors

A BOY who spent most of his life being deaf in one ear has been cured after he discovered the wayward tip of a cotton bud. After being deaf in his right ear for nine years, 11-year-old Jerome Bartens identified the cause of his ailment while playing with friends at a church hall in Haverfordwest, in Wales. The Daily Mail said Jerome heard a popping sound in his ear and, after using his finger to investigate the cause of the noise, discovered the tip of a cotton bud.

His father told the newspaper he was shocked that doctors did not discover the object after years of examinations. “It was just incredible – his hearing returned to normal in an instant,” Carsten Bartens told the newspaper. “He was cured as suddenly as he became deaf… I had always suspected Jerome had stuck something in his ear when he was little and that was causing the problem. “But the doctors and hearing specialists said it was wax and he would probably grow out of it.”

Jerome said it was strange to have his full hearing back again. “I can hear much better now and I think I’ll be happier at school now my ear does not ache all the time,” Jerome said. “It’s great that people don’t have to shout to me and that I don’t have to turn my head all the time.”


British nurses leaving in droves

Thousands of nurses are leaving the NHS in search of better pay and working conditions abroad. More than 10,000 nurses and midwives left to work abroad in 2006-07, leaving the NHS just a few years from a staffing crisis, the country’s top nurse said. Nearly 35,000 nurses - enough to staff the entire health service in Wales – have emigrated in the past four years. During the past three years there has been a 75 per cent rise in the number of nurses leaving for Australia alone, data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) suggests.

Despite an anticipated shortfall of 14,000 nurses by 2010, Clare Chapman, the Department of Health’s director-general of workforce, has said that the NHS no longer needs to increase overall numbers of nurses and doctors.

Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), told The Times that the Government was guilty of a “yo-yo approach” to workforce planning, exacerbating low morale. “We are just a few short years away from a crisis,” he added. “There is every sign that being short-staffed on overstretched wards puts patients at risk, yet an estimated 20,000 nursing posts have been cut in hospitals and surgeries across the country. “At the same time as they are offered a miserly pay deal, they are being bombarded with advertising for a better life abroad. When you are offered comparable salaries and a higher quality of life in Australia, the Cayman Islands or South Africa, is it any wonder that some might choose to kickstart their careers abroad?”

The average salary for an NHS nurse was 24,000 pounds, Dr Carter said, about 10,000 less than the average police officer or teacher, while a below-inflation pay rise of 0.6 per cent in real terms last year had been an insult.

In total, 33,513 nurses left the UK and registered to work abroad between 2003-04 and 2006-07, but this was likely to be a conservative estimate, Dr Carter said. Meanwhile, 6,144 nurses from abroad were registered to work in the UK last year, 4,624 of them from outside the EU.



An "overwhelming majority" of Europeans believe immigration from Islamic countries is a threat to their traditional way of life, a survey revealed last night. The poll, carried out across 21 countries, found "widespread anti-immigration sentiment", but warned Europe's Muslim population will treble in the next 17 years. It reported "a severe deficit of trust is found between the Western and Muslim communities", with most people wanting less interaction with the Muslim world.

Last night an MP warned it showed that political leaders in Britain who preach the benefits of unlimited immigration were dangerously out of touch with the public.

The study, whose authors include the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, was commissioned for leaders at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. It reports "a growing fear among Europeans of a perceived Islamic threat to their cultural identities, driven in part by immigration from predominantly Muslim nations". And it concludes: "An overwhelming majority of the surveyed populations in Europe believe greater interaction between Islam and the West is a threat."

Backbench Tory MP David Davies told the Sunday Express: "I am not surprised by these findings. People are fed up with multiculturalism and being told they have to give up their way of life. "Most people in Britain expect anyone who comes here to be willing to learn our language and fit in with us." Mr Davies, who serves on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, added: "People do get annoyed when they see millions spent on translating documents and legal aid being given to people fighting for the right to wear a head-to-toe covering at school. "A lot of people are very uncomfortable with the changes being caused by immigration and politicians have been too slow to wake up to that."

The report says people have little enthusiasm for greater understanding with Islam and attempts to improve relations have been "disappointing". And with the EU Muslim population expected to reach 15 per cent by 2025 it predicts: "Any deterioration on the international front will be felt most severely in Europe."

But leading Muslim academic Haleh Afshar, of York University, blamed media "hysteria" for the findings. She said: "There is an absence of trust towards Muslims, but to my mind that is very much driven by an uninformed media. "To blame immigration is much harder because the current influx of immigrants from eastern Europe are by-and-large not Muslim. The danger is that when people are fearful of people born and bred in this country it is likely that discrimination may follow."


Another Greenie censorship attempt -- from Britain's red heart

A senior mayoral adviser ordered the authors of a report on road safety to rewrite it so it was politically acceptable, it was claimed today. His alleged intervention came after a three-year study by Transport for London into whether motorcyclists should be allowed to use bus lanes. A trial had found that accidents on two routes where motorbikes were allowed into bus lanes were nearly halved. But aide Kevin Austin allegedly ordered the rewrite to avoid the loss of the "green vote", because cycle groups opposed sharing bus lanes with motorcyclists.

Now the authors fear the new version will be a whitewash and conceal the road safety benefits shown by the trial, which took place in Brixton Road and Finchley Road. It found the bus lanes were much safer for pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers and motorcyclists when motorcycles were allowed access, with a 42 per cent fall in the rate of collisions. The report, presented to the Mayor in September, stated this, but officials claim they have been told to "bury" the findings and rewrite key sections to show the trial produced no safety gains.

City Hall insiders allege the order came amid fears that opening up bus lanes would alienate thousands of cyclists opposed to the move. A source told the Standard: "We have been told to cook the books and expect the new report to be a whitewash. The original report showed that the trial sites were far safer than on other 'control' roads, including for cyclists. "It meant the Mayor would have to open up bus lanes across London, followed by other regions closely watching the experiment. Now it has to be rewritten to appear the trial sites are no safer, so the Mayor can announce he will not proceed."

The study of the trial routes found accidents directly involving motorcycles fell by 45 per cent, compared with 19 per cent increase on a nearby 'control' route. Pedestrian casualties fell by 39 per cent against a three per cent rise on control routes. Collisions between cyclists and motorcyclists fell by 44 per cent. The draft report said: "These figures demonstrate that crashes involving powered two-wheelers and other vulnerable road-users become more infrequent even when considering the increased concentration of riders."

Cycling campaign group CTC said "noisy" motorcycles travelling at higher speeds would intimidate cyclists, threatening the increase in commuters turning to bicycles. But the draft report said: "The measure has no tangible adverse consequences to cyclists. In contrast to the level of concern... the number of casualties from collisions between cyclists and powered two-wheelers users is remarkably small."

A spokesman for the Mayor said: "There are serious issues of safety and efficiency involved in this issue so it required proper consideration based upon the collection and analysis of the relevant evidence. "Transport for London had concerns about the validity of some of the early results of the study. These concerns were shared by GLA officials. TfL therefore undertook further work. "All the results will be included in a final report, which will be submitted to TfL senior management and the Mayor. A decision will be made on the basis of full consideration of all of the evidence and this will be made public."


A rather stunning move from the British Left

Anything to minimize academic knowlewdge and critical thinking, I guess

McDonald’s and other big businesses will award their own qualifications equal to GCSEs, A levels and degrees, in subjects such as fast-food restaurant management, the Government will announce today. Network Rail, Flybe and McDonald’s will become the first companies to be given such powers by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). Gordon Brown will announce the move today as he seeks to regain the initiative over the issue of the unskilled unemployed from the Conservatives. “The biggest barrier to full employment now is not the shortage of jobs, but the shortage of skills among the unemployed and inactive,” he will say.

The QCA announcement gives the three companies official “awarding body” status, allowing them to confer nationally accredited certificates. The qualifications will not be finalised or fully endorsed until the autumn, but some trials are beginning this month. McDonald’s will train employees for a certificate in basic shift management, recognised by the QCA as equal to an A level. Trainees will learn about the day-to-day running of a restaurant, including finance, hygiene and human resources.

The budget airline Flybe will be able to award certificates up to the equivalent of degree level. Its airline trainer programme will confer qualifications from level 2 (GCSE at A*-C) to level 4 (degree) on its cabin and engineering staff.

Network Rail will introduce track engineering qualifications as high as PhD (level 8), covering technical issues and health and safety. It said its entire 33,000-strong workforce would take the course eventually, as well as contractors. Most trainees would receive certificates at level 2 and level 3. The company was criticised for its standards of track maintenance in a report into the Cumbrian train crash last February in which an elderly passenger was killed. It described the failures of Network Rail’s maintenance operation, with some track inspectors having lapsed accreditation, meaning that they were not certified to carry out such work.

Critics question the worth of “McGCSEs”, claiming that they could devalue academic qualifications and casting doubt on whether they would be recognised outside the companies concerned. Educational experts said that it would become increasingly common for private institutions to award qualifications, rather than it being the preserve of publicly funded colleges and universities. In September a private outfit, BPP College, became the first allowed to award law and business degrees. John Denham, the Universities Secretary, wants to introduce the scheme in companies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He said: “This is an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications, something that will benefit employees, employers and the country as a whole.”

The move was welcomed by business leaders. John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy director-general, said: “Today marks a significant milestone on the road to reforming qualifications so that they better reflect the skills employers and employees need.”

But Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, cast doubts on the validity of such qualifications outside the companies in question. He said: “Employees may find they are locked into that business because these awards don't have credibility outside the company, like GCSEs, A levels or NVQs do. The qualifications would be more valuable to holders if they were awarded by an independent body.”



It was appropriate that, just as our MPs were voting last week to hand over yet more of the power to run this country in the EU treaty, the EU itself should be unveiling easily the most ambitious example yet of how it uses the powers we have already given away. The proposals for "fighting climate change" announced on Wednesday by an array of EU commissioners make Stalin's Five-Year Plans look like a model of practical politics.

Few might guess, from the two-dimensional reporting of these plans in the media, just what a gamble with Europe's future we are undertaking - spending trillions of pounds for a highly dubious return, at a devastating cost to all our economies. The targets Britain will be legally committed to reach within 12 years fall under three main headings. Firstly, that 15 per cent of our energy should come from renewable sources such as wind (currently 1 per cent). Secondly, that 10 per cent of our transport fuel should be biofuels. Thirdly, that we accept a more draconian version of the "emissions trading scheme" that is already adding up to 12 per cent to our electricity bills.

The most prominent proposal is that which will require Britain to build up to 20,000 more wind turbines, including the 7,000 offshore giants announced by the Government before Christmas. To build two turbines a day, nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower, is inconceivable. What is also never explained is their astronomic cost. At 2 million pounds per megawatt of "capacity" (according to the Carbon Trust), the bill for the Government's 33 gigawatts (Gw) would be 66 billion (and even that, as was admitted in a recent parliamentary answer, doesn't include an extra 10 billion needed to connect the turbines to the grid). But the actual output of these turbines, because of the wind's unreliability, would be barely a third of their capacity. The resulting 11Gw could be produced by just seven new "carbon-free" nuclear power stations, at a quarter of the cost.

The EU's plans for "renewables" do not include nuclear energy. Worse, they take no account of the back-up needed for when the wind is not blowing - which would require Britain to have 33Gw of capacity constantly available from conventional power stations.

The same drawbacks apply to the huge increase in onshore turbines, covering thousands of square miles of countryside. They are only made viable by the vast hidden subsidies that wind energy receives, through our electricity bills. These make power from turbines (including the cost of back-up) between two and three times more expensive than that from conventional sources.

This is crazy enough, but the EU's policy on biofuels is even more so. The costs - up to 50 billion by 2020 - would, as the EU's own scientific experts have just advised, "outweigh the benefits". To grow the crops needed to meet the target would require all the farmland the EU currently uses to grow food, at a time when world food prices are soaring. Even Friends of the Earth have called on the EU to abandon its obsession with biofuels. Yet the Commission presses on regardless.

As for the "emissions trading scheme" (a system originating with the Kyoto Protocol, whereby businesses can buy or sell "carbon credits", supposedly to allow market forces to ensure that targets are met), the Commission last week predicted that by 2020 this could be raising 38 billion a year from electricity users. Of this, 6.5 billion a year would be paid by the UK, equating to 260 pounds for every household in the country.

The Commission itself predicts, in recently leaked documents, that this will have major consequences for the EU's economy, and that heavy industries, such as steel, aluminium, chemicals and cement, will have to raise their prices substantially, some by as much as 48 per cent. Yet when it was pointed out that this will put EU industries at a competitive disadvantage, the Commission's only response was to suggest tariffs on imports from countries such as China or America that are not signed up to Kyoto.

It looks like the most expensive economic suicide note in history. But just as alarming is how little this madness has been exposed to informed analysis. It seems, finally, that the price we pay for membership of the EU and the price of our obsession with global warming are about to become very painfully synonymous. And no one seems to have noticed.


New AIDS drug

A new class of drug for people with HIV is being introduced in Britain today, having been described by researchers as a huge step forward in treating the deadly infection. Raltegravir, available as tablets to be taken twice a day, is approved for use with other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV in about one in ten patients whose therapy has stopped working. Because of their potential to prolong life by decades, HIV drugs are considered cost-effective and raltegravir is likely to be available on the NHS for all infected patients.

Doctors believe that the drug could become standard treatment, potentially preventing HIV progressing into full-blown Aids. Three quarters of trial patients showed a significant reduction in viral load - the prevalance of the virus in their bloodstream - compared with 40 per cent taking current medication alone. Some patients had a marked improvement to the point where levels of the virus were "undetectable", doctors said.

An estimated 73,000 people in Britain are infected with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, which culminates in Aids (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Although HIV infection is still considered serious, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can allow for a relatively normal lifespan.

HIV continually changes and can become resistant to treatment, leading to a continuing search for new drugs. Raltegravir is the first in a new class of HIV treatments called integrase inhibitors, which it is hoped will avoid the risks of heart attack and cancer associated with existing medication. It works by blocking integrase, an enzyme that HIV relies on to replicate itself. It affects the ability of the virus to infect other cells, thus reducing the blood's viral load.

During the trials, patients were given raltegravir or the dummy drug plus optimised background therapy (OBT), a regime of antiretroviral drugs tailored to individual patients.

One study published in The Lancet in April last year was based on 178 patients with advanced HIV. They had been taking regular antiretroviral drugs for about ten years but were not responding to them. Patients taking raltegravir had an average of a 98 per cent drop in their HIV ribonucleic acid (RNA) count, compared with 45 per cent in the dummy group. The number of CD4 cells, an indicator of the immune system's ability to fight disease, was also boosted.

Made by the US-based company Merck, the drug is also known by the brand name Isentress. Mark Nelson, director of HIV services at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, said that it had already provided a life-line to 30 of his patients. "While this is not a `cure' for HIV it does mean we can suppress the virus to where it is virtually undetectable."

Dr Nelson added that the drug's long-term safety record would be very important, given that more adverse effects from existing treatments were emerging after many years of therapy.

"Raltegravir is going to be popular because it's very effective and it seems to have a good safety profile," he said. "Previous drugs have done a terrific job keeping people alive. But now we have to start thinking about safety."

Eight years and four different drug cocktails after Philippe B, 41, learnt that he had HIV, he almost gave up.

"Ten years ago nobody told you anything about the drugs or how to take them, so I stopped for a few months. I became resistant and had to change my combination. Every new combination meant new side effects - nausea, diarrhoea. Sometimes the fatigue was so bad, I couldn't get out of bed."

Philippe, who works for the Terence Higgins Trust, had a viral load of 500,000 (more than 100,000 is considered high) and was in hospital with toxoplasmosis, ulcers and paralysis. After three months, he started a new regime that was the first to work - his viral load is below 50.

Philippe says that he is lucky because he has yet to run out of drug options. "It's very important that there are new drugs. HIV is not a death sentence any more but there's still no cure. After you become resistant, you start running out of options."


Learn more skills or face losing benefit, British jobless will be told: "There should be no "free-riding" on the welfare state, the new Work and Pensions Secretary said yesterday as the Government outlined a "carrot and stick" approach to reform. James Purnell, the most Blairite minister in the Cabinet, set out, with Gordon Brown, proposals to require people to obtain the skills they need or face sanctions. Every unemployed person would have a "skills check" to help Britain to raise its skills game to world class, Mr Brown said. One in five under-21s would be steered towards an apprenticeship, and private and voluntary sectors would be used to create the training posts. People refusing to take the chances given to them would lose benefit, first for two weeks, then for four weeks, and then for up to 26 weeks."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

British police chief: `migrant tide adds to crime'

One of Britain's leading police chiefs has warned Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, that his force is struggling to cope with "migration surges" that are leading to increased crime. In a leaked private letter, Mike Fuller, the chief constable of Kent, tells Smith the government's failure to provide extra funds to match the influx of immigrants will have a "negative impact on performance".

Fuller, Britain's most senior black police officer, also warns the soaring cost of translation services is placing a strain on resources. He says he will need more than 500 extra constables if the population increase caused by immigration continues.

The warning will embarrass the government. Last night the Labour-dominated home affairs committee promised to investigate Fuller's complaints that government funding has failed to take into account "surges" in arrivals from overseas. In his letter to Smith dated October 22 last year, the police chief states: "I feel it is essential that I set out the impact that population growth is having in Kent and the pressure it is placing on finite resources."

Fuller estimates 78% of the population growth is accounted for by migration. This has contributed to a rise of more than a third in violent crimes over five years to about 7,800 incidents last year. He estimates the total additional cost to the force to be 34 million pounds over the past three years, but claims increases in funding from the Home Office have failed to keep pace.

Fuller, Britain's first black chief constable, is regarded as a high-flyer. He recently qualified as a barrister, training in his spare time, and has been tipped as a future Metropolitan police commissioner. In his letter he warns that government predictions about immigration and population growth have proved unreliable. He concludes: "There is a danger that if the future funding regime fails to respond to dynamic changes in migration the extra demand this generates will impact negatively on performance."

Fuller says translation services account for an increasing proportion of his budget, with costs having risen by a third over the past three years. According to Fuller, the total population of Kent is forecast to rise from 1.6m now to 1.9m in 2029. Most of this increase will be a result of immigration. He says that if these predictions are correct, he will need an extra 561 constables.

He also warns that Kent suffers special problems policing the ferry ports and Channel tunnel. "As the gateway to Europe, Kent has unique geographical status which places additional strain on limited resources." Fuller is not the first police chief to complain that government funding is failing to take account of rising immigration. Julie Spence, of Cambridgeshire police, warned last year that new arrivals, often from eastern Europe, had left her force struggling to deal with certain offences including knife crime and drink driving. She said immigrant communities had "different standards" from the UK.

When asked last month about Kent, ministers claimed no assessment had been made of the impact of immigration on costs. In a parliamentary answer, Tony NcNulty, the police minister, said: "Kent police do not separately identify costs incurred as a result of immigration."

Damian Green, Conservative immigration spokesman, said ministers had misled the public: "This is clear evidence that all over the country public services have found it impossible to cope with the unplanned and rapid rise in population over the past few years. "This is another largely rural police force which is having to spend money on translation services and cope with extra pressures caused by fast rates of immigration. Without properly controlled immigration this problem will only get worse."

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the home affairs committee, said: "Mike Fuller raises very important issues concerned with the changing needs of local areas as a result of migration. It is important that in looking at funding formulas the government understands that there are pressures that need to be addressed. We will be looking at this issues when we launch our forthcoming inquiry into policing." A Home Office spokesman said: "We will consider any evidence provided by the police."



One in six British households is living in fuel poverty, the highest for almost a decade, according to new figures that threaten the government's target to eradicate the problem in England by the end of the decade.

Fuel poverty is defined as when a household spends more than a tenth of its income on utility bills. The consumer group Energywatch said yesterday there are now about 4.4 million of these in the UK, with just over 3 million in England alone.

Charities and other groups, led by the Association for the Conservation of Energy, are preparing a legal challenge in the next few weeks to force the government to meet the 2010 target, to which it is committed by law.

The figures came at the end of a week in which the UK's largest energy supplier, British Gas, said it was increasing bills by 15 per cent. This month EDF Energy and Npower raised prices by up to 27 per cent, and two-thirds of British households will have to pay higher tariffs. Other suppliers are likely to follow suit soon.


SEVEN new British data blunders: "The Department of Health (DoH) has written to senior NHS managers to remind them to handle data safely, it said today, as it was reported there have been seven new breaches of security involving patient details. Today's edition of The Sun said that in one incident the confidential records of more than 1.7 million patients were lost, while in another a medic Googled a doctor's name and was linked to patients' details. In the first incident, records of patients from the North East Essex region were on a tape that was mislaid by a courier firm, while the second took place in the North West Strategic Health Authority, the newspaper said." [No wonder a national ID card has been put on hold!]

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cancer woman runs out of time in NHS battle

Yet another death from socialism -- and as deliberate and as heartless as anything Stalin did

A WOMAN suffering from breast cancer has run out of time to benefit from a potentially life-extending drug which the National Health Service (NHS) denied her, even though she was prepared to pay for it. Colette Mills has been told by doctors that in the four months since she asked for the drug the disease has taken such a hold in her body that the cancer will no longer respond to the treatment. She is the victim of a ruling which states that any patient who wants to pay for additional drugs not prescribed by the NHS should lose their entitlement to their basic NHS cancer care and pay for all their treatment. She was prepared to pay for the drug but not her whole treatment.

Mills, a 58-year-old former nurse, said: “I am just absolutely gutted. I just cannot believe people make these decisions about other people’s lives. “It wasn’t going to cost them. I was going to pay for it. How can they say this policy is far more important than somebody’s life? “The NHS has taken this opportunity away from me and, if they are doing it to me, they are doing it to a lot of other women as well.”

The government claims that to allow some patients to pay for additional drugs on top of their NHS treatment creates a two-tier system between those who can and cannot afford them.

Asked about her future prospects, Mills said: “They are not hopeful of halting it. They will give you no promises. I didn’t ask and he [the doctor] didn’t say. It is not something I want to know just yet.” Mills, a mother of two, launched a legal action to try to force the NHS to allow her to pay for the drug Avastin which she wanted to take alongside another medicine, Taxol, which is prescribed by the health service. But during her four-month battle with the NHS, the breast cancer has spread to other parts of her body and doctors have told Mills it is too late for her to benefit from the combination of Avastin and Taxol.

An American trial has shown that taking the drugs in combination doubles the chance of preventing the disease from spreading compared to taking Taxol on its own. Taking Avastin in addition to Taxol is also likely to keep the disease under control for almost twice as long. Leading oncologists say Avastin offers a small but significant advantage in treating breast cancer. Mills will now be prescribed an alternative medicine but does not know how successful this will be in stopping the cancer.

Several other cancer patients are also taking legal action to win the right to pay for medicines that are not available on the NHS. The patients’ lawyer, Melissa Worth, of the law firm Halliwells, said: “Colette has been told by her medical team that she may have missed her chance. If she had been given the opportunity to take the Avastin when she first contacted her medical team about it, then she would have had three months’ treatment by now. Months down the line, the policy will need to change but for those patients currently fighting their NHS trusts, it might be too late.”

Becoming an entirely private patient would have cost Mills, from near Stokesley, North Yorkshire, about 10,000 pounds a month instead of about 4,000 solely to pay for the Avastin and its administration. Although she could have tried to raise the funds such as finding a loan, she believes it is a fundamental principle that the NHS should continue to fund her basic care for which she has paid through her taxes.

The Department of Health, however, said top-up payments would “undermine” the “fundamental principle of the NHS, now supported by all the main political parties, that treatment should be free at the point of need”. Mills’s case has provoked a national debate about whether NHS patients should be allowed to pay for top-up treatments. NHS chief executives, the Patients Association, Doctors for Reform and Saga, the organisation for the over-fifties, have all backed Mills and other patients in her situation since The Sunday Times highlighted their plight last year. A group of Conservative MPs, including former shadow health minister John Baron, are campaigning for co-payments to be allowed.


Britain's voluntary apartheid

The Daily Telegraph recently published an article indicating Islamic extremists have created "no go" areas across Great Britain where it is too dangerous for non-Muslims to enter. The Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, bishop of Rochester and the Church of England"s only Asian bishop, said people of a different race or faith face physical attack if they live or work in communities dominated by a strict Muslim ideology.

Clearly at stake is the very future of Christianity as the nation"s public religion. With multiculturalism gaining ground as a philosophical position, Islam rides on its coattails. Since all faiths are to be treated equally according to this multicultural faith, it isn't possible to challenge publicly the call to prayer or the reliance on Shariah to adjudicate legal claims.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, who has said England is "sleepwalking into segregation," has been criticized for what some consider incendiary language. However, multiculturalism clearly has led to deep and irrepressible social divisions, what one politician called "voluntary apartheid."

It would appear the divisions can be attributed to the government's failure to integrate immigrants into the larger community. But it is also related to a diminished belief in the Church of England and Christianity in general. Most in Britain believe the church will be disestablished within a generation, severing a bond between church and state that dates to the Reformation.

Of course, there are those who contend the critique of multiculturalism is little more than a manifestation of intolerance. Yet it is the intolerance in the Muslim communities that produced this blow-back.

The Rev. Nicholas Reade, bishop of Blackburn, which has a large Muslim community, maintains it is increasingly difficult for Christians to observe their faith in communities where they are a minority. He too believes the government will be pressured into disestablishing the Church of England.

There is little doubt that Britain is undergoing dramatic change. In a mere few decades this nation with an acknowledged Christian foundation is now routinely described as a multifaith society. Clearly the large number of immigrants entering the British Isles account in large part for the shift in attitude. Yet that isn't the whole story.

The loss of confidence in the Christian vision, which underlies most of the achievements and principles of the culture, may account for a reluctance to defend the nation's heritage.

If minorities are permitted to live in their own insulated communities, communicating in their own languages and having minimal need to build relationships with the majority, the nation will sink into balkanization. Moreover, this separation feeds and endorses Islamic extremism by alienating youngsters from the nation and creating the impression ideological devotion is a mark of acceptability.

Some Muslims and Christians, of course, recognize the problem and are eager to do something about it. But can Shariah relate to British civil law? Can Shariah-compliant banking be accommodated in a free-market system? Can Christianity be maintained as the nation's public faith? Can universities transmit a sense of Britannia when multiculturalism is in the ascendancy?

These are merely several of the host of questions and issues that must be addressed by government and religious leaders. Unfortunately, there are many more questions than answers and much more confusion on the part of the British public than clarity about the road ahead.


Britain urged to love a man in uniform again

THE government is to sweep away curbs on servicemen and women wearing uniforms off duty in public as part of a drive to boost popular support for the armed services. A report commissioned by Gordon Brown to honour those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq will say all service personnel should be encouraged to wear their uniforms on leave. The curbs were introduced almost 30 years ago during the IRA's bombing campaign on mainland Britain when military personnel were warned not to wear uniforms off duty.

Defence chiefs believe the advantages gained from wearing uniforms and encouraging the public to fall back in love with the armed forces will outweigh any danger from home-grown terrorists. Brown's review will also call for more parades for soldiers returning from the front line and more open days at airfields and naval and army bases. It is seeking to emulate America with cheap flights for troops and free or discounted admission to theme parks and sports grounds such as Wembley, Twickenham and Lord's.

Brown ordered the study after concern that servicemen and women returning from war zones were being ignored or even insulted by some members of the public. According to Downing Street, he wants to "encourage greater understanding and appreciation of the armed services by the British public". It has been headed by Quentin Davies, the former Tory MP who defected to Labour. Last week he toured Canada and the United States to see how well regarded servicemen and women are there in comparison to Britain. "There have been some ghastly incidents, including the insulting of British soldiers in Birmingham, and a woman who insulted crippled soldiers in a swimming baths," said Davies. "People have said they do not get the welcome of their American allies when they go home."

Davies, whose father served in the RAF in the second world war, added: "There should be more exposure to the military. We are not going to recommend people are ordered to wear uniforms on leave. It is a question of encouragement by example." The review also wants Whitehall staff to wear uniforms on days other than Remembrance Sunday, as well as more school visits and involvement from the military. Of 6,400 secondary schools in the UK, fewer than 300 have combined cadet forces.

The review team has already written to British Airways and Virgin Atlantic asking for special deals for service personnel. BA said it had no plans to do so, while Virgin said it already ran a discount scheme for the military. In America Anheuser-Busch, the brewing firm, has given more than 4m free passes to theme parks such as Sea World and Busch Gardens to members of the coalition forces since 2005. British service personnel on visits to the US have benefited from discounts in hotels and restaurants by showing their military ID cards.


British road hump panic!

In the end, NOTHING suits the Greenies

They damage cars and give drivers a nasty jolt, but now speed bumps have been found guilty of an even worse crime - they are helping to destroy the planet. The traffic-calming measures double the carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption by forcing drivers to brake and accelerate repeatedly, according to a study commissioned by the AA. A car that achieves 58.15 miles per gallon travelling at a steady 30mph will deliver only 30.85mpg when going over humps.

The AA employed an independent engineer who used a fuel flow meter to test the consumption of a small and a medium-sized car at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. The results, calculated by averaging the performances of the two cars, also showed that reducing the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph resulted in 10 per cent higher emissions. This is because car engines are designed to be most efficient at speeds above 30mph. A motorist who observed the speed limit on one mile of 20mph road during a daily journey would produce an extra tonne of CO2 in a year compared with driving at 30mph on the same stretch.

In an unusual move for a motoring organisation, the AA called for the introduction of cameras that detect average speeds to replace humps. Edmund King, the AA's president, said: "Humps are a crude, uncomfortable and noisy way of slowing people down and this research has shown they are also environmentally damaging. We accept that traffic speed needs to be controlled in residential areas where there is a problem with accidents and children are playing. We think motorists are more likely to accept average speed cameras than humps."

But he added that drivers would not support a proposal in London by the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to make 20mph the default speed limit on all residential roads. "The AA accepts that targeted 20mph speed limits in residential areas are popular and improve safety. However, a 30mph limit on local distributor roads may be more environmentally friendly."

Previous research by the Transport Research Laboratory found that air pollution rose significantly on roads with humps. Carbon monoxide emissions increased by 82 per cent and nitrogen oxide by 37 per cent. The London Ambulance Service has claimed that the 30,000 humps on the capital's roads cause up to 500 deaths a year because its crews suffer delays in reaching victims of cardiac arrest.

Mr King said: "Humps tend to breed more humps. If one street has humps installed, the adjacent street calls for humps and eventually you find no clear roads for movement of emergency service vehicles."

Transport for London has been helping to test average-speed cameras on residential roads in Camden, North London. No tickets are being issued yet, but the mere presence of the cameras has resulted in the proportion of drivers complying with the limit increasing by a third. The new cameras are not linked but have synchronised clocks and each separately transmits information to a processing centre. This allows several cameras to work together without the need to dig up the road between them to lay cables. In urban areas this can halve the cost of installing the system. Putting in 50 standard humps on three or four connecting residential streets costs about 150,000 pounds. A set of eight average-speed cameras covering the same area would cost 250,000.

The Home Office has been monitoring trials of average-speed cameras for almost three years but has yet to approve them. The camera suppliers believe that the delay is due to a lack of staff to complete the approval process. Rob Gifford, director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: "If we remove road humps, the clear alternative method for enforcing lower speeds is through average speed cameras. These will smooth out traffic flow and be fairer to car drivers." Mr Gifford said that research had shown that 10 per cent of pedestrians would die when hit by a car at 20mph compared with 50 per cent at 30mph.


There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race and IQ. Some readers have reported that the site doesn't download unless one clicks STOP.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

British parents using desperate measures to get kids into a good school

Parents who pretend that they have Christian beliefs in order to win places in church schools are doing the best for their children, David Cameron believes. The Tory leader refuses to criticise the "middle-class parents with sharp elbows". Asked for his views on the families accused of playing the system, he says: "I think it's good for parents who want the best for their kids. I don't blame anyone who tries to get their children into a good school. Most people are doing so because it has an ethos and culture. I believe in active citizens." Mr Cameron will learn this year whether his own daughter has won a place at a state-funded Church of England school in Kensington, West London.

This month The Times reported a surge in late baptisms into the Catholic Church, further evidence that some parents may be finding religion at a convenient moment in their children's education. Fears that middle-class parents are adopting religion to get their children into popular schools have led some Labour MPs to call for an end to the expansion of faith schools.


The pill is good for you/bad for you, good for you/bad for you, good for you/bad for you...

There is such a regular oscillation in the findings about the effects of taking oral female hormones that I think it is clear that we are looking at a random walk here: There is no systematic effect -- just random fluctuations due to factors other than sample size

Women taking the contraceptive pill are protected against ovarian cancer for decades after they stop using the medication, a British study has found. Oxford University scientists found evidence that women taking the pill for 15 years halved their chances of developing the disease in a study published in The Lancet medical journal. They believe the pill has prevented some 200,000 cases of ovarian cancer and 100,000 deaths from this disease since its introduction nearly half a century ago.

Lead author Professor Valerie Beral, an Australian who is director of the Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, and her colleagues found the risk remained low more than 30 years later, although the benefits diminished over time. "It's been known for over 20 years that the pill protects against ovarian cancer but most of the effects of the pill are short - only really just while women are taking the pill," Professor Beral said. "But for cancer of the ovary that gets much more common in older women, the really important question was, how long does protection last. "What we've shown here is that it lasts for over 30 years. It's really very long-term protection."

The research reviewed data from 45 studies covering more than 100,000 women. The scientists gathered data from 23,257 women who had developed ovarian cancer and 87,303 who had not. Of the first group, 31 per cent had used the pill, while 37 per cent of the second group had taken the medication. Ovarian cancer can be particularly aggressive and the symptoms are such that it is often detected at an advanced stage. "Worldwide, the pill has already prevented 200,000 women from developing cancer of the ovary and has prevented 100,000 deaths from the disease," Professor Beral said. "More than 100 million women are now taking the pill, so the number of ovarian cancers prevented will rise over the next few decades to about 30,000 per year."

Other research has found a statistically significant increased risk of cancer of the breast, cervix or central nervous system among users of the pill. But, in an editorial, The Lancet called for the pill to be made available over the counter rather than restricted by a doctor's prescription, given that, in its view, the benefits for cancer prevention and reproductive health outweighed the risks. "We believe the case is now convincing," the British journal said.


UK: ID cards "in intensive care": "The identity card scheme was said to be in 'intensive care' as leaked Whitehall documents showed it faced a new delay of two years. The cards were set to be issued to Britons from 2010, when they apply to renew their passports, but private Home Office documents show the introduction is set to be put off until 2012. The likely postponement follows a series of fiascos over the security of personal data held by the Government. Gordon Brown is also widely believed not to share the enthusiasm of his predecessor for the scheme."

Red Ken's distaste for democracy has sent him beyond the pale: "Had I not known that it was Cuddly Ken on the radio yesterday, I would have thought I was listening to the dictator of a small Third World country. The Mayor of London brushed aside every charge against him, on the ground that he had been put in power to do as he liked. Had he used public money to campaign against his old enemy, Trevor Phillips, and stop him becoming head of the new Equality and Human Rights Commission? "Not against Trevor, but what he was saying against multiculturalism... which was very damaging." Had Ken Livingstone's officials campaigned for him at the last election while being paid by the taxpayer? "It would be 1984 if they couldn't have any political activity." Is this a personal fiefdom? "That's what Tony Blair...set out to create." This interview exploded the myth that Mr Livingstone is the people's rebel, the honest outsider. He is the consummate insider, and disarmingly frank about it."

Another "success" for British gun control: "Crime recorded by police in England and Wales is falling at an accelerating rate, according to official figures published yesterday. The continuing drop in recorded crime was marred by a 4 per cent increase in gun crime, although the number of deaths from such offences has fallen. The total has risen because of offences where no one was injured or where the firearm was used to threaten the victim. The latest crime figures will be a relief to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, after the controversy caused by her remarks that official advice to people would be that they should not walk through any unfamiliar place after midnight. Ms Smith added on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "That's a sensible answer isn't it?" Recorded crime fell to 1.24 million offences between July and September last year compared with the same period the previous year. There were sharp drops in criminal damage, offences against vehicles, robbery and offences against the person where no injury was caused."

Saturday, January 26, 2008


British police have offered to train university staff to spot extremists operating on campus despite complaints from Muslim students that they could be unfairly targeted, a government document said Tuesday. Lecturers have been urged to scrutinize both students and invited speakers for signs they could be involved in radicalizing young people, according to new government guidelines.

Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, published advice to universities Tuesday on tackling extremism, requesting institutions share information on suspected radical speakers. "There is a real and serious threat, and we must all take responsibility for protecting ourselves," Rammell said. Al-Qaida influenced terrorism was the government's primary concern, he said, warning schools of the threat posed by far-right groups, animal-rights activists, anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic speakers.

Rammell said he believed some controversial speakers should be allowed to appear at universities, to allow moderate academics to debunk their claims through debate. "We prize academic freedom and freedom of speech as ends in themselves and as the most effective way of challenging the views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law," he said. But staff should compile details of speakers they fear may be exhorting students to violence - even in meetings held off campus - and share their concerns with counterparts, Rammell recommended.

British government security officials said Tuesday that radicalization is now much less likely to take place in mosques or formal settings, but instead in homes, gyms or at meetings on the fringes of campus. Jonathan Evans, head of the domestic spy agency MI5, warned in November that there is evidence extremists are grooming children and teenagers for attacks against Britain.

But some students and staff argue that Rammell's guidelines could lead to the victimization of Muslim students. "There is no evidence to suggest that Muslim students at university are particularly vulnerable to radicalization," said Faisal Hanjra of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the United Kingdom and Ireland. "Nor is there any evidence to suggest that university campuses are hotbeds of extremist activity." Sally Hunt, general secretary of academic labor organization University and College Union, said university staff should not be expected to police their students. "No student should ever think they are being spied on and no staff member should ever be pressurized into treating any group of students differently from another," she said.


Guardians who need a good smack

Comment from Britain: The NSPCC is parodying itself by setting up a panel to looking into TV parenting shows

How could anybody criticise the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children? Well, they could point out that the NSPCC's media campaigns spread a poisonous message of mistrust by implying that all of our children are at risk from adults, most often those closest to them. I once suggested the charity be renamed the National Society for the Persecution of Child Carers, or the Promulgation of Calumnies about Childhood.

Now, however, the NSPCC appears to be parodying itself by setting up a new body of experts to protect children from abuse on television parenting shows. Not content with saving kids in the real world, they want to rescue those on reality TV. And having bullied and guilt-tripped parents to toe the line, they want to do the same to TV's own parenting experts.

The NSPCC took exception to two "irresponsible" programmes. Bringing up Baby on Channel 4, where mentors taught different systems of childcare, sparked allegations of abuse when one expert suggested that parents leave babies to cry. The Baby Borrowers, the BBC's "unique social experiment", has attracted opprobrium by leaving babies in the care of those whom the NSPCC calls "inexperienced teenagers".

Child protection crusaders have long expanded the definition of child abuse to include anything from smacking a child to shouting at it. Now it appears that even leaving a baby crying in a cot is to be redefined as child cruelty, especially on TV, as is leaving babies with non-related teens - or as we used to call them, baby-sitters. Somehow, generations of us survived such horrific experiences, even without an army of TV producers watching over us.

Of course, those reality shows and their multiple experts are also symptoms of our society's harmful obsession with parenting and child protection. They only add to the inflated debate about the "right" way to raise children, and risk leaving parents with a growing sense of confusion and insecurity. Time to grow up. There is no right way to bring up baby. And whatever hotch-potch method you use will have no long-term effect on your child. As one wise man said, if you can avoid locking them in a wardrobe or beating them over the head with a frying pan, they should be fine.

Old cynics like me might think the NSPCC's new focus rather appropriate, since the charity is something of a reality TV show itself. A huge slice of its 150 million pounds income goes on PR and self-publicity, to raise the cash to put out more propaganda so that it can raise more money to put out more propaganda. Perhaps its new body of experts could start by looking into exploitative broadcasts where child actors pretend to be victims of abuse to guilt-trip innocent people into giving money. Now that's what I call irresponsible TV.


Britain unveils sweeping new terrorism law proposals: "The British government has unveiled sweeping plans to toughen terrorism laws, including a proposal to hold suspects for up to 42 days without charge. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's plan would increase the limit for detaining suspects without charge from 28 days to 42 days, allow police to take DNA samples from terrorism suspects and urge judges to impose stiffer sentences on criminals whose offences are linked to terrorism. Proposals to increase the maximum time terrorism suspects can be held by police are opposed by human rights groups as well MPs within Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party, guaranteeing a vicious fight in Parliament. Smith said in an interview on BBC radio that the detention period has to be extended because the severity of the terrorist threat has often forced police to act before they had all the evidence needed for a conviction. "It's growing in scale. It's becoming more complicated in nature," she said. "People need to intervene earlier because of the way in which it aims to cause mass casualties with no warning."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Britain: Three Little Pigs 'too offensive'

A story based on the Three Little Pigs has been turned down from a government agency's annual awards because the subject matter could offend Muslims. The digital book, re-telling the classic fairy tale, was rejected by judges who warned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues". Becta, the government's educational technology agency, is a leading partner in the annual schools award. The judges also attacked Three Little Cowboy Builders for offending builders.

The book's creative director, Anne Curtis, said that the idea that including pigs in a story could be interpreted as racism was "like a slap in the face". The CD-Rom digital version of the traditional story of the three little pigs, called Three Little Cowboy Builders, is aimed at primary school children. But judges at this year's Bett Award said that they had "concerns about the Asian community and the use of pigs raises cultural issues". The Three Little Cowboy Builders has already been a prize winner at the recent Education Resource Award - but its Newcastle-based publishers, Shoo-fly were turned down by the Bett Award panel.

The feedback from the judges explaining why they had rejected the CD-Rom highlighted that they "could not recommend this product to the Muslim community". They also warned that the story might "alienate parts of the workforce (building trade)". The judges criticised the stereotyping in the story of the unfortunate pigs: "Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?"

Ms Curtis said that rather than preventing the spread of racism, such an attitude was likely to inflame ill-feeling. As another example, she says would that mean that secondary schools could not teach Animal Farm because it features pigs? Her company is committed to an ethical approach to business and its products promote a message of mutual respect, she says - and banning such traditional stories will "close minds rather than open them".

Becta, the government funded agency responsible for technology in schools and colleges, says that it is standing by the judges' verdict. "Becta with its partners is responsible for the judging criteria against which the 70 independent judges, mostly practising teachers, comment. All the partners stick by the judging criteria," said a Becta spokesman. The reason that this product was not shortlisted was because "it failed to reach the required standard across a number of criteria", said the spokesman. Becta runs the awards with the Besa trade association and show organisers, Emap Education.

Merlin John, author of an educational technology website which highlighted the story, warns that such rulings can undermine the credibility of the awards. "When benchmarks are undermined by pedestrian and pedantic tick lists, and by inflexible, unhelpful processes, it can tarnish the achievements of even the most worthy winners. "It's time for a rethink, and for Becta to listen to the criticisms that have been ignored for a number of years," said Mr John.


Women's libbers for law'n'order

Why are once radical feminists joining the chorus of disapproval about young women in mini-skirts going out, getting hammered and having sex?

`Horrifying!' roared the UK Daily Mail after an 18-year-old woman, Cheryl Tunney, admitted on the BBC3 programme Sex. with Mum and Dad that her `hobby' is having sex with men she meets on the internet (1). As a result, Cheryl apparently has 50 notches on her bedpost.

Despair and handwringing over what young women get up to was all over the place at the start of the New Year, too. Some British broadsheet newspapers printed a rogues' gallery of skimpily dressed young women out on the lash and the pull. Such is the steady glug, glug of anti-drink whingeing these days that even the age-old ritual of `seeing in the New Year' (preferably through beer goggles) is now taken as proof that the masses are festering in a sea of their own vomit. Clearly these complaining writers have been living in convents all their lives; haven't we always drunk to excess on New Year's Eve?

The big difference between the boozing of yesterday and today is that more young women go out socialising these days. It is called equality, grandad, and it seems many a newspaper columnist finds the notion of women `behaving badly' to be dangerously intoxicating stuff. Nevertheless, it's not just the colonel-minded blimps and cranks on the Daily Mail and Daily Express who don't like to see women drunk; a surprising number of `modern women' and ex-feminists are complaining about young women's `loose morals', too.

In a recent article, spiked contributor Emily Hill asked `whatever happened to solidarity?', and noted that some American feminists, such as Carol Liebau and Ariel Levy, now argue that women are in the grip of a `raunch culture' more obsessed with being sexy than clever and thus leading to a female generation that `compete to look like slags and sluts'. In Britain, the reaction is wearily similar. As Hill noted, `pioneering feminists like Rosie Boycott and Fay Weldon are pouncing on Liebau's book to trash the current generation as irresponsible slags and binge drinkers, only interested in a "grope" and "vomit"' (2).

Indeed, nothing seems to symbolise all that's wrong with Western societies these days more than what young women are supposedly getting up to. And when commentators who once championed women's equality are at the forefront of such shrill disapproval, there's clearly more going on here than an outburst of traditional misogyny.

Any salacious and prurient tittle-tattle on `binge-drinking Britain' will always be accompanied by pictures of young women in a state of disrepair. Photos of Amy Winehouse with her tats out, cigs in hand and seriously half-cut in Camden have become the signifier for a female generation gone to seed (3). The unsubtle implication is that it's one thing to expect rowdy lads to get hammered and lairy on a weekend; it's another thing entirely when young women do the same. Indeed, young women's `loose' behaviour is increasingly used as an example of how morally malign and tawdry Britain has become. Sunday Times columnist India Knight recently bemoaned the young women who went to Manchester United's Christmas party in the hope of pulling a footballer or five. `What is wrong with these women?', she wailed (4).

For all the advancements that women have made in society, it's surprising that a `drown-the-witch' mentality still exists regarding women's sexual behaviour. A few years back, Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon chose to express his sneering disapproval of reality TV show I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, on which he was a contestant, by venting his rage against the presence of `slapper' glamour model Jordan. Elsewhere, the website Chavscum is more likely to lay into `sluttish' young women than `thuggish' young men from council estates. The imagined sexual behaviour of working-class women seems to outrage the website's contributors more than, say, the supposed criminality of tattooed blokes in tracksuits.

So, it's perhaps not a great surprise that, in 2005, wannabe jihadists believed female revellers would be publicly acceptable murder targets because `nobody would believe these slags are innocent' (5); and last year, there was an alleged attempt to blow up a popular London nightclub on ladies' night. Rather alarmingly, Channel 4 appears to be in nodding agreement with such stupid and Jurassic ideas. Last month, the deeply risible show Make Me a Muslim drafted in a stern imam to try to mend the deviant and debauched ways of the secular volunteers. Top of the list was a homosexual man and, of course, a `sluttish' glamour model. Haven't these women got any - yawn - shame?

The idea that British women only act like Jodie Marsh in a pole-dancing club is barely a fiftieth of the real story. If girls are outstripping anything, it's the academic achievement of boys at schools and colleges. More women are in work with better-paid career prospects than ever before. As a consequence, they have far more choices over how they live, who they marry, if they want a divorce and, yes, how many men they have sex with. Women's equality has become so pervasive that it's barely even worth commenting on - except when clod-hopping old feminists believe that alcopop swiggin', boob-tubed young women have `gone too far'. It begs the question, though, how come women's equality is now a cause for concern rather than a cause for celebration?

Leaving aside residual misogynistic sentiments, it's clear that drunken women out on the pull have become oddly `symbolic' of moral decline. Such reactions are rooted in the fear and loathing that Western societies now have towards personal freedom in general. Until recently, women's primary role as domestic skivvies meant they were less free than men. Given Western society's uneasiness with individual freedom, women's greater freedom is seen as problematic, too - even by avowed feminists. Hence, this freedom has been reduced in the eyes of many commentators to the drunken antics of a pop star or the desire to shag a footballer.

In this context, sneering at fun-seeking women has become code for saying that society is out-of-control and the instillation of order and constraint is required forthwith. In The Fear of Freedom, social psychologist Erick Fromm argued that when modern societies go through periods of social insecurity, `a fear of freedom' accelerates amongst individuals, leading to a `fleeing from freedom' and a quest to find `security in an all-powerful leader' (clearly he wasn't thinking of Gordon Brown) (6). Demands for order and security, and the eagerness of governments and state authorities to provide these things, have certainly shaped political life in Britain for over a decade.

Recently, though, such security-seeking yearnings have gone a bit further. Sections of the liberal media even fantasise how an Islamic state might provide that `security in submission' that Fromm identified (appropriate as the literal translation of Islam is `submission'). When a demand to control personal behaviour becomes the defining cultural script, it's no surprise that women's greater individual freedom is denounced rather than celebrated. The fact that many feminists have been at the forefront of such moralising should be no surprise, either. After all, back in the early Eighties, it was feminists who first put the politics of individual behaviour on the political map. Prioritising the issues of domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment, as well as demands for `sexist' language to be curbed, feminists promoted the idea that individual men's behaviour was problematic and thus needed to be corrected by the state - an invitation that both Conservative and New Labour governments accepted.

Now, many of the radical feminists from the Eighties have simply reacted to changes in British society in exactly the same way as other members of the middle classes. By the early Nineties, the collapse of the postwar consensus, and the consequent weakening of the legitimacy of Britain's central institutions, contributed to a climate of uncertainty and insecurity in society. As social democratic welfarism appeared ineffectual in tackling social problems and disorder, the professional middle classes - including many feminists - felt particularly vulnerable because their professions seemed devalued. This sense of impotence, combined with a clear lack of consensus in society, led many middle-class radicals to become the most vociferous advocates of establishing order and stability.

The feminist Beatrix Campbell, for instance, argued in her 1993 book Goliath that the nuclear family - long identified by feminists as a bulwark of patriarchal oppression - should be promoted in order to restrain the atavistic behaviour of working-class men on council estates. More recently, the UK communities secretary Hazel Blears has looked to Muslim women and their `unique moral authority at the heart of the family' to turn Muslim men away from Islamic extremism (7). Once the quest for security became the defining motif of the middle classes, previous progressive touchstones such as equality, freedom and liberty were quickly jettisoned. Whereas apologists for capitalism once looked to working-class women in the family to lead men away from trade union action, now former radicals and Blairites look to women to make men `behave' more responsibly.

This is why the idea of young women getting drunk and getting laid has become so troubling for political commentators. First, such debauchery confirms their worst prejudices, namely that `too much freedom' leads inexorably to public order problems. Second, if the traditional pacifiers of `brute' men are also throwing up in city centres and f*cking for England, what hope do we have for regaining order and control throughout society?

When women's independence and greater equality is disgracefully condemned or becomes code for moral decline, it reveals, not how awful young women are becoming, but just how deeply entrenched the `fear of freedom' and `the flight from freedom' has become. Now that's what I call `horrifying'.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Turning teachers into spies and snitches

UK schools minister Jim Knight wants teachers to monitor their pupils' every antic and the behaviour of their parents. We should give his proposals a big red cross.

By 2010, all secondary schools in England will enable parents to obtain daily class reports on their child's every move at school. Each pupil's attendance, behaviour and academic performance will be put online by 2012, allowing parents to check their progress daily. Apparently, the idea could end parents' evenings, with teachers instead providing daily updates on `real-time' reporting systems. The schools minister, Jim Knight, insists that the daily reports `should not add to staff workloads' (1). One thing is for sure - pupils, teachers and especially parents are all set to lose out by such creeping surveillance.

Although a necessary and useful feature of the school diary, annual school reports on all the pupils you teach are inevitably time-consuming. So how daily school reports on a child's `achievement, progress, attendance, behaviour and special needs' would not add to a teacher's workload is never properly explained. More worryingly, daily reports could also be used as a further disciplinary threat against teachers in the same way that a failure to keep existing school records already is. The existence of such a scheme will also contribute to classroom disruption, as pupils will be more preoccupied by the content of a daily report than the content of a textbook.

A daily report will also erode further any space that a pupil needs away from the prying eyes of mum and dad. It is only in exceptional circumstances that parents need to be informed by the school about poor behaviour or lack-of-progress issues. A recording of every slightly cheeky comment, minor disruption or wind-up with other pupils will be counterproductive because it will inevitably undermine the development of a good working relationship with teachers. It will also undermine a teacher's authority even further in the classroom, as they will be perceived as babysitters merely keeping an eye on kids for their parents, rather than getting on with the job of teaching knowledge and understanding. And far from creating a climate that develops mature behaviour in children, it is likely to have the opposite effect.

It is a fact of life that adolescents can be obnoxious and mean to teachers and each other. Teenagers only grow out of playground spite when they begin to have an awareness of how their actions impinge on others. That awareness can only develop via the push-and-pull of the classroom and the schoolyard. It cannot be magically switched on via a stern email home. Indeed, school pupils develop a `conscience' when they're aware they have transgressed the `acceptable' boundaries that have developed between teachers and among their peers. If every minor action automatically results in a parental ticking off, pupils will never develop the skill to judge how they behave in situations outside the home. The result is to infantalise teenagers even further and, even more alarmingly, the measures will put parents on almost the same level, too.

Tucked away in the blather about `improving parents' access to detailed information about their children', Jim Knight let slip that `schools could also monitor how often parents checked their child's progress'. The idea of schools monitoring parents monitoring teachers' reports monitoring their children's behaviour seems like something dreamt up by the Stasi in Stalinist East Germany. The obvious and creepily threatening implication here is that parents must be snooped on by schools in order to check that they're acting as `responsible' parents. As it happens, the vast majority of parents have an in-built radar regarding whether their children are progressing well or not at school and care deeply about their welfare. When they are concerned, they will simply phone up or visit the school to enquire accordingly. How dare the government imply otherwise and that it is somehow up to local education authorities to coerce parents into showing `concern' about their child's education?

Already a number of measures are in place that reveal deep contempt for parents. Increasingly, parents have to sign homework sheets to show that they've checked their children's work. And in September 2007, Ed Balls gave headteachers the power to obtain parenting orders forcing them to keep their expelled children indoors and off the streets. A failure to do so could lead to prosecution, a œ1,000 fine and a criminal record (2). Although the online reports are only in their initial stages, it is inevitable that they will come equipped with some draconian log-in code in the future. Is it too fanciful to suggest that a child could be suspended or expelled if parents `fail' to check out the daily `progress' reports? Or that fixed penalty notices could be served up by local judges if parents don't comply with the measures?

As an indicator of where the wind is blowing on social control, it was very significant this week that while the police's pay rise was shunned, secondary school teachers received theirs - with a bit more than expected on top. Clearly, if teachers are expected to be both social workers to children and state snoopers on parents, the government has to make sure it's in their best interests to do so.

Leaving aside the huge waste of teachers' time and efforts involved in this ridiculous and pernicious measure, it will also socialise future generations to see routine surveillance as normal, while tightly binding parents to the state in ways that might prove impossible to log-off from.


Bias against whites in British arts funding

By Jeremy Clarkson

Here in Chipping Norton, there is a picture-perfect little theatre. It's exactly the same as a London theatre, with a balcony and a bar, only it's much, much smaller. You really do feel, as you perch on your primary-school chair, gazing on the Punch and Judy stage, that you are locked in a Cotswold-stone dolls' house. It's an enchanting place and everyone round these parts is very proud of it. So consequently everyone is very cross that the Arts Council recently announced it would no longer be supplying 40,000 pounds a year to help fund it.

And Chipping Norton is not alone. Even though the Arts Council has just received a 50m income boost from the government, it has sent letters to 194 mostly provincial playhouses, galleries and so on, saying they no longer fit with its "agenda". "Hmmm," I wondered, "and what might this agenda be?" So I checked, and it seems that to get funding these days what you've got to be is black or mad or preferably both.

For instance, the Arts Council has recognised that there are very few people from ethnic minorities in senior positions in the arts, but instead of thinking: "Aha. This shows that very few black or Asian people are interested, so let's concentrate on the white middle classes", it has now become involved with several schemes to get inner-city kids out of their big training shoes and into an Othello suit.

There's more. The Arts Council has never offered to translate my books into Urdu. Or Jilly Cooper's. But it "remains committed" to spending a fortune supporting ethnic-minority writers. Indeed, it claims to have six priorities in place at the moment. And of course "celebrating diversity" is one of them. Not at all surprisingly, "celebrating Mrs Thatcher" isn't one of the others.

The council spends nearly half a billion pounds a year and, so far as I can tell, in 2007 most of that was given to Benjamin Zephaniah and others in exchange for some ditties about how awful the slave trade was and how everyone in Britain ought to commit suicide.

But wait. What's this? It seems there was some money left over to send a bunch of kids from Calderdale to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is a field full of what look like big bronze sheep droppings. It's not my cup of tea but no matter - the droppings were sculpted by Henry Moore, so that sounds fine. Sadly no. Because afterwards the kids were taught about rap music and how to graffiti a wall. That has absolutely nothing to do with the arts at all. It'd be like teaching kung fu at a flower-arranging class.

Here on the Chipping Norton arts scene things are rather different. Plans for 2008 include a play about space travel, devised by Niki McCretton, who I'm afraid is white. Then there's a tribute to Abba, who were a very popular Swedish pop group featuring no disabled Bangladeshis, and a talk by Arabella Weir, who is the daughter of a notable diplomat.

There are films too. But none, so far as I can see, is Brick Lane or that tosh from Al Gore. And then of course there's the Christmas pantomime. Much loved by Douglas Hurd, who never misses it, and 7,000 children, all called Henry and Araminta, it's a professional show featuring traditional storylines at this Christian time of year. You can see immediately why none of this fits in with the Arts Council's "agenda". And I'm afraid the concert planned for next Saturday doesn't work either. Yes, the pianist, Helene Tysman, is foreign, which is good, but I'm afraid she's only French. And that's hopeless because they had an empire too, the bastards.

What the management should be doing to maintain its grip on the Arts Council's funding is hosting a celebration of haiku poetry, in silence, by the Al Gore polar-bear workers' collective. Of course nobody would come, but hey - serving the needs of the area? Since when did that ever matter?

It does, and that's why I'd like to conclude with some words of encouragement for the management of Chipping Norton theatre and the other organisations around the country that don't fit in with the Arts Council's taste. It is extremely likely that you will be better off without the council's 40 grand a year. Because tied up in this rather small chalice is a ton of poisonous red tape demarcating what you can do, what you can say and how many ramps have to be fitted at each urinal. You can wave goodbye to all that BBC-regional-news-tick-the-ethnic-boxes nonsense when you replace the lunatics at the Arts Council with a set of different benefactors.

I know this because just last week I spent some time with some chap from a notable charity. Each year, it needs 4million pounds to stay afloat, and none comes from the government. "Trust me," he said. "We don't want even 4p of their money. It's always more trouble than it's worth."

Or you can look at the Millennium Dome. When it was run by the government the dome was full of faith zones and Cherie Blair, celebrating diversity. And it was a disaster. Now it's in private hands it's full of Led Zeppelin and recently became recognised as the most popular concert venue in the world.