Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brits host outspoken video about Islam

Dutch MP Geert Wilders has released his frank film about the Koran -- on a British website. Sad that it took a British site to stand up for freedom of speech after an American site backed out. No-one expected a European site to host it, of course. Excerpts from one report below:

"Mr Wilders, 44, who has built his political career campaigning against the alleged "Islamisation" of the West, argued that the film was a legitimate exercise in freedom of expression; however, many mainstream politicians and Muslims said that it was gratuitously insulting. Speaking just before the release of Fitna, an Arabic word meaning strife, Mr Wilders said that he understood that Muslims could be upset about the film but added: "It remains widely within the framework of the law . . . My film was not made to provoke violence."

Viewers had only a few minutes to see it on the Freedom Party website before it disappeared because of "technical difficulties". It then became available in Dutch and English on LiveLeak, a British-based video-sharing website, sparking fears that extremists could also target British interests.

The company that runs the website defended its decision to host the film last night, saying that there was no legal reason to censor it. " has a strict stance on remaining unbiased and allowing freedom of speech so far as the law and our rules allow," it said. "There was no legal reason to refuse Geert Wilders the right to post his film and it is not our place to censor people based on an emotive response." The website said that it did not endorse Mr Wilders or his views.

Even before seeing the film, demonstrators took to the streets in several countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia, to vent their fury at the Netherlands, and the governments of Pakistan and Iran have criticised the project. Mr Wilders seemed to have rushed putting the film out after an American server withdrew and a Muslim organisation said that it would seek a court injunction today.

The film opened with a Koran being opened and the text of a sura (a verse from the Koran) which it translated from Arabic as imploring the faithful to "terrorise the enemies of Allah". It was followed by images of aircraft flying into the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, with extracts from phone calls to the emergency services on that day. Further images of bloodstained bodies in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, in which 191 people were killed, followed.

It showed statistics of the growing Muslim population and images of female genital mutilation, a hanging of suspected gay men, beheadings and bloodied children, all following the words: "The Netherlands in future?"

More here

See the video here. No doubt various deep-thinking Muslims will use violence to protest a film which claims that they are violent.

Britain's socialists make "1984" look libertartian

A new national [British] curriculum for all under-fives risks producing a "tick-box" culture in nursery schools that relies too heavily on formal learning and not enough on play, teachers' leaders will claim today.

The new Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS), which becomes law in the autumn, lays down up to 500 developmental milestones between birth and primary school and requires under-fives to be assessed on writing, problem solving and numeracy skills. It will apply to about 25,000 nurseries, plus registered childminders in England.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it was not yet clear how the early years curriculum would be evaluated by the schools inspectorate Ofsted. He said, however, that there was a danger that teachers could allow compliance with the new framework to become more important than creativity. "The curriculum itself is not the danger," he said. "The danger is that external examiners will develop a tick-box attitude to every aspect of the curriculum to see if staff have done it." He added that the worst thing for the early years curriculum would be for it to be a "compliance curriculum".


Arbitrary NHS rules stop help for tragically infertile woman

A woman who went through the menopause in her teens has been refused fertility treatment on the NHS.

Catherine Storey was left infertile at 18 when she had a premature menopause. She is now 20 but has been refused IVF on the NHS because her boyfriend Martin Sear already has children - even though they live 300 miles away.

The couple took out a bank loan and travelled to a clinic in Barcelona. But after spending 13,000 pounds on two rounds of IVF, Miss Storey, an administrative assistant with a fire alarms company from Cramlington, Northumberland, is still not pregnant and has run out of money.

She said: "If I had fallen in love with a different man or lived in a different part of the country I could have been able to have IVF for free."

A Newcastle Primary Care Trust spokesman said: "The local NHS policy says to have access to IVF treatment, couples must have no other living children in this or any previous relationship for either partner, have had a minimum of three years unexplained infertility and no history of failed sterilisation reversal in either male or female partner."


Official: Immigration into Britain "too fast"

A government minister today said that the effects of immigration were moving too quickly for some areas of the UK and local services were being put under pressure. Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said that although there were some parts of the country, notably the north-east of England, and Scotland, that wanted immigration to boost their populations, generally its impact needed more control. "There have been communities in different parts of the country where the pace of change has been too fast and transitional pressure has been put on public services," he said on The World at One. "We do need a new balance in migration policy," he added.

The effects of globalisation are now being felt outside the country's main cities. Cumbria police recently revealed that its budget for interpreters had risen 386% since 2003 and schools across the country are having to provide for pupils speaking a variety of languages other than English.

A recent study compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicted that a record number of highly skilled migrant workers, such as teachers, will enter Britain over the next four years, contributing an estimated 77bn pounds to the economy. The CEBR report forecast that there would be 812,000 such migrants in the UK by 2012, a 14% increase on the 715,000 recorded last year.

Migrants added 6bn pounds to the British economy in 2006 and their impact was a net benefit to the country as a whole, said Byrne. But the minister said that the UK had no need for low-skilled workers coming from outside of the EU. A points-based system for migrants wishing to come to the UK was introduced at the beginning of this month. But the government has not said when the system for low-skilled workers will come into effect, meaning that in practice low-skilled workers from outside the EU will not be allowed entry for the foreseeable future.

The new regime involves tougher penalties for employers who employ illegal immigrants. But it also simplifies the system used to determine whether foreigners are allowed into the country to work. This, along with the economic downturn, will deter some migrants from moving to the UK, the minister said.


Your government will take care of it: Not in bumbling Britain

At first glance, the Financial Services Authority's review of its own role in the Northern Rock saga reads like a brilliant self-parody. One wonders for a moment whether the author, in a mad moment of Swiftian mischief, has deliberately set out to portray her colleagues as a bunch of Pooterish pen-pushing, paperclip-counters.

There is the slavish and pedantic attention to the trivial detail. "We reviewed 129 files [lever arch or equivalent] ..." the report proudly assures us early on. There's the blizzard of confusing acronyms - MRGD, ARROW, RMPs, C&C, IRMs and HoDs. There's the reluctance to call a spade a spade. "The supervision of Northern Rock was at the extreme end of the spectrum of the supervisory practices we observed." There's the absurd faith in frequency of meetings as the FSA's measure of effective supervision. The more the better, obviously.

There's the obsession with inanimate systems and processes rather than people. Reading the executive summary (we don't get to see the full report for another month), one gets no impression at all that the FSA is staffed by 2,000 educated and thinking human beings - people, we might hope, attuned to the currents in financial markets, understanding of the temptations that might persuade bankers to make reckless decisions and capable of bringing common sense, brainpower and personal judgment to the regulatory process. And there's the bureaucrats' refusal to accept that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the organisation or its philosophy. Or at least nothing wrong that hiring a few more administrators can't solve.

The report is not a whitewash, however. Indeed, by its own lights, the FSA is brutally self-critical. It blasts itself for its lapses of officialdom - the failure to keep good records, the paucity of meetings, the glitches in line management procedures. As such, the FSA risks being accused of abject hypocrisy. These are just the failings it cannot tolerate in the firms in regulates. Poor record-keeping is high up in the FSA's hierarchy of deadly sins.

But the wider message from the report is that the FSA does not try to run a zero-failure City and that the Rock implosion and run would probably have occurred even if the FSA had been operating as it would have liked. Perhaps FSA officials could have impressed their concerns more forcibly on Rock directors, perhaps the bank would have been advised to diversify its funding a bit more, but nobody at Canary Wharf seems to be terribly convinced this would have made a difference.

FSA officials have admitted privately that they would have been unlikely to exert their powers to force Rock to change its ways in those benign, pre-2007 credit market conditions. In short, but for the shortcomings in depositor protection, Rock was, in the eyes of the FSA, just one of those unfortunate things - an inevitable rare failure, but a price worth paying for a system in which competition and innovation are allowed to flourish for the benefit of customers.

It will be a few decades before we know if this is a fair assessment. Any more bank collapses and the FSA's private view that this was a once-in-two-centuries probability event will sound very hollow. Anyway, it is much too early to argue that the price is worth paying when we don't yet know what that price (for taxpayers) will be.



A two-day bilateral summit is to culminate today (27 March) with the signing of a new accord that will see France help the UK develop a new generation of nuclear power stations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown are to seal the agreement on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium in North London, the home of Arsenal football club.

Speaking on Tuesday on the eve of Sarkozy's arrival, UK Business Minister John Hutton said he wanted Britain to become "the number one place in the world for companies to do business in new nuclear". "I believe that the revival of nuclear power in Britain today [.] has the potential to be the most significant opportunity for our energy economy since the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas," said Hutton, according to Reuters.

EDF, the state-controlled French power utility, said it wanted to build four new plants to help replace Britain's ageing stock of 23 nuclear power stations, which currently provide about 20% of the UK's electricity. The new reactor would be the state-of-the-art EPR model developed by French group Areva, which is also partially state-owned. The deal would allow Britain to regain the expertise in nuclear power engineering that it lost following a planned phase-out of atomic power. The last of Britain's existing nuclear plants is scheduled for closure by 2035, leaving the country with a potential energy gap.

In Brussels, the European Commission has recently backed the technology, saying it will be needed if Europe is to meet its ambitious climate change goals and reduce CO2 emissions by a quarter by 2020. "Energy consumption worldwide is likely to double between 2000 and 2050, and nuclear energy will remain a key element in future low-carbon energy systems," the Commission said in September last year, presenting its new Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP)

Speaking in October 2007, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU must hold a "full and frank" debate on the nuclear issue. "Member states cannot avoid the question of nuclear energy," he said. Environmental groups have applauded the Commission's move to open the nuclear debate but argue that the technology is dangerous and not required to reduce CO2 emissions.


Ho hum! London's new airport chaotic: "Thousands of families heading on holiday this weekend face chaos after Heathrow's new 4.3 billion pounds terminal was reduced to a shambles on its opening day by the complete failure of its baggage system. British Airways will begin today to wrestle with a huge backlog of passengers, many of them left stranded at Terminal 5 overnight, after the airline cancelled at least 34 flights. BA, the sole occupant of the new terminal, suspended baggage check-in shortly before 5pm and dozens of flights departed half-empty last night carrying only those passengers who had only hand luggage. Passengers on in-bound flights had to wait up to four hours for bags to be unloaded. The problems, which BA blamed on staff not being familiar with new systems, forced many outgoing travellers to abandon their plans and head home. The disastrous opening was a severe embarrassment for BA and BAA, the Spanish-owned company that operates Heathrow. Both had spent five years claiming that the new terminal would transform passengers' experience of Heathrow and work efficiently from Day 1." [The expected British bungling]

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