Sunday, July 06, 2008

British schoolboys punished with detention for refusing to kneel in class and pray to Allah

Two schoolboys were given detention after refusing to kneel down and 'pray to Allah' during a religious education lesson. Parents were outraged that the two boys from year seven (11 to 12-year-olds) were punished for not wanting to take part in the practical demonstration of how Allah is worshipped. They said forcing their children to take part in the exercise at Alsager High School, near Stoke-on-Trent - which included wearing Muslim headgear - was a breach of their human rights.

One parent, Sharon Luinen, said: "This isn't right, it's taking things too far. "I understand that they have to learn about other religions. I can live with that but it is taking it a step too far to be punished because they wouldn't join in Muslim prayer. "Making them pray to Allah, who isn't who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that they were told they were being disrespectful. "I don't want this to look as if I have a problem with the school because I am generally very happy with it."

Another parent Karen Williams said: "I am absolutely furious my daughter was made to take part in it and I don't find it acceptable. "I haven't got a problem with them teaching my child other religions and a small amount of information doesn't do any harm. "But not only did they have to pray, the teacher had gone into the class and made them watch a short film and then said 'we are now going out to pray to Allah'. "Then two boys got detention and all the other children missed their refreshment break because of the teacher. "Not only was it forced upon them, my daughter was told off for not doing it right. "They'd never done it before and they were supposed to do it in another language."

"My child has been forced to pray to Allah in a school lesson." The grandfather of one of the pupils in the class said: "It's absolutely disgusting, there's no other way of putting it. "My daughter and a lot of other mothers are furious about their children being made to kneel on the floor and pray to Islam. If they didn't do it they were given detention. "I am not racist, I've been friendly with an Indian for 30 years. I've also been to a Muslim wedding where it was explained to me that alcohol would not be served and I respected that. "But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion there would be war."

Parents said that their children were made to bend down on their knees on prayer mats which the RE teacher had got out of her cupboard and they were also told to wear Islamic headgear during the lesson on Tuesday afternoon. Deputy headmaster Keith Plant said: "It's difficult to know at the moment whether this was part of the curriculum or not. I am not an RE teacher, I am an English teacher. "At the moment it is our enterprise week and many of our members of staff are away. "The particular member of staff you need to speak to isn't around. I think that it is a shame that so many parents have got in touch with the Press before coming to me. "I have spoken to the teacher and she has articulately given me her version of events, but that is all I can give you at the moment."

A statement from Cheshire County Council on behalf of the school read: "The headteacher David Black contacted this authority immediately complaints were received. "Enquiries are being made into the circumstances as a matter of urgency and all parents will be informed accordingly. "Educating children in the beliefs of different faith is part of the diversity curriculum on the basis that knowledge is essential to understanding. "We accept that such teaching is to be conducted with some sense of sensitivity."


British experts want sex education from age four to cut teen pregnancies

This is ridiculous. Let kids be kids

Two leading sexual health charities are calling for children as young as four to be given compulsory sex education. Brook and the Family Planning Association argue that teaching children about sex from a young age would help cut abortion rates and sexually transmitted infections when adolescents. The charities said children should be taught the names of body parts and about sex and relationships.

The Brook chief executive, Simon Blake, said: "If we get high-quality sex and relationships education in every primary and secondary school across the UK all the evidence shows teenage pregnancy rates will continue to fall and will improve young people's sexual health. "While sex and relationships education continues to be patchy, another generation of children and young people do not get the education they need to form healthy relationships and protect their sexual health." He wants every primary and secondary school to be legally required to provide sex and relationships education and secondary schools to ensure young people have access to free confidential contraceptive and sexual health services.

He told the BBC: "Many young people are having sex because they want to find out what it is, because they were drunk or because their mates were." He added: "All the evidence shows that if you start sex and relationships education early - before children start puberty, before they feel sexual attraction - they start having sex later. They are much more likely to use contraception and practise safe sex." The Department for Children, Schools and Families issued new draft guidance on wellbeing for schools yesterday.

The Sex Education Forum, the national authority on sex and relationships teaching, called for personal, social, health and economic education, which includes sex and relationships, to be made statutory. Julie Bentley, the Family Planning Association chief executive, said: "This is not about teaching four-year-olds how to have sex ... it's like maths - at primary school children learn the basics so that they can understand more and more complex concepts at a later stage." She added: "Parents are concerned that if they are told about sex they will go straight out and have it but the research shows the complete opposite. They have sex later and when they do, they have safer sex."

At present all children have to learn about the biology of reproduction but parents can opt to remove children from personal, social, health and economic education lessons, where they learn about the emotional and relationships side of sex


Being white sure is bad in Britain

"Racist" for white man to accuse other whites of being white?

We read:
"A white man has been prosecuted for racially abusing three white security guards. Jonathan Wicks was taken to court for calling the men 'honky wannabe cops'.

He was on a night out with friends in Reading last September when the incident happened. He said: 'I was outside the Oracle Shopping Centre and as a joke started pushing and rattling one of the bicycles that was locked up outside, as I'd had a few drinks. 'The security guards told me to move on and that's when I made the comment - I didn't think about it, I just said it as a joke....

He said last night: 'I admit I was being a bit cheeky, but I never meant to be offensive or racist at all. 'Honky is a word that a lot of my black friends use to describe a white person, so I suppose that's why I was charged with racial abuse. But it's ridiculous that I was taken to court over it.


Some plastic bag realities

By Justin King, chief executive of British supermarket, Sainsbury's

Data suggests that following the introduction of a bag levy in Ireland, polythene imports returned to original levels after an initial dip. This was partly due to an increase in the sale of polythene bin liners as people had previously used plastic bags. People are also said to have become used to the tax and now ask for plastic bags again.

Like many environmental issues, plastic, and its use in bags, is a complex problem. Customers are concerned about three key aspects: that a valued raw resource is being used (in this case oil); the environmental impact (or carbon effect) of the manufacture, transport and use of bags; and the impact of their disposal, whether in landfill or as litter.

The effect plastic has on the environment is a wider issue than the number of bags we use. For a start, not all bags are equal. Sainsbury's is still the only major retailer to have reduced the amount of plastic used to manufacture bags. Today we've also announced that our bags, currently made with 33pc recycled content and 10pc chalk, will by June use 50pc recycled content. In this way we have reduced the amount of plastic used. Last month Wrap acknowledged our 40pc reduction in our environmental impact to date versus an industry average of 14pc, and also ahead of the agreed 25pc target by the end of 2008.

If plastic is the demon then the bag is just one of many uses. For many customers, packaging is a bigger issue. Why would we wrap a cucumber in plastic or put apples in a bag? Well, because they last nearly two weeks longer. In April, Wrap research showed storing fruit and vegetables in their original plastic wrapping in the fridge makes them last significantly longer. It also retains the nutritional goodness of the food. So what's the bigger evil - food waste or packaging?

The environmental impact of the manufacture, distribution and use of plastic bags also busts another myth - that paper is the answer. An irony in Ireland following the levy was that many retailers introduced paper bags. Although they can degrade or rot in a compost heap, they are on average six times heavier than plastic bags and take up 10 times the space. They therefore need more fuel and vehicle space to transport than a plastic bag. A University of Winnipeg study concluded that in their manufacture "paper bags are twice as energy intensive as a plastic one". They're also weaker, especially when wet, so cannot be reused as often, so it's likely we could end up using even more.

What of plastic disposal? There are limited facilities in the UK for plastic recycling, no meaningful incentives for these to be established and no consistency between councils. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that if you live within reach of a Sainsbury's supermarket we'll get them recycled for you. Last year customers brought back 85m bags to be recycled. Surely action on recycling would be a better area for legislation? If all councils had a uniform approach to recycling how much easier life would be.

As I said, it's complex. Sainsbury's focuses on "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". Only take a disposable bag if you really need it, and fill it - it's been designed for the purpose. Reuse bags whenever you can. And when they've served you well - give them back. So I'm not saying plastic and bags are not an issue, but let's engage people in sensible debate to effect real and sustainable change. Surely that's the overall goal.



If truth is the first casualty of war, then environmental concern is the first casualty of economic recession. Surveys of Canadian voters showed the environment to be their first or second concern in 1989-90. At that time, though, the economy was booming, pumping out tens of thousands of new jobs a month. A year-and-a-half later, with the economy locked in the worst recession in 60 years, government finances were imploding, jobs disappearing and foreclosure wolves circling, the environment vanished from the top 10.

There will always be a small, hard-core voter base motivated by eco-issues. They're not worried about losing their jobs in an environmentalist-driven recession. They know that if they get laid off from the alternative music store, they can always go clerk at the Gaia Vegan Market or Wiccans 'R' Us. But for most people, the environment is a luxury good -- easily expendable when their livelihoods and homes are threatened.

As with most other bad, but fashionable left-wing political ideas, Europe glommed onto carbon taxes before North America. But now that the worldwide credit crunch and commodity-price boom have hit the European economy, voter hostility to carbon taxes is growing-- rapidly.

Any Canadian political leader thinking an environmental tax on gasoline, home heating, air travel, electricity and construction materials would be a good idea, while Canada's manufacturing and tourism sectors are bleeding profusely, might want to take a lesson from Gordon Brown.

Mr. Brown succeeded Tony Blair as British prime minister last year. At the time, he and his Labour party were reasonably popular, well ahead of the opposition Tories in all major opinion polls.

Surfing the crest of "green" sentiment, Mr. Brown's government introduced a raft of environmental taxes and charges to show how eco-friendly and Earth-empathetic it was.

The average British motorist now pays nearly $2,000 in fuel taxes a year, the most in Europe. Tolls on roads and surcharges on vehicle purchases have risen, too, to discourage use of private automobiles and herd commuters onto public transportation.

Industrial energy costs have gone up as much as 20% (not counting recent rises in oil and natural gas), thanks to a new national carbon-trading scheme and green levies on factories and transportation. In all, British businesses now pay an estimated $45-billion annually in green fees and taxes. Nearly half of that sum has been added since 2001, a period during which, not coincidentally, the country has witnessed the loss of 1 million manufacturing jobs.

The Brown government even flirted with a campaign called "Zero Carbon Britain." Designed to reduce Britain's carbon emissions to zero by 2027, the plan would have meant an end to most air travel and the elimination of gasoline and diesel cars. Meat would been forbidden from most meals and an "armada" of wind turbines would have blighted nearly every square kilometre of British coastline.

Carbon "credit cards" would have been issued to every Briton. Each time the bearer purchased carbon-based fuels, he would have had to swipe his carbon card. If he ran out of credits before the end of the year, he would have had to buy more from people not using all of theirs.

Not surprisingly, after Mr. Brown's Labour party lost two safe seats (think of Canada's Liberals in Montreal's Outremont riding) in byelections last month -- the first byelection

wins for the rival Tories in 26 years -- the zero-carbon plan was shelved within two days. The government's own report estimating that the conversion of Britain to renewable energy would cost every family an additional $7,000 a year was a major issue during the campaign.

The situation is the same in other European countries:

-Denmark introduced a carbon tax in the mid-1990s and cut carbon emissions by 10%, but at the cost of one-quarter of that country's manufacturing jobs.

-France, also facing a sharp decline in jobs, is considering whether to jettison its commitment to the Kyoto accords or impose carbon tariffs on goods coming in from countries with no Kyoto carbon limits, such as China and India.

-Germany's Angela Merkel, who bills herself as the "Climate Chancellor," has recently been keeping a low profile, as last year's popular "green" initiatives have tightened the screw of this year's recession.

European politics are in turmoil because the environment is a good-times-only issue for voters, and good times are disappearing. Talk of a Canadian carbon tax should be tempered accordingly.


Bad British teeth

The new NHS constitution outlined this week in the Darzi report promises an NHS accessible to all, free at the point of use, and provided on the basis of need, not ability to pay. No aspect of the service falls short of this ideal by a bigger margin than dentistry. The Health Select Committee, with a majority of Labour members, did not set out to spoil the NHS's 60th birthday. But its report certainly puts those promises into perspective.

For decades, most adults of working age have paid a substantial part of their dental costs - just the same kind of co-payment which, we are told, would undermine the whole ethos of the NHS if it were to be allowed in paying for cancer drugs. Yet in spite of this, NHS dentistry has a terrible reputation. Americans are said to recognise British people at 100 yards by the poor quality of their teeth. The old "fee per item of service" contract rewarded NHS dentists for the amount of drilling and filling they did.

The new contract was supposed to put all this right. But its implementation was left to a succession of junior ministers who never carried enough clout to make it work. The British Dental Association pulled out of the negotiations, but the Department of Health did not take the hint. It remained convinced it was right and brought in the new contract regardless. This simplified the scale of charges, but in such a crude way that it further distorted dental practice. No pilots were carried out to see if it worked. It would be all right on the night, critics were told. It was not.

The department and the Chief Dental Officer remain convinced that these are, well, teething pains. Meanwhile, private dentistry has overtaken NHS dentistry in the number of patients treated, and millions who cannot afford to go private let their teeth deteriorate. Can NHS dentistry be rescued? It seems unlikely. But the attempt made by this Government has made a bad situation worse, at greater cost. Next time it should try listening to the dentists.


Britain: Would you trust these people to manage an ID card?: "The Home Office said that errors at the Criminal Records Bureau were "regrettable" after it emerged that hundreds of innocent people had been wrongly branded as criminals. Almost 700 applicants for jobs in teaching, nursing, childminding and volunteer work were falsely accused of wrongdoing by the government agency set up to protect children. In recent years the number of checks undertaken annually has nearly doubled, from 1.5 million five years ago to almost 3 million last year. It was disclosed last night that incorrect information was issued for 680 people in the year to February 2008. David Ruffley, a Shadow Home Office Minister, said that the mistakes were evidence of an "emerging crisis" in the handling of public information."

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