Tuesday, July 15, 2008

British toddlers to be taught about human rights

Toddlers are to be taught about human rights and respecting different cultures in a scheme condemned as an "absurd" waste of time. Nurseries across the country are adopting the project, which will see teachers explaining to children as young as three that people across the world live different lives but everyone has a right to food, water and shelter. Staff will also be expected to ensure that children are treated as independent human beings, and have the "right" to choose their toys or have a drink of water whenever they want.

It is an extension of a Unicef scheme already in use in primary schools, in which pupils analyse the responsibilities of fairytale characters and sign a joint declaration with teachers of how people should be treated.

The move comes amid growing concern about the Government's "nappy curriculum", a set of 69 learning targets for under-fives which experts say will leave young children confused and demotivated. Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book Toxic Childhood, said: "Toddlers are still working at a very emotional level. They should be told stories and allowed to sing and play. That's what will turn them into normal people."

Dr Richard House, of the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education at Roehampton University, added: "The idea that this kind of learning is appropriate for nursery-age children is absurd, and betrays a complete lack of understanding of child development. "Modern culture seems determined to treat children like 'mini-adults' in all kinds of ways, and with major negative effects in terms of their premature growing-up."

The Unicef scheme is designed to promote the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children everywhere have the right to survival, freedom to develop, protection from abuse and the opportunity to participate in society. Primary and secondary schools can already win a Rights Respecting Schools award from Unicef by putting up posters by the main entrance, signed by everyone from dinner ladies to the headteacher, which states their commitment to upholding the rights charter. Each classroom is also meant to contain a set of pupils' rights and responsibilities, while wall displays are expected to continue the theme. Pupils in one school made a poster showing the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk asking: "What about my rights?". It lists his "right to have a castle" and "right to be bad".

The Unicef scheme is now being adopted by private and state-run nursery schools in six areas from Durham to Dorset and from Rochdale to Wandsworth. Its organisers insist it will be tailored for younger children and that the abstract concepts of human rights will make sense to them. Pam Hand, an early years advisory teacher from Hampshire who is a key figure in the scheme, said: "The work is about rights and knowledge of the UN Convention, and is shared with children at an appropriate level for them. "It is helping children be aware that they have a lot of things in common with children everywhere, such as the right to clean water and being cared for. It's about awareness that we have different experiences but being tolerant.

"There are very simple things they can understand, like the right to be looked after and have food. "It also looks at how much the children are given a voice. In practice it would be looking at can the children choose what toys are out to play with, and where it's possible do they have a choice of whether they are outside or inside."


New British Knife Rules Include Customer Screening

Post below recycled from Interested Participant . See the original for links

(London, England) Expected today, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will announce new knife control rules in an attempt to reduce the crisis in knife crime throughout the United Kingdom.
Ms Smith has written to police chief constables to highlight their powers under the Violent Crime Reduction Act to crack down on licensed premises that could be at the centre of unruly and criminal behaviour. The police are to force pubs and clubs associated with knives or guns to search people on entry, under threat of losing their licences.

So, before a person can enjoy a pint and a game of darts, he/she will have to be searched. Business-owners are being forced to frisk their customers for fear of losing their licenses to operate.

Home Secretary Smith expressed shock at the tragedy of knife crime and has vowed to "increase the visibility of sentencing" for knife crimes. However, she rejects the idea of sending knife criminals to jail, saying it's too simple a solution.

I'm perplexed. No, better yet, WTF! It sounds like Jacqui Smith wants to make it more well-known that knife criminals don't go to jail. Does that make a lick of sense to anybody?

Frankly, I believe there are people in Britain who would like to outlaw knives completely, as was done with guns. Unfortunately, there is one seemingly insurmountable hurdle to the banishment of all knives. It's called "the kitchen."

British GPs’ skin cancer operations could prove fatal

Government promoting GP surgery but growths not being removed properly, say specialists

Patients with skin cancers are receiving poor treatment from family doctors, a series of studies has shown. Up to half of cancers were removed incompletely when the operation was done by GPs. This means that the cancer is likely to recur and require a second operation. In the case of the deadliest cancer, melanoma, failure to remove it all could mean that the cancer will spread and make it much harder to treat. In the worst case, a patient will die who could have been saved if the initial operation had been performed competently.

The audits are important because the Government’s policy is to encourage more GPs to undertake minor surgery, such as removing skin cancers. The belief is that this will be cheaper than referring patients to consultants, more convenient to patients and no less safe. “The issue is one of patient safety,” said Dr David Shuttleworth, clinical vice-president of the British Association of Dermatologists. “This is not a trade war. We have no problem with GPs treating skin cancers, so long as they produce results as good as hospital consultants. But these studies show that a significant number are not very competent. GPs say they are fine. But they don’t all collect their evidence, they don’t measure results and they don’t count the times they go wrong. The surveys show they are not good at diagnosis, and that they operate on things they don’t understand.”

At a meeting of the Association of Dermatologists in Liverpool, nine studies were presented that showed failings in operations carried out by GPs. These included the worst results for removal of basal cell carcinomas (BCC): in a countywide study in Cornwall, 54 per cent were removed incompletely, compared with 11 per cent in hospitals. The quality of skin surgery is measured from samples removed and sent to hospitals, These are sliced up and tissue at the edges of the sample examined for cancer cells. If the cancer has been excised correctly, the cells at the edge of the specimen should be healthy. If they are cancerous, not enough has been removed.

Dr Helena Malhomme dela Roche, who carried out the study, said: “The incomplete excision rates for patients with high-risk BCC managed by GPs is unacceptably high at 54 per cent.” Dr Elisabeth Fraser-Andrews, one of the authors of a study of BCC surgery in Essex, said: “The proportion of BCCs excised in primary care is low, showing that patients receive sub-optimal treatment in primary care compared with secondary care. “These findings support recommendations in the guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Department of Health and indicate that it is imperative for GPs who wish to carry out surgical treatment of skin cancer in primary care to be adequately trained, audited regularly and accountable to a clinical govenance structure.”

The NICE guidance was published in 2006, and will come into force fully next March. Among other things, it calls for all those carrying out minor surgery to be fully accredited. The GP committee of the British Medical Association has objected to the guidance. Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the committee, said: “Other surveys do not show the same results as these, but I’m not going to defend GPs who do it badly.

“The problem with the new guidelines is that they are so tightly drawn that GPs won’t be able to do any surgery at all. GPs weren’t involved in drawing up the guidelines, and they are unworkable. The only people who could qualify are specialists. ”


Eight new nuclear power stations planned for England

Ministers are to build eight new nuclear power stations across England, the Daily Telegraph can disclose. The new nuclear plants will mainly be based alongside existing facilities and are expected to be constructed over the next decade. New planning laws will be used to fast-track approval for the nuclear plants which Gordon Brown believes are crucial in reducing Britain's dependency on fossil fuels.

However, the plans are likely to anger people living close to the new sites whose properties will now be close to nuclear plants for much of the century. Many environmentalists are also opposed to the plans. Earlier this year, the Government announced that it was committed to building a new generation of nuclear power stations to replace the existing facilities.

However, the scale of the proposed building programme has never previously been disclosed and the Government has promised to formally consult on plans before announcing the building programme. Jean McSorley, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "If there is a list that has already been signed off on for sites for new-build nuclear power stations then it makes a complete mockery of the Government's consultation on siting. It calls into question the legality of the whole process. "No doubt the various parties interested in new build and owning British Energy will be very worried about such a pre-determined list."

The locations of the new nuclear reactors are expected to include Sizewell, Hartlepool, Heysham and Dungeness. There are currently eight nuclear sites across England which may house all the proposed new reactors.

The Scottish Executive has blocked any of the new nuclear stations being built north of the border.

Mr Brown is a strong backer of nuclear energy and said earlier this year: "When North Sea oil runs down, both oil and gas, people will want to know whether we have made sure that we've got the balance right between external dependence on energy and our ability to generate our own energy within our country."

At last week's G8 summit in Japan, the Prime Minister spoke of the need for up to 1,000 new nuclear power stations around the world to supply energy during the next century. He said there should be nuclear plants on every continent. Energy prices have soared over the past few months in line with rising oil prices. Last Friday, the oil price hit a new high of more than $147 a barrel amid growing concerns over the actions of the Iranians.

The Government also signed a multi-billion pound deal with firms dealing with nuclear waste at Sellafield last week. Mr Brown hopes that oil-rich states such as Saudi Arabia may invest in new nuclear power stations in this country. The Government has already said that the private sector and energy companies must be responsible for funding the new nuclear plants. However, a number of Government subsidies to help deal with the costs of waste may be available.

Britain has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than fifty percent by 2050 and the ambitious nuclear building plan is seen as critical to meeting the target.

Environmental groups took the Government to court last year accusing it of failing to carry out a proper consultation on nuclear plans before they were announced. The Government lost the case and pledged to carry out proper consultations on each plant before the plans are unveiled. The disclosure that ministers have decided on the eight new plants before the consultations is likely to anger environmentalists.


Poor people can't worry about global warming

Well, who would have thought it? Almost anybody actually, who had asked the question: "Who is most likely to own an older, cheaper car?" How could anyone - let alone the elected members of a governing party whose raison d'etre has been to represent the interests of the poor - not have deduced that raising the Vehicle Excise Duty on cars that had been purchased years ago would be likely to fall most heavily on those who were not rich enough to replace their cars every year?

Headline number two: the use of crops to produce biofuels is a direct cause of world food shortages and so is responsible for starvation in the developing world and escalating food prices in developed countries, thus helping to further pauperise the poor of every nation.

Who would have guessed? Well, almost anyone with even a basic understanding of how markets work - which supposedly includes every active member of the Conservative Party, and most of those who count themselves as New Labour, too.

If you introduce incentives for switching what were once staple food crops to the production of fuel - guess what? - the amount of acreage dedicated to growing food is reduced. And, all together now, what happens when you reduce the world supply of a commodity? You've got it. You've mastered the first chapter of Economics for Dummies.

Neither of these outcomes can even count as an unintended consequence of policy: so blindingly, luminously clear was their inevitability that we have to look for some explanation that goes beyond incompetence or shortsightedness among our own (and much of the Western world's) decision-making class.

What we are up against is not just grab-a-headline, ill-thought out, desperate policy-making on the hoof - although there is plenty of that. It is something larger: a crisis of political coherence is what I would call it, being of a philosophical bent. You may think that too high-flown and abstract, so let me put it in concrete terms.

There are two prevailing fashions dominating the political scene, whose aims and effects are in direct contradiction with one another. But that does not prevent virtually all of the political parties in the Western democracies from attempting to embrace both at the same time.

They are global warming and the mission to eradicate poverty. What scarcely any leader seems prepared to admit (although they are all coming bang up against the reality of it) is that the objectives and tactics involved in forwarding the cause of preventing global warming are inimical to the cause of fighting poverty on a national and an international level.

Have a look at life in a place like Glasgow East (as many goggle-eyed media types are doing for the first time) and ask yourself: "What are the people here likely to say to you if you tell them that the most important issue for life in Britain is how to get more people to recycle their rubbish?"

There is not just a question of how actual environmental legislation is likely to affect the daily lives of poorer people (making their cars, fuel, home heating and food cost more) but of the apparent disregard for what they would regard as national priorities: when you are jobless and the rising cost of transport makes it inconceivable for you to travel to look for work; when the cost of decent food is climbing out of your reach, and your household energy bills are unaffordable, you are unlikely to see the contentious arguments for long-term climate change as the most urgent item on the political agenda.

Global warming is a worry that can be indulged by the richer sections of the populations of the richer countries.

Never mind Glasgow East, there is a damned good reason why the governments of India and China, whose populations are only just discovering the joys of economic growth and the mass prosperity that it brings, should be unhelpful when their rich, self-regarding counterparts try to drag them into agreements which would trap them in the endemic poverty they have endured for generations.

A freeze on further use of the cheaper routes to wealth production (which involve the more carbon-emitting fuels) and those wasteful paths to modern development which the West was happy to tread before it scared itself silly over a slight rise in global temperature, would mean reversing the startling progress that is pulling the peoples of India and China out of material deprivation - and the despair that accompanies it.

Not to mention the peoples of Africa who have scarcely begun their journey and whose frequent descent into mass starvation is rightly seen - by the same politicians who were, until about 20 minutes ago, demanding that world food crops be turned into fuel - as the great conscientious crusade of the generation.

To bring it back to Glasgow East, and even to all those bits of suburban Britain where life is nothing like so grim, let's talk about the mundane, household level of conflict between the objectives of politicians who want to attack global warming and, at the same time, be the champions of poor families.

Who is likely to be hardest hit by higher charges for throwing away large amounts of rubbish or using more water? The young (high-earning) professional who eats in restaurants and sends his laundry out? Or the poorer family with children, who rarely go out, bathe their children every night and use their washing machine every day?

Green taxes almost always take the form of extra charges which take no account of income - whether it is vehicle excise duty or water metering - and that means that they affect the poor much more than the rich. Special compensation schemes in which the very poor get some relief simply create another poverty trap in which any improvement in earnings means a loss of benefit: the last thing we need in a country already overly dependent on benefits.

We are about to reach the end of this political game: "incoherence" may be a fancy word bandied about by political policy obsessives like me, but voters know a contradiction when they see one - especially when they end up paying for it. You can be the party of the environment or you can be the party of the poor, but you can't be both - at least not at the same time.


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