Thursday, August 14, 2008

Motoring writer Jeremy Clarkson on British envy

Recently, I wrote in another part of the paper about the difficulties of trying to work while staying for the summer at your bolthole in the country. There are too many distractions, the view is too consuming, the children too needy and the constant longing for a beer too overwhelming.

Well, soon all the problems will be erased because a government think tank has looked carefully at the question of second homes and has announced that the rich bastards who have them should be forced to rent them out to underachieving, fat people. Hmmm. I wonder. Did it deliver its findings to Gordon Brown at No 10, or to his second home in Buckinghamshire? And how does it think such a scheme could possibly work?

Many people, for instance, claim they live in Monaco for tax reasons. Whereas in fact, all they do is buy a small flat and employ an estate agent to pop in every morning to make a few phone calls. The bills are then used as proof that they were there. Second-home owners would adopt similar tactics here. Or they'd say their country cottage is their primary residence and that their apartment in London is a pied-a-terre. Then, the local council would have to prove otherwise by going through everyone's knicker drawer and employing men with binoculars and coffee breath to follow us about. I fear the government think tank hasn't considered any of this because it was so consumed with bitterness, hatred and envy for people with money. It is not alone.

Just the other day, I read a report that said musicals in London's West End are bucking the trend with higher than ever audiences. This, you might think if you were a normal, well balanced soul, is a good thing. But sadly the red top reporter was not. He was just bothered that bigger audiences meant Andrew Lloyd Webber would have even more money. And that made him incandescent with fury. Why? It's not like Andrew Lloyd Webber spends his evenings being carried around council estates in Slough in a sedan chair, waving his jewels out of the window. He just gets on with his life in a way that has no effect whatsoever on the way you live yours or I live mine.

It's like being kept awake at night with a burning sense of envy about Cliff Richard's youthful good looks. What should we do? Take a Black & Decker sander to his cheekbones? Why? Because disfiguring Cliff's face won't make any difference to your own. I don't yearn for many aspects of the American way but they do seem to have this dreadful bitterness under control. When they see a man pass by in a limousine, they say: "One day, I'll have one of those." When we see a man pass by in a limo, we say: "One day, I'll have him out of that."

All this past week, I've been driving around in a Rolls-Royce coupe and it's been a genuinely alarming insight into the bitterness of Britain's obese and stupid underclass. Because when you drive this enormous monster past a bus queue, you realise that hate is not an emotion. It's something you can touch, and see and smell. Just yesterday, a man in a beaten-up van deliberately straddled two lanes to make sure I could not get past. It would have made no difference at all to his life if I'd done so, but there was no way in hell he was going to let a Roller by. I find that shoulder-saggingly depressing.

More here

New British secrecy laws are a huge temptation to corruption

We read:
"Inquests that are deemed a risk to national security by the Government would be held in secret in future under proposed powers to come before the House of Lords this autumn.

The provisions, under a clause in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, allow the Home Secretary to stop a jury being summoned, replace the coroner with a government appointee and bar the public from inquests if it is deemed to be in the public interest.

It could be applied to inquests similar to those into the deaths of the weapons inspector David Kelly, "friendly-fire" military casualties or Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed. In future, inquests similar to that into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, which is due to start next month with 44 police officers giving evidence anonymously, could also be subject to the secrecy clause.

Lawyers, opposition MPs and pressure groups have told The Times that the move represents a fundamental breach of the right to a public inquiry into a death - a centuries-old mainstay of British justice...

It would enable specially vetted coroners to sit in private without a jury when there is evidence involving national intelligence to be heard, or any matter that the Home Secretary deems not in the public interest. ...

The Coroners' Society condemned the measure as an absolute disgrace, saying that the system could be abused to draw a veil over politically inconvenient cases.


Exams for British High School diplomas 'now two grades easier than 20 years ago'

A-level exams are now two grades easier than they were 20 years ago, academics claimed last night. Sixth-formers of the same ability awarded C grades in the late 1980s can now expect to gain As, they said.

Researchers found that average results improved by more than two grades in most subjects, even though students were no brighter. In mathematics, scores jumped by three-and-a-half grades. Academics said the trend was likely to be influenced by a number of factors, including a fall in the rigour of exams combined with an increased focus on test preparation in schools and colleges, reigniting the debate over A-level standards.

The findings - in a study by Durham University - come as almost 250,000 students prepare to receive results of A-levels on Thursday. Experts are already predicting a rise in the number of passes and A grades. Last year, 25.3 per cent of papers were awarded the top mark - more than double the number in 1990.

Ministers have long claimed that the rise is down to improved teaching. But the latest study - published yesterday(MON) as part of a wide-ranging review of A-levels by the Institute of Directors - said it was "hard to see how the claim could be convincingly substantiated". The claims fail to explain why results improve quicker some years than others, or why improvements at A-level have been much quicker than GCSEs.

"A-level and GCSE grades achieved in 2007 certainly do correspond to a lower level of general academic ability than the same grades would have done in previous years," said the report. "Whether or not they are better taught makes no difference to this interpretation; the same grade corresponds to a lower level of general ability."

Robert Coe and Peter Tymms, from Durham's Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre, analysed standards achieved in A-levels between 1988 and 2007. They then compared them with the outcome of aptitude tests over the last two decades, which measure pupils' skills in a range of subjects without testing curriculum knowledge. They found that students with similar results in the independently-administered exam went on to score much better A-levels in 2007 than in 1988.

In the study group, the average student was awarded an E in biology in 1988, but similar sixth-formers gained a comfortable C last summer. In French, students of the same ability saw results rise from a low D grade to a B. In maths, marks were inflated by 3.5 grades. Average students in the 1988 sample gained a U (ungraded) but saw results rise to a low B by 2007. Academics said rises in GCSE results were more modest, increasing by less than a grade in science, English, history, French and maths between 1996 and last summer. "The quality of work presented for examination may well be equal to or better than that of candidates in previous years," said the study. "However, given identical conditions, today's candidates might nevertheless be unable to match the performance of their predecessors."

The IoD report also warned that university admissions tutors have seen no rise in the quality of new undergraduates, despite steadily improving A-level results in the past decade. Seven in 10 tutors believe standards either stayed the same or deteriorated in recent years.

The conclusions come as Ofqual, England's new exams regulator, said it would launch a major review of standards in the Autumn. The study will cover setting, marking and long term standards in A-levels, GCSEs, Sats and other school examinations.

Nick Gibb, Tory shadow schools minister, said A-levels lacked "rigour and relevance". "The Government has been undermining A-levels for the last few years," he said. "We are determined to restore public confidence in the A-level as the gold standard of British education."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said syllabuses and examinations were "appropriate and reliable". "We've commented on Durham University's research time and time again," she said. "Their work is quite different to GCSE or A-level as it uses aptitude tests which are not directly comparable to performance at GCSE and A level."


Racist for the Irish to abuse the British

We read:
"An English pipe fitter who was racially abused and taunted in his Irish workplace has been awarded $30,000 in compensation by an equality tribunal in Dublin. The unnamed man, who worked for an engineering company on a building site in Dublin, claimed that colleagues called him names and frequently ganged up on him to sing Irish rebel songs.


Irish hatred for the British goes back a long way so I doubt that there would be much popular support for the verdict

New pill to offer respite from the common cold

A PILL to cure the common cold has been developed by scientists. The holy grail of cold research, it could be used to clear up sniffles in healthy people and prevent life-threatening infections in asthma and cystic fibrosis sufferers. Trials on hundreds of British volunteers started yesterday. If successful, the cold-busting pill could be on the market in five years. Effective against the bugs that cause half of colds in adults and almost all colds in children, it could net its Australian creators billions of dollars a year.

The drug, which is known as BTA798, latches on to cold-causing human rhinoviruses (HRV), preventing them breaking into the body's cells and causing infection. In a double-pronged attack, it also stops any infection that has taken hold from spreading. In lab tests, the drug killed large quantities of cold virus within a couple of hours. The first limited human trials finished last year and showed BTA798, which is being developed by the Victoria-based Biota Holdings, to be safe.

Peter Cook, the company's chief executive officer, hailed the results as a significant milestone in the development of what could be a world-first anti-viral treatment for HRV in high-risk patients. Larger-scale trials are now under way to determine whether it can actually prevent people from catching a cold. Two hundred healthy people will be given the drug or a dummy pill before being exposed to human rhinovirus. Three different doses of the drug will be used, in order to determine which, if any, can keep the infection at bay.


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