Thursday, October 30, 2008

British "health & safety" Nazis obliterate an ancient right for no good reason

They want to assert their ownership of what is not theirs. Power is what bureaucrats want and ownership gives power

If you go down to the woods today, forget about disguise - you'd better wear a hard hat and a hi-viz jacket. Dingly Dell has fallen to the elf 'n' safety nazis. For the past 12 years, retired builder Mike Kamp has been collecting firewood from the forest near his home at Betws-y-Coed, North Wales. It's a right enshrined in the Magna Carta of 1215, the template for democracies around the world. Free men down the centuries have been granted the liberty to gather dead wood from common land to fuel their stoves, repair their homes and make charcoal.

That was before the Forestry Commission came along and started demanding that anyone wanting to collect wood would need a licence to forage. Now it has imposed an outright ban, stating: 'This is an area where we are subject to increasing constraints in terms of health and safety. We have a duty of care to people in our wood.' Note the use of the possessive our wood. It isn't their wood. It's common land and it belongs to everyone.

As Mr Kamp said: 'They are claiming there are health and safety issues. But people have walked through the woods collecting firewood for hundreds of years without too many safety problems.' Precisely. I doubt there is one recorded incident of a firewood-related fatality in North Wales. This, as usual, is about bureaucrats justifying their own sad existence and protecting their backs in the event of someone turning their ankle in a rabbit hole, ringing Blame Direct, and suing for com-pensayshun.

It's the same warped thinking which led to plans for an open-air ice rink in Bath this Christmas being abandoned because council officials feared it could be a magnet for paedophiles. How sick do you have to be to reach that conclusion?

And a school in Colchester has banned children from bringing in broomsticks for Halloween in case they get hurt. In fairness, they were only following official advice on the NHS website: 'Be careful with witches' brooms made from sticks. If the sticks get dislodged, they are a choking hazard. These brooms should be labelled For Adult Use Only.'

You couldn't make it up. Where is it all going to end?


British high school exams COULD be dumbed down unless watchdog steps in

What? Dumbed down any further?

Standards in GCSEs and A levels risk being dumbed down unless the new independent examinations watchdog is given statutory powers to force exam boards to maintain them, the Government has been warned.

In a highly unusual intervention into the debate about exam standards, Mike Cresswell, director-general of AQA, Britain's biggest exam board, has broken ranks with its rivals. In an interview with The Times, he has given warning that public confidence in the quality of GCSE and A level qualifications cannot be maintained unless the new exams watchdog, Ofqual, has sufficient muscle to prevent exam boards lowering their standards.

Ofqual was created by Gordon Brown and made independent from government precisely to put an end to the debate about the dumbing down of public examinations and to ensure that there could be no suspicion of government pressure on exam boards to set standards at particular levels. But Dr Cresswell believes there is a "major omission" from the proposals for Ofqual's powers. While it is empowered to force exam boards to follow certain procedures in the way they set and mark exams, it has no powers over what level they set standards at.

"Ofqual needs to be given an explicit statutory power to enable it, if necessary, to direct an awarding body to set standards at a particular level," Dr Cresswell said. "It needs to have this power so that it can give credible public assurance that standards are comparable between awarding bodies and maintained over time." Without statutory powers of intervention, Ofqual would be left to the mercy of exam boards, he added. "A regulator who is there to uphold public confidence in standards can't be in a position where it has to negotiate with the exam boards over standards."

Dr Cresswell added: "The awarding bodies compete for entries. They don't compete on standards. If Ofqual had this power [to enforce standards], it would make it much more difficult for that to ever begin."

The main exam boards work closely together in developing qualifications, but there is a tension in their relationship, as they are competing with each other within a finite but lucrative market place. Schools and colleges pay about 400 pounds million a year in fees to exam boards. Mr Cresswell's warning comes after a disagreement this summer between England's three exam boards, which set their own GCSE and A-level papers, about standards in the new GCSE single science exam. The three boards met in August to discuss grade boundaries. They failed to come to an agreement over the mark needed to get a C, officially a good pass. One of AQA's rival boards awarded Cs in one paper to pupils who got only 20 per cent of questions correct and would not back down from this position. Negotiations between the boards broke down.

AQA was eventually persuaded by Ofqual to reduce its own grade boundaries to bring it into line with the other boards, even though it did not think this sufficient to maintain standards. Dr Cresswell agreed to the move "under protest" because he did not want to disadvantage the half-million pupils who had taken his board's science exam. "Plainly, we couldn't possibly have a situation where children doing our exam would be judged against harsher standards than children doing other boards," he said.

Yesterday was the last day for submissions on what monitoring and enforcement powers Ofqual should have. Dr Cresswell has written to the Government to express his concerns and to request a meeting with Jim Knight, the Schools Minister.


Public must think we have all gone mad, says British judge left powerless to jail burglar who terrorised pregnant mother

A judge has hit out at sentencing guidelines which stopped him from jailing a burglar who terrorised a heavily pregnant mother. Recorder Shaun Smith said the public 'must think we've all gone mad or soft' as he let Dominic Wong walk free. Wong had admitted battering his way into Safa Moustafa's home and stealing cash while she cowered upstairs with her two-year-old daughter.

Trauma from her ordeal has left her a virtual prisoner in her own home, but Recorder Smith said he was powerless to put Wong behind bars because it was his first burglary offence. Instead he had to hand out a community service order. The judge said: 'This is sentencing by numbers. I want to send you to prison. The public want to see you go to prison. But I can't send you to prison because of the guidelines I have been given.'

Last night Mrs Moustafa's husband Ahmed, 31, a highways consultant, reacted with outrage. He said: 'We're the victims, but no one cares about us. The whole system is completely on its head. 'If a judge wants to send someone to prison but can't then what's the point of a judge in the first place?'

Jobless Wong forced his way into 28-year-old Mrs Moustafa's home in Loughborough, Leicestershire, on September 15 this year. She was seven months pregnant at the time. She and her daughter, who was not named, were upstairs and stayed hiding as Wong smashed his way through the front door before helping himself to money. When police arrived at the scene they discovered him lurking in the garden of the house next door, which he had also tried to break into.

In a victim impact statement read to Leicester Crown Court, Mrs Moustafa said: 'I'm now very nervous and anxious in my own home. I'm forever checking doors and windows and keep looking outside to see who's around. 'I can't even go into the garden unless my husband is here. I can't be alone in the house and have friends to sleep over.' Mrs Moustafa said her daughter had become 'nervous and clingy'. She added: 'Because of this man's actions, I hope the court sends him to prison to make him understand exactly how he has affected our lives.'

But James Weston, defending, said it was Wong's first offence and the starting point was a community sentence. The law recommends first-time burglars should be spared custody if the case can satisfy certain conditions. The sentence has to represent an effective punishment and should tackle problems such as an offender's drug addiction.

Wong, of Loughborough, who claimed he would 'turn back the clock' if he could, also admitted burgling the house next door. He was given a two-year community order with 240 hours of unpaid work and was made the subject of a six-month night-time curfew. He was also told to pay 350 pounds compensation to the mother.

Mr Moustafa said the sentence did not reflect the damage Wong had inflicted. He said: 'My wife and daughter have been mentally scarred. My wife could have had a miscarriage. 'She was screaming "I'm pregnant!", but he still kept hitting the door until he managed to get in. 'Would he have still got a community order if my wife had suffered a miscarriage? I can only assume so, if that's what these guidelines say.'

The case came as Justice Secretary Jack Straw attacked liberal justice groups who 'drive him nuts' by focusing on the 'needs' of offenders instead of punishment.


Stranger Than Fiction

Earlier this year, I wrote an eco-satirical column under the pseudonym Ethan Greenhart, in which I (or rather, Ethan) called upon Greens everywhere to pray for an economic downturn. The column argued that nothing would benefit our human-ravaged planet more than a "big, beautiful, stock-crashing, Wall Street-burning, consumer-baiting, home-evicting, bank-busting recession."

We need something to stop humans "raping the planet," I said, tongue pressed ferociously against my cheek, and "the recession might just be the chemical castration for the job." A recession could be the "antibody Gaia so desperately needs to deal with her human itch," since it would force people to buy less and live more humbly.

The column said recession would be a just punishment for the "lunatics" of humankind, before the arrival of the "final big disease" - that glorious moment when a rampant sickness will "reduce the human population to sustainable levels" and "end industrialism . . . just as the Plague contributed to the demise of feudalism."

I was going too far, right? Yes, there are super-aloof Gaia worshippers who, caring little for the living standards of their fellow men, argue that a recession would be a good thing - and, sure, they deserve a few satirical darts tossed their way. But surely no right-minded Green (assuming such a thing exists) would celebrate the depletion of mankind by a "preferably painless but speedily contagious disease"?

You'd be amazed. Not 24 hours after the column was published, "Ethan" received an e-mail (my alter ego came with his own inbox) from Valerie Stevens, chairperson of the U.K.-based Optimum Population Trust. The OPT is an influential green-leaning outfit that campaigns for strict controls on population growth. Ms. Stevens, believing - remarkably - that Ethan Greenhart is a real person, wrote: "What a marvellous piece of writing. I feel exactly the same as you!"

Consider what this means. The head of one of Britain's most vocal Green lobby groups feels "exactly" that people who work in shops are comparable to "concentration camp guards"; that humankind is a "poisonous bacteria in Gaia's bloodstream"; that "consumerism makes us mentally ill"; that the consumer society has "turned us into savages . . . well, not us, obviously, but certainly them"; and that a disease should come and decimate "the plague that is mankind." All of these statements were contained in the pretend eco-rant that OPT chair Valerie Stevens described as a "marvellous piece of writing" with which she agrees "exactly."

The OPT has numerous Green bigwigs on its advisory board, including Jonathon Porritt, who was director of Friends of the Earth from 1984 to 1990 and is currently an adviser to Prince Charles, the insufferably eco-minded heir to the British throne. Ms Stevens' enthusiastic agreement with Ethan Greenhart unwittingly revealed the backward, misanthropic thinking that rattles in the attics of Britain's posh Green elite.

It also revealed something else: the environmental movement is now so pompous, hysterical, bloated, and disconnected that it is almost beyond satire. My weekly Ethan Greenhart columns, published in my online magazine, spiked, have now been turned into a book: Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas. In the course of writing it, I discovered that satirizing Greens is forever an uphill struggle, as one's campaign to mock environmentalism continually threatens to be derailed by the latest ridiculous utterance from the Greens themselves.

Ethan Greenhart has argued that climate-change denial should be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a "mental disorder" and that there should be "eco-lobotomies" for persistent deniers. Well, this is only a more extreme version of a leading British Green's demand for "international criminal tribunals" to try those who "preach the gospel of denial." Yet it turns out that many Greens are already discussing the "psychological processes" that contribute to climate change denial, with The Ecologist, an influential British magazine, arguing that "angrily denying the problem [of climate change] outright" is a form of "psychotic denial." Perhaps eco-lobotomies aren't so far off now.

Ethan Greenhart has claimed to have set up something called Bottlefeeders Anonymous, for those moms who have strayed from The Ethical Path by bottlefeeding rather than breastfeeding their offspring. "Bottlefeeding is a form of child abuse," he declares, since it involves "stuffing your child's gut with powder produced in a factory by a really big and probably quite evil conglomerate." Lo and behold, it turns out that eco-minded "militant lactivists" really do look upon bottlefeeding as abusive. Green columnist George Monbiot believes that feeding your child formula is "tantamount to child abuse."

Ethan has even celebrated suicide as a sensible solution to human overcrowding on Gaia's "pretty face." Here he was inspired by cranky Green groups like the Church of Euthanasia. Yet this outlook ain't so cranky anymore. Shortly before Can I Recycle My Granny? was to hit the shelves - in which Ethan maintains that "non-existence is the most perfectly ethical way of being" - a book by David Benatar (a professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, no less) appeared under the title Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

Horace said the purpose of satire is to "laugh men out of their follies." Yet such is the depth of contemporary Green folly that even mockery can be mistaken for another sensible idea or contribution to the "Green cause." Of course (and I would say this, wouldn't I?) my book is still full of cutting-edge satire - "richly comic," hails The Independent. But you had better buy it quick before its maddest, zaniest send-ups of the environmentalist movement become the latest Green orthodoxy.


British Muslim doctor faces misconduct hearing over homosexual comments

What he said would have been normal just a few decades ago. But no worry: As a Muslim, he will be excused.
"A prominent Muslim doctor has appeared before a misconduct hearing after declaring that society needs "protecting from the ravages" of homosexuality. Dr Muhammad Siddiq, 65, president of the Islamic Medical Association, accused gay people of spreading disease and suggested they needed the "stick of the law to put them on the right path", the General Medical Council was told.

Dr Siddiq, who is currently suspended from practising, made the comments in a letter to Pulse, the medical magazine, which generated a stream of complaints when it was published last year. He later apologised for causing hurt and distress, but yesterday faced misconduct charges in front of a GMC fitness-to-practice panel in Manchester. If found guilty, he faces being struck off .

The panel was told that Dr Siddiq was working as a GP at the Walsall Teaching Primary Care Trust when he wrote the letter in July last year. It read: "There is punishment and fine if you throw rubbish or filth on the streets, the gays are worse than the ordinary careless citizen, they are causing the spread of illness and they are the root cause of many sexually-transmitted diseases. "They need neither sympathy nor help, what they need is the stick of law to put them on the right path and mend their ways and behaviour. "We need to protect society from their ravages."

Bernadette Baxter, prosecuting, said Dr Siddiq wrote to Walsall PCT to explain the letter after it was published in July last year. In this letter, he apologised unreservedly and said he had written it because of stress due to unrelated proceedings between himself and the GMC. He wrote: "I categorically and unreservedly apologise and retract the letter, and apologise for any hurt or offence that may have been caused to anybody reading the letter. "I have practised as a GP for over 30 years, and I have never discriminated against any patient on any grounds.


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