Thursday, October 23, 2008

Eighteen years and then the scrapheap for cars in Britain

As the driver of a 1963 Humber Super Snipe Type 4, I object strongly to this. The Humber costs me a fortune to keep on the road but I love it! And lots of people come up to me and express their pleasure at seeing it. Fortunately, I live in Australia and not in Britain

Britain's Royal Automotive Club Foundation is floating a proposal that would call for the scrapping of all cars more than 18 years old. Rationale:
The RAC Foundation believes that a carefully-designed scrappage scheme would have a double benefit of boosting the new and second hand car industry, whilst helping to make road transport greener by removing the most-polluting vehicles from the road.

I am reasonably certain that they'd find some way to make an exception for Lord Suchandsuch's 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental. Besides: what new industry? Britain's biggest automaker these days is - who? TVR? Morgan? Everyone else has long since sold out.

Bad ideas, of course, have a way of crossing the oceans, so I expect someone to come up with something similar Stateside before too awfully long. Hint: The "most-polluting" vehicle isn't one that's rolled up X number of years; it's one whose engine is so utterly shot that you can see its exhaust from half a mile back. Scrapping those miserable hulks would do more for the urban environment than any amount of "greening" folderol.


Quis docebit ipsos magistes?

Literacy tests for trainee British teachers show that those who can't spell, teach

Thousands of trainee teachers are struggling to pass literacy tests that require them to spell words such as anxiety, relieved and mathematical. More than 11,000 trainee teachers, just over a quarter of the annual intake, failed to pass the literacy test last year at their first attempt, an increase of 16 per cent since 2001. The findings have prompted concern that new teachers may be struggling with the basic skills they will be charged with passing on to pupils.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: "Spelling is a key basic skill. We need a renewed focus on getting the basics right. "As the number of applicants being accepted on to teaching courses rises, we need to be sure that this isn't being coupled with a decline in standards. The existing minimum qualifications for people wanting to become teachers are too low." Mr Laws said that the economic slowdown should be used as an opportunity to promote teaching as a profession and attract top graduates.

The tests, which are taken online by students training for primary and secondary schools, are designed to raise standards in the profession. Trainees can take them as many times as they want.

Although teachers must have good GCSE passes in English, maths and science and a degree to work in English state schools, the tests were introduced in 2000/01 amid concerns that teacher training did not provide a sufficient grounding in the basics. The figures, obtained by the Liberal Democrats in a Commons written answer, show that the failure rate in numeracy has also risen since the tests were first introduced. Last year 20,000 trainee teachers failed to pass the numeracy test at the first attempt. On average, around half the students had to take the test twice before passing. In ICT, 4,000 failed the test first time.

Research this year from the Spelling Society found that more than half of adults could not spell embarrassed or millennium. A quarter struggled with definitely, accidentally and separate.

The survey found that Britons blame the current state of poor spelling on parents and teachers, with three out of four people believing that spelling among children is worse now than it was ten years ago.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that the quality of teacher training had never been higher. "The vast majority of trainee teachers pass all three tests first time round and the bottom line is that no one can start teaching until they have passed them," the department said. "More top-quality teachers than ever before are entering the profession from industry, the public sector and universities, thanks to highest-ever pay levels, golden hellos, better behaviour and discipline, and slashed paperwork."

The Training and Development Agency for Schools said that the average pass rate across all three subjects was more than 83 per cent.



Families face a $2,000-a-year bill after the Government committed Britain to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent before 2050. The decision gives the UK the toughest climate change targets in the world and could usher in an era of green taxes and carbon rationing.

Government advisers admit that the shift to a 'low carbon' economy will cost around $48billion a year at today's prices. Divided among the nation's households, this works out at just under o1,000 extra per family. But it is at odds with ministers' support for the expansion of Stansted and Heathrow airports and recent pledges to construct coal-fired power stations.

Announcing the target yesterday, climate change minister Ed Miliband said tough economic conditions were not an excuse to 'row back' on tackling global warming. He accepted the recommendations of the Government's Climate Change Committee, which last week said the UK needed to cut emissions by four-fifths of 1990 values. Previously the Government had committed to a 60 per cent cut.

'In tough economic times, some people will ask whether we should retreat from our climate change objectives,' he said. 'In our view, it would be quite wrong to row back and those who say we should misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face.' Last week the Committee on Climate Change said the target would cost 1 to 2 per cent of annual gross domestic product - which currently stands at $2.4trillion.

Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, joined green lobbyists in welcoming the announcement. He said: 'Delaying action will land us with a bill for billions as we struggle to deal with the devastating effects of climate change. 'Dramatically cutting our emissions won't mean we have to suffer hardship - the lights will stay on, we will still travel and live in comfortable homes.'

But Bjorn Lomborg, author of the Skeptical Environmentalist, said: 'It is an incredibly inefficient way to do virtually nothing. If the UK managed to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent, it would mean postponing global warming by an order of less than a 500th of a degree. Is that really what the British population want to spend 2 per cent of its income on?'

The new target does not include aviation or shipping emissions. However, Mr Miliband said they would 'play a part' in the Government's climate strategy. Mr Miliband also pledged to help homes and small businesses generate their own power. He told the Commons the Energy Bill would be amended to introduce a 'feed-in tariff' to guarantee prices for micro-generation projects which are able to supply electricity to the national grid. He insisted commitments to reductions must come from Europe, despite a demand by Poland and six other member states to drop them because of the economic crisis.


Should UK immigration go Dutch?

Are the Dutch handling immigration more efficiently than the British? UK Immigration Minister Phil Woolas thinks so - he has condemned the UK's migration limits and asylum policy and praised Dutch measures. Here BBC News reporters Dominic Casciani and Laurence Peter look at the UK and Dutch systems, respectively


The UK's immigration system has faced massive upheavals and change over the past decade - and it remains a touchy subject on voters' doorsteps. The old migration system was basically a mess - and an open invitation to abuse, chaos, haphazard decision-making and unfair treatment. There were too many entry routes, no proper system for counting who came and went - and no guaranteed means of working out what happened to people who stayed. What made matters politically far worse for the government was the huge surge in asylum applications in the late 1990s.

So it came as little surprise when the former UK Home Secretary, John Reid, described the system in 2006 as "not fit for purpose", after officials released 1,000 foreign prisoners without considering them for deportation. But from those low points, ministers argue that changes in three key areas are bringing benefits:

* Economic immigration for workers

* Access for asylum seekers and refugees

* Settlement, nationality and citizenship.

The multiple entry routes for workers are being progressively replaced with a simpler system. If you are a worker from within the European free market area, you can come and go as you please. If you are from anywhere else, you must score points to come in under one of a number of categories - a successful system used in Australia, among other countries.

Rules have been increasingly tightened for asylum seekers, spouses or dependents. Spouses will soon be expected to sign up to English lessons as a condition of settlement. The minimum age for someone coming into the UK to wed is also being raised to 21, partly to combat forced marriages of vulnerable women.

Critics say the asylum system has gone from chaotic to unfair because of the high rate of rejections. Supporters say it has simply exposed the high number of bogus applications. The new immigration minister concedes that rejected asylum seekers, who cannot work, have been destitute in the UK because of a failure to ensure they are deported in a timely fashion.

Ministers hope to underpin these reforms in two ways. The first is practical - the UK's borders are going electronic with ID cards, biometric applications and checks at airports as people come or go. The second element is about shifting perceptions and creating a sense belonging. The Home Office plans to use a carrot-and-stick approach to ensure migrants go on a "journey towards citizenship". They will have a choice to "earn citizenship" over a minimum of six years - or to go home.

Critics say it is daft and insulting to people who work hard in jobs that the British often do not want to do. But ministers think it is a good social contract that can help to ease the tensions that have built up over immigration. Public citizenship ceremonies have been taking place for some years now - and they were criticised as a bit silly and American. But for more migrants, they are an important moment, with barely a dry eye in the house.


Dutch immigration policy has shifted markedly away from multiculturalism and towards promoting integration and Dutch identity. The new rules for non-EU citizens contrast sharply with the liberal policy of the 1960s and early 1970s, which enabled many Moroccans and Turks to settle easily in the Netherlands as "guest workers", brought over to fill jobs in heavy industry. In March 2006 the Netherlands introduced a Civic Integration Examination for would-be permanent migrants, requiring them to take courses in the Dutch language and "social orientation". The latter includes scenes of nudity and homosexuality in a controversial video on Dutch liberal values. The examination can be taken at a Dutch embassy and has to be passed before the applicant can settle in the Netherlands.

Spouses wishing to join a partner in the Netherlands have to take it, regardless of how long the partner has been a Dutch resident. In addition, the partner has to be able to support their spouse by earning at least 120% of the minimum wage.

Permanent resident status depends on the migrant completing an integration programme, which involves more language tests and active engagement with wider Dutch society, for example through an internship or volunteer work. The programme lasts three-and-a-half years, but for asylum seekers and previously settled migrants it is five years. Spiritual leaders such as imams, whose visas are limited to three years, also have to take the integration course.

Pressure to tighten the rules came especially from the popular politician Pim Fortuyn, who took the political establishment by storm in 2002, tapping into widespread concern about growing numbers of poor migrants who spoke little or no Dutch. Attention focused on the marginalisation of young Muslims when in November 2004 the film-maker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a young Dutchman of Moroccan origin. Van Gogh had made a film about domestic abuse of Muslim women.

Migrants from outside the EU are particularly concentrated in Dutch cities, notably Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which was Pim Fortuyn's political stronghold. Morocco and Turkey are the main countries of origin by far. A Dutch-Moroccan pro-integration politician, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is poised to become mayor of Rotterdam.

Compulsory naturalisation ceremonies also feature in the new rules for would-be residents.

In 2006, immigrants formed 19% of the Netherlands' 16.3 million people. The unemployment rate among them was 12.2% - a full 8.5% higher than the rate for Dutch nationals. Family reunifications account for much of the increase in the immigrant population since the 1970s, according to Peter van Krieken, professor of international law at Webster University, Leiden. There was no obligation for these spouses to learn Dutch. He recalls a time when in town halls "you used to see lots of signs in other languages and a court would say 'you can't force people to learn Dutch'."

The Netherlands does not have a big backlog of asylum seekers to process, unlike the UK. Asylum cases have been accelerated through a 48-hour procedure, so that hopeless claims can be eliminated quickly. The number of asylum applications in 2007 was nearly 10,000, with Iraqis and Somalis forming the largest number.

Dutch procedures for illegal immigrants have also been accelerated, with cases now coming under employment law, rather than the penal code. Access to jobs has been targeted, rather than putting the emphasis on deportations. Inspections of work premises are more frequent now and "within 10 days employers can be served with a big fine," Prof Van Krieken says.


Here we go again: "Tips to stay sane are based on hard evidence"

This article does not cite the research behind it but I am pretty certain it will all turn out to be epidemiological. Which makes the evidence very soft indeed. Mental ill health is caused by lack of social participation? Isn't it more likely that people who are mad to start with participate less well socially? Etc., etc.

The audience for Foresight's science futures work is usually government policymakers, but this project has advice for individuals too, including its "five-a-day" for mental wellbeing. They might sound like pure Pollyanna; but they are based on evidence in a paper commissioned by Foresight from the New Economics Foundation.

"Connect with the people around you" reflects compelling evidence of the importance of social interaction. Surveys show that the most significant difference between individuals with mental ill-health and those without it is social participation.

"Be active" is another recommendation with a compelling evidence base. For children, action is essential for thinking and learning. Studies of large groups of individuals born at the same time show that physical activity protects against cognitive decline and against depression and anxiety. Even bouts of exercise of less than ten minutes can make a difference.

"Take notice" is about being aware of sensations around you and of your own thoughts and feelings. Being in this state of "mindfulness" promotes mental wellbeing.

Being aware of what takes place in the present can help to reinstate life priorities, an important consideration for those who have been buffeted by ill-fortune. Think of it as a way of rebooting the mind through joy in the here and now.

"Keep learning" is also strongly backed by evidence. Statistical analysis of group studies shows that learning, almost without regard to subject, is the single greatest predictor of mental wellbeing. It impacts on one's self-esteem, resilience and sense of purpose.

"Give" is perhaps the most surprising of the five-a-day. In one experiment, committing an act of kindness each day for six weeks was associated with an increase in wellbeing.

Increasingly, the Government listens to Foresight. Its recommendations on obesity were included in policy within six months. It will be interesting to see whether Gordon Brown will do the same with this report.


British homeowners ordered to pay $100 to use their own garden gate by council

Nasty Leftist envy at work again.

Residents of a cul-de-sac have been ordered by their council to pay a $100 charge to use their own garden gates. Families living in Tyning Park in Calne, Wiltshire, have been told that they must pay the annual fee for access to the woods behind their homes even though hundreds of people pass through it free of charge every day using a public right of way.

Up to 300 children and their parents use the small strip of trees known as Bentley Wood, which are maintained by the town council as a public amenity, each day going to and from the adjoining John Bentley School.

Although the wood has open access at both ends, several houses in the street have gates backing onto to it to make access easier. But officials at Calne Town Council have resurrected a previously forgotten covenant allowing them to levy a charge for the access. Residents have been told their access will be blocked off if they do not pay. The rule dates back to when the 12 houses were first built in the 1980s but was only recently implemented.

It has left residents decidedly unimpressed. "I don't use the gate very much anyway, hardly at all, but the principle of thing is what gets me," said John Watkins, a resident who is leading opposition to the charge. "The other thing is that it could be a very important emergency access in the event of a fire, for example. "I believe it to be unjust, we need the gate to access the fence for maintenance."

He added: "What gets me is that the council don't maintain the trees in the wood. "A couple of years ago a branch fell on my shed causing a lot of damage. "In all the years the house has been built - we moved here in 1989 - we've never been asked to pay and it seems ridiculous."

Helen Plenty, a member of the town council as well as the local Conservative representative on the District Council, said the situation was "laughable". "The woods are open top and bottom, it is a very small patch of land," she said. "On a regular school day the children are up and down there from school to the main road and nobody bothers about that, it just seems that if you have a property that backs on to the woods apparently the law says you have to pay for it. "It is a bit of a joke really."

Blaming the previous Liberal Democrat administration in the town for the decision to begin levying the charge, Mrs Plenty she called for the council to step in and either scrap the charge or make reduce it to a nominal sum. "The point is that many of the residents bought their homes with the gates already there," she said. "This has been a row going on for a year now, and it really is a daft stalemate."


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