Dateline: January 3rd 1944
Fury continues to mount worldwide about the senseless loss of civilian life in Germany caused by England's callous bombing of German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden. As of today many innocent German women and children have died in these utterly brutal bombing missions. And now there are ground offensives starting on mainland Europe.
The English have claimed that they are merely retaliating against the V-1 flying bombs being launched indiscriminately by Nazis at their civilian population in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry and other cities. The English point out that their enemy is sworn to its utter destruction and has used the missiles and flying bombs against its civilians without any regard to English loss of life. Moreover it makes the case that their own bombing missions are specifically directed to military targets that the German army has intentionally planted in the heart of civilian populations to try and deter English counter-attacks.
These points may of course be true - but they are utterly besides the point. Of course England has a right to exist. Of course England has a right to defend itself. But it should ensure that its responses are PROPORTIONATE. Since many more Germans are dying than English - the English should either tone down the success and accuracy of their bombing - or allow the Germans to catch up on the death count. To be honest - if more English women and children were dying - we wouldn't feel quite so bad about the number of Germans dying. But it's just so UNFAIR that more Germans are dying...
Perhaps some English people could arrange to kill themselves to match the number of Germans dying as a result of the English retaliation bombing? It would be so considerate - and it might help England's critics feel less miserable about the number of Nazis dying. Something that is causing them so much concern. It would also put paid to that wretched proportionality argument.
Alternatively, perhaps the English could arrange to be less effective in their bombing? Or only bomb military targets that are nowhere near civilians - even though the vast majority of the V-1 rockets are intentionally being launched from the heart of civilian population centers.
Now the English will argue that the Germans have INTENTIONALLY positioned all their launch pads for the V-1 rockets in the middle of civilian populations to inhibit the English from bombing those launch sites. Well - tough noogies to the Brits! Sorry - but if the Germans are smarter or more skillful at cynically using their civilians as human shields than you - tough luck!
You can't have it both ways. If you truly wish to save your nation from being annihilated by Nazi missiles you'd better stop looking to win a popularity contest. The Nazis are waging this war to win and to utterly destroy England. If all you Brits care about is popularity - then you may as well resign yourself to speaking German...
It's about time that little nations who wish to defend themselves wised up to their responsibilities. Otherwise the same stupid complaints will be made at some point in the 21st Century when some little nation finds itself under constant attack from rockets fired at its civilian population by a terrorizing enemy that has sworn to destroy it....
How 4,000 British civil servants are paid an estimated 133m pounds a year despite not actually having a job
Socialists treasure their bureaucrats
More than 4,000 civil servants are being kept on the Whitehall payroll despite having no work to do, it was revealed yesterday. They include nearly 3,000 tax inspectors who continue to be employed under the title 'presurplus staff'. Other terms used by Government departments to describe the thousands without work include 'people action teams', 'redeployment pools', 'priority movers' and 'career transition centres'. It means an estimated 133million of taxpayers' money was spent employing 4,634 'pre-surplus staff' assuming the average civil servant salary of 28,622. The figures, revealed by the Tories from parliamentary questions, are likely to deepen public resentment over the featherbedding of public employees.
It comes at a time when many thousands of private sector workers are facing the threat of redundancy or are struggling to find new jobs. State workers also benefit from guaranteed pensions - a privilege lost by millions in the private sector. Yesterday, Marks & Spencer employees were the latest to be told that their final salary pension benefits are to be scaled back as the company announced a wave of job cuts.
Francis Maude, Tory Cabinet Office spokesman, said yesterday: 'The New Year brings with it worrying uncertainty for millions in private sector jobs who are really concerned about what Gordon Brown's recession will mean for their families and the ability to pay their mortgage. 'Yet Labour ministers are treating Whitehall like a glorified job creation scheme. Mr Brown talks about creating 100,000 new jobs, but in reality public cash is being wasted on bureaucrats doing nothing. 'It is not fair to waste taxpayers' money in this way. Ministers should either scrap these non-jobs or get these civil servants back into productive work and restore their dignity.'
HM Revenue & Customs - the troubled department which, on top of its tax collection duties distributes benefits in the form of tax credits - employs 2,874 'pre-surplus staff', defined as 'individuals whose post or work is no longer being carried out in a particular location, no longer being done by that office or where such changes are planned in the future'.
At the Ministry of Defence - which has come under fire for endangering troops by cutting spending on vital equipment including body armour - 830 civilian staff are in its 'redeployment pool', while the Foreign Office has 212 staff in its 'corporate pool'. The Home Office has 62 'staff without posts', and Hazel Blears's Communities and Local Government Department has 56 employees allotted to 'people action teams'. Jack Straw's Ministry of Justice has 53 'priority movers' - a description given to staff 'without fixed posts' - while in Hilary Benn's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 89 employees have nothing to do.
The figures provide only a snapshot of how many staff do not have work at any one time and do not reveal how long employees were defined as 'pre-surplus'. Most of the numbers were disclosed during the summer, and include workers who were finishing jobs but had not been allocated new ones, and staff awaiting the start of a new posting. The figures for the Foreign Office, also include those on maternity leave. However, the data does provide a clear indication of the level of idleness in Whitehall at any one time. In addition, all departments failed to give details of employees' ranks - whether staff were from IT departments or in politically important Whitehall roles. And although the staff did go into the office, there were no details provided about the type of duties they performed there.
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said last night: 'The number of civil servants has fallen in every quarter over the past four years. 'The figure for staff in non-permanent posts includes mothers returning from maternity leave and people returning from overseas postings waiting to be assigned a new role. 'It is ludicrous and offensive to suggest that these people are sitting around doing nothing.'
UK starts paying subsidies for record cold
"Arctic conditions" have gripped Great Britain and parts of Europe, and it has gotten bad enough that the British government has had to pay heating-bill subsidies for Londoners for the first time ever. The temperature hasn't gotten cold enough in southern England in the ten years of the subsidy program for the government to pay out the 25 pound checks.
In fact, as Fausta points out, the seas have begun to freeze in the north:
Cold weather payouts for pensioners and the vulnerable reached record levels today after Britain's deep freeze plunged temperatures as low as minus 11C. Forecasters warned that tonight will be even colder. The Government's bill will rise over 100 million as Londoners become eligible for the payment for the first time since the scheme was introduced a decade ago.
This morning, the thermometer reached minus 10C in Farnborough, Hampshire and minus 11C in parts of Scotland, which is colder than areas of Greenland and the Antarctic. The Met Office said it expected temperatures to go another degree colder tonight.
The bitter cold has left pavements coated in ice and driving conditions treacherous across the country. Thousands of motorists were left stranded in the busiest day of breakdowns in five years yesterday. The AA and RAC said they had responded to more than 40,000 call-outs over the past 36 hours.
Being an 11-year veteran of Arctic conditions, I decided to take a look at what -11 C would be in Fahrenheit. I was somewhat disappointed with my British brethren. It turns out to be just 12.2 F, as in +12.2 degrees. The other day, I had to clear my driveway with the temperature at -14F, which would be -25C. Right now, on a relatively warm day for January, it's 11F, which would be -11.67C, and I'm sitting here in shorts and a golf shirt.
The subsidies kick into place when sub-freezing temperatures last for seven or more days. In the decade of global warming, London had never experienced that until this week. That will cost the British 15 million, which comes on top of a 93 million bill for subsidies in the north, where they're more often applied. Global warming, as it turns out, gets pretty expensive.
With Arctic ice expanding at a rapid rate and record cold temperatures gripping Europe, and here for that matter, either someone must have sucked a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere, or the greenhouse model has some serious flaws. The British lost a 15 million bet in London this week on it.
Simple really, if the current solar trends continue, it will soon be so cold that Al Gore will be the only person left on the planet who doesn't think Al Gore is a kook. The quiet sun is going to cause us a big problem when the growing season shortens to the point that crops cannot mature. 2009 may be the first year that happens
Mobile phones are finally passed fit for use in British hospitals
As one of the golden rules of hospital visits, the mobile phone ban was the most likely to be obeyed: do it, or risk unsettling a pacemaker or shutting down a high-dependency unit. But after years of dogged compliance by patients and visitors, the Government has admitted finally that the ban is based on mythical safety concerns and should be relaxed. Ministers are advising health trusts to let people use mobile phones freely in hospital - as long as they do not carry any specific risk to equipment, compromise privacy or cause a nuisance. The updated Department of Health guidance comes three years after studies found that hospital-wide bans on mobile phones were not justified, as the risk of a signal interfering with medical equipment was low.
Many hospitals have continued to stipulate that mobile phones should not be switched on or used in clinical areas, including in-patient wards, unless there are good reasons to do so. Some argue that patient privacy could be breached by people taking "inappropriate" photos and videos using the latest camera phones. Yesterday NHS managers said that patients' rights to peace and quiet should not be violated by the disturbance of constant ringtones and text alerts.
Ben Bradshaw, the Health Minister, said that trusts should produce a clear written policy on the use of mobile phones, recognising that they are commonplace and can provide comfort to patients and relatives. Areas where phones should not be used should be clearly identified, the guidance says. It highlights specific risks from the use of camera phones - in particular that they may be used to take inappropriate pictures of children, of patients in private places such as bathrooms or to record confidential or sensitive information about them. It also tells trusts to beware that "an essential medical device may be inadvertently unplugged in order to charge a mobile device".
The British Medical Association said that there were also strong arguments for doctors to have mobile phones, to improve communication and care.
Mobile phones were first banned in hospitals in the early 1990s because of fears that they would interfere with medical equipment, and restrictions are still widespread. But a study by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in 2006 found that they were no more of a threat than televisions, radios and other electronic devices, and interfered with only 4 per cent of medical devices, such as specialist equipment typically used away from general wards. The agency suggested continued restrictions in areas such as intensive care, chemotherapy treatment wards or special care baby units.
Continuing restrictions on mobile phone use were also criticised in light of the high cost of making and receiving calls using bedside pay phones.
Yesterday's guidelines for hospitals in England follows similar advice to hospitals in Scotland and Wales.
Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, said: "The last thing we want to do is to make hospitals more stressful than they need to be because of the noise of annoying ringtones or the kind of loud phone conversations that already plague much of everyday life."
Mr Bradshaw said: "Close support and comfort from loved ones when you are poorly in hospital is essential. Mobile phones are commonplace in everyday life these days and people have told us that they'd like to be able to use their phones more in hospital to keep in touch."
Labour sees SATs pass marks plunge for English and maths
British Sats are exams taken during and at the end of primary schooling
SATs test marks appear to be on a consistent downward trend. The pass mark in SATs tests has fallen sharply since Labour came to power, figures show. Youngsters needed to score just 43 per cent to make the grade in English last year and 45 per cent in maths to reach pass standard. A decade ago, they needed 48 per cent and 52 per cent respectively, according to figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats.
Ministers insisted that pass marks only fall when papers are judged by exam watchdogs to be harder, thus ensuring standards are maintained year-on-year. But opposition politicians claimed the figures cast doubt over the reliability of marking - and questioned why pass marks appear to be on a consistent downward trend. Results in tests for 11-year-olds in both English and maths have risen over the past 10 years, sharply until 2000 and then more slowly.
The Liberal Democrats said the figures would further weaken public faith in SATs marking following the debacle over late and chaotic results last summer. And they claimed a new independent exams watchdog being set up by the Government to dispel dumbing down worries was not independent enough. 'These figures reveal there has been a decline in the marks needed to get the basic maths and English levels since Labour came to power,' said education spokesman David Laws. 'They will raise inevitable concerns about a dumbing down of standards and there must now be serious questions about the reliability of the SATs results. 'We need a fully independent Educational Standards Authority to restore confidence in standards and ensure that the national tests really are rigorous.'
Figures disclosed by Schools Minister Jim Knight in a Parliamentary written answer showed that in 1999, pupils needed to achieve a minimum of 48 per cent in English and 52 per cent in maths to reach 'level four', the standard expected of 11-year-olds. However in each of the last three years the threshold has been 43 per cent for English. In maths, it was 46 per cent in 2006 and 2007 and 45 per cent in 2008.
The proportion of pupils making the grade and achieving level four has risen over the same period. In 1999, just 71 per cent scored level four in English and 69 per cent in maths, against 81 per cent and 78 per cent respectively in 2008.
However, experts at Durham University, who compared SATs results with independent tests, believe primary reading standards are little changed since the 1950s and maths standards have improved only marginally. Evidence from international studies is mixed, with a study of reading literacy claiming in 2007 that standards in England have fallen 'significantly' but a 2008 study in maths saying our primary pupils are among the best in the world.
The figures for marks thresholds over time were issued by the now-defunct National Assessment Agency, which was wound down late last year after a devastating report into failings that led to the summer's marking chaos. Mr Knight, writing prior to the findings, said: 'The NAA uses a range of statistical and judgmental procedures to ensure that the standards of performance required for the award of each level are maintained consistently from year to year. 'The content of each test changes every year, therefore different numbers of marks may be required in different years to achieve a certain level. 'Levels are anchored to the national curriculum so that a level four achieved in one year represents the same level of performance as a level four achieved in any other year.'
British schoolchildren aged FIVE expelled for sex offences, girls molested by classmates: Playground bullying takes a shocking twist
Arriving punctually at her school in South London, the 15-year-old girl - let's call her Sarah - would not have expected that day to be different from any other. She would have greeted friends, familiar faces gliding past hers in the corridor as she prepared for the first classes of the morning. But for her, those classes did not happen. Her headmaster told me the brutal story of what happened next: how Sarah went missing some time between her arrival and assembly and then, a while later, reappeared looking withdrawn and anxious.
Initially, her teacher wondered why she had entered her classroom late. Then Sarah became distraught and the teacher took her to one side. Eventually she revealed how that morning, she had been marched into an empty classroom by a group of boys - themselves pupils at the school and all aged under 16 - who had physically forced her to perform a sex act on one of them. The head told me: `The incident had actually occurred in the school building. The boys concerned had just gone off to their lessons afterwards as though nothing had happened.'
His astonishment is still evident as he speaks. `The girl herself was immediately badly affected. She took some time in the toilets to recover from it. Eventually, she disclosed that something had happened.'
Arrests and court action followed. The boys later pleaded guilty to sexual assault and were given custodial sentences. But Sarah's story did not end with their conviction. She left the school and remains terrified that she might see her attackers again. Her father told us that even now, 18 months on, he is still shell-shocked. `You see your child off safely to school and you don't worry about them, really, until the point when they leave school to come home. This was something that occurred at a time when I just couldn't have possibly expected her to be a victim of anything.'
Yet when he complained to the council and asked for a home tutor for his daughter so that she did not have to go straight back to the same classrooms where her attackers were taught, they refused. `The council official I spoke to said: "I'm very sorry, we only provide home tutoring for children who've been excluded from schools, such as the boys who've assaulted your daughter. We don't provide it for their victims." 'ent part of the city, but he can still see the fear in her eyes. `If she goes into town or if she's on the train and she sees anyone from her old school, she becomes very fearful and very distressed.'
A sexual crime on school premises, committed by one set of under-age pupils against an equally young victim . . . It sounds as if it must be, thankfully, a vanishingly rare event. Yet this case is just one example of a shocking new trend in sexual bullying among children that is the subject of a BBC Panorama report on Monday night. We investigated Sarah's story, and others like it, to see whether they tell us anything about the world our children inhabit when they congregate at school.
For among experts there is a growing conviction that, up and down the country, something disturbing is happening. It is difficult to break this kind of activity into statistics. But the Government did supply us with its most recent figures, compiled in summer 2007, showing that in the previous year there were 3,500 school exclusions for sexual misconduct - which can include anything from daubing sexually explicit graffiti through to serious physical assault. In 20 cases, the guilty party was only five years old. But informal evidence suggests the problem may be worse. A survey of 11 to 19-year-olds by the charity Young Voice found that one in ten had been forced against their will to take part in sex acts.
How can this be happening? In one sense, the evidence is all around us. Fuelled by a sex-addled culture that parents cannot hope to shield them from, children can be fluent in sexual terminology long before they turn the legal age of consent at 16; often, even, before they hit ten. Sexual words can become sexual actions - so playground bullying is becoming sexual, too. Michelle Elliott of the charity Kidscape says: `Sexual bullying has become much more prevalent. On the Kidscape helpline we used to get maybe one or two calls a year. Now we are getting two or three a week. It's probably the tip of the iceberg.' If the emergency calls made to Michelle's office are the summit of that iceberg, far more are happening lower down the slopes, in routine exchanges between schoolchildren.
I was amazed when I met a group of teenagers in the offices of an anti-bullying charity. There were around 20 of them, some aged over 16 and some under.We were sitting in a circle inside the headquarters of Beatbullying, where helpers counsel youngsters whose lives have been made a misery. They were from local state schools; all had, in some way or other, come across verbal sexual bullying.
They all talked of the way sexual language was part of the daily currency. The word `slag' has survived from my schooldays, but new ones such as `sket' and `junge' have the same meaning and are thrown around with equal malice. `Gay' has become an all-purpose term of abuse. But what fascinated me was the way the wordplay so easily drifted into physical interference. According to Opey, a girl of 17, there is a lot of `grabbing and touching' between pupils, mainly with girls the victims of boys. She hears them bragging threateningly about sexual activities: `It would be verbal a lot of the time. Like: "She did this and she did that, so will you do this? Will you do that?" It happens quite a bit.' So, I asked, are she and her friends upset when it happens? `For the most part, yeah, but after a while you just learn to deal with it,' Opey said sadly.
Gang culture has contributed to the problem, of course. In some cases, boys are told to have sex with particular girls as part of `initiation rites', while young girls are bullied into performing sex acts for their `protection'. This hateful culture has now spread into the mainstream arena. I am told that 25,000 homepages on Bebo, the social networking site for children, have the word `slut' on them.
Words give way to actions. Every one of the youngsters I met at Beatbullying knew someone they thought had been sexually groped inside their own school. Dwayne, 16, said some of the boys he knows `touch girls where they don't want to be touched, especially in a public place at school'. I asked what the teachers did about it. `They ain't aware,' he replied, and I sensed my question showed me to be hopelessly out of touch. `They're, like, oblivious to everything.'
Even when the authorities are notified, it doesn't guarantee they will punish the perpetrators. In one horrifying case, a five-year-old girl was locked in a school room and sexually assaulted by another pupil. Astonishingly, the school urged her mother not to notify the police. She informed them anyway - only to be told that the boy responsible was under the age of criminal responsibility.
So whose fault is this sexualisation of the young, and where does it start? Without hesitation Monique, an eloquent 15-year-old I met at Beatbullying, blamed popular culture and magazines which have thrown sex at her and her friends for years. `It has a big impact on the sexual bullying side of things,' she said. `Music especially. Most of the songs you hear are `sex this' and `sex that'. And magazines have things at the back for positions, and things to do with sex.' She says even 12-year-olds see such material. `If you're 12, you shouldn't really be thinking about that.' Next to her sat Ramanae, 16. She told me: `My eight-year-old cousin, if she's on the internet, a pop-up advertisement will appear - a pornographic one - and she'll go to her mum: "What's this?'' '
What I found saddest was that all the youngsters spoke as if such exposure to sexual harassment was a fact of life. Monique said, matter-of-factly: `I have seen people bullied sexually. It's all around you; in school, outside of school, if you're out with friends after school, at weekends.' And when it escalates, it can bring disaster. Paula Telford of the NSPCC said: `We have had examples, for instance, of a 16-year-old boy who raped a much younger boy in a secluded setting in school. We have had a ten-year-old who was forcing other children to perform sex acts on him, and performing sex acts on them. And we have had much younger children who've been inappropriately touching each other.'
There are many grey areas. The sexual attack which causes a headmaster to call the police, and results in criminal prosecution, is clear enough. But in lesser cases, it can be difficult for teachers to decide how to intervene when so much of the traffic between pupils can be excused, optimistically, as general teasing and banter in the roughhouse atmosphere of a school.
So now Children's Minister Ed Balls is preparing guidance for teachers on when they should step in. Yet if the problem comes from our culture, what can a minister do? Not one of the parents I met had any idea how to stop sex arriving in the playground.
I gathered a group of a dozen mums and dads in a bar to talk about it. They spoke about mobiles, music and the internet, freely admitting that policing TV viewing was nigh-on impossible because of the ease with which children can access programmes out of hours. The ITV2 series Katie And Peter, featuring fly-on-the-wall footage of Jordan and her slightly preposterous husband, Peter Andre, was cited frequently as an example of a show which a child might be drawn to, but which had strong sexual content - they frequently joke about `shagging' and fall into bed with other.
But why, then, do their parents not ban it, I wondered. One mother, Lisa, told me: `I look like such a bad parent, don't I? Yes, we absolutely love that show. OK, I'm not happy about the language - but my daughter, she's only ten and she looks up to Katie Price and she thinks she's amazing. And you know what, in some ways she is not a bad role model. My daughter sits there going: "Oh Mummy, I want to be like her.'' ' Another mum, Jane, said she had found out through her child that ten-year-olds in the playground were `boasting about who they'd snogged.' She was alarmed, but what could she do about it?
I tried to remember if I had any concept of that at ten; were ten-year-old boys doing that in the Seventies? These days, as the father of two daughters aged four and two, I worry about the sort of world they are growing up in. Sometimes, it can seem so innocent - like the moment this weekend when Martha, the oldest, took five minutes to help her little sister undo her cardigan buttons. There was something so innocent about this moment of sisterly support, amid all the usual rows over who owns which toy, that it made my heart leap for joy. But then I remembered all the interviews we did for Monday night's film, and how that innocence can so easily be dismantled. It seems that whatever we parents do, childhood is invaded by knowledge far earlier than we would wish - and danger can follow.