Thursday, February 12, 2009

Controversial anti-Muslim MP banned from the UK

A controversial right-wing Dutch politician and controversial anti-Islam campaigner has been banned from entering Britain

Geert Wilders has been refused entry to the United Kingdom to broadcast his controversial anti-Muslim film Fitna in the House of Lords. Mr Wilders said he had been told that in the interests of public order he will not be allowed to come to Britain. He responded to the decision in fighting mood, telling reporters that he still intended to travel to London. He said: "I shall probably go to Britain anyway on Thursday. Let us see if they put me in chains on arrival. It is an unbelievable decision made by a group of cowards."

Mr Wilders is under 24-hour police protection because of his anti-Muslim stance. He has been receiving death threats from Muslim groups outside Holland since the anti-Koran film appeared on the internet earlier this year. The film features verses from the Koran alongside images of the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005. The film equates Islam's holy text with violence and ends with a call to Muslims to remove 'hate-preaching' verses from the Koran. It provoked protests in Muslim-majority countries including Indonesia and Pakistan.

Last night, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said he had called British foreign secretary David Miliband to protest against the decision. He said: "It is disgraceful that a Dutch parliamentarian should be refused entrance to an EU country." A spokesman for the Lords said that the invitation to show his film remained open.

Home Office sources confirmed Mr Wilders had been refused entry to the UK. A Home Office spokesman told The Daily Telegraph: "The Government opposes extremism in all its forms. "It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country. "That was the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary announced on in October last year."


A British "health and safety" measure that might really be helpful gets knocked on the head by absurd bureaucracy

The food standards watchdog was accused yesterday of a "heavy handed abuse of power" in banning a new low-alcohol wine in the face of Government policy urging people to drink sensibly. The Food Standards Agency argues that the drink, with an alcohol content of just eight per cent, is wrongly labelled "wine" in breach of European regulations. But lawyers for its manufacturers, Sovio Wines, told a High Court judge that the official ban by the Agency of its semi-sparkling Spanish white and ros‚ had "paralysed" the company's business. Stocks worth tens of thousands of pounds, held at a bonded warehouse since the 2007 banning order, had been rendered undrinkable and therefore unmarketable because of the wine's short storage life.

Sovio, "devastated" by the effect on its 1 million pounds venture, would seek to recover its losses from the FSA if it succeeded in overturning the ban, Fergus Randolph, the company's counsel, said. He told Mrs Justice Dobbs that in the words of the company's chairman Tony Dann: "This wine would interest and was produced in particular for a certain section of the market". The judge said: "Women."

Mr Randolph said: "Yes, my Lady, but it doesn't have to be exclusively for women." The wine, he said, was aimed at greater social responsibility. It was a palatable alternative to modern high-alcohol New World wines. The trouble was that, at only eight per cent, it did not qualify as "wine" under EU regulations.

Sovio, based in Farnborough, Hampshire, argued that it had a "legitimate expectation", from what it had been told in the past by the FSA, that the wine would be allowed on to the UK market. The company also contends that since the product was not officially "wine", it was a matter for local trading standards and no business of the FSA, which therefore had no power to ban it. In its defence, the FSA argues that the very fact that the drink was labelled as wine in contravention of EU law gave the agency jurisdiction over its distribution - as it would have over water labelled as wine. The agency also denies giving any indication that Sovio's product would remain immune from enforcement under the EU's wine regime.

At 8% proof, the wine is well below the strength of conventional modern wines, which are up to 15%. It is produced using a technique called "the spinning cone column" that reduces the level of alcohol and yet ensures the wine retains the aroma, flavour and body of regular wines.

Mr Dann said before the hearing: "It's crazy that this product, which is pure undiluted premium wine, and combines total integrity of flavour with a much lower alcohol content, is somehow illegal. "The Government is urging the drinks industry to provide a wider range of lower alcohol products, consumers want to drink them and yet the FSA is seemingly trying to kill a product that everyone wants". Mr Dann has looked at producing the wine in California because it would be allowed into the UK under separate trade agreements covering wine imports from the USA.

But he said that even this hit a wall of bureaucracy. The FSA said that as the wine was below 9% alcohol it could not be legally called a wine and must be labelled a "wine-based drink".


A tiny island of sanity in "elf 'n safety" Britain

Kids must have scrapes says Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents

Children must get bumps, bruises and cuts to teach them how to cope with pain, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has said. The guardian of public safety has formed a coalition with the National Children's Bureau (NCB), to encourage children to take risks and learn about hazards in the playground and outside of school. Peter Cornall, head of leisure safety at RoSPA, said: "Parents stop their children doing activities, like sledging, that with a little bit of training and encouragement they might be able to do." In the past week two children have died and several more have been injured while playing out in the wintry weather. [Britain's "elf 'n safety" obsession obviously did nothing for them]

"I think we have started to go down the route where we have dumbed down playgrounds to make sure that toddlers are safe but we have lost the challenge and excitement for older children," Mr Cornall told The Times. Approximately 40,000 children are taken to hospital as a result of injuries obtained in playgrounds every year. [Britain's "elf 'n safety" obsession obviously did nothing for them]

The Child Safety Education Coalition (CSEC) announced today and supported by a 1.6 million pound government grant, will look at ways to teach children how to avoid danger, deal with fire in the home and take calculated risks. "We want to equip young people with skills so they can live healthy, adventurous, active lives," Mr Cornall said. "It is as important that they go outside and climb trees as it is they play computer games. We don't want 12-year-olds going to secondary school having never climbed a tree or walked to school on their own. "It's promoting minor accidents to prevent major accidents, so falling over in a playground, bumping your head, knowing what hurts or stings, will help you. "We don't want kids getting fractured skulls on playgrounds but we have to let them learn that bumps and bruises aren't going to be the end of the world. They can be positive and give people a coping mechanism and an understanding of the consequences."

Britain already has a number of permanent safety education centres and a range of annual safety events run under the banner of Learning About Safety by Experiencing Risk (Laser). They allow children to experience scenarios like roads, water, smoke-filled rooms and unsafe kitchens in a controlled environment. The new coalition will try to raise the profile of such activities. Sophie Wood, of NCB, said the coalition would encourage and support high-quality activities to help to reduce unintended injuries to children.

Francesca Anobile, 16, was fatally injured while sledging with friends in Rotherham last Tuesday. Ben Newell, six, died on Saturday after he fell through ice on a pond near Pontefract. His 12-year-old brother Dylan was pulled from the pond and survived. [Britain's "elf 'n safety" obsession obviously did nothing for them]


Eggs back in favour

They are just flailing around but it is certainly true that there is no evidence of harm to your heart from eggs

Going to work on an egg may be good for you after all. Fears that eating one egg a day will lead to high cholesterol and heart disease were challenged yesterday by scientific research. It seems that there is no reason after all for healthy people to limit egg consumption to three a week - even though nearly half of British people believe that this is the maximum recommended number. A paper to be published soon in the British Nutrition Foundation's Nutrition Bulletin has found that cholesterol in eggs has only a small and clinically insignificant effect on blood cholesterol. While people with high blood cholesterol are at increased risk of heart disease, only a third of the cholesterol in the body is attributed to diet.

Other factors linked to high cholesterol levels are smoking, being overweight and lack of exercise, and the main culprit from food is saturated fat, not cholesterol found in eggs. There was some scepticism about the findings when it was confirmed that Juliet Gray, a public health nutritionist, was funded by the egg industry for her research time. The co-author Bruce Griffin, a professor of nutritional metabolism at the University of Surrey, did not receive payment, though in the past he has advised the British Egg Industry Council on scientific issues. However, it also emerged yesterday that the British Heart Foundation (BHF) revised its advice on egg consumption two years ago and no longer suggests a maximum of three eggs a week.

This advice is in line with guidance from the Food Standards Agency, which also says that most people have no reason to worry about the number of eggs they eat a week - though anyone who has inherited a genetic susceptibility to high blood cholesterol linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, about one in 500 people in Britain, is still advised to stick to two or at most three eggs a week.

The study concludes that health chiefs and GPs should demolish the myths about eggs and heart disease and communicate a message that there is no need to limit the number eaten as long as they are part of a healthy low saturated fat diet. Professor Griffin said: "The ingrained misconception linking egg consumption to high blood cholesterol and heart disease must be corrected. "The amount of saturated fat in our diet exerts an effect on blood cholesterol that is several times greater than the relatively small amounts of dietary cholesterol. "The UK public does not need to be limiting the number of eggs they eat."

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the BHF, confirmed that it no longer recommends a maximum consumption of two, three or four eggs a week. She said: "We recommend that eggs can be eaten as part of a balanced diet. There is cholesterol present in eggs but this does not usually make a great contribution to your level of blood cholesterol. "If you need to reduce your blood cholesterol level it is more important that you cut down on the amount of saturated fat in your diet from foods like fatty meat, full fat dairy products, cakes, biscuits and pastries."


The preposterous prejudice of the anti-MMR lobby

The campaigners were always irrational. Yet the paranoia persists and children's lives are more at risk than ever

Last week there was a bust-up in blogland. I'll explain later why it matters, but for now I'll just give you the bones of it. On one side was the author of the Bad Science blog, Ben Goldacre, who is an invaluable persecutor of the anti-scientific and wilfully inexpert.

On the other side was the warm, friendly broadcaster, Jeni Barnett, whose most substantial incarnation currently takes place on afternoons on LBC, a London local radio station, where she hosts a phone-in. Goldacre was so annoyed about the January 7 edition of Barnett's show, dealing, among other things, with MMR and vaccination, that he posted the whole of it as a clip on his own website, where it acted as a sort of audio chamber of horrors to appal his readers. A few days later the lawyers for LBC contacted Goldacre and told him that he was infringing their copyright and must remove the clip forthwith, or else.

Goldacre was now anger squared. "This is not about LBC or Jeni Barnett," he wrote. "This is about one perfect, instructive, illustrative example of a whole genre of irresponsible journalism that drove the media's anti-vaccine campaign for ten solid years, with serious consequences for public health."

Goldacre's accusation is important. Last week ended with new figures for measles cases in the United Kingdom, showing that over the past decade we have managed the interesting - and almost unprecedented - trick of reintroducing into this country a disease that had more or less disappeared. A few children will have died as a result and some others will suffer serious long-term health problems. These figures correlate to the drop in parents giving their children the MMR vaccination.

And that drop, more controversially, may be seen as the consequence of a panic about MMR that began around 2001, peaked in 2002-03, and still - even after the discrediting of the claims about the supposed link between MMR and autism- affects vaccination rates today. Unable to listen to the withdrawn audio clips, I settled for some of the transcripts of Barnett's phone-in as posted on various websites. The host had begun telling listeners: "Always at the back of it [vaccination] in my head is `hold on a minute, there's a drug company that's making lots of money out of it'." She reminded listeners (in case they had overlooked it) that "if, as a human being you decide you do not want to give your child a vaccination, you should, in a democracy, have that right to say `no'."

Of course they do have that right, which is why we're suffering measles outbreaks now. But it was more than that for Barnett, concerned as she was to bolster the position of those brave parents who refused to vaccinate. "It's a lonely decision, if you're not part of the herd, if you're not mooing with the other cows or baaing with the other sheep..." And so it went on.

The third element to today's argument is provided by a spread in The Sunday Times last weekend, providing new evidence about how the original scare story over MMR was created. It claimed that several of the 12 children who were the subjects of Dr Andrew Wakefield's original research paper in 1998 - the one on which virtually the entire MMR scare was founded - either had symptoms that predated their vaccination, or that developed several months afterwards. It also reminded readers that before the examination of any of these children Wakefield was already employed by a lawyer for the anti-vaccination pressure group, Jabs, to establish a case against the manufacturers of vaccines. One month before the first child in the study arrived at Wakefield's hospital, Wakefield had already filed a confidential document stating that the object of his research was to discover evidence "acceptable in a court of law" of a link between MMR vaccines and "certain conditions" reported by families seeking compensation.

And sure enough Wakefield did "discover" a link (though not one ever "acceptable in a court of law"). That research was never replicated by any other study and no correlation has ever been found between the incidence of autism and the use of MMR, despite Wakefield's constant and confident assertions that such definitive evidence was imminent.

But, oh Lord, who'd have believed it? It was the way in which Wakefield's lone thesis was reported, dramatised and discussed that created the MMR scare and, therefore, the current measles outbreaks.

Last week, justifying herself on her blog, Barnett invoked the spirit of the insurgent ignoramus. Yes, she said, she should have been ready with facts and figures on MMR. "As a responsible broadcaster I should have been better prepared; as a parent, however, I can fight my corner." Then she added: "I don't know everything that goes into cigarettes but I do know they are harmful."

But how did Barnett "know" they were harmful? Wasn't it down to the huge body of evidence showing the correlation between lung cancer and smoking? And didn't she recall the early days of that discussion, when anti-herd people would pause before lighting up and tell of elderly relatives who'd smoked all their lives without coming to harm? The shamefulness of much of the reporting of MMR by some journalists is the subject of much longer studies than I have space for.

What I find just as interesting is the psychology. And here's my fourth element. Last week a relative became involved in a multi-person e-mail exchange concerning vaccination against the virus that causes cervical cancer. The first query had hardly been lodged before one correspondent - a highly educated and intelligent woman - asserted that "girls have died in the US" from the vaccination, and implying that profit-seeking drug companies (with the connivance of governments, presumably) were prepared to kill our kids in order to make money.

This reply, though intended for limited circulation, was so categorical yet so paranoid, that it was easy to imagine a fresh scare, perhaps arriving later in the year, concerning these new vaccinations. Maybe there'd be a maverick doctor, maybe Juliet Stevenson would portray a bereft but instinctual mother in a docudrama, maybe hacks would fill their pages and phone-in hosts their long hours with speculation dressed up as information.

That's why I'm passionately for Goldacre, and why I find myself wondering whether we can file a class action against LBC for permitting a presenter to inflict her preposterous prejudices on her listeners, to the detriment of someone else's kids.


British fee-paying schools beat the recession: Record applications as parents give up luxuries

This tells you how bad British government schools are

Record numbers of parents are registering their children for private schools despite the recession, a survey shows today. Parents are curbing spending on designer clothes, new cars and eating out to enable them to afford the fees, head teachers said. A survey of 90 schools in the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, representing 250 leading day and boarding schools, found that advance registrations and entrance exam attempts for places for 11-year-olds were up 1.7 per cent on last year. For 13-year-olds, they were up 7.5 per cent and for sixth-form places, they rose 8.2 per cent. Meanwhile only 0.2 per cent of pupils have had to be withdrawn from their schools so far this academic year 'for purely financial reasons', which extrapolated across HMC's 190,000 pupils gives just 380.

The survey found that nine out of ten heads believe their schools are in a strong position to withstand the recession. Richard Cairns, of Brighton College, said he would 'eat my hat' if numbers at his school were lower in September than now. 'What we are seeing are families re-evaluating what really matters,' he said. 'Designer clothes, the latest car and meals at expensive restaurants matter not a jot when set against a child's education. 'We saw record numbers attending our open morning on Saturday and we have never had so many applications.'

He added that figures showing increasing demand at schools in the survey may reflect a 'flight to quality' as parents shun lesser-known schools perceived to be financially precarious. 'With all the talk of school closures, parents are avoiding the smaller schools,' he said. 'Many of these were struggling before the recession, a consequence in large part of the mounting cost of Government red tape. 'The recession may well be the final blow that puts them out of their misery. 'One consequence of this will be a severe dislocation in the private school sector as parents send their children in greater numbers to those schools at the top end of the market but shun the smaller, less secure options.'

Michael Punt, head master of Chigwell School in Essex, said applications for both seven and 11-year-olds were up between 5 and 10 per cent. 'Parents are saying to us they are still very keen,' he added. 'We realise life is going to be hard, and get harder. 'A lot of our parents work in the financial sector or have their own businesses. 'They are making sacrifices anyway and are prepared to continue to make sacrifices. Education is one of the last things to go. 'We have had a lot of very good applications from primary school children, if anything slightly more than last year; it is not just those at local prep schools.'

Bernard Trafford, HMC chairman, said: 'Parents remain convinced of the value of a good independent education, with its high academic standards and a full all-round experience, and they will continue to invest in it for their children. 'We all recognise that conditions will probably get worse for some parents and the situation in January is, of course, only a provisional indication of what will happen later.'

A survey of councils before Christmas found that one in ten had been contacted by fee-paying parents asking for places at state schools and one in five said they expected increased demand in the near future. Most areas with large numbers of state grammar [selective] schools have seen an upturn in the number of pupils sitting the 11-plus. Town halls are braced for an influx of 11,000 children to state primary and secondary schools over the next 18 months.


Anger as some British selective schools become more selective

Admissions to the remaining government-funded selective schools are much sought after but the rules for accessing them are in flux.

Two leading girls' grammar schools are cutting back on places reserved for local children. Wallington High School and Nonsuch High School, both in Sutton, southwest London, and among the top in the country, will no longer offer 80 per cent of places to children living in the catchment area. This has infuriated parents, some of whom moved closer to the schools to gain entry. But the schools have defended the plans, saying they will ensure access to all bright children.

The move highlights the confusion surrounding the Government's revised schools admissions code. Schools must ensure admissions arrangements abide by the code in time for school entry in September 2010. But different schools are interpreting the rules differently.

Last week two grammar schools in Dorset were accused of discriminating against the middle classes after The Times revealed they give state school pupils priority in admissions over private sector pupils. In a separate move, the Schools Adjudicator ordered grammar schools in Warwickshire to stop recruiting children from outside their area. The Sutton case contradicts this ruling because the schools are deliberately increasing recruitment from outside their areas.

Under proposals for entry into Nonsuch in 2010, all places would be allocated on the basis of test scores to pupils, wherever they live. At Wallington the number of places for local children would be halved to about 60. Barbara Greatorex, headmistress of Wallington Girls, said her aim was to attract bright girls, including children of families that can't afford to buy a home near the school. “We wanted to be as fair as possible. My philosophy is that I'm open for clever girls, regardless of their background,” she said.


New fiasco for British government as just 35 of the 7,000 illegal immigrants involved in security vetting scandal are deported

Only 35 of the 7,000 illegal migrants caught up in the Home Office security guard vetting scandal have been deported, it emerged last night. The revelation is a blow to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who promised to take tough action against those wrongly cleared to guard some of the country's most important government buildings. She announced 15 months ago that up to 10,000 illegals had been cleared to work as security guards. Some 3,000 later established their right to work here, reducing the total to 7,075. But yesterday it emerged that only 13 have been prosecuted for criminal offences, despite 3,275 of those cleared to work by the Security Industry Authority using a false name, or giving other false details, according to figures obtained by Tory MP James Clappison.

Ministers did not want to make public the fact that so many illegals were working in the security industry - including one person guarding the Prime Minister's car. But it emerged after a series of leaks from the Home Office.

Yesterday, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: 'This sends a terrible message around the world about the willingness - or lack of it - of this Government to police our borders and control the flow of migrant workers into the country. 'They know who these people are, where they were working, and that they are here illegally. A year later virtually nothing has been done about it. It's an absolute disgrace, and a clear indicator of just how ineffective the Home Secretary is.'

Liberal Democrat spokesman Chris Huhne added: 'This is just another instance of the Government's abject failure to get a grip of illegal immigration. Ministers have not grasped that policy must be about delivery rather than mere words.'

In a written reply to Mr Clappison, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas claimed publicity about checks within the security industry would forewarn targets and compromise deportations.

It is the second Home Office scandal which Ministers have failed to clean up. After the mistaken release of 1,000 foreign prisoners without them being even considered for removal, Ministers promised they would be tracked down and - where possible - removed. But figures released to MPs in November showed that only 333 of the criminals have been booted out. To add to the farce, 90 of them had still not been traced - 30 months after the scandal cost then Home Secretary Charles Clarke his job. Officials said it had either been ruled that their crimes were not serious enough to warrant their removal, or the courts had ordered that they could not be deported.

Mr Woolas said the UK Border Agency had carried out an extensive programme of visits to workplaces during the course of its investigation into the illegal immigrant security guard fiasco. He added: 'In February this year, we introduced a tough new system of heavy financial penalties for employers found to be employing illegal migrant workers, making it progressively more difficult for illegal immigrants to remain in the United Kingdom.' In December, it emerged almost 2,200 foreign prisoners had been released from jail early with up to 168 pounds each of taxpayers' cash to compensate them for the loss of bed and board.


Must not criticize Muslims, homosexuals and asylum seekers

You can lose your job by doing so in Britain:
"Protestors have gathered outside the hearing of a teacher and British National Party member accused of religious intolerance. Adam Walker, a former soldier and karate expert from Durham, could be the first teacher to be struck off the register for religious intolerance if found guilty by the General Teaching Council (GTC).

The 39-year-old technology teacher left Houghton Kepier Sports College in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland in 2007 after it was alleged he used a school laptop to contribute racist and religiously intolerant views to online discussions during lessons. The alleged incident, in which he is said to have criticised Muslims, homosexuals and asylum seekers, is said to have happened between February and March 2007.


Anger over 'sexist' Virgin airline advertisement

Women must not look attractive!
"Virgin Atlantic has been accused of sexism over a steamy advertising campaign featuring crowds lusting over sexy female cabin crew. A string of complaints have been made to Britain's advertising watchdog arguing that the ad is insulting to women.

The 90-second television ad shows red-suited cabin crew walking through an airport for Virgin Atlantic's first flight in 1984. Onlookers turn their heads and men ogle the sexy hostesses with dreamy looks on their faces, enthralled with the progression. One man drops his mobile phone and another squirts sauce from his hamburger down his shirt.

The ending of the ad shows a scantily-dressed woman painted on the side of the Virgin plane winking as the plane takes off, with the line "still red hot".


Video of the ad at the link.

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