Saturday, April 25, 2009

British school indifferent to bullying

Government rules under which they operate leave them powerless to discipline anybody so all that they deploy is bulldust -- to no effect whatever

The parents of the Olympic diver Tom Daley have taken him out of school after he complained of being bullied. The 14-year-old athlete, who found himself in the public eye after representing Britain at the Beijing Olympics last year, said that he had been attacked by pupils in the playground of his school in Devon, south west England.

His parents said that the bullying began when he started Year 10 in September, after returning from China. The situation became untenable last week when an older boy allegedly cornered Tom and said: "How much are those legs worth? We're going to break your legs."

His father, Rob Daley, 38, said that he kept his son at home this week after staff at the Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth refused to take action, despite complaints being lodged. Mr Daley said he was concerned that the bullying could affect his son's performance in a competition in Florida next month. He said that if the bullying did not stop he would move Tom to a new school. "The bullying is severe," he said. "He has been tackled to the floor walking through the school field and in class they throw pens and pencils at him. Some of them have even threatened to break his legs. That was the last straw. It has got to the point where enough is enough.

"The school has had plenty of opportunities to sort it out but it hasn't been done. It's gone way beyond mickey-taking - he has the whole school on his back and he knows that if he retaliates he will be all over the papers. It's just jealousy - it can't be anything else. I've been to see Tom's head of year and also the principal, because Tom has been so upset."

Mr Daley said that he had kept Tom away from school for two days before the Easter break because he felt that the bullying might affect his son's form at the Fina World Series competition in Sheffield.

Tom, who finished 7th in the men's 10m platform event in Beijing, said that he was being victimised by many pupils and had become a "hate" figure. "I ignored the `diver boy' or `Speedo boy' comments when I came back from Beijing last year, hoping they would get fed up and stop. The trouble is they haven't, and it's even the younger kids who are joining in," he said. "It's getting to the stage now where I think `oh, to hell with it. I don't want to go back to school'. "They've been taking the mick for ages, but they now spend most of their time throwing stuff at me. I thought it would calm down but it hasn't. Normally, I try not to go out during breaks if I can help it. I just stay in class. "It's sad and annoying that I can't have a normal school life. But I put up with it because I'm doing something I love. And I'm lucky I've got four good friends.

"If a teacher sees the kids doing it they'll tell them to stop, but I've got to the point that I really don't care. I'm away from school a lot anyway. I have fans outside school, but in school, it's the opposite - they all hate me." He is studying for nine GCSEs.

Katrina Borowski, the college principal, confirmed that Tom's "extremely high profile" had led to a number of "immature" students being disciplined. "Meetings have been held between college staff, parents and Tom's friends in which appropriate strategies were discussed. Certain students have been sanctioned. We take the wellbeing of students extremely seriously and have a very clear policy for dealing swiftly and firmly with any incidents of conflict that arise," she said.

Officials at British Swimming, the governing body for diving, said they would provide a psychologist and lifestyle coach for Tom, if he wants them on his return from the Florida event. "It is a shame but not a surprise in today's world," a spokesman for British Swimming said. "Tom's parents are handling things, but obviously we have a duty of care and are very concerned. We will give any help we can to a promising young athlete."


Girl, 3, has NHS heart operation cancelled three times because of bed shortage

A three-year-old girl awaiting heart surgery has had her operation cancelled three times this month because of a shortage of beds. Ella Cotterell was due to have aorta-widening surgery on Monday at the Children’s Hospital, Bristol. But 48 hours beforehand, the operation was cancelled for the third time as all 15 beds in the intensive care unit were occupied, her parents said.

A hospital spokesman said that procedures would be reviewed, but the case highlights a growing problem of cancelled operations in the NHS. More than 57,000 surgeries were postponed for non-clinical reasons, including a lack of beds, last year – 10 per cent more than the previous year. Latest figures show that the problem persists. At least 43,000 operations were cancelled in the first nine months of 2008-09, with nearly 1,800 patients not being treated within 28 days of their original scheduled date.

Among the excuses for cancellation the previous year were a hospital running out of shavers to prepare patients for surgery, a surgeon going missing following a fire alarm, and a patient’s translator failing to turn up.

Ella needed open heart surgery when she was nine days old to repair her aorta, the body’s main artery, which had not formed properly in the womb. At 18 months old she suffered a stroke after falling down the stairs at her home and banging her head, temporarily paralysing the left side of her body.

Her parents, Ian Cotterell and Rachel Davis, were told last October that she would need an operation within 12 to 18 months. Doctors carried out two angioplasties, where small balloons are inserted and inflated to clear a blocked blood vessel, but neither was successful. Further surgery was initially planned for April 2 but was cancelled because of emergency cases and rearranged for four days later, the couple said. However, the operation was cancelled again for the same reason.

A third date was arranged for April 20 and last Thursday Ella went to the hospital for tests. On Saturday her parents received another call explaining her operation would have to be cancelled. Ms Davis, who works part-time as an accident and emergency nurse at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, said that she was devastated when she was told there were not enough beds. “My husband and I were in tears,” she said. “When our six-year-old son Liam asked what was wrong we told him Ella’s operation had been cancelled again and he said we should tell Gordon Brown.”

The family are waiting for another surgery date. In the meantime, Ella is having to take adult doses of medication to control her blood pressure. “We have asked the doctors if she really needs the surgery as she is so happy at the moment and is running around like a normal little girl, but she could drop down dead at any moment,” Ms Davis said. “Twice I have been told that she may not make it through the night and there have been times when I have gone into her room in the morning and wondered whether she’d still be breathing.

She called on the Government to put more money into the NHS before a child died on the waiting list. “I have worked in the NHS for 22 years so I know what happens in hospitals,” she said. “I cannot fault the doctors and nurses for all they have done for Ella – she would not be alive today without them. “I believe Ella is the tip of the iceberg and that there are many other families out there that have had their operations cancelled many more times but have not spoken out about it. “This is a national problem, there are not enough resources in the NHS and it is about prioritising. “It is a matter of time before a child dies on the waiting list and I don’t want it to be Ella. If that does happen the Government will have blood on their hands.”

Michele Narey, of the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, said that she could not discuss individual cases. She added: “The decision to cancel any patient for any procedure is taken extremely seriously but is sometimes unavoidable because of the need to effectively manage emergency patients requiring beds on a day-to-day basis. “We know that cancelling procedures can cause additional stress for patients so we will always seek to avoid this wherever possible.”


France ready to speed illegals on their way -- to Britain

France's immigration minister has pledged to shut down a vast squat in Calais that is home to hundreds of illegal migrants seeking to reach Britain and open small 'welcome centres' in its place. Eric Besson, who is visiting Calais, said a wooded area known as "the jungle", which is home to around 800 migrants and where a London student was raped last year, would be cleared and sealed off. "The jungle will cease to exist," he said as he visited a chemical factory next to the shanty town and which has endured repeated thefts. "Keeping and developing the jungle is ... contrary to all economic development and employment interests," he said.

The migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and several African countries would not, however, be "abandoned", he said. Instead, they would be offered food, showers and information on how to claim asylum in the welcome centres. He denied emphatically that these would be "mini-Sangattes" – referring to the Red Cross Centre which acted as a magnet to thousands of migrants hoping to reach the UK before being closed as part of an Anglo-French agreement in 2002. "There will be no new Sangatte. There will be no mini-Sangatte," he said.

The new measures would allow local authorities to "better treat people without papers, without setting anything permanent," he said. On Tuesday, 500 French police officers arrested 194 migrants in and around the "jungle" in an operation aimed, they said, at breaking up people smuggling gangs who charge up to £1,000 for illegal passage to England. Although Mr Besson called the operation a success, all those detained have been released without charge. His ministry said that Tuesday's sweep was "part of this project to shut down the jungle" and that "other similar operations will be carried out". [Equally futile ones, apparently]

However, Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, said that the task of closing the migrant shanty town was too great for local authorities. "It's not a camp, it's a village. The municipal workers cannot clean it up, they're not up to it," she said, adding that the army would have to be called in. "There are more than 80 shelters, with a transport stop, a mosque and a shop."

She said that she would urge Mr Besson to "renegotiate international agreements", including pushing for Britain to sign up to the Schengen agreement, which permits free travel between designated European Union states without passport controls. If the UK entered Schengen, then all of the Calais migrants could cross to Dover unchecked, placing the onus on Britain to handle their asylum requests. Mrs Bouchart said: "Today, with some 800 migrants in the town, the situation is becoming unmanageable. Calais is hostage to Britain, which refuses to ratify Schengen."

However, Phil Woolas, Britain's Immigration Minister, said: "The UK policy is to not sign up to the Schengen Agreement." His French counterpart, Mr Besson, has made no mention of the Schengen issue but has promised to come up with a "solution" to the Calais migrant problem by May 1 and to ask Britain to do more. He said: "Great Britain must probably reinforce its controls, take a more important financial slice of the burden and must above all ask itself why illegal work on its territory is considered by traffickers and migrants alike as so enticing."


And So He Became a Communist

By Theodore Dalrymple

It is an interesting, though perhaps unanswerable, question as to how much untruth you can squeeze into a single word of one syllable, either explicitly or by implication. However, I came across a very fine example of such compression in the British liberal newspaper, The Guardian, the other day.

I have reached the age at which I turn first to the obituary pages, as I once (how long ago it seems, and how incomprehensible to me now!) would have turned to the sports results. I cannot quite put my finger on why obituaries fascinate me, or seem important; it is certainly not personal connection with the departed, for I have never consorted with the famous, nor have they consorted with me.

The obituary page of The Guardian had recently adopted a feature called Other Lives, that is to say short obituaries of people whom its readership believes are worthy of public memorialisation but who are not otherwise well-known. And so, on 17 April, it carried an obituary of a man called Ron Bellamy, written by his wife. The obituary begins:

"My husband Ron Bellamy, who has died at the age of 92, was a dedicated teacher, a Marxist economist and a lifelong communist."

It continues shortly afterwards:

"Like so many of his generation, he was deeply affected by mass unemployment, poverty, and the threat of fascism and war, so he joined the Communist party".

It is the second ‘so’ of this sentence that is fascinating. So short a word, so many ambiguities; so much suggestio falsi, so much suppressio veri. Truly, human language is a subtle instrument. Suppose the late Ron had been a fascist instead of a communist, and – as is not very likely - The Guardian had accorded him space for an obituary, would it not have been possible to write the following?

"Like so many of his generation, he was deeply affected by mass unemployment, poverty, and the threat of communism and war, so he joined the British Union of Fascists".

At the time he joined the Communist Party, the second sentence would have made much more sense than the first (though still not a lot). The obituary does not give the date that Ron joined the Communist Party, but since he was born in 1916 or 1917 (the precise date of his birth is also not given), it seems likely that he joined at some time between 1936 and 1938. By then, communism in Russia had brought two massive famines causing the deaths of millions, routinely more executions in a day than Tsarism performed in a century (and this from the very first moment of Bolshevik power), the establishment of vast forced labour camps in which hundreds of thousands had already died, and the utter decimation of intellectual life. It is a myth that none of this was known or knowable at the time: on the contrary, it was all perfectly well known, if widely ignored.

By contrast, Nazism had ‘only’ passed its persecutory Nuremberg race laws, while its death toll – when the late Ron joined the party – was numbered in the hundreds, rather than the millions. Most of its evil was in the future. Of course, it had suppressed intellectual freedom too, and established concentration camps for ‘enemies,’ but the late Ron obviously didn’t mind that, if it was all in a good cause. Nazism had done a good job in reducing unemployment, without first having caused two vast famines, and the standard of living in Nazi Germany was incomparably higher than that in Soviet Russia, including for the workers.

So it would at the time have made more sense at the time for Ron to become a fascist than a communist; the ‘so’ would have been slightly more compelling, though the explanation of his decision would still have been far from complete. It is intrinsically unlikely that a man espouses a totalitarian doctrine of proved and indisputable viciousness and violence from a love of peace and a dislike of poverty.

Although the author of the obituary was herself a communist, and indeed met her husband through the Communist Party (in 1953), the ‘so’ to which I have drawn attention has a slight exculpatory connotation, as if it is there to head off criticism from anti-communists. Yes, it seems to say, you may criticise Ron for being a communist; but what you have to remember is the economic and political context in which he joined. In that context, any generous-minded and hearted man concerned about the fate of the world might have made the same decision.

But this, if it was meant, is untruthful. The late Ron was a member of the Communist Party for forty years. In 1961, he actually spent a year in the Soviet Union, conducting ‘research.’ That meant he swallowed many things without any of them impinging on him in the slightest: not only the famines, but the show trials, the Gulag, the Great Terror, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, the ludicrous cult of Stalin’s personality, the removal of entire populations, the Doctor’s Plot, the show trials in Czechoslovakia, Romania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the Berlin and Hungarian uprisings, to name but a few.

So – if I may still use that tainted word – it is simply not true that the conjunction of circumstances was what determined the late Ron’s political choice for communism, neither at the beginning nor at the end of his life. If it had been true, the late Ron would not have remained in the Communist Party for forty years. It is more probable, indeed, that he was attracted by precisely those aspects of communism that would repel most decent people: its violence and ruthlessness; its suppression of all views inimical to it; its cruel wholesale restructuring of society according to the crude and gimcrack ideas of arrogant, ambitious but profoundly mediocre intellectuals. The late Ron’s personal modesty notwithstanding – I see no reason to disbelieve his wife’s assertion that he was friendly and unassuming, as indeed Stalin, Uncle Joe, was often described as being – what he dreamed of was mass murder, deportations, suppression of people who differed from him, and complete control over the lives of everyone. Many people do dream of these things: most utopians, in fact.

At the very least, the late Ron was, in political matters, a moral idiot. The ‘so’ is subtly designed to disguise the fact.


Pancreatic cancer therapy 'hope'

Promising early results for a drug for pancreatic cancer have been reported by a team of UK and US scientists. The drug, which targets a molecule called PKD involved in tumour growth, also seemed effective in animal tests on lung cancer, the researchers said. The findings are especially encouraging because there are few treatments available and survival is poor. Human trials should start within 18 months, the American Association for Cancer Research conference was told.

PKD is a family of molecules called kinases which provide a signalling function between the outside and inside of the cell. Also involved in cell survival and the formation of new blood vessels, PKD was discovered to be potentially key target in tumours by UK researchers some years ago. A team at Cancer Research Technology Ltd - a company owned by Cancer Research UK - then developed molecules which would inhibit the effects of PKD. The latest results on the resulting drug, known as CRT0066101, show it inhibits the growth of pancreatic tumours in mice and works in lung cancer models. It is thought that future studies may show the drug to be effective on a wider range of cancers.

Human trials should be starting after safety studies have been completed, they researchers said. CRT's discovery laboratories director Dr Hamish Ryder said the team focused on pancreatic and lung cancer tumours because they are cancers with a "significant unmet medical need".

Dr Sushovan Guha, who leads the laboratory at MD Anderson Cancer Center and collaborated in the project, added he was optimistic about the drug's potential. In addition to killing cancer cells, it is hoped the drug will stop tumours growing and spreading by blocking blood vessel growth. "This would mean it offers a double action treatment but this needs to be proved through further work."

Sue Ballard, the founder of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said the disease caused 5% of cancer deaths but only received 1% of disease funding. "There is a great lack of really effective treatments, surgery gives the best chance if done early but even in that situation it can recur or spread. "This research is in the very early stages but anything that's starting to show promising results is vitally needed."


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