Friday, May 08, 2009

Nigel Farage, the Leader of the UK Independence Party, gets the European Parliament right

This is one of the best political speeches I have heard for a long time. Do American politicians ever speak so frankly and forcefully? I think the GOP should recruit him, myself. He is referring to the Fascistic decision by the EU parliament to act as if their huge new "constitution" had been approved by the voters when in fact majorities in France, Ireland and Nederland (Holland) have rejected it at the ballot box

He points out that abuse is all they have to offer when he points out the impropriety of their actions. Sound familiar?

"A complete shower" is British slang meaning a group of completely incompetent and useless failures. It originated in the British armed forces where its unabbreviated version was "A complete shower of sh*t". I wonder how the EU translators translated it? It probably stumped them. All of the Anglospheric countries have rich slang vocabularies that are not usually in the dictionaries and which are not fully understood even in other Anglospheric countries. If I had been giving the speech above, I might well have called the EU parliament "a mob of drongoes", which is a rough translation into Australian English of Farage's remark.

Farage's UKIP is a minor British conservative party because the mainstream Tories include a substantial number of Europe-lovers. UKIP wants Britain out of the EU. I personally think that membership of NAFTA would suit Britain better than membership of the EU.

Wealthier people are healthier and more long-lived

Nice to see this admitted occasionally. Social class is very often ignored in epidemiological studies -- to the detriment of the conclusions

It may not guarantee happiness, but money, it seems, is the key to a long and healthy old age. Those who are poorer and less well educated die earlier and develop illness sooner than the better off and well-qualified, a Government-backed study said yesterday. And those who get the choice of early retirement [Who also are probably better-off people financially] are also likely to enjoy longer life and better health, the study said.

The findings will deepen concerns over the future welfare of older people at a time when their numbers are rising sharply, and the collapse of pension expectations means that many will have restricted incomes. Voluntary early retirement has also disappeared from the private sector in the face of eroded pensions and the growing demands of taxation. Only the one in five workers who are employed by the state still enjoy guaranteed salary-linked pensions and the prospect of early retirement.

The study, for the Economic and Social Research Council, found that those from the worst-off social groups are likely to die earliest. Those with less education and wealth are most likely to say they are depressed or to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. The study, based on a series of surveys of 12,000 older people, said the effect of such differences can be seen most sharply among those in their 50s and 60s but persists for people of the greatest age.

'Early retirement is generally good for people's health and well-being unless it has been forced on them,' the study said. 'Those forced into early retirement generally have poorer mental health than those who take routine retirement, who in turn have poorer mental health than those who have taken voluntary early retirement.'

The study said that redundancy or illhealth are the usual causes of compulsory early retirement. Professor James Nazroo, of Manchester University, who carried out the study, said: 'These findings have implications for us all. Increases in life expectancy raise major challenges for public policy. 'Among these is the need to respond to marked inequalities in economic position and life expectancy at older ages.'

The report added that older people who do charity or volunteer work are often healthier than others. Professor Nazroo said: 'Despite the fact that we are all living longer, many people now stop work before the statutory retirement age and a large proportion of these still have the potential to provide a positive input into society.'



Book Review by Nigel Lawson of "A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a new Era of Progress and Prosperity" by Nicholas Stern

As a general rule, I do not believe in reviewing bad books. Review space is limited, and the many good books that are published deserve first claim on it. But climate change is such an important subject, and — thanks to heavy promotion by that great publicist, Tony Blair — the Stern Review of the economics of climate change has become so well known (not least to the vast majority who have never read it, among whom in all probability is Mr Blair), that anything from Lord Stern deserves some attention.

However, anyone looking for anything new in this rather arrogant book — all those who dissent from Stern’s analysis, his predictions, or his prescriptions are dismissed as ‘both ignorant and reckless’ (the word ‘ignorant’ recurs frequently) — will be disappointed. The first half of the book is a rehash of the original Stern Review, and the second half a rehash of his lengthy 2008 LSE study Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change. This last is an exercise in political naivety which does not improve on its second outing; and the European Union leadership trumpeted by Stern (‘We can expect the EU and its member countries to continue to drive forward action on climate change’) has already collapsed with the back-tracking at the EU climate summit last December, after this book went to press.

The Stern Review sought to argue that atmospheric greenhouse gas (chiefly carbon dioxide) concentrations could be stabilised at relatively low global cost, and the resulting benefit from preventing much further warming would far outweigh that cost. This analysis has been wholly discredited by pretty well every prominent economist who has addressed the issue. For example, Professor Helm of Oxford, probably Britain’s most eminent energy economist, has recently observed that Stern’s implausibly low ‘cost numbers … [are] all but useless for the purposes of policy design and implementation’. So far from seriously addressing the substantial objections Stern’s critics have made, this book essentially just reiterates the original (non-peer reviewed, incidentally) analysis.

The only significant economic support for Stern’s prescription has come from Professor Weitzman, of Harvard, who accepts that Stern’s cost-benefit analysis is all wrong, but maintains that this is an issue where cost benefit analysis is inapplicable: there is an outside chance of a disaster so great that it needs to be averted irrespective of cost. One obvious problem with this approach, however, is that there is an outside chance of all manner of disasters, and we cannot spend unlimited resources on seeking to avert them all. Moreover, one of them is a new ice age, which would be very much worse; and indeed the formidably eminent scientist, Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton, believes that any warming that might occur might well be helpful in forestalling a new ice age.


A British green dream that didn't work out

If you’ve never heard of Feather Down Farms, you can’t have been going to the right dinner parties. They’re a middle-class phenomenon, the Boden of holidays. From one UK farm in 2006, the franchise has bloomed to 20 this year, with more in the pipeline.

The theory’s simple. You get a posh tent, with a wooden floor, running water, ensuite loo and fluffy duvets, all in the bosom of nature on a genuine working farm. The natural life, with enough luxury to take the rough edges off. How zeitgeisty is that?

The idea tunes right into every bourgeois back-to-the-land fantasy from The Good Life on. There’s even a rustic-looking cool box to store the Sancerre.

This season, they’ve introduced a trio of new wheezes. A couple of farms have added an outdoor hot tub, others a pre-prepared stew pot, and some — of which our destination, Aller Farm, in Devon, was one — a smoker, so you can make your own kippers. Fabulous, and a great excuse to break out the Cath Kidston wellies and take another look at the family holiday de nos jours.

Everything looked pretty promising when we rolled up at Aller Farm. The five tents here are in a lovely spot, looking over a fence onto a rolling field dotted with suitably picturesque cows.

Inside, there’s a wood floor, a big living area with a kitchen island, two wood-partitioned bedrooms and an ingenious bed hidden in a cupboard, all scattered with folksy touches — an old leather suitcase, framed photos of farm animals, vintage sweet tins, a hand-grinder for your coffee. It’s rustic-trendy. You half-expect Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to pop up from behind the iron stove like a curly-haired Devon pixie.

So far, so twee. Just like the glossy brochure, in fact. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, a fair bit. They’d booked out two of the tents to a hen party: the first giveaway was the huge inflatable penis being carried across the site, which certainly wasn’t in the brochure. Nice enough girls, but tent walls did nothing to muffle the racket of that godawful Umber-ella song at 11.30pm.

The water supply was erratic, and failed completely for the best part of 24 hours, which seriously isn’t good (especially when the kids keep forgetting and using that flush toilet, which no longer flushes. Lovely). The stove belched noxious fumes at us like a factory chimney, and hardly warmed the tent at all — with hacking coughs and half a dozen jumpers on each, we were like a family of asthmatic Moomins.

By day two, we were tired, cold, thirsty and wheezing. Aw, stop whinging, I hear you say — you’re camping, it’s all about roughing it. Well, yes, and that’s just the point. The issue here isn’t that stuff went wrong. That happens with the outdoor life. It’s that you’re paying the sort of money that entitles you to expect otherwise. This is camping, but at cottage prices.

Spend a week at a Feather Down Farm in summer and you’re going to pay £795. For a tent. In Britain. Yes, they’re well equipped, but they’re still tents: cold, and noisy, and basic where it counts. You’ve got to do the communal-shower-block thing, and it takes a frostbitten hour every morning to get the stove hot enough to make a cup of tea.

That’s fine if you’re paying peanuts. On previous family camping trips — which we loved — we’ve embraced it as “part of the experience”. Here, though, there’s always the sneaky thought in the back of your mind: “For this sort of money, we could have had something made of bricks, with a shower and a kettle and heating and a reliable water supply and nice thick walls to keep noise out and warmth in.” Going back to basics isn’t half so much fun when you’re paying a premium for it.

To be fair, we were there on the first weekend of the season, and Nigel and Emma Parris, the likeable couple who run Aller, did their level best to fix the problems that came up. The trouble is, they’ve also got a 350-acre dairy farm to keep going.

The “working farm” thing’s an interesting one, in fact. The company makes a big deal of it, and it sounds idyllic for kids, but if a farm’s going to survive these days, it’s not going to be out of The Darling Buds of May, with two pigs, three sheep and a cow called Mabel.

It’s going to be a huge open-air factory — a pretty one, sure, but still with whacking great bits of machinery charging around and a full share of health and safety issues to worry about. You certainly can’t let children run all over it willy-nilly. Aller has a fun tour at milking time, chickens (fenced off) and a calf to feed, but otherwise, the stuff for kids consists of an old tyre filled with sand.

There’s something of the emperor’s new clothes about Feather Down Farms. The concept’s seductive, but the reality is, it’s a huge price for a big tent. Of course, you’re really paying for something else: an adman’s happy-family fantasy, contrived, cleverly photographed, ersatz. It’s no surprise that the brand was cooked up by the man behind Center Parcs, who knows a thing or two about pressing parents’ buttons. We’ve all fallen for his clever marketing, hook, line and sinker.

Other farms may not have the problems we found at Aller, and in any case, we clearly hit a tricky weekend there.

If we went back, I’m sure we’d have a better time. We won’t, though. When we go camping again, it’ll be to somewhere a quarter of the price of Feather Down Farms, with a tenth of the pretensions.

The smoker, by the way, is an oil drum with a thermometer in it. It didn’t work, and cost 40 quid to use. If you’re going, take your own kippers.


Starvation in the NHS again

Frail elderly patients may die because hospital staff are failing to help them to eat properly, Health Service managers have admitted for the first time.

A survey of NHS chiefs, seen by the Daily Mail, exposes the appalling standard of care which has seen the number of those dying of malnutrition on wards rising to its highest in a decade. Managers highlight the shocking state of NHS food, with one describing how he watched as his 86-year- old grandmother lost a stone after three weeks of not being fed properly. Another said the failure to help frail elderly patients to eat properly had 'potentially lethal' consequences.

And despite years of ministerial promises to improve hospital food, health workers described it as 'embarrassingly poor', ' abominable', 'unappetising', 'awful' and 'dreadful', adding that the failures are putting 'patient safety at risk'. Several said nutrition was being 'almost ignored' because there was no target or Government funding to improve the situation.

The survey, for the respected Health Service Journal, found only one in three hospitals bothered to weigh patients on admittance so they could ensure they were fed properly - even though a nutrition action plan launched with great fanfare two years ago promised this would happen.

Latest figures show that 242 people died of malnutrition in NHS hospitals in 2007 - the highest toll in a decade - and more than 8,000 left hospital more malnourished than when they arrived.

The Daily Mail's Dignity for the Elderly campaign has highlighted the scandal of old people not being fed properly in hospital. Food is often so unappetising that patients do not eat - and 11 million meals are thrown away every year. Sometimes food is placed out of patients' reach and taken away untouched, because nurses claim they are too busy to help them eat.

The Health Service Journal survey, which was carried out anonymously, involved 401 managers and health workers. It found that half believed the nutrition action plan, unveiled by ministers in 2007, had improved care 'not much' or 'not at all', and that only 38 per cent of trusts were screening all patients. Only 37 per cent of those who responded to the survey said nutritional care was a priority for hospital chief executives and boards. One said: 'Based on my experience watching my grandmother being cared for, my opinion is very low. Nutritional care was almost non-existent.'

Another manager said: 'I have recent experience of my 86-yearold grandmother losing one stone in three weeks. Disgraceful. The elderly, people with dementia, people with communication problems, are left to fend for themselves when it comes to meals and drinks.' Several managers said growing numbers of patients were dehydrated. One complained: 'Food is put out of reach and no assistance is given to those who require it.'

Many managers said the problem was caused by staff shortages and by the fact that nurses did not see nutrition as an important part of patient care. One said: 'Screening patients for malnutrition and providing assistance with eating do not happen. 'Everyone seems to think that it is someone else's job.' Another said: 'Nursing education does not give attention to it.'

Conservative health spokesman Stephen O'Brien said: 'The scandal of hospital malnutrition is completely avoidable and these extra deaths should not be allowed to happen. '[Health Secretary] Alan Johnson needs to stop dithering and take action on the scandal of malnutrition without delay.'


Michael Savage tells his listeners to boycott Britain

The American “shock jock” radio host Michael Savage, who was included on a Home Office list of 16 people banned from entering the country, last night urged his listeners to boycott Britain. He told his audience that Americans should not travel to Britain or buy British goods, and delivered a personal message to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who made the decision to include him on the list of unwanted foreigners: “Unless you remove my name forthwith, unless you admit you made a mistake, I will bring a major libel suit against you personally and I will win.”

Mr Savage opened fire on the Home Secretary on the conservative news website WorldNetDaily, where he said that his message to her and the British people was: “Shame on you. Shame that you’ve fallen to such a low level.”

“It’s interesting to me that here I am, a talk show host who does not advocate violence, who advocates patriotic traditional values — borders, language, culture — who is now on a list banned in England.

“What does that say about the Government of England? It says more about them than it says about me.” Mr Savage, 67, said that he had no plans to travel to Britain, which he last visited more than 20 years ago, and joked to the San Francisco Chronicle: “My first thought was, damn, there goes the summer trip where I planned to have my dental work done. My second thought was, darn, there goes my visit to the restaurants of England for their great cuisine.”

Yesterday the Home Office faced further criticism as it emerged that most of the 15 other people on the list had not attempted to visit Britain either.

Appearing alongside Mr Savage on the list are Yunis al-Astal, the Hamas MP, and the Jewish extremist Mike Guzovsky, two leaders of a violent Russian skinhead gang, the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Stephen “Don” Black and the neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe.

Two of them are serving 20-year jail sentences in Russia, and a Home Office spokesman admitted that people placed on the list had not necessarily intended or sought to come to Britain. He said that Ms Smith placed people on the list after receiving submissions from officials.

Last night, in an apparent attempt to counter Mr Savage’s criticism, one of Mrs Smith’s aides released a series of quotes from the DJ as proof of his history of making “outrageous and deeply offensive remarks”.

Listed among Mr Savage’s statements was the view that “children’s minds are being raped by the homosexual mafia”, and he told listeners that they faced a choice with regard to Muslims as to whether “we disappear or we die. Or would you rather they (Muslims) disappear and they die?”

Mark Stephens, of the London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said: “He would seem to have a very good case. The people on the list who have been banned are supposed to be advocating extreme violence and so to put him into that category is clearly defamatory.”


A fifth of British 11-year-olds with poor maths skills, say MPs

One in five children leaves primary school with a poor grasp of maths, despite £2.3 billion spent teaching the subject, MPs warned

According to a report, around 30,000 pupils started secondary school last year with the maths skills of a seven year old. The Commons Public Accounts Committee branded the results "disgraceful" and said Labour's numeracy strategy had stalled. MPs warned that many young people would need "expensive" remedial lessons in later life to get a job - posing major problems for the economy.

The findings come just months after Ofsted claimed almost half of maths lessons in English schools were not good enough. It said many teachers relied on textbooks and mundane exercises to make sure pupils passed exams at the expense of a proper understanding of the subject.

MPs backed the conclusions, saying too many pupils found lessons "boring". They insisted improvements had been made under Labour but achievement had "levelled off" in recent years.

Edward Leigh, the committee's Conservative chairman, said: "It is disgraceful that over one fifth of all primary school children reach the end of their primary education without a secure grasp of basic mathematical skills. This can have serious long-term consequences: for many then continue through secondary school without acquiring basic numeracy skills, impairing their chances in life and leaving them later in need of expensive remedial education."

Children are assessed by teachers in the classroom at the age of seven, before being given more formal Sats tests aged 11. At the age of seven, they are expected to reach "Level 2", meaning they can count up to 100 and carry out simple calculations. By 11, the average pupil is expected to get to "Level 4", meaning they can understand fractions, solve problems involving ratios, use decimal points and double or halve any two-digit number.

In 2008, 79 per cent of pupils met the Government's expected standard at the end of primary school, well short of the 85 per cent target set for 2006. Around five per cent moved to secondary school with the maths skills of a seven-year-old, said the committee.

In 2006/07, £2.3 billion was spent teaching the subject, an average cost of £570 per pupil. It equates to around a quarter of the £10 billion total budget for primary teaching and support staff.

The report said the Department for Children, Schools and Families needed to "radically re-think its strategy for improving pupil attainment, otherwise we seriously doubt that the department will meet its 2011 target". The target demands that 84.5 per cent of pupils will make the necessary progress between seven and 11.

Last year, the DCSF published a major review of maths education in England to boost standards. It called for a maths specialist in every primary school within 10 years and more emphasis on mathematical "play" in nursery schools.

But Mr Leigh said: "The department's 10 year programme to train 13,000 specialist maths teachers will not benefit some primary schools for another decade. That's far too long; the department needs to look for ways to accelerate the programme."

Sarah McCarthy Fry, the Schools Minister, said: "Last year, over 100,000 more children achieved a Level 4 in their maths at the age of 11 than in 1997. This is a tremendous achievement, of which our pupils and teachers should be rightly proud." She added: "We have already accepted the main recommendation from a recent independent review of primary maths that every school should have a specialist maths teacher and have pledged £24 million over the next three years for a training programme for teachers."

Nick Gibb, the Tory shadow schools secretary, said: "The Government is not getting value for the money they have piled into education and the country is falling behind in international league tables as a result. The Government has failed to grasp the nettle and replace methods of teaching which have failed with tried and tested methods used in countries that have much higher levels of maths achievement."


Dog's name in Dambusters remake causes headache for filmmakers

We read:
"It is not the full-scale replica of a Lancaster bomber nor the special effects that are causing problems for the makers of a multimillion-pound remake of the classic British war movie The Dam Busters.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson is producing the £21 million movie, to be filmed in Britain and New Zealand, and he has promised to be true to the original story. However RAF hero Guy Gibson, head of the mission that destroyed German dams during the Second World War, had a dog called N*gger and filmmakers are now wondering whether they dare utter in N-word in 2009.

The canine with the politically incorrect name, who featured in the 1951 book The Dam Busters, was mentioned 12 times in the 1954 film starring Sir Michael Redgrave.

RAF Squadron 617 used revolutionary "bouncing bombs" to target the dams of the Ruhr valley in May, 1943....

When the Dambusters project was announced in 2006, Jackson said: "It is not our intention to offend people. But really you are in a no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't scenario. If you change it, everyone's going to whinge and whine about political correctness. And if you don't change it, obviously you are offending a lot of people inadvertently."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course the dog was there first. The complainers want to alter history.
Anyway by now any mention of British prowess is probably illegal if not immoral.