Monday, May 25, 2009

Overgoverned Britain

We need a real life Howard Beale. Remember him? He was the fictional American television newsreader played by Peter Finch in the film Network. He became so frustrated at the refusal of anyone to listen to reason that he invited viewers to open their windows and yell into the streets: "I am as mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more.''

Let's face it: we are even madder than that; and not simply because we have found out that our MPs – or some of them at any rate – have been siphoning off large sums of our money to subsidise a lifestyle most of us can only dream about. We were already mad; we were just waiting for something to happen on which to vent our anger.

Normally when the British get irritated, we respond with a resigned and embarrassed shrug rather than shout and bellow. We are not like the French who take to the streets at the drop of a hat to chuck cobblestones at the police. But our characteristic mildness as a nation is being tested to destruction by our politicians – whether in national or local government – who have forgotten that if they must interfere in our lives, to do so only when it is absolutely necessary. We have the worst of all worlds – not only are we over-governed; we are badly governed as well.

We are snooped on more than the average North Korean, harried by marauding armies of parking enforcers and wheel-clampers; pestered by health fascists and safety obsessives and shaken by speed humps. If we smoke we are told where to puff; it we drink we are made to feel guilty; if we drive a big car we are pariahs; if we hunt we have been turned into criminals; if we make an "inappropriate" remark we can expect a visit from the police; if we stand up to hooligans we can end up in court.

Innocent people have been put on a DNA database meant for criminals and will stay there for some time even after the European Court of Human Rights said they should come off – which is a bit rich given that this government introduced the Human Rights Act in the first place to wave its progressive credentials around. Our children are all to have their details placed on a database known as ContactPoint because one appalling set of relatives killed a little girl who should have been watched by social services. For the failings of the system, all children have to be considered potentially "at risk".

In addition, we are all to be considered potential suspects in a crime, too. Why else would the government want us to be on an identity register, other than to know where we are all the time? And why should it? I have nothing to hide and I have nothing to fear but I fail to see why that means I should be on a state ID database.

How has all this come about? A clue can be found in the expenses crisis that has engulfed Westminster. MPs have simply not being doing their jobs properly. They are there to hold the Government to account but have allowed a torrent of legislation to pour forth. They have spent too much of their time thinking up ever more imaginative ways to claim their generous allowances. They have given up their primary task.

This Government has brought in more legislation than any of its predecessors. Since 1997, the Home Office alone has introduced 50 Bills, launched more than 100 consultation papers, made at least 350 regulations and created an astonishing 271 new offences. Overall, more than 3,000 new criminal offences have been created by Labour – 1,000 of them punishable by imprisonment.

Here are just a few of the things you could do before 1997 but can't now – many of them, it must be said, forced on us by EU directives, though our government in most cases agreed them.

Smoke in a pub or on a railway platform in the open air in the middle of the countryside, or at a covered bus stop, or in your own car if it is used for work, or in your own house if it is used as an office where outsiders may come.

Own a horse, donkey or Shetland pony without possessing a passport carrying a picture of the animal.

Ride off with a pack of hounds in pursuit of a fox or stag.

Play the piano in a pub without an entertainment licence.

Stage more than 12 events a year at, for instance, a school or church hall at which alcohol may be served without a full licence.

Set off a firework after midnight or be in possession of a firework if aged under 18 at any time other than the period around Bonfire Night and New Year's Eve.

Own a pistol for any purpose, including sport target practice.

Stage a protest of any sort, even if alone, within 1km of the Palace of Westminster, without the authority of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Fish in the River Esk without authorisation.

Enter the hull of the Titanic without permission from the Secretary of State.

Import into England potatoes which a person knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes.

Obstruct the work of the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

Imbibe an alcoholic drink on a London Underground train or bus.

Keep a car on your own driveway without tax, even if it not being used, without filling in a form.

Sell a grey squirrel (though you can kill one).

Labour has created new offences at twice the rate of the previous Tory administration, which was bad enough in this regard, and it has done so at an accelerating pace. Now you may support some or all of these new laws. What cannot be denied is that we have had a frenzy of law-making that has changed the character of the nation in a way that many of us neither expected nor wanted – even those who voted Labour (especially those who voted Labour, perhaps).

What is that drives the legislative mania of modern governments? Will any of them really, truly commit themselves to stop frustrating the activities and livelihoods of Her Majesty's law-abiding subjects with unwarranted interference, intrusiveness and incompetence? Have they no sense of history, no philosophical framework within which they can understand the point at which government activity must end and the private citizen begins? They have lost all concept of the impact of excessive law-making on the freedom of the individual.

The expenses crisis has merely brought all this to the surface: resentment against a Government that raised taxes after promising not to and then wasted billions of pounds on failed IT systems and top-heavy administration; incredulity over ministerial claims that crime has fallen when we can see with our own eyes that it hasn't; frustration at the inane regulations, the unjustified use of fines and charges, the bloody-minded parking restrictions, unreasonable European directives, multiculturalist busybodies, and the vast, overpaid and largely useless quangocracy disconnected from the rest of us.

It has all gone on for too long and the people to blame are those who failed to put a stop it: our MPs. That is why we are so angry about duck islands, bath plugs and second-home flipping.

Nadine Dorries yesterday said that the second-home allowance was an entitlement which MPs were encouraged to claim and everyone at Westminster and in the media knew that. She suggested it was unfair to criticise MPs since they were only enhancing an income most people would consider inadequate. Well, the public did not know any of this and this conspiracy against the voter has been busted wide open. We are as mad as hell so shout it out the window. You know you want to.


British academics urged to defend free speech without limits

Thoroughly admirable views but he's pissing into the wind in Britain

The concept of academic freedom is "impoverished" and under threat at a time when the vogue is for arguing that freedom of speech must be limited to protect certain groups. The warning has been issued in advance of an International Academic Freedom Day organised by the campaign group Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF).

The group's founder, Dennis Hayes, argues that "there are no high-profile defenders of 'absolute' free speech and academic freedom". He points out that Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, is "fond of noting that there are limits to free speech" and that the British Library's Taking Liberties exhibition included a section on "Free speech and its limits". "No defence of unqualified free speech comes from where you might, however naively, expect it," he says.

He also suggests that the argument that limits are needed to protect groups from threats by racists, fascists and extremists implies that these groups are vulnerable, a view that amounts to contempt, he says.

Dr Hayes concludes: "Academics have a choice. To become another profession with no 'noble' goals or to accept responsibility to defend free speech and academic freedom and hope to make the ivory tower a beacon for the defence of freedom in wider society."

Dr Hayes made the argument in a special edition of the British Journal of Educational Studies, which will be launched on 20 May at an AFAF seminar chaired by Ann Mroz, editor of Times Higher Education.

The AFAF has declared this date (the birthday of the political philosopher John Stuart Mill) International Academic Freedom Day. It is asking academics and students to hold seminars, discussions and protests on the topic.


Nutty radiation scare in Scotland

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has defended the need for radiation testing at Dalgety Bay beach, following claims the contamination found there could be natural. Monitoring has been carried out on the foreshore for several years and it is widely accepted the heightened radium levels come from the remains of aircraft dials burnt and emptied out after the war.

However, pro-nuclear campaigner Neil Craig (55) believes the paint blamed for the problem is water-soluble and would have dissolved over time. He said, “SEPA are still maintaining this claim to have tested such sub-microscopic particles and proven them to be paint containing radium. “It seems like kicking an argument when it is down to mention that the original radium paint was water- soluble, so that even if a fraction of a gram had been there 64 years ago it would be long gone, Scotland not having a desert climate. “In any case, the fact is that the level of radiation is so much lower than background radiation elsewhere in Scotland. “Yet SEPA are allowed to spend probable millions on such pointless nonsense.

“This is indicative of the way false fears have been used, worldwide, for bureaucratic eco-empire building.”

Radium-based luminescent paint was typically made by mixing a radium salt, zinc sulphide and a carrier material such as varnish or lacquer. SEPA claim test results and circumstantial evidence point to the radiation being man-made and the solubility of the paint could have been altered during burning. A spokesperson said, “The radionuclide analysis of particles at Dalgety Bay showed that they contained radium and its associated daughters. “The lack of high concentrations of the higher members of the uranium-238 series is consistent with the radium being of man made origin.

“It is possible that the action of burning of luminised dials can produce a diverse range of chemical forms, each of which has a differing potential for absorption and uptake by man. “This change and resultant variability in the chemical composition caused by burning also affects the solubility, and this could be a reason why the residues of the radium are still being detected after all this time.”

Over the years many items have been recovered from the beach, including dials and a vial of active material. Small particles or flakes found there are similar to those described by a former employee who worked where the instruments were made. In March the MoD submitted its action plan to the SEPA after a survey found the radiation could provide a dose higher than safe limits. It was agreed to have additional monitoring and clearer warning signs.

Plans to cover part of the beach with a protective membrane were submitted to Fife Council by the Defence Estates department this week. The blanket will be used for a programme of identification and removal, to establish where particles are coming from.

SOURCE. (H/T Neil Craig).

Top British High Schools boycott ‘biased’ Durham University

The leading university's "affirmative action" entry system handicaps high performers.

I must say that Australian students have it a lot simpler. If you get a high enough mark in your final High School exam you get in wherever you apply and that is that. But each faculty has its own cutoff. You have to get REALLY high marks to get into Medicine, for instance, but the Arts faculty is pretty undemanding. Both my son and I are graduates of the University of Queensland, for instance, which was established in 1909 and does very well in international rankings. But if my son's final High School marks had been a bit low, he would probably have got into one of the newer universities around the place, which have lower cutoff points for student acceptance. Except perhaps for medicine there are no interviews or letters of self-promotion or any of that crap.

SOME of the country’s most academic schools are discouraging pupils from applying to popular courses at Durham University in protest at what they see as an admissions system “fixed” against them. The pupils are being told that they are likely to be overlooked for some courses because Durham uses a handicap system, based on mathematical formulae, to favour candidates from schools with poor grades. As a result, candidates from high-performing schools - whether state or independent - are penalised.

Durham, Oxford and Cambridge are among those universities that have adopted formulae that use GCSE results data specially compiled by Ed Balls’s Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). The system gives a rating to the GCSE performance of every school in the country which is used to “weight” the scores of university applicants. The thinking is that because candidates from low-scoring schools have outstripped their peers, they deserve more credit than pupils who score a string of A* grades at a school where most pupils do so.

The extra points can be decisive in “tie breakers” for some of Durham’s most heavily oversubscribed courses, such as English and history, with more than 20 applicants per place.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of independent schools and headmaster of St Albans school, Hertfordshire, said he had sympathy with the plight of the university, which has to reject about 3,500 applicants a year predicted to score at least three As at A-level. “None of us has any quarrel with making an allowance for serious disadvantage in individual cases,” he said. “What all of us object to is some spurious mathematical formula being applied across the board as if some kind of genuine accuracy is achievable. “The message I and some colleagues are getting from Durham is that however brilliant your students are in English and history, send them somewhere else - we don’t want them.”

Barnaby Lenon, headmaster of Harrow school, London, said he was warning his brightest pupils they may not get offers for these subjects at Durham “because this year we have had a letter from them saying they are giving preference to pupils from low-achieving schools”.

The concern is spreading to the state sector. Martin Post, headmaster of Watford Grammar School for Boys - a comprehensive, despite its name - said the mathematical approach was flawed. “How can you weight a school on the basis of these GCSE results? Do they take into account, for example, vocational courses for which the government often gives the same value as four GCSEs? Bless them, these people in higher education are probably unaware of the wangles that go on to improve league positions.”

Universities have been under strong pressure from the government to raise the proportions of students from state schools and deprived families. Use of the formulae is only one of the techniques used.

Durham has said its system was introduced partly in response to a report last year by the National Council for Educational Excellence, which was endorsed by Gordon Brown, Balls and John Denham, the universities secretary.

Sir Martin Harris, the government’s director of fair access, said he expected the GCSE points method to spread. “Will it help fairer access if universities bear in mind average performance of the school? . . . I imagine universities will go down that path,” he said.

However, Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the methods were “antieducational”. He added: “The operation of these formulae is crude and unfair. Universities should be looking for those with the most talent. The country is making a grave mistake.”

Other universities using formulae include Cambridge, which uses government data to award variable points based on GCSEs. The university says no candidates win places solely on their modified GCSEs, but that it is “unarguable” that a candidate’s grades are affected by the school they attended.

Oxford also uses weighted GCSEs for admissions to medical degrees. On the course, which traditionally had a public school “rugger bugger” image, 50% of a candidate’s chances of being shortlisted for an interview depends on GCSE score, marked up if they attend a poorly performing school.

The Durham formula allows each candidate a maximum eight points for GCSEs. An A* scores one, with 0.6 for an A. The score is “modified” with up to 5.5 points to help candidates who have outperformed the average for their school.

Other universities that have requested GCSE figures include Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Warwick. Some departments at Bristol, including history, give extra points to candidates from poorly performing schools, although the government data are used only for research.

Some sixth formers believe they may have already been hit by formulae or similar methods. Jack Harman, 19, attended King’s College school, Wimbledon, a high-performing school in south London. Even though he was predicted to gain three As at A-level, he was rejected by all five British universities to which he applied to read history - Oxford, Edinburgh, York, Warwick and King’s College London. He will now study in America instead. His mother Emma Duncan said: “I cannot say the British universities are definitely biased . . . [but] calibrating the children’s results with the school record may be one reason Jack was turned down.It is bonkers he does not have a place in a good university here.”

Universities said weighted GCSE scores were vital to see a candidate’s grades in context. A Durham spokesman said: “For some courses, competition is so fierce our selectors have to make choices between applicants who present themselves with identical credentials. “The DCSF standardisation measurement allows selectors to see how an applicant has performed in relation to their school’s average. The results have been used to inform decisions in favour of fee [paying] as well as nonfee paying schools.”

A threat to excellence

The government formula used to analyse GCSE results, adopted by Durham and Oxford, is obviously flawed. It is flawed for two reasons. First, because it assumes that all GCSE results signify an equal level of intellectual achievement. They do not. Many state schools enter their pupils for vocational qualifications which, if passed, are said to count as four good GCSE grades. This is a scam and it renders the whole concept of this government formula ridiculous.

Why, moreover, should a girl from a highly performing school who does slightly worse in her GCSE examinations than her peers, achieving, say, eight A grades against a school average of nine, be judged a weaker candidate than the boy from a less successful school who achieves five A grades against a school average of two or three? The latter candidate may be the stronger, but no mechanistic formula is going to establish the fact.

Ministers, rightly, want more bright young people from disadvantaged homes to win places at top universities. They think, wrongly, that this can be achieved by forcing universities to implement admissions policies that discriminate against candidates from independent and highly performing schools.

In fact, of course, the solution lies in the schools disadvantaged children attend. Labour has failed to raise standards in such schools and now wants us to believe that the problem is the elitism of our best universities. Great universities are, by definition, elitist. They are institutions that exist in order to promote academic excellence. That excellence will survive if the best candidates compete with another for the limited places available. Social engineering will destroy it.


Dozens of NHS patients left to repeat surgery after botched work by Swedish doctors

An interesting commentary on the quality of treatment Swedes receive from THEIR socialized medicine system

Dozens of elderly people were left in pain and requiring further surgery after botched work by Scandinavian surgeons brought in to reduce NHS waiting lists, an investigation has found. An audit of hundreds of patients sent to the "flying doctors" for knee operations found that one in three suffered a poor outcome, with one in five cases so bad that the operation needed to be redone.

Lawyers are considering at least six cases involving patients treated at a centre in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, which hired surgeons from Sweden, Denmark and Finland and to cut waiting times for orthopaedic procedures.

The review of their treatment comes amid increasing concern about the risks posed by EU laws which allow medics to work in any member state, without checks on their competence or language skills. Earlier this month, the case emerged of a [black] German doctor who killed a Cambridgeshire pensioner by administering ten times the required dose of painkillers. Dr Daniel Ubani said he was not familiar with diamorphine, a drug commonly used by GPs in this country.

Under an EU directive passed in 2004, doctors can work in any member state without tests of their language skills or clinical competence. Since then, the number of EU doctors registered to work in Britain has risen by 4,000 – an increase of 24 per cent – at a time when the number of UK-trained doctors fell. Meanwhile, the amount of serious disciplinary action taken against European medics by the General Medical Council has doubled.

Last year, 30 were struck off, suspended, given a warning or had conditions imposed on their practice, compared to 15 cases in 2005. But under current rules the GMC is unable to demand information from its counterparts abroad showing whether a doctor has been previously disciplined or struck off in another country.

The Somerset treatment centre, run by Weston Area Health Trust, hired surgeons from Scandinavia in order to cut local waiting lists, and boost the trust's income by attracting patients who faced long delays elsewhere. Patients from Wales were among those encouraged to travel to the centre, despite concerns from local orthopaedic specialists that they could not guarantee the quality of the doctors, who had been contracted from a private company in Sussex.

Now, an audit of more than 200 patients who underwent knee surgery between 2004 and 2006 has revealed that the number of operations which were botched was ten times the national average.

The paper, published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, found that 37 per cent of the knee operations carried out on 224 patients had an unsatisfactory result, with dozens of patients left in pain. Twenty two per cent of the operations to replace knees were so bad that they had to be redone – a rate ten times the normal figure in NHS hospitals – while the review warns that yet more patients might need surgery redone in the future.

Orthopaedic surgeon Stephen Cannon, former president of the British Orthopaedic Association, attacked the Government's use of foreign doctors to fill gaps in locum services, and achieve waiting targets. "These guys were brought in as carpenters," he said. "They didn't see their patients postoperatively. They flew in to do the operations, and the doctors in South Wales were left to pick up the pieces."

South West Strategic Health Authority is due to publish a review of the outcomes at the centre, which is no longer staffed by doctors from Scandinavia. The inquiry, ordered in January 2007, will compare results for all patients sent to the centre with national data on outcomes.

Dr Paul Callaghan, medical director of Scanloc, the recruitment company which provided the surgeons, said it examined their surgical outcomes in their own countries before they were hired, and found results similar to those in this country. "We are a recruitment bureau, and we were not responsible for how the centre was set up. The doctors were experienced knee surgeons who had shown good results when they came to us."

Mr Cannon attacked the legislation giving "equivalence" to medical qualifications from 27 EU member states, despite the fact each country's medical education is tailored to its health care system. "The systems are very different in each country – for example, there are countries like Italy where doctors qualify while barely seeing a patient," he said.

An amendment making it mandatory for countries to share information will be put to the European Parliament next month, but the British Government plans to block the move. Professor Sir Donald Irvine, former president of the GMC said a "gaping hole" had now been revealed in the protection of patients. He criticised the Government for failing either to block the original EU laws which had created dangers to the public, or adapt British regulation systems to ensure more rigorous assessment for every doctor before they were allowed to work.

Sir Donald said: "This is an unsafe system; the holes in it are gaping. The problem is the starting point always seems to be 'What do the lawyers say?' – not 'What is best for patients?'"

The Department of Health said it did not believe the legislation being discussed next month, covering the rights of patients in Europe, was an "appropriate mechanism" to introduce changes making information sharing between regulators mandatory. A spokesman said the Government had no plans to press for changes by any other route, and said a voluntary scheme was already in existence.


Leftists can sure dish it out but can't take criticism back

British Leftist politician (above) threatens to sue critic:
"A Labour MP was accused of ‘bullying’ yesterday for threatening to sue a 21-year-old student who criticised him for not backing the Gurkhas. Warren Clegg, a member of the Territorial Army [Army reserves], received the threat in a letter from his MP Brian Jenkins.

Mr Jenkins, writing on House of Commons notepaper, said: ‘You have damaged my good name. It is my intention to seek legal redress unless you able [sic] to prove your allegations or are prepared to fully retract the offending comments and apologise unreservedly.’

In a letter two weeks ago to his local newspaper, Mr Clegg said: ‘I wrote to Mr Jenkins in support of the Gurkhas; as usual, my opinion as one of his constituents did not warrant a response.’ He said Mr Jenkins had ‘voted to keep the Gurkhas in poverty’ by not agreeing to let them settle in the UK.


As you can see, the letter that got the Leftist bully fired up was not even abusive, just disgusted: A long way from "Bush=Hitler"

1 comment:

Micke Hakansson said...

about botche kneeops, here is a story about swedish orthopeadics and doctors "saving their bacon"