Tuesday, July 28, 2009

British "organic" farmer goes broke

These jerks always think that they are so holy, that they know it all and that everyone else is a fool. Reality has a way of intruding, however

It is The Good Life dream that turned sour. Just months after landing a job as the “food champion” of the London mayor Boris Johnson, Rosie Boycott has had to wind up her organic farm after it failed to make a profit. The demise of the smallholding, set over eight acres in Somerset, left Boycott, a former editor of the Daily Express, and her husband £200,000 out of pocket and has resulted in the couple falling out with their former farm manager.

Boycott launched the venture more than four years ago in an attempt to grow healthy, locally produced, affordable food. She charted her progress as townie-turned-country dweller in a book called Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes.

It was Boycott’s passion for sustainable living which inspired Johnson, the capital’s Tory mayor, to appoint her as his principal food adviser in September last year. Boycott said at the time: “There are many aspects of our current food system which are damaging the environment through wasteful practices and producing poor-quality food. “It simply does not need to be the case that Londoners cannot have access to locally produced, top-quality food but we have to have a radical rethink to find ways to make this happen.” Since taking up the role, for which she is paid up to £20,000-a-year, Boycott has been busy drawing up plans to convert unused plots of land in London, including the roof of the Hayward art gallery, into public vegetable patches.

However, her own rural idyll appears to have been unravelling. The Gloucestershire old spot pigs and chickens Boycott once kept have long gone and the site of her farm, Dillington Park Nurseries, has now been converted into allotments. Accounts filed at Companies House show that the farm never made a profit. Early on, monthly outgoings were £2,329 and income a meagre £1,544. The last published set of accounts, for the year ending 2007, reveal a loss of more than £41,000.

Boycott, a former alcoholic, and her second husband, Charles Howard, a barrister, paid £70,000 to set up the farm at the end of 2004 on the site of a Victorian walled garden on the Dillington estate near Ilminster. It was located close to the Dairy House, a weekend retreat that the couple rented since 2002. Boycott wrote in her book: “We were looking to make every square inch as productive as possible and we were looking to find as many ways as possible to generate an income. “Our friends all too often refer to our farm as a hobby but I realise that has changed. It’s not just a hobby any more, it’s something that matters very much to Charlie and me and our life together. Somehow it has to succeed.”

To smooth their way, the couple recruited David Bellew to manage the farm. Last week, however, it emerged that Bellew, who is listed as a director and shareholder of Dillington Park Nurseries, has fallen out with Boycott and moved on to another job. A local shop owner said: “David worked his fingers to the bone. He was the unsung hero. Yes, Rosie financed it, but it was David’s expertise that got it off the ground and kept it going. He came very close to pulling it off.” Bellew refused to elaborate on the acrimony this weekend. “With hindsight I wish I had never got involved,” he said. “Ironically, I’m better for the experience. I’ve learnt the true value of things and people.”

When asked about the farm’s collapse and her relationship with Bellew, Boycott referred inquiries to her lawyers at Harbottle & Lewis, a firm which acts for the Prince of Wales, Kate Moss and David and Victoria Beckham. The lawyers sought to deflect a series of questions from The Sunday Times and threatened to sue on grounds of privacy, citing the European Convention on Human Rights.

Boycott claimed through her lawyers that the decision to convert her farm into new plots for up to 18 families had been mutually agreed between herself, Lord Cameron, the owner of Dillington estate and a former head of the Countryside Agency, and the Allotments Association, which controls the project. Boycott and Howard have retained one of the allotment strips.

A spokeswoman for Boris Johnson said the mayor thought Boycott was doing a “terrific” job. “She seizes opportunities in the most unlikely corners and through her force of personality and uncompromising commitment will leave a lasting legacy in London of thousands of extra food- growing spaces,” he said.


British university education for the wealthy only?

That seems to be where Britain is heading -- despite repeated claims that they want more working class kids at university. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

STUDENTS face tuition fees of £7,000 a year by 2013 under plans being developed by both Labour and the Conservatives. Both parties are studying an overhaul of the system under which top universities would be allowed to lift fees above the current legal limit of £3,225, while many former polytechnics would offer no-frills degrees for free.

The proposal was handed by John Denham, the former universities secretary, to Lord Mandelson, the business, innovation and skills secretary, who has taken over responsibility for higher education. Vice-chancellors say a £7,000 maximum fee is the “consensus” figure — the minimum to rescue university finances without being so high as to be politically unacceptable.

There is a legal obligation on the government to consider the future of the current fee system, which was introduced in 2006, after its first three years of operation. Mandelson is due to launch the review this autumn. It is thought highly unlikely it will be finished before the next election, which must be held by next June.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are anxious to avoid fees becoming an issue with voters. Labour blamed its loss of marginal seats in university towns at the 2005 election on its recent legislation for the previous increase in fees.

One vice-chancellor said: “A simple rise in the cap to £7,000 could be put through soon after this election and it would have the advantage of letting the government cut the amount it puts into universities.”

It has emerged, however, that Mandelson is also studying options that go far beyond simply deciding whether fees can be increased. Denham’s idea calls for a wholesale restructuring of higher education. Some post-1992 universities and further education colleges could offer free, government-funded “walk to study” degrees, often in vocational subjects, to local students living at home. Elite research institutions, meanwhile, would be allowed to charge far higher fees than at present, with students paying for future earning power.

Denham did not put a figure on fees in his scenario, but experts who worked closely with him said it could eventually mean a ceiling of £15,000, including a £2,000 “levy” to fund bursaries for poorer students.

David Willetts, the shadow universities secretary, has also studied Denham’s plan. He said the Conservatives would not decide their policy in advance of the review, and cautioned: “Just putting up fees has a series of problems. Charging more at the bottom of the recession will be tough, and universities would have to show any extra fees were going to help the quality of education — a challenge to which I don’t think they have yet risen.”

Supporters of an increase believe university funding has become an emergency. Cuts of 5%-20% in government funding for higher education are expected whoever wins the next election, despite increasing numbers of students.

Seven universities, including London Metropolitan and Thames Valley, are on a secret official list of institutions at risk of financial failure, a total expected to reach as high as 30 next year.

Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of Lancaster and incoming chairman of the 1994 Group of research institutions, warned of a “valley of death” over the next few years until fees could be raised, with universities forced into severe cutbacks.

Another source said political considerations were bound to hamper the funding review. “Mandelson is nowhere near knowing how he wants to fund universities,” he said. “This is not a government that believes it will actually be making decisions, but it is thinking about how to box the Tories in.”

He added: “A few months ago I would have thought it inconceivable for any change to come in before 2013. Now I see the possibility of George Osborne [the shadow chancellor] putting it into a ‘days of misery’ package after the election. It would technically be possible to bring in change for 2011.”

A condition of freeing universities to charge higher fees is likely to be that better-off students are charged a levy on fees to subsidise bursaries for those on lower incomes. Further cross-subsidy could be provided by money from overseas students and alumni.

Luke Johnson, the Channel 4 chairman and entrepreneur who is a member of Oxford’s fundraising committee, said: “It is inevitable there will be higher fees and more independence, but it has to go hand in hand with much more for bursaries. There is a disproportionate number of private school undergraduates at Oxford and it is by no means ideal.”

Alan Ryan, retiring warden of New College, Oxford, said his college was drawing up bursary plans to ensure no family on an income of less than £35,000 would be worse off if fees were raised from their current level.

Birmingham University, meanwhile, is one of those planning in the long term to offer “needs-blind” admission, in which bursaries for poor students are provided mainly from a levy on better-off students.

Last week Alan Milburn, the former cabinet minister, wrote in a report commissioned by Gordon Brown that such an arrangement could promote social mobility by drawing more people from poorer families into university.

Tomorrow, in a speech to Universities UK, an association of vice-chancellors, Mandelson is expected to take up Milburn’s theme and warn that institutions need to step up efforts to bring in more students from poor backgrounds through their admission and bursary policies.

Some universities are already making preparations for an increase. Exeter is understood to be one of several preparing an aggressive strategy of charging fees of at least £7,000. It will also offer generous bursaries in addition to non-means-tested awards — including sports and academic scholarships — to lure the best students regardless of income.

The result will be far higher debts for those whose studies are not covered by bursaries. Recent research by Universities UK has found that raising fees to £7,000 would bring average debts of £32,400, compared with the current £20,000.


Official kangaroo courts in Britain

The kangaroo is native to Australia but Britain is hard to beat for kangaroo courts. The divorce courts have recently had their veil of secrecy partly lifted after huge newspaper campaigns about their injustices but the immigration courts would do Soviet Russia proud. I suppose it is to be expected. Britain has now been run by the Left for 12 years. Combine malice, chronic bungling and indifference to justice and you are in deep trouble if the authorities notice you for any reason -- just like the old USSR

Today the latest session of Britain's secret trials begins at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in London. The appellants coming up before the SIAC over the next week are seven of the Pakistani students arrested before Easter under suspicion of terrorist activity. There was blanket media coverage at the time, helped by the intervention of the Prime Minister, who felt the need to declare: "We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot."

Two weeks later all 12 students originally arrested were released without charge to far less fanfare. It was then announced that 10 were to be deported on national security grounds. One returned to Pakistan while two others were released last week, pending visa issues being investigated. The remaining seven, however, now face Britain's secret system of justice overseen by the SIAC and operating under the aegis of immigration law.

The SIAC deals with appeals against decisions made by the Home Office to deport or exclude individuals from Britain on national security grounds. The process has all the appearance of a court, but operates more like a star chamber.

Secret evidence plays a big role in the process, with the appellants not told what they are accused of to justify their deportation. Neither are their lawyers allowed to know this information. Instead special advocates are appointed, who are allowed to see the evidence against them. A damning indictment of the process comes from Dinah Rose QC, who acted as a special advocate. "I heard the appellant ask the judge the question: 'Why are you sending me to prison?' To which the judge replied: 'I cannot tell you that.' I could not believe that I was witnessing such an event in a British court. I could not believe that nobody protested or made a fuss. They simply took him to jail, without any explanation at all," said Rose.

This system of justice overseen by the SIAC has come to prominence since 9/11, when the Government turned to immigration law as a means of holding foreign nationals without trial, pending deportation. Following 9/11, the Government rushed through the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act, which allowed foreign nationals to be detained without trial indefinitely. In 2004, the law lords ruled that it was unlawful under the Human Rights Act to detain people without trial. It was as a result of this ruling that control orders were devised.

These effectively amounted to being detained under house arrest. There were short periods of time when the individual could go outside into a prescribed area. They were also required to wear a tag and ring up the tagging company a number of times a day.

One of those originally detained under this process in December 2001 was an Algerian man known only as "G". He was imprisoned, then released on house arrest-style bail conditions then re-arrested after the London bombings, and served with a deportation notice. While in prison he then tried to kill himself using wire. Today, "G" continues to live with his wife and two young children under house arrest conditions on deportation bail. "No one here has ever told me what I am accused of. I have no rights here it seems. In Britain animals have rights. I have less rights than an animal," he said.

It is onto this conveyor belt of injustice that the seven Pakistani students enter today. The one way out of this nightmare is to agree to leave the country. This, though, is not an option for most who fled their home countries like Algeria as refugees in fear of their lives. Were they to return, as some have, they would be likely to face torture, prison or death.

The Pakistani students case is somewhat different to that of the others being detained in that they did not flee their home country. However, it is not an appetising prospect to return to Pakistan under the cloud of terrorist suspicion. To their credit the students remain committed to resuming their studies in the UK.

There have been some encouraging signs of progress in the effort to roll back the operation of this secretive system of injustice. Last month, the law lords ruled that control orders breached the Human Rights Act in that the reliance on secret evidence denied the appellants a fair trial. Meanwhile, some 90 MPs have signed an early day motion calling for an end to the use of secret evidence.

In the case of the students, the government may just be about to score a PR own goal. It created such a public fuss around the initial arrests, only to then declare no charges were being brought. As a result there is sure to be more interest about the plight of the students as they enter the SIAC process. It can only be hoped that, come the end of this week, a little more light has been shed on this secret system of justice. It must also be hoped that all those students who want to can resume the studies that were so brutally interrupted back in April.


"I've recently read that cranberry juice doesn't help to prevent cystitis after all. Should I stop drinking it now?"

An interesting contrary view to a recent knockback

The answer, in a word, is no. The news story that you are referring to arose when Ocean Spray submitted research to a new EU body, the European Food Safety Authority, in the hope that it would be allowed to make the health claim on its cartons that drinking a certain amount of cranberry juice each day would prevent cystitis. The panel agreed that while research does show this to be the case in laboratory studies, more studies were needed to be sure of the exact “dose” needed in humans.

Professor Stuart Stanton, Emeritus Professor of Urogynaecology at St George’s Hospital in London, who is versed with the EU panel and the research submitted, has been recommending cranberry juice to his patients for more than 20 years. He says that it is necessary for us to appreciate that much of what is recommended in everyday medicine is founded on years of experience and anecdotal findings, as well as clinical research.

In his view, cranberry juice is beneficial in preventing urinary infections and he makes the rather timely point that if women who have read about the panel’s findings suddenly stop drinking it, GPs, who are already overburdened with the demands of swine flu, could see more patients presenting with what had previously been well-controlled urinary infections.

It is also important to remember, however, that cranberry juice is not a medicine. While the latter are man-made and very specific dose-response mechanisms can be determined for them, it is frequently very hard, if not impossible, to achieve the same in food products that contain naturally functional ingredients.

That said, from the work that has already been carried out, scientific thinking suggests that two glasses of cranberry juice, containing 80mg of proanthocyanidins (PACs), is roughly the amount needed for it to “do its job” — ie, to stop cystitis-causing E. coli bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract and setting up infections.

It is thought that the PACs may work by wrapping themselves directly around the E. coli so that the bacteria cannot grab on to receptors in the lining of the bladder and urethra, or that they may block the receptors themselves so that there is no room for the E. coli to dock.

Either way, the result is that the bacteria leave the body without the opportunity to set up infections. This prevents patients from needing constantly to take antibiotics, which is good news, because you do not get the risk of building up antibiotic resistance.

The important point to bear in mind is that PACs in cranberry juice work in helping to prevent infections taking hold, which is why if you are prone to them, it is a good idea to drink some of the juice each day. If the E. coli do get their little “claws” into the lining of your tracts, they bind securely and at this point antibiotics are the only real option.

Test-tube experiments suggest that cranberry juice extracts may also be able to fight salmonella infections. Test-tube work also has found that they appear to prevent the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori from attaching itself to the stomach lining.

The red antioxidant pigments in cranberry juice also seem, again in laboratory tests, to help to stop platelets in blood from clumping together. If this happened in our bodies, this would assist in keeping blood thin and potentially lower the chances of clots forming that can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Other interesting super nutrients present in cranberries include EGCG found also in green tea and linked with possible disease-fighting properties including cancer.

The tart taste of cranberries is down to the PACs, which give them their potential health benefits and are present in nature to stop insects feasting on them. For us to be able to tolerate the taste, sugar or sweeteners need to be added to cranberry juice drinks.


British "elf 'n safety" madness even hits the Greenies

What has been "safe" for years suddenly became unsafe

Organisers of Europe’s biggest eco-awareness event have had to cancel their 15th annual festival after police and the local council raised safety fears days before it was to start. The Big Green Gathering (BGG), which was due to be attended by up to 20,000 people paying £125 per ticket, may now have to go into receivership, leaving thousands out of pocket.

Described as a “celebration of our natural world” in a village fĂȘte atmosphere, the festival combines practical advice and demonstrations on sustainable lifestyles combined with entertainment powered by the wind and the sun. Visitors to the event are shown how to become self-sustaining, including how to build their own houses and grown their own food.

The five-day festival was due to open on Wednesday but the organisers surrendered their licence yesterday after concerns, including issues involving road and fire safety, could not be resolved with police and the local council.

Directors of the BGG, which has been running since 1994, are furious. Penny Kemp, a director, told The Times: “Our barrister has said it appears the council, police and regulatory authorities have leaned heavily on the road closure people to make sure we don’t get the order.”

She added that some of the reasons given for not allowing the event included the fire precautions not being good enough, even though they were the same as last year when the festival went ahead.

An inspector at Avon and Somerset Police refused to say what exactly their concerns were. Mendip District Council was due to go to the High Court in London today to apply for an injunction to stop the gathering in the Mendip Hills going ahead.

Thousands of adults had paid £125 for a ticket and £50 for their children to attend. The Big Green Gathering is designed for people within the green movement who wanted a festival focused on green issues. According to its website, The Big Green Gathering is for “people who care about health, the environment, sustainability, our children’s future and life in general. It is a celebration of our natural world and our place within it. As such it is a place for enjoyment, learning and fun. Unhealthy activities are not encouraged. The only things taken in excess should be love, peace, joy and friendship.”

This year, Gardener’s World, BBC’s Ethical Man and many other environmental experts were said to be going to help people to reduce their carbon footprint.

Ms Kemp added that they had a multi-agency meeting on Thursday and as far as they were concerned everything was still going ahead. But as they had to cancel the event at such a late stage they may have to go into receivership as they had paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds, including £27,000 to the police. She said: “We hope to be able to pay people back, but I just don’t know. It is desperately sad that a peaceful event enjoyed by thousands of people over many years has been stopped by the police and the council for what I think are unjust reasons.”

The directors of the Big Green Gathering issued a statement saying that they had “taken extensive legal advice from a prominent QC and other eminent lawyers” and had been left with “no option” but to surrender their licence. “The event will now not take place and the directors advise and request that no one who was intending to attend the event should attempt to do so as the site is now closed and it is likely that they will be turned away by the police. “It is our intention to avoid any confrontation or public disorder in regards to this and it is our earnest hope that all of those involved will follow this advice. “It is with great sadness that we have been forced into this position and we express our profound apologies to all concerned.”

Avon and Somerset Police would only say: “It has been cancelled. The reasons are on our website.” The statement said: “Police are warning people planning to attend the Big Green Gathering 2009, that the event has been cancelled due to a number of contributing factors that could not be overcome. “Today (Sunday, July 26) organisers of the Big Green Gathering surrendered their licence to Mendip Council. “Avon and Somerset Police worked with the event organisers as well as our multi-agent partners, and subsequently went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that this event took place. However, due to a number of issues including road and fire safety that could not be resolved the event organisers surrendered their licence. “Police would now like to advise any persons planning on travelling to the area for this event not to, they will be turned away.”

Big Green Gathering Chair Brig Oubridge said: "At the multi-agency meeting on Thursday 23rd July, we were still negotiating with the police and the council under the genuine belief that things were progressing and we were continuing to spend money on infrastructure, wages and security. "If they knew they were going to cancel the event, we can only conclude that this drive to increase expenditure appears to be a deliberate attempt to bankrupt the Big Green Gathering. "The injunction served on the Big Green Gathering was primarily addressing the fact that the Big Green Gathering did not obtain the necessary road closure despite the fact that the Highways Agency had previously indicated that this would be done.

"The Big Green Gathering has been running an event since 1994 and never before has public safety been an issue. The BGG has an exemplary record on health and safety and crime levels have always been low for the number of people on site."


British bureaucracy runs amok yet again

A surfboard is a ship?

Canoes, surfboards and dinghies are to be given the same legal status as cruise liners and oil tankers in a clampdown on reckless behaviour at sea. Unpowered craft including sailboards and bodyboards are to be reclassified as ships to bring their users within regulations for merchant shipping.

Users face prison and fines of up to £50,000 if they are held liable for any accidents. A family in a dinghy or a beginner oarsman could be prosecuted if they collided with a swimmer. Anyone out on the water would be liable to a random breath test. The change was initially prompted by pressure to reduce accidents involving reckless use of jet skis, which have caused nine deaths in the past ten years. But the Department for Transport has infuriated many of Britain’s four million water sports enthusiasts by proposing to extend the regulations to unpowered craft. All watercraft would be classed as “ships” and thus bound by safety regulations enshrined in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1995. Surfers and canoeists in particular are adamant that they should not be subjected to such legislation.

Mark Wesson, a member of the British Surfing Association’s executive council, said: “We shall certainly be opposing this, and goodness knows what holidaymakers are going to make of this. It may put a lot of people off investing in a surfboard.”

Rob Barber, owner of a bodyboarding school in Newquay, Cornwall, suggested that the plan was too bizarre to enforce. “Common sense says you don’t go out on a surfboard when you are drunk — it’s not something you do,” he said.

Jason Smith, editor of Canoe and Kayak magazine, said: “There is a clear difference between a powered and an unpowered craft and it seems draconian if someone is in the sea in a beginner’s-style kayak after drinking a beer and then they may be prosecuted. I don’t think readers will like it one bit.”

Gus Lewis, legal officer at the Royal Yachting Association, the governing body for dinghies, yachts, rigid inflatable boats and sailboards, said everyone at sea should follow the same safety rules. But he said the association did not support new drink-driving rules for amateur sailors, since it is already an offence to behave in such a way as to endanger a ship or an individual.

Mr Lewis questioned whether the laws should apply to canoes and surfers. “We would include windsurfers, though, for we would say they navigate waters. If you got injured by a windsurfer or a dinghy, you’d be angry if they were somehow above the law.” The proposals, in a consultation paper, are intended to close a legal loophole identified in the Court of Appeal four years ago. Judges overturned the conviction of Mark Goodwin, of Weymouth, Dorset, who nearly killed a man when riding a jet ski. They ruled a jet ski was not a seagoing ship, so not subject to the merchant shipping legislation. The new rules would bring Britain into line with a Convention on International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea.

Most yacht and speedboat owners already comply with the equivalent of a highway code for the sea, and until the judgment most people thought both motor and sailing boats were governed by the rules. A spokeswoman for the DfT said the intention was to “prevent the irresponsible few from spoiling the fun of everyone else”. She added: “Everyone should be free to enjoy themselves on the water in the knowledge that there are sanctions to deal with those who would put their safety at risk.”


British government drips losing in their attack on Michael Savage

His accusation that he was attacked on racial grounds has now been confirmed
"Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has suffered a major setback in her legal battle with American 'shock jock' Michael Savage after her officials were accused of banning him from the country on racial grounds. Emails written by Home Office officials privately acknowledged the ban on Mr Savage would provide 'balance' to a list dominated by Muslims - and linked the decision to Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The officials admitted their action could look 'duplicitous' and cited his 'homophobia' as a reason the move would receive public support. The Right-wing radio presenter, whose hardline views on Islam, rape and autism have caused outrage in the US but whose show, The Savage Nation, has eight million listeners, was identified in May by Ms Smith as one of 16 people barred due to their political views.

Mr Savage, who had not even applied for entry to Britain, claimed his name had been 'plucked out of a hat' because he was 'controversial and white'. He has since served a £100,000 libel writ on Ms Smith, who announced his ban on television.

Now, correspondence released under Freedom of Information legislation suggests the banning of Mr Savage, whose real name is Michael Weiner, was based on a party political calculation made at the highest level of Government. One message, sent by an unidentified Home Office official on November 27 last year, said that 'with Weiner, I can understand that disclosure of the decision would help provide a balance of types of exclusion cases'.

The documents include a draft recommendation, marked 'Restricted', saying: 'We will want to ensure that the names disclosed reflect the broad range of cases and are not all Islamic extremists.'


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