Friday, July 31, 2009

British schoolchildren now discouraged from skipping

The little girls twirl their skipping ropes while the boys gather round to bash each other's conkers. In the corner, another group of children scramble up a tree. For many parents, it is a picture of the perfect playground scene.

But it is not one they are likely to see today. It lives on only in memories of their childhood, while their own school-age children are more likely to be glued to a computer screen. More than three in four of today's little girls do not play with skipping ropes, a survey has found.

The figure compares with 94 per cent of their mothers who remember skipping to rhymes and songs when they were at school. Little more than 33 per cent of boys play conkers, while 83 per cent of their fathers have fond memories of glorious conker battles at the same age.

A growing appetite for computer games and television is not the only reason that traditional games appear to be passing the present generation by. The survey shows that parents believe today's 'cotton-wool culture', in which children are molly-coddled and not allowed to take any risks, is to blame. Eighty per cent of parents said modern health and safety regulations were behind the demise of traditional playground favourites such as skipping, conkers, hopscotch, British bulldog and climbing trees.

More than 4,000 parents were questioned for the survey on how childhood freedom is being curtailed. They felt children were missing out on exercise and developing social skills by not being encouraged to play traditional games.

There were also concerns that parents themselves can be over-protective of their children, which means fewer are allowed to play outdoors out of school hours.

Overall, 59 per cent of parents said childhood today was worse than when they were young. Independent child psychologist Emma Kenny analysed the results of the survey which was carried out for a soft drink company. 'Many treasured children's activities are becoming rare, but it's the implications of this that are the cause for concern,' she said. 'Traditional children's play activities such as hopscotch, climbing trees or playing tag provide learning experiences based on imagination. 'These all help kids develop key skills such as team playing, counting and creativity that are crucial to their future development.'

Recent research suggests teachers are equally concerned and that almost half believe pupils are negatively affected by the ever-tightening grip of health and safety rules. Under these rules some schools have banned snowball fights, sports-day sack races and even nature walks for fear of injury and the chance of being sued for compensation by parents.

Emma Kenny added: 'This "Big Mothered Britain" mentality is in fact restricting opportunities for our children to learn and play freely. 'Ultimately, we're seeing a gap emerge in today's younger generation in the "fun" skills that we learn through a wide variety of physical and mental activities. 'This in turn, is not giving our kids the best opportunities for their future.'


Greenie bird and landscape lovers stymie Greenie warming-haters

There's no such thing as a happy Greenie

Europe's largest onshore windfarm project has been thrown in severe doubt after the RSPB and official government agencies lodged formal objections to the 150-turbine plan, it emerged today. The setback adds to the problems facing the government's ambition to install 10,000 new turbines across the UK by 2020 as part of its plan to cut the carbon emissions causing climate change.

The proposed 550MW windfarm, sprawling across the centre of Shetland's main island, would add almost 20% to existing onshore wind capacity. But the objectors say the plans could seriously damage breeding sites for endangered birds, including a rare wader, the whimbrel, which was unexpectedly discovered by the windfarm developer's own environmental survey teams. Other species at risk include the red throated diver, golden plover and merlin.

The RSPB heavily criticised the proposal from Viking Energy after initially indicating it could support the scheme. The RSPB also claims now that installation of the turbines could release significant carbon dioxide from the peat bogs affected, undermining the turbines' potential to combat global warming. The group's fears have been endorsed by the government's official conservation advisers, Scottish Natural Heritage, and SNH has also objected to the "magnitude" of the scheme, claiming it could kill many of these birds through collisions with the 145-metre-high structures.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), which oversees pollution and waste laws in Scotland, has also formally objected, making it inevitable the scheme will now go to a full public inquiry and intensifying pressure on the developers to alter the scale of the project.

In a detailed critique of the proposal, Sepa has asked Viking Energy to significantly rethink its plans to cut out and dump up to 1m cubic metres of peat during construction, and asked ministers to impose tough conditions to protect local water quality and freshwater species .

Bill Manson, a director of Viking Energy, the community-owned company which is collaborating with Scottish and Southern Energy on the scheme, said it would be prepared to negotiate. "I believe there's a dialogue to be had, which will assuage their fears, I hope," he said.

A Scottish government consultation on the £800m scheme closed yesterday, with more than 3,600 of Shetland's 21,000 islanders signing a petition calling for the project to be scrapped. The Shetland Amenity Trust, a local heritage and archaeological charity, and one of Scotland's major countryside access organisations, the John Muir Trust, have also objected, arguing that the proposal would have a "hugely damaging detrimental impact" on the treeless, hilly landscape.

The dispute has highlighted the conflicts arising over the siting of major windfarms on land, between the need to exploit the most windy locations and the desire to preserve the rural environment.

The government wants to have an additional 6,000 onshore and 4,000 offshore wind turbines installed by 2020 to meet its legally binding target of generating 15% of all energy from renewable sources . There are currently about 2,400 turbines. Ed Milliband, the energy and climate change secretary, has set out an ambitious plan to transform the UK to a low-carbon economy. But the plans to change the planning system to make windfarm approvals quicker and give priority to renewable projects in granting national grid connections prompted significant criticism on the siting and cost of windfarms.

Within a week, the newly formed National Association of Wind Action Groups pledged to campaign against the harmful impact of wind turbine developments on communities and landscapes. Another blow came from the decision of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to close the UK's only blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight. The company said the UK wind market was not growing fast enough and that projects had been slowed down by planning objections.

Existing windfarms have 3,000MW of capacity, but another 9,600MW is in the planning process. A further 6,000MW has planning permission but no funding and on Monday the government announced a £1bn loan package to try to fill that funding gap. It argues that the UK has the largest potential for wind power in Europe and already has more offshore wind installed than any other country. Miliband has said that climate change poses a greater threat to landscapes than windfarms and that opposing them should be "socially unacceptable".

Scotland is already home to more than half the UK's onshore wind capacity and Shetland is a key location. The islands reputedly experience the highest and most consistent wind speeds of any comparable place on earth. One small turbine at Lerwick, known as Betsy, is believed to be the world's most productive, reaching 59% of its potential output.

The Viking scheme, if approved by ministers, would alone generate a fifth of Scotland's domestic electricity needs and earn up to £37m a year in profits for Shetland. Manson said yesterday that the scheme had to be large-scale for the energy regulator and National Grid to agree to lay the £300m interconnector cable that would carry the electricity to the mainland. A scheme even half its current size would not be commercially viable. But opponents claim that the scheme is far too large and that, with a further 62 miles of access roads, it would significantly affect a fifth of the main island's desolate interior and industrialise the landscape.

"We can't simply build our way out of climate change," said John Hutchison, chairman of the John Muir Trust. "It is both cheaper and less destructive to reduce energy need and waste, rather than cover the wild landscapes that define Scotland and its people with wind turbines."


British teachers put on the spot

A teaching union is to campaign against the new code of conduct for teachers, which it says intrudes on their private lives. The code, which will come into force in October, states that teachers must “demonstrate honesty and integrity and uphold public trust and confidence in the teaching profession”.

Teachers are also expected to “maintain reasonable standards in their own behaviour” or face disciplinary procedures, according to the General Teaching Council, the profession’s watchdog, which drew up the code.

The actions of teachers while off duty will now be under the spotlight — a move that the NASUWT, a teaching union, said set “unreasonable expectations of how people should conduct themselves”.

The teaching council has said that, for example, those who drink heavily and disgrace themselves face discipline for bringing the profession into disrepute, even if it is outside school hours and they have not broken the law.

Chris Keates, chief executive of the NASUWT, said that there was a lot of anger among teachers about the revised code. The union is to ask members to protest against the code in the coming months. “Teachers are entitled to a private life,” Ms Keates said. “It will lead to teachers being put in a position that no other workers are put in. Their conduct outside work is under a scrutiny that no one else’s life would be under.”

The NASUWT is calling for the code to be abandoned because, it says, teachers are already subject to professional standards, capability and disciplinary measures for their conduct in school.

The General Teaching Council said that the code “sets out expectations of reasonable standards of behaviour but does not limit a teacher’s right to a private life”.


Organic food 'no better for health than factory-farmed food' says U.K. government report

Which has outraged the faddists. How nasty of science to debunk superstition!

Organic food is no healthier than other produce, according to the Government’s food watchdog. The largest ever review into the science behind organic food found that it contained no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers. The findings challenge popular assumptions about the organic industry, worth £2 billion in the UK. Consumer groups said that shoppers may now think twice before buying organic.

The report, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, was carried out by experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who studied data collected over 50 years.

Organic groups were incensed by the findings. The Soil Association accused the FSA of ignoring up-to-date evidence and pre-empting EU research for political reasons. Lord Melchett, its policy director, said that he had urged the FSA to delay its report. “They have jumped the gun,” he said.

The FSA researchers were led by by a public health nutritionist, Dr Alan Dangour. They found that there was no significant benefit from drinking milk or eating meat, vegetables, fruit, poultry and eggs from organic sources, as opposed to the products of conventional farm systems.

Pro-organic groups criticised the findings of the year-long review, which cost £120,000. They said that the conclusions, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, failed to take into account the impact of pesticides and herbicides. Organic farming bans artificial chemical fertilisers and has stricter animal welfare rules than conventional farming.

Dr Dangour said that, as a nutritionist, he was not qualified to look at pesticides. “There is a possibility that organic food has less pesticide residues, but this was not part of the review,” he said. “Potentially this may be an area for further research.” He added: “A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. “Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced crops and livestock on the basis of nutritional supremacy.”

Among the differences identified by the study was a higher phosphorous content in organic food. Dr Dangour said: “Phosphorus is an important mineral and is available in everything we eat. It is important for public health but the difference in the content between organic and conventional foods was not statistically relevant in terms of health.” He added: “Acidity is also higher in organic produce but acidity is about taste and sensory perception and makes no difference at all for health.”

Nitrogen levels were found to be higher in conventional produce, but this was not surprising given the use of nitrogen as a fertiliser in commercial agriculture. But the levels posed no better or worse impacts on human health, the research said.

A study of 52,000 papers was made, but only 162 scientific papers published between January 1958 and February last year were deemed relevant, of which just 55 met the strict quality criteria for the study, Dr Dangour said.

Twenty-three nutrients were analysed. In 20 categories there were no significant differences between production methods and the nutrient content. The differences detected were most likely to have been due to differences in fertiliser use and ripeness at harvest, and were unlikely to provide any health benefits.

The Soil Association challenged the conclusions that some nutritional differences between organic and conventional food were not important. It said it was particularly concerned that the researchers dismissed higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic food — such as 53.6 higher levels of beta-carotene and 38.4 per cent more flavonoids in organic foods — according to the mean percentage difference of samples analysed. Dr Dangour was adamant that these were not relevant because of the level of standard error in the research — which was 37 per cent for beta-carotene and 10.6 per cent for flavonoids.

The authors said in their conclusion: “No evidence of a difference in content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products was detected for the majority of nutrient assessed in this review, suggesting that organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are broadly comparable in their nutrient content.”

Gill Fine, the FSA’s director of consumer choice, said: “This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.”

In reaching their conclusions, the report's authors were accused of pre-empting a Brussels study being carried out by Carlo Leifert, Professor of Ecological Farming at Newcastle University, which is due to be published this year. [A Professor of ecological farming! Well. He would be an unbiased source to go to wouldn't he? But for all he knows about farming, does he know anything about nutrition?] Professor Leifert told The Times that his research found higher level of antioxidants — which help the body to combat cancer and cardiovascular disease — in organic foods. He said that the FSA did not want to admit that there was anything good in organic food. “The Government is worried they will then have to have a policy to make organic food available to everyone,” he said.


Hundreds of thousands of migrants in Britain for handouts, says senior judge

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants come to Britain just to get welfare benefits, a senior judge declared yesterday. Judge Ian Trigger said the cost of the handouts has helped to double the national debt. He spoke out as he gave a two-year jail sentence to a Jamaican drug minder who disappeared from the notice of immigration authorities after claiming asylum.

He told Lucien McClearley, 31, at Liverpool Crown Court: 'Your case illustrates all too clearly the completely lax immigration policy that exists and has existed over recent years.' Sentencing McClearley, he added: 'People like you, and there are literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people like you, come to these shores to avail themselves of the generous welfare benefits that exist here.

'In the past ten years the national debt of this country has risen to extraordinary heights, largely because central Government has wasted billions of pounds. Much of that has been wasted on welfare payments. 'For every £1 that the decent citizen, who is hard-working, pays in taxes, nearly 10 per cent goes on servicing that national debt. That is twice the amount it was in 1997 when this Government came to power.'

McClearley arrived legally in Britain in November 2001 on a visitor's visa. He was arrested in October 2002 after it ran out but claimed asylum and was released while this was being processed.

He then 'disappeared from the radar of the authorities', the court heard. His application was rejected in 2004 but he was only arrested this February after police stopped a car he was driving and noticed it smelled of cannabis. A search of the house where McClearley was staying in Everton uncovered cannabis worth £7,200, a gram of cocaine and a fake passport.

He admitted taking a vehicle without consent, possessing cannabis and cocaine, possessing a class-B drug with intent and two counts of possessing false identity documents.

Judge Trigger, who is also a part-time immigration judge, told McClearley: 'The fact that it took nearly two years to process your claim shows how desperate the situation in this country has become.' The 65-year-old judge said he 'hoped and trusted' McClearley would be deported immediately on release.


Even very clever politicians can fall foul of speech rules

Yes. I know about Joe Biden but who ever said he was clever? This is about the head of the British Conservative party, a graduate of Eton and Oxford:
"It was meant to be the ideal low-risk, softball interview before he headed off to France for his holidays. But yesterday David Cameron’s last media appearance before the summer break ended in awkward apologies after he used an inappropriate word during a breakfast radio programme favoured by his wife, Samantha.

The Tory leader used the word “twat” as he explained to Christian O’Connell, a presenter on Absolute Radio, why he did not use the Twitter social networking service. “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it — too many twits might make a twat,” he said. In the studio his remark was greeted with laughter. Mr O’Connell said: “That’s fantastic.”

However, according to the Collins English Dictionary, the word can refer to female genitals, a girl or woman “considered sexually”, or a foolish or despicable person. Shortly afterwards Mr Cameron risked making the situation worse by saying people were “pissed off” with politicians — although he added hastily: “Sorry, I can’t say that in the morning.” ...

According to Mr O’Connell, the Conservative leader was ticked off by Gabby Bertin, his press secretary, as he left the studio. The presenter described the exchange between Mr Cameron and Ms Bertin in a podcast released shortly after the broadcast. “She leapt out of her skin after the first part of the interview,” the presenter said. “He said [to her] ‘That seemed to go OK’. She said, ‘Yeah, apart from the language’.

“He said ‘Oh, yeah, pissed, sorry about that, I’m really sorry’ . . . She said ‘No, it was the twat’. “He said, ‘That’s not a swearword’. I think he must be posh, where a lot of them don’t think twat is a swearword. His press secretary went, ‘It is’.”

The presenter hailed Cameron as “a good bloke” who had been as relaxed as if he were “down the boozer”. Mr O’Connell joked that the t-word was not viewed too seriously by radio regulators: “In terms of the fines we can get, it is not one of the big ones.”


1 comment:

Tim said...

Twat is also the name of a small area on Orkney Mainland. When I visited a number of years ago it seemed to consist of a church and a couple of houses.