Sunday, May 31, 2009

British teacher makes pupils kneel and pray to Allah' during RE lesson

School denies it but fires the teacher anyway! One of the stranger examples of a British "fudge"

A teacher has been sacked after parents claimed that their children were forced to pray to Allah during a religious education lesson. Alison Phillips was accused of giving two pupils detention after they refused to kneel down and 'pray to Allah' during the class. However, an investigation by the school concluded that there was no truth in the allegation.

Parents were outraged after stories emerged that the two boys, aged 11, were allegedly punished for not wanting to take part in a practical demonstration of how Allah is worshipped. They said children should not be forced to take part in the exercise, which included wearing Muslim headgear, was a breach of their human rights. But governors at Alsager High School, near Stoke-on-Trent, denied Mrs Phillips made pupils pray or that two boys were put into detention for refusing to do so.

The school suspended the teacher last July after receiving complaints and a lengthy disciplinary process was carried out. A statement released on behalf of the school by Cheshire East Council said: 'It can be confirmed that following a long and rigorous disciplinary process, a member of staff at Alsager School has been dismissed from her post. 'The member of staff was suspended in July 2008 following parental complaints and newspaper reports relating to an RE lesson.

'In reaching this decision, the governing body wish to make very clear that they were completely satisfied that at no point did that member of staff make children pray to Allah or put boys in detention for refusing to do so. 'The RE lesson in question contains an element of role play which complies with acceptable practice.'

At the time of the alleged incident, one parent - Sharon Luinen, said: 'This isn't right, it's taking things too far. 'Being asked to pray to Allah, who isn't who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that came away thinking they were being disrespectful.' Another parent, Karen Williams, said: 'I am absolutely furious and I don't find it acceptable. 'I haven't got a problem with them teaching my child other religions and a small amount of information doesn't do any harm. 'But not only did they have to pray, the teacher had gone into the class and asked them watch a short film and then said "we are now going out to pray to Allah".'

The grandfather of one of the pupils in the class added: 'It's absolutely disgusting, there's no other way of putting it.' Parents had claimed that their children were made to bend down on their knees on prayer mats which the teacher had got out of her cupboard.


10,000 penpushers a year are hired by British local councils

And guess who pays for them?

Town halls have hired more than 30,000 extra staff over the past three years, figures revealed yesterday. The workers, mostly penpushers and bureaucrats, were also given higher pay rises than teachers, policemen or firemen.

According to a breakdown of council finances, between 2006 and 2008 the number of teachers employed fell but the number of ‘other local government staff’ increased by 31,000, from 1,084,000 to 1,115,000. They also enjoyed the highest pay rises of any council group, up by 7.6 per cent in 2006, 7.2 per cent in 2007 and 3.3 per cent in 2008, the Department of Communities and Local Government figures showed.

‘Other local government’ workers include school support staff and others whose jobs directly serve the public. However, town halls also employ highly-paid managers and a growing army of equality officers, outreach workers and sustainability advisers.

Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Councils need to get back in touch with what people want and start focusing on delivering better frontline services and cutting back bloated administrations.’

And Tory local government spokesman Caroline Spelman said: ‘It is very telling that under Gordon Brown the number of teachers being employed is falling while the number of people employed to deal with red tape and bureaucracy is soaring.’


NHS Doctors have cashed in on new bonus scheme but it 'has not helped patient care'

A lucrative bonus scheme for GPs has done nothing to improve patient care, a study claims. Performance-related pay could even be detrimental to the NHS, with GPs chasing targets 'at the cost of the quality of care given to patients'. The bonus scheme was included as part of GPs' 2004 contract, which has seen pay rocket by 55 per cent to almost £108,000.

Ministers introduced the scheme, which accounts for a third of doctors' salaries, with the aim of driving up the quality of care. But a study in the British Medical Journal indicates that in some cases it has made no difference whatsoever - despite costing taxpayers millions.

Researchers at Birmingham University compared the level of diabetes care at 147 surgeries covering one million patients across the country. They found that while there were significant improvements every year in the three years up to the start of the bonus scheme, these improvements then stagnated after it began. It is suggested this could be because GPs stop trying for further improvements once they have achieved the maximum amount of money allocated to diabetes patients.

Under the scheme, known as the Quality and Outcomes Framework, points are awarded for the management of diabetes, including targets for controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. There are 1,000 points available annually for each practice, covering a wide range of different illness achievement targets. Each point is worth up to £124 and is then shared between GPs in that practice.

But experts say it is too easy for GPs to gain the maximum number of points and suggest targets need to be more challenging if patients are to see better care. Last year 96.8 per cent of doctors gained the maximum number of points and more than 600 practices achieved 100 per cent.

Dr Melanie Calvert, lecturer at Birmingham University's college of medicine and dentistry, said: 'Our work and that of others highlights the potential unintended consequences of the scheme and raises concerns that it may not have been as efficient in reducing inequalities in health in diabetes as was hoped. 'Although the management of patients with diabetes has improved since the 1990s, the impact of the pay-for-performance initiative on care is not straightforward.' She went on: 'If anything, improvements in care appear to have plateaued since the introduction. 'This may reflect increasing difficulties in target attainments in poorly- controlled patients, but could also suggest that targets for practices need to be more challenging if patients are to benefit.'

Last year a study by the Civitas think-tank found some GPs were putting more effort into treating conditions, including asthma and high blood pressure, that attract points while neglecting dementia and osteoporosis, which do not. Dr Calvert said: 'There is a risk that doctors are focusing on patients they can achieve incentives with and are not focusing on things like osteoporosis which isn't captured in the QOF. 'There is a risk GPs are focusing on tick boxes to meet targets but not focusing on other aspects of care.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'Independent research has shown that care for people with diabetes improved more rapidly after the introduction of the QOF. 'We want to see continuous improvements in QOF to support GPs in delivering high quality care for patients.'


British academics want to boycott visa 'snooping'

This is mostly just self-righteous posing that will collapse like a deflated balloon in due course. The Home Office has said that it will remove their accreditation to take overseas students if they do not comply and that would be a big hit to their revenues. Keeping records of attendance at tutorials is already common in some disciplines so extending that to all disciplines should not be onerous

University academics say they will boycott new visa rules for overseas students that would make them into "immigration snoopers". Delegates at the University and College Union's annual conference said they did not want to become a branch of the UK Border Agency.

Under the new rules universities are expected to monitor whether overseas students really attend their courses. The Home Office said such things were part of their normal duty of care. Institutions must also report concerns that a student could be involved in terrorism.

In a debate at the conference, in Bournemouth, delegates argued that the rules would place a strain on the relationship between staff and students from outside the European Union. General secretary Sally Hunt said: "UCU members are educators not border guards." She said later: "Politically, UCU is absolutely opposed to this legislation and we know that many members have strong and principled moral objections as members of society and as professional educators. "One of the more pernicious effects of this new system will be to turn our members into an extra arm of the police force, placing monitoring and reporting responsibilities onto academic and support staff."

One of the resolutions tabled for discussion said the new system "makes educators into immigration snoopers which could damage UK education irreparably". It deplored "this pandering to anti-immigration racism" and committed the union to "non-compliance with all such policing and surveillance duties".

But a Home Office spokesman said: "Educational institutions have a duty of care to all their students and checking that they are attending and making progress in their studies is part of that responsibility. "The records we expect education providers to keep are those which most will keep for their own purposes anyway."


Britain's anti-immigration party: The other side

Mainstream media comments on the BNP are uniformly vituperative and often misleading. In the interests of balance, therefore, I put a case for the defence, written by J. P. Straley

I’m not a Brit, but as an American and an avid internet observer of the British scene, I have been fascinated to watch the rise of what might be an effective nationalist political party in Britain.

The British National Party, under its leader Nick Griffin, has been touting Britain’s elections for Members of the European Parliament, to be held on June 4, as its breakthrough. It hopes to capture five MEP seats, with the possibility of a few more if all the cards fall its way. (Which seems to be happening, as the extraordinary U.K. House of Commons expenses scandal in Westminster engulfs ever more British MPs of all parties.)

Commenters in the Brit political blogosphere predict anywhere from zero to five seats, with three as the most common guess. Any seats at all will produce public funding for the party, a very substantial boost, and will raise their visibility in Britain.

It’s happened before. Another small party, the United Kingdom Independence Party [UKIP], whose main plank is to take Britain out of the European Union, was very successful in the last MEP election. But UKIP contests few local elections in Britain. For the upcoming June 4 MEP election, polls show it losing ground. Part of this may be the difference in styles. BNP is a bit scruffy and makes a fuss, while UKIP appears to be much more urbane. Unhappy British voters—particularly former Labor voters—appear to like the fuss.

I know I’m not supposed to like the BNP. Because it openly states that ethnicity matters, the British press and TV treat the BNP as if it is toxic waste. The U.S. Mainstream Media follows suit, when it mentions the party at all. The BNP did rise out of the ashes of a more strident National Front Party, and some of its leaders allegedly have or have had radical links (sort of like Obama and Jeremiah Wright, although Griffin has distanced himself much more effectively). All I can say, at a distance of 3000 miles, what the BNP is actually saying and doing now looks rational, reasonable and pretty darn good to me.

Nationalist politics acknowledge the ethnic dimension of nations. Levelers assert there is no difference between peoples, and happily dilute—even replace—the heritage peoples of the West. Nowhere are they more active than in Britain.

I use the term "Heritage Peoples." This is intuitively obvious, but let us see what BNP says about being "British":
"We mean the bonds of culture, race, identity and roots of the native White peoples of the British Isles. We have lived in these islands near on 40,000 years. We were made by these islands, and these islands are our home. When we in the BNP talk about being British, we talk about the native peoples who have lived in these islands since before the Stone Age, and the relatively small numbers of peoples of identical race, such as the Saxons, Vikings and Normans, and the Irish, who have come here and assimilated."[BNP FAQ, 2007]

Indeed, in an April 23 quote, Griffin himself describes the ethnic quality of Britishness in plain language:
"We don't subscribe to the politically correct fiction that just because they happen to be born in Britain, a Pakistani is a Briton. They're not. They remain of Pakistani stock,' he added.

"You can't say that especially large numbers of people can come from the rest of the world and assume an English identity without denying the English their own identity, and I would say that's wrong.

"In a very subtle way, it's a sort of bloodless genocide.'[BNP Updates Language & Concepts Discipline Manual, BNP News, April 27, 2009]

Many whites in Britain appear to be self-haters, and are quite happy to trade Cotswolds country churches for mosques and minarets. So you can imagine the calumny thrown at Griffin over this remark!

Indeed, the "racist" epithet is thrown at BNP every day. BNP replies that it prefers a truly multicultural world where British people are clearly British and peoples from other countries are likewise unmistakable in their provenance. This is not an original policy with BNP, of course—in the second half of the twentieth century colonies of whites throughout the third world were encouraged to pack up and leave.

The BNP’s policies strike me as candid and accessible. Here, for instance, is BNP policy on immigration:
"On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years.

"To ensure that this does not happen, and that the British people retain their homeland and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin assisted by generous financial incentives both for individuals and for the countries in question."[Policies—BNP Website]

Here is a nationalist party that cherishes its Heritage People and states clearly the goal to retain the traditional ethnic balance of their nation. It recognizes the fact of the demographic tsunami—something even sensible observers in the U.S. shrink from doing. The BNP intends to halt the immigrant flood and roll back the replacement of its Heritage Peoples. What’s wrong with that?

Clever use of the internet has partially defused the uniformly negative media coverage of BNP. The BNP site offers fresh material daily, and it pulls no punches with its stories. There is certainly interest in the site. According to Alexa internet ratings, the BNP has far, far more traffic than Conservatives, LibDems, or Labor.

The BNP forces are also masters of the You Tube media. A single Y-T inquiry with key word "BNP" yielded forty pages of listings, albeit there were many dissenting views such as the one with the uncivilized title, "BNP Are C_nts". Whichever side of the BNP divide you stand on, if you like your material in movie-form, it’s ready for you.

By no means is BNP a wholly electronic communicator. In those area that offer promise, BNP organizers canvas door to door with pamphlets and face-to-face explanations why BNP says, "Britain first!" This year, for the European Parliament election, it has sent out 29 million pieces of mail!

British race-relation quangos and their fellow travelers in government are well-aware of the BNP and Griffin. In December 2004, he was arrested after a covert taping (by a BBC i.e. tax-funded operative) of a speech before a private gathering. BNP and Griffin identify the increasing Muslim population in Britain as one of the chief threats to the country, and in the December 2004 meeting he was captured on tape as suggesting that Islam was a "…wicked and vicious faith." He knew that he was treading the edge of the draconian Race Relations law, and further said he could possibly get seven years prison for such a statement. Government pursued just that course, charging four counts of "incitement to racial hatred." Griffin was eventually acquitted on all counts. Not surprisingly, the BNP proposes to abolish all restrictions on free speech, absent only "…common law restrictions on incitement to violence…"

Another grim reminder of official antipathy: BNP membership—that is, membership in a democratic and legal political party—is grounds for local governments to sack police and teachers. In the fall of 2008 the party membership list was leaked, and many such firings occurred.

Is BNP a one-issue anti-immigration party? Widening its scope seems to have been a part of Griffin’s leadership. The issues of EU membership (out now, please), trade (mild protectionism), job protection (part of the immigration and guest worker issue), crime (unshackle police, allow persons to resist an intruder without penalty), defense (small, competent forces, avoid foreign wars), energy (develop alternative fuels and energy, promote advanced nuclear power), environment, education, and health are all covered in the manifesto. All told BNP’s policy seems to be fairly conventional nationalism, bent on internal improvement and de-emphasizing foreign involvement, with an added tinge of social democracy. Voters certainly have a choice—BNP policies are a rather stark contrast to the Lib-Lab-Con party line.

BNP strategy seems to be to build the party in disaffected regions (London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, and Burnley northeast of Liverpool are examples), and let success in electing members to local offices (town and city "councilors") increase the appeal of their brand. BNP is eager for councilors to render good service to constituents, though of course some do poorly in the event—an artifact of governing versus merely opposing government) Electing local councilors builds the party machinery and provides experience in actual government for members, as well as building a positive picture to combat negative propaganda.

There are no BNP Members of Britain’s Parliament at this time. It takes determination, organization, and grit to make an election-winning party from scratch. But the BNP is making progress:

Total votes in General Elections

1983 14,621

1987 553

1992 7,631

1997 35,832

2001 47,129

2007 192,748

Make no mistake, the BNP remains very much a minority party. The ’05 results represent only 0.7% of the total voters, country-wide. But the 2007 Welsh showing was 4.3% of the vote, and in the ’08 London Mayoral contest more than 5% of voters went BNP. The party has discrete areas of strength, and these are where it means to win MEP seats.

The stakes are high for Britain. Shall it retain its traditional identity, or become a collection of synthetic citizens, whose opinion is perhaps better polled as mere consumer preference?

It would be interesting to see a country-wide nationalist political party in the US so straightforward in its platform, and so effective in its party-building effort. If BNP are successful on June 4, it will be a lesson to patriots throughout Europe and the US.

Stay tuned, June 4 will be here before you know it!


Britain: "Hitler" image turns out to be Lenin

One hopes that somebody learned something from that:
"A customer complained that the image on the underwear resembled the Nazi leader saluting as planes passed overhead. Next said that it had investigated the complaint and found the image, among a series of cartoons, was inspired by a picture of Lenin, the former Soviet leader.

But a spokesman told The Sun it was withdrawing the remaining 5,200 pairs of the underwear anyway. He said: "The complaint came in today and by the end of the day all 5,200 will be withdrawn. "We have checked with the designer who confirmed the image was inspired by Lenin. Nonetheless, if even one customer is offended or upset we are happy to withdraw the range."


There are pictures of Stalin using the "Fascist" salute too. Scroll down here

Saturday, May 30, 2009


ATTEMPTS to toughen carbon emissions targets were rejected by MSPs yesterday. Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes called for Scotland's climate change laws to include a target of 3 per cent annual emissions reductions. This was rejected by members of Holyrood's Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee.

As the climate bill stands, the draft laws will only bring in annual 3 per cent reduction targets from 2020.

Campaign group Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said the lack of early action in the current draft legislation "put at risk" hopes that it would be "world leading".

MSPs also voted against an amendment by Green MSP Robin Harper to increase the 2050 target for emissions reductions from 80 to 90 per cent.


Woman deliberately left in burning car by Muslim boyfriend

In the usual way, the newspaper makes no comment on the origins of Waqas Arshad but you don't have to know much to recognize it as a Pakistani or Indian Muslim name. There are many such people in Britain as a result of the negligible immigration controls in recent years. Waqas Arshad seems to have been quite a piece of work, starting out with drunk driving and driving while uninsured. I am sure Miss Brady's family wish that British immigration had been more selective in the past. I literally cannot imagine an Englishman behaving the way this piece of slime did

Waqas Arshad, 24, crashed into a tree but told emergency services there was nobody inside, despite knowing 17-year-old Emily Brady was trapped in the burning wreckage. Yesterday, Miss Brady's mother Patricia said: 'It was despicable behaviour to make no attempt to try and pull her out of the car.' It was only as firefighters tackled the blaze that they realised the teenager was in the car, still strapped into the passenger seat.

Arshad, of Luton, pleaded guilty yesterday to causing death by careless driving while over the alcohol limit, and causing death by driving while uninsured.

Speaking outside Luton Crown Court today Mrs Brady, 48, said the family were shocked at hearing Arshad had left his girlfriend in the car and made no effort to help her. She said: "Emily lost her precious life on November 2, changing forever the lives of those of us that love her. This was a community tragedy." She said Emily was a full-time student at college, training to be an accountant, and worked on Saturdays at Sainsburys.

'There is a very good reason why drinking and driving is illegal - the consequence is there are many victims,' she added. 'Emily lost her life so horrifically, there are many years of pain ahead. I will never recover from this enormous loss, her terrible absence will be with us until we die.

'However, I am shocked and distressed to learn at this hearing that Waqas Arshad denied she was in the car, made no attempt to rescue her, and in fact lied to the emergency services that she was in the car, trying to conceal her body.'

Natalie Carter, prosecuting at Luton Crown Court, told the court Arshad lost control and crashed into a tree in Eversholt, Bedfordshire, at 3am on November 2 last year. But instead of calling for help, he got out of the car and did nothing. Mrs Carter said: 'After the collision it's plain that Emily Brady was in the passenger seat; the defendant in the driver's seat. 'She did not die as a result of the injuries received in the collision, which included two broken vertebrae, but she died as a result of carbonisation.'

The court - packed with relatives of Miss Brady, who lived in Dunstable - heard how firefighters answering a call from a witness asked Arshad if there was anyone in the car. He told them 'no'. The couple had been together for about six months and had been out drinking together that night. It had been raining and the road surface was wet. Mrs Carter said Arshad had failed to negotiate a right-hand turn on the country lane and crashed into a sycamore tree. The vehicle eventually came to a halt in a field and caught fire. She told the court that both had been wearing seat belts.

Yesterday, Judge John Bevan QC told Arshad a prison sentence was inevitable. He adjourned the case and remanded the defendant in custody until sentencing on June 19. The court also heard that Arshad had been arrested for drink driving while on bail following the incident.


Surgical stockings ‘don’t prevent blood clots in stroke patients', but have nasty side-effects

Another instance of theory-based medicine doing more harm than good

Surgical stockings commonly given to stroke patients to prevent blood clots do not work, a new study suggests. Doctors have found that the compression stockings have no effect in preventing deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) — a life-threatening form of blood clot that can travel up into the heart or lungs — in people who have suffered a stroke. Research carried out by a team from the University of Edinburgh suggests that cutting the use of stockings in stroke units could save the NHS about £7 million and 320,000 hours of nursing time each year. More than 150,000 Britons a year suffer a stroke.

The stockings have been proven to reduce clots in surgery patients, so experts had long thought that the cheap solution might also help stroke patients. About two thirds of stroke patients are unable to walk on admission to hospital and approximately 15 per cent develop blood clots because of this lack of movement.

The Edinburgh team studied more than 2,500 stroke patients in Britain, Italy and Australia. All were treated with routine care, including aspirin and assisted exercise, and half were offered surgical stockings as well. After 30 days, there was no significant difference between the groups in the occurrence of DVT and the patients using stockings suffered more skin breaks, ulcers and blisters than those without. Compression stockings are still recommended for patients who have undergone surgery and for people travelling on long-haul flights.

The results were simultaneously published in The Lancet and presented at the European Stroke Conference in Stockholm on Wednesday. Martin Dennis, Professor of Stroke Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Until now, the guidelines on the use of these stockings have been based on evidence collected in surgical patients and not in stroke patients. “We have shown conclusively that compression stockings do not work for stroke patients. The national guidelines need to be revised and we need further research to establish effective treatments for these patients. Abandoning this ineffective and sometimes uncomfortable treatment will free up valuable resources in our health services.”

Charles Swainson, Medical Director of NHS Lothian, said: “This research underlines the huge importance of close collaboration between the NHS and universities. “Professor Dennis and his colleagues in Lothian and beyond could prove highly important in making sure that nursing time and NHS money are used more effectively for the benefit of patients in Scotland and throughout the world.”

Ralph Sacco, president-elect of the American Heart Association, who was not linked to the study, said: “We have used these stockings because we assume they work. But sometimes you’re surprised when you find out the truth with a randomised trial.”

The CLOTS (Clots in Legs or Stockings after Stroke) trials are funded by the Medical Research Council, Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and the UK Stroke Research Network. They are also supported by NHS Lothian.

David Clark, chief executive of Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland, which co-funded the study, said: “This important research shows conclusively that compression stockings do not prevent DVT for stroke patients and can often have unpleasant side effects. More research like this, which will make a practical and positive impact on the lives of stroke patients, is needed.”


New cost-cutting NHS guidelines on back pain 'will lead to more surgery'

Thousands of patients could undergo unnecessary spinal operations because of new NHS guidelines on treatments for lower back pain, warn experts. Dozens of hospital consultants say the ‘cost- cutting’ restrictions mean more patients will end up having major surgery. They claim less risky procedures using spinal injections have been wrongly dismissed as ineffective, even though they help hundreds of thousands of patients with chronic back pain each year.

Guidelines issued earlier this week by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) set out permitted treatments for patients whose back pain has lasted for at least six weeks but less than a year. They endorsed widespread use of ‘alternative’ therapy, letting patients opt for a three-month course of acupuncture, manual therapy such as physiotherapy, or exercise.

Described as a ‘sea-change’ for back pain sufferers, the guidelines also told doctors not to recommend therapies with ‘little evidence’ to support them, controversially including injections of small amounts of steroids into the back, MRI scans, X-rays and ultrasound. Now, many patients who fail to respond to initial treatment could miss out this intermediate stage and proceed straight to risky spinal fusion operations.

NICE estimates the NHS will make annual savings of £33million on back injections and £11million on MRI scans. However, it will spend £24million extra on acupuncture and £16million extra on manual therapy, making the cost-cutting aspect negligible.

Around 50 specialists belonging to the Interventional Pain Medicine Group of the British Pain Society are writing to NICE, claiming it has dismissed good evidence about spinal injections, which do not cure pack pain but give a period of relief from chronic pain. Dr Ron Cooper, past chairman of the group and a consultant pain specialist in Northern Ireland, said: ‘I have never known so many pain medicine specialists to be so furious. More patients will end up having more expensive surgery, which is unnecessary, risky and has worse results.

‘NICE made it difficult for us to submit evidence to a committee on which there was not one experienced pain physician. [Very suggestive of a non-medical agenda] ‘The guidelines will make us the laughing stock of Europe, Australia and the U.S. where pain specialists will continue to have full access to a wide range of treatments.’ Dr Raj Munglani, a consultant in pain medicine at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, said: ‘There could be as many as 400,000 patients (a year) who will be eligible for spinal fusion – when it should be a last resort. ‘There is a lot of concern that this is actually a way of banishing waiting lists for some procedures, because they will no longer be available.’ Dr Serge Nikolic, a chronic pain specialist at Bart’s hospital in London, said any savings made from the guidelines would be a false economy if they led to more spinal surgery.

A NICE spokesman said: ‘The guideline sets out... those approaches which either don’t work as well as alternatives, or for which there is little evidence of benefit. ‘The guideline recommends that new research is needed to decide if injections into the back are, or are not, effective.’


The egregious bloodymindedness of bureaucratic Britain

Bureaucrats have contempt for those they have power over. It was only the intervention of a Member of Parliament that squeezed some semblance of decency out of them. In Britain, yellow lines beside the kerb indicate that parking is not permitted there

Ruth Ducker always legally parks her Volkswagen Golf around the corner from her house, so it came as a shock when she discovered it had disappeared from its spot - and in its place was double yellow lines. Her confusion deepened when Lambeth council claimed to have no knowledge of where her car was.

It took three weeks for the council to admit its contractors were behind the disappearance, and then add insult to injury by telling the 44-year-old graphic designer she owed more than £800 in fines. In fact the car had been carefully lifted out of the way for the double yellows to be painted in Gordon Grove in Camberwell, then replaced on the new restrictions by the contractors responsible. The same day a different set of parking enforcers spotted the 'illegally parked' car, and had it towed away - after photographing it on the newly painted double yellows.

Mrs Ducker had left the runabout without its battery, meaning she knew that it had not been stolen. She said: 'My little VW disappeared a week before Christmas. I had parked for years on an unrestricted stretch about 40 yards from my home. When I returned on 19 December to replace the battery my car had disappeared and yellow lines had suddenly appeared. There’s no way I could have driven onto those lines. 'Initial inquiries with the council found no trace of the car. It was three weeks before I received my first official notification.'

It took a further two months and the involvement of her local MP Kate Hoey to make the council back down and waive the fines, which by now totalled £2,240. 'What they did was disgraceful,' said Mrs Ducker. “I’m very grateful to my MP. When I saw the photos of my car on the yellow lines I was furious. 'I knew that to pay up would be an admission of guilt, so I decided to fight them. But I didn’t get the car back until the middle of February and they offered a paltry £100 to compensate for lost road tax, insurance and inconvenience. Needless to say I still haven’t received a penny.'

In a letter to Ms Hoey the council said contractors had told them the 'vehicle may have been lifted in order to facilitate the painting of lines' and admitted residents had not been advised of the planned work. The letter also confirmed that penalty notices were not due to be issued until the day after Mrs Ducker’s car was removed. Lambeth council blamed a 'breakdown in communication' between its contractors and has now offered Mrs Ducker £150 compensation.

A council spokesman said: 'This was an unacceptable case and when the council became aware of it we acted to cancel all the charges. We are very sorry for the distress this has caused Mrs Ducker. 'We have raised the case with our contractors in order to avoid something like this happening again in the future. While one case like this is one case too many, this is very much an isolated incident, and all our figures show that in general parking is becoming fairer in Lambeth.'


Teaching to get the best out of a child: is streaming or mixed ability the best way?

How best to teach children is a question which few people agree on - even though parents, teachers and children would benefit from a definitive answer. One issue which does keep cropping up is whether to set children by ability or to teach them all together. This is a topic on which there is strong disagreement.

On Women's Hour last week, Professor Jo Boaler talked about how she is in favour of mixed ability teaching for her subject, maths. She then followed this up, summing up her thoughts in a letter to the Times where she stated: "The highest maths-achieving countries in the world — countries as diverse as Finland and Japan — teach all students to high levels and communicate to all students that they can do well in maths. In England we do the opposite and assign young children to low groups, which we know they never get out of. We then lament the fact that millions of school children leave school unable to use basic mathematics. Teachers may tell you that it is better to divide children into different levels in order to teach them well, but the reality is that it is easier for teachers to divide and label children in such ways."

I spoke to Professor Boaler this morning to confirm whether she believed in mixed ability teaching for all subjects. She said she did, and is passionate on this subject, particularly when it comes to primary aged pupils. Younger children, she says, should never be grouped by ability. It just turns the ones put into lower ability groups, off learning.

It's ironic that the day I heard Professor Boaler speak on Women's Hour was the same one when I met up with Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb. He strongly disagrees with mixed ability teaching, suggesting that even in primary schools "there is some benefit in having separate classes for early literacy and potentially for maths." When it comes to secondary school, he thinks that every subject should be streamed. He also believes that this will help all children. "We believe that every academic subject - including history and geography - should be set by ability in comprehensive schools in each year group," he said.

Mr Gibb refers to research, particularly by Kulik, to back up his point. He also says that the key is to tailor the curriculum to the ability level and that when this happens, there are huge increases in educational attainment amongst the more able pupils and no falls in achievement lower down. He even argues that you see a small RISE in self esteem amongst the least able children and a small fall in self esteem amongst the most able children.

"I also believe that the better and more experienced teachers should be asked to teach the least able sets, which should also have smaller class sizes," he says. "In this way, not only are these children given the space and time to learn they will also have very able teachers. Much research on setting highlights the fact that the lower sets often have the weakest teachers. This is an indictment of the schools involved in the research rather than an objective critique of setting."

It's a fascinating argument. Many private schools use setting and streaming, and so did a lot of state schools in the 70s. It then went out of fashion, but has been used more often in recent years. Many parents of brighter pupils are strongly in favour, as they want to see their children "stretched". How best to do this is a moot point.

I think that people's views on setting depend hugely on which set they were in at school. Those in the bottom sets often argue that it made them feel stupid, and inclined to give up on a subject. Research has suggested that those in the lower sets do lose out in terms of self-esteem, while those in the higher sets benefit. Meanwhile those in the top sets often say they felt inspired to carry on achieving, and were pushed by being surrounded by very able peers.

Both these responses are interesting because they suggest that setting might be good for more able children, and not for the less able. However, Nick Gibb argues that all children benefit from being separated according to ability, as long as they are taught well, and as long as the sets are "fluid." Meanwhile Professor Boaler argues that mixed ability teaching benefits all, including the brightest, as long as it is done properly.

"It's not okay to expect all children to do the same work in these mixed ability groups," she adds. "They need to work at different levels, which is hard for the teacher, but means that achievement levels go up massively."

There has, of course, been a great deal of research into this issue. "Complex instruction" which mixes children of all abilities so that they can help each other, has recently been reported to be a success. Professor Boaler is the woman pioneering this in the UK, and found her experiences of it in the US to be a fair and impressive way of teaching. But the subject is still controversial, and as with so many issues, there seems to be research to prove each side....


Friday, May 29, 2009

Green homeowner hit with noise abatement order because 40ft wind turbine is driving his neighbours mad

When Stephen Munday spent £20,000 on a wind turbine to generate electricity for his home, he was proud to be doing his bit for the environment. He got planning permission and put up the 40ft device two years ago, making sure he stuck to strict noise level limits. But neighbours still complained that the sound was annoying - and now the local council has ordered him to switch it off.

Officials declared that the sound - which Mr Munday says is 'the same pitch as a dishwasher and quieter than birdsong' - constituted a nuisance, and issued a Noise Abatement Order. This is despite the turbine being more than 164ft from the nearest neighbour's house, as ordered by the planners. The ruling could have serious implications for the Government's drive to promote wind power and the use of renewable domestic energy if repeated across the country.

Electrician Mr Munday, 55, and his wife Sandra, a veterinary nurse, challenged the decision by the Vale of White Horse district council in Oxfordshire. But Didcot magistrates rejected their appeal and they were left to pick up the £5,392 court costs as well.

The turbine generated five kilowatts of electricity a day - the equivalent of boiling 300 kettles - and provided two-thirds of the family's energy needs. It also saved them an average of £500 a year in electricity costs.

Mr Munday, of Stanford in the Vale, near Abindgon, said: 'I am very disappointed. 'We were trying to cut down on our electricity bills and help the environment but have been clobbered for doing so. 'Everyone is encouraged to be environmentally friendly and we wanted to do our bit. We never dreamed that going green would land us in court and £25,000 out of pocket.'

The Government planning inspector granted planning permission on the condition that the turbine did not make more than five decibels of noise above that of the 'prevailing background'. It stands in a paddock 230ft from the Mundays' four-bedroomed detached house. But five neighbours complained about the noise after the turbine began generating power in February 2007.

Patrick Legge, team leader of the council's environmental protection team, said: 'We accept that the noise did not breach the conditions in the planning application but it was decided that the character of the noise was a nuisance. 'There are no strict overall noise limits but each case is examined by their independent circumstances.'

Michael Stigwood, an independent noise and nuisance adviser to the council, told the court that the noise affected people's ability to 'rest and relax'. 'The noise was continual,' he said. 'It's irritating and gets under your skin and is intrusive.'

Neighbour Virginia Thomasson, 49, said: 'I can hear it inside and outside my house - at night, in the daytime, all the time. 'I cannot sleep with the window open. 'I am a tolerant person but with this noise it superimposes itself over everything I hear.' Another resident, Michael Brown, 49, added: 'The rhythmic mechanical noise is very irritating and incessant.'

Chairman of the bench Liz Holford told the Mundays, who represented themselves in court, that the council's order was 'reasonable and necessary'. Now their only option is to appeal to the High Court - but they cannot afford to do so.

According to the BWEA, the wind industry trade body, more than 10,000 small wind turbines have been set up since 2005 and an estimated 600,000 could be installed by 2020.


British school exclusions 'merry-go-round' shows that reforms are failing

Children are being thrown out of school repeatedly in a merry-go-round of exclusions, according to an investigation by The Times that shows that government reforms are not working. Ministers put pressure on schools to reduce the number of permanent expulsions and this figure has fallen by almost a half in the past decade.

However, schools are resorting increasingly to multiple short-term exclusions — frequently removing the same disruptive pupils, who may then be left alone at home or wandering the streets. An estimated 176,000 children were suspended more than once last year, according to a survey of local authorities by The Times. Thousands more were expelled.

Despite claims from ministers that they are doing more to help excluded children, schools and councils are struggling to comply with a new law that means they must provide full-time alternative education on the sixth day of exclusion, rather than the 16th day as required previously. Lack of funding and resources means that some pupil referral units are overwhelmed and can offer only a few hours a week to teenagers. At some units pupils turn up for only a couple of hours, once a week.

Two children in Macclesfield were given four hours’ schoolwork a week to complete at home. A five-year-old in South London was excluded and left without education for six weeks and then went back to the unit for three half-days a week.

New figures show an alarming link between exclusion and prison, and education experts say that expulsion very often leads to a criminal lifestyle. Two fifths of adult male prisoners had been excluded from school, according to figures published recently by the Prison Reform Trust. A Home Office report, released last month, showed that 86 per cent of under-18 male inmates in young offender institutions had been expelled from school. Carl Parsons, a professor of education and an author of books on exclusion, said: “These kids are very often in or on the edge of the criminal justice system before they are excluded. Exclusion will push them further.”

The extent of the problems faced by schools is revealed in our survey of local authorities, which found that many children were excluded for aggressive and even violent behaviour, as well as for being disruptive.

In Durham half of expelled children had assaulted or threatened a teacher or another pupil. Others were removed for theft, sexual misconduct, bullying, damage to property or incidents linked to drugs and alcohol. One local authority said: “Some emerging issues around exclusion include guns, gang issues, weapons and drugs.”

Teachers who have campaigned for greater protection say that such children should be removed from the classroom. John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: “People talk about the effect of exclusion on a child, but what they forget is the effect of that child on other children. They are the group of people who get more fed up than anyone with bad behaviour, and end up disrupted and demoralised.”

Nearly 15,000 children were excluded more than five times in 2006-07, according to government figures. The Times survey shows that more than a third of pupils excluded last year were removed from school more than once — a total of 7,023 children in 15 rural, urban and suburban local authorities. When extrapolated across all 375 authorities in England and Wales it equates to almost 176,000 children. In some areas 60 per cent of excluded children went through the experience repeatedly.

This use of numerous fixed-period exclusions reduces the number of permanent exclusions, giving the impression that the problem of disruptive behaviour is being tackled. Steve Turner, a director of UK Youth, which develops alternative provision, said: “There are pupils who go round and round the system. They get stuck in a cycle of attending and being excluded.”

The schools inspectorate Ofsted found recently that only half of the local authorities it surveyed were meeting the target of alternative provision for excluded pupils. It painted a picture of variable funding, poor communication and a lack of capacity in pupil referral units.

This was echoed by respondents to The Times survey. Derbyshire failed to place 11 pupils in alternative provision within six days, and Luton was unable to meet the deadline for two. A Luton Council spokesman said: “Sixth-day provision is an unrealistic expectation since appropriate provision needs to be selected with care.” Sunderland Council said: “An area of challenge continues to be finding a range of quality, appropriate, alternative provision for pupils for whom mainstream education is not appropriate.”

Martin Narey, the head of Barnardo’s and former director-general of the Prison Service, once said that on the day a child is excluded they might as well be given a date for prison. He told The Times: “I’d be astonished if this had changed significantly. We inevitably find that if you take someone out of a class of 30 children, they can prosper and do very well in a smaller class and have a good chance in life. Once a child has been excluded permanently, or repeatedly for a fixed term, it’s very difficult to arrest that.”

The Government says that the fall in permanent expulsions and increase in temporary exclusions is a success because it reflects “early intervention and a reduction in the most serious incidents of bad behaviour”.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, admitted last year that a significant minority of referral units were not performing to the required standard and ordered them to improve or close. His department has set up a dozen pilots of alternative provision, including a city farm equestrian centre, a football training school and an arts centre.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said yesterday: “Fixed-term exclusions and suspensions are an important tool for heads to use in tackling disruptive behaviour and safeguarding the learning of other children. At the same time, repeatedly suspending pupils doesn’t solve the problem. Excluded pupils need a good education and we expect local authorities to meet their legal obligations and ensure that every child is getting a suitable education.”



Funny how every single Euro-Muslim demonstration quickly blossoms into an orgy of arson, assault, theft and general mayhem, after which the media does its best to minimize the chaos caused by the "Asian youths"...But a rather low key affair with one (1) broken window is described as follows by the supposedly respectable Daily Mail:

Nine arrested after masked mob's march against Muslim extremists turns violent

By CLAIRE ELLICOTT Last updated at 4:29 PM on 25th May 2009

Nine people have been arrested after hundreds of anti-Islamist protesters clashed with police yesterday. The streets of Luton descended into violence after demonstrators, many hiding their faces behind balaclavas, brandished England flags and chanted at officers. A group called March for England was said to have organised the rally as a peaceful protest against Muslim extremists. They were joined by a local group United People of Luton.

Two of those arrested have been charged: one man for possessing an offensive weapon after stones were found in his pockets, and a woman was charged with breaching an anti-social behaviour order. Another man was fined £80 for a public order offence. [compare these offenses with the mass destruction that routinely attends Euro-Muslim demonstrations--J.O.]

The other six people, all men, have been bailed without charge pending further inquiries. [IOW, 9 arrests, 3 petty charges for the whole "mob"--J.O.]

During the protest, the mob, which included teenagers and women, held banners with slogans such as 'No Sharia Law in the UK' and 'Respect our Troops'. [PRETTY SCARY!!]

After looking at the 2 new vids, what do you think? I doubt as much as 1% of the crowd has "masks," but that's what the Mail focused on. Hmmmmmmmmmm


New drug delays prostate cancer slightly

One has to laugh at the original headline on this story: "Life-saving wonder drug to fight prostate cancer 'available in just two years'"

A new drug that has dramatic effects against prostate cancer could be available in just two years, scientists said last night. Successful trials have shown that it can shrink the most dangerous tumours in up to 70 per cent of cases. The drug, abiraterone, has been hailed as the biggest advance in the field for 60 years, capable of saving many thousands of lives. The British scientists behind it will start trials soon to see if it can also work against breast cancer.

Prostate is Britain's most common cancer among men and the second highest killer, after lung cancer. Some 35,000 people a year are diagnosed with it - and 12,000 die. [I am betting that all of them die. 23,000 immortals is hard to believe]

There are two types, aggressive and non-aggressive. Two-thirds of cases have the non-aggressive variety and can often lead a healthy life. But those with the aggressive version - 10,000 British men a year - usually die within 18 months of diagnosis.

Abiraterone was discovered by the Institute of Cancer Research with funding from Cancer Research UK. The latest trials on men with aggressive cancer found that just four pills a day can control the disease and reduce pain - all with few side effects. The effect does not last indefinitely - tumour growth can resume after an average of eight months. But the scientists have developed a method of prolonging the benefits for another 12 months by combining the drug with a steroid.

They also discovered that men with a particular gene abnormality - thought to drive the growth of the cancer - responded best to abiraterone. The team have developed a test for the abnormality to identify the men likely to derive the most benefit from the drug.

Lead researcher Dr Gert Attard said of the latest trial, involving 54 patients: 'These men have very aggressive prostate cancer which is exceptionally difficult to treat and almost always proves to be fatal. 'We hope that abiraterone will eventually offer them real hope of an effective way of managing their condition and prolonging their lives.'

Hormone therapy, the standard method of treating prostate cancer, involves blocking the body's production of male hormones like testosterone, which 'feed' the tumour. But it can be ineffective on aggressive forms, where the tumours produce their own hormones. Doctors can try chemotherapy, but it may have severe side effects such as nausea, pain, malnutrition, haemorrhages and hair loss. Many patients also have radiotherapy to reduce associated pain in the bones. This can also be dangerous, leaving patients with little quality of life.

Abiraterone uses a different approach, blocking chemicals in the body which help in the production of male hormones, including by tumours. Chief investigator Dr Johann de Bono said: 'This has changed the way the science community looks at prostate cancer.'

The drug is now undergoing a much larger final-stage trial in 150 hospitals worldwide. If it is successful, the scientists, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, hope the drug will be licensed as early as 2011. The rationing body Nice would then decide if it should be available on the NHS. Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research, said: 'These early results hold great promise and give real hope for the future. 'We are keen to see the results of larger trials now under way, to find out whether abiraterone should be made generally available.'


England absorbs virtually all net migration to UK, MPs warn

Between 1991 and 2007, more than 2.1 million migrants were added to the population of England, which last year became the most crowded major country in Europe. The nation has taken more than 20 times more migrants than Scotland, even though it is only ten times the size in terms of population.

The study, by the Cross Party Group on Balance Migration, warns the population of England is likely to increase by a further ten million over the next two decades, of which seven million will be migrants. Nicholas Soames, Tory MP and co-chairman of the group, said: "The political establishment is in denial on immigration – even though it is of concern to nearly 80 per cent of the population. If they are to reconnect with the people of England after the current political crisis, politicians must end their timidity, silence and inaction on this critical issue."

Net international migration to England between 1991 and 2007 was 2,149,000, which accounted for 92 per cent of the total over that period. Scotland's migrant population increased by 105,000 over the period, Wales by 56,000 and Northern Ireland by 27,000. England effectively absorbed 11 times more migrants than the other three home nations combined, even though it is only five times as large in terms of total population.

Frank Field, Labour MP and co-chairman of the group, added: "This research shows that immigration is overwhelmingly an issue for England rather than other parts of the UK. England can expect a population increase of nearly 10 million people in the next 20 years or so, of which 7 million will be thanks to new immigration."

The Daily Telegraph told last year how England's population is growing at the fastest rate since records began and is now the most crowded major country in Europe after overtaking Holland. Figures showed that the population density is higher than ever before, with forecasts predicting 157 people for every square mile by 2011. This compares with 111 for every square mile when the figures started to be collected in 1931.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the think-tank Migrationwatch, said: "This paper really underlines that immigration is a problem for England, not the UK. "Those who favour continued immigration need to explain why we want an extra seven million people in what is already the most crowded country in Europe. "They also need to explain how we are going to pay for all the extra infrastructure when the public finances are already hugely in deficit."


Thursday, May 28, 2009

British working class children 'alienated' in private schools, says The Sutton Trust

Poor children given free places at top private schools often struggle to fit into the "elite atmosphere", according to research for The Sutton Trust. Bringing back the government-funded Grammar schools, where entrance is limited to those who perform well on an academic aptitude test, would largely solve that problem as many students in such schools are of working-class origin

Many pupils from deprived backgrounds feel "estranged and alienated" from other pupils and teachers if they are given places at leading establishments, it is claimed. In addition, some are unable to take part in cultural visits or foreign exchange trips because their parents cannot afford them.

The Sutton Trust, which commissioned the report, said the findings had serious implications for new rules designed to open independent schools to more children from working class backgrounds. Sir Peter Lampl, the charity's chairman, insisted schools needed to look beyond "the simple question of fees" to make sure pupils succeeded. Private school headmasters backed the conclusions, insisting that "plucking the best and the brightest pupils out of the state sector" was counter-productive.

In the latest study, researchers held in-depth interviews with adults who had been through the Conservatives' assisted places scheme in the 1980s and 90s. The programme - scrapped by Labour in 1997 - gave pupils from poor backgrounds free and subsidised admission to independent schools. Earlier research showed students with assisted places achieved better GCSE and A-level results than pupils remaining in the state sector. They were also much more likely to go onto Oxbridge.

But the latest report - called Embers from the Ashes? - said it was "far from an unqualified success". "Virtually all spoke of the fact that they could not participate in the 'semi-formal' activities in the school curriculum, such as field-trips, cultural visits or foreign exchange trips, because their parents could not afford to finance them," it said. "Also commonly mentioned was a lack of participation in weekend and after-school activities, compounded by very long journeys to and from school."

The report, based on interviews with 25 former pupils, said that "feeling like the poor relation" was the "defining characteristic of their time at school". "It appears that financial hardship combined with cultural discontinuity between the home and the school, contributes to a sense of stigmatisation," the study said.

Under Labour's 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide "public benefit" to hang on to tax breaks worth an estimated £100m to the sector every year. Official guidance from the Charity Commission suggested the easiest way to pass the new test was "increasing general fee levels in order to offer subsidies to those unable to pay the full cost".

But Sir Peter called for more wholesale Government funding for private day schools - rather than "a few token places" - to break down the barriers between the two sectors. "The chance to democratise entry to 100 or more of our highest-performing academic schools should not be missed and would be a tremendous boost for social mobility," he said.

Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, Berkshire, said: "Plucking the best and the brightest pupils out of state schools may help the odd child but it is completely insufficient as a tool to bridge the gap between the two sectors."


NHS negligence: Thousands of medical records lost

Tens of thousands of medical records have been lost by the NHS (National Health Services) due to a series of data security leaks. The health organization has been asked by the Information Commissioner now to tighten their data security. This year, 140 security breaches took place in NHS between January and April, which exceed the total number of cases put together from the local authorities and the central government.

14 NHS institutes have been observed to have broken the data regulations. According to Mick Gorrill, assistant information commissioner, NHS has offended laws by losing such confidential information. In one instance, the database of 10,000 people was downloaded onto an insecure laptop and the laptop was said to have been stolen from the home of the NHS employee.

In another such case of negligence, a memory stick, which was carrying medical histories of ex-inmates of Preston prison and other 6,360 prison patients, was lost earlier. The password for obtaining the data was written on the device itself.

Gorill said that it is a matter of great concern that the data has been lost. It would cause obvious distress to the patients since the data is a confidential piece of information. Plus, he added, many insurance companies sometimes hire private detectives to find out vital information about the policy holder’s medical history etc. He said that it is well understood what may happen if the data falls into the wrong hands.

According to Gorill, since the loss of data is inexcusable, the body will be fined accordingly for such incidences.

To examine how the medical data is stored in various hospitals in Britain, Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, plans to send a crack team of inspectors. Thomas has written a letter to a senior civil servant in the Department of Health for taking necessary steps for improvements. A spokesperson of the department said that they will soon reply to Thomas’s letter.


British town halls will no longer bow to 'compensation culture' with plans afoot for thousands of new adventure playgrounds

Town hall chiefs performed a U-turn yesterday by calling on parents to shake-off the 'cotton wool culture'. Local Government Association members pledged they would 'not bow to the compensation culture' and vowed to press on and build thousands of adventure playgrounds.

However, local authorities have for years been behind bans on traditional games such as conkers and snowball fights, amid health and safety fears. In 2006 alone, 33 laws and more than 1,000 regulations were introduced designed to reduce possible risks faced by youngsters.

Experts have warned that anxious parents are raising a generation of 'battery-farmed kids' denied the independence, experience and education that comes from exploring the outdoor world. Just one in ten children play regularly in parks, fields and woods according to a survey commissioned by Natural England. Yet 81 per cent say they would like more freedom to play outside.

To address these concerns, the LGA is to sweep away the 'no ball games' culture with zip wires, tree houses and tunnels installed in parks. Council-run holiday schemes are also offering activities such as BMX biking and surfing. More than 3,500 playgrounds will be built or refurbished by 2011 under a £235million Government scheme.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: 'Children playing outside is a fundamental part of growing up. 'We do our youngsters no favours by wrapping them up in cotton wool. Town halls are determined not to bow to the compensation culture.'


Senior judge blames slow police response times for Britain's 'vigilante culture'

A senior judge has warned of a rise in vigilante crimes caused by slow police response times. Richard Bray said citizens were increasingly taking matters into their own hands because of lack of confidence in the forces of law and order. He was speaking as he sentenced a father and his sons for attacking a man they thought had vandalised their car.

Mr Bray, a circuit judge at Northampton Crown Court, said: 'Nobody bothers to phone the police any more. They go round and sort it out themselves - and I know why. 'It is because the police do not actually come round so people go out themselves and deal with it.'

A police pledge, to which all 43 forces in the country have signed up, promises that in urban areas police will arrive within 15 minutes and in rural areas in 20 minutes. But Judge Bray's scathing comments make clear he feels they are falling short of those commitments.

The attack which prompted his outburst occurred last year when Henry Smith, 48, and his sons Ian, 23, and Jamie, 19, decided to take revenge for damage to their car. The men, from Kettering, went to a nearby house and punched a man to the ground. Ian Smith and his brother then punched and kicked him on the floor, leaving him with injuries to his face, teeth and mouth. Both admitted grievous bodily harm at a previous hearing.

Ian Smith was given a suspended jail sentence of 50 weeks and ordered to pay £1,000 to the victim. Jamie Smith received a 40-week suspended sentence and ordered to pay £1,500 compensation. Their father had pleaded guilty to affray and was ordered to pay costs. They were ordered to complete 390 hours of unpaid work between them. Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It is refreshing to hear a judge accept the extent to which ordinary people are being forced to fend for themselves thanks to the failure of the criminal justice system. 'This will continue so long as the police are forced to respond to the priorities of politicians rather than ordinary people. They'll spend their time trying to meet arbitrary and distorting targets rather than trying to catch serious criminals.'

A spokesman for the Home Office said it did not keep figures on how quickly officers responded to callout times, despite its pledge. The spokesman added that it was not possible to keep specific figures on vigilante crime.

A Northamptonshire Police spokesman said: 'The judge is entitled to his opinion but it is one we do not share. In the case he refers to, the incident in question was not reported to us so we were not in a position to respond. 'We invest heavily in officers, staff, training and technology to ensure members of the public can be confident of receiving a good service from Northamptonshire Police.'


Claim that 'climate change is the cholera of our era' ridiculed as 'load of garbage' by renowned disease expert

A May 25, 2009 article in the UK Times warning that "climate change is the cholera of our era" has raised the ire of an internationally known disease expert formerly of the UN IPCC.

"The article is a rehash of a similar load of garbage unloaded in 1996, plus (identical wording) other writings of the past, including, I suspect, IPCC," Dr. Paul Reiter told Climate Depot.

Reiter is a malaria expert formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and professor of entomology and tropical disease with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and a member of the World Health Organization Expert Advisory Committee on Vector Biology and Control.

The UK Times article, by Professor Sir Muir Gray is Public Health Director of the Campaign for Greener Healthcare, alleges that man-made global warming is a greater threat to mankind than the scourge of cholera -- an acute diarrheal illness-- which killed an nearly 3000 people in Zimbabwe alone earlier this year. A May 26, 2009 article from VOA reveals cholera cases are expected to reach 100,000 in Zimbabwe alone.

Muir wrote in the UK Times: "In the 19th century, cholera outbreaks that escaped from the slums to kill rich and poor alike caused the great Victorian revolution in public health. Fear of cholera ensured that vast sums were spent on building sewers and ensuring that everyone had clean water. Climate change is the cholera of our era — fear of the havoc that climate change will wreak should stimulate a new public health revolution." "Smoking, Aids, swine flu? They all pale into insignificance compared to climate change's threat to health," Muir added.

But Reiter, was blunt in his rebuttal to Muir's article in the UK Times. "They have cherry picked without remorse. I have huge response to my article in Malaria Journal. Yet these peddlers of garbage quote a 1998 model by two activists whose work is ridiculed by those of us who work in this field," Reiter continued. "What the hell can we do? I am flabbergasted that this can go on, and on, and on," Reiter, who is featured in the U.S. Senate Report of more than 700 dissenting scientists of man-made global warming, concluded.

Reiter was also formerly with the UN IPCC and was so appalled at UN IPCC process that he threatened legal action to get his name removed from the reports.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why oh why do a few Jews make it hard for Jews generally??

Once again I am going to go out on a limb and half cut off the branch behind me. But I seem to be one of the few who is ready to speak the unspeakable so I think I should take up that burden again.

Jews are overall exceptionally generous givers. They donate large amounts to charities and to causes that they see as worthy. I gather that around 50% of the funding for Mr Obama's election campaign came from Jews, despite the fact that Jews are only a small fraction of the U.S. population. You may question the wisdom of those donations (I do) but you cannot fault the generosity of them.

Sadly, however, that is good news and one look at any newspaper will tell you that it is bad news that people are interested in and take note of. And bad news about Jews will, sadly, be particularly noted. Jews are just too prominent in the community for it to be otherwise. And one set of foul deeds can negate a large set of good deeds.

So I come to Mr Anthony Steen (Stein) above. He is one of Britain's most well-known Jews. He has been a member of parliament since 1974 and in that time has served on many public bodies. His appalling behaviour has been noted on several occasions -- abusing a secretary who did not know who he was, parking his car in disabled zones etc. And he has always been impenitent about his misdeeds, though an apology usually gets forced out of him eventually.

In his latest performance he has however excelled himself. He is one of the many British politicians who have been caught up in the scandal of misused personal expense allowances. Most of those caught have shown embarrassment and been penitent to some degree but Steen was at his most impenitent when he was confronted and refused to admit to any wrongdoing at all. You can read the whole sorry story here. Rather than admitting any fault for his large and improper expenses claims, he went on the attack and said that his critics were just jealous of his large house -- which of course put pictures of his house into most British newspapers. See above.

It is hard to convey how offensive all that would have been to most Brits. The British are characterized by a self-effacing culture. If you inadvertently tread on a British man's foot, HE will usually apologize, despite being the injured party. Arrogance, ostentation and boasting are about as un-British as you can get. And yet here is a well-known Jew flaunting all those characteristics in public.

Perhaps there are occasions when that would not matter but Britain now is not one of them. Antisemitism has in recent years become acceptable in conversations among Britain's educated classes. And Steen will be seen as a graphic confirmation of all those opinions.

To be a Jew is to be in the public eye and given all the accusations that have been levelled at Jews over the years, people will be alert to bad Jewish behaviour. It may not be entirely rational but that is the way it is. One foul man can destroy the good work of thousands. It is the bad news that will be noted, not the good.

The only reason I am writing this at all is that I am aware that there is a certain cohesion among the Jewish community in a given area. If they do not see one another at shul, they see one-another at charitable functions etc. And it is my probably vain hope that the wiser members of such communities will press other Jews to avoid public displays of arrogance and ostentation. Perhaps that already happens to some degree but I think it should be carried to the point of shunning any offenders who do not reform. That way, if someone like Anthony Steen comes to public notice again, members of the local Jewish community can say: "We do not recognize him as one of us. We deplore his behaviour as much as you do".

That could be a big help.

I'll sue to get my son a proper education, says British father after school limits academic subjects in favour of 'practical' GCSEs

A father is threatening to sue his son's state school for failing to provide a proper academic education. Peter Hills says teenagers are forced to sideline traditional academic subjects in favour of vocational qualifications when choosing GCSE courses. His son Alex, 14, wants to take a full set of academic GCSEs, but his school is making him choose at least one practical course in either Information and Communication Technology (ICT), art or drama. This must take the place of one of his four preferred options: history, geography, French and music.

Mr Hills has written to Children's Secretary Ed Balls to complain that his son faces almost a day a week studying for a qualification in which he has no interest. The transport company director, who lives in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, with his wife Nicky, believes he will be forced to pay for private education for Alex instead - and is consulting solicitors about suing the school for part of the cost.

Alex studies at nearby Eastwood School, which specialises in performing arts and sport. Pupils studying GCSEs there must choose one vocational course - a BTEC in art, a BTEC in performing arts or an OCR National in ICT. This counts as one subject choice, in addition to the compulsory core subjects of English, maths, science and RE. However, it is taught for four periods a week instead of the two allocated to other options.

Mr Hills wrote: 'While I am aware that The Eastwood School has a leaning towards the performing arts and sports, it is surely required to make an equal effort in providing a full academic education for those that require it.

He said the school's specialisms 'appear to be given prominence over all academic subjects, ie history, geography and languages, which surely should be the cornerstone of education in this country'. He added: 'If this matter cannot be resolved, then I feel I will have no option other than to send my child to a private school willing to provide the education best suited to his abilities, and to recover part of the cost from The Eastwood School via the county court.'

Mr Hills said: 'We have sought legal advice to see whether or not it is possible to obtain redress. It is at an early stage. 'What the state is providing, in my opinion and that of just about everyone else I have spoken to, is not suitable.'

The Education Act 2002 says that schools have a legal duty to offer all 14 to 16-year- olds suitable learning challenges and a broad curriculum - including entitlements to study the arts, humanities and languages. Lawyers for Mr Hills are likely to consider if Eastwood School has properly fulfilled these duties.

He said he was very doubtful about the ICT qualification Alex would probably end up taking. He believes the subject matter will soon be obsolete. Ofsted urged the Government to 'evaluate the degree of challenge' the qualification poses, in a report this year. It noted that two major ICT courses, one of which is understood to be the OCR National, count as four GCSEs in school league tables but typically take half the time to teach. 'Students were able to meet the criteria, whether or not they had understood what they had done,' the report said.


Half-witted British doctor says climate change is the cholera of our era

See below. He of all people should know that cold (as in winter) kills a lot more people than warmth (as in summer). He should be celebrating warming if it were public health that concerned him. But Professor Sir Muir Gray is obviously an establishment figure who is just doing his best to uphold establishment beliefs. He didn't get a knighthood for rocking the boat

In the 19th century, cholera outbreaks that escaped from the slums to kill rich and poor alike caused the great Victorian revolution in public health. Fear of cholera ensured that vast sums were spent on building sewers and ensuring that everyone had clean water. Climate change is the cholera of our era — fear of the havoc that climate change will wreak should stimulate a new public health revolution. And just as doctors led the Victorian campaign, so the medical profession should be in the vanguard of this new revolution in public health.

The front page of The Lancet of May 16 says it all: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” This prestigious journal, which usually gives no more than ten pages to vitally important clinical research, made space for a 39-page report.

Climate change will hit the poorest nations hardest, but it will affect us too. In the summer of 2003, la canicule, an unexpected heatwave, killed 14,000 elderly people in France. Rising temperatures will bring that type of problem to our shores. Our health services will be put under pressure by severe weather and floods. But it is the global effects that will hit us, and especially our children and grandchildren, because of the effect that climate change will have on world food and water supplies; millions of climate refugees will disrupt the borders of even an island nation.

Smoking, Aids, swine flu? They all pale into insignificance compared to climate change’s threat to health. That proposition will instantly provoke a hostile reaction from the diminishing band of climate-change sceptics. But as a doctor of 40 years’ standing who has been involved in running public health services for 30 years, I know that the evidence is good enough to make action, not inaction, the sensible choice. An empirical view of the data shows that delay will not just increase the amount of preventable harm, it may take us past a point of no return.

So the medical profession must accept responsibility in the campaign for change. However, with a few notable exceptions, doctors are effectively silent on the health threat that will come to define our age. My fellow doctors cannot just leave this issue to their leaders, to the presidents of the Royal Colleges and to the members of the Climate and Health Council. They should be active in their local communities, where they are known and respected, using their influence to press for national and international action.

Leaders, no matter how great, must have courage and a mandate to act. What is needed, for instance, is for 20 or 30 MPs to collar Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, as he rushes across the lobby and say: “Three [or more] doctors have been to my surgery in the last month warning me about the concern that they and their patients have about climate change — that’s more doctors than have ever come to see me about the NHS or even their pay. They tell me the medical profession is clear what needs to be done.”

“Why do I never get letters from doctors about smoking?” an MP asked me when I was the secretary of Action on Smoking and Health. “Why do I get more letters on animal welfare than human health?” Why indeed. The medical profession is too silent, and sometimes too apathetic. Fortunately, many of today’s medical students and young doctors have fire in their bellies and are taking to the streets demanding action. Their older colleagues should join them and use their influence. Perhaps, they could try some “collar-and-tie” direct action — those doctors who own shares should be at AGMs demanding that companies clean up their environmental acts.

But the medical profession needs to put its own house in order too. I was in a hospital last month that is doubling its electricity supply “to meet demand”, with no thought about the future. Sometimes the NHS is not unlike Dickens’s Mrs Jellyby, keen to reform others while her own children were scalded through neglect.

The NHS is gigantic and has a carbon footprint that is nearly one twentieth of the whole UK’s footprint — 1.3 million staff each with their own footprint, the drugs bought, the buildings, the transport, the water and the food, too much of it thrown away. Now is the time for the profession to mobilise and show the passion that took them into medical school but is then so often extinguished.

In December in Copenhagen, the vital United Nations Climate Change Conference meets. Unfortunately, British MPs are distracted, so the medical profession has a duty to act to make the politicians focus on it.

A recent summit meeting of leading doctors at the British Medical Association unanimously agreed that the need for action is essential. However, battles are not won in headquarters but by the troops on the front line. So I would like to see 90 per cent of doctors making environmentally friendly personal changes; half of doctors signing the Climate and Health Council pledge; and at least one in 20 doctors lobbying their MPs face-to-face. What more appropriate place than a constituency surgery could there be for a doctor to tell his or her MP that the medical profession thinks that urgent treatment is needed?


Windfarms a security threat

The body that monitors UK airspace is seeking a solution to the potentially disastrous problem of commercial and military aircraft disappearing in radar blackout zones caused by wind farms. National Air Traffic Services (Nats) has asked Raytheon, the American defence company, to design the world's first system for allowing radar to see through wind farm interference. The cost of the £5 million project is expected to be picked up by the wind energy industry.

Wind farm turbines create a Doppler effect as they turn, which shows up on radar screens. As the area and number of these wind farms has increased, the number of radar blackout zones has also risen. Aircraft passing through the area can disappear in the blackout and air traffic controllers can lose their exact position. The Royal Air Force is concerned that enemy bombers or other aircraft could hide behind interference from offshore wind farms and approach Britain undetected.

A Nats spokesman said: “We have a duty to safeguard our operations, so in the past we have objected to the development of a number of wind farms that threaten aircraft safety. We need a system that can eliminate this problem.”

Raytheon has been asked to create a software system that will filter out the wind farm noise from other radar signals. This will effectively allow air traffic controllers to see through the wind farms. The company, which is the largest manufacturer of radar systems in the world, hopes to complete the project by the end of next year. Once completed, it will also be deployed in the Netherlands.

Andy Zogg, vice-president of command and control systems at Raytheon, said: “As the number of wind farms grows, there are more and more of these radar black holes. They show up as clutter on the radar screen and the concern is that aircraft approaching from behind the turbines or flying over them cannot be seen.”

Brian Smith, general manager of Raytheon Canada, said: “Our work will be to develop the algorithms that allow us to discriminate between turbines and aircraft. It is called clutter erasure.”

The Government has identified wind power as a key to reducing reliance on carbon dioxide producing energy sources. Europe's largest onshore wind farm opened last week at Whitelee in Scotland. The 140 turbines cover an area of 55 square kilometres and are each 110 metres high. The wind farm will generate enough electricity to power 250,000 homes.


Britain wastes huge sums on windmills while the need for reliable electicity supplies becomes ever more urgent and costly

On a barren hillside outside Glasgow, dozens of wind turbines are spinning in the breeze as Britain's largest onshore wind park starts to generate electricity. With 140 turbines producing enough power to supply tens of thousands of homes, it is among the largest and most vivid symbols of the Government's drive to replace Britain's collection of ageing coal, gas and oil-fired power stations with a cleaner, greener alternative.

But this effort to transform Britain's energy industry, which is being propelled by tough new emissions rules and by the sheer decrepitude of much of the network, does not come cheap and has profound implications for consumers.

The site, at Whitelee on Eaglesham Moor, has cost ScottishPower, its developer, £300 million, but this is a tiny fraction of what will be required to upgrade Britain's power network. According to Ernst & Young, the total cost of doing so and meeting tough targets to cut carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 will be no less than £233.5 billion. Although some of that burden is likely to be shared with power companies, the figure, divided among the UK's 26million households, implies a total bill of up to £8,977 each — or £598 a year for the next 15 years.

Tony Ward, power and utilities partner at Ernst & Young, said that about half of the total, or £112 billion, will need to be spent building new supplies of renewable energy, including vast new offshore wind parks - each many times the size of Whitelee — as well as biomass-fired power stations, tidal and wave-energy projects.

Britain must also renew almost all of its ageing nuclear power plants, which account for about 20 per cent of the country's electricity supply, a project that is expected to add £38.4 billion to the cost. A further £28 billion or so will have to be poured into the grid to build a transmission network capable of supporting new reactors and remote wind parks sited as far north as the Shetlands and in the North Sea. This excludes the cost of building new coal-fired stations equipped with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), bolstering the UK's gas storage facilities, new gas-fired power plants and a rollout of “smart meters” in every home and business in the country.

Steve Holliday, chief executive of National Grid, whose company will be at the centre of this effort, said: “It's very clear from the renewables and new nuclear stations being planned that there is going to be a need for a substantial increase in investment to build a modern, 21st-century grid.”

He expects National Grid alone to spend up to £5 billion a year from 2012 and he is already drawing up plans for a network of seabed cables feeding renewable electricity from Scotland to consumers in the South, as well as sweeping reinforcements to conventional high-voltage lines that criss-cross the country.

Craig Lowrey, director of markets for EIC, the energy consultancy, said: “These are massive investments — we are talking about potentially the biggest investment programme in Britain's history. But if the Government is serious about meeting its emissions targets, it needs to make people understand the true scale of these costs.”

Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish & Southern Energy, Britain's second-largest utility, takes a similar view: “In the long term, the unit price of energy is going to have to go up significantly. We are going to have to produce energy in a greener and more secure way and that will cost money.”

Ernst & Young's figures might underestimate the total expense because they do not include regular maintenance costs, Mr Marchant said, suggesting that a figure of £300 billion could be closer to the mark. However, he is optimistic that dramatic improvements in energy efficiency could mean that consumer bills will remain stable or even fall in the long term.

The fear is that in Britain's liberalised energy market this tidal wave of required investment simply will not materialise.

Dr Lowrey believes that, under its current structure — which relies on market forces plus consumer-funded incentives designed to boost investment in renewable energy — the scale of investment needed is unlikely either to meet expectations or to be allocated in the way that the Government or society wants. It is a concern that has been compounded in recent months by a collapse in funding that has accompanied the credit crunch and the plunging value of the pound, forcing up the cost of imported power-generating equipment.

The falling prices of oil, coal and gas have also undermined the economic rationale of many investments in more costly, alternative forms of energy. “There is a need for greater intervention to make this investment a reality,” Dr Lowrey said. “We need a guiding hand from government.”


Climate Change Act: Now the world faces its biggest ever bill

One of the mysteries of our time is how impossible it is to interest people in the mind-boggling sums cited by governments all over the world as the cost of the measures they wish to see taken to "stop climate change", observes Christopher Booker.

One measure of the fantasy world now inhabited by our sad MPs was the mindless way that they nodded through, last October, by 463 votes to three, by far the most expensive piece of legislation ever to go through Parliament. This was the Climate Change Act, obliging the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to reduce Britain's "carbon emissions" by 2050 to 20 per cent of what they were in 1990 – a target achievable only by shutting down most of the economy.

Such is the zombie state of our MPs that they agreed to this lunatic measure without the Government giving any idea of what this might cost. Only one, Peter Lilley, raised this question, and it was he who, last month, alerted me to the fact that the minister, Ed Miliband, had at last slipped out a figure on his website (without bothering to tell Parliament). The Government's estimate was £404 billion, or £18 billion a year, or £760 per household every year for four decades.

Such figures, produced by a computer model, are, of course, meaningless. But one of the mysteries of our time is how impossible it is to interest people in the mind-boggling sums cited by governments all over the world as the cost of the measures they wish to see taken to "stop climate change".

Last week I dined with Professor Bob Carter, a distinguished Australian paleoclimatologist, who has been trying to alert politicians in Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand to the scarcely believable cost of these proposals. He gave me a paper he presented to a committee of New Zealand MPs. China and India, as the price of their participating in the UN's planned "Kyoto Two" deal to be agreed in Copenhagen next December, are demanding that developed countries, including Britain, should pay them 1 per cent of their GDP, totalling up to more than $300 billion every year.

Africa is putting in for a further $267 billion a year. South American countries are demanding hundreds of billions more. In the US, the latest costing of President Obama's "cap and trade" Bill is $1.9 trillion, a yearly cost to each US family of $4,500.

Meanwhile, as Mr Obama's Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu, babbles on the BBC's Today programme about how the world's energy needs can be met by wind and solar power (for which, he assured us, we would need to cover only 5 per cent of the planet's deserts with solar panels), a study shows that for every job created in Spain's "alternative energy industry" since 2000, 2.2 others have been lost. (Mr Obama talks about creating "five million green jobs" in the US.)

Last week the BBC and various newspapers excitably greeted the opening by Alex Salmond of Whitelee, "Europe's largest onshore wind farm", 140 giant 2.3 megawatt turbines covering 30 square miles of moorland south-east of Glasgow. It was happily reported that these would "generate" 322MW of electricity, "enough to power every home in Glasgow". They won't, of course, do anything of the kind. Due to the vagaries of the wind, this colossal enterprise will produce only 80MW on average, a quarter of its capacity and barely enough to keep half Glasgow's lights on.

It really is time people stopped recycling the thoroughly bogus propaganda claims of the wind industry in this way. Any journalist who still falls for these lies by confusing turbines' "capacity" with their actual output is either thoroughly stupid or dishonest. The truth is that the 80MW average output of "Europe's largest wind farm" is only a fraction of that of any conventional power station, at twice the cost. For this derisory amount of power, the hidden subsidy to Whitelee over its 25-year life will, on current figures, be £1 billion, paid by all of us through our electricity bills.

Truly, our world has gone off its head, and no one seems to notice – not least those wretched MPs who allow all this to happen without having the faintest idea what is going on.

On May 15, the Guardian’s famed environmental crusader George Monbiot triumphantly posted on his blog an item headed “How to disprove Christopher Booker in 26 seconds”. This was the time, he claimed, it took him to discover how the figures that I had reported on the melting of Arctic ice were wrong.

Guardian groupies piled in to congratulate him, calling for my editor to sack me. Then one or two suggested he should look again at what I wrote. Three hours later, a disclaimer appeared at the top of his blog: “Whoops – looks like I’ve boobed. Sorry folks”. The Great Moonbat conceded that he had been looking at the wrong figures. Still, it was good of him to admit it – and at least his blog ended up with an impressive 514 comments.


Absurd British immigration clearance procedures

"Tougher" rules have been accompanied by much more lax enforcement. The letter below from a recently retired British immigration official appeared in "The Times" so may attract some attention

I worked at the immigration coalface for 38 years, including spending a number of spells as an entry clearance officer abroad. Your recent reports (May 21) echo the concerns of many recently retired immigration service personnel and many still within the ranks of the UK Border Agency.

The new points system for visa applications, brought about because of an insistence in drastically cutting costs to the detriment of security and a fair and firm immigration process, has devastated the visa officer network that had successfully operated for many years. Whereas previously most visa/entry clearance officers were UK-based, highly trained immigration service or Foreign Office staff, well versed in ferreting out the obvious and at times the not so obvious bogus student, now most applications are now dealt with on a “tick box” system, rather than by personal interview. More and more visa officers are locally engaged staff who are not British citizens and in many cases have never even visited Britain. To leave the security of this country and the implementation of UK government immigration policy in their hands is ridiculous.

In Mumbai some years ago I interviewed a young Indian student coming to study a fairly high level IT course; his papers were in order as were the arrangements for finance. Asked what he used the mouse for on a computer he said he did not leave his computer on the floor so a mouse would not get near it! A few more questions revealed he had absolutely no knowledge of IT and his visa application was refused. Would the current system have revealed this? Of course not. Furthermore, immigration officers at UK ports of entry are now actively discouraged from interviewing visa holders on arrival as this is considered too time consuming and not a good use of resources; “no second bite of the cherry” being the common mantra. This despite the knowledge that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bogus students arriving annually.

If the Government is serious in its wish to have an effective visa and border control system, then financial consideration must not be its highest priority.


Fewer taking history GCSE as British pupils abandon traditional subjects

Fewer teenagers are taking GCSEs in history as pupils abandon traditional subjects in favour of new-style skills classes, according to research

Ofsted, the education watchdog, says pupils' knowledge of history - including the Second World War - is 'often very patchy'. Less than a third of students sat history exams last summer - the second-lowest number since Labour came to power. The disclosure - in figures published by the Conservatives - comes amid claims that mainstays of the curriculum are increasingly being marginalised in state schools.

More students have been put onto vocational courses in subjects such as ICT (information and communication technology) - which often count for as many as four GCSEs - to boost schools' positions in national league tables. Last September, the Government also introduced new diploma qualifications in five practical areas, including health, engineering and media, to rival GCSEs and A-levels.

The Conservatives claim entries for traditional subjects are increasingly being dominated by students from private and grammar schools, undermining the chances of comprehensive school pupils getting into top universities. According to Tory figures, 35.4 per cent of 15 and 16-year-olds took a GCSE in history when Labour came to power in 1997. Some 379,280 teenagers missed out on studying the subject, it was revealed. But numbers slumped to a record low in 2007 when only 30.9 per cent of pupils took a history GCSE, meaning 453,679 teenagers left school without studying the subject properly. Numbers increased slightly last summer to 31 per cent. The Conservatives claim the overall slump has left many children without a decent grasp of the past.

According to a 2007 report by Ofsted, the education watchdog, pupils' knowledge of history is "often very patchy and specific; they are unable to sufficiently link discrete historical events to answer big questions".

Michael Gove, the Tory shadow schools secretary, said: "The number of children studying history beyond fourteen has fallen to less than one pupil in three. The Government's league tables encourage schools to push pupils away from harder subjects, even if they are of more long term value."

The Tories also criticised the Government's new primary school curriculum, which was published last month, claiming it would "further water down history" for the youngest pupils. Under plans, traditional subject headings will be removed in place of six broad "areas of learning". History has been merged into new "historical, geographical and social understanding" lessons, which also include a focus on sustainability, climate change, recycling, human rights and a requirement to learn about the role of local authority councillors and MPs. "All these reforms take us completely in the wrong direction," said Mr Gove.

A decline in the number of students taking history at school has already been heavily criticised. Last year, one leading examination board threatened to axe its least popular GCSE subjects, including classical civilisation, following a decline in interest. The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance axed its separate Latin and Ancient Greek languages GCSE courses in 2004.

A DCSF spokesperson said: "All pupils must study History up to the age of 14. Students are offered a range of options for GCSE and history remains a popular choice for young people, both at GCSE and A Level. The proportion of GCSE entrants studying history increased in 2008, of which 68 per cent achieved grades A*–C. "What is clear is that throughout their school careers, pupils gain a wide knowledge of British history – from Roman Britain to World War II."


NHS criticised by Harley Street doctor for 'missing Jade Goody's cancer diagnosis'

A Harley Street consultant who treated Jade Goody has attacked the NHS for allegedly failing to spot her cancer earlier. Jade Goody died in her sleep at home on Mother's Day

Dr Ann Coxon, a doctor introduced to Goody last year was said to be "very angry" over an alleged failure to spot her illness earlier. Dr Coxon will speak in the E4 documentary Jade: As Seen On TV to be broadcast on Thursday night, according to Max Clifford, her publicist.

He said "Her doctor was very upset and very angry with the way the NHS looked after her and failed to diagnose the cancer that was growing for such a long time," he said. Goody, who died on Mother's Day earlier this year, was given a diagnosis of cervical cancer while taking part in the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother last August.

The mother-of-two and former dental nurse, who was originally from Bermondsey, south London, first came into the public spotlight in 2002 when she appeared in the third series of the Channel 4 reality programme Big Brother.

In an interview in September, Goody said she had no plans to sue the NHS hospital she claimed was late in diagnosing her illness. "They (the hospital) should have actually spotted that there was something wrong a long time ago," she said. "I don't hate them, I'm not angry with them. Sorry - I don't hate them, I don't want to start suing them or stuff like that, because personally I don't think it's morally right to sue an NHS hospital. "All that's gonna do is take more money out of it and then more people are gonna suffer." She added: "I just think: it's not going to get my womb back, it's not going to get my health back. So what's the point?"


Grow old gracefully to keep dementia at bay

Amusing. Below is a recitation of popular assertions about Alzheimer's. See here for my comments on the "growing old" study that he refers to. As is usual among journalists, he has ignored all the ifs and buts in the study concerned. His recommendations are a house built on sand. Yet the article comes from "The Times", of London, which makes it likely to be widely trusted

Working until you are 70 instead of 65 is one of the ways that you can minimise the risk of brain disease in later life. The Government is rumoured to be considering raising the retirement age to 70 in an attempt to reduce the national debt — plans that will have been given a useful fillip by new research that reveals postponing retirement can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, at the Maudsley Hospital, southeast London, every extra year worked delays the onset of dementia by just over a month. So working until you are 70 instead of 65 is likely to give you an extra six Alzheimer-free months. I am not sure that is enough of a benefit to warrant the additional effort, but extending your working life is not the only thing you can do to protect yourself.

One person in 20 over the age of 65 in the UK has some form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease — characterised by a loss of brain cells, shrinkage and protein deposits forming tangles and plaques throughout the brain — may be the most common form, but it is not the only one. Gradual furring up of the arteries supplying the brain accounts for at least 20 per cent of cases and causes similar impairment to Alzheimer’s with resulting loss of memory and cognitive ability, disorientation and confusion. And, while there isn’t much we can do to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, there is a lot that can be done to keep our brain and its circulation healthy — and the healthier your brain the less noticeable any deficit is going to be.

Use it or lose it. The brain is often compared to a muscle in that “exercising” it can slow the damage time brings, and challenging yourself mentally every day will help to keep you sharp. The latter can include hobbies, keeping up an active social life, learning new skills, doing crosswords and puzzles and brain-training games and, as the recent research has shown, working for longer.

The brain is made up of around 100 billion nerve cells, each connected to thousands of others through synapses and it is a decrease in this interconnectivity, rather than the loss of brain cells alone, that is responsible for the slowing of mental agility that occurs with advancing years. Challenging the brain is thought to help by maintaining existing synapses and encouraging the formation of new ones...

Check for diabetes. Ask the nurse at your doctor’s surgery for a blood test if you suspect diabetes — clues include a great thirst, peeing more than normal, recurring infections such as boils or thrush, lack of energy and blurred vision. Those most at risk include the overweight, anyone with a family history of the condition and those of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin.

Drink in moderation. While sensible drinking — the equivalent of two or three small glasses of wine on most days for a woman and three to four for a man — can protect against some forms of dementia, heavy drinking has the opposite effect. One recent review suggests that alcohol accounts for at least 10 per cent of all UK dementia cases. You don’t have to be middle-aged or elderly to be at risk: there is evidence that heavy drinkers in their thirties and forties already have significant memory impairment.

Eat oily fish. Fresh tuna and tinned salmon, or fish oil capsules, may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and improve brain function. The exact mode of this protection is now under investigation, but it is thought that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils may slow the formation of plaques — an effect that may be enhanced by fatty acids also seeming to protect the delicate lining of the arteries supplying the brain, thus helping to maintain good blood flow. One American study found that men and women eating at least one portion of fish a week were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who didn’t eat any.

But the case is not so strong for another popular brain supplement. It is thought that as many as one person in ten with dementia is now taking ginkgo biloba despite the latest evidence, which suggests that, while the herb may boost blood supply to the brain, this doesn’t translate into any significant benefit.

Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women who take HRT have been shown in a number of studies to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life. But HRT has no impact on the progression of the disease once a woman develops the condition. Bottom line? It is a useful side benefit, but concerns about Alzheimer’s disease on their own are not a strong enough indication to prescribe HRT in women who are not having menopausal symptoms.


Catholic Church is living with one foot in Hell

Comment from Britain

Understandably distracted by our own little crisis of trust, we have perhaps not taken in the apocalyptic import of a bigger one across the Irish Sea.

Perhaps it is a vague sense that we knew it all; perhaps reluctance to engage with the horrid details of the Ryan report into child abuse by Irish clerics. Perhaps some think it is old history, a 1950s horror. Maybe there is even a decorous sense that — as a new Archbishop of Westminster is enthroned here — it is tasteless to dwell on the wickedness deliberately concealed by his Church right into the 1990s. Or maybe our own child protection system now looks so shaky that we cannot bear to contemplate the toothless, deferential Irish respect for the priesthood that enabled thousands of children to be starved, raped, enslaved and beaten even as Ireland moved into its tiger economy in the new Europe.

But don’t look away. There are wider lessons. Ireland is at least looking squarely at it now, and trying to understand how history twisted its public values into obeisance to unanswerable clergy, so that cruelty and child rape became endemic. It was not only in orphanages and schools but in parishes where families dared not protest. For it was the courageous Colm O’Gorman who helped to prise this all open, when he spoke of his repeated rape, at 14, by Father Sean Fortune in his home village. He successfully sued the Church and challenged the Pope (whose nuncio hid behind “diplomatic immunity”).

The victim was accused by the Vatican of being part of a conspiracy; “Canon Law” defences were invoked and the first report — the Ferns report — ignored. “How can it be,” asks Mr O’Gorman, “that a church hierarchy who comment on a children’s film [Harry Potter] can fail to comment on a report, commissioned by this State, that found Rome culpable in the rape and abuse of Irish children?”

Now the wider, more terrifying Ryan report has met with almost equal evasion and the Church — which raked in millions from government subsidy over decades — has even managed to slough off most of its financial responsibility.

I am not exaggerating; rather the contrary. The Ryan report, merciless and forensic, finds the crimes “systemic, pervasive, chronic, excessive, arbitrary”. It speaks of the deliberate protection of priests and religious by their hierarchy; of inspectors and police backing off respectfully and senior clergy refusing to help the inquiry. It says that the order that housed the worst sadists, the Christian Brothers, made only a “guarded, conditional and unclear” apology, and cut a deal that no individuals should be named.

The children’s own testimonies are too harrowing to repeat: beaten, stripped, humiliated, hung from windows. Some got pregnant, some killed themselves. Sexual attack came not only from their keepers but visiting functionaries; one little boy who spoke of being assaulted by an ambulance driver was beaten by the nuns “to get the evil out of him”.

Enough. There is no defence, the evidence is overwhelming. It was a sickness of cruelty, exploitation, official cowardice and inward-looking hypocrisy traceable all the way to the Vatican. Catholicism has not been cleaned up, only lightly dusted. Some Irish dioceses have become properly robust, and Cardinal Se├ín Brady, the Primate of All Ireland, speaks of being “deeply ashamed”; but I do not notice him pointing his condemnation upwards or rejecting the culture of hierarchy and obedience, anonymity and deniability.

Our own new Archbishop, Vincent Nichols, expressed due horror, but then enraged survivors by praising the “courage” of clergy “who have to face these facts from their past”. Incredibly, in an interview on Five Live, he also observed: “it is a tough road to take, to face up to our own weaknesses. That is certainly true of anyone who’s deceived themselves that all they’ve been doing is taking a bit of comfort from children.”

Weakness? Comfort? God save us! It gives an insight into why the Church, quick to absolve, blithely moved known abusers on to fresh fields and fresh victims.

“They had their own laws that were written to ensure they were never in the wrong” says Mr O’Gorman, simply. And they covered their backs: when the former Archbishop of Dublin was told that he could be liable if abusers were returned to parishes, he did not prevent this happening. He just took out an insurance policy against financial losses from such claims.

It has been an Irish disaster, but has lessons for us all about the perils of respectful naivety. Archbishop Nichols, after his predecessor moved a paedophile priest to Gatwick, where he offended again, said that little was known about paedophilia then; well, he still knows little if he can talk about men “taking a bit of comfort from children”.

This is pure celibate silliness: we are not talking about cuddles here, but rape. I grew up with the Catholic doctrine of forgiveness of sins, I know the territory: but to forgive your own team and ignore their victims is not holy. It is corrupt.

When good people are smug and bad ones are slippery, great evils grow. When any institution slaps on a self-approving label — whether it is “Holy Catholic Apostolic” or like our MP’s, “Honourable” — and uses it to defy cynical inspection, the weak will suffer. What seems not to be fully understood by the hierarchy is how much damage this has done.

It gives me no pleasure to say so: I was raised a Catholic, and know what high ideals of gentleness it expresses, and how beautifully.

I learnt at 12 years old not to believe in the automatic holiness of the religious, in a South African convent where nuns hit us and spoke contemptuously of “kaffirs”. I then learnt not to condemn the lot, when I moved back to a kindly, intellectual English convent where they honestly tried to live the holy dream. I have always been able to believe the tales of evil without rejecting the whole shebang.

Many Catholic clergy do great good. The remarkable Colm O’Gorman, after decades of struggle, does not reject the ideal either: he says he wept for Father Fortune’s suicide and hopes that in afterlife he finds forgiveness.

Now that’s holiness for you, and without a smug label round its neck. And until the institutional Catholic Church recognises that, abases itself, pays up, allows whistleblowing and faces the unthinkable, it remains a disgrace. Until it learns humility, it has no hope at all. It is a Church living with one foot in Hell.