Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sexism in the Irish press? - you decide.

This article has shocked and stunned me to the point of hilarity.
Have a read and please tell me how this was allowed into print.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Working women almost certainly caused the credit crunch

NEWTON'S OPTIC: THE ANSWER to all our problems is staring us in the face. It may even be quite literally staring at you, right now, across the breakfast table.

So put the paper down, stare back and ask yourself a selfless question.

Does the woman in your life really need a job?

Admittedly, this is not a fashionable question. From Iceland to Australia, men are blamed for causing the credit crunch, while a more feminine approach to finance is proposed as the solution.

Of course there will always be a place in the world of business for exceptional women. Women also have an important role to play in jobs that are too demeaning for men, like teaching. But the general employment of women is another matter. Indeed, working women almost certainly caused the credit crunch by bringing a second income into the average household, pushing property prices up to unsustainable levels.

Whether working women actually caused the credit crunch is now a moot point. The point is that removing women from the workforce would mitigate its effects.

Consider the issue of unemployment. There were 221,301 men on the live register last month and just under one million women in work.

Surely at least half these women have a partner who is earning? Surely at least half would be happier at home? One half of one half is a quarter and one quarter of a million is roughly 221,301. I think we can all see where this argument is going.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that women should be sacked purely to give men their jobs. In many cases, their jobs should be abolished as well.

Women are twice as likely as men to work in the public sector. They account for two-thirds of the Civil Service and three- quarters of all public employees.

Yet they are barely represented in the useful public services of firefighting and arresting people. Encouraging women to leave the workforce would go a long way towards addressing the budget deficit without any downside whatsoever.

Further benefits of sacking women have been uncovered by the Central Gender Mainstreaming Unit at the Department of Justice. According to its research, twice as many woman as men travel to work by bus and train, potentially halving the impact of cutbacks in public transport. However, it is probable that three-quarters of the Central Gender Mainstreaming Unit’s staff are women, so these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.

While the economic case for fewer women in the workforce is irrefutable, we should also acknowledge the social advantages. Women make the majority of spending decisions in Irish households and make almost all of the purchases. They are far more likely than men to regard shopping as a leisure activity, far less likely to make savings and investments, and were even almost twice as likely to spend their SSIAs.

In short, women were the driving force behind the greed, consumerism and materialism of the Celtic Tiger years and it was female employment that funded their oestrogen-crazed acquisitiveness.

The time has come to build a more sustainable, equitable and progressive society. Why not make a start by telling your other half to quit her job? She can ask you for the housekeeping on Friday.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Extreme weather creates fire risk for UK's beauty spots

Some of Britain's most outstanding areas of natural beauty are at risk from the sort of fires that devastated Greece this summer, according to new analysis looking at the threats posed by global warming.

Firefighters report that the number of heath, forest and grass fires in the UK has risen by more than 60 per cent in 20 years as long, hot summers have created tinder-dry conditions. Conversely, when summers are not arid, a huge increase in the threat of flooding has been another major concern for firefighters. Figures show the average land temperature has risen by 1C since the 19th century, raising concerns over extreme fluctuations in weather.

Now the Fire Brigades Union says that, with its members being asked to tackle outdoor blazes and flooding, their ability to deal with burning buildings is diminished, which could put lives at risk. 'Tackling these sorts of fires or flooding is becoming a huge part of our job,' said the union's Sean Cahill. 'The rise in the threat posed by global warming is unprecedented and it's out of our control. We believe these threats posed by extreme weather are going to increase.'

According to an FBU analysis of government figures, between 1986 and 1993 there were on average 37,371 grassland and heathland blazes a year in Britain. But in the 11 years from 1994 to 2005 the average rose to 60,332 a year.

Last year the number of outdoor fires soared by 37 per cent to 88,400, and in 1995 and 2003 it peaked at more than 100,000. The FBU warns the government is ignoring the problem at its peril. 'People think tackling the new threats associated with climate change is just an aside to our job,' Cahill said. 'But it's becoming a core part.'

The increasing fire threat is having a profound effect on some of Britain's most famous beauty spots. Rural areas in Devon, Cornwall and the north have been plagued by grass fires during recent dry summers.

In 2006 a series of blazes ripped across Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire's Bronte country, which is also home to important prehistoric rock carvings. As a result, regional tourism temporarily shut down. Experts say that it will be 20 years before the region fully recovers and that it will cost millions of pounds to put right.

Despite the rising fire and flood threats, firefighters claim that little has so far been done. A Local Government Association document looking ahead to the future of firefighting in 2017 makes no mention of climate change. And the government is reluctant to increase funding when the number of property and vehicle fires is falling.

But a Department for Communities and Local Government document highlights the threat from forest fires, which ravaged Greece this summer, killing 65. Because of climate change, it states, ' it is definitely important to investigate the possibility that forest fires could grow to become a significant problem'.

Farmers' plea to save our bacon

Pig farmers across the country are in crisis because huge increases in the price of grain mean they are losing up to £20 for every animal they produce. Experts warn the industry faces catastrophe unless the price of pork and bacon rises, a move so far rejected by supermarkets.

Global wheat prices have doubled in a year to £180 a tonne, owing to soaring demand for grain in India and China. The decision by an increasing number of farmers to switch from wheat to maize to feed the biofuels revolution is also being blamed. As feed comprises 50 per cent of pig farmers' costs, the rise in the price of wheat is proving disastrous for them - even though bacon is the country's most frequently eaten meat, with the average household getting through 50 bacon sandwiches a year.

'The industry is close to meltdown; it has had its share of difficulties in the past but never anything on this scale and this suddenly,' said Jon Bullock, spokesman for the British Pig Executive. Pig farmers are launching a massive campaign to highlight their plight in the hope that it will persuade the public to buy British pork and bacon. They will also hold a rally near Parliament next month.

On Thursday a 'Save Our Bacon' campaign will be launched at Borough Market in London, backed by celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and Fergus Henderson. Jimmy Doherty, who starred in the BBC2 fly-on-the wall documentary Jimmy's Farm, is another supporter.

But it may be too little too late. Pigs currently sell for 110p a kilo in livestock markets: the British Pig Executive reckons that needs to rise to 140p a kilo for pig farmers to stay in business.

Plunging profits and foot-and-mouth outbreaks have already forced many pig farmers out of business. A decade ago there were 850,000 breeding sows in Britain; today there are only 400,000.

Meat production has also been massively affected. In 1998 Britain produced 1.16 million tonnes of pork and bacon and imported a further 422,000 tonnes. Last year British farmers produced just 808,000 tonnes of pork and bacon and some 751,000 tonnes had to be imported.

Imports could soon exceed domestic production, experts say. New figures about to be published showing the number of culled domestic sows will give a clearer indication of how many pig farmers have decided to call it a day.

An exodus would be bad news for animal welfare, the Pig Executive warns, because British farmers have to meet more stringent guidelines than their overseas rivals. The demise of the British pig farmer would mean that British bacon would become a rarity. Already a quarter of the £1bn worth of bacon eaten in Britain comes from Denmark, although some supermarkets are leading a fightback. Waitrose, for example, has taken to buying 90 per cent of its bacon from British breeders.

Dean Exton, who took over Downhouse Farm in Bridport in Dorset in 1991, moved to organic farming in 2001 because the profit margins were too narrow in the wholesale market.

'Luckily we are at the premium end of selling meat directly to the customer,' Exton said. 'We wouldn't want to be selling directly to wholesale buyers as they dictate the price - our way is a lot more profitable. Feed prices have gone up nationally everywhere and it's really affecting all farmers across the country.'

Exton rears only 20 pigs a year, compared with 180 when he started out, and he has diversified into sheep and cattle.

'Rearing pigs is too risky, the prices go in a cycle,' he said. 'Ten years ago, we were spending £7,000 a month on pig food. God knows what it would have cost us now if we hadn't moved over to sheep and cattle. With pig farming, you need feed all year round. With sheep and cattle, we get the grass come through in April so we can cut back on feed then.'

UK Muslims warned: don't drink poisonous 'holy' water

British muslims are being warned that criminal gangs are operating a multi-million pound illegal racket selling them fake holy water wrongly labelled as having come from Mecca.

The black market trade in fake 'Zam Zam' water - named after the 14ft-deep well in the holy city in Saudi Arabia from where the genuine substance flows - is becoming a serious concern for health officials.

They have found that much of the water smuggled into the UK illegally and labelled as if it has come from the holy spring, which is visited by millions of Muslims every year as part of the Hajj pilgrimage, contains high levels of arsenic and nitrates that can be fatal if regularly consumed over time.

The scale of the racket is alarming Muslim leaders who have called on their followers to boycott all forms of the product on sale in Britain. In one recent case, Dr Yunes Teinaz, an environmental health expert who advises the London Central Mosque, found an Islamic bookshop that was selling an estimated 20,000 litres of Zam Zam water a week.

'This water is contaminated and unsafe for the consumer,' Teinaz said. 'And people are making millions of pounds selling this stuff.'

With the water selling for £3 for a small can, it is a huge moneyspinner for the gangs involved. Teinaz said it was unclear exactly where the water was coming from, but that it cannot be genuine Zam Zam water. It is illegal for Zam Zam water to be commercially exported from Saudi Arabia. The bottling of the genuine substance and its distribution is monitored strictly by the Saudi government.

Surveys reveal some of the imported water contains almost three times as much nitrate and twice as much arsenic as the World Health Organisation believes is safe. Studies show children under six months and elderly people are particularly vulnerable to excessive nitrate while regular consumption of arsenic in water is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year in south east Asia. Diluted arsenic has been associated with disorders of the nervous system, loss of sensation in the limbs and hearing impairment.

Teinaz said he also believed some unscrupulous operators in Britain were mixing normal tap water with salt and marketing it as Zam Zam water. He said he was aware of examples of vans transporting vast quantities of the fake water to mosques where their imams ordered their followers to buy the substance.

Some of the water is smuggled into Britain in crates of vegetables and furniture, according to customs officials.

Zam Zam water is sacred within Islam and its provenance is recorded in Islamic texts. According to the Koran, the Prophet Ibrahim, his wife Hagar and their baby son, Ishmael, found water hard to come by after settling in what is now Saudi Arabia.

When Hagar thought Ishmael was dying, she searched for water with no success. After offering prayers to Allah, a gush of water appeared under the feet of Ishmael and it has continued to flow from the spot ever since. Today Muslims from all over the world visit the well, believing it to be divinely blessed.

'Zam Zam water is extremely important for more than a billion Muslims,' Teinaz said. 'Muslims believe it not only has healing powers but it is important to them spiritually as well. Whenever people see it they will buy it.'

Real Zam Zam water was tested in 1971 and found to be fit for drinking. Tests showed it had a greater quantity of calcium and magnesium salts than normal water, which may explain why it can help refresh pilgrims. It also contains fluorides that can help combat germs.

The Food Standards Agency has warned Muslims not to buy the water. A number of London councils, have seized fake bottles. Earlier this month trading standards officers seized bottles from a shop in Notting Hill, west London, and similar seizures have been carried out in Gloucester, Barnsley and Leicester.

Universities use computers to catch plagiarists

# Anushka Asthana and Charlie Francis-Pape
# Sunday September 30 2007

A letter has been sent to every UK school warning sixth-form students that if they cheat on their university applications by copying material from the internet, they will be caught.

The Universities and College Admissions Service has revealed that every application submitted for entry in 2008 will be scrutinised for lifted material. Ground-breaking 'plagiarism-detection' technology will be used for the first time on more than half a million forms, many of which are being prepared by pupils at the moment.

Ucas has found that large numbers of teenagers cheated by copying material from websites offering advice on how to apply. A study of 50,000 forms concluded that one in 20 pupils lifted text for their 'personal statements', a compulsory part of the application where candidates write about themselves and their interest in a subject. Last year 800 medical students all lifted chunks of text from the same site; 234 candidates included the same anecdote saying their interest in chemistry began when, at eight, they burnt a hole in their pyjamas. There was a similar sense of deja vu when 370 applications from would-be doctors began with 'a fascination for how the human body works...' and 175 wrote of their 'elderly or infirm grandfather'.

This year Ucas is warning students that cheating could damage their chances of winning a university place. 'A personal statement should be the student's own work,' said Steven Harrop, technology and strategy manager at Ucas said. 'We found that approximately 5 per cent of applications had some element of plagiarism, from a very low level through to candidates who cut and pasted the whole thing. The new system, Copycatch, will compare every application submitted for entry next year with thousands posted on websites and 1.5 million from previous years. If three sentences or more - 10 per cent of the statement - appear to have been copied, the form will be passed to staff for further scrutiny.

Among the first few applications to reach Ucas there is already a personal statement with a '96 per cent match', meaning it was almost wholly copied.

The temptation to cheat is large. Typing 'writing a personal statement' into Google brings up more than 30,000 hits, many offering advice and 'model' examples. On one, candidates can download up to 60 personal statements for £5.99, while another offers 'the essential guide' for £12.99. These websites have become big business because universities are increasingly using personal statements to differentiate between students. One 20-year-old media student at the University of Sussex admitted she was so desperate to get it right that she browsed the internet for hours. 'I thought other people's might give me more of an idea about what to write,' she said.

Universities and headteachers have welcomed the strict new regime. 'We support Ucas in using the available technology,' said John Dunford, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders.

German Authorities remove home educated children from their families

GERMAN authorities use Nazi era laws to remove home-schooled children from their families.
Two families have escaped to the UK to prevent German Youth Courts from removing their children and forcing them into foster care, solely because they home educate.
41-year-old Klaus Landahl and his family fled Schwarzwald, Germany in January after being told that they were no longer aloud to have custody of their children.
British born Jonathan Skeet and his family also escaped Germany in October after the authorities froze and removed money from their bank accounts and confiscated their car.
Mr Skeet said that his family were blackmailed, scared and threatened with the loss of their children in an attempt to force them to take their children to school.
“It’s black mail and it’s very unpleasant,” said Mr Skeet who worked with adults with learning difficulties in Lüdenscheid, Germany.
“It was crippling and it left us feeling very helpless.
“When we lived in Germany we wanted to live a very inconspicuous and quiet life but instead we ended up with direct confrontation from a very powerful state.”
Speaking through a translator residential home worker Klaus Landahl explained how his family were forced to leave their home, their friends and their belongings and come to England where they can educate their children legally and without fear.
“It really feels like persecution.” He said.
“For our existence to be threatened and to have to leave and go to a different country.
“We had to get to safety to protect our family.
“We can never go back, if we do our children will be removed, as the German government says that they are property of the state now.”
Mr Skeet believes that the German laws, which enforce compulsory school education, are creating hundreds of refugees.
“Many people have become refugees and I don’t think it’s an over statement to say that.” He said.
“A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their homeland because their very existence is threatened.”
“They are not going to be shot or killed but when the police can just come and take away your children it is a threat to your existence.”
Both the Landahl and the Skeet families now live on the Isle of White surrounded by a large home education network.
An approximate 400 families illegally home educate their children in Germany, living with the fear that the authorities could remove their children, by force and without warning.
Stephanie and Jan Edel run Schulbildung in Familieninitiative, a German organisation, which aims to give information and support to families who home-school in Germany.
Mrs Edel explained that in 2007 approximately 78 home-school children escaped Germany with their parents.
But she said it may be hundreds more, as a large majority live underground and in secret within Germany.
“It is very dangerous to home educate here.” She said.
“Home educators in Germany are really being persecuted they have to learn to expect anything and have to be ready to leave overnight.”
“First the government try and financially ruin you forcing you to give up or to leave the country and then they can just take your children away.
“So either you hide or you leave.” She said.
Mrs Edel explained that families choose to home educate because the German education system is very selective and does not cater for every child.
Parents are forced to send their children to the school in their district and they cannot choose where their children go to school, nor what type of school they can go to.
“The children who suffer the most are disabled children and children with very high intelligence.” Mrs Edel said.
“Some children who are physically disabled are sent to special schools for those with learning difficulties, despite the fact that they may by very intelligent.
“Highly intelligent children are not aloud to develop their abilities, the government treats them all the same as each other.”
The UN sent a special rapporteur, professor Muñoz, to asses German’s education system in 2006.
Professor Muñoz reported that necessary measures should be adopted to uphold a parent’s right to home educate where necessary and appropriate, bearing in mind the best interests of the child.
But this recommendation was ignored by German authorities and, according to the Schulbildung in Familieninitiative, was not even reported in the German press.
One of the most shocking examples of the German government’s treatment of home-schooled families was the removal of 15-year-old Melissa Busekros from her family in 2007.
Melissa’s mother, Gundrun Busekros broke down as described how over 15 policemen forcibly took Melissa from her home to a psychiatric unit for psychological tests.
“I couldn’t do anything to protect her, I was angry and afraid.” She said.
“It was terrible, I couldn’t concentrate, it was like a nightmare, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t eat.”
After refusing to be tested Melissa was placed in a foster home in a location unknown to her or her family.
Months later, Melissa escaped on her 16 birthday and with help from the German and international media, the German authorities have now left the family alone.
Melissa said, “each day when I ride my bicycle and I go through the woods and the valleys and breath in the fresh air, I feel so happy that I am now free.
“When you are locked up in a room with only white walls it feels so special when you are finally free.”
Mrs. Busekros said that the experience has opened her eyes to the powers of the German government.
“The system here is like the mafia and everyone depends on each other.
“All of the supposed independent experts are paid by the government so they say what the social workers tell them to say in court.”

Published in the Observer on Sunday February 24 2008

Fire Arms for 8-year-olds

Children as young as eight are being given fire arms lessons at a top private school in Dorset, which has been attended by members of the royal family.

Port Regis School, on the Dorset Somerset Border, has been criticised for giving its pupils shooting lessons, despite Lord Tebbit’s plea on Sunday that the teaching of shooting will reduce gun crime.

Head master, Mr Dix refused to associate the teaching of shooting in his school to the growing number of children killed across the UK, by guns each year.

Mr Dix said he thought shooting was an important part of a wider education often enjoyed by those in middle and upper classes.

He said that by teaching children to shoot they would gain better coordination and would learn to associate positively to guns.

“It is a million miles away from gun crime on the streets.” He said.

“We aren’t breaking any laws, the children learn to use guns responsibly and safety is paramount.”

“By teaching shooting as a sport we are in no way promoting the use of gun related crimes.

“It is the same as drug education” He said. “We teach children about drugs, to educate them, we are not telling them all to go out and become drug addicts.”

He added that if other children learnt to use guns in a recreational setting, they would also learn to associate them positively and perhaps reduce the growing number of gun related incidents.

“The majority of our pupils tend to be upper middle class and would not be part of a gang on the street with hand guns.”

The Private school, near Shaftesbury, has a long list of prestigious past pupils including Zara and Peter Philips, the children of the Princess Royal.

Angela Lawrence works for Mothers Against Violence, a voluntary group based in Manchester, whose aim is to change young peoples perception of gun crime.

Angela, who has lost many friends through gun related violence, has been campaigning for eight years to see the end of all gun use throughout the UK.

She said that she couldn’t understand why parents and teachers would want to teach children how to shoot, when there are so many other forms of recreational activities.

“Children as young as eight shouldn’t be learning to shoot, even in a controlled environment, we are sending them the wrong message.” She said.

“I think that a message needs to go to society to explain that guns kill.”

“We are aiming to see a gun free society, especially in sport.”

Despite the efforts by voluntary organisations such as Mothers against violence, the number of deaths and injuries from gun attacks in England and Wales has risen from 864 in 1998-99 to 3,821 last year.

Peter Dix admitted that he had not considered shooting at the school to have any negative connotations and that it had been taught throughout much of its 86 year history.

Mr Dix said that no risk was posed by children, as young as eight, using air rifles in target practice and he said that he hoped some of them would go onto compete in the 2012 Olympic games.

Jamie Stuart, spokesman for the British association for shooting and conservation in the South West, explained that shooting in a sport setting needs to be put into perspective.

Mr Stuart, who also teaches young children how to shoot, said that in the correct environment shooting can be perfectly safe.

“Shooting is a discipline that children can continue through life.” He said.

“We aren’t offering shooting skills to children who wouldn’t normally learn how to shoot.

“We teach children who come from a certain background, who already have an interest in shooting and teach them how to do it safely and responsibly.”

“If people are irresponsible, they are irresponsible but we aren’t encouraging by teaching young people how to shoot.”