Thursday, June 19, 2008

School challenge: Transgender student is age 9

For school officials in Haverford Township, the challenge was daunting: What do you do when a 9-year-old student, with the full support of his parents, decides that he is no longer a boy and instead is a girl?
Parents of a third-grade student at Chatham Park Elementary School approached the administration on April 16 to ask for help in making a "social transition" for their child.

The Haverford School District consulted experts on transgender children, then sent letters to parents advising them that the guidance counselor would meet with the school's 100 third-grade students to explain why their classmate would now wear girls' clothes and be called by a girl's name.

Some parents objected. Eight called the principal to ask that their child not attend the session, and some posted angry messages on the Haverford Township blog.

"Why is the school introducing this subject to 8- and 9-year-olds?" wrote the parent who started the blog thread, which had been viewed more than 3,000 times as of yesterday. "Why were we not notified sooner. We received the letter today, the discussion at school is tomorrow."

Other parents thought the school should not have called attention to an already delicate situation.

"I did not think that the letter needed to go out," said Valerie Huff, whose daughter is friends with the transgender student. "The kids don't make any big deal about it at all."

Mary Beth Lauer, district director of community relations, said there were no easy answers for school officials.

"This is something that was going to come out," Lauer said. "Isn't it better to be proactive, and let people know what is happening and how we're dealing with it?"

The student has not received medical treatments to change his sex, but has told others that he considers himself a girl, according to several people who know the family.

He had begun wearing girls' clothes, Huff said, and an approaching school event would have made the child's gender identity an issue, according to Lauer, who declined to discuss the matter in greater detail.

In the April 21 letter to parents, Chatham Park principal Daniel D. Marsella wrote that a transgender child is one whose biological gender does not match his or her gender identity. Marsella assured parents that the talk with students, held two days later, would use "developmentally appropriate language" to explain "how we need to help this student make a social transition in school."

When the guidance counselor, Catherine Mallam, spoke with the children, she explained that one of their classmates looked like a boy on the outside but felt like a girl inside, according to a summary of her remarks prepared by the school for parents. She asked them to accept the student as a girl and not make unkind remarks.

The students seem to be accepting their classmate's change, Lauer said. The child is doing well but some comments on the blog have upset the child's parents, Huff said.

About one in 5,000 people is transgender, said Walter O. Bockting, a psychologist and coordinator for transgender health services at the University of Minnesota. Bockting said he sees about 10 children a year who are 9 or younger.

"It's a little early, but occasionally that happens," he said.

Not all transgender people have sex-reassignment surgery in adulthood, and such surgeries are not typically performed on children, said Sharon Garcia, president of TransYouth Family Allies, a non-profit group that helped the Chatham Park student and school officials devise a way to explain the situation to parents.

So far, 49 families have contacted TransYouth Family Allies asking for help with a transgender child, Garcia said. Most of the children are between 6 and 10.

Parents of transgender children often change school districts in order to accommodate a child's desire to switch genders, which is what Garcia said she did when her 5-year old son tried to hurt himself after professing for years that he was a girl.

"I have yet to meet a parent who did not fight this kicking and screaming," she said. "None of us want this for our children, none of us want to go there, but it gets to the point where it's not a choice anymore."

The child at Chatham Park wanted to stay at the same school because of friends, Garcia said.

Bockting said families of transgender children should consult an expert and carefully consider whether to switch roles before trying it. The child's feelings should be deep and persistent, he said.

When a young child seems set on changing his or her sexual identity, he encourages him or her to wait until puberty.

"Many transgender people have feelings that date to childhood, but puberty will give an idea how strong the feeling is," he said.

Some medical experts think parents should not let a child change gender roles at a young age.

Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studied sexual reassignment surgery in the 1970s, said a school's decision to support a student's transition could have long-term psychological consequences.

"They do not have a right to stop the child, but it's different when they gather everyone around and say, 'Johnnie is Jeanie,' " he said. Society, he added, should not support the decision of an immature person.

There is no evidence that the transition ultimately helps the person, he added.

McHugh said he reached his conclusions after studying the issue for 30 years, especially in the 1970s, when Hopkins was pioneering sexual-reassignment surgery.

"People came to us saying that if we changed them, we'd solve all their problems," he said. "So we changed them, and their problems remained."

Garcia says letting her child dress and act as a girl was the right decision.

"I went from a suicidal child to a child who tries out for a lead part in the play," she said. "I knew society wasn't going to be accepting, but my choices were, do this and have a happy, alive girl or have an unhappy, dead boy. So we did what we needed."

Special Thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Great Quote

“A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

— Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

UNESCO boss calls for new poll on Dresden bridge

UNESCO chief Francesco Bandarin has urged politicians in Dresden to stop building a controversial bridge that could cost the city’s Elbe River Valley its coveted World Heritage status and to hold a new referendum on the issue.

In an interview with the Sächsische Zeitung on Saturday, Bandarin said a 2005 poll, in which a majority of Dresdeners voted in favor of the bridge, was flawed because it wasn’t made clear to people what exactly was at stake. The UNESCO boss said the Dresdeners should have been made aware of the fact that the building of the bridge would endanger the Elbe River Valley’s World Heritage status.

“The mayor simply came and said we’re building the bridge,” Bandarin told the newspaper, adding that the city of Dresden had never discussed alternatives to the bridge with UNESCO.

The issue has for years proved a sore point between UNESCO and the city of Dresden which is located in the eastern state of Saxony and is a major tourist attraction.

The city authorities have long wanted to build a bridge by the Waldschlösschen (forest palace) to ease traffic congestion. But the plans have provoked controversy from many, including those who feel it will have unnecessary ecological costs and those who feel a tunnel should be built instead. Work on the €125 million bridge got underway last November after months of wrangling within the courts.

Earlier this year, UNESCO rejected a revised bridge design presented by Dresden, arguing that any bridge in the city’s famed Elbe River Valley would destroy the landscape and ruin the views of Dresden's famous landmarks. UNESCO says the only acceptable solution is for Dresden to build a tunnel under the river.

Bandarin said unless Dresden immediately halted work on the bridge, it was impossible to seek any compromises. Bandarin also urged politicians in Dresden and the state of Saxony to hold a second referendum on the issue, even if it took two years to realize it.

The UNESCO chief stood by the UN body’s position that it would strip Dresden of its prized World Heritage status if the bridge was built.

“If the city remains stubborn, then so does the committee,” Bandarin told the paper.

Pagan prisoners win right to have 'magic wand' twigs in cells under new religious freedom rules

Pagan prisoners: Allowed to keep twigs in cells

Prison bosses have been instructed to let pagan inmates keep twigs in their use as wands.

Officers have been told to allow prisoners to collect and decorate the twigs which they need for their rituals.

It is the latest in a series of rulings to protect convicts' rights and ensure equality among different faiths.

Followers of other faiths are allowed items such as a prayer mat to allow them to worship.

The policy regarding pagans was announced by Justice Reform Minister Maria Eagle in a parliamentary answer.

She said: "Prison service policy is to enable prisoners of different faith traditions, including paganism, to practise their religion.

"Religious artefacts are allowed for relevant faiths within the constraints of good order and discipline. The religious artefacts for pagan prisoners include a flexible twig for a wand."

Tory prisons spokesman Edward Garnier said: "This sounds like an April Fool's Day joke. But there's genuine concern prisoners are taking the system for a ride."

Conservative MP Andrew Turner, who uncovered the new ruling, added: "This strikes me as bizarre. A lot of people would be worried about equating paganism with Christianity."

Caterers find eco-standards tough to chew

Fried shrimp on a bed of jasmine rice and a side of mango salad, all served on a styrofoam plate. Bottled water to wash it all down.

These trendy catering treats are unlikely to appear on the menu at parties sponsored by the Denver 2008 Host Committee during the Democratic National Convention this summer.

Fried foods are forbidden at the committee's 22 or so events, as is liquid served in individual plastic containers. Plates must be reusable, like china, recyclable or compostable. The food should be local, organic or both.

And caterers must provide foods in "at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white," garnishes not included, according to a Request for Proposals, or RFP, distributed last week.

The shrimp-and-mango ensemble? All it's got is white, brown and orange, so it may not have the nutritional balance that generally comes from a multihued menu.

"Blue could be a challenge," joked Ed Janos, owner of Cook's Fresh Market in Denver. "All I can think of are blueberries."

The national nominating convention Aug. 25-28 will bring about 50,000 people to Denver, and many will scarf loads of chow served at catered parties.

The prospect of that business windfall has tantalized caterers since Denver was named host city for the convention more than a year ago.

Caterers praise the committee and the city for their green ambitions, but some say they're baffled by parts of the RFP.

"I think it's a great idea for our community and our environment. The question is, how practical is it?" asks Nick Agro, the owner of Whirled Peas Catering in Commerce City. "We all want to source locally, but we're in Colorado. The growing season is short. It's dry here. And I question the feasibility of that."

Agro's biggest worry is price. Using organic and local products hikes the costs.

"There is going to be sticker shock when those bids start coming in," he says. "I'll cook anything, but I've had clients who have approached me about all-organic menus, and then they see the organic stuff pretty much doubles your price."

The document, which applies only to the host committee's parties, came after months of work that involved discussions with caterers and event planners along the Front Range, says Parry Burnap, Denver's "greening" director.

Burnap is attached to the host committee full time for now; the committee works closely with the city but is a separate, nonprofit entity.

Thousands of other parties hosted by corporations, lobbying groups, individuals, nonprofits and more will happen in Denver during the convention, Burnap says. None of them is subject to the committee's green agenda.

The committee's effort to host eco-friendly events, she says, hinges on its determination not just to put on a smart convention but to transform Denver into a top-shelf green city.

"We are hoping that everything we are doing for greening (the convention) has some legacy value," she says.

The RFP, for example, will likely live on after the convention in a brochure the city will distribute widely to help guide local businesses interested in improving their green practices.

Burnap says taking the organic and local route may be more costly, but the committee thinks caterers will find ways to comply and still make a profit.

"It takes some creativity because some of these things are more expensive," she says. "But we're at the front end of a market shift."

Joanne Katz, owner of Three Tomatoes Catering in Denver, cheers the committee's environmental aspirations and is eager to get involved with the convention, but she wonders if some of the choices the committee is making are really green.

Compostable products, such as forks and knives made from corn starch, are often imported from Asia, delivered to the U.S. in fuel-consuming ships. But some U.S. products are made from recyclable pressed paper. Which decision is more environmentally sound?

"Customers are beginning to demand these things, and we don't have all of the information," she says. "And we are doing the best we can, one project at a time."

Burnap acknowledged that figuring out what is most green can be difficult.

"Maybe in 20 years, there will be better analysis for us to make better choices," she says. "One we are talking about now is, is it better to compost or to recycle? If you are using a cup for a beverage, is it better to be (plastic) and back in the materials stream, or compostable, biodegradable waste and go into the waste stream or compost? There are no definitive answers."

Composting for the convention hasn't been entirely figured out yet, she says.

Colorado has commercial composting companies, such as A1 Organics in Eaton, but the link between the composters and caterers hasn't been made.

The committee is working with other groups to develop a carbon-footprint "calculator" that will measure the environmental impact of each event and suggest an "offset" — a fee — that will go toward a fund helping to match carbon losses with carbon gains.

"That's a fun one," Burnap says. "If these event planners will calculate and offset, it will start to get the money flowing into the Colorado Carbon Fund, a fund that will reinvest in renewable energy here in Colorado."

Special Thanks to The Denver Post

Muslim man threatens to sue driving school for sending transsexual instructor to teach his wife

For the past 12 months, she had proudly taken to the road as part of an all-female driving school.

But Emma Sherdley is not exactly all woman.

Until a few years ago she was a married father-of-two called Andrew.

She is, though, in the middle of treatment to change gender and has the legal paperwork to prove it.

But that wasn't enough to satisfy one client who claimed he had been shortchanged when he booked a female instructor to teach his wife how to drive.

He phoned the Laugh 'n' Pass driving school threatening to sue after Miss Sherdley, 42, turned up for the lesson.

'You have sent me a man. Send me a proper female. How dare you send a man with a deep voice,' he told Joanne Dixon, who runs the school in West Yorkshire.

The man, a Muslim from the Meadowhall district of Sheffield who has not been named, claimed the company deliberately sent a man disguised as a woman.

'His attitude and behaviour was outrageous and has upset me and Emma and everyone else who works here,' Miss Dixon said.

'We are not racist. We are not sexist-If anyone was being so it was that man.'

She said no other learners had complained about being taught by Miss Sherdley, an experienced instructor.

As for Miss Sherdley, she is trying to develop a thicker skin.

She said the man's comments had been 'hurtful, offensive and deeply upsetting' and had even made her think of quitting her job.

His wife had apparently cut their two-hour lesson short after an hour, claiming she had to go home to breastfeed her baby.

Miss Sherdley said: 'I always knew as a child that I was a woman stuck in a man's body.

'I tried hard to be a man, getting married and having children but it never worked and never would.

'For the past six years I have been what is correctly called "transitioned". I still have to undergo final surgery but legally I am a woman.

That is what my birth certificate says and that is what the gender recognition certificate proves. For that prejudiced and biased man to threaten to sue me and the driving school is totally and utterly wrong.'

There are currently 32 female pupils on the books at the school. Miss Dixon employs 20 female instructors who teach learners throughout Yorkshire.

The school, which has been running for ten years, boasts a high pass rate.

'We say each of our female instructors promise to be friendly, professional and patient - that is exactly what Emma is,' Miss Dixon said.

'For her to be subjected to abuse and threats is simply intolerable.'

Special Thanks to the Daily Mail

Two million Britons emigrate in 10 years

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) will release figures showing that more than 200,000 Britons emigrated during 2006. That will take the total number who left the country between 1997 and 2006 to 1.97 million.

Another 1.58 million foreign nationals resident in Britain left during the same period.

However, 3.9 million foreigners arrived over the decade, including more than 500,000 in 2006.

27 Ways to Create a Greener, Healthier Sex Life

By Jessica Hupp

So you eat organic food and practice conservation in your daily life-but have you ever stopped to think about how your sex life impacts the environment? There are a number of ways you can improve upon your sex life’s impact, and many of them are great for your health as well. Here, we’ve highlighted 27 of the most fun and easy ways to be healthier, sexier, and greener.
Setting the Mood
Getting in the mood doesn’t have to be wasteful-try these strategies for responsible ways to get sexy.
1. Use bamboo bed sheets: Bamboo sheets, as well as hemp sheets, offer a renewable source for your bedclothes. What’s even better, they offer a silky, slippery feel that’s sure to heighten your senses. They’re not muchmore expensive than traditional cotton sheets, and are widely available from retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond and Target.
2. Dim the lights: Cut down on energy costs while setting the mood with a little bit of light dimming. It helps add an air of romance, plus, you won’t feels stressed out about the electricity bill.
3. Take advantage of the temperature: In the winter, let your thermostat go down low and use the coolness as an excuse to warm each other up. You can set a romantic fire and cuddle to keep warm. Don’t let hot weather keep you apart, either. In the summer, cool each other off with ice cubes.
4. Aphrodisiacs: Check out natural aphrodisiacs, which are said to boost your sexual desire. Some eco-friendly options include organic wine and champagne, or fair trade chocolate.
5. Create a candle-lit dinner: A candle-lit dinner is a great way to relax and connect with your partner. You can save energy with the lights out, eat organic food even burn eco-friendly soy candles.
6. Shower together: Save water by showering with a friend. Although extended shower play sessions tend to waste water, you can have responsible shower fun with a quickie and a low-flow shower head or aerator.
7. Turn off the lights: Take things a step further by turning off your lights to add an element of mystery. You can even use blackout curtains to play completely in the dark.
8. Use sustainable candles: If you’re lighting candles to set the mood, make sure they’re soy or another sustainable source.
9. Use organic massage oils: Make massaging healthier by using organic massage oils. At the very least, stay away from petroleum derivatives and avoid lubes that have artificial colors, scents, or tastes.
10. Wear green lingerie: Eco-friendly lingerie can be very attractive. There’s a wide variety of sexy, eco-friendly lingerie made from organic cotton and bamboo.
11. Watch eco-porn: Yes, such a thing actually exists. This porn site donates profits to green causes.
Birth Control
Birth control products are necessary for many, but can often be wasteful. Try these tips to reduce your impact.
12. Use it: Having an unplanned child is considered by many to be a waste of resources, so don’t contribute to our world’s swelling population unless it’s your intent.
13. Use a diaphragm: Diaphragms are a time-tested method of birth control that’s trusted by many women and medical professionals. They’re a very effective method of birth control, and even better, they’re reusable, so there’s minimal waste.
14. Get an IUD: Just like the diaphragm, an IUD is an extremely low-waste method of birth control. It’s non-hormonal, and safe for just about every woman. The IUD uses a copper reaction to prevent pregnancy.
15. Sterilization: If you’re serious about never having kids, consider sterilization so you won’t need to use birth control anymore. Methods like tubal ligation and vasectomy are incredibly low impact ways to avoid pregnancy.
16. Use a latex condom: Although latex condoms create waste, they are a better choice than polyurethane because while latex is biodegradable, polyurethane definitely is not.
17. Consider vegan condoms: If you’re vegan, you can avoid animal derivatives in your condom by using some made specifically for vegans.
18. Take the birth control pill: If you have a steady partner and you’re both free of STDs, you can eliminate condom waste by taking the pill. Although some worry about the effects pharmaceuticals like the birth control pill have in our water supply, experts generally agree that these levels are not high enough to effect healthy people.
19. Dispose of condoms properly: Don’t flush condoms-they can clog your plumbing or stay in the water and end up in the ocean.
The Goods
Sex is fun on its own, but if you’re going to bring in props, do it the responsible way.
20. DIY: Save money and manufacturing waste by making sex toys on your own. Get creative with fruits and vegetables and other household objects, but always be sure to use a condom.
21. Never use sex toys with phthalates: These include "jelly" and "cyberskin" toys. Studies suggest that exposure to phthalates can cause cancer and damage to the reproductive system, so it’s best to steer clear. They’re also bad for the environment. Use silicone, metal or glass as safer, recyclable alternatives.
22. Consider solar-powered or rechargeable toys: Avoid using batteries for your sex toys, and get some that can be charged over and over again. These are also great for sexy camping trips.
23. Buy for durability: Sex toys and lingerie that are well made will last longer and you won’t create waste by disposing of them to buy a new one. Also consider repairing them if possible.
24. Stay away from vinyl: PVC, found in vinyl, is an unsafe substance, and should be avoided whenever possible. Consider using leather or faux-leather.
25. Use smart balls: Smart balls are made of a hygenically safe material that’s free of phtalates and non, porous, so they’re safe for regular use. They’re essentially two balls with smaller metal balls inside that vibrate whenever you move. Smart balls are recommended by midwives for their PC muscle benefit as well as stimulation.
26. Recycle your toys: Once you’re done with your sex toys, don’t just throw them away. Dispose of them properly, or even better, recycle them.
27. Use a safe lube: Carefully consider what chemicals lurk in the lube you’re using. Always make sure you’re pairing the right type of lube with the right toy or function, and check out the ingredients list.

For Links for many of these suggestions see!00 Best Dating sites Blog

Can't Say I'm Loving Tasteless Marketing

Justin Timberlake, Destiny's Child, Artur Boruc and Felix Fritzl ...all these folk have something in common.

They are spokespeople for McDonald's.

The first three all got paid the Big Mac shilling, but Felix, the son of monster Josef, has emerged from the basement of an Austrian cellar and ran, blinking and rubbing, straight into Ronald McDonald.

For six years, Felix's idea of a Happy Meal was bread with his water in the dungeon his evil dad kept him.

Now he's giving free publicity to Maccy D's after he popped into a London branch and was said to be "thrilled" with his visit.

Felix may feel safe now he's out the dungeon, but McDonald's may need security guards soon.

England midfielder Joey Barton, who's on £60k-a-week, was jailed this week after punching a youth of 16 in the face outside aLiverpool branch.

This followed Joey consuming 10 pints of lager and five bottles of beer - the ideal starter if a Big Mac and fries is the main course.

His sentence is six months. If that's what takes him from following the start of Rangers' 2008-09 European campaign, it's worth it.

Celtic keeper Boruc has landed his deal to flog burgers in Poland, even though his countrymen may be flogging, or flipping, them here.

You might have thought fellow goalie Andy Goram was a more likely case.

Look out for Boruc wearing a God Bless Ronald McDonald T-shirt next Old Firm game.

But Ronald McDonald - the lovechild of Cilla Black and Stephen Pearson - sums up much of what's wrong with the operation.

McDonald's Corp aggressively targets kids. They do tie-ups with all the big Disney and Pixar films to lure in the High School Musical market. Six-year-old Felix Fritzl is their ideal audience.

Then they serve them saturated fats. You don't have to be Jamie Oliver to find their marketing tasteless.

As well as the food, there are other reasons to object.

They are as American as apple pie - and they do a pretty foul apple pie - which means imposing their idea of culture all around the world.

Those of us who have grown up with Scottish chippies know the over-salted cocktail sticks they call fries are a poor excuse for chips.

As for their sponsorship of football and the Olympics, that's like a school putting The Jeremy Kyle Show on its syllabus.

Wait for the 2012 London Olympics being forced into five onion rings as their logo.

The head honchos at McDonald's translated "I'm Loving It" into 20 different languages.

Strangely, there has been no demand to translate "Can I try the salad?" into as many languages.

Special Thanks to the Daily Record

Zimbabwe inflation now over 1 million percent

Weary Zimbabweans are facing a new wave of price increases that will put many basic goods even further out of their reach: A loaf of bread now costs what 12 new cars did a decade ago.

Independent finance houses said in an assessment Tuesday that annual inflation rose this month to 1,063,572 percent based on prices of a basket of basic foodstuffs. Economic analysts say unless the rate of inflation is slowed, annual inflation will likely reach about 5 million percent by October.

As stores opened for business Wednesday, a small pack of locally produced coffee beans cost just short of 1 billion Zimbabwe dollars. A decade ago, that sum would have bought 60 new cars.

And fresh price rises were expected after the state Grain Marketing Board announced up to 25-fold increases in its prices to commercial millers for wheat and the corn meal staple.

The economy was on shop clerk Jessica Rukuni's mind as she left the public swimming pool in downtown Harare's central park with three disappointed children. She found the new admission price of 100 million Zimbabwe dollars — 30 U.S. cents — out of reach.

"The point is that it's far too much for most people who don't get U.S. dollars," she said.

Her income is the equivalent of about one U.S. dollar a day, and her family has one basic meal daily.

The collapsing economy was a major concern of voters who dealt longtime President Robert Mugabe a defeat in March 29 elections. His challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, topped the poll but did not win the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff. The two face each other in a second round June 27.

Mugabe was to officially launch his runoff campaign with a rally at his party's headquarters in Harare on Sunday, the state-run Herald newspaper reported Wednesday.

The opposition's campaigning has been hampered by violence blamed on Mugabe's government and party. The opposition claims Tsvangirai is the target of a government assassination plot and he has been out of Zimbabwe since shortly after the March 29 first round. He plans to return to Zimbabwe to campaign for the runoff once security measures are in place, his aides have said.

Mugabe, speaking as he reviewed graduating police cadets Wednesday, said the opposition was fanning violence. Independent observers have said that while there have been some retaliatory attacks by the opposition, the vast majority of the attacks have been carried out by Mugabe supporters.

Mugabe accuses the United States, the European Union and especially former colonial ruler Britain of using their economic influence to back his opponents and bring about his ouster. He has severed ties with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial organizations.

Zimbabwe's official annual inflation was given by the government as 165,000 percent in February, already by far the highest in the world. The government has not updated that — the state statistical service has said there were not enough goods in the shortages-stricken shops to calculate new figures.

The economic decline has been blamed on the collapse of the key agriculture sector following the often violent seizures of farmland from whites. Mugabe claimed the seizures begun in 2002 were to benefit poor blacks, but many of the farms went to his loyalists.

"The crunch is going to come when local money is eroded to the point it is no longer acceptable" in commercial activities or as earnings, especially by longtime ruler Mugabe's loyalists, said independent Harare economist John Robertson.

Already, more transactions are being done in U.S. dollars, both openly and in secret.

Manufacturing industries, running at below 30 percent of their capacity, reported growing absenteeism by workers facing soaring commuter bus fares.

Special Thanks to the Associated Press

Eco-farming ditched as food prices soar

Soaring food prices are threatening to inflict widespread ecological damage on the countryside, as farmers abandon environmentally friendly schemes that have improved much of the landscape.

Government-backed environment schemes (ELS, or entry level stewardship) are having to compete with market pressures on farmers as crop values escalate. If farmers start to back out, much of the good work achieved since the schemes were introduced 21 years ago could be destroyed. The Observer can reveal that a survey by the National Farmers' Union shows that two-thirds of farmers who signed up to the schemes failed to renew them when contracts expired. They cited high commodity prices as well as 'disenchantment' with the way the schemes were now run.

At the most basic level, the schemes pay farmers £30 a hectare (2.49 acres) to replace cultivated areas with grassy margins, or to restore and manage hedgerows. At a higher level, larger payments are targeted at preserving rare and valuable features and species. The schemes have been hailed a huge success, improving farmland and wading bird numbers, restoring populations of rare stone curlews and cirl bunting, and protecting the traditional cornflower and small mammals such as the harvest mouse.

In addition, they have seen more than 11,000km (6,835 miles) of hedgerows being restored or newly planted, the building of 2,600km (1616 miles)of dry-stone walls and the opening up of more than 2,500 footpaths and bridleways to the public. In all £2.9bn has been earmarked for such schemes over the next seven years. But recent changes have upset farmers, who claim that rules introduced in 2005 to replace old classic schemes are not viable and would take more land out of production at a time when it did not make financial sense.

'Only one third of the classic scheme agreement holders are renewing into the new environmental stewardship schemes, and this is a serious concern both to Natural England and to the industry,' said Andrea Graham, the NFU's countryside adviser. Though crop prices were a factor, she said, other issues, such as adding one month to the period farmers are prevented from cutting hedges, had also 'touched a nerve'.

Sally and Robert Bendall embraced the environment scheme at their 140-acre mixed Hollow Trees Farm at Semer in Suffolk. They provide habitats for grey partridge, skylarks and barn owls, as well as two species of bat and great crested newts. Areas are planted with wild bird seed mix and pollen and nectar-rich plants, sloping fields have been reverted to grass and they have built a farm trail. They are in a 10-year ELS scheme, and planned to convert their remaining 50 acres of arable to grass. But current high prices mean they are now keeping it arable. 'That has been the only influence of the high prices,' said Sally, 46. 'We would never go backwards. We are committed to the scheme. But I can see the temptation for others because farmers have been through such a difficult time.'

The RSPB said it was crunch time. 'How many farmers are only in the schemes because they were pushed into them by bad bottom lines, encouraged into them by the economy?', said Sue Armstrong Brown, the charity's head of countryside conservation. 'That's changed now. It's boom time for farmers, and the schemes cannot be anti-competitive.'

Sir Martin Doughty, chairman of Natural England, the environmental advisory body in charge of implementing them, concedes high prices could present a real challenge to the projects credited with reviving endangered species as well as enriching biodiversity. He said: 'We don't expect farmers to leave schemes early, because they would have to pay back the money. But, yes, they might not renew. We don't know at this stage if prices will stay up - wheat is already coming down. We must make sure the schemes are value for money.'

The Council for the Protection of Rural England said the government must recognise that benefits lost now would prove expensive to recover in the future. 'The problem is that the mindset of farmers will switch back to production, and it will become increasingly difficult to persuade them of the value of enviromental intervention,' said Tom Oliver, head of rural policy.

Jonathan Shaw, undersecretary of state at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said a payment review would be carried out when prices were less volatile. 'We are determined to find a way through to ensure that we have another 21 years and beyond of positive agri-enviroment schemes.'

Special Thanks to The Guardian

Health and safety zealots tell youngster her 2ft paddling pool needs a lifeguard

For nearly a quarter of a century, Lourdes Maxwell has celebrated the arrival of summer by putting a paddling pool in the garden.

This year, however, her two grandchildren and the children of her neighbours may have to find another way to cool off in the heat.

Miss Maxwell's local council has decided that the pool - which is only 2ft deep - needs a lifeguard.

The 47-year-old divorced mother of three has also been told she must have insurance before she can inflate the toy outside her house in Portsmouth.

The health and safety edict came after she wrote to the city council asking for permission to put a bigger pool in the communal garden outside her home.

Not only was she told it was too dangerous, but the council told her to empty the existing pool.

After her MP intervened, the local authority softened its stance, saying Miss Maxwell could have a pool if she paid for insurance and ensured supervisors were on constant watch.

Residents near the communal gardens already have to obey a raft of rules governing their use.

They are even supposed to ask the council for permission before having a barbecue.

Miss Maxwell, who is a full-time carer to her son Aiden, said yesterday: "It is absolutely pathetic.

"I have had a paddling pool outside the front of my flat every summer for 24 years, ever since Aiden turned one year old.

"Neighbours' children would come and enjoy the pool and I would give them ice lollies. It was always a very social occasion."

She added: "Now suddenly I'm not allowed.

"I asked around for insurance and they just laughed at me. No one offers insurance for paddling pools.

"I'm always there to supervise but they're trying to tell me I need lifeguards for a kiddies' pool as well - it's crazy."

Nigel Selley, Portsmouth Council's neighbourhood manager, defended the ruling yesterday.

He said: "We did not have sufficient assurances that the risks associated with providing such a facility would be well-managed.

"We have since spoken to Ms Maxwell and she is aware of our concerns for child safety and the risks associated with drowning."

Steven Wylie, the councillor in charge of housing, added: "I want to encourage people to enjoy the communal gardens.

"We want to help where we can to ensure that it is a fun and safe place for everyone to use."

Special Thanks to Daily Mail

Careful Where You Put That Tree

Forget planting trees to negate your SUV's contribution to global warming -- according to Stanford University atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira, forests in the wrong location can actually make the Earth hotter.

Plants absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, so scientists and policy makers have long assumed new forest growth helps combat global warming. At an American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco earlier this month, however, Caldeira rolled out a provocative new finding: Trees may be good at capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but their dark leaves are also very efficient at soaking up sunlight, which is later released as heat. At certain latitudes, the net effect of these two processes is warming, rather than cooling.

"Forests do store carbon, and as a result, the planet initially cools a little -- maybe tenths of degrees," Caldeira said. "But over the long term, trees' heat absorption warms things up more."

Caldeira and colleagues at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory created a computer simulation showing that if most land areas in northern latitudes were covered with forests, the planet would be six degrees warmer than it is today. Forest growth in equatorial areas, on the other hand, reduced global temperatures in the simulation because the warmer air in these regions allows more moisture to evaporate from the leaves of trees. This produces substantial cooling that cancels out the effects of heat absorption.

These seemingly maverick ideas have met with serious interest among some climatologists. "Planting trees definitely sequesters carbon dioxide, which tends to lower temperatures," said Eric Adams, an ecologist in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's environmental engineering department. "But the trees also do absorb light that might otherwise be reflected, which causes warming."

"It's very interesting that changing land use -- whether that means growing trees or cutting them down -- can have an effect on climate," added David Erickson, director of the Climate and Carbon Research Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. "That effect is working in conjunction with the impact of greenhouse gases."

If future studies confirm Caldeira's findings, his work could have a substantial impact on environmental policy. Currently, programs like Carbonfund and the Chicago Climate Exchange support the planting of temperate forests in various regions of the United States in order to reduce global warming.

In the United Kingdom, for-profit Climate Care offers customers the chance to "cancel out" the carbon-dioxide emissions they produce by donating to a fund that supports reforestation efforts. Its Stratus package, which costs about $130, is billed as making one person "completely climate-neutral for the whole year."

Caldeira's research suggests efforts like these are off base. "Organizations should not be giving these kinds of credits," he said. "Planting forests in mid-latitudes should not be considered equivalent to using renewable resources."

Carbonfund spokesman Craig Coulter, however, urged caution. "If scientific consensus shows that this study is valid, then of course we'd have to take that into account," he said. "But there's always been tit-for-tat among academics about different methods for calculating the impact of reducing carbon, and I'd want to see more studies along these lines before making policy changes." He also pointed out that planting trees has a variety of environmental benefits unrelated to global warming, such as restoring threatened animal habitats and preventing the erosion of topsoil.

Caldeira stressed that lawmakers shouldn't advocate chopping down swaths of forest in hopes of reducing global temperatures a few degrees. He thinks investing in new sources of clean energy, like hydrogen and biofuel, is a better way to address the global-warming problem.

"Earth systems are very complicated -- you might be able to reduce warming by cutting down some trees, but that wouldn't be good for the environment overall," he said. "The less we interfere with the system, the more likely we are to have a healthy planet."

Special Thanks to Wired

Italian government adopts draft law to punish environmental crimes

The Italian government on Tuesday adopted a draft bill under which the perpetrators of "environmental catastrophes" would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The bill, which must be passed by parliament, "anticipates" a planned European Union directive on environmental crimes and puts Italy in line with "the largest European countries," a government statement said.

Polluters would be jailed for between one and five years and pay fines ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 euros (6,800 to 41,000 dollars), it said.

Those convicted of causing "environmental damage" face between two and six years in prison and fines of between 20,000 and 60,000 euros, or more if human lives or health are threatened.

"Environmental catastrophes" will be punishable by between three and 10 years in jail and fines of between 30,000 and 250,000 euros, and "alterations of natural heritage, flora and fauna" by one-to-three-year jail terms and fines of between 2,000 and 20,000 euros.

Illegal dumping, a frequent crime in the southern Naples area, will carry a prison term of between one and five years and a fine of between 10,000 and 30,000 euros, rising to between two and six years in jail and 20,000 to 50,000 euros when it involves dangerous waste.

The bill also covers trafficking in or dumping radioactive material, environmental fraud and damage to environmental resources.

Several EU states including Belgium, the Czech Republic and Denmark already have strict laws on environmental crimes.

The European Commission is drafting legislation that would enable European arrest warrants for environmental crimes.

Special Thanks to Briet Bart

'Hate incident' in city

One student has been suspended and more disciplinary action could follow a possible hate crime at Lewiston Middle School, Superintendent Leon Levesque said Wednesday.

On April 11, a white student placed a ham steak in a bag on a lunch table where Somali students were eating. Muslims consider pork unclean and offensive.

The act reminded students of a man who threw a pig's head into a Lewiston mosque last summer.

The school incident is being treated seriously as "a hate incident," Levesque said. Lewiston police are investigating, and the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence is working with the school to create a response plan.

"We've got some work to do to turn this around and bring the school community back together again," Levesque said.

Placing ham where Muslim students were eating was "an awful thing," said Stephen Wessler, executive director of the Center for Prevention of Hate Violence. "It's extraordinarily hurtful and degrading" to Muslims, whose religion prohibits them from being around ham. It's important to respond swiftly, Wessler said.

"Incidents like this that involve degrading language or conduct are often said by the perpetrator as a joke. I know that conduct is never static," he said. "It's part of a process of escalation."

If people think insulting Muslims with ham is OK, "More degrading acts will follow, until at some point we'll end up having violence," Wessler said.

The incident does not reflect the moral values of the school staff and students, Levesque said. "We need to take a look at this and review how a careless act is degrading and causes hurt to other people. All our students should feel welcome and safe in our schools."

He said a letter would be sent home to parents explaining what happened and outlining the school's response. Wessler will meet with students to address the school's climate, and staff will talk about how to respond to and prevent future hate incidents

'I didn't feel safe'

A 14-year-old Somali boy, whose mother asked that his name not be published, said he was eating lunch with four other Somali students on April 11. He noticed many others in the cafeteria "standing up, looking at us."

One boy came near, began laughing and threw a bag on the table while other students laughed and said, 'Good job.'"

"We didn't know what was in this bag," the boy said. "One of my friends reached inside it. It was a big ham steak. There were five of us at the table, all Somali. It was intended for us."

The boy said he looked up at students he thought were his friends. "I felt angered, offended."

He suddenly felt like he was alone. "At the school the next day, I didn't feel safe. I felt like everybody was against me. Before I felt like I fit in, and everything was normal."

He began to think white students didn't like him, and the act was their way of letting him know.

On Thursday, several students came up to him and said, "Those guys who did it were jerks. I apologize for them, and I hope you feel better."

The boy said they did make him feel better. "But for the rest of my life when I remember middle school, this will pop up right away."

He spoke out because he wants the community to know what happened, "that there is something like this going on in our schools."

Wessler and Levesque said the act happened the day before April vacation began, which prevented educators from gathering information.

"This is not done," Wessler said.

Special Thanks to Sun Journal


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