24/04/2014

Michael Gove is poised to backtrack on major aspects of his controversial new history curriculum for schools in England after sustained opposition from teachers and prominent academics, the Guardian has learned.

“A major rewrite” is likely to see more emphasis given to world history alongside the mainly British focus originally suggested by the Department for Education (DfE). Schools will also be given much more freedom – current mandatory requirements will become suggestions. In addition there will be a drastic reduction in the scope of the primary curriculum.

Winston Churchill is no longer named in the new draft. Five- to seven-year-olds will not have to learn about the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, as suggested in the current draft, but instead could be told about the more modern figures of LS Lowry, Neil Armstrong, Tim Berners-Lee and Rosa Parks. Charles Darwin may feature in secondary school history lessons, while schools are to be given more scope to teach pupils about immigration and Islamic history.

DfE civil servants met history teachers last week to unveil the changes, in a document seen by the Guardian.

The first draft of the history curriculum, to be taught to five- to 14-year-olds from next year, was published in February. The education secretary was criticised by historians including Simon Schama, Sir Richard Evans and Sir David Cannadine for its alleged over-emphasis on English history and insisting on too much detail. Schama, a former adviser to Gove on the curriculum, told the Hay Festival that it was “offensive and insulting”.

The Historical Association carried out an online poll which found only 4% of respondents thought the February draft was a positive change, while 96% of 545 secondary school teachers taking part in a separate survey by the association said the proposed curriculum was too prescriptive.

The new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman, told the Guardian this month that the proposals were “dangerous”. She said: “The curriculum needs to appeal to as many children as possible or a number of them could become disenchanted with education because they feel it’s not relevant.”

The first draft expected seven- to-11-year-olds to be taught British history from the stone age to the union of parliaments in 1707, with 48 bullet points taking schools through historical events and personalities they must teach, while history for 11- to 14-year-olds would cover 1707 to 1989.

But, although some historians – including David Starkey, Antony Beevor and Niall Ferguson – backed the move, the DfE seems to have been chastened by the reaction, with Gove indicating last month to the Commons education select committee that the curriculum would be changed for its next draft.

The draft presented last week sees extra topics from world history included, while primary schools will no longer be expected to teach the whole period until 1707.

Instead, 1066 is being put forward as the new end-point for primaries, though they are also asked to teach one topic from beyond that point, and secondaries one from before it. “It’s much more in line with what primaries do now,” said a source who was at the meeting. Secondary schools could now teach history up to the present day.

The curriculum’s compulsory content has also been drastically stripped back, with detailed bullet points that were previously listed as mandatory now presented as suggestions.

Five- to seven-year-olds will no longer have to grapple with “the concept of the nation”, as controversially suggested in the February draft, but instead should be taught about “changes within living memory”.

In key stages 2 (for seven- to-11-year-olds), and 3 (ages 11-14), pupils will have to study a world history topic and local history alongside British topics. At KS2, a world history topic is required, including the possibility of studying “early Islam” or the culture of Benin in west Africa, while the crusades could be studied at KS3.

Clive of India, described by Schama last month as a “sociopathic, corrupt thug” featuring in a curriculum which was like “1066 and All That, but without the jokes”, appears to have been dropped as even a suggested topic while, more controversially, Churchill is no longer named.

The source said: “There’s been a major rewrite since the thing came out in February. I do not know if that is because they ran into a lot more flak than they were expecting, but they have been listening to people’s objections.

“There was a meeting last week at the DfE with quite a range of people and groups there and there is pretty much an awareness that this was a lot better and it is workable, both at primary and secondary. It may still change again before the latest draft is published, but I doubt it will change much.”

A second source: “I think the DfE was genuinely taken aback by the response they’ve had on this. They’ve had to move.” Another source said the DfE had had to respond to concerns that the currently-published version of the new curriculum, which must be taught in conventional state-run schools, was overly prescriptive, while the government’s favoured academies do not have to teach it at all.

He said: “Because of the academy programme, it is difficult for them to say to one set of schools ‘do what you like’ and to another ‘follow this incredibly detailed programme of study’. They’ve had to give more flexibility.”

The DfE is due to go public on its latest draft in the next few weeks Gove said on Friday that the new draft was with David Cameron and Nick Clegg, awaiting their sign-off.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The consultation on the draft programmes of study has now closed. We will respond in due course.”

Ins and outs

Out At key stage 1, Isaac Newton, Florence Nightingale, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Christina Rossetti have gone.

In They make way for Christopher Columbus, Neil Armstrong, William Caxton, Tim Berners-Lee, LS Lowry, Rosa Parks and Emily Davison.

Out Five- to seven-year-olds are no longer likely to have to figure out the concepts of “nation, civilisation, monarchy, parliament, democracy, war and peace”.

In They will simply learn about historical events and changes, important figures and local history.

Out At key stages 2 and 3 (ages seven-11), far fewer historical figures are specified in the latest draft, with Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren, Adam Smith, the anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano, William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and even Margaret Thatcher no longer featuring. There is also no space for the empire figures General James Wolfe or Clive of India.

In Charles Darwin is one of the few new personalities introduced in the latest version for older children. Topics such as “the development of the British empire”, the slave trade and the second world war will cover many of the individuals above.

Out Terms such as “Britain and her empire” and “the Heptarchy”.

In Now just “the British empire”; the “Glorious Revolution” is still there, but firmly in quotes.

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/7Z4FUzE9Y7o/story01.htm

Oh, the naivety … On Tuesday night, I thought the first step to going off-grid, erasing my digital fingerprint, becoming undetectable to a government agency or anyone else, was to take the sim card out of my phone. Get a new sim. Insert in old phone. Bingo; big brother might have his eye on me, but he no longer knows in which direction to swivel it.

Idiot! My phone has an IMEI number, whereby it can be traced anywhere in the world. I had to stop using the phone. Twitter told me that, before I had to stop using Twitter.

But that’s not enough; I also had to stop carrying the phone, or if I had to carry it, to do so in a metal-lined wallet. Documentally (his online persona), aka Christian Payne (his real-life name), is a professional surveillance-avoider who offers calm advice that will leave you paranoid, but with a completely foundationless faith in your capabilities: “I got an RSID wallet so that my passport details couldn’t be stolen remotely …” (The design of passports has been changed, so details can be read from a distance). “It’s meant to be for border crossings, but it’s leaking information all over the place. So I use the wallet with a metal lining, and if I put my phone in there, it remains completely off-grid.”

As an aside, to illustrate how easy it is to find you via your phone, he adds: “I’ve got old iPhones that I use for tracking devices. I’ve got one in my car. This technology is on a consumer level. For a very brief period I was running a little private investigations company. I could leave a Nokia on a table and it would become a bugging device for that room.”

Huh. Anyway, back to me. What I need is a burner phone – in the US, you can buy them from this the website (https://www.burnerphone.us/) and they arrive, fully charged, sim at the ready, no questions asked. “How do you pay for it?” you’re asking. Almost all conundrums end with this question: if you have a long time to plan going underground, my number one tip is that you save a lot of cash, or get really good at stealing.

The best way to pay for things on the internet without identifying yourself is by Bitcoin (an anonymous digital crypto currency). But you could also go to Tesco and just buy a phone, for a tenner, with a pay-as-you-go sim already in it.

“But who are you going to call?” Documentally asks pleasantly. If I call any known associates, their phones will be tracked anyway, and a strange mobile number will immediately show up. Even in my wider circle, calling three of them would join enough dots to come back to me. It’s possible that I could call a switchboard and get away with it, so that leaves me with a) work and b) British Gas. If I wanted to speak to one of my friends, I’d have to post them a letter, tell them my new number and get them to call me from a payphone. Or I’d have to buy them a burner and drop it off at their house. “You have to think in terms of not seeing or speaking to anyone you know for three years,” Documentally clarified.

At this point, 10pm on a Tuesday, I am still thinking in terms of a hypothetical person or agency chasing me. Not yet realising how absurdly unrealistic that was, I spoke to David Bond, who made a documentary about this quest three years ago, called Erasing David. During the film, he met Frank Aherne, “an expert at disappearing people in the States. I didn’t put him in the film because it sounded way too paranoid, but he told me the CIA had a backdoor into Google and Facebook. He went further, he said they have a start-up fund, and they put money into Facebook and things like it, to get in on the ground floor. I love that story. I wish I’d put him in.”

Social media notwithstanding, the “leakiest bit is definitely physical. The best thing you can do is wear a hi-vis jacket and carry a bin bag with something heavy in it, and you keep your head down. No one looks at you, everyone ignores you; you’re the lowest of the low.”

That’s how to avoid the human eye; CCTV is a completely different thing. Documentally developed a prototype, an infrared LED in the brim of a baseball cap that messes with the signal. The problem is that it creates a big flash, so even if they can’t see your face, it draws attention to your presence. But there are things you can do to confuse facial recognition algorithms: mainly, obscure your nose-brow bridge and disturb the ocular area. The first you can do with a directional scenester fringe. I don’t have one of those. The second you can do with makeup on your cheeks – if you create a blusher look that could, by a computer, be mistaken for an eye socket, that will completely mess with the reading.

I went for a cycling mask, which is fine in one way – I have to cycle anyway, even if you swap Oyster cards with a stranger (you should swap regularly with friends regardless, to mess with the data collection). That isn’t the problematic bit; cycling in a mask, with a longer fringe, might work. But if there is any agency looking for you, you have to get out of the city.

Documentally counsels: “There are maps online showing the lowest concentration of CCTV cameras. Camping’s good. People ask very few questions at campsites. But no technology, because there’s usually only one road in, and once they’ve found you, you’re found.” He paused. “Good luck,” he said. “If you check my twitter feed, you can see where I am. If you get into any trouble, come there. I don’t know you well enough to let you into my room, but I can find you a safe house.” I am tickled pink that he thinks I’m going to start roaming about the country. But I can’t do that: I’ve got two children; and also, tickets to see the Breeders.

I scale down my ambition: I merely want to live my life and leave no digital fingerprint. If I were pursuing a course of action that I thought might one day interest the authorities – joining a protest group, establishing a guerrilla army for the protection of bees – could I do so without leaving a yellow brick road directly to my house?

So, I couldn’t use a phone in the regular way, but I could Gibberbot (on an Android) or Chatsecure (on an iPhone). I could use Jitsi instead of Skype. For emails, I’d get a laptop that is stripped off – if you use your own, even not using your own email address, your identity screams off it like a siren the minute you connect to the internet … in your browsing history, the amount of RAM, the configuration, the homepage. But you can use an encrypted channel in a Virtual Private Network. “With a VPN and Jitsi you’d be anonymous but your friends who you were talking to would need a Jabber account. But that wouldn’t be too difficult. You’d just post them a letter, telling them to open one.”

My life at this point – late on Wednesday – had become so pared down, such a simple process of cycling around, giving words written in internet cafes, on memory sticks, to people, scaring them with my sweaty face – that the only emails I need a Jabber account for are my mum and one friend. I don’t really want to ask my mum to open a Jabber account, since the last time I looked at her computer, she was trying to download the whole of Arabic. She’s probably already on a watchlist. Then I remember I’m seeing her at Pilates; nobody would look for me there, it’s so 2001. When I run into her, she says: “Have you tried DuckDuckGo? It’s like an uncorruptible Google.” I think: “Jesus, woman, no wonder you’re probably on a watchlist.”

I solve the friend problem by just turning up at her house. She looks at me like I’ve taken a crap in a bag of sugar. People in London hate it when you do this.

It is such full-time work just avoiding email and phones that I can’t say I missed them. I did go to the Breeders, they scanned the barcode on the tickets, but hah! I didn’t buy them (my boyfriend did. It is a relatively easy trail, from him to me, I imagine).

Consuming, belonging, conforming – they are so intertwined, to reject one is to reject all three, to reject all three is just impossibly large. To do it, you’d need to have already done it. But the alternative, this supine acceptance of whatever information whoever wants it has, that’s not great either. As Documentally says: “If, for example, our government takes a turn for the even worse and wants to get any bit of dirt on you, all they have to do is amplify the things that they found in your inbox. It doesn’t take much to embarrass you or blackmail you.”

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/tEhbTGUFsaU/story01.htm

A taint, a tint, a touch of the tar brush: these words and others like them died of shame deep in the last century, at least in any kind of enlightened society, and yet a fascination with miscegenation persisted long after. I remember talking to a well-known English writer about a distinguished English editor, and the writer speculating that the editor, who was dark, had “some Indian blood in him”: what did I think? I didn’t know. The year was 1982 and we were in a Fulham Road pub called the Queen’s Elm, which, like the writer and the editor, no longer exists. His question had no particularly malign implication – it wasn’t as though he would have thought worse of the editor had “Indian blood” been present. Still, it would have been difficult then to foresee the day last week when the second in line to the British throne would be declared to have a tiny portion of Indian ancestry, and that this disclosure should spark a mild interest and celebration rather than an oo-ah prurience and notions of a family’s ancestral disgrace.

According to the research of a commercial firm, BritainsDNA, Prince William is likely to be between 0.3 and 0.8% Indian. One of his maternal ancestors was the daughter of a Scottish trader with the East India Company and his Indian housekeeper, who after her father’s death was taken to Scotland to be raised by her Aberdeenshire grandparents nearly 200 years ago. Tests on two of her descendants, third cousins of William’s maternal grandmother, Frances Shand Kydd, show the presence of DNA found only in South Asia and passed down the motherline to every child; this, in the words of BritainsDNA, confirms beyond doubt that the housekeeper-mistress, Eliza Kewark, was of Indian heritage. Such a degree of certainty invites questions. The prince himself has never been tested; could the rare DNA in his distant relations have a different source? But our main reaction should surely be relief that another myth of racial purity has been demolished, combined with a small delight that a community once so badly damaged by those myths should have the last laugh.

As defined by the Indian constitution, an Anglo-Indian is a person born in India who can show European parentage in the male line. Katherine Scott Forbes, born in 1812 to Eliza Kewark and the Scotsman Theodore Forbes, was therefore an Anglo-Indian, though until the first world war that term tended to apply to the British population who lived temporarily in India as administrators and businessmen, rather than people of mixed race who lived and died there as a subaltern class to the white rulers. As a community, Anglo-Indians were held in contempt by both caste-conscious India and class-conscious Britain, who tended to see them, in the words of one writer, as the products of “a temporary sexual weakness in an unfamiliar climate”. One way to attain self-respect and social advancement was to deny the maternal, Indian side of their ancestry – to unmix themselves and become white, “to pass”, as the saying went. Success depended almost entirely on skin colour.

Anglo-Indian settlements in India used to grieve that some of their most celebrated offspring denied or played down their origins, and many Anglo-Indians could recite a list of the stars they felt had in some way disowned or neglected them. In Lucknow, it was Cliff Richard; in Kolkata, Peter Sarstedt; in Chennai, Engelbert Humperdink. In the railway town of Chakradharpur, dull under its locomotive smoke, I once heard an unexpected boast that Marlon Brando’s first wife, Anna Kashfi, had lived there. And it turned out she may well have done – as Joanna O’Callaghan, a half-Indian girl who emigrated with her family from Bengal to Cardiff in 1947. “There is no Indian blood in my family or my husband’s family,” her mother said, omitting the fact that her husband wasn’t Kashfi’s father, who was Indian.

Of course, we have no right to unmask the origins of others or to deplore the strategies they deployed against the prejudice they faced: people have their reasons. It remains hard, however, not to gasp at the bravura disguise of the movie star Merle Oberon, whose Who’s Who entry in the late 1970s still recorded her birthplace in Tasmania and her father as a British army officer. People with long memories in Kolkata, where Oberon had worked the telephone exchange in the 1920s, knew differently, but only with the publication of Charles Higham’s biography in 1983, four years after her death, was the tragic scale of her deception revealed. How she invented a studio biography, perhaps with the help of her husband, Alexander Korda, which never mentioned India. How her Indian mother, when she joined Oberon in England, was introduced to guests as her old ayah and maidservant. How, in the year before her death, she reluctantly accepted an official invitation to Tasmania to visit the theatre mistakenly named after her – Mumbai, not Hobart, was her birthplace – and in panic refused to leave her hotel. And, perhaps the saddest thing, how she ruined her complexion with skin-lightening cosmetics, and thus rarely appeared in colour films.

Of all the colonists in 18th-century India, it was the British who were most concerned by dark skin. They found it incredible that other Europeans, particularly the Portuguese, should care so little about colour, and took to mocking any Portuguese Indian who wore European dress as a “To-pass”. “Any man of colour, however dark, who wears a hat, passes for a descendant of the companions of the renowned Vasco da Gama,” wrote an English observer disdainfully, as though race rather than culture or intellect was what should count most. And yet they were just as keen on inter-marriage with Indian women as the Portuguese, or at least on arrangements that allowed them sex and a family life. Troops formed temporary attachments with low-caste women and prostitutes, while officers, traders and officials set up households with native mistresses. One result was children of many shades who, if their fathers were rich enough, were often sent to school in England. According to one estimate of 1789, one boy in every 10 at English schools was “coloured” – but not too dark. William Palmer, aide to Warren Hastings, wrote of a compatriot’s children that while two were “almost as fair as English children” and could go to England, a third was “too dark to escape detection” and needed to be educated in Bengal.

This tendency to select by colour still applied in 1820, when Prince William’s ancestor, then aged eight, exchanged her home in Surat for a country house near Fraserburgh. She sailed with her younger brother, who seems to have become so homesick that he had to be sent back to rejoin his widowed mother and a third sibling. Perhaps colour played its part here, too – who came, who stayed, who returned. All we can safely know is that the kind of mixed-race phobia that made Oberon reinvent herself has nearly vanished in Britain, and that human dignity has been enlarged.

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/tqwlsHNRCF0/story01.htm

Ed Miliband has urged his party to remember that the post-war Labour government achieved radical social change while also managing to run budget surpluses in a time of austerity.

The Labour leader urged party members concerned about his decision to accept coalition spending plans for 2015-16 to recognise that high day-to-day spending is not the only route to social justice and that Clement Attlee created the welfare state and NHS while also balancing the budget.

In a Guardian interview, Miliband also said he wanted to transfer more power to local government because Britain was far too centralised. He is setting up a local government innovation taskforce because he believes councils are leading the way in developing better ways of delivering services when budgets are tight.

“If you go into the roots and history of the Labour party and think about our most dramatic society-changing government, the 1945 government, we all remember the NHS, building homes, and the family allowance,” Miliband said, outlining an argument that he is going to develop in a speech to Labour’s national policy forum in Birmingham on Saturday.

“What is less remembered is the other half – yes, they created the NHS, but, believe it or not, they were running a budget surplus. There was wartime rationing. This is a government that banned the import of sardines because they were worried about the balance of payments. It shows a government can be remembered in difficult times for doing great things.”

Miliband’s decision to announce this month that the party would accept coalition plans for current spending for 2015-16 – but not necessarily for capital spending – has alarmed some in Labour who fear the party is being tied to the coalition’s austerity programme.

But Miliband said that showing discipline did not mean the party would not be able to make a difference. And he said he was asking leaders of pioneering Labour councils to produce ideas for the party’s policy review because it had to accept that centralisation had run its course.

“Too often in the past central government, Labour central governments, told local government what to do. We are reversing this. We are going to get local government to tell us how it’s done,” he said.

Miliband’s comments about local government echo what Conservative ministers have said about decentralisation, and Miliband acknowledged that the government “claimed to be localist”. But he said that in reality it had turned out to be centralising.

Labour has already announced plans to boost council powers, for example, in relation to developers refusing to build on sites with planning permission, and further plans will be set out in a forthcoming “New English Deal” for local authorities.

Miliband also played down suggestions that people were enjoying the benefits of economic recovery. “It certainly feels like a recovery for those at the top,” he said, pointing out that bank bonuses are at their highest level since records began in 2000. “But it still feels like a recession for everybody else: wages down, prices up, living standards falling for longer than they ever have in our history.”

Meanwhile on Saturday, at a Liberal Democrat conference Nick Clegg will tell his party that it needs to fight the general election in 2015 as a “firm party of government” and on the assumption that it must be ready to form another coalition.

The party will have to campaign in a more united way than it has before, the deputy prime minister will say. “The idea that in a general election we can be under a national spotlight and yet run the campaign as a series of loosely linked byelections simply isn’t possible,” he will say.

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/-fQHMtvXzkU/story01.htm

The Voice: TV talent show needs a revamp, says BBC

Posted by MereNews On June - 21 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

When the BBC‘s Saturday night search for the newest singing sensation, The Voice, bows out after its live final this weekend, there will be more at stake than the fate of the show’s winner.

Audiences for the show have been dwarfed by Simon Cowell’s boisterous ITV rival, Britain’s Got Talent, amid signs that viewers are falling out love with The Voice’s swivel-chair novelty.

The BBC has confirmed the show will return for a third series but critics say it must be overhauled if it is to compete for Saturday night viewers.

In early episodes, singers perform to the backs of chairs occupied by judges will.i.am, Jessie J, Tom Jones and Danny O’Donoghue of Irish band The Script. If any of the judges thinks the singer’s voice has potential, their chair swivels around and the singer is chosen. Later episodes follow a more familiar knockout format.

“It’s embarrassing for the BBC that they can’t do anything to stop the ratings decline as soon as the spinning chairs go,” said Boyd Hilton, TV and reviews editor for Heat magazine.

The ratings gap with Britain’s Got Talent has narrowed since Cowell’s show launched in April, when it pulled in an audience of 6.7 million – nearly 4 million more than The Voice.

Close to 6 million tuned into the BBC1 show last weekend, setting Saturday’s live final up for unflattering comparisons with the Britain’s Got Talent climax, which was the highest-rating TV show of the year.

But Mark Linsey, the BBC’s entertainment controller, insisted he is happy with how The Voice has fared.

He said: “It’s always tricky to land these shows on Saturday night and get the format right and they’re ever-evolving, but I’m pleased.”

Linsey is tipped to be named the new BBC1 controller after Danny Cohen, who paid £22m for the first two series of The Voice, was promoted to director of television. And Linsey believes The Voice can become a fixture of Saturday nights for years to come.

He conceded that elements of the show will be reviewed ahead of its return next year: “We will have those conversations straight away – reviewing formats and looking at what works and what didn’t work, and checking the availability of the coaches.”

This year’s expected winner is Leah McFall, a 23-year-old soul singer praised by her coach will.i.am for her “incredible range and crazy work ethic”.

With odds of 1/3 to win, bookmakers Ladbrokes said: “The others may as well not turn up.” More bets have been taken on McFall than any other contestant in the past two series of the show. One punter in Belfast staked £10,000 on her last week.

It would go down as one of the biggest TV talent show upsets in recent memory were McFall to miss out.

But she faces competition from Mike Ward (a country singer coached by Jones), Andrea Begley (coached by O’Donoghue) and Matt Henry (a youth worker coached by Jessie J).

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/hd69V8LITF8/story01.htm

In June 2008, the head of the US National Security Agency, Lt Gen Keith Alexander, visited Menwith Hill, the giant listening station near Harrogate in Yorkshire, and set the audience of British and American intelligence staff a provocative challenge: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?” he asked. “Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith.” The tone sounds almost jaunty – but it meshes with a similar and entirely serious ambition revealed in internal documents from within GCHQ, the sister UK organisation charged with monitoring communications – mastering the internet. MTI for short.

“All the signals all the time.” Until comparatively recently, such an ambition was the stuff of fiction and Hollywood. Now we are forced to confront the reality that we are moving into a new age of human existence where every digital action – be it by phone, text, search, chat or email – can be collected, searched and stored. The implications are profound. The pace of technological change is more rapid than the law or oversight can possibly cope with. The gravitational pull towards total surveillance is as inevitable as it is secret.

There is a clear and powerful security justification for employing every available technological means to have the potential to track everyone, always. The first duty of a state is to protect life, and securocrats can plausibly argue that the ever-advancing capability of interception means that we can all sleep a little more soundly in our beds. The bad guys – be they drug dealers, paedophiles or terrorists – will (some of them) be caught in this boundless dragnet. Don’t confuse the haystack with the needle. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

The corollary of this approach is that there must be complete secrecy about the existence of the capability. Anyone who reveals it or discusses it will simply alert the bad guys, who will then change their behaviour. The system depends on a vast and – at least in Britain – unprecedented infrastructure of secrecy, including closed courts, private hearings, confidential commercial undertakings and restrictions on the ability of the British media to say or write very much about it at all. The less debate, the happier the government and the intelligence agencies.

But there has to be debate – and over the past fortnight in America and Europe there has, indeed, been a vigorous discussion sparked by the revelations of the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Under what laws is this combination of state and commercial surveillance authorised? What are the processes for giving authority for building this gargantuan digital haystack – and then for finding the needles within it? In a world of such secrecy who can meaningfully oversee and audit such an infinite trawl of data? Do lawmakers understand the utterly changed circumstances in which legislation designed for an era of crocodile clips on copper wires is being stretched to cope with legions of engineers and analysts with the world literally at their fingertips? Numerous voices have engaged in that debate, from the US president himself to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who spoke so impressively at the Olympics opening ceremony. “Unwarranted government surveillance,” he said last week, “is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society.”

He’s right. Mastering the internet may seem desirable and harmless to some in a comfortable era of coalition politics and – still – comparatively benign economic conditions. But a three-hour flight from London will take you to places where there is much less political and social stability. We are creating a system of total surveillance which could, indeed, bring great benefits in terms of security but which, in the wrong hands, could severely curtail protest, reporting, privacy and hard-won freedoms of association and speech. That much is at stake.

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/Igwuy9_PKRg/story01.htm

Ray Kelvin was 11 when he started helping out at his uncle’s clothing shop in Enfield. Aged 33, he opened his own shop selling shirts in Glasgow. Today the fashion entrepreneur presides over one of the great success stories of the British high street, exporting his sharp suits and jewel-coloured dresses to more than a dozen countries and earning revenues of £255m.

Ray Kelvin is not a household name, but his quirky brand alter ego has crept into the UK’s smartest high streets and swishest department stores – Ted Baker.

If he were real, Ted might manage a wry smile. Sales soared by 31% in the five months to June compared with last year, the company announced on Thursday, pushing its stock price up £2.30 to £17 – just enough to buy an itty-bitty paisley pocket handkerchief in the summer sale. The city is swooning over the retailer’s “relentless focus on the product”, cost control and on-trend womenswear.

“You won’t get many companies doing plus-30% sales growth in this environment, especially when they are predominantly UK focused,” Alistair Davies at Oriel Securities said. “It is an excellent trading statement.”

If Ted Baker has thrived, while rivals such as French Connection have lost their way, this is much to do with the idiosyncratic vision of Kelvin, whose business cards describe him as “the closest man to Ted”.

Kelvin, a camera-shy Londoner, says the idea for the brand came to him while he was out fishing. Since setting up that Glasgow shirt business 25 years ago, he has earned an estimated fortune of £96m, according to the Sunday Times rich list, and catapulted into the fashion aristocracy.

But Kelvin, who avoids having his face photographed by posing behind artfully-placed props, never wanted to give the business his name.

“I didn’t want to use my real name,” he told Vogue in a rare interview last month. “I thought I’d be a failure. I could have gone bankrupt, then my name would have always been associated with a failed company. I’m camera-shy too, that sort of thing isn’t what I’m about. Also, I’m ugly – I don’t want to see my picture everywhere. I’m funny though, which helps.”

Kelvin’s ironic humour permeates the brand, which has diversified into womenswear, shoes, children’s clothes, accessories, perfume, bedding, mobile phones, glasses and now a chain of old-school gents’ barbers in London.

“Ted Baker is successful because it has a strong brand identity and brand personality which is rooted in the founder Ray Kelvin’s own quirky nature,” observes Karinna Nobbs, senior lecturer in fashion branding and retail strategy at the London College of Fashion. “Ted Baker communicates its brand to a very high standard and with a British point of view and sense of humour.”

This tongue-in-cheek style comes across at Ted Baker’s flagship London store, located on a quiet cobbled street in Covent Garden near discreet designer shops, rather than alongside MS and Boots on the crowded main drag. Lurid pink wellies or bow ties in school-uniform stripes shout out for attention, alongside fashionable pastel jackets, sequinned skyscraper heels and holiday T-shirts.

And unlike the identical white box shops of its rivals, every Ted Baker store is different. The Ted Baker shop that opened in Kuwait last month – making eight in the Middle East – is all buttoned-up Britishness with an arched eyebrow. A union flag made from London bricks, bakelite telephones and changing room cubicles with suburban front doors contribute to the sense of a brand striving to show it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This fabled attention to detail explains why the brand is so successful in foreign markets, thinks Nobbs. “It is performing especially well in the traditionally difficult to crack northern American markets.”

Sales were up 59% in the US and Canada last year, and 65% in Asia, albeit from a low base. Last year Ted Baker opened six stores abroad, including Beijing, Tokyo and New York’s Fifth Avenue, bringing its global tally to 110 outlets.

But the bulk of the business is still in the UK, with 181 shops and concessions. Given the difficulties on the high street, this makes last year’s 11% sales growth all the more remarkable – not least because Ted Baker does not sell its products at throwaway, Primark-style, prices. It is £29 for a plastic i-pod case and £99 for a floaty summer top – albeit one made with organic cotton and recycled polyester.

“The Ted Baker customer wants good quality pieces which can be worn for more than one season,” says Nobbs. “The fashion is not directional or edgy but it is confidently on trend and this is valued by its loyal customers.” The typical shopper is aged 20-40, she says, although products such as the “ikon shopper” – £29 bow-festooned bags in a variety of sweetshop colours – are used by all ages.

“It is a bit daring, not very classic,” 31-year old screenwriter Mihaela Manea says as she leaves Ted Baker’s Covent Garden store with a bold floral print dress and two pairs of trousers snapped up in the sale.

At the start of this year, sales of womenswear – overseen by director Catherine Scorey – overtook menswear for the first time, delighting city analysts.

“It is becoming more of a womenswear business than a menswear business,” says Freddie George at Cantor Research. “The menswear side is more quirky, it is more geared to a particular type of customer, whereas the womenswear has a mainstream-type appeal so it is a broader market.”

“They are doing well, there is no question,” he says.

However, George reckons the shares are overvalued, riding on the coat tails of a bull market. “At the moment the stock seems to be going onwards and upwards but there has to be a point [when] it is going to come off quite aggressively at some stage.”

For now, the sound of ringing tills is keeping everyone happy. Kelvin muses about opening a hotel in that Vogue interview. “There’s nothing in the plan, but who knows? I just want to continue this journey and do more of the same, but better.”

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/ix2tQvrxEG8/story01.htm

Wonga increases its typical APR by 1,600%

Posted by MereNews On June - 21 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Controversial payday lender Wonga has increased the standard interest rate it quotes on its website by more than 1,600% to 5,853% – a move that is likely to increase calls for a cap on the cost of short-term credit.

The lender, which offers loans of up to £1,000 arranged over periods of up to 45 days, previously quoted a typical annual percentage rate (APR) of 4,214%.

The new APR is based on a £150 loan taken out over 18 days, which would add up to £183.49 after fees and interest are added; the quoted interest rate assumes the loan is extended over a year.

Wonga has not put up its charges, with borrowing still costing £1 a day plus a £5.50 “transmission charge”, but has instead reduced the size of the loan the APR calculation is based on. It said this was because “more approved applicants are taking smaller and shorter loans now“.

In common with other payday lenders, Wonga has always claimed that the APR is not a true reflection of the cost of the loan, as borrowers usually repay them in a matter of weeks. It argues that it should instead be allowed to quote a “Total Cost of Credit” figure.

Explaining the change on its Open Wonga blog the company said: “While shorter Wonga loans cost less in real terms for our customers, this trend means a bigger representative APR. It’s crazy but true.

“This is just another example of why not only we, but the Public Accounts Committee – a cross-party group of MPs – think the APR rules are ‘outdated and misleading’ when it comes to short-term credit.”

However, critics of the industry point out that debts can add up quickly if borrowers miss repayments or roll-over their loans.

Some, including the Labour MP Stella Creasy, have called for a cap on the overall cost of borrowing in common with parts of Europe and the US. On Wednesday, Paul Blomfield MP put forward a private members’ bill which included measures to cap excessive charges.

Separately, Wonga has dropped an appeal against the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over its debt collection practices.

It was told to make changes in 2012 after the regulator found it had written to struggling borrowers suggesting they may be guilty of fraud, and that Wonga would consider contacting the police if the customer did not act as it requested.

The OFT imposed requirements saying Wonga must not continue to do this without justification. It also told it to end another practice whereby people in certain occupations were told they should not be in debt.

After spending a year fighting the requirements, a Wonga spokesman said: “Regulation and compliance are extremely important to us, so we have decided to focus our resources on the requirements of the current OFT industry review rather than on an appeal about some isolated collections communications from over three years ago.

“Our collections team is sensitive to the needs of customers in genuine difficulty, while we also continue to keep bad debt at industry-leading lows.”

David Fisher, OFT senior director of consumer credit, said: “We imposed this requirement to make sure Wonga does not use certain debt collection practices it previously used. We welcome Wonga’s decision to withdraw its appeal.”

Wonga is among 50 lenders which have been given 12 weeks to clean up their act by the OFT following a year-long review of the payday loan industry.

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/0qVAFNejGbI/story01.htm


Link to video: Jeremy Forrest ‘grossly abused the trust placed in him’, say police

A teacher convicted of child abduction for escaping to France with a 15-year-old pupil has been jailed for five and a half years after also separately admitting five counts of sexual activity with a child.

Jeremy Forrest, 30, sparked an international police hunt after he and the teenager spent just over a week on the run in France last September when their relationship was discovered. He faced only the single charge of child abduction during his trial at Lewes crown court.

On Friday, the judge, Michael Lawson QC, jailed the married maths teacher for four and a half years for the counts of sexual activity with a child and one year for child abduction, to run consecutively. Forrest has spent nine months on remand.

The judge also imposed a sexual offences prevention order permanently banning Forrest from working or volunteering with children or having unsupervised contact with children.

Although the girl, who cannot be named, told the court that she and Forrest began having sex shortly after her 15th birthday, he was not initially charged with sex offences for legal reasons linked to his extradition from France, something which could not previously be reported.

Lawson told Forrest that his behaviour had been “motivated by self-interest and has hurt and damaged many people – her family, your family, staff and pupils at the school and respect for teachers everywhere”.

He added: “It has damaged you too but that was something you were prepared to risk. You now have to pay that price.”

The trial heard that Forrest had investigated on the internet the possible penalties for having sex with the girl. The judge told him: “It was your duty as a teacher to stop her infatuation, not to fuel it. Your research into what might happen to you if you were caught is proof of the deliberate nature of your behaviour.”

Forrest did not give a reaction to the sentence but nodded to his family, who have been in court throughout the trial, as he was taken down to the cells.

After the sentence Forrest’s family said he apologised for what had happened. His mother Julie, brother Tom and sister, Carrie – his father, Jim, collapsed outside the court on Thursday and is recovering – stood outside the court while the teacher’s solicitor, Henrietta Ronson, read a statement.

She said: “This is a sorry episode for all concerned and Jeremy is very sorry for his actions. Despite the verdict and today’s sentence, there are many factors in this case which need to be examined and addressed, including the failure to properly act on early warnings. We sincerely hope that these are sensibly looked into and not simply swept under the carpet.”

The jury took less than two hours to convict Forrest of abduction on Thursday. His former pupil, now 16, sat behind him, burying her head in her hands and weeping.

The teacher had mouthed “I love you” to the girl as he was brought up to the dock for the verdict.

The trial heard how Forrest began teaching maths to the girl when she was 13. She developed a crush on him, and an apparent turning point came during a school trip to Los Angeles in February 2012, when Forrest publicly comforted the girl, who was experiencing personal difficulties. They started exchanging Twitter messages in the spring, moving to texting for greater privacy as the content became ever more intimate.

During the school summer break, the court was told, with Forrest by then having been married for less than a year, they started having sex, meeting in hotels, in the grounds of a crematorium, or going for drives in his Ford Fiesta.

Jokey talk of running away together became suddenly serious when police seized the girl’s mobile phone after a tip-off that it contained intimate photos of Forrest. Panicked, they went to Paris and then Bordeaux. Forrest devised a false CV and started looking for bar work. They were caught after the owner of an English bar where Forrest asked about work recognised them from media coverage.

While the teenager has stood by Forrest, police and prosecutors argued she was a vulnerable child exploited by a narcissistic abuser.

Questions remain over whether more could have been done about a relationship that had been simmering for seven months before the pair fled and was, the court heard, the subject of widespread rumour around Bishop Bell school in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Headteacher Terry Boatwright defended the school, saying that until September last year there had only been “very limited anecdotal hearsay and no evidence of a relationship. However, even so, everything was investigated following appropriate safeguarding procedures.”

The Local Safeguarding Children Board in East Sussex has begun a serious case review into the actions of the school, local authority and police. It will investigate whether a wider pattern of poor pastoral care exists at a school that has faced three cases linked to child sex abuse within four years.

In 2009 a supply teacher from Bishop Bell was jailed for having sex with two teenage pupils. More recently, the school was widely criticised after failing to remove a retired priest as chair of governors for more than a year after claims of child sex abuse against him emerged.

There will also be questions for the police to answer. The court heard how the pair fled the day after officers and child protection officials seized her phone following a tip-off that it contained intimate photos of Forrest. None were found, and the teacher was not arrested before he escaped. However, they did exist – one showed the teacher wearing only a pair of boxer shorts – and were shown to the jury.

Forrest opted not to give evidence, instead relying on the girl’s testimony that the journey happened not just with her consent but at her specific instigation, and Forrest feared she might come to harm if she went alone.

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/rferWNkx-YI/story01.htm

After five years of a rolling disclosure programme, the contents of Britain’s “UFO files” are no longer a secret.

In total 209 files and approximately 52,000 pages of information on unidentified things in the sky, collected by the Ministry of Defence, have been made available to the public by the National Archives. But what have we learned from the mountain of paperwork that has slowly emerged into the public domain since the project began in May 2008?

Do these documents prove that we have been visited by creatures from outer space in flying saucers? And has that fact been covered up by the governments of the world?

And if the answer to those questions is an emphatic “no”, then why were they closed from public scrutiny for so long? Why is the government releasing them now? And how can anyone be sure they contain the truth?

It is worth pointing out this unique project involved the largest release of documents younger than 20 years in the MoD’s entire history. Their aim in opening them ahead of their normal release date was to achieve greater openness.

They believed this would help counter what they described as “the maze of rumour and frequently ill-informed speculation” that surrounded their involvement, both real and imagined, in the investigation of UFOs.

This commitment to openness has been appreciated by the public, as the statistics collated by staff at the National Archives proves. Since the first UFO document release, more than 4.7m pages have been viewed by more than 3 million visitors from more than 160 countries around the world.

Furthermore, the blanket media coverage of the 10 file releases brought news of the project to an estimated global audience of 25 million people.

In all, more than 3.9m documents have been downloaded, and one UFO policy file from 1997 – which contained formerly top secret documents – has been downloaded more than 250,000 times.

In my opinion, the success of this open government programme lies in the fact that, whatever you believe about UFOs and alien life, you can now see for yourself what constitutes the “evidence” and make up your own mind. This is freedom of information working to inform and educate the public.

The files contain details of about 6,000 separate observations reported to the British authorities since 1984. On average, between one and 200 sightings were logged by the “UFO desk” each year, but some years broke records. For instance, in 2009 until November, when the MoD closed their UFO hotline for good, 643 sightings were recorded.

Was this and similar spikes in numbers recorded in 1978 and 1996-97 the result of aliens stepping up their surveillance of earth? Or is it more likely that people’s awareness of the subject, raised by press stories and productions such as Close Encounters or The X-Files, made them more inclined to report their experiences officially?

If the latter is true, and I believe the evidence is overwhelming, then we have to accept that UFOs – whatever their ultimate origin may be – are a social and cultural phenomenon. In the absence of any convincing evidence for the existence of aliens, they are a mystery that has more to do with what we as humans want to believe about our place in the universe.

And if the contents of the files teach us anything, they demonstrate that in the vast majority of examples, UFOs turn out to be IFOs – identified flying objects.

Chinese lanterns and balloons, aircraft (both civilian and military), bright stars and planets, meteors, space junk, unusual weather and rare natural phenomena can explain more than 95% of sightings. And as for the remaining 5%, we should always remember that the “u” in “UFO” stands for “unidentified”, it’s not code for “alien spaceship”.

The sheer number of sightings raises the question of why, after 60 years, no solid, conclusive evidence has ever been produced that could be verified by scientists. Despite mass ownership of advanced digital cameras, not a single convincing photograph of a flying saucer or artefact of extra terrestrial origin has been produced.

Of course there are those who will continue to believe the government has concealed “the truth” in even more top secret files hidden elsewhere. But I think most rational people will accept that the truth about UFOs and the people who see them is actually here, in these files, and not somewhere in outer space.

As the MoD’s last UFO desk officer wrote in 2009, the public was “… starting to get a more accurate impression of our role in UFO matters [and] I sense that realisation is also starting to dawn amongst some ufologists that we do not have hordes of investigators scurrying around the countryside … and that our interest is really quite minimal.”

He added: “Naturally a section of ufologists will never be convinced of that, but frankly, whatever we say, they will choose to believe whatever they believe and we will never convince them otherwise.”

• This article originally appeared on the National Archives blog and is republished here with permission

Article source: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/~r/theguardian/uk/rss/~3/DeBUBidIbvI/story01.htm

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