Sunday, April 30, 2006


Illegal to criticize the Prime Minister??

A Tory activist who wore a jacket with an offensive slogan about Tony Blair was told to take it off or face arrest. Julia Gobert had been handing out fliers at Earl's Court Tube station, west London, on Tuesday morning, when she was approached by two officers. She was told to remove it or face questioning after a complaint was made, said Tory councillor Barry Phelps.

Labour said it was in bad taste, Greens applauded the sentiment, not the words, and the Lib Dems have yet to comment. Councillor Phelps, who was with Ms Gobert that morning, told the BBC News website: "One Labour gentleman complained to the station staff and so two British Transport Police came along and were clearly embarrassed. "They said a member of the public complained and unless she desisted she will have to be taken in for questioning. "I said to the officer: 'We are not in the business of making life difficult for you - Miss Gobert will take the top off'. "It's not what I would have chosen to wear but there is no doubt that it captured the public mood."

A British Transport Police spokesman said: "People are of course free to wear what they like, but if a police officer receives a complaint about offensive language, they are bound to act upon the complaint." The Public Order Act 1986 prevents the display of words or signs that could cause offence.



Nothing could be easier than easement. You just sit there, flicking through The Sun, checking that the bathroom door is locked and waiting for nature to do its business. Nanny society though we are, the mature adult does not expect to be told how to eat or to breathe. Up in Dundee, however, the local NHS trust has issued an instruction book on how to do the other thing that all species do; in our case, usually once a day.

Potty training is a near-universal experience of early childhood in civilised societies. That NHS Tayside feels obliged to issue a four-page leaflet entitled Good Defecation Dynamics, complete with a diagram, suggests there may be a gaping cultural black hole in a well-populated part of eastern Scotland. Still, let us not fall into the trap of typical Edinburgh nose-in-the-air superiority; we are always ready to learn, from the bottom up. The advice is sound; while sitting on the throne, it counsels, don’t forget to breathe. And, in a hint rarely taught to two-year-olds, it is apparently a good idea to keep your mouth open.

No reason is given for this; perhaps it is to guard against a potentially damaging build-up of pressure that might blow off one or other end of the digestive tract. No recent cases of any such accident have been reported in Tayside, possibly because the population reaches for the prunes before matters reach such a head. But what matters most is posture: not quite balancing a book on your head, as though you were at modelling school, but at least sitting upright. “Do not slump down but keep the normal curve in your back. Keep your mouth open as you bulge and widen,” the booklet says. “You should aim to do this every time you open your bowels.”

Have you ever, while sitting there in silent contemplation, thought about your feet? No, we thought not, but NHS Tayside has. “When you sit on the toilet make sure your feet are well supported; you may need to use a small footstool.” This cannot apply to the young, whose next stage after the potty is to sit on the real thing with little legs swinging in the air while a yellow labrador puppy steals the toilet roll.

Even though they probably don’t know the meaning of “defecation” in Dundee, preferring a more Anglo-Saxon term pronounced in the Scottish way to rhyme with “bright”, the leaflet has been distributed to clinics and GPs’ surgeries in the region. A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside turned the other cheek to accusations that the leaflet was a waste of money and would be better employed hanging on a nail behind the bathroom door. “One in three people suffers from bowel and bladder dysfunction, and this can be extremely debilitating and distressing for individuals,” she said. “These patient information leaflets contain advice for those people who suffer from this condition, and are based on national guidance from the Association for Continence Advice.” The cost of producing the leaflet, she added, had been minimal.

By the strange vagaries of the internet, the text of the leaflet has appeared on a website in Poland, a country of fine peasant customs that should have no need of such advice and where they would instantly dump it


Australian Catholics prepare for fight on homosexual adoption

A law banning gay and lesbian couples from adopting children will be reviewed by an inquiry into NSW adoption legislation. The Minister for Community Services, Reba Meagher, said individual homosexuals could adopt under current laws but the review would consider proposals to remove a ban on same-sex couples. In the past five years similar bans have been overturned in Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. "This is an area of government policy that generates emotion on both sides of the debate," she said. "The review process is a fair way to canvass those views and look at the issue in a systematic way." Ms Meagher said she did not want to pre-empt the review's findings by expressing her opinion on same-sex adoptions.

The Catholic Church is likely to staunchly resist any attempt to endorse gay adoption. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, told the Herald this week that children had a right to a "mother and father". Dr Pell said the church would present the review with "sociological findings" on children who grew up in marriages, de facto heterosexual relationships and same-sex partnerships. He said there was "significant evidence about the benefits of marriage" over same-sex partnerships. Dr Pell said he could "never anticipate" the church's welfare and adoption agency, Centacare, working to place children with same-sex couples.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, also opposes adoptions by same-sex couples. The NSW Government overhauled adoption laws in 2000 but rejected a recommendation by the NSW Law Reform Commission to extend adoption rights to gay couples. The resulting Adoption Act 2000 requires the minister to report to Parliament within six years on whether the law fulfils its aim of serving the best interests of children. The Department of Community Services is conducting the review and will report to Ms Meagher by November. "We want to place as many vulnerable children as possible into homes that are loving and stable," Ms Meagher said. "That is why our policy does not preclude unmarried people in same-sex relationships from adopting if they are able to care for a child and provide a safe, secure and loving environment."

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby is preparing a submission to the inquiry, saying current laws cause uncertainty for families with same-sex parents and prevent homosexual step-parents from making legal decisions about their children's medical condition or inheritance. "The act needs to be modernised and reflect the fact that gays and lesbians are parents and there is no difference between our families and other families in society," said a spokesman, David Scamell.



A barmy building society has stopped using Lego to keep customers’ children amused — because it says the toy is a health hazard. Bosses at The Saffron Walden, Herts & Essex Building Society told all 13 branches to remove the building bricks. One shocked mum who uses a branch at Ware, Herts, said: “My son always plays with the Lego and went straight for where the toys usually are — but they had been cleared away. “A cashier said they got rid of them all because of health and safety regulations. “I was incensed. The world has gone crackers. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing.” A building society source said: “They’re worried about somebody tripping over a piece of Lego. It’s just risk assessment gone mad.” The society agreed the Lego had been removed for “health and safety”.


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