Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Passport photograph of girl's bare shoulders rejected 'as it may offend'

But British officialdom is now backpedalling

A five-year-old girl's passport application was rejected because her photograph showed her bare shoulders. Hannah Edwards's mother, Jane, was told that the exposed skin might be considered offensive in a Muslim country. The photograph was taken at a photo-booth at a local post office for a family trip to the south of France. Because of the way the camera was set up, the picture came out showing Hannah's shoulders.

The family had it signed and presented it at a post office with the completed form but were told that it would not be accepted by the Passport Office. A woman behind the counter informed them that she was aware of at least two other cases where applications had been rejected because a person's shoulders were not covered.

Mrs Edwards, a Sheffield GP, said: "I was incensed. I went back home and checked the form. Nowhere did it say anything about covering up shoulders. If it had, I would have done so, but it all seems so unnecessary. "This is quite ridiculous, I followed the instructions on the passport form to the letter and it was still rejected. It is just officialdom pandering to political correctness. "It is a total over-reaction. How can the shoulders of a five-year-old girl offend anyone? It's not as if anything else was showing, the dress she wore was sleeveless, but it has a high neck."

Hannah had her first passport when she was three months old. Her mother and her father, Martin, realised that it was due to expire during their holiday later this month and decided to renew it advance. They aimed to complete the application on Saturday, the same day that Hannah was to be Sheffield Wednesday football team's mascot at Hillsborough stadium. Mrs Edwards was also on call from her surgery. After the rejection at the post office, Mrs Edwards spent two hours taking Hannah for new pictures, filling in a new form and finding the necessary "responsible citizens" to endorse the photos. "The people who had signed the original application were not available," Mrs Edwards said. "I had to chase around and eventually found a neighbour who was a teacher to sign the pictures. "The Passport Office should set this sort of thing out in its forms if it is going to be so pedantic."

A spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service said it was not its policy to reject applications with bare shoulders. "The guidance set out on the application form doesn't include it, this picture should have been absolutely fine," she said. "If people follow those rules there should be no problem. "The Post Office obviously has its rules and we can't comment on that. We are aware of a case in the past where an error was made involving similar circumstances, although I don't know the exact details. Staff should be aware of the rules."

A Post Office spokesman said: "Our offices have a Passport Office template which says what the photograph should and shouldn't be. "Bare shoulders don't come into that at all. We can't see any instruction to that effect so all we can do is apologise to Mrs Edwards. It was clearly a mistake made by the clerk at the post office. "It is the first time we have heard of such a rejection and we will take it up with that particular office. "We do around three million passport applications a year. It is one of our most popular services and it is normally extremely effective. "We have a much lower rejection rate compared to applications submitted directly to the Passport Office."



Christians sure get plenty of it. Why not Muslims?

The truth is that it is now too dangerous for religion to be given the special status it has always had. When large numbers of people, some of them living among us, want to kill us and our innocent children (surely "innocent children" is a tautology) for no other reason than that we do not believe in their God, we can no longer afford to tiptoe around religious sensitivities. It is time to get rid of the taboo that says religious beliefs have to be quarantined from criticism. It is time to hold some religious beliefs up to ridicule.

God may or may not exist; I don't presume to know. But I am fairly certain that a god does not exist who wants everyone killed who does not believe in a certain book; or a god who takes an obsessive interest in what women wear; or a god who cares about whether we eat pork rather than lamb (though if I were god I'd be pretty annoyed at human beings eating any other animals); or a god who wants little bits of babies' genitals cut off.

The holy books on which Jews, Christians and Muslims rely were written at a time when ideas about human rights and the scope of scientific knowledge were very different from today. We are expected to respect religious texts that contain invitations to genocide, rape and slavery. We are supposed to respect all religions when the central tenet of every religion is that its holy book is the right one and all others are in error or at best incomplete. Unbelievers are those who declare, "God is the Messiah, the son of Mary," says the Koran. "Believers, do not make friends with any but your own people." We are supposed to respect beliefs that if they were held by one person, rather than millions of people, the person holding them would be judged insane. Catholics are enjoined to believe that during the mass a piece of wafer is transformed not into a symbol of the body of Christ, but into the actual body of Christ.

Millions of people also once believed that witches cause crops to fail, or that thunder is the noise made by the gods fighting. They stopped believing in such things either because scientific knowledge proved them wrong, or because they discovered that sensible and reasonable people found the beliefs ridiculous.

In Victoria, politicians are tying themselves in knots over whether to support or reject the state's racial and religious tolerance laws. Once I would have written in support of these laws; but as we have been reminded yet again in recent days, the world has changed. Millions of kindly Christians may be able to ignore the nasty bits in their holy books but, though most Muslims are not extremists, too many are unable to ignore what's in theirs.

Yes, let's have laws against racial vilification, because people don't have a choice about their race and in any case racial slurs are based on assumptions that are unfair and scientifically wrong. But unless we accept there is no such thing as free will, religious belief is a matter of choice.

As the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved, it is no more moral to believe than not to believe. The best hope for a less religious and thus safer world is for religion - all religion - to be open to rational and stringent examination and criticism, and yes, to ridicule. Newspapers would be doing the world a favour if, as the "thought for the day", instead of printing the nice passages out of the holy books, they printed the most absurd and abhorrent texts, so that they can be seen as the dangerous nonsense they are.

Don't blame the unbelievers for the end of tolerance. Blame the religious ideology that persuades young men that by strapping explosives to their bodies and killing as many infidels as possible, they are assured of glory in paradise, surrounded by dark-eyed virgins. That's where the wickedness lies.


Missing Men Give Lie To Fatuous Careerism

By Denise Noe

When I was growing up, there were a pair of female radio talk show hosts named Miki and Teddi who were liberals and doctrinaire feminists. One of them stated their opinions about women and the work force: "We think every woman should have a career just as every man should have a career." They also believed that financially depending on someone else, like a husband, was "absolutely degrading."

Part of the problem with this formulation is that every man does NOT have a "career." Many men have JOBS. They work as store clerks, factory laborers, garbage collectors, telemarketers, coal miners, janitors, waiters, and the like. Some of them experience their work as sheer drudgery.

There was a strong tendency in the early days of the 1970s feminist movement to glorify paid work and downgrade housewifery. To be fair, Gloria Steinem called being a housewife "a dignified and important job." However, the attitude espoused by talk show hosts Miki and Teddi was often prominent.

Arianna Huffington pointed out that the tendency to glamorize careers came from what she called women's liberationists' "lop-sided view of the world" because of the work many of them did. They were often academics, journalists, and artists. Their work was creative and intellectually stimulating - which could not be said for much of the work done by both women and men. As Huffington wryly noted, "There's nothing glamorous about being a file clerk, even at Ms. magazine."

Women often work at jobs that are tedious and dispiriting; men often work at jobs that are tedious, dispiriting, and physically dangerous. What's more, SOME men don't even have jobs! The labor market can be brutal, firing employees as well as downsizing and laying them off. Some men are unable to get and keep jobs due to personality and physical problems. Some men get burned so badly by the precariousness of the labor market that they become wary of it.

More men are falling into this latter category. Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt wrote an article called "Men Not Working, And Not Wanting Just Any Job" focusing on men who are neither working for pay nor actively seeking employment. According to their piece, "About 13 percent of American men" in the 30-55 year old age group are not working or looking for work, "up from 5 percent in the late 1960s."

Rarely are they men who simply decided work was hard and chucked it. They are also unlikely to be drawn from the ranks of academics, journalists, and artists. Often they are blue-collar workers who put in many solid years of working only to find the rug pulled out from under them when their companies downsized. Some were white-collar workers who also found themselves downsized out of a paycheck.

They may be stuck with bitter memories of labor market uncertainty. Alan Beggerow was, "Laid off as a steelworker at 48," then briefly taught math at a community college. When that stint ended, he could not find a job he considered appropriate. He will not accept any job because of bad experiences when he worked in a warehouse. He was frustrated and humiliated by "the frequent furloughs, the uncertainty whether he would be recalled, the mandatory overtime and 50-hour weeks often imposed when he did return."

Like most men missing from the labor market, Beggerow has not become a househusband although unlike most, he is married. Roughly 60% of men out of the labor market are not wed, possibly because few women wish to support men. While Miki and Teddi thought it "absolutely degrading" to depend financially on a spouse, the truth is that this is a special privilege and still largely a women's privilege.

Beggerow sleeps more than he used to, about nine hours or more, and spends much of his time reading biographies, practicing his piano, and writing. He hopes that the latter may pay off someday and an obliging publisher bring him back into the paid labor market. In the meantime, he and his wife scrape by on his wife's disability (she was injured in a car crash), his pension money, and their savings.

It is not a good life and those who say that Beggerow and others like him ought to just take any job they can get may have a point. However, today's men missing from the labor market give the lie to the false promises of careerism. Paid work by people of either sex is often anything but fulfilling and may be frustratingly insecure.


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