Sunday, September 30, 2007

Banning Boyhood

Huck Finn must be spinning in his literary grave. Just recently a Colorado Springs, Co., elementary school banned tag during recess, joining other schools that have prohibited this childhood pastime. Upon hearing this, I thought about the movement to ban cops and robbers, musical chairs, steal the bacon, and the kill-joys' most frequent target and this writer's favorite childhood school game, dodge ball. Then there's the more inane still, such as the decision by the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association to prohibit keeping score in kids' tournament play.

There are many ways to describe this trend. One might say it's a result of the left's antipathy toward competition, the increasing litigiousness of the day, or the inordinate concern with self-esteem and hurt feelings. Then, if I am to speak only of my feelings, the word stupid comes to mind. Really, though, regardless of whether the motivations are good or ill or the reasoning sound or not, at the end of the day I find a conclusion inescapable. Slowly, incrementally, perversely, boyhood is being banned.

Make no mistake, the aforementioned examples are not isolated social accidents but part of a pattern. Recently I was talking to a friend who has two young sons, and he mentioned how he bought their toy machine-gun and revolver at a garage sale. He and his wife remarked about how it was the only way to find realistic-looking toy guns nowadays, the kind that were staples of Boydom when I was a lad. Oh, toy guns can still be seen -- that is, when they aren't prohibited by crime-ridden cities or crazy moms -- but they don't resemble anything John Wayne would have wielded. Often misshapen, more and more they come only in colors that, well, men aren't known for being acquainted with, ones that some would describe as "girly."

Getting back to the People's Republic of Massachusetts' soccer league, it was so concerned about the poor little eggs' feelings that it also decided no one should get trophies. This isn't unusual, as the practice of awarding trophies to all or none is now often adopted, lest a tear run down a cherubic face. Moreover, frowning upon competition - which boys thrive on --isn't limited to frivolous pursuits, as schools increasingly dispense with merit-based academic models in favor of schemes such as "Outcome Based Education" (it's nothing like what it sounds).

No doubt some will chide me for casting these preferences as being characteristically male. Sure, not every boy craves competition any more than every girl eschews it, but the sexes are different. Boys love games, sports and locking horns; they love hierarchies and high-fives; they love guns, soldiers and shoot-`em-up games. Namely, they love things that are slowly being taken away from them or curtailed.

As I indicated earlier, there are many reasons why we've departed from sanity. The threat of litigation is real, and this article cites the case of seven-year-old Heather Lindaman, whose parents are suing their school because she broke her elbow while playing a variation of dodge ball. The opponents of such games use cases like Lindaman's to buttress the assertion that they are too dangerous for children. I'll only say that this is hogwash -- as all activities entail risk -- because it's irrelevant to my main point. Regardless of why these prohibitions are instituted, the end result is the same: Boys' passions are being exiled. Dangerous? You may as well just say that boyhood is dangerous.

Of course, we could do what one school that banned dodge ball did: Switch to yogic exercises. Wow! And liberals say that conservatives are no fun? Why is it that the most childish understand childhood the least?

While leftists may be childish, they conjure up pseudo-intellectual reasons for their social engineering like seasoned psycho-babblers. Tag leads to "conflict on the playground" and some students being chased "against their will," said Cindy Fesgen, assistant principal of the Discovery Canyon Campus in Colorado Springs (my particular discovery is that the school is run by lunkheads). Dodge ball is emotionally damaging to less athletic children; it "hurts their self-esteem," is how it's usually put. David Limbaugh wrote about this attitude:
Diane Farr, a curriculum specialist in Austin, Texas, explained that her school district implemented the [dodge ball] ban to satisfy a panel of professors, students and parents who wanted to `preserve the rights and dignity' of all students in the district. So dodge ball is a dignity thief? Of course, claims Farr. `What we have seen is that it does not make students feel good about themselves.' There's more. According to one anti-dodge ball crusader, `at its base, the game encourages the strong to victimize the weak. ... Schools preach the values of harmony, community and cooperation. But then those same schools let the big kids loose to see if they can hit the skinny nerd in the head with a hard, red rubber ball.'
Call me crazy, but the people who disgorge these notions just must have been skinny nerds in school. That is, the variety without the brains or ambition to be Bill Gates. Limbaugh continues,
"Educators also fear that dodge ball is not only violent, but that it and other games convey `a message of violence.' `With Columbine and all the violence that we are having, we have to be careful with how we teach our children,' says Farr."
We certainly do, and that's why we should keep them far from Farr and her ilk. These crackpots are just a few degraded brain cells away from saying (about football) that "violent ground acquisition games are a neo-fascist metaphor for war." Just as outrageous as these prohibitions is the persecution of hapless lads who run afoul of them. Limbaugh wrote of this as well:
The Washington Times recently detailed a litany of examples, including: a threatened suspension in California of a 9-year-old for playing cops and robbers, two New York 2nd-graders suspended and criminally charged with making terrorist threats for pointing paper guns and saying, `I'm going to kill you,' and a 9-year-old New Jersey boy suspended and ordered to undergo psychological evaluation because he told another student that he planned to shoot a classmate with spitballs.
Could it be any clearer? They are diagnosing normal boyhood behavior as a psychological problem. After all, even if little boys don't have toy guns, how many won't point a stick or their finger at you and say "Bang, bang, you're dead!"? It's also interesting to note that the very same people who will lecture us for not subscribing to the notion that homosexual behavior is innate and healthy will swear that this normal boyish behavior is learned and destructive.

Then there is that which is truly destructive. It's something dark, a motivation that lurks in the hearts of many who advocate this insanity. To wit: There is an increasingly common antipathy for all things male, especially in academia. This attitude was highlighted by Christina Hoff Summers in her book The War Against Boys. Summers cites feminists such as Carol Gilligan, who believes that we should, as Summers puts it, "... civilize boys by diminishing their masculinity," and Gloria Steinem, who counsels us to "Raise boys like we raise girls." And in this category I would also put certain men such as Harvard psychologist William Pollock, who wrote the book Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. Really, our children do need to be rescued from myths, but they're not of boyhood.

We should also realize that education has increasingly become a feminine domain. While in 1982 there were 1.4 female teachers for every male, now the figure is 2.1. This is not to imply that the fairer sex can't have a sound teaching philosophy, but the fact is that far too many young women today are in the grip of feminist dogma. Moreover, the type of women who become teachers is also an issue; for instance, let us consider graduates with degrees in Women's Studies. Such people are mostly women, and since there aren't many careers available to those with such illustrious qualifications, many of these ideologues decide to teach.

And the problem with such individuals is that -- just as an Afrocentrist views matters through the prism of race and a Jihadist through that of believers versus infidels -- they tend to see everything as a battle of the sexes. In their minds, the ever-present "patriarchy" will only be vanquished and women liberated (of course, they will never see this as having been achieved) once boys are sufficiently reprogrammed. Masculine traits that may enable boys to be dominant must be quashed, because otherwise they may dominate women. These are people like Swedish politician Gudrun Schyman, who said that Swedish men were like the Taliban. The truth is that the women in question are the Femiban.

Many will protest, of course, insisting that anti-male bias doesn't rule their minds. And perhaps it doesn't in some cases. But their hearts are a different matter, complex and containing biases that aren't always so conscious; rather, it may be more a matter of visceral dislike, a feeling. The liberals in question see masculine symbols and behavior and feel an aversion, in much the same way a person with a fear of heights may get a queasy feeling upon seeing airplanes or tall buildings. So, unwilling to confront their prejudices, they manufacture excuses. Dodge ball is dangerous, cops and robbers is violent, musical chairs is exclusive, tag terrorizes. If only they would be intellectually honest and reveal their true feelings: Boys are bad.

Perhaps this is why these social engineers will see a bevy of boisterous boys and want to douse their masculinity with Ritalin.


Delhi shows how to get tough with Islamist terrorists

I am less optimistic about the generalizability of the Indian experience than is the author below but he has some interesting points

IT is a wonderful thing to be in a big, raucous Asian city, to hear the loud, insistent crackling of unexpected, multiple explosions at night, and to know for sure that it is the exuberance of celebration, not the malevolence of terrorism, that has caused the racket. Such was New Delhi this week, after India won the nail-biting final of the Twenty20 cricket tournament against Pakistan.

The struggle for the soul of Indian Islam may be expressed at one level as a struggle between cricket and the caliphate. Cricket is the symbol of the good India. It is inclusive, non-sectarian, modern yet traditional, capable of change yet preserving its core identity, loved by rich and poor across the length and breadth of the nation. The Indian cricket team contains Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, mainly lower middle-class boys who cultivate film star looks as much as possible, and is dedicatedly non-sectarian.

Yet there is undoubtedly a struggle for the soul of Indian Islam. India is the second largest Muslim nation, after Indonesia, yet the fate of global Islam is always seen as primarily an Arab question.

But here are two notable paradoxes. Indonesia, with more Muslims than any other nation, is arguably the most successful country in combating Islamist terror. And India, with more than 150 million Muslims, has produced fewer international terrorists than almost any other substantial concentration of Muslims.

There are numbers of terrorist incidents inside India, many of them sponsored by Pakistan, but until recently not a single Indian Muslim had turned up in the ranks of international terrorism. None has been incarcerated in Guantanamo. None was discovered in Afghanistan or Iraq. This record was broken by the recent attack on Glasgow airport, which involved Indians. Still, Islam in India is a remarkable success story, notwithstanding a history of some communal conflict.

After a week talking to New Delhi's finest analysts on the subject, there are some contradictory trends at work. But there are some powerful automatic stabilisers. The Muslim identity in India is deeply attached to the secular state because the secular state has guaranteed the rights of minorities. If you are an Indian Muslim and you argue for religious rule you are really arguing for Hindu rule. Muslims in a minority often find themselves embracing secularism.

Moreover, Indian Muslims, with one or two minor regional exceptions, have avoided forming a specific Muslim political party. To do so would be to run the risk of uniting Hindus against them. Instead, in an act of historic wisdom, they force the other parties to bid for their support. They make calculated alliances with other minorities and with low-caste Hindu groups.

The one time there was a powerful Muslim League in India it led to the horrific slaughter and tragedy of partition, and the emergence of the basically unsuccessful state of Pakistan. No sane Muslim really wants to repeat that experience. Most important of all, of course, is the sense that as a democracy the Indian state can address the problems and reasonable aspirations of Muslims.

India is full of intelligence, expertise and important lessons in inter-communal affairs and especially in counterinsurgency. One of the most fascinating cases of all is the Sikh insurgency, which ran in the Punjab until the mid-1990s. Sikhism is one of the world's great religions, with tens of millions of adherents. It is a monotheistic, natural law sort of religion, founded a half millennium ago in northern India, specifically in the Punjab. Sikhs have a great military tradition and a proud bearing, and served in the British and Indian armies with great distinction.

In history there had been Sikh kingdoms and through the '70s to the early '90s a tough independence campaign was waged by various Sikh insurgent groups in the Punjab. But in one of the most successful counterinsurgency campaigns ever, legendary Sikh policeman K.P.S. Gill brought the insurgency to a more or less complete end. Punjab today is safe and sound, and has one of the highest per capita incomes in India. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh.

How did this happen? This week I met one of India's foremost experts on extremism, Praveen Swami, the associate editor of Frontline magazine. He believes there are enduring lessons from the Punjab experience that should be applied to other counterinsurgent campaigns. Of course, one aspect of Gill's reign was that he was very tough on the bad guys and there were apparently excesses committed. But Swami identifies three positive elements of strategy that should be widely emulated.

"First, it was treated as primarily a police matter," Swami says. "The army was relegated to a secondary role, where it was necessary to use large numbers of troops to form a cordon or some such. The police tend to be so enmeshed with their local communities that they can respond subtly and effectively."

This is critical also in intelligence gathering. The police live among the community. There are countless reasons, from document certification to reporting a stolen car, that people go into police stations. It is much easier for an alert police force to gain critical local information and to gain it from a much wider range of sources than merely paid informers.

Second, Swami says, Gill was a master of psychological operations. The terrorists would boast that they owned the night, that the Indian state functioned during the day but could not work at night. So on one occasion Gill brought a Bollywood star to perform for the public at night. Even terrorism cannot defeat the power of Bollywood. On other occasions Gill ran a program called Operation Night Dominance. It involved people whizzing about town in armoured vehicles and helicopters buzzing overhead.

Swami says he, like most journalists at the time, regarded the operation as a complete flop as it did not result in the capture of a single terrorist. But in fact, as he found later from interviewing ex-terrorists, it greatly confused and constrained the terrorists. It stopped them from moving about at night, which made them much more prone to capture during the day, as they had not been able to change their location overnight.

Lesson No3, says Swami, was to get an effective political process going. This involved holding credible local elections, which gave the national Indian state a local administration to deal with and compromise with. To make this effective it was necessary to protect the lives of local political leaders so that the terrorists could not kill off an emerging local leadership. Eventually the population came overwhelmingly to trust its elected local political leaders much more than communal figures who supported any sort of violent path.

Instead of a lingering slow torture of sporadic violence, the Sikh terrorist movement is at an end and Sikhs are back rightfully in their place at the heart of Indian life.

On every issue facing the globe today, India is an important player. Its experience with its vast minorities, Muslims and others, is a telling case in point.


Empty-headed Australia-bashing from Leftists

It is so often asserted as a truism: Australians have become more selfish, narrower, more materialistic. In February we had the great pleasure of having an Englishman, Oliver James, visit to diagnose the Australian malady for us as "selfish capitalism".

While in Sydney visit to promote his book, Affluenza, he dropped into Bondi and instantly distilled the vibe for us: "This kind of 'f--- you, we're rich' type thing." Now we have Hugh Mackay's book, Advance Australia Where? The veteran social researcher tells us of the findings of his focus groups: "Australians typically offer three explanations for the belief that our society is 'degenerating': a lack of connectedness (People won't even look you in the eye in the big cities); a surrender to materialism (I actually think we have too much, it makes you want more); unbridled selfishness (It's all me, me, me)."

This idea becomes politically potent when blame is attributed. Some explicitly hold the Howard Government responsible. After the 2004 election, Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute wrote that "the relentless promotion of self-interest and the rejection of the politics of social progress is no more than we should expect from the Liberal Party".

I have long been troubled by the idea that the Australian people have become so selfish. I have also been struck that all of these claims are impressionistic or anecdotal or ideological, unsupported by empirical evidence. This puts them on the level of assertion, not fact. So let's test the claim. On the level of anecdote, you can always find evidence of anything you seek. But there are always contrary anecdotes. The real question is this: What does the systemic evidence tell us? Consider two measures. One is the level of charitable giving. The other is the level of volunteering in the community. If the country has become more selfish, surely one or both of these indicators will show a decline.

The most comprehensive survey of overall Australian giving found that, from 1997 to the end of 2004, individuals increased their total donations to non-profit organisations by 88 per cent, or an annual average increase of 12.5 per cent. Giving for victims of the Asian tsunami is explicitly excluded - no one can claim that any extraordinary one-offs somehow distorted the picture. Want to take out the effects of inflation? After adjusting for inflation, growth was 58 per cent, an annual average of 8.3 per cent. Note that this does not just represent a passive "ride" on a growing economy or rising incomes. The growth in individual giving was more than twice the speed of GDP growth and more than double the rate of the average increase in personal incomes.

The annual cash value was $7.7 billion in 2004. Is this unrepresentative, though? Eighty-seven per cent of adult Australians, a total of 13.4 million people, donated, according to the report, Giving Australia, which was co-ordinated by the Australian Council of Social Service and initiated by the Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership. If you're wondering about averages, the survey deducts $2 billion generated by charity events, and then figures out an average donation of $424 per adult per year. Incidentally, the numbers don't support the common assertion that Melburnians (average donation $485) are more generous than Sydneysiders ($524).

Companies gave a further $3.3 billion, contributed by 525,000 firms, which represents 67 per cent of all businesses in the country. The survey was unable, for methodological reasons, to measure the overall change in total business giving, but it did report that the proportion of businesses donating money - as distinct from goods or services - grew from 40 per cent to 58 per cent.

The increased generosity of Australian giving has implications at all levels. Last month, rich Australians gave donations worth $15 million to three competing art galleries, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Gallery of Australia. At the less glamorous end of the spectrum, Father Chris Riley's Youth Off the Streets charity is able to increase the scope of the services it offers. This year, it is expanding to Griffith and Walgett, and will need an extra $600,000. "We are going to be able to fund it through donations - we have never gone into overdraft," says Father Riley, whose organisation this year has budgeted for total outlays of $15.5 million. "Our fundraising with everyday people is rising all the time. Our greatest supporters are ordinary people, parents and grandparents and pensioners who send $5 cheques, rather than the big end of town. Our results in June with the 50,000 people on our mailing list was particularly good."

Australian gifts to good causes overseas have surged even more conspicuously than gifts at home. Figures collated by the umbrella group for non-government organisations which specialise in foreign aid, the Australian Council for International Development, show that private Australian giving abroad has risen at an annual average of 13 per cent from from $391 million in 2002 to $690 million in 2006. That's an annual average increase of 19 per cent, or 16 per cent after inflation. This is private giving only, nothing to do with government aid. (The trend of rising private generosity abroad has survived the tsunami. Last year's $690 million is far greater, by 35 per cent, than the $509 million for pre-tsunami 2004.) World Vision's Tim Costello sums it up: "Fundraising has been fantastic." He dates the surge to the terrorist attacks of September 2001: "I think Australians have redefined home. They know you can't be secure at home by pulling up the drawbridge. You can't win a war on terror without winning the war on poverty."

This ranks Australians as the second-most generous people, behind the Irish, in the developed world, according to the OECD measure of donations abroad as a proportion of the national economy.

And volunteering? There are two measures. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of people donating time to a non-profit organisation has grown from 24 per cent in 1995 to 41 per cent in 2005. The average number of hours donated had, however, fallen, from 160 per volunteer to 132. The second measure is a survey by Volunteering Australia, the peak body for the sector, which finds the same trend, with different specifics: the proportion of Australians volunteering time has grown from 24 per cent in 1996 to 34 per cent last year. The overall picture in volunteering "is one of growth", says its chief executive, Julie Pollard.

So an outfit like the NSW Cancer Council, which has 3000 volunteers, reports that it is has multiple applicants for each volunteer position it offers: "It's definitely increased over time; it's becoming a huge thing here," says a volunteer program co-ordinator, Nadine Constantini.

Far from being selfish, the hard evidence is that Australians are not only a generous people, but becoming more so. If there is no intensification of selfishness, it's hard to fit up the Howard Government, or anyone else, for the blame. There is no such phenomenon. The entire construct is a mirage, a furphy, a chimera. Messrs James, Mackay and Hamilton, begone. Australians are an increasingly generous people, and entitled to be acknowledged for it.


The N-word in Australia

If elected to office, Labor is committed to set up scores of inquiries and commissions into this or that. In view of such bureaucratic largesse, there must be room for at least one more such initiative - along the lines of an inquiry/commission into the use or misuse of historical parallels in the domestic political debate. This might be established by Labor's deputy leader Julia Gillard, who has committed a government headed by Kevin Rudd to establish a commission for social inclusion. As for the title for such an entity - how about the commission for historical exclusion?

In Parliament last Thursday, Gillard made the point that to compare someone to a Nazi is "one of the most repulsive allegations you can make against another human being". Quite so. She was referring to the clumsy attempt recently by the Coalition staffer Dr Peter Phelps to allege that Labor's candidate for Eden-Monaro, Colonel Mike Kelly, was attempting to use the Nuremberg defence to justify his past involvement with the Australian Defence Force in Iraq.

Phelps was trying to argue that Kelly now regards the invasion of Iraq as improper but that he willingly served with the Australian Defence Force in Iraq. A reasonable debating point - until Phelps went over the top by alleging that Kelly was acting "like the guards at Belsen, perhaps". The historical reference was to the fact that many Nazis, who took part in the murder of Jews and gypsies at Belsen and elsewhere, later pleaded that they were only obeying orders. This line of defence was not accepted by the war crimes tribunals which were held at Nuremberg, following the end of the Second World War.

Phelps's essential error was to attempt to equate service with the Defence Force in democratic Australia with the actions of those who implemented the genocidal policies of Adolf Hitler's Nazi totalitarian regime between 1933 and 1945. Following the intervention of the Prime Minister's Office, Phelps formally apologised to Kelly for his "clearly inappropriate" reference.

Phelps is not the first Coalition supporter to use the Nazi label when criticising political opponents. For example, some years ago senator Amanda Vanstone accused the Labor prime minister Paul Keating of behaving like the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels. However, this tactic is much more common on the left side of the Australian political debate. Consequently, it is something that Gillard might see fit to resolve if she becomes deputy prime minister.

It will be quite a task. The fact is that large sections of the Australian left like to link their political opponents with Hitler's Nazi regime or Mussolini's Italian fascist regime. Now that the left has got over its one-time love affair with Bolshevism, some leftists also like to invoke the communism/Stalinism comparison as a term of abuse.

Writing in The Sunday Age on April 1 this year, Robert Richter, QC, went for the double. He claimed that the United States military commission which tried David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay could be compared to "Stalin's as well as the German show trials of the 1930s". In other words, the US military justice system - which was supported by the Howard Government - is a bit like the show trials that prevailed under communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes during the dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler respectively. Julian Burnside, QC, is another Melbourne barrister who has raised the spectre of Hitler's Germany when criticising the Howard Government.

If Phelps qualifies for some Gillard-style counselling, then so do Richter and Burnside. And so should the Victorian Greens which recently compared the ALP to "hardened SS troops". And so should NSW magistrate Pat O'Shane who last June criticised Rudd for supporting Howard's (alleged) "jackboot" policies concerning Aborigines in the Northern Territory. The term "jackboot" invariably equates with Nazism.

Then there are the journalists. In the current issue of Quarterly Essay, Peter Shergold (the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) comments on his reaction when reading a Mike Carlton column that equated his views on the proper role of the Commonwealth Public Service with the position of "Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot". For good measure, Carlton threw in a reference to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Little wonder that Shergold maintains that such attempt at humour "is more offensive than incisive". Then there is the case of the journalist Mungo McCallum who claimed in November 2005 that, in a literal sense, the Howard Government is taking Australia on "the road to fascism". In April 2006, on this page, Alan Ramsey wrote seriously of contemporary Australia's "parallels with Hitler's Germany". And so on.

Within Australian universities there is a prevailing attitude in many a humanities department that Australia was in a pre-fascist condition in the early 1930s and on the eve of the civil war. The historian Andrew Moore has gone so far as to allege that in the 1950s, when Robert Menzies was prime minister, "it is not so very far from the truth" to suggest that the Lodge in Canberra was "Australian fascism's headquarters". Moore's approach to history was recently supported by the editorial writer in the leftist-inclined Canberra Times.

The linking of democratic Australia - under conservative or social democratic governments - with fascism or Nazism or communism not only indicates a superficial understanding of this nation. Perhaps more seriously, it demonstrates an appalling ignorance of the real totalitarian thing under Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin. Gillard's critique of Phelps is to be welcomed. However, she should not forget her own comrades who share Phelps's historical confusion - albeit from a different ideological perspective.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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