If you are a frizzy-headed, saggily breasted, left-threaded lunatic, Christmas is not a time for giving or receiving. It's not quality time for the family. Nor is it a time to worship the baby Jesus, because of course that's not multicultural or Winterval enough.
Christmas for these people is mostly a time of industrial-strength guilt. All year they feel guilty for being paid and comfortable but at Christmas they can really turn up the heat in the sauna of shame. They are guilty about the carbon vapour trail left by their cranberry sauce as it came over from America. They are guilty about the sheer volume of presents they bought for Tarquin. They are guilty about having central heating and a well-toned tummy, and teeth.
And so, to assuage the guilt, many have been buying charity Christmas presents for random families in Africa. All you do is make a donation to Oxfam and it will send a gift down the chimney of some mud hut in Mozambique. You may think this is all jolly noble, and I'd have to agree if the presents were iPods or Manchester United football shirts or something the average African villager might actually want.
But unfortunately we are talking about a bunch of fair-trade lunatics so what they've actually been buying is goats. Hundreds of them. Oxfam says this is a brilliant idea, and ActionAid even posts a quote from Elias Nadeba Silva, a farmer, who was given one last year. "I have great plans for my field," he said, "and my family is very grateful for ActionAid's help . . .
"But next year, no more goats, Okay? I'd prefer a copy of Mothership by Led Zeppelin."
Other popular choices from well-meaning idealists in the media-fuelled parts of eastern London include cans of worms, piles of dung, catering packs of condoms and the materials for making toilets. Who wants that for Christmas? "Daddy, Daddy. Santa's been!! He's been!!!! And he's brought me . . . an Armitage Shanks Accolade back-to-wall bog, which combines classical elegance with a contemporary style."
I can only begin to imagine the look of desperation on the little lad's face. That crushing, all-enveloping sense of overwhelming disappointment. Someone in faraway England has gone to all the bother of buying him a Christmas present. It's probably the only one he'll get. And it's a bloody bog.
Think about it. We're told that we should never buy our wives or girlfriends anything with a plug, because this is bound to be something they need, rather than want. And exactly the same thing holds true the world over. No child anywhere wants a lavatory for Christmas. You need a lavatory. You want teddies and footballs and BMX bicycles. And AK47s. It is hard, honestly, to think of a more useless, patronising and stupid present than a toilet. Not even a gift-wrapped copy of the worst book ever written - Versailles: The View from Sweden - comes close.
Rabbi Blecher says Christmas is fine
It's hard to imagine a cozier holiday scene than the whole family gathered together to trim the tree. But for 2.5 million Americans in Jewish-Christian households, this is a scenario fraught with tension. As the rabbi of a congregation that is more than half interfaith couples, I have learned that the holiday season is an especially difficult time. More often than not, the gentile partner grew up with Christmas cheer in the home, but the Jewish partner learned to view traditions such as Christmas carols and holiday wreaths as "un-Jewish."
Many Jews who are married to Christians feel tremendous guilt about simple rituals such as picking out the perfect spruce tree because it recalls what may have been one of the most difficult decisions of their lives: marrying outside the faith. That's because American Jews have been fed a steady diet of fearful sermons about the imminent destruction of our ancient people - not through genocidal anti-Semitism, but through slow annihilation from assimilation and intermarriage. It may sound silly, but many Jews in interfaith couples feel that sending out red-and-green cards to their neighbors and friends in December is a kind of betrayal. However thoroughly Americanized, the people I counsel can't quite forgive themselves for not living like a character out of "Fiddler on the Roof."
When my congregants come to me with questions about presents under the tree and leaving cookies for Santa, I tell them that they should enjoy the Christmas spirit. There's no reason to feel guilty about a little mistletoe. And more important, there's no reason to feel guilty about having married a non-Jew. Fear of intermarriage rests on two great myths of American Judaism: that Judaism is disappearing and that intermarriage poses a grave threat to the continuing life of the religion. These false notions, almost universally believed by American Jews and seemingly impervious to mounting contrary evidence, have long and impressive pedigrees.
In the century since prominent Rabbi Solomon Schechter's anti-assimilation warning that "traditional Judaism will not survive another generation in this country," the American Jewish population has grown from 1 million to approximately 6 million. Jewish summer camps, schools, charities and Web sites form a network of institutions that has no equal in Jewish history. In recent years, the myth of the disappearing Jew can be traced in large measure to a single, well-publicized study recording 5.2 million Jews in America, down from 5.8 million. But many other counts disagree.
The American Jewish Yearbook, which has been keeping track of the number of Jews in America since 1902, reports the population is now 6.4 million. A recently released study from Brandeis University found as many as 7.5 million Jews in the United States.
Conventional wisdom mainly blames intermarriage for the mythical decline in the American Jewish population. Yet one-third of Jewish-gentile couples raise their children exclusively as Jews. Of course, almost all fully Jewish couples raise their children as Jews, but it's important to remember that Jewish couples produce, on average, 1.9 children - below the replacement rate. Even if every Jew married another Jew, there would be no population boom. Meanwhile, two Jews who each marry non-Jews will collectively produce an average of more than four children. Even the pessimistic National Jewish Population Survey acknowledged that the vast majority of these kids grow up with either an exclusively Jewish identity or a dual Jewish-gentile identity.
The math of intermarriage should give rise to optimism, not overblown comparisons with the Holocaust. Intermarriage is as old as the Jewish people. Moses married the daughter of a Midianite priest. Even the insular Jewish communities of Eastern Europe were not immune. American Judaism must move forward from viewing intermarriage as a threat. Marrying the person whom you love, whatever his or her faith, is no betrayal. And celebrating this season of joy with that person is no transgression.
Must Police Be Representative? Whom Do They Represent?
Post below lifted from Discriminations. See the original for links
I recently discussed "economic apartheid" in Phildadelphia and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's "diversity" hiring that "overrepresented" some groups and "underrepresented" others. Now comes, thanks to reader Hube, more hiring "representation" malarkey from Pennsylvania. Mark Faziollah, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer, writes with evident alarm that "Pa. Troopers Ranks Getting Less Diverse." Blacks, who make up 10% of Pennsylvania's population, are now down to 5% of the state police. Horrors. The article presents no evidence, or even forthright accusations, that the state police has been discriminatory in its hiring practices. On the contrary,
State Police Commander Jeffrey Miller said his department was committed to reversing the trend with aggressive recruiting of black and Latino officers. "Our numbers look as bad as they possibly could look," Miller acknowledged.... Miller, who took over the agency in January 2003, said he was committed to diversity, but said he had been unable to recruit enough minorities to compensate for large numbers of retirements. "I have prioritized the recruitment of minorities," he said in an interview last week. "Everyone in the law-enforcement system is having trouble."Apparently the only way to produce an acceptable "diversity" is through outright quotas.
In 1973, when the state police ranks were virtually all white, a Philadelphia civil-rights lawyer filed a lawsuit alleging the agency had discriminatory hiring practices. To settle that suit, the state police agreed to strict minority hiring quotas to correct the racial imbalance. Starting in June 1974, Miller said, the agency began hiring one minority cadet for every white one. The proportion of minorities steadily increased, reaching 9.2 percent of the force by 1983. From 1983 to 1993, the department hired one minority cadet for every two who were white.Ah, so one of the main reasons the state police has become less diverse is that other businesses are "competing for the same applicants." Well, this sounds like a huge problem that the legislature should address, and apparently some legislators agree:
Minority representation continued to go up, peaking at more than 12 percent in 1997, about equal to the state's nonwhite population. With that goal reached, the trend almost immediately started to reverse. There were no minority hires in 1997, state police records show. In 1998, four hires were minorities and 158 were white.
In February 1999, the federal judge overseeing the case ended the court monitoring. The department promised to work hard on recruiting to make sure black and other minority representation in the hiring pool was adequate. It didn't work. The state police "didn't really know how to do it," Miller said. "You have a lot of people in business competing for the same applicants."
... members of Pennsylvania's legislative black caucus reacted angrily to the fall-off in the agency's minority ranks, saying they were never informed there was a problem. "A reduction like this is completely unacceptable," said State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.). "It isn't right." Legislators vowed to push for change. "It's gone largely unnoticed. It cries out for a remedy," said Rep. James Roebuck (D., Phila.).Rep. Roebuck, on the evidence of this article, didn't say precisely what the "It" is that cries out for a remedy, but by all means I think he should consider some sort of sanctions on firms who hire employees who also applied to the state police, or could have applied to the state police, and he may want to consider similar sanctions for blacks who would have made good state troopers but who decided to pursue careers elsewhere. Meanwhile, awaiting the results of such legislative action, what can the state police do to increase its "diversity" and representativeness? First, they could follow the example of the FBI and some other police agencies:
To widen the hiring pool, the FBI and some big-city departments have relaxed standards on past drug use for recruits. Miller said the Pennsylvania State Police had not done so. Asked whether that was under consideration, he said only that there were arguments for and against loosening those rules.But wait; there's more! Hiring cops with a history of drugs is not all that can be done to increase the representativeness of the state police. Deputy Commissioner John R. Brown, "an African American lieutenant colonel" who is responsible for recruiting, said "We've come up with a bunch of new ideas." And indeed they have. Here's a doozy:
To find Latino applicants, Brown said, he may send recruiters to Puerto Rico as other departments have done.Such a move would go a long way toward making the Pennsylvania State Police more representative ... of Puerto Rico. On the theory, obviously the reigning theory in the Pa. state police, that "number" and "appearance" are all that matter, why not send recruiters to Africa to scoop up some black applicants? After all, if the Ivies can do that to beef up their numbers, why not the police?
The West should speak up about Muslim misogyny
RECENTLY a gang-rape victim in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to jail and 200 lashes for being found in the company of a man who was not a close family member. The Saudi King has now pardoned her, but we should express concern that the justice system allowed her to be charged for this "crime" in the first place.
We should also express concern that, in 2002, 13 Saudi schoolgirls perished in a fire after the religious police prevented them from leaving the building because they were "dressed inappropriately". And we should express concern that in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria unmarried women who become pregnant, even by rape, are flogged or sentenced to death by stoning.
We do express concern. We gasp in astonishment at the news, we increase our donations to Amnesty International, we say a silent prayer of thanks that we were born in a country where we are respected as individuals, and we hope that something changes. Nothing changes, though, and if people are expecting feminism to evolve in these nations as it did in liberal democracies they are kidding themselves. Burning burkas and girl power bumper stickers will never be on the horizon while legal systems continue to be based on ancient religious principles and the diplomatic response of the West to the oppression of women overseas remains so pathetically weak.
In response to the Saudi rape victim's sentence, US President George W. Bush's spokesperson expressed "astonishment" but refused to explicitly condemn the decision. Australian diplomats indicated that they would "raise concerns" in discussions with their Saudi counterparts, but that would be the limit of our action.
A call for action from our Government to protect the rights of women overseas is not one that lacks a realist perspective. We may be held hostage by our dependence on oil, by the strategic importance of these nations and by the understandable belief that national sovereignty is essential to maintaining some degree of international peace. But just because we are not necessarily able to force regime change, threaten military action or impose economic sanctions does not mean we should stifle our outrage. Surely there is something left to pull out of the diplomatic grab bag.
When nations behave in a way that so clearly violates individual human rights, and is an affront to the values of our own nation, we can and should do more than "raise concerns". Western governments could explicitly condemn the nation's actions, impose diplomatic sanctions by restricting the travel of government members, or threaten expulsion from international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation. We could even draw on an old favourite from apartheid days and further undermine the nation's prestige by preventing them from taking part in international sporting events and major conferences.
Clearly there is more that can be done, so why do we so often settle for toothless expressions of concern? Is it because we fear fundamentalist reprisals? Just about everything we do or say adds fuel to the fundamentalist fire, so we might as well speak honestly. Or is it because we fear being perceived as culturally imperialist Accusations of cultural relativism abound when we criticise the actions of other countries and cultures. "Just because it is different does not mean it is wrong", they say. What about when it really is wrong?
There is no doubt that Islam comes in for a lot of criticism, which is often unfair when so many people happily abide by both Islamic teachings and the democratic principles of their home countries. The two are certainly not mutually exclusive. The criticism is also unfair when we consider that Islam is not the only religion that can be accused of oppressing women. The Catholic Church maintains a stance on birth control that restricts women's choices to an end far more detrimental than a compulsory headscarf, and many Christian-based religions have antiquated expectations of the rights and roles of women.
The problem is not the religion itself. The problem occurs when ancient and outdated religious principles alone are upheld as the most important aspect of a justice system. Secularism is not a panacea to the problems of the clash between religious beliefs and liberal democracy but it does acknowledge the importance of maintaining a distinction between "God's" rules for believers and society's rules for everyone. Condemnations and diplomatic punishment may fail to make a substantive and immediate difference, but that does not mean we should simply do nothing.
Respect for other nations and the cultural and religious beliefs of individuals is important, but the violent oppression of women is not a cultural peculiarity. It is an insult to our own values, an injustice against innocent victims and it is not a culture that we should respect.
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.
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