Monday, December 31, 2007

A dishonourable list (1)

A brief but biting editorial from "The Times" below about the annual British honours list (knighthoods etc.) just announced. I must say that an awful lot of nonentities have been gonged this year: Pop singers, actors, TV presenters, a rag-trader, a BBC apparatchik etc. Being already popular or being brown-skinned seem to have been major qualifiers. A more comprehensive commentary here

There are few more predictable annual rituals than the new year honours list. There are always a few well merited awards, valuable when they are given to people away from the public eye who would never dream of such recognition for the good work they do. But the list tends to be dominated by a mix of worthies and entertainers who ought to be content with the honour of banking large sums of money for their work. The latest list is little better. In the context of the refusal to honour those who put their lives at risk to save the lives of others on 7/7, it looks insulting.

Gordon Brown is in danger of promising much and delivering little. The prime minister made a song and dance about honouring members of the public who show bravery during terrorist attacks. As he put it in July: "It is right that we look at how our honours system can recognise those in our emergency services and members of the public who showed such bravery and heroism in the face of the recent terrorist attacks." That turns out to have been hot air. In reality, as we report, the Cabinet Office has actually turned down such nominations as undeserving.

Awards have indeed been made for behaviour on 7/7 - but to civil servants sitting at their desks co-ordinating the work of others. Heroes such as Tim Coulson, a teacher who smashed his way into a bombed Tube carriage, gave first aid, had a man die in his arms and was so badly affected by his experience that he has had to retire early, have been snubbed. Not one member of the public has been rewarded for bravery. Mr Coulson's wife was told by the Cabinet Office that "honours are awarded to people for meritorious service over a sustained period and not specifically for saving someone's life" - an explanation which contradicts the citation to the bureaucrats honoured for their co-ordination role on 7/7.

There have long been calls for the honours system to be reformed. Now the shame of these snubs to the brave brings dishonour to the establishment that bestows them.


A dishonourable list (2)

Rod Liddle offers a lighter version of the points made in the editorial above

Another year goes by and no bloody official recognition. Slave my guts out every week alerting people to the fact that Bono, Patricia Hewitt, Sting, the Milibands, Ruth Kelly, all doctors and most of the Conservative party are agents of Satan, all for no thanks. Not that one does it in expectation of ennoblement, of course. One does it, without fear or favour, for the good of the country. And for money, obviously.

But then you read the new year's honours list and discover, halfway down, that George Alagiah and Hanif Kureishi have both been bunged some Establishment bauble, and the rancour begins to build. Kureishi's got a CBE - for what? I mean, I have nothing against the chap. He's quite a good writer, in much the same way as Jimmy Carr is quite a good comedian and Bas Savage, of Brighton, is quite a good footballer. In truth, the three of them inhabit that vague, shadowy area where "quite good" merges imperceptibly with "actually, not very good at all".

Martin Amis, Iain Banks and, strange to say, JG Ballard have never been honoured - some people might argue that they have performed a greater service to literature over the years than Kureishi. Some people might even remember the name of a book one of them has written, which gives them the distinct edge over Hanif.

And then George Alagiah, recipient of an OBE - what's he done, exactly? Read the bloody news from an Autocue. Again, I have nothing against George, who seems a likeable chap. But his is an occupation that requires nothing in the way of skill, tenacity, intellectual ability or fortitude. All you have to do is sit there, read what's been written for you by some marginally postpubescent PC BBC monkey and try not to belch or snigger. A pig's bladder on a stick could read the news. Probably. You begin to wonder what honours are for.

Why, for example, has a person called Jazzie B been handed an OBE? Because he was the driving force of Soul II Soul, a mediocre Brit R&B band a decade or so back? Hell, is that all it takes? I could form a mediocre Brit R&B band tomorrow and so, I suspect, could you. If Jazzie B can get an OBE then surely So Solid Crew deserve knighthoods.

And then there's Kylie Minogue, who gets an OBE for shoving her arse in our faces whenever the opportunity arises, or for having successfully recovered from cancer, or for having taken part in an episode of The Vicar of Dibley. Gordon Brown recently published a book about what can be achieved by individuals who struggle against overwhelming odds to inspire and transform their communities. It was quite an uplifting book in a way. It's just that I never knew it was written with Kylie Minogue in mind, still less Hanif Kureishi. Are those the people he meant?


How The News Is Made

By Barry Rubin

Ring, ring, goes the telephone. And of course I answer it. The voice on the other end says that he is "Joseph" of Reuters. I get many calls from journalists and wire services but never has someone I don't know introduced himself by first name only. Since he has an obvious Arabic accent it is quite clear that he thinks I am either so biased as to care what his family name is or so stupid not to guess why he isn't giving it. So the effect is to achieve the exact opposite of what he wants. It puts me on my guard.

Next he tells me that he is doing a story on how Israel is strangling the Palestinian economy. In such circumstances, I have taken to arguing back with correspondents. By framing the story that way, I explain, Reuters is building in a bias. After all, the story should be: What's wrong with the Palestinian economy, how to fix it, and will the massive infusion of aid--$7.4 billion just promised for three years by mostly Western donors--help?

Aren't wire services, and the media in general, supposed to be somewhat balanced? They ask an open question, collect viewpoints, and let the reader conclude what the factors are, or at least wait until they have gathered some evidence. This is supposed to be especially true of wire services, which supply newspapers and other media with the basic facts on which they can build their own stories. What is going on here, then, is not reporting but propaganda.

Clearly unnerved, he promises to quote me accurately. And he does keep that promise fully, sort of. But the outcome is quite predictable. And here is the dramatic headline that went out in the resulting story: "Analysis-Aid can't save Palestinian economy in Israeli grip." No doubt is to be left that it is Israel's fault that the Palestinian economy is in shambles. And so pervasive is this evil that even the whole world cannot save them. So after that $7.4 billion is all gone with no result everyone will know who to blame, right?

Before continuing let's note the problem with this analysis on two levels. First, Israeli closures and control on movement are the result of Palestinian terrorist attacks, coupled with the unwillingness and inability of the two Palestinian governments (Palestinian Authority-Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip) to stop them. No attacks; no closures. And this is absolutely clear. If attacks were to stop, so would Israeli restrictions. But if Israel removed all roadblocks and closures, the attacks would continue. This makes obvious the principal, fundamental cause of the problem and what needs to change in order to fix it. In other words: if Palestinian terrorism stops, Israeli restrictive measures will end and the Palestinian economy has a chance to develop.

But if Israeli restrictive measures end, Palestinian terrorism would continue and thus the Palestinian economy would not develop because Israel would put back on the restrictions eventually and also, of course, no one will invest in the middle of a war. Is that clear and logical? Obviously, not for Western leaders and much of the news media.

Second, even if all Israeli action were to disappear, the Palestinian economy would still be in trouble. There are a number of reasons for this which are all well-known and were vividly seen in the 1990s, at a time when there was massive aid and a low level of Israeli security operations. These factors include: huge corruption which siphons off money; the lack of a clear legal framework for investment and commerce; the incompetence of the Palestinian regime; internal anarchy and violence by gangs with political cover; and an ongoing war against Israel.

Naturally, if you pump $7.8 billion over three years into a society of under 1.5 million people on the West Bank--around $1,600 a year for every individual person there--it is going to have a positive economic effect. Since current Palestinian per capita income is $1,200 a year it would more than double it. In 1992, the figure was around $2,000. This represents, for all practical purposes, an increase of 400 percent over the aid being supplied two years ago. But most of the money is merely budget support for the Palestinian Authority, meaning it will pay salaries for the bloated government bureaucracy. At the end of that time the funds will be gone with no effect.

Yet the December 20, 2007, story by Reuters and two similar articles by the Associated Press (for my detailed analysis of the latter see here) simply omit all this information and put all the blame for problems on Israel.

In this case, though, slanting is not enough, however, and the Reuters report must stoop to outright dishonesty. It states:

"The $7.4 billion pledged exceeds the sum [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam]] Fayyad had asked for in his three-year economic plan, but is less than the $8.4 billion that the World Bank reckons Israeli curbs on movement have cost Palestinians in lost income over the past five years."

This is a lie and clearly a deliberate one. In fact, the World Bank annual reports are entitled "Intifada, Closures and Palestinian Economic Crisis." They make the very simple point that the intifada--an armed Palestinian war on Israel--leads to closures and thus the combination brings on a crisis. The reports are quite careful in pointing out all the factors that led to the Palestinian economic decline. They do not say the losses were strictly due to Israeli curbs on movement. On the contrary, the 2003 report for example, written at the height of the violence, says the closures and movement restrictions are pretty insignificant. (see it here). This specific example of dishonesty matters because the approach we see here--predetermining the story, ignoring most of the factors involved, blaming Israel--sets a pattern for a whole raft-full of stories:

* Why is there no peace? Israel doesn't give enough concessions. Often there is no mention of Palestinian hardline positions, behavior in not keeping commitment, terrorism as a key element in the failure to achieve peace. Most important of all, there is endless talk about what Israel can or should give for peace but far less about what the Palestinians must give: end of conflict, full recognition of Israel, return of refugees to a Palestinian state, a real end to incitement and terrorism.

* Why is there suffering in Gaza? Israel's restrictions. Far less mention of Hamas hard line, openly genocidal stance, constant aid to terrorist attacks and rocket firing, refusal to meet even minimal international requirements.

* Why are Palestinians, to quote the Reuters story, "Deprived of dignity"? No mention of a corrupt government and gangs of gunmen who couldn't care less about their well-being, and a strategy that starts unwinnable wars. It's all Israel's fault.

It is bad enough that this kind of coverage is shaping the way that many in the West see the Middle East. What is really horrible is that these articles are being deliberately written to do so.


What stupid paternity laws do

INFERTILE couples desperate to have children are facing agonising waits for donated sperm. The Royal Hospital for Women has had no new sperm donors for more than 12 months. Reproductive specialists say attracting enough men to satisfy demand has always been difficult, and waiting lists are longer because of the growing number of childhood cancer survivors rendered infertile by treatment. The dwindling stocks are also sought by single women and same-sex couples.

The director of the hospital's department of reproductive medicine, Stephen Steigrad, said at least 20 men who had undergone aggressive cancer treatments requested donor insemination for their partners every year. Without new donors, the service would have to be stopped within six months. The Centre for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick says one in 900 Australians aged between 16 and 45 has survived childhood cancer.

Changes to NSW legislation this month requiring donors to register their names on a mandatory central register had turned potential donors off, said Professor Michael Chapman, from IVF Australia, which has a waiting list of two years. The Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill guarantees children access to their father's name, date of birth, education and medical information once they turn 18. It may also require details of the donor's partner and other children to be listed. "Previously men could donate knowing there was no way they were going to get a knock on their door," Professor Chapman said. "Now men are less likely to donate."

Dr Anne Clark, from Fertility First Hurstville, said the sperm shortage would be compounded by the new laws, which legislate that one man's sperm can go to only five families, down from 10.



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.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Stupid British rules say homes must be safe for robbers

A woman who suffered a break-in robbery in which she lost some valuable antiques worth "thousands" has been told she could face a significant liability if she beefs up her home's security, and a returning robber would be injured. "If I have got to live behind locked doors for the rest of my life, I hope the rest of my life isn't very long," the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Rugby, England, Advertiser. "But why would I want my house safe for these people? It's crazy," she said.

The woman had antiques and personal items worth "thousands" stolen from her home during her absence to attend to the needs of her brother, suffering with cancer. The invaders smashed through a security gate and broke windows in order to get inside, police reports said.

During their investigation, Rugby police provided her with a crime-fighting booklet that discusses home security. But she told the Advertiser when she asked about putting in a new security fence and upgrading its capabilities, she was told the laws on liability meant she risked a police investigation herself if any trespassers hurt themselves climbing it. She had wanted to add barbed wire to the fence in order to reduce the ease with which the robbers apparently gained access to her home.

But the Warwickshire Police "Operation Impact" booklet, which gives victims information on crime-fighting, suggested she could risk a prosecution herself if someone would be hurt. "I respect that if the postman or the gas man calls, they don't expect to hurt himself. But I was speechless - you couldn't make it up. I think these laws show we have gone soft in the head," she told the newspaper.


A feminist who believes that some values are better than others!

She will become a conservative yet!

'We are just protecting women's rights to take their clothes off," was the Irish budget airline Ryanair's response when it came under fire this month for a charity calendar that showcased its female employees, bikini babe-style.

The right to pose for photographs in skimpy clothes probably wasn't what Mary Wollstonecraft had in mind when she wrote A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman back in 1792, but for all its seemingly unintended humour, the statement is difficult to argue with.

Ryanair might have been looking to achieve more through the calendar than simply supporting the desire of some of its staff to disrobe, but few would argue that they shouldn't be allowed to produce it. As the airline's spokeswoman pointed out, none of the women who posed for the calendar were forced. It was their choice to do so.

Choice. There are few words in the English language that validate a course of action quite so seamlessly. To attack someone's choices is to attack their very person, to suggest that you know better than they do. For women especially, the word represents freedom and independence - and for good reason. Historically speaking, the feminist movement's most significant wins have been about giving women choices about their lives: from deciding who runs the country they live in, to financial independence, to being able to decide when and even if to have children.

Choice equals power, and that means that with the right linguistic packaging, almost anything - no matter how controversial - can be presented as empowering. Take cosmetic surgery, transformed from a curtsy to unattainable beauty standards into a procedure that empowers those who undertake it to look their best. Or Sex And The City's Charlotte, who defended her decision to quit her job to try to have a baby by arguing: "The women's movement is supposed to be about choice. And if I choose to quit my job, that is my choice." As Charlotte and many others like her would have it, any choice a woman makes is a positive, politically empowering one - so long as it is hers.

If feminism has allowed its sisters to choose to become lawyers, never marry and keep their grooming au naturel, why should they not equally be permitted to wear high heels, bake muffins or pose for swimsuit calendars - or as many women do, pick a little from column A and a little from column B? If that is what they choose to do, how are their choices any less valid, even any less feminist, than any other woman's?

This kind of relativism isn't entirely negative. It keeps the question of what defines feminism open to be redefined by the people it's supposed to represent, and it doesn't assume that the same set of solutions will work for every woman simply because of her sex. But it also ignores the important reality that not all choices are positive or empowering - either for the person making them, or for society as a whole. Nor are all choices that women make "feminist" simply by virtue of the fact that they were made by women.

No one makes decisions in a vacuum, and our choices are shaped as much by the behaviour we see rewarded - by our friends, family, colleagues, the media - as they are by our own desires. Even before that, they are limited by government policy, our financial means, our individual strengths and weaknesses. So it's not surprising that, in a society in which women are valued largely for their appearances, many women would choose to trade at least partly on the way they look. Or that when women are paid less than and occupy leadership positions in far smaller numbers than men, women are the sex more likely to cut back on work to give priority to family life.

Equally, it is important to acknowledge that our choices have impacts beyond ourselves. Choice may be sacred, but it's not a values-free zone. One arena in which we have begun to recognise this is consumption: we know that flying contributes to global warming, that our water resources are limited, that buying clothing produced by sweatshop labour is unethical.

Similarly, the choices we make elsewhere in our lives - how to present ourselves, how to conduct our relationships, how to balance work and life - have social and political implications. Our choices determine which behaviours are normalised and rewarded as much as they reflect the status quo. The decisions individual women make have implications for the status of women as a group. And some decisions will have more broadly positive effects than others.

This doesn't mean that women should be denied the right to determine how they run their own lives, or that only certain ways of living qualify as "feminist" or "empowering" - what does qualify will and should remain permanently up for discussion. But it does mean that our right to choose comes with certain responsibilities, and one of these is that we are prepared to defend our decisions in a manner that goes beyond "well, it's my life, and it's my choice". Yes, we should be free to make the decisions we believe will make us happiest, but in doing so we need to keep our eyes open to the values that underlie them, and recognise that our choices have impacts beyond us as individuals.


Affirmative action may be on ballots

A campaign is underway to ban affirmative action in five states already embroiled in debates over illegal immigration. Efforts are proceeding in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma to put initiatives on November ballots that would end programs to increase minority and female participation in government and education. The push is led by Ward Connerly, a California management consultant who successfully ran similar campaigns in California, Washington and Michigan. It is part of Connerly's effort to ban race- and gender-based policies nationwide.

The initiatives will add to the racially charged atmosphere in state elections, says Michael Kanner, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. All five states have had big increases in their Hispanic population since 2000, leading to racial tensions and debates over illegal immigration.

Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma have passed the nation's toughest laws against illegal immigration. Among their provisions, they penalize employers of undocumented workers. In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt is pushing for tougher immigration laws and enforcement. In Nebraska, towns with large food processing companies that employ Hispanic immigrants have been targeted by federal immigration raids.

"It's about race in both issues," Kanner says. "Affirmative action, by its nature, is associated with minorities. In Colorado, for example, the dominant minorities are Hispanic, so it is inevitable that the two will be tied together."

Connerly, founder of the American Civil Rights Institute, a group working to end affirmative action, says, "We will deliberately try to stay away from the issue of illegal immigration. It's a tangential issue that we cannot control." He says, "It's a simple principle we are promoting: equal treatment for all Americans." Connerly says he believes in affirmative action if it is based on socioeconomic conditions, not gender or race.

His campaign is in its first stage in Colorado, Arizona and Nebraska, gathering signatures to qualify to be on the ballot. It has turned in signatures in Oklahoma, but is stalled in Missouri in a court dispute over language. Connerly's language says the state shall not discriminate or grant preferences based on race, sex or ethnicity. The language substituted by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan goes further and says the initiative would end programs that provide equal opportunities for women and minorities.

Brenda Jones, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, says Connerly's language misleads voters. "They are co-opting the language of Martin Luther King," she says.


"Anti-discrimination" nonsense

A campaigner shows up the absurdity of the law

A crusader for justice has come to Colorado. He has traveled around the country fighting discrimination, tirelessly combating prejudice and unfair treatment. Already, his efforts have paid off in Minnesota and the EU is listening to his calls for justice. This man is Steve Horner, and he's here to end Ladies Night.

Mr. Horner moved to Colorado a year ago and quickly took issue with Proof Nightclub's "Ladies Night" promotion. Ladies Night is a common bar special where women's cover charges are waived or their drinks are discounted. The goal of the promotion is to attract more women and, by doing so, attract more men as well. Mr. Horner argued that only waiving cover charges for women was gender discrimination, and that he shouldn't be charged more for simply being a man.

Mr. Horner took his complaint all the way to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and on June 25 commission members decided that Ladies Night is indeed an illegal practice in Colorado. To justify its decision, the Commission cited a State Statute that prohibits a place of public accommodation from "denying an individual equal enjoyment of goods" based on their sex.

To enforce this decision, the Commission has been granted somewhat less than far-reaching powers. They can request that any employees who were wrongly fired as a result of Ladies Night be rehired, and they've been given the power to post notices that Ladies Night is illegal.

Moreover, they've even been allowed to request that the nightclub also post notices. Soon, we may live in a world where men who want to enjoy a drink in a place where they have the chance of meeting women are forced to read a sign first. It is a grim vision, indeed.

This is, evidently, the world Steve Horner wants. It's the world he's been working to build for fifteen years. Horner successfully pressed the state of Minnesota in 1992 to end Ladies Night. He also was convicted of harassing a state official who didn't pursue his claim against Hooters for declining him employment as a waitress.

As absurd as his mission might appear to many of us, he seems to have a legal precedent for his actions. Though he often has to badger officials and pay his court filing fee out of pocket, the State usually sides in Horner's favor. People from both ends of the political spectrum feel that this cannot possibly be right. Clearly, something needs to be done. One possible solution is to change the way our nightclubs operate. Utah, for instance, requires all bars to allow entry only to members, or guests of members. Though nightclubs are privately-owned businesses, they are considered public establishments. By changing nightclubs from public establishments to private ones, businesses can dodge the bullet. The problem here is that it puts a serious damper on bar owners, who are small business owners like anyone else. Utah's laws were written specifically to discourage drinking, Colorado does not necessarily share this goal.

Another answer is to change our laws. We could rewrite our discrimination policies to include a de minimis defense, whereby trivial infractions like Ladies Night are still illegal, but not punishable. Most people would agree that an infrequent five-dollar price differential against men is not a wholesale example of discrimination. The problem with this solution is that it still requires bars to defend themselves in court, even if they will never pay a fine. Rational individuals wouldn't take a bar to court in a case they know they would lose, but still there are irrational men like Steve Horner who routinely pay a $47 filing fee to contest a $5 cover charge. The underlying problem with both of these solutions is that they don't address the real issue at hand: our freedom.

Freedom is a big issue to trot out over a debate on Ladies Night, but it is exactly what could be at stake here. A bar, which is a private business, should be free to charge any price they want for drinks and entry. We, as consumers, are free to avoid that bar if we think they're charging too much for the goods and services they provide. This is the method by which successful businesses succeed and by which bad businesses fail. Introducing government restrictions in the form of a control over promotions and bar specials, like Ladies Night, can only harm this process. That means closing good bars, or keeping otherwise unpopular bars in business.

This control could eventually extend farther than just Ladies Night, too. Many businesses have specials that single out a specific group. Senior Citizen discounts, Military discounts, Student discounts, Kids Eat Free nights, and myriad other promotions that many of us enjoy could hang in the balance of this decision. All of these promotions benefit some small group, and in doing so benefit the business as a whole. Many of these are businesses we all enjoy using, and their success means better prices and services for all of us. Hindering the way they do business over trivial matters like Ladies Night might help guys like Steve Horner save a few bucks, but it could cost the rest of us far more than that.



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.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Justice System Gone Awry - Busting Children

Have we gone nuts? A ten year old child brings a steak knife to school in Ocala. She's caught cutting her meat at lunch, and then arrested as though she was a serial killer on the loose. Perhaps a sharp knife was inappropriate on school grounds, which is a good reason to confiscate, teach her a lesson, admonish her parents and send her on her way. But why whack the fifth grader with a formal arrest as though she had committed a crime? That'll give a growing kid a warm and secure feeling about the law.

A first grader in Avon Park, Florida, lost control and acted out in class, kicking and scratching. That's bad. She obviously has a problem. Teachers called the cops, who came and handcuffed her for restraint. Okay, I can even live with that. Then child - a six-year-old - was brought to police headquarters and charged with a felony and two misdemeanors. Huh? When did common sense lose it's foothold in America? Years ago, we'd read stories like this in communist China.

Moses Lake, Washington, 2006. Seven juveniles were taken into custody and arrested for vandalism and theft. Two of these were five and six years of age. The others were closer to twelve. Whatever happened to laws about contributing to the delinquency of minors? Locking up five year-old children as criminals? There must be another way to handle these kinds of situations.

December, 2006, a twelve year-old boy in South Carolina was arrested by police for petty larceny for - get this - opening his Christmas present without authorization. When his mother learned that he had opened the $85 Nintendo game without her permission, she called the cops to teach him a lesson, and the cops made the bust. Honest. Read for yourself. Click here: Boy Arrested

September, 2006, Pleasant Grove, Utah. A teenage prankster streaked naked across a stage during a school play. There are children in the audience. He's pretty stupid. He needs punishment. He got it. The kid is facing criminal charges for which he will likely be required to register as a sex offender for life. His name, address and photograph will be available on the Internet as warnings to citizens that this boy is a predator and to protect your kids. He'll be unable to find jobs. He'll be the instant suspect in unsolved sex crimes. A lifetime of retribution, for a silly stunt that has nothing to do with sexually offending anyone.

Honor student and football player, Genarlow Wilson was seventeen years old when he received consensual oral sex from a fifteen year-old girl in Georgia in 2005. Uh.that's an every day event by the thousands in all fifty states. But, the laws in Georgia mandated a ten-year sentence for the (ahem) sex offense with a minor child. Genarlow was ultimately released by a compassionate judge after serving two years in prison. Still, he must register as a dangerous sex offender for life.

I think we're using a sledge hammer to kill the bug. Serious crimes certainly need to be addressed by the criminal justice system, but we've gone over the top with the tough-on-crime mantra.

I'm sure glad I retired when I did. I served in an era when judgement and common sense prevailed, when a cop had the option to send a DUI driver home in a taxi cab, or kick kids in the ass for raising hell at a party, send lover's lane sexpots off to motel rooms and scare the hell out of truants and other youngsters who dabbled in pot. I had the latitude to make humane decisions about minor indiscretions, always aware of how an arrest would affect the rest of a kid's life. I feel comfortable that I, and many of my colleagues, saved some young people from entering the oppressive walls of the justice system as criminals when it wasn't in the best interest of justice.

Sure, I know all about the law, and my job was merely to enforce. I did that. I made over two thousand arrests in my career. But I also made a few unarrests for which I am proud, for I know in those few instances, I precluded a lifetime of obstacles and stigma for the undeserving because I decided to give the "offenders" a pass.

When it comes to showing small kids the strong arm of the law, there's another way, besides jails and handcuffs. It's called, education treatment, compassion and guidance. When a system can label people for life as sex offenders, when they are not, then something needs to be fixed. In today's world, the hands of police officers are tied, they dare not make decisions. It's all spelled out. Break the law, pay the price. Even if the price is a million dollars for a stick of bubble gum. They better not come for my grandson while he's still in diapers, even if he does throw a tantrum.


Another attack on individual responsibility

Back in 1971 the late Harvard behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skinner published his popular best seller, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York, Knopf). The book followed several more technical works by Skinner arguing that the belief that human beings have free will and are morally responsible is all wrong, a pre-scientific prejudice that needs to be discarded and replaced with a technology of behavior.

This work prompted me to write my first book, The Pseudo-Science of B. F. Skinner (Arlington House, 1973), in which I disputed Skinner's claim to have come up with scientific reasons for rejecting free will and moral responsibility. I argued that he was actually subscribing to a certain school of philosophy that advanced the views he championed. His conclusions about free will and morality were not based on scientific findings at all.

It is now over 30 years since Skinner's work appeared and behaviorism is no longer all the rage in the discipline of psychology. But the basic goal of discrediting free will and moral--including legal or criminal--responsibility is still very much on the agenda of some folks. Only the school of psychology that is supposed to be undermining the belief in human freedom and morality is no longer behaviorism. Now it is some people's version of neuroscience.

The basic contention put forth by some of the champions of this new scientific approach to understanding human behavior is that our actions aren't really ours at all. And, very interestingly, the idea has enormous financial support from no less than the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It has contributed $10 million to do research on the issues involved, with the work carried out at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Now I say that this money will go to do research but it looks very much like some of those involved do not think much research is needed because they write as if they had already reached their conclusions. As an article on the website of the project tells it,

"The U.S. legal system incorporates assumptions about behavior that, in some cases, are centuries old and based on common sense and culture. For example, it tends to assume that people make deliberate choices and that those choices determine what they do. However, recent breakthroughs in neuroscience research indicate that such choices may sometimes be based upon electrical impulses and neuron activity that are not a part of conscious behavior. These actions can include not only criminal activity, but also decisions made by police, prosecutors, and jurors to arrest, prosecute, convict, or mandate treatment."

In other words, as some of these scientists would have it, we are back to Skinner, although in slightly modified terms. As the new technologists of human behavior see the matter, it is not operant conditioning that drives human behavior but impersonal electrical firings in our brains. Human beings do not make conscious decisions, they do not deliberate but are being driven by "electrical impulses." (I wouldn't put much stock in the qualification "sometimes" since anyone familiar with the work of some of the enthusiasts behind these ideas can tell that theirs is actually a sweeping pronouncement about all human behavior!)

A column isn't the place to attempt to rebut these ideas, merely to call attention to the eagerness with which some are promulgating them and to the enormous investment in the attempt to make them influential. But one thing can be said so as to put a bit of a break on all this enthusiasm about denying the efficacy of human conscious thought in directing human conduct. The British psychologist D. Bannister put the matter very poignantly over 30 years ago: "... the psychologist cannot present a picture of man which patently contradicts his behavior in presenting that picture."

The point is that the champions of the relevant kind of neuroscience and its alleged findings are themselves making decisions, deliberating, and consciously deciding about what to do, day in and day out, including when they decide to make various claims about the implications of their work for the legal system they wish to discredit and take steps to convince the rest of us of how outmoded our thinking and institutions are. They cannot have it both ways--deny that people make decisions but then proceed to make all sorts of significant decisions themselves!

The plain fact is that there is something basic, undeniable about the role of our minds in our conduct, even in conduct that aims to discredit the human mind itself.


Entitlement Mentality

If you forgot to get a Christmas present for Charlie Rangel, don't worry. The congressman picked one out for himself, and he's sending you the bill: $2 million for a shiny new Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College. The New York Democrat's Monument to Me was one of about 9,000 earmarks in the omnibus spending bill Congress approved before going on vacation. Most represented a more subtle form of self-aggrandizement, aimed at maintaining power and prestige by currying favor with voters.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, the total cost of the 11,000 or so earmarks in the omnibus bill and an earlier defense bill is about $14 billion, which is not much in the context of a $2.8 trillion federal budget. But the same tendency that explains the persistence of earmarks -- the habit of staying popular by pretending your constituents can get something for nothing -- also explains the failure to address the federal government's increasingly dire fiscal predicament.

The root of that predicament is not earmarks, which represent less than 1 percent of federal spending. Nor is it the war in Iraq, which at $100 billion or so a year accounts for less than 4 percent. So-called entitlement programs are the reason "America faces escalating deficit levels and debt burdens that could swamp our ship of state," as Comptroller General David Walker put it in a recent speech. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for 40 percent of federal spending and are expected to consume 51 percent in a decade.

Right now, Social Security makes the federal fiscal picture look better than it really is since the program generates a surplus that masks the true size of the deficit. In fiscal year 2007, for example, the official budget deficit was $163 billion; excluding the Social Security surplus, it was more than twice as high.

Since the government spends the surplus on other programs, the Social Security "trust fund" consists entirely of federal bonds, and those IOUs will come due soon. The oldest baby boomers become eligible for early retirement in 2008. They will start drawing Medicare benefits in three years.

The result, said Walker, will be a "tsunami of spending" that "will never recede." Under current law, the estimated gap between the benefits retirees have been promised and revenue to fund them is $53 trillion, of which $34 trillion is due to Medicare.

Nearly one-quarter of that long-term Medicare deficit, $8 trillion, is attributable to the prescription-drug benefit championed by President Bush and approved by a Republican-controlled Congress. "Incredibly," Walker noted, "this number was not disclosed or discussed until after the Congress had voted on the bill and the president had signed it into law." He said the bill's passage "arguably represents government 'truth' and 'transparency' at its worst."

Although it was presented as a solution to the dilemma of senior citizens forced to choose between eating and taking their medicine, the drug benefit is not means-tested. Like Social Security and Medicare generally, it transfers wealth from young workers to retirees who are often financially better off, buying the votes of older Americans with their grandchildren's money.

Not that the Democrats, who criticized the drug benefit as insufficiently generous, are any better. If you believe a Democratic president would be more fiscally responsible than Bush, have a look at the campaign ad that presents "Universal Health Care," "Alternative Energy," "Middle Class Tax Breaks" and "Universal Pre-K" as Christmas gifts lovingly wrapped by a beneficent Hillary Clinton. Unlike Charlie Rangel, at least Clinton wants to buy gifts for us, but she's still using our money. "Our government has made a whole lot of promises that, in the long run, it cannot possibly keep without huge tax increases," Walker noted. Yet Clinton is making even more promises, and she proposes to do it all while cutting taxes. I think I prefer Rangel's grandiosity. It's a lot cheaper.


Some correct but very subversive ideas below

Economics examples crop up in the most interesting places. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I ran smack into an application of the Law of Comparative Advantage that was so pure and simple that I can't resist the opportunity to share.

After flying up to visit family for the weekend, I accompanied my sister to work on Thanksgiving morning, in order to hang out with her some and pitch in. "Pitch in" is precise, because I wound up with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. My sister works as stallion manager in a stable. (A really nice stable. This place is cleaner than my house, although such a statement could be considered damning with faint praise.) "I'll clean the stalls," my sister said. "You can bed them down."

Well, this was good news all around. I don't at all mind the smell of stables, but it's undeniably more difficult to clean stalls than to bed them down. Cleaning consists of removing the (heavy) soiled straw bedding while keeping the still-reasonably fresh bedding for another day's use. Bedding down just requires lugging a fresh bale of (relatively light) clean straw bedding into the cleared stall, spreading the nearly clean straw left from the previous day, and then breaking up and scattering the fresh bale.

Very simple - but as with any sort of labor, there are little tricks and ways of conserving motion and effort that are not easy to explain but that accumulate with experience. Many of these economies of effort aren't even known to the worker; they develop as a sort of optimized "body memory" in response to muscle aches and the need to get work done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I've done my share of stable work "back in the day," but nothing even approaching the years my sister has put in under all sorts of conditions with all sorts of equipment. My sister even generously complimented me on knowing enough to "whack" the opened bale of straw with the fork to loosen it before I began spreading it around the stall. I'm not a complete newbie to stable work, after all. However, I'm sure I was wasting considerable effort - and time! - because of my relative inexperience and forgotten "body memory" of the necessary motions.

I think it's probably reasonable to say that in the process of cleaning and bedding, the workload is split about 70% into cleaning and 30% into bedding (my sister may be inclined to offer a correction to that estimate, but it seems about right to my less-experienced eye and pitchfork arm). I knew that 70/30 was probably the best split we could work and still finish at or around the same time, given my relative inexperience, general out-of-shapeness, and, frankly, my holiday mood. But even so, after the first stall, I asked my sister if it might not be more efficient and fair if we both cleaned and bedded stalls - meaning, of course, that she do around two-thirds of both cleaning and bedding, and I do around one-third.

Taking much less time to think it out than I am taking to write it out, my sister replied, "Thanks, but it'll go faster if I stick to doing the cleaning and you to the bedding."

And that jogged loose a memory of Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage. I remembered having an early economics mentor point out that, although Ricardo was thinking of international trade, the principle of the law made just as much sense when applied to the division of two tasks between two individuals, one of whom is better at both tasks. And that was clearly the situation in this case! As long as my sister was even better at stall cleaning than at stall bedding, then the job would get done much more quickly if she stuck to the cleaning and I to the bedding. Since cleaning is more difficult to pick up than bedding, not only was she sure to be better than me at both tasks, but she was very likely to be even better at the more difficult task, since she had been doing both for so long. My effort - willing but awkward - was best put to use in the task that was easiest for my sister, so that she could concentrate on doing a superior job at the task that was hardest for both of us.

To flesh out the insight with some numbers for illustrative purposes, suppose my sister was three times as good at me at cleaning stalls and just twice as good as me at bedding them. I hope these numbers are unrealistic (I can't be that bad!) but they do make for easier math. If it takes her five minutes to clean a stall and three minutes to bed one down, it would take me fifteen to clean and six to bed. So to finish two stalls with each of us working at both cleaning and bedding one stall, we'd take her 5+3 minutes and add my 15+6 minutes, which would give us a total of 29 minutes of labor - although, since we were working together, the total time to finish both stalls would only be 21 minutes, the last 13 of which would be filled by my sister nagging me to hurry up and finish so we could go for coffee.

If we do the same two stalls with her cleaning both and me bedding both, it would take her 5+5 added to my 6+6, which would let us get the job done in a total of 22 minutes of labor, or 12 minutes of time, allowing her only two minutes to relax while watching me finish the last bit of straw pitching. Assuming that the goal for both of us was to get the stalls completed in the least amount of time (and you can believe me when I say it was), then we both benefited from my sticking to what I was least bad at: bedding down stalls. But the best and most fascinating part of this is that it is the weaker and less experienced partner in the joint venture who stood to gain the most from this specialization and division of labor.

Well, who am I to argue with efficiency? I settled into the sneeze-inducing job of breaking open and spreading bales of straw around with a pleasure at knowing that my contribution to the joint effort was maximized by the rational division of tasks. Of course I was so tickled at running across Ricardo in such a seemingly unlikely spot that I spent - one might say wasted - several minutes enthusing on the subject rather than actually getting any work accomplished. The idea that it's the relatively weak and the unskilled who benefit most from specialization and the division of labor is so foreign to an American-public-school education that, even as I write this, I have to think it all out again as if it were the first time I encountered the idea.

If you are unskilled, there is no doubt that cultivating one or more skills that are (or will be) in demand will better your position. But even without particular skills, each individual has something of value to trade with - and the fewer specialized skills he has, the greater proportional benefit he will see from a mature marketplace with a high degree of specialization and division of labor. The mere existence of specialists will make his willingness to do unspecialized labor valuable to them. This is exactly why the unskilled laborers of America are likely to have pickup trucks and widescreen TVs.

There's a sort of built-in progressivism to the division of labor that, although it benefits all and almost always will benefit specialists by an absolutely greater amount, provides a greater proportional benefit to those who are relatively unskilled or weak. Again, this notion is so profoundly the opposite of the accepted economic tales of "robber barons" and Dickensian factory owners that, even while writing it, I find it startling.

The idea of the division of labor isn't so much about the skilled and the wealthy exploiting the labor of the unskilled and the poor as it is about the benefits of cooperation to everyone. That those who bring better skills or more experience to the cooperation do absolutely better is no surprise, but the fact that those who bring relatively less in the way of skills and experience to the market gain a proportionately greater amount is big and exciting news to a world steeped in the weak tea of socialist labor theory.

Real civilization is built on a foundation not of exploitation but of cooperation. And those with the most to gain from civilization and the cooperation it is built upon are the weak and the unskilled. Chain together my clumsy pitchforking, my sister's skilled farm management, her boss's business acumen, and his clients' professional success, with their employees' skilled and unskilled labor alike and you start to see the only real "safety net" the working world will ever know: the vast and amazing web of transactions and interdependencies of the marketplace, where even the weakest and least skilled have something of value to contribute.



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.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Anger over plan to broadcast Muslim call to prayer on loudspeaker in Oxford

Muslim plans to broadcast a loudspeaker call to prayer from a city centre mosque have been attacked by local residents who say it would turn the area into a "Muslim ghetto". Dozens of people packed out a council meeting to express their concerns over the plans for a two-minute long call to prayer to be issued three times a day, saying that it could drown out the traditional sound of church bells. But a spokesman for the Central Mosque said that Muslim's also have the right to summon worshippers.

Dr Mark Huckster, who lives in Stanton Road and works at East Oxford hospice Helen House, told the Oxford Mail: "The proposal to issue a prayer call is very un-neighbourly, especially in a crowded urban space such as Oxford. "I have lived in the Middle East and a prayer call has a very different feel to church bells and I personally found the noise extremely unpleasant, rather disturbing and very alien to the western mindset." He added: "If an evangelical Christian preacher proposed issuing sermons three times a day at full volume there would be an outcry. "There could be a sense of ghettoisation of East Oxford. Cowley Road would have a Muslim flavour and could become a Muslim ghetto which is contrary to what we want in a multicultural society."


Deaf demand right to designer deaf children

This is the logical outcome of "All cultures are equal"

DEAF parents should be allowed to screen their embryos so they can pick a deaf child over one that has all its senses intact, according to the chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID). Jackie Ballard, a former Liberal Democrat MP, says that although the vast majority of deaf parents would want a child who has normal hearing, a small minority of couples would prefer to create a child who is effectively disabled, to fit in better with the family lifestyle. Ballard's stance is likely to be welcomed by other deaf organisations, including the British Deaf Association (BDA), which is campaigning to amend government legislation to allow the creation of babies with disabilities.

A clause in the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, which is passing through the House of Lords, would make it illegal for parents undergoing embryo screening to choose an embryo with an abnormality if healthy embryos exist. In America a deaf couple deliberately created a baby with hearing difficulties by choosing a sperm donor with generations of deafness in his family. This would be impossible under the bill in its present form in the UK. Disability charities say this makes the proposed legislation discriminatory, because it gives parents the right to create "designer babies" free from genetic conditions while banning couples from deliberately creating a baby with a disability.

The prospect of selecting "deaf embryos" is likely to be seized on by campaigners against genetic screening who will argue that this is an inevitable outcome of allowing "designer babies". Doctors are opposed to creating deaf babies. Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the Bridge Centre, a clinic in London that screens embyros, said: "This would be an abuse of medical technology. Deafness is not the normal state, it is a disability. To deliberately create a deaf embryo would be contrary to the ethos of our society."

Ballard, who previously ran into controversy as director-general of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) where she pushed through extensive job cuts, said in an interview with The Sunday Times: "Most parents would choose to have a hearing embryo, but for those few parents who do not, we think they should be allowed to exercise that choice and we would support them in that decision. "There are a number of deaf forums where there are discussions about this. There are a small minority of activists who say that there is a cultural identity in being born deaf and that we should not destroy that cultural identity by preventing children from being born deaf." Ballard added: "We would like to retain, as far as possible, parental choice, but it has to be in conjunction with a clinician so that people know exactly what they are choosing."

Next month a coalition of disability organisations will launch a campaign to amend the bill to make it possible for parents to choose the embryos that carry a genetic abnormality. Francis Murphy, chairman of the BDA, said: "If choice of embryos for implantation is to be given to citizens in general, and if hearing and other people are allowed to choose embryos that will be `like them', sharing the same characteristics, language and culture, then we believe that deaf people should have the same right." Murphy added that the BDA believes it is very unlikely that it would become common for deaf parents to deliberately create deaf children.

To create a "designer baby" using preimplantation genetic diagnosis, couples need to go through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) even if they could conceive naturally. The embryos created are then genetically screened and normally only the healthy ones are implanted in the mother's womb. This weekend the RNID played down Ballard's comments by pointing out that the charity does not advocate deliberately creating deaf babies. A spokesman said: "While the RNID believes in the individual's right to choose, we would not actively encourage the selection of deaf embryos over hearing ones for implantation when both are available."


More on the Canadian attack on Mark Steyn

Conservative Canadian pundit Mark Steyn has made a name for himself in recent years as a Cassandra about the supposed threat posed by Islam to the liberal democracies of the West. Making the case most clearly in his witty, if doom-mongering, book America Alone, Steyn argues that Europeans are slipping into irrelevance courtesy of their doddering welfare states and their anemic birthrates -- that Belgium, France and Holland are poised to join the Muslim world courtesy of fast-breeding immigrants who retain a closer kinship to the cultures of the countries they left than to the values of their new homes. In response, Steyn has drawn charges of sloppy argument and even overt racism.

But, until now, the broadsides fired at the controversial writer have been rhetorical in nature -- they haven't actually carried legal consequences. That's changed now that Canadian authorities are investigating Steyn for supposed "hate speech" -- a forbidden form of expression in the frozen North -- over an excerpt from his book published in Macleans magazine.

Yep, that's right -- a writer may be penalized by the government for penning officially disfavored ideas. In Canada.

Many Americans have the idea that Canada is a lot like the U.S., but a tad more nanny-statish. In a lot of ways that's true, but it understates some important differences. In particular, Canadians are much more vulnerable than Americans to the whims of government officials when it comes to protections for individual rights. As eroded as the U.S. Bill of Rights may be, it starts from the premise that individual rights precede government, and that government may not legitimately violate or change those rights. Practical application is another matter, but the original premise still has some force.

By contrast, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms is written as a model of slippery legalese, and seems rooted in the idea that the rights and freedoms it protects are gifts from the government. Notoriously, it includes a clause that allows federal or provincial legislators to ignore the charter by simply stating their intent to do so.

33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.

In usual practice, this difference may mean little. Canadians sometimes exercise a little more liberty than Americans on issues like marijuana use, for instance. But the idea that liberty is something that's parceled out by politicians tends to result in predictable results when those politicians come under pressure by people upset by somebody else's exercise of their rights. Specifically, that means that voicing politically incorrect opinions can trigger complaints that send bureaucrats chasing after politically incorrect opinions with hefty legal flyswatters.

Not too long ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission actually issued a cease-and-desist order against a Canadian woman for posting homophobic Bible verses on American Websites. So Mark Steyn faces real potential consequences over the opinions he voiced in a book that hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Steyn may be right about the demise of liberal democracies in the West. But the killing may be suicide rather than murder.


A freedom to shout about

YOU get a better class of political protester at Oxford University. Last week, when students broke into an Oxford Union debate to protest at the presence of the British National Party leader and a notorious Holocaust denier, one of the intruders commandeered a piano and shouted a question to the packed hall: "Wagner, perhaps?"

Free speech. A noble idea. But the debate about it in Britain today isn't really about free speech at all. It has become a Trojan Horse for a different debate entirely - one about religion and race. By deciding what's permissible to say in public, we are defining how tolerant a society we are prepared to be. In practical terms, this means how tolerant we are of religious and racial intolerance.

For the majority of us, liberal by instinct and live-and-let-live by inclination, this throws up some uncomfortable conflicts. On one hand we have to decide what leeway to allow extremists to spout race hate. On the other we have to judge when to curb the hateful preachings of religious fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim.

Last week in Oxford, Nick Griffin of the BNP and the disgraced historian David Irving were faced with protesters who seemed to be split into three camps, each with its own distinctive take on the right of free speech.

The first, echoed by a number of eminent commentators in the past week, goes something like this: Yes, these men have the right to free speech; but they are not entitled to make their loathsome case on such hallowed ground as the Oxford Union, which has played host to great historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi, Bobby Kennedy and Mother Teresa.

What tosh. If the Oxford University is indeed the apex of intellect it professes to be, then where better to forensically dismantle some bampot fascist ideas and show them up as historically illiterate, morally indefensible and politically naive?

The second group's viewpoint is slightly different: yes, we have a right to free speech in this country, but that only applies if your views are nice and cuddly and liberal, like ours. Otherwise, we will shut you up. If you want to preach racial intolerance then we will deny you a platform, we will deny you a debate and we will try to drown you out by shouting very loudly.

More tosh. By refusing to engage in debate with the extreme right - or any group that plays to base fears - all we do is nurture and sustain them. It's not good enough to say we're not going to dignify their views by responding to them. We must meet them head-on, always giving trust to reason and the power of argument. Anything else is a counsel of despair.

Of course, the right to free speech is never an absolute. There are laws in place to ensure that if BNP statements stray into incitement to racial hatred they become a criminal offence. But within the bounds of what is legal, free speech should mean exactly that. Even if it means the freedom to be racist, misogynistic, homophobic or any other intolerant social trait.

There was a third group at Oxford too, and their reasoning could be summed up like this: whether or not you have the right to free speech is irrelevant - you're a fascist bastard and I'm going to try my best to give you a good kicking. I admit in my student days in the early 1980s - the era of Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League - I may have had some sympathy with this view. These days I hope I'm more reasonable.

A useful rule of thumb is this: your fundamental right to free speech will only be curbed when it infringes on the fundamental rights of others. And there's an important distinction to be made here. There is no fundamental right to have your religious beliefs protected from criticism. Just because you claim your views are sanctioned by God does not provide you with any additional protection, or justification for that matter. This is what psychologists call a 'category error'.

At the moment, the novelist Martin Amis is being accused of being a racist because of his sustained criticism of extremist Islamism. His critics' reasoning appears to be that because most followers of Islam are non-white, Amis's views are therefore racist. At the risk of repeating myself: utter tosh.

Amis is exercising his right to free speech in the precise area where it is most needed - in seeking clarity in a debate about religion and race that is too often a fug of lazy assumptions and unexamined prejudices. His criticism is not of a race or a religion but of an ideology. He refuses to take the craven and cowardly position that we must accept other cultures and other traditions entirely on their own terms, without any reference to our own morality and values.

There's a phrase we're all familiar with, for which we can thank Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Here and now, in Britain in 2007, this notion feels a bit antique. Today we are far more likely to say: "I disapprove of what you say, so I will accuse you of racism/religious intolerance/political incorrectness until you shut up."

It's time we rediscovered the spirit of Voltaire's original sentiment and applied it anew to the troubled age in which we live. Free speech, after all, has a price.



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.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jeremy Clarkson on Christmas correctness

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.

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."
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:
... 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.

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.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gross black racism

Post below lifted from Discriminations. See the original for links

An Associated Press article from the Boston Herald reports:
The state's first black governor says he's far outpacing his predecessor when it comes to hiring minorities into government management jobs, which he says is an important step in making the Statehouse feel like the people's house....

One way to remove the barriers, he said, is by hiring from a wider pool of candidates. Patrick cites as one of his first-year achievements hiring a "historically diverse" cabinet and leadership team.

Twenty-seven percent of hires in the governor's office are people of color and 52 percent are women, the Democratic governor said..... Massachusetts is about 86 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent black, with some crossover because of people reporting mixed race, according to 2005 Census figures.
So, in his first year the proportion of minorities among Gov. Patrick's new hires was nearly twice as high as their proportion of Massachusetts's population. Well, no one ever said that "diverse" hiring was incompatible with racially and ethnically unrepresentative hiring.

Surprise (Not)! Preferences Produce Animosity

Post below lifted from Discriminations. See the original for links

"Relations among African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans are fraught with tension and negative stereotypes," the Washington Post reported recently, referring to the results of a new poll by New America Media (HatTip to Ed Chin).

The Post, following the lead of New America Media, tried hard to put a positive gloss on the glum news, adding "... but the three groups share core values and a desire to get along better." The article was pretty mum about what those "core values" might be, and I found the evidence for the "desire to get along" less than overwhelming: "...more than 85 percent of responders said they should put aside their differences and work together to help their communities." In other words, a full 15% of the black, Asian, and Hispanic respondents had no "desire to get along" at all.

Clearly the poll's major finding, however, as summarized on the New America Media site linked above, is the distrust, dislike, and friction among the three groups surveyed:
The poll found that friction between ethnic and racial groups, which at times has erupted into highly-publicized incidents around the country, is clearly rooted in the mistrust that the groups harbor towards each other, as well as the sentiment that other groups are mistreating them or are detrimental to their own future. For instance, 44% of Hispanics and 47% of Asians are "generally afraid of African Americans because they are responsible for most of the crime." Meanwhile, 46% of Hispanics and 52% of African Americans believe "most Asian business owners do not treat them with respect." And half of African Americans feel threatened by Latin American immigrants because "they are taking jobs, housing and political power away from the Black community."

As dramatic as these findings are, however, in many respects they are what the Clintons always refer to as "old news" whenever some new evidence of scandal or misdeed comes to light. As long ago as 1975, at the dawn of the era of preferences, Nathan Glazer presciently predicted what would happen as a result of the government dispensing favors based on race and ethnicity. As I quoted him here, racial and ethnic preferences predictably lead to
a real Balkanization, in which group after group struggles for the benefits of special treatment.... The demand for special treatment will lead to animus against other groups that already have it, by those who think they should have it and don't.... The rising emphasis on group difference which government is called upon to correct might mean the destruction of any hope for the larger fraternity of all Americans.
In that post I continued:
that was Nathan Glazer, in AFFIRMATIVE DISCRIMINATION (Basic Books, 1975), and if anything he underestimated the divisiveness of bestowing governmental favors on the basis of race and ethnicity. Now that liberals have abandoned the formerly core value holding that every individual is entitled to be treated without regard to race, creed, or color in favor of multiculturalism and group rights, the very idea of "the larger fraternity of all Americans" is regarded by many as nothing more than right-wing cant.
Glazer wrote in 1975; my post above is from 2002. Two years later I returned to that same point, and Glazer again, here in a post on "Preferences and Group Conflict":
On Saturday the New York Times ran a long, interesting article about increasing tensions betweent the black and Hispanic communities. The high, or low, point for me was the following quote from Keith Murphy, host of a radio talk show in Milwaukee with a mostly black audience:
"It's still a matter of distrust," he said. "It's a feeling among African-Americans that Latinos are coming in and getting the jobs and are getting preferential treatment."
I've never heard Keith Murphy's program, and so I don't know whether he thinks preferences based on race or ethnicity are bad in principle or bad only when they go to Hispanics. His comment, however, exemplifies one of the most corrosive (as well as one of the most predictable) effects of preferences: their unerring ability to turn group against group in a mad scramble for the scraps of favoritism. Nathan Glazer, back in 1975....
Of course the recognition that racial discrimination and playing racial favorites is corrosive of American unity did not begin with Nathan Glazer in 1975. In what remains perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent statement of that view, Gunnar Myrdal wrote in his classic AN AMERICAN DILEMMA in 1944 (if that link doesn't work, just go to and search for it) that
It is difficult to avoid the judgment that this "American Creed" is the cement in the structure of this great and disparate nation. [From p. 3, found by searching "American Creed" on the Google book page cited above]
And from p. 52:
The split of the nation into a dominant "American" group and a larger number of minority groups means that American civilization is permeated by animosities and prejudices attached to ethnic origin or what is popularly recognized as the "race" of a person. These animosities or prejudices are commonly advanced in defense of various discriminations which tend to keep the minority groups in a disadvantaged economic and social status. They are contrary to the American Creed, which is emphatic in denouncing differences made on account of "race, creed or color." ....
I wonder what Myrdal would say if he could see us now, when our society's attitude shapers and opinion leaders in the major media, academia, the corporate world, and virtually (actually?) the entire leadership ranks of one of our two great political parties are equally "emphatic" in their rejection of "The American Creed," having abandoned it in favor of their faddish infatuation with racial and ethnic "difference" ... and differential treatment of "groups" (they no longer seem to see individuals) based on race and ethnicity. Shame on them.


By Jeff Jacoby

The "girl from Qatif" won a reprieve last week. On Dec. 17, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pardoned the young woman, who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison after she pressed charges against seven men who had raped her and a male acquaintance in 2006. Two weeks earlier, Sudan's president extended a similar reprieve to Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam because her 7-year-old students named a teddy bear Muhammad. Gibbons had been sentenced to prison, but government-organized street demonstrators were loudly demanding her execution.

In January, Nazanin Fatehi was released from an Iranian jail after a death sentence against her was revoked. She had originally been convicted of murder for fatally stabbing a man when he and two others attempted to rape her and her niece in a park. (Had she yielded to the rapists, she could have been flogged or stoned for engaging in nonmarital sex.)

The sparing of these women was very welcome news, of course, and it was not coincidental that each case had triggered an international furor. But for every "girl from Qatif" or Nazanin who is saved, there are far too many other Muslim girls and women for whom deliverance never comes. No international furor saved Aqsa Parvez, a Toronto teenager, whose father was charged on Dec. 11 with strangling her to death because she refused to wear a hijab. "She just wanted to look like everyone else," one of Aqsa's friends told the National Post, "and I guess her dad had a problem with that."

No reprieve came for Banaz Mahmod, either. She was 20, a Kurdish immigrant to Britain, whose father and uncle had her killed last year after she left an abusive arranged marriage and fell in love with a man not from the family's village in Kurdistan. Banaz was choked to death with a bootlace, stuffed into a suitcase, and buried in a garden 70 miles away. More than 25 such "honor killings" have been confirmed in Britain's Muslim community in recent years. Many more are suspected.

There has been no storm of outrage about the intimidation and murder in Basra, Iraq, of women who wear Western-style clothing. Iraqi police say that more than 40 women have been killed so far this year by Islamists; the bodies are often left in garbage dumps with notes accusing the victims of "un-Islamic behavior."

By Western standards, the subjugation of women by Muslim fanatics, and the sometimes pathological Islamist obsession with female sexuality, are unthinkable. Time and again they lead to shocking acts of violence and depravity:
In Pakistan, a tribal council ordered a woman to be gang-raped as punishment for her brother's supposed liaison with a woman from another tribe.

In San Francisco, a young Muslim woman was shot dead after she uncovered her hair and put on makeup in order to be a maid of honor at a friend's wedding.

In Tehran, a father beheaded his 7-year-old daughter because he suspected that she had been raped; he said he acted "to defend my honor, fame, and dignity."

In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic police prevented schoolgirls from leaving a burning building because they were not wearing headscarves and abayas; 15 of the girls died in the inferno.

The president of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, a renowned center of Islamic learning, described the proper method of wife-beating in a television interview: "It's not really beating," Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb explained on Egyptian television. "It's more like punching."
When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, the repression of women was among their first priorities. They issued a decree forbidding women to leave their homes, with the result that work and schooling for women came to a halt, destroying the country's healthcare system, civil service, and elementary education. "Forty percent of the doctors, half of the government workers, and seven out of 10 teachers were women," Lawrence Wright observed in *The Looming Tower,* his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Al Qaeda. "Under the Taliban, many of them would become beggars."

Women are not the only victims of this rampant misogyny. Mohammed Halim, a 46-year-old Afghan schoolteacher, was dragged from his family and horribly murdered last year -- disemboweled and then dismembered -- for defying orders to stop educating girls.

All these are only examples -- the tip of a dreadful iceberg that will never be demolished until Muslims by the millions rise up against it. As for the rest of us, we too have an obligation to raise our voices. It took a worldwide outcry to spare the "girl from Qatif" and Nazanin. But there are countless others like them, and our silence may seal their fate.

Official censorship breeds mistrust of officialdom

In 2003, the local council in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire refused to show an A4 poster for a Christmas carol service in the local library, because it might constitute a political or religious message. The same year, the Red Cross banned nativity decorations from its British shops because it stated that an alignment to a particular religion could `compromise our ability to work in conflict situations around the world'. In 2006, a survey of 428 firms in Manchester found that 77 per cent of employers said they were banning decorations because they were worried about offending other faiths (2). In all these cases, the ban was about preventing possible harm, rather than responding to actual complaints.

It is stories like these that create suspicion that things are being heavily regulated. Of course, in reality, people in authority today rarely have the luxury to monitor everything they encounter. Most decisions are made defensively and in a knee-jerk fashion, rather than according to some sinister conspiracy plan. But the end result is a surge in urban myths which feed upon existing reality.

While the stories I have mentioned so far (and there are many more) were all reported in reputable papers, there are also plenty of emails circulating from `unofficial sources'. These are less reliable, but they feed our suspicion that this is `what you don't hear from those in charge'. The other day I received an email about how Royal Mail staff have been told only to offer their Christmas stamps (showing religious images of angels and the Madonna and Child) to those who asked explicitly for them over the counter. While a quick scan of the Royal Mail website shows that these stamps do indeed exist, there is probably no other way to test this story than to walk into a post office and see what happens.

The point about rumours is that they feed off a broader suspicion and distrust of `official sources'. We don't have to experience things firsthand to believe them. When I was conducting interviews with residents in the town of Oldham in the north-west of England last year, I kept hearing a claim that the council had banned the St George's flag (the flag of England). I casually asked various council staff about it but none of them could tell me for certain whether it had actually happened or not. One of them suggested that it might have been for `health-and-safety reasons'. Another guessed it might have been out of sensitivity to local ethnic groups and concerns about the presence in the area of the far-right British National Party (BNP). When I asked local people about it - Asian and white - many felt that this sort of decision was `typical' of the council. Crucially, it was not important whether the flag was actually banned or not, but that it was seen as entirely believable.

Official anti-racism has made cultural symbols and language so politicised that the public is bound to think that festivals, flags and images are being `managed' on their behalf. In March 2002, Oldham council publicised its decision to fly the Union Jack flag from the Civic Centre, as a way to reclaim it as a symbol from the extreme right. It also stated it would fly the Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi flags for the duration of official visits from those countries. The authorities were paying attention to cultural images and using them to engineer attitudes.

The corollary to that, of course, is that language and images are not only promoted but also banned if they are seen to be a threat to community relations. We believe that official sources aren't telling us the truth because, ultimately, we feel that they don't trust us to make our own minds up about what see and hear.

In the 2001 local elections in Oldham, when the BNP gained its strongest electoral result in the UK in over a decade, the council censored all political parties from speaking on election night in order to prevent the BNP from talking to the electorate. In September 2001, the home secretary banned all public marches in Oldham for two months on grounds of `safety'. Likewise, Ted Cantle, in his report into the 2001 riots in the north-west, pointed out that there were complaints from the public about the police's over-zealous restrictions on political marches in the town against racism, and festivals to celebrate cultural diversity. Returning to the town in 2006, Cantle noted that despite all the diversity training and race equality guidelines, people in Oldham `wanted to ask questions around faith and culture, but were afraid to do so because it might be thought "politically incorrect"' (3).

In such a climate, where people are not expressing their views openly, rumours surge. In a 2001 US-based study, Fine and Turner argue that race rumours emerge as an expression of angst and suspicion when more public channels are censored or closed to certain opinions: `What happens when we dare not speak these beliefs? What happens when we deny - to ourselves and to others - that we hold them because we have come to accept that they are morally illegitimate? We believe that two responses are common. First, we become ashamed; we withdraw from dialogue. Second, following from this, we become too willing to accept claims of "actual happenings" that support these hidden beliefs.' (4)

The most recent high-profile example of a race rumour in Britain was in Lozells, Birmingham in 2006, when local Asian and black youths clashed on the streets. The riot was triggered by a story of a black girl having been gangraped by a group of Asian men. While the allegation lacked substance, and no witnesses or victim ever officially came forward, the story gained a life of its own on the airwaves of local community radio stations, like Hot FM and Sting FM, whose djs called for large-scale protests.

These unofficial channels picked up on local suspicions that the authorities always treated one group better than another and some people always got their way - a feeling probably compounded by the competitive dynamic of local community politics and the stress on difference in official local policies. Likewise, in his study of south-east London, the sociologist Roger Hewitt described how the media demonisation of white residents in the area following the murder of the young black youth Stephen Lawrence led to a `white backlash'. He describes how racism was `tucked away' amongst the politically powerless white working classes, who could not publicly object to the way in which they were being depicted. Suspicion grew through neighbourhood talk, rumour, narrative and counter-narrative. The authorities' tactics to silence these views by `scary and oblique references' to the BNP ended up reinforcing the sense of shame people felt, and further driving these views underground without proper scrutiny.

All of this suggests that the backlash against `political correctness gone mad' is not simply about a surge in racism or bigotry amongst the public against other groups (although it certainly doesn't help community relations in places like Lozells). There is also another factor at work here: a large number of people quite rightly resent the feeling that they are being `managed'. We indulge in the collective rolling of the eyeballs at political correctness gone mad because it allows us to momentarily express our irritation with officious policies. Perhaps next year, when junior officials think about how not to cause offence, they would be wise to think a bit more carefully about not insulting the public first.



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.