Thursday, April 03, 2008

British police worker who fought forced marriages is facing dismissal for speaking publicly about their plight

A police worker praised by MPs for protecting thousands of girls from forced marriages is facing dismissal for speaking publicly about their plight. Philip Balmforth has been removed from his duties and faces a disciplinary hearing next week after giving an interview to The Times about Asian children who go missing from schools in Bradford. The former police inspector, regarded as a national authority on "honour-based" violence, stands accused of "damaging the reputation" of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to a newspaper without consent.

It is understood that the force, which has investigated 176 cases of forced marriage in the past year alone, took action against Mr Balmforth after receiving a complaint from Bradford council. Senior figures on the local authority are said to have claimed that his high-profile work was damaging the city's image and was "bad for regeneration".

Last week 56 MPs signed a Commons early day motion praising Mr Balmforth. It was tabled by Ann Cryer, the MP for Keighley and a campaigner for the welfare of ethnic minority women. The motion applauds his work "in protecting thousands of vulnerable girls in the Bradford district" and commends the police "for having the foresight to engage Philip 12 years ago, thus enabling him to give so many young women the right to choose whom and when to marry". Ninety per cent of the victims who have been dealt with by the Government's Forced Marriage Unit are from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background and the majority are taken to their families' countries of origin to be married, often to a first cousin.

Mr Balmforth, a full-time police support worker whose post as vulnerable persons officer (Asian women) is partly funded by Bradford social services, has been contacted for help by more than 2,000 local women in recent years. He was interviewed by The Times this month after the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence established that 33 pupils had vanished from schools in Bradford. Mr Balmforth suggested that every education authority in the country should be asked: "How many children did you lose last year? And where are they?"

The comments are telling, especially from local people:

"Bradford council refused to comment most probably because there are so few councillors that can speak English. I would be very surprised if Mr Balmforth ever returns to his role as he has committed the most heinous of hate crimes in this country today. He has turned over a rock and told us what **** under it, which this government absolutely hates".


British child psychologist warns that digital-age children should be left to take risks

Asked by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to investigate the new dangers to children being brought up in the digital age, Tanya Byron last week produced a 224-page report. The child psychologist's recommendations included a cinema-style system of classification for video games and a thorough public education campaign. However, she warns that protecting children against all risks stunts their development and an important part of growing up is learning to assess and deal with danger

Shortly before she published a report last week on keeping children safe in the online age, Dr Tanya Byron was invited to lunch with Gordon Brown at Chequers. It was a family affair: Byron, her husband Bruce, who plays DC Terry Perkins in The Bill, and their two children, Lily, 12, and Jack, 10, all went along. Lunch at the prime minister's country estate is the sort of occasion when any parent would want their little ones to be bright, presentable and on their best behaviour. But not even Byron, a child psychologist who has advised millions on parenting through her television series, is immune from modest rebellion.

"My son piped up just before we were going and he said, `Mummy, I could take my PlayStation and I could really make you scared in front of the prime minister'. He could. The prospect of son Jack smuggling in some dodgy game and whipping out his portable PlayStation to blast away in front of the prime minister had Byron "feeling slightly twitchy". That's not surprising given that she was about to advise Brown on how to protect young children from unsuitable computer material. But in typical calm style she simply said: "No, darling. You don't play those games, so let's not go there."

A tall, curvaceous woman with wide eyes and a warm smile, Byron must be as annoying as hell to all those postfeministas who say you can't have it all. She is clever, articulate, attractive and a natural performer, as well as being a mother and government adviser. Although most people know her from television programmes such as Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways, she is no pop-psycho with more beauty than brains. She did her first degree at York, a masters at University College London and a doctorate at University College hospital and Surrey University. For 18 years she worked in the National Health Service, rising to be a consultant for children with severe mental disorders. She still works one day a week as a consultant in child mental health, although most of her time is taken up filming with the BBC.

Glamour, fame, acclaim - yet Byron, 41, also retains the common sense of an ordinary mum: making her the perfect candidate for a report into children growing up in a world where the risks, as well as benefits, of the internet and computer games are all-pervasive. "When I came to doing the report . . . concerns were very much fuelled by a lack of understanding of the technology. People were asking, is it all big, bad and scary out there? I know a lot more than I did six months ago. It's made me feel more positive and confident and less anxious."

Of course she recognises the dangers - from paedophiles to porn, violence and cyberbullying. In her report, which arrived with much ministerial fanfare last week, she carefully examines the scientific evidence about how children are affected by nasty computer games or hardcore porn. Research, she concludes, shows mixed results.

Although, for example, there is a correlation between aggression and playing violent computer games, it's not clear that there is a causal relationship - that violent games make children more violent. Convenient, since any kind of ban would be a political minefield. In person, though, she is more forthright. "I'm really clear that adult content is harmful and inappropriate for young children particularly," she says. "They do not have the neural networks in place to be able to critically evaluate the content, to differentiate fantasy from reality." Byron would like the law on such matters to be clearer and to be applied with more vigour: "I am saying clarify the law . . . be clear about when there is content on websites that is breaking the law."

She also encourages parents to challenge the classification of computer games if they think they are inappropriate: "It's important to have a system where there can be a challenge, where people can complain."

A less astute person might have let such conclusions suck them into recommending censorship of violent games or websites. Byron knows that won't work: "If you go down the censorship route, the content would still be there somewhere. Children would go online to websites outside the UK, to unmoderated sites." And parents, already struggling to keep up, might have even less idea what their youngsters are doing. "The rapid pace at which new media are evolving has left adults and children stranded either side of a generational digital divide," she says. Older people may still regard the internet as a parallel universe that somehow arrives through a machine at the office or home, but for youngsters it's a seamless part of their lives. They are the cyborg generation.

The answer, Byron believes, is to trust in the better side of human nature. Families can navigate the risks provided they are informed and sensible. "I'm more of a `half-full' girl than a `half-empty' girl. That's how I like to live life," she explains. Her report, which runs to more than 200 pages, is packed with recommendations some of which the government has promised to adopt. Key measures include a UK council on child internet safety to develop voluntary codes of practice for the industry and better information for the public; teaching adults about "parental control" systems on computers; a new classification of computer games like those used for films; and courses in schools to teach children "e-safety".

It's hard to argue against any of it (although whether the portly public sector needs yet another quango is debatable). Byron, using common sense, already regulates her children's use of computers: "They don't have a computer in their own rooms. We have got some in the office and one downstairs in the kitchen. Gaming and going online is good . . . but in a way that is right for their age and stage of development. It's something you do after your homework. It never takes place instead of a family meal. When my son is gaming and I'm cooking, he's there and I know what he's doing."

Her daughter, two years older, is given more leeway and Byron admits that she does not know exactly what her daughter does online: "We have a good relationship and I respect her privacy. In the same way I don't know entirely what's in her diary. But I know my child; I know when something has upset them or when they are distressed." They talk, they work it out, just as they would some other problem. That, in a nutshell, is how Byron believes parents should approach bringing up children in the digital age. You can buy software to block websites, you can spy on children's internet history, you can restrict access when they are young - but in the end children are going to go out into the big wide world and need to be able to look after themselves.

"We live in a risk-averse culture, but risk is a developmental imperative of childhood and I think we need to recognise that. It's about fostering the independent child. What I want to get across is that [dealing with the online world] is similar to how we would parent children in the offline world."

That old world has its own temptations, for adults as well as children. It's clear that Byron enjoys the cameras and corridors of power: "I really like advising politicians. I really liked saying to the PM this morning, `The UK child internet safety council, you set it up, we could take a global lead, what do you reckon?' And he says, `Okay'."

Is she going to be on the internet safety council? "Oh no," she laughs. "I'm outta here. It's all about kids for me. I'd much rather work on behalf of children." So she doesn't want to be a politician? She gives that big disarming smile again: "Do you know, I really like advising them . . ." She has already become too much of a politician to say no.


Conservatives are happier

This is a very common finding. Leftists are the miseries of the world. Discontent is Leftist

American parents are much more likely to be happy than non-parents. This is for two reasons, argues Mr Brooks, an economist at Syracuse University. Even if children are irksome now, they lend meaning to life in the long term. And the kind of people who are happy are also more likely to have children. Which leads on to Mr Brooks's most controversial finding: in America, conservatives are happier than liberals.

Several books have been written about happiness in recent years. Some have tried to discern which nations are the happiest. Many more purport to offer a foolproof guide to self-fulfilment. Others wonder if the obsessive pursuit of happiness is itself making people miserable. Mr Brooks offers something different. He writes only about Americans, thus avoiding the pitfalls of trying to figure out, for example, whether Japanese people mean the same thing as Danes when they say they are happy. And he writes intriguingly about the politics of happiness.

In 2004 Americans who called themselves "conservative" or "very conservative" were nearly twice as likely to tell pollsters they were "very happy" as those who considered themselves "liberal" or "very liberal" (44% versus 25%). One might think this was because liberals were made wretched by George Bush. But the data show that American conservatives have been consistently happier than liberals for at least 35 years.

This is not because they are richer; they are not. Mr Brooks thinks three factors are important. Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to be married and twice as likely to attend church every week. Married, religious people are more likely than secular singles to be happy. They are also more likely to have children, which makes Mr Brooks confident that the next generation will be at least as happy as the current one.

When religious and political differences are combined, the results are striking. Secular liberals are as likely to say they are "not too happy" as to say they are very happy (22% to 22%). Religious conservatives are ten times more likely to report being very happy than not too happy (50% to 5%). Religious liberals are about as happy as secular conservatives.

Why should this be so? Mr Brooks proposes that whatever their respective merits, the conservative world view is more conducive to happiness than the liberal one (in the American sense of both words). American conservatives tend to believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. This makes them more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and therefore happier. American liberals, at their most pessimistic, stress the injustice of the economic system, the crushing impersonal forces that keep the little guy down and what David Mamet, a playwright, recently summed up as the belief that "everything is always wrong". Emphasising victimhood was noble during the 1950s and 1960s, says Mr Brooks. By overturning Jim Crow laws, liberals gave the victims of foul injustice greater control over their lives. But inasmuch as the American left is now a coalition of groups that define themselves as the victims of social and economic forces, and in as much as its leaders encourage people to feel helpless and aggrieved, he thinks they make America a glummer place.

So much for right versus left. Mr Brooks also finds that extremists of both sides are happier than moderates. Some 35% of those who call themselves "extremely liberal" say they are very happy, against only 22% of ordinary liberals. For conservatives, the gap is smaller: 48% to 43%. Extremists are happy, Mr Brooks reckons, because they are certain they are right. Alas, this often leads them to conclude that the other side is not merely wrong, but evil. Some two-thirds of America's far left and half of the far right say they dislike not only the other side's ideas, but also the people who hold them.

Oddly for a political writer, Mr Brooks thinks his country is doing pretty well. Americans are mostly free to pursue happiness however they choose with little interference from the state. Well-meaning coercion is less common than in Europe, though it can still backfire spectacularly. He cites this example: a county in Virginia recently banned giving food to the homeless unless it was prepared in a county-approved kitchen, to prevent food poisoning. Churches stopped ladling soup, and more homeless people were forced to scavenge in skips. This hurt not only the hungry, but also the volunteers who might have found satisfaction in helping them. The surest way to buy happiness, argues Mr Brooks, is to give some of your time and money away.


The penny drops about the sexual revolution

Conservatives said all this stuff from the outset but from time to time women gulled by Leftist emptiness realize that they were had. One speaks below:

Women really screwed themselves, metaphorically speaking, into an unwinnable position when we separated love and marriage from sex in the sexual revolution. We thought we were being so clever about it. Turns out all we've done is liberate men, not ourselves.

Men have strong biological urges - their sex drive. Women also have a very strong biological urge - to bear children. Normally this works out well for both sexes. However. cue the `60s and the sexual revolution. Now the social norm is to be sexually active long before marriage.

A 60 Minutes report last night called DIY Mums got me thinking. When our mothers in the `60s declared themselves equally capable of sex without love and marriage we liberated a whole generation of men to have sex with us without any commitment. In the old days there was a courtship, some steamy make-out sessions and then an engagement, a wedding and finally the consumation of the relationship. Now when women want to have children men are nowhere to be seen, despite being in abundance during our promiscuous 20s.

Companies are meeting increasing demand selling donor sperm over the internet so women can become single mothers. A milk urn arrives on the doorstep with the frozen samples inside. You take the syringe and draw up the semen and then insert it where it's supposed to go. Then play the waiting game. The commercialisation of the process aside, are women doing themselves, not to mention their future children, a huge disservice by becoming a single-parent family? But these women claim they have no choice. It's this way or it's no way. And motherhood is too strong a call to ignore.

I totally understand the compulsion to mother. As your 20s begin to fade you hear the rising tick tock of the biological clock that causes a near-daily panic of arithmetic: "If I meet Mr Right today, we could go out for a year, get engaged for a year, be married for a year before I get pregnant, so I'll only be 28 when I get pregnant - whew". As the years pass things get abbreviated, "If I meet him today, we could go out for six months before getting engaged, have a six-month engagement and then get pregnant six months into married life. Then I'll still be a mother by the time I'm 35." Gulp.

For many women, as 30 comes and goes with no man on the horizon, or at least not one who wants children, a job and a happily ever after, the sums start getting a little more frantic. When 40 looms the deadline is getting really uncomfortably close. It's now or never. But why would men want to get married and have children? Marriage and kids used to be the price to pay for getting your girlfriend to have sex with you. Now it's a matter of, `why buy the cow if you get the milk for free?'.

Now I know there are lots and lots of upstanding guys who really do want to have children. And that's great. But you're a diminishing breed. Every day we read a story in the paper about how hard it is to find a bloke, even more so to find one who'll get married and have kids.

Maybe it's time for the women's movement to move forward again and reclaim some things that were lost. Exchange our sexual freedom for commitment to what we want, not what men want. To put it very bluntly, in order to enjoy regular sex men must marry us. Of course, for this to happen we must stop having sex before we get married. Before you start tapping out `prude' to me in an email, think about what we get back - men may actually want to get married again. Coz right now they don't. Every night there seems to be a TV show about 20 women vying for one man's marriage proposal. Heck, even the Scud was in a position to choose from a bevy of babes and I mean really, can you imagine? I'm not positive but I think he gets his monobrow waxed daily.

Parenting is one of the greatest joys I've known. It's not for everyone. But for those women who know that's what they really, really want, to be robbed of it because of a hippie-based social movement more than 30-odd years ago seems cruel and ironic. It was seen as a great leap forward for women and equality. Turns out we didn't see what we were giving up and we may actually have lost far more than we gained. Come on, sisterhood. Let's do something - viva la revolucion!



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

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

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


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