Monday, September 01, 2008

Britain: Muslim council chiefs ban ALL members from 'tea and sandwiches' in meetings which take place during Ramadan

Councillors have been ordered not to eat during town hall meetings while Muslim colleagues fast during the holy month of Ramadan. All elected members at Left-wing Tower Hamlets Council in East London have been sent an email asking them to follow strict Islamic fasting during September no matter what their faith. As well as restricting food and drink until after sunset, the authority's leaders have decided to reduce the number of meetings throughout the month so they do not clash with the requirements of Ramadan. The seven remaining meetings scheduled to take place will also include special prayer breaks to accommodate Muslim councillors.

But some members of the Labour-run council say the demands favour one religious group over the others. Dr Stephanie Eaton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she would ignore the restrictions. She said: 'The Liberal Democrats have enormous respect for the contribution of all faith groups and cultures to the life of the community of Tower Hamlets. 'But we fervently believe that the rules of any one religion should not be imposed upon others. 'I was rather disconcerted to see that the arrangements put in place for Ramadan, which we support for Muslim colleagues, have been imposed upon all councillors. 'We object to the request that non-Muslim councillors observe the fasting rules for Ramadan. This sends out the wrong message to our community. 'Our community consists of a huge number of different religions, all of which should be valued, and no one religion should be accorded more status or influence than others.'

This is not the first time the council, which has a broad ethnic make-up, has courted controversy. It has been criticised in the past for being 'overly politically correct' after calling its staff Christmas meal a 'festive meal'. And it has also staged a Bonfire Night party which featured a Bengal tiger instead of Guy Fawkes.

During Ramadan, strict Muslims are obliged to fast between sunrise and sundown. They must abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing, tobacco, and any kind of sexual contact. The holy period falls on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and this year it begins at the start of September, which means there are more daylight fasting hours than if it fell in later months.

Most of the council's debates are scheduled to start at 6.30pm. But with the sun not setting until an hour later, devout Muslims will be unable to break their fast - known as Iftar - until midway through the meeting, where they will be given a 45-minute break. Food and refreshments, such as sandwiches and biscuits, are normally laid on at town hall meetings.

Controversy has arisen because all members have been told not to eat until after sunset, out of courtesy to their Muslim colleagues, and so there will be food left for them later in the evening. In the memo to councillors, John Williams, the council's head of democratic services, said: 'It is requested that members do not partake of any refreshments until after the Iftar refreshments are served.' Council bosses said the arrangements were in place 'where it is not reasonable to expect members observing Ramadan, and who are required to attend a formal committee or other meeting, to travel home in time for sundown in order to break fast and undertake prayers'.


Collectivism runs deep

And can easily become a horror

In a German school, a class of teenagers sits bored. Their history teacher, Herr Wenger, seems equally unenthusiastic. For Project Week, he announces, they'll be studying Nazism, a prospect that elicits the usual groans: haven't we beaten ourselves up enough? Wenger whacks on the projector and sobers them with footage of Nuremberg and Auschwitz. Lights on and a hand goes up. It's the perennial: how could a whole nation have let this happen?

This is a scene from Dennis Gansel's latest film, and, given his previous one, the acclaimed Before the Fall, about the Nazification of German youth, it's clear the director has a bone to pick. "I have a grandfather who was really supportive of Hitler," he confides. "He said, `When I was your age, I was leading a division in Russia.' And I have very left-wing parents. So, as part of the third generation after the second world war, it is something I really want to explore."

In Die Welle (The Wave), the setting is present-day. Wenger (Jrgen Vogel) invites his students to participate in an experiment. Put their faith in him and he will deliver a unique insight into the mind-set of a citizen in a totalitarian state. What begins as a playful study in psychological manipulation - a few drills in collective behaviour, time trials in entering the room - soon runs away with itself. By midweek, Wenger is recoiling in horror. His acned darlings have been transformed into an ersatz Hitler Youth - the title's self-styled "Wave" - complete with uniform, badge, salute and an eagerness to jackboot all nonbelievers. "It isn't about politics at all," Gansel says. "It's more about group dynamics and psychology."

If the film sounds far-fetched, it isn't. Bar some dramatic licence, it is modelled on a very real experiment that took place in a schoolroom in Palo Alto, California, over one week in April 1967. Known as "The Third Wave", it achieved similarly sensational results, a textbook case for psychologists. Back then, at Cubberley High, in the heart of affluent Silicon Valley, the orchestrator was a history teacher named Ron Jones. Against the backdrop of 1960s radicalism, he thought he'd spice up a routine social-studies lesson for his 10th-graders. "It was very spontaneous and very improvisational," Jones remembers. "My own curiosity got the best of me and I started playing with it. The first day was structured, but the other four were not, although events were tumbling down on top of us."

Mark Hancock was one of Jones's then 15-year-old guinea pigs. "Ron was the most popular teacher in the school. Kids wanted to be in his class," he says. "The thing to remember is, he was very young, right out of Stanford University, so we really identified with him. This was not his first experiment either, which is why we were so accepting of it." Indeed, the proverbial charismatic leader found his charges eminently suggestible. As in the film, it began with the tenet "Discipline" - extolling the benefits of correct posture, the merits of direct and courteous speech (the kind of advice you wish would be directed towards your average British adolescent). "Fascism takes steps, it doesn't pop out of nowhere," says Jones. "It comes from a series of progressions."

It was meant to have been a one-day exercise, but when Jones entered on the second morning to find his silent and attentive class eager for more dictation, he decided to run with it. He gave his group a name, The Third Wave (after surfer lore that the last of a trio of breakers is the biggest), a hand signal, membership cards. Soon, he was espousing the Orwellian (and chantable) doctrines of "strength through community" and "strength through action". With even the class deadbeats happily involved, he instructed his Third Wavers to proselytise. To a more sinister end, he established his own Gestapo to rat out any sceptics. "We basically had a mini police state going," says Hancock. "You couldn't trust your best friend. You were scared to death because if you did something, you'd get caught, and if you got caught, you got a bad grade. You were ruled by fear."

The 30-odd original Wavers soon swelled to an order of 200, a Darwinian force within the school. "It was like an explosion, constantly getting out of control. It was taking on a lot of its own dimensions," says Jones.

There were Good Germans, to be sure. "The traditional story is that every single kid was enthusiastic; the reality was more complicated," recalls Hancock. The intimidatory atmosphere, however, kept them silent. "When students were pronounced guilty in front of the class, it was, `Gee, that's good, let's give 'em some more,' " says Jones. "Wow, it sent a chill up my back, this kind of group desire to hurt someone." Teachers and parents grew concerned. With a recent history of violence at the school, the propensity for something more cataclysmic seemed real. "One of the students in the class was a bomb-maker," says Jones. "He had blown off his hand the previous summer." Springtime was over for the reluctant Fhrer.

Unexpectedly, Jones cranked it up a notch. The Third Wave was no isolated group, he informed his enraptured followers, but part of a co-ordinated national youth movement, with cells all across America. A rally in the assembly hall was called for Friday afternoon, at which a leader would reveal himself on live television, declaring The Third Wave the national third party. "I remember somebody saying, `We're going to get the pigs out of Washington,' " says Philip Neel, another of Jones's pupils.

It was there Jones dropped his bombshell. At the appointed hour, to a fevered auditorium, the TVs crackled blankly. Behind, on a screen, Jones projected the same archive images of Nazi atrocities with which he had begun the week. "He looked shaken up. He just said that what he had witnessed had overwhelmed him," says Neel. "He said, `Let me show you your future. You guys were led by your own desires and were willing to give up your freedoms.' " There were tears and tantrums - some upset, some relieved, others confused. "I just felt ohmigod, the fact that he pulled this off, I did not see it coming. Maybe that's my own naivety, but what a great experiment, one of the best learning experiences I ever had."

The Third Wave was duly forgotten. "Very similar to what happened in Germany, `I didn't take part, it didn't happen,' " says Jones. It resurfaced in 1972 when a former pupil flashed him their quasi-Nazi gesture ("I was buying underwear," he laughs), prompting Jones to write about the experiment. It assumed a new lease of life, attracting inquiries from ne'er-do-wells with an interest in exerting group control. "Jim Jones called me from his People's Temple," he says. In 1981 came a TV movie and a novelisation by Todd Strasser (aka Morton Rhue). The book became an international bestseller and a set text in German schools, which Gansel read. "The first question was: would this be possible in my country with our dark burden?" he says. "And the second: what would have been my part?"

The notable thing about both the original project and the German filmed version is that they take place in white, middle-class suburbs, with no racial tensions evident - illustrating Gansel's central point, the embracing of Nazism happened even in the cushy reaches of "Middle Germany". But there are also differences. It is much more plausible to suggest that kids in 1967, before the internet, could be duped into believing they were part of a national movement. Also, and crucially, whereas in Gansel's film the pupils embrace the experiment as part of their routine course work - with no virtual Weimar Republic to crystallise their actions - Jones's pupils had a very real incentive to play ball. "You had to get good grades to get into college," says Neel. "And to stay in college was to stay out of the draft. There was definitely the spectre of Vietnam." Resistance, as you might put it, was futile.

An interesting upshot of The Wave, already a hit in Germany, is that Jones has been approached by TV companies (including a British one) wanting to replicate versions of his classroom experiment in a reality-show context. Our love of lab-rat telly, Jones suggests, merely demonstrates our capacity for the kind of malevolent behaviour he was trying to spotlight 40 years ago. "What are we cheering? Are we any better than the Nazis?" he asks. Look deep into your soul, viewer. We are all responsible.



On July 5, 1930, a letter from Will Rogers was published in The New York Times. "We sure had a great Fourth, especially after we picked up our morning papers and found that Congress had adjourned the night of the third," it began. "But our enthusiasm was immediately dampened, for the Senate are to meet again Monday, so that means that prosperity will pick up only 50 percent. "This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as we do when the baby gets hold of a hammer," Rogers continued. "It's just a question of how much damage he can do with it before you can take it away from him. Well, in 18 months these babies have left a record of devastation."

Rogers was referring to the 71st Congress, which did indeed leave a record of devastation; its execrable Smoot-Hawley tariff helped bring on the Great Depression. The current Congress, the 110th, hasn't brought on a depression -- not yet, anyway. Unfortunately, the House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene after Labor Day. And as Rogers noted, when Congress is in session the question is not whether the economy will suffer, but how much.

In some quarters it is popular to berate Congress for doing too little. In a Page 1 story last week, The Wall Street Journal noted that over the last 20 years, "no sitting Congress has passed fewer public laws at this point in the session -- 294 so far -- than this one." For example, Congress still hasn't passed a single appropriations bill for the fiscal year that is just five weeks away. By contrast, the House and Senate have taken up nearly 2,000 ceremonial resolutions, like the one designating July as National Watermelon Month or Representative John Olver's measure recognizing Pittsfield, Mass., as home to the earliest known reference to the word "baseball."

The 110th Congress is controlled by Democrats, but similar complaints were voiced about the Republican-dominated 109th. In a 2006 Los Angeles Times column headlined "Our Do-Nothing Congress," two oft-quoted Washington think-tankers, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, lamented that "with few accomplishments and an overloaded agenda," Congress was poised to "finish its tenure with the fewest number of days in session in our lifetimes, falling well below 100 days this year."

But the last thing sensible Americans should want is for senators and representatives to assemble and pass more laws. Only limited harm can result when members of Congress are off on junkets or the rubber-chicken circuit; it's when they gather en masse that they are most dangerous. "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session," wrote Judge Gideon J. Tucker in 1866, and what was true in the 19th century remains so in the 21st.

Indeed, it's a quantifiable phenomenon. Scholars call it the "congressional effect" -- markets tend to get nervous when Congress is in session, and generally perform better when it isn't. As economists Michael Ferguson of the University of Cincinnati and H. Douglas Witte of the University of Missouri have shown, the impact this tendency can have is dramatic. Analyzing stock returns since the Dow Jones Industrial Average was created in 1897, they found that an astonishing 90 percent of its gains occurred when lawmakers were on vacation. A dollar invested in the index's stocks in 1897 and converted back to cash whenever Congress recessed would have grown to just $2 by 2000. On the opposite strategy -- investing in stocks only when the House and Senate were away and cashing out when they came back into session -- that dollar would have grown to $216.10. "Our results," Ferguson and Witte concluded in a 2006 paper, "give empirical credence to the association of an active Congress with poor stock market returns."

Comes now Eric Singer, an experienced investment manager determined to turn this insight into earnings. He too has run the numbers. Between 1965 and 2007, on days when Congress was in session, the S&P 500 Index posted an annualized gain of 1.6 percent -- versus a whopping gain of 17.6 percent when lawmakers were out of town. "What the market prefers," Singer says, "is a government that is quite literally on holiday." So he has launched the Congressional Effect Fund, a no-load mutual fund that will invest in S&P 500 Index futures when Congress is out of session, reverting to cash equivalents such as Treasury bills whenever lawmakers reconvene. (Details at He's off to a fast start. Since opening for business on May 23, the fund is up 0.9 percent. The S&P 500, by contrast, is down 8.65 percent.

A fortuitous short-term anomaly? Singer doesn't think so, and history bears him out. Over the past 43 years, his system would have beaten the market by 1.7 percent -- despite being invested only about 30 percent of the time. But Singer's goal isn't just to make money. It is also to make a point: The more Congress does, the less Americans prosper. Freedom, not legislation and regulation, is what powers the US economy. The old political wisdom, it turns out, is a sound investment guideline, too: That government is best that governs least.


Childcare for babies is 'abuse', says children's author

"Babies have much higher levels of stress in childcare." This is indeed what the research shows. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels among young children spending long periods in institutional care are often disturbingly high

Putting babies into childcare is a form of abuse, leading children's author Mem Fox claims. Fox, a children's literacy advocate and author of the best-selling Possum Magic, said she believed society would look back on the trend of allowing babies only a few weeks old to be put into childcare and wonder, "How could we have allowed that child abuse to happen?".

"I just tremble," she said. "I don't know why some people have children at all if they know that they can only take a few weeks off work. "I know you want a child, and you have every right to want a child, but does the child want you if you are going to put it in childcare at six weeks? "I don't think the child wants you, to tell the honest truth. I know that's incredibly controversial."

She said a Queensland childcare worker had told her earlier this year: "We're going to look back on this time from the late '90s onwards - with putting children in childcare so early in their first year of life for such long hours - and wonder how we have allowed that child abuse to happen". "It's just awful. It's awful for the mothers as well. It's completely heartbreaking," Fox said. "You actually have to say to yourself, 'If I have to work this hard and if I'm never going to see my kid and if they are going to have a tremendous stress in childcare, should I be doing it?' "Babies have much higher levels of stress in childcare."

Fox, 62, who has a daughter Chloe, 38, said parents were sometimes distracted by "the trappings" of having a baby, such as designer clothing and decorated nursery. "When they have the good house, the good car, the good job - we're talking about very advantaged people - they have everything and they think, 'Now we need a baby which we can dress up and make look perfect'," she said. "But do they realise that a child needs love more than anything else in the world? It needs love, time and attention."

A Federal Government census of childcare services released this year found 757 children were attending long daycare services for at least 60 hours a week in 2006. A further 9426 children were in care for between 50 and 59 hours a week. An Australian study that measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in more than 100 children in childcare found children in centres with lower standards became more stressed throughout the day.



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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