For 130 years they have been part of Christmas, filling the air in towns across the land with music and carols. But one thing is missing from the repertoire of Salvation Army bands this year - the percussion of rattling tins. Members have been forbidden to shake their charity tins - even if it's done in time to the music - in case it harasses or intimidates people. One said she had been told it might also offend other religions. Guidelines for branches organising public collections say tinholders should simply keep the tin still.
It means that when the brass bands start up they can rock and roll all they want - but if they shake and rattle, it could put them in conflict with the law. Councils and police can enforce the no-rattle rule and have powers to prosecute or ban offenders. The restriction was branded 'bonkers' yesterday both by donors and longserving Salvation Army volunteers. One collector told the Daily Mail: 'I've been doing this for more than 40 years and I fail to see how rattling a tin could cause offence. If I was shaking a tambourine I could do it all day - if I shake my tin, I could end up in court.'
The 'Silent Night' rattle ban manifested itself at the weekend in Uxbridge, West London, when musicians from two local branches performed outside a shopping mall. (They were outside because traders complained last year they were too loud to play inside). Tony Keywood, shopping with his wife Sheila, was among a crowd enjoying the carols and stepped forward to make a donation. 'I jokingly told them off for not shaking their tins,' said Mr Keywood, 78, a retired telecoms executive. 'They said they weren't allowed to do that in case it caused offence to other religions. They said they'd been told rattling a tin was considered to be intimidating. 'I don't know who makes up these rules but I suspect it will have something to do with human rights. I do feel Britain has lost its way on things like this.'
Laws on public collections are long-established, but until the recent proliferation of so-called 'charity muggers' were not widely utilised. Fundraisers have to be licensed, usually by the local authority, police or landowner. Councils and police can decide whom to license and how the rules are enforced. The Salvation Army relies heavily on public generosity and believes street collections help to foster good relations.
Guidance now, however, is that members should not shake their tins. A Salvation Army source said: 'We don't have a formal policy of "You Shall Not Rattle" but we always act within the law. 'Some authorities specifically ask us not to shake our tins. It is seen as harassment, or making people feel uncomfortable. I don't think it's to do with other religions. But it can make people feel we're putting them under pressure to give.' A spokesman added: 'We want people to donate from the best of motives, so we advise collectors to avoid rattling their tins or asking people directly for money when stood on the high street.'
Pope Benedict XVI under-fire for 'negative' statements
Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire from a leading Vatican watcher as "The Pope who says No" following a series of "negative" Vatican statements on homosexuality, the disabled and bio-ethics. On Friday the Vatican made its most authoritative statement on bio-ethics for twenty years, condemning artificial fertilization, human cloning, "designer babies" and embryonic stem-cell research. The document, "Dignitas Personae" (Dignity of the Person) was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which the Pope headed as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before his election as pontiff. The document also condemned the "morning-after pill" and the drug RU-486, which blocks the action of hormones needed to keep a fertilized egg implanted in the uterus. It said such drugs, as well as the IUD (intrauterine device), fell "within the sin of abortion" and were "gravely immoral".
Marco Politi, the veteran Vatican correspondent of La Repubblica, said this was "yet another papal no" after Vatican opposition to UN declarations on the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the rights of the disabled, on the grounds that they could be seen a sanctioning gay marriage and abortion. "It is one veto after another" Mr Politi wrote. "Not to this, no to that. No, no, no". He said the Vatican was clearly aware that under Pope Benedict it was acquiring a reputation for "banning everything", since it had issued a "pre-emptive statement" noting that "on a superfical first reading" the document on bio-ethics "might give the impression of being a collection of prohibitions". "But that is precisely the public perception", Mr Politi said.
Mr Politi, the author with Carl Bernstein of "His Holiness", a study of Pope John Paul II and the fall of Communism, said the Vatican risked appearing to put the stress on a rigid observance of doctrine ahead of human dilemmas, suffering and distress. Mr Politi said the German-born Pope Benedict, elected after the death of John Paul II in April 2005, had sought to confound his reputation as a doctrinal hardliner by devoting his first encyclical to the topic of love and compassion. He was capable of a "surprising capacity for involvement and great tenderness" when visiting parishes. The message he sought to convey was that "Christianity is joy".
This was not the impression he gave to the world, however. Instead he had opposed reforms such as a long discussed revision of doctrine allowing divorced Catholics to take Holy Communion, and had also failed to carry out his promise to dedicate himself to inter faith dialogue and the "full and visible unity" of all Christians. Instead he had gone out of his way to stress the obstacles in the way of ecumenism, and had recently declared that inter-religious dialogue "in the strict sense of the word" between Christians, Jews and Muslims was "not possible". He had a "minimalist vision" of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The only "reforms" carried out in the past three years, Mr Politi said, were the revival of the Latin mass and the provision of new and "more miliaristic" uniforms for the Vatican gendarmerie. It was not question of Catholic doctrine, which remained the same under Pope Benedict as it had under John Paul II. The problem was rather Benedict's "insufficient capacity for speaking to the world" in the way John Paul had done. Whereas John Paul had skilfully used the media, going out of his way to talk to Vatican journalists on papal trips, Pope Benedict "keeps his distance", responding only to a limited number of questions submitted in advance, Mr Politi said. When encountering reporters while on holiday, "the first words to pass his lips are "Thank you, no questions". Attendances at papal audiences had fallen from over four million in the first year of Benedict's pontificate to below three million.
Giovanni Miccoli, the religious historian, said Pope Benedict's pontificate so far had been "rich in declarations but poor in facts". Mario Morcellini, Professor of Communications at Rome University, said Pope Benedict has rightly not sought to imitate his predecsssor. "But he seems to have difficulty in coming out of his shell and entering into contact with the masses", Professor Morcellini said, adding that it was "not clear if this was intentional".
`Forced marriage' doctor, Humayra Abedin, freed by Bangladesh court
Under the glare of international publicity
An NHS doctor who was held captive by her family in Bangladesh for four months while they plotted a forced marriage is expected to return to Britain in the next few days after a court ruling in Dhaka. Humayra Abedin, 33, who is training to become a GP at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London, was allegedly beaten, drugged and held against her will after being duped into flying to Bangladesh on August 3 when family members claimed that her mother was seriously ill.
Dr Abedin has a Hindu boyfriend in London, which angered her Muslim family, according to reports. They were preparing to marry her to a Muslim stranger, it is claimed. A friend of Dr Abedin, who had lived with her in East Ham, sounded the alarm after receiving a text on August 11. "Please help me. My life is in danger. They have locked me in house. My job is at stake. They are making my life hell," the message said.
Yesterday, Judge Syed Mahmod Hossain ordered Dr Abedin's parents to return her passport, driver's licence and credit card. "It perplexes me as to why the parents kept her confined and interfered with her personal life. I am shocked," he said. Dr Abedin told Sky News last night: "I'm relieved that I'm free, I'm happy. I just want to say thank you to all those who supported and helped me. I'm fine and I'm feeling happy. I don't have any bad feelings towards them. They are my parents so I don't have any bad feelings." Dr Abedin's father cried out on hearing the verdict and had to be assisted as he left the courtroom. He said that he and his wife had done nothing wrong. "She has not been held captive. These allegations are all false," he said.
Dr Abedin's lawyer, Sara Hossain, said: "Our courts have shown that we can guarantee the liberty of our citizens. This is quite a precedent."
The doctor's boyfriend, a 44-year-old Bangladeshi software engineer, had alleged that Dr Abedin's Muslim parents had bound and gagged her, held her captive in a house in Dhaka, and pleaded with her to marry a Muslim. He said that death threats had been issued against his family in Bangladesh. "They told her they'd prefer her to die than return to London," he said.
A Metropolitan Police investigation began in June after allegations that the doctor's mother and uncle tried to hold her captive in London. Last week, the High Court issued an injunction under the new Forced Marriage Act, demanding that Dr Abedin be allowed to return to Britain. Though the Act is not enforceable in Bangladesh it was hoped that it would place pressure on the Bangladeshi authorities.
Dr Abedin trained in Bangladesh before coming to Britain in 2002, when she studied for a master's degree in public health at Leeds University. She was to start in a GP surgery in August. In the first nine months of this year, the Government's Forced Marriage Unit was contacted by 1,308 callers sounding the alert over suspected cases.
Leftist tyranny on the World Wide Web
The champions of mandatory filtering are not Australia's Christian Right but its PC, feministic, leftish elite
Guess who really kickstarted the current push for mandatory ISP-level filtering here in Australia ? No, it wasn't the Christian right; it was Clive Hamilton and the supposedly left-of-centre Australia Institute. The Australia Institute is a think tank established by Hamilton in 1994 to lobby for increased government regulation over market forces. It `participate(s) forcefully in public debates', with the express aim of developing policy initiatives which `reassert the place of ethics' by prioritising `justice, equity and sustainability' over economic efficiency.
Hamilton himself could well be described as `the King of Australian whinge lit', or perhaps `Hairshirt Hamilton'. He feels miserable in the modern world and wants to spread the message. In recent years, he has produced a string of books, with titles such as Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Growth Fetish, and Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. They are all variants on the theme that modern consumer society has turned us into helpless hedonists, duped by the market into indulging our basest desires (and stupidly destroying the planet as we do so). Remarkably, he is regarded here as a leading leftist intellectual.
Hamilton and the Australia Institute began their campaign for internet censorship back in 2003, with a deliberately targeted media splash, based on some rather spurious research supposedly documenting the evil effects of porn on Australian youth (for more detail see here). This is all written up on the Electronic Frontiers Australia website (see here and here), but has remained largely unmentioned by the major `left' blogs in Australia, which have tended to oppose the censorship scheme anaemically, at best.
Back in 2003, Hamilton did manage to get the attention of the conservative Coalition government led by the then Liberal Party prime minister, John Howard. Senator Richard Alston, then minister for communication, information technology and the arts, promised to look into Hamilton's ideas for online censorship. Religious `family oriented' groups then took the opportunity to raise their voices, making extensive use of the Australia Institute's material in their lobbying on the issue. However, in 2004, the idea of ISP-level filtering was rejected by the Howard government, which argued: `Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified.'
While Howard remained PM, the only action taken was the establishment of the Net Alert website which provided advice about net safety and free downloadable filters, for those who wanted them. Shortly before the 2007 election, the Liberal Party did try to pander to the Christian Right by offering to establish ISP-level filtering, but only for those who wanted it (that is, it was a non-mandatory filtering proposal). That was as far as it went under Howard. However, with the election of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Kevin Rudd as prime minister last November, the Hamilton/Australia Institute campaign found itself with a far more sympathetic government.
The ALP under Rudd is in fact far more moralistic and authoritarian than the Liberals ever were. In his election campaign, Rudd quite consciously targeted `market fundamentalism' on the basis that it undermines traditional family values. He publicly (and opportunistically) embraced some of the communitarian ideas of David McKnight (author of Beyond Right and Left) in his speeches to the intelligentsia, noting in his November 2006 lecture at the Centre for Independent Studies (at which he was introduced by McKnight), that `market fundamentalism has split the political right down the middle along the traditional fault lines of conservatives versus liberals, and. this in turn provides Labor with fresh political and policy opportunities for the future'.
Hamilton, like McKnight, is a communitarian who believes that capitalism creates a level of wealth, freedom and choice which corrupts us. In a number of his books, he has hijacked part of the earlier (and far more interesting) analysis developed by Daniel Bell in his 1976 book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, arguing that economic growth engenders a consumerist mentality which destroys `normal' human relationships, creates the desire for instant gratification, manipulates us in ways over which we have no control, and so on. We would be happier, and morally better, if we were poorer, and forced to live more simply and locally.
Hamilton's crusade against pornography is driven both by standard political correctness (it `objectifies women', `subverts healthy sexual relationships', `incites male violence'), and by a more generally puritanical attitude toward sex. He riles against the `pornographication' of everyday life, and chastises `the libertarian left' for continuing `to invest so much in the freedoms won in the Sixties'. He says:
`The ideas of the libertarian left have become a reactionary force, for they have substituted an uncritical defence of the freedoms won in an earlier era for a real politics of social change.The research conducted by the Australia Institute and Hamilton and his colleague Dr Michael Flood concludes that internet porn is a social evil associated with increased levels of misogyny among young Australian males. There's a critical account of it on the EFA website, so I won't go into it here, except to say that it's not too hard to pick apart.
`Like young people everywhere I thought we were freeing ourselves from the shackles of oppressive convention and sexual hang-ups. We thought we were creating a new society and we knew our opponents were being defeated. The conservative establishment lost cause after cause and could no longer sustain the institution of social convention: Victorian morality, women's oppression, the unbearable constraints of social convention. But while the battle against social conservatism was being fought and won, the real enemy was getting on with business and savouring the new commercial opportunities that the radical were opening up.
`In the 1950s, middle-class respectability may have been oppressive, but it carried with it a certain deference. Women are the subject of far more sexual objectification now than they were in the 1950s, although men have become more adept at concealing it. And even the need to conceal has been discarded by the crass exploitation of "girl power". Why should a young man pretend that he doesn't lust after the young woman who has just burned him off at the traffic lights, when nubile popstars thrust their groins at the camera and declare "more power to us"?'
Regardless of any research claims, there is no empirical evidence that Australian men have deteriorated in their attitude towards women. In fact, the social trend seems to be in the other direction.
With regard to pornography, Hamilton casts his net quite wide. He uses the bogeyman of child porn to provoke moral outrage (despite the fact that child porn is already illegal and, since it is hidden, no-one sees it `accidentally'), and then hitches a ride on this to condemn almost all other porn. Michael Flood has even mooted the idea of an `ethical porn', which depicts people engaged in `normal loving sexual behaviour'. The availability of material which shows men ejaculating on women's faces, double penetration, male-female anal sex, bondage or simulated rape scenes is seen as just obviously socially dangerous. `Normal' sex, as defined by Hamilton and his supporters, should be. well, I don't know quite what, but certainly very politically correct and restrained. It seems that the liberal censors would like the government to find a way of censoring sexual fantasies, and imposing the `correct line' on sex.
The whole area of human sexuality is such a complex mix of primitive urges, emotional needs and our higher-level needs for connection on a mental level that at present we don't have the tools to tease it apart. That includes Hamilton. No amount of political correctness can substitute for genuine understanding.
In any case, we already have laws about real-life non-consensual, violent sex. It's outrageous that people like Hamilton would like the state to regulate material that allows people to explore the fantasies which turn them on.
Of course, there is plenty of porn that is distasteful, boring, superficial and (to me) very off-putting. But I don't have to look at it, and if our young people come across it, either accidentally or as part of their natural curiosity, I don't think we need to worry that it will create a dangerous epidemic of `unhealthy' sexual appetites.
Hamilton really ought to be taken apart for his role in attempting to impose his own morality on everyone else. His role in this discussion of widespread mandatory filtering in Australia has been far more significant than that of the Christian Right.
While he is correct when he says that market capitalism has a shallowness which leaves us with an `emptiness' and a desire for deeper, more meaningful lives, his moralistic call for people to accept lower living standards and his (very serious) attempt to have the state step in to regulate various atavistic desires are simply reactionary. The yearning `for something more' is exactly the impulse which will one day lead people to want to step up, take responsibility and run things themselves. I'm convinced that they won't decide that they want to be poorer and have less freedom.
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 readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.