Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Freaked by the BNP! British PM pledges to house local people first

But isn't that "racist", Gordo? It is when the BNP advocate it!

Gordon Brown is to try to win back Labour’s core supporters with a pledge to give priority on housing waiting-lists to local residents. A proposal to require councils to take account of applicants’ connections to the area when allocating homes is central to a policy blueprint. The populist measure risks reviving the controversy over Mr Brown’s call for “British jobs for British workers” .

A housebuilding programme is also to be announced today as Mr Brown seeks to regain the political initiative. Extra cash for social housing will come from a £500 million switch in spending, outlined in the new programme, Building Britain’s Future, The Times has learnt.

Resentment at needs-based rules under which newly arrived migrants are believed to be placed at the front of housing queues has long been cited by Labour MPs as eroding support among its core working-class voters. Housing is an important issue in the Labour heartlands, with 1.6 million households on council waiting lists — four million people in England and Wales. In some areas, a quarter of households are queueing for a home. Disaffection among traditional Labour supporters was plain at the recent council and European elections, at which British National Party MEPs were elected. Mr Brown’s decision to oblige councils to give priority to those with local connections who have been waiting a long time is being dubbed “British homes for British people”.

Senior government sources insist, however, that the policy is consistent with a new emphasis on entitlement to key public services. The measure will not require primary legislation, it is understood, but will be subject to consultation.

Other policies being announced today include guarantees of a maximum 18-week wait for a hospital appointment, limited to two weeks for cancer patients, and free health checks for the over-40s. The NHS will be placed under statutory obligations to meet what are currently only targets. [which will just lead to yet more fudging of the figures]

Mr Brown previewed the theme of the government paper in an interview with The Times last week, when he said that he would not flinch from taking on “any vested interest that stands in the way of better services”.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, is expected to take up the theme of entitlement tomorrow with the publication of a White Paper extending a guarantee of one-to-one tuition in maths and English for struggling pupils from primaries to the early years of secondary schools. It will also propose that league tables be replaced by a “report card” detailing schools’ performance on behaviour, truancy and parental satisfaction alongside exam results. Mr Balls is expected to duck the issue of whether schools should be ranked on a single grade. Critics claim such a move would diminish the emphasis schools place on academic performance.

Today’s policy blueprint, which will also include economic measures as well as the draft legislative programme for the last session before the general election, comes in the midst of a fierce row over public spending.

Yesterday Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told the BBC that ministers wanted to improve accountability in the public services. Challenged in a Politics Show interview on what would happen if entitlements were not met, she said the punishments would depend on the service concerned. Refusing to comment on whether hospitals would have money taken away if they failed, Ms Cooper said: “There are . . . areas, in which you do have penalties, where actually you don’t get the services improved, but this will depend on particular areas.”


Outdated airport security is leaving the door open to bombers

If we want to stay safe, we need to be smarter. The first step is to put aside our qualms about passenger profiling

The terror threat has changed greatly but airport security is still stuck in the past, combating the terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s. Worse still, the antiquated approach to security is aiding and abetting terrorists. The huge queues caused at checkpoints as staff check that mummy’s make-up is put into a plastic bag create an ideal target for suicide bombers: why try to board a flight when you can blow up thousands in the terminal?

The security checkpoints we know today first became widely deployed in the late 1960s and early 70s. They proved their effectiveness in the United States in tackling hijackings of flights to Cuba. Then the hijackers were armed with handguns, knives or grenades. The archway metal detector and the X-ray machine were perfect for detecting dense, metallic objects carried on the person or in baggage. More than 40 years later, the same technologies are the workhorse of the airline passenger screening process.

But the archway metal detector cannot find explosives — plastic or liquid in form — or any weapons made out of ceramic, wood, glass or polycarbonate. And while significant improvements have been made to X-ray machines they have yet to prove effective in detecting improvised explosive devices.

Nonetheless, we take a bizarre degree of satisfaction that we now screen all luggage using an unproven technology. The best that can be said is that these archaic tools act as a deterrent. But if we are serious about security, we need to think more boldly and look elsewhere to learn some useful lessons.

In 1968 an El Al aircraft was hijacked from Rome to Algiers by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Following that incident, the Israelis introduced two measures: they deployed sky marshals on every flight and profiled passengers before they boarded, with the aim of identifying passengers with malign intent. No El Al aircraft has since been successfully hijacked.

We need to introduce profiling. But whenever it is proposed, it is shot down as racist: “Doesn’t it mean we’ll be picking on young Middle Eastern or Asian men?”

But one only needs to look to the Israeli experience to appreciate that, if that were the case, the system would have failed. When Japanese Red Army terrorists attacked Lod Airport in 1972, the Israelis realised that the system had to be modified to identify “intent” through behavioural analysis, rather than focus on target groups. And it worked. In 1986 Israeli security agents identified a pregnant Irish woman as a potential threat to an El Al flight bound from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv.

She was far from being the stereotypical threat, yet she was unwittingly carrying an improvised explosive device that her lover had infiltrated into her bag. The bag, by the way, had been X-rayed without the bomb being detected. That incident heralded the introduction of the “Who packed your bags?” question.

In 2001 Richard Reid, the shoebomber, was prevented from boarding a flight from Paris to Miami because security agents had suspicions about him, providing further proof of the benefits of profiling; he returned the next day and managed to board his flight. Luckily, he failed to detonate his device.

Profiling already takes place at airports all the time. Customs and immigration agents intercept people on a daily basis — but at the end of a flight. They know the signs to look for. So why, when our lives are at stake, do we not screen people using this proven, common-sense methodology before people board a flight?

The answer is that the regulators want to treat everybody the same. In doing so, they are making security predictable and easier to penetrate. The regulators want a system that they can test, but gut feeling can’t be tested.

So what would a profiler see as “cause for concern”: it’s not simply the nervous passenger biting his fingernails or young Muslim men travelling solo. It is a summary of a host of factors — everything from clothing, behaviour, baggage, accompanying persons, ticket and passport data, confidence and to what extent the suspect is typical of passengers flying on a given airline, on a given route, on a given day. From these clues, an experienced profiler can build up a picture of a passenger.

If we were serious about profiling, it would allow security staff to use new technology, such as body scanners based on X-ray or millimetre wave imaging, that would be impractical to use on everyone in terms of cost and time. We could also start screening people at the boarding gate. This would allow security staff to better profile passengers. At present the screeners are viewing passengers bound for a host of destinations in the same light, even though passengers bound for Sydney differ from those going to Reykjavik, and those heading to Bangkok are different from those flying to Lagos.

Drug traffickers, especially “body packers” (who swallow or vaginally or anally insert their illicit loads) manage to circumvent airport security daily with quantities of narcotics that far exceed the minimum weight for an explosive charge — only to be picked up by customs professionals. These traffickers want to live. What will we do when a terrorist, who wants to die, carries his or her device internally on to an aircraft? Start deploying gynaecologists at checkpoints?

No, but we need to wake up. Our current screening process is fundamentally flawed because it is concerned with what people are carrying rather than what their intent is. There is no reason for every typical family going on a package holiday or business traveller heading for a meeting, who act and look the part, to be asked to remove their shoes and belts for inspection. And the expanding list of prohibited items diverts the attention of screeners from the real objective: finding metal and liquid-free terrorists.

I don’t advocate the Israeli approach. It’s unworkable for most international airports. But unless we start injecting a dose of common sense into the security process, we’ll do what we’ve always done — be reactive rather than proactive, allowing the terrorists and misguided civil libertarians to set the timetable.


Why boys will pick Bob over Barbie - children are genetically programmed, say scientists

It takes some people a long time to recognize the obvious

Boys are genetically programmed to prefer Bob the Builder to Barbie dolls, say scientists. Tests involving children as young as three months suggest biological differences and not social pressures dictate which toys children like to play with.

The U.S. study looked at babies aged three to eight months - before they can identify even the gender of other people. Researchers placed a doll and truck inside a puppet-theatre style box and showed them to 30 children - 17 boys and 13 girls - for two ten-second intervals.

The findings, from researchers at Texas A&M University, overturn conventional wisdom that children's toy preferences are down to social conditioning. The academics believe that society's expectations do play a major part in influencing how children play. But subtle cues from parents and peers merely reinforce a pre-disposition for masculine toys among boys and feminine for girls.

One theory is that these innate preferences are linked to traditional male and female functions dating back to the dawn of the species. Boys are thought to prefer playing with cars and balls because they involve moving objects and rough and tumble play. These activities may be linked to their ancestors' skills in hunting for food and finding a mate.

Girls, on the other hand, are thought to like red or pink toys because a preference for those colours enhanced their abilities to nurture infants, thus aiding their family's survival.

For the study, led by Gerianne Alexander, researchers set up a presentation box similar to a puppet theatre and placed a doll and truck inside. Eye-tracking technology measured how many times and how long the babies focused or 'fixated' on each object. The researchers found that 'girls showed a visual preference for the doll over the toy truck and boys compared to girls showed a greater number of visual fixations on the truck'.

The study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, added: 'The findings from the present research are consistent with the hypothesis that males and females may show different patterns of attention to toys because they are attracted to different visual characteristics of objects. 'It seems unlikely that object interests in infants younger than nine months of age are a result of internal motivation to conform to external referents of gender role behaviour.'

It is believed that exposure to sex hormones in the womb has a bearing on toy preferences, as it does many other aspects of gender-related behaviour. The study reinforces the findings of previous research by Dr Alexander involving green vervet monkeys. Male monkeys spent more time playing with traditional male toys such as a car and a ball than did female monkeys. The female monkeys, however, spent more time playing with a doll and a pot than did the males. Both male and female monkeys spent about the same amount of time with 'gender neutral' toys such as a picture book and a stuffed frog.

Her co-researcher for this study, Professor Melissa Hines, of Cambridge University, outlined the findings at a recent conference on the value of toys and play in London.

A further study, by researchers in the US state of Georgia, involved rhesus monkeys being offered two categories of toys - one with wheels such as wagons and other vehicles, and the other dolls and cuddly toys including Winnie the Pooh. The male monkeys spent more time playing with the wheeled toys, while the 23 females played with the cuddly and wheeled toys equally.


Homosexuality still despised in India

In a stifling room adorned with rainbow curtains and glamour posters, Mani - a high school student from Delhi's outer suburbs - submits to painful eyebrow threading with all the poise of a seasoned groomer. A regular at the Pahal Beauty Parlour - India's first gay beauty clinic cum drop-in centre - the 19-year-old says he will be marching this Sunday in Delhi's Gay Pride parade. But like many others he will do so behind a mask, notwithstanding the day's preening efforts.

While Mani identifies himself as a Kothi - or effeminate gay man - he says his parents don't know he is gay and would probably throw him out if he told them. They think his waxing is all part of his passion for religious dancing, chuckles Rahul Singh, a gay counsellor at the parlour and co-founder of the Pahal Foundation behind the venture. Not so amusing is Mani's fate as a lower caste gay Indian man. Asked about marriage, he says he will soon submit to family pressure and live a double life. It's a common dilemma in India, where homosexuality is a criminal offence under section 377 of the penal code, punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Men at least have the option of a double life, says Singh, who at 32 is a veteran campaigner for the gay rights movement. "But Indian society still defines women strictly through marriage and family. Most women are married off so young they don't have time to think of themselves as sexual beings." Gay and lesbian suicides are a serious problem in India, and women who attempt to flee an enforced marriage often end up facing criminal charges.

Final year law student and gay rights activist Ponni Arasu has worked on many cases where one woman is charged with kidnapping another by the parents. "You have to go to court and prove she didn't kidnap her," says Arasu. "We also have to actively cover up the nature of the relationship because that's not something we can say in a courtroom today while it's still criminalised."

After years of fighting police harassment and blackmail, along with social and political discrimination, India's gay movement is on the verge of a breakthrough. Delhi's High Court is expected to hand down a judgment next month on a petition by a coalition of lawyers and gay rights groups challenging the legality of Section 377.

Gautam Bhan, another young, gay rights veteran and a leader of the push to repeal the law, says he is "very optimistic" the judgment will go their way. "If we win it's a hugely symbolic victory for us, because it's a law under which every kind of discrimination from psychological abuse to police harassment and violence becomes justified," says Bhan, 28. "Ending 377 won't change the daily life of a lot of queer Indians and their negotiations with parents, doctors, colleagues, landlords and police, but it will change the way queer people see themselves. The big impact will be what we do with it."

He is amazed by the pace of change in urban Indian attitudes in the past decade. "If you had told me 10 years ago there would be a gay pride march in Delhi I would have laughed." Kolkata has staged a gay pride march every year since 2003, but last year was the first time a march had been held in Bangalore, Mumbai or the country's conservative capital.



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.


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