Monday, August 03, 2009

Unbelievable Britain again

Health and safety police ban swimmers from doing lengths of a swimming pool

Swimmers at a council pool have been banned from doing lengths for health and safety reasons. They have been told they may only swim across the width of the pool as it makes it easier for lifeguards to ensure their safety. Regular users of the Dagenham Swimming Pool in Essex say the rules are a clear indication that Britain is gripped by 'health and safety insanity'.

Local resident Dean Bradford, 33, who has used the pool for more than 20 years, said the ban on lengths was a farce and would impact young and old alike. The municipal pool is 33.3 metres long (108ft) and 25 metres wide (85ft) and attracts thousands of users each week. Mr Bradford said: 'A lot of elderly people swim lengths of the pool to maintain their stamina and health and young people swim lengths to become better swimmers.

There are also those people who swim lengths as part of a training regime to compete in the sport. With the Olympics just around the corner I thought we were meant to be encouraging sporting excellence. 'By banning lengths all these people are being marginalised and will have to go elsewhere. I think it is totally insane.' Mr Bradford said he was told by the pool manager that they would need to have an extra lifeguard on duty if people were swimming lengths, as it was more difficult to keep an eye on them and there was not enough funding to pay for one.

But Barking and Dagenham Council, which runs the pool, said they had changed the swimming lanes to run width-ways to help people training for 50metre and 100metre events and to free up more space in the shallow end of the pool for less confident swimmers. A council spokesman said: 'This enables people who are less confident to swim lengths of the shallow end to help them get fit and also it makes it easier to see where people are swimming and what they are doing. It's about variety, giving a whole host of swimming options.

'Most people who are training for events don't want to swim 33.3 metres, it doesn't fit in with the distances involved. It's not all about health and safety although it is true it does make it easier, they can use different staffing levels. It's easier for the staff and it's better swimming.'

But Mr Bradford said: 'This is just the nanny state gone mad and it's affecting my life and other people's lives. It's another obstacle for people trying to get fit and healthy.'

The council spokesman said the changes affect morning and lunchtime swimming sessions and if feedback was not good the lanes could be changed back to lengths.


Abortion and the echo of eugenics

by Jeff Jacoby

WHAT DO Richard Nixon and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have in common? Not much ever linked the former president, who died in 1994, and the associate justice now in her 17th year on the Supreme Court. But each was in the news recently with a cringe-inducing comment about abortion. Those comments -- one spoken privately long ago, one uttered publicly this month -- are a reminder of the ease with which educated elites can decide that some people's lives have no value.

Nixon was meeting with an aide in the White House on Jan. 23, 1973, when the conversation -- recorded on tapes newly released by the Nixon Presidential Library -- turned to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision of the day before. Though against abortion on demand, Nixon said it was "necessary" in some cases, such as interracial pregnancies. "There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white," he explained. "Or rape."

Ginsburg's words were even creepier. "Reproductive choice has to be straightened out," she said in a recent New York Times interview, because "we have a policy that affects only poor women." The justice was referring to the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of Medicaid funds for abortions -- a law the Supreme Court upheld in Harris v. McRae in 1980. "Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. . . . But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way."

Populations that we don't want to have too many of -- who would those be, exactly? Minorities? The poor? The handicapped? Ginsburg didn't elaborate and the Times, unaccountably, didn't ask. Perhaps she was describing the opinion of others -- but then why speak in the first person plural ("we")? Or maybe she was referring to the views of those who welcomed Roe 36 years ago -- but then why speak in the present tense ("don't want")?

Whatever Ginsburg's view might be, her words recall the now-rarely-mentioned obsession with eugenics and the elimination of "undesirables" that animated so many supporters of legal abortion and the birth-control movement. Here, for instance, is Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the majority in the 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell, which upheld the right of state governments to forcibly sterilize "feebleminded" citizens: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Holmes considered such brutal thinking progressive and enlightened. It "gave me pleasure," he told one friend, to pen a decision upholding compulsory sterilization.

Even more fixated on perfecting the human race through eugenics was Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League -- known today as Planned Parenthood. In her influential 1922 book, The Pivot Of Civilization, Sanger called for "immediate, stern, and definite" action to solve the "problem of the feeble-minded and the menace of the moron" -- those she regarded as the "dead weight of human waste." She denounced the provision of free medical care to "slum mothers," since that "would facilitate . . . maternity among the very classes in which the absolute necessity is to discourage it." Sanger was not a racist in her personal life, but there is no denying the racial aspect of her campaign. In 1939, for example, she launched a "Negro Project" that aimed at curtailing black childbirth in the South.

Decades later, the eugenicist mindset lives on. Ron Weddington, co-counsel for the appellants in Roe, wrote an impassioned letter to President-elect Bill Clinton in January 1993, challenging him to "start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy and poor segment of our country" -- not through "some sort of mass extinction," but with massive birth control and abortion. "Condoms alone won't do it. . . . Government is also going to have to provide vasectomies, tubal ligations, and abortion. . . . We don't need more poor babies."

Which poor babies? Weddington wasn't specific. But as Jonah Goldberg points out in his 2008 bestseller, Liberal Fascism, abortion today "ends more black lives than heart disease, cancer, accidents, AIDS, and violent crime combined." More than half of all black pregnancies in America end in abortion. Surely that wasn't what Justice Ginsburg meant by "populations that we don't want to have too many of." Or was it?


Ontario Human Rights Commission puts its bias on display

As if more proof were needed of how out-of-control Canada’s human-rights commissions have become, and what a threat they pose to impartial justice, along comes the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling last month against Michael Shaw, a white Toronto police officer.

In the spring of 2005, Constable Shaw was patrolling the Bridal Path — a singularly wealthy Toronto neighbourhood composed of large mansions on sprawling multi-acre estates. Ronald Phipps, a black man, was criss-crossing a street, delivering letters in substitute for the regular mail carrier, who was away.

Even though Mr. Phipps was wearing a Canada Post uniform and carrying two official mail satchels, the officer thought his behaviour was unusual. For instance, Mr. Phipps returned to a home at which he had already delivered mail, and retrieved it.

So the officer followed Mr. Phipps for a short distance, then asked him for some identification. He ran his name through police computers, thanked him for his co-operation and sent him on his way. He also verified Mr. Phipps’ identity with a regular letter-carrier he knew in the area, a carrier who happened to be white.

From this series of events, Mr. Phipps gleaned that he had been racially profiled. He filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and, in June, adjudicator Kaye Joachim determined that the fact that Mr. Phipps “was an African-Canadian in an affluent neighbourhood was a factor, a significant factor, and probably the predominant factor, whether consciously or unconsciously, in Const. Shaw’s actions.” She found the officer guilty of discrimination.

Mr. Phipps admits that Const. Shaw never insulted him. He was not detained, not even briefly, nor was he arrested. He was asked for ID, thanked for producing it and permitted to go about his business. He was not tasered or struck with a club. No racial slurs were hurled at him.

He claims that since the incident he has been teased mercilessly by his co-workers. But that is their misbehaviour, not Const. Shaw’s.

He claims that since the incident, he has had trouble sleeping, has lost weight and is having difficulty fulfilling his second job as a personal trainer — all because a police officer asked him to produce some ID four years ago.

“This was always broader than Const. Shaw,” he told the Toronto Star (a newspaper that has made a self-parodic fetish of splashing this — and other insubstantial accusations of racism — on its front page). His comments make him sound like someone with a bigger cause in mind from the start, someone who may just have been waiting for a chance to lodge a complaint.

The most disturbing aspect of the case is the way the adjudicator, Ms. Joachim, has damaged the ancient concepts of the guilty mind and reasonable doubt.

While he could find no evidence that Const. Shaw knowingly discriminated against Mr. Phipps, the adjudicator said no evidence of intent was needed. Whether “consciously or unconsciously,” the policeman had offended Mr. Phipps by his actions; he had caused the letter-carrier to feel discriminated against and that was enough.

Guilt, now, apparently is solely in the mind of the complainant. No one needs to prove you had intent to discriminate, that you had a guilty mind. The minute a rights charge is levelled, it is up to you to establish your innocence.

And forget about “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Ms. Joachim found that “on the balance of probabilities,” Const. Shaw was guilty.

While a rights tribunal does not purport to be a real court, both are in the business of fact-finding, and the adjudication of rights and wrongs — and so must both be judged on that basis. Ms. Joachim’s assertion is similar to a Crown prosecutor arguing (and a judge accepting) the notion that a black man, or an aboriginal, immigrant or poor person, should be convicted of such-and-such a crime, even in the absence of conclusive evidence, because he is probably guilty.

Rights commissions were set up to be simple forums for settling discrimination complaints. They were never intended to be taxpayer-funded cudgels with which activists and grievers may beat their enemies without the expense of a court case, and without the need to follow the normal rules of due process.

As this case helps demonstrate, Canada’s human-rights commissions are horribly biased — far more biased than the people they accuse of bigotry — and need to be disbanded.


Restating the case for human uniqueness

Despite all the media hype about ‘clever chimps’ using tools and feeling emotions, in truth there is nothing remotely human about primates

"Not a Chimp: The Hunt to Find the Genes That Make Us Human" is a refreshing defence of human uniqueness. ‘We are a truly exceptional primate with minds that are genuinely discontinuous to other animals’, Jeremy Taylor writes.

The first half of Not a Chimp challenges ‘the basis of a 40-year-old concept of human genetic chimp proximity’. Taylor does admit that ‘over very appreciable lengths of their respective genomes, humans and chimpanzees are very similar indeed’. He writes: ‘This is where the oft-quoted “1.6 per cent that makes us human” comes from. Despite 12million years of evolutionary separation, six million for each species since the split from the common ancestor, we are surprisingly similar in our genes.’

Yet he argues that, despite the very small difference in the gene coding sequence between humans and chimps, some of the important genetic differences are in genes that regulate a whole host of other genes. So a small change can make an immense difference. The genetic difference between us and chimps may be much greater than the 1.6 per cent figure implies, as our uniqueness is based on a powerful network of gene regulation, he argues.

Not being an expert on genetics, I do not know whether he is right or wrong. But his case is persuasive and well argued. There has to be a genetic basis to our uniqueness, otherwise we would be able to raise chimps as humans and in the process make them human. But despite the dedication of a number of primatologists, the cognitive and linguistic abilities of the great apes have never surpassed those of a two-year-old child. This is because they clearly lack the precondition for becoming human: a human genetic make-up.

Taylor sets out to argue that it is ‘as wrong as it is misguided’ to ‘exaggerate the narrowness of the gap between chimpanzees and ourselves’: ‘It plays into the hands of our natural propensity to anthropomorphise our pets and other animals, and even our inanimate possessions, and it has allowed us to distort what the science is trying to tell us.’ His aim is ‘to set the record straight and restore chimpanzees to arm’s length’.

Taylor shows that many of the overblown claims made by scientists are pounced on by the media. In 2008, the UK’s Channel 5 aired a documentary on Tetsuro Matzuzawa’s chimpanzee research in Japan, which had already drawn newspaper headlines such as ‘Chimp beats college students at math’. One chimpanzee, Ayuma, was able to beat humans at a computer game where the numerals 1 to 9 were flashed up in random patterns on a screen before being replaced by an empty box. The participants then touched the screen to put the numerals in the order they had just been shown.

But does the fact that the chimps did well on this task merit the claims that they have ‘leapfrogged’ us in their mathematical abilities? Of course not. As Taylor points out: ‘This was a test of eidetic – or photographic – memory, not mathematical skills.’ He adds: ‘Tiny children have this skill before it becomes engulfed by language and a genuine symbolic understanding of numerals.’

This is something my husband discovered to his surprise when he was thrashed by a three- and a four-year-old child while playing the ‘Memory Game’, where one has to memorise the location of cards turned upside-down and try to retrieve matching pairs.

In the chapter titled ‘Povinelli’s Gauntlet’, Taylor outlines the fascinating work of the comparative cognitive psychologist Daniel Povinelli, who runs the Cognitive Evolution Group at the University of Louisiana. Povinelli is unequivocal in arguing that no test to date has reliably demonstrated that chimpanzees – or any other primate for that matter – have an understanding of the mental life of others or an understanding of causation in the physical world.

To investigate chimps’ so-called understanding of ‘folk psychology’, Povinelli tested whether chimps understood that their begging gestures will only be effective if the person they are begging from can see them. When one of two experimenters either wore a blindfold, held their hands over their eyes or wore a bucket over their head, the chimps showed no preference for whom they made their begging gestures to.

In terms of their ‘folk physics’, Povinelli showed that despite many chimps in captivity being observed using rakes to pull out-of-reach food towards them, they didn’t show an understanding of how the tools worked. Povinelli designed an experiment that showed that, when attempting to capture a cookie on a table, the chimps couldn’t distinguish between the efficacy of a rake held in the normal position and one in the inverted position: ‘They consistently failed to understand that to move the cookie they had to make contact between the [rake and the cookie] by using the inverted rake’, Taylor writes.

In order to demonstrate that far too much has been made of the tool-using abilities of chimpanzees in the wild, Taylor outlines recent discoveries showing that the tool-making of some birds equals, or in many cases betters, anything observed in chimpanzees. ‘In two species that parted company 280million years ago, performance is either very similar, or corvids might even have an edge. Bird brains, in specific contexts, are a match for chimp brains’, he writes. What this shows is that chimpanzees may not tell us that much more than corvids about the evolution of our unique genetic make-up, he argues.

‘Though you may argue that all the differences between us and chimpanzees, from variation among neurotransmitter regulators to spindle cell populations and a host of genes to do with the nervous system, metabolism, and immunity, are a matter of degree – quantitative rather than qualitative differences – I think that these quantitative differences are of such magnitude that their combined effect is to produce a cognitive creature that is unique and whose mind is in a league of its own’, he writes.

Although the bulk of Not a Chimp focuses on the case for our genetic uniqueness, Taylor does recognise that biology alone cannot explain our exceptional abilities. Like a number of groundbreaking developmental and comparative psychologists, he recognises the powerful role of social learning – such as true imitation – in human development. The difference between emulation (which other animals are clearly capable of) and true imitation ‘is crucial to an understanding of how we, as a species, have amassed such a variety and complexity of material culture’. He writes:

‘Understanding that a demonstrator intends his actions to make something, allied to detailed copying of every move he makes, allied to the reciprocal understanding in the demonstrator’s mind that he knows something you don’t and therefore has to teach you it, produces a potent ratchet effect.’

Unlike any other animal ‘we build on very modest foundations and blow them up to extraordinary dimensions of power and complexity’, which has ‘led from the invention of the wheel, less than six thousand years ago, to the wheeling out of the latest passenger jet’.

Taylor shows that both ape-language and ape-cognition research ‘were subjected to a cold douche of searching criticism during the 1990s’, but that ‘now the worm has turned again, with a number of research groups emerging with bolder and bolder claims for Machiavellian machinations of primate minds’. However, Taylor has thankfully added his voice to the few who are prepared to put the case – and convincingly so – for the idea of human uniqueness.



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 is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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