Friday, December 10, 2010

Bizarre Britain

The "Yes Minister" comedy in real life

He has been at the forefront of the Government's drive for austerity. But when George Osborne tried to save the Treasury a few pounds by buying the office Christmas tree from B&Q, his economical efforts were thwarted – by health and safety rules.

The Chancellor was told by a senior mandarin that if he ditched the usual £875 tree for a £40 DIY store specimen, the department's building suppliers would refuse to decorate or water it. Nor would they hand over a ladder for anyone else to do the job.

Mr Osborne announced in October that he was scrapping the £875 tree supplied under Labour as part of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract. He vowed: 'I am going to go down to a local market and pay for a tree myself.'

But the Treasury's Permanent Secretary, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, who earns £175,000 a year, warned the idea would fall foul of the Government's contract, as well as health and safety legislation.

In a memo which resembled something from political comedy The Thick of It, he told Mr Osborne the Treasury was obliged to get its tree from Exchequer Partnerships, the PFI supplier. 'The catalogue had a choice of Hollyday, Indulgence, Enchantment, Icicle, or Decadence trees, or bespoke tailor-made trees, from £130-875,' he reported.

Sir Nicholas said he had asked the company 'about whether we couldn't buy a tree from B&Q for £40 instead of spending £900'. But Exchequer Partnerships warned that they would not help water 'an off-contract tree'.

And the senior civil servant added that there were concerns about 'how would we decorate the tree – EP are not obliged to lend us a ladder'. Sir Nicholas said Exchequer Partnerships 'also pointed out that they might have to do various health and safety tests on the tree and its decorations, which they would need to charge us for'. The company said it would need to carry out checks 'if we were using a ladder to decorate the tree'.

Sir Nicholas said there were important questions about 'who would go and choose the tree from B&Q' and 'how would we get the tree into the building from B&Q?'

And the contractors expressed doubts about 'who would dispose of the tree after Christmas, and how would we do this? Wouldn't we need a van? And a place to dump it?'

The Chancellor yesterday revealed a free tree was eventually donated by Exchequer Partnerships and has been adorned with £36 worth of decorations from Argos.

But Mr Osborne said: 'We couldn't overcome the health and safety rules. So in the end, the Permanent Secretary had to put the star on top because he was the only person in the building cleared to do it. 'Unfortunately, Exchequer Partnerships wouldn't provide us with a ladder so the Permanent Secretary had to get a chair from his office and stand on the chair.'


Payout for anti-gay preacher over improper arrest: Landmark ruling in British Christian's battle for free speech

Police have been ordered to pay compensation to a Christian street preacher who was hauled off in handcuffs for saying that gays will go to hell. A judge condemned the arrest of Anthony Rollins, who quoted the King James Bible on the subject of the ‘effeminate’ as he preached in Birmingham.

Mr Rollins was handcuffed and then held in a cell for nearly four hours after a passer-by dialled 999 and complained that his language was ‘hugely offensive’.

The ruling – which ended with West Midlands police ordered to pay more than £4,000 in damages to the 45-year-old preacher – appears to set a new landmark in the battle between the gay lobby and Christians who want to say in public that homosexual sex is wrong.

It comes as Christian leaders, notably former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, have been complaining against the use of equality law to force Christians to act against their consciences.

Judge Lance Ashworth QC said at Birmingham county court that police who made the arrest acted ‘as a matter of routine'. 'This was not done in any way maliciously, spitefully or arrogantly. It was done unthinkingly’.

Mr Rollins has been speaking on the city’s streets as a member of a Christian mission for 12 years. In June 2008 he was handing out leaflets in the city centre and quoting passages from the King James Bible – the Authorised Version which reaches its 400th anniversary next year – that refer to homosexuality.

One of these was from 1 Corinthians condemning the ‘unrighteous’, including fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, and ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’.

Effeminate, Mr Rollins explained to his listeners, meant homosexuals. He also quoted the Book of Revelation to the effect that ‘the abominable shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone’.

Mr Rollins said yesterday: ‘The judgment is excellent news. But I didn’t do this for the compensation. I did it for freedom of speech. ‘It was one man who called the police. A van came up with its lights flashing. The officers didn’t even ask me for my version of events.’ He added: ‘I wonder if they would have arrested the Bishop of Birmingham if he had been preaching on the street? Would they have handcuffed him and dragged him off as if he was a common criminal?’

Judge Ashworth’s ruling was dismissive of evidence given by the onlooker who called police and who said he had been offended by the preaching. He said of John Edwards: ‘I was not impressed by him as a witness. He struck me as a man full of his own self-importance who in the witness box relished the attention and greatly embellished his evidence.’

The ruling was praised by the Christian Institute, the think tank which backed Mr Rollins’s court claim. Spokesman Mike Judge said: ‘Street preachers may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are part of our Christian heritage. ‘Most people just walk on by and ignore it. The police have no business arresting Christians for quoting the Bible.’

The case is a notable victory for the Christian argument following a series of court reverses in recent years. Street preacher Harry Hammond was convicted and fined in 2001 for holding a sign saying ‘Stop Homosexuality’ and an appeal on freedom of speech grounds failed.

In a key case earlier this year, judges said a relationship counsellor had no right to refuse sex therapy to gays and that Christians had no right to special protection from the law.

A test case on the right of Christian bed and breakfast owners to refuse rooms to gay couples is expected shortly.


Culture Challenge of the Week: Playing the Hate Card

Children know instinctively that “hate” is a bad thing. And they understand that hating a classmate, teacher, or neighbor is nothing like “hating” the broccoli on the dinner plate. Real hate is a deliberate choice: it wishes evil and foments dark, angry feelings towards another person. And ultimately, it extinguishes any light and all love from the hater’s heart.

It’s a serious thing, hate is. And America’s own tangled history of racial prejudice, fueled by unfamiliarity and ignorance, serves as a cultural memory of the power of hate.

So it was a shocking turn of events last week when the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a long-standing civil rights group, added more than a dozen new organizations to their list of hate-mongering groups. Neo-Nazis? KKK-spin-offs? Muslim or Jew-haters? No. The new “haters,” in this era of sexual license, are those who maintain that marriage has an intrinsic meaning--the union of man and woman--that simply cannot be extended to homosexual couplings. Crying “hate speech,” the SPLC denounced “anti-gay” groups for spreading “falsehoods” that say children do best when raised by a mom and a dad, as opposed to two dads or two moms. “Falsehoods” that support traditional marriage are now “hate speech,” thrown into the same filthy bucket as KKK and Neo-Nazi ideology.

The view that marriage means one man and one woman and that children flourish when raised by a married mother and father is rooted not only in biblical teachings but also in common sense; it's a truth proven by science as well as centuries of lived experience. But children know that "hate" is a bad thing, and no one wants to be labeled a "hater." It's not hard to imagine the pressure tactics that our children soon will face: keep silent or risk being slapped with the label--"hater"--that will define them socially for years.

The label of "Hater" quickly shuts down reasonable discussion or open disagreement. And that's the real point: to intimidate proponents of traditional morality into keeping silent. Put differently, it's to lock traditional morality in the closet so social engineers can be free to redefine marriage as they wish.

How to Save Your Family From Being Silenced

Maggie Gallagher, an articulate defender of marriage, warns that by playing the “hate” card, the homosexual lobby wants to “’shut down the scientific debate’ on statements of fact” about homosexuality and to “control what ordinary people can say and think” about marriage, sex, and morality.

As your children become old enough to discuss these issues, arm them with facts from scientific and religious perspectives. One helpful website, defends morality on the basis of human dignity—religious perspective aside. The Family Research Council, one of the “hate” groups tagged by the SPLC, offers valuable research and statistics on marriage, family, and sexuality.

We should also teach our children to boldly proclaim - in love - their own faith. Tim Rutten of the L.A. Times applauds the SPLC action for drawing a line “where the expression of religiously based views on social issues ends and hate speech begins.” Rutten mistakenly agues that “even the most objectionable religious dogma” (like the biblical opposition to homosexual behavior) is protected by the constitution, but only if that belief “stays under the church roof.” (Rutten misses the fact that plenty of non-churchgoing folks support traditional morality.) His view is that one can say what you will in support of marriage—but only inside the church. In other words, your deeply held religious beliefs should be gagged as you exit. Teach your chlidren that folks who advocate silencing faith views in the public square are attacking a key right the First Amendment was designed to protect.

Gallagher also cautions that when homosexual activists liken their plight to racial prejudice, they seek to induce “moral shame” in the hearts of good people. Teach your children to hold fast to the truth and refuse the burden of unfair guilt. We know what marriage is. And no amount of lobbying or name-calling can change that truth. Our only shame would be to keep silent in the face of lies.


The 'Islamophobia' myth

by Jeff Jacoby

"Is America Islamophobic?" When that provocative question appeared on the cover of Time in August, the accompanying story strained to suggest, on the basis of some anecdotal evidence, that the answer might be yes. The FBI's latest compendium of US hate-crimes data suggests far more plausibly that the answer is no.

"Where ordinary Americans meet Islam, there is evidence that suspicion and hostility are growing," Time told its readers last summer. "To be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith -- not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country's most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery."

Time published that article amid the tumult over plans to build a Muslim mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero in New York, and not long after a fringe pastor in Gainesville had announced that he intended to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The piece noted that a handful of other mosque projects nationwide have run into "bitter opposition," and it cited a Duke University professor's claim that such resistance is "part of a pattern of intolerance" against American Muslims. Yet the story conceded frankly that "there's no sign that violence against Muslims is on the rise" and that "Islamophobia in the US doesn't approach levels seen in other countries."

In fact, as Time pointed out, while there may be the occasional confrontation over a Muslim construction project, "there are now 1,900 mosques in the US, up from about 1,200 in 2001." Even after 9/11, in other words, and even as radical Islamists have continued to target Americans, places of worship for Muslims in the United States have proliferated. And whenever naked anti-Islamic bigotry has appeared, "it has been denounced by many Christian, Jewish, and secular groups." (Case in point: the wall-to-wall repudiation of the Gainesville pastor.)

America is many things, but "Islamophobic" plainly isn't one of them. As Time itself acknowledged: "Polls have shown that most Muslims feel safer and freer in the US than anywhere else in the Western world." That sentiment is powerfully buttressed by the FBI's newly-released statistics on hate crime in the United States.

In 2009, according to data gathered from more than 14,000 law-enforcement agencies nationwide, there were 1,376 hate crimes motivated by religious bias. Of those, just 9.3 percent -- fewer than 1 in 10 -- were committed against Muslims. By contrast, 70.1 percent were committed against Jews, 6.9 percent were aimed and Catholics or Protestants, and 8.6 percent targeted other religions. Hate crimes driven by anti-Muslim bigotry were outnumbered nearly 8 to 1 by anti-Semitic crimes.

Year after year, American Jews are far more likely to be the victims of religious hate crime than members of any other group. That was true even in 2001, by far the worst year for anti-Muslim hate crimes, when 481 were reported -- less than half of the 1,042 anti-Jewish crimes tabulated by the FBI the same year.

Does all this mean that America is in reality a hotbed of anti-Semitism? Would Time's cover have been closer to the mark if it had asked: "Is America Judeophobic?"

Of course not. Even one hate crime is one too many, but in a nation of 300 million, all of the religious-based hate crimes added together amount to less than a drop in the bucket. I do not minimize the 964 hate crimes perpetrated against Jews last year, or those carried out against Muslims (128), Catholics (55), or Protestants (40). Some of those attacks were especially shocking or destructive; all of them deserve to be punished. But surely the most obvious takeaway from the FBI's statistics is not that anti-religious hate crimes are so frequent in America. It is that they are so rare.

In a column a few years back, I wrote that America has been for the Jews "a safe harbor virtually without parallel." It has been much the same for Muslims. Of course there is tension and hostility sometimes. How could there not be, when America is at war with violent jihadists who have done so much harm in the name of Islam? But for American Muslims as for American Jews, the tension and hostility are the exception. America's exemplary tolerance is the rule.



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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or 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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