Saturday, December 11, 2010
British stores airbrush Christ out of Christmas cards
Supermarkets were accused of ‘airbrushing Christ out of Christmas’ yesterday after it emerged that less than one per cent of cards they stock have religious themes. Many stores display hundreds of different Christmas cards yet offer just a handful featuring traditional Christian scenes. Some had no cards at all with religious references in their extensive ranges.
The Daily Mail visited major outlets of the big four supermarkets – Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons – in seven towns and cities. Out of 5,363 cards sold individually or in multipacks, just 45 featured Christian scenes such as the Nativity – 0.8 per cent. The worst offender was Morrisons, which had six out of a range of 973 cards, or 0.6 per cent.
Second worst was Tesco, despite chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, a practising Catholic, writing to a customer in October to tell her: ‘We have increased the number of Christmas cards that will be available with a religious theme this year.’
Dr Don Horrocks, of the Evangelical Alliance, said supermarkets were ‘airbrushing Christ out of Christmas’. He added: ‘There has been a rise in cards that say “Season’s greetings” or “Happy holidays” which is evidence of the speeding up of the trend of stripping the religion out of Christian festivals.’
Stephen Green, of Christian Voice, said: ‘The situation is caused by managers subscribing to political correctness and the idea that in some way Christian cards are offensive to other religions. This is simply not true.’
Anas Altikriti, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said he was ‘worried’ at the increasing secularisation of Britain. He added: ‘People who are looking for proper choice of Christmas cards should raise it with the store manager.’
The Mail was contacted by a Tesco customer earlier this week who said her local store in Ely, Cambridgeshire, had just a ‘handful’ of cards with religious themes last year - and still had only three out of 67 last month, despite a personal assurance from Sir Terry. After she had repeatedly contacted customer services, she received a letter from the company chief. ‘Sir Terry promised more cards this year,’ she said. ‘But the selection of cards with anything relating to the true meaning of Christmas was tiny, so he has not kept his word.’
Tesco said it had doubled the range of religiously themed cards this year but refused to give numbers, saying they ‘vary from store to store’.
An Asda spokesman said: ‘We sell five different Christmas cards that have religious sentiment and traditional designs.’
Morrisons said: ‘We stock types of cards that appeal to our customers.’
A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: ‘The ranges that appear in our stores reflect what our customers want to buy.’
A classic of British bureaucracy
'Incompetent' rail bosses sent vital de-icing trains for servicing during the big freeze as passengers were left marooned by weather. Whether public or private, a British bureaucrat just loves messing other people's lives up. It gives them a pathetic feeling of power
Rail chiefs sent two vital de-icing trains away for servicing at the height of the big freeze, it was revealed today. Network Rail and the train company SouthEastern have been condemned for 'total incompetance' by Michael Fallon, Tory MP for Sevenoaks in Kent.
Greg Clark, Tory MP for nearby Tunbridge Wells said he was ‘flabbergasted’ that the Network Rail trains were sent in for maintenance in winter rather than the summer leaving passengers to face 'total chaos.'
Rail bosses apologised for the fiasco after the disclosure was made to Kent MPs during an 'angry' meeting with Charles Horton, managing director of rail operator SouthEastern - which is set to increase its fares in the New Year by up to 13 per cent.
The showdown meeting with MPs was held at the House of Commons following massive public criticism about the way Southeastern dealt with the recent sub-zero conditions. The operator has been accused by union leaders of being ‘caught out’ by the cold snap, with its services collapsing into ‘total chaos’.
At the height of the big-freeze, the wintry conditions passengers were left standed overnight on a snowed in train. Southeastern’s 8.05pm train from Charing Cross to Hastings train was forced to shut down north of Orpington as an insulating layer of ice blocked the electricity from getting to the rail. Passengers were stranded until 5.30am on December 1.
Network Rail sent another train to try and rescue the broken-down one but that became stuck too, so they had to resort to manual de-icing.
Southeastern's lines are particularly prone to snow problems because, instead of overhead lines, rails are electrified - and these are worse affected in freezing conditions.
The firm admitted that when the Hastings train finally arrived into Orpington station some passengers refused to get on the replacement buses, preferring to remain on the train. Another train was stranded in Petts Wood overnight.
Network Rail said it had brought in 'extra resources' from other parts of the network which were not affected by the severe weather.
But Mr Fallon said: 'The total incompetence of this farcical situation beggars belief. ‘Passengers who are paying through the nose for an appalling service were let down badly. ‘They don't deserve to keep their franchise.'
He said there was a 'blame game' going on between the train company and Network Rail adding that the number of de-icing trains had in any case been whittled down from eight to just two over the last 20-odd years.
Mr Clark said: ‘It is farcical that de-icing trains should go in for maintenance in the winter, when they are needed, rather than during the summer, when they are not.’
‘Southeastern has let down its customers by failing to run trains and by failing to communicate with the public.' He added: 'Although the amount of snow was exceptional, I was flabbergasted to be told by Charles Horton that two of Network Rail's crucial de-icing trains had been sent away for their annual service at the end of November so were out of action last week.
Network Rail sought to defend its actions. A spokesman said: ‘During last week's winter weather in Kent, we brought in extra resources from other parts of the network which were not affected. These more modern locomotives were able to do much more than the piece of kit that was being upgraded.
‘We apologise to passengers who faced disruption last week and pay tribute to the Network Rail people and train operator staff who worked 24 hours a day in Arctic conditions to enable the best possible train service to run.’
Mr Clark said that Southeastern's communication with passengers during the freezing temperatures was ‘utter chaos' adding: 'Travellers couldn't tell from the company's own website, from station announcements, from the telephone line or from information given to broadcasters what they were supposed to do’. ‘Passengers were able to find out more from each other using Twitter than they were from the company that was taking their money.'
He was 'not persuaded' by the meeting that Southeastern 'fully recognise the scale of their ineptitude on communications.' Mr Clark asked Mr Horton to offer a ‘goodwill discount’ to customers.
Mr Horton apologised to customers: ‘We are sorry that many of our passengers had severely disrupted services last week due to the snow and icy conditions on the track.' He said ice on the conductor rail 'makes it impossible for trains to draw electricity, causing major disruption'.
‘Network Rail worked hard to clear the snow and keep the rails free of ice, but despite their efforts large parts of the network were closed due to the very heavy snowfall.' ‘We accept that there were shortcomings in information provision and this made the disruption even more frustrating for passengers.'
At the height of the freeze, commuters on Southeastern, which will be inflicting rises of up to 13 per cent on season tickets in the New Year, suffered more than half its services cancelled completely.
The meeting followed the announcement that workers at Southeastern are to be balloted for strikes in a row over jobs.
Pagan prisoners in Britain given time off to worship the Sun God
Hundreds of criminals are to be given four days a year off prison work - to celebrate pagan festivals. Prison governors have been issued with a list of eight annual pagan holidays and told pagan inmates can choose four to celebrate.
The festivals include Imbolc - The Festival of the Lactating Sheep - which falls on February 1 and is dedicated to the goddess Brighid. Another is the festival of Beltane, which falls in early May, devotees are urged to celebrate the Sun God with 'unabashed sexuality and promiscuity'. The Yule festival involves pagans 'casting spells' and dressing up as ghosts.
Pagan inmates may even be allowed special food and drink on their days off. Traditional pagan food include Ewe's milk for Imbolc, Simnel Cake and eggs on Spring Equinox and Roast Goose on Autumn Equinox. On Samhain - celebrated on Halloween - pagans by tradition go apple bobbing.
It is the latest in a series of rulings to protect convicts' rights and ensure equality among different faiths.
New guidelines entitled 'Religious Festival dates for 2011' state that all prison staff must be made aware of the pagan festival dates. It states: 'The Prison Service is committed to ensuring that prisoners from all religious faiths are given the opportunity and facilities to practise their religions.'
It lists the eight main festivals before adding: 'Most Pagans celebrate the eight festivals set out, but depending on the particular tradition would attach particular significance to certain days.'
'Because of variations in emphasis between different Pagan traditions it has been agreed with the Pagan Federation that prisoners may choose four festivals on which they should not be required to work.'
Prisons are told they must prepare specific foods if it is a requirement of a prisoner's religion. But the guidance states the food should be prepared inside prison kitchens and the cost must be 'proportionate to the number of prisoners involved'.
Paganism was first recognised by the Prison Service as a religion more than nine years ago. The number of prisoners declaring themselves as pagan has tripled in six years to 366 last year.
Worshippers are allowed to keep tarot cards, a hoodless robe and a twig to use as a wand in their cell. They can also keep incense, a piece of jewellery and rune stones. Skyclad, or naked worship, is banned.
Pagan inmate Mark Stewart, who is serving a three year term for drug dealing at HMP Elmley in Kent, wrote to prisoners' newspaper Inside Time this month to complain about how Pagans are treated.
He claimed Pagans had been 'sidelined' and 'marginalised' in favour of more popular religions. He wrote: 'There is a perception amongst most people that Pagans are devil worshippers, etc, but that is so far from the truth. 'I am an earth loving person who thanks Mother Earth, spirits and ancestors for what I have today. 'I do practise witchcraft, but only for good.'
Sources said there was ‘no question’ of prisoners being served roast goose or boar.
A Prison Service spokesman said: ‘The Prison Service issues annually a list of religious festival dates for the year ahead – this includes key dates on which prisoners registered in that affiliation can be excused from work.’
It comes a day after it emerged that an underworld crime boss jailed for the murder of two grandparents has won the right to be called ‘Mr’ by prison guards.
Colin Gunn complained that he was not treated with sufficient respect and, under guidelines introduced by Labour, prison officers are required to address inmates as they wish.
Australia: Legal fury at 'war on free speech'
A Melbourne lawyer and former boss of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has criticised her government for its handling of WikiLeaks and its Australian founder, Julian Assange. Peter Gordon, whose legal firm made Ms Gillard the first female partner of Slater and Gordon, said her comment that Mr Assange had broken the law was baseless.
He said the fact that people such as Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland - both of whom he knew to be good lawyers and decent people - could be driven to behave in this way was a sobering reminder of "the seductive and compulsive draw of power".
Mr Gordon was speaking on Thursday night at a WikiLeaks forum attended by 250 lawyers and civil libertarians at the Law Institute of Victoria.
In today's Age opinion page, he writes: "If the Wikileaks disclosures tell us anything, it is that no government, whatever its political colours, is going to hesitate for a nanosecond to conflate the notion of 'national security' with 'my own career security'." He calls for a challenge to the "war on information . call it what it is - a growing and insidious attack on free speech".
Mr Gordon's stance was backed by several top barristers, who said neither official secrets nor terror laws provided any offences under which Mr Assange could be charged in Australia.
Mr Assange also received support from more than 500 people who attended a rally outside the State Library in Melbourne. The rally was one of several held around the country, with backers calling for a ban on WikiLeaks censorship and for Mr Assange to be freed.
Julian Burnside, QC, said of the government: "I think they are trying to defend the indefensible." He said the state had an obligation to protect citizens who got into trouble in a foreign country. "They ignored that obligation and instead sided with the Americans. They even went so far as to threaten to cancel his passport. That's exactly the opposite of what any self-respecting country ought to do."
Ms Gillard insists the actions of Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, are illegal. Attorney-General Robert McClelland has said Wikileaks' actions are likely to be illegal. Yesterday Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said it was entirely up to federal police to say whether Mr Assange had committed any crimes.
Several barristers agreed that it would be stretching credulity to try to mount a case based on terror laws, such as a claim that Mr Assange had recklessly helped al-Qaeda by publishing a list of the sites the US most feared would be terror targets.
Greg Barns, a barrister with experience of Australian terror trials, said: "Even under the outrageous curtailing of freedom of speech that the anti-terror laws represent in this country, you couldn't even at a stretch maintain that there was an intention or even recklessness on the part of Mr Assange."
Mr Barns and others pointed out that any charge laid against Mr Assange would also have to be laid against all the large media outlets that had republished his documents.
Even the United States had so far failed in its search for an offence, Mr Assange's Melbourne solicitor, Rob Stary, said. "This issue has also been examined by the Congressional Research Service in the US, and they made the same observation. He's the second person in the chain; he receives material, but he doesn't take it himself." Therefore, no offence could be identified, he said.
Mr Stary said lawyers at the forum expressed "enormous disquiet as to the role of government attempting to suppress this information" and had criticised Ms Gillard and Mr McClelland for undermining the presumption of innocence.
Mr Burnside said: "I think, standing back from it, what we have seen is what happens to a citizen who breaks the unwritten law about embarrassing the governments of powerful countries . If they want to avoid embarrassment, they shouldn't shut down freedom of information. They should stop acting embarrassingly."
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 blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.