Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Neurotic atheists

Atheists in Polk County symbolically scrubbed away at a major highway leading into the county Saturday. The were removing a blessing placed there a year ago by a group of religious leaders.

Brooms, mops and water hoses in hand, the atheists gathered at the roadside. "We come in peace .. now that's normally what aliens say when they visit a new planet, but we're not aliens, we're atheists!" Humanists of Florida director Mark Palmer shouted to the group along Highway 98.

Representatives from various atheist groups in the area scrubbed the road at the Pasco-Polk county line. They were figuratively removing holy oil that had been put on the road last year by a group of area religious leaders. That group was Polk Under Prayer, or PUP.

PUP director Richard Geringswald said his group had been blessing the county line. "And praying for that entryway in to the city, that God would protect us from evildoers, mainly the drug crowd, that they would be dissuaded to come in to the county," Geringswald said.

But Humanists of Florida members don't see it that way. They say it makes them feel unwelcome. "It sends a very bad signal to everyone in Polk County, and (anyone) who travels through Polk county who doesn't happen to be Christian,” Palmer said, “This event is not about atheist rights; this is about welcoming everybody into Polk county."

So they took their "unholy water" and washed the road.

It's been an ongoing feud between the groups in the county: the atheists are also unhappy with prayer bricks PUP members buried along I-4 and various other roadway leading in to the county, engraved with Psalm 37.

"For the wicked shall be destroyed, but those who trust the Lord shall be given every blessing," Geringswald said, reading the psalm from his Bible.

Geringswald said PUP is trying to do something positive - to keep crime out and encourage faith. He says they also plan to run TV ads later this year that will say they are trying to send a positive message about criminals turning their lives around.

The humanists say they don't plan on stopping their protests any time soon.


Tyler Clementi Case Fueled Anti-Bullying Panic and Assault on Free Speech

A New Jersey jury has convicted Dharun Ravi of hate crimes in the Tyler Clementi case, which created a furor over bullying that led to legislation that endangers free speech on campus, and helped spawn a thriving “anti-bullying” industry that has enriched opportunistic consultants and self-proclaimed experts. Ravi, a Rutgers University student, surreptitiously filmed his gay college roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man. Clementi committed suicide two days later. Initial media accounts falsely claimed that Ravi had filmed Clementi having sex, not just kissing, and sensationalized the case through factual exaggerations. Press reports also jumped to conclusions about the mental state of Ravi and Clementi, and falsely made it sound like there were gaps in existing law that somehow facilitated Ravi’s mistreatment of Clementi. (In reality, Rutgers, like most colleges, enforces rules against sexual and sexual orientation harassment, and New Jersey state law forbids invasions of privacy, and holds colleges liable for negligently failing to respond to anti-gay harassment committed by students, as a 2007 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court made clear.)

Jurors convicted Ravi of hate crimes without making any finding that he was motivated by hate, argues Jacob Sullum at Reason magazine, in a commentary entitled, “Did Dharun Ravi Commit a Hateless Hate Crime?” Prosecutors did not allege at trial that Ravi’s actions, which Clementi himself dismissively referred to as a brief “five sec peep,” actually drove Clementi to commit suicide, and Ravi’s lawyers were denied access to key writings by Clementi that might have revealed other factors contributing to the suicide. Jurors did find that Clementi “reasonably perceived” himself to have been targeted for intimidation based on his sexual orientation. Law Professor Ann Althouse says that it “sounds like Ravi was found guilty because he couldn’t disprove a motivation that was inferred based on Clementi’s subjective perception. And yet the defense was deprived of much of the evidence of Clementi’s subjective state of mind.” (Note that Ravi wrote to Clementi that he had a close friend who was gay.)

Law Professor Glenn Reynolds was blunter: “the mob was angry and demanded a sacrifice.” (Ravi, who was brought to America from India as a small child, now faces likely deportation to that country as a result of his conviction.) Finding someone guilty based on an “inferred stated of mind” — as New Jersey’s hate crimes law specifically authorized the jury to do in finding Ravi guilty of bias-motivated intimidation – may violate the Supreme Court’s decision in Virginia v. Black, which declared unconstitutional a state’s attempt to legislatively declare certain conduct presumptively intimidating in purpose or effect.

The Clementi case illustrates the broad reach of hate crimes laws, not any gap in existing law that would justify more draconian laws. But in response to Clementi’s suicide, liberal congressmen proposed the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act (which has yet to pass Congress), and New Jersey enacted a sweeping new anti-bullying law. Both of these pieces of legislation restrict speech and were criticized as violations of the First Amendment by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group.

As Sullum noted earlier, after New Jersey passed its lengthy and complicated anti-bullying law, known as the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” the result was less free speech on campus, and more costly unfunded mandates for local school districts. The law, which contains 18 pages of “required components,” gave a huge boost to a burgeoning “anti-bullying” industry that seeks to define bullying as broadly as possible (to include things like “eye-rolling,” or always associating with the same group of friends) in order to create demand for its services. Hundreds of New Jersey schools “snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual.”

Liberal lawmakers and the Obama administration have sought to define as “bullying” or “cyberbullying” speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, such as harsh criticism of politicians. We wrote earlier about how the current panic over bullying is leading to attacks on free speech, political debate, and free association in the schools; political pandering; dishonest stretching of existing federal laws by federal officials; and violations of basic principles of federalism. The panic over bullying ignores the fact that the incidence of bullying has fallen for many years in the nation’s schools.

Press coverage has also been slanted and factually inaccurate in covering other high-profile allegations of school bullying, such as in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. One press account described people as victims of anti-gay bullying in that school district even when they could not have been, either because they weren’t gay, or weren’t mistreated based on their sexual orientation, or didn’t even attend its schools (like a University of Minnesota student), simply because they happened to live in the area, and committed suicide. The school district is located in Minnesota, which has a broad gay rights law. But recently, the school district was sued in federal court over anti-gay harassment, and settled the case after the U.S. Department of Education, which deliberately ignores limits on harassment liability contained in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Davis decision, declared that the school district had violated Title IX by failing to prevent anti-gay harassment (in doing so, the Education Department ignored both the Supreme Court’s definition of harassment, and limits on institutional liability for acts by students).


Want to hang bunting to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee? You'll need ladder training first

Organisers of a Diamond Jubilee street party who want to put up bunting have been told they must first go on a health and safety course – on how to climb a ladder. They will also be taught how to carry out the risk assessments required to put up tables for a street market.

The safety rules were described as 'lunacy' by those planning the party in Petersfield, Hampshire, in June.

The event will take place in the town centre and organisers need permission from a shopping centre to erect the bunting.

Committee member Vaughan Clarke, 71, said: ‘These ridiculous rules are making it more and more difficult to have some simple old-fashioned fun. ‘I’ve been using ladders all my life. All we want to do is mark the occasion by stringing up some bunting. It’s lunacy.

‘The centre management told me I needed public liability insurance, a risk assessment and a ladder certificate to put up the bunting.

‘We have taken it in good humour, but there is a serious side to this – we are a charity and £320 for a ladder course is an expense we could do without.’

The course, called Safety With Ladders, covers the Health and Safety Executive Work at Height Regulations 2005. Trainer Eric Goulding, who will run tomorrow’s course, said there would be a video and a PowerPoint presentation.

Participants are shown how to set up a barrier around a ladder to stop people bumping into it, and how to position someone at the bottom of it to warn others the ladder is there.

Mr Goulding said: ‘It is about trying to find the right balance between being a killjoy or having people hurt themselves.’

Shopping centre spokesman Michael Knowles said: ‘The committee informed us that their team was to have ladder training and would supply an appropriate risk assessment.’


Nothing is fair about Australia's unfair dismissal laws

HANDS up, all those in favour of unfair dismissal. I can't see any hands. Are you sure? So here are some stories.

A worker in a factory located in a regional town refuses to wear safety glasses, which is a requirement of work health and safety laws. He is reminded several times, but he still refuses. He is given a warning. The employer dismisses the worker lest the firm be found guilty of violating the safety laws.

The tribunal finds that the worker has been unfairly dismissed, in part because it will be hard for him to find alternative work and he has a family to support. He is awarded monetary compensation.

Another worker - this time a teacher of English as a second language - decides to use the F-word as the basis of his lessons. His employer discovers this and dismisses the workers on the basis of gross misconduct.

The tribunal finds that the worker, who has since left the country (he was a temporary migrant), was unfairly dismissed. There was no specific instruction given to the teacher to refrain from using swear words as an aid to teaching, so the argument went. The worker receives monetary compensation (more than $20,000).

Yet another worker is found to have daubed the factory wall with swastikas, which some of the other workers understandably find offensive. But there is a culture of joshing within the workplace, according to the tribunal, and the worker is found to have been unfairly dismissed. He also is awarded monetary compensation.

So are we all still against unfair dismissal? Let's face of it: none of these actual cases passes the common sense test. Note that we are not talking about unlawful dismissal, the sacking of a worker for specified reasons that are deemed to be unlawful. We are dealing with the much more subjective adjective unfair. What may seem unfair to one party to an employment contract may seem fair - indeed, necessary - to the other.

There is no doubt that the Fair Work Act has opened the floodgates to more claims for unfair dismissal. This was always going to be the case as the exemption in the Work Choices legislation (all employers with fewer than 100 employees) was removed. The numbers are now running at about 17,000 a year, up from 6000 a year under Work Choices.

In research undertaken by academics Paul Oslington of the Australian Catholic University and Ben Freyens from the University of Canberra, they note that Fair Work Australia has failed to release important data in relation to conciliated outcomes, which are the vast majority of cases. (This is yet another blot against this organisation. Note also its clearly deficient website, which is designed mainly to confuse and obscure.)

For the 3 per cent of claims in 2010-11 settled by arbitration, 51 per cent were in favour of the plaintiff compared with 33 per cent under Work Choices. And "walk away" money is back in town, with the most common range of payment being from $2000 to $4000, with 10 per cent from $6000 to $8000.

Perhaps an even more worrying development for the business community than unfair dismissal claims is the take-up of actions under the general protection provisions of the act related to adverse action.

Adverse action is defined as any deleterious action affecting an employee or potential employee (including dismissal, but also other eventualities) that is taken by an employer for prohibited reasons. Inserted in the act at the last minute, these provisions provide much easier access for disgruntled employees to sue their employers.

One of the key sections is 346, which states "a person must not take adverse action against another person because the other person is or is not an officer or member of an industrial association (trade union)".

There is also prohibition against adverse action being taken against an employee because of the person's race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer's responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

In the case of claims of adverse action, there is more time to lodge a claim, there are no earnings restrictions and compensation is not capped.

This is in contrast to the unfair dismissal provisions, where claims must be lodged within 14 days; earnings must be below $118,000 a year unless the worker is covered by an enterprise agreement or award; and compensation is limited to six months' pay.

Moreover, for adverse action claims, the onus of proof is reversed, so employers need to demonstrate that any adverse action affecting an employee has not occurred for a prohibited reason. It is hardly surprising that there has been rapid rise in the number of claims under this part of the act: from 1200 in 2009-10 to 1900 in 2010-11. The number is tracking to reach 2200 this financial year. (These are Oslington and Freyens's figures.)

One of the most significant adverse action cases is still being played out through the courts. It is due to be heard by the High Court at the end of this month, with the Victorian government having appealed the decision of the full Federal Court.

The background to this case is that a teacher, Mr Barclay, at a regional TAFE college, who was also president of his union sub-branch, sent an email to other union members alleging an instance of serious misconduct against a named senior person, without naming the complainants. His employer queried why the teacher had not raised the issue before sending the email, alleging that Mr Barclay was in fact guilty of serious misconduct. He was stood down on full pay.

The Full Bench of the Federal Court found in favour of the teacher because the employer action was seen to have taken adverse action against the teacher in his capacity as a representative of the union.

As Joe Catanzariti of Clayton Utz notes: "Subjective good intentions (on the part of employers) are not good enough. You've got to be very cautious if you are contemplating action against an employee in response to something the employee has done, or has arguably done, in the capacity of the union member or union official."

This sort of statement is just music to the ears of the trade union movement.

The decision of the High Court will be significant. In the meantime, employers are faced with the burden of this part of the act and Catanzariti's advice is that employers' "decision-making processes need to make sure that there are clear guidelines and to give reasons to employees for their decisions based on the work process and conditions. And, of course, document everything."

I wonder what the Deregulation Minister has to say about that - more paperwork, just what business needs.

The combined operation of the unfair dismissal and adverse action provisions sends a chill through the business community, crimping its willingness to take on new workers, particularly ones who could pose a risk. Strong employment protection laws and strong employment growth are infrequent bedfellows. It is time to reconsider these provisions and to debate the case for exempting small business.



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. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Anoka-Hennepin school district"

Ah, my old high school district rears its ugly head again. Short of killing or maiming, we did rebel there, John, we very much did. The yearly egg fight between opposing schools was eventually cracked down on, and the yearly school sponsored mega bonfire was cancelled after a collapse and death but that was after my time in limbo there, pre-Columbine. Their new sonic alarm system never seemed to work right, I, uh, noticed. Their use of cranes to undo pranks was amusingly noted. I had two good teachers there in 12 years, one in first grade and one at the end who has been transported straight out of a bio research lab. For lack of hard evidence, us hacker yippie types were subjected to all manner of false accusations submitted to us in prisoner's dilemma format in which we were transparently lied to that others had already implicated us, but threat of a massive lawsuit by a university professor mother put an eventual end to that, the assistant principle having turned white after a single phone call to said mother. That area has a hot rod car subculture that overlaps with high school, and since alcohol was so hard to obtain that drugs were all the rave. What a hell hole! Suburbia U.S.A. where neighborhood status obsession rules the minds of nervous dorks. There, rebellion does lead to creative culture, however, or did, 30 years ago.