Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The growing cry for England and St George
Politicians should take note of the resurgence of English national identity
And a Happy St George's Day to you as well! Now there's a phrase few of us are likely to utter today - not least because many English people haven't a clue that this is their national day. In Catalonia, which shares the same patron saint, young men will give their love a red rose and a book, and the church bells will ring out. Here, anyone wearing a red rose in their buttonhole to work will be assumed to be on their way to a wedding.
The English consider overt nationalism to be in bad taste, yet are quite content to wear leprechaun hats and drink green beer on St Patrick's Day or tuck into a haggis on St Andrew's Day or Burns Night. The Celtic fringes need their national days to assert their identities; while the English, as the dominant people of these isles, have always felt a little bit above it all.
That never used to be the case, however. In medieval times, St George's Day was widely observed in England as a feast day; today, some towns and cities will host pageants that date back to the 13th century. Yet after the Union of 1707, and for the following 291 years, such celebrations fell into abeyance. When I was growing up, hardly anyone considered April 23 to be a special day - though I remember boxes of wilting shamrock arriving in the post from our relatives in Northern Ireland on St Patrick's Day, and daffodils being sported by the Welsh on March 1.
But ever since Scottish devolution in 1998, there has been a resurgence of interest in English national identity. Over the past few days, the letters page of this newspaper has carried advice on how the day could be marked: why not a supper party with such English culinary delights as Lancashire hotpot or shepherd's pie, followed by readings from Shakespeare, who died on this day in 1616 and may have been born on April 23, too? The English can more than match Robbie Burns with "This royal throne of kings, this sceptr'd isle/This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars/This other Eden, demi-paradise. This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."
Over the past 10 years or so, more and more events to mark St George's Day have taken place across the country: last Saturday, there was a big celebration in Trafalgar Square. So is something going on here? Has the English national spirit, for so long subsumed beneath a cloak of Britishness, been prodded from its torpor? Have the people, as Chesterton said they would, found their voice?
If so, it is hardly surprising, given the current fixation on Scottish independence and the referendum in 2014, chosen to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and Bruce's victory over the English army of Edward II. Indeed, the reassertion of Scottish nationalism has reawakened its English counterpart. A poll published today by the IPPR, a Left-leaning think tank, suggests that seven out of 10 people living in England want St George's Day to be a public holiday (a good idea only if it replaces May Day, since we already have a glut of days off at this time of year). The last census showed that 70 per cent of the English population identified themselves as either solely English or English in combination with some other national identity; a generation ago they identified themselves predominantly as British.
Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR, says: "There is compelling evidence that English identity is becoming politicised: that is, the more strongly English a person feels, the more likely they are to believe that current territorial arrangements treat England unfairly." He maintains that Englishness is a growing force that politicians can no longer ignore. So why do they continue to do so?
When the Scots and, to a lesser extent, the Welsh were granted a modicum of home rule, England was left out. The last government tried to foist regional devolution on England, but was sent away with a flea in its ear. After all, why should England be balkanised when the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom have re-emerged as self-governing entities?
The reason, of course, is England's comparative size. The simplest answer to what to do about England within a devolved UK is to give it its own parliament; but this would be so large as to threaten the stability of the Union. It is no coincidence that the strongest supporter of a separate English parliament is the Scottish nationalist Alex Salmond.
With a Coalition that commands a majority of votes and seats in England in power at Westminster, the issue of the influence wielded by Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs over English laws does not arise. But it will if Labour wins the next election by a narrow margin, and, using its Scottish votes, is able to impose legislation that England does not want. For Scottish MPs at Westminster can vote to make laws for the English - even on matters that, in Scotland, have been devolved from Westminster.
The McKay committee, which reported recently on how to deal with this so-called West Lothian question, suggested giving new responsibilities and opportunities to English MPs, but without allowing them a veto over their own laws. This is a characteristically pragmatic approach, very much in keeping with the constitutional gradualism this country prefers. But it will cut little ice if Scotland votes against independence but still gets another big dollop of devolution to compensate.
Sooner or later, the English will insist on being heard; but for now, a suitably understated and self-deprecating celebration is in order.
Egypt Persecutes Christians and Americans Pay the Bill
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's governing majority, is not actually crucifying the nation's Christians. But they are nonetheless actively persecuting Coptic Christians who are said to be one-tenth of the population of the largest Arab country. A photograph of two young men set afire during recent demonstrations is pretty striking.
Demonstrations have turned into riots as Egypt's police cracked down on the Copts. The Copts were protesting against increasing sectarian violence directed at the country's Christian minority.
Typically, what has been happening is the Copts protest against Islamist violence directed at them and their churches. St. Mark's Cathedral has been the target of Muslim extremists in recent week. When the Copts face police, they get tear gassed. And then they are the ones arrested. The Muslim Brotherhood authorities will pick up Coptic youth-hopefully the ones not yet set on fire-and jail them.
Then, the police grab some of the Islamists perpetrators and jail them. Later, following a much-ballyhooed "reconciliation," the authorities release all-perpetrators and victims alike. Christian Magdy Saber described the phony process in an interview with the online Daily News of Egypt, an English language source.
"This is a natural consequence of the reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Al-Khasous and what some priests agreed to," said Magdy Saber, vice head of the union's media committee. "It brings us back to the old bargaining scenario [under Mubarak] where the criminals are released."
Saber said that this method has long been used in any sectarian conflict. "Reconciliation sessions take place followed by Coptic arrests. Then both the Copts and the criminals are simultaneously released to end the conflict."
Police used tear gas against the Copts. It is tear gas sold to Egypt by American firms. In addition to foreign aid-most recently a $250 million increase offered by Sec. of State John Kerry-our State Department has approved sale of this "non-lethal " crowd control agent to the Muslim Brotherhood governing party.
The Christian Copts of Egypt are divided among themselves, unfortunately. Some want the Egyptian military to exercise greater control over the actions of the Islamists aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. But others remember what they call the
Maspero Massacre of 2011 in which armored personnel carriers drove over Coptic protesters in an action reminiscent of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army mowing down student pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Egypt's Al Ahramonline site, English version, carried these comments by Coptic activists:
"Copts are split between those who want the military back for protection and those who still remember the military tanks that ran over Coptic bodies only last year," said Coptic political activist Sally Toma, referring to the "Maspero massacre" in which 24 Copts were killed.
A report in the Los Angeles Times shows the difficulty faced by the Copts:
"The country's general chaos is causing everything to escalate and allows a radical Muslim ideology to propagate violence," said biomedical engineer Karim Samuel, a Copt. "I sometimes sit on the Metro [subway] next to men reading the Koran. I wonder if they really understand what they're reading or do they blindly follow sheiks."
He paused and calculated the political math against his faith and other minorities.
"Morsi and the Brotherhood don't care about Copts, liberals or leftists," Samuel said. "I don't know what we can do as a Christian community."
It is, to be sure, a most confused and confusing situation in Egypt. But this much should be clear: American taxpayers are underwriting a regime that has little concern for fundamental human rights. We are shoveling billions to Egypt in the na‹ve belief that they are moving toward democracy.
Is Egyptmoving towards democracy? Pew polls and other opinion surveys regularly report that as many as 84% of Egyptians today say anyone who leaves Islam should be killed. Believing that,how can they have a democracy?
The Obama administration has never explained how it makes sense for Americans to borrow billions from China to give it to a government in Egypt that is rolling over its own citizens and turning a blind eye to those of its backers who are burning Coptic churches, shooting them down, and setting them on fire.
We may not be able to protect the Copts of Egypt, but we surely should not be helping their persecutors. If the Morsi administration begins to crucify the Copts, will we pay for the nails?
The Power of Being "Offended" in Order to Shut Down Political Debate
Has society really become quite thin-skinned, or is acting "offended" a new tactic that is being used to shut down legitimate political debate? Progressives are increasingly claiming to be offended whenever those on the right disagree with their left-wing positions. It doesn't matter what the issue is; the left will divert a legitimate political debate into an accusation that the right disagrees with them because they are full of hate towards them. This puts the right on the defensive, and removes the real debate from discussion. It then becomes difficult for the right to ever prevail with their position, because to do so would mean "hate" had won.
Economics? Disagree with welfare, and you're full of hate and intolerance towards the poor. Social issues? Disagree with the left on abortion or gay marriage, and you don't like women or gays. Foreign policy? Disagree on foreign policy, and you hate Muslims, Palestinians, and the poor in less fortunate countries. Second Amendment? If you support gun rights, then you have a cold and callous view towards the victims of gun violence. Affirmative action? If you disagree with affirmative action, then you're a racist. Unions? Disagree with them, and you despise working-class Americans.
The offended attitude ploy has become stifling. The left has brainwashed thousands of people across the country into seeking out chances to be offended. Meanwhile, these same people who act hysterically offended by a differing political view will pay $90 to attend a comedy show, laughing the hardest of anyone at the comedian's racist, misogynist, and obscene jokes. This is evidence they're not really offended by those who merely harbor different political positions on issues.
Try to make a joke about any of these issues with one of these thin-skinned victims and they will tear into you at best, report you to your employer or appropriate government agency at worst. We're seeing more and more people lose their jobs over simply posting an outspoken viewpoint on Facebook. The left will whip up its victims into a frenzy and have them bombard the employer with angry complaints until the employer complies and terminates the employee.
The left is expanding its victims to include almost all Americans. Now everyone has something to be offended about. Even the right is falling into this victim mentality. Fat? You're a victim. Smoker? You're a victim. Single mom? You're a victim.
The left has turned generations of Americans into wimpy fourth graders ready to start whining at any minute. At the same time, those same offended folks are walking around on eggshells at work, in public, and on social networking programs, paranoid of someone else catching them saying something "insensitive."
It is a dishonest stretch to assert that because someone has a differing political opinion than you on an issue, they hate you. Look at all the people on the right and the left who are friends with each other. They don't hate each other, or they wouldn't be friends. Sneakily, the left will point to a handful of hateful individuals around the country, and use a broad brush to paint everyone on the right as sharing their views. This is lying. Lying in order to convince Americans of your viewpoint is despicable and shows how desperate the left has become.
Using the ruse of being offended to shut down legitimate political debate is censorship. If you try to point this out, however, the left will bring up an extreme example, such as terrible words used against blacks in the pre-civil rights era. This is a red herring, because virtually no one today agrees that racial slurs are acceptable. If someone is using disgraceful slurs against someone on welfare, or against gun control proponents, that is one thing. But to merely disagree with the concept or welfare or gun control is not the same as being full of hate towards those people.
The absurdity of this concept can be seen by looking at some of those on the right. Mark Mattioli, the father of 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim James Mattioli, has been speaking out against gun control. He doesn't "hate" the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, in fact, he and his wife loved their son more than anyone. To equate him with hate merely for opposing gun control is a pretty cruel tactic by the left.
Many blacks speak up against affirmative action and are viciously attacked by the left. Blacks don't "hate" themselves; there has never been a quote by a conservative black saying they dislike themselves, nor have there been hate crimes committed by conservative blacks against themselves. The entire concept is the height of foolishness. Yet the left routinely goes after outspoken conservative blacks more viciously than they go after, say, doctors who mutilate girls' genitalia in Africa, supposedly one of their key causes and something truly abhorrent. It has become so bad that the word "blacklash" has been coined.
The latest victim of the left's attacks on conservative blacks is Dr. Benjamin Carson. Carson, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., dared to express a few political opinions as a speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast, for which he was highly praised later by the Wall Street Journal. The left has gone after him hard ever since.
The hypocrisy can be seen by visiting the White House website shortly after Carson gave his speech. The website wasn't even viewable until you clicked through a huge gun control message from Obama. There was no massive outrage, it was merely mentioned on a few conservative websites. Apparently for the left, it is O.K. for a left-wing black man to use the national government's website to promote an overtly political message, but not for a conservative black man to use the national prayer breakfast to also declare some political opinions.
The phony offensive ploys must stop. We are not a nation of crybaby fourth graders. Don't buy into the victim mentality, and call out the tactic when the left uses it. The left is not the harmless crybabies they appear to be at first. If we don't speak up now, they will bully us into giving up our First Amendment rights by threatening our jobs, licenses and reputations. As Charlton Heston once said, "Political correctness is tyranny with manners."
Ever think your other half's brain must be wired differently? New research reveals you're right
Despite feminist ideology
One of the greatest enigmas of the brain is the role of gender. For instance, women seem to be more prone to dementia and depression, yet neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease strike more men.
Why is this so? More controversial is the suggestion that gender doesn't just affect the health of your brain, but the way it works - and how effective it is at different tasks.
`More and more research is revealing that male and female brains are much more different than we previously thought,' says neuropsychiatrist Dr Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain And The Male Brain. Here, with the help of leading experts, we reveal some of the latest thinking about what your sex says about your brain.
On average, men's brains are 8 to 10 per cent bigger than women's - hardly surprising, as men's heads tend to be larger. But some areas of men's and women's brains are also different sizes. A study in 2001 by researchers from Harvard University found that parts of the frontal lobe, which governs decision-making and problem-solving, is proportionally larger in women.
In men, the parietal cortex, involved in spatial perception, and the amygdala, which triggers fight or flight responses, covered a larger area - the researchers suggested this meant men would probably make their way round a building better and often sense danger quicker.
It could also be that the activity levels in women and men's brains are different. `A woman's brain is never at rest, unlike the male brain - a woman is always on alert,' says British neuropsychologist Dr Anne Moir, the author of Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men And Women. `In evolutionary times, women were responsible for children who could get into grave danger, so they had to be extra alert.'
When U.S. neuroscientist Dr Daniel Amen compared 26,000 brain scans, women had increased activity - shown by increased blood flow - in 112 of the 128 regions of the brain measured. But more active doesn't mean better, he says. `Male and female brains are different. Women have busy brains; men's are a lot quieter. One pattern is not better than the other; they are just different.'
Women feel pain more than men and are more sensitive to touch. `The pain mechanisms in our brains are different due to the sex hormones,' says Dr Nick Losseff, consultant neurologist at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. `The male foetus is bathed in testosterone from the beginning, which may trigger these brain changes.'
Women process pain in a different way, as highlighted by recent research using MRI brain scans. It seems they are affected more emotionally by pain, suggests the lead researcher, Qasim Aziz, professor of neurogastroenterology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. `This may influence how they report pain. For instance, it's known that certain chronic pain conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia are more common in women.
`We think greater emotive response to pain may translate into more pain reporting in these conditions.'
This kind of research is cutting edge and controversial. Looking at brain activity is a difficult task. In the study carried out by Professor Aziz, for instance, functional MRI (fMRI) was used to identify changes in blood flow. When there is more in an area of the brain, this is taken to mean there is more activity there.
It's generally thought to be the best method available for analysing brain activity, but there are questions over its accuracy - some experts feel emphasising local activity ignores the fact that the brain is a network, with other regions also critical to any single brain function.
As Dr Moir says: `The ways of measuring the brain are improving. But they're still limited. You can't measure the brain in everyday circumstances because you have to be inside a massive machine and not moving for it to work.'
It's well known that migraine affects up to three times more women than men. The standard explanation is that this is down to fluctuating hormones.
But there may be another factor - in women, it's easier to trigger the brain waves linked to migraine, says Dr Andrew Charles, director of the headache research and treatment programme at the University of California.
His research, based on animal studies, suggests that in men the stimulus - including lights - needs to be three times greater to produce the same effect.
And while migraines are more frequent during the menstrual period, Dr Charles says his research indicates something else. `Our results suggest the female brain has an intrinsic excitability that predisposes women to migraine that may not be linked to the menstrual cycle.'
Dementia - it's women who suffer most: `Women generally remember things better for longer than men,' says Dr Amen. His research showed that women have increased activity in the hippocampus, the area that helps memories go into long-term storage. But longer term, the statistics for women don't make for good reading: nearly 7 per cent of women aged 75 and over have some form of dementia compared with 5 per cent of men.
Among Alzheimer's patients, women have faster cognitive decline than men. Twenty per cent more women than men die of Alzheimer's.
Experts think it is due to the effect on the brain of oestrogen and testosterone - the hormones that determine the different sexual characteristics of men and women.
`We are just beginning to realise how important differences in brain function between women and men might be to explain the common differences we see in illnesses such as Alzheimer's,' says Kathryn Abel, professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester.
`Men are at half the risk of Alzheimer's compared with women before the menopause. And women who develop Alzheimer's deteriorate more quickly.'
Pauline Maki, professor of psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Illinois in Chicago, who has a special interest in brain-hormone links and dementia, believes oestrogen may play a role in Alzheimer's risk.
She cites the example of women who have undergone an early menopause (before 48) because their ovaries have been removed - they are 70 per cent more likely to develop Alzheimer's.
`Oestrogen seems to protect against neurodegeneration in women. In men, testosterone can have neuroprotective effects. Testosterone levels do not drop off as dramatically in men as oestrogen does in women.'
As a result, post-menopause, women are at greater risk of dementia than men.
But Dr Keith Laws, professor of cognitive neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, believes the fact that women tend to stay at home and look after children may also play a role.
He and his team looked at 15 studies involving more than 2,000 men and women with Alzheimer's.
`Our findings indicated brain functions are more severely and more widely affected in women than men with Alzheimer's. For some reason, men are able to resist Alzheimer's for longer.
`This is still being studied, but one theory is that men have better "cognitive reserve" - for the generation developing Alzheimer's now, many of the women would have stayed at home while the men were working, which could have permitted them to keep their brains more active for longer. So, when the disease starts they can hold up better.'
Men CAN multi-task. The cliche that men can't do two things at once is not, in fact, correct - at least not entirely. `The evidence on multi-tasking is inconclusive,' says clinical psychologist Dr Genevieve von Lob at City Psychology Group in London.
`Studies tend to show inconsistent results - some find that women show slightly more superiority while others find men show slightly more superiority, depending on the task.'
Women multi-task much more often. A study published two years ago in the American Sociological Review looking at 500 families found that both parents spent a lot of time multi-tasking, but women multi-tasked 48 hours a week compared with 39 for the men.
The women's multi-tasking mostly involved housework and childcare. `So perhaps women multi-task more, not because they are naturally better at it, but because the need to juggle work and family life,' says Dr von Lob.
Women are more prone to depression. Women are twice as likely to experience major depression as men and are particularly prone during hormonal changes. `The overall evidence suggests the sexes process emotions differently,' says Dr Moir. `There are a few differences in the limbic area or emotional processing area of the brain that make it more likely that women take a more negative view of situations and are more likely to worry about problems. This upsets sleep patterns, and if you don't sleep you get depressed.'
Dr Abel adds that these differences may be due to hormones. `Differences in the physical structure of a woman compared to a man's brain is in part caused by genes and in part by the differences in hormones the brain "sees",' she says. Women's brains have more receptors for recognising the presence of oestrogen than men. They also have more of an enzyme that converts testosterone to oestrogen. `Hormones and chromosomes may be important in thinking about disease and health for women and men.
In A fascinating study last year, University of Michigan researchers looked at how men and women responded to health messages. When they were shown poster adverts for exercise, men were more motivated by those that mentioned weight loss and health, women were motivated by those focused on wellbeing.
`We know men have more visual brains and respond better to visual messages in adverts. Women response to detail, so are more likely to absorb the total picture,' says Dr von Lob.
Men and women respond to eating chocolate with different parts of their brains, a Dutch study in 2005 found. In particular, women had reduced activity in the hypothalamus, which controls feelings of hunger, so they had to eat more to get a similar effect as men.
The researchers concluded their results `indicate that men and women differ in their response to satiation [feeling full] and suggest that the regulation of food intake by the brain may vary between the sexes'.
Dr David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Centre, agrees. `There are clear differences between the sexes,' he says. `Studies show women crave sugar and fat more while men are more likely to crave meat.'
And you can blame our cavemen ancestors. `All such differences tend to make sense in an evolutionary context,' says Dr Katz. `Men need a bit more protein to build the muscle that makes them most capable of surviving, succeeding and passing on their genes.
`Women do the harder work of procreation. They need more fat stores to get a baby through gestation and to produce sex hormones such as oestrogen. Those hormones, in turn, seem to affect dietary preferences.' That is why women's desire for chocolate can be affected by the menstrual cycle.
In one analysis of brains, Larry Cahill, professor of neurobiology and behaviour at the University of California, found the male amygdala appears to be more active on the right side, but a woman's is more active on the left.
The left side is connected with the area that governs emotions and self-awareness. `So men under stress want to go for a run, let off steam or have space to themselves,' says Dr von Lob.
`Women under stress tend to activate the brain's attachment system and release more of the hormone oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of love, calm, protection and safety. Women typically want to talk with friends for reassurance.'
And last but not least: sex
Oxytocin is a key hormone released in the brain to create feelings of love and safety during sex.
Women produce more of this hormone, while with men, the hormone released is dopamine - the pleasure hormone. `And this can be addictive,' says Dr Arun Ghosh, a GP in Liverpool.
Having regular sex may help both sexes grow new brain cells, according to scientists from America's Princeton University. And the more sex you have, the more cells can grow.
`MRI scans have shown that during orgasm the neurons [nerve cells] in the brain are more active,' says Barry Komisaruk, professor of psychology at Rutgers University in the U.S. `The more active the neurons, the more oxygen they draw from the blood - so more oxygenated blood is supplied, delivering more nutrients.'
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, 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.