Monday, July 31, 2006

Fish lover's anger ends eel event

Purse-lipped Britain again: You must "respect" a dead fish?

Can it really be disrespectful to swing a dead 20lb fish at a group of men to raise money for lifeboats? Somebody in Lyme Regis, Dorset, thought so and their complaint has now put an end to the 40-year tradition of "conger cuddling" in the town. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has deemed that using a dead conger eel to try to knock down some of its members is "inappropriate". The event, traditionally held in Cobb Square in Lifeboat Week, is no more. The eel has been replaced with a mooring buoy.

"Conger cuddling", which attracts up to 3,000 people every year, is not dissimilar from a game of skittles only it is on a larger scale. Nine humans prepared to do battle with a huge, slippery eel replace the skittles. Andrew Kaye, from the RNLI, said: "The whole idea was to raise money for the lifeboat. It has been very successful over the last 40 years. "I think we raised 26,000 pounds last year during Lifeboat Week and it has been rising year on year. "An email was sent to the RNLI - we understand someone was upset and thought we were being disrespectful."

The buoy, which has replaced the offending sea creature, had its first outing on Friday. "It was not quite the same," explained Mr Kaye. "We are thinking of having a plastic eel made. "We think it is a shame because its a local tradition and everybody looks forward to it - local children come down with water bombs and people throw buckets of water from the windows overlooking the square. "Its a wet affair and its great fun."

Retired publican, Richard Fox introduced the people of Lyme Regis to conger cuddling in the early 1970s. After the 66-year-old joined the RNLI, he was asked to organise events for Lifeboat Week. He modelled conger cuddling on mangle dangling with flower pots, a sport played by farmhands in Somerset. Mr Fox said: "I cannot see how it can be cruel to a fish that has been dead for two months. "The whole argument is pointless. "If it were a salmon bought from a supermarket would there be any complaints? "The public loved it for 40 years and everyone has a hilarious time. "I think its all absolute rubbish."


Primal comfort of having a real man to do the job

By Caroline Overington

I was as round as a planet when I was pregnant. "Look at you," a neighbour said when she saw me standing on the veranda, feet wide apart. "You're huge." "Yes," I said, "but I am carrying twins." "Are you?" said the neighbour, delighted. "You should go down to No.44. She's expecting twins, too." A few days later, I waddled down there. Another girl, as round as me, opened thedoor. "Twins?" she said. "Twins," I agreed. We bonded over a cup of tea, the saucers balanced on the mountains under our chins.

I asked her: "How does your husband feel about it?" And that's when she confided: in the seven months since she'd become pregnant, they'd broken up. "But how will you cope?" I said. "Oh, it's OK," she said. "I'm with somebody else now. I'm with the builder." My neighbour had fallen in love with the guy who'd come to put on the extension, who had built the rooms for the babies she was carrying.

I was speechless. It was the first time I'd ever heard of anybody: a) cutting and running when pregnant; b) especially with twins; and c) shacking up with the builder. Six years later, there's an epidemic under way. The New York Times last week published a story headlined, "The allure of the tool belt", and it was all about the wives - not necessarily pregnant but very definitely frustrated - who had run off with the guy who came to fix the leaky bathroom taps or replace the kitchen benchtops. The reporter concluded that women liked builders because: a) they can do stuff around the house; and b) their husbands generally can't. "Once a lightbulb broke and the glass part was still in its socket," one woman said. "I didn't know how to get it out and I asked my husband and he said, 'I don't do light bulbs. Go hire somebody."'

Builders also listen to women, perhaps in a way their husbands do not. A carpenter who'd had his share of attention from wives told the Times: "Say you have a woman who's a baker. You're setting up special counter tops. You're going over what's involved in making them." The conversation can swiftly move to what kind of home and home life a woman wants, the nooks and crannies she'd like to create for the sewing machine and the children's homework: in other words, the things that are important to her. The carpenter added that in 75 per cent of projects where he dealt mostly with the wife, he could detect an element of "sexual desperation".

But perhaps it's not quite that. Perhaps it's a simple yearning for an old-fashioned type of guy. A friend in Manhattan - she sent me the story about the wives running off with builders - is married to a locksmith. He has many fine qualities but she particularly likes his heavily laden, cream-coloured toolbelt (which he doesn't always take off at night). Beyond the aesthetics, she says it's a fine thing to have somebody around the house to change the locks and secure the windows.

My husband is a bit like that: he's a guy with a toolshed and a hammer drill. He put up a tree house for the children, he also tore out the old fireplace. When the lights blow out, he knows where to find the fuse box. It is a primal comfort to me. But, if best-selling American writer Caitlin Flanagan is correct (and on the subject of domestic politics she often is), too many modern husbands are too frightened to let out the lion inside - and an epidemic of sexless marriages is the result. "Pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day's end," she writes in her new book, To Hell With All That. "He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone-tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual manoeuvre and still doing a slow burn over his failure to wipe down the counter tops."

Flanagan says men should be encouraged to be their blokey selves. They should assert themselves in the household, just as builders do on the job site: as confident, responsible and strong, able to lead when life's calamaties roll in, and keep their family sheltered and secure. In case they're no longer sure how to do that, there are groups out there to help them. This weekend, Christian City Church at Oxford Falls in Sydney's north is hosting a "Real Men" conference for thousands of blokes who want to be strong husbands and fathers. Anecdotally, I hear women are sending their menfolk along in the hope of giving them a push towards a more masculine style. Because really, it's a bit tragic that there are all these desperate housewives out there hitting on the builder.

You may think, well, maybe it's just an American thing, bought about by television shows such as Desperate Housewives. But my brother, who is a father of two and a roof tiler in Queensland, says that, through the years, about four in 10 married women have answered the door for him wearing only their underwear. "And what do you do?" I asked. "I run a mile," he said. "All I want is to lay the tiles."


Restroom humour in Australian beach resort incorrect

Toilet humour is alive and well in the Whitsundays but not everyone is laughing. A mural in the men's section of a new toilet block on the Airlie Beach foreshore has divided opinion in the tourist town. The mural depicts four young women above the urinal - an office type peering over her spectacles, a Jennifer Aniston lookalike stretching a tape measure, a blonde taking a photo with her mobile phone and another so bored she's blowing bubbles.

Some residents including the local newspaper editor are up in arms at the cheeky artwork. Airlie Beach local PR consultant, Tom Coull, who with newspaper editor Linda Brady has railed against the images, described them as "cheesy, tacky, not original and definitely sexist" and worried about explaining the images to his young son. Another resident. Lesley Campbell, reckons the murals are "disgusting, unnecessary and extremely suggestive" and gave a negative reflection of the town, even suggesting they encourage rape and sexual assault.

But most see the funny side and reckon it's a great idea. Fish D'Vine restaurant's Kevin Collins said many of his customers commented favourably. "They think it's cute, light-hearted. They haven't been offended at all," he said. "People have taken pictures with a mobile phone and they've been sent around the world in emails. "There can't be too many toilets that give this sort of publicity to a town," Mr Collins said....

Whitsunday Shire Council's corporate and community services executive manager Royden James said public feedback had been overwhelmingly positive, with only one negative response from the community. "If anything, most criticism has been that there is nothing similar in the women's toilets," he said in a statement.

The excerpt above is from an article that appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 30, 2006. There is an earlier report on the same subject here

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Now in Australia, a "professional" woman aims to get rich by whining

Big law and accounting firms must be having lots of doubts about hiring women now that there have been so many cases of this kind in Britain and the USA

When Christina Rich confronted her PricewaterhouseCoopers boss Stuart Edwards about his alleged workplace sexism and discrimination, he offered this solution: "I just want to give you a big hug to make it better. We just need to go out for dinner with a bottle of wine to nut out the issues and a way forward."

The accounting multinational's defence of a $10 million sex discrimination case makes these admissions and also reveals Mr Edwards thought it was acceptable to adopt the habit of kissing the highest-paid female partner in the firm. Mr Edwards believed that since Ms Rich had shared with him matters of a personal nature, they had enjoyed a "friendly, open and good-humoured relationship". Therefore, greeting her with a kiss was not out of context, documents filed in the Federal Court this week show.

After Ms Rich objected to the kissing and was also allegedly subjected to sexism, harassment and discrimination from a number of senior partners at the firm, she requested a mediator to resolve the matters. Mr Edwards's solution to go out to dinner was his way of working through the issues in "an informal and non-confrontational manner", the response says.

In the nation's biggest workplace sexism claim, Ms Rich says she suffered discrimination, bullying and victimisation and her progress through the organisation was hampered. In its response, PwC confirms a substantial number of the incidents but does not accept that Ms Rich was adversely affected.

Melbourne-based Mr Edwards was the head of the transfer pricing division and Ms Rich, who worked from Sydney, was paid about $1 million a year for her advice in the area, saving clients of the calibre of American Express tens of millions of dollars by moving global profit from one tax jurisdiction to another.

The accounting giant denies that Mr Edwards told Ms Rich that she received a positive performance review because chief executive Tony Harrington "fancies her". It admits that partner and board member Tim Cox asked Ms Rich, when watching a corporate video showing a woman sunbaking topless: "Christina, is that you sunbathing on the beach?" PwC says that comment, too, was made in the context of a "friendly and good-humoured relationship".

In justifying Mr Edwards's comments to her that she was emotional, scatty and high-maintenance, the response says these were "matters of opinion which were reasonably held". The firm also claims Mr Edwards's comment to Ms Rich that the pregnancy of another employee was affecting her work did not cause offence to the other woman.

PwC says Ms Rich was unco-operative in mediation from March 2004 and - after making a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - she was placed on restricted duties in August, her pay cut and her access to clients prevented. "The applicant expressed on a number of occasions her lack of faith and confidence in the firm or its ability to address her concerns," the response says. "She was operating under intense stress and required real relief from the pressures which she faced" and had "indicated that she was unwilling or unable to operate as a partner of the firm. "In those circumstances the imposition and confirmation of access restrictions in good faith by management and the board respectively was reasonable and in the best interests of the firm"

Senior partners and board members at all times "acted in good faith" and "took all reasonable steps" to reach agreement.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on 29 July, 2006


Earlier this year, there was much fanfare surrounding the U.S. Senate's attempts to promote the English language as part of its immigration bill pushed through the Senate by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and others. Substantial media attention -- on television, in newspaper stories, and on many editorial pages -- was devoted to what seemed like a major legislative step toward underscoring the importance of our nation's immigrants learning and speaking English. But, in the end, it was all for naught. Rather than a step forward for those who see the English language as essential for assimilation into American society, the Reid-Kennedy bill instead took a step back.

Two English language amendments were adopted during the Senate debate -- and uncertainty ruled the day, both then and now. The first amendment adopted would have made English the national language and required those applying for citizenship to be proficient in English and learn American history. However, shortly after, another much weaker amendment followed. It deemed English a "common and unifying language" and -- incredibly -- reaffirmed President Clinton's Executive Order 13166, which guaranteed immigrants' rights to demand that the federal government communicate with them in any language they choose . and at the taxpayers' expense. For an amendment which allegedly was offered to promote English, the fact that it also reaffirmed this controversial executive order is troubling, to say the least.

Even now, months after the Senate votes, questions remain about which amendment takes precedence over the other and, more importantly, whether this was a missed opportunity to stress the importance of the English language in the ongoing immigration debate. What this matter needs is a serious and broad examination -- and sooner rather than later.

Today, a key subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee will begin that serious examination. The panel will gather input from a diverse panel of witnesses, who will discuss varying perspectives on the need to make English the official language. In the wake of the Senate's actions on English -- not to mention its adoption of the troubling language to reaffirm the Clinton executive order -- this hearing will be the first step toward sorting out this web of confusion.

Several weeks ago, in announcing the new series of hearings on border security and immigration enforcement, House Republican leaders made clear that the final bill we send to President Bush will reflect five core principles. One of them states that Republicans believe the success of our country depends upon newcomers assimilating into American society by learning English. This principle is not new to the Education & the Workforce Committee. That's because it's also a core principle of the most sweeping law within our panel's jurisdiction -- the No Child Left Behind Act -- as well.

Regardless of your views on No Child Left Behind, the fact remains that a key aspect of it is its focus on Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. It shines a spotlight to ensure LEP students are excelling in school and making adequate progress in math and reading, and taxpayers commit hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort each year. In stark contrast to the spirit of the Clinton executive order, No Child Left Behind insists that LEP students communicate in and learn English. It's that simple.

No Child Left Behind is straightforward about the importance of the English language, and any border security bill we send to President Bush should be as well. That is why the Education and the Workforce Committee is the perfect venue for a serious discussion about how best to ensure that those coming to America legally learn English and assimilate into our society. In short, we'll fulfill our responsibility where the Reid-Kennedy supporters didn't


The pathetic English attitude to personal responsibility

Everything must be somebody elses's responsibility

A few days ago a young man just a yard away from me on the pavement suddenly lashed out and kicked a shop window, breaking it and cutting his toe on the glass. It would have been bizarre not to comment. "That was really stupid," I said. "Why on earth did you do it?" "They won't let me in," he answered, adding pathetically, "I've hurt my foot." I took it upon myself to lecture him for a minute or two about the consequences of certain actions. I'd like to think he won't be kicking in any more windows. But he's probably just learnt not to do it in flip-flops.

I find myself dangerously messianic on the issue of personal responsibility at the moment. As readers of my column in the Saturday Magazine will know, because I've been boring on about it for weeks, I recently had a motorbike accident. I was riding around a dirt track, got cocky, went over a jump far too fast and fell off, breaking my collarbone and a few ribs. The reason I am inflicting this misfortune on a whole new audience is because I have been amazed by the number of people who, commiserations dealt with, ask how much I'll be getting by way of compensation.

Compensation from whom? I say. (No other rider or vehicle was involved.) From the owners of the track, they reply. But why should they give me money for something that was my own stupid fault? I say. So then these people suggest that The Times (I was riding the motorbike in order to write about the experience; that part worked out rather well) should stump up some cash. That'd be nice, I reply, but again, there wasn't a News Corp bigshot on the pillion, ordering me to rip the throttle open at precisely the wrong moment. The mistake, I repeat, was mine alone. At this my interlocutor gives me a sympathetic, head-cocked-to-one-side funny look, as if I'm being weirdly masochistic.

Well, what about Kawasaki then, they suggest, surely they owe you something? Oh come on, I say, voice rising, that'd be like suing Toyota or GMC every time you dented your bumper. Well, quite, they say, looking smug. But, I shout, it was my own fault! Just as when I got knocked off my bicycle, that was my fault too, I'd illegally undertaken a lorry and gone into the driver's blind spot. And when I almost fell out of a tree in the spring, that would have been my fault too, had I not grabbed another branch in time, because I'd climbed too high in inadequate footwear on a windy day. It wasn't the tree's fault, or the owner of the tree's fault, or the wind's fault, or the maker of my trainers' fault. It was mine.

What's more, I say heatedly, not only would it be simply mistaken for me to go around blaming someone else for these incidents, and greedy to try to profit from them, it would also be a negation of me as an individual. Say I hadn't crashed on that motocross jump. Say I'd come back safely to earth like Evel Knievel on one of his better days, wouldn't that have meant I'd negotiated a tricky situation? And thus felt able to congratulate myself? Not by the logic of these hair-trigger litigants, no. If you can never take individual responsibility for doing something badly, neither can you take it for doing something well.

And then I get really steamed up, and say I'm not 7 years old, I'm almost 42, and the definition of being an adult is taking responsibility for your own actions, and not always to blame other people, or corporations, governments, "They", The System and History with a capital H. Oh Robert, these people then say, letting the ball roll away and charging instead into the man, you really have got very right-wing in your old age haven't you? And I reply, no I haven't, I'm actually moving closer to a classically anarchist position.

That shuts them up, giving me the chance to add, slightly pompously perhaps, that it is sad that at the very moment free will is becoming a reality for many of us, or at least for those of us living in Western democracies, the prevailing left-wing orthodoxy has become to condemn those who accept the consequences of that freedom.

It's peculiar, the right-wing accusation. I can tell people imagine it to be their final, unanswerable, bone-shattering argument. I've been hearing it a lot recently. First I came out in favour of selection by ability in education. Then I did a piece arguing patriotism was a healthy human emotion. And now I've fallen off a motorbike and assumed responsibility for something that was, in fact, my responsibility. And this, it turns out, is sufficient to condemn you as a 21st-century Genghis Khan.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

English Language a Critical Factor in Assimilation, Witnesses Tell House Subcommittee

Witnesses testifying before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Education Reform today promoted the English language as a key factor in legal immigrants' ability to assimilate into American society, while questioning an executive order signed by former President Clinton that provided immigrants the ability to communicate with the federal government in any language they choose - and at taxpayer expense. The executive order was reaffirmed by immigration legislation backed by the U.S. Senate in May. The hearing is one in a series being held by the Education & the Workforce Committee and its subcommittees on illegal immigration and its impact on American students and workers.

"The issue of making English the official language of the United States has long been controversial," said Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE). "The last time this committee and the Congress discussed the issue by itself was in the 104th Congress. Now, due to the steady growth of new immigrant populations within U.S. borders, whose primary language is other than English, the discussion and issues of language diversity have once again brought attention to this public policy debate."

The hearing took a broad look at varying perspectives on making English the official language, with witnesses offering testimony on both sides of the issue. Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) raised concerns about provisions of recently-passed Senate immigration legislation that may serve to undermine, rather than promote, the English language.

The first amendment adopted by the Senate would have made English the national language and required those applying for citizenship to be proficient in English and learn American history. However, another amendment followed, deeming English a "common and unifying language" and reaffirming President Clinton's Executive Order 13166, which guaranteed immigrants' rights to communicate with the federal government in any language they choose, at taxpayer expense. "Because of these dueling Senate amendments, uncertainty ruled the day - both then and now," noted McKeon. "I'm pleased our Committee has been able to start taking steps toward sorting this out, because the issue is too important to leave open to interpretation and ongoing questions."

Mauro Mujica, Chairman of the Board of U.S. English, Inc., echoed McKeon's concerns in his testimony to the subcommittee, focusing specifically on the Senate bill's reaffirmation of the Clinton executive order. "In a country whose residents speak 322 languages, multilingual government must be the exception, not the rule," noted Mujica. "Unfortunately, instead of promoting English learning, government agencies increasingly seek to cater to immigrants in as many languages as possible. The result is that I - a 42 year resident of the United States - can walk into virtually any government office and demand services in my native language, and I'll receive them, no questions asked."

Paul McKinley, an Iowa state senator, and supporter of an Iowa law making English the official language, detailed for the Committee the reaction to and reasons behind that legislation. "When [the English as the official language bill] was debated, some predicted dire consequences," said McKinley. "However, their predictions did not materialize. Their main objection was that making English our official language would somehow be seen as not welcoming legal immigrants. This is absolutely false. The best way to welcome legal immigrants and help them through their naturalization process is to help them learn English. Common language is the glue that binds a society and an economy. Without English, they are strangers. With English, they are able to communicate, join the community, and work their way up the economic ladder."

The subcommittee also heard from Art Ellison, the Administrator of the Bureau of Adult Education for the New Hampshire Department of Education. He described for the subcommittee the importance of English literacy skills to success both in school and at work. "If America is to remain competitive, attention must be given to the English literacy skills of our nation's immigrants and the skills of native-born adults in the workforce today," Ellison. "We must ensure that each and every member of the workforce has skills they need to succeed in today's highly technological workforce. In short, English literacy is critical to obtaining and maintaining jobs and creating opportunities for advanced education and training in order to qualify for jobs with family-sustaining incomes. For the family to support their children's learning, maintain their health, manage their finances, and provide a supportive structure for the family, English literacy skills are critical."

Today's hearing marked the second in an Education & the Workforce series of hearings on immigration issues impacting American workers and students. The next hearing - on illegal immigration and employment verification enforcement - will be held by the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee next Monday in Plano, Texas.


Australia: Homosexual propaganda masquerading as news

Once upon a time, a person could buy a newspaper and be fairly confident that the news covered therein was more or less reliable, factual and impartially presented. That certainly is no longer the case, especially for certain newspapers. Consider the case of one Australian broadsheet, the Melbourne Age. This paper is right up there with a few other contenders for Australia's most left-wing, politically correct and biased paper in the country. There are many examples of this bias and agenda-pushing. Just one will suffice.

The Age is notoriously pro-homosexual, with almost daily pro-homosexual reporting and opinion. Of course, with many homosexual activists on staff, this is not surprising. Consider one example of this totally lopsided and prejudiced news coverage and reporting. The Australian Capital Territory decided on May 11 to legalise same-sex unions, which was tantamount to legalising same-sex marriage. This was in spite of the fact that the Federal Government had reaffirmed, through legislation passed by both houses of parliament in August 2004, that marriage in Australia can only be between a man and a woman.

This year, on June 6, the Howard Government signalled its intention to override the ACT legislation - and with good reason. The ACT law was just a sneaky attempt to bring in same-sex marriage, even though the Australian Parliament, and the overwhelming majority of Australians, stated that marriage is a heterosexual affair. (On June 15, the Howard Government motion was passed, and the ACT law was struck down).

Consider how the Age covered this story over the following two weeks. I have clipped every article, opinion piece and letter on the subject from June 7 to June 18. (It was a good thing I monitored only 12 days' worth - there was so much to clip, I was beginning to get sore hands!). Take, for example, the articles run on the story. Altogether, 16 different "news" articles were written on this topic during this 12-day period. That is well over one a day. Talk about a beat-up. Talk about going overboard on a story. One would have thought there were other news items of merit worth covering during this period.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. In every one of the articles, there was such an obvious one-sided agenda being pushed that there was little or no difference between these supposed news item and the paper's editorials. I simply lost count of the number of homosexual and lesbian activists quoted in these pieces. And how many pro-family voices were heard? Not one. Is this news reporting or propaganda? There was one very short piece on how religious leaders felt about Howard's decision; so a few quick - and token - references were made to those from the other side of the debate, but that was it. Aside from that, these 16 articles were one mass promotion of the homosexual agenda. But it does not end there.

There were also three full opinion pieces on the subject. I guess, in an effort to pretend that there was some balance taking place, one of the three pieces did argue the "no-case" against same-sex marriage. But that is just 33 per cent. When weighed against all the articles, letters and other items in favour of same-sex marriage, it made up barely a fraction of the space devoted to the issue. In typical Age fashion, the very next day the letters' editor featured not one, but three letters attacking the no-case article, with not one letter supporting it.

Each of these opinion pieces, editorials and articles could in turn be analysed at length. They are great examples of sloppy thinking, poor reasoning, question-begging, special-pleading, red herrings and moral obfuscation. But those evaluations must await another article. But wait, there's still more. There were no fewer than four major human interest pieces as well (scattered among the 16 news items). These featured homosexual and lesbian couples given free rein to state their case at length.


Of course, no heterosexual was allowed to feature as a personal story. And there were plenty of full-colour photos of happy, smiling, hugging homosexual and lesbian couples. Of course, putting an emotive human face on the story always beats having to deal with the facts and the real heart of the issue. Just paint an emotional story using people who represent your cause, and you do not have to deal with hard things like truth, logic, facts or evidence.

One lesbian couple got to tell their story not once, but twice (June 9, 14). Both times the couple's story was adorned with large colour photos. They got to speak at length of how terrible it was that their relationship could not be recognised as a marriage. It featured all the emotive rhetoric about their love being denied, and so on. After wading though article after article like this, I really began to believe that I was reading articles from the homosexual press. The Age pieces were absolutely identical to anything found there.

Moreover, a Saturday Age Insight section featured a front-page story (which spilled over onto page 2), with numerous photos and large splashes of colour, complete with a rainbow. Paragraph after paragraph of quotes from homosexuals were featured therein. Again, not one pro-family voice. Not one dissenting position, except for a few references to Prime Minister Howard or Attorney-General Ruddock.

Shedding tears

There was of course the mandatory large editorial, shedding tears over this being a "matter of human rights". In it, the editorial writers said, among other things, that the Howard Government had chosen to "politicise the issue". Sorry, but it was the homosexual lobby that long ago decided to make a political issue of this. The Howard Government has simply responded to this attempt at social engineering by stating what most Australians know to be true: marriage is not whatever you make it to be. It is something that for millennia has meant one thing, and we are not about to let a group of noisy activists redefine it out of existence.

Oh yes, one last thing. The Age also ran a cartoon on the subject, by Leunig. It was a masterful example of propaganda at its best. Using colour, photos and text, it effectively implied that heterosexuals were torturers, murderers and militants, and it is time we let peaceful homosexuals have rights to marriage and children.

Thus this was one giant tsunami of pro-gay propaganda. Like a tidal wave, every day the reader was inundated with one pro-homosexual assault after another. This simply was one of the most blatant and disgusting cases of media bias and agenda-pushing that I have encountered in the mainstream press. Somehow, however, I do not expect that ABC's Media Watch will cover the story.

More here

Australian Feds take away the "obesity" rattle of the State health ministers

John Howard has described efforts by the nation's health ministers to restrict junk-food advertising on TV as a waste of time, saying it is an issue for media authorities, not health departments. In a letter presented to a health ministers meeting in Brisbane, the Prime Minister wrote: "Given ... the fact that regulation of media advertising is an Australian government responsibility, I see little value in continued consideration of this issue in the Australian Health Ministers' Council forum."

The letter, delivered by federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, has infuriated his state counterparts, who have been campaigning for junk-food advertising restrictions for the past 12 months. "We are not going to back down to the Prime Minister's bullying," Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson said. "I do not believe it is open for John Howard to unilaterally dictate the ministerial health conference. "The fact that we now have a PM who is prepared to shut down debate on health is frankly unacceptable."

State and territory ministers agreed yesterday to establish a working party to review marketing and advertising practices with the industry, while looking at existing regulatory codes.

More here

Friday, July 28, 2006

Britain's Equal Opportunites Commission celebrate thirty years of discriminating against men

They fight discrimination by practicing it!

Institutional gender discrimination is alive and kicking at Britain’s Equal opportunities Commission [EOC] .The annual report of the government funded 10 million pound quango reveals that male staff has been reduced to just 18.2% after an unfortunate blip the previous year when 19% was reached. EOC could surely win the prize for the most successful homophobic major employer in the country. It would certainly be hard to beat over the last thirty years.

Glamorous and charismatic EOC chair Jenny Watson could also boast how her organisation had frustrated an attempt to prevent Avon and Somerset and Gloucestershire Police Services operating recruitment scams to arbitrarily exclude almost 300 men in favour of women. They were able to exploit their statutory powers to ensure these sexually discriminatory recruitment processes were successfully completed before making a pointless judgment on 26 June that they were unlawful, accepting a promise from the guilty authorities that they would not employ those particular tricks again. The cheats were allowed to walk off with their gains with no penalty.

Gerald Hartup director of civil libeties group Liberty and Law said: “ There is a lesson to be learnt. Rules are for little people. Why did I expect the EOC to act after informing them about discrimination so blatant that everyone knew it was a scam? Citizens clearly need to understand that for proper governance there is a requirement for double standards and to operate within the new system. Only in this way will they not be alienated from it. The EOC is the model to follow.”

Liberty and Law in November 2005 also reported the Metropolitan Police Service to the EOC over another version of institutional gender discrimination against men. It is confident however that the EOC is capable and determined to meticulously research the programme with the help of the Met with the result that no conclusion of any help to discriminated against men is arrived at.

Mr Hartup stated: “It will be another triumph for modern democratic management. The crude enforcement of the rule of law has proved to be unsatisfactory to progressives who require and can now utilize discretion to control the mob, the schmucks with their childish obsession with “objective justice". But we shmucks will still be shmucks.”



The Child Support Agency has proved the most spectacular failure in public administration of the past 15 years. Its vital statistics are staggeringly awful: it has identified but failed to collect 3.5 billion pounds in maintenance; new cases remain unopened for a year, thanks to a backlog of 330,000 unprocessed claims; only half of absent parents have made the correct payment; a quarter have made none at all. Its demoralised staff take an average 15.6 days off a year, more than any other section of the Department for Work and Pensions, itself the sick man of Whitehall.

Brickbats for the CSA are thrown happily by politicians who forget too easily that the agency was introduced in 1993 to widespread acclaim. The idea of calculating and collecting payments from "deadbeat dads" who ignored parental responsibilities after divorce or separation was sound. It replaced often arbitrary and unfair court decisions. Unlike the courts, the new agency could trace absent parents.

In practice, though, it has been little short of lamentable. It was never going to be easy to insert the State into a bitter family row, but there were mistakes in conception. Giving a single agency the powers to investigate, adjudicate and enforce was asking too much. Another founding flaw was to regard the CSA as a money-saver. For every pound a lone parent received in maintenance, the State would deduct a pound of benefits. That required all lone parents on benefit to register with the CSA even if they could have reached an amicable financial settlement. Their numbers helped to swamp the system. Last year the enforcement unit spent 12 million to collect 8 million pounds.

The early regime made strategic errors. It was unprepared for the extent of non-compliance and unsure how to respond. It did so by tending to ignore the hard cases while hounding to the financial brink many of those doing their best to pay up. Incompetence was soon endemic. About 35,000 people have received compensation as a result of maladministration. A fifth of demands are inaccurate; a third of phone calls are unanswered.

The thrust of John Hutton's statement was sadly inevitable. Much of the uncollected money will be written off, threatening to leave many lone mothers in limbo. His detailed response will wait until an autumn White Paper, although the outline is clear: a pared-down agency with tougher powers to chase the hardest cases. The threat to a foot-dragging father of a curfew or of losing his passport is more likely to get results than the current sanction of seizing a driving licence, a largely self-defeating measure given that many fathers need to drive to work to fund their maintenance payments, and one that was used only half a dozen times.

Any new agency will fail unless it learns the lessons of the CSA. They include the need for a competent and well-motivated workforce, a computer system that works and supreme leadership, preferably from the private sector. The Australian example shows that success is not impossible. Giving couples more of a chance to sort out their own affairs makes excellent sense. But the principle of making absent fathers pay remains sound. The task is greater now than ever; there are 700,000 more single parents than in 1993. Unless the Government is realistic, deserving children will again be victims of misplaced idealism.


Australia: Political opportunism drives mania about incorrect food

Federal and state politicians debating a serious health concern this week could find themselves in decidedly unhealthy disagreement. Regrettably, obesity has become a political issue. The ever-present danger is that ends can be claimed to justify means, however unreasonable, unwarranted and undemocratic. Today, a group of state health ministers will seek restrictions on children's TV advertising of products judged overly high in fat, salt or sugar. The federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, is expected to counter that it isn't a proper response to a problem of personal and parental responsibility.

Following Abbott's announcement last week of a ministerial taskforce on obesity, the health ministers' conference is attracting international attention, not so much in anticipation of a pointer to social policy as in assessing Australia's contribution to the politicisation of fat people.

Australian advertisers have lobbied against such an outcome since the earliest recognition of worrisome obesity trends. They have consistently - and persistently - sought to be part of a politically neutral response to something they see as not of their making, but as a whole-of-community problem requiring an all-of-community solution. Action to date, including new rules for advertising to children and a $10 million healthy lifestyle advertising campaign, will be extended this week with the tabling of a code of conduct for all food and beverages marketing communications. It's a big call but the advertising, marketing and media sectors want to be seen as the responsible contributors to the community they believe themselves to be.

But a minority of members of that community - within government bureaucracies as well as without - have persuaded some politicians that food and beverage manufacturers and marketers, together with their evil allies in the advertising and media sectors, are conspiring to kill off the very consumers who are their reasons for being. That the argument does not make a lot of sense has not dissuaded the deluded any more than their knowledge of Quebec, where a 25-year ban on advertising to children has resulted in no appreciable difference in obesity rates from other Canadian provinces. In fact, the children of Quebec have experienced a greater weight gain in the past decade than their provincial neighbours.

It's a fair comment that many claiming to be campaigning in the cause of childhood obesity have lost sight of the health objective, and have become focused on some sort of political victory over television commercials. In truth, there is as much research excusing advertising as a factor in obesity as there is accusing it. The response of one group of academic researchers linked to the anti-advertising lobby has been to simply assume a link, and build a case for advertising restrictions from there.

As complex as it is as a health problem, obesity may simply be an unforeseen consequence of the lifestyle change brought about by a world war that created a norm of two-income families, new drives for technological advancement and individual affluence, less need for physical activity and more demand for processed, packaged and convenience foods. But arguing whether Adolf Hitler is more or less to blame than John Logie Baird or Alexander Graham Bell will not do any more to reverse obesity trends over the next generation than considering it as a political rather than a health priority.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

A question of manliness

A comment from Britain

There is, apparently, a resurgence of manliness in America. Superman has returned to the big screen and unshaven, testosterone-charged film stars such as Colin Farrell no longer look socially marginalised. The A To Z Of Manliness, a compendium of tips on such matters as how to punch properly, is number two on the New York Times bestseller list, while a rash of academic books on the importance of real men have added fuel to the fire. The Boston Globe recently summed up the phenomenon: "We're in the middle of a Menaissance."

Years of feminism, which insists on the absolute interchangeability of the traditional roles of man and woman, are giving way to a reassertion of the male attribute of machismo, it is claimed. The metrosexual, that urbanised, sensitive, emotionally and physically androgynous model of 21st-century manhood, is dead.

What is manliness?

All hail the modern caveman. But wait a minute. Before we even ask what kind of man modern women really want, how exactly are we defining manliness? My dictionary lists "courage, valour and energy" as key characteristics of the manly man. But by that measure, my wife, who has gone through the horror of childbirth and who runs a family of six, is more of a man than me. Nor can we equate Superman with Colin Farrell as fellow icons of the new American manliness. Superman is discreet about his gifts, he is modest, he wears a suit when not saving the world (when he opts for the kiss curl and tights). Mr Farrell is an indiscreet wildman. Manliness should not be confused with machismo. I will give you an example.

Years ago, I was on the family ranch in Argentina with my uncle, leaning on a fence, the other side of which stood a huge Brahman bull. The bull was in a tetchy mood because his testicles were dragging along the floor and had become infected. My uncle, with a twinkle in his eye, handed a spray can of disinfectant to his foreman, a strutting, mustachioed gaucho, and asked him to apply it to the infected area. A look of horror flitted across the foreman's eyes, but then he thrust out his chin, squared his shoulders and, before my uncle could stop him, jumped the fence and sprayed the bull before walking away nonchalantly.

"Que macho (what a man)," I exclaimed. "That wasn't macho," said my uncle. "That was stupid. A real man would have told me to f*** off." Machismo gets you stabbed in bars "for looking at my bird", or flattened by the 10: 15 to Euston during a drunken game of chicken with your mates. Manliness is not braggadocio. It is stoicism, self-respect, decisiveness, assertiveness. Of course, advocates of the Menaissance may argue that we shouldn't be too concerned about what kind of a man women want these days. Isn't that, they would say, the way we arrived at simpering metrosexuals desperate to please their other halves?

And yet it's instructive to consider that a woman's understanding of manliness tends to be very different from a man's. My wife and daughter are fixated by the American drama Lost, in which a group of people stranded on a remote island after a plane crash battle to stay alive against sinister forces. They frequently confer on which male characters are the sexiest, and in doing so make the perfect distinction between machismo and manliness. The men they say they would fall in love with are not the washboard-stomached firebrands, but rather the ones most able to protect them and provide for them in those inhospitable surroundings.

These characters are possessed of a calm stoicism, and a desire to look after the weakest first. This judgment by my wife and daughter does not indicate fluffy submissiveness, but cool pragmatism. Their heroes are not to be found blubbing on a football pitch like half the England team, or taking part in the orchestrated grieving that has become an integral part of British national life.

It is the atavistic desire to provide for those you love that forms the basic building block of manliness. It has existed since the physically stronger sex travelled the plains in search of meat for the family and it continued until the rise of feminism in the 1960s, a movement which would have us believe that men and women are biological and emotional clean slates, each possessed of identical and interchangeable faculties when it comes to work, life and family. This is the lunacy that allows women fighter pilots to get aloft even though a man is more effective in combat because his stronger frame better protects him from G-forces. It is the feminist orthodoxy that renders my wife faintly embarrassed when she owns up to being a housewife. It is the notion that children do not need fathers.

'Feminists bearing pitchforks'

Up and down America, feminists bearing torches and pitchforks are on the trail of Harvey Mansfield, a Yale University professor whose book, Manliness, laments: "We are in the process of making the English language gender neutral, and 'manliness', the quality of one gender, or rather of one sex, seems to describe the essence of the enemy we are attacking, the evil we are eradicating." He continues: "Feminism needs to come to terms with manliness. I think women are confused about what they want men to be and that leads to male confusion."

Mansfield believes there are stark differences between the sexes, and that they should be celebrated. If those manly attributes are hard to pin down, most women tend to know them when they see them. A straw poll of the wives and mothers in my small Kent community offered up the following characteristics. A real man is chivalrous and emotionally robust and mature. He is modest, does not wear his heart on his sleeve, and is dutiful to wife or lover, and to family. A real man provides for and protects those he loves. All those attributes that allowed men to drag down mammoths for their families and communities in prehistoric times - aggression, competitiveness, decisiveness - still survive and govern the most basic aspects of sexual attraction, marriage and child rearing. This does not make a man superior, but underpins the fact that men and women complement each other, bringing unique gifts to the business of ensuring the survival of the species. It was the caveman who went about the rather unsophisticated business of killing the mammoth and dragging it home, but it was the cavewoman who turned it into food and clothes.

Feminism, as Prof Mansfield suggests, has sought to eradicate one vital side of this equation. The result is a confused hotchpotch of duties and responsibilities, and the emergence of what has been untidily dubbed the metrosexual male - tieless, depilated, sarong-clad and permanently engaged in the exhausting business of anticipating feminine disgruntlement. So what hopes for a Menaissance in this country? Although I have serious doubts about America's ability to distinguish between manliness and machismo, it is still a far more manly place than Britain.

Just look at our cultural icons. We worship the cry-baby Beckham, hairless, smothered in costly unguents, neurotically self-aware. We hang on to every syllable uttered by the mindless, spoiled and usually gay men in the Big Brother house. The Yanks have Superman, Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Here, the Tory leader makes sage pronouncements on the evils of chocolate oranges and four-wheel-drive vehicles, not to mention the respect and deference due to hooded youths as they happy-slap their way across Britain.

And there are greater cultural differences which mean that the so-called Menaissance may be a long time coming to these shores. First, while America is still a Christian country, Britain is post-Christian. As the historian Michael Burleigh has said, the Anglican Church is little more than an 'echo chamber' for the latest purely secular moral, political and social trends. In the Christian tradition, the man has a set of immutable duties towards wife and family that cannot be overlooked, and these duties rest on the ethics of personal responsibility, morality and, overriding all this, a responsibility to provide for the family. How dramatically those duties have been eroded.

Secondly, in Britain we have lived for more than 50 years under the umbrella of an all-powerful welfare state. This is a good thing in that it protects the weakest, but bad in that our taxation and redistributive structures have served to stamp out that key element of manliness - self-betterment and provision for those you are responsible for. Why bother working? Why bother marrying and remaining faithful to wife and family if a single mother on benefits garners more than a low-paid married couple with one child, both of whom work?

In meritocratic America, where welfare is harder to get, self-betterment is a constituent part of staying fed and housed. Men cannot afford to be feckless. If they don't help themselves, no one will. And America, it must be remembered, is a country which still venerates male icons: heroes such as Jim Bowie are loved because the nation's history is force-fed to the young in schools.

Here, the devaluation of our history curriculum and the rejection of our imperial past, which still forms a deep part of the national psyche, have left our young men with no sense of heroes and heroism. And yet there are occasional green shoots pushing through the surface in the battle to reassert manliness in Britain. Much has been made of the best-selling tome The Dangerous Book For Boys, which in its introduction says that "in this age of video games and mobile phones there must still be a place for knots, tree houses and stories of incredible courage". The book seeks to allow fathers and sons to enjoy enterprises such as the building of go-karts. I remember the authors being quizzed on Radio 4 by Mariella Frostrup, who, it soon became apparent, was somewhat hostile to the notion that the activities described should be the sole preserve of males.

The authors Conn and Hal Iggulden were sent into paroxisms of denial that their book was in any way sexist. I remember thinking that if you write a book about manly things, you should be ready to defend it in a manly way. Their response should have been: "Boys and girls are different, Mariella. Get over it." Instead they were borne under by the sheer weight of BBC political correctness. What a pair of wets. The sad thing is that Mariella represents the consensus. A while ago, a young lad came to play with one of my sons. They spent the whole day in pitched battles with toy guns. When his parents arrived to take him home, their faces dropped. They told us they did not allow him to play with guns, and marched him off for a dinner of nut cutlets and yoghurt. Poor little fellow.

The feminist lobby, which has achieved much for women over the past 40 years, must take its foot off the accelerator. It is established beyond doubt that men and women are equal in all fields ranging from human dignity to employment rights, but this must not be allowed to evolve into the idea that men and women are the same. Men must learn to reclaim manliness, not in the machismo mould of previous generations, but in a modern incarnation that will serve as an anchor in the shifting sands of today's gender politics.



Anything to distract themselves from their crime problem. So much easier to push law-abiding people around

If you're a cell phone-using, goose liver-eating, cigarette-smoking, fast food-loving person, Chicago might not be your kind of town. In this city that once winked at Prohibition, members of the City Council are trying to crack down on things they deem unhealthy, immoral or just plain annoying. A proposal that would restrict fast-food chains from cooking with artery-clogging trans fat oils got a public airing last week, and in the past year alone aldermen have banned smoking in nearly all public places and the use of cell phones while driving.

In April, Chicago became the first U.S. city to outlaw the sale of foie gras, a goose liver delicacy that is decried by animal-rights activists because it is created by force-feeding birds to fatten up their livers. Critics, including the mayor, wonder if the City Council has suddenly deemed itself the behavior police. "We have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers," an angry Mayor Richard M. Daley said earlier this year. "We have real issues here in this city. And we're dealing with foie gras? Let's get some priorities."

Aldermen say they are addressing real problems and protecting their constituents. And they deny the proposals are diverting their attention from major issues like a city budget crunch. "The fact that there may be greater wrongs to address doesn't mean we cannot also address what we might also view as lesser wrongs," said Alderman Joe Moore, who led the effort to ban foie gras.

Some observers say aldermen who used to do what Daley wanted them to do are feeling emboldened because Daley has been weakened by a City Hall scandal that has snared some of his top aides. Others wonder if the proposals have more to do with a changing city, one that is no longer home to steel mills and stockyards. "This is the legislation of refinement," said Perry Duis, a University of Illinois-Chicago historian who has written extensively on Chicago. "This is a city of Starbucks rather than the steel mill."

Alderman Burton Natarus, who has sponsored a host of noise ordinances aimed at turning down the volume on street musicians, construction workers, boom boxes and motorcycles, agreed with those who argue the council is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. "I think we are trying to control people's behavior too much," said Natarus, who regrets voting for the foie gras ban. "We are trying to itty-bitty regulate every facet of somebody's life."

The latest target is trans fat, found in some oils used to fry chicken, fries and other foods. A proposed ordinance would limit the use of such oils by fast-food chains in the city. Like the foie gras ban, the proposal earned the mayor's scorn. "Is the City Council going to plan our menus?" he asked.

When the trans fat idea first came up, the Chicago Sun-Times weighed in with an editorial facetiously referring to the council's "special Committee to rid Chicago of Everything That is Bad for Us," and wondering if it was "only a matter of time before they propose ordinances against certain cell phone ring-tones, secondhand barbecue smoke and bug zappers." More than a few Chicagoans say they don't need the City Council looking over their shoulders at lunch time. "I'm a big boy," Kerry Dunaway said as he ate fried chicken recently. "I can take care of myself."


Public broadcaster bias in Australia

Excerpts from a recent talk by Senator Santoro

Recent weeks have seen terrorists yet again unleash their work of destruction. In Mumbai, as in London a year ago, indiscriminate slaughter has proven the terrorists' weapon of choice. And in the Middle East, Hezbollah and Hamas - evil twins born of, and sustained by, the same evil parents - have provoked violence, knowing full well the cost their naked aggression would impose not only on innocent Israelis but also on many tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians and Lebanese alike.

Faced with these outrages, it is not enough for us to shake our heads and hope that the world will set itself right. Rather, we must protect and assert the values that underpin our Australian society: values in which there can be no place for terrorism's supporters and fellow-travellers. To that end, we must affirm our commitment to those throughout the world who are on the front line of the fight against terrorism - a commitment which is not merely intellectual and emotional, but also practical: that is, we must contribute as fully as we can, to ensure that terrorism, and the vile threat it poses, is defeated and ultimately destroyed. The Howard Government's commitment to fighting terrorism has been and remains steadfast. Absolutely steadfast....

In an open, democratic society such as Australia's, the media plays a central role in shaping our understanding of the world. It is mainly through the media that we are informed; and it is from the media that we get many of the images and analyses that help determine the way we see the world. It is because the media is so important that we provide large-scale financial support to the ABC and SBS - so that the community will have access to the impartial information it needs and deserves. It is a clear indication of the on-going government support for the ABC that public broadcasting received a substantial funding increase in this year's triennial budget allocation.

I want to state clearly here tonight my belief that both the ABC and SBS in so many ways provide a valuable service to Australian public life. Australia would be a poorer place without so many aspects of the services provided by the ABC and SBS. However, the public broadcasters lets themselves down regularly by failing to apply the same rigour to the task of self-critique that they would claim to apply to the task of representing the truth to their audience. The ABC, for example, has a charter requirement to cater to all Australians. But if it was truly capable of honest self-assessment, the ABC would be more willing to recognise, acknowledge and correct the deep-seated and institutionalised bias that is manifested in its recent reportage of both domestic and international affairs. Some very recent examples I can quote here tonight are staggering.

Merely a week ago, Fran Kelly, the presenter of ABC Radio National's Breakfast program, chose to interview Robert Fisk on the events in the Middle East. Mr Fisk, she said, is a much praised and award winning journalist. And indeed he is - for he has received praise from no less a judge of character than Osama bin Laden himself, who, in a videotaped message on the eve of the 2004 presidential election in the U.S., commended Fisk by name for his incisive and "neutral" reporting. Did Ms Kelly disclose any of this? Obviously not.

As an aside at this point, I would like to quote the same Mr Fisk from an opinion column in The Canberra Times last week. In it, he quotes - without challenge or question - terrorist leader Sayed Hassan Nasrallah claiming that in its rocket attacks on Israel "Hezbollah originally wished to confine all casualties to the military". Fisk then goes on to criticise the - quote - "cruelty of Israel's response" - unquote - to those unprovoked and deadly attacks. It's no wonder that he attracts rave reviews from Osama bin Laden!

To take another example, let's consider for a minute SBS's coverage of the conflict in the Middle East on its flagship 6-30 PM news for Sunday July 16th. Israel's military actions in Lebanon were described as variously "murderous", "illegal" and "contrary to the laws of war". As for what Hezbollah had done, and its disastrous consequences for the people of Lebanon, the report SBS chose to air - and I emphasize the word chose - cutely said this: that Hezbollah "had some little explaining to do".

The Prime Minister John Howard decisively attempted to stop the rot on the AM program on July 14th when he was asked, and I quote: "Has Israel gone too far?" Mr Howard asked the reporter why the question must always be couched in terms of what Israel has done wrong and whether it should be condemned. He was, of course, appalled by the loss of life on both sides of the conflict. But - and to quote again - the Prime Minister said "the assumption that it was started by Israel in this particular instance is wrong".

That the Prime Minister should feel the need to highlight to a reporter the skewed nature of the question he was being asked is indicative of a deeply-ingrained culture - a reflex anti-Semitism - in parts of the media. Such questions betray a belief that Israel is always at fault and has no right to defend itself in any way against attacks from terrorists such as Hezbollah. To say that this is outrageous, and a disgrace, is an understatement.

What makes bias so dangerous, and also so difficult to control, is that it is not only what is said, but rather what is not said, that can be profoundly misleading. Take the reporting - again on the ABC's AM program - of the statement by Mr Chirac that Israel's response to the invasion of its territory and the kidnapping of its soldiers was "disproportionate". Now, how often did you hear Tony Eastely note that this was the same Mr Chirac who merely a few months earlier, had said that were France subjected to a terrorist attack, he would not rule out retaliating through a nuclear attack? The simple answer: not once.

Nor did Mr Eastely make the same point when Mr Putin criticised Israel's response to the kidnapping of its soldiers as "disproportionate" and called on Israel to negotiate with terrorists. Surely, one might have expected our national broadcaster to ask how consistent this was with Russia's own behaviour in Chechnya - but no, yet again, the ABC chose the convenient course of silence.

Equally, how often have you heard the terms "indiscriminate", "illegal", "contrary to international law" and "disproportionate" applied by the ABC and SBS not to Israel, but to Hezbollah's and Hamas' practice of shelling civilian towns in Israel? The answer: not once!

And when the ABC and SBS interviewed Lebanese Government Ministers, who merely washed their hands of Hezbollah's actions, did you hear the interviewer ask how Hezbollah has been allowed to build up its arsenal in Southern Lebanon? No, of course you didn't - because they wouldn't even have thought to put the question, much less to fearlessly pursue the point. Similarly, how balanced is it for the SBS to selectively run commentary from the BBC - commentary which is systematically and aggressively hostile to Israel - rather than say, also running the stories aired on US channels?

Another form of bias is sympathetic language. To give just one example, the ABC refers to Kassam Rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists as "home made rockets." This has the effect of makings the Palestinians seem like the underdogs, battling away against the might of the Israeli military with home made weapons. In truth - as you all know - Israel is a small country with a small population, virtually surrounded by hostile and in some cases increasingly fanatical countries. The terrorists it faces are well-organised, aggressive and persistently violent. They are financed and armed by Syria and Iran, which are countries far larger than Israel. They cynically exploit the Western media's desire to convey graphic images of casualties by locating themselves in civilian areas, ensuring that women and children will be among the worst victims of the conflicts they ignite and promote. They are hardly the home-made Dad's Army the media language would suggest and would want us all here in Australia to believe.

The decisions to portray events in this way smack of deliberate, thought through, deception. They are what biased journalists do when they want to hide from claims of bias, while still slanting the way the news is presented. A few token interviews, ritualistically presented, with Israeli spokesmen or commentators, or others more sympathetic to Israel's predicament, only make this deceitful purpose all the clearer.

Blatant bias about Israel is nothing new. But the scope of the problems is far broader. When terrorists targeted the London underground, time and again our public broadcasters' reports linked the terrorists' murderous actions to the Britain's participation in the Iraq war - suggesting, if not stating, that the ultimate fault lay not with the murderers but with the Blair government. The further, important, inference was that - just as Blair had brought the wrath of the terrorists onto London - so the Howard Government was exposing Australians to unacceptable risks: risks that, according to many ABC commentators, had already eventuated in the Bali bombings.

Given that, one might have expected the ABC and SBS to at least comment on the fact that India could hardly be claimed to have any role in Iraq - a war it had actively opposed. Rather, here was further proof, if more proof was needed, of terrorism's indiscriminate character. But far from it: no such thought was expressed....

I believe a media which fails to distinguish between good and evil, and which equates `balance' with studied relativism, fails its constituency: if we are not willing to call terrorism evil, then we have lost any sense of truth.

If some journalists on the ABC and SBS are frankly sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah, or even on balance believe they have the stronger case, why don't they have the courage to say so, rather than hiding behind a pretence of moral relativism? The cause of truth is not well served when those who have so much power to shape perceptions refuse to disclose, and be held accountable for, the perspective they take.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


What would be insanity elsewhere is fine in a bureaucracy

Caught in an 11-mile traffic jam during the hottest July day on record sweltering motorists could only assume there had been an accident. It was only, several hours later, as they finally approached the trouble spot, that they discovered there was no crash. Instead, council officers had chosen the day that temperatures touched a record-breaking 97.7f (36.5c) to hold a traffic census. And even when asked by police to call it off, they refused.

Yesterday furious drivers slammed Essex County Council, who carried out the roadside interviews on a busy main road during morning and evening rush hour.... Council workers began the census, which was being carried out on behalf of the Thames Gateway Project, at 7am on Wednesday - a day forecasters had predicted would see record-breaking temperatures - and carried it on till 6pm. They based themselves at a roundabout in Laindon, Essex, on the busy A127 to ask drivers questions about their journey to work. As rush hour got underway, queues soon began to build up, eventually stretching back 11 miles to Leigh on Sea. Some drivers were stuck in tailbacks in the blistering heat for over two hours.....

Essex police received over one hundreds complaints about the exercise and asked council bosses to call it off but they refused. Police spokeswoman Heather Turner said: "All traffic surveys should be proportionate and reasonable and any long tailbacks in these conditions would not be acceptable to us".

Yesterday Rodney Bass, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation said: "The information being gathered will help us develop transportation plans for the future aimed at making journeys across south Essex easier". But he added: "We fully acknowledge that the roadside interviews resulted in major delays to drivers. "A number of incidents did exacerbate the situation, including accidents on the M11 and M25. "In such circumstances we accept that common sense should have prevailed and we should have acted accordingly. "We are now in discussion with Essex Police on what lessons can be leant from this and how to manage such circumstances more effectively in the future. We unreservedly apologise to motorists for any inconvenience caused."



What would be insanity elsewhere is fine in a bureaucracy

The Home Office briefly believed it owned all the money in the UK, World, and presumably the rest of the galaxy, a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee has shown. The report on the department's accounts for 2004 to 2005 details a financial shambles at the department. The summary of the report unsurprisingly adds that one factor behind the fiasco were problems with its new accounting system.

It details one exchange at a Public Accounts Committee hearing where Richard Bacon MP dissed the department for submitting a paper which suggested its gross transactions were 26,527,108,436,994 pounds. OK, lets just round it up to 27 trillion. Bacon helpfully pointed out that this was not just 2,000 times the department's 2004-2005 expenditure, but one and a half times the GDP of the entire planet.

Of course, this was just a slip of the key, former Home Office mandarin Sir John Gieve explained to the incredulous Bacon. It was changed, Gieve continued, but it was "given as an illustration of the problems that we had" managing its accounts. Whitehall's version of "spot the deliberate mistake" then.

The report notes that the Comptroller and Auditor General's examination [of Home Office accounts] was severely limited because the Home Office had not maintained proper books and records which would have enabled it to disclose with reasonable accuracy at any time the financial position of the Department.

Well, that's what the report says. We think it's entirely likely the department spent the lot on tea, paper clips, training away days, and that old favourite "sweeteners" to induce IT services companies to bid for a chunk of the public purse. Gieve is now deputy governor of the Bank of England


Yet another stupid photo ban

Prime Minister John Howard has described a move to ban cameras from a popular Melbourne tourist precinct amid terrorism fears as "over the top". Southgate management has erected "no camera" signs around the Yarra River retail and dining centre after security guards tried to force tourists to delete photos taken of "obscure" parts of buildings. The police were called when they refused.

Mr Howard said he did not think the terrorist threat in Australia warranted such a move. "I think that is over the top," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. "Everybody's got a camera now. Does that mean a mobile phone camera? "I don't think the terrorist threat in this country warrants that. I really don't. "I don't know who did this and I don't wish to offend them, and I'm sure they mean well, but I do think that is going too far."

Southgate property manager Kathy Barrance said there had been a couple of incidents of tourists taking photos of obscure things. "It was just the facades of buildings, things that would be of no interest to put in a photo album," Ms Barrance said. The new signs banning cameras state that "Southgate thanks you for not taking photos within the complex unless approved by management". Ms Barrance said anyone found taking unauthorised photographs would be told to stop by roaming security guards. "It's policy around Southgate for security to ask people not to photograph," she said. Exceptions will be made for photos of such things as the Ophelia sculpture at the main entrance. "On the (Yarra) promenade, it's fine, or if it's of Ophelia," Ms Barrance said.

Asked if the restrictions were designed to deter terrorists from conducting reconnaissance, Ms Barrance said, "Yes, that type of thing." Victoria Police told the Herald Sun it was unlikely any police officers would order the removal of images from a camera under such circumstances. "I've checked with our privacy people and they said there's no law against taking photos," a spokeswoman said.

Southgate workers were stunned at the restrictions. "I think it's stupid," Oras Charcoal Souvlaki Bar employee John Tsarpalas said. "There's got to be better ways than that." One shop owner who did not wish to be named, questioned whether there were any vital targets in the complex. ''It's a bit much. I know they are trying to protect us, but it's just a food court," she said.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Army bagpipers are to wear earplugs because of fears that the military might be sued by soldiers who claim that their hearing has been damaged by excessive noise. Pipers are also to be banned from practising for more than 24 minutes a day outside, and 15 minutes indoors.

The pipes are famous for terrifying the enemy, but new army guidelines, based on a study carried out by the Army Medical Directorate Environmental Health Team, say that pipers should wear earplugs to protect themselves from hearing loss. The guidelines also apply to drummers.

Piping experts and military veterans have criticised the rules as typical of the health and safety culture of today's "cotton wool Army". However, a spokeswoman for the Army in Scotland said the new rules showed that it was serious about protecting soldiers.

The Armed Forces lost their traditional exemption from health and safety legislation in 2000, although that does not apply when the forces are on active service.



Smacking her lips, Yukari Suzuki, a young housewife, descends the steps of the Men-ya Sora noodle house in Kanda. She has enjoyed some of the finest ramen in Tokyo and, even more delicious, the knowledge that her gourmet lunch was a privilege of gender. For the Men-ya Sora, like a growing number of Japanese shops, restaurants, cinemas and services, has turned "women only" - welcoming to its upstairs dining room the free-spending fairer sex, but turning away its supposedly more uncouth counterpart.

What started as a desperate measure to protect women from gropers on trains has blossomed into a fully fledged movement. Single-sex places have become a lifestyle choice for many women and a source of outrage for men. Once women-only carriages became standard on many Japan Railways services and the Tokyo Metro, other businesses quickly followed. Spas and gyms were among the first to pick up the trend, with restaurants, comic-book cafes and convenience stores joining the no-men-allowed movement. Hotels, apartment blocks and pachinko gambling parlours are experimenting, and restaurants that do not exclude men have taken to giving free desserts to women.

The "women only" trend flies in the face of a massive government effort to put Japanese men and women closer together. Facing tumbling birth rates and a potential demographic crisis, the Government has tried to promote marriage matchmakers and encouraged companies to give staff time off for dating. "If men want not to be discriminated against, they should have better manners," Ms Suzuki said. "They sit so they take up lots of space, read newspapers wide open, leaf through pornography in public and some are really arrogant, too."

Takashi Naito, the male owner of Men-Ya Sora, said: "I wanted to have as many repeat customers as possible and I noticed that female diners often asked me to give them a table away from men who were drunk and noisy."

The emergence of single-sex restaurants has created an unprecedented storm of fury on 2Channel, Japan's biggest internet chat room, where the majority of comments denounce the trend as unnecessary and discriminatory. Establishments such as the Men-Ya Sora are described as O-oku, the old word for the living quarters of royal concubines.

Academics believe that the trend will hurt society. Asaho Mizushima, a Professor of Law at Waseda University, says the rot set in with single-sex railway carriages, which implied that women needed protection from men in general, rather than from a few criminals. "Women's cars may work as a psychological shelter to women who fear groping, but it doesn't decrease gropers," he wrote on his website. "But one clear result is that men are rejected from particular carriages just because they are men."


Monday, July 24, 2006


The RSPCA has been accused of harassing a police officer after he killed an injured cat with a spade. A prosecution estimated to have cost a total of 50,000 pounds lasted two years before failing in the High Court. The Police Federation says Pc Jonathon Bell had been "to hell and back" but the RSPCA says the case was in the public interest. The charity pursues around 1,000 cases a year and that is likely to increase under the new Animal Welfare Bill.

In April 2004, Pc Bell was called out to an estate in Stoke-on-Trent following reports of youths throwing stones at passing cars. While there local residents called his attention to a cat which had been run over. The 36-year-old officer sought advice from his control room and colleagues including a police handler. He was told that by law there was no statutory duty for the police to call out a vet and that the RSPCA could not be contacted at that time of night.

He borrowed a spade and with three to four blows killed the cat. His actions on that night unleashed what his supporters say has been a legal and personal nightmare for the officer who eventually was forced to take a month off because of stress. The RSPCA says it took legal action following complaints from witnesses to the killing.

The officer was acquitted at a two-day court hearing last September. District Judge Graham Richards said Pc Bell had been forced to make a decision in difficult circumstances. "You did what you honestly thought best," said Judge Richards, "You walk out of here without a stain on your character." But the animal charity made an appeal to the High Court which recently threw out the case. The final judgement came two years after the cat was killed.

"He thought he was doing his duty as a policeman in a difficult situation and he had to make a judgement call and he's been made to pay for it," Mark Judson, chairman of the Staffordshire Police Federation told Radio 5 Live. He said Pc Bell was too traumatised by the long-running case to comment but that he felt "harassed" by the RSPCA, especially after the charity took the case to the High Court. "They wouldn't let it go even when the decision had gone against them."

An independent expert witness called to give evidence in the trial said the officer had been in a no-win situation. "The cat had been squashed to within an inch thick at its lower half," said veterinary surgeon Colin Vogel. "He did the kindest thing which was to put it out of its misery whereas if he'd just walked away leaving it injured he could have just as easily faced a charge of animal cruelty."

The estimated 50,000 pound total cost of the case, which includes 12,000 spent by the RSPCA on its own legal costs, will lead to accusations that it has wasted large amounts of voluntary donations and public money.

The RSPCA has defended its role in the trial of Pc Bell as well as the 1,000 prosecutions it brings every year. "In the end, the High Court refused the society's application for a judicial review. However, the RSPCA is pleased that Staffordshire Constabulary have since reviewed their procedures with regard to injured animals."


Kiss goodbye to innocence

The insane, PC paranoia about "inappropriate" touching of children has gathered such momentum that last week a 58-year-old vicar called Alan Barrett resigned from the board of governors of William MacGregor primary school in Staffordshire because he'd given a 10-year-old girl a lone peck on the forehead during the course of publicly congratulating her for improving at maths. Barrett, who is married and has three grown-up children, was threatened with charges of common assault after the incident, following a complaint from the child's mother. He was also subjected to an informal investigation by his diocese.

The police and the social services eventually concluded that Barrett had no case to answer. The diocese found his behaviour had been "inappropriate in today's climate" but did not warrant any disciplinary action. Barrett nevertheless resigned as chairman of governors at the school, following advice from his archdeacon. "I have discussed the issues with my archdeacon and agreed that one cannot be too careful," said Barrett. "Giving a child a kiss of congratulations is inappropriate in this day and age."

The child's mother, meanwhile, declared herself "disappointed" with the decision that Barrett had no case to answer. "I'd like him to be removed from his position," she said.

I find this whole story incredible - or rather, I would if variants on it weren't so depressingly commonplace. A friend was watching her daughter's end-of-term play last week and was surprised to be told, by a contrite-seeming head, that parents weren't allowed to take photographs of the performance - not because children might be distracted by flashing lights, but because, though it wasn't spelt out as concisely as this, any paedophiles sitting in the audience might use said photographs for sinister purposes.

I know of schools where distressed young children have to be comforted verbally and at a distance, because giving them a hug might unleash a whole series of complaints and investigations. I know schools that won't apply sunblock on children whose parents may have forgotten to do so in the morning, because skin-to-skin contact is verboten. Some schools won't even apply a plaster to a grazed knee, for the same reasons. At nurseries and kindergartens, nappy-changing is a potential minefield, which is why many now insist that children are potty-trained before they can be admitted.

All touching, it appears, has become "inappropriate". Blanket rules apply, and there is no differentiation between a lovely hug and a grotesque grope. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to imagine that people who choose to teach young children do so because they like them, not because they want to have sex with them.

If you like children, being physically demonstrative is second nature - a pat on the head here, a hug there, taking a sad child onto one's lap to read him or her a story. Why ban it, or create a moral climate in schools and nurseries that is so morally unhealthy and fearful that teachers are stopped from offering comfort, and children are brought up in the kind of environment where innocent physical contact with adults is somehow seen as dubious from the start? What kind of warped lesson does that teach them?

What is especially unpleasant about all of this is that it is so foully dirty-minded. A sane society does not equate a noble profession such as teaching with paedophilia. We all understand adults have a moral responsibility towards children in their care, and we painstakingly educate our children to be wary of strangers.

I personally think that even this has got completely out of control, and that even very young children are taught to be paranoid about perfectly benign adults waving at them in the park. Because the point, surely, is that the vast majority of people are kind, not predatory. Why reward them for their kindness by making them feel like "inappropriate" freaks?

As a child, I was told never to accept sweeties or lifts from strange men in cars, and to get away from any adult that made me feel uncomfortable. I was told this, if I remember correctly, at least once but no more than three times during my childhood. It was plenty. Also, what with one thing and another, I went to a dozen or so schools. Some were nicer than others, but I can honestly say there was no question, ever, of any teacher behaving in an inappropriate way. Even at one school, where we had quite a tactile games mistress who liked supervising showers and (unbelievably) had the authority to perform "knicker checks", ie, to ask for physical proof that we were wearing our regulation school underwear. Today, she'd probably be disgraced and banned from teaching forever, and we'd all be offered counselling because we were victims of "abuse". At the time, she merely struck us as peculiar and mildly annoying. Which is all she was.

And if the moral climate had been as it is now during my upbringing, there wouldn't be a single boys' public school or Oxbridge college left standing. Can you imagine? Fagging? "Artistic" young masters encouraging people to read Oscar Wilde? Winsome dons with their little coteries of boys? But none of this did anybody any harm. It broadened the mind - at a time when, frankly, a lot of the minds in question needed broadening - and conveyed to us that there are all sorts of people in the world with whom coexistence is possible.

One last point: where children have been victims of abuse, the idea that nobody is allowed to touch them ever again seems to me very odd. Surely it would make more sense to teach such children there is such a thing as "good" and safe touching as well as "bad" touching - instead of banning touching altogether?

Are these poor children never to be given a comforting hug again? Do we really want them to believe that all adults are toxic and filled with evil intentions? Apparently so. Worse, we want all children to believe that adults are intrinsically harmful. Who'd be a teacher, in these dementedly puritanical and paranoid times?


Sunday, July 23, 2006


Hindus in the UK feel that not enough effort is being made to include them in anti-racist initiatives, says a report from the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB). `Hindu communities should be supported in playing a fuller role in society through improved capacity for leadership, community engagement and better understanding of Hindu beliefs, cultures and perspectives', said the report. Already, the findings from interviewing some 800 Hindus in the UK have been welcomed by government officials and professional multiculturalists.

The secretary of state for communities, Ruth Kelly, who launched the report earlier this week, believes it raises `important issues' between Hindu communities and the government. Elsewhere, Dr Robert Berkeley of the Runnymede Trust, which supported the survey, believes that `recognition' for Hindus will `offer a view of faith-based communities which gives a different perspective'. Whatever happened to finding points of commonality in divided Britain? Aren't we supposed to be moving away from all this?

The HFB's report does provide useful insights into the machinations of multiculturalism. For example, even though the HFB found that `the UK's 500,000 Hindus were generally well-integrated into British society', both it and the government want to invent `issues' where there doesn't appear to be any. After all, if Hindus appear `well-integrated' in the UK, how come Ruth Kelly believes `all of us, including central government and public services, have a role to play in helping Britain move towards an inclusive society'?

It seems such reports are less about tackling genuine social grievances than encouraging petty ones. Apparently, what Hindus objected to was being described as `Asian' instead of `Hindu' or `Indian'. No matter what the government's prejudices are, this is hardly a sign of being under siege from a hostile, wider community. The Hindus interviewed for the report are probably rehearsing lines from the official multicultural script. Indeed, for over 20 years minority groups in the UK have been encouraged to define themselves exclusively along religious or cultural lines. Take, for example, Bradford in the early Eighties.

Back then there were frequent conflicts between Asian youth, racist organisations and the police. Faced with such growing militancy among Asian youth, Bradford council drew up a 12-point race relations plan that declared that every section of the `multiracial, multicultural city' had `an equal right to maintain its own identity, culture, language, religion and customs'. As part of its multicultural agenda, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus were encouraged to express their distinct identities. The consequence was to exacerbate divisions from wider society and create them within Asian communities, too. Such a retrograde dynamic was localised to particular racial flashpoints. Today, more or less every ethnic group is encouraged to seek out slices of cultural `recognition'. But what exactly is this based on?

A popular misconception of multiculturalism is that it promotes `understanding' of other people's cultures and thus creates social harmony. Yet the process of absorbing and adopting different cultural expressions has long been a feature of human existence. It's not something we need instructions for from well-appointed academics. Besides, what official multiculturalism seeks to engineer is `recognition' of suffering rather than any meaningful cultural engagement. It is fundamentally about recognition that someone's ethnic genealogy has suffered persecution in the past or been excluded from centres of power, or both.

Not surprisingly, the consequence has been an explosion of groups competing in a hierarchy of suffering and exclusion. This doesn't just include representatives of Muslims and Jewish organisations; anyone with a Welsh, Scottish or Irish-Catholic heritage can claim victim status, too. Hindus are simply the latest group - but they probably won't be the last - to be encouraged to play the victim card.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it becomes a rather different matter when ethnic minorities assert economic rather than cultural demands. By the phoney remit of multiculturalism, last year's strike involving Gate Gourmet workers at Heathrow airport should have been seen as a model of diversity and inclusion. After all, the strikers involved were predominately from Sikh and Hindu backgrounds, and there were many women on the picket lines, too. Yet there were no congratulations from New Labour ministers, no leader articles in the press marvelling at multicultural trade unionism. In fact they were mostly discussed in the same terms as other striking workers - as an irritation.

Yet as inspiring as the strike was for some of us, I'm not suggesting that `Hindus-and-Sikhs, unite-and-fight' will demolish multiculturalism and its attendant divisions. What the strike did reveal, however, was just how infantile and infantilising demands for `cultural recognition' really are. In the course of this action to defend jobs and wages, multicultural blather on appreciating cultural vales and practises became irrelevant - for both the Hindu workers and the government that was irritated by their actions. That is because, whereas multiculturalism sees people as privatised individuals nurturing private grievances, making public demands on society means acting as subjects and citizens.

The HFB's survey doesn't reveal any genuine grievances affecting Hindus in the UK. Instead, it simply shows how official multiculturalism encourages competing demands for cultural recognition. And rather than combating any banal prejudices and divisions in society, such reports are designed to entrench and inflame them every step of the way. For all the post-7/7 discussions on creating a united Britain, the divisiveness of multiculturalism is clearly here to stay. It seems that encouraging ethnic groups to act as citizens is one `important issue' that Ruth Kelly won't be looking into.



The Merchants of Death in Christopher Buckley's novel "Thank You for Smoking" are spokesmen for the most vilified industries in Washington: alcohol, tobacco and firearms. A lobbyist for baby formula may have to join them in a sequel. Proponents of breast-feeding, emboldened by studies that trumpet human milk's superiority to its supermarket substitutes, are abandoning platitudes like "Breast Is Best" in favor of aggressive campaigns designed to portray formula feeding as not merely inferior but dangerous.

A startling television ad in a government breast-feeding campaign likened feeding an infant formula to being thrown from a mechanical bull while heavily pregnant. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has proposed mandatory warning labels for formula cans. Breast-feeding advocates are pushing legislation to stop hospitals from giving free formula to new mothers. A new book calls formula feeding "deviant behavior" that should occur only as an "emergency nutrition intervention to prevent starvation and death." "There's not so much talk now about the benefits of breast-feeding," says Katy Lebbing of La Leche League International, "but the risks of not breast-feeding."

Formula, its critics say, makes children sicker, fatter and dumber. Its inability to match the antibodies of breast milk is implicated in a range of maladies, including ear infections and diabetes. It is not yet the new cigarette; few suggest that formula actually kills babies, except in rare cases when powdered formula is mixed with tainted water, for example.

But formula, once seen as the perfectly engineered health food, has become the TV dinner of infant feeding: seductively easy, nutritionally challenged and oh-so-1950s. And the campaign against it has made strange cribfellows: liberals who demand accommodation in the workplace and open-shirt nursing in the public square and conservatives who believe that young children are best cared for in their homes by mothers free to nurse on demand. Pity the bewildered new mother who wants to nurse but can't because of physical problems or her job. She is offered an astonishing array of high-tech, vitamin-rich formula but lives in a nation that exhorts choice and free will except in the baby-food aisle.

The resurgence of breast-feeding follows a buildup of research confirming benefits to mother and child that formula manufacturers have been unable to duplicate. It also closely parallels the rise of La Leche, an organization formed in 1956 by seven Chicago-area women who wanted a network of nursing mothers to support one another in what was then considered radical behavior. At that time, less than 29% of mothers were nursing their week-old infants. The percentage would eventually dip to 25% in 1971 before climbing to 70% today.

La Leche, which promotes breast-feeding through meetings and telephone support, originally appealed to "young hippies," says spokeswoman Mary Lofton. "There had been this love affair with technology, thinking if something was made in a lab, it was better. But when the back-to-nature movement came along, we were there." And, Mrs. Lofton maintains, "all of the ideas we promoted--to breast-feed right after delivery, to do it frequently . . . these were revolutionary ideas at the time, but every single one of those things is accepted pediatric practice today."

La Leche's influence is such that when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a breast-feeding campaign in June 2004, La Leche trained the counselors who answered the government's hotlines. The goal of that continuing campaign is to get 75% of American mothers to breast-feed initially and 50% to breast-feed exclusively for at least six months. Using the catch phrase "babies are born to be breast-fed," the campaign distributes ads for television, radio and the print media. The mechanical-bull ad drew some complaints but was effective, claims Christina Pearson, an HHS spokeswoman.

While one government agency is promoting breast-feeding, however, another is handing out formula. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, administered by the Department of Agriculture, gives states grants to provide free formula, food and breast-feeding support to low-income women. Nearly half of all infants in the U.S. are enrolled, and 54% of infant formula in the U.S. is distributed through WIC. Since the late 1980s, states have negotiated contracts with formula manufacturers, who returned rebates to the states totaling $1.64 billion in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29% of WIC recipients are breast-feeding at six months, compared with 46% of women who are eligible for WIC but don't receive the aid and 47% of ineligible women.

The result, says James Akre, the author of "The Problem With Breastfeeding" (a new book that takes issue with some of the popular aversion to breast-feeding) is that, by handing out more formula than breast pumps, the government is encouraging "deviant behavior" and "billions of dollars are going to provide poor children with food based on an alien food source"--the alien being a cow. Mr. Akre, a resident of Geneva, Switzerland, and a retired official of the World Health Organization, believes that, as in the case of seatbelts and tobacco, a society's attitude toward breast-feeding can change in a generation. "It's not women who breast-feed, after all. It's cultures and societies as a whole," he says.

Until the late 1800s, women had little choice but to breast-feed. The only question was whether the child's mother would do it or someone else--a paid wet nurse or a slave. Every culture tried substitutes (sugared water or cow's or goat's milk early on, evaporated milk and Karo syrup more recently), but experimentation sometimes killed babies. Swiss pharmacist Henri Nestl‚ produced the first formula in the 1860s, saving the life of an orphaned baby and launching an $8 billion world-wide market in which Nestle is still the leader.

The marketing of baby formula is tricky for manufacturers, which must admit on their labels that breast-milk is superior. To compensate, they rely heavily on coupons and formula samples offered through hospitals. New mothers typically leave American hospitals with a gift bag supplied by a formula manufacturer. Breast-feeding advocates want to end the practice.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts enacted the first ban on the gift bags, but it was killed by Gov. Mitt Romney, who cited the need for choice. The debate over breast-feeding simmers with political tension because it encapsulates the larger question of personal freedom versus social good. In likening formula to current public-health pariahs, breast-feeding advocates hope to send formula down a similar dark path.

The Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition announced plans for a nationwide "Ban the Bags" campaign at the International Lactation Consultant Association meeting in Philadelphia last week. Dr. Melissa Bartick, the coalition's chairwoman, has promised that formula marketing in hospitals won't last. She adds: "We'd never tolerate the thought of hospitals giving out coupons for Big Macs on the cardiac unit." So baby formula is not yet the new cigarette. But it's already the new Big Mac.