Saturday, September 30, 2006

Uppity men

Let's face it, we've been snookered. They promised gender liberation, now we're becoming dependents of the Nanny State. They averred no fancy for special treatment, now we have affirmative action. They said they only wanted to give women a voice, now we've got speech codes. They claimed to be for gender equality, now boys are struggling just to keep up in school. Why has it taken so long for us to catch on?

One of the tacit rules of the New Gender Order is that the opinions of men don't count. "If white men were not complaining, it would be an indication we weren't succeeding and making the inroads that we are" was the remarkable admission once made by the most influential media mogul in the country, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr, owner and publisher of the New York Times.

Author Warren Farrell calls it the "lace curtain," the invisible hand of editorial censorship that throttles the First Amendment rights of half our nation's population. It's like we claimed to be engaged in free and open debate, all the while holding one of the parties gagged, blind-folded, and hog-tied. Or if men were allowed to speak, it was made perfectly clear that they not say anything that might force the delicate gals to resort to smelling salts - remember l'affaire of Larry Summers?

But three weeks ago something snapped. Michael Noer at wrote a column called "Don't Marry Career Women." It was an advice column for eligible businessmen thinking about making the plunge.

Predictably, the ladies reacted with well-rehearsed outrage, forcing Forbes to run a counterpoint by Elizabeth Corcoran, "Don't Marry a Lazy Man." []

True, some of Noer's facts could be disputed. Maybe he didn't qualify his statements enough. But Noer's article struck a deep chord with hard-working men whose liberated wives had come to look askance at anything that might remotely be called housework. And it resonated with the average Joes who put in long hours on the factory line, only to come home and learn that he was a member of the male oppressor class.

This time there would be no "Button up that lip, little man!" Within hours the Internet was buzzing over Noer's apostasy as thousands of men spoke out at,, and other sites. All of a sudden, full-throated debate became fashionable.

Remember this line? "I'm as mad as hell and I won't take it anymore!" That rant won Peter Finch an Oscar for his role in the movie Network. That pretty well sums up the attitude of many men and women who have become disgusted with feminist-driven, government-enforced intervention into the personal matters of private citizens. For years, women like Christina Hoff Sommers, Wendy McElroy, Cathy Young, and Phyllis Schlafly have been speaking out against government intrusion disguised as female emancipation. Now their protest is ringing through the land.

Take Doug Richardson of Detroit. He was forced to pay more than $80,000 in child support, even after paternity tests proved the child was not his. Now he's waging a one-man campaign to expose the swindle and bring the malefactors to justice.

In North Dakota, Mitch Sanderson got fed up with the raw deal that fathers were getting in divorce court. So he started up the North Dakota Shared Parenting Initiative. Then he quit his day job and combed every hamlet and town in the state to get the required 13,000 signatures to land his shared custody bill on the November ballot.

Some guys are willing to put everything on the line. Like John Murtari of Onondaga County, NY. Murtari owes more than $60,000 in child support, an amount he couldn't pay because the figure was calculated based on an income far higher than what he now earns. On July 31 he was sentenced to jail, triggering a hunger strike that caused him to lose 29 pounds in just nine days. As of this writing his situation remains precarious.

April 19, 1775, a rag-tag group of Minutemen waited in muffled silence at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass. Within minutes they were engulfed in a desperate fire-fight with the British regulars. Soon the smoke cleared. That shot heard `round the world marked the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. It was the first hard-fought step to freedom from government oppression. Over 230 years later, state-sponsored tyranny has re-appeared in our midst. And once again, a group of uppity men are willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the defense of justice and family.


A satire on the radical homosexual agenda:

My `orientation' is to believe in God. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but from the time I can remember, I knew I was a God-person. I didn't tell my family about my spiritual orientation because they're Christophobic and wouldn't have understood. After I became a born again Christian I knew I had to come out of my holy huddle and tell them everything. After that I left home and moved to the Bible Belt. In Jackson, Mississippi I'm free to live openly as an Evangelical.

For me, being a God-person is normal. Maybe I was born with a God gene, maybe not. It doesn't really matter to me. What does matter is that I'm free to evangelize! I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Many "progressive Christians" (progressive is a trendy word for liberal) disagree with me on this, and that's their choice. If there's one thing liberals pride themselves on, it's being identified with "choice." Especially when it comes to choosing new and innovative interpretations of Scripture. They also choose to shut people up who disagree with them. Just ask Ann Coulter.

Lately Leftists have been carping that Christians are "absolutists" which they consider on par with being a member of the Taliban. Their rants don't bother me, though. I'm an absolutist, with a capital A, and proud of it.

And don't think this Christian is going away. I intend to push my right-wing agenda down the throats of all Americans, including liberals. If people don't like my godly agenda, oh well. I'm an American, after all. I'm a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen. I have my rights! Stand back all you Christophobes! The evangelicals are at the door and we intend to do whatever's necessary to bring our struggle against the tide of secular humanism and the cult of Darwinian evolution to light.

To achieve necessary social change Christians will insert themselves into the government, the judiciary, public education, the workplace and the media. We will assail the public with tragic stories of Christian persecution so that they will feel sorry for us. American's are such softies.

Evangelicals are sick and tired of being demonized by the media and mocked by the Hollywood elite. We will come out of our sanctuaries and put pressure on the entertainment industry to stop funneling filth into households with children. In due course the sleaze will ease. Biblical morality will be part and parcel of story lines. The family hour will be fit for families. Sure, it's a big undertaking but we're up to the task!

I know what you're thinking, "That'll be the day." But you just wait. Before you know it there will be Christian-friendly newspapers! What's more, motion pictures, television programs, commercials, music, radio, etc., will be family-friendly. Liberal actors will have to play Christian characters that are portrayed as respected members of the community, or they'll join the ranks of the unemployed. (Picture, if you will, Rosie O'Donnell playing a Christian homeschool Mom - or a NASCAR Dad!) In Hollywood Evangelicals will not only be accepted, they'll be thought of as normal and good. Mark my words. There will come a time when Christians will win coveted awards for playing decent human beings! (Note: Winning awards is not important to Christians. What's important is winning souls to Christ!)

Moreover, those who spew rhetoric like "Christianity is a crutch" and characterize all Christians as unintelligent, uneducated, dim bulbs will be looked upon as intolerant hate mongers. Everywhere they turn, Christian bashers will be exposed to, gasp! Christian pundits. The columns of Cal Thomas, Michelle Malkin, Paul Wyrich, Mike Adams, Rebecca Hagelin, Hugh Hewitt and David Limbaugh will be published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post. Ann Coulter will write Op-Eds for the New York Times. Christian music will be piped into restaurants and shopping malls.

The word will be out that a Christian's love and devotion to Christ is not pathological as liberals like to believe; loving Jesus will be accepted as normal and natural. Hold on to your fedora, folks. Society will come to believe that there are certain people who are born moral.

Liberals can forget about their constitutional right to freedom of speech. Christian groups like the American Center for Law and Justice will work their tails off to get laws on the books that make it a hate crime to say anything derogatory about the Christian lifestyle, or to use the Lord's name in vain. Mocking Jesus Christ in any way shape or form will require a public apology-or three-and may require jail time. Madonna could get life.

A big part of the Evangelical agenda will include indoctrinating children as young as 5 years old into Judeo/Christian morality. This will be accomplished through people of faith infiltrating public schools and the institutions of "higher learning." And trust me, we will not allow liberal parents to have a say in what their kids are learning, nor will we stand for their meddling. What do liberal parents know about raising children anyway? Granted, liberal taxpayers help pay for public education. But that won't stop people of faith from implementing our conservative agenda.

Christians have been taking a lot of heat for modeling healthy love between a man and a woman. This is perfectly understandable as religious tolerance is anathema to liberals. As American citizens, Christians have every right to express our views on morality. It's our right to push our moral agenda down the throats of liberals, using any means at our disposal, whether they like it or not.

Christianophopia has no place in a society that prides itself on diversity. People with different religious beliefs, or no belief at all, should "live and let live." C'mon liberals, lighten up! You've got to get over your fear of Christians. Christianity isn't contagious. If you get close to a Christian you won't "catch it." You may get a touch of Truth, but that's about it. There's no conceivable way for anyone to become a Christian unless he or she accepts Christ. This is one area where Christians and liberals see eye to eye. Accepting Christ is a choice.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Free speech is truth's best hope

Left-wing political parties need to rediscover a sense of humour and jettison the reflexive fear of offending sacred cows. There's a certain irony, not to mention black humour, when various people and groups say "we're going to kill you for calling us violent and warlike". The irony and black humour increase an order or two of magnitude when the threat is actually carried out. This thought raises the whole question of freedom of speech and the effects of various sorts of responses to offensive, insulting, hurtful comments and communications.

Take two imaginary societies at opposite ends of the "how to respond" spectrum. In one society the offensive, insulting speech is protected. Anything short of inciting physical violence or directly causing physical harm by, say, walking into a cinema and yelling "fire" is completely protected. That means those who are on the receiving end of the distressing, insulting, offensive speech just have to bear it. They can respond in kind, of course, with speech of their own. Indeed, they can be just as offensive in their replies. But in this society the government will not silence the original speakers. Nor will it countenance a violent response. Citizens simply have to have - or quickly learn to develop - a thick skin.

And notice just how thick a skin is expected of the citizens of this first society. If neo-Nazis wish to march down the streets of a town largely inhabited by Jewish Holocaust survivors, that is allowed and protected. If anti-abortion protesters wish to indicate to women entering abortion clinics that they believe abortion is murder, and to show these young women graphic pictures of what will happen to the fetuses, they can. Indeed, if citizens of this society wish to burn their own flag in protest, and to do so in front of military veterans who have seen friends and comrades killed defending that flag, they again can. In this first society, then, freedom of speech is no hollow catchphrase or phony mantra. It comes with a price attached, one that can be quite steep at times. People will be offended, they will be insulted, they will have to listen to what they consider to be false imputations and malicious lies. In Kipling's famous phrase, they will have to "bear to hear the truth (they've) spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools".

In our other imagined society, insulting, offensive speech is simply not allowed. The government will prevent it, if necessary by throwing its perpetrators in jail for lengthy periods or by turning a blind eye to retaliatory beatings or killings of the speakers. No thick skins are needed here.

Two questions immediately arise about these two societies. First, many will wonder what the justification for the first society's forbearance might be. Why allow people to speak words and draw pictures and convey thoughts that others find deeply offensive? John Stuart Mill's answer was that truth had a better chance of emerging where virtually all speech, even words perceived to be offensive, insulting and, yes, false, was allowed.

It is not just that constraints on speech can be manipulated by those in power to protect their own privileged positions, though they clearly can be and regularly are. We all know that there is nothing handier to those in power than to forbid all criticisms of oneself. But the point is wider than that. As the great US Supreme Court judge O.W. Holmes more or less put it: "We don't really know what the true position is. Whatever it is, though, it has a better chance of emerging in the marketplace of competing ideas where everything is open to criticism, even offensive criticism." In other words, the short-term costs of forcing people to have a thick skin will carry with them long-term benefits that are huge. People will have their ideas and beliefs and prejudices exposed to potential attack from all sides. Those who can withstand such widespread attack are more likely to approximate truth.

The second question that arises from envisaging our two societies is whether real societies that more closely resemble our first imagined model do, in fact, deliver the claimed benefits. Are they more likely to achieve scientific advances, medical breakthroughs, containment of epidemics, higher levels of wealth, more responsive political leaders: in short, societies that are attractive to would-be immigrants around the world?

It seems to me that the answer to all these is an obvious and resounding "yes". The connection between upholding free speech and demanding thick skins, on the one hand, and all sorts of attendant, long-term benefits, on the other, is clear. The implications of this realisation are many and wide-ranging.

For instance, many Western governments in the past decade or so have enacted hate-speech provisions that deliver short-term benefits. But their long-term effects are much less obviously good. These all need rethinking, including here in Australia. There is also an implication as regards political correctness.

Left-wing political parties need to rediscover humour (which at present seems to me to be almost exclusively the preserve of the Right). They need to jettison the reflexive fear of offending sacred cows (could they even say that?) and impinging upon shibboleths. They need to demand thicker skins of their supporters.

Here's one final implication to finish. The power of free speech to advance long-term human wellbeing on so many fronts shows the poverty of the cultural relativist mind-set. These people simply have not read their Hume, the great 18th century Scottish sceptical philosopher and the man who demanded we distinguish between facts and values, ises and oughts.

Whether any particular culture is seen by some individual or other as good or valuable does indeed have a subjective or relative element to it. But what the effects of a culture will be in empirical terms is not in the eye of the beholder. So one culture might place a huge emphasis on education while another frowns on it and glamorises, say, lounging on the beach.

In one sense there is no right answer as to which culture is to be preferred from any individual's point of view, with his or her proclivities and tastes. But there most assuredly is a right answer as to which culture will produce more prosperity, more scientific advances, more longevity for its citizens. And those who prefer the other culture must do so in the full knowledge of what comes with that preference. The facts are not relative.



This bizarre ruckus over the words of a medieval monarch has turned into a revealing picture of the modern world. A world in which nobody, not even the leader of a major faith, is allowed to express a strong opinion without risking condemnation and demands for an apology. A world dominated by a victim mentality, in which groups with hyper-sensitive `outrage antennae' are always on the lookout for the chance to claim that they have been offended, insulted or oppressed by the words of others. And a world where striking moral poses takes precedence over serious debate, so that a minor issue of a few cartoons in a Danish newspaper or a paragraph in an obscure Papal address can be blown up into a phoney image war staged for the benefit of the global media.

The reaction of outraged Muslim groups to the Pope's remarks typifies the contemporary search for offence that can legitimise a victim identity. As has been argued elsewhere on spiked, however, this outlook is a product more of Western multicultural identity politics than of Islam (see The price of multiculturalism, by Michael Fitzpatrick).

Just as the reaction to the Danish cartoons featuring Mohammad began in the West and was broadcast to the Muslim world, so it seems a safe bet that the Pope's remarks in Germany were first picked up on somebody's outrage antenna in Europe (see Those cartoons: a caricatured argument, by Mick Hume). These protests are then exported to the Islamic world, complete with pre-edited script, where they are turned into angry demonstrations for the benefit of the media over here. Note the slogans on those protests in Palestine or Pakistan, mostly written in poor English - not the protesters' language, nor the Pope's, but that of the internet and the US/global media.

(Muslim groups are often the most militant expression of the outraged victim identity today, but it is not all one-way traffic. Thus gay and human rights groups in Britain were recently up in arms over remarks made by Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, condemning homosexuality as an abomination in the eyes of Allah. This was simply a statement of the conventional Islamic attitude, yet there were immediately calls for an apology and even a prosecution. Leading British Muslims responded with a letter to The Times (London), asserting their religion's right to freedom of speech. Their one-eyed victim identity prevented them from seeing any contradiction in that, but the irony was not lost on others.)

The row over the Pope's remarks also highlights another fact of contemporary political culture. These manufactured protests by outraged marginal groups - often, as in this case, relatively small to start with - draw their strength from the uncertain, defensive reaction of those accused of using offensive words. Almost before there had been any protests, the Catholic hierarchy in England had issued a statement distancing itself from the Pope's speech. Before long the Pope himself was apologising for any offence he had caused. This all seems a long way from the historical notion of papal infallibility. The result, of course, was not only to legitimise the outrage of the protesters, but also to prompt demands for more fulsome apologies. There is no way to appease a self-styled victim's demands for redress.

The uncertain, defensive reaction of the Roman Catholic Church to Islamic protests is a result of its own crisis of authority, which has called into question many traditional Catholic stands - a retreat which some saw as symbolised by the decision to abandon the Pope's title of Patriarch of the West earlier this year. The speech that the Pope was making in Germany, apparently arguing for the compatibility of Christianity with reason and rationality, could be interpreted as another sign of the church's retreat from its anti-Enlightenment traditional ground.

The church's crisis of authority in turn is a reflection of the wider loss of confidence in Western society and culture. One symptom of this crisis on which we have often commented is the increasing fear of free speech and the moves to outlaw ideas or opinions that are deemed offensive or inflammatory.

It was striking that Oriana Fallaci, the famously provocative Italian journalist who died this week, was awaiting trial in Italy charged with vilifying a religion recognised by the state, because of her anti-Muslim rants about the war on terror. The British authorities, too, have pushed to make incitement to religious hatred a crime.

It is against this background that the Pope's use of a medieval quote about Mohammad has become politicised and blown up into a major issue on both sides. While at least one Muslim statesman sought to compare Pope Benedict to Hitler, some liberal commentators in Britain and the West worried that the Pope's words would give the green light to a wave of nascent Islamophobia, as if there were mobs waiting to launch a religious pogrom at the drop of the pontiff's hat. On the other side, some commentators rushed to defend the Pope as the champion of Western freedom and rationalism against militant Islam - not qualities many of us would normally associate with the Catholic Church or the Vatican State.

Enough of this phoney war about the meaning of a few old words quoted by a Pope. Let us take a stand for something really worth defending - freedom of speech, the right to offend, and the expression of firm beliefs.

Those of faith should be free to criticise other faiths as they see fit - just as those of us who have no religion must be free to criticise or ridicule them all. If the Pope had meant to condemn Islam, it might not have been diplomatically wise, but it would be perfectly legitimate - or even obligatory - for the leader of a worldwide Christian church. However distasteful others might find it, it should also be accepted that Muslims or Christians can express the belief that homosexuality is a sin (violence is, of course, another matter entirely).

Indeed it is far better for all of us if these things can be stated and debated out in the open. It is when people's beliefs are suppressed that they can find other outlets. Thus, the you-can't-say-that culture has not countered the growth of the fundamentalist fringe in our societies. On the contrary, it has given fringe groups legitimacy. With the Pope under fire for being a Catholic, for example, where is there left for true believers to go? To join Mel Gibson and the cranks?

And this is not just, or even primarily, about religion. The notions that strong beliefs are a problem, that free speech must be curtailed in the name of tolerance, and that causing offence is the worst offence of all, have become powerful conventions across Western society. These secular conventions have shaped the debate about Christianity and Islam, rather than the other way around. Here, the unconditional defence of free speech is even more important, as the only way for us to have the issues out, clarify differences, and argue the way ahead for our society.

Contrary to what has been suggested, freedom and civilisation are not at risk from a few over-publicised Islamic protests against the Pope. They could, however, be at risk from a culture that refuses to stand up for its own basic beliefs, such as freedom of speech and genuine tolerance - which involves tolerating (while arguing against) the expression of views you violently disagree with, not trying to silence them as `intolerant' or offensive.

Let us have less victim politics, and more expressions of political conviction. Less striking of moral postures and demands for apologies or bans, and more taking a stand for what you believe and fighting your corner. Let the Pope be a Catholic, let Mohammad be a Muslim, and let bears do their business where they will. The rest of us surely have other things to protest and argue about.


Australia: A need for INtolerance

In the Cape York town of Hopevale, where Noel Pearson grew up, there is every kind of gambling except one - cards. There is a social taboo against card gambling that lingers from the days when the Lutherans ran Hopevale mission, back when Aboriginal children like Pearson's father and grandfather were taught to read the Bible back to front and to write beautifully. "They never do card gambling at Hopevale," Pearson said on Friday. "They gamble on pokies, drink, fornicate, everything else, but there is a remnant social norm about card gambling."

Pearson, 41, the director of the Cape York Institute, likes the card gambling example because it "just illustrates the strength of social norms", the often invisible glue that creates social order and civility and protects the vulnerable. "That's why advantaged middle-class people don't have to worry about things like school attendance and school readiness," he says. By school "readiness", Pearson does not mean whether a child can recite the alphabet, tie shoelaces and cut along a straight line. He means the basic daily readiness of being fed, washed and well slept before coming to school.

Pearson aims to rebuild social norms that have disappeared over the past two generations from Cape communities. It is part of his plan to dramatically reform the way welfare is delivered, and tie it to behavioural benchmarks such as school attendance and responsible parenting. The Federal Government has contributed $3 million for a pilot project and he has just returned from a trip around Cape York to ensure the voluntary participation of the four communities of Aurukun, Hopevale, Coen and Mossman Gorge.

Pearson laments the situation in which the sacred bond of love between mother and child has been broken by substance abuse and the collapse of social norms. He openly declares he wants to reintroduce "intolerance" into his communities: intolerance of drugs, intolerance of alcohol, intolerance of sexual abuse, intolerance of domestic violence, intolerance of not sending your children to school every day.

Pearson's critics - mostly middle-class, progressive-left and social-justice romantics - say his plans to tie welfare payments to behavioural benchmarks are draconian. But they don't understand what it is like to live in a community without social norms, he says. He is determined that his welfare reform project will address the horrific abuse of indigenous children which has been reported this year with sickening regularity.

If parents are drug users, for instance, he asks why authorities hand back a child into such a known dangerous environment. He wants instead to take control of welfare payments as the tool to force irresponsible parents to clean up their act, to say: "If you don't agree to regular drug testing for two years and satisfy other benchmarks [such as school attendance] you will be on income management and you will not have the freedom of spending your money as you want." Instead, welfare payments will be managed for the parent and used to pay for rent, food, school supplies and other necessities. "It is a carrot and stick approach," Pearson says.

The welfare reform project complements the institute's work on education. Pearson outlined some of those achievements at an advisory group meeting on Friday in Cairns for the Every Child is Special project. It includes a successful pilot project at Coen primary school, in which the 15 least proficient readers were given intensive, systematic instruction in phonics for a year by specialist teachers from Macquarie University's MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time In Literacy) program. The results, unveiled on Friday, were encouraging; the children, whose reading ability was three to four years behind the Australian average, gained an average 21.4 months in reading accuracy. The Higher Expectations program identifies the brightest primary school children and "works aggressively" to send them to elite boarding schools, Pearson says. The first candidate is at Brisbane Grammar this year, "and he's survived and done well". Another program supports indigenous students at university. This year there were 10 candidates, and next year another dozen. Pearson is proud that both programs are "completely privately funded".

Ann Creek, a Coen elder and mother of five who has been a driving force in improving literacy at Coen school, said at the meeting on Friday: "Kids absorb knowledge; they want to be part of it, they want to learn more. If given the chance they'll grasp it . We all want our kids to achieve so they can go on to further education. They want to make a name for their family, for their clan group and for their community."

Pearson's "Cape York Agenda" of economic and social development aims to build the "capabilities" of indigenous people, freeing them from the yoke of welfare passivity, empowering them with proper education so they have at least the same knowledge of Western culture and proficiency in English as their peers in the rest of Australia. He says he hopes to transform communities within a generation. But first he must re-establish social order, and that requires a "hard bottom line". "Enforcement of the Education Act, [taking control of the] family benefit payment is the draconian bottom line we think is part of the process. We have an escalation in place that means we hopefully never have to get to the bottom line. But without the bottom line there is not much hope of re-establishing social norms." And as Bernadette Denigan, the director of the Every Child is Special project, reminded the group: "The ultimate draconian bottom line is the removal of children by government and that does happen."


Thursday, September 28, 2006


It's an industry where "results count" above all so if there were an edge to be gained by hiring blacks, it would have been done long ago. The fact that it has not suggests that the new black hires will be largely free riders

Why, city officials demanded, were there virtually no black staffers at New York's elite advertising agencies? The year was 1968. Agencies' executives vowed to fix the problem. They didn't. Now, under steady pressure from advocates and the threat of public embarrassment by city officials, they've renewed those promises.

Sixteen of the city's top ad agencies have agreed to recruit more minorities, especially blacks. They'll also diversify senior management and let city officials monitor them for three years. As Advertising Week 2006 festivities begin, the agreements signed with the city's Human Rights Commission offer a rare glimpse inside one of New York's core industries - and reveal that its work force doesn't look much like the nation. "This is a big deal - that advertising agencies actually signed written agreements to make these changes," said Burtch Drake, president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "Will you see an overnight sea change? No. But over time you'll see other cultures integrated into advertising."

About 3 percent of advertising staffers nationally were black in 2005, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor data, with 1.6 percent Asian and 7.5 percent Latino. In upper management, the diversity is virtually nonexistent, data show. Under the agreements, big agencies including WPP Group PLC's Ogilvy & Mather, Publicis Groupe SA's Saatchi & Saatchi and Draft New York, part of Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc., will devote staffing and resources to finding and keeping more minority staff members. They will set up in-house diversity councils, and executives who meet the new hiring goals will be rewarded accordingly. "This strategy is deliberate - we really wanted to change things across the board," said Patricia L. Gatling, head of the human rights commission.

Spokesmen for advertising agencies have mostly declined to comment on the issue. Young & Rubicam, a unit of WPP, issued a statement saying the agency "believes that diversity is a business imperative and we are pleased to have come to an agreement with the Human Rights Commission that reinforces our diversity initiatives." Omnicom Group Inc., parent of DDB Worldwide and BBDO Worldwide, has pledged $1.25 million to diversity initiatives within the company and will help establish a new advertising curriculum at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Why did the city focus on advertising? It's hardly the only big industry that lacks racial diversity. City officials said it was time to revisit an issue first raised at their hearings in 1968. And Gatling, a former prosecuting attorney, took a tough approach.

And then there's Sanford Moore. The veteran black advertising guru, 65, for decades wrote letters, staged protests and pushed public officials to highlight the lack of diversity in advertising. Off and on for 13 years, he's also discussed it on his Sunday night talk show, "Open Lines," on WRKS-FM. His on-air name is Charles W. Etheridge III. The agreements are a result of Moore's determination, said Eugene Morris, president and CEO of E. Morris Communications, a Chicago-based agency specializing in the African-American market. "He has been a bulldog," said Morris. Moore conceded: "I'm obstinate. I've kept records on this since 1968." He added, "I call advertising the last bastion of Jim Crow."

The relationships he built through his lobbying with city public officials, including Gatling and City Councilman Larry Seabrook, prompted the Human Rights Commission to begin subpoenaing advertising agencies' staff records in 2004.

Potentially embarrassing public hearings, at which agency executives would likely have faced tough questions during the industry's annual Advertising Week, had been scheduled for Monday. They were canceled after the diversity agreements were announced earlier this month.

Seabrook will hold hearings Tuesday on a related issue: the struggles that black media have getting big clients to advertise with them. "The advertising issue isn't just about hiring, it's about doing business," Seabrook said, referring to the vast but mostly white industry of artists, writers and smaller ad agencies that subcontract with big agencies. "African Americans participate as consumers - we spend $350 billion a year in this country. But we are not getting our just due."

Earl G. "Butch" Graves Jr., CEO of Black Enterprise Magazine said that some big corporations refuse to court minority consumers, but much of the blame lies with advertising. "They must hire people from top to bottom that look like society. How can an ad agency be charged with having a worldwide assignment for marketing and have all the people in the room be white men?"

Advertising experts say it's tough to find and keep minority ad professionals. Entry-level salaries are around $30,000 a year, likely unappealing to some potential recruits, said Mary Hilton, vice president of public affairs for the American Advertising Federation. Black students often must be recruited into college advertising programs, said Jerome Williams, an advertising professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Many have never considered it because they know of no blacks in the industry.

Alicia Evans, a black advertising professional, said when she worked at a large, mainstream agency she won raves from clients. But she was never embraced by her mostly white co-workers and supervisors. "I needed to be mentored," said Evans, president of Total Image Communications a public relations agency in Westbury, N.Y. When you're black, "you're out there on your own."

Seabrook said that, since the advertising agreements have been made public, he's received calls from around the country. "People say, 'You think advertising is bad, you should come see where I work,'" he said. "The next journey is going to be Wall Street."



(The "City" is London's financial district. It is a very small part of London as a whole)

Should we be surprised that the best-run and most critically acclaimed arts centre in Britain receives not a penny from the Arts Council? Should we be astounded that, without the benefit of a single directive from the Government’s culture quango about the importance of multiculturalism, access, diversity, outreach — or any of the other new Labour buzzwords rammed down the throats of people in the arts for the past nine years — this arts centre should nevertheless be pulling in 770,000 socially diverse punters a year? And what does this say, by inference, about the stifling effect of the nanny state on less independent organisations?

These questions popped into my head last week as the Barbican Centre in London announced plans to celebrate its 25th birthday in March with 25 brilliantly devised “landmark events”, ranging from an Icelandic epic and an Islamic festival to glitzy concerts and a celebration of punk. At the same time its management unveiled the finishing touches to a £30 million transformation that has swept away the worst features of the once-derided architecture. The hopeless non-entrance, Kafkaesque corridors, baffling signs and dry-as-dust acoustics in the concert hall: all have been remedied, leaving the place looking sleek, chic, and fit for service for at least the next 50 years.

What makes this feat close to miraculous is that, only 12 years ago, the Barbican was a byword for fear, loathing and chaos. The Royal Shakespeare Company, then resident in the centre, was locked in perpetual war with the management, which was itself chronically dysfunctional. When an abrasive woman from the Milk Marketing Board was appointed to run the centre — on the grounds that if you can sell a full range of dairy products you can surely flog King Lear — the nadir was reached. Even the City of London Corporation, which built the place, seemed in despair about its future.

But in 1995 John Tusa, a former BBC mandarin with an insatiable taste for culture, was appointed managing director, and a quiet visionary called Graham Sheffield brought in as artistic director. They have wrought a renaissance. Today, the Barbican must rank as the world’s top arts centre — easily outclassing the Lincoln Centre in New York for adventurous programming and sustained quality.

Enough about Tusa and Sheffield, however. They aren’t short of cheerleaders. What interests me about the Barbican is its funding. Its £18 million subsidy comes not from the Government via its poodle, the Arts Council — with the mandatory clump of social-engineering strings attached — but from the City of London Corporation. Which, rather astonishingly, makes that local authority the third biggest funder of the arts in Britain.

I have my dozy moments, but I’m not so naive as to think that the City is coughing up such substantial dosh out of pure altruism. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a war going on. The Square Mile, centre of the financial universe for so long, is facing competition not just from Frankfurt and Tokyo, but from an upstart on its doorstep — Canary Wharf. The battle to retain the big bank HQs and dealing-rooms is being fought on many fronts, not least the phallic rush to erect the tallest tower in town. But one vital area is “quality of life”. And the fact that the City has an arts centre that mounts 900 top-class events a year is a huge advantage.

But the City’s motives for funding the Barbican don’t really matter. What’s important is that it doesn’t interfere in how the centre is run. It appoints top arts professionals, then lets them get on with the job. It doesn’t try to micro-manage areas beyond its competence. It liberates those it finances, rather than stifling creativity with endless red tape and petty “accountability” procedures.

Well, you can see where I’m heading. The way the Barbican is run is in stark contrast not only to every other subsidised arts organisation, but to most other areas of public life in Blair’s Britain. What we have seen over the past nine years has been an unprecedented increase in the number of political diktats that attempt to regiment every facet of our existence — from health, diet and education to the law and liberty. At the root of this trend are power mania and arrogance. We are now ruled by people who not only want to control the smallest aspects of our lives, but who are vain enough to think that they know better than the experts in any field.

Of course I accept that, in a democracy, politicians must regularly scrutinise publicly-funded professions on our behalf. But it’s a question of degree. The endless, pointless meddling of recent years has simply stopped good people doing their jobs well. I see that Gordon Brown has promised more “devolved” decision-making in future. It’s hard to believe, since under his iron rule the Treasury has broken all known records for control-freakery and arrogant interference in areas that have nothing to do with the economy — a prime instance being the way that arts organisations operate. The Barbican is a shining example of the good things that can happen when politicians keep their clumsy fingers out of the pie. Let’s see more abstinence in future.


Australia: Political correctness harms abused black kids

Welfare workers are too frightened to take neglected and sexually abused indigenous children into care, carers have said. The Northern Territory News was last night told by people who work with children that NT Family and Community Services feared being accused of creating a new "stolen generation". "Black kids have to be suffering 10 times more than white kids before being taken away from their no-good parents," a source said.

Community Services Minister Delia Lawrie denied the allegation. "We don't take Stolen Generation concerns into account," she said. "And whether a child is indigenous or not doesn't come into play." [Believe that if you want to!] She said the number of Aboriginal Territory children taken into care had doubled in the past few years.

Elliott, a community on the Stuart Highway, 415km south of Katherine, was held up by concerned welfare sources as an illustration of the problem. The sources said several children in the township were believed to have been sexually abused. One girl had told nurses she had been molested by a man who still lives in the community. The girl has developed behavioural problems, nurses claimed. Many community children are also undernourished and are being fed by the school and health clinic.

The Tennant Creek FACS office has been given several notifications of suspected sexual abuse and neglect. Sources said children were being put at even greater risk by the department refusing to remove them quickly enough from bad homes. "The situation has to be extreme before FACS will step in," said the source, adding the problem had been created by the "stolen generation", the alleged removal of part-Aboriginal children from their parents last century.

Ms Lawrie said only a court could order a child being taken into care permanently.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006


An atheist civil rights organization on Tuesday charged that a partisan campaign ad filmed in a Tennessee Baptist church sends a "divisive" message and is "religionizing" important public policy issues. The television commercial was filmed on behalf of Democratic candidate Harold Ford, Jr. who is running against Republican Bob Corker.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time a partisan political ad has been produced using the backdrop of a church," said Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists. "It's part of a larger and disturbing trend where candidates are invoking religion in order to woo constituencies and win elections." Ms. Johnson added that by "playing the religion card," candidates like Mr. Ford were marginalizing and excluding millions of Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and other nonbelievers. Dave Silverman, communications director for American Atheists, said that Mr. Ford's ad "is more than a simple statement of personal beliefs.

It's pandering, and it raises serious questions about a candidate who does something like this would represent all of the people in his state if elected, or uphold the separation of church and state."

American Atheists is a nationwide movement which defends the civil rights of nonbelievers, works for the separation of church and state, and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.



A new cemetery is to have all its graves aligned with Mecca - making it the first council graveyard in the country to bury the dead in Islamic tradition, regardless of their religion. Headstones in the new 2.5 million pound High Wood Cemetery in Nottingham will face north-east - as Muslims believe the dead look over their shoulder towards Mecca. This is the way in which all followers of Islam in the UK are buried. But the move has upset the Church and led to complaints that the policy discriminates against the city's majority Christian population. The traditional direction of burial for Christians is facing east.

The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Rev George Cassidy, criticised the decision. He said: "This is a sensitive issue to all people. I hope the situation will be reviewed with wide consultation and a policy introduced that takes account of the needs of all." The decision was made by Steve Dowling, Nottingham City Council's Services Director for Environment and Public Protection, after liaising with the city's multi-faith Cemeteries Consultative Committee. He said: "For people of the Muslim faith this fits in with a religious requirement, but it will also ensure a tidy appearance for the site. People can choose to be buried facing another direction but if they do not specify that, they will be buried facing north-east. The vast majority of people do not express a preference."

But Brendan Clarke-Smith, Tory councillor for Clifton North, said: "I was totally bewildered when I read about this decision. I spoke to one of the local Muslim groups in my area and they were equally surprised by what had been done. It is utterly ridiculous and I know it'll create a lot of ill feeling both in Nottingham and the country generally." The clergy and critics of the policy at the new 40-acre cemetery are supported by Raza Ul Haq, Imam at the Madni Masjid Mosque. He said: "It is part of our religion for the dead to be aligned with Mecca. It is very important. But for Christians, if they want to face somewhere else we support them."

Last night a spokesman for the Institute of Cemeteries and Crematorium Management said it was the first time he had heard of any public cemetery in Britain choosing to have all its gravestones facing north-east, in line with Muslim tradition. "It is unusual,' he said. "It would seem appropriate if there was a large population of Muslims." In Nottingham, however, Muslims make up less than five per cent of the region's 500,000 population.

Nigel Lymn Rose managing director of A.W. Lymn Funeral Directors, and a past president of the National Association of Funeral Directors, said Mr Dowling had told him of the decision when he went to High Wood for a site visit and asked whether Muslims had been taken into account. He said: "I was astonished to be told, "Oh yes, we're burying everyone so they are aligned to Mecca. It will make things easier." "It's one thing to be buried facing north-east because that is the way the cemetery lies, or the plot within it - it is quite another thing to learn that you have been buried facing that direction because it follows Islamic law."

Brian Grocock, a councillor who took part in the consultation process, said: "I don't know how this has become such a big issue. "The consultations went on for three or four years. We had people of all faiths represented at the meetings - or they certainly had the chance to attend. Nobody I know had any objections to the plan." So far at Highwood there have been just six burials - of which three were Muslim.


Citizenship test backed by the Australian people

Australians overwhelmingly support a test for citizenship that includes not only an English language test but also questions about our history and way of life. Despite fears that a proposed citizenship quiz for migrants using English would discriminate against non-English speakers, more than three-quarters of Australians agree there should be such a test. According to a Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, 77 per cent of respondents agreed there should be a test on language, Australia and our way of life. A majority, 53 per cent, supported the idea "strongly" and only 19 per cent were against such a test.

During the past two weeks, when the proposed citizenship test and the issue of "Australian values" have dominated the political debate, the Coalition's support has improved but the ALP still holds a clear margin on two-party preferences. The Coalition's primary vote rose two percentage points to 41per cent and Labor's vote went from 41 to 42 per cent. Although Kim Beazley faced strong criticism from within his own ranks over his support for a citizenship test, the ALP has kept a 53 to 47 per cent lead over the Coalition on second preferences. The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader both supported a citizenship test that involved a quiz on Australian values.

The Government has released a discussion paper, which raises the prospect of doubling the citizenship qualifying period to four years and demanding that migrants sit a quiz that tests English language as well as a knowledge of Australian history and institutions. The Government has not put forward a draft test but Mr Howard said it would not be "a tablet from the mountain" and there would be a commonsense approach taken.

Mr Beazley has backed off from his earlier suggestion that visitors to Australia, including tourists, would have to sign a pledge on their visas upholding Australian values. After being criticised within his own party for the suggestion, Mr Beazley said any such test would apply to people intending to be "permanent residents".

The Newspoll survey found clear majority support for a detailed citizenship test in every demographic group, with the highest levels of support among the oldest voters and Coalition supporters. Nine out of 10 Coalition supporters backed the idea of a test and only 7 per cent were against. The lowest levels of support were among those aged 18-34 and Labor voters, both on 70 per cent. Regional areas showed strong support, with 80 per cent backing a citizenship test with an English component, compared with 75per cent in the capital cities.


Should childhood come with a health warning?

This week, a group of experts raised critical questions about how we mollycoddle children - but they also indulged some childish prejudices

The modern world is damaging our children, according to a group of eminent experts. More than 100 children's authors, scientists, health professionals, teachers and academics joined Sue Palmer - education consultant, broadcaster and author of Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It - in signing a letter to the London Daily Telegraph on 12 September 2006. It ran under the headline: `Have we forgotten how to bring up our children?'

Children are suffering, the experts claim, as a result of junk food, school targets and mass marketing. The modern world is not providing them with what they need to develop, apparently, which includes: `real food (as opposed to processed "junk"), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in, and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.'

I share some of the concerns of the signatories, particularly the fact that children now have fewer and fewer opportunities to play outdoors. Children are often no longer able to play in the streets, walk or cycle to school, play in local parks, or just mess about with their friends away from the supervision of parents and teachers. And yet, many of the letter-signers' concerns seem to be shaped more by contemporary prejudices about modern living than by expert insights into what makes children tick.

Take the denunciation of junk food. As has been argued elsewhere on spiked, `there is no such thing as "junk" food. Our digestive systems do not distinguish between fish fingers and caviar.' (See Hard to swallow, by Rob Lyons.) We are bombarded with warnings about unhealthy modern diets and eating habits, yet life expectancies continue to rise - in great part due to vast improvements in most children's diets over the past 100 years.

And consider the warnings about new technologies. We are told that `since children's brains are still developing, they cannot adjust - as full-grown adults can - to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change'. Most serious neuroscientists would dispute such a crass statement. Also, the idea that children find it difficult to adjust to `ever more rapid technological and cultural change' runs entirely counter to our everyday experience and to most scientific research. Numerous studies highlight the extent to which children are able to grasp and master new technologies. Indeed, many adults don't understand or use new technologies with the same ease that children do, which perhaps explains why they are so prone to seeing such technology as scary. We should be careful not to transpose our own, adult discomfort with technological and cultural changes on to children.

As former commissioning editor of spiked and freelance writer Jennie Bristow argues in an online debate sponsored by O2 to be launched on spiked next week, titled `Young People, Mobiles And Social Networking': `The fact that mobiles and the internet allow children access to "social networks" beyond the geographical boundaries of their daily lives is often seen as deeply scary, but it shouldn't take too much imagination to see that there is a positive side as well.'

It is not screen-based entertainment that is restricting children's play-space. Instead, it is adults' over-anxious desire to remove children from all risks. Adults are overly concerned with keeping children under their control and protection, and out of harm's way - which means they often end up restricting children's opportunities for `real' play. It could be argued that it is precisely because children are increasingly denied the freedom and space for experimentation and play in the `real' world that they are using the virtual world to try to gain some autonomy and independence.

The best thing experts can do for children is to argue for them to be given more freedom - not to do whatever they want, of course; they need clear boundaries set by parents. But unsupervised play isn't just some kind of childhood luxury that kids can do without. It is vital for children's healthy emotional and social development. Study after study has shown that it helps to develop children's ability to negotiate social rules and to create their own rules. Children need to learn to deal with risks and develop the capacity to assess challenges. They also need to be given the opportunity to develop resilience to life's inevitable blows. In short, taking risks in childhood goes hand-in-hand with developing new skills.

There is a danger that the experts feed into current fears for children's safety, thereby exacerbating the problem they are trying to alleviate. As Frank Furedi, spiked contributor and author of Paranoid Parenting, argued in the online magazine The First Post this week: `Despite their admirable intention, the authors of this letter may unintentionally contribute towards reinforcing a culture where every childhood experience comes with a health warning.'

The letter in the Telegraph ends with a call for a public debate `as a matter of urgency', in order to address the `complex socio-cultural problem' of an increasingly restricted childhood. Although children's lives have improved in very many ways over the decades, the signatories are right in highlighting that we do face a problem. Clearly, we need to ask some serious questions about what an increasingly structured, sanitised and relentlessly supervised world is doing to children. But it is important that we identify what the real problem is, rather than pointing the finger at easy `junk' targets and labelling children as fragile and easily damaged. So, let the debate begin.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006


They regularly ignore complaints about "Yobs", and Muslims can do as they please but a cat with one flea is a serious matter

Pet owner Robert Emberson was stunned as two cops swooped on his home - to seize his KITTEN. The bobbies went round after pet charity workers were tipped off that the moggy missed a routine appointment. Robert had adopted the rescue kitten named Plume.

But Cat Protection workers swooped to demand it back - and called in a police escort in case there was trouble. Horticultural student Robert, 18, accused the charity of being heavy-handed. He said: "They were so rude - barging in without warning. I was horrified." It followed an earlier visit by a Cat Protection worker who claimed to have seen a SINGLE FLEA on the cat. Robert, of Canvey Island, Essex, agreed to treat Plume. But he was waiting for his pay from his part-time job.

He said: "The flea treatment cost me a day's wages, but I paid for Plume to be vaccinated and everything. "I missed just one treatment, but they said they might take Plume away." The charity - criticised for refusing to let a man with an artificial leg adopt a cat - refused to comment. Robert was eventually allowed to keep the cat.

An Essex Police spokeswoman said: "We are frequently asked by other agencies to support them when there could be public order issues." [Fierce cat?]



Remember last year when Bob Geldof, Bono, Blair and others excitedly declared that they had liberated poor African countries from crippling international debt? In June 2005 the finance ministers of the G8 industrialised nations struck a deal worth a seemingly whopping US$72billion that cancelled the debt of 18 of the poorest countries in the world, 14 of them in Africa. Geldof described it as a `victory for millions'. At his subsequent Live 8 jamboree - where the Great and the Good of the pop world banged out tunes in the name of winning further debt relief and aid commitments from the West - Geldof declared that `all the debt must be written off'. At the G8 meeting in Gleneagles from 6 to 8 July, the big powers copperfastened their commitment to debt relief and agreed to double overseas aid commitments by 2010. `Tomorrow, 280million Africans will wake up for the first time in their lives without owing you or me a penny from the burden of debt that has crippled them and their countries for so long', Geldof said.

So how's that working out for those on the receiving end, for those who live in the poor African countries that have been liberated from debt? `It is rubbish. It stinks. This debt relief is making things worse.' DeRoy Kwesi Andrew doesn't mince his words. He is a science teacher and BA student in his twenties who lives in Accra, the capital of Ghana, one of the countries whose debt was written off. Over the past year he has been working on the film Damned by Debt Relief, a scathing critique of the economic and political straitjacket imposed on the poor countries that signed up for debt relief, produced by the youth education charity WORLDwrite and which will be premiered at the Battle of Ideas in October. `Debt relief has given us nothing, nothing', he says. `But it has taken away very much: our independence, our ability to develop, our self-respect. My message is: "Take away your debt relief. Bob Geldof, get off our backs".'

`Debt relief' is one of those buzzphrases - like `sustainable development' or `diversity' - that everyone agrees is a Good Thing. After all, who could be for unsustainable development? Who could possibly be against the cancellation of African and other countries' debts? It was always ridiculous that a country like Ghana should have been in debt to the tune of $6billion to institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Most people will think it's good that, after Gleneagles, Ghana has been awarded multilateral relief of $4.2billion, writing off a sizeable chunk of its earlier, crippling debt. Andrew says the truth is a lot less rosy. For a country like Ghana, debt relief has meant nothing in terms of increased investment or more resources, but it has meant the country being forced to submit to more stringent international regulation of its spending habits and priorities. `This is the fact about debt relief', says Andrew. `It does not deliver development and it also denies us the freedom to pursue development. Do you expect people in Ghana to jump up and down for that?'

`Debt relief has done nothing for the poor', he says. For a start, it does not mean any new money, investment or resources whatsoever. The G8 governments agreed to pay off the monies owed to the World Bank and others by the worst-hit debt-ridden nations - a total of $72billion. All of that will be deposited into the vaults of international banks, not invested into poor countries. The money will be transferred from G8 treasuries to the coffers of international banks in stages over the next 40 years. Andrew says: `You know what happened? The G8 nations helped out their friends in the international banks. They bailed them out. It was a transaction between the G8 and their banks. It was nothing to do with me, or Ghanaians, or Africans.'

Worse, while providing nothing in terms of new resources or investment, the post-G8 debt relief programme ties poor countries into a relationship of child-like dependency with international institutions. The new debt-relief initiatives allow for massive increases in Western intrusion into virtually every area of life and politics in developing nations, especially relating to development policy itself. In the 1980s and 90s, international institutions imposed notorious structural adjustment programmes on to debt-ridden Third World countries, forcing these nations to adopt austerity measures and privatisation policies in return for some debt alleviation. Such programmes were criticised by NGOs and liberals in the West. Now, however, the new debt-relief programmes celebrated by some of those same NGOs and liberals as a great breakthrough for history and humanity push conditionality even further, and make it even stricter. They tell Third World countries how to run their affairs, prioritise their investments and they insist on regular check-ups to make sure these countries are adhering to `good policy performance'.

As Kewsi Pratt Jnr, a Ghanaian editor and journalist interviewed for Andrew's film Damned by Debt Relief, argues: `What has the G8 done? The G8 has said they are going to wipe off 100 per cent of our debt. What are they saying in real terms? What they're telling us is that you owe us so much we are not going to take the money from you. You generate the money yourself, through taxation, through your productive activities and so on - don't pay it to us, keep it, but we are going to tell you how to invest that kind of money. It's incredible. No country in the West would accept that another country or another institution in a foreign land should be determining its priorities and how it spends its money. It is arrogant, insulting. It is repugnant.'

In the 1980s and 90s debt relief was a cover for monetarist economics and structural adjustment programmes. Today it comes with `pro-poor' and `poverty reduction' conditions attached; these might sound more palatable and PC than the conditions that went before, but they amount to the same thing - a situation where the West says what is best for the Third World. Indeed, today's debt-relief conditions - which are more likely to be enforced by worthy charity heads from Islington than by cocky World Bankers from New York or Chicago - are even more intrusive than yesterday's. In order to win debt repayment or relief today, Third World countries must agree to mould their political and economic life - the very lifeblood of sovereign states - around the diktats of Western governments and banks. At the meeting of the G8 finance ministers in London last June, it was decreed that `in order to make progress on social and economic development, it is essential that developing countries put in place the policies for economic growth, sustainable development and poverty reduction: sound, accountable and transparent institutions and policies; macroeconomic stability; the increased fiscal transparency essential to tackle corruption, boost private sector development, and attract investment; a credible legal framework; and the elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign.' Andrew points out that such demands are really about `surveillance' of the Third World: `They want to keep a check on everything we do, all our records, all our transactions. There is no independence here at all.' And considering that debt-relief today is based on a Performance-Based Allocation system - where countries have to demonstrate `good policy performance' in order to avoid having further monies deducted by the World Bank - these states had better toe the line, or else.

For Andrew, the worst thing about the new debt-relief programmes is that they expressly forbid developing countries from investing in the productive base of their economies - instead they must concentrate on small-scale, `pro-poor' policies that are designed to alleviate (only ever incrementally, if at all) the harsh conditions of the country's poorest people. `It says "pro-poor" and that sounds nice', says Andrew. `But for us it means we cannot decide what to do with our money and our economy, and it means we can never have real development, real factories, real industry.' As Mohammed Issah of the SEND Foundation, another interviewee in his film, argues: `If there is this condition which does not allow the government to invest resources into the production base of the economy, then we have a problem.'

It isn't really surprising that debt relief has ended up `strangling' Third World countries in this way - after all, it is the branchild of the World Bank and the IMF, and was only subsequently taken up by Third-World charities, the Make Poverty History campaign, celebs and the Live 8 lot. With the harsh-world realisation that some poor countries simply could not afford to repay their debts, in the 1990s the World Bank and IMF set about finding new ways to relate to and manage the economic affairs of these countries. Motivated by a desire both to deepen their influence on developing nations and to boost their flagging moral authority, they launched the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 1996. In 1999, they launched the `enhanced HIPC', which eased some of the fiscal criteria of the first-phase HIPC while introducing some of today's new, stringent conditions based on the World Bank's Poverty Reduction Strategy. For all Geldof and co's claims that their concert and their march to Gleneagles `forced' debt relief on to the agenda, what really happened at the G8 meeting last year was that the debts of those countries that had signed up for and agreed to the strict conditions of the HIPC initiatives were written off. What was widely celebrated as people power forcing faceless bureaucrats to `do something' for poor Africans was in fact the final stage in a process of repackaging austerity that was kickstarted by the World Bank and the IMF themselves in the mid-1990s. Live 8 merely provided a radical-sounding soundtrack to the World Bank's agenda.

What is most refreshing about DeRoy and WORLDwrite's film is that it is packed with interviews with the kind of people we don't normally hear from - with Ghanaian journalists, academics, activists and workers, all questioning the dubious `benefits' of debt relief and expressing their desire to make Ghana a fully developed, industrialised nation. But then, why should we need to hear from these people, when Bono declared last year that, `I represent a lot of people [in Africa] who have no voice at all. They haven't asked me to represent them. It's cheeky but I hope they're glad I do.' `He doesn't represent us', says Andrew. `Neither does Geldof or Blair. My message to them is: "You are not our messiah. We don't need you."'

Andrew is most concerned about the message today's debt-relief programmes send: that full-scale industrial development must be off the agenda. `Why should we accept this blueprint from the West, this blueprint of sustainable development? We do not want sustainable development. We do not want mud huts. We want concrete houses with slate roofing. We want cars. We want everything you in the West have, and even more than that.' Andrew grew up in Yiwabra, a village in the Aowin Suaman district in the Western Region of Ghana. His parents were peasant cocoa farmers who used axes, hoes and machetes to farm the land. `You should see what it did to them', he says. `They became old, injured, tired, because they were living "sustainable" lives. What they really needed was a combine harvester. We are sick of being told we must live simply because it is our cultural heritage. If Bob Geldof wants to come and live in a mud hut and do my mother's farming, he is welcome.'

Andrew performed well at various local schools and later went to study in Accra - a city he describes as `full of high expectation, full of the colours of life, but also full of drudgery and stress', and where he now argues with people, `at every opportunity I get', for less debt relief and more development. For him, the most poisonous part of recent debt-relief and `poverty reduction' campaigning is the idea that a certain level of poverty is acceptable. `They talk about raising people's incomes from one dollar a day to two dollars a day. Who wants two dollars a day? Do you? We should not graduate poverty like this. Poverty is not acceptable in any form, anywhere. So please, leave us to develop our way out of poverty.'


"Incorrect" fez in Australia

Racism complaints have forced Transperth to withdraw taxpayer-funded ads showing a gorilla wearing a fez. The Public Transport Authority confirmed that the campaign, which cost about $7000 and depicted an ape wearing what is sometimes considered an Islamic cap, was stopped after three complaints.

"The gorilla first appeared on July 22. We did not receive any feedback from the public until this week, when three complaints were lodged," PTA spokesman David Hynes said. "The complaints said the depiction was culturally insensitive and offensive. We responded to the complaints by removing the posters immediately. "There was a 2m by 4m poster and two smaller bulkhead posters at the Esplanade Busport and three 1.3m by 1.3m posters at our InfoCentres. "We printed 5000 pamphlets . . . they have also been withdrawn." He said Transperth did not intend to offend with the ads.

The WA Ethnic Communities Council said an apology would have been more appropriate. And passers-by said removing the ads was political correctness gone mad. "They are not offensive and I think there's too much of this type of carry-on about what's culturally sensitive," said Donna, 52, a public servant. Perth florist Natasha, 30, said: "I don't think they are offensive to Muslim people because a fez doesn't have to be a Muslim hat."

ECC president Ramdas Sankaran said the fez-wearing gorilla was not the type of image that should be used in a multicultural society. "Given the current Islamaphobia around the place, it's rather unfortunate that thoughtless ads like this are floating around," he said. "(But) an explanation and an apology for the unintended consequences would have been more appropriate."

The fez, which originated in the Moroccan city of Fez and was popularised by the Ottomans in the 1800s, is often seen as Islamic, even though European soldiers have worn them. Mr Hynes said research had indicated that the fez's origins were non- religious. He said the ad graphic was part of a fantasy campaign that also had a giant squid attacking a ferry on the Swan River and a satellite that had fallen in front of a bus. "(They) are intended to highlight a key benefit of TravelEasy . . . getting up-to-the-minute online messages about unexpected changes in public transport," he said. "Putting a fez on the gorilla was intended to suggest it was an escaped circus animal. No offence was intended."


Above is a picture of some Canadian Shriners wearing fezzes -- as Shriners do. I wonder if the Shriners were offended? They are certainly not Muslims because of the fezzes. (Shriners are a colourful offshoot of the Masons devoted to hospital charities). The fez is in fact mostly associated with Egypt (hence the Shriner interest) rather than with Muslims generally. Putting a rag hat on a gorilla would have been a much clearer Muslim allusion. And the man below is no Muslim. He is the famous British comedian, Tommy Cooper, who almost always wore a fez during his shows. He would no doubt be very "incorrect" if he were still alive today

Monday, September 25, 2006

Campus buzzwords don't mean anything anymore

If you're in the habit of reading e-mails from Carol Christ [Smith College administrator], you may recall a certain one that she sent out last Thursday. Under the subject heading "Strategic Planning Round Table Discussions for Students," she listed a variety of topics which students were invited to discuss with administrators at scheduled times during the semester. These discussions will help complete "the strategic plan that will guide the college over the next decade," wrote Christ. But what exactly are they going to be about?

The titles of the round table meetings are, at best, vague. But what's worse is that they make perfect use of an aspect of liberal arts college life that we have come to despise: super-politically correct, overly-sensitive non-speak. In an attempt to neither provoke nor offend, we have adopted a specific vocabulary which has come to mean both everything and nothing.

Using words like "community," "diversity" and "conversation," members of our campus think they're being generally safe and explicit, when really they are failing to convey any information at all. Where once these words may have actually meant something, they have been overused and distorted so that the concepts that they originally signified no longer apply, and their current intent is thus achieved: perfect, inoffensive vagueness.

One round table discussion that Christ listed in her e-mail is "Strengthening Essential Student Capacities." What does that even mean? Maybe attendance at this meeting will illuminate its mysterious title. I would hope the same goes for the other round tables as well, which will be guided under the headings of "Deepening Students' Awareness and Appreciation of Other Cultures and Global Issues," "Promoting a Culture of Research, Inquiry, and Discovery" and "Encouraging Purposeful Engagement with Society's Challenges."

Sure, you can glean the general topic of these meetings from their titles, but take a good look at the words being used. What does "engagement" mean to you? Or what about "awareness," "cultures" and "capacities?" These are all words that get tossed around so often on campus that they fail to convey a specific meaning anymore. Why is it that we can no longer say what we mean? At these meetings, people will have "conversations" about "diversity" in their "community," but what will come of it? Have we become a campus of hollow talk and no action?

When we use this language, we are obscuring the point of what we are trying to convey. If we actually want to make progress with real issues that exist on this campus such as tensions about race and class, which we know are present but are too frightened to discuss, we're going to have to take our words out of the clouds and start saying what we mean. No amount of overly-sensitive language is going to solve our problems.



My family lived near Bristol when that city would have been living high on the hog from the profit of slave trafficking. Yet if we got our hands on any of that cash you have my solemn oath that none of it has trickled down the generations. So I was rather annoyed to learn last week that the government is planning to apologise on the nation's behalf for the slave trade.

A committee headed by John Prescott is considering something called "a statement of regret" to be issued solemnly on March 25 next year, the date that marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. This is not technically an apology, but is something that parents will recognise as the next best thing. It is the government looking at its feet and mumbling a few words because it knows that otherwise it will be spending the next half an hour on the naughty step.

I don't know who will be making this apology, but I would be very grateful if they would make it clear that they have no authority to speak on behalf of the White family, late of Westbury-on-Trym in Gloucestershire. Because, like many other families throughout the land, we do not appear to have actually done anything. Not only did we play no part in slavery, but when we had a moment off from ploughing fields and building dry stone walls and sucking up to the Saxe-Coburgs we might even have been swept along in our modest way by the moral outrage that gripped the country in the late 18th century.

Far from being apologetic about slavery this country has much to be proud of. The abolition campaign had government support from an early stage. It was William Pitt, the dominant figure in the politics of the day, who urged his friend William Wilberforce to push the measure through the House of Commons.

Of course, we know that any apology is not really about slavery. It is about a much more modern issue: the uneasy relationship between black people and white people that can partly be blamed on the legacy of slavery in the West Indies and America. But slavery is not entirely what would be referred to these days as a white-on-black crime.

Years ago I watched a documentary about a group of black Americans who were on holiday in Africa, touring the slave sites. Many were in tears, having just discovered what went on at this end of the operation. They had just learnt the awful truth that the main suppliers of African slaves were themselves African. It was common practice for many years for the victors in battle to enslave their opponents. Suddenly, these victors discovered that they could also make a bit of money.

Jolly good business it was, too. King Tegbesu, who ruled what is now Benin, apparently made 250,000 pounds a year from selling slaves in 1750. According to my own rough calculations, this is the modern equivalent of 25 million pounds a year. And he is not the only African who grew fat on the profits of slave trading. The word "slave" is derived from the Slavs who were shipped from central Europe across the Mediterranean to Africa. From a book called The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas, I also learn that 30,000 Christian slaves were sent to Damascus when the Moors conquered Spain in the 8th century. According to the Domesday Book there were 25,000 slaves in England in the 11th century.

So let's all enjoy a good knees-up in March. Let's have street parties and debates on Start The Week and we might even sit quietly while Prescott makes a speech about Wilberforce and Hull. But let's not pretend that the British were wholly responsible for the plight of African slaves. Slavery was a long established and widespread evil: the difference is that the British were one of the first to recognise it as evil and to do something about it.



As Muslims rage across the globe killing people for publishing cartoons and threatening religious leaders for reading the words of an historical figure, some people paradoxically seem to imagine a greater threat looms over the world. Rabbi James Rudin is one of those people. He has even invented a word to describe them: "Christocrats".

Like so many who have made a living raising strawmen to knock down, Rudin cannot see the world in which we live, but the one he wants to exist . the one that might more easily keep him flush. Like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, men who still imagine we live in the era of Jim Crow, Rabbi Rudin, Director of the Interreligious Affairs Department of the ACJ (American Jewish Committee), imagines that we still live in an era of the Inquisition and that we are about to be overtaken by these "Christocrats". Sounds ominous. But, most strawmen do, don't they?

The last time Rabbi Rudin was making the rounds he was denouncing the Movie "Passion of the Christ" as a one made solely to disparage Jews. On CNN, Rudin denounced the movie saying, "I saw the film twice. I'm very disappointed. I'm very angry. I'm disappointed because Mel Gibson could have made a thoroughly Christian `Passion' play without beating up on Jews, vilifying my religion, my people, as he's done."

Now he is out hawking a book he entitled, "The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us". This screed is a rather insidious attempt to inflame Jews and secularists against Christians exactly in an era where we all face Islamofascism, the biggest threat to civilization since WWII, and in an era where we should be coming together to face this threat.

Yet, even as one reads Rabbi Rudin's book one finds little by way of substance and almost no real solutions other than to tell Christians to just shut up. Additionally, one cannot help but get the feeling that the good Rabbi is revealing his own hatreds for everything Christian. The whole tome feels like some personal vendetta.

In a recent interview, Rudin went out of his way to preface his words with the disclaimer that he didn't mean "all Evangelicals". On, Rudin said of the average Evangelical, "I've found that the overwhelming majority of Evangelical Christians are not committed to changing the basic relationship between church and state, and between government and religion."

He also warned that his boogymen were not very numerous, but were merely "a small, but very potent group, who are driven to say it's not just Christianity, but their form of Christianity that must be the legal, mandated, dominant form." Rudin even claims that the men he fears the most, Francis A. Schaeffer, and John Rushdoony (the Rushdoony who died in 2001), are "men who are pretty much unknown to the general American public".

This book, however, makes the fib to these disclaimers of a small, unnoticed cabal of Christian toughs because he ascribes all manner of outsized actions and successes to this "small, but very potent group" and inflates their power unduly. He sees Christian boogymen under his bed, in his closet, in his Courts and in Congress all controlled by people who most Americans have never heard of. Rudin imagines that these "Christocrats" want to change the Constitution to "define exactly the kind of Christianity that is legally the mandated version" and worries that "even other Christians would become second class" citizens as a result. Worse, Rudin feels that these "Christocrats" are just as vicious as any extremist Islamist might be.

Sadly, it seems Rudin views his enemy from afar and must not know very many of them. It would be interesting, for instance, to see Rudin address the fact that a great majority of his hated Evangelicals support Israel. But it is presumed he would explain that support away as a product of the "End Times" thinking that many anti-Christians so fear. In this theory, Christians only support Israel because a strong Israel will bring about the end of the world, a silly and ridiculous claim.

Rudin's rant against Christians seems rather reminiscent of the wacko conspiracies that too many deluded people blame on Jews, doesn't it? Can you say "Elders of Zion"? Apparently, Rudin does not see the irony in his own actions.

What Rudin rails against the most is the efforts by Christians to get politically involved - a trend that started in the late 70's and early 80's. Here Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" comes in for special conspiracy theorizing. Rudin bemoans the lost days when Christians just shut up and voted without worrying about what really went on in Washington.

"Christian conservatives' concern always was, get right with Jesus, get right with Christ, get right with God on a personal level. Yes, they voted. And they participated in elections. But they did not see political parties or political movements as a means of carrying out God's will. God alone would determine that, and voting was a citizen's duty. But the Christian conservatives didn't look to the Democratic or Republican Party to deliver theological gifts or theological concerns or provide theological answers."

So, now we see Rudin's real problem. Christians are fine if they stay uninvolved in politics. He feels they should forget about that stuff and leave it to smarter men like himself, presumably. He cries foul at the "parallel media system of television, radio, magazines, newspapers, which reflect their point of view" that Christians have created, warns against the political action groups Christians have organized, moans about the money raised and gesticulates madly over the influence that this terrible religion has over Washington. Curiously, he doesn't see any parallel with the many Jewish groups that do the very same things for his own religion, some of which he works for. And one wonders why Rabbi Rudin thinks it is that Christians were called to a greater involvement in politics in the 1980's, in the first place? It wasn't a sudden movement lead by crazed but charismatic leaders who simply misled the public into involvement, but a response to decades of an American political scene that had drifted further and further from the conservative and religious precepts that had been the mainstay of American political discourse for nearly two hundred years. It was a result of a large group of regular Americans that had had enough of the warping and tearing down of traditional Americanism. If this disgust with the extreme left in America had not existed no Jerry Falwell could have become the powerhouse he became for a short time. Falwell or no, American Christians have every right to try and stop the march to leftism that was invading their schools and their politics.

Amazingly, Rudin claims that Christians are un-American just as they became involved in the most American endeavor; political activity. He doesn't accept that Christians have the very same right to advocate for their ideas and political needs as any other group and are not doing anything differently than the very organizations that Rudin works for.

All in all, it seems more like Rudin is engaging in wishful thinking and propagating the kind of anti-Christian rhetoric he has become famous for and not truthfully reading America's Christian community. His book is a mere screed against Christians masquerading as cogent cultural and political analysis. Rudin's message is that he just wants Christians to shut up and go away and wants them to know that he feels they are not real Americans.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Brokeback Ford

There was a time when the Ford Motor Company was synonymous with family. You might remember Dad packing you and your brothers and sisters into a Ford headed for a day at the beach, the zoo, or the farm. Ford meant stability, security, and tradition.

But those days have apparently gone the way of the Edsel. Now, we have a Ford that is openly endorsing a radical homosexual agenda--an agenda which is clearly anti-family. For instance, Ford has been known to force employees to take part in so-called diversity training classes. In these classes, workers are required to accept the concept of an active homosexual lifestyle-a lifestyle which may be directly counter to their own religious and moral beliefs. It's curious that such classes should be labelled "diversity training," given the fact that they are certainly not presenting diverse ideologies. Rather, this seems to simply be another case of political correctness in high gear.

Family groups are not taking Ford's actions lightly. Rather, they are engaged in a boycott of Ford products. However, homosexual rights groups have countered by announcing their own buying marathon--a "buycott" of Ford-produced cars.

To their credit, homosexual activists have been quite vocal and active in their push for homosexual marriage. But the question remains: are ordinary American families...those families tired of having the homosexual agenda infiltrate schools, news, and entertainment...willing to take on the boycott challenge? Or would they rather remain apathetic, and watch their way of life suffer as a result?

It has been said that few companies have done more to advertise and celebrate the homosexual lifestyle than Ford. Yet, many average citizens may not know this. Interestingly enough, the Human Rights Campaign actually rewarded Ford for its efforts at promoting the homosexual lifestyle by giving it a rating of 100-percent. In addition to supporting the idea of homosexual marriage, Ford has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to homosexual organizations, according to the American Family Association, an organization that objects to making homosexual marriage legal.

In fact, Ford has gone so far as to play bridesmaid to a homosexual "commitment ceremony." This isn't a case of tolerance--this is an undisputed embrace of the homosexual way of life.

The fact is that the kindest thing society can do to assist those dealing with same-sex attraction is to support the traditional concept of marriage--the concept that the marriage bond is limited to one man, one woman. Any other definition of marriage is, in essence, a lie and runs counter to the workings of Creation.

We need to deal with individuals with same-sex attraction with compassion, understanding, and support. We do not need to change the definition of marriage in a misguided effort to make their struggles easier.

And we need to rev up our efforts to make Ford accountable to the families that helped turn the automaker into a legend of the manufacturing industry. Our children are depending upon our willingness to stand up for the sanctity of family life.



From BBC Today Programme, 21 September 2006 (8:20)

Is it the job of Britain's foremost scientific academy, The Royal Society, to hector private companies about how they spend their money? There has been criticism of the Royal Society for asking the oil company Exxon Mobile to stop giving money to groups it argues misrepresent the science of climate change.

Dr David Whitehouse is a scientist and an author. Bob Ward is from the Royal Society. He wrote the letter to Exxon Mobile. Both join me now.

Dr Whitehouse. Why do you object to the Royal Society, to Bob Ward writing to Exxon Mobile?

David Whitehouse: My problem is not with the science, my problem is not with human-induced global warming. My problem is with the nature of science and the scientific debate, about different views. Different views, contrary positions, are essential to the progress of science. They are what keep arguments strong, the defence of arguments is what keeps them robust and healthy. And if somebody comes out with bad science, somebody comes out with misrepresentation, you tackle bad science with good science. It does not matter, it is irrelevant, whether these people are right or wrong, whether it's god science or bad science. What troubles me is that the Royal Society is demanding another organisation to stop funding groups that have views different from the scientific consensus. Their views, the value of their views, will be determined by argument and not by doing a tussle around their funding, to get their money turned off because you disagree with what they're saying.

BBC: Bob Ward. Can you respond to that.

Bob Ward: I can. Let me first correct the impression that being given. I did not demand that Exxon stops funding these groups. I made an observation in a meeting I had in July that they were making statements that misrepresented the science and that they were funding groups that were similarly misrepresenting the science. They then offered themselves to stop funding these groups. But let me make a distinction here.

BBC: Can we just follow this through. You then wrote to them saying...

Bob Ward: What happened is, after I'd explained why the Royal Society felt that the statements Exxon Mobile had made in a report in February, when I explained to them that they were wrong in our opinion, they then send me a report in the summer, a new report, which repeated all of the statements which I complained about in the first place.

BBC: And the letter which the Guardian got hold of yesterday was you saying to them: 'I would be grateful if you could let me know when Exxon Mobile plans to carry out this pledge.' Which is why I used the word 'hectoring,' it's a form of hectoring.

Bob Ward: Well, I like the idea that the Royal Society should be accused of bullying the world's largest multinational oil company. All we're doing is saying to them: it is very clear what the scientific community says about climate change. Anybody can find out by going to the website of the IPCC ( . And they can see what the scientific community thinks about climate change. And then they can compare for themselves the stsatements that are being made by Exxon Mobile and by these lobby groups - who are not groups of scientists. These are lobby groups, they are not scientists. Exxon Mobile are not offering scientific evidence.

BBC: Let me bring in Dr Whitehouse. Isn't that what the Royal Society should be doing, ensuring that the right information is out there?

David Whitehouse: The Royal Society should be arguing about science, it shouldn't be delving in such politics. It is clear from this letter that the Royal Society did have concerns about the support that Exxon was giving to groups which they disagree with. They can have concerns about that but their argument should not be with the funding, or the background. It's a question of free speech. Scientists in America won the right to criticise the Bush Government when they did not agree with them about global warming. The contrary should apply here.

BBC: Bob Ward. Have you stepped over a line here?

Bob Ward: We haven't. Let me be clear. We're not trying to shut scientists up. What we're trying to do is say to the lobby groups and to the companies that they should present properly what the scientific community is saying. Now, let me just tell you. One of the organisations that is getting funding from Exxon Mobile is the so-called Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. This is a statement on their website: "There is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused by the rise in carbon dioxide." Now, can David Whitehouse tell me which peer-reviewed scientific papers that statement is based on?

David Whitehouse: My point is not an argument about the science. The science is irrelevant in this context. You can go to your own website and read scientists talk about the uncertainties of global warming. The question is not whether these people are right or wrong. It's a question about their right to speak. When scientists and scientific organisations like yourself want to serve the cause of public policy, they do so best by following the ethics of science and not public relations and spin.

BBC: Let me just come in here. Dr Whitehouse. Isn't it the case that on this argument people would say the price is too high. And you don't have a level playing field if you have millions being pumped into bad science.

David Whitehouse: First of all. Does is matter that it is bad science? The science, whether it is bad or god, comes out in scientific argument. My problem is with distorting the playing field. Science is about free speech, science is about the exchange of information and argument. It's not about trying to find out who get money paid to somebody else because you disagree with him. We tell young scientists, the most important thing, we tell them, is to question authority. Why should I believe this because you say so?

BBC: We have very little time left. I want a final thought from you, Bob Ward. Is the Royal Society going to continue that sort of approach to prevent funding of organisations that they don't like what they're saying?

Bob Ward: The Royal Society's motto is "Nullis in Verba" - which means "where is your evidence?" (sic) If organisations make statements that are clearly at odds with what the scientific community says the evidence shows, yes, then we will challenge it. Because it does not serve the public for them to be mislead about what the scientific evidence says.

Benny Peiser comments: "Well, I'm not a classicist. But to my knowledge the Royal Society's motto is generally translated as "on the words of no one," meaning: take no theory in trust ... which is in essence the ethics of scientific scrutiny and debate David Whitehouse has been arguing for". (David Whitehouse was until recently the online science editor for the BBC)


Late last year, at the invitation of Nato, and in the company of a small band of globetrotting pundits, I travelled to Afghanistan to witness first-hand the allied operation to reconstruct the benighted country. After a day of briefings in Kabul, our friendly Nato hosts flew us by military transport to Herat, on the western border with Iran. We were due to spend a day touring a Nato post in the city and then fly back that evening to the capital. But the Danish plane that had taken us developed propeller problems and was grounded. As we cooled our heels outside the airfield , we waited for word of the aircraft that was supposed to come for us: a German C-130.

It soon became clear that the replacement plane was not coming. The reason, it turned out, was that the Germans would not fly in the dark. German aircraft are not permitted by their national rules to undertake night flights. Now to those who survived the Blitz and Barbarossa, the news that today's Luftwaffe will not fly at night in potentially hostile environments might be regarded as a welcome historical development. But when you are trying to fight a war against a ruthless band of terrorists who operate 24/7, never pausing to consider the dangers of venturing out in the dark, limiting yourself to daytime operations is a little constraining.

The Germans are not alone. Many of the European nations with forces in Afghanistan are operating under similarly ludicrous restrictions. Though their soldiers and airmen are highly capable and indeed eager to take the fight to the Taleban, their governments are desperately fearful of the public reaction should their soldiers suffer significant casualties. They don't think that their voters will stomach it. And the tragedy is, they are probably right.

I was reminded of my unscheduled night in Herat, and what it said about Europe's dwindling commitment to its own survival, by a series of disheartening developments in the past week on the political and diplomatic front. Last week we had the tragicomic spectacle of European Nato countries lining up to decline politely the request to beef up their forces in Afghanistan, many of whom are now fighting in perilously under-resourced conditions against a resurgent enemy.

Then on Monday Jacques Chirac went to New York to upend the long, delicate diplomacy designed to deny Iran nuclear weapons. He said France no longer thought the UN should impose sanctions if Iran did not end its uranium enrichment programme. Various explanations were offered by commentators for this volte-face - from the thought that France might be fearful of the economic consequences of sanctions, to the possibility that M Chirac was trying to curry favour with sanctions-opposing Russia and China, to the suggestion that Paris worries that its new peacekeeping force in Lebanon might come under fire from Hezbollah if France acted tough with its Iranian sponsors.

Whatever the proximate cause of this latest French surrender, the basic reality is that Europeans have been extremely reluctant to press Iran with sanctions all along - the same noises are coming out of Berlin now - and are content instead to acquiesce in the nightmare of a nuclear-armed Tehran.

Then, of course, we have had the predictable European outrage following the latest apparent provocation of Islamic extremists by free speech in the West - Pope Benedict XVI's remarks last week on Islam.

I actually heard a senior member of the British Government chide the Pope this week for what he described as his unhelpful comments. This minister went on to say that the Pope should keep quiet about Islamic violence because of the Crusades. It was a jaw-dropping observation. If it was meant seriously its import is that, because of violence perpetrated in the name of Christ 900 years ago, today's Church, and presumably today's European governments (who, after all, were eager participants in the Crusades) should forever hold their peace on the subject of religious fanaticism. In this view the Church's repeated apologies for the sins committed in its name apparently are not enough. The Pope has no right, even in a lengthy disquisition on the complexities of faith and reason, to say anything about the religious role in Islamic terrorism.

It is apt that Pope Benedict should have received such European opprobrium for his remarks. His election last year looked like a final attempt by the Church to revive the European spirit in the face of accelerating secularisation and cultural morbidity.

But the scale of Europe's moral crisis is larger than ever. Opposing the war in Iraq was one thing, defensible in the light of events. But opting out of a serious fight against the Taleban, sabotaging efforts to get Iran off its path towards nuclear status, pre-emptively cringing to Muslim intolerance of free speech and criticism, all suggest something quite different. They imply a slow but insistent collapse of the European will, the steady attrition of the self-preservation instinct. Its effects can be seen not only in the political field, but in other ways - the startling decline of birth rates across the continent that represent a sort of self-inflicted genocide; the refusal to confront the harsh realities of a global economy.

It may well be that history will judge that Europe's decline came at the very moment of its apparent triumph. The traumas of the first half of the 20th century have combined with the economic successes of the second half to induce a collective loss of will. Great civilisations die not in the end because of external force majeure but because internally the will to thrive is sapped.

The symptoms of this moral collapse may be far away from the affluent and still largely peaceful cities and towns of the old continent - in the mountains of Afghanistan, the diplomatic reception halls of Tehran and the angry Pope-effigy-burning streets of the Middle East. But there should be no doubt that it is closer to home where the disease has taken hold.


Australian Federal treasurer: Pope's critics 'stifling free speech'

Peter Costello has said Muslim critics of a recent speech by Pope benedict XVI have "lacked proportion" in their angry response and have tried to stifle free speech. The Treasurer, in a speech to be delivered today to a Christian lobby conference in Canberra, will also dismiss Islamic extremists' efforts to create caliphates bound by religious law, saying instead that the creation of a secular Muslim state in Turkey is a model that should be adopted by the modern Islamic world.

Earlier this month, the Pope triggered condemnation when he discussed Islam's tendency to justify violence. The Pope had quoted criticisms of the prophet Mohammed by 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel II Paleologos.

Mr Costello says he "will not repeat the sentence because it would thoroughly detract from what I have to say". "But it was said 700 years ago," he says. "Read the speech and wonder at the reaction. In response, we are told, seven churches were set on fire on the West Bank and Gaza, and effigies of the Pope were hung and burned in Pakistan. "No doubt the fire bombers on the West Bank and the demonstrators in Pakistan would claim that their actions were incited by the 'insult' of the Pope's speech. "But one can't help thinking that there are some people who love to find an insult and have no concept of proportionality when they do so. "We are moved to think that there are other agendas here. And one of those agendas is to stifle free speech and legitimate open inquiry."

Mr Costello will tell delegates the Muslim world has an "outstanding example" of a secular state created last century in the nation of Turkey established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who commanded the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. "He should be held out as a model of leadership for the modern Islamic world," Mr Costello will say. Movements such as al Qaeda and its south-east Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiah are engaged in a violent struggle to create Muslim caliphates, often dominated by sharia law. "They have a vision of a caliphate stretching across the Middle East toppling what they see as corrupt nation states and enforcing a more 'pure' version of Islam," Mr Costello says. "In our own region, the ambitions of Jemaah Islamiah is to create a pan-Islamic state stretching down and encompassing the southern Philippines, Malaya and Indonesia."

But Mr Costello argues the separation of church and state is good for society and should be embraced by the Muslim world. "I believe that a secular national state can be adopted by Muslim societies and, what is more, that doing so will lead to greater economic technological progress," he says. Mr Costello says Jesus Christ rejected any opportunity to seize political power, while Mohammed, who was persecuted for his religious teaching, formed an army, defeated those who had forced him out, made peace and instituted a government. The Treasurer has previously sparked controversy by condemning "mushy multiculturalism" and warning Muslim migrants who want sharia law to leave Australia