Tuesday, September 05, 2006


A rather Orwellian proposal to give ever more power to the constantly bungling child-welfare social workers

Tough new plans to target babies and young children in problem families were unveiled by Tony Blair yesterday. He said social workers should intervene much earlier to prevent children in "dysfunctional" families turning into problem teenagers. His initiative could mean that families who refuse to co-operate would lose state benefits or have their children taken into local authority care more swiftly.

The Prime Minister said it was possible to predict problem children "prebirth" in some cases. He suggested that single mothers might be forced to accept state help before their children were born under the plans to tackle a hard core of more than one million "socially excluded" people. In his first interview since returning from his summer break, he told the BBC: "If we are not prepared to predict and intervene far more early then there are children that are going to grow up in families that we know perfectly well are completely dysfunctional, and the kids a few years down the line are going to be a menace to society and actually a threat to themselves."

Mr Blair added: "You either steer clear and say that's not for government to get into, in which case you don't deal with the problem. Or, I think we need to deal with these particular issues and we actually do intervene and we intervene at a very early stage." Denying the plan smacked of a "Big Brother" state, he admitted many people might be uneasy with the idea of intervening in family life but said there was no point "pussy-footing".

Mr Blair was confident that the work would outlast his time in Number 10. "For us as a party and a government, this is something we are passionate about, that we have developed for a number of years and will continue long after I've gone," he said.

Social exclusion has emerged as Mr Blair's "big idea" for this autumn as he tries to show his administration has not run out of steam. He will make a big speech on the issue next week and Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Office minister, will unveil a new government strategy the following week.

The Tories accused Mr Blair of creating a nanny state, while others stressed that the same early intervention proposals had been unveiled four years ago by David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary. Oliver Letwin, the Tories' policy chief, said: "The answer is... to encourage social enterprise, the voluntary sector, community groups and to help people without trying to run their lives for them."


More on the breastmilk tyranny

Motherhood is an intensely personal experience, different for every woman, says TESS STIMSON. She hated breastfeeding and so do countless other mothers - even if the 'milk mafia' have made them too afraid to admit it

The lies about motherhood start at conception. Morning sickness is not confined to the morning, and it doesn't disappear after three months. 'Natural' childbirth is nothing of the sort; it's messy and excruciating, like trying to pull an orange out of your nostril. And breastfeeding is not wonderful and fulfilling, but painful, difficult, boring and humiliating. Nothing prepared me for the horrors of trying to suckle my first child. I'd read all the breastfeeding books; I knew that breast milk bestowed immunity on my child, and that it had been perfectly designed by nature to be easily absorbed by his immature digestive system. But it seemed no one had told my baby that. Twenty-four hours after giving birth to Henry 11 years ago, I still hadn't got him to latch onto my breast properly.

A brusque Irish nurse, called in to help, grabbed my engorged breast with her beefy hand and painfully squished it towards the baby's face like a fistful of hamburger meat. "Your baby is hungry!" she shouted. "These are not for playing with now, girl! They're for feeding your baby!" Sobbing, I tried again to put my swollen nipple to my son's rooting mouth. The nurse watched for a moment, then snorted with derision. "You fancy girls," she muttered, stalking from my private hospital room. "You know nothing about being a proper mother." Her words cut me to the quick. Clearly, if I were a proper mother breastfeeding my child would be satisfying and fulfilling, not painful and faintly repellent. I'd be producing gallons of nutritious milk, and my son would be suckling contentedly at my breast, not squirming, red-faced with frustration, because he was hungry. If I were a proper mother, I'd be happy and radiant like the (admittedly slightly bovine) women in all the breastfeeding leaflets the health visitor kept shoving at me, instead of feeling scared, angry, raw and above all trapped.

Imagine how I felt last week, then, to read that the Government now wants to encourage mothers to breast-feed as much as possible in the hope of saving the Health Service 1 million a year. New guidelines aim to raise the number of women breastfeeding their babies for the first six months by at least 50 per cent. Britain has one of the poorest records in Europe - with just 22 per cent of mothers still breastfeeding at six months. The idea is that because there is evidence that breastfeeding protects babies from infections, raising the proportion of mothers who do it to about a third would lead to big savings for the NHS because fewer babies would need hospital care.

So how is that supposed to make us feel when we - or our children - struggle to breast-feed? Total failures, bad mothers? Take your pick. I tried as hard as the next woman to make it work, but apart from anything else, I'd never realised how boring breastfeeding was. No one can give you a break so you can wash your hair or make a cup of tea. I was tethered to the sofa for hours at a time, unable to do anything but watch housewife TV. Some days I didn't have a chance to get dressed until mid-afternoon. Because I was used to being constantly busy - as a freelance writer I'd carried on working until my waters broke - my mind spun like a hamster wheel as I obsessed over all the things I could be, and should be, doing.

I adored my son, but there are only so many hours in the day you can gaze at a sleeping newborn and count his fingers and toes. And in the meantime, I still had to earn a living. But I couldn't even make a brief phone call without the baby wanting to feed from me. I felt suffocated by his neediness, as if the sea of Motherhood was closing over my head. My then-husband looked at me differently, too. I could see the confusion in his eyes, as he looked at the sullen milch-cow on the sofa, udders out, and wondered where on earth the independent journalist he'd married had gone.

I didn't blame him. How could he find me sexy? My breasts were four times their usual size, blue-veined and lumpy, and had to be hoist aloft by metres of unappetising grey elastic - I looked as if I had two barrage balloons strapped to my chest. At night, they leaked constantly; often they were so painfully engorged that a slight brush against him would have me leaping out of bed. Worst of all, I wasn't even any good at it. When my son was ten days old, he weighed nearly the same as he had at birth. The health visitor insisted I must be secretly dieting and accused me of deliberately sabotaging the quality of my son's milk for the sake of my figure. Despite my denials, she hauled me along to the health clinic, where my baby was humiliatingly weighed before I fed him, in full view of the disapproving ranks of Proper Mothers, and then again afterwards, to see exactly how much he was getting from me.

By this stage, my nipples were sore and cracked; the slightest touch was agony. Instead of bonding lovingly with my child, I couldn't help resenting this furious, squalling parasite who inflicted such pain, and then, of course, I felt hideously guilty for such unnatural, unmaternal thoughts. "You wouldn't be so sore if you latched him on properly," one mother chided, her baby feeding serenely at her breast. "The baby can tell if you're stressed," another sniffed. "It curdles the milk." "I don't think I'm producing enough," I ventured feebly. "He's always so hungry." "I hope you're not thinking of stopping!" the health visitor said, scandalised. "Breast is best, you know. You do want what's best for Baby, don't you?"

The three women glared accusingly at me, a Motherhood Mafia determined to root out heresy. Of course, I wanted what was best for my baby! Believe me, I wasn't going through all this pain and misery for my health. Through a fog of exhaustion, I somehow persevered for the next few weeks, terrified of failing as a mother at the first hurdle. It didn't get easier, as everyone said it would. I didn't find it nurturing: I hated it. I felt like a freak of nature, a cold, unnatural witch masquerading as a mother.

The trauma of breastfeeding spilled into every other aspect of my time with my child. I started to worry about everything, convinced I was doing it all wrong. At four in the morning, I'd be crouched over the baby's cradle, weeping silently, convinced that if I stopped watching him for a single moment he'd die, and it'd be all my fault. When the baby was six weeks old, my husband and I returned from London to Italy, where we were living because of his job. A few nights later, we went out for dinner at a local family-run trattoria.

As soon as I sat down, the matriarch of the family swept out of the kitchen and picked up the baby, promising to look after him until we'd finished our meal. Too weary to argue, I let her go. An hour later, she returned him - with food stains all down his baby-gro. "I gave him some pasta," she smiled. "He seemed to like it. He's a hungry baby." "But the books say not to give them solids until six months!" I cried, horrified. She shrugged. "What do books know?" she said. "They are just books. The bambino, he knows."

She knew what she was talking about. Six strapping sons in the kitchen testified to that. Desperate and at the end of my tether, I couldn't quite bring myself to feed my eight-week-old child spaghetti carbonara, but I decided to risk weaning him off breastmilk and introduced solid food. To my amazement, he thrived. My Italian paediatrician, so much more relaxed than his British counterpart, encouraged me to forget the 'rules' and just follow my child's lead. The baby was growing, putting on weight, he had bright eyes and chubby pink cheeks; what more evidence did I need that he was healthy and happy? Crucially, there was no pressure to conform to a rigid set of rules that had been pre-determined by a bunch of so-called experts as the 'right' way to bring up my child.

There was a time, not that long ago, when it was deemed healthy to swaddle a child so tightly that it couldn't move in the cradle, to ensure its limbs grew strong and straight. Fashions change, in childrearing as in anything else. My own mother fed me strictly at four-hourly intervals, and, at the health visitor's insistence, went against her instincts and ignored me if I cried in between. These days, the vogue is to feed the baby 'on demand'. Who's to say that one method is 'better' than another?

And in fact some experts now warn that the emphasis on breastfeeding has seen newborn babies being readmitted to hospital suffering from the ill-effects of dehydration as new mothers feel reluctant to switch to formula milk if breastfeeding is difficult.

I was weaned at ten days old and was eating a boiled egg for breakfast every morning by the time I was three months. Nowadays, the health police would have heart attacks (forgive the pun) at the thought of all that cholesterol. We've been told for years to sterilise thoroughly everything that comes near our babies' mouths - yet many health experts now believe that a 'peck of dirt' actually helps build up immunity to disease.

Breastfeeding may well be biologically ideal for a baby. It's certainly cheap, although it's definitely not easier than bottlefeeding, as any woman who has been forced to feed her baby in a public toilet to avoid causing 'offence' in public can testify.

But that isn't the point. What gives these pro-breastfeeding fascists - many of whom have never actually had a baby - the right to tell mothers what they should or shouldn't be doing? Motherhood is an intensely personal experience, different for every woman.

More here


Comment from Mark Steyn

Did you see that video of the two Fox journalists announcing they'd converted to Islam? The larger problem, it seems to me, is that much of the rest of the Western media have also converted to Islam, and there seems to be no way to get them to convert back to journalism.

Consider, for example, the bizarre behavior of Reuters, the once globally respected news agency now reduced to putting out laughably inept terrorist propaganda. A few days ago, it made a big hoo-ha about the Israelis intentionally firing a missile at its press vehicle and wounding its cameraman Fadel Shana. Shana was posed in an artful sprawl in a blood-spattered shirt. But it had ridden up and underneath his undershirt was spotlessly white, like a summer-stock Julius Caesar revealing the boxers under his toga. What's stunning is not that almost all Western media organizations reporting from the Middle East are reliant on local staff overwhelmingly sympathetic to one side in the conflict -- that's been known for some time -- but the amateurish level of fakery that head office is willing to go along with.

Down at the other end of the news business, meanwhile, one finds items like this snippet from the Sydney Morning Herald: "A 16-year-old girl was tailed by a car full of men before being dragged inside and assaulted in Sydney's west last night, police say . . . "The three men involved in the attack were described to police as having dark 'mullet-style' haircuts."

Three men with "mullet-style" hair, huh? Not much to go on there. Bit of a head scratcher. But, as it turned out, the indefatigable Sydney Morning Herald typist had faithfully copied out every salient detail of the police report except one. Here's the statement the coppers themselves issued: "Police are seeking three men described as being of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance, with dark 'mullet-style' hair cuts."

That additional detail narrows it down a bit, wouldn't you say? The only reason I know that is because the Aussie Internet maestro Tim Blair grew curious about the epidemic of incidents committed by men of no known appearance and decided to look into it. One can understand the agonies the politically correct multicultural journalist must go through, distressed at the thought that an infelicitous phrasing might perpetuate unfortunate stereotypes of young Muslim males. But, even so, it's quite a leap to omit the most pertinent fact and leave the impression the Sydney constabulary are combing the city for mullets. The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby wrote the other day about how American children's books are "sacrificing truth on the altar of political correctness." But there seems to be quite a lot of that in the grown-up comics, too. And, as I've said before, it's never a good idea to put reality up for grabs. There may come a time when you need it.

It's striking how, for all this alleged multiculti sensitivity, we're mostly entirely insensitive to other cultures: We find it all but impossible to imagine how differently they view the world. Go back to that video in which Fox's Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig announced their conversion to Islam. The moment the men were released, the Western media and their colleagues wrote off the scene as a stunt, a cunning ruse, of no more consequence than yelling "Behind you! He's got a gun!" and then kicking your distracted kidnapper in the teeth. Indeed, a few Web sites seemed to see the Islamic conversion routine as a useful get-out-of-jail-free card.

Don't bet on it. In my forthcoming book, I devote a few pages to a thriller I read as a boy -- an old potboiler by Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1895 Sir Arthur had taken his sick wife to Egypt for her health, and, not wishing to waste the local color, produced a slim novel called The Tragedy of the Korosko, about a party of Anglo-American-French tourists taken hostage by the Mahdists, the jihadi of the day. Much of the story finds the characters in the same predicament as Centanni and Wiig: The kidnappers are offering them a choice between Islam or death. Conan Doyle's Britons and Americans and Europeans were men and women of the modern world even then: "None of them, except perhaps Miss Adams and Mrs. Belmont, had any deep religious convictions. All of them were children of this world, and some of them disagreed with everything which that symbol upon the earth represented."

"That symbol" is the cross. Yet in the end, even as men with no religious convictions, they cannot bring themselves to submit to Islam, for they understand it to be not just a denial of Christ but in some sense a denial of themselves, too. So they stall and delay and bog down the imam in a lot of technical questions until eventually he wises up and they're condemned to death. One hundred ten years later, for the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled, go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.

But that's not how the al-Jazeera audience sees it. If you're a Muslim, the video is anything but meaningless. Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade. In his new book The Conservative Soul, attempting to reconcile his sexual temperament and his alleged political one, Time magazine's gay Tory Andrew Sullivan enthuses, "By letting go, we become. By giving up, we gain. And we learn how to live -- now, which is the only time that matters." That's almost a literal restatement of Faust's bargain with the devil:

"When to the moment I shall say
'Linger awhile! so fair thou art!'
Then mayst thou fetter me straightway
Then to the abyss will I depart!"

In other words, if Faust becomes so enthralled by "the moment" that he wants to live in it forever, the devil will have him for all eternity. In the Muslim world, they watch the Centanni/Wiig video and see men so in love with the present, the now, that they will do or say anything to live in the moment. And they draw their own conclusions -- that these men are easier to force into the car than that 16-year-old girl in Sydney was. It doesn't matter how "understandable" Centanni and Wiig's actions are to us, what the target audience understands is quite different: that there is nothing we're willing to die for. And, to the Islamist mind, a society with nothing to die for is already dead.

A small backdown on their support for terrorists by Australia's main public broadcaster

The ABC's style guide will scrap references to "freedom fighters" in its entry on terrorism after a Liberal senator questioned whether organisations such as al-Qa'ida and the Bali bombers could be considered freedom fighters. The revised guide, which is about to be distributed, will scrap from the entry on terrorists and extremists the phrase: "Remember, one person's 'terrorist' is usually someone else's 'freedom fighter'."

The ABC said yesterday the change was part of a routine update of its news and current affairs style guide. But proving that one person's "update" can be another's moral victory, NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells seized on the move as a "step in the right direction". Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked the ABC at a Senate estimates committee in May whether the guide's reference to "freedom fighter" would remain, "given that al-Qa'ida, the Bali bombers, 7/7 (the July 7 bombers in London) could hardly be considered as freedom fighters". "What freedom are they fighting for?" she asked.

ABC stories have previously referred to "freedom fighters" such as East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, South Africa's Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta. ABC head of news and current affairs John Cameron said yesterday the original reference was "a note of caution and education rather than instruction".


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