Tuesday, September 12, 2006


British flag "lewd and offensive"!

A gulf war hero was banned from joining the police because he has a Union Jack and the words "British Army" tattooed on his arm. Proud Sgt Ivan Ivanovic was told the two-inch design could be seen as RACIST.

Ivan was stunned - as he has served Britain for 22 years, seeing action in the first Gulf War and playing peacekeeping roles in Iraq and Kosovo. The dad of two wanted to become a police community support officer when he quits the Army. But Cumbria Constabulary refused to consider him due to the tattoos. Ivan, 40, who serves with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Catterick, North Yorks, said: "I can't see why anyone would think that the flag of the country might be seen as racist. "It's crazy. The tattoo is a few inches long and below my left shoulder - so no one would see it. "They asked about any distinguishing marks and would not send an application form because of the tattoo. It's ludicrous." Ivan fell foul of Home Office rules governing "lewd, offensive" tattoos.

But last night police BACKED DOWN and invited Ivan to reapply - after The Sun stepped in. Divorcee Ivan - half Yugoslav and half English - said: "It is fantastic news. I'm proud of my time in the forces." Police said: "We thank The Sun for bringing this to our attention."



In 1988 I attended a Christmas party thrown by a fellow graduate student - a slightly eccentric Hawaiian. He had bought us all gifts and allocated them by a lucky dip. This produced amusingly random results. I received a calendar devoted to the beauty of Hawaii, while a gay friend received one devoted to the beauty of Playboy centrefolds. As we left the party, I negotiated a trade with my friend . . . and was immediately set upon by the departmental feminist: I should be ashamed of myself! I was, but not, I suspected, for the reason the feminist would recommend. So I asked why. I learnt that images of the kind I was so keen on harm women because they create an ideal of beauty that few women can attain. By endorsing this ideal I was contributing to the unhappiness of the many women who do not conform to it. Society - including me - must change its values.

I was reminded of this lesson by a recent newspaper article about the similar suffering of men. Tracy Tylka, of Ohio State University, has discovered that, on a scale from "never" to "always", American undergraduates "often" or "usually" think of themselves as insufficiently muscular. And she offers the standard explanation and remedy. "Men see these idealised, muscular men and feel their own bodies do not measure up . . . Instead of pressuring men to be more muscular we need to accept men's bodies for what they are and instead focus on internal characteristics."

Perhaps it is because this analysis is now so familiar that its absurdity is not widely recognised. The dissatisfaction men feel about their bodies is not a consequence of society's twisted values, and it cannot be cured by reforming society. Those who think it can are making the fundamental mistake of Utopianism.

Consider another disappointment that I imagine many of you experience. Why don't you live in a vast mansion bordering on Hampstead Heath? Some will say it is the exorbitant price of such homes that explains this disappointing fact. They are mistaken. Suppose a law set the price of London mansions at zero. You still wouldn't live in one. Because reducing the price of something does not increase the quantity of it. (On the contrary, it reduces the supply.) If they were made free, there would still be only a handful of London mansions and millions of Brits wanting to live in one. Why suppose that you would be at the front of the queue for mansions?

The Utopian mistake lies in failing to take scarcity seriously. That most people do not live in mansions, or more generally do not have everything they would like, is not a consequence of "the system". It is a consequence of the real scarcity of resources. Since reality will always contain less than the sum of what everyone would like to have, disappointment is unavoidable. No reform of the system can eliminate scarcity or the dissatisfaction it causes. The only serious question is how scarce resources should be allocated.

Consider again the bodily dissatisfaction of American men. Why do they want bigger muscles? It is because muscles are one of the bases on which certain desirable scarce resources are allocated. A good physique will help you to find work as an actor or model, increase the quantity and quality of your sex partners and, ultimately, attract a more desirable spouse or win more favourable terms within the marriage (the more attractive partner tends to get the better deal).

Dr Tylka thinks we should "focus on internal qualities". But that would not solve the underlying problem of scarcity. It would not increase the number of attractive sex partners, desirable spouses or modelling jobs that are available to men. So it would not change the number who are disappointed. It would merely shift the basis of their disappointment and hence the focus of their feelings of inadequacy - perhaps from their physiques to their intelligence. Pretty soon Dr Tylka and her ilk would be complaining about the suffering caused by society's unhealthy obsession with brains.

Allocating lovers and spouses on the basis of "internal qualities" might, admittedly, provide one benefit for men. If these were internal qualities that you cannot change much in adulthood, such as intelligence, the cost of seduction would be reduced. There would be no point in going to the gym, spending money on clothes or making any other futile efforts to be more attractive. But that does not mean that beauty is, after all, a bad basis for allocating lovers. Because beautification has benefits that almost certainly outweigh its costs. Exercising and eating well are a pain, but they are also good for your health. Dr Tylka lists calorie counting among the calamitous effects of America's body obsession. In a nation of widespread obesity, that is a perverse complaint. More significant, however, are the benefits to heterosexual women and gay men. They enjoy a greater supply of potential lovers with the kinds of physiques that, however shameful it may be, most do in fact prefer.

And here we come to the other great mistake of Utopians. They take humanity no more seriously than scarcity. What are those who say we must stop caring about physical appearance seriously suggesting? How should I be stopped from finding beautiful women attractive? Fixing me would require appallingly coercive measures. As Cambodians can tell you, Utopianism is not just stupid, it is nasty.


No ban on smacking children in Australia

Two state premiers have dismissed calls for a national ban on smacking, insisting parents have the right to discipline their children responsibly. The Australian Childhood Foundation has called for a nationwide ban on smacking after it found 45 per cent of Australians believe it is reasonable to leave a mark on a child by smacking them. In a poll of 750 adults, the child welfare group found 70 per cent of people support smacking, while 10 per cent believe it is appropriate to hit a child with an implement. A report by the Australian Childhood Foundation recommends state governments change their laws allowing parents to physically punish their children.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said a smack on the bum never hurt anybody. "Everything in moderation," he told Macquarie Radio. "You don't use it as an excuse for violence and you don't hurt them. "A smack on the bum never hurt any kid, in my view."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he would not be changing the law because the current NSW laws provide the necessary balance between preventing child abuse and allowing parents to discipline their children. "Our laws provide that appropriate balance," Mr Iemma told reporters, "in the government having strong laws against abuse and harm, and sending a very strong message about protecting kids, and at the same time recognising the responsibility of parents and the role of parents." NSW laws ban the use of implements to discipline children and any form of physical contact to their head.

The Australian Family Association said a ban on smacking would be going too far. "We have some concerns about introducing laws which have the potential of turning parents into criminals," spokesman Damien Tudehope said. "To introduce laws which mean the government has a role to play in deciding who and who isn't a good parent, we think that's going too far."


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