Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BBC resists calls to have atheists on Radio 4's Thought for the Day 'God Slot'

Atheists will not be invited to speak on the BBC's religious programme, Thought for the Day, despite repeated calls by secular groups.

The corporation's head of religion, Aaqil Ahmed, said he had reviewed Radio Four’s 'God slot’ in response to complaints that it was 'too religious'.  But he also concluded the sermon featured on the Today programme was intended to provide a religious perspective on the news and should not include people of no faith.

'We should always analyse whether we should continue with something and in the last year or two we've had had some very detailed thoughts about this and we've decided to continue as was," revealed Mr Ahmed in an interview with The Telegraph.

The decision is likely to upset campaigners, including the National Secular Society (NSS), which has for many years called on the BBC to change the Thought for the Day format.

The programme features a religious leader speaking each morning from Monday to Saturday.

The group argues that the slot contradicts the BBC's ethos of 'fairness, balance and a voice for everyone in the country.'

On its website, the NSS stated: 'Only on this programme are such controversial views allowed to pass unchallenged.

'We argue that this contradicts everything that the BBC is supposed to stand for: fairness, balance, a voice for everyone in the country and for a wide range of views to be made available to all.'

Mr Ahmed revealed his decision ahead of BBC Re:Think 2012, an inaugural two-day conference on religion and ethics in Britain, which will be hosted by the corporation in Salford this week.

At the conference, the BBC will unveil new figures showing that the number of people in Britain who affiliate with a religion has dropped from 68 per cent in 1983 to 53 per cent last year.

The survey also revealed a divide between the generations, with 77 per cent of people over 66 describing themselves as religious, compared to just 35 per cent among 18 to 25-year-olds.

This week's event will feature the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, in conversation with atheist Professor Richard Dawkins, as well as appearances from Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, Ruth Pitt, head of Factual Tiger Aspect, and Lina Prestwood, commissioning editor for Channel 4.

Speaking about the conference, Mr Ahmed, who became the corporation's first Muslim appointed as head of religious programming in 2009, said: 'BBC Re-Think 2012 is the place where those at the heart of faith, politics and philosophy can meet, and discuss the role of faith and ethics in modern society and the challenges facing us in the 21st Century.

'It's an exiting development and something that fills a gaping hole in the understanding of religion in the world today.'

On Wednesday, Mr Ahmed will take part in a debate with television executives called, 'Rethinking the God slot'.

He is expected to explain the BBC wants to appeal to a broad audience with its output of religious programmes - including atheists.

And while he will retain traditional programmes, such as Songs of Praise, he will also commission shows dealing with people of all different beliefs and faiths.

Dead Good Job, which begins this week, is a documentary showing the work of undertakers across different communities and people of no faith.


Arrogant "nudging"

Nudging is a new way of talking about an old idea: that people do not act in ways that are best for them, and should be helped along by their betters.  Understandably, this is a popular idea – most of us think that other people are very stupid, and people drawn to politics often think they have the right ideas for other people.

Many people like the idea of nudging because it isn’t as extreme as old-fashioned paternalism – they don’t want to force you not to eat so much, they just want to move chocolate oranges away from the checkout counter.

But seemingly-small nudges can have big implications about how we view the individual’s relationship with the world. Making organ donation the default means that your body by default belongs to the state or to society, not to yourself. Making military service something we have to opt out of would do the same thing.

Nudging food companies into cutting salt or sugar input is not benign at all. Companies who comply with government do so because if they don’t, a much less voluntary approach will come sooner or later. Government may nudge softly but it always carries a big stick.

Much of the argument for Nudging comes from a misunderstanding of why people are libertarians.

If you have built your models of the world around a wealth-maximising homo economicus, nudging is a godsend. The model of economics that is based on all-seeing wealth-maximisers is a very silly one.

If you thought that that was the best or indeed only argument for leaving people be, you would indeed be quite excited by Nudging after you had discovered how silly your views of human beings were. Here we can use the wisdom of government to correct the folly of man.

But the chief problem with government intervention in our lives – whether it is Nudging or direct paternalism – is not that it interferes with homo economicus, but that government is usually a lot worse than we are at knowing what is good for us.  This is true on two levels.

The first is that government can be very ignorant of the consequences of its actions, and what makes government different from private action is that it is a collective approach.

A government nudge to do something will necessarily affect everybody, so if it makes a mistake, the problem will be compounded across society.

There are countless examples of seemingly-good government nudges that have turned out to have very bad unintended consequences:

Bicycle helmet laws and ‘nudging’ public information initiatives that seemed like a no-brainer have resulted in more deaths, possibly because drivers act more recklessly and fewer cyclists take to the roads.

The food pyramid that was used to ‘nudge’ people into eating right advised people to eat between six and eleven servings of bread, pasta, cereal and rice a day, things we now think may make us fatter and less healthy.

After the Potters Bar train crash, trains were slowed down to a crawl in some areas to avoid more crashes. The unintended consequence was that more people took to the roads to get to work on time – and driving is significantly more fatal than train-riding. By trying to make trains safer the government almost certainly caused more people to be maimed in car accidents.

Bank regulation in the 1990s and 2000s that was intended to make banks act prudently drove them to take on much of what was then thought of as the safest debt – mortgages, government bonds, and triple-A rated securities.

The list goes on.

Government and the experts it listens to are no less at risk of making errors than ordinary people. When government makes certain ‘good things’ a matter of policy, one mistake can have society-wide consequences. Governments are blind to individual circumstances.

The second meaning of the idea that the government doesn’t know what’s good for us is that there is no objective standard of what is good for us.

Some of us choose to act in ways that other people regard as being very silly. Some of us like to smoke, because we judge the pleasure we take from smoking to outweigh the costs of doing so. Some of us may not care about the down-sides as much as others do – hence, some people smoke, and others do not.

Many fat people do not care that they’re fat, especially when it comes as a consequence of being able to enjoy their favourite foods whenever they want. Like beauty, what I find pleasurable may be repugnant to you. What’s fun is subjective.

It hardly needs to be said that ‘living longer’ is just one criterion of many that people value. When we try to nudge people into behaving in certain ways, we necessarily try to define other people’s idea of a good time.

So we are pushed into drinking less, eating better, cycling everywhere and giving up smoking altogether. Wholesome activities are promoted. Healthy sports are encouraged, promiscuous sex and watching pornography are discouraged.

Why? What is the objective standard by which these things are deemed good and bad? There isn’t one. Or, rather, the standard is the policy-makers' own preferences. Any nudge will end up being a promotion of policy-makers' preferences onto other people. In a word: paternalism.

Nobody other than ourselves can know exactly how much pleasure we take from doing something. This is, fundamentally, the problem with all paternalism, including nudging.

Nudging is just a new term for the old idea that our rulers know what’s good for us. The chief argument for libertarianism is not that people are wealth-maximising machines. It is that nobody knows better than I do what makes me happy


British council ordered to move park benches from underneath trees in health and safety ruling... just in case branches fall on peoples' heads

Just days after a health and safety report condemned 'cotton wool culture', over-zealous officers have ordered a council to remove park benches - in case a branch should fall on someone sitting there.

A council has been told to remove all park benches from under trees because of an 'absurd' health and safety regulation, an MP said today.

Tory Henry Smith said Crawley Borough Council has been told the benches pose a health and safety risk to anyone who sits on them.

The ruling came to light this summer after Pound Hill Residents Association asked for permission to build a circular bench under a tree in a refurbished community garden.

The association was told it would be in breach of health and safety guidelines.

Today, Mr Smith said he thought there must have been a mistake after an over-zealous official had misinterpreted the rules.

Speaking outside the Commons, he said: 'Essentially what happened was that a local residents association wanted a circular bench around a tree in some new public gardens that were being refurbished.

'But they were told they couldn’t have this circular bench around the tree because the council had been told they had to remove all park benches from underneath trees.

'In my view this is clearly absurd.  'There’s a risk to everything, whether it’s crossing the street or cooking in the kitchen.  'It just seems to me to be an extreme example of health and safety advice gone mad.

'It’s too early to apportion blame but my concern is that some official has misinterpreted the advice and it has resulted in this bizarre ruling.  'I suspect it is the misinterpretation of advice rather than specific advice coming from the Health and Safety Executive.'

Mr Smith raised the issue in the Commons during the business statement.

In a question to new Commons Leader Andrew Lansley, he said: 'Can I ask that consideration be given for a debate on over-zealous health and safety regulation?  'Currently, my local authority of Crawley Borough Council has been told that they have to remove all park benches from underneath trees.'

Mr Lansley replied: 'I hope you will not be surprised to know that we in Government over these last two and a half years have been actively working to ensure common sense is at the heart of how we apply health and safety regulations - that it is evidence-based and proportionate.'


The real meaning of Free-Range Kids

Today, Americans are supposed to believe that danger lurks behind every corner and if we take our eyes off our kids for even a second, tragedy can strike. Yes, children throughout the ages have disappeared or have been abducted, but the actual numbers of abduction are much smaller than what we are led to believe, and often helicopter parenting won’t prevent such a tragedy, anyway.

Why the difference in then and now? If anything, the environment is safer than it was then. If I have to point to one event, it would be the passage of the Mondale Act of 1974, which not only led to scores of false accusations of sex abuse of children, but it also created the various bureaucracies that are dedicated to the “safety” of children. When bureaucrats and social workers occupied the Child Protective Services agencies, they came with the “mission” to protect children from their parents and the children themselves.

One of the things we learn about bureaucracies is that over time, they become imperialistic. As the reach of bureaucratic empires expands, the bureaucrats become careerists and all of the self-preservation that comes with human nature comes to the fore. When combined with the (unfortunate) endurance of the Progressive belief that “experts” should have control over our lives, it is not hard to see where all this is going.

Unfortunately, most journalists have bought into this “the experts know best for us” mentality. In my old days of watching TV (we have not had television reception in our home since 2001), I remember that the Today Show would have Bill Clinton’s head of the Consumer Safety Products Commission director as a guest, and she would tell us what new toys were dangerous to children. The atmosphere was near-worshipful, and no one ever questioned the Great Wisdom of the Expert.

Furthermore, the very self-perpetuating and imperialistic nature of bureaucracies means that people employed in those entities must find reason after reason to justify the existence of their jobs. Creating and sustaining crises is the most effective way bureaucracies can grow and seize more power. The process is insidious, but at every turn, there always is someone in a very public situation (like a journalist) justifying this metastasizing bureaucratic growth.

Without the Mondale Act and the bureaucracies it spawned, does anyone think that the rash of faux child molestation cases like McMartin, Kerns County, Little Rascals, and more would have happened? Would it be as easy as it is now for people with personal agendas (child custody or revenge) to make false accusations in order to make someone else disappear into the prison system, a person who is innocent of the charges but does not command the personal resources to fight the accusations and the army of police, prosecutors, judges, and journalists that are arrayed against him or her?

Furthermore, like its sister act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Mondale Act has made it easier for authorities to demonize men. Lenore has written much about that awful situation and the real tragedy that the “all men are dangerous molesters, kidnappers, and rapists” mentality that the laws and bureaucracies have created.

So, what does this mean relative to the title of this post? Free-Range Kids literally strikes a blow against the new Evil Empire. (The old Evil Empire, the U.S.S.R., depended heavily upon snitches and an internal spy system complete with anonymous “tips” that someone was being subversive. During Stalin’s Terror, the best way to make a troublesome neighbor disappear or to gain revenge was to tell the authorities that so-and-so had denounced Stalin. The Gulag would not have been possible without this internal network. Today, we see that same kind of thing at work in our “child protection” system.)

What is FRK really saying? It is saying that people closest to the situation usually are the best people for making the hard choices. It really is OK to let your child have some adventure. Lenore didn’t drop off her son in Hong Kong and tell him to make it back to the USA on his own; no, she let him get on the subway in order to let him take what already was a familiar route home. He didn’t have to panhandle or play music to get subway fare. He just needed to do what he already knew what to do — except this time he did it on his own.

Lenore’s choice was a blow against bureaucracy. At the time, she didn’t see it as that, but that is what it was. It was a small step in reminding us that childhood is an adventure that the government should not disrupt just because somewhere real life might intervene in ways we don’t like.

Perhaps “helicopter government” has prevented a tragedy here and there, but that same “helicopter government” has created huge calamities that have cut a swath of destruction. The Little Rascals Trials were the most expensive trials in the history of the State of North Carolina, yet NONE of the charges were true. Innocent people went to prison, lives were ruined, and the wrong people were empowered. That whole sorry affair helped to build up a false atmosphere of hysteria that still affects the lives of those involved two decades later.

Nothing can create the Perfectly Safe Society for Children. Not CPS, not Free-Range Kids, not The Agitator, not helicopter parenting, nothing. Life has its risks and we make choices, sometimes the wrong ones, but often the right ones when left to our own decision-making authority.

I close with a wonderful memory of nearly 30 years ago. On a warm Sunday in early March, I sat down to watch the finals of the ACC basketball tournament, a game featuring North Carolina State (which would win the NCAA championships that year in dramatic fashion against heavily-favored Houston) and Ralph Sampson’s University of Virginia Cavaliers. From what I hear, it was a very exciting game, an ACC classic.

However, I never got to watch it because my oldest daughter, Leah, who was about 40 days short of six years old, just before the tip-off asked me to take her rock climbing on nearby Lookout Mountain (near Chattanooga, Tennessee). I got up and we drove to an area that is littered with huge boulders, some more than 40 feet high. Leah and I climbed for about two hours and we still talk about that magic time.

Yes, there were some risky places where a fall could have meant injury. No, we didn’t do “technical” climbs or perform the antics of the famous rock climbers. We just did a dad-and-daughter thing and what we did that afternoon was better than watching a thousand ACC championships.

No doubt, a CPS bureaucrat or social worker would have been all over me for “putting your little child in danger.” Yeah, we could have been hurt, no doubt about that. But we took precautions and we did something very important: we helped build our relationships with each other.

Today, Leah is 35, a wife, mother of two, and a very successful person in the work world. She is independent, personable, and a good decision maker. She makes twice what her father makes, and I am not badly-compensated by any means. I’d like to think that our “free-range” afternoon in which we quietly defied the child protection bureaucracy helped contribute to her present situation.

Ultimately, Free-Range Kids is a reminder that our children are not helpless, and that a little bit of adventure for kids (and parents) can be a good thing. My sense is that Lenore’s children are going to be independent, respectful, cooperative, and fun to be around. Why? Because they are learning some important lessons on their own.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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