Friday, 25 July 2008

Blogging fatigue

Apologies for the lack of posting recently. I've been pretty busy in that strange place known as "the real world", and, to be honest, I simply haven't been able to motivate myself to write anything here. I'm going away for a couple of weeks at the end of the month, so will probably return to blogging when I get back in mid-August.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A latter-day Sophie's Choice

At ATW, Mike Cunningham proposes a truly thought-provoking ethical dilemma...

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Do they know it's Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month?

I'm delighted to report that a new blow has been struck for racial equality, with the introduction of Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month (just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?). As the name suggests, this is the latest bright idea from some parasitic do-gooder doughty warrior against injustice: a celebration of the enormous cultural contribution of gypsies! It follows in the footsteps of the equally worthwhile Black History Month, and LGBT History Month, and is already making its presence felt.

For example, the government has provided £70,000 to "the gypsy, Roma and traveller community" (for which read, a small number of self-appointed representatives of the said community), which has been used to fund a magazine, snappily entitled Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month Magazine (GRTHMM), 23,000 copies of which were distributed to schoolchildren across the UK last month. Like many such "anti-racist" politico-historical publications, it makes a number of rather questionable claims about the ethnicity of well-known figures, attempting to draw them into the ethnic group that is being "celebrated", whether the facts like it or not. However, while the website, 100 Great Black Britons, only claimed that a queen, Philippa of Hainault, was, contrary to all the evidence, of African descent, GRTHMM has gone further, and claimed that the King was a gypsy. Yes, apparently Elvis Presley was a gypsy, as were Charlie Chaplin and Rita Hayworth. Now, call me a bigot if you will, but, from the summary of the arguments used in justification of this assertion, it seems that its truth is questionable, to put it mildly:
Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month magazine also suggests that Elvis’s ancestors were Sinti – German gypsies who emigrated to America in the 18th century.

It goes on to claim that Elvis’s mother Gladys’s maiden name was Smith, a common Romany name.
Riiiiight. Elvis's mother was indeed called Smith, and that may well be a common gypsy name. But, well, it has been known to be held by people who weren't gypsies. All I'll say is, that if being called Smith is proof of gypsy origins, then there are a lot more gypsies in the UK than I'd previously thought.

Actually, it is a matter of supreme indifference to me whether Elvis was or was not a gypsy. And, since he's already been claimed as one of their own by the Scots, the Jews, and the Cherokee Indians, I see no reason why the gypsies shouldn't stake a claim as well. However, while people are entirely at liberty to believe whatever they like about anyone's ancestry, I do rather object to them being given large amounts of money to promote their pseudo-genealogy in the nation's schools.

But the education system is not the only part of the establishment which has embraced Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. The Metropolitan Police are getting into the spirit of the event (by which I mean, extreme political correctness matched with tokenistic gestures) too: a move which has caused disbelief amongst rank and file officers, Scotland Yard has asked staff to 'celebrate' the contribution of Roma gipsies to 'London's culture and diversity.'

In a notice posted on the force's intranet website, Denise Milani, director of the Met's 'Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate', urges officers to observe the first ever 'Gipsy Roma Traveller History Month.'

Ignoring the huge drain on resources caused by Romanian pickpockets who target commuters and tourists in the West End, Miss Milani - a protege of Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair - says Roma gipsies are welcome in the capital.

She says: 'We welcome the celebration of the community's history and contributions to London's culture and diversity.

'The Met Police works to make London a safer city for all and we are committed to understanding and working with all communities, including the Gipsy Roma Traveller community.'
I wouldn't mind betting that many officers have rather a lot of experience of working with the gypsy community...

'The Gipsy Roma Traveller History month celebrates their history, culture and contributions to the rich tapestry of Britain's diversity.'

The mother-of-two's comments were described as 'political correctness off the Richter scale' by one furious detective. He added: 'What planet is this lady living on? We have been run ragged by gangs of Romanian gipsies who are targeting innocent people in the West End.

'How is that enhancing the rich tapestry of cultural life in Britain?'
Quite aside from the fact that the job of the police is not to celebrate anyone's cultural heritage, but to prevent crime, I have to ask what officers are supposed to do in order to "'celebrate' the contribution of Roma gipsies to 'London's culture and diversity'"? Sell pegs and heather? Tell fortunes? Camp out on people's lawns? It sounds to me like Miss Milani's command is simply (thankfully) an empty gesture, albeit one that serves to illustrate the extent to which political correctness has corrupted the police force, just as the very existence of Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month serves to illustrate the extent to which political correctness has corrupted the public sector generally.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Immigration and the birth rate

Immigrant mothers are behind Britain’s biggest baby boom in 34 years, official figures revealed yesterday.

One in four babies delivered in this country last year were born to women from outside the UK.

Experts warned this was putting massive strain on hospitals and local services as the soaring figures show no sign of abating.

Government statistics reveal more than 160,000 babies were born last year to women from overseas.

This has pushed fertility levels in this country to the highest since 1973, with the average number of babies born to each woman up to 1.91 from 1.86 last year.
23% of all births were to immigrant mothers last year, up from 21% in 2006. In 1996, the year before Labour came to power, the figure was just 12%. As you can see, such births have, as a proportion of all births, nearly doubled in just twelve years - a literal embodiment of the present government's open door immigration policy.

As I have said many times before, it's clear that we are experiencing levels of immigration unprecedented in our history. The make-up of this country is being changed before our eyes. And yet even the bravest among our elected representatives can only bring themselves to discuss mass immigration itself, and its significant short-term impact, in the most tentative and apologetic terms, and there isn't one MP who wouldn't rather run ten miles in the pouring rain than even consider the long-term implications of this colossal demographic change. Speaking for myself, this total abdication of responsibility is one of the most enraging aspects of the whole immigration debacle.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The Red Racist under the Bed

This is one of those stories which really does leave one speechless:
Toddlers should be taught about racism and singled out for criticism if they have racist attitudes, a Government-funded advisory group said yesterday.

It told nursery teachers, playgroup leaders and childminders to record and report every racist incident involving children as young as three.

These could include saying 'Yuk' about unfamiliar food.

Even babies should not be ignored in the hunt for racism because they can 'recognise different people in their lives', a new guide for nurseries and child care centres said.

The instructions for staff in charge of pre-school children in day care have been produced by the National Children's Bureau, which receives £12million a year, mostly through taxpayer-funded organisations.


The new 366-page guide, Young Children and Racial Justice, warned that 'racist incidents among children in early years settings-tend to be around name-calling-casual thoughtless comments, and peer group relationships'.

It said such incidents could include children using words like 'blackie', 'Pakis', 'those people' or 'they smell'.

Children might also 'react negatively to a culinary tradition other than their own by saying "yuk".'

Nursery staff are told: 'No racist incident should be ignored. When there is a clear racist intent, it is necessary to be specific in condemning the action.'

If children 'reveal negative attitudes the lack of censure may indicate to the child that there is nothing unacceptable about such attitudes'.

Nurseries are encouraged to report as many racist incidents as possible to local councils.

'Some people think that if a large number of racist incidents are reported, this will reflect badly on the institution,' it said. 'In fact, the opposite is the case.'
The assertion that it reflects well on an institution to report large numbers of "racist incidents" implies that those institutions which report few or no such incidents are covering something up. The people who drafted this advice must actually believe that "racism" is almost endemic among the tiny tots.
The guidance said that anyone who disagrees is racist themselves.
Well, that attitude is pretty much par for the course with these "anti-racist" types. They're so tolerant and good, you see, that anyone who doesn't share their views must, by definition, be pure evil!

It also suggests cultivating the home languages of new immigrants - despite Government anxiety to promote the learning of English.

It said: 'English is now viewed as the major language of the world but this is not because it has any innate linguistic advantages - it is because English is the language of power in a world dominated by English-speaking peoples.'
Possibly. More pertinently, English is also the native and majority language of the UK, and you probably won't get very far in Britain without being able to speak at least passable English (John Prescott being an obvious exception to this rule). That is why it's considered important that children learn English: astonishingly enough, it's not all about perpetuating post-colonial power structures, or anything like that.
Critics of the race programme for pre- school children labelled it 'totalitarian'.

They would say that - they are, by definition, "racist".

Author and researcher on family life Patricia Morgan said: 'Stepping in to stop severe bullying is one thing, but this is interference in the lives of children. It smacks of totalitarianism.

'It is regulation of private speech and thought. They intend nursery staff to step into children's playground squabbles and then report them to the local council as race incidents. Who would ever have thought that the anti-racism crusade would go so far?'

Well, if you look at the past record of the "anti-racist" movement, and particularly its lengthy record of witch hunts against those who have displeased it (including schoolchildren), then this latest proposal appears, if not predictable, then at least in keeping with its noble traditions.

The very notion that babies or toddlers are capable of being "racist" in any meaningful sense is, I think, ridiculous. I find it very unlikely that children that young are actually able to develop ingrained negative generalisations about groups of people, and suspect that if nursery staff follow this advice too closely, then we may well see large numbers of children being labelled as dangerous racists, for utterly trivial instances of misbehaviour. Certainly, the notion that one can identify actual or prospective racists by their culinary habits is too deranged for words. Still, it does have one benefit: in common with pretty much anyone who dares to express any negative views regarding immigration, multiculturalism, or Islam, I have on occasion been accused of "racism". However, since I like curry, I can now prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that I am not guilty of the charge!

Monday, 7 July 2008

The state of British education

The headteachers of two of Britain's leading schools have recently made some interesting remarks about the impact of government policy upon the quality of education in the nation's schools. First, the headmistress of the North London Collegiate School, Bernice McCabe:
Education policy in England is leading to the "cultural and intellectual impoverishment" of a generation of schoolchildren, a leading headmistress has warned.

The introduction of new-style courses - teaching children how to use English and mathematics in the work place - has been at the expense of academic rigour, said Bernice McCabe, head of the independent North London Collegiate School.

She said children's enjoyment of subjects at school had taken a back seat in recent years as ministers use education as a vehicle to boost their basic skills.

Mrs McCabe, whose school gained the best A-level results in the country in last year's Daily Telegraph league table, condemned the "woolliness" of the present system in which subjects were "relegated to the bottom of the pile".

And, if some educationalists have their way, such "middle class creations" may be abolished altogether!

The comments were made at an annual summer school for teachers - staged by a charity founded by the Prince of Wales.

The Prince's Teaching Institute was established in 2002 to encourage staff to rediscover their passion for subjects, such as English, history, geography and science.

Mrs McCabe, the course director, said it was "not always easy" for teachers to focus on academic subjects because of political interference.

It comes just days after it emerged that schoolchildren will be able to study travel brochures, magazines and biographies under a new-style "functional" GCSE. The course - an alternative to traditional English literature and English language - is designed to develop students' "understanding of language use in the real world".

But Mrs McCabe said: "By far the most serious consequence of this emphasis on functionality in education policy is that it may lead to the cultural and intellectual impoverishment of a generation of school children.

"Certainly one of the regular conclusions of our previous summer schools has been that pupils are encouraged by being challenged, that it is possible for them to enjoy 'difficult' and that problem-solving can be popular. By having high expectations and ensuring that all pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds, are taught the aspects of our subjects that we most value rather than those that are immediately accessible, we can raise standards.

"I believe strongly that academic standards are also improved by offering more ambitious and challenging lessons, rather than those that are merely 'relevant' and accessible."

Second, the (soon to be former) headmaster of Bexley Grammar School, Rod MacKinnon:

A leading headmaster who is leaving one of the most popular schools in the state system to work in the private sector has accused the Government of turning teachers into "social workers and surrogate parents".

Rod MacKinnon, the head of Bexley Grammar School, south-east London, said schools were being forced to shun traditional lessons as ministers manipulated the education system for the purposes of "social engineering".

He said schools "cannot solve all of society's ills" and should be left to teach.

His comments came just days after ministers published new guidance requiring schools to monitor obesity rates, drug taking and teenage pregnancy as part of a new duty to promote pupil "wellbeing".

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Bexley Grammar is the most sought-after school in England. Last year, 1,927 parents named it as their first choice – for just 192 spare places. It means the school rejected nine pupils for every one it admitted.

Mr MacKinnon's full article is here. Both he and Mrs McCabe lead highly successful schools - when they discuss matters of education, it is fair to assume that they know whereof they speak. It would behove the government to listen well to what they say. But, of course, it won't.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

"We are now going to pray to Allah"

Two schoolboys were allegedly disciplined after refusing to kneel down and "pray to Allah" during a religious education lesson.

It was claimed that the boys, from a year seven class of 11 and 12-year-olds, were given detention after refusing to take part in a practical demonstration of how Allah is worshipped.

Yesterday parents accused the school of breaching their human rights by forcing them to take part in the exercise.

One, Sharon Luinen, said: "This isn't right, it's taking things too far. I understand that they have to learn about other religions. I can live with that but it is taking it a step too far to be punished because they wouldn't join in Muslim prayer.

"Making them pray to Allah, who isn't who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that they were told they were being disrespectful."

Another parent Karen Williams, 38, whose 12-year-old daughter is a classmate of the boys, said: "I am absolutely furious my daughter was made to take part in it and I don't find it acceptable.

"The teacher had gone into the class and made them watch a short film and then said 'we are now going out to pray to Allah'.

"Then two boys got detention and all the other children missed their refreshments' break."

She added: "Not only was it forced upon them, my daughter was told off for not doing it right.

"They'd never done it before and they were supposed to do it in another language."

She said the pupils were asked if they had water on them, and when one girl produced a bottle, the teacher began washing her feet with it.

Her husband Keith, 44, a painter and decorator, said: "The school is wonderful but this one teacher has made a major mistake. It seems to be happening throughout society. People think they can ride roughshod over our beliefs and the way we live."

The alleged incident, at the Alsager school, one of Cheshire's top performing schools, happened on Tuesday afternoon. The teacher, Alison Phillips, the school's subject leader in RE, is understood to be staying away from the school until the furore dies down, although she has not been suspended.

She is said to have got prayer mats out of the cupboard and also asked children to wear Islamic headdresses.

Deputy headmaster Keith Plant said: "I have spoken to the teacher and she has articulately given me her version of events."

Sources at the school said the incident could have been down to Miss Phillips instigating a role play and not properly briefing the pupils, all aged around 12, what she was doing.

A couple of points stand to be made here. The first is that compelling children to engage in or to simulate Islamic rituals, without asking the consent of their parents, and treating them as miscreants when they refuse to do so, is totally unacceptable. As many other bloggers have already pointed out, it is rather difficult to imagine that any teacher would dare to compel Muslim children to engage in acts of Christian worship against their will.

It's true that British state schools are obliged to hold acts of collective worship of a Christian character. But this simply reflects the fact that Christianity is, and has for 1,500 years been, the majority religion of our country, and is a fundamental building block of our native culture. More pertinently, parents have the right to withdraw their child from all such collective acts of worship, should they feel strongly enough about it. From the details of the incident at Alsager School, it would seem that Ms Phillips' actions went, at the least, against the spirit of respect for parental choice which is the basis for this exemption.

More generally, I am inclined to wonder why the children were being expected to perform or simulate Islamic acts of worship anyway. After all, in order to learn about Islam one does not actually need to engage in such acts. Presumably, this is simply another instance of the ridiculous "make learning fun" approach, under which children spend their time imagining what it might be like to be a Muslim, or "a Spanish sailor about to embark in the Spanish Armada", or, as occurred in my own schooldays, a fellow passenger of Rosa Parks', or an Egyptian slave labourer working on the pyramids. All very enjoyable no doubt, and easy on the teacher too (washing one's feet and distributing prayer mats is probably rather less challenging than explaining the finer points of Sharia law), but not something which leaves the pupil with any actual knowledge of the subject, and not something which really has a place in any class other than Drama.

Finally, I have to ask: if Ms Phillips really wanted to show the children how Muslims pray, should she not have taken herself and the girls in the class off to a separate room, to ensure that lewd thoughts did not distract the boys from their devotions? That is, after all, what would have happened in a real mosque. Or do RE teachers commonly write Islam's less palatable aspects out of the script?

Hat-tip: Homophobic Horse (in the comments)

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

A Counterblaste to Tobacco (but not to crime)

Violent assaults and serious antisocial behaviour are lower priorities for councils than stopping people smoking, town hall targets showed yesterday.

Despite a government poll showing community safety was voters' overwhelming priority, anti-crime initiatives will not be the main focus of authorities.

Details published yesterday by Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, set out the targets picked by each local authority — and agreed by her department — to be their future priorities. While performance will be measured across the whole range of 198 indicators, targets will be set only for the 35 chosen as top local concerns.

Jobless 16-18 year olds, reducing teenage pregnancy, providing housing, protecting the environment and cutting child obesity were the five selected by most councils. While reducing “serious acquisitive crime” such as thefts from cars was sixth, cutting the rate of “assault with injury” was 13th and domestic violence 20th.

Considered a higher priority than both by most councils were stopping smoking and boosting the numbers of local people “who feel they can influence decisions in their locality”.

The local targets are agreed with central government after consultation with bodies such as local police, health service and jobcentres.

Alongside the new targets, Ms Blears published a YouGov poll, commissioned by the Government, showing that 82 per cent of respondents considered “creating safer communities” among their top priorities.

The councils that do best at meeting their chosen targets will qualify for extra cash.
Presumably the number of people "who feel they can influence decisions in their locality" might best be increased by actually listening to the concerns of people, and placing the issues which they worry about at the top of the agenda, rather than by according those issues less importance than something which they don't really care about one way or the other.

But, of course, dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour might prove to be rather difficult. By contrast, in the present political climate, smokers are a remarkably soft target, and cutting levels of smoking (which, in my opinion, are not a matter for local government, anyway) is a remarkably easy challenge. Indeed, since the number of smokers is already in
steady decline, it may be quite possible for councils to do nothing and still hit their targets! Perhaps that explains the claim that preventing people from lighting up every now and then is more important than preventing people from mugging one another. Or perhaps this rather bizarre ordering of priorities simply testifies to the prevalence of nanny statist attitudes among our political masters, national and local. Either way, it's idiotic.

Hat-tip: Julia M

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Money well spent

British MEPs are joining a 200-strong European parliament jaunt to Paris this week, costing the taxpayer up to £200,000.

The three-day trip, organised by the European People’s party (EPP), a centre-right group, will include dinner at the Palais de Versailles and a champagne boat trip down the Seine.

EPP leaders say it is an opportunity for MEPs to leave their normal Brussels working environment and “discuss security issues”. They describe the break as “study days”.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but isn't "discussing security issues" the kind of thing they normally do - or should be doing - anyway? Not that they're going to be doing a whole lot of discussing, in any case, unless maybe it's discussing whether the white wine is better than the red:

Details of the entertainment are not available on the EPP website but a leaked agenda sent to MEPs and staff reveals a whirlwind of sightseeing and entertainment. The fun kicks off on Wednesday with a two-hour lunch hosted by France’s ruling party, the Popular Movement Union (UMP), at the 18th-century residence of the president of the national assembly, the Hôtel de Lassay.

MEPs will then debate European defence policy for 2½ hours before being whisked away, with a police escort, from their luxury hotel on the Right Bank to a drinks reception hosted at the Elysée Palace by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president.

On Thursday they will attend a three-hour debate on energy, followed by a three-hour cruise down the Seine on Le Paquebot (billed as an “immense floating palace”), the largest boat available at the exclusive Yachts de Paris tour company.

The MEPs, spouses and staff will have a cocktail lunch of 22 hot and cold culinary specialities created by Jean-Pierre Vigato, a top Paris chef. Champagne, French wines and liqueurs are also on the menu. Those invited were reminded that “you may wish to bring a sun hat”.

Dinner that evening is at the Palais de Versailles, once the principal royal residence.

Next day there will be a three-hour debate on food security, before another buffet lunch, complete with wine.

So, from the details given above, it seems that they will be spending a total of about eight and a half hours on various discussions and debates. A normal working day, in fact, but spread over three days, and interspersed with plenty of opportunities for the poor overworked (those expenses don't fiddle themselves, you know) politicos to luxuriate.

Aren't we taxpayers generous?