Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Terms of Endearment Forbidden in Scotland

In much of Britain and quite often in Australia, it is customary for women to address others and be addressed by others as "love" or some other form of endearment, even if the parties are hardly known to one another. For instance, if I order a sandwich in a sandwich shop, the lady making the sandwich will often ask me "do you want pepper and salt with that, love?"

I guess it is in one sense old-fashioned and silly but I personally think it makes life pleasanter for everyone. Though some of the terms used in the North of England are a bit amusing: "duck", "hen" etc. In much of the American South "Hun" and "Sugar" are used similarly, of course.

There have been attempts to limit such speech in England (See my post of August 17) and the poison has now spread to Scotland. The Glasgow City Council has instructed its employees as follows:

"Don't assume it is acceptable to address women by endearments such as 'dear', 'pet' and 'love' when you would not address men in such a way," the guide instructs. "Don't refer to women as 'girls', for example, 'the girls in the office'."

It adds: "The term 'ladies' should only be used in situations where the parallel term 'gentlemen' is used."


And there is much more idiocy of the same kind. Why it "oppresses" women to call them "Love" defies my imagination. Maybe it is felt to oppress lesbians and that leads to the objections from feminists, many of whom seem to be of the lesbian persuasion.


I remember vividly the first time I offended an American. I was living in New York at the time and feeling a bit homesick, so I dragged the US citizen in question to an expat fish’n’chip shop in Greenwich Village. There, I ordered the homesick Northerner special: a chip butty, smothered in a thick curry sauce — just like the butties I used to inhale at the bus stop in Alnwick on a school night.

My friend thought this was all very cute and, like, totally British, until she realised exactly what I was eating. “You put the French fries . . . in a bread roll?” she asked, her throat tightening. “And then you pour Indian sauce all over it?”

Through molten, brownish-green mouthfuls, I mumbled something about the Queen. “That might be okay in Britain, but it’s definitely not okay here,” she choked. “You have to get rid of it. Now.” When I realised she wasn’t joking — she began to dry retch loudly — I threw the butty away, half eaten.

It’s been a hard few years for us butty lovers in America. Not only have we had to contend with the Americans’ general lack of respect for British food — they’ll happily eat a Spanish empanada, but will vomit on command at the thought of a Cornish pasty — but we’ve also had to deal with the low-carb fad that has essentially outlawed the very staples of the British diet. Fancy a pub lunch of lasagne and chips? Not a chance.

A move from New York to Los Angeles simply made it worse. I found myself eating soyburgers with alfalfa sprouts, and drinking low-calorie lager, which, to quote the great Eric Idle, is like making love in a canoe: f*****g close to water.

It is, therefore, with a happy (but not necessarily healthy) heart that I bring you news of a breakthrough. Yes, carbs are back. A nutritionist from New Zealand has found that feasting on potatoes, rice and white bread at bedtime does not necessarily make you put on weight. Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture has tweaked its food pyramid to allow 9oz of various grains per day (and 3.5oz of veggies, which can include white potatoes). What’s more, the return of the carb has been trumpeted on this season’s trend-setting television show, Ugly Betty. Bread consumption, which suffered a 7.5 per cent decline between 1997 and 2003, is already on the rise.

The press, naturally, has gone wild. Profiles have been written about John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who created the British lunch when he was too busy gambling to stop for a meal (he asked instead to be served roast beef between two hunks of bread). Other publications have invited Americans to dust off their bread-making machines and start baking their own carbs, using everything from leftover vegetables to overripe fruit for extra flavour.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the reaction of The Los Angeles Times, which put together a full-page feature telling gourmands where to find the most carbtastic British treats. It recommended no fewer than 36 British themed pubs across LA, including joints called Scotland Yard, the Beckham Grill (it has wing back chairs!) and Lucky Baldwin’s, which is patronised by the rocket scientists of Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena.

The best-known pubs of the bunch, however, are Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica, where the paparazzi go drinking, and the Cat & Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard, where the same Ladies and Gentlemen of the British press play darts and eat Yorkshire puddings. The LA Times declared the Fiddle’s Scotch egg to be “iconic” and “hilarious but delicious with beer”. It also raved about the English bangers and the meat-filled pies. What it should have said, of course, is that it all tastes better when you’re cross-eyed and dribbling.

I’m hoping this is the start of a wider trend. After carbs, what else can make a comeback? Cigarettes? Snuff? Tinned meatballs? But I fear that our culinary heritage will be forever changed by the embrace of the carb loving Americans. The Whale & Ale pub in Long Beach, for example, is already serving a bastardised version of steak pie, filled instead with oysters. Inevitably, we will soon have to call this kind of thing “British-American” food.

As for the chip butty, I remain confident that there is absolutely nothing about this delicious abomination that can be tweaked to make it acceptable to LA yuppies. Which is probably why I haven’t been able to buy one since leaving New York.


The veiled conceit of multiculturalism

A misinformed tolerance finally hits its limits in Britain

How tolerant must a free society be of those who are intolerant of the values it holds dear? This question is at the heart of a controversy that has flared up in Britain over the past fortnight concerning Muslim women who wear nikabs, burkas and other face coverings that allow little more than the eyes to be seen. Two weeks ago, former British foreign minister Jack Straw, writing in his local newspaper, criticised Muslim women who covered their faces, saying the practice maked "better, positive relations" between communities "more difficult". He added that the veil was a "visible statement of separation and of difference". And although his remarks were sensationalised, in pointing out that the multicultural emperor is wearing not too few clothes but too many Mr Straw largely won applause. Senior Labour politicians rushed to echo his concerns. Newspapers cheered the opening of debate and Tony Blair himself offered his support, calling the veil a "mark of separation". Not long afterwards, a Muslim teaching assistant in a British school was suspended for wearing a veil that allowed only her eyes to be seen, on the grounds that hiding her face hurt her communication with students. In this case as well, reaction to the school's decision has been largely positive. Many Britons are concerned that multicultural policies that have discouraged assimilation have divided their society and created what one commentator called a "voluntary apartheid". In the age of terrorism, this is a worrisome trend, especially considering that a recent survey of British Muslims suggested 100,000 of them felt the 7/7 attacks were justified and that one in five felt little or no loyalty to Britain.

The debate over the veil is not confined to Britain. It is an important one for any Western country with a sizeable community of Islamic immigrants, including Australia - though we have, happily, been far more successful at integrating Muslim newcomers than many other Western European nations and the veil is not the feature of public life here that it is there. But when women wear headcoverings that hide the face, they are committing a powerful act that has political as well as religious overtones and which sends a message that many people find threatening.

Many justifications have been offered for the veil. Speaking recently in Sydney, Munira Mirza, a young British Muslim woman, told The Australian that schoolgirls were wearing head coverings as a statement about Western oppression. On the other side of the spectrum, the veil can be worn as a mark of superiority that makes women who dress less modestly by the standards of the veil-wearer seem less moral, or as a way for men to control their wives and other women in their families. At its most dangerous, this thinking can be seen in the Sydney gang-rapes crisis, when Muslim youths felt their victims deserved their fates because of the way they dressed and behaved. It can even be used as a justification for terrorism. The philosophical basis for groups such as al-Qa'ida largely hinges on the idea that non-Muslims must convert or die to hasten the advent of an entire world under Islam, and veils are one way of indicating who is in the elect. Finally, some Muslim women claim that the veil is a liberating force, or that it is an inherent part of their cultural identity. But no matter the justification, the question remains whether a practice with its roots and justification in medieval Arabia has a place in a postmodern secular society such as Australia. Religious beliefs are by definition sacred, and as much as possible they should be a private matter. But when an individual or a community feels that their personal practices should trump widely held values while also setting themselves apart, the question arises as to whether those people would not be more comfortable in a place where such behaviour is the norm.

At its heart is the question of where tolerance should end and the old adage, "When in Rome, do as the Romans", should kick in. While tolerance is certainly a positive virtue that should be strived for, it cannot be a cultural suicide pact. A culture that is tolerant of those who are intolerant of its freedoms is ripe for destruction, and bit by bit will see all it values eroded. And radical Islam knows this. Just as an Australian wouldn't go to Saudi Arabia to wear a bikini on the beach and drink beer in the corner pub, those who see the proper role of women as subservient, anonymous and under cover should not expect a postmodern secular democracy such as Britain or Australia to accommodate these beliefs. Australians, who quite properly want their daughters, sisters, wives and mothers to be able to achieve anything, are right to feel uncomfortable about religiously mandated coverings and the limits they imply. We do not allow practices such as female genital mutilation simply because they are practiced by an immigrant "other". Disappointingly, those who have traditionally been a positive force for the liberation of women against oppression in other spheres have here largely been silent on the question of Islam's beliefs concerning half of humanity.

If it is true that the past is another country, then what confronts the West today is not so much a clash of civilisations as a clash of centuries. The jumbo jets that have enabled the mass immigration from Muslim countries to the West are, in effect, time machines that have brought millions of people from a pre-Enlightenment world - where men are the unquestioned bosses, stoning and forced amputation are punishments rather than crimes, and sectarian differences are worth dying over - to secular, liberal and postmodern democracies such as ours. Integration in such circumstances will be difficult but should not be shied away from, even if it means newcomers will have to adapt. Mainstream British politicians have done a great service by opening a debate on this subject. Government-supported ethnic essentialism ultimately leads to segregation - anathema to an immigrant nation such as ours whose success lies in the adoption of common values rather than the preservation of divisive behaviours. In the debate over values, far better that we appeal to our shared humanity rather than encourage behaviours that seek to demonstrate separateness and superiority


British conservatives argue for "urban sprawl"

Though they are not calling it that, of course

Fewer small flats and more bungalows and houses with gardens should be built to make it easier for elderly people to avoid going into care, the Conservatives said yesterday. David Cameron, the party leader, told an Age Concern conference that houses should be designed to be suitable for every stage of life. "We must think in a new way about housing design and urban planning. Housing in Britain never seems to be built with a whole lifetime in mind," he said.

New homes tend to be either small flats, which are not suitable when people have children, or tall houses, which aren't suitable when people become old and less mobile. Although only a quarter of people say they want to live in flats, more than half of all new properties are flats. "We're sqeezing more and more housing into smaller and smaller spaces. This means less room for elderly parents. We're disrupting the generational relationship. "We need to change the planning rules so that we get fewer small flats and more homes with gardens. Fewer homes designed for young single people, and more designed for life - universal design," Mr Cameron said.

The new homes, also called lifetime homes, would be designed to ensure that people never had the need to move. Rather than being tall and thin with winding staircases, which are bad for elderly people, they would be flatter and wider, and even bungalows. They would tend to be more spacious to cope with wheelchairs, with gardens for the family stage of life.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundationhas proposed 16 detailed requirements, many of which are already legal stipulations for public buildings, which must be fulfilled before a house can be categorised as a "lifetime home". These adaptations would ensure that old people could carry on living in the house.

Michael Gove, the Tories' housing spokesman, said: "Thought has to be given so that people aren't trapped in one or two rooms in multi-storey houses. It means more bungalow living, as opposed to less flexible vertical houses."

A spokeswoman for Age Concern said that as the number of elderly people grew, it would be increasingly important that their needs were incorporated into the designs. "The problem is that not enough homes are built to last a lifetime. Many people find living in their home more difficult as they grow older and often have to make the difficult decision to move on, for example to a retirement flat. The concept of a lifetime home addresses the changing needs of people as they age and is a very welcome one."

Far from costing money, the foundation suggests that it would save taxpayers 5.5 billion pounds over 60 years in reducing the need for adaptations to existing houses and moving people to care homes. However, it would mean houses occupying larger plots of land, compared with thinking that encourages high-density housing. Mr Gove insisted that the Conservatives would protect the green belt around cities, but that more greenfield land would be used. "The future lies in allowing communities to expand outwards not just upwards. We recognise that if we are to meet future housing need, you will have some currently undeveloped land which will have to be developed," he said.



What happens when erring doctors get little more than a slap on the wrist

Patients got a record 1 million pounds in payouts last year after docs operated on the WRONG body part. The NHS compensation went to 40 people.

Healthy ears, legs and hips were operated on - and in 35 cases wrong teeth were removed. One patient got 327,076 pounds - the biggest payout by the NHS Litigation Authority. Experts believe it is likely a good lung was removed.

In 2004 there were 27 claims for "wrong site surgery" - costing the NHS 447,000 pounds. But the figure has jumped 100 per cent in two years to 1,098,000. The authority was forced to disclose the payouts under the Freedom of Information Act.

A separate study found the wrong set of lungs were transplanted into a patient, another had a healthy testicle removed and a hysterectomy was carried out on the wrong woman. A Patients Association spokesman said: "Doctors must take care."


Muslim brutality in Britain: "Hundreds of young girls in Britain are suffering genital mutilation at the hands of women paid to come to Britain by their families. African immigrants are clubbing together to pay for practitioners to fly to Britain and circumcise their daughters in highly secretive rituals. Police believe that the trend has developed among parents who do not have passports or cannot afford to return to their home countries to have their daughters circumcised, a brutal practice that remains commonplace throughout Africa. The procedure is generally performed by elderly women, in unsterilised conditions with no anaesthetic. Children as young as five have parts or all of their clitoris or labia removed. Some have their vaginas sewn up or the flesh shrunk with corrosives... The procedure is highly dangerous and leaves many of its victims with health problems throughout their lives. Infections and cysts are commonplace, as are complications during childbirth, endangering both mother and baby. Women who have suffered genital mutilation are twice as likely to die in childbirth and three times as likely to give birth to a stillborn child. Despite the dangers, many African Muslim communities prize the ritual and ostracise women who are not circumcised. It is common in a band stretching from Senegal in West Africa to Somalia on the East coast and in many areas uncircumcised women cannot find a husband.

Britain closes the door slightly: "Tough curbs banning tens of thousands of unskilled workers from Bulgaria and Romania coming to Britain are to be unveiled by ministers this week. The move comes as new government figures show that four out of every five existing east European immigrants earn little more than the minimum wage and pay on average half the amount Britons pay in taxes. The report claims they may not be as much of a boon to the economy as some have suggested"

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