Friday, December 01, 2006

Must not Abbreviate "Pakistani"

We read:

"A race row has broken out after a councillor defended the use of the word 'Paki'. Councillor Ian Robinson, who is a school governor, asked: "Is Paki such a wrong word?" during a public meeting..... "We have used this word for donkey's years but apparently you can't say it any more.....

And Salim Mullah, secretary of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said he understood the word to be wrong, and advised friends, especially white people, against it. He said: "The word is not a respectful term. I would use a different phrase, like a member of the Pakistani community'. "A lot of people feel uncomfortable when someone uses 'Paki'."

But Councillor Robinson was supported by Pendle Council's Labour leader, Councillor Mohammad Iqbal, who said he had been called "a lot worse" and that he saw the term as an abbreviation, not an insult.


There is a similar "sensitivity" in Australia. To abbreviate "Aborigine" as "Abo" is sometimes claimed to be racist, though the actual derogatory term for Aborigines is "boong" (pronounced as in "book").


Frances Kemp booked an aisle seat on a recent British Airways (BA) flight because she had a bad leg that required extra space. Her 76-year-old husband Michael occupied the middle seat. A nine-year-old girl took the window position. When a stewardess asked Frances to switch seats with her husband, she declined. The stewardess explained that the seating arrangement breached the airline's child-welfare regulations and moved the child. Michael is a retired journalist with no criminal record; he made no contact-physical or verbal-with the girl; no complaint or request to move was received; the child's mother was elsewhere on the plane. The girl's welfare was deemed to be in peril solely because Michael was male.

BA has openly joined the ranks of airlines such as Air New Zealand and Qantas that view all men as a danger to children. It is difficult to know how many other airliners share this policy as it is rarely announced and can be enforced invisibly when seats are booked. Indeed, BA itself has been quietly instituting the policy since at least 2001 when another `seat rearrangement' drew attention. In answering a complaint from the humiliated man, BA explained, "We introduced the policy ... in response to customers asking us to make sure their children are not seated next to men. We were responding to a fear of sexual assaults."

It is not clear why parental worries cannot be resolved by carefully booking seats in advance or notifying attendants of a need to be extra watchful. But one thing is clear: some airlines are going to treat your father, husband and son as sex offenders simply because they are male. And the airlines show no sign of relenting. For example, in 2005, Mark Worsley had to change seats when a Qantas steward informed him that only women could next to unaccompanied children. When he registered a complaint, a Qantas spokesperson replied that the airline intended "to err on the side of caution" by continuing to act as though all men were dangerous. More recently and in the UK, Boris Johnson-a Member of Parliament-was asked to move from his seat by a BA stewardess. She retreated when he explained that the adjacent children were his own progeny. Johnson memorialized the experience in an article entitled "Come off it, folks: how many paedophiles can there be?"

If an airline restricted the seating of blacks because the 2004 Bureau of Justice data states "blacks [are] disproportionately represented among homicide victims and offenders", there would be a backlash of rage. It would make no difference that the parent or loved one of a white passenger had requested the `safety' measure. But, over the course of decades, Western culture has so thoroughly identified maleness itself with violence and abuse that major airlines feel free to openly treat them as predators. In response to the Qantas incident, Worsley stated, "Men are being demonized in the media for a long time now. I think probably this is just society's reaction-they think, `We'd better start tightening up on everything.' It's getting to the stage when all men are viewed with distrust."

The airlines' policy is rooted neither in fact nor common sense. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states "In 2004, 57.8 percent of child abuse and neglect perpetrators were females and 42.2 percent were males. "It is difficult to know how these figures apply to the specific concern of airlines; for one thing, the figures indicate that abusers are overwhelmingly parents or `caregivers' and the airlines target men who are unknown to the children. But the data highlights the absurdity of believing one gender has a monopoly on violence against children. (The specific issue of sexual violence against children is more difficult to break down according to the gender of the perpetrator. Statistics are usually based on the state-by-state confirmed cases investigated by child welfare agencies. A BBC documentary claimed that women committed 25% of all sexual child abuse. But the statistics are too inconsistent, politicized and poorly gathered to be reliable.)

Moving from factual to common sense objections, it is difficult to believe that in-flight child molestation is a real problem. A plane is not a secluded spot in the woods; it is an extremely public place where attendants and others constantly patrol the aisles. Nevertheless, if a problem does exist, if there is more to the policy than parents concerned about things that haven't occurred, then it would make sense to ban unattended children or to seat them in a separate section. As it stands, the policy seems rooted in little more than a dangerous tendency to paint men per se as predators.

Why is the tendency dangerous and not merely insulting? Because men are becoming increasingly reluctant to help a child in need, to act as teachers and caregivers, or to offer protection. A heartbreaking example of the consequences of their understandable reluctance occurred in England in late 2002. 2-year-old Abigail Rae died by drowning in a village pond; a man who saw her in the street earlier on had wanted to help but he had been afraid of being labeled "a pervert."

The policy harms children in a more subtle manner; they may no longer trust men per se enough to ask for help when they need it. They may hesitate to approach a policeman or fireman who are, after all, still men. That is the message airlines are sending to children. And how is that message being heard by the boys who will grow into men? Seating men as though they were sexual predators is a vicious and discriminatory practice that has no basis in fact or logic. Indeed, if the illogic of the policy were consistently spun out, it would mean `women and children only' flights and the restricted seating of men at theaters or concerts.



That an extraordinarily successful institution was in need of fundamental reform was always absurd

Oxford's reform plans were thrown into chaos last night when academics unexpectedly threw out proposals to hand strategic control of the university to outsiders. In what amounts to a crushing blow for John Hood, the Vice-Chancellor, the academics voted by a massive majority against his amended Governance White Paper.

The vote calls into question the future of Dr Hood, the first outsider Vice-Chancellor of the 900-year-old university, who had staked his name on pushing through the controversial reforms. Not since Congregation - the university's "parliament of dons" - voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed honorary degree for Margaret Thatcher in 1985 has the university been so divided.

The 17th-century Sheldonian Theatre was again the scene of rancorous debate last night, as 28 academics sought to persuade colleagues that plans to switch to a modern corporate style of governance would change the university for better or worse. In the end, the opponents, led by Nicholas Bamforth, a law lecturer and Fellow of Queen's College, won the day when 730 dons voted against the proposals and 456 voted in favour.

At times it sounded like a boardroom meeting, with references repeatedly made to the institution's 1.2 billion pounds value, and the vital role played by effective management structures. But the grand theatre was a far cry from any city conference room and the regal attire of the key participants bore little resemblance to the average business suit. Sitting on his gilded throne, flanked by purple-robed proctors and the silver staff-wielding bedels, Dr Hood sat passively, as fellow after fellow took up the attack.

Mr Bamforth called on Congregation to reject the proposals as they would not bring more sovereignty, but would "reduce the number of directly elected members on key decision-making bodies". He said: "There are plenty of things that are wrong with the university's present administrative processes. But these are best resolved by administrative reform, not by the wholesale ripping up of our present constitution," he said.

Dr Hood had recommended ending 900 years of self-rule by creating a board of directors with a majority of externally appointed members to approve the budget and oversee the running of the university. He had argued that his reforms would improve accountability and transparency and were crucial to Oxford retaining its international dominance. His opponents, however, feared that, ultimately, financial interests could outweigh Oxford's academic priorities, to the detriment of students, staff and the university. Facing an 8 million pound deficit this year, they believe the move could mean the end of one-to-one tutorials and pressurise them to take more wealthy overseas students.

Professor Iain McLean, Politics Fellow at Nuffield College, pointed out that Oxford had few supporters outside the university and as a regulated charity, it must have accountable trustees. However, after three hours of debate, Dr Hood and his reformers were defeated. Putting a brave face on the result, Dr Hood said it was part of "a lengthy and complex democratic process which has clearly reached an important stage". However, he hinted that the vote may be put again to all 3,700 members of Congregation in a postal vote next month, which would be decided by a majority and would be final. "That process permits a postal vote and a decision about that will have to be taken in the next few days," he said. "It is for council or 50 members of Congregation to take that decision, which is entirely in keeping with the university's democratic process." Privately, his supporters judged it unlikely that council would opt for a postal vote and risk another humiliation. Dr Hood had been backed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and by Lord Patten of Barnes, the Oxford Chancellor.



There are a few leaps in the reasoning below but it has given room for debate in an area not usually discussed scientifically

Your mother probably told you, as her mother told her: sit up straight. Whether at table, in class or at work we have always been told that sitting stiff-backed and upright is good for our bones, our posture, our digestion, our alertness and our general air of looking as if we are plugged into the world. Now research suggests that we would be far better off slouching and slumping. Today's advice is to let go and recline. Using a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a team of radiologists have found that sitting up straight puts unneccesary strain on the spine and could cause chronic back pain because of trapped nerves or slipped discs.

The ideal angle for office workers who sit for long periods is about 135 degrees. It might make working at a computer impractical but it will put less pressure on the spine than a hunched or upright position, the researchers say. The study at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen involved 22 healthy volunteers who had no history of back pain or surgery. They adjusted their posture while being scanned by a movable MRI machine, assuming three sitting positions: a slouch, with the body hunched forward over a desk or video game console; an upright 90-degree sitting position; and a relaxed position where the patient reclined at 135 degrees but kept their feet on the floor. By measuring the spinal angles and the arrangement and height of spinal discs and movement across the positions, the radiologists found that the relaxed posture best preserved the spine's natural shape.

Waseem Amir Bashir, from Edinburgh, lead author of the study, said: "When pressure is put on the spine it becomes squashed and misaligned. A 135-degree body-thigh sitting posture was demonstrated to be the best biomechanical sitting position, as opposed to a 90-degree posture, which most people consider normal. "Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated muscles and ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness." Dr Bashir, who now works at the University of Alberta Hospital in Canada, presented the research yesterday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago. The study was the first of its kind because MRI scanning has previously required patients to lie flat.

Back pain is the cause of one in six days off work and about 80 per cent of Britons are expected to suffer from it at some point. Office workers and school children may stave off future back problems by correcting their sitting posture and finding a chair that allows them to recline, Dr Bashir said. He added: "We were not created to sit down for long hours, but somehow modern life requires the vast majority of the global population to work in a seated position, The best position for our backs is arguably lying down, but this is hardly practical."

However, Gordon Waddell, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Glasgow Nuffield Hospital, said that the link between biomechanics as shown in MRI scans and preventing back pain was still very theoretical. It was "human nature" to develop back pain, he said. "Like a headache or a cold, it seems we all get back pain and most of the evidence suggests that sitting position does not make a difference



So far only in dogs but child obesity cannot be far behind

Obesity has become such an issue of political incorrectness that two brothers appeared in court yesterday charged with allowing a dog to get too fat. Rusty, a nine-year-old labrador, may only have been doing what labradors do, which is to eat everything in sight. But he ballooned to more than 11r stone (161lb, 73kg), the ideal weight for a large-boned 6ft (1.82m) woman, but not a retriever, which should be chasing sticks and newly shot game. Rusty had trouble standing up, and after no more than five paces he had to sit down again, breathless. He looked, magistrates at Ely, Cambridgeshire, were told yesterday, more like a seal than a dog.

In what is thought to be the first case of its kind, Rusty's owners, David Benton and his brother Derek, have been charged with animal cruelty for allowing him to become grossly overweight. According to the Kennel Club, the ideal weight for a dog of Rusty's age and breed is between 65lb and 80lb. When found by an RSPCA inspector, Rusty was more than twice the upper limit. Unlike most labradors, he was quite incapable of leaping into a van. The Benton brothers, of Fordham, Cambridgeshire, deny causing the dog unncessary suffering. They claim that they fed Rusty a normal diet of dried pet food with only the odd bone as a treat.

When Jason Finch of the RSPCA first saw Rusty in February, he found the dog virtually unable to move, the court was told. He issued a notice advising the owners to take the dog to a vet as soon as possible. When he returned in March, they had not done so. The owners declined to sign the dog over to the RSPCA, but agreed to let Mr Finch take Rusty to the charity's own vet. But the dog could not even walk to Mr Finch's van.

Stephen Climie, for the prosecution, said that Rusty had been found to be morbidly obese at 74.2kg, double the weight of a normal labrador; the brothers had been told repeatedly by vets over five years to put the dog on a diet, but had not done so. Rusty suffers from arthritis, a common complaint in labradors, but his condition had been made worse by his being grossly overweight, Mr Climie said. Alex Wylie, a vet from Bury St Edmunds who treated Rusty, said that the dog suffered from painful joints and breathing problems. "He did literally look like a walrus. There were times when he couldn't get up from his back legs at all. It was horrible to see."

When interviewed by the RSPCA, David Benton insisted that Rusty ate only one meal of dried food each evening and a snack in the morning. "He has been plump ever since he was a puppy. He is a poor old thing but he is not in pain. We have tried to give him many foods, but it does not make any difference," he said. Derek Benton told the charity that Rusty's weight gain was old age catching up with him.

The court was told that Rusty had not seen a vet for 17 months before the RSPCA took him away. The brothers claimed that they used to get him treated under a pet insurance plan, but could no longer get cover because of his age. Since living with an RSPCA dog carer, the court was told, Rusty had lost 3.5 stone [49lb].


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