Saturday, December 02, 2006

This SOUNDS Good in Principle

A surprising idea from one of the most reliable pulpits of the Left:

"The BBC triggered outrage yesterday by calling for the views of extremists and fundamentalists to be given the same weight as those of mainstream politicians.

The corporation's head of television news, Peter Horrocks, said groups such as the Taliban and the far-Right BNP need more airtime - at the expense of moderate opinion.

He said all views need to be treated with the same respect, describing his proposals as 'radical impartiality'.


Nasty old cynic that I am, however, I am betting that 99% of the "extreme" views they would broadcast would come from the Muslims and the Left.

Scotland Limits "Hate Crime"

Is a crime worse because it is directed against a minority member? "Yes" seems to be the universal claim of the Left. And that idea has been enshrined in law in various places -- notably in Canada. Scotland, however, is holding back a bit. Despite considering making it especially bad to commit crimes against certain privileged groups -- such as homosexuals -- they have decided that it is only crimes involving race and religion that will be especially penalized.

Why a crime against someone who happens to be regarded as part of a majority should be treated more lightly never seems to be answered. If someone bashes me, do I hurt less because I am white and heterosexual? Is crime against me less important? One is reminded of Shakespeare's powerful reply to antisemitism in "The Merchant of Venice":

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases. Heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?"

These days, one could substitute "white man" for "Jew" and "homosexual" for "Christian" in the above.

Details of the Scottish legislation here

Multiculturalism: there is no alternative (?)

A conference in London exposed the authoritarian bent to diversity policies.

In recent months there have been some high-profile debates about the excesses of multiculturalism (along the lines of ‘It’s multiculturalism gone mad!), yet the solution is usually to call for more diversity policies and recognition of ‘difference’. The Mosaic of Multiculturalism, a conference held last Friday at Goodenough College in London, exemplified this seemingly contradictory trend. The conference’s subheading, ‘Falling Pieces’, suggested a withering away of the multiculturalist vision. Every session, however, seemed to conclude with a resounding ‘There Is No Alternative’ to multiculturalism

Professor Paul Gilroy’s opening keynote speech was, to be frank, lazy and ill-informed. Much of his assessment, that Muslims are being systematically targeted by Bush and Blair, seemed to extrapolate a leftish framework from the 1970s to today. From this perspective, critics of multiculturalism are apparently peddling ‘authoritarian populism’ as a sop to the ‘tabloid readers’ who vote for the far-right British National Party. When I asked Gilroy what he thought of the authoritarian and conformist trajectory of multicultural policies, he claimed, rather bizarrely, that ‘official multiculturalism doesn’t exist’. From time to time, veteran academics lose sight of charting recent developments in society, and Gilroy seemed to be a case in hand. But I couldn’t help wondering whether he was in denial about the uncomfortable realities of the multicultural dream.

Prior to Gilroy’s speech, the director of Goodenough College, major-general Andrew Ritchie, introduced the day’s proceedings. In his clipped, officer-class voice, he told us about the importance of diversity with cheery anecdotes about Her Majesty the Queen’s liking for ‘diverse, multicultural colleges like this one’. Now, when you have high-ranking military officers and the Queen promoting diversity, it’s hard to see how anyone can say there is no official multiculturalism – or to equate multiculturalism with anti-imperialist radicalism, as some on the left do.

The panel discussion on Religion and Multiculturalism seemed to take its cue from the Gospel According to Jacques Derrida. ‘Multiculturalism is not an option because humans are intrinsically different’, said Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. What ever happened to the universalism that is central to Islamic teaching? Dr Bari also argued that wayward mosques and clerics were the fault of not having enough ‘outcomes and structures in Muslim organisations’. Clearly, this religious scholar has been spending too much time with Tony Blair. What next, a ‘best practice’ charter for prospective imams?

Still, Dr Bari made some sensible comments on how Western rather than Islamic sensibilities are influencing second- and third-generation Muslims. Simon Keyes, director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, confessed all of the church’s ‘sins’ as if he were running for a bus. ‘We’ve been bastions of patriarchy, we’ve been guilty of homophobia and even racism’, he spluttered breathlessly. Keyes’ faith, it seems, is in something other than the Christian church.

Religion dominated further discussions on ‘positive contacts between Muslims and Jews in Britain’, with Dr Richard Stone advocating a relentless round of national self-abasement and apologies for past crimes. Yet stoking up ancient grievances hardly seems the best route to producing inter-ethnic harmony. Far better was Dr Jennifer Jackson-Preece’s talk on ‘Multiculturalism and security after 9/11’. Her points on how ‘security has become the core value in life’, as well as downplaying the scale of the terrorist threat, provided a welcome bout of level-headed analysis.

Far too often, though, conference speakers and subsequent discussions merely explored different dimensions of multiculturalism, rather than questioning its very premise. After all, who could possibly be against the marvels of diversity other than ‘tabloid-reading’ trolls? This is why strident criticism of multiculturalism was met with bewildered silence rather than outraged heckles. In the discussion on perceptions of multiculturalism and minorities in the media, Dr Shakuntala Banaji agreed that the limitations of multiculturalism itself, rather than the editorial policy of TV producers, would be a better issue to explore, ‘except that’s for a different and longer discussion altogether’. Really? And there was me thinking that the aim of a conference like this should be precisely to dissect the pros and cons of multiculturalism.

Occasionally, though, critics did cut through the bemused, dismissive veneer. In the final ‘Citizenship and education’ discussion, Professor Tariq Ramadan talked about the need for a ‘plurality of memories’ in the teaching of history and creating a ‘sense of belonging’ for ethnic minorities through history becoming a branch of ‘citizenship studies’. Elsewhere, Dr Rob Berkeley from the Runnymede Trust said there was ‘no going back to a monoculture solution’, and that education must reflect Britain’s cultural diversity. Then, from the audience, writer and academic Munira Mirza attacked these notions that education should only be related to fixed identities. Rather than box students in with what they already know, she put the case for education enabling students to transcend narrow, particular experiences.

Any complacency on the part of panel speakers only reflected the pervasive ascendancy of multiculturalism. Far from a rigorous and open debate about multiculturalism, the boundaries of debate only allow discussion of issues within multiculturalism - with the predictable conclusion that more diversity is needed.

What’s particularly worrying is how undemocratic and unconnected much of the discussion and policy appears to be. Too often there’s a projection of what ‘diverse groups’ are supposedly interested in and how, therefore, they should be treated. Far from multiculturalism being a vibrant, cosmopolitan vision of society, it’s merely an instruction manual for micro-managing groups defined by tick-boxes, regardless of their wishes. Far from critics of multiculturalism pandering to ‘authoritarian populism’, this seems a fair description of multicultural practitioners themselves.



A-level examinations will be made tougher with a return to more stretching, open-ended questions and the introduction of a new A* grade for the most able pupils, the Government said yesterday. The move is part of a radical reform of the examinations system at 16-plus designed to help universities and employers to identify the brightest students. The sweeping changes also mean that more state schools will offer the highly academic [and politically correct] International Baccalaureate (IB) and new specialised vocational diplomas.

Tony Blair said that the measures were designed to provide more choice to ensure that students could choose the courses that best met their individual abilities and needs. The Prime Minister said that, at the same time, he wanted to double the number of academies [charter schools] from 200 to 400 so that, there would be more variety in the types of school available. Mr Blair used a speech to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust annual conference in Birmingham to highlight Labour’s reforms in education in the past ten years.

The reforms to A levels, to be introduced in 2008 for exams in 2010, have been prompted by widespread concerns that the exam has been devalued. A generation ago, one in ten entrants received an A-grade. Today, that is one in four. Many universities have introduced their own tests for popular subjects to identify the best applicants. Now questions will require greater thought and more detailed written answers.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said that the changes would give pupils “the opportunity to shine and show their skills”. The new A* grade for students gaining the top marks is designed to introduce an element of discrimination between students who scrape through with an A at 80 per cent and those who sail through with 99 per cent. Students will also be required to produce a dissertation of about 4,000 words requiring independent research and the number of A-level modules will be reduced from six to four.

The Government has decided to increase the number of state schools offering the IB, a two-year curriculum in which students study six subjects and have to write a 4,000-word essay and complete community service. It is available in 46 state schools and 30 independent schools in England.

Mr Blair said he hoped that up to 100 additional institutions would offer it by 2010. About 26,000 pounds will be made available to each school applying to offer the IB to cover staff training, accreditation and other start-up costs. The reforms drew a mixed response. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the IB was not appropriate for students of all abilities. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that too many different types of exam were being taken in different schools, causing confusion.



The British Government is planning to spend 1 billion pounds replacing 78,000 ministerial and civil service vehicles under a programme to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions from its fleet by 15 per cent. The Government has recruited 15 manufacturers from Europe, Asia and North America to supply cheaper, greener cars over the next four years, The Times has learnt. The cost will be shared by 38 government departments and agencies which have agreed to "green'' their fleets in exchange for large discounts on cars available under the partnership.

The programme, which is limited to light commercial cars and vans and does not cover heavy diesel vehicles, aims to slash carbon emissions from the public sector fleet by 15 per cent by 2010-2011 under targets set by the Government this year. The programme is expected to save departments œ100 million, and comprises some of the efficiency savings to be outlined in next week's Pre-Budget Report. The initiative, spearheaded by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), comes as Britain faces pressure to fall into line with EU moves to limit greenhouse emissions, the debate over green taxes and national efforts to combat climate change.

After a tender process of unprecedented size and scale earlier this year, Vauxhall, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, Ford - including Volvo - and BMW won places in the programme. Ford, which already supplies Jaguar and Volvo cars as well as its "Blue Oval" models to Whitehall and the NHS, will now have access to a vast range of agencies and suppliers. Ford currently supplies Jaguars at close to half price to the Government Car and Dispatch Agency, which organises cars for Ministers.

The NHS, which keeps a fleet of 48,000 cars, and the Department for Work and Pensions, which has 2,500 vehicles, joined the programme to satisfy targets set by the Government. The NHS expects to spend 420 million replacing its fleet with the new range of cars, 19.7 million less than it would have cost the department to replace its fleet with the same vehicles again.

Departments wanting to join the programme must calculate the amount of pollution caused by their current fleet by entering engine size, carbon dioxide emission and "Euro 4'' engine rating into a model designed by the OGC. They can then access a database of cars available under the programme, and "shop" for their desired vehicles. They are expected to use the OGC model to monitor the desired fleet's carbon footprint. Annual reports outline the department's progress on environmental targets.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the Work and Pensions Minister, pledged to use the scheme to meet the Government's targets. "This will not only contribute to the Government's efficiency goals but will also help the public sector to hit its targets on vehicle emissions." The Department for Work and Pensions expects to save about 15 per cent with the discounts that are available under the scheme. Toyota, which currently supplies the popular Prius model being adopted by ministers, hopes that the programme will entice departments to its British-made Avensis model



We read:

"Traditionally-made wines from southwestern France and Sardinia boast the highest concentration of complex compounds, called polyphenols, that are linked to greater longevity, a study published on Thursday in the science journal Nature says. Previous studies have generally established that a glass or two of red wine every day helps combat heart and circulatory disease by dilating blood vessels. But the picture has been confused, because not all red wines have the same kinds of polyphenols or in the same concentrations.

In tests using endothelial cells -- the cells which line the arteries and where polyphenols are believed to have their positive affect -- British scientists identified the most active members of the polyphenol family, which are called procyanidins.

They then tested red wines from the Gers department, in the French Pyrenees, and from Nuoro province on the Italian island of Sardinia, where local men are famous for their longevity. Wines from these two regions had remarkably high levels of procyanidins -- often five to 10 times more than wines that were tested from Australia, South Africa and the United States. The secret to the Sardinian and Gers wines lies partly in the grape seeds and in time-honoured wine growing methods, the paper says. In Gers, a local variety of grape called Tannat, which is rarely grown elsewhere, also yields rich amounts of procyanidins.

"The traditional production methods used in Sardinia and southwestern France ensure that the beneficial compounds, procyanidins are efficiently extracted," said Robert Corder from Queen Mary's William Harvey Research Institute in London, co-author of the paper. "This may explain the strong association between consumption of traditional tannic wines with overall wellbeing, reflected in greater longevity."

Source. And the Journal abstract follows:

Oenology: Red wine procyanidins and vascular health

By R. Corder et al.

Regular, moderate consumption of red wine is linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and to lower overall mortality, but the relative contribution of wine's alcohol and polyphenol components to these effects is unclear. Here we identify procyanidins as the principal vasoactive polyphenols in red wine and show that they are present at higher concentrations in wines from areas of southwestern France and Sardinia, where traditional production methods ensure that these compounds are efficiently extracted during vinification. These regions also happen to be associated with increased longevity in the population.

Despite appearances, the study in fact offers NO data on the relationship between longevity and the wine chemicals. All that it found was that pro-cyanadins suppress production of endothelin-1, a protein that constricts blood vessels. That such chemicals are high in the wine of two mountainous regions noted for long life proves nothing. Why? Several reasons: 1) Mountainous regions all over the world are often found to go with longer lives and in many of them grape wine is not drunk at all. 2); A sample of 2 is ludicrously small and enables NO generalizations; 3). It is a basic axiom of statistics that correlation does not prove causation. You need before-and-after studies for that; 4). For all we know, suppressing production of endothelin-1 may have ill effects as well as good effects. The lifespan in wine-drinking countries is not greater than in many other countries (notably Japan) in which little wine is drunk. The "Mediterranean diet" may produce a different pattern of illness but it seems to have negligible effect on the overall lifespan, as I pointed out here on October 12th.; 5). Note the cynical comment following from the wine-writer for "The Times": "Since the early l990s there has been a stream of worthy medical reports confirming this or that wine-producing country and this or that grape variety as containing higher levels than their competitors of cardiovascular-protecting goodies. One minute research pinpoints New World producers like Chile as delivering healthier reds than any other country, the next the thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grape is the one that doctors love the most".


On Britain's present trajectory, they will eventually just have bureaucrats and no medical staff at all

Hundreds of thousands of elderly people will no longer get home care services because of a funding shortfall and the widening impact of NHS cuts, the social care watchdog says. The Commission for Social Care Inspection reports today that nearly two thirds of the 150 councils that provide social services changed their criteria last year to provide social care only for the most dependent people. In more than 100 councils, elderly and disabled people who used to get regular help with cleaning, bathing, dressing and shopping will no longer be entitled to care unless they fall into the top two categories of "critical" or "substantial" risk. Only the very frail, immobile or those at risk of abuse will be entitled to these services, forcing other vulnerable people to rely on families or friends or to go without help.

The commission says that the situation is already getting worse in at least three authorities - North Yorkshire, Northumberland and West Berkshire - which are restricting home care to critical or life-threatening situations. It predicts that this situation will apply in many more authorities next year.

The number of households receiving home care has fallen by 174,000 since 1992 to 354,000 last year, a drop of 30 per cent. The commission says this is mainly because councils are concentrating scarce resources on the very needy. "People entitled to social care are getting better care," a commission official said. "But that leaves thousands of others with no care at all." Mervyn Kohler, of Help the Aged, said that withdrawing preventive services from less critical groups could affect their quality of life crucially. People who no longer had help with cleaning, shopping or dressing would stop inviting people round, lose their self esteem and stay in bed all day. "Councils will end up paying the price for restricting the criteria with more people becoming dependent. This is a foolish, short-term economy."

Councils are being forced to change their eligibility criteria because government grants for social services have failed to keep up with growing numbers of very elderly people, local authorities say. Many also complain that they are bearing the brunt of NHS cutbacks. In some cases they are treating people who would have been cared for in hospital, while in others primary care trusts are refusing to pay for services provided by local authorities where they would have done so in the past.

The commission's annual performance rating of adult social services for 2006 shows that three quarters of the 150 councils gained either two or three stars. Although no council was zero-rated, 33 got only one star; 24 of these had been given one star for the past three years. Ten councils went up to the highest three-star category, but nine dropped in the rankings to two stars. In total 25 councils improved their services, while 16 fell back.

Ivan Lewis, the Care Services Minister, said that a number of councils need to "up their game" as he announced plans to intervene in 21 councils which had failed to improve their ratings since 2002. "Adults and their carers who use services in this area deserve better, therefore I am asking (the commission) to work with these councils to develop improvement action plans by March next year," he said. Social care leaders broadly welcomed the latest league tables. John Coughlan, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said: "We cannot ignore the fact that these improvements have been made in the teeth of one of the most severe financial squeezes social care has experienced for a long while."


No comments: