Saturday, March 10, 2007

Candyfloss Soldiers Wanted in the British Army?

Abuse is part and parcel of army training and army discipline. It has long been considered a part of toughening the soldiers up. And I speak as a former Sergeant in the Australian Army Psychology Corps so I do know a little about the matter. Someone who can't take abuse is not likely to be able to take the more serious stuff that field service could dish up any day

"A prominent politician was sacked in a racism row overnight after he said being called a "black b*stard" was part and parcel of Army life for ethnic minority soldiers.

Patrick Mercer, the shadow homeland security minister for Britain's Conservative Party and a former Army colonel, also said he knew "a lot" of ethnic minority servicemen in the Army who used perceived discrimination as an excuse for poor performance.

Mr Mercer, MP for Newark, told The Times that suffering racial abuse - as well as abuse about facial features, hair colour and weight - was common in the Army and to be expected.



Independent schools are warned today that they will lose their charitable status unless they offer direct benefits to people on low incomes. The savings to the public purse of educating pupils who would otherwise be in state schools will not be sufficient to justify the tax breaks they receive under new rules published by the Charity Commission. Instead, the schools must keep a detailed account of how many free or subsidised places they offer to pupils from low-income backgrounds. They must also show that they provide a public benefit by sharing facilities with state schools.

The commission spelled out its new "public benefit test" in the report put out for consultation but said it would issue further guidance for educational charities later. The presumption that charities advancing education or religion or relieving poverty benefit the public will no longer hold and they will be required to meet the test or lose their status and assets.

According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), the umbrella organisation for 1,278 fee-charging schools, most registered as charities, the tax benefits amount to around 88 million pounds. It estimates that schools give back 2.20 pounds in bursaries and widening access for each 1 pound gained by charitable status and that they and their fee-paying parents save the country 1.98 billion a year through educating children who would otherwise be in the state sector.

But the commission said wider savings to the economy would not meet the new test. "It would not be sufficient if the only benefit available to people on low incomes is the wider benefit which the public in general receives where a service provided by a charity relieves public funds. Such benefits are primarily to taxpayers, and people on low incomes may pay little or no tax."

The charging of fees did not necessarily disqualify schools or other bodies, such as private hospitals or care homes, from arguing that they operated for the public good. "However an organisation which excluded people on low incomes from any benefits would not be set up and operate for the benefit of the public. Where access to the benefits is based on the ability to pay the fees charged, it must be clear that benefit can still be provided to the public generally, or to a sufficient section of the public, which must include people on low incomes." When people on low incomes were unable to benefit from a charity in an immediate or direct way, because they could not afford the fees charged for the services, there must be other reasonable ways available for them to benefit.

The report suggests that "direct or first-hand" benefits might be provided to people on low incomes through scholarships, bursaries or assisted places. It could also be done by the provision of wider access to charitable facilities or services "for example, a charitable independent school allowing a state-maintained school to use its educational facilities". Jonathan Shephard, the general secretary of the ISC, said he believed the commission had "got the law right" in its report. "We are at the beginning of a long process and the report is setting out general principles, which I think are correct. Most schools already meet the test and those which don't have a year or 18 months to ensure they do."


British professor 'hounded over immigration claim'

An Oxford University professor at the centre of a debate on academic freedom said last night that he was being hounded because he had dared to challenge the Establishment's views on immigration. David Coleman, a co-founder of the think-tank MigrationWatch, has faced calls to be sacked from his job as professor of demography after being targeted by students opposed to his questioning of the benefits of large-scale immigration.

The Oxford Student Association for Refugees, part of a group that receives substantial funding from the Government and the National Lottery, said that the academic is bringing the university into disrepute.

Professor Coleman said last night: "My feelings about the motives of those behind these misrepresentations and their desire to suppress opinions that they do not share are at best left to the imagination. "The breathtaking mendacity of their claim that this affair is not `personal', they are not actually seeking my removal, or that they really want a `debate" is beneath contempt." Writing in The Daily Telegraph today he said that he had become involved in MigrationWatch after being concerned with the increasing tendency of official spokesmen to analyse the advantages of the economic and demographic effects of migration which tended to ignore the drawbacks.

"It seemed to me to be leading to the creation of an establishment consensus in the `respectable' media and elsewhere intolerant of dissenting interpretations, regarding them almost axiomatically to be heretical or malevolent," he wrote. "Naturally there is disagreement within academic circles on the benefits and costs of migration, here and internationally. But those disagreements are (mostly) conducted in a decorous fashion on a rational basis."

He added: "Those who have some specific knowledge on matters of public interest should try to keep a balanced interpretation in public view. "That is not to say, of course, that various eminent economists and other experts do not endorse the economic and other merits of large scale immigration, or that my views are infallible. But they are based, I hope, on evidence and logic."

Professor Coleman said that he is puzzled at the students' objections to his fellowship of the Galton Institute, previously called the Eugenics Society. He says the group, whose membership has included three Nobel prizewinners, aims to promote and debate the ethical aspects of human hereditary and helped to "invent" demography in Britain.

Professor Coleman has been targeted because he acts as honorary adviser to MigrationWatch and sits on its council. The group, chaired by Sir Andrew Green, a retired diplomat, has been criticised by the Home Office for its forecasts of the level of migration into Britain and for questioning the economic benefits of migrants. The Oxford Student Association for Refugees is particularly critical of the claim by MigrationWatch in January that immigrants contribute the equivalent of a Mars bar a month to the UK.

However, fellow academics have condemned the campaign to oust the don. One, Dennis Hayes, president of the University and College Union, said: "The students should be arguing with Professor Coleman, not calling for his sacking." The Tories have asked for an inquiry into the funding of the Oxford group's parent body, Student Action for Refugees, which has had lottery cash.



Jeremy Paxman has been encouraging people to throw rubbish out of their car windows. He didn't mean to. He didn't want to. But he did. Yesterday morning the Newsnight presenter produced an article in The Guardian bemoaning the "uglification" of Britain. He rejected the assertion of the Keep Britain Tidy campaign that "litter levels in England have fallen to a five-year low". "How can they claim the country is so clean," asks Paxman "when the evidence of our eyes suggests quite the reverse?" The TV man conducted an informal survey on a quiet stretch of country road. He hadn't gone 500 yards before counting 100 pieces of rubbish. "Most - sandwich wrappers, McDonald's bags, crisp packets and endless plastic bottles - had been deliberately jettisoned."

How can I argue that this passionate and in many ways highly admirable attack on littering encourages people to litter? Let me tell you a story. Actually it's not my story. It was told to the Prime Minister's advisers by the social psychologist Professor Robert Cialdini when he went to 10 Downing Street recently to discuss environmental issues. One of the professor's students visited the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona with his fianc,e, a notably honest woman, someone who wouldn't borrow a paperclip without returning it. As they entered, the couple encountered a sign cautioning against stealing petrified wood. "Our heritage is being vandalised by the theft of 14 tons of wood every year." The fiancee's reaction was quite unexpected. "We'd better get ours now," she whispered.

Unwittingly the sign provided visitors with two pieces of information that made them more likely to steal wood. The first was that the forest was being depleted rapidly, wood was running out, you better get a move on. They may as well have put up a sign reading: "Hurry now, while stocks last." Nothing moves goods quite as rapidly as the idea that the product is scarce, as any retailer will tell you. The other information provided by the sign was that it was quite normal to steal wood. Lots of people steal wood, it's commonplace, go on, you'll not be different from the rest.

Information about social norms - how other people behave - is an extremely powerful influence on behaviour. It's the reason why bandwagons get going in by-elections. And the information need not be accurate to alter people's conduct. Less than 3 per cent of the park's visitors had ever stolen wood, contrary to the impression given by the sign.

So when the Paxman article appeared, he doubtless hoped that we would be shamed into tidier ways. But, sad to report, the attitude of many of his readers will be to open their windows and toss out some more rubbish. I've always been a tidy person, they'll think, but I read a piece in the paper by that clever bloke off of University Challenge that says that these days no one else is bothered much with tidiness. I don't see why I should go all the way to the bin, I'll just drop my Twix wrapper on the pavement like all the rest do. The Keep Britain Tidy campaign leads its website with this claim: "Half of us boast impeccable habits." This may be impossibly optimistic for your tastes, but it certainly demonstrates a solid grasp of the principles of social psychology.

Almost every day in the media there is a Paxman-type story - an attempt to persuade people to behave differently by telling us all how bad things are getting. Over the past fortnight, for example, there have been countless articles about the decline in marriage. And every one of them encourages a further decline. If you wanted to increase marriage rates you would be emphasising how usual it is to get married, how despite all you've heard it's still the norm. People like you get married and stay together, that's the message you want people to hear. If you make deserting your children seem like a normal thing to do, more will do it. Same with drink-driving, shoplifting, drug-taking, gang membership, whatever.

Last week I called myself a social responsibility militant, picking up a phrase of David Cameron's that describes his policy of altering behaviour through persuasion rather than the law. I argued that laws are often ineffective. There is a wealth of data showing that if you, say, make wearing a seat belt compulsory, drivers buckle up before speeding up and killing others. Persuade drivers to take safety seriously and you may get somewhere.

The petrified forest story and the example of Jeremy Paxman's article show why, despite all the data on the clumsiness of the law, politicians continue to prefer legislative initiatives. It's because legislating is so much easier.


British justice: "A pensioner [State-supported senior] who lives beside the seaside has been warned by his council that he faces a heavy fine for fly-tipping if he returns windblown sand in his garden back to the beach. Arthur Bulmer, 79, has long complained of sand drifting on to his property on the fore-shore at Lytham St Anne’s, in Lancashire, but this year’s gales have exacerbated the problem. When he asked Fylde Borough Council if it was permissible to return the sand where it came from, he was told it would constitute fly-tipping. He should treat it as litter and take it to the municipal refuse tip. The council told him that they happily clear sand deposited on the public highway but once it lands on private property it becomes the responsibility of the owners. The pensioner says that he has no alternative but to pay a specialist waste disposal firm to collect his unwanted sand and take it away."

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