Monday, June 04, 2007

Outlaw Promotion of Natural Marriage in Schools -- Urges UK Teachers and Profs Union

Britain's heavily left-leaning University and College Union (UCU) that represents teachers and professors at the post-secondary level, says the recently passed Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR's) do not go far enough. The union is calling for British law to be rewritten to prohibit teachers or schools from expressing any moral opposition to homosexuality or from promoting natural marriage in the classroom.

At their annual conference in Bournemouth, members voted unanimously on a motion demanding that laws be changed to prohibit teachers from voicing opposition to homosexuality or the "gay" lifestyle. Members argued that the passage of the Sexual Orientation Regulations meant that "faith schools" ought to be forced to entirely cease teaching religious doctrines on sexual morality.

Alan Whitaker, a gay activist and the UCU's representative of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members told the delegates, "The regulations actually say that there is nothing to stop teachers proclaiming the superiority of heterosexual marriage." "The regulations say it's unlawful to characterise same-sex relationships as inferior. But to my mind it's rather difficult to see how you can do the one without implying you are doing the other."

Whitaker is a campaigner against "organized religion" that he wrote is "inherently homophobic". As a member of UCU Left, the activist branch of the UCU that openly advocates for socialist and leftist causes, he penned an article in February arguing that Canterbury Christ Church University was a bastion of homophobia because the Anglican college refused to allow civil partnership ceremonies on campus.

Stephen Desmond, a professor in media at Thames Valley University told union members, "We must never allow freedom of religion to be hijacked and used as a pretext to discriminate against gay and lesbian teenagers in schools." Desmond, who serves as the Deputy Director/Director of Communications at the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCRJ), criticised the SOR's, saying, "If a faith school (or indeed any school) teaches that the Christian and Muslim faiths decree that same- sex sexual activity is a sin, then the school will not be acting unlawfully".

The union called for an end to "bigoted" attitudes among teachers, insisting that they be prohibited from promoting natural marriage as a positive social value. Homosexuality, they said, must be given equal status as natural sexuality.

Current rules on education say that children must be taught "the importance of marriage for family life." Under these government guidelines, that predate the passage of the SOR's, teachers are still allowed to express their personal opposition to homosexual lifestyles.

In March, reported that the passage of the SOR's could spell the end of Christian religious education in Britain. A report on implementation by the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that faith schools would be required to modify their religious instruction. The report said the law will not "prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful," but schools may not teach "a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true".

The UCU is Britain's largest trade union and professional association for academics, representing 120,000 lecturers, trainers, researchers and academic-related staff.


British academics express outrage at Israeli boycott

Academics and students today hit back at the decision by university lecturers to support calls for a boycott of Israeli institutions. Yesterday the University and College Union decided by 158 votes to 99 to circulate a motion to all its branches to discuss calls from Palestinian trade unions for a "comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions". The motion is going to branches for "their information and discussion".

But the decision taken at the inaugural UCU national conference in Bournemouth was condemned by the Russell group of research-led universities, the National Union of Students and organisations with an interest in Israel and academic free speech. In a hard-hitting statement, the Russell group "rejected outright" the boycott call. Its chairman, Prof Malcolm Grant, who is also president and provost of University College London, said: "It is a contradiction in terms and in direct conflict with the mission of a university. "It betrays a misunderstanding of the academic mission, which is founded squarely on freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech. "Any institution worthy of the title of university has the responsibility to protect these values, and it is particularly disturbing to find an academic union attacking academic freedom in this way." Prof Grant promised that its universities "will uphold academic freedom by standing firm against any boycott that threatens it".

Meanwhile, the executive director of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB), Ofir Frankel, accused the union of allowing itself "to act as a one-sided player in Middle Eastern politics". He said: "The IAB is amazed that the extremists that led their union to such an initiative decided not to discuss the option to pass this initiative to a vote of all 120,000 members, a decision that could have allowed the majority to rescue their union from this discriminatory action by reharnessing the values of academic freedom, discourse and debate, as their own general secretary suggested."

The chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jeremy Newmark, described the union's decision as "an assault on academic freedom" that "damages the credibility of British academia as a whole". He called for the union to organise a full membership ballot before introducing any boycott. The decision by the UCU was also condemned by the Academic Friends of Israel, which accused the union of having "failed to support the wishes of its membership".

Criticism of the UCU decision also came from student organisations. The president of the National Union of Students, Gemma Tumelty, said it did not support the principles behind an academic boycott of Israel because it "undermines the Israeli academics who support Palestinian rights". It also "hinders the building of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians". She added: "Retaining dialogue on all sides will be crucial in obtaining a lasting peace in the Middle East. International academics have a lot to offer higher education students in the UK and a boycott of this specific country is extremely worrying. "We will express our concerns to UCU and we are awaiting clarification from them on the exact nature of this policy and its potential impact on students and the academic community."

There were also reservations about the UCU decision from the World Union of Jewish Students. Its chairwoman, Tamar Shchory, a student at Ben Gurion University in south Israel, said: "In campuses abroad the climate of hostility towards the state of Israel and Jewish students is getting stronger. "It seems like the UCU has chosen a one-sided, not constructive, position in a very complex and sensitive matter instead of promoting the basic value of academic freedom and constructive initiatives."


Antagonism to a life-prolonging product

First they came for the pregnant women, and I did not speak out because I was not a pregnant woman . . . After Friday's dishonest attempt to tell pregnant women not to drink a drop comes news of more alcophobic idiocy. From next year, all drinks are to carry health warnings - "voluntarily", but if anybody refuses to do as they're told, the Government will make it the law.

Labels will spell out how many units of alcohol the drink contains, official guidelines about how much (ie, little) to drink, and "advice" such as "Drink responsibly" and "Know your limits". Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, says they are "about helping people to make the right choice". Which, of course, is always not to have another drink.

If Ms Flint seriously believes that those on a binge will study labels to "calculate at a glance whether they are staying within sensible drinking guildelines", she should get out more (preferably not in any pub I might use). But these seemingly pointless moves do matter, as signs of the creeping advance of what is called "the new politics of behaviour". As with all Newspeak, "public health" here means the opposite - policing our personal habits.

Many women have understandably objected to the Department of Health's revised advice which, unsupported by any medical evidence, treats them as hormone slaves who cannot be trusted to have a drink without falling down the slippery slope and drowning their unborn in booze. But pregnant tipplers are only the, er, thin edge of the wedge, singled out as a vulnerable and health-conscious group on whom to experiment.

The guidelines about how many alcohol units the rest of us can drink are similarly unscientific and arbitrary. The advice on those labels will be that men should drink no more than 3-4 units a day (one pint of strong lager or best bitter = 3), women no more than 2-3 units (a small glass of wine = 2). I often drink more than that and, according to the BBC, so do more than seven million others. The authorities want to teach all seven million a lesson. We are all pregnant now.

Ms Flint generously says: "There is no reason why you or I should not be able to enjoy alcohol safely and healthily" (Doesn't that sound like fun?). But no doubt they would like to expand the guidleines to cover many of the errant millions: "Avoid alcohol if pregnant; if aged 18-25; if standing in a crowded pub; if watching football, on holiday, or after midnight; if wearing short skirts or tattoos; if you've already had some."

Time, ladies and gents, to tell the alcocops where to stick their labels. "Drink responsibly"? For adults that should mean "as you choose, so long as you take responsibility". "Know your limits"? That is one piece of advice the public health zealots would do well to swallow themselves.



A Guardian investigation has found evidence of serious irregularities at the heart of the process the world is relying on to control global warming. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is supposed to offset greenhouse gases emitted in the developed world by selling carbon credits from elsewhere, has been contaminated by gross incompetence, rule-breaking and possible fraud by companies in the developing world, according to UN paperwork, an unpublished expert report and alarming feedback from projects on the ground.

One senior figure suggested there may be faults with up to 20% of the carbon credits - known as certified emissions reductions - already sold. Since these are used by European governments and corporations to justify increases in emissions, the effect is that in some cases malpractice at the CDM has added to the net amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere...


Truth about Kyoto: huge profits, little carbon saved

More on the Guardian's road to Damascus -- revealing below major flaws in the global system designed to reduce emissions

[...] The carbon market's leading analysts, Point Carbon, recently calculated that this scheme handed out 170m too many EUAs. In the early days, nobody realised quite how badly the commission had miscalculated, and so the price of the EUAs was quite high, at up to EUR30 a tonne. But individual companies, particularly energy companies, rapidly saw they had millions of tonnes of EUAs that they didn't need, and so they sold their surplus, making huge profits. A 2005 report by IPA Energy Consulting found that the six UK electricity generators stood to earn some 800m pounds in each of the three years of the scheme.

A separate report by Open Europe, in July 2006, found that UK oil companies were also poised to make a lot of free money: 10.2m for Esso; 17.9m for BP; and 20.7m for Shell. And behind this profiteering, the environmental reality was that these major producers of carbon emissions were under no pressure from the scheme to cut emissions. At the other end of this EU market, smaller organisations like UK hospitals and 18 universities, who had been given far fewer EUAs, were forced to go out and buy them - while the price was still high. So, for example, the University of Manchester spent 92,500 pounds on EUAs. Now that the truth about the glut has been revealed, the university would be doing well if it managed to get 1,000 pounds for the lot of them.


"Correct" parenting

Most parents, myself included, have become accustomed to living with a subtle sense of unease. It's there in the playground and at the schoolyard gate. It permeates the atmosphere of children's parties and sporting events, the doctor's office, the supermarket checkout. It is a sense of watching and being watched; most of all, it is a feeling of being judged that seeps into every area of our lives, undermining confidence and transforming parenthood from a straightforward part of life into an angst-ridden ordeal.

I know this because I serve on the advisory board of Park Slope Parents, the second-largest parents' group in the United States and certainly the most well-known. Day in and day out, I watch parents struggle together to overcome the effects of a parenting culture where one wrong move at the playground, one forgotten snack, risks incurring the wrath of fellow parents, non-parents and even the media. And that is why it was worth travelling thousands of miles to the UK to attend Monitoring Parents: Childrearing in the Age of `Intensive Parenting', an international gathering of social scientists at the University of Kent at Canterbury (1).

If parenting is a big issue in the US, it is possibly even more so in the United Kingdom where seemingly almost any aspect of parenting can be politicised and made the subject of public policy. The conference set out to inject some rigour and objectivity into the discussion. And though the halls of academia seem a long way from the playground, and parents weren't the intended audience, it would be hard to find anything more timely or relevant, or actually reassuring. The evidence is unequivocal: you aren't just imagining it - being a parent today is different than in the past.

Academics studying a wide range of topics, from family size and teenage motherhood to infant feeding and literacy, demonstrated how intensive parenting, with its assumptions about the vulnerability of children and imperative for a high degree of parental involvement, is the single most important factor shaping childrearing today. So much so that many delegates I spoke with had not set out to study parenting at all but had shifted their focus as their research made it impossible to ignore this issue.

What is intensive parenting? Ellie Lee, senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Kent and organiser of the conference, explained that parenthood has become `highly emotionally demanding, more and more child-centred, reliant on expert guidance and so increasingly medicalised. Parenthood has also become shaped by risk consciousness, in a context where parental actions are frequently deemed potentially risky for children.' Media historian Susan Douglas discussed how a culture of intensive parenting plays havoc with mothers' self-esteem, sets mother against mother, and undermines women's rights. Sociologist Frank Furedi, author of the influential critique Paranoid Parenting, argued that contemporary culture normalises parental incompetence, through its assumption that parents need ever-increasing amounts of advice and `support' in matters of everyday life, while at the same time promoting the notion that parents' actions determine everything about their child's life, from cradle to grave.

In practice, this means that parents are under constant scrutiny from other parents, professionals and policymakers. Everything from giving birth to what we feed our children to the risks we do or don't allow them to take in everyday life is considered a legitimate area for concern and intervention. So, Rebecca Kukla of the University of South Florida gave a critical appraisal of the notion that `you are now what your child eats', to the extent that even a single hotdog-of-convenience apparently risks ruining a child's palate and ultimately jeopardising their long-term health and mental wellbeing.

Public policy initiatives aimed at `supporting' parents almost never improve things and sometimes make them far worse by denigrating parents' ability to rise to the occasion. Young fathers surveyed described parenting classes they were compelled to attend as `problematic and sometimes embarrassing'. One study of teenage mothers, who have been singled out for `intensive support' by the New Labour government, found that they were strikingly positive, capable and far less in need of official intervention than policymakers believed.

Perhaps the most intriguing discussion of the conference and the most confounding aspect of intensive parenting is that so many people appear to choose to do it. At its most extreme, families adopt parenting lifestyles such as so-called `attachment parenting' that rely on close physical contact between mother and child for an extended period. And though physically and emotionally demanding, parents derive a sense of moral superiority from choosing what they believe is a more natural, yet scientifically enlightened way to raise their children. In fact, such practices are neither natural nor scientific but the logical conclusion of the view that individuals, good or bad, are simply extensions of how well they were `parented'.

Most of us don't set out to go to these extremes but the same basic principles influence everything we do. Canadian academic Stephanie Knaak explained that we don't so much make decisions as choose within ever-narrowing parameters of what is acceptable. As an example, she pointed to the question of bottle-feeding versus breastfeeding in several editions of Dr Spock's childcare manual. In early editions of Dr Spock, breastfeeding and formula feeding are both treated as acceptable alternatives that take the needs of the parents into account. In contrast, the most recent edition makes it clear that breastfeeding is the morally superior choice and the needs of mothers are no longer part of the equation. Sure, you can formula feed, but you'd better have a good excuse.

The inescapable conclusion of all of this is that parenting culture today is bad - and bad on many levels. Reducing parents to the passive recipients of expert advice not only squelches parents' creativity, spontaneity and resourcefulness; it also destroys what intensive parenting purports to celebrate: the rich, complex relationships we have with our children.

What can we do? According to Frank Furedi, many parents do instinctively resist `intensive parenting'. They make the `wrong' choice, they lie to professionals about what they do, and some simply tell the truth and face the consequences. But no one can resist intensive parenting all the time without some cultural counterpoint to back them up. The sociologists at this conference, many of them parents themselves, have taken the first steps toward creating this counterpoint by holding up the culture of intensive parenting to critical scrutiny and challenging its underlying assumptions. And for those of us caught up in it? Let this conference serve as validation: don't believe the hype, trust your instincts, and know that you are a better parent than the `experts' could possibly know.


NHS hits smokers

SMOKERS are to be asked to give up their habit before they are put on the waiting list for routine operations such as hip replacements and heart surgery. National Health Service managers say smokers take more time to recover from surgery, blocking beds for longer and costing more to treat. One primary care trust will launch a consultation on the new curbs this summer to coincide with the ban on smoking in public places to be enacted on July 1. Rod Moore, assistant director of public health at Leicester City West Primary Care Trust, said it should become the norm for patients to stop smoking before all routine surgery. “If people give up smoking prior to planned operations it will improve their recovery,” Moore said. “It would reduce heart and lung complications and wounds would heal faster. Our purpose is not to deny patients access to operations but to see if the outcomes can be improved.”

NHS managers want patients not to have smoked any cigarettes for a full month before surgery. But as they would be expected to take about two months to stop, operations could be delayed by up to three months. The managers do insist, however, that it is up to doctors to decide whether the surgery can still go ahead if the patient fails to give up. Some doctors argue that the policy could deter smokers from attending appointments because they believed that they would not qualify for treatment.

By December next year, all patients will need to have had surgery within 18 weeks of having been referred to hospital by their GP, according to new government targets. To avoid endangering the targets, patients would not be added to waiting lists until they had given up smoking. Moore said: “If this were to be introduced, it would happen prior to referral [to hospital]. The clock would not start ticking. It would not interfere with the 18-week target.”

Leicester is believed to be the first trust to be planning such a wide-ranging measure since 2005, when the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence issued guidance that it was reasonable for smokers to be denied treatment if their habit would affect the outcome and cost of medical care. For example, doctors routinely deny smokers surgery for blocked blood vessels in the legs because they say the problem will go away if they stop smoking. Doctors also argue that if the patient continues smoking the vessels will quickly become blocked again.

Now NHS managers say patients should give up smoking whether their condition is directly caused by the habit or not. Vanessa Bourne, head of special projects for the Patients Association, said: “If the NHS is trying to reduce the number of people who qualify for surgery it should be frank about this and not pretend this is medically driven. “If hospitals really wanted to improve outcomes for patients after surgery then there are other priorities such as tackling hospital infections.

“If these patients were being treated privately they would not need to give up smoking ahead of surgery, which suggests this has more to do with money than what is in the best interests of the patient.”


There is an excellent bit of sarcasm here about the recent call by British professors to boycott Israel.

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