Thursday, November 22, 2007

British police mascot 'too white, too male'

LONDON'S Metropolitan Police has been forced to spend 15,000 pounds ($34,855.35) creating "ethnically diverse" mascots after complaints about a model deemed too white and too male. Met chief Sir Ian Blair ordered the new politically correct (PC) models after an Asian officer complained about Police Community Support Officer(PCSO) Steve, the mascot produced to visit schools to promote the police force. Specifically, critics said the fact that Steve was white, with blue eyes and blond hair, risked leaving Asian and women officers "isolated", said The Daily Telegraph.

Blair, in a written response to the London Assembly, said the Met's diversity unit would be tasked with creating new models. "These characters will be more representative of London's population and the diverse range of police personnel," he said. "The choice of characters will allow the concept of a Safer Neighbourhoods team to be presented to young children as well as delivering an important message about the different roles of PCSOs and constables."

Some believe the decision smacks of political correctness gone too far. "We seem to be taking the issue to the extreme. We need to take a sensible approach to this," said Pc Geoff Parker in a letter to the Met's in-house magazine The Job.

The project has been renamed "Police Pals," and the new models will be ready early next year. One features a woman PCSO, named Sunita, said the newspaper.


A most revealing cock-up

The sensitive personal details of 25 million Britons could have fallen into the hands of identity fraudsters after a government agency lost the entire child benefit database in the post. A major police investigation is being conducted after Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, admitted yesterday that names, addresses, birth dates, national insurance numbers and bank account details of every child benefit claimant in the country had gone missing. The confidential material is on two CDs that were placed in the post by a junior employee at the HM Revenue & Customs office in Tyne & Wear more than a month ago and have not been seen since.

More here

Comment on the above follows:

Second-class and lost in the post

If this Government is incompetent enough to lose millions of personal details, is it safe with anything?

Idiots. Utter, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, unpardonable idiots. It is beyond farce, past comprehension, criminally irresponsible and beneath contempt. All those lectures from government and authorities about keeping our personal data safe; every statement ever made about the security of the proposed NHS database of everybody's personal medical records; each claim that the Children's Database containing all their personal details will somehow make our kids safer; and of course each and every promise about the safety of the national identity register — exposed as quite, quite worthless. Because as soon as you put it on a computer, a bloke in an office can download it and stick it in an envelope and send your most personal details and mine and our children's across the country with a dodgy courier.

It is shocking, it is risible, it is hilarious. Someone gave a disc containing confidential data about 25 million people to a bloke on a bike? And he lost it? Of course, a case of mass identity or financial fraud would never happen in this way. It is too chaotic. Fraud will happen through a far more organised infiltration of the official systems; but what yesterday's revelation does is underscore the insecurity of those systems. And allows us to giggle at the po-faced pretence of those in authority that they are any better at protecting us than we are ourselves.

This is the pretence at the heart of every state attempt to tighten up national security — through searches and ID cards and barricades and banning water in airports and making us take our shoes off. All these measures put the public to ever-greater inconvenience while it knows that terrorism happens through random and unimaginable acts that no amount of searching and barricading can block.

Likewise, it is the very randomness of the loss of data that shocks. Someone just did something you couldn't have predicted: he stuck a load of incredibly sensitive stuff about us in the post. And it was (almost certainly) randomly lost. It's probably in a rubbish dump somewhere by now.

It might have been random, but it betrays a total and arrogant carelessness about the privacy of the individual. And it wasn't just one guy; it happens often. It was clear from Alistair Darling's statement to the Commons yesterday that there is systemic security failure at Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs. It isn't the first time recently that the organisation has lost personal data. Turns out HMRC routinely sends sensitive information around the country on discs. Earlier this month the details of more than 15,000 Standard Life customers, including pensions, were put on a disc and lost by a courier en route from HMRC in Newcastle to the Standard Life HQ in Edinburgh. Last month a laptop with data about 400 people with high-value Isas was stolen from the boot of a car belonging to someone at HMRC. Personal and financial details have been misdirected to wrong addresses or found in the street.

Mr Darling looked shaky in the Commons, as well he might: first shaken by Northern Rock and now drowning in a flood of misplaced personal information. The Government's entire public IT agenda — all those systems and databases and supposed safeguards — is now under threat. His statement was fine and comprehensive, but it became risible at one point: when he claimed that ID cards would somehow have made this lost information safer because we would only have been able to access it with biometric identification. Yeah, us and every employee at HMRC and any other official busybody, just as our personal medical details are to be made available to any passing temporary employee in the local A&E.

This will be a test of Gordon Brown. His Government is at its best in a crisis. The series of problems over the summer — bombs, floods and foot-and-mouth — usefully stamped his authority on the country and gave his administration the impression of action and progress. They hid his lack of a plan. But those problems were harder to lay directly at the foot of a government agency, for which ministers indisputably have responsibility - and, in this particular case, for which the Prime Minister himself had responsibility for ten years until June. He was right to turn up and sit next to Mr Darling in the Commons yesterday.

Mr Brown is getting a reputation even among his closest colleagues for bullying and blaming others when things go wrong, as they did in the on-off election fiasco. Things are not going well in No 10, with even some of the Prime Minister's closest allies questioning the Brown project. Mr Brown's friends - yes, friends - talk of rages and impregnable sulks.

He governs by small inner circle — issuing sudden edicts to otherwise paralysed government departments — yet he has dangerously few diehard, close friends left. With the uncertain start, officials wonder what he spent the past ten years planning. A power battle is already shaping up for the succession, with paranoid allies of the Prime Minister, and supporters of future leadership contender Ed Balls, publicly slapping down the other young pretender David Miliband. A scramble for the succession! And he has been in office for less than five months.

So how he handles this fiasco at HMRC — whom he supports and whom he blames — will be a critical test. His Chancellor was already weakened; damaged by Northern Rock and perceived, within the Treasury, as neutered by No 10. Mr Darling, remember, considered giving up politics seven years ago to spend more time with his family, confiding to a journalist: “I don't see politics as a career.” The Prime Minister had better stand shoulder to shoulder with him now, and share the fallout; there is a lot more at risk than a missing disc.


Crazy "safety" censorship of British childrens' books

A leading children's author was told to drop a fire-breathing dragon shown in a new book - because the publishers feared they could be sued under health and safety regulations. It is just one of the politically correct cuts Lindsey Gardiner says she has been told to make in case youngsters act out the stories. As well as the scene showing her dragon toasting marshmallows with his breath, illustrations of an electric cooker with one element glowing red and of a boy on a ladder have had to go.

Ms Gardiner, 36, who has written and illustrated 15 internationally successful children's books, featuring her popular characters Lola, Poppy and Max, says such editing decisions are now common

In Who Wants A Dragon? - published by Orchard Books last year - Ms Gardiner says: "I was told, 'You can't have the dragon breathing fire because it goes against health and safety.' "It doesn't really make any sense. "Sales and marketing departments are worried something might offend somebody, or that a child might copy something in a book and their parents will sue the publisher." Pointing out that classic fairy tales such as Hansel And Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood would not get published today, Ms Gardiner said: 'It's a sad reflection of modern society."

In When Poppy And Max Grow Up, published by Orchard Books in 2001, Max was originally shown on a ladder "They didn't allow that because they thought it was precarious," said Ms Gardiner. "Then I had to change the element on a cooker from glowing red to green. "It is crazy. When I go to book signings, I sometimes take with me some colouring pictures, and the kids draw the elements as red because the cooker is on and it's hot. They are not stupid. "I've had books published in Japan, France, Spain and Holland and they don't ask for the same changes. "It seems to be in Britain and the U.S. that there are problems."

Nobody from Orchard Books was available for comment but a spokesman for the Publishers Association said: "We are aware of some concerns by authors and it is something we can talk about in the industry."


See also here


Well, UK PM, Gordon Brown, has at last shared with us his thoughts on climate change: ‘PM outlines climate action plan’ (BBC Online Politics News, November 19). One doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. It is truly pathetic. I, for once, feel quite sorry (crocodile tears, of course) for those who genuinely fear ‘global warming’ - Brown’s words are full of waffling warmth, while the proposed action is either ludicrous or non-existent:

A ‘Green hotline’ and web site to advise people on how to be ‘good’; A ban on one-use plastic bags. As it happens, I am in favour of this, but what it has to do with climate change beats me; And some help to improve energy efficiency in poorer areas. Er, that’s it!

In the meantime, the Government department dealing with the environment (Defra) is to suffer an urgent budget cut of £270 million (see: ‘Reality, Rhetoric, And Risk’, November 17), and there have been recent cuts to the New Millennium Grants for installing energy-saving measures in homes.

The rest of Brown’s rhetoric is just crowd-conning hot air (lots of classic Brownian targets, but no action), with a hint that new nuclear power may lurk somewhere as a hidden ‘renewable’ - how else is the UK going to meet its daft ‘renewable’ targets? Even the Beeb’s Roger Harrabin describes Brown’s comments on ‘renewables’ as "staggering"!

The words ‘smokescreen’ (I first typed a Freudian ‘smokesgreen’) and ‘mirrors’ cross one’s mind.

Yet, I have sensed this all along. Brown will do nothing to harm the British economy nor to hurt the disadvantaged. Indeed, in the end, he may prove to be the man for us climate realists. In practice, he is the least mad of all UK politicians over climate. I don’t think, at heart, he is really interested.

By contrast, who knows what Tory toff, ‘Dave’ ‘Notting-Hill-Green’ Cameron, will do, while the Liberal Democrats are simply dire and dangerous wet amateurs, who should be kept as far away from power as possible. Liberal is the last thing they are, and they are hyper-hysterical over climate change.

What a happy choice faces us! The real question is: “Who will do the least damage economically and politically in pursuing mad climate-change policies?”


Failed asylum seekers 'not being deported'

The number of failed asylum seekers being removed from the country has fallen to a five-year low, new figures have shown. Despite promises to clear a backlog of up to 285,000 foreign nationals, fewer than 1,000 were deported in September. At the same time, the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country was double that figure. In the three months to September, there were 3,120 removals - an 18 per cent fall on last year and the lowest number since the second quarter of 2002.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "This is another sign that the Government's tough talk on immigration and asylum is not matched by effective action. "The fall in the number of removals means the Government is failing completely to make inroads into the backlog of half a million people who have no right to be in this country."

The Government claimed the reason for the drop was that officials were concentrating on deporting foreign criminals and illegal workers. Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said overall deportations were running at around 45,000 for the year. But two years ago, ministers said they would remove more failed asylum seekers than there were unfounded new applications. This so-called ''tipping point" target has now effectively been abandoned, despite being a priority for Tony Blair, the previous prime minister.

Mr Byrne said: ''The first people we should send home are those who break British laws. ''We're removing record numbers of foreign criminals including illegal workers who risk undercutting UK wages." The Government says it will deport 4,000 foreign national prisoners this year.

Overall asylum applications are running at the lowest level for at least a decade, though they went up in the third quarter of this year. The total is expected to be around 20,000 by the end of the year - the lowest since the early 1990s.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: "Removals are the lowest they have been for years and fall far short of the Government's target. "The pool of failed asylum seekers, already about a quarter of a million, will have grown by about 2,500 so far this year." He added: "This failure to remove undermines the integrity of the whole system."

Separate figures showed that east Europeans continue to pour into the country looking for jobs. Since May 2004 when eight former Soviet bloc countries joined the EU, three quarters of a million people have registered to work. Many thousands more who do not need to register, such as the self-employed, have almost certainly pushed the total above one million. But it is impossible to say how many have remained in the country for any length of time. Most of the east Europeans say they are only coming for a short period, such as three months. But a growing number are claiming child benefit and receiving tax credits. Nearly 80,000 have been approved for child benefit payments and 45,000 for tax credits. This is three times the number at the end of 2006 and is an indication that many east Europeans - mainly Poles - are staying on.

Once an EU migrant has been working here for 12 months, they are entitled to the same level of support as any British citizen. Child benefit is worth 18.10 pounds a week for the oldest child and 12.10 each of the others. British taxpayers are spending more than 1million a month in child benefit to the families of youngsters who live in the former Soviet bloc countries. Tax credits - which are effectively a benefit as well - are also generous. A worker with two children earning 165 pounds for a 30 hour week can claim credits worth many thousands of pounds a year. These benefits are paid to a worker in Britain even if his family stays at home, provided he has paid taxes.


1 comment:

Martin Vennard said...

Hi, I work for an international discussion programme on BBC World Service radio and today (Wednesday) between 6pm and 7pm London time we plan to talk about whether people trust their governments with their personal data, in light of the loss of the computer discs by a government agency in Britian. If you would like to take part in the discussion please send me your phone numbers to or call me on +442075570635 and I will call you straight back.
Many thanks

Martin Vennard