Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A rare backdown from bigoted Britain

Wow! Christian values can be tolerated after all! They might even get as much respect as Islamic values eventually. Publicity works: Christian Couple no Longer Required to Promote Homosexuality in Fostering Children

Vincent and Pauline Matherick are the Christian couple in Somerset who chose to retire from fostering needy children rather than bow to the Somerset county council's demand that they promote the homosexual lifestyle. After a media generated international uproar over their situation, they have been invited back by the council and have had their religious objections recognised. The couple met with council officials on Wednesday and today were told they could continue fostering and would not have to "promote homosexuality". "It's good news and we're very pleased," Mr Matherick said. "This is a blessing and I must thank the media, and particularly the Daily Mail, for their help in highlighting the issue."

Somerset council officials said in a statement that the couple "have no problem in signing Somerset's Equalities Promise, which includes an expectation not to discriminate unfairly for reasons of sex, marital status, caring responsibilities or sexual orientation." "We all agree that the welfare of children is paramount. It is absolutely vital that people come forward as foster carers." The council's statement admitted that the incident "may have damaged the image of fostering at a time when vulnerable children need caring homes."

A spokesman for the couple said the council had agreed to recognise their convictions and conscientious objections. "The Mathericks hope now to continue to foster children as before."

Andrea Williams of Christian Concern For Our Nation said: "This is a significant step forward for Christian freedoms in that the Council has agreed not to force Mr. and Mrs. Matherick to act against their Christian beliefs. This should be of enormous encouragement to all Christians who want to take up the important role of caring for vulnerable children."

The Mathericks are ministers in the non-conformist South Chard Christian Church and when their 11 year-old foster son David was removed from their home, he had asked to be allowed to continue attending their Sunday school. The Mathericks had insisted that they had never "discriminated" against anyone for any reason, but that they could not agree to the council's "equality statement" because it amounted to promotion of homosexuality, which would be a violation of their Christian beliefs and conscience. Mr Matherick said, "I cannot preach the benefits of homosexuality when I believe it is against the word of God."

As a result of their decision, the council removed their 11 year-old foster son David and placed him in a council-owned facility. The Mathericks had cared for 28 children in their home since 2001 and were described as ideal foster carers. The "equality" agreement had required them to tell their foster children that homosexuality was the equivalent to natural sexuality and to discuss "gay dating" practices with them. They had been told that they would be required to take children to homosexual support groups if the child "expressed an interest" in homosexuality.

The Somerset council refused to discuss the matter until the case became public in the national papers and internationally on LifeSiteNews.com.


Gertrude Himmelfarb and Victorian values

Deep in the hinterland of Gordon Brown's intellect is a protected zone dedicated to a woman who has been dubbed the queen bee of American neoconservatives. It is Gertrude Himmelfarb's books that he packs for his holiday reading, her quotations that embellish his speeches. The prime minister has now taken the final step of recording his adoration in print. Himmelfarb is an 85-year-old historian and former Trotskyite who acts as the mother superior of America's moral majority. Her advocacy of Victorian values to remedy the western world's "grievous moral disorder" has struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic ever since the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

These days, George W Bush pays court to Himmelfarb with invitations to impart the lessons of history at White House soir,es, while Brown has agreed to pen the introduction to her next book. This reprints her 2004 work The Roads to Modernity, which argues for the rehabilitation of British enlightenment and informed the prime minister's recent speech on liberty at the University of Westminster.

Himmelfarb, known to friends as Bea, is the matriarch of a family that has been making the political weather in America for four decades. Her husband, Irving Kristol, is a journalist and essayist known as the godfather of neoconservatism. Their son, William, who earned the nickname "Dan Quayle's brain" when chief of staff to George Bush Sr's hapless vice-president, edits the Weekly Standard and is chairman of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century. "No family has had a greater impact on today's conservatism than the Kristols," said The New Yorker magazine.

The woman with whom Brown is intellectually smitten is small, fine-featured and soft-spoken, her mind undimmed by age. "She has a very wry sense of humour," said a friend. "She'll poke a statement you make to find what's in it, but in a funny way. Part of her power is the contrast between her slight physical appearance and gentle voice on the one hand, and the extraordinary intellect she brings to bear."

Brown received the book that became his crib from Irwin Stelzer, the economist and Sunday Times columnist, who is a close friend of Himmelfarb. "My wife and I have been exchanging books with Gordon for some time," he recalled. "He gave me half a dozen books on what he liked to call the Scottish enlightenment, so I thought he ought to see Bea's book, which she had sent me. He was very taken with it." Stelzer believes that the Victorian value of individual responsibility strongly appeals to Brown: "But the parts that don't appeal to him are to do with private action rather than state action." In fact, Stelzer admits, Brown's embrace of Himmelfarb's work exposes "a massive contradiction". This did not stop him inviting her to Downing Street when he was chancellor, nor offering to throw the launch party for her new volume at No 10.

Himmelfarb and Kristol enjoy a busy social life at the Watergate complex overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, dining with friends three or four times a week. The walls of their spacious apartment are lined with books and prints, including portraits of the English poets Chaucer and Pope. After 65 years of marriage, the couple retain the aura of a bride and groom. Charles Krauthammer, the conservative commentator, has described their marriage as "one of the great intellectual partnerships and one of the great love stories of our time". According to Stelzer's wife Cita: "When we drop them off after dinner, they automatically hold hands. It's very touching."

Himmelfarb's scholarship on the Victorian era provides the intellectual ballast for conservative writers, among whose ranks she represents a daunting presence. "When we're writing something, it's as if she's perched on your shoulder because her research standards are so high," said Stelzer. "You think, what will she think when she sees this sentence?" However, her emphasis on the virtues of individual responsibility and religion drive American liberals up the wall. Praise for the verve and clarity of her writing is balanced by a desire among some critics to savage her ideas. One wrote of her 1999 book One Nation, Two Cultures that she manifested the intellect of "the village biddy who sticks her blue nose into everyone else's business, offering opinions nobody asked for about how everybody else should live".

Simon Jenkins confessed in his review for The Sunday Times of Himmelfarb's last work, The Moral Imagination, that he "frequently hurled this book across the room in frustration". He said yesterday: "She's a most accomplished writer, but I thought the book was absurd and partisan. The Victorians were ruthless, cynical and dishonest, whereas she has this idea that it was a golden age. Gordon Brown's adoption of her is ludicrous, although you can see that her rose-tinted version of the past could be quite useful to the son of a manse."

Himmelfarb's own past was not so rosy. She grew up in what she described as a respectable but poor Jewish family living in Brooklyn, New York; her parents had emigrated from Russia just before the first world war. She was not an observant Jew, although she later took night courses in Hebrew literature and described Jews as exemplars of Victorian values in late 19th-century London. She was a teenage Trotskyite when she met Kristol. The group they joined "had a very exalted title like the Fourth International", she recalled. "It could have been comfortably contained in a telephone booth." It was antiStalinist and passionately intellectual: "We really read Marx. We didn't just bandy around slogans. We argued vigorously."

After graduating from Brooklyn College, she moved to the University of Chicago, attracted by its "very hothousy kind of intellectual atmosphere". Married as an undergraduate in 1942, she had no career plans when her husband left to serve with the US infantry in Europe. At Chicago she studied under Louis Gottschalk, a distinguished scholar of the French revolution, but it was her dissertation on Lord Acton, the English historian, that launched her literary career in 1952. Acton hooked her on Victorian England. She was able to delve deeper in London, where her husband founded the literary magazine Encounter with the poet Stephen Spender in 1953 and remained its editor for five years. She took up a fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge. When they returned to New York she settled in for a long stint teaching at City University.

She and Kristol were typical of many neoconservatives, a term coined to describe a group of largely New York intellectuals who turned from left-wing causes towards the right during the late 1960s and 1970s. The catalyst was the insurgency of 1960s counter-culture. The liberal left had surrendered to an unholy alliance of Marx, anti-intellectualism, drugs and violence. The new culture, she believed, spread rapidly because it was easy to adopt: "Virtues are hard. Vices are easy to come by." The target of the counter-culture was the Establishment, which capitulated and jettisoned its self-discipline.

In the final stage of their conversion, the neocons became celebrants of American capitalism and traditional values. For many, that meant attacking affirmative action and feminism. Himmelfarb has deplored mothers of young children who go to work. Instead, she contended, society should aspire to a moral climate where motherhood and domesticity are "as respectable a calling as the profession of law or the practice of business".

She has certainly never held back her strong views. She has voiced fears that "the frenzy of intermarriage" would produce "a point of diminishing returns, where you no longer have a critical mass of Jews - that's to say, enough people to reinforce your own convictions". She described as "spousal abuse" John Bayley's book detailing the dementia of his wife Iris Murdoch. Yet Himmelfarb has a huge following among the young.

"She provokes the liberal left a great deal," said Stelzer. "The left is collectivist and secular, whereas all her writing is geared towards the virtues of individual responsibility and a role for religion in public life." For Brown watchers, it will be fascinating to observe how his moral compass registers the conflict between his heroine's Victorian precepts and the pressing demands of government


British Tory candidate quits over Powellite immigration views

A parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party resigned on Sunday after saying a controversial party figure [Powell] had been right when he warned in the 1960s about the risks of uncontrolled immigration. Nigel Hastilow came under fire for writing a newspaper column citing Conservative politician Enoch Powell who caused outrage by saying in his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech that unchecked immigration to Britain could lead to racial violence. [What Powell actually said was: "As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood""]

Hastilow said Powell was marginalised for warning that uncontrolled immigration would change the country irrevocably. "He was right. It has changed dramatically," he said in the column for a newspaper in Wolverhampton in England's West Midlands.

One minister in the Labour government said Hastilow's remarks exposed the Conservative Party's "racist underbelly" and another called them unacceptable and urged Conservative leader David Cameron to rethink his support for Hastilow.

Hastilow, due to contest a marginal West Midlands seat at the next election, resigned as a Conservative candidate after being called to meet party chairman Caroline Spelman. "I am very sorry that any remarks of mine have undermined the progress David Cameron has made on the issue of immigration," Hastilow said in a statement. A Conservative spokesman said the party had accepted his resignation. Hastilow's comments were an embarrassment to Cameron, who has steered the Conservative Party towards the centre since becoming leader two years ago.

The incident stoked a debate over the level of immigration. Hundreds of thousands of people have come to work in the country in recent years, many of them from east European countries that are new members of the European Union. The main political parties agree immigration has boosted the economy. But critics complain that migration has undercut British-born workers and strained public services.

The government admitted last week it had underestimated the number of foreign nationals who had come to work in Britain in the last decade by 300,000 -- the size of a medium-size city such as Coventry. The new estimate is 1.1 million. Cameron has said a Conservative government would impose annual limits on migrants from outside the EU. Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission -- a public agency that fights discrimination -- praised Cameron last week for trying to "deracialize" the immigration issue but said Cameron was giving an old-fashioned answer by saying capping immigrants' numbers was the solution.


Sleeping pill Zolpidem awakens girl from coma

A girl who has spent six years in a coma is showing signs of life after taking a sleeping pill. Amy Pickard, 23, had lain in her bed, unable to eat or breathe for herself since falling unconscious in 2001. But after being enrolled in a study of the side-effects of the sleeping pill Zolpidem, her eyes have begun to sparkle and she has even managed to stand.

Amy's mother, Thelma Pickard, 54, has visited her every day at the Raphael Medical Centre in Tonbridge, Kent, and claims that she can see her "feisty and determined" daughter fighting her way to recovery. She reacts to strong-tasting foods, can breathe unaided, focus on objects in her room and is beginning to formulate words. When she takes the pill, I see her face relax and the old sparkle return to her eyes. It truly is remarkable," said Mrs Pickard.

Amy, who is the subject of a BBC1 documentary The Waking Pill to be broadcast tonight, was 17 and studying for her A-Levels at Filsham Valley School in East Sussex when she was persuaded to inject heroin by her then boyfriend. She is one of 360 people taking part in a worldwide trial of Zolpidem as a treatment for people in comas. Sixty per cent of patients taking part in the study have started showing signs of life.

The drug's side-effects were first discovered after a 24-year-old South African cyclist suffered a serious brain injury after being hit by a lorry in 1994. Doctors told his parents that he would never regain consciousness. Five years after his accident, nurses noticed he was involuntarily grabbing at his mattress and gave him Zolpidem to help him sleep more deeply. Instead, just 25 minutes later, he sat up in bed and said: "Hello, mummy."

The British firm ReGen Therapeutics began a trial and, as one of those involved, Amy's mother was flown to South Africa to meet other patients who had tried it. She said: "I've had so many disappointments in my life, so I didn't set my expectations too high. When I came back from South Africa, I was exhausted, but the hope in my heart was intense. "But the more I saw, the more I heard and the more I experienced, the more I realised Amy must try this new treatment."

Barely four weeks after taking her first pill, Amy, who has an older brother David, 27, is making good progress. Doctors have warned Mrs Pickard it could take months for a breakthrough, but she believes her daughter is already on the road to recovery. "When I look at her now I can see the old Amy coming through, fighting to get out. It's a day-to-day waiting game to see what will happen next, but I just know she's going to speak any day," she said. "Every day she takes the tablet, it gives me more and more hope. My life is better now than it's ever been over the past six years."

The story echoes the plot of the film Awakenings, which stars Robert de Niro and Robin Williams. It is based on real events, in which a research physician uses an experimental drug to "awaken" the catatonic victims of a rare sleeping sickness.


Black parents send their kids back to Africa to escape British government school mayhem

African parents know what African kids need, even if white do-gooders do not

Scores of British school children are being sent away to take their GCSEs in Ghana, exchanging truancy and gang culture for traditional teaching and strong discipline, including the cane. "When I was in London I was bad basically," said Abena, 16, from Hackney, east London, with braces on her teeth and a swagger in her step. "I stopped going to school and in my head I was, like, thinking money, money, money."

Dispatched to Africa, far from the world of gangs, theft and knife crime, she found herself at the Faith Montessori boarding school in Accra, Ghana's capital, where the fees are 1,200 pounds a year. Most of the school's expatriate children spend holidays with relatives or guardians in Ghana, returning to Britain once a year. During term time they live in dormitories 10 to a room.

For the parents it is a chance to save their children from the thuggery that has seen 21 teenagers shot or stabbed to death in London alone this year. Abena and three other British pupils at her school now believe they are receiving a rigorous education that was lacking in Britain. "When your friends know that you've gone to Ghana they know that you're going to get straightened up," said Sienam, 17, from Edgware, north London, who has been at school in Accra for three years. "I used to be really bad," he said, muttering about gangs and the kind of playground violence that he has put behind him. "When my friends in London see that I've changed it wakes them up a little bit. I get respect but in a different way."

According to Oswald Amoo-Gottfried, the school's founder and director, the key to the success of pupils such as Sienam is the kind of discipline that has long since fallen out of fashion in Britain. "I believe in caning," he declared. "I tell the parents: if you don't want your child punished, then your child doesn't belong here." His school is quiet, the atmosphere studious. The youngest children sit in neat sailor suits; older pupils wear blue shorts and white shirts, while the senior students dress in smart trousers and T-shirts emblazoned with the school badge. In one classroom 30 pupils are arranged in rows of desks facing their male teacher and the white board. They remain silent until asked a question.

Amoo-Gottfried is a friendly faced disciplinarian who has seen more than 20 London children of African parentage pass through his school in the past five years. "Children must be taught. You don't sit down and discuss directions with a child - you tell them where to go," he said. Children are beaten for misbehaving or failing to do home-work, but not for poor results.

Sienam admitted that he had been caned "many, many times" by his teachers in Ghana. "Any time you do something you know you shouldn't do or step out of line, you get caned," he said. The cane "works to some extent", he conceded.

Isaac, 17, from Norwood, in southeast London, said he became involved in gangs and stealing before his parents sent him to Ghana. After four years at school in Accra he is softly spoken and articulate and hopes to sit international GCSEs at the end of this academic year before returning to Britain for A-levels.

When they first arrive the teen-agers are often "a lot wilder", said Amoo-Gottfried, but with time and discipline they become "domesticated". He puts the troubles of the British pupils down to a lack of good role models - a reason many West Indian families cite for sending their children to school back home. "In London father has run off to work early in the morning, mother the same. So you find the children left to themselves and, as they say, the devil finds work for idle hands. Here they see professional people - lawyers, doctors - whereas in the UK most of the Ghanaians are blue-collar workers."

The list of consistent A, B and C grades on a results sheet pinned to the notice board is a source of pride and several of Amoo-Gottfried's former pupils are now at British universities.

Michelle Asante, 23, attended Archbishop Porter girls' school in Takoradi, Ghana, and went on to complete a sociology degree at Sheffield University before going to drama school. "The school I was attending in Plumstead [southeast London] wasn't great and my mum felt I wasn't being challenged. There was a lot of fighting," said Asante, who is now an actress. "Education is so important in Ghana - people take it as their only means of escaping poverty. With education you can do anything, no matter how poor you are."

The pupils at Faith Montessori agree discipline in Africa can be tough but also see their lives changing for the better. Abena and "the London boys", which includes James, 16, from Edmon-ton Green, north London, also admit that while they are benefiting from a Ghanaian education, they miss home and look forward to going back to A-levels and university.The years of mischief are behind them, Isaac said: "What gets you respect over there is disgrace over here."


British Paramedics 'refused to run as boy lay dying'

Paramedics refused to run along a beach to a dying boy for fear that they would be in breach of health and safety regulations, the child's father has claimed. James Poynton, 11, suddenly collapsed while walking along Caldy Beach, Wirral, Merseyside, with his family. His parents called an ambulance but when paramedics arrived they walked towards them, according to James's father, Jim, 49. When he asked why they had not broken into a run, they allegedly said that had they tripped they would have been unable to adequately treat James.

Mr Poynton, a company director, said: "I'm appalled that they wouldn't run. If someone is dying, aren't you supposed to save their life?" Mr Poynton and his wife, Ann, believe that had the paramedics acted with more urgency their son might have lived. James died during an evening walk with his parents, his sister, Claudia, now 15, and a friend, on June 9 last year. Unknown to his family, he was suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition.

George Kokai, a paediatric pathologist, told an inquest in Wallasey that he had only seen the condition, arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), twice in his career. Christopher Johnson, the coroner, recorded a verdict of death by natural causes.

A spokesman for the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust said the paramedics involved were off duty and could not be contacted. "They carry up to 25kg of equipment, and if it's an uneven terrain, such as a beach, they can't always run with the equipment. "In addition to that, once they reach the patient they need to be in a condition where they can carry out resuscitation techniques. They don't want to arrive so breathless that they can't then help the patient."


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