Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Health and safety 'ruins' holiday staff parties

The office Christmas party is dying out because of fears that workers could sue over other employees' drunken antics and a prevailing "Scrooge" mentality. A third of companies will not hold a staff party this year, according to a survey. This is twice as many as in 2002. Of those that do hold a seasonal get-together, four in 10 do not plan to make any financial contribution. Employers in the West Midlands were the least generous, with fewer than half funding a Christmas bash.

It seems the dwindling number of parties is accompanied by an increasing indifference to them among staff. A Chartered Management Institute (CMI) survey of more than 500 managers found that more than half believe the atmosphere at end-of-year celebrations is "forced". A fifth feel Christmas celebrations are "a chore" and one in three claims there is too much "political correctness".

More than four in 10 think they would be better if partners were invited. Almost the same number say the party season has become too long. While 52 per cent of those surveyed said Christmas parties improved the working environment, only three in 10 organisations actively promote a relaxed atmosphere as Dec 25 approaches. Despite their misgivings, more than half of managers give gifts to colleagues and 45 per cent send Christmas cards.

Jo Causon, the CMI director of marketing and corporate affairs, said: "The idea that individuals and employers don't allow themselves to unwind at Christmas is extremely disappointing, especially in the light of evidence suggesting that taking time out enables you to recharge your batteries. "However, it is good to see that people are saying 'thank you' and are prepared to make an effort to recognise hard work."

Some managers blamed new discrimination legislation and the compensation culture for the lack of Christmas spirit. Employers can now be held liable if they fail to protect staff from harassment or discrimination, including on the grounds of religious belief. Companies are also advised to think about whether they have the correct insurance, and to provide transport home as they could be held liable if an employee who is drunk at the firm's expense has a car accident.

Elizabeth Weston, from Merrill Lynch, was given 1 million pounds in an out-of-court settlement after she claimed that a colleague made remarks about her breasts and sex life at a Christmas party. The bank did not admit liability.


British ‘Transplant tourist’ aims to buy time

A former champion surfer who has waited more than four years for a kidney transplant is preparing to fly to the Philippines to buy one. Mark Scholfield, 43, a father of two children, aged 16 and 13, has saved 40,000 pounds for the operation in Manila, where it is legal for people to sell their kidneys.

He defended his decision to become a “transplant tourist”, saying that he wants to see his children grow up and that if people want to take the moral high ground he would be more than happy to trade places with them. “I’m not prepared to lie down and play dead. I’ve got to take a gamble, I can’t just sit here and do nothing,” he added.

Mr Scholfield, managing director of a surf-wear company, spends several hours a day on a dialysis machine at his home in South Wales. He contracted a kidney disease 20 years ago and although his mother donated one of her kidneys it has failed and must be replaced. More than 6,500 people in Britain are awaiting a kidney transplant but, according to the British Medical Association, one of them dies every day.


The British Inquisition Goes Global

Recently, an American-Israeli, Asaf Romirowsky, was asked to step down from a University of Delaware panel discussion on anti-Americanism because one of the participants, the University's Muqtedar Khan, expressed an unwillingness to appear on a panel discussion with anyone who had once served in the Israel Defense Forces. Khan did not bother to assert, much less prove, that the past performance of (compulsory) military service by an Israeli was something illicit. He merely pretended that such conduct is self-evidently deserving of ostracism.

Why the pretense? Perhaps because it was a handy distraction from the discrimination increasingly deployed against Israeli Jews in the academy. Most Israeli Jews (but not Israeli Muslims) perform military service and to exclude on this basis is to impose a virtually blanket ban on them.

This occurrence at University of Delaware is part of a wider pattern which originated in Britain. In April 2002, two British academics, Steven and Hilary Rose, initiated an academic boycott campaign against Israel, calling for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel until Israel pursues peace talks along the lines of the faux peace plan put forward by the Arab League in 2002.

In June 2002, Mona Baker, a professor at UMIST, sacked two Tel Aviv University academics from the editorial boards of the two journals she edits. She offered them however, the choice of retaining their positions if they sever ties with Israel and leave the country. In 2003, an Oxford pathology professor, Andrew Wilkie, rejected an Israeli research applicant, explaining that his detestation of Israel's policies impelled him to reject an Israeli citizen, irrespective of the individual's personal views or merits. Similarly, two Israelis highly critical of Israel - one Jewish and one Arab - had their submission to an English academic journal returned with an editor's note advising that it had been rejected because its authors were Israelis - though in this case, the two were offered reconsideration if they inserted some paragraphs likening Israel to apartheid South Africa.

In 2005, Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to impose an academic boycott on two Israeli universities. The country's other major union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), voted in May 2006 in favor of a boycott of Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly dissociate themselves from Israel's "apartheid policies."

The British pattern has been replicated globally: a petition for boycotting research and cultural links with Israel was taken up quickly in the U.S. (April 2002) and Australia (May 2002), with similar initiatives following in France, Italy, Belgium and in the Scandinavian countries.

It has also spread beyond academe: In May 2006, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, the Ontario wing of Canada's largest union, voted to join an international boycott campaign against Israel "until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination ." This April, British journalists implicitly confirmed past complaints about anti-Israel bias (always indignantly denied) when its National Union of Journalists voted by 66 to 54 to boycott Israeli goods. This was followed in May by a group of 130 British doctors calling for a boycott of the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and its expulsion from the World Medical Association since, in their words, the IMA had "refused" to protest about Israeli "war crimes."

Injustice and discrimination aside, the results of boycotting individual Israelis occasionally have been absurd: thus, in 2003, the chief of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital's gene-therapy institute, engaged in research to cure a blood disease prevalent among Palestinians, was refused assistance from a Norwegian colleague.

What is one to conclude? That shunning Israeli Jews takes place on the inquisitorial presumption that terrible guilt attaches to each individual Israeli Jew unless innocence is proved. In short, Israeli Jews are guilty until proven innocent. Innocence, in turn, may only be demonstrated (occasionally, at least) by explicit condemnation of the policies of its democratically elected government - in short, by Soviet-style denunciations. Nor has dissent from this position been adjudged an admissible alternative by the inquisitors. For them, political orthodoxy has become an ideal.

Academics from even truly tyrannical and vicious regimes like North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia or Iran face no such test or sanction, nor has it occurred to anyone that they should. It is an elementary principle that private individuals are not responsible for the actions of their governments. This principle evidently does not apply to the British Inquisition.

Others have rightly noted of this incident that Khan was wrong to avoid vigorous debate with an opponent. But that point is scarcely the most important. It was not debate alone that Khan avoided. Rather, he was repudiating Israeli Jews within the precincts of academic debate. The British Inquisition operates on a similar principle of excluding Israeli Jews from rights and privileges accorded everyone else. It is part of a wider strategy for their ostracism - and it is gaining a presence in America.


A small meditation on the Anglosphere: The Anglosphere has not one but two heavily influential members, the USA and the UK, though the influence of the UK is not what it used to be. Something that is easily overlooked however is that there is a third important Anglospheric aggregation. If one were to combine the populations of Australia and Canada, one would come up with 53 million people -- which is pretty comparable to the population of the major nations of Europe: France, Spain, England, Italy, Poland etc. That is not of course remotely to say that Australians and Canadians are the same. Australia is as conservative as Canada is "liberal". But there is great diversity within the nations of Europe too. It is even possible that Canadians and Australians are more homogeneous than are Germans, Spaniards and the French. And I won't say a word about the North/South hatred in Italy. My own trips to Canada were certainly most congenial.

Brits buy Boeing: "Another giant C17 Globemaster air transport has been bought by the Ministry of Defence from Boeing for 130 million pounds, increasing the fleet of C17s to six at a cost of 780 million. The A400M transport aircraft being built by Airbus for the RAF has suffered delays, and the first deliveries are not due until 2010."

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