Monday, February 25, 2008


One does occasionally hear the term "The white man's burden" as a mocking reference to the claim that the British and other empires were good for the native peoples whom they dominated. I wonder how many people are aware that the term was originally the name of a poem and that the poet was Indian-born British poet Rudyard Kipling? Some, no doubt. But I would not at all be surprised to hear that NOBODY reading this was aware that the poem concerned was inspired by the deeds of a famous American "Progressive". Let me explain:

Right into the 1960's, the American Left (e.g. JFK) was patriotic and nationalistic. Nowadays they mostly make only a shallow pretense of patriotism. Getting the votes of minorities is their desperate aim these days and glorifying America does not serve that aim very well. And with Obama, even the pretense seems to be fading.

And the most nationalistic icon of the American Left in history was undoubtedly TR (Theodore Roosevelt), founder of the "Progressive" party. TR was the first Fascist leader of the 20th century -- where Fascism is conceived of as Leftism plus nationalism. He glorified war as a purifying force for the nation, built lots of battleships and invaded and took over three countries. And on the home front he attacked big business. Fascist enough? His conquests were in fact in the last few years of the 19th century but his Presidency of the USA continued into the early 20th century.

The British empire had however never been Fascist. It was run by conservatives most of the time and when the Left came to power they were much more inclined to wind it down than expand it. And, as the saying goes, the empire was mostly acquired "in a fit of absence of mind". It was not acquired as the result of any deliberate expansionist policy but rather as the byproduct of pursuing other objectives -- such as containment of the French. And if anyone doubts the humane impulse that formed British policy of the time, just reflect that it was in 1807 that Britain became the first major country to abolish slavery. And, unlike Abraham Lincoln many years later, the British both attacked it outside their own domain and abolished it at home. Lincoln's war "against slavery" was fought while permitting slavery in the North! Lincoln's war was really a power-motivated war with slavery as a thin pretext.

And India is an excellent example of the non-imperialistic origin of the British empire. The British first came to India as the representatives of a private company, the British East India company, and the aim was trade, not conquest. The company encountered various attacks on its operations, however, so gradually built up a private army to defend itself (perhaps a bit like the security guards employed by Halliburton in Iraq today). And when Indian princelings took on the company in battle, the company tended to win -- meaning that it eventually had large parts of India under its private control. At that stage, the British government got a bit concerned that the company was not treating the natives well and took over the company's military and rulership operations. So the British government in a sense "inherited" India rather than invading and conquering it. The history I have just given does of course simplify much for the sake of brevity but that is the essence of it.

And the humane thinking (mostly of Christian origin) behind British policy is spelled out in Kipling's poem. Kipling saw the British as having a civilizing mission and saw that mission as one of replacing savage values with humane and Christian ones. And he persuaded himself that TR had such values too. He wrote his poem as a commentary on the American takeover of the Philippines. He saw America as joining Britain in the mission of civilizing savages.

And what he wrote was very prophetic. And it was good prophecy because it was based on experience -- British imperial experience. He prophesied that the gift of liberty and humaneness that America would give to other nations would not be appreciated and would instead lead to resentment of America. And that was long before the liberation of France from the Nazis and the liberation of Iraq from Saddam! Here are some excerpts from a wonderful and idealistic poem that is now almost always misrepresented:

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;

By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;

And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--

That's amazingly good prophecy by my lights. Very wicked of him to mention skin color judged by today's hysterical political standards but Britain and America WERE largely white countries at the time, and still are.

Insane British police again: Fathers arrested for stopping fight

Two fathers have condemned the criminal justice system after they were arrested and thrown into a police cell for trying to prevent a fight involving a gang of youths. Christopher Dale, 38, and Arthur Parkes, 29, decided to intervene when they heard that a group of boys planned to catch and beat up another youth. They made a citizen's arrest of the two ring leaders, aged 12 and 14, and held them while Mr Dale's wife called the police

But when officers arrived it was the men who were handcuffed and led away after the boys accused them of assault. What followed was a nine month "nightmare" in which the men faced losing everything as the Crime Prosecution Service refused to drop the case. Their ordeal only ended in court when a magistrate finally decided there was no case to answer, "It has been an absolute nightmare," said Mr Dale yesterday, an engineer who fits fire alarms and a trained pilot.

"They arrested us, threw us in the back of a police car and then into a cell - our dignity stripped just outside my house. "We are constantly told not to turn a blind eye but when you do what you think is your duty you get arrested. "We are very, very angry about our treatment. I thought I was doing the right thing by stopping a gang of youths attacking another lad. "If it happened again I would have to think very seriously about whether I would step in. I feel let down by the very people who are supposed to be protecting us."

Mr Parkes, 29, who works for energy firm E.ON, added: "We have been unjustly treated by the police and the CPS. I have always had respect for the police but since this I have no faith in the police and the judicial system."

The men, from Preston, Lancashire, both of good character who had complained to police about youths terrorising their neighbourhood, were cleared by district judge Peter Ward, who said the case was "not in the public interest". The pair were accused of assaulting the boys, then aged 14 and 12, at around 9pm on May 5 last year.

Preston Magistrates heard during the two-day trial from prosecution witnesses, including four boys who gave varying accounts of how the "victims", who cannot be named for legal reasons, were attacked on a driveway. The court heard how the two men stepped in after a group of boys went looking to "batter" another teenager who was accused of bullying.

Their lawyer Paolo Passerini successfully urged the judge at Preston Magistrates' Court to halt proceedings, arguing there was "no case to answer" as there were inconsistencies with the evidence. CPS district crown prosecutor Peter McNaught said: "We considered this case very carefully. However, in all the circumstances, we consider that it was in the public interest to bring this case."


A chilling example of Britain's secret State where a mother and child are forced into hiding

Last autumn a small English congregation was rocked by the news that two of its parishioners had fled abroad. A 56-year-old man had helped his pregnant wife to flee from social workers, who had already taken her son into care and were threatening to seize their baby.

Most people had no idea why. For the process that led this couple to such a desperate act was entirely secret. The local authority had warned the mother not to talk to her friends or even her MP. The judge who heard the arguments from social services sat in secret. The open-minded social workers who had initially been assigned to sort out a custody battle between the woman and her previous husband were replaced by others who seemed determined to build a guilty case against her. That is how the secret State operates. A monumental injustice has been perpetrated in this quiet corner of England; our laws are being used to try to cover it up.

I will call this couple Hugh and Sarah. Neither they nor their families have ever been in trouble with the law, as far as I know. Sarah's only fault seems to have been to suffer through a violent and volatile first marriage, which produced a son. When the marriage ended, the boy was taken into temporary foster care for a few months - as a by-product of the marriage breakdown and against her will - while she "sorted her life out" and found them a new home. But even as she cleared every hurdle set by the court, social workers dreamt up new ones. The months dragged by. A psychologist said the boy was suffering terribly in care and was desperate to come home. Sarah's mother and sister, both respected professionals with good incomes, apparently offered to foster or adopt him. The local authority did not even deign to reply.

For a long time, Sarah and her family seem to have played along. At every new hearing they thought that common sense would prevail. But it didn't. The court appeared to blame her for not ending her marriage more quickly, which had put strain on the boy, while social workers seemed to insist that she now build a good relationship with the man she had left. Eventually, she came to believe that the local authority intended to have her son adopted. She also seems to have feared that they would take away her new baby, Hugh's baby, when it was born. One night in September they fled the country with the little boy. When Hugh returned a few days later, to keep his business going and his staff in jobs, he was arrested.

Many people would think this man a hero. Instead, he received a far longer sentence - 16 months for abduction - than many muggers. This kind of sentence might be justified, perhaps, to set an example to others. But the irony of this exemplary sentence is that no one was ever supposed to know the details. (I am treading a legal tightrope writing about it at all.) How could a secret sentence for a secret crime deter anyone?

Sarah's baby has now been born, in hiding. I am told that the language from social services has become hysterical. But if the State was genuinely concerned for these two children, it would have put "wanted" pictures up in every newspaper in Europe. It won't do that, of course, because to name the woman and her children would be to tear a hole in the fabric of the secret State, a hole we could all see through. I would be able to tell you her side of the story, the child's side of the story. I would be able to tell you every vindictive twist of this saga. And the local authority knows perfectly well how it would look. So silence is maintained.

And very effective it is too. The impotence is the worst thing. The way that perfectly decent individuals are gagged and unable to defend themselves undermines a fundamental principle of British law. I have a court order on my desk that threatens all the main actors in this case with dire consequences if they talk about it to anyone.

Can that really be the way we run justice in a country that was the fount of the rule of law? At the heart of this story is a little boy who was wrenched from the mother he loves, bundled around in foster care and never told why, when she appears to have been perfectly capable of looking after him. When she had relatives who were perfectly capable of doing so. In the meantime, he was becoming more and more troubled and unhappy. To find safety and love, that little boy has had to leave England.

What does that say about our country? The public funds the judges, the courts, the social workers. It deserves to know what they do. That does not mean vilifying all social workers, or defending every parent. But it does mean ending the presumption of guilt that infects so many family court hearings. It does mean asking why certain local authorities seem unable to let go of children whose parents have resolved their difficulties. It does mean knowing how social workers could have got away with failing to return this particular boy, after his mother had met all the criteria set by a judge at the beginning. It is simply unacceptable that social services have put themselves above the law.

We need these people to be named, and to hear in their words what happened. We need to open up the family courts. We need to tear down the wall of secrecy that has forced a decent woman to live as a fugitive, to save her little boy from a life with strangers, used like a pawn in a game of vengeance. Even if the local authority were to drop its case, it is hard to see how Sarah could ever trust them enough to return. At home, for their God-fearing congregation, the question is simple: what justice can ever be done behind closed doors? And in whose name?


Keeping a cool head about hot weather

Ignore the panicky headlines about a new UK government report on higher temperatures in Britain - it actually contained good news.

`Climate change soon could kill thousands in UK', declared the Guardian in a news item about a new report from two UK health bodies, the Department of Health (DoH) and the Health Protection Agency (HPA). But even a quick glance at the report itself suggests this is a rather misleading summary. In fact, the report suggests that, on balance, a warmer climate will be good news - for the UK, at least.

Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2008 is an update on an earlier report published in 2002. It looks at a range of areas that might be affected by rising temperatures: flooding and windstorms; vector-borne diseases like malaria and food-borne diseases like salmonellosis; water quality; the direct effect of temperature on health; air pollution; and sunshine.

The most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the world will continue getting warmer and that human activity plays a major part in this warming trend. The DoH/HPA report supports this view; by the end of the century, average temperatures in the UK may be two degrees Celsius warmer at night and four degrees Celsius warmer during the day. Cold spells will decrease in length while heatwaves will become longer and more intense. Rainfall may decrease in one or two areas, but isn't likely to change much overall. Flowing from this general outlook, the report notes:

* Floods will become less frequent in spring but more common in late summer, but few people die in such events and the wider health effects are uncertain;

* Outbreaks of insect-borne diseases will remain rare, and will be as much due to changes in land-use and activity - like spending more time in wooded areas - than climate change;

* Warm summers could increase the risk of food poisoning, so further improvements in food hygiene standards are desirable;

* The quality of untreated water might decline as more bacteria will be present, but this is `unlikely to pose a threat to well-managed water treatment plants';

* Air pollution problems caused by small particles, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide will be unaffected or will fall, but periods of high ground-level ozone will increase deaths and hospital admissions.

So, in most of these areas there is little to worry about. Some potential areas for improvement are identified, which is useful for health professionals, but no cause for the rest of us to be concerned.

Even in the area that the Guardian and others picked up on, the direct effect of temperatures, there is plenty of good news. As the Guardian says, the report suggests that the prospect of a serious heatwave in south-east England - possibly leading to 3,000 deaths - at some time in the next 10 years is about 25 per cent. Hence, the horror headlines.

However, actual experience over nearly 40 years suggests good news overall. For example, `mean annual heat-related mortality did not rise as summers warmed from 1971 to 2003'. That means we're able to adapt to warmer temperatures. Indeed, the authors note: `Heat-related mortalities are substantial throughout Europe, but the hot summers in southern Europe cause little more mortality than the milder summers of more northerly regions.' If we're prepared for warm weather and we take simple precautions, then heat shouldn't be a problem. So, for different UK regions, the authors estimate the following decline for hot weather-related fatalities (cases per million of population, 1971-2003):

* South-east England from 258 to 193 in 2003;

* Rest of England and Wales from 188 to 93;

* Scotland from 125 (in 1974) to only eight in 2003.

Meanwhile, deaths due to cold weather fell dramatically - overall, by more than 33 per cent. Far more people are affected by cold snaps than by heatwaves, so the change is more significant than for hot-weather deaths. Here is how cold-weather deaths fell between 1971 and 2003:

* South-east England from 9,174 to 5,903;

* Rest of England and Wales from 9,222 to 6,088;

* Scotland from 9,751 in 1974 to 6,166 in 2003.

We should be shouting this from the rooftops: far fewer people are dying because of the temperature than in the past. Milder winters are far more important than hotter summers in achieving this, along with other changes to how people live. Where there have been calamities, like the heatwave deaths in France in 2003, there have been other factors involved. In the case of France, the higher temperatures arrived just when the working population all went on holiday, leaving city-dwelling old people without anyone to keep an eye on them.

If warm weather is that bad, why does it seem to be the dream of every retiring person in Britain to move to the south coast or, better still, Spain or Australia? Unsurprisingly, in a temperate country accustomed to miserable weather, with cold winters and often poor-quality housing, higher temperatures are almost certain to have a net benefit for the UK. Yet this doesn't fit in with the general atmosphere of climate change alarmism that encloses newspapers like the Guardian. Even the BBC, which is hardly shy about climate alarmism, gave the story a more balanced headline: `Global warming "may cut deaths"'.

This report also brings into relief a side of the climate change debate that is under-discussed: the ability of society to adapt to changing weather patterns. A quick glance at the huge variety of human societies shows a capacity to operate successfully in a range of conditions. Bustling Bangkok rarely dips below 30 degrees Celsius while average temperatures in Moscow and Helsinki are in low single digits. Even in a single, very successful city like New York, temperatures can range from the bitterly cold in winter to the blazingly hot in summer. There is little or nothing that climate change can throw at us that we don't already deal with successfully.

If temperatures do change substantially over the next few decades, there will be some disruption and humanity will need to adapt to new problems, as it has always done. But in spite of all the gloom and doom about global warming, we can chill out about a warmer Britain.


A realistic solution to the British school mess

You read stories to your children every night when they were young. You racked your brains trying to understand the mysteries of modern methods of teaching maths and you did not miss a single parents’ evening. You spent hours studying inspection reports and the league tables before you decided on the secondary school you wanted them to attend. Now you learn that their names are to be put into a hat. Egged on by a government obsessed by the wickedness of pushy middle-class parents who want the best for their children, your local education authority (LEA) has decided to substitute the vagaries of a lottery for the ideal of parental choice.

Lotteries, ministers tell us, are one of the fairest ways to allocate places at oversubscribed secondary schools. They want, in other words, to spread the misery. They seem to think that if every school has equal numbers of disadvantaged and/or difficult children, every school will be equally successful. The possibility that successful schools will be dragged down to the level of the rest has not, it appears, crossed their minds.

If everyone cannot be educated in a successful school, nobody will be. Old Labour, red in tooth and claw, reeking bitterness and envy, is creeping centre stage. You care about your children’s education? You want them to have the best possible start in life? Forget it. The politicians and their bureaucrats know best, and if they have their way no parent will be able to manipulate the system in order to secure, as some see it, an unfair educational advantage for their child.

At present, grammar schools are allowed to select pupils on grounds of academic ability, city academies can admit up to 10% of their intake on the evidence of “aptitude” in a particular subject, such as music or technology, and faith schools can still take into account a family’s commitment to a particular religion.

But those freedoms are under ever fiercer attack. Changes to the admissions code that dictate what teachers can and cannot do make the exercise of individual professional judgement more and more difficult.

Many in the world of education want schools to be forced to admit certain percentages of children from different social backgrounds and I have no doubt that ministers are attracted to the idea. Parental choice now risks becoming an evil that will have to be stamped upon in the name of equality of opportunity.

The truth, of course, is that successful schools are successful because they are in control of their own destiny. Crucially, they can decide the pupils who are likely to benefit from the kind of education they offer and they can expel pupils who cannot or will not conform. They respect the aspirations and concerns of parents who have decided that this is the right school for their child. In education, as in any other market, those who deliver what the customer wants will prosper.

Northern Rock, the prime minister told us last week, is in “temporary public ownership”. Not so state schools, which, whatever the colour of the government, seem set to remain the property of the state for ever. This is why standards in so many state schools are so low. The sooner these schools are freed from state control and allowed to compete one with another for the custom of prospective parents, the better.

Would this mean that every school would immediately try to turn itself into a grammar school? Well, not if they all wanted to survive. As in any other market, the challenge is to identify and meet the needs of different customers. Some schools would certainly transform themselves into highly academic institutions; others would be equally effective, but would educate children with, say, emotional and behavioural difficulties. It happens now in the fee-paying sector. Why not in the state?

The state would continue to fund education but would abandon its hopeless attempts to micro-manage every aspect of school life. Funding would follow the child, and children who for whatever reason are more difficult and therefore more costly to educate than others would attract more funds; schools would therefore have an incentive to cater for their needs. Schools that failed to attract enough pupils would close. Their pupils would – as, again, happens now in the fee-paying sector – move to other schools, or a new operator would take over the running of the school.

There is no reason a market of this kind could not operate efficiently. Equally, there is no reason to believe that the current centrally managed system of admissions will ever deliver anything approaching equality of opportunity. Lotteries may be considered a solution by some LEAs because, nationwide, demand for good secondary education outstrips supply. In many parts of the country there are not enough credible schools and so provision has to be rationed. So much for a centralised system that tells schools and parents what they can and cannot do.

The freedom to choose the kind of education you want for your child is a fundamental democratic right. We need to liberate schools from the tyranny of social engineering, and we must allow every school to define its ethos and educational approach in response to market demand and to set an appropriate admissions policy. The only real solution to the crisis in secondary admissions is to create more good schools, and top-down reform has failed to do this. So, the way forward could not be clearer; the tragedy is that none of our politicians can see it.


British Tories ditch green taxes: "David Cameron is to abandon plans for "green" taxes amid fears of a backlash from voters unhappy about having to pay for climate change. A leaked policy paper commissioned by the Tory leader warns that action on the environment is too often seen in terms of "consumer sacrifice". Instead the document urges Cameron to copy the more positive "can do" strategy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California governor, who has invested huge sums in businesses developing green technologies. Cameron has faced controversy for floating plans to increase tax on air travel, polluting cars and food packaging. He was last week accused of hypocrisy by taking a winter sun break in South Africa after earlier urging people to holiday in the UK. The Conservative leader has also been criticised over the wind turbine erected on the roof of his Notting Hill home. The leaked paper, written by Greg Barker, the Conservative environment spokesman, admits that Cameron's green stunts have proved unpopular."

No comments: