Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More BBC censorship

"Separatist" and "moderate" are apparently bad words:

"The BBC is facing a High Court challenge over its decision to censor a party political broadcast in the run-up to Thursday's local elections. A Christian party has begun legal action after the corporation insisted on changes to a short film in which the party voiced opposition to the building of Europe's biggest mosque next to the site of the 2012 Olympics.

Tablighi Jamaat, the Islamic missionary group behind the 75 million pound Abbey Mills mosque, opposes inter-faith dialogue and preaches that non-Muslims are an evil and corrupting influence. One of its British advocates has said that it aims to rescue Muslims from the culture and civilisation of Jews and Christians by creating "such hatred for their ways as human beings have for urine and excreta".

The Christian Choice election broadcast would have described Tablighi Jamaat as "a separatist Islamic group" before welcoming that some "moderate Muslims" were opposed to the mosque complex.

Alan Craig, the party's candidate in the London mayoral election, also on Thursday, said that he was forced to change the wording at the insistence of lawyers at the BBC and ITV, which will also feature in the court action.

The BBC refused to accept "separatist" - the corporation asked for "controversial" instead - and barred the use of "moderate Muslims" because the phrase implied that Tablighi Jamaat was less than moderate.


As the BBC is compulsorily supported by the taxpayer (and even some non-taxpayers are made to cough up), one would hope it had some obligation to speak the truth rather than cover it up. Silly of me to think that, I guess.

Supermarkets must accept being libelled?

The British literary luvvies are venting their hatred of big business:

"A group of Britain's leading authors has accused Tesco of using "deeply chilling" tactics to silence its critics. Nick Hornby and Mark Haddon are among the writers who have signed a letter in The Times today condemning the supermarket for prosecuting a Thai business leader for making a speech that decried Tesco's expansion. If the supermarket is successful Jit Siratranont could be jailed.

Hornby and Haddon - together with Marina Lewycka, the author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and Deborah Moggach, who wrote Tulip Fever - have also put their names to a longer open letter arguing that a criminal libel prosecution and two civil actions against journalists represent a breach of their human rights....

A spokesman for the supermarket said that Tesco stood by its Thai subsidiary, which would have informed its superiors in Britain of its actions. "All three of these actions follow a sustained period of attack on Tesco Lotus in Thailand. It is our fervent wish to reach agreement. We are seeking a public apology. It is very regrettable that we have had to take legal action in Thailand. We had hoped that the individuals concerned would apologise for the false and highly damaging allegations they had made about our business over a sustained period of time but despite numerous attempts to get them to set the record straight, this has not happened.


Tesco is a bit like a British Wal-Mart -- that friend of the poor that all good Leftists hate! It seems to me that Tesco are in fact being moderate about this.

Hatred of Technology

But it's all theory. Who cares about silly old facts?

Susan Greenfield's lower lip pouts as if to blow a raspberry. Then, in soothsaying mode, the solemn utterance: "The global cyber world promises a more reassuring, safer option than the messy world of in-your-face three-dimensional life. But the IT technologies are already blurring the cyber world and reality." The hooded eyes readjust from Delphic oracle to larky chick as she flashes a face-splitting grin. "There are people," she chortles, "who can't believe, eh! that the planes crashing into the twin towers were actually real, eh!" The punctuating "eh!" prompts you to agree.

Professor Greenfield, promoter extraordinaire of science, has written a book that makes routine auguries - global warming, economic downturns - look like mere gloomy hand-wringing. A specialist in brain degeneration, Greenfield is predicting that our teen generation is headed for a sort of mass loss of personal identity. She calls it the Nobody Scenario. By spending inordinate quantities of time in the interactive, virtual, two-dimensional, cyberspace realms of the screen, she believes that the brains of the youth of today are headed for a drastic alteration. It's as if all that young grey cortical matter is being scalded and defoliated by a kind of cognitive Agent Orange, depriving them of moral agency, imagination and awareness of consequences.

"They are destined to lose an awareness of who and what they are: not someones, or anyones, but nobodies, eh!" That expressive mouth widens again, the lower lip ripens. "The time is well nigh," she says, "to explore the impact of these technologies." ....

Greenfield has elaborated a theory about the influence of IT on young brains. Given the time young people spend gazing into screens, small and large - reckoned to be from six to nine hours daily - she believes the minds of the younger generation are developing differently from those of previous generations. "The brain," she says, "has plasticity: it is exquisitely malleable, and a significant alteration in our environment and behaviour has consequences."

She sets out a catalogue of repercussions: the substitution of virtual experience for real encounters; the impact of spoon-fed menu options as opposed to free-ranging inquiry; a decline in linguistic and visual imagination; an atrophy of creativity; contracted, brutalised text-messaging, lacking the verbs and conditional structures essential for complex thinking. Her principal concern is how computer games could be emphasising what she calls "process" over "content" - method over meaning - in mental activity.

Her theory goes like this. The more we play games, the less time there is for learning specific facts and working out how those facts relate to each other. This can result, she maintains, in a failure to build highly personalised individual conceptual frameworks - the whole point of education and the basis of individual identity. If the purpose of a game, for instance, is to free the princess from the tower, it is the thrill of attaining the goal, the process, that counts. What does not count is the content - the personality of the princess and the narrative as to why and how she is there, as in a storybook. Greenfield avers that emphasis on process in isolation becomes addictive and profoundly mind-changing.

Here is her hypothesis. A natural brain chemical called dopamine is involved in all forms of addiction. Dopamine contributes to feelings of wellbeing on attaining a goal, especially when gratification repeatedly deferred is finally delivered. Falling levels of dopamine accompany the opposite situations, when gratification has been frustrated (for example, waiting for a phone call that never comes).

The area of the brain crucial to the dopamine hits is called the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with the prefrontal cortex, an area at the front of the brain. An under-functioning prefrontal cortex is linked with types of behaviour marked by total absorption in the here and now, and an inability to consider past and future implications. According to Greenfield, excessive dopamine can reduce the activity of brain cells in the prefrontal cortex, leading to its partial shutdown. She is speculating that the intense subjective "here and now" feeling, prompted and accompanied by dopamine "rewards" in computer play, creates a euphoric, self-centred ego boost, the pleasure of which can lead to craving and addiction.

What lasting effect does this repeated neglect in the prefrontal cortex have on the brain, and hence the mind? "Excessive dopamine hits might reduce activation in the prefrontal cortex, and in so doing tip the balance away from awareness of the significance, the meaning, of our actions," she says. So playing games in which I slaughter scores of all-comers with my trusty sword, as in the Tarantino movie Kill Bill, deals not with the significance of beheading and disembowelling of hordes of Japanese villains, but with the process - the action separated from meaning and consequences. "When those teenagers kicked that goth girl to death in the park recently," she says, "was it like a computer game for them? The buzz of the moment? Were they thinking of her as a person with feelings, with parents and siblings? Were they thinking of the implications for themselves the next day?"

For the mind to operate fully, Greenfield asserts, the prefrontal cortex must be active, and content must be a high priority. The world and oneself are then redolent with meaning. How do the young attain unique and enriched identities? "Through the world of focused conversation, nursery rhyme repetition, recitation and rote learning, of reading and writing interspersed with bouts of physical activity in the real world, where there are first-hand and unique adventures to provide a personal narrative, personalised neuronal connections. This is education as we have known it."

And what if "education as we have known it" fails? It will lead, she predicts, to the ultimate triumph of process over content: the Nobody Scenario. "For the first time in human history, individuality could be obliterated in favour of a passive state, reacting to a flood of incoming sensations - a `yuck' and `wow' mentality characterised by a premium on momentary experience as the landscape of the brain shifts into one where personalised brain connectivity is either not functional or absent altogether." .....

Greenfield tells me that she has friends who have faith and she quizzes them endlessly - Ed Stourton, the broadcaster, Jack Valero, Opus Dei's spokesperson in Britain, and a neighbour whose faith is helping him and his family overcome a serious illness. She pauses outside New College. This is the college of Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and professional antagonist of religion.

That Delphic lower lip is active again. "I'm not at all saying that all religious believers are fundamentalists; but what distinguishes the believing brain of the extreme kind - I mean the fundamentalist and the totalitarian - from the non-fundamentalist brains," she ventures, "is the emotion of disgust, eh. "The anti-Semitic imagery of the Nazis was associated with a virus, a stealthy and elusive infection [What complete and utter nonsense! The Nazis just applied German thoroughness to a belief that had been normal in Europe for centuries]. So combating such a difficult enemy in the struggle for community hygiene isn't just a punch-for-punch slugging it out. The enemy is a sickness. You've got to be on constant guard. You don't just get angry with disease - you destroy it, exterminate it." She nods towards New College. "The invisible viral foe could invade your body and, most importantly, your brain. That's the language used by Dawkins, who's developed non-belief into a belief system all of its own, and who constantly refers to religion as a virus." ....

For people in midlife, she asserts, the identity problem is affluence. "The reason we crave more clothes, cars, goods, brands, is that they'll say something about us, symbolise our distinct, preferably superior identity." [Typical Leftist boilerplate]


The packed-lunch police

How four British schools are waging war on home-produced forbidden food

Hmm, what's it to be? A lentil korma with brown rice and salad, then fruit and a yoghurt for afters, or a High School Musical bag stuffed with crisps and a couple of bars of chocolate? It sounds absurd but in some schools children sitting next to eat other could be eating such contrasting lunches.

While school dinners have come on nutritionally in leaps and bounds, and thanks to more money for ingredients and training for the dinner ladies, they taste a whole lot better too, there's nothing to stop pupils in many schools bringing in junk from home. A survey last year lifted the lid on lunchboxes to reveal the unappetising truth: what's inside them contains too much saturated fat and up to half the daily allowance of of salt. [Kids under 7 should have no more than 3g of salt a day.] Salads are scarce and only half the children brought in a portion of fruit and vegetables.

Children who aren't eating school dinners are losing out - that's about 60 per cent of primary school kids. And this is why, as part of the Government's attempt to tackle obesity, Alan Johnson, the Health Minister, has suggested that schools should check lunchbox contents.

The School Food Trust, the body set up by the Government to turn round school dinners, suggest drawing up a policy for packed lunches - a few basic rules to bring them in line with a healthier school environment - and make sticking to it part of a code that parents have to agree to. Others say it is impossible for schools to police what children bring in to eat. Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, says: "Many parents in this country will feel that it is their decision what they feed their children."

Joe Harvey, of the Health Education Trust, a charity involved in the Better School Food campaign, agrees. "You can't search kids for Kit Kats," he says. So what can schools do about it? "There has to be a process of education and consultation or they'll get the burgers-through-the-fence brigade. It should be part of a whole school food policy." He advises schools to build food rules into any contract the school makes with new parents; do everything possible to make sure children know what's going on in the school kitchen; and make the meal service as attractive as possible.

More here

The free market beats the tyrants -- as ever

The tyrants call it a "black market" but it is their arrogance and ignorance that is black

Students are operating a black-market trade in food banned in schools, including burgers and chocolate, in a backlash against healthier canteen menus such as those espoused by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Newly installed healthy menus in school canteens and the removal of junk food from vending machines have created a gap in the market that students have been quick to fill. Some of the most sophisticated operations are taking place at business and enterprise schools.

The move to healthier meals in schools was prompted by Oliver's crusade in 2005 against Turkey Twizzlers and other unhealthy foods. The following year the Government published a report setting definitive nutritional standards for school lunches. One young smuggling mastermind, when finally caught, said to his school's headmaster unapologetically: "But we were only doing what you taught us in business studies, Sir."

After a tip from a head teacher at a Dorset secondary who broke up a "seriously big smuggling operation" run by a schoolboy, The Times has uncovered several similar contraband schemes. The head, who did not want to identify his school, was convinced that the switch to a healthy menu and the policy of keeping pupils on the premises at lunchtime had created an opening for entrepreneurs. He became suspicious when he noticed two 14-year-old boys approaching the school weighed down with Lidl carrier bags. "The thin wiry creatures, in full uniform but with shortened ties, shirts hanging out, were walking a heavily laden bicycle. The bags were dripping off the bike's handlebars, crossbars and saddle like a scene from some desperate endeavour on foot and mule to reach a lost city in the Peruvian mountains," he said.

A teacher nicknamed Columbo tracked down the boys and their illicit cargo: 60 cans of fizzy drinks and piles of milk chocolate. "We discovered they were just the buyers. Someone else had funded the purchase, a player who in turn was funded by unknowns, who were taking the lion's share. "Getting to the core of the operation was like peeling an onion, there appeared to be no centre," the head added. He suspects that similar operations are happening to a greater or lesser extent in most schools.

Sure enough, when The Times appealed to head teachers for similar tales, the response was rapid and clear. "It has happened to us. Kids with motorbikes buying McDonald's burgers in bulk and flogging them in the playground. We are a business and enterprise school in Essex so I guess I should not be surprised," one said. "When challenged, the boy at the centre said he was just being enterprising."

Another, this time from Wales, said: "The `McDonald's run', where sixth-formers with cars take orders for the lower school who are locked in at lunchtimes is one of the best bits of student enterprise I have seen for a long time."

It is not just business studies teachers who have been giving children ideas; it is also the parents. Two mothers from Rotherham gained publicity for feeding burgers to their children through the school railings after the introduction of a healthy new menu.

Brian Lightman, president of the Association of School and College Leaders and head teacher at St Cyres School in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, said that the healthy eating initiative would only succeed if students were allowed a say. "Because these changes have been imposed without allowing time for them to gain a sense of ownership, schools are reporting cases of students finding innovative ways around the new regulations," he said. Of course, if today's teenager crisp smugglers really want a good excuse when caught, they might be well advised to point to Jamie Oliver himself. As an enterprising 11-year-old he used to lease school-lockers from fellow pupils, from where he would sell sweets he had bought at the cash-and-carry. Alternatively, students could also point to the teachers who regularly sneak out at lunch time for burgers and chips, now that they are no longer on the menu.


UK: Elections "vulnerable to fraud": "Elections in the UK fall short of international standards with the system vulnerable to fraud, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust claims.Measures to improve choice for voters -- such as postal and electronic voting -- are actually risking the integrity of the electoral process, it said."

The lazy British police: "A family who dialled 999 when eight men wearing balaclavas burst into their home at 11.15pm were told by the police that they were too busy to come. Mathew Sims, 24, his partner Sarah Barham, also 24, and their two children, aged 6 and 5, ran upstairs when the men, one brandishing an axe, smashed the glass in a door that Mr Sims was trying to keep closed. Eventually the burglars left in two cars after stripping the downstairs rooms of electrical items. Three hours later the police turned up at the house - barely a mile from a police station - in Arnold, Nottinghamshire. Mr Sims said: "The minute we knew these people were in the house we rang the police, but they said it would be at least half an hour before they could come out. "No one from the police had turned up half an hour later, and when we rang again they said there was no one they could send." In a letter to the couple, Chief Inspector Andy Burton said that they deserved an apology and confirmed that an inquiry was under way." [If he had said that somebody had called him a queer, they would have been right out]

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