Friday, June 06, 2008

The insane British animal freaks

At the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, they hate people. And animals die because their hostility chases away many potential carers. Reminiscent of all the animals that America's PETA kills. Although the RSPCA is a voluntary organization, legislation has given them certain powers and they use that to hurt people if they can. Too bad about the animals

The lady looked up at me sourly. "You're ten minutes too late". They said it would be OK, I pleaded; ten past three - I did ring to check. You see, it's quite hard to find the time and I don't know when... "3pm", she said sharply. "There's no one available to speak to you now." I looked at the bevy of staff loitering around behind the desk, doing nothing much. One woman caught my eye sympathetically. "You can have a quick look round", Ms Timetable said. "Then come back another time."

And then what? "Then you fill in a form." Could I do that now? "No, because there's no one available to interview you." I glanced again at all the staff behind her. Maybe I could fill in the form and leave it? You know, cut out another visit? It was a three-hour round trip, after all. "You have to fill it in with us." Then what "Then they come and visit you at home, see if your house is suitable. And then you can come back and see the dogs..."

I gave up. This was the second RSPCA animal shelter that I had tried to adopt from - the first being unwilling even to let us look around. And three three-hour trips to this joyless centre of bureaucracy, where animals might be tended, but humans are treated with disdain, without the promise of so much as a hamster at the end of it, was more than I could bear.

Then there was the child problem. I had a four-year-old. And the RSPCA will not allow any child under 5 to have a dog; not even if she'll be 4 by the time that it arrives. Except in special circumstances. Which were? No one would tell me. I had to jump through their hoops first, with the almost certain promise of rejection at the end of it.

It's funny how many RSPCA refuseniks you come across once you become one yourself. There was the man who was told that he could have a cat only if he built platforms under the skylights in his London flat - in case the cat climbed across the roof and fell through the window. Or the woman in a rural area who was advised to heighten her fence to 20ft, because some cats like to jump high. And a mother (the owner of two happy dogs) in Norfolk who simply screamed: "RSPCA? Forget it!"

When you see the "Pet Adoption Week" campaign being launched by the RSPCA next week, with Badger the starving terrier who was rescued by a television presenter, remember these stories.

I wouldn't normally have bothered to remark on this. If the charity wants to put down more animals than is necessary, that's its business. Its, and the people who fund it: the RSPCA has an annual income of more than 100 million pounds, and about 200 million in assets, plus many millions more in its 174 branches around the country (the one that I looked up, Solent, had 3.8 million tucked away). The British give more to animal charities than to charities for the disabled. One donkey sanctuary in Devon has higher income than all the main charities fighting abuse against women combined. Still, your business. Give money to what you like.

But now the RSPCA, in its joylessness, is telling schools that they can no longer have pets. Research by the charity has found that a quarter of schools own pets, ranging from a hermit crab to a horse. Hurrah! A small piece of chaos, of life, amid the regimented drilling that we call school. Not for much longer - the RSPCA believes there is a danger that the kids might be too noisy, or the lighting conditions could be wrong, and that the classroom pet may receive variable care from different families at evenings or weekends.

If the RSPCA has its way, no more generations of kids will be taught to care for the school guinea pig or rabbit, or hermit crab; no more learning responsibility and respect for animals, no feeling the joy of holding a live thing in their hands. Laughably, the charity suggests that schools should get a soft toy instead to teach children about animal welfare. This is no joke. They really do want to stop it. The charity has sent all schools a letter warning them of their duties under the draconian Animal Welfare Act introduced at its own urging two years ago. That Act imposed a duty of care on any adult in charge of a pet, or any adult responsible for a child who is in possession of an animal.

Now the RSPCA has told schools to name a single person responsible for the rabbit's welfare, so that they can hold that person to account. The 2006 Act gave uniformed RSPCA officers the right to enter non-domestic properties without a warrant (they can enter your home only with a warrant, but they like people to believe otherwise) to check for animal rights abuses. Find a hamster being teased by Harry and the nominated teacher could face up to a year in jail. We must not let these people bully the life out of schools.

I went to a different animal sanctuary in the end. They sent over Dave to see whether I might be able to have a cat (I was running with the cat idea by then). A morose individual, like so many animal obsessives, Dave carefully checked for feline dangers, telling me to be sure to keep the cat shut indoors at night in case it got run over. Isn't depriving a cat of the night a bit like depriving a human being of light? Night-time hunting is what a cat does.

But then, I'm just someone who likes animals. I'm not an obsessive. I think that's healthy. I like humans too. There seems to be a distinction between being a human and being an "animal lover" akin to the difference between riding a bicycle and being a "cyclist". The militants are similarly at a loss for any sense of humour or humanity. In the end, we bought a puppy. Please don't tell the RSPCA.


'Children happier under care of grandparents'

No! Force them into government run pre-schools and kindergartens! That's what the British and other Leftist governments are planning anyway

Academics at Oxford University and the Institute of Education, London, found that grandparents can help young children because they often have more time to spend with them than working parents. They are good at solving their problems as well as discussing their future plans. The survey of more than 1,500 children also discovered that grandparents could help keep them calm during crises such as divorce. Researchers found that one grandmother in three regularly looked after a grandchild, while 40 per cent helped out occasionally. But they believe that more grandparents should become involved in care to improve their grandchildren's well-being, and that the Government should do more to recognise their importance to society.

Prof Ann Buchanan, the director of the Centre for Research into Parenting and Children in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at Oxford University, said: "What was especially interesting was the link between involved grandparents and adolescent well-being. Closeness was not enough: only grandparents who got stuck in had this positive impact on their grandchildren." The study's findings will be discussed at the annual meeting of the Grandparents' Association in London on Wednesday.

The survey encountered one teenager who claimed that his grandmother "taught us to read and write", and another whose grandparents discussed with him not only what GCSEs to take but what universities he should apply to and what career to take. A 12-year-old girl said her grandmother comforted her when she was being bullied at school. Grandparents who were healthy, lived in less-deprived areas and had regular contact with their grandchildren were found to have the most involvement in their upbringing.

The children questioned said it did not matter how far away their grandparents lived, because they could keep in touch using technology such as mobile phones and email.


Islamic extremists should get therapy, British government tells local councils

Police and councils have been told to avoid putting some Islamic extremists through the criminal justice system

Members of extremist groups have have not "clearly" committed a crime would receive therapy and counselling under new Government plans to "deradicalise" religious fanatics. The Home Office is to announce an extra 12.5 million pounds to support new initiatives to try to stop extremism spreading. The central element of the Home Office plan is a new national "deradicalisation" programme that would persuade converts to violent and extremist causes to change their views. Controversially, the new plan makes clear that people who fall under the influence of violent organisations will not automatically face prosecution.

The Government says the presumption should now be that individuals who have not yet committed a crime would face therapy and counselling from community groups instead of being sanctioned. Documents being distributed to local councils explain that many people who get drawn into extremism have often suffered some sort of personal trauma or crisis that makes them vulnerable to exploitation. "We do not want to put through the criminal justice system those who are vulnerable to, or are being drawn into, violent extremism unless they have clearly committed an offence," a Home Office report says. "It is vital that individuals and communities understand this and have the confidence to use the support structures that we shall be developing."

A Home Office spokesman today insisted radicals who break the law will still be prosecuted: A spokesman said: "The police and the Criminal Justice Service will still those who prosecute people who commit offences and the guidance makes absolutely clear this is about preventing people being drawn into criminality and rehabilitating those that have not been."

Most of the new funding will be set aside for grants to community groups that challenge the messages of violent extremists should be supported. The plan includes a suggestion that local councils should map their areas religion, surveying and recording the faiths and denominations of local residents. New guidelines for councils say: "A deeper understanding of local communities should be developed to help inform and focus the programme of action - this may include mapping denominational backgrounds and demographic and socio-economic factors."

The Home Office has told councils they must be prepared to ask police to vet anyone involved in projects that receive government anti-radicalisation funding. If a group is found to be promoting violent extremism, local agencies and the police should consider disrupting or removing funding, and deny access to public facilities, the document added.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "A key element of our strategy aims to stop people getting involved in extremist violence. "We are investing at local level to build resilient communities, which are equipped to confront violent extremism and support the most vulnerable individuals."

Shadow home secretary David Davis said of today's publication: "This is pointless when the Government is fuelling the problem it is seeking to solve with its draconian approach to 42 days."


Drop 'middle-class' academic subjects says British schools adviser

Children should no longer be taught traditional subjects at school because they are "middle-class" creations, a Government adviser will claim today. Professor John White, who contributed to a controversial shake-up of the secondary curriculum, believes lessons should instead cover a series of personal skills. Pupils would no longer study history, geography and science but learn skills such as energy- saving and civic responsibility through projects and themes. He will outline his theories at a conference today staged by London's Institute of Education - to which he is affiliated - to mark the 20th anniversary of the national curriculum.

Last night, critics attacked his ideas as "deeply corrosive" and condemned the Government for allowing him to advise on a new curriculum. Professor White will claim ministers are already "moving in the right direction" towards realising his vision of replacing subjects with a series of personal aims for pupils. But he says they must go further because traditional subjects were invented by the middle classes and are "mere stepping stones to wealth". [And who would want that?]

The professor believes the origins of our subject-based education system can be traced back to 19th century middle-class values. While public schools focused largely on the classics, and elementary schools for the working class concentrated on the three Rs, middle-class schools taught a range of academic subjects. These included English, maths, history, geography, science and Latin or a modern language. They "fed into the idea of academic learning as the mark of a well-heeled middle- class", he said last night. The Tories then attempted to impose these middle-class values by introducing a traditional subject-based curriculum in 1988. But this "alienated many youngsters, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds", he claimed.

The professor, who specialises in philosophy of education, was a member of a committee set up to advise Government curriculum authors on changes to secondary schooling for 11 to 14-year-olds. The reforms caused a row when they were unveiled last year for sidelining large swathes of subject content in favour of lessons on issues such as climate change and managing debt.

Professor White wants ministers to encourage schools to shift away from single-subject teaching to "theme or project-based learning". Pupils would still cover some content but would be encouraged to meet a series of personal aims. The curriculum already states some of these but is "hampered" by the continued primacy of subjects. The aims include fostering a model pupil who "values personal relationships, is a responsible and caring citizen, is entrepreneurial, able to manage risk and committed to sustainable development".

Critics claim theme-based work is distracting and can lead to gaps in pupils' knowledge. Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said Professor White's view was "deeply corrosive". He added: "In the world we are living in, we need people who are better educated, not more poorly educated, more knowledgeable about the world, not less so. "This anti-knowledge, anti-subject ideology is deeply damaging to our education system. It is this sort of thinking that has led to the promotion of discredited reading methods, the erosion of three separate sciences and the decline of mathematics skills. "I just find it astonishing that someone with his extreme views has been allowed to advise the Government on education policy."


No to talk therapy

Eysenck showed the uselessness of talk therapy in the 1940s but it is a monster that refuses to die

Britain's traditional stiff upper lip may be a better strategy for dealing with shock than letting your feelings spill out, a new study claims. The popular assumption is that talking about a terrifying experience, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, can be therapeutic and helpful. But new evidence suggests "getting it off your chest" may not be the right thing to do.

Psychologists in the US used an online survey to test people's responses to the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Those who chose to express their thoughts and feelings were compared with those who did not over a two-year period. To their surprise, individuals who bottled up their feelings ended up better off. They suffered fewer negative mental and physical health symptoms than people who were willing to talk.

The results have important implications for expectations about how people should react to collective trauma that affects a whole community or nation, said the researchers. It also called into question the pleas made to people caught up in shocking events to come forward and "open up". After last year’s Virginia Tech University shootings in the US, numerous "media-doc" psychiatrists told how important it was for the students to express their feelings.

Dr Mark Seery, from the University of Buffalo, New York State, who led the new research, said: "This perfectly exemplifies the assumption in popular culture, and even in clinical practice, that people need to talk in order to overcome a collective trauma. "Instead, we should be telling people there is likely nothing wrong if they do not want to express their thoughts and feelings after experiencing a collective trauma. "In fact, they can cope quite successfully and, according to our results, are likely to be better off than someone who does want to express his or her feelings." The findings are published in the June issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Dr Seery stressed it would be wrong to say people recovering from trauma should never express their feelings. "It's important to remember that not everyone copes with events in the same way, and in the immediate aftermath of a collective trauma, it is perfectly healthy to not want to express one’s thoughts and feelings," he said.


Another comment:

It would be hard to pinpoint exactly the death of the British stiff upper lip, but I would hazard it happened around the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. What with hours of television shows devoted to personal problems and acres of self-help manuals filling the shelves, its demise had been coming for some time; but the Princess's death opened the floodgates and we haven't stopped having sizeable feelings from that day.

Feelings, of course, are often quite unavoidable. Equally, though, they are a rather cumbersome replacement for thoughts. Yet people increasingly believe that if they can only say what they feel, then all anxieties will magically vanish.

Not so, according to this month's issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. It turns out that - contrary to every mother's advice, and every episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show - there are serious health benefits to be enjoyed from bottling things up. Not speaking about one's worries is a reliable way of getting over them; while the highly profitable culture of Yak Yak Yak has done quite the opposite, making people altogether more worried about the bad things that have happened, or are happening, or are likely to happen in the next 50 years.

Laying it all out on the table over a nice cup of tea was nothing short of a health hazard: it might have offered the instant sensation of a burden lessened, but doctors now believe that too much talk about worries can exacerbate them to the point where they seem out of control.

Science and I don't often agree - which is good news for science and bad news for me - but I've been arguing for the return of the stiff upper lip for some time. I hate all those TV programmes where people line up on stage to ask their daddy why he didn't love them enough.

For a start, one can usually understand quite quickly why the daddy didn't, and second (perhaps more scientifically) the people on those shows don't seem to benefit from the spectacle of unburdening.

In the old days, when people's daddies didn't love them enough, they felt a bit sad about it and tried to do better with their own children. Or they sought ways to bear it.

Bear it! Now there's an outmoded concept. Surely there's something to be said for gearing oneself up for a bit of disappointment in life, to say nothing of pain, rather than bleating every time you realise that a perfect life is not something that follows on naturally from excessive moaning.

Yet misery memoirs are now among the nation's national tonics, even though any number of them have proved to be works of fiction aimed at a gullible and needy public. Tonics, in my view, are something best taken with a glass of gin and a slice of lemon, helping one towards the refreshing conclusion that solutions to intractable problems might often be found in a combination of acceptance and forgetting, as opposed to endless wallowing.

Being "self-aware" - ie, droning on about feelings - has, among other things, threatened to kill the art of conversation and normal social interaction. The proper response to, "How do you do?" is "How do you do?", not, "Well, actually, I have a tummy-ache," or, "I am prey to unbearable anxieties about my childlessness".

It used to be considered insufferably self-regarding to answer any polite query about one's health with anything other than a cheery, "Fine, thank you," even if one were riddled with necrotizing fasciitis and had mere moments to live. Today, anyone who inquires about anyone else's well-being needs to brace themselves for an onslaught of unlovely detail.

While it is rather sad if your mummy never kissed you goodnight - and such sadness can lead to great heights of human expression, see Proust - too much wallowing can cheapen emotion, and common complaints transform into little arias of self-importance.

You'll notice that the expression "sob story" has recently fallen out of common parlance and that's because everybody is now assumed to have one: you can't turn on the radio without hearing some allegedly successful person wailing about the fact that there was never a sweetie in their tuck box.

How much more impressive (and heartening, and a real tonic) it is to come across people who have surmounted incredible difficulties and can still get on with their lives. People in wheelchairs find love; people with no voice become politicians and speak for masses - with nary a complaint or a memoir along the way - while every day we are invited to commune with some perfectly endowed individual who wants us to feel her pain about not being able to find a boyfriend.

The stiff upper lip doesn't seek to deny sadness, but rather acknowledges it quietly, takes control of it, and allows one to survive and move on. The person who ends each telephone conversation - with everyone from their mother to their plumber - with "Love You" is not necessarily the supremely well-adjusted hero you might think. This is to put sentimentality before real feeling; sometimes holding back is simply a way of allowing your emotions their true weight.

For the sake of your health, get buttoned up, though please don't expect to win any national talent contests if you do so.



The Guardian, as we all know, is a particularly fine repository of intellectualized masturbation where `global warming' is concerned, full of deep desires to wash away the false consciousness of the masses, and for us all to be made to alter our evil ways. As ever, Aunty Polly is on full Guardianista message in her column today [Polly Toynbee: `Any fat goose fretting over tax can boo this lot off course', The Guardian, June 3]:

"Taxes designed to change behaviour are always unfair ... That's how it must be if you seriously want people to stop ... gas guzzling. Inequality has to be fixed in other ways, through tax redistribution, fair pay or fuel-hardship handouts. High food prices too will need more tax redistribution to protect the poor. A serious green policy would fix energy prices at a guaranteed constant high to make everyone use less and to make green technologies economically enticing for investors - and make incomes fairer."

"To make everyone" - just note that authoritarian language, and this is only one paragraph. But, for Our Polly, the Government is a failure - it is not functioning: "Governments that lose their nerve make bad decisions. Watch while Brown and his cabinet cave in to the crocodile tears of the driving lobby. If some hard-hit drivers need special help, give it to them. If people think green tax is a con then hypothecate the takings to public transport and carbon reduction. But if Labour throws overboard more of its own budget in a frenzy of tax bribes, it's all over."

The Toynbees of this world are always wanting to employ taxes to control the people's behaviour with respect to something or other, to reverse our false consciousness or to hypothecate the tax takings to their own favourite causes, while, of course, making it hurt a bit. They like that. The streak of puritanism runs deep. And, of course, in very specific circumstances, where the public also perceives benefits, targeted laws (e.g. banning the use of mobile `phones while driving), rather than punitive taxes, can work to some degree.

Nevertheless, despite twenty years of bien pensant propaganda and hysteria, the public are not on board where `global warming' is concerned, as I know personally from my many speaking engagements around the country. Fundamentally, they have too much down-to-earth common sense about the basic economics and politics involved. This was the theme picked up yesterday by David Cox, who encouragingly brings a saner voice on this issue to The Guardian [`Cooling on warming', The Guardian, June 2]:

"Remember that global warming thingy? The idea was that we're wrecking the climate by pumping out greenhouse gases, and that we've jolly well got to change our wicked ways. Virtually the entire political, academic and media establishment threw its might behind this notion. Huge quantities of hot air were pumped out in its name, and many tonnes of pollutants expelled by planes carrying concerned dignitaries to global conferences.

There was, however, a problem: people didn't seem too keen to abandon driving, flying, meat eating, patio heating or even buying tungsten light bulbs ... We're prepared to make sanctimonious gestures and attend the occasional concert of clapped-out superstars' appalling music. But we're not apparently prepared to sacrifice our welfare or our lifestyles, and we've been letting our rulers know. "

Cox thus points us in a rather different direction from the usual Guardianista obsession with authoritarian controls, punitive taxes, and slaying the dragon of false consciousness: "Perhaps, it's time to get real ... The answer is surely to switch our efforts away from trying to change human behaviour towards other approaches to the problem."

What a heresy! You mean people may, in the main, choose themselves how to live, and we might actually adopt technological solutions and adaptive processes that are little more than "... a sinful attempt to divert attention from the hairshirt remedies on which the prophets of doom have insisted."

Cox is, of course, correct. If we were wise, we should indeed be "taking proper steps to adapt to future climate change ... Yet, we're hardly even trying to develop new kinds of flood defence or drought-resistant crops. Why should we, while policy-makers assume that we're going to head-off warming by reducing our consumption of energy?" Thus Cox concludes: "It's surely time for a change of tack. Or should we just wring our hands?"

It is good to see sense creeping into The Guardian. Climate change has never been about the `science', but about economic and political choices in response to inexorable change. To say that the climate is "changing" (it always has, and it always will), and that humans have some impact on climate, are both little more than truisms, and far too much media energy has been wasted on debating them. I am bored to the teeth with the minutiae of this debate, which adds nothing to that simple truth - climate changes. Full stop. End of story.

What truly matters are our economic and political approaches to change. And herein lies the worst, and potentially the most dangerous, mistake made by Polly and her ilk. Trying to control climate change predictably is neither feasible nor economically sensible; in other words, mitigation is an economic and political dead end. It can't be done, and, politically, it won't be done. This is why Cox is sensible. It is also why the current politics of `global warming' are doomed to failure, and why poor Aunty Polly will not get her way.

The only rational approach to climate change is to maintain strong, flexible economies; to build and to plan with the `normal' extremes of climate in mind (this is done all too rarely, even now); to support research into every aspect of agronomy in order to help us to cope with all sorts and conditions of climate; to promote practical energy; to support development and trade so that the poor gain more innate resistance and flexibility in the face of change; and, as a world, to work out ways in which adaptation may work in poor countries, as well as in rich countries. The rest is sound and fury, signifying little.

This approach is above all realistic, but it also allows for freedom. It further means that we will not be caught out by foolishly assuming just one climate trend (remember the English gardeners who were told to plant drought-resistant plants and cacti, and then the country flooded).

But, and this is important, it also tells the Aunty Ps of this world where to go with their ideas of puritanical control. Sadly, `global warming' has appealed to too many authoritarian souls who simply want to employ it to promote their own agendas, from evangelical Christians to Old Marxists, and to Guardian journalists who are desperate to find something to bind the human soul.


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