Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wikipedia victory in censorship row

We read:
"An anti-child abuse watchdog has reversed its decision to blacklist a Wikipedia page showing a controversial 1976 album cover after protests over censorship. Most British internet service providers had blocked users from accessing the image of a prepubescent naked girl on the cover of the Virgin Killer album by the Scorpions, a German band, after the Internet Watch Foundation ruled it was a "potentially illegal indecent image".

But the picture was accessible on many other sites and some argued that, while provocative, it was an artistic historical artefact and should not be banned. Last night the IWF accepted that its ban had been counter-productive after the controversy had prompted millions to view the image. It said in a statement: "The IWF Board has considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.

"IWF's overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users. Wikipedia have been informed of the outcome of this procedure and IWF Board's subsequent decision." .......

Wikipedia had sharply criticised the IWF decision which had the side-effect of leaving many British internet users unable to edit Wikipedia entries and affected the website's performance......

The Wikimedia Foundation behind Wikipedia had protested that the IWF had gone too far. "The IWF didn't just block the image; it blocked access to the article itself, which discusses the image in a neutral, encyclopedic fashion," said Wikimedia Foundation head Sue Gardner from San Francisco.


Jeremy Clarkson cleared by Ofcom over joke about truck drivers and prostitutes

Some sense of proportion left in Britain:
"Jeremy Clarkson [pic above] has been cleared by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom of causing offence after making a joke about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes. Ofcom received 339 complaints after the Top Gear presenter made the remarks during a pre-recorded episode of the BBC Two motoring show last month.

Clarkson and his co-presenters James May, the Daily Telegraph columnist, and Richard Hammond, were taking part in a stunt for the show that involved driving lorries around an obstacle course. Climbing behind the wheel, Clarkson mused: "What matters to lorry drivers? Murdering prostitutes? Fuel economy?" He went on: "This is a hard job, and I'm not just saying this to win favour with lorry drivers. It's a hard job - change gear, change gear, change gear, check your mirrors, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder. That's a lot of effort in a day."

His comments provoked a furious reaction from victim support groups and road hauliers who demanded that the presenter make a public apology.

Ofcom accepted that the remarks "could shock some viewers" but ruled that Clarkson was "clearly using exaggeration to make a joke, albeit not to everyone's taste. "The comments should therefore have been seen in that context," it said. "It is often the case that humour can cause offence. To restrict humour only to material which does not cause offence would be an unnecessary restriction of freedom of expression."

Ofcom also cleared an episode of the BBC One sitcom Harry and Paul, which featured an upper-class character, played by Harry Enfield, encouraging his Northern friend to mate with his neighbour's Filipino maid. The sketch prompted the Philippine ambassador in London, Edgardo B Espiritu, to write to the chair of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, accusing the pair of racism.

However, Ofcom ruled that there was "no intention" to ridicule women or the Filipino community. "The target of the humour was very clearly the upper-class character played by Harry Enfield who holds such a deluded view of his social superiority that he treats individuals with lower social status with ridiculous disdain," it ruled.


Clarkson is one of the funniest men in Britain -- but not in the foul-mouthed way that is now so common among British comedians.

Upper crust arrogance in Britain

Thousands of ordinary families faced airport hell yesterday - as well-heeled youngsters blockaded Stansted's runway in a demo over climate change. The protesters - whose Plane Stupid campaign counts sons and daughters of peers among activists - chained themselves together to halt flights.

Armed police took five hours to clear them as more than 150 take-offs and landings were delayed or cancelled at the Essex airport - Britain's third-busiest. Fuming passengers almost came to blows in the scramble to check in for alternative flights - as gun cops battled to keep order amid chaos.

Last night the campaigners - 57 of whom were arrested - were blasted for causing planes to be diverted . . . putting MORE carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Adam May, 24, from Clapham, South London, whose flight to meet his girlfriend in Berlin was scuppered, raged: "It makes no sense. They should be banged up." [i.e. put in jail]

Demonstrators held by cops included Olivia Chessell, 20, whose family hails from posh East Dulwich in South East London. She took part in a demo on the roof of the Commons in February against a new runway at Heathrow. Tamsin Omond, 23 - a baronet's grandaughter - was also part of that protest, along with Leo Murray, 31, who is the grandson of the late Labour peer Anthony Greenwood. Another arrested was campaigner Liz Snook, 30, from Harlow, Essex. [Snook on the left in the pic below. Kember on the right]

In yesterday's demo, chained protesters surrounded themselves with a "cage" of fencing. As police cut them out, Plane Stupid's Lily Kember, 21, defended her group's protest about greenhouse gas emissions, insisting: "It's a strong message." She was taught at 15,000 pounds-a-year Godolphin and Latymer school in Hammersmith, West London.

More than 3,500 Ryanair passengers were among those hit as the budget carrier cancelled 56 flights. The airline blasted Stansted's security after the protesters breached the airport's 5ft perimeter fence with wire-cutters at 3am. Among those forced to scrap holiday plans were 20 excited pupils aged 11 to 12 heading for Hamburg. Teacher Vanessa Lamb said: "The children are obviously upset."


Britain: More police funding but FEWER frontline officers to deal with street crime

The Leftist infatuation with bureaucracy again

The number of police available to deal with crime on the streets is falling, a high-powered academic report revealed yesterday. It said the ranks of fully-trained police constables have been thinned out in favour of more community support officers, middle management and civilian back-up staff. The findings challenge the longstanding Labour claim that police numbers have been greatly increased and that crime has fallen partly as a result. Researchers said Government crime policy was 'mired in contradiction'.

The report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London said details of police numbers show 'the way in which the Home Office has relied on the recruitment of less qualified and lower paid auxiliary staff to boost the visible policing presence'. And it revealed that the number of police constables dropped by nearly 1,500 - more than 1 per cent - between 2006 and 2007. The past five years has seen the number of superintendents increase by 16 per cent and the ranks of chief inspectors swell by almost 20 per cent. Over the same period the amount of taxpayers' money used to fund police forces has risen 20 per cent.

The report's findings are borne out by Home Office figures on police numbers published earlier this year. These show that the number of constables peaked at 109,037 in 2005, dropping by nearly 2,000 to 107,048 in March this year. In the same timescale the number of community support officers leapt from 6,201 to 15,883.

The figures drew an alarmed reaction from opposition politicians. Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This undermines all Labour's rhetoric about record police numbers. The fact is that because of Labour's target culture our police spend just 14 per cent of their time where the public want them,which is on the streets.'

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth said: 'The report rightly points out how incoherent policy from a Government obsessed with looking tough has left staff at the sharp end of the criminal justice system confused and overworked.'

But the Home Office insisted that spending on additional staff has meant fully-qualified officers can spend more time combating crime. A spokesman said: 'Time spent by officers on frontline duties has increased each year since 2003 - equivalent to 5,340 more police officers. Additional police staff are freeing officers to return to the front line.'


British minister demands 'radical' reform on training of social workers in the wake of Baby P tragedy

Now THIS is long overdue

The training of social workers and their working methods needs a root-and-branch overhaul, Children's Secretary Ed Balls said yesterday. He called for more on-the-job training and less theory for students, who get their qualifications to become social workers largely in university classrooms. And he said he had commissioned a `taskforce' to shake up training schemes and to examine `how professional social workers are deploying their time'.

The pressure for sweeping reform of social work follows the Baby P and Shannon Matthews cases, in which two social work departments boasting high official ratings failed to prevent the most serious abuse of children in families under their supervision. In the Baby P case social workers from Haringey, London, were said to have spent much of their time form-filling while failing to notice the child's mother was living with a vicious boyfriend and lodger. The baby died despite 60 contacts between his mother and social workers, police and health staff.

A report - promised to be independent - is being drawn up on the actions of Kirklees, Yorkshire, social workers in the Matthews case. There are suspicions that the kidnapped girl's family was removed from the child protection register to help achieve Government targets.

Mr Balls told BBC One's Politics Show: 'This needs to be a very radical review. It needs to ask some very hard questions. In my view the training of social workers is too theoretical. 'There isn't enough on-the-job training, there isn't enough challenge and supervision through the early years. We need our schools and social workers to work more closely together, we need to boost leadership.' He added: 'There's lots to be done. And of course I wish that it could have happened earlier but in the end, in the Baby P case I don't think it would in the end have changed it, because that was a particular and harrowing tragedy.'

Mr Balls said that the standing of the teaching profession has been transformed over the past 10 years and the same must now be done for social work. A 'taskforce' to examine training and practice is to be set up, headed by Moira Gibb, who is currently the chief executive of Camden council. Miss Gibb, a former social services director, is one of the great and good of social work, who has headed the social services directors' association and been appointed by the Government as a member of the UK Statistics Authority. Proposals it will examine include rules to ensure that children's services directors have experience in social work.

Children's services departments replaced the old town hall social services departments after the scandal that followed the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in Haringey in 2000. They brought together education officials in charge of schools and colleges and social workers dealing with children and their families. Haringey children's services director Sharon Shoesmith - now shifted from her job on the orders of Mr Balls - was a former education chief with no experience as a social worker.

Miss Gibb's review will also why 'social workers prioritise their time in the way they do' and 'what actions by professional social workers make the most difference to vulnerable children and adults'. There will also be a new requirement for social work training to include a year's practical work. At present students qualify to become social workers through a three-year degree course - or a two-year course for graduates in other subjects - which is heavily theoretical. One typical university course calls for students to learn to 'manage change and deliver required outcomes' and tests their 'knowledge of social work theory and how it can be applied in practice'.


Are we too afraid of touch?

Our aversion to innocent physical contact has gone a touch too far

Look around you, there are notices everywhere: "Be careful: keep your eye on your possessions", "Swim at your own risk - no lifeguard on duty". We are told by government to be alert to the risk of terrorists. And we are watched by CCTV wherever we go. But all this advice to be watchful makes us fearful. It makes us shrink into ourselves. We become unkind, unconcerned for others, and our children become terrified of the outside world.

These days, you have to have a Criminal Records Bureau check before you volunteer to work with anyone described as vulnerable - children, anyone over 65, and a whole lot of others besides. That makes many young men, especially, nervous about volunteering at all, and others deeply irritated that they are being asked for a CRB check to work, say, in hospital radio.

If a young man has a criminal record, but now wants to help others who are younger still - just getting into trouble with the police and at risk of worse - he has to be incredibly determined not to be put off by the marathon of bureaucracy.

Hospital staff are often told not to put an arm round patients to comfort them lest it be viewed as assault. So it tends to be the porters and care assistants who give a bit of comfort, while the nurses only touch the patients when they have to carry out some kind of intervention. Many people, especially older people, don't want too many interventions. What they want is human contact, a bit of tender loving care.

We are all so terrified of child sexual abuse that we have outlawed taking photographs of children at nursery school without parental consent. And adults are terrified that their motives will be suspected if they talk to a child or, even worse, hug one. So, a few years ago, when Clive Peachy, a bricklayer, saw two-year-old Abigail Rae walking down the road after she had escaped from her nursery school in Warwickshire, he did not stop and help her because he thought people would think he was trying to abduct her. The result? She drowned in a pond.

Young male volunteers in primary schools describe feeling like pariahs, viewed with suspicion by many staff - when all they are doing is trying to help. And children want comfort if they fall over in the playground, yet teachers have been told never to touch the children in their care. So you get 12-year-olds with broken legs crying for their mothers, with staff unable to give them a hug, and five-year-olds putting sunscreen on each other because the teachers have been instructed not to touch them. The mess that ensues, and the visits to hospital because cream gets in their eyes, would be funny were it not so ridiculous. Equally absurd are the letters informing parents that children should not bring home-made birthday cakes into school in case of food poisoning - a position that results in children being less likely to share.

So what is all this about? First, there is a real fear of being sued, far greater than the actual numbers of cases would warrant. Second, there is a fear of what others might think. We have begun to internalise the messages that people might think we are abusers when we are not. Third, we are fearful of our children being injured, being killed, being abducted. Yet, in terms of ordinary accidents happening to children, the numbers have gone down dramatically rather than up over the last 30 years.

Nevertheless, our children are frightened to go outside because, as the think-tank Demos and the Green Alliance demonstrated a few years ago, they fear the outside world. They think the streets are full of terrorists, murderers and child-abductors. Worse, they think they know what they look like. They are white, male, middle-aged, wear horrible clothes and have a funny look in their eyes.

But children would not feel like this if adults did not encourage them. It is adult fear, stoked by government and insurers, by risk assessors and hospital and school managers. If we aren't careful, the next generation will consist entirely of wimps. They will go off on adventure holidays abroad, but they will not walk down the street or get on the Tube alone for fear of attackers. The net result will be not only a lack of life skills, but overwhelming fear: of predators, of accidents, of life itself.

Meanwhile, the sexual predators will carry on just as before - largely in the family - because no system of checks will root them out completely. And we will have created a whole generation of unhappy people. We need to be sensible, not risk-averse; we need to look out to see where we can help others. And, sometimes, we may even need to touch them.


Do the dim die young?

Scots psychologist Ian Deary claims that clever people live longer than thickheads. Sure, some bright people die young and many thickheads live into old age but if you measure a large bunch of people the statistics point that way. Dr Deary and his team looked at more than 2000 Scottish children given IQ tests in 1932 when they were 11 years old. He traced most of these people again in 1997 and found that those still living at age 76 had average IQs of 102 but those who had died had average IQs of 98.

Dr Deary says more evidence comes from IQ tests on large numbers of young men recruited into the Australian Army at the time of the Vietnam War and nearly a million 19-year-olds inducted into the Swedish Army. Twenty years after the tests, those who had died in the meantime had lower average IQs than those who remained alive. Several other surveys point in the same direction.

Some critics find Dr Deary's claims insulting. "So, you're saying that the thick die quick?" "Anyway", they challenge, "haven't IQ tests been discredited"? "Well, no," says Dr Deary. IQ tests have a predictive value unequalled in psychology. Hundreds of data sets since 1904 show that IQ remains almost unchanged over a lifetime, can predict educational achievement, occupational success, propensity to sickness and age of death with some confidence. It's a better predictor of life expectancy than body mass index, total cholesterol, blood pressure or blood glucose.

But why IQ should be a good predictor of life expectancy remains a mystery. Some epidemiologists suggest that intelligent people get the easy jobs, leaving the heavier, dangerous, life-threatening work to dumber people. Or, they suggest, most people with high IQs behave better. In early life people with higher IQs are more likely to have better diets, do more exercise, avoid accidents, give up smoking, do less binge drinking and put on less weight in adulthood.

But Dr Deary has checked all that stuff, and finds it does not wash. Rather, he thinks, intelligence causes the association between education, social class and health. He favours the theory that IQ tests in youth reveal a well-wired body better able to respond effectively to environmental insults.

Some supporting evidence comes from the finding that simple reaction speed - the time taken to press a button when a stimulus appears - can replace IQ test scores as an even better predictor of an earlier death. Reaction-time tasks don't demand complex reasoning, so are unlikely to improve by education. Dr Deary hopes his findings will explain the connection between childhood IQ, sickness and earlier deaths and help to tackle problems of health inequalities.

In Christchurch, David Fergusson leads a team studying the behaviour and fates of 1265 children born there in 1977. He has already shown that those with higher IQs did better at school. If his study continues long enough, it may throw light on the connection between IQ and life expectancy of Christchurch kids.


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