World War II Poster from the UK: Don’t Distract Your Mates

Beautiful poster reminding World War II era workers of the dangers of workplace distraction.

This World War II-era poster designed by Bruce Angrave is a grim reminder of the serious injury or death that could result from inattention in the workplace. Many people’s jobs during the war would have been for the direct benefit to the war effort. Angrave’s image of a black tree, bearing the fruits of prosthetic limbs and a casket would also have served as a stark reminder of the war’s physical toll on British soldiers.

World War II Poster: Don't Distract Your Mates
World War II Poster: Don’t Distract Your Mates

George Pitcher In Defense of Compulsory Religious Education

In general, I tend to think of Great Britain and Europe as significantly more secular than the United States, which is why I always get a bit weirded out reading op-eds like George Pitcher’s defense of compulsory religious education in the United Kingdom.

The thing is that compulsory education is already the norm — although from what I can tell just from news accounts, many public schools give only a perfunctory nod to their legal obligation to provide religious instruction to their pupils.

A joint committee of Parliament recommended giving some children the right to abstain from religious “education.”

We recommend that the Government reconsiders its objection to permitting a child of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding to withdraw from religous education. As for religious worship, we recommend that children who are not in the sixth form but who have sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding to be permitted to withdraw.

Pitcher finds even this recommendation as part of a secular attack on religious faith in the UK,

The NSS’s [National Secular Society] agenda is simple: it wants to force the next generation to stop thinking about the spiritual, the transcendental and the mysterious, in favour of a negative utilitarianism. That can be the only reason for picking on this particular bit of the syllabus.

Which is odd because, in general, the widely accepted explanation for the much greater religious fervor in the United States is precisely the strict separation of church and state. And, of course, nothing even close to the existing regime of religious instruction in school nor this rather mild modification of the same would have a chance in hell of passing muster in U.S. courts — they’d be rejected out of hand as impingements on fundamental freedoms.

So from a strictly utilitarian perspective, perhaps atheists and secularists in the United States are engaged in self-defeating behavior when they run around trying to extinguish mention of religion from the public sphere. Receiving religion from the state — at least a liberal democratic state — seems to have the same effect on religion that perhaps a teenager receiving a pornographic magazine from his parents might have on the libido. It takes all the fun and interest out of it.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Argues for Large-Scale Debt Relief for Africa

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown made waves in January with his announcement that Great Britain would seek large scale debt relief for poverty-stricken African nations. Brown said that ultimately his government hoped to negotiation 100 percent debt relief for such nations.

On a trip to Africa, Brown signed a debt relief deal with Tanzania in which the UK agreed to pay 10 percent of Tanzania’s repayment debts to the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank. The annual payments on Tanzania’s debt amounts to about 3.5 million pounds.

In exchange, Tanzania agreed to use the money it would have spent servicing its debt on health, education and poverty reduction for its people.

The BBC quoted Brown as saying,

We make this offer unilaterally, but we are now asking other countries to join us. Our wish is to have 100% debt relief and we hope that America, Japan, France and other European countries will follow great Britain in this effort. We hope that we are in a position to get all other countries to sing up to a new package of debt relief.

. . .

What we offer Tanzania today we offer to the whole developing world tomorrow. Although there is no international agreement yet, Britain will relieve those countries still under the burden of this debt by paying our share — 10 percent — of their payments to the World Bank and African Development bank in their stead.

Later in his trip, Brown announced that Great Britain was canceling 80 million pounds in debt that Mozambique owes the UK, and would also pay 10 percent of Mozambique’s debt as well. In all, Great Britain plans to reach the same deal with 70 developing countries at a cost to itself of 1 billion pounds annually.

Not everyone, however, thinks that debt relief is the ultimate solution to poverty in the developing world. Former UK international development secretary Clare Short warned that although the debt relief was a good start, it should not be seen as a “mystical solution” to poverty. The BBC quoted short Short as noting that relieving debt in this case is simply a roundabout way to giving foreign aid, and will not solve the problem of “failed states” such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to Short,

Debt relief and aid alone without really strong action to end conflict, arms supply, start building order, the basic institutions of a state, leave the poor outside the whole development system.

Short also noted that there are very poor countries that don’t have significant debt, and that if the World Bank or other institutions began writing off developing country debt, there would be less money available to give to other countries that may need it.

It’s kind of odd given the notable lack of success over the past 30 years to see Great Britain suddenly reach the conclusion that throwing money at developing world poverty is the way to solve the problem. Certainly, the UK actions are likely to create short term improvements as many of the aid programs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s did, but making those short term benefits lead to long-term transformation is going to be a lot trickier.


Brown’s Pound 1bn Africa debt pledge. The BBC, January 14, 2005.

Brown wipes Pound 80 m Mozambique debt. The BBC, January 15, 2005.

Great Britain’s Birth Statistics and Overpopulation Nonsense

Great Britain’s Office for National Statistics recently released a report about the continuing decline in birth rates in that country which highlighted some interesting statistics.

One in five women 40 or older, for example, have never had a child. That is twice as it was just 20 years ago. The average age for new mothers is now 29 years.

The average birth rate in Great Britain has fallen to 1.64 children — the lowest since the UK began tracking that statistic in 1924. That is, of course, far below the population replacement level. Like other European nations, Great Britain will have to rely on immigration to maintain its population or else see it eventually shrink.

Notice that this directly contradicts a common but fallacious argument about human populations that was popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Numerous commentators argue that since in non-human species increased food led to ever increasing population sizes until an inevitable crash that this too must happen to human beings.

And yet Great Britain is one of the richest human societies in the history of the world and its peacetime birth rate is below replacement level. In fact, throughout much of the world wealth and availability of food is inversely related to births — the wealthier a society is, the lower its birth rate tends to be.


More women staying childless. The BBC, June 28, 2002.

Measles Outbreak in Great Britain

Great Britain is in the middle of a measles outbreak, with 20 confirmed cases of the disease and another 47 children still waiting for laboratory tests to confirm whether or not they have contracted the disease.

Great Britain has been seized by anti-vaccination hysteria over the past couple of years by people who claim that the MR vaccine is associated with autism. So far there is no evidence at all to support that contention, but many parents have refused to allow their children to be vaccinated nonetheless.

In this measles outbreak, 18 of the 20 confirmed children with measles did not receive the vaccination. In the other 31 suspected cases, only seven of those children had received the vaccine.

Vaccination rates in parts of Great Britain have fallen precipitously as the anti-vaccination campaign has continued. To protect against a measles outbreak, about 90 percent of children need to be vaccinated. The national average in Great Britain is 84 percent, but in some areas of London the vaccination rate hovers at a dangerously low 65 percent. Areas with vaccination rates that are consistently below 80 percent run a high risk of an outbreak.

Two years ago, thanks to low vaccination rates, a measles outbreak occurred in Dublin, Ireland, that killed two children.


Fears of measles outbreak. The BC, February 5, 2002.

Measles outbreak fears spread. The BC, January 4, 2002.

Measles father – ‘still unsure about MR’. The BC, February 1, 2002.

Measles outbreak gathers pace. The BC, February 13, 2002.