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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Despite Drop in Gas Prices, College Students Still Feeling Pinch

By ANDREW CLARK

When gas prices climbed to $4.10 this summer, Old Dominion University student Azam Shafiee knew she had to make a few changes.

TSU
Students walk at the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston. Students across the country say they have been walking and taking public transportation to cut down on fuel costs.
(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

She drove less. Instead of commuting 25 minutes to work, she found a new job just 10 minutes away from the Norfolk, Va., campus.

"I walk around a lot more," she wrote in an e-mail.

College students are arguably the group most sensitive to swings in gasoline prices and the quickest to adjust. So how has the dorm set reacted as the price at the pump surged then declined somewhat to a $3.64 national average?

They're finding inventive ways to spend less time behind the wheel, and university administrators are finding creative ways to assist them.

Just like the rest of Americans, students are mulling whether to use public transportation. Nationwide, ridership has been on an upswing. This year, public transportation ridership soared to over 2.8 billion trips in the second quarter of 2008 – an increase of about 140 million rides compared with trips taken in 2007, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Of these riders, some 10.7 percent of public transit riders are students, according to a May 2007 study by the APTA.

But it's not always easy to make the switch.

"Many people tell me to take the subway to school or work in order to save money on gas," says Cara Lipper, a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

But the closest train station is a 15-minute drive from her house and a 20-minute commute on the train, she says, compared with a 20-minute drive into Boston.

Instead, she's looked into buying a hybrid car.

"Also, I carpool more than I used to," she wrote in an e-mail. "I will use public transportation to go to some places, even though I hate it. And I go for joyrides far less often."

High fuel prices actually cause Aram Pashaian to drive more. The student at the University of Nevada, who already spends an average $54 to fill his tank every six days, says he often drives around Las Vegas looking for the lowest gas prices. He notices the squeeze.

"At the end of the year it adds up," Mr. Pashaian wrote in an e-mail.

Campuses have also seen a shift in students' commuting behaviors. At Michigan State University, cars in the university's commuter parking lot have declined 25 percent to 1,661 vehicles in the past year, according to the campus police. And biking to campus has also picked up speed among students. During July and August, students registered 2,346 bikes – an increase from the 858 bikes registered during the same months in 2003, the police said.

Campuses are also taking steps to ease students' financial constraints by offering alternative transportation options.

The University of Houston has increased parking and invested in newer, larger buses. Rachel Rollins, a student there, says she has noticed that more students are opting to carpool in an area where alternative modes of transportation are admittedly limited.

She tries to walk and carpool with friends but says she doesn't worry much: "My car is very economical in its use of gas, so it isn't as big a problem.... It would take at least two buses for anyone to get remotely close to our campus."

Middlebury College, in Vermont, is one school that has joined with Zipcar, a car rental service, to serve students. Zipcar helps students cope with high gas prices by including the cost of gas, insurance, and parking in the rental fee. Currently, more than 70 schools provide the service, according to Zipcar.

Elissa Bullion, a student at Middlebury College, is considering signing up for Zipcar because of the advantages it offers. Although she often walks to get around campus and into town she says she likes "to leave Middlebury every once in a while."

But finding a car to borrow is a common obstacle she and other students encounter. So she sees Zipcar as a potential solution.

"Zipcar gives students access to a car, without having to deal with such stress. And because you only have to pay an hourly rate, and not for gas, it is also potentially cheaper," Bullion wrote in an e-mail.

Original here

Paying for gyms for obese children

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea plans to help obese children pay for health club membership and other activities that can help them lose weight, an official said on Wednesday.

Health ministry official Chun Myung-sook said the rate of childhood obesity had tripled over the past three years due to a changing diet higher in fatty foods and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Under the government plan, elementary school students whose body mass index indicates obesity will be able to receive up to 40,000 won ($33.58) a month to help them bring their weight down.

"Kids won't be able to waste the money on eating sweets. We will give them electronic vouchers that can only be used in designated places," Chun said.

Costs to the government and the economy related to childhood obesity were 2 trillion won in 2006, the ministry said, making the voucher program cost effective.

(Reporting by Kim Junghyun and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)

Original here

How to Improve Your Self-Control

Temptation

"It's all right letting yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back." ~Mick Jagger

New research suggests self-control can be improved using abstract reasoning.

Temptation comes in many forms, often so potent, so animal, that it seems impossible to resist. Eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much or letting the heart rule the head. We get instant messages from deep in the gut that resonate through the mind, trying to dictate our behaviour.

One of humanity's most useful skills, without which advanced civilisations would not exist, is being able to engage our higher cognitive functions, our self-control, to resist these temptations. Psychologists have found that self-control is strongly associated with what we label success: higher self-esteem, better interpersonal skills, better emotional responses and, perhaps surprisingly, few drawbacks at even very high levels of self-control (Tangney et al., 2004).

People, being only human, find the constant battle with basic urges is frequently too great and their self-control buckles. However, recent experimental research by Dr Kentaro Fujita at Ohio State University and colleagues has explored ways of improving self-control, where it comes from and why it sometimes deserts us.

Based on new research, along with studies conducted over the past few decades, Dr Fujita and colleagues have proposed that abstract thinking and psychological distance are particularly important in self-control.

1. Evidence that abstract thinking improves self-control


It never ceases to amaze just how different two people's views of exactly the same event can be: one person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist. But the way in which we view people or events isn't just constrained by unchangeable patterns of thought that are set in stone. Dr Fujita and colleagues explored the idea that simple manipulations of how we construe the world can have a direct effect on self-control. Their hunch was that thinking from a more abstract, high-level perspective increases self-control.

In their research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Fujita et al. (2006) used a number of experiments to test the idea that self-control is affected by how we construe or interpret events. The problem for the researchers was manipulating aspects of people's construal without them realising: this required some deception.

In one of Fujita et al.'s (2006) studies participants were told they were going to take part in two separate experiments - one on personality and another billed as a student survey. In fact this was just a cover story as the two pieces of research were designed to work together.

Experimenters used the 'student survey' as a cover to manipulate levels of construal. They needed participants to be thinking in either a high-level way (abstract - seeing the whole forest) or a low-level way (concrete - seeing individual trees). They did this by getting participants to think about their level of physical health, but in two different ways:
  • High-level construal condition: participants were asked to fill in a diagram which encouraged them to think about why they maintain good physical health. Participants tended to put answer such as: "To do well in school." This got them thinking about ends rather than means - the ultimate purpose of physical health.
  • Low-level construal condition: in contrast participants in this condition were asked to think about how they maintained their physical health. Naturally they responded with things like: "Go exercise". In other words they focused on means rather than ends, the actual process.

Just before this manipulation of construal level, in a study they were misinformed was separate, participants were told their personality was being tested physiologically through holding a handgrip. This handgrip was designed to be difficult to squeeze together but participants were told to hold on as long as possible. This provided a baseline measurement of their grip strength.

Just after the manipulation of construal level participants had dummy electrodes attached to their arm and were told that their personality could be measured while they squeezed the stiff handgrip again. This time, though, they were told that the longer they could squeeze the handgrip the more accurate the information would be. The question was: how well could participants forget the temporary discomfort of holding the handgrip once they had been told about the desired goal of getting information about their own personalities?

The results confirmed Fujita et al.'s (2006) suspicions. They showed that participants in the low-construal thinking condition (thinking about means rather than ends) held on to the handgrip for, on average, 4.9 seconds less than they had during the baseline measurement.

In contrast those in the high-construal condition held on for 11.1 seconds longer than their baseline measurement. Whether participants were thinking about means or ends had a really significant effect on how long they squeezed the handgrip. Those participants who had been encouraged to think in high-level, abstract terms demonstrated greater self-control in enduring the discomfort of the handgrip in order to receive more accurate personality profiles.

Along with this design Fujita et al. (2006) also carried out other studies using different measures of self-control and different ways of inducing either high-level or low-level construal. These produced similar findings. People in the high-level construal condition were consistently:
  • More likely to avoid the temptation of instant gratification.
  • Prepared to make a greater investment to learn more about their health status.
  • Less likely to evaluate temptations like beer and television positively.

2. How personality and the situation affect self-control


Self-control is not just affected by how we are thinking at a specific moment, that would be too easy. We have each developed different amounts of self-control. Some people seem to find it easy to resist temptation while others can be relied on to always yield to self-gratification. To a certain extent we have to accept our starting point on the self-control sliding scale and do the best we can with it.

Although a few people have very high (or very low) levels of self-control, two-thirds of us lie somewhere near the middle: sometimes finding it easy to resist temptation, other times not. Naturally the exact situation has a huge effect on how much self-control we can exert. One property of different situations central to self-control that psychologists have examined is 'psychological distance'.

Research reveals that people find it much easier to make decisions that demonstrate self-control when they are thinking about events that are distant in time, for example how much exercise they will do next week or what they will eat tomorrow (Fujita, 2008). Similarly they make much more disciplined decisions on behalf of other people than they do for themselves. People implicitly follow the maxim: do what I say, not what I do.

It's not hard to see the convergence between the idea of 'psychological distance' and high-level construal. Both emphasise the idea that the more psychological or conceptual distance we can put between ourselves and the particular decision or event, the more we are able to think about it in an abstract way, and therefore the more self-control we can exert. It's all about developing a special type of objectivity.

3. How to improve your self-control


Fujita et al.'s (2006) studies, along with other similar findings reported by Fujita (2008), suggest that self-control can be increased by these related ways of thinking:
  • Global processing. This means trying to focus on the wood rather than the trees: seeing the big picture and our specific actions as just one part of a major plan or purpose. For example, someone trying to eat healthily should focus on the ultimate goal and how each individual decision about what to eat contributes (or detracts) from that goal.
  • Abstract reasoning. This means trying to avoid considering the specific details of the situation at hand in favour of thinking about how actions fit into an overall framework - being philosophical. Someone trying to add more self-control to their exercise regime might try to think less about the details of the exercise, and instead focus on an abstract vision of the ideal physical self, or how exercise provides a time to re-connect mind and body.
  • High-level categorisation. This means thinking about high-level concepts rather than specific instances. Any long-term project, whether in business, academia or elsewhere can easily get bogged down by focusing too much on the minutiae of everyday processes and forgetting the ultimate goal. Categorising tasks or project stages conceptually may help an individual or group maintain their focus and achieve greater self-discipline.

These are just some examples of specific instances, but with a little creativity the same principles can be applied to many situations in which self-control is required. Ultimately these three ways of thinking are different ways of saying much the same thing: avoid thinking locally and specifically and practice thinking globally, objectively and abstractly, and increased self-control should follow.

Original here

The St. Pauli Girl sucks at beer pong, and that's just fine


By Adam Cayton-Holland

For a slide show from their romantic night, go to westword.com/slideshow. For the video, go here.

Irina Voronina sucks at beer pong. Or Beirut, if you prefer that name, which I most certainly do. That's how the distinctly college game in which competitors stand on either side of a table and hurl Ping-Pong balls into keg cups full of beer, then either fight, fuck or puke, was introduced to me. But I knew that calling beer pong by its preferred name might confuse Irina. "Why do you call it Beirut?" she would no doubt ask in her adorable Russian accent, and after double-checking to make sure she wasn't a spy, I'd muster some guess about how Beirut traditionally is a war-torn city and since we're bombing each other's beer cups, it just makes sense. And then, since Irina is from Russia, I'd make some crack that if it would make her feel more comfortable, we could call the game Chechnya. I would smile, and Irina would calmly smile back, and then she'd suddenly wind up and slap me in the face with all the force her 5'10" goddess frame could muster, and I'd spit beer out my mouth like a Water Pick. And while that would be kind of hot, it was not the way I wanted to start things off with Irina Voronina. So I sold out my roots and simply called the game beer pong.

Oh, I'm sorry, you didn't spend your Friday evening playing drinking games with the 2008 St. Pauli Girl? Huh. Then you probably didn't spend your Friday evening having wild sex with the St. Pauli Girl, either. And by "having wild sex," I mean "not having sex at all but instead saying goodbye to the pleasant and beautiful Irina after smoking her at beer pong, then watching the presidential debates slumped over on my couch, half in the bag from slamming too much St. Pauli Girl."

Every once in a while, it's good to be What's So Funny.

Backstory: St. Pauli Girl elects a new spokeswoman every year, typically some model/actress/dreamboat amalgam that the good people at the German brewery deck out in traditional hottie Olga gear before snapping an iconic photo of her holding a tray of the booze. That way, frat boys have something to cover up the holes they punch in walls from sexual frustration. St. Pauli sends whatever lucky woman is chosen for this honor around the country, to appear at promotional events and hawk beer. This year's St. Pauli Girl is the aforementioned Irina Voronina, a Russian bombshell who has appeared in Reno 911: Miami and Balls of Fury, and is a series regular on Cartoon Network's Saul of the Mole Men. She's also been featured in, ahem, Playboy. Me being me, and Irina being Irina, it was arranged that the two of us would get together at the Ginn Mill last Friday, for a meet-and-greet and a quick game of beer pong, which the St. Pauli Girl handlers arranged in the spirit of "We couldn't in good conscience leave town without getting you two bombastic individuals together," but which actually came out more like "You have twenty minutes."

Truth be told, I was expecting Irina to be dumb as a mule cart, but she was quite sharp. I had a series of questions that I figured would be hilarious for me, the sarcastic little funny bastard, to ask of the stereotypical hot blonde. But none of these worked; Irina was too on point. I guess you don't make it out of Dzerzhinsk, Russia — the center of chemical production for the country, one of the world's most polluted cities, where the average life expectancy is 42 — on looks alone. I did get one off, though. When I asked Irina if, as a Russian, she even liked German people, she responded that she did and that she understood what went on during World War II and everything, but feels it is time to move on and seek common ground, closing with, "I mean, what did Hitler ever do to you?"

Murdered my family.

But enough of that downer talk — on to beer pong! Irina had never played before — though she did say she's a flip-cup ninja — so I suggested a bet: If she won, I had to chug a St. Pauli Girl beer; if I won, she had to marry me. Laughing, Irina pointed out that not only is she already married, but she has a boyfriend, too, and is trying to get divorced. For some reason, I found that to be the hottest thing about this woman. I wanted to be the third man in the equation, have some two-month fling that left me a quivering, broken shell of myself, incapable of leaving the bed, weeping for my lost Irina, who made off with my soul and $150,000.

Instead, I demolished her in beer pong. She was ignoring the rules — in all fairness, I don't think she fully understood them — but I still beat her. She didn't chug all her beers, either, but that didn't matter. What mattered was the fun that Irina and I had, and that incredible attraction between us that we both felt so strongly except for her not at all. What mattered was that for ten glorious minutes, Irina and I were united on this earth as we were supposed to be, caught in the dance of love and lust and pointless, juvenile drinking games.

And that I was able to abscond with a St. Pauli Girl cardboard cutout. Because all I've ever really needed was my imagination.

Original here

Top 10 Everyday Things People Do To Ruin Their Cars

Written by Vito Rispo

Two thirds of all Americans aged 18-24 cannot find Iraq on a map; 33% couldn’t identify Louisiana; 47% couldn’t find India; 75% think English was the most widely spoken language in the world. People are idiots, and this isn’t a uniquely American phenomenon, it’s worldwide. The majority of human beings on Earth are stone dumb. Being dumb, most people do dumb things, like unknowingly destroy their car.

So we’ve assembled the top 10 everyday things people do to ruin their cars, to help guide you through your own stupidity, into the light. Check it:

1. Not Using The Parking Brake

It’s a little pedal near your left leg, or a lever on your right. Yes, that mysterious device that you’ve never used is actually valuable. When you park on an incline, or even on fairly steady ground, without using the parking brake, you’re putting all of the stress of the car on your transmission. The only thing inside that transmission holding your car steady is a little pin called a parking pawl. By using the parking brake, you lock up the non-drive wheels as well as the drive wheels and take the stress off of the transmission. It’ll add years of life to your cars transmission. Just remember to disengage it before you start driving again.

2. Not Coming To A Complete Stop Before Shifting

So you’re in a rush, and you pull out of a parking space and shift into drive while the car is still coasting backwards. You’ve just added months of wear to your transmission in seconds. Inside your transmission is a complex set of gears, when you shift without stopping like that, you’re asking those gears to work as your brakes, which puts an amazing amount of stress on such a small area. You can also damage your drive shafts, the things that send power to the wheels, by shifting that way. After a while, it’ll lead to sloppy suspension handling, and a worn out transmission.

3. Riding The Brakes Down A Hill

If you are driving on a hill that goes on for a while, you’ll want to avoid riding the brake the whole time. Alternate between braking and letting off the brake so you don’t heat up and wear out your brake pads. It’s a common mistake, because it feels like the safest way to maneuver down a hill, but if the hill is sufficiently long, you can end up almost totally wearing out your pads, since as they heat up, they wear faster.

4. Forgetting To Change The Oil

You need to change your oil every 5,000 miles at the most. That’s really all there is to it. I actually read a blog online that said you can wait until your oil light comes on to change your oil. I’ve worked in the automotive business… by the time your oil light comes on, the oil inside your engine has turned into jet black molasses and is of no use to your engine. In the short term, I suppose it’s not that important, but more frequent changes can actually double the life of your car and greatly increase its performance.

5. Pressure Washing The Engine

I can respect a person’s desire to want a clean engine. It gets grimy under there and a guy with a pressure washer is a dangerous thing for grime - you want to point it at anything even slightly dirty. But a grimy engine that runs right is better than a clean engine that doesn’t run at all. And if you spray a high powered jet of water around rubber seals and hoses and electrical bits, you’re bound to dislodge something important. A modern engine is a complex thing, all manner of sensors and wiring harnesses and components, and it’s no place for a jet of high pressure water. A regular garden hose is OK if you want to wash it down, just be careful with the high pressure business.

6. Starting Your Car The Wrong Way

It seems simple, but you can make a big difference by turning off your radio, wipers, climate control, all of those accessories, when you start the car. Most of the wear on the engine happens when you start the car, and by turning off those accessories, your engine doesn’t have to work as hard when starting.

Another thing people do is revving the engine in the winter. This actually doesn’t help “warm up” the car. Although it does technically make the engine hotter, it’s not the kind of “warming up” that you want. Revving your engine in the winter causes extreme temperature changes right away, which is actually the opposite of what you want. When you start the car, the oil hasn’t yet worked its way through the system, so the engine is working without lubricant. The right way to do it is just let the car sit and idle for about 30 seconds to a minute at the least.

7. Ignoring Your Car’s Sounds

Every sound your car makes means something, if you pay attention, your car can usually tell you exactly what needs fixing. Those squeaking brakes mean you need new pads, and if you ignore that sound, eventually you’ll hear scraping metal, which means you need new rotors, and if you ignore that, you’ll eventually hear the sound of your own scream as you lose your brakes completely and fly off a cliff in a spectacular fireball of death. It’s more common than you think. Listen to your car.

8. Letting The Interior Go

You’re in a rush again, and you eat most of your disgusting egg and cheese bagel, and toss the rest in the wrapper on the passenger seat. Lovely. You know who you are, you’re car is filthy, never been vacuumed, 15 air fresheners hang on the mirror, and yet, no air freshener made by mortal man can stop the sickening wind within your car. You need to clean it. If you don’t vacuum your carpets and clean out the garbage every so often, you’ll develop a smell that is impossible to destroy. I’ve worked in the auto salvage business, and I know that there exist smells that are so obscene, so inhuman, that no shampoo can vanquish them. The only way to stop them is to never let them develop. Clean your car, for the sake of all mankind.

9. Running Your Car Down To Empty

There’s actually a bit of a debate about this one. The old wisdom says if your car gets down to E, the sediment in your tank will get sucked into the system and foul your fuel injectors. Although some mechanics says thats not true. Either way, running down to E does pose other problems. You cut the life of the fuel pump considerably, since the fuel actually cools the pump.

An interesting note: Most cars can drive another 60 miles+ after they hit Empty, automakers call this extra gas the “buffer zone”. US cars have the largest “buffer zone” of any vehicles. German drivers, for instance, like to know exactly how much gas in is the car, so their “buffer zone” between the gauge’s E and the actual empty tank is much smaller.

10. Driving Past Attractive Women

This is a common mistake, especially among younger male drivers. Attractive women can be incredibly damaging to your vehicle, they can cause the driver to install bizarre over-sized woofers or 22 inch rims, or even spontaneously crash the car into a nearby tree or telephone pole. When you’re driving, be careful to avoid swimming pools, beaches, college campuses, anyplace where beautiful girls assemble in any significant numbers. Your car will thank you.

Original here

Laid bare: How we became powerless to stop the huge growth in lap-dancing clubs

By Paul Bracchi

The sign bearing the name of the club is difficult to miss. It's spelled out in big, illuminated letters outside the entrance: Wiggle. In case there was any doubt about the nature of the establishment, a photograph next to the sign shows a woman clutching her naked buttocks.

No so long ago, this Victorian building was a register office where couples exchanged wedding vows. Now, inside, a brunette in G-string and stilettos calling herself Georgia approaches a customer. 'Hi, would you like a dance?' She leads him to a small private booth.

The seedy performance in which she removes every scrap of clothing and dances seductively just feet away from the man, is over in a few minutes and costs £25.

Pole dancer

Naked ambition: Over the past four years, the number of 'gentlemen's clubs' across the country has doubled to around 300

To the men who pay to come here, it may seem little more than a titillating diversion. To the neighbours who have to live with the presence of such a club, it is an abhorrent stain on the community.

'This has become Sin City,' says a despairing David Clutterbuck, 70, a local councillor for the past 19 years, and chairman of a 1,000-strong residents' committee.

So where do you think we are? Soho perhaps, or maybe the Square Mile of London's financial district, where strip joints have effectively become extensions of the trading floors. The answer, of course, is neither. This is Bournemouth.

It is a town which used to stand for gentle strolls along the seafront for couples of a certain age, afternoon tea, and sedate hotels with a piano playing in the background.

And now? Well, let's go on a tour. Directly opposite the Wiggle bar in the town centre is For Your Eyes Only, where half-naked women slither up and down poles six nights a week.

Just round the corner is Spearmint Rhino, where you can pay for naked dances from peroxide blonde twins Louise and Claire, Angel, Jade, Roxanne and Co with cash, credit card or special 'Rhinochips'.

Outside the train station is the resort's fourth 'gentlemen's club'. It's Thursday, so entry to Fantasy Palace is free. Such is the competition between venues that cut price deals ('2-4-1' dances) and drink ('Buy one bottle of champagne get the 2nd free') are always available.

Good news for stag parties, not such good news for locals who have to mop up the vomit and sweep away the broken glass in the morning.

Bournemouth, however, is just part of a much wider problem.

Over the past four years, the number of 'gentlemen's clubs' across the country has doubled to around 300 - and counting. Inside, girls gyrate in their underwear around poles on stages, then offer themselves to customers who will pay around £20-£25 for a private nude dance. In theory, at least, a 'no touching' rule is in place. No town, it seems, is safe.

The explosion of such venues came under the spotlight this week after it emerged that delegates at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham had been offered discounted entry to a lap-dancing club in the city. Could there be a more depressing indicator of just how much they have become - for some - an acceptable part of the modern High Street?

Along the South Coast from Bournemouth, in Plymouth, to the fury of locals one venue has now been licensed to open within sight of the celebrated Mayflower Steps, where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America three centuries ago. Puritans and pole dancing - it's a combination few would have thought possible.

In Harrogate, that most genteel of spa towns, a building formerly occupied by the Salvation Army is now Wildcats. Leamington Spa has Shades. North Cornwall has five pole- dancing clubs, including Divas and Halos. Stourbridge in the West Midlands has Heaven and very soon Barbarella's as well.

Meanwhile, even in Tunbridge Wells, it emerges, there are now plans to open a pole-dancing venue.

Local authorities and most police forces are opposed to such establishments - which are blighting small towns and residential areas up and down the country - but are powerless to stop them spreading.

The reality is it is now as easy to open up a cafe serving capuccinos as a lap-dancing club serving up sleaze.

Often, residents get no warning that the bar down the road is 're-opening'. There is usually no consultation, and even less they can do about it once the inevitable has happened. Apart from protesting, that is, which people are now doing in increasing numbers, from Burgess Hill to Bridlington.

So how on earth did we arrive at this situation? The reason can be traced back to an inglorious day, November 24, 2005, to be precise, when new licensing laws (which also heralded the advent of 24-hour drinking) came into force.

New Labour claimed the legislation 'swept away considerable red tape at a stroke' by reducing the number of licensing bodies from nine to one.

One piece of 'red tape' which was 'swept away' was the so-called 'nudity clause'.

In the past, councils could oppose a Spearmint Rhino, say, or Wiggle bar opening on the High Street on moral grounds, or impose any number of discretionary conditions, which made it all but impossible for an application to be granted.

Under the new legislation, a premises' licence can be rejected only on the grounds of preventing crime or safeguarding public safety. In other words, strip clubs would be treated no differently from restaurants, karaoke bars and pubs.

Morality was taken out of the equation and, many would argue, common sense along with it.

Of course, it was never the Government's intention to create an explosion in lap-dancing and pole-dancing. But in the process of making the licensing process more streamlined and efficient, it left a loophole which has been ruthlessly seized upon by men like John Gray.

Stripper

A change in licensing rules has been blamed for the growth in lap-dancing clubs

Gray, who has a mansion in Buckinghamshire - and has also used the name John Luciano, among others, back in his native America, where he has a string of criminal convictions for offences including carrying a concealed weapon - is the boss of Spearmint Rhino, which means he has a foothold in Bournemouth.

Bournemouth (pop: 168,000) now has exactly the same number of lap-dancing clubs as Glasgow (pop: 578,790). The new licensing laws do not cover Scotland, and it would be difficult to imagine a more damning comparison to highlight the shortcomings of the system south of the border.

Now, some liberals may argue that strip clubs provide no more than a bit of harmless fun for men on a night out. Yet the sheer numbers of such establishments rather undermines this defence.

So does the growing evidence that in areas where they operate, the fear of crime rises, as does crime itself, and that some clubs themselves may be a front for prostitution.

A study by a London-based charity found that in the three years since four large lap- dancing clubs opened in Camden, incidents of rape rose by 50 per cent and sexual assaults by 57 per cent. There was also a rise in anti-social behaviour.

Those who run clubs, of course, insist they are well-regulated and that the women who work in them are supervised to ensure nothing of a sexual nature occurs between the 'girls' and their customers.

It is a claim which is dismissed by the young woman who is now sitting opposite me in a London cafe. We shall call her Sarah.

Sarah is well-spoken. Her father works in the City. She left school with three A-levels, but by the age of 23 she was drinking heavily and had developed a cocaine habit. Unable to hold down a job, she ended up becoming a lap-dancer in the capital.

The most she ever made on one night was £205. On most nights it was just £50. The personal cost was much higher.

'It's not glamorous, and only a handful of girls, who had been there a long time and had regular customers, were making much money. Many of the other women were students, single mothers or even nurses.

'The management always took on more women than were needed in a night, so it really became dog eat dog. I came to realise that you had to break the "no touching" rules to make any money at all.

'I did things which I'm not proud of, but other girls, especially those from Eastern Europe, went further in the club's private rooms. They came from clubs abroad where prostitution is normal and accepted.'

Sarah, who is now working has a photographer, finally left after a year. 'If I had a boyfriend now and he said he was going to a lap-dancing club, I would consider it to be infidelity.'

Lap-dancing recruitment sites on the internet are now aggressively trying to hire girls from Eastern Europe, presumably for the reasons Sarah gave. One advert reads: 'Constantly looking for Polish, Russian, Czech, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian girls with different looks - blondes, brunette, long hair, short hair - to work for club.'

Girls like these are performing across the country, at establishments just like these.
One club in Burgess Hill, a quiet commuter town in West Sussex, has attracted the wrath of local residents.

One day the club, not far from the local Waitrose, was just a bar - the next, 25 dancers were parading themselves at the venue, which featured a booth where customers could be shackled by their wrists to a chair during 'one-to-one' performances.

Outraged residents mounted an internet campaign and letter-writing blitz to protest at the arrival of Club Redd. Just three weeks after it opened in July, the building was destroyed in an arson attack.

But manager Leo Valls warned: 'We will rebuild and re-open as soon as possible.'
This week a public meeting - about Club Redd - was held in the town. It is one of many such meetings now being staged all over the country.

'Residents were very keen to point out how much better their lives have been since the club burned down,' said local councillor Anne Jones.

'With these establishments opening in town centres or near schools, what example are we setting - and what moral guidance are we giving to our young people?

'Burgess Hill is a small town, and our town centre is small, so establishments like Club Redd do impact on residents' lives.

'Local authorities should be given the power to create decent places for people to live. We are constantly being told to be champions of our community and look after our residents' interests.

'But at the same time central government is making it harder and harder for us to meet the needs of the people we represent. Where is the local democracy in that? We find it very frustrating because our efforts seem so often to be in vain.'

Her comments will strike a chord with local politicians, particularly in Bournemouth.

'I don't think lap-dancing clubs do the reputation of the town any good,' said David Smith, who has been a councillor there for 14 years. 'It is far too easy to open a lap-dancing club now because you no longer need a separate licence.

'The situation with Wiggle [which opened in 2006] was that the owners wanted an entertainment licence. They didn't have to be specific about what entertainment they were going to provide.

'We all knew what was going on. We heard from behind the scenes that it was going to be adult entertainment. But we couldn't do anything about it - our hands were tied.'

Back at Wiggle bar on Thursday night, we asked a number of girls if they provided 'extra' services - 'no', they said, laughing. But one dancer who used to work there told us: 'The girls did things they shouldn't have done. 'They did give "extras". I don't know if it's like that now. But when I was there it was sleazy and that is why I left.'

Today, belated efforts are under way to close the loophole which has resulted in this disturbing proliferation of lap-dancing clubs, and have them classified in future as 'sex encounter' establishments, thus handing the public and councils the same powers of opposition as exist with X-rated cinemas and sex shops.

'Gerry Sutcliffe, the licensing minister, has acknowledged the growing public concern about the lax rules.

In a letter to local authority chief executives, he wrote: 'It is clear that the protection and regulations set out in the 2003 act and elsewhere do not go as far as some people would like to control the proliferation of lap-dancing clubs and similar establishments.'

He asked for their views on how the system could be tightened up. It still remains unclear whether any new legislation would apply retrospectively and allow the siting of existing clubs to be challenged. In other words, for towns like Bournemouth it may already be too late.

For the moment, at least - and for the foreseeable future - it will probably still be easier to stop a tearoom opening up on your doorstep than a strip club.

Original here

'Even other Muslims turn and look at me'

Zaiba Malik

Photograph: PA

'Idon't wear the niqab because I don't think it's necessary," says the woman behind the counter in the Islamic dress shop in east London. "We do sell quite a few of them, though." She shows me how to wear the full veil. I would have thought that one size fits all but it turns out I'm a size 54. I pay my £39 and leave with three pieces of black cloth folded inside a bag.

The next morning I put these three pieces on as I've been shown. First the black robe, or jilbab, which zips up at the front. Then the long rectangular hijab that wraps around my head and is secured with safety pins. Finally the niqab, which is a square of synthetic material with adjustable straps, a slit of about five inches for my eyes and a tiny heart-shaped bit of netting, which I assume is to let some air in.

I look at myself in my full-length mirror. I'm horrified. I have disappeared and somebody I don't recognise is looking back at me. I cannot tell how old she is, how much she weighs, whether she has a kind or a sad face, whether she has long or short hair, whether she has any distinctive facial features at all. I've seen this person in black on the television and in newspapers, in the mountains of Afghanistan and the cities of Saudi Arabia, but she doesn't look right here, in my bedroom in a terraced house in west London. I do what little I can to personalise my appearance. I put on my oversized man's watch and make sure the bottoms of my jeans are visible. I'm so taken aback by how dissociated I feel from my own reflection that it takes me over an hour to pluck up the courage to leave the house.

I've never worn the niqab, the hijab or the jilbab before. Growing up in a Muslim household in Bradford in the 1970s and 80s, my Islamic dress code consisted of a school uniform worn with trousers underneath. At home I wore the salwar kameez, the long tunic and baggy trousers, and a scarf around my shoulders. My parents only instructed me to cover my hair when I was in the presence of the imam, reading the Qur'an, or during the call to prayer. Today I see Muslim girls 10, 20 years younger than me shrouding themselves in fabric. They talk about identity, self-assurance and faith. Am I missing out on something?

On the street it takes just seconds for me to discover that there are different categories of stare. Elderly people stop dead in their tracks and glare; women tend to wait until you have passed and then turn round when they think you can't see; men just look out of the corners of their eyes. And young children - well, they just stare, point and laugh.

I have coffee with a friend on the high street. She greets my new appearance with laughter and then with honesty. "Even though I can't see your face, I can tell you're nervous. I can hear it in your voice and you keep tugging at the veil."

The reality is, I'm finding it hard to breathe. There is no real inlet for air and I can feel the heat of every breath I exhale, so my face just gets hotter and hotter. The slit for my eyes keeps slipping down to my nose, so I can barely see a thing. Throughout the day I trip up more times than I care to remember. As for peripheral vision, it's as if I'm stuck in a car buried in black snow. I can't fathom a way to drink my cappuccino and when I become aware that everybody in the coffee shop is wondering the same thing, I give up and just gaze at it.

At the supermarket a baby no more than two years old takes one look at me and bursts into tears. I move towards him. "It's OK," I murmur. "I'm not a monster. I'm a real person." I show him the only part of me that is visible - my hands - but it's too late. His mother has whisked him away. I don't blame her. Every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirrored refrigerators, I scare myself. For a ridiculous few moments I stand there practicing a happy and approachable look using just my eyes. But I'm stuck looking aloof and inhospitable, and am not surprised that my day lacks the civilities I normally receive, the hellos, thank-yous and goodbyes.

After a few hours I get used to the gawping and the sniggering, am unsurprised when passengers on a bus prefer to stand up rather than sit next to me. What does surprise me is what happens when I get off the bus. I've arranged to meet a friend at the National Portrait Gallery. In the 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the gallery, two things happen. A man in his 30s, who I think might be Dutch, stops in front of me and asks: "Can I see your face?"

"Why do you want to see my face?"

"Because I want to see if you are pretty. Are you pretty?"

Before I can reply, he walks away and shouts: "You fucking tease!"

Then I hear the loud and impatient beeping of a horn. A middle-aged man is leering at me from behind the wheel of a white van. "Watch where you're going, you stupid Paki!" he screams. This time I'm a bit faster.

"How do you know I'm Pakistani?" I shout. He responds by driving so close that when he yells, "Terrorist!" I can feel his breath on my veil.

Things don't get much better at the National Portrait Gallery. I suppose I was half expecting the cultured crowd to be too polite to stare. But I might as well be one of the exhibits. As I float from room to room, like some apparition, I ask myself if wearing orthodox garments forces me to adopt more orthodox views. I look at paintings of Queen Anne and Mary II. They are in extravagant ermines and taffetas and their ample bosoms are on display. I look at David Hockney's famous painting of Celia Birtwell, who is modestly dressed from head to toe. And all I can think is that if all women wore the niqab how sad and strange this place would be. I cannot even bear to look at my own shadow. Vain as it may sound, I miss seeing my own face, my own shape. I miss myself. Yet at the same time I feel completely naked.

The women I have met who have taken to wearing the niqab tell me that it gives them confidence. I find that it saps mine. Nobody has forced me to wear it but I feel like I have oppressed and isolated myself.

Maybe I will feel more comfortable among women who dress in a similar fashion, so over 24 hours I visit various parts of London with a large number of Muslims - Edgware Road (known to some Londoners as "Arab Street"), Whitechapel Road (predominantly Bangladeshi) and Southall (Pakistani and Indian). Not one woman is wearing the niqab. I see many with their hair covered, but I can see their faces. Even in these areas I feel a minority within a minority. Even in these areas other Muslims turn and look at me. I head to the Central Mosque in Regent's Park. After three failed attempts to hail a black cab, I decide to walk.

A middle-aged American tourist stops me. "Do you mind if I take a photograph of you?" I think for a second. I suppose in strict terms I should say no but she is about the first person who has smiled at me all day, so I oblige. She fires questions at me. "Could I try it on?" No. "Is it uncomfortable?" Yes. "Do you sleep in it?" No. Then she says: "Oh, you must be very, very religious." I'm not sure how to respond to that, so I just walk away.

At the mosque, hundreds of women sit on the floor surrounded by samosas, onion bhajis, dates and Black Forest gateaux, about to break their fast. I look up and down every line of worshippers. I can't believe it - I am the only person wearing the niqab. I ask a Scottish convert next to me why this is.

"It is seen as something quite extreme. There is no real reason why you should wear it. Allah gave us faces and we should not hide our faces. We should celebrate our beauty."

I'm reassured. I think deep down my anxiety about having to wear the niqab, even for a day, was based on guilt - that I am not a true Muslim unless I cover myself from head to toe. But the Qur'an says: "Allah has given you clothes to cover your shameful parts, and garments pleasing to the eye: but the finest of all these is the robe of piety."

I don't understand the need to wear something as severe as the niqab, but I respect those who bear this endurance test - the staring, the swearing, the discomfort, the loss of identity. I wear my robes to meet a friend in Notting Hill for dinner that night. "It's not you really, is it?" she asks.

No, it's not. I prefer not to wear my religion on my sleeve ... or on my face.

Original here