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Nick Cohen shows his irrational hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood

21 December, 2014 - 15:32

Why must we tolerate police spies in our midst? | Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer

Nick Cohen, as long-time readers will know, has a long-standing hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well he might, being an atheist secular liberal while they are a religiously-based party. When hundreds of thousands demonstrated in central London against the Iraq war that he supported, he ignored the people marching and looked only at the organisers — the “enemies of economic freedom” (communists) and the “enemies of sexual freedom” (the Brotherhood). This was a common theme of bourgeois liberal critics of the anti-war alliance. In today’s Observer, he has a long article denouncing police spying on environmental campaigns, setting the scene for another dig at the Muslim Brotherhood, all Muslim groups which included any of their activists, and non-Muslims who supported them. In this case, it was Bob Lambert, a former police spy who was the head of the Muslim Contact Unit from the time it was established in 2002 until he left the force in 2007 and went into academia. He has been exposed as having been an agent provocateur, helping to write the pamphlet that became the focus of the McLibel trial, as well as fathering a child with a member of London Greenpeace, and then abandoning both of them when the police pulled him out.

After his long ramble about the police demanding to know who would be at an environmental debate in Canterbury and Lambert’s role in McLibel, he claims:

There are grounds for believing that Lambert carried on as a provocateur when he went on to run the Met’s Muslim contact unit after 9/11. He allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and other elements on the Islamist right. As the neoconservative writer Douglas Murray noticed this month, he secured their confidence by presenting “a small number of people, including me, as cold war-style enemies of Islam” – a dangerous charge to throw at anyone in fanatical times. Murray wants to know if Lambert was trying “to smoke out radicals by using me and others as bait”. If you believe the official line, the black ops have stopped and thus there cannot be “deep swimmers” in today’s anti-fracking movement urging it to be ever more extreme in the hope of discrediting its cause. All is well with our democracy. There’s no need now for comparisons with Russia.

To compare Lambert’s role in the MCU with being an agent provocateur is preposterous. The American police use such agents; they pose as converts to Islam (or sometimes they come from Muslim backgrounds) and their main tactic is to incite young men to join them in fictitious terrorist plots and then arrest them, or denounce them to their handlers. If the police had wanted to infiltrate the Muslim Council of Britain or any other group, they could have done so by using a fake convert or a compromised individual. Bob Lambert used his own name and took a conciliatory position, and supported the groups that were trusted by the Muslim community (despite theological differences) at a time when outsiders were trying to impose other “representatives”, sectarian outfits like the so-called Sufi Muslim Council, on it.

It would not have been difficult for Lambert or anyone else to portray Douglas Murray, currently editor of Standpoint magazine, as an enemy of Islam or Muslims — there is plenty of evidence of it in his own articles and speeches. Most notoriously, in his Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference speech in 2006 (reproduced in full here), he advocated withdrawing freedom of speech from Muslims, and punishing any expression of support for Muslim hostility to western countries or western troops abroad with deportation, if not to the country one came from (as that might be the UK) then to the country of origin of a parent or grandparent:

All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed. And of course it should go without saying that Muslims in Europe who for any reason take part in, plot, assist or condone violence against the West (not just the country they happen to have found sanctuary in, but any country in the West or Western troops) must be forcibly deported back to their place of origin … Where a person was born in the West, they should be deported to the country of origin of their parent or grandparent.

I posted my own response to his speech at The Sharpener, but since that blog closed, I have since re-posted it here. Murray also spent years using his so-called “Centre for Social Cohesion”, supported by Civitas and run out of the same premises as the Tory think-tank Policy Exchange, attempting to infiltrate mosques and Muslim organisations to make it appear as though they were extremist or supporting extremism, and his “exposés” often received a lot of press fanfare, but on closer examination they often turned out to be baseless. Among Murray’s other attempts to stir up baseless hostility to Muslims:

  • An opinion poll (of 600 students!) that ‘revealed’ that a large proportion supported ‘killing in the name of Islam’ (2008)
  • An incident where he pretended to have been ‘ambushed’ into debating with al-Muhajiroun, when in fact the group involved could have easily been identified as such in advance
  • A claim that a Muslim woman quoted in a newspaper was an ‘Islamist’, when no evidence for it existed
  • An attack on a proposal for a so-called “mega-mosque” a few streets away from the former World Trade Centre site (in fact, it was 13 storeys — not at all ‘mega’ for that part of New York — and not run by extremists at all)

You can search for material I’ve written about Murray, or just use this link. I think it demonstrates that he is in fact an enemy of the Muslim community who has been using his platform in the media to foment popular and political hostility against us for years. Murray claimed in his blog on Standpoint’s website that it is possible that his presentations, in which he showed a slide-show of “culprits” including Murray, “constituted some kind of effort to smoke out radicals by using people like [Murray] as bait”. However, if you went home and Googled Murray’s name (that was before most people could have done that with a smartphone in the room), you would find a wealth of material that demonstrated that what Lambert claimed about him was largely true. The worst Murray can find about the results of Lambert’s presentations is that “a contact” had heard a Muslim in the audience say that it was “the time for actions, not words”, so if Lambert’s aim was to “smoke out radicals”, he would have been more effective if he had called himself Rasheed and grown a beard.

Much as I agree that Lambert’s behaviour with London Greenpeace and the mother of his child was despicable, and it meets at least some definitions of rape (not least my Oxford dictionary’s, which includes using “fraudulent means” to obtain sex), I do not actually believe his role with the Muslim Contact Unit was insincere. That Nick Cohen makes this claim demonstrates that he simply has a hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood that goes beyond any rationality. It also, by the way, demonstrates his tactic of writing a long article about an uncontroversial matter or civil liberties or science, for example, then using a spurious parallel to get in a plug for one of his pet causes. For example, in this piece from 1st November, he starts off by praising medics who treated Ebola patients and then defied ‘irrational’ quarantine rules, and then sidetracks it onto attacking people who are against putting flouride in drinking water, which actually is a threat to some people’s health even if not everybody’s, and is unnecessary given that fluoride toothpaste is readily available. His arrogance shows in his liberal use of logical fallacies: the false appeals to authority, the use of snide remarks as a substitute for argument, putting ideas with some merit that he disagrees with alongside plainly baseless ideas (e.g. that global warming is a myth). This is a tired, lazy writer who has long since passed his sell-by date.

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Discriminatory on every level

14 December, 2014 - 10:46

'Welcome to Britain' sign at Heathrow airportMan faces deportation as UK wife’s salary too low

Last week a couple found out that they had been refused the right to settle in the UK and would have to split or resettle to the husband’s home country of South Africa (which is what they have decided to do). The reason was that the British wife’s income, at £19,786 for 2014 (she runs a craft-making business in Cornwall) was too low for a couple with a child; the British spouse must make £22,400, while if they do not have a child, the threshold is £18,600). This is ostensibly so that someone cannot bring in a spouse and expect the state to look after them, but this does not appear to have been the case here. A female friend of mine posted yesterday that the ruling was “inhumane and sexist”, the latter because it is more likely to discriminate against women because they tend to earn less money than men. However, it is discriminatory on every level you can think of. As the BBC article points out, average earnings in Cornwall and in much of northern England are around half of that of London and parts of the south-east, so someone on about average earnings for those regions would be more likely to fall below the threshold, while someone living in London is more likely to (although actually, there are plenty of people in London making around the threshold or less, and are much less likely to be able to afford a house on a single salary).

A further impediment to most British people on that kind of money being able to afford to bring a spouse over is that not many jobs will actually allow someone to spend time out of the country with them while building up their relationship enough to justify marrying them. Many people nowadays meet their overseas spouses on the Internet and have online chat and video conversations before travelling to each other’s countries. The latter part is expensive, and one or other spouse will have to take time off work. That’s easy enough if you can get enough casual work and don’t have to pay rent (or more than a nominal sum to one’s parents); if you’re actually doing a job that pays £19,000 a year, you are unlikely to be able to take more than your annual leave and expect to have a job to come back to (although much the same can be said of people earning more than that in nine-to-five jobs). That leaves another group of people: those who met while the foreign spouse was in this country for other reasons, such as as temporary work, studying or a holiday. If they are here long enough, they could have had a child born in this country, yet if the British partner fails to earn enough money, the other parent could be sent home and the child lose one of their parents, or have to move.

The rules are also racist in their intent: their purpose is to control the numbers of Muslims by preventing those from the northern ‘ghettoes’ from bringing spouses from the ‘village back home’ — and it is always assumed to be a village, never somewhere like Lahore, and among other assumptions is that they are illiterate (or at least under-educated) and the marriages are abusive. This behaviour has its problems, not least the persistence of Urdu and other South Asian languages as the main language of instruction in mosques, generation after generation of children born in the UK whose first language is not English, and the division between this longer-established community and more recent groups of immigrants (e.g. Somalis) and converts. However, media discussion of the ‘problems’ coming from Pakistani ‘ghettoes’ in Bradford and other northern towns neglects to mention discrimination against them, bad schools, and the fact that many of the industries that used to provide jobs to these communities have been destroyed. There has been agitation to curb this immigration for some years, often from pro-Israel elements and others concerned with ‘security’; Denmark raised the age for bringing a non-EU spouse into the country to 24, although the rules do not apply if you bring them to an EU country other than your own. Britain raised them to 21, but this was found to be against the Human Rights Act, forcing the government to set the age to 18, which is what led to this latest set of discriminatory rules.

Still, there are surely ways of ensuring that ill-educated spouses are not brought into already deprived communities without affecting the majority of the population, including Muslims without any links to these communities. For starters, countries where English is the majority language, or where there is a significant English-speaking minority, should be excluded from the rules (i.e. Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), because most English-speaking British people who find a spouse through an online relationship will find them in one of those countries, and the numbers are going to be much smaller than the number of EU migrants who come into the UK, many of whom do not speak good English (although their English is often better than our French, let alone Polish), because the expense of travelling to those places is much greater, and you do not need to be wealthy anymore to have access to the Internet. We should understand that allowing genuine spouses into the country so that a British person can live with their spouse in their country is not going to produce an unmanageable flood of immigrants; we should also understand that children need both parents and their lives should not be disrupted by constant moving and school-changing to solve a demographic problem that has nothing to do with them. It is not the children who chose their parents’ marital circumstances; it is their right to a family life that should predominate.

These rules are classist, Malthusian, and discriminatory on every level. They are cruel and they split up strong families for no good reason. They are made for a pre-digital, non-interconnected age where establishing contact with people in other countries was difficult. There is, and has long been, a tendency to force the British spouse to move away, supposedly because other countries (like the USA and Canada especially) have the room, and we don’t (and Australia does not; it had a 10-year drought, and there is no reason to suppose there will not be another). There is, of course, no impediment to rich foreigners coming in, spouse or no, buying up property at inflated prices and making Britain, and London especially, a more expensive place for everyone to live. We need fresh blood at every level, not just the top in terms of wealth. The immigration and citizenship laws are pretty much unique in maintaining outdated and discriminatory rules, such as not automatically allowing parents to pass on their citizenship, depending on age, sex, marital status and where the children were born. This must stop.

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Quality, not quantity

13 December, 2014 - 12:10

Picture of Nico Reed, a young white man with very short hair wearing a striped T-shirt, in a wheelchair with a leather harness, smiling.On Thursday the inquest into the death of Nico Reed, who died in a Southern Health supported living unit in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, returned a narrative verdict which stated that his death was the result of “aspiration of gastric contents” with an “underlying cause of cerebral palsy”. He found that Nico could have been saved if he had been checked every 20 minutes, as stated in the care plan, but that this was intended as a guideline and could only be a guideline as there was only one members of staff at night to look after four severely disabled residents. Yesterday BBC Radio Oxford covered the inquest result, which I was able to hear as my work took me to Reading and Newbury which are well within range, and I caught a phone-call from another parent with a son or daughter in the same unit, who called up to defend the unit and the Trust, saying among other things that checking him every 20 minutes would have been intrusive. He also attacked the “nasty blog campaign” against the trust (you can add this blog to that description, but he mainly meant people like Nico’s mother Rosi Reed, Sara Ryan (whose son Connor Sparrowhawk also died in Southern Health’s ‘care’), George Julian, Gail Hanrahan, Mark Neary, Justice for LB, People First England and a few others), at which point the host, Phil Gayle (who has covered the Southern Health care scandals in depth) cut him short. (You can listen to it online here for the next four weeks; it starts at 2hrs 7min. You can also read Sara Ryan’s write-up of the Southern Health rep’s performance.)

The story of how Nico came to be in that home and what happened to him there is told in more detail in this blog article from last June (again, from one of the ‘nasties’ or the ‘harpies’ as that parent previously dubbed the mostly female group of bloggers; see also here). He had been in a boarding school up to age 18, but when he reached school-leaving age, there had been no suitable adult provision, and his parents were told that unless they accepted what they perceived to be an inadequate local home, he could be transferred to a ‘place of safety’ which could be anywhere in the country, “and once there it would be almost impossible to get him out”. When he was moved to Barrantynes, the quality of his care deteriorated; at his school, the staff had developed ways for him to communicate, but these were not followed at Barrantynes and he lost the ability to use them as a result. They also neglected his physiotherapy which he needed to keep his breathing and swallowing muscles working properly; as a result, he developed muscle spasms and a tendency to choke on his saliva.

The conclusion is that if more attention had been paid to Nico’s quality of life while he was alive, and especially in the period after the transfer from Penshurst school, the circumstances that led to his death might not have happened. Although Nico had been diagnosed with a learning disability, Nico’s mother has written (long after his death) that she believed he did not have one, and challenging behaviour was also not an issue. Was his apparent ‘learning disability’ purely the result of a lack of ability to communicate with him? (There is another example here of a person who lacked any ability to demonstrate that she had intelligence or understanding, but when it came to the crunch, did so.) Although the Trust described him as a popular resident at the unit, his mother said he had become “thin, depressed and frightened” and his family were looking at ways of adapting their home so they could look after him there, but he died while this was being looked into.

The blog campaign I am part of is not about crucifying NHS trust staff for the sake of it. It is about making sure people with learning disabilities and severe physical disabilities that may manifest as such, have a quality of life such that they are not miserable or frightened: that they are not unduly separated from family, that they are not held in cells for years on end like an animal, that their physical needs are taken care of, that their families are not excluded from decisions about their care unless it is absolutely necessary, that they cannot be subject to unjustified mental health-oriented treatment, that decisions cannot be made about them without them, or if that is unavoidable, without their families or close friends, for the convenience of carers or clinicians or to save money, and that services do not drop off a cliff when someone turns 18. If we can ensure this then we might avoid future discussions as to whether someone could have been saved from choking on their own vomit if they had been checked on every 20 minutes as they slept, because that’s a pretty miserable way of being kept alive.

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Tories’ “£15bn roads revolution” is a pre-election con

1 December, 2014 - 22:30

Today the government announced their intention to spend £15billion on an ambitious set of new road projects, including improvements to several junctions on the M25, a tunnel near Stonehenge on the A303 and the dualling of the A1 north of Newcastle as far as the Scottish border. The reader may have already guessed that there is not the time to do even one of these things before the next election in May next year. A few of these schemes, however, simply will not happen.

To begin with, a brief look at the press releases (like this one for the South East) show that many of the schemes included are already underway or completed, such as the ‘upgrade’ of the M25 in Kent to “smart motorway” (meaning four lanes, no hard shoulder, with some new gantries and flashing light signs) and the widening of the A23 south of Crawley. A good few are in obvious marginal constituencies — the plethora of schemes in East Anglia are obviously intended to buy off UKIP voters, for example, while the target in the south (as with the A303) appears to be the Lib Dems. Some of them are indeed schemes which have been demanded for years, whether by motoring organisations or by local groups, such as the Stonehenge tunnel. Some are old schemes resurrected, such as the dualling of the A358 so as to link the A303 with the M5 at Taunton. Others are schemes previously abandoned because of the unacceptable environmental impact, such as the improvements to the A27 in West Sussex. Some of them, however, are just pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

A good example is a proposal to upgrade junction 10 of the M25 (right); the press release describes an “improvement of the interchange to allow free-flowing movement in all directions, together with improvements to the neighbouring Painshill interchange on the A3 to improve safety and reduce congestion”. It also calls that junction “the least-safe junction on the motorway network”. It’s true that this junction, which consists of a roundabout with slip roads leading to both the M25 and A3, which both flow freely below and above the roundabout, is a major cause of congestion and that queues leading up to it often stretch back a mile or two in all directions (particularly on the A3). However, there is a reason the junction was built like this, which is that the A3 at this point is not a by-pass but part of the old Portsmouth Road and has no alternative route. It carries pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars, has bus stops and direct accesses to properties including a hotel.

If you look at a detailed map, you will find that nearly all free-flowing motorway interchanges are with other motorways, not A-roads, including dual carriageways. All the M25’s junctions with A-roads are of the same type, i.e. the “three-level roundabout” with free-flowing roads above and below it, linked by slip roads (e.g., the A1, A12, A127, A13, A2 and A20). In theory, this means a cyclist can get across the junction without having to cross traffic entering the slip road, then have to use a windy flyover and then cross the fast-moving joining traffic. Without building an additional service road, it would be impossible to upgrade the Portsmouth Road to anything like motorway standard.

Also, the junction could not be remodelled on the same lines as current free-flowing motorway junctions without demolishing the current one, and that would raise the question of where all the traffic would go. The result would very likely be a gigantic interchange with a big hole in the middle, or two flyovers both built above the A3, so as to avoid interfering with the roundabout too much while the new junction is built. And any new junction would be vastly bigger than the present one (an advantage of the three-level roundabout junction is that they are smaller than other types of interchange), in an area where land prices are among the highest in the country; at least some of the land surrounding the junction appears to currently be used for public recreation, which is likely to cause public and environmental protest.

And improving this junction may, when (if) it’s completed, relieve the queues leading up to it, but it will not stop queues on the M25 itself backing up onto the A3 and may well lead to more people using that route rather than some local roads (the A309/A308 corridor from Hook to Staines in particular) which will add to traffic on the M25 and defeat the object of the whole scheme. I have not seen any detail of this scheme published yet, either on the Highways Agency website or on any news site, so I am not even sure if they have thought of what kind of junction to build. The most they could build is a couple of left-turn filter lanes. Anything else would be hideously expensive and take ages. This won’t happen.

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The stupidity of feminism part 1,553: throwing Billy-no-mates under the bus

29 November, 2014 - 16:27

A yellow road sign showing a bus, a person with his foot out, and a person falling under the busA letter to … the girl who accused me of rape when I was 15 | Life and style | The Guardian

I knew when I saw this piece in today’s Guardian Family supplement that it would provoke a torrent of outrage from feminists that the matter of false accusations of rape by women and girls is even being discussed. (Incidentally, in the Saturday pages in the main section, there is another article on how Legal Aid Cuts are putting victims of domestic violence in danger, something the paper has covered at length.) Sure enough, within an hour I saw a series of tweets from a radical feminist claiming that what the boy did is rape even if it wasn’t, because the girl was 13 and drunk.

The tweets went:

At this point, you will notice that she ignores the fact that the boy was 15, and not in law an adult, as the words “young man” seem to imply. The article states that, in fact, both the author and the girl were drunk, as was their friend. Who was more drunk, and whether they were drunk enough to impair their liability, is not stated in the article. It could be that the girl was more drunk, or that they were all very drunk or a bit drunk. Someone (some adult) should not have allowed them access to so much alcohol, or perhaps they bought it from a shopkeeper who was negligent in selling it to them, or perhaps they stole it; we don’t know. We know that if a woman is so drunk as to be insensible, then having sex with her (regardless of one’s relationship with her) is rape, but this girl was not so drunk that she could not remember it only a few hours later. Her contention appears to have been not that it was rape because she was 13 and drunk, but that he actually raped her. Note: that word ‘raped’ I used was English, not legalese.

Neither can 15-year-olds, male or female, and the 2003 Sexual Offences Act removed the anachronistic doctrine that it was always the male that was committing the crime, whether or not he was below the age of consent or indeed younger than the female. The Victorians did not even consider the possibility that a 13-year-old boy would want to have sex, or that any female would want to have sex with him. We know that the girl was a year and four months younger than the boy. He was probably the year above her at school; as he was in care, however, his education may have been sufficiently disrupted that he was in the same year as she was. As anyone who has been in a British secondary school (that is, anyone who was not home-schooled throughout their education), young people will more often know what year group someone is in than what their age is. He will have seen her as a peer. They were both in the same legal age range, i.e. from 13 to 15; below the age of consent, but above the age (12 and below) where sex is actually classed as rape — even then, however, the law was not envisaged to be used against people just above that age, but far above it (e.g. a 16-year-old having sex with a 12-year-old, let alone a person in their 20s doing the same).

No they’re not, because British law does not classify sex with someone under the age of consent as rape. It never has done; that’s American law (or rather, the law in some US states). In any case, the fact that the law does not recognise consent does not mean it does not exist. Teenagers under the age of consent consent to sex, usually with others of the same or similar age, every day. It just so happens that the law and police practice recognises gradations of maturity: children under 13, minors under 16, young people and adults over 16, people over 20 in a position of trust. Even so, fiction is fiction, even when written in stone.

This is fairly typical of the feminist pattern of conflating legal doctrines that suit them with fact. Look at any feminist article on abortion, for example (and some of them demand abortion on demand right up to term), and you will find repeated in every one of them the legal doctrine that “a fetus is not a person”, i.e. they are not a legal person who can sue or be sued. That does not mean it is morally acceptable to kill them for no reason, especially if they are developed past the point where the mother can be relieved of her pregnancy without the loss of the child’s life; this is why the law as it stands does not allow it. However, some legal doctrines do not suit them. The law held until recently that women were not persons, and that slaves were not persons. It also held until much more recently that rape was not rape if the attacker was the woman’s husband. It is rather amusing to watch them picking legal doctrines from times and places that suit them and then presenting them as facts or as moral absolutes.

I pointed out to Claire OT the fact that the “young man” was 15 and also drunk. She replied “And?”, as if his minor status did not matter; as if girls got a “child pass” but boys did not, when a girl knows full well she can get pregnant and a boy knows no better than she does (and has less reason to, and boys, despite being physically bigger, generally mature more slowly). She then tweeted:

The police did not pursue a case because they did not believe there was enough evidence, having heard both the girl’s story and his. They may also have believed that if they did put the case to trial, and the girl was lying, there was a chance of a miscarriage of justice if the girl put on a good enough performance. (He also notes that both of them could have been charged with having sex underage or with an underage person, but the police did not even take this action. In other words, if the man’s story is true, and there is no reason other than prejudice to believe it is not, both he and she were committing a criminal offence.)

Finally:

Since I actually believe the man’s story, and it was published anonymously and gives no details as to where the event happened (I believe it was the UK as indicated by certain phrases, e.g. ‘binge drinking’, but it does not even give this detail explicitly), I suspect the ‘victim’ will neither know nor care. Who’s to say she reads the Guardian? Perhaps she got what she wanted out of making this accusation, as she moved schools and caused this boy a lot of hardship for several months and made him unable to hold down a relationship so far. It’s also possible that she thought she could get away with it, or get what she wanted out of it, because the boy was in care (we do not know if she was or not). It’s worth noting, however, that social workers appear to have concluded that he was not a threat to the girl also being fostered (or maybe they moved her instead). If they had, they would have moved him, and very likely into a much less favourable placement and in another area.

Claire OT’s attitude towards this boy’s age is another example of her cavalier, mix-and-match attitude towards the law. The law states that he was a child, and that sex with him was also illegal, including for the girl (unless, of course, he forced her), as she was above the age of criminal responsibility. She clearly thinks there should be a harsher law for boys in this regard than for girls, despite the well-known differences in maturity that I have already mentioned. I happen to think that young people that age are capable of taking more responsibility for their actions than we give them credit for, and that (for example) the chorus of disapproval at the naming of the boy who killed the teacher this year was misguided, as he knew what he was doing and planned his action, and there is no evidence that he had been bullied or otherwise abused, least of all by this teacher. However, when boys that age maliciously abuse children aged 11 or 12, we call it bullying and it rarely results in criminal charges. There is no such thing as consensually putting someone’s head down a toilet. Adults do not always teach people this age that they must not have sex until they are 16, let alone that boys must not have sex with girls their own age or slightly younger because it’s rape, because it’s not. They say it’s illegal, but if you must, make sure you use a condom or some other contraception but it’s better to wait. The exception, perhaps, is in some religious schools, and these may be getting fewer due to the present government’s clampdown on old-fashioned views being disseminated in these schools, particularly by Muslims.

I have no doubt that this woman’s attitudes are shared by dozens of feminists online and off. If you want to know why feminists are commonly regarded as stupid and illogical, you need to look no further than the logical fallacies they deploy. Besides the mix-and-match, convenientist legal absolutism I have already mentioned, there is also the matter of “particularising the general”: because most accusations of rape are true, this one is as well. In this case, they read an account by a man who was accused as a teenage boy of rape by another teenage girl and without even hearing the girl’s story, or anyone else’s, they assume he is lying. Since they are fond of filling in gaps in the story with details they have made up, I will take the same liberty here. The man’s explanation (that she regretted having sex and feared her parents finding out, so she cried rape) is one plausible explanation, but it’s also possible that this girl and her male friend could have conspired against this boy as a malicious stunt, to get Billy-no-mates care boy thrown out or at least isolated and have a good laugh at his expense. In this, they seem to have at least partly succeeded.

And this — the fact that feminists recognised the vulnerability of the girl by simply being a girl, but not that of the boy by not having the support of his own family and being in a foster placement that could have been taken away from him at a moment’s notice — is why feminists’ influence on policy-making, and their role in the care of vulnerable people, should be kept to a bare minimum. The chorus of “I believe her!” every time a man is accused, or found not guilty, of rape speaks of naked prejudice, of women feeling entitled to make baseless assumptions about an event they did not see and have never examined in detail, but also raises the danger that a woman can make a false accusation of rape so as to dispose of an annoying man, or one she disagrees with, or one who is a rival to a friend’s ambitions, or for any other reason. It does not even have to result in a criminal conviction; it can easily lead to someone’s relationship or friendship network collapsing overnight, as people cut that person off as it is socially unacceptable not to. I do not think for a moment these feminists are not conscious of the power this situation would give them.

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What’s missing from Bubb’s tepid report

27 November, 2014 - 22:18

Picture of the former Winterbourne View hospital, a red-brick building partly painted yellow, with cars at the frontThis week the long-awaited report by Sir Stephen Bubb into the care of people with learning disabilities and autism following the scandal of Winterbourne View in 2011 was published. Titled “Winterbourne View: Time for Change”, it offers ten recommendations to the NHS, local authorities, the government and regulators including a “charter of rights” for people with learning disabilities, giving them and their families a right to challenge decisions and to request a personal budget, and a programme of closure for “inappropriate” inpatient care facilities, and has prompted a surge of media interest, the best being this piece in yesterday’s Guardian. Also this week, the inquest into the death of Stephanie Bincliffe from complications of obesity in an assessment and treatment unit, after seven years in a padded cell which she never left, was published, and although it criticises the institution she was in (run by the private Huntercombe group) for having no plan to treat her weight gain or challenging behaviour, it cleared them of neglect despite the egregious denial of her human rights and liberty over an extended period. (More: Mark Neary, Housing & Support Alliance.)

This awful case shows how fortunate it was that there was one doctor (and it was only one of three who had that power) who saw that Claire Dyer did not need to be in a secure unit and could be at home, and released her from section only three months after her transfer from Swansea. If she had remained there, the situation could have got worse very quickly as the strain of living in an institution full of strange people and rules hundreds of miles from home and seeing family only once or twice weekly began to take its toll. This has happened to many others, as the families of Stephen Andrade (held in St Andrew’s in Northampton; home is London) and Tianze Ni (held in a hospital in Middlesbrough; home is Scotland) have testified. The BBC had interviews with Stephanie’s mother and sister, and the mother said that Stephanie was extremely distressed by her situation; she believed she had been kidnapped and told her she had been ‘trapped’ and wanted to come home. She saw the staff as “the people who were holding her” which is why she attacked them when they came and went without letting her out. This casts doubt on the claims that they allowed to put on ten stone and left her in that wretched condition until she died just because any attempt to address her dietary issues would have triggered self-injurious behaviour. Frankly, the excuses don’t wash and I wonder how well-informed the coroner was to accept their opinions. If they could not care for Stephanie properly, they should have found whoever could, and wherever.

The Bubb report has been widely panned by the learning disability advocacy community. That community are trying to get a legal framework for making sure people with learning disabilities or autism do not end up in units unnecessarily, or sent a long way from home, or have their human rights infringed in other ways. That effort is known as the “LB Bill”. If you do a simple page search of Bubb’s report, you will notice that the letters LB appear only in the word “wellbeing” (three times) and “bill” only appears as part of the word “billion” (once). A key section of the proposed bill is to exclude autism from the Mental Health Act except when there are co-morbid mental health illnesses; no such provision appears in Bubb’s report. The problem with the MHA in regard to autism is fairly simple: it gives too much power to psychiatrists who are not often autism specialists (indeed, this fact is often used as an excuse to transfer patients, not necessarily to places where there are any autism specialists). It takes only two of them to section someone, and the process for getting someone off a section without their say-so is long and complicated, and the lapse and renewal of a section puts the process back to square one. It allows them to treat challenging behaviour with psychiatric medication, which causes weight gain, can lead to liver damage, and does not address the causes of their behaviour but only the symptom itself. The report does not suggest that there should be a discipline of autism specialist, which can replace the role of psychiatrist or at least greatly reduce it.

A key recommendation is that personal budgets be made available to the people who are at risk of being admitted to a unit, or are already in one. This seems to be a response to the continual complaints that bad institutional care is expensive — thousands or tens of thousands per week — but the report does not address the problems with personal budgets, such as that the person running it, if they choose to employ staff directly rather than using agencies, becomes an employer and is reponsible for paying their staff’s income tax and National Insurance, and that many local authorities make life difficult for people using them because they are convinced people are out to defraud the system, as Mark Neary has exposed in a number of blog posts since he started using one to pay for his son Steven’s care. It is time-consuming and a huge responsibility with a lot of legal pitfalls.

Another thing missing from the report is any proposal to improve the standards required of institutional care workers other than nurses, in terms of training or qualifications, as besides being abusive towards patients, the staff responsible for the original Winterbourne View scandal were clearly not of the necessary calibre and I suspect this could have been gauged in some cases with one face-to-face interview. While it’s true that a qualification does not make someone a good carer, anyone applying for a caring role should be able to present either a qualification or some evidence that they can care, have been a carer, or have an understanding of learning disability, autism or the responsibilities of the job. If their pay were increased, it might be possible to expect better standards of them.

Black and white picture of Connor Sparrowhawk, a young white man wearing a dark-coloured suit jacket with a white shirt underneathAlso missing from the report is any mention of making sure mental health services, for learning disabled people or anyone else, look after patients’ physical health as well. This was a major factor in the death of Connor Sparrowhawk (left): staff did not consider that a man with a learning disability also had a chronic physical condition (epilepsy) which could be life-threatening, despite having been notified of it by his family and despite it being common among people with learning disabilities. The CQC report also noted that medicines at that unit were not kept refrigerated and there was no battery in the defibrillator. A less serious incident of such neglect was the woman admitted to a secure unit who was not provided with the incontinence pads she needed, presumably because the unit, which did not cater for learning disabilities, rarely needed to deal with that problem (although I find that difficult to believe). This type of neglect is not restricted to ATUs or learning disability mental health care: only last night a woman who was admitted last week to a psychiatric ward miles from home (because the women’s ward at her local unit, the Orchard in Lancaster, has been reassigned for male use) had an asthma attack and was without her inhaler. It took two hours for staff to take her to the urgent care centre and although the care there was excellent, it could have been avoided if the ward could have provided an inhaler, or she had been in the local unit and able to access hers from home which was only 15 minutes away. Surely any hospital, and certainly any hospital ward which confines people, which nearly all psychiatric wards (including ATUs and including those that hold informal, i.e. non-sectioned, patients) do, should have the facilities to deal with an asthma attack as a severe one can kill in much less than 15 minutes.

Bloggers Steve Broach and Chris Hatton have also drawn attention to its lukewarm attitude towards the rights of people with learning disabilities: it proposes a “charter of rights” but this does not include new rights but merely re-emphasises existing ones, nor does it propose any means of enforcing them, such as legal aid which is being cut. The report proposes a “right to challenge” decisions, but these rights already exist such as the right to judicial review, but as the Dyers found out in July, it is difficult to make a case to challenge a clinical decision even when it is plainly against the patient’s best interests. Section 2.2 says “the review triggered by this right to challenge would only recommend admission/continued placement in hospital if it concluded that the assessment, treatment or safeguarding could only be effectively and safely carried out in an inpatient setting”; however, it may be that a judge is easily persuaded that this is the case or indeed biased towards accepting clinicians’ or social workers’ opinion. The right to challenge does not equate to the right to overturn an unwanted decision that is not in one’s interests.

Picture of Claire Dyer, a young white woman wearing glasses, red sound blockers, a light blue and white striped T-shirt and a purple jacket, standing next to a fence behind which is a male deerThe media coverage of this report continually cut to footage from Winterbourne View in 2011 with the words “viewers may find some of these scenes disturbing” or words to that effect. The thing is that not every kind of abuse of the human rights of disabled people would necessarily make shocking footage, much as torture would, but long-term imprisonment of a political prisoner would not, but is still a major violation of their human rights. Neglect, lack of control and long-term misery do not make headlines or shocking images, but that is the best some NHS trusts and private care companies can offer Britain’s learning disabled people and the opportunities for challenging them are limited. They have a right to control over their lives, to personal freedom, to family life and to freedom from abuse, and when they need to be cared for, they have a right to be cared for well. This report does not really investigate why these are not happening for many people, is not really based on listening to those affected and those who love and care for them, and will not lead to well-entrenched rights and robust mechanisms to resist bad decisions. It’s great that the report, and perhaps Stephanie Bincliffe’s inquest, has brought individual cases of bad care and long-distance placements into the public eye for a day or so, but the people affected need to be listened to. They are all behind the LB Bill. Let’s not settle for this tepid report.

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Not being spied on used to be called freedom

26 November, 2014 - 14:30

Front page of today's Sun, with the headline 'Blood on their hands' and Facebook's logoYesterday a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) came out that concluded that the murder of Lee Rigby, a British soldier, in London in 2013 could not have been prevented despite the two murderers being known to the intelligence services and having come up in a number of inquiries. The one bit of chatter they were aware of after the event that actually mentions a plan or desire to kill a soldier was on an American Internet service, thought to be Facebook, which is not obliged to share such information about users with foreign intelligence services. However, David Cameron claimed yesterday that Internet providers have a ‘moral responsibility’ to share such data and the Daily Mail’s front page screams “Facebook has blood on its hands”.

Nobody seems interested in considering how a company like Facebook, or any other company providing messaging services, would identify all content that indicates a plan to commit an act of terrorism or indeed any other crime. They already do provide a means of reporting abusive or illegal content, but that requires a reader to be minded to report it. Their reporting system is already overburdened with spurious or malicious reports, non-obvious spam and pictures that offend some people but aren’t illegal, and so on. What politicians seem to want is a means of automatically identifying leads to a criminal conspiracy, but how would they do this without providing a huge pile of innocent material to sift through to find just one possible lead? There are plenty of uses of words like kill, stab, shoot, bomb, explode and so on, not least people talking about things that have already happened and discussing means of preventing them.

It’s no wonder that civil liberties campaigners are already dismissing this report as a pretext for restricting civil liberties among unpopular sections of society. It’s also typical of the kind of “stable-door” legislation that often follows a tragic event; it’s concluded that if the state could have prevented the double murder or the mauling of a child by a dog of a particular breed by discriminating against a hitherto unidentified group or intruding on people’s lives in a way nobody had ever considered, because it was entirely unreasonable. For a comment made by an individual with no criminal convictions to be identified as suspicious purely because of words or phrases used would demand that private companies invest huge amounts of money in apparatus for spying on their users or customers, and that all our conversations are listened into by the state, or some private contractor - quite possibly the same giant IT contractor that helps decide what state benefits, healthcare or insurance we can access. The potential for blackmail should also be borne in mind.

It is usually tyrannical regimes like Assad’s Syria where the ‘walls have ears’ and you can’t say anything without risking attracting the attention of the secret police. That people can sometimes carry out a crime or an act of terrorism without being noticed is a sign that we live in a free country, not that there is not comprehensive enough surveillance. The price of freedom is not eternal vigilance, but risk.

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Palestinians are not just irrational haters

24 November, 2014 - 10:00

Avraham GoldbergLast Tuesday, two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem, killing four rabbis and a Druze Israeli policeman. It was revealed that several of the rabbis killed were immigrants from Britain and the USA; one of them, Avraham Goldberg, had previously been a rabbi in north London. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, but Israeli police believed the two men acted alone. The Israeli police delayed releasing the men’s bodies to their families as a supposed deterrent to others, and also demolished their family’s homes, as is now standard practice (which satisfies Israeli desire for collective punishment, although it never seems to have acted as a deterrent).

I heard Michelle Hirschfield, a cousin of the Avraham Goldberg, interviewed on BBC London radio the morning after the massacre. She claimed that her cousin was a man who was not judgemental of others and wanted peace. She also claimed that the men served as janitors at the synagogue and that “you’re not dealing with rational people”. She claimed that Goldberg had moved to Israel because he believed in the idea of Israel as a home for the Jews, because he had a decision to make as his children had grown up and left home, and had a job that he could do as well in Israel as in London. The host did not challenge her in any way, and this was an adult who had lost an adult cousin who lived in another country, not a grieving widow or bereaved mother.

How can anyone who ‘loves peace’ move from a country where there is peace, and where Jews are safe, to a country which is essentially a war zone and where the ‘security’ Jews enjoy is achieved at the expense of oppression of the displaced native population? (At the time, the IRA were still active, but they did not target Jews and posed nothing like the threat suicide bombers did in Israel at that time.) It’s true that there was a peace process going on at the time, but Jerusalem was not open to negotiation; Israeli military officers would talk to Jewish student groups in other countries, including the UK, and proclaim that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s eternal, undivided capital, something Goldberg would undoubtedly have heard in synagogues and Jewish newspapers in the UK. Zionists want ‘peace’ only in the sense that they want the Palestinians to give up their resistance, or be crushed. They do not want peaceful coexistence on equal terms.

Along with the “not rational people” remark on BBC London, this is what Hirschfield said to Sky News (her BBC interview ran similarly):

“He was worried about the situation there. He could not understand the mindset of people who had no value for life, life meant so little.

“How does one deal with people who do not value life? How can a mother say ‘I have 14 children, I want them all to be martyrs to kill a Jew’. It’s a terrible, terrible situation.

“I don’t think animals kill for the sake of killing, like these people do. He would believe that people could live side by side.”

This is the same rhetoric we hear all the time from Zionists about Palestinian terrorists: that they are senseless killers who just live to kill Jews. They make no distinction between Palestinian hatred of their Jewish oppressors, and white European hatred of a Jewish minority. There is no considering the fact that Palestinians are being systematically squeezed out of east Jerusalem, that their homeland is full of illegal Jewish settlements, that those settlements monopolise the water supply, that Palestinians are subject to curfews for the ‘safety’ of these fanatical settlers, that there are checkpoints everywhere, that Palestinians living in towns 20 miles away cannot travel across their own country without passing through several and being humiliated, that Palestinians are harassed and abused by soldiers, that their houses are invaded by soldiers for use in killing Palestinians, that they kill and imprison children for throwing stones. None of this occurs to Israelis and their friends overseas. They insist that it is all just senseless hatred and murder.

The BBC should not be allowing this kind of nonsense to be spewed across the airwaves; it should be left to the Zionist blogosphere. While I have no issue with condemning the attack, which was unprovoked and against defenceless, elderly individuals, I would also like to hear supporters of Israel condemn the abuses I detailed in the last paragraph, much of which we do not hear about, as well as the terrorism waged by those who set up their state and its intelligence forces before and after its establishment. But of course, they will not. Theirs are vital for security; the Palestinians’ attacks are without context, senseless and racist.

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I’m a professional driver, and I’m not a knucklehead

23 November, 2014 - 09:09

Last week Mark Reckless, who had stood down as a Tory MP in the Rochester and Strood constituency in Kent and re-stood for UKIP, won the by-election with 42.1% of the vote on a 50.6% turnout. Remarkable in this election was the poor showing for the Liberal Democrats, who scored only 349 votes (0.9%, down 15.5% from 2010) and lost their deposit. During the campaign, the Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who had been Shadow Attorney General, tweeted a picture of a house festooned with St George’s Cross flags with a white Ford Transit van parked outside, simply captioned “Image from #Rochester”, which allegedly made Labour leader Ed Miliband “incandescent” because it gave the impression that Labour were full of metropolitan snobs who looked down on “real” working-class people they expected to vote for them. The Sun and the Daily Mail both made front-page stories of the tweet, the former headlining “Only Here for the Sneer” and printing a picture of the owner of the van, now covered in Sun mastheads, along with his ‘manifesto’; the Daily Mail’s headline this morning said “Labour row deepens over snob MP”. The idea that this man’s views and behaviour actually represent working-class men (let alone women) are not being seriously questioned, at least in the mainstream media.

First, there are a couple of other blog entries which take apart the ‘working-class outrage’ this tweet supposedly generated: Claire Bolderson demonstrates that the ‘storm’ really was “a twitter storm in a tea-cup” whipped up by the media, while A Very Public Sociologist notes that ‘White Van Dan’ is in fact a car dealer, suggesting that his ‘manifesto’ reflects the insecurity of his occupation (rather than years of reading the Sun), but that most people in fact despise displays of patriotism. The Sun likes to position itself as the ‘true’ voice of the white working-class (although they don’t emphasise the white bit) while the Mail openly claims to speak for the middle-class and equates purchases with votes. The Sun equates criticism of Dan’s kind of vulgarity with snobbery, and as with right-wingers who fake a common touch in the USA, love to attack members of the “left-wing metropolitan elite” and claim that they really represent ordinary working people, despite it being known that they actually call them plebs among themselves.

Now, I actually know a woman who sometimes posts British or English flags in her window, and she’s a Muslim with mild learning difficulties and certainly not a UKIP supporter, so this picture may not actually prove that the inhabitant is a reactionary knuckle-dragger and I’m glad this by-election was not in my friend’s constituency. However, as someone who drives for a living (I passed my class 1 HGV test in September, but have been driving smaller goods vehicles since 2000), I am sick of the assumption that people in jobs that do not require a degree must be reactionary idiots who read a newspaper that feeds them a diet of gossip, soft porn and bigotry and believe everything that paper tells them. I am also sick of the assumption that we lack critical thinking and all subscribe to their politics, of blaming outsiders, Gypsies or Irish travellers, benefit claimants, single mothers or whoever their chosen hate figure may be this week, rather than people in power, the super-rich and the press that serves their interests. Let’s also not imagine that real hard-working people don’t have the time for fussy intellectual arguments or big ideas. Wrong. My job often means I don’t have the time or the energy to write much anymore, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have the time to think. I also despise the ‘snob’ jibe which is used whenever there is perceived criticism of low-brow culture or vulgarity, whether it relates to culture, politics or food. Usually it is the taunt of bullies who tell people not to get “above themselves”, but really they fear someone getting above them. However, in this case it is the tabloids protecting the debased culture they sell. Perish the thought that anyone might desire something better.

(A number of years ago, while working as a van driver for a tool hire company, I stopped at one of their outlets where I heard the desk staff, who had a tabloid on display, voice some bigoted attitudes that were straight out of that paper. I mentioned this in an email to Jon Gaunt, then the presenter of the BBC London morning show, who I think was talking about a student union which had voted to stop selling the Sun in their shop, and referred to the paper as the “Scum” and a “low-rent rag”. He read this out, then a later caller said I must be a snob who looks down on van drivers.)

A common complaint on social media of the left-wing media response is that there are too many middle-class white males commenting on the voting choices of working-class whites, and blaming them for voting UKIP. My response is that the type of white working-class people who choose to vote for a bigoted and reactionary party are not people with a cognitive deficiency, or uneducated illiterates, but adults who choose not to think critically and to vote for a party that uses them to serve the interests of the rich. A number of years ago Lynsey Hanley wrote in the Guardian that there was a tendency to celebrate the political activities of the white working class when it served left-wing goals by calling it “resistance”, but to blame everyone but them when they voted BNP, attributing it to “a cry of distress”, thus denying them agency. The rise of UKIP is nothing other than a repeat of the American trend in which working-class white voters outside major industrial areas vote for parties that go against their economic interests because they affirm their identity while claiming to be “people like them”, when they are anything but, and care nothing for their interests. UKIP plan to leave not only the EU but also the European Economic Area, which would leave Britain economically isolated, unable to sell goods competitively to our nearest neighbours, thus destroying jobs, and turn the areas around seaports (of which there are four in Kent) into giant car and truck parks. Farage is known to personally support moving to an American-style insurance-based healthcare ‘system’, despite that system leaving millions of Americans without access to care. UKIP plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, the nearest thing Britain has to the constitutional bills of rights other modern democracies have, something which would lose any aspiring politician an election in any other democratic country. (They do propose a “British bill of rights”, but say nothing about constitutional reform, so it would be statute like any other, and could be overridden by simple Parliamentary vote.)

So, it was wrong of Emily Thornberry to make assumptions about the man behind those flags (indeed, that it was a man at all), and mocking local people rather indicates that Labour did not hope to win the seat, but it’s also wrong for Labour to pander to right-wing bigotry and unthinking “common sense” politics that are dictated by the tabloids. They will never win votes from people like this without engaging with and challenging their beliefs, or ceasing to be a Labour party in any meaningful sense. Britain is part of Europe, and we cannot imagine that trade links with the USA or the Commonwealth, all of which are thousands of miles away, are any substitute for close links with our neighbours which start 26 miles from our shores. Human Rights protect everyone, not just troublemakers and foreign criminals. The welfare state is an investment in our own futures, so we do not end up in the gutter if our employer’s main customer or supplier goes bust, not merely money people who work pay to those who don’t. And so on. Labour should stop being cowardly, have faith in the people they want to vote for them, and challenge senseless tabloid politics. Not all people who drive for a living are tabloid-reading bigots, and working-class white people are capable of critical thinking.

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Julien Blanc and swearing on talk radio

20 November, 2014 - 22:23

This morning on the Nick Ferrari show on LBC (which I don’t listen to very often; I always preferred the BBC London station), they were talking about the American “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc, who has been going around the world giving seminars on how to “pick up” women, which he seems to think involves using very physically aggressive methods, who was meant to be coming to the UK to give seminars but, following widespread protests from feminists in particular, now will not be as he has been denied a visa. Nick Ferrari (right) had two feminist guests on (unusual), namely Rahila Gupta and Louise Pennington. The discussion, however, came to a premature end when Pennington used the F-word, leading Ferrari to cut her off and say he would never invite her onto his show again.

Rahila Gupta opposed blocking Blanc from coming into the country, because she said that immigration laws were racist in themselves and because it is better to expose their ideas in debate than ban them. Pennington said she agreed with Rahila on the matter of immigration law being racist, she said that “we have to work within the system we have”. However, she then opined that “we live in a rape culture” in which girls are groomed to be sexually abused from an early age and women are not regarded as having the right to say no. Although this kind of thing is a standard argument on a certain type of feminist blog, including Pennington’s, Ferrari reacted as if this was the most stupid thing he had ever heard. She then said something about girls being trained or groomed to be “f**kable”, at which point the host said, “you know, when you’re losing an argument, you resort to foul language” and said he would make a note never to have “that woman” back on air. Later on, a (male) emailer challenged him by reminding him that he had said that Julien Blanc’s words were just words, and surely the same was the case with Pennington’s; Ferrari said that the word was on a list of words they couldn’t use on air, and told him that if he wanted his kids hearing that sort of language at 7am, he was listening to the wrong station.

I’ve been listening (on and off) to talk radio for years, pretty much as long as I’ve been driving for a living, and there’s a blanket ban on swearing on air, and unlike on TV there is no watershed (i.e. a time after which it’s permitted), so people have been cut off at any time. There was one occasion where a lady called in to the Eddie Nestor show one Sunday morning, saying that she had been smoking cannabis for years and was now dying of cancer. She said that while on the drug she would go into work and say “oh, f**k this”, at which point Nestor cut her off and issued a sanctimonious apology to us for her language, irrespective of the fact that some of us may have been more annoyed at the woman’s story being interrupted. On the other hand, when Jonathan Ross was heard telling Andrew Sachs, on air, that a man had “f**ked his granddaughter”, he was suspended only for a short time despite this having been recorded, and played at prime time. He got off far too lightly for that.

I turned over not long after he cut Pennington off, but they did not really get to why Julien Blanc should not be allowed into the country. The laws involved are not immigration laws and in this case the matter has nothing to do with race; the Home Secretary can block anyone from coming to the UK if their presence is deemed “not conducive to the public good”. If he was coming to teach people how to plant bombs or rob banks, he would certainly not be allowed in, so the same must be true given that he teaches men to sexually harass and abuse women. It is not just a case of someone with some unpopular ideas or someone who offends the sensibilities of certain powerful and vocal minority lobby groups. I do not know if Ferrari was familiar with the ideas Louise Pennington threw into the discussion (although he or his researchers must surely have read her blog or Twitter feed, where they appear pretty regularly), but they would have seemed extreme to many listeners and weren’t really relevant, as Blanc is not that typical of popular culture, even “lad culture”, but an openly racist, misogynist criminal that most people did not know about until last week. It is right not to let him into the country.

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Are we really much better than the Greeks?

19 November, 2014 - 11:10

Brightly painted wooden cage-like cells, photographed in a care home in GreeceLast Friday there was a story on the BBC website on a state home for both children and adults with learning disabilities in Greece, in which some of the inmates, who have conditions including Down’s syndrome and autism, are kept locked in cages for most of the time, have no access to personal possessions and rarely leave the centre. Other abuses have been documented over the past ten years, including people tied hand and foot to their beds and one 16-year-old boy who died and was found to have swallowed bandages as a result of poor supervision. A modern centre for people disabilities exists in the area was built with EU money and currently houses the head of an association for people with disabilities and their families, but has no residents as the Greek state has no money to staff it. The director of this centre has not been paid for a year.

I don’t think anyone in the UK should be feeling superior about this revelation. What’s puzzling is the continual surprise that this is happening in Europe in 2014, when this sort of thing has been happening in both western and eastern Europe throughout the modern era. Europe is not as civilised as we middle-class people like to think; there have been two genocides in Europe in living memory. We sat up and took notice of the Romanian orphans in 1989, but that was because we could blame Ceausescu and Communism; the Greeks were always on ‘our side’ (in fact, Ceausescu was pro-western and had enjoyed favoured trading relations with the west for years, despite Romania nominally being a Warsaw Pact country) so we did not look too closely at what went on outside the tourist resorts. We were more concerned about Mount Athos not admitting women than about disabled children being tied to beds.

There have been some horrific abuses of people, adults and children, with learning disabilities in Britain this century, let alone last. We pretend that Winterbourne View was unique, but the conditions that let it happen, including the low pay and status of carers which results in low recruitment standards, still persist. The CQC recently published a report titled “Three Lives”, one of them being that of a young autistic woman held in a cell in an NHS unit for nine years, her meals being passed to her through a letterbox, nobody going in or out, until inspectors discovered her situation and ordered her release. We are not told how many of the people in that Greek care home are local, but when learning disabled people in this country need (or are thought to need) specialist care or accommodation, they are often sent hundreds of miles from home, and often the conditions they find in these places make their condition worse. In the USA the authorities have tolerated a place that uses electric shock treatment to force autistic children and young adults to comply with their rules and to make them work. Abuse and even neglect can happen when there is plenty of money. It apparently cost more than £12,000 a week to keep the young woman in the CQC report in that bare room.

Part of the reason why such conditions persist in Greece is that the country has not seen the same level of activism and self-advocacy around disability that Britain and the USA have, and that mental disability in particular is greatly more stigmatised there than here. Greece joined the then EEC in 1986 and had been a dictatorship into the 1960s, but the same is true of Spain and Portugal and the same abuses are not reported to be going on there. If we want to improve conditions for disabled people in these homes, perhaps we should set up some kind of distress fund, much as was done for the Romanian orphans in the 90s, but we should certainly lobby the EU, and the dominant economic powers within it, not to impose austerity at the expense of the most vulnerable in the poorer parts of the EU, who after all are not responsible for the bad decisions made by those who ran their countries.

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Why does sport welcome violent men?

16 November, 2014 - 12:26

A picture of a street with a football stand backing onto it, with "Cobbold Stand" and "Ipswich Town Football Club" on the sides, and shops fronting onto the street. Another stand is to the left with turnstiles below.It’s not often that I write about sport here, mainly because I pay so little attention to it. I’ve watched only one football match in person (Ipswich v Oxford at Portman Road in 1991 I think; Ipswich won 1-0), and I don’t think I’ve ever watched one end to end on TV. I’ve long been disturbed by how much money is spent on it, how much the players in the top divisions earn for very little activity, and how much public inconvenience is tolerated for major sporting events. It’s great entertainment, but that’s all it is at the end of the day, and it isn’t an achievable life goal for most people. Recently, the news has been full of controversy about whether two men convicted of serious acts of violence should be allowed to compete again: Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic runner convicted of killing his girlfriend, and Ched Evans, convicted of rape in 2012 and now training again for Sheffield United FC in England, having served less than half his five-year sentence.

In the first case, the International Paralympic Committee decided that he cannot compete until his sentence elapses, even if he is released after ten months as is possible under South African law, although it is also possible that his sentence or conviction could be increased on appeal. During the period between his conviction and sentencing when two (male) members of the Committee suggested that he might compete again, Lisa Egan wrote this about how different oppressed groups don’t often support each other, even when they can both be murdered for existing. This past week there has been a huge amount of protest about the decision of Sheffield United to allow their former striker to train again; their shirt sponsor, a local logistics company, has threatened to remove its sponsorship if they sign him to play, and the Olympic runner Jessica Ennis-Hill has asked for her name to be taken off a stand at their ground if this happens (and received rape threats over Twitter for her stance). Evans still protests his innocence, and his supporters have harassed both the victim and her family, and anyone (particularly women) who speaks out against Evans’s return to the game. A group of feminists held a demonstration in Sheffield in which they chanted “kick rapists out of football” and “Sheffield loves football, not rapists!”. Last night the club (who are currently fifth in League One, or the third division, meaning they have a chance of promotion to the Championship if they keep up present form, so are doing well enough without Evans) decided not to re-sign Evans and (months too late) condemned the abuse issued to critics of Evans’s return by their fans.

Our sport culture is different from that in the USA; an incident like Steubenville could not happen here, because schools and colleges do not rely on sports for income and therefore sportsmen are not considered indispensible either for the school’s finances or its reputation. (Our legal system is also different; we have very few individually elected posts and no district attorneys, so decisions about prosecutions for serious crimes are not made locally.) The conviction of Ched Evans itself shows that being rich and famous is no bar to being held accountable (indeed, it may make it more likely as the papers will be more interested in a story about a rapist if he was a footballer than if he was a bricklayer). However, violence surrounding games is often commensurate with the inherent violence of the game. The entire football family of games is inherently violent; they may involve kicking balls with some force at other players, who are expected to deflect it with their heads or bodies if necessary; some of them feature tackles which involve throwing people to the ground which can cause serious injury (rugby in particular has a long record of spinal-cord injuries) and the rules of the games raise the pitch of excitement among spectators, even those watching on TV, such that a small setback for one’s team an provoke a disproportionate response. It is known, for example, that rates of domestic violence peak during major football tournaments, whether the team of the country in question wins or loses. One might excuse the inherent violence of the game by saying that professional players are consenting adults, but boys forced to play these games at school are not. Schools should not, in my opinion, foster or indulge football; they should tolerate it only inasmuch as it does not interfere with other children’s right to play or enjoy themselves in peace. There are better ways of keeping boys fit.

At school it was always the bigger boys (I cannot speak for girls here, as I was in genuinely mixed schools for very little of my school years) who were best at sport, especially football, and I made a half-hearted attempt to show an interest in the 1986 World Cup, but couldn’t disguise the fact that I hated having to actually play it, because I did not like having a ball kicked at me and avoided it instead of trying to deflect it. Worse, boys who were violent to other boys off the pitch (and sometimes even on it) found that was no bar to being praised for their sporting achievements. The result is that, in many of these places which are meant to be there to educate, children who are late developers physically who are weak at sport are at the bottom of the pile, regardless of how well they do in their school work. Sports in general do not shut out people for offensive behaviour away from the game, only on it, e.g. doping, cheating, match-fixing, arguing with a referee or violent fouls (and sometimes it takes years to prove, as with Lance Armstrong, during which time a cheat can shove many an honest sportsman out of the way). This means that someone with a well-known record for petty violence off the pitch, for getting into fights in pubs, for drink-driving, or for beating his wife or girlfriend, can still prosper and be respected as a sportsman (look at Paul Gascoigne or George Best). This is perhaps because we regard football as a low-class game, a way out of poverty for men from poor backgrounds who aren’t very bright, so we do not expect particularly high standards of behaviour from them.

I think we would have less violence surrounding sport and less of these controversies about players who are criminals if sport had an ethos that being a sportsman (or woman) entails being of good character. This does not mean they should go through people’s lifestyles with a fine-tooth comb, but it does mean that if someone has convictions for serious violent crimes, or crimes which are likely to affect their behaviour on the pitch (e.g. fraud), or if they have a long record of minor violent crimes, reckless use of guns where they are legal, or drink-driving, they should not be allowed to play, and teams should not be allowed to pay them either, much as any firm is entitled to fire a person who is convicted of a criminal offence, however minor. This should start in school; someone who is known to be a bully, for example, should not be picked to play for their school or house, no matter their sporting prowess. This is because sporting ability is in itself inconsequential, besides the money it can raise, mostly for the player and his team, but the same abilities can be used to harm others, and there is no virtue in being able to score goals or outrun a bunch of other people if you cannot control your temper, or you have no respect for other people. Such people are not fit to be held up as role models, especially for young men who are themselves in danger of falling into such behaviour. There should be no question that these men should be banned from competing, and not just after they have been released from prison or their sentences have ended, but potentially for life.

Image source: Wikipedia; author is Solipsist, released under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.

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In-your-face racism is back (but victim blaming never went away)

11 November, 2014 - 22:40

Picture of an old-style red London bus, with the number 9 on the front, under some leafless winter trees in a London streetA few people I know yesterday tweeted an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the mainstream media’s favourite “Muslim” and authority on all things Asian, which claimed that “in-your-face racism” had returned and that she was spat at on the number 9 bus the other day (although it appears to have missed and landed on the back of her seat), and that few people were doing anything to fight it, unlike in the 80s and 90s. Towards the end, which the people retweeting it did not seem to notice, she turns to blame the people she spends much of her media career railing against: Muslims.

Some of what she says about racism being on the rise and that racists often claim that “they’re not allowed to talk about race” are true, although the reason there is less activism at all levels in society is because a lot of that work has been done, including laws banning racial discrimination and setting up government bodies to monitor different types of discrimination. When these groups were all bundled into one under the last Labour government (the Equalities Commission), the person appointed to head it was a middle-class Black man with an English name — a safe and acceptable minority; nothing foreign-sounding or unusual-looking — who had started telling the Establishment what it wanted to hear. But it’s all scene-setting for delivering her real point: that it’s all the Muslims’ fault:

I blame the minorities, too, for the vulnerable state we are in. Islamicist separatism and now Isis terrorism have turned good people off diversity. The anti-white prejudices within some Asian families are mortifying. Grooming gangs have destroyed young girls and also cohesion and mutual trust between the brown and white Britons.

What has “turned people off” is the press repeatedly bringing their attention to obscure activities of small groups of Muslims or individuals, and putting pictures of women in niqaab next to many of them. While a small number of British Muslims have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight for ISIS, the majority of prominent Muslims here have consistently opposed them, and appealed for the western hostages they have held to be released. Nobody knows or cares about the fact that Asian families sometimes harbour prejudices against whites, because they will not randomly attack white people in the street, unlike when it’s whites who are racist, and their prejudices may have something to do with living or trying to raise children (or being raised) surrounded by white racists. Us converts have to deal with that more than most white Brits; many of us have been refused marriages on grounds of “cultural compatibility” and other excuses. Yet most of us do not become racists.

As for grooming gangs, the majority of those who abuse women and girls are white men, as whites are the majority of the population and men are the (vast) majority of sex criminals. That the majority of men participating in a particular type of gang are Asian does not mean most Asians are involved in or sympathise with them, any more than the majority of Sicilians are involved in or sympathise with Cosa Nostra. It does not give whites at large the right to become bigots.

Alibhai-Brown is trying to point the finger of blame downwards, at a weaker group of people (Asians and particularly Muslims) rather than upwards, to the press that foster bigotry (and also pays her wages) and to the white population, in much the same way that when a group of children are punished because one or two act up, they are more likely to turn on that child than on their teachers. I know of a lady who complains that people give her dirty looks because she is a black woman with a child, and assume she is a “baby mama”, but she blames other black women for being baby mamas, not whites for being racist. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is not really fighting racism, but just to persuade those with the power not to confuse the good Asians with the bad ones, i.e. the practising Muslims she despises, and rails against in her other newspaper articles and TV appearances (where she lectures people who were born here about “British values”, which she makes up as she goes along). So, anyone tempted to hold her up as a fighter against racism should understand that she defines racism quite narrowly, and that her solution is that all the “bad Muslims” should give up what makes them different, except for the cuisine and the prayer (when it’s convenient).

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Claire Dyer is free

10 November, 2014 - 23:08

Claire Dyer, a young white woman with glasses and multiple missing teeth wearing a blue and white striped T-shirt, holding a heart-shaped card with the slogan "There's no place like home".Today Claire Dyer and her family found out that she had been released from her sectioning under the Mental Health Act, and will not have to return to the medium-secure unit to which she was sent on 1st August. Claire Dyer is a 20-year-old autistic woman who had been in an NHS learning disability unit in Swansea who had earlier fought off an attempt to transfer her to St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton; the unit she spent more than two months in was near Brighton, which was even further from her home than Northampton. She had been on extended leave from the hospital for the past three weeks and was due to return for an MHA tribunal this Wednesday. This will now not be necessary.

Someone on one of the Facebook groups where these issues are discussed asked what the Brighton unit did differently. I responded that it was not Brighton that did something differently but the unit in Swansea that she had come from: it was they who misused the Mental Health Act for their own convenience, to try and transfer her to Northampton and later to Brighton without Claire or her family having the ability to prevent it. The Brighton unit management just did their jobs: they must have quickly identified Claire as someone whose condition was nothing like those of their normal clientele, who were women with serious mental illnesses or personality disorders, some of them sent there on hospital orders after convictions for serious offences including manslaughter. The unit also must have known that there was publicity surrounding Claire’s case and that her family and supporters were connected to other prominent campaigners who had had to fight the system on behalf of their autistic sons and daughters, some of whom had died, and that the unit and its corporate owners would have faced a blaze of hostile publicity if the same had happened to Claire.

Nobody should be under the illusion that this unit is any model of good practice, despite a good CQC report (following a dreadful one a year earlier); local mental health outreach teams avoid placing people there, as it is expensive and there have been safeguarding concerns. In the first month after she arrived, Claire was only allowed to see her family in the unit’s visiting room, and only for two hours at a time. While Claire was used to talking to her family over FaceTime before going there (which was essential as her sister is deaf), her iPad was taken away and, despite promising that Skype was available for these purposes, it took weeks to set up. The loom bands that were her main hobby before being moved were taken away as a supposed precaution against self-harm; she was not allowed crayons in her room unless she ate them. She was not allowed outdoors for several weeks; she was given grounds leave, but on the first occasion this was not passed on and so she did not get it; on other occasions it was cancelled because of meltdowns. After about a month there, she was allowed out with her family, but this too (including the first one) was sometimes cancelled for the same reason (and the family had to travel for five hours each way to see her). It was after these trips out began that the staff came to realise that the stories they had been told, among other things that she was not safe at home.

I would like to see a thorough investigation of the decisions that led to Claire being sent away. The family have not named the unit in Swansea or its responsible clinician, but the authorities know who he is. It was he who sectioned Claire in September 2013 and then told the family that he intended to move her to Northampton a couple of weeks later. He also told the family that if Claire were released from the section at the tribunal earlier this year, she could not stay at the unit at a time when the family felt that Claire could not live at home (as she had done for five weeks in early 2013 after an earlier care home placement broke down); he claimed that she should remain under section as she behaves better when on section than off it. He continued to allow Claire out with her family almost every day, and home for weekends, as he had done since imposing the section, and did so even after deciding that Claire needed a medium-secure unit — this is unheard-of, and entirely inconsistent.

The first draft of the so-called LB Bill, named after Connor “Laughing Boy” Sparrowhawk who died due to staff negligence in an NHS learning disability unit in Oxford in July 2013, was published last week; you can view the full text, explanatory notes and two easy-read books on the LB Bill website. The eighth clause of the draft Bill removes people with autism and other learning disabilities from the scope of the Mental Health Act unless they also had a diagnosis of a recognised mental illness; any detention would have to be done under the Mental Capacity Act. This is because there have been numerous incidents of machinations involving the MHA being used to transfer learning disabled people to places far away from their families against their wishes or their best interests. It places far too much power in the hands of psychiatrists; it takes only two of them to make the decision and it takes a lot more effort and time to challenge it, and sometimes the tribunal can outlive the section, as it did in Claire’s case, and the patient is back to square one. An autistic person usually does not need a highly secure environment; they need a familiar environment with consistency and support. It is an extremely common mistake to confuse an autistic person’s behaviour in the unnatural and stressful environment of a locked unit with their behaviour when in familiar surroundings and without stress. The conflicting laws which allow clinicians to abuse their power must be reformed.

As for Claire, she will be at home for the foreseeable future; support is being put in place and a long-term placement in the area looked at, although there is no date set for this. As someone who has been on a section 3, she is entitled to aftercare under section 117 of the MHA, which is more than she would have had before being placed on section; but the same was true before she was sent to Brighton. It was entirely unnecessary. There are so many young people with autism in the UK who are still suffering in unsuitable or badly-run units and hospitals, and it seems even prisons, often hundreds of miles from home, some of whose conditions are deteriorating and some who have been attacked and abused, as was reported on Channel 4 News last week. Learning disability and mental health are united in being underfunded, “Cinderella” specialities that can be cut and people moved from pillar to post without attracting much protest, as may have been anticipated by the management who transferred women’s beds to male use in Lancashire last month. But they are separate, and an autistic crisis should not get someone stuck in the mental health system.

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About those sarnies

10 November, 2014 - 08:19

Front page of the Daily Mail, with the headline "Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?". Also has a red poppy displayed at the top right, and a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge, a white woman wearing a black hat and coat with a poppy on the lapel.The Daily Mail’s headline today reads “Is there nobody left in Britain who can make a sandwich?” and refers to an Irish-based sandwich making company, Greencore, which is seeking to recruit hundreds of workers from eastern Europe for its new factory in Northampton because it cannot recruit them locally. As is often the case with these stories, however, the story does not match the headline; the firm’s own “human resources” director claimed that the reason was that there was low unemployment in Northampton, although the Daily Mail claims that the rate is 6.8%, and higher in surrounding towns (though I wouldn’t put Luton in that category; it is a good hour’s drive away and is not on the same railway line).

I’ve worked for Greencore; I was driving a fridge truck up and down the M1 over the summer, picking up pallets of sandwiches and other goods from their depot outside Rotherham to be delivered to branches of WH Smith’s at London airports, the Channel Tunnel and various railway stations in the south-east. The pay was good for a class 2 driving job (£10.50 per hour, which is more commonly found in class 1 jobs), although I cannot speak for any of the other staff as I did not ask what they were paid. The issues I had were minor compared with what some of the reports from others who have worked in different plants have said. I was frustrated by the fact that I was expected to negotiate things with the staff or management in Rotherham, such as when the goods were ready by or the arrangement of pallets on the truck, when I was an agency driver and not a Greencore employee. They also attempted to get me to take my break at the Rotherham depot when I was being loaded, but this was never possible as they insisted I help load the truck (I had to know where the different pallets were), and in any case I wanted to use a service station (the nearest of which is five miles away from the depot) as it has proper facilities. The job fell through after I disagreed with the transport manager over start times; he insisted I not come in until 11am on a Sunday (and tried to send me away when I came in before 10am), which would have meant I was late both picking up the goods and going home at the end of the day. He did not factor in traffic delays, which were highly likely as there were two sets of major roadworks on the M1. (The same manager also told me to keep the fridge running, and burning diesel, all the way to Rotherham even though the truck was empty, just in case it did not work when needed or I forgot to turn it on. The truck actually belonged to a fridge truck rental company, Petit Forestier, who would have repaired it in situ or supplied another truck if it broke down.)

Others online quickly searched for reports on what the company was like to work for, and quickly found very negative reports; the company pays a lot of its workers minimum wage or hires cheap agency staff; that there are a lot of foreign workers for the same reason; that they expect staff to work a long period without a break and did not let them leave their work to use the toilet, which had resulted in some people wetting or soiling themselves, that people have their leave cancelled, even in the holiday periods, at short notice and that there are “people suffering from serious stress issues” (see here and here, though you will have to register to see more than one page on the latter). There was also a BBC news report from 2012, in which their union accused the company of exploiting staff at Hull, abolishing certain premium overtime rates (e.g. at bank holidays) and threatening to make staff redundant and replace them with agency workers. If they are paying minumum wage or not much more, it is understandable that people are difficult to find in Northampton because it is within the London commuter belt and so the cost of living is higher than in places like Rotherham. I saw plenty of white British workers at the plants in the north, but mostly foreign workers, even in the office, in London. (I didn’t visit the other plants, like Sittingbourne and Wisbech, so I do not know what goes on there.)

So, the Daily Mail story smacks of lazy journalism, a story intended to demonstrate that Britain is a soft touch for foreign workers, attracting them with better paid jobs than back home with the pay topped up with tax credits and benefits supplied by the public. The truth is that these are subsidies for large companies (usually) who pay poor wages that are not enough to live on, especially in places with inflated costs of living such as in the south-east. The question should be asked as to whether Greencore plans to maintain its factories in places like Hull and Worksop or really intends to transfer its operations southwards and dispose of those pesky unionised workers up north (only time will tell; none of the reports I have seen say that). In that case, there will be a lot of British workers who can make a sandwich, but can’t find a job.

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The 4G rip-off

9 November, 2014 - 21:10

Website image showing 3G speeds compared to 4G. In practice, you will rarely notice the difference in speed.Last month I switched from the 3G SIM-only deal I’d been on with T-Mobile since 2012 to a new 4G deal with EE, which is part of the same company (I’m not sure who owns who). Under the old deal I’d been paying around £11-12 per month and getting unlimited data and a cap on my calls and texts, and 08 numbers (free or reduced rate on landlines) were effectively premium rate. This new deal included unlimited texts and calls but a 2Gb monthly cap on my data. And for the first time since I started using smartphones in 2009, I ran out of data (albeit only 15 minutes before the ‘month’ ended last Monday night).

I was not all that dissatisfied with the performance of 3G, but it had noticeably deteriorated in the last year or so. I had been unable to download anything in some places, including town centres where the phone said there was good coverage, and this could not always be explained by the network just being busy. I wondered if the shortage of IP addresses might be the reason, but others told me it couldn’t be. No, the 3G bandwidth had been reduced to make way for 4G, and of course my bill wasn’t being reduced to compensate. I looked into what 4G deals were available, but they all offered much less data than I used and were much more expensive (nobody is doing an unlimited 4G data plan except Three, and that costs £20 a month). I went into an EE shop in Cambridge and asked which 4G deal would be best, and was told I was using more than 3Gb a month, which would cost me £20 a month. There was no way I was willing to pay that much.

Then I got rid of the Twitter client that was using the vast majority of the data I was downloading, and EE increased their 1Gb 4G package to 2Gb, and it appeared that I could afford 4G after all. I signed up for that deal and got my new SIM on the 4th October (a Saturday). I have noticed that there are fewer data gaps although when out in the country (which I often am because of my job), I only get 3G or even 2G, but my usage has turned out to be more than I thought it would be, and I only use my phone for email, social networking and a bit of Web browsing. I never use it to download audio or video files and I have auto-play switched off for things like embedded videos on Facebook. The simple fact is that if you follow a lot of people, and they tweet and retweet a lot, it’ll eat up the quota pretty quickly. Web pages with a lot of images will do the same even if you only view six or seven in a day (mobile versions are often not much better than desktop versions in this regard). One day last week my Web browser used more than 50Mb of data and Twitter more than 40, which was more than the daily share of my monthly quota. So I changed Twitter clients again (to Tweetings, which lets me disable image downloads when on mobile networks) and set my browser not to download images except on WiFi either. I also turned off data while I was working. These things reduced my data usage considerably (though only to just below the daily share), and on days when I’m neither working nor out most of the day, I use a lot less (generally less than 20Mb).

Mobile phone companies are promoting 4G as a way to access music, video and TV over the phone networks, but these uses must run any data limit down in a very short time. Last night’s Doctor Who, for example, was a 320Mb download on the BBC iPlayer app; a 2Gb monthly limit will let you download six of those, but that won’t leave much data left over for, well, data. Or other TV shows. So, it’s not necessary for social media or web browsing, and the current data limits are inadequate for what it’s meant for. It’s hard to see how 4G isn’t a big con, intended to get people to pay more for less and get them off ‘over-generous’ legacy 3G data plans from the days when a phone was a phone and mobile internet was an afterthought. If you’ve got 3G, you use a lot of data and you’re not experiencing constant interruptions, don’t touch 4G. If you want multimedia, you’ll need a very big and expensive data plan.

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A rail geography lesson for jihadis and journos

2 November, 2014 - 18:30

Over the years I’ve noticed that a standard tactic of the dishonest journalist or columnist in the age of the Internet is to rely on the geographical ignorance of your overseas audience, most of whom will not know or care if you claim, for example, that Downe is a typical Kent village rather than a well-heeled London suburb, or that parts of London have become Islamic enclaves when in fact they are mixed, and Muslim women just feel more confident to wear the veil because they are less likely to get spat at. Latest offender is Shiraz Maher, whose lengthy piece about a group from Portsmouth who went to fight for the so-called Islamic State in Syria, in the current New Statesman (not currently online) contains this geographical howler:

They took circuitous and different routes to the airport. Rahman, Uzzaman and Roshid all took the train to Gatwick from Fratton Station in Portsmouth. Choudhury travelled by car, while Hassan made his way separately from Guildford.

The seven stops from Fratton, near Portsmouth, to Gatwick AirportI used to live in Croydon, which had a major station on the southern main line to the coast (East Croydon), and there were trains to Portsmouth at least hourly, with another taking a really circuitous route to Southampton (via Hove, the junior partner to Brighton). They all stop at Gatwick Airport. All the trains that go to Portsmouth stop at all four stations on Portsea Island, including Fratton. There’s an hourly direct train from Fratton to Gatwick, which is the nearest major international airport to Portsmouth, and it takes the most direct route, via Horsham and Crawley, and they take just over an hour. So they did not take a ‘circuitous’ route so as to disguise their intentions (and why would three of them travel together if that was the idea?), but a very common and fairly quick route that probably hundreds of people take every day. (And there is a direct train from Guildford to Gatwick Airport as well; it runs hourly, ten minutes past each hour, and is run by First Great Western.)

(Shiraz, readers may recall, is a remnant of the “celebrity ex-jihadi” movement of about seven or eight years ago, which imploded spectacularly when Hassan Butt revealed that his tale of having received jihad training in Pakistan was made up and that the injuries he’d received at the hands of former jihadis were self-inflicted. Shiraz, who regularly crops up as an ‘expert’ on Islamist and jihadi movements in the media, claimed he had joined Hizb-ut-Tahrir after 9/11 and left after the July 2005 London bombings, despite the first being a spectacular and the second, a routine operation for a major terrorist group, and despite HT and Al-Qaida being ideologically and organisationally entirely separate. I didn’t believe it then, and don’t believe anything he writes now, and these slip-ups, or deceits, show he cannot be trusted.)

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Lipman, the socialist, deserts the poor for Israel

2 November, 2014 - 10:09

Last week Maureen Lipman, the British comic actress best known for roles in advertisements in the 1980s (as in “if you’ve got an ‘ology, you’re a scientist”), announced in an article for Standpoint magazine that she was not going to be voting Labour at the next election, primarily because its leader, Ed Miliband, had supported the vote in the Commons to recognise the state of Palestine:

“The world is exploding around us. Isis is beheading our civilians while raping and pillaging across Syria and Iraq. Presidents Putin and Assad are playing such heavy-handed games that we don’t know which rebel group to support.

“Hong Kong may be about to see a replay of Tiananmen. Islamist terrorism in every spot on the globe and if one Jew had been responsible for any of those bombings, there would, I am afraid to say, have been another Kristallnacht.

“At this point in our history you choose to back these footling backbenchers in this ludicrous piece of propaganda?”

She went on: “May I remind you that no one is tunnelling into Dover or sending rockets into Coventry, yet we seem to have every right to bomb the living daylights out of Iraq.

“Again. Conclusion: one law for the Israelis, another law for the rest of the world. Plus ca change.”

She also criticised him for eating a bacon sandwich, inviting him for a Sabbath dinner at her house, and told the magazine that, despite being a socialist, that she would vote for “any other party” until Labour was again led by “mensches” (decent people).

Picture of Ed Miliband, turned on his heels putting a few coins in a cup held by a woman sitting on the ground.I have no particular time for Ed Miliband; his behaviour is in the tradition of New Labour cowardice going back to the time of Kinnock, and the sight of him walking past a homeless woman when out and about, and only then turning back and giving her a few coins (whether or not she’s a member of a Romanian gang that supposedly makes £50 a day), hardly gives the impression of him being a mensch. I think the “recognition” is a token gesture which will have really no impact because Israel will not tolerate a second state in the territory it occupies; it will be satisfied with nothing other than total submission by the native population to permanent Israeli domination. There is going to be no “two-state solution”.

I read a lot of feminist Twitter accounts and websites and the crass generalisations and brazen ideological lies they sometimes come out with are astounding, and I’ll probably write something about that in the near future (particularly with regard to the Pistorius affair), but they are nowhere near as offensive as the hyperbole that Zionists come out with, mainly because they are not supporting an oppressive régime anywhere. It’s hard to imagine any of them saying that it’s terrible that people blame rape victims, but this victim (that they don’t like because of her race) really was asking for it or this rapist is vital to national security. Zionists eagerly condemn oppression when it’s happening in Europe or in China (or in the Middle East when it’s in a country they want to see invaded), but turn a blind eye when it’s their friends in Israel doing it, or else explicitly justify it, or claim fakery or that it was the Palestinians’ fault somehow, even when it is clearly recorded on film. As there is no Zionism without the oppression or expulsion of the native population, they support whatever that takes.

Lipman clams she believes in socialism and has stood on the hustings with Neil Kinnock and “still thumb[s] through Tony Benn’s diaries with a fond smile”, yet she still admires Frank Field, who is not a socialist but largely sings to the Tories’ tune, despite occupying a safe Labour seat by the Mersey. Who, then, will she vote for if not Labour? The Green Party supported the vote to recognise Palestine; the Lib Dems will sell her vote to the highest bidder, and the Tories are not socialists, so unless she plans to vote for a whichever Marxist groupuscule is fielding a candidate in her area, it appears that she would prefer to throw her neighbours under the bus and consign them to another five years of government of the people by and for the rich (of course, she will not personally feel the pinch) than deny her friends in the Middle East the “right” to crush the native resistance. It goes to show where her loyalties really lie.

Lipman complains that Miliband ordered this vote at a time when the world is in chaos and Jews are suffering everywhere:

Just when the anti-Semitism in France, Denmark, Norway, Hungary is mounting savagely, just when our cemeteries and synagogues and shops are once again under threat. Just when the virulence against a country defending itself, against 4,000 rockets and 32 tunnels inside its borders, as it has every right to do under the Geneva Convention, had been swept aside by the real pestilence of IS, in steps Mr Miliband to demand that the government recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.

What “mounting savagely” means is a few attacks on synagogues and cemeteries by a small group of neo-Nazi thugs. The worst atrocity to take place in Norway since World War II was by a Muslim-hating white supremacist against young members of the country’s socialist party. Laws have been passed in much of Europe that are aimed at suppressing expressions of Islam, particularly by women. The fact is that Europe is becoming less and less tolerant of all minorities and Muslims and Gyspies are suffering far worse than Jews in many places. She compares the tunnels dug underneath the border with Egypt (which is not Israel’s border and never has been) and the rockets fired by the Palestinian resistance to attacks on a minority by racist thugs, as if the Palestinians were just racist thugs who wanted the Jews out because they are Jewish. This is not the case at all.

Cue wild applause from the unions, smiles of approbation from the far Left — and shock horror from the Jewish Board of Deputies. Why would he do this? And why now? Many people on the Left and the Right would like to see a two-state solution if it means peace and mutual respect. I am one of them. Any future Palestinian state will be entirely free of Jews, of course. Yet the Jewish state is labelled “apartheid” with 1.7 million Arabs in residence and represented in parliament.

A “two-state solution” is the pipedream of a declining number of white liberals who believe that Israel acts in good faith, that they have a God-given right to the territory and to dominance over the native, mostly Arab, population. The liberal Zionist overlooks Israeli brutality and Israeli racism, both towards the indigenous people and towards African immigrants and refugees. The fact is that Israel will permit no more than a Bantustan in the territory it occupies, without control of its borders, without meaningful armed forces, without the ability to obtain money from abroad without it coming through Israel, and without a direct link to any other Arab country; it also will monopolise natural resources, such as the water supply, for the benefit of Israeli citizens and their settlers. As Lipman mentions, the Arabs have rejected a number of “peace” deals, but these were unfavourable deals which permitted the settler state in the first place, and later gave the Palestinians only pockets of territory which were surrounded by occupied territory. The so-called Barak peace plan, commonly waved in the Arabs’ face since, was so unfavourable that it can be assumed that it was made to be rejected.

If you recognise a state you can officially arm that state. Already billions of pounds have been allotted to rebuild Gaza. Ha! Rebuild the tunnels and reequip the arsenal. Oh, how the propaganda has worked on these clever, concerned people again and again and again. If Hamas and Fatah cared one iota for the Palestinians, might they not have built schools and hospitals and streets for their people the first time the billions poured in and were converted into weaponry and hotel suites in Paris and citizens were used as human shields?

Someone must have built the hospitals, schools, care homes and general housing that were destroyed by Israel in the recent air attacks. If Israel (and their friends in Egypt) allowed materials to be openly carried across the border, the Palestinians and their supporters would not need to use tunnels. As for the observation that “if one Jew had been responsible for any of those bombings, there would, I am afraid to say, have been another Kristallnacht”, this is complete and utter gibberish. The Jews have no reason to bomb western targets because the western countries affected support Israel, but if they did, they would most likely carry fake Algerian passports, don fake beards and white thawbs and do it in a way that could be blamed on Muslims, and regardless of the evidence, Muslims would be blamed first and suffer the inevitable wave of media hostility and racist violence, and if there were Jewish grievances behind them, they would be taken a lot more seriously than Muslim ones. The King David Hotel bombing is all forgiven, of course.

Jews in pretty much all of Europe, and certainly Britain, are treated considerably better than minorities are in Israel, and better than other minorities in Europe. People who have investigated this, who have spent time in both Israel and Palestine and did not turn a blind eye, have seen the vicious racism and petty humiliations of Palestinians in the occupied territories who are trying to live normal lives and move around their own country. (A female friend of mine got her period in Bethlehem when the Israelis had turned off the water supply for several days. This happens to Palestinian women all the time, to say nothing of other reasons why you’d need to wash.) It’s entirely consistent that white liberals who wouldn’t even think of calling their neighbours by the P- or N-words also wouldn’t support a state which is founded on racism, where racism is inculcated into children in schools and into youths in the army, where violent racism is on the rise and where an occupied population is subject to routine humiliation. It’s remarkable, and upsets some people, only because it’s unusual.

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Bedroom Tax gag on Lamont typical of Labour’s cowardice

26 October, 2014 - 08:37

Picture of Johann Lamont, a white woman with fair hair wearing a light green jacket.Miliband barred Lamont from attacking bedroom tax for 12 months | Politics | theguardian.com

Yesterday, in the fallout from Johann Lamont’s resignation as leader of the Scottish Labour party (a nominally independent Scottish version of the Labour party), “sources close” to Lamont revealed that Ed Miliband had ordered her not to attack the Bedroom Tax (the policy by which a person or family’s housing benefit is cut if they are deemed to have “spare bedrooms”, which may not be spare at all) while he made up his mind on the issue; this resulted in the widespread perception that Lamont was indecisive and vague on the issue. This, to me, is typical of the cowardice which Labour show when the agenda is being set by the Tories and their press, and it goes back to well before Tony Blair came to office.

I saw it most clearly when I was active in the student union in Aberystwyth in the mid-1990s. The National Union of Students had been largely controlled by the Labour students’ group for years, but as that group became more right-wing, the union itself retained its policy of demanding a return to full grants and the abolition of loans. Labour wanted to introduce tuition fees, and its student wing was full of ambitious young politicians who wanted to impress the party and secure nominations for seats to fight. Indeed, Jim Murphy, currently MP for East Renfrewshire, was the president of the NUS at the time I attended conference in 1996; he was elected in 1997. Quite a number of presidents of the NUS became Labour MPs and other became chairs of Labour-associated groups like the Fabian Society. The NUS’s policy on grants was an embarrassment to Labour, and they needed to overturn the policy.

Labour tabled motions to abolish the grants policy at conference after conference and in 1996 they finally got it through. Labour students were seated in the central part of the hall so that someone in the balcony could indicate to them how to vote (as Aberystwyth was controlled by dissenters — mostly Plaid Cymru — we were in the wings and couldn’t see them, but a delegate on the other wing pointed this out in a procedural motion to expel the visitors from conference for this reason), and I remember one incident where a Labour union officer got up to speak and a couple of seconds later, the central part of the hall erupted in applause — as if they’d only just realised they were being told to cheer. It was an open secret that Labour students regarded it as their job to use positions such as student union sabbatical officers to help Labour win the 1997 election, and this often involved going against other union officers or union policy. At one college, for example, the Labour slogan “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” was printed on the union’s rape alarms.

The reasons why returning to 1979 grant levels was infeasible are obvious; the number of students had increased dramatically since then. Of course, this meant that a university degree had become a more essential qualification, which it certainly was not in 1979, but the drain on the economy would have been enormous. The same is not true of the Bedroom Tax; it is a new policy, conceived in obvious malice by wealthy Tories, known to be causing a lot of suffering and hardship because the ‘spare rooms’ are not spare at all, or because there is no alternative accommodation for many of the families affected, and because it takes no account of family circumstances. The amount saved cannot be very high, if any has been given the additional burden of administration. It is something Labour should make a priority of abolishing, but feels unable to for fear of an onslaught from the Tory-controlled commercial press. The same is much less true in Scotland, where the Tories have only a single MP, but as with the student unions in the 1990s, Labour has to control its affiliates and even nominally independent but ‘associated’ groups to make sure they do not step out of line and embarrass the leadership.

This tendency of toning down the Labour aspects of Labour, the elements who seek social justice, goes back further than Blair — recent interviews with Neil Kinnock mentioned that he was himself influenced by some young politicians, including his chief of staff Charles Clarke, who told him to tone himself down, say less and sound less working-class and less Welsh:

A posse of clever men and women a decade younger than himself, politicians of the harsher era of the 1970s, became his praetorian guard: the Cambridge graduates Patricia Hewitt and Charles Clarke, who had been president of the National Union of Students (NUS); the Oxford graduate Peter Mandelson, who had been chairman of the British Youth Council. Kinnock says they “had been student union officers very young, and after that they came and worked for me”.

Among the other Kinnock confidants who had cut their teeth in student politics were the former NUS president Jack Straw and John Reid, a former young communist. Fighting the ultra-left was in their bones. They had fought them in the student unions and now they fought them for Kinnock, unrelentingly and obsessively …

Kinnock’s protectors told him that his personality was all wrong. The noise, the passion, the bons mots, the houndstooth suits – everything that had endeared him to the public before he was elected leader – it all had to go. He started to wrap himself up in grey flannel suits and grey woollen phrases. Brendan Bruce, the Conservative director of communications for part of Kinnock’s time as leader, has said: “He was badly let down by his image-makers in recent years. There were endless things they could have done.”

I can think of so many other incidents, particularly in the 1990s but even well into Labour’s term in office, where policy moves were based on cowardice. There was, for example, the stamping on Clare Short when she proposed legalising cannabis, and the way they jumped when the Daily Mail attacked them for not deporting “foreign criminals” in 2007, something that up until then had not even been part of the deal. It is the New Labour tendency to cringe before power which is what led the UK into the disastrous Iraq war in 2003: Tony Blair simply was not prepared to say no to an angry and powerful US president. That they are not willing to take on the Tories on a policy which would not entail an enormous spending commitment demonstrates that they are still led by people without courage, and until that changes, they will only win empty victories, enabling them to mind the shop while the Tories regroup, or stay in opposition.

Image source: Scottish Labour.

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Julie Bindel does not deserve a “no-platform” policy

19 October, 2014 - 19:31

Julie BindelThis week Julie Bindel (right) is due to speak in a debate at Essex University about pornography. Bindel is a radical feminist best known for her work with Justice for Women, a group that fought to get women who killed violent husbands and partners out of prison starting with Sara Thornton in the early 90s; she has also written extensively on violence against women, on prostitution and people-trafficking, transgenderism and pornography. Someone has started a petition to get her dis-invited, however, and so far it has attracted 200 signatures, mostly from well away from the university. The event she is due to speak at next week is aimed at first year undergrads and is part of their “Think!” seminars, organised by the social sciences faculty. While other attempts to prevent Julie Bindel appearing at university events have been successful, at present she is still listed as attending the event. (I read about this campaign on the Edinburgh-based feminist Louise Pennington’s blog, but she does not accept comments from men anymore. She covered a previous attempt to exclude Julie Bindel, and I did comment on that.)

The cause of the hostility is a series of articles Bindel wrote on transgenderism; she is known to be opposed to male-to-female transgenderism in particular, and is notorious for an article she wrote for the Guardian Weekend magazine in 2004. The article has since been deleted, but is available in image form here; it includes a number of nasty stereotypes of transsexuals such as “at least those women were women, and hadn’t gone to gender reassignment clinics to have their breasts sliced off and a penis made out of their beer bellies”, but the opinions are pretty typical of a certain type of lesbian radical feminist: that transgenderism is a reaction to homophobia, that it consists of reinforcing traditional gender roles rather than breaking them down, and that “a surgically constructed vagina and hormonally grown breasts [do not] make you a woman”. The latter is probably more widely shared outside the rad fem community than the first two, along with the notion that having been a man, and lived as a man, until middle age does not make one particularly well qualified to counsel (female) rape victims (it is possible that some will not mind, but others will).

This event is not about transgenderism, however; it’s about pornography, and radical feminists are well known to be opposed to the popularisation of pornography because it often depicts abuse (albeit of adults, not children) and because it depicts women appearing to enjoy sexual acts that are degrading to them. In addition, the widespread availability of this material means that children can also easily get hold of it, and it is known to have an effect on what boys expect from girls in a relationship and the way they treat them. Some feminists also cast doubt on the consent given to the acts they have to engage in when in pornography; while they may have signed a contract at the beginning, they may not have fully realised or been informed of what acts the ‘job’ would entail. The fact is that there are plenty of objections to pornography, and reasons why it should be restricted or kept away from children especially, and if they did not get a feminist to debate that side of the argument, they would have to get someone with a religious reason to be against pornography, and he would probably come across as not trying to sound too prudish or conservative and his (or her) arguments would not resonate very well, particularly with younger and non-religious students.

Having seen some of the ‘objections’ to Bindel’s appearance that are listed on the Change.org petition, it seems that much of it boils down to “she’s a TERF” (trans exclusionary radical feminist) and little else. The person who wrote the petition is a man, and is from Durham, which is a long way from Essex. Most of the signatories were not from the university, or the area, or even the UK. They all objected to her writings on transgenderism, suggesting that her mere presence would make the university an unsafe place for trans women, and did not even touch on her opinions on pornography or the sex trade (probably they do not know about her campaigning on violence against women). There is one comment (from someone in Hale, which is also a long way from Essex) that says:

It is one thing to tolerate the views of the hatefilled, it is quite another to invite them to toss vitriol into our faces

But having heard Julie Bindel talk about the sex trade (and discussing the idea of a legalised sex trade with a Nevada brothel owner on BBC Woman’s Hour), I can say that she doesn’t “toss vitriol” at anyone or indeed bring her work on other issues, whether it’s domestic violence or transgenderism, into her anti-sex-trade work. She sounded pretty calm and reasonable to me, and had clearly done her research, which is more than can be said for many of the signatories to this petition.

This is not the first time Bindel has faced efforts to prevent her speaking at a university event; sometimes they have involved appealing to the university or the venue concerned, and other times it has consisted of sending her death and rape threats. This reflects a sinister ‘creep’ of the no-platform policy from its original application to racists and fascists to pretty much anyone who has opinions that anyone considers bigoted, even if they are not being given a platform to express those particular opinions; there has been a wave of incidents in which conferences have been cancelled because they were to discuss views that were less than liberal on matters of sexuality, but were not violent, much less racist or fascist. It is right to ban racists and others whose presence on campus may cause violence or intimidate dissenting or minority students or staff; Julie Bindel is not a violent person, has no history of using political violence and is no threat to anyone. (And if you have ever joined in or supported an effort to get a Muslim speaker banned because he has expressed “anti-Semitic” or “homophobic” views at some point, or shared a platform with someone who has, you are participating in the same tendency of using censorship to defeat ideas you dislike.)

There is much I disagree with among Julie Bindel’s views, much as with a lot of other radical feminists, but these are things that can be debated, because they are not going to bring a bunch of thugs into the debate or to hang around the venue afterwards. In the case of feminists hostile to transgender people, one might make an exception for those who harassed them, outed them or tried to interfere in their education or medical treatment, but I have never heard of Julie Bindel doing this. The debate is about pornography and she is one of the best people to put the case against from a feminist point of view, as it is a genre that thrives on the exploitation of women (the other speaker that springs to mind is Gail Dines, who is also known to associate with the same group of radical feminists). I hope Essex University lets the debate go ahead and is not swayed by this small, noisy, self-selecting group of would-be censors.

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