Indigo Jo Blogs

Subscribe to Indigo Jo Blogs feed
Politics, tech and media issues from a Muslim perspective
Updated: 8 hours 11 min ago

Review: Unrest

15 October, 2017 - 21:49

A still of Jennifer Brea, a light-skinned mixed-race woman with short brown hair, wearing a yellow blouse, sitting in a car seat.Unrest is a film about ME, made by Jennifer Brea (right) and which tells the story of her life with the condition since it forced her to cut short her degree. It also tells the story of the outbreak of the disease in Nevada in the early 1980s, which led the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to label it hysteria and obstruct biomedical research into it for many years, featuring interviews with American scientists who have treated sufferers, including Nancy Klimas and Paul Cheney, both heavily featured in Hillary Johnson’s book Osler’s Web. It also features interviews with other sufferers such as Jessica Taylor here in the UK, as well as the parents of Karina Hansen, the Danish woman forcibly admitted to a psychiatric unit in 2013 and only released earlier this year. This was partly a KickStarter funded project and I donated some money early on when it was working under the title Canary in the Coal Mine, which meant I got access to a free stream of the film as of last week.

There have been a few film projects launched to cover the story of ME both here and in the USA; trailers for a project called What About ME? have been seen on YouTube over the years, but to my knowledge that never came to fruition. One that did was Voices From the Shadows, shot on a low budget by people with relatives with ME and released in 2011 which won the Audience Favourite award at the Mill Valley film festival that year. I wrote a review of that here and I also attended a screening at which Dr Nigel Speight, a British paediatrician who treats adults and children with ME, answered audience questions. You can watch that film for free at present on Vimeo using a link from the project’s website. I thought that film was harder-hitting than Unrest because there are no happy endings (two of the five people with ME featured had already died) and it principally features very severely affected people.

This film is mostly centred around telling the story of how its author and her husband coped with the disease and tried to mitigate its effects. There is a lot of footage of Brea in pain and her husband trying to make her comfortable, for example. It also shines a light on the appeal of quackery to many people with ME: the issue of “toxic mould” in houses comes up on ME forums time and again, and Brea tried to escape from it by moving to a desert location and living in a tent out of the house. On one occasion Brea tells her husband not to touch or get too close to the tent as he has been in the house, which is full of the alleged toxic mould, in the clothes he is wearing, which causes him some degree of annoyance and frustration. She also interviews a mother with ME whose daughter also has it, and talks about the possibility of her having a child (which would be difficult in itself but also raises the possibility of the child having it), and the other mother positively encourages her to do it. Perhaps inevitably as it’s an American film, it comes back to their relationship again and again.

This film doesn’t tread the same ground as Voices from the Shadows; it doesn’t principally feature the very severely affected, although it does feature interviews with the parents of Whitney Dafoe who is currently bedridden and very severely ill, as well as footage of and interviews with Jessica Taylor who runs the Facebook page The World of One Room and whose progress people have been able to follow on social media for some years; her book A Girl Behind Dark Glasses is due for release next year. That said, more people are affected to Brea’s level of severity than are affected in the way Emily Collingridge or Lynn Gilderdale were. It also really doesn’t look into the science, the debates about what sort of virus is the cause of ME, for example, nor the excitement and disappointment over XMRV which was ruled out as a cause of ME around the time this project started. But it’s a useful and fairly realistic look at what it’s like to have ME and the effect it has on your life, your relationships and your family, even if you’re not bedridden for 15 years.

Sadly, some of the viewer reviews of this film have been malicious; there is a group of activists who will automatically become hostile whenever the phrase “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” (CFS) is mentioned, or ME is paired with CFS as if they were the same thing; the second term has wider definitions and a history of being used to trivialise ME, but it’s also commonly used (along with “Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome” or CFIDS) to refer to ME proper. These people are known for posting “ME is not CFS” again and again in ME forums or pages, often sounding like a stuck record as they say this over and again without any attempt at reason. (I call this phenomenon “stuck record syndrome” and have had to warn moderators about it a couple of times.) There have been a few one-star reviews posted on Amazon calling this a “CFS film” and repeating the “not CFS” mantra which will drag down the average rating. I would give this four out of five because it’s a four-year effort by someone who was very ill and had to work from bed, and sheds a much-needed light on the plight of people with ME in both the US and Europe and the disbelief and abuse they still suffer.

Possibly Related Posts:


Hijabi versus liberal Muslima

14 October, 2017 - 22:44

Picture of Birmingham Central Mosque, a red-brick mosque with a red-brick minaret with white decorations and a white low-rise extension at the front. There is an Arabic inscription at the entrance which reads (in Arabic) "there is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah" and another sign reading "Read Al-Qur'an, the last testament".The other day Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, a popular Muslimah poet and blogger, drew my attention to an advertisement she’d seen in a mosque in Birmingham. It was from a BBC radio producer looking for “an older, Muslim woman who feels deeply tied to a traditional interpretation of Islam — who covers her hair or perhaps wears the niqab”. The BBC would arrange for the woman to “talk to another guest, a younger woman adopting a more liberal practice”. The encounter would not be a “confrontation or a debate” but rather “each guest would take turns to talk about the experiences that have led to their convictions, while the other guest listens”. The promise of “no confrontation” might be intended to reassure, but the insistence on an older woman in hijab or niqab and a younger woman who follows “more liberal practice” is clearly not intended to demolish any stereotypes.

What are the stereotypes? One is that hijab is associated with older women while younger women are more likely to be more ‘liberal’ and less religious, at least less openly religious. The other is that a woman who wears hijab is more likely to have conservative views than one who doesn’t. Both of these are baseless. I know, and have known in the past, many women who wear hijab and are, at least, not reactionary or harsh in their views on matters like the status of women in or out of the home or even things like abortion, while many older women who do not wear the hijab, as it is commonly understood now, are more likely to think women should be housewives and serve their husbands and in-laws. That’s true of a lot of first-generation immigrants; a lot of the women who converted or became religious at university in the 90s are now in their 40s and have children (or even grandchildren) of their own and there are older women who followed similar paths to the younger ladies, but it’s not fair to cast all these women as “older conservative Muslims” because many of them were in conflict with women (and men) of the generation before them. Some of those elders even opposed their wearing hijab.

It is, in my opinion, a bad idea for mosques to allow this sort of advertising without some sort of debate among the management or some sort of consultation board. It should be understood that the media is not interested in portraying Muslims as they would like to be portrayed, or in taking a sober or nuanced view of the debates or conflicts within the Muslim community; in the case of Radio 4, their aim is to make “good drama” or headlines, even in documentaries, and to entertain a mostly white audience who want to be reassured that the ‘good’ Muslims who are willing to assimilate are predominant or growing and that ‘old’, alien customs are dying out; in the case of the more downmarket stations, they aim to give the impression of conflict and threat. This advertisement should have been refused on the grounds that it is based on ignorance and reinforces stereotypes, and this should have been explained: it’s not the community being stand-offish but wanting to protect itself from rising Islamophobia by participating in sensitive and thoughtful media coverage and not in its opposite.

Image source: Posted on Wikipedia by Oosoom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Possibly Related Posts:


No, the Vegas shooter wasn’t a terrorist. Get over it.

10 October, 2017 - 21:58

A picture of the Mandalay Bay hotel, a tower block with three 'wings' coming out of a central point, illuminated by the sun, with the name "Mandalay Bay" in capital letters at the top of each wing. A replica of the Egyptian Sphinx stands in front of one of the wings and an obelisk and a video billboard with "Luxor" on them are also in the foreground, where there are palm trees, streets and traffic.Last week a white man shot dead 59 people who were attending a country music show in Las Vegas from the window of his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay hotel/casino. Already people have started putting his action down to undiagnosed mental health problems or Asperger’s syndrome, something which happens every time a white person carries out a mass shooting which wasn’t obviously linked to a domestic dispute (which many such shootings are, and they often go unreported beyond the local media, if at all) or a workplace dispute. The complaints about “ableism” in this context are fairly well-founded as most people who are mentally ill, let alone those who are autistic, are not aggressive at all, let alone murderers. But another routine objection is that the term ‘terrorism’ was not used to describe his actions and that this term is reserved for actions committed by members of minorities or non-white people, particularly Muslims. This claim is not well-grounded, and founded on a sense of victimhood.

What even is terrorism? We all know it when we see it but how do we define it? I believe it is important to use a dictionary definition as this reflects common understanding, rather than an official definition which could have been concocted for political ends so as to make ‘terrorists’ of people who really are not, particularly acts deemed to be ‘subversive’ but which do not involve violence against individuals or the intimidation of the general public; there have been attempts to include the likes of fox-hunt saboteurs and stunts which cause only disruption rather than destruction in terrorism. To cite a recent example, the FBI classified a group of animal rights activists who ‘rescued’ two piglets from a farm as terrorists, because the official definition of terrorism includes ‘violence’ against property. The standard definitions of terrorism include a political motive: that the action is intended to advance a cause or force a government to do something (or stop doing something) and that it be the work of non-state actors or undercover government agents.

Generally speaking, when a white man carries out a mass shooting, it is assumed that there is no political motive because there have been so many which simply have none: American mass shooters are typically losers with grudges, as are the smaller number of spree killers in other countries — smaller because most of these other countries do not allow citizens to keep firearms without stringent licensing checks, much less automatic ones, still less carry them in public, and in the UK and Australia in particular, these restrictions followed earlier massacres (Dunblane and Port Arthur, respectively). A few of them have bizarre political ideas (as with the mass killers at Montréal, Utoya in Norway and Sagamihara) but often these are covers for personal inadequacies. In this case, despite speculation about mental illness and autism, the police still do not know what his motive was, but it is known that he was a problem gambler whose wagers at Las Vegas’s casinos had increased considerably recently — which, frankly, is the first thing I thought of when I heard of a shooting in Vegas with a white perpetrator: that he’d lost a fortune (possibly most of his worldly wealth, including whatever is paying the bills for his home in the retirement complex) and decided to take it out on innocent people.

It’s quite valid to criticise the way such men are often portrayed as quiet, caring souls before they massacred 59 people (much as are men who murder their wives and/or children, for example) and the way Black men killed summarily by the police are often portrayed as in some way linked to crime when they had been doing nothing wrong at the time, or the way laws are framed and police resources used to combat an insignificant domestic Muslim terrorist threat (inflated by entrapping groups of men into non-existent plots) while the law allows anyone with an axe to grind to get hold of weapons which have no purpose in the hands of civilians besides mass murder. But I wouldn’t dignify acts like the Las Vegas massacre by calling it terrorism, because there is no cause or sense of justice or injustice behind them, except sometimes the ‘injustice’ of the attacker not being able to get laid. They are just the meaningless destructive acts of losers and inadequates.

Image source: Kris1123, via Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Possibly Related Posts:


Labour, anti-Zionism and the past

8 October, 2017 - 14:06

Moshé MachoverThe controversy over supposed anti-Semitism on the left of the Labour party continues, with the Times publishing an article (paywalled) the other day proclaiming that Jeremy Corbyn had been called upon to throw out members of a group called “Labour Party Marxists” who distributed a leaflet quoting the Nazi police chief Reynhard Heydrich as saying, in 1935, that the Nazis had no interest in “attacking Jewish people”. The leaflet includes a transcript of a speech by one Moshé Machover, who during this writing has been expelled from the party; he is a Jewish socialist, mathematician and philosopher who was born in Tel Aviv but emigrated to the UK in the 1960s and took British citizenship; he is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of London and his son Daniel is a human rights lawyer. The full quote, “intended to establish that in 1935, when he made his statement, support for Zionism was indeed official Nazi policy”, can be found on Bob Pitt’s Medium blog and is sourced from Francis Nicosia of the University of Vermont.

There are a few other things we know about Reinhard Heydrich, of course: he was involved in organising Kristallnacht, the 1938 Nazi pogrom against the German Jewish population in which their synagogues and businesses were destroyed, many of them were attacked resulting in at least 91 deaths, 30,000 men were taken to concentration camps and the community was then expected to pay for the damage. He was involved in the false flag operation which served as the pretext for the invasion of Poland, organised the death squads (Einsatzgruppen) which travelled into Poland in the wake of the German invasion, and was involved at a senior level in other aspects of the Holocaust. The fact that he made a few sympathetic noises about Zionism in 1935 hardly proves that the Nazis were committed to Zionism for any other purpose than ridding Europe of its Jewish population, but their later actions make their professed intentions in 1935, if Heydrich was even speaking truthfully, irrelevant.

The promotion of the idea that the Nazis initially supported Zionism lends weight to the idea that the Nazis’ “hands were forced” to genocide from a position of supporting deportation of the Jews to Palestine, Madagascar or anywhere but Europe. This is rather reminiscent of Holocaust deniers’ claims that Jews in Nazi concentration camps died of diseases like typhus rather than by gassing or shooting (David Irving, for example, once told a daughter of a Holocaust victim that this is how her mother most likely died, as did Anne Frank) for which they blame the Allies for cutting off supplies of food and medicine rather than the Nazis for rounding up Jews and sending them to concentration camps in the first place. Why does anyone, least of all a socialist, want to deny that the Nazis hated the Jews enough to massacre between five and six million of them when the facts as known now, and indeed known since the end of the war they started, are that they did?

Much as when Zionists repeat the history of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war or the 1948 Partition war to justify the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, my objection is that these details of the past become less and less relevant as time goes on. How the state of Israel or its occupation of Palestine came to be has long since ceased to be relevant, particularly since all the neighbouring Arab countries signed peace agreements with Israel. The issue now is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and oppression of its people and those of Gaza, and yes, the collaboration of the Arab states (particularly Egypt) in that oppression. Why would anyone be discussing purported Nazi support for Zionism in 1935 at a Labour party conference in 2017 when, apart from anything else, there may be another general election to fight in a matter of months or even weeks and arguing these things, which belong in an academic conference if anywhere, is a distraction when Labour have a fighting chance to get a prime minister who stands for real social change rather than “more of the same with a more friendly face” elected. The previous election showed that it will not be a landslide.

What there should be a debate about is the issue of free speech around Israel, specifically the phenomenon of people being expelled from the party for condemning Israel for its oppression of Palestinians (although it has to be said: Labour Party members have never enjoyed free speech and have always been subject to summary expulsion at the whim of some party official, which is why I refuse to join — you can’t expect Leninist discipline in service of a capitalist party). It is not racist to hate an oppressor, or to express a desire to see said oppressor destroyed, or to suggest that the oppressor’s ‘security’ forces, which are already known for kidnappings and murders beyond their borders, are responsible for other happenings beyond their borders (if the claims are ridiculous, all it takes is to say so, but Labour would not expel a party member for suggesting such things about the CIA or MI6, so the same should be true for Mossad). But that is about the present; at this critical time in Labour’s history, they should not be wasting time chewing over the past.

Possibly Related Posts:


On Stephen Kinnock and regulation of labour markets

1 October, 2017 - 21:26

A 40-tonne articulated lorry pulled by a red Mercedes-Benz Actros tractor unit with a Serbian number plate and identity oval, a red curtain side and a white door with the name of the former owner 'Magazin Transport' still apparent. Four men are running after it so as to board from the back, where one of the doors appears to be partly opened.Earlier today I saw a Twitter thread posted by the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock (son of Neil) who is a member of the Brexit select committee in Parliament (starting here, ending here, claiming among other things:

As a progressive democratic socialist I know that markets fail when they are not regulated properly. From banking to construction to energy have seen what happens when markets are left to own devices. Why shld labour market be any diff? It’s not possible to regulate labour market unless it is possible to regulate supply, and FoM makes supply-side regulation impossible

He does not seem to understand that there are other ways of regulating the Labour market without simply “cutting off the supply” by ending freedom of movement within the EU. One of them is to incentivise businesses, especially large ones, to invest in new talent rather than relying on immigrant populations which can supply experience on tap — and to penalise companies which refuse to do this.

I’m a truck driver, and I passed my class 2 test (for single trucks) in November 2013 and my class 1 test (for articulated trucks) in September 2014. I’ve been quite lucky in that agencies I’ve been working for have been able to get me a fair bit of experience in both types of work, and a large variety, but it’s been nothing like full-time. A fair number of companies will not take on a driver who has not been ‘entitled’ for two years or more, especially at class 1; some (like a major contractor in the Colnbrook area, near Heathrow airport) will even refuse to take someone on who has not had two actual years of experience. This is because insurance companies offer reduced premiums to companies that agree only to take on experienced drivers because they are, as you might expect, less likely to cause accidents. But where do you get that experience if you have not been given the chance? It’s just not their problem, and it seems to be no barrier to filling driving positions because there is a ready supply of experienced drivers from the Continent. Even if British hauliers do not deliver loads, they may still get delivered by eastern European drivers under EU ‘cabotage’ rules.

I contribute to a trucking forum regularly and it does appear that there is a strong pro-Brexit tendency among them. They blame east European immigration for keeping down wages and keeping them out of work, especially foreign work. This is not wholly justified; fuel prices rose dramatically in the years after the accession, and at times in the early 2010s a litre of unleaded petrol didn’t sell for less than £1.40 in some places. Companies had to compete on price and to avoid passing costs onto customers, they passed them onto staff. Many hauliers do not want to deal with the migrants at Calais, and the huge fines the government levies for stowaways found on trucks; they would gladly leave that to the foreign hauliers. But academics lecture them with “lump of labour fallacy!” whenever these complaints are made, claiming that immigration means more work done, which means more money made and thus more work to be done; but that is no guarantee that it will go to native workers, particularly if bosses become used to foreign workers or networks build up which allow new recruits to be taken on without advertising them in mainstream jobs pages or sites, or at all.

The solution is for the state to offer positive encouragement to firms to invest in and train workers who grew up here (in case it doesn’t go without saying: I mean regardless of their colour, or their parents’ origin) rather than moved here as adults, and to penalise those who refuse to do so and leave it to everyone else to train up new workers, and leave a lot of new workers out of work they are qualified to do. In the case of driving, there are certain jobs that someone who’s just passed their test could not do safely or reliably; nobody is suggesting that brand new drivers be taken on for heavy digger haulage, for example, but for many of them, they could, especially if they were given a bit of guidance in the first few weeks. Some companies do not care about this; they only want to get their work done, and while some are perhaps too small and not financially secure enough to take risks, others are quite big enough and plenty of companies in this category take the “not my problem” line.

So, an unregulated labour market with a government in thrall to an ideology that says you cannot interfere with the market in combination with unrestricted immigration from a group of countries with plenty of educated or trained workers and lower costs of living and average earnings than ours will result in wages being depressed and people finding themselves unable to get the work they have trained themselves for. But there are other ways besides pulling ourselves out of the EU, which deprives our workers of free movement as well as others of the right to come here; we have to make the EU work for people, not just for business, which has been the whole problem with the way Britain engages with Europe.

He concludes:

For too long c-left (sic) has brushed this debate under carpet & accused anyone making the case for reform of being anti-immigrant, or worse. This opened door to UKIP, the FN, the AfD, and Wilders etc. We need less anger & emotion

As I’m sure he knows, there are other reasons why these far-right parties have prospered in the last twenty years or so. Much of it has been because of ‘fears’, many of them stoked by biased or malicious reporting in the popular press, about Islam or Muslims. Much of their rhetoric has been targeted as much at Muslims as at the EU or eastern European migrant workers. In fact, some of these parties have polled better in their own countries than the BNP or UKIP ever have, when they did not immediately allow eastern Europeans to settle and work there. It may come as a disappointment to a ‘socialist’ who is content to hustle for white working-class votes in old coal-mining areas by pandering to tabloid readers’ prejudices (rather than commit to investing in industry and jobs for said areas), but we do not get social justice or racial harmony by just giving in to the demands of racists and the racist media. We have to fight and expose it.

Possibly Related Posts:


Review: TomTom Go Professional 6250

30 September, 2017 - 21:24

A TomTom Go Professional series truck sat-nav showing a roundabout on the A134 road in England; a sign pointing to King's Lynn and Downham Market can be seen behind it in the windscreen.If you’re a truck driver nowadays, you’ll need a HGV-aware sat-nav (GPS unit). There are many stories about truck drivers getting their vehicles stuck down back alleys, teetering on the edges of cliffs or wedged under a bridge with the top of their trailer torn off, because they were following inaccurate advice usually as a result of using a car sat-nav. Truck sat-navs let you enter the weight and height of your vehicle and other details (such as hazardous goods it may be carrying) and offers you a route that avoids low bridges and weight limits. Back in 2013 I bought an earlier TomTom truck sat-nav, the Pro 5150 Truck Live, which I found quite inadequate and sent it back very quickly. Since then I have been using Garmin units, mostly very successfully until, when driving a 44-tonne steel truck to a plant in Enfield a few weeks ago, it tried to get me to drive down a canal tow-path and then somehow get the goods (several tonnes of sheet metal) across the canal to the other side. Luckily, I was able to do a loop round a nearby trading estate and then go and find the correct route. But the forklift driver told me that delivery drivers with Garmin units often have that problem, while TomToms get it right. TomTom have a fairly new 6in unit out, the Go Professional 6250, which was being advertised in the margins of a truck drivers’ forum I belong to, and the user interface has been changed a lot since I last tried one. So, I decided to give it a go.

Sadly, it was as big a disappointment as its predecessor. This has a few new features, chiefly voice activation and the ability to update the maps and software over a private wi-fi network rather than through your computer. The latter is quite useful for people who don’t have a desktop computer — the number of households which only have things like tablets and mobile phones is increasing. However, let’s say the device is new, and you want to keep it connected to a power source (like your computer) while it updates, yet that’s a couple of rooms away from the wi-fi router and the signal’s not that great … the update will take ages. The new look and feel is not bad; it does look a bit more modern than the old one did, although it was quite adequate.

The problem is that the user interface is slow. Press anything on the screen, for example, the menu button on the map screen or any of the icons on the menu screen itself and the device takes about three seconds to do anything. The same happens when you try using the voice control feature; worse, when your phone rings and it’s connected, it takes several seconds (three or four rings) before anything appears on the screen. Typing is fairly quick and the multiple warning screens which were a pain on the old unit have gone, but this is still a horribly unresponsive user interface. I find it odd that TomTom have not addressed this issue in three years; do they even test them out on the road? This is not the result of mere limitations of the technology, as none of the Garmin units I’ve used have been this slow. It’s either inefficient or buggy programming, or the use of a virtual machine (that is, a program that runs on a program, rather than on the computer itself — useful as you can run the virtual machine on another type of machine and the app will run unchanged, but the speed penalty is obvious).

The phone functionality is a great deal more limited than on either my current Garmin (a Dezl 770, released 2015) or my older one (a Dezl 560). The Dezl’s phone functions are organised in a menu: call history (three subcategories: calls made, calls received, calls missed), phone book, finger dialling. You can’t finger dial with the TomTom; all you can do is read out a number, which when I tried it, it misheard and that was when I spoke clearly and there was almost no noise (my Garmin doesn’t do very well on that either). It doesn’t appear possible to access call history with voice control, either. You have to install TomTom’s app on your phone to get it to connect. You can read your text messages on the screen or get it to read them aloud, unlike with my Garmin (although the new 580 model has this feature; presuably the 780, when it comes, will as well), but you can’t delete them.

Of course, the primary function of a satellite navigation unit is to navigate. On this, it also failed miserably. A common error it makes is to wrongly report the road number you are expected to follow when turning off a motorway: for example, when turning off the M4 at junction 4 (the Heathrow spur), it tells you to turn off onto the M4; in fact, the road number on the sign is A408, while the M4 is the road that goes straight on. It made the same mistake on two other occasions on the same journey of about 150 miles (this was a problem with the old unit as well). On another occasion, it told me to turn the wrong way up a dual carriageway and then back down again (when directing me from the A30 to the M3 at junction 3; it wanted me to go north, to the Windsor turning, and back down again, when the road was very busy, as it often is). To avoid a bit of congestion on the M3 between Eastleigh and Winchester, it wanted to direct me via Portsmouth rather than along the old road through Chandler’s Ford, which is still open to trucks. The mapping also doesn’t distinguish between different classes of road, showing them all except the prescribed route in grey. This is a big omission; every paper map has this. AutoRoute, a PC route planning app from the early 90s, had this. Needless to say, my Garmin does too.

A hidden gotcha is the new mount: TomTom have not long introduced a funky new magnetic mount, which does make putting the unit up (once you’ve remembered to attach the suction cup to the windscreen or the adhesive disc provided with the USB plug already plugged in, since you won’t be able to do it once the unit is clipped on) a little bit quicker and easier. But it also means a lot of TomTom’s accessories are incompatible; the vent mount that works with this device costs £35. The ones you’ll find in your local Halford’s won’t work with this.

This unit (and other TomTom truck sat-navs) also have limited truck profile features. Basically you can choose between truck, van, bus or car but you can’t store more than one truck profile; if you have to switch trucks a lot, you will have to enter all the details every time rather than have one for 18-tonners, one for artics and so on. You can do this with both my Garmins. It’s also difficult to switch between units when specifying the height, weight etc.; this is a pain as some trailers, in particular, have heights specified in millimetres and others are in feet and inches (plus, we in the UK have to deal with both metric and imperial measures all the time — petrol stations have canopies specified in metres while bridges are in feet, for example). So, unless you are fortunate enough to always drive the same vehicle, you might like to find a unit which lets you store truck profiles and easily switch between metric and imperial measures. In addition, although it comes with some pre-installed landmarks for truck and bus drivers, they are of limited relevance; they include, for example, DKV fuel stops (but not, for example, KeyFuels which is much more common). I’ve never seen a DKV fuel card in all the time I’ve been driving. It also includes Les Routiers, a French roadside catering firm, which I’ve never seen here in the UK.

I gave this unit one star (you can’t give it no stars) when I reviewed it on Amazon. I’d have given it two (out of five) if it had been half this price; at £389 it’s daylight robbery. I can only assume that anyone buys these because they are used to TomToms from using them in cars, and perhaps they think of TomTom as a synonym for sat-nav and wouldn’t even consider buying anything else. Nobody who had used any electronic device which responds promptly when you touch the screen would think the slowness of the user interface on this device was acceptable. TomTom are clearly trading on their “household name” status, but buyers should not be deceived by this. In the USA, Garmin are the market leaders. I have not tried the other major contenders in truck sat-navs here, such as Snooper and Aguri, but the Garmin Dezl series is definitely vastly superior to this device and the outgoing 7in model is cheaper than this.

A cropped screenshot from the UK TomTom store website, showing the logo itself and a unit with extremely smooth fonts, as you would see on a Mac. This is mocked up; the real unit's fonts are standard and not Retina quality.PS. Just saw this on a TomTom store website, which appears to be an official sales channel in the UK. The actual screen is 800x480 pixels at 6in, which is a standard definition screen and looks smooth enough from the distance you’ll be looking at it from. The website, however, gives the impression that it has a Retina screen, with fonts as smooth as on any recent Mac or iPad. The ‘screenshots’ have been mocked up, with the same fonts used at print quality. This isn’t my idea of honest marketing.

Image source: H20LPALI TECH.

Possibly Related Posts:


280-character Twitter just isn’t Twitter!

27 September, 2017 - 20:51

A male linnet with brown and red plumage, sitting on a thin tree branchSo, last night Twitter announced that they are trialling a new 280-letter Twitter format, and that certain people had been selected to try it out (I wasn’t one of them). The company’s blog post says that the change is going to affect “languages affected by cramming”, i.e. those languages where a single character does not represent a whole word (as is the case in Korean, Chinese and Japanese) and is meant to alleviate the problem of having to trim down tweets to fit within the 140-character limit. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (plain @jack on Twitter) said in one of the new extended tweets that “140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit”. The announced change has met with a fair amount of derision, with some saying the 140-character limit is what made Twitter what it was; that doubling the maximum length of tweets will remove the brevity: “Normal 140 char tweets, you can spend a few seconds on and move on if that. This completely breaks up that feel to it … that easy, scrollable, bite size thing Twitter has going for it will be gone”.

From a technical point of view, I don’t see how they will be able to implement this so that people tweeting in Chinese, Japanese and Korean are excluded as they do not need it (only 0.4% of tweets in Japanese hit the 140-character limit compared to 9% in English). Some Tweets (particularly those which mention personal names and brand names such as Sharp and Sony) use both CJK and Latin letters, while some tweets in English may include CJK (particularly Chinese) characters but remain mostly in English, or another Latin-script language. Will users be expected to state which language they are writing in before they start? In addition, CJK writing is not all pictogram-based; Korean uses an alphabet like ours, albeit the symbols are arranged in a square to fulfil the aesthetic of a Chinese pictogram, and Koreans sometimes use Chinese letters but sometimes do not. Japanese also uses indigenous alphabets for when a Chinese character is not available, and for prepositions and the like. So it is not always true that CJK writing is “one letter per word”, and as Chinese letters are 4-byte Unicode characters while Latin letters can be 8-bit (one-byte), it is more true to say that they are four characters per word, not just one.

As a fairly early adopter of Twitter, I’ve mostly used third-party clients. There wasn’t always an official Twitter client for Android; the early ones were obvious rebrandings of other clients rather than original Twitter products such as the now-defunct Seesmic. Many of the third-party clients supported tweet-extending apps such as TwitLonger (such as Tweetings which I now use on Android), and many of us had been tweeting as if the 140-character limit did not exist as far back as 2010, at least; Twitter never supported these services. As a way of forcing all its users to see adverts and other promoted content via its official clients and website, Twitter decided to cripple these clients by introducing token limits a few years ago, which led to many of the developers ceasing work on their projects and a number of the clients either being officially discontinued (like Seesmic) or left to rot (like Tweetcaster). Yet the clients were always preferable for those of us who used them: they supported third-party services and they showed the timelines as we wanted it, in chronological order, not ‘curated’ with some algorithm I don’t understand and can’t turn off.

The 140-character limit is not ‘abritrary’. It’s based on the SMS (text message) character limit; the first 20 characters are reserved for the tweeter’s own ID. The whole point was that it could be accessed via SMS, especially for posting but some also got tweets texted to them. No doubt Twitter has no doubt decided that SMS access is less important than it used to be, at least in “First World” markets where smartphones are popular and most of those who do not have one (or a tablet) at least have a desktop computer; old-style phones are still popular in the global South, although whether most users there can afford the number of text messages necessary to use Twitter is doubtful. Still, when asked to describe Twitter early on in its history, I described it as text-message teleconferencing, or a way to send texts to an audience rather than an individual. Most phones can send multiple messages and then read them back as a single message; will new long tweets use this feature when used over SMS, or will they still be restricted to 140 characters?

And I do agree with those who say that the limit makes Twitter distinctive and that the brevity is a good thing. There are other platforms available for writing detailed statuses and blogging. Many of them in fact link to Twitter, so you can share your blog posts with a link and let them come and read it: everything from Instagram to WordPress and even Facebook. Twitter has been improving things over the years, right from the native retweet system to the more recent changes so that mentions and image links do not detract from the 140-character limit; now they are just going to scrap it. It allows you to thread tweets so that people can follow a series of tweets (although client support for this is a bit flaky and the follow-ups won’t post on Facebook if you set that up to auto-post tweets). Now they are just going to scrap the 140-character limit which we had all learned to live with and, when we really needed to post a long message, we could get around anyway.

Or, as my friend Paul Bernal put it:

Image source: Wikimedia.

Possibly Related Posts:


May’s speech rewrote history

24 September, 2017 - 21:54

A front page from the Daily Mail, with the headline "Europe's war on British justice"So, last Friday Theresa May, the British prime minister, gave a speech in Florence (full text here) in which she told us what sort of Brexit she hoped she could achieve, notably rejecting both the “Norway model” in which the UK would be a full member of the Single Market without a seat at the table when EU policies are made, and the “Canadian model”, the latter being a straightforward free trade agreement. One section of her speech that has caused a lot of upset was this:

The strength of feeling that the British people have about this need for control and the direct accountability of their politicians is one reason why, throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union. And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.

Whether we “ever really felt at home” in Europe is a subjective matter; certainly, enough Britons bought homes in Europe, including holiday and retirement homes in Spain and Portugal and chateaux in France. It’s known that some of our politicians who have made a political and media career out of banging the drum for Brexit have homes and family in other EU countries. The fact is, however, that Britian granted Parliamentary majorities to pro-EEC and pro-EU parties in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005 (in 2010, the Tories were still only the biggest single party; Labour and the Lib Dems were still officially pro-EU). Labour’s worst electoral performance was in 1983 when it supported withdrawal from the EEC and the leading pro-Europe elements had broken away to form the SDP; the Tories’ worst performance was in 1997 when it was divided over Europe and anti-EU and anti-Maastricht elements were in the ascendant.

A front page from the Daily Mail, with a picture of the Muslim preacher Abu Qatada and the headline "Why *can't* we kick this man out of Britain?"One could trace the ascending popularity of the pro-Brexit position to the accession of the former Eastern Bloc in 2004 and Blair’s policy of allowing workers from those countries in without restriction, although he still won the election the following year, or to the failure to hold a referendum on Maastricht, although Blair won a landslide on a pro-Maastricht platform in 1997. What hasn’t changed is that the press has run a drumbeat campaign against both the European Union and its institutions and the European Convention on Human Rights going back to the Thatcher era where manifestly untrue stories about how “you can’t sell curved bananas” appeared in the press on a regular basis (alongside similar stories about “loony left” Labour councils), but picked up pace during the Blair and Cameron periods where the pro-EU Liberal Democrat coalition partners were blamed for the Tories not being able to do everything they wanted and Europe was blamed for, among other things, the government not being able to deport criminals or suspected terrorists. The British polity and press were not used to the idea of individuals having legally-enforceable rights (even in weaker form than, say, the US Bill of Rights) and the state not being able to stick the boot into people at their behest.

As I have said before, a large part of the discontent at the EU that was not racist or hostile to human rights stemmed from how Britain interfaces with Europe; we have a history of accepting European integration in such a way as to benefit business and leaving what makes life easier for ordinary people. Much of the EU’s laws and policies were agreed to by British politicians or MEPs (some of it could not have been voted through without everyone’s consent, not just that of a simple majority, unlike in the British parliament). Very many of the policies which coincided with us being members of the EEC were in fact purely British and not forced upon us by the EU at all.

A front page from The Sun, with the headline "Who do you think EU are kidding, Mr Cameron?" with an image referencing Dad's Army behind it.Theresa May’s claim was a rewriting of history. The EU has not always been unpopular: pulling out of the EU has been either a vote-loser or off the table for most of the time we have been a member. The movement to drag Britain out is of very recent gestation.

Possibly Related Posts:


Who’s celebrating Uber’s eviction from London?

24 September, 2017 - 12:22

A hand holding a Samsung phone with an Uber logo on display, in front of a Ford steering wheelEarlier this week the minicab firm Uber, which allows people to hire cabs using an app which calculates the fare to their destination, lost its licence to operate in London and will have to cease operations here as of the end of the month unless it appeals (which it probably will) in which case it could continue to operate into next month. This will mean getting a cab ride in London will become either more complicated or more expensive, as minicabs have to be booked in advance and cannot be flagged down in the street, while taxis or black cabs, which can be, are expensive to ride even short distances. The cancellation of its licence by Transport for London, the transport authority overseen by the mayor, was because it was not “fit and proper” to hold a private hire licence on public safety grounds; the decision has been criticised by a lot of women who said it was the only way they could rely on getting home at night, as well as by black and Asian people who said that problems with minicabs and black cabs, whose drivers often refused to stop for them, made Uber the only way they could get a cab at all.

The BBC’s article has a graph showing how the numbers of minicab and taxi licences changed from 2005 to this year: there were fewer than twice as many minicab licences as taxi licences in 2005 and the number of minicab licences fell slightly before 2007 but began rising sharply after that and has risen considerably since 2013 (Uber started operating in 2013), while the numbers of taxi licences rose only slightly until 2013 and has fallen by 15.4% (25,200 to 21,300) since 2015, this being in large part because they cannot get enough business anymore because of competition from Uber. There are a lot of people who will shed no tears about this, because they have come across a lot of “old white cabbies” who are opinionated and racist and there have even been incidents of white “black cab” drivers racially abusing Muslim Uber drivers, but in fact not all black cabbies are white (although more than two-thirds of them are, compared to just 18.3% of private hire drivers), and those of other ethnicities and creeds are feeling the pinch as well, many giving up because driving a cab no longer pays the bills despite the investment they made in gaining their licence and hiring the vehicle (which must be one of about three specific large cars).

If TfL are going to simply ban Uber or they withdraw out of unwillingness to comply with public safety or minimum wage laws, someone had better come up with a replacement pretty quickly, because the cab trade in total provides only a fifth of the number of vehicles the minicab trade does and the cost of a ride, even to the nearest main railway station, let alone home, is well outside of most people’s price range (there are apps available to hire taxis, but an app does not put vehicles on the road). TfL regularly runs campaigns against unlicensed minicabs (albeit heavily focussed on women and rape, rather than concerns about unroadworthiness and rip-offs), yet before Uber came along the available options were just inadequate — there aren’t enough parking spaces even for ride sharing, the pre-booked minicabs were all booked, the Night Bus was packed and/or didn’t go where you needed (and it was dark), most National Rail lines didn’t have night trains, and as has been widely complained of by Black, Asian and disabled people travelling in London (as Sunny Singh noted on Twitter), the black cabs often drove on by. Yet saturation Uber coverage is not sustainable either; they rely on contract drivers who, as an ongoing legal case demonstrates, are not guaranteed a minimum wage and many of the drivers remain on benefits. If the company insists on relying on that business model, they cannot be allowed to operate.

Yet the London taxi/minicab model is out of date; it is made for the age of the paper map and the phone box. It’s 2017 and it’s the age of the app-enabled smartphone and the sat-nav; phone boxes have been disappearing everywhere. Of course, it’s right that a cab driver should have to have knowledge of the city or region he’s operating in, but that doesn’t justify an onerous test which was designed to maintain a cartel and keep “upstarts” and outsiders out (hence the white domination) rather than maintain a good service. And some of the privileges of the black cab are unjustifiable; they should not be the only cabs allowed to drop passengers (as opposed to pick them up) on Red Routes, if this is where they live, and they should not be allowed to delay traffic at a green light to pick up a fare. The taxi system in London needs a huge overhaul.

Yet there has been a petition to “save Uber” from people only concerned about its benefits to customers and not about its poor safety record, its underpaying of drivers and the way it makes it impossible for cab driving to be a living-wage occupation for everyone. According to Clive Peedell of the National Health Action Party, this petition has received more than 500,000 signatures in under 24 hours, while a “save the NHS” petition took weeks to get that far. That’s unacceptable. I won’t be signing, because the same rules have to apply to Uber as to everyone else and if they won’t follow them because it’s not profitable for them, someone else will replace them fairly quickly now that the tech world knows the demand is there. There’s still enough technological know-how (and money) in London, although if Uber is going to be shut down on a “cold turkey” basis this month or next, the pain is going to be huge. I suggest giving them six months and then pulling the plug, if they have not cleaned up their act by then, by which time a home-grown replacement could have started up.

Possibly Related Posts:


Anti-Zionism versus Anti-Semitism

22 September, 2017 - 23:28

A boy riding a suspension mountain bike with a bright blue frame in front of the Israeli concrete wall which is about three times his height. A graffito "Peace 4 Palestine" appears to his left.I’m a Muslim and an anti-Zionist. The latter means I support the right of the Palestinian Arabs to their country: all of it. Right now, part of it is a settler state that allows some remnant of the former Palestinian population to remain as citizens, part of it is occupied by that same settler state, and parts of it are under a form of limited self-rule, mostly without access to their external borders and subject to incursions, curfews and other impediments to normal daily life at the will of the Israeli army. These facts are the reason there is a well-established movement to boycott the state which oppresses the native people of Palestine and the settler state of Israel, and to bring an end to the oppression as has been done with similar régimes, ‘democracies’ which exclude a large proportion from any say in their own lives or how the country they lived in was run, in southern Africa. The settler state, however, has powerful friends in the West which denounces this movement as inherently racist and accuse it of desiring to see genocide against the Jews, effectively another Holocaust. Both these accusations are groundless.

There’s a difference between saying that anti-Zionism is often a cover for anti-Semitism, or that a lot of anti-Semites claim to be “merely anti-Zionist” but then use the term ‘Zionist’ to mean Jew, or to articulate conspiracy theories about Jews controlling western governments, banks, the media and so on, and saying that to oppose a state of Israel in Palestine is itself anti-Semitic. The first is undoubtedly true. The second is not, because one might oppose there being a state of Israel not out of hatred for the Jews as such but because our sympathies are with the native Palestinian population. There are many populations in the world which do not have a state, including many in Europe; there are others who cannot live in their homelands but aren’t being given a chunk of someone else’s country, at the native people’s expense. We have seen thousands of refugees of Syria flood into Europe and some countries welcome them, but nobody is suggesting that part of Germany or Sweden be forever Syria.

A few weeks ago I saw a Twitter discussion between a Jewish disability activist acquaintance and one of the oiliest and most unreasonable radical feminists I know of (she blocked me a few weeks ago after I quoted her effectively blaming Vladimir Putin for Brexit, which was in fact stoked by lying British polticians and journalists with little or no help from him, even though he has much to answer for). One of the two alleged that “if Israel was held to a higher standard than comparable Countries, it was anti-Semitism” and that “it’s not acceptable to argue to dissolve a sovereign State, on the basis of its security policy” and a third person said that she had opposed the rule of Silvio Berlusconi (“what’s his name the big perv”) in Italy, but was never “anti-Italy”, just against that government. The obvious difference is that Berlusconi was elected by a majority of Italians, was re-elected several times and then left office when he lost elections, on two separate occasions. He was not an oppressor; he was in some ways corrupt. Italy is also not a settler state, and neither for that matter is it a state based on colonial boundaries rather than on where a people lives. Italy is the land of the Italians; they have lived there for centuries if not millennia. “Israel” was inhabited by Arabs and some Armenians until a programme of Jewish settlement started in the late 19th century and gathered pace in the mid-20th. The mere possibility of settling Jews from Europe there was not even on the table until the British took over after the First World War.

To refer to a system of thorough-going oppression as a “security policy” is to side with the oppressor against the oppressed. In any case, Palestinians do not enjoy security; they are subject to being locked up at will or on spurious charges by the state or army or killed with impunity by Jewish settlers. In western social justice circles we often hear the term “oppression” used with a sort of ideological definition, to refer to mere annoyance or disadvantage or any reminder that one’s tribe or group is not the most powerful in existence. This, I suspect, is why people look for stronger words, like “genocide” (which right now is not happening there) to refer to what is happening in Palestine. Palestinians are not the Oppressed, like white middle-class women sometimes reminded that they are “not the default human”. They are oppressed, and this is not a case of a small ruling class or the military oppressing the great mass of the population, but of one nation oppressing another.

Opponents of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and anti-Zionism contend that if Israel falls, the result will be another genocide, which is what it was set up to make sure never happened again. However, two other states ruled by European settlers which oppressed the non-European native population, namely South Africa and Rhodesia, have been forced to admit their former subjects as equal citizens in recent history, and neither immediately resulted in a massacre, much less a genocide. Whites in South Africa, although no longer the exclusive ruling class, retain their wealth; Blacks, although their party has governed the country for more than 20 years, often still live in poverty. Even if we imagine that such an outcome is inevitable given the oppression the Palestinians have suffered — that enough would want revenge to make a massacre inevitable — we should remember that there was oppression and exploitation in South Africa under Apartheid too: people expelled from their homes and lands, people forced into barren “homelands” and township ghettoes, people preventing from marrying whom they wanted, people killed unjustly (judicially or otherwise), people subjected to ‘banning’ regimes or locked up for political reasons, people tortured. The majority of perpetrators who confessed to their crimes were pardoned and there has yet to be a massacre, and if Black South Africans are capable of an orderly progression from oppressed subjects to equal citizens then so are Palestinians, unless you believe they are a bunch of uncivilised savages, which is one fairly good definition of racism.

Zionists oppose the idea of a one-state solution in which both Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights as it would end the state of Israel as a “Jewish democratic state”. Yet while it maintains an occupation of the Palestinian territories, it is not a democratic state. An occupation can be accepted as a temporary measure, but it has been 50 years since Israel seized the West Bank, Golan and Gaza from the surrounding countries and all of them except Syria have made peace. The reasons for why Palestine is occupied become more and more irrelevant as the occupation becomes older and older. It is as clear as it can be that Israel intends to maintain the status quo and there will be no “two-state solution”; there will certainly not be as long as Benjamin Netanyahu and his gang remain in charge, so ‘liberals’ in western countries who persist in considering Israel to be a progressive project should wise up: it’s a tyranny whose ruling class intends it to remain a tyranny.

Of course, the Jews were the target of a genocide in the mid-20th century. Everyone knows that. But the régime that perpetrated that is gone, and in fact was overthrown before they could finish it. Having been oppressed once does not give Jews the right to be oppressors now, especially to a people who were not responsible for their previous suffering, yet this is exactly what their deluded liberal and ‘sensible left’ friends demand, and their response to the question of Palestinian suffering is to blame the Palestinians for resisting. They call this “victim blaming” when women in their own countries are blamed for violence against them, but when it’s children being locked up for throwing stones at soldiers on a regular basis, it’s a “security policy”. In my observation, BDSers strenuously avoid association with anti-Semites and watch their language to avoid letting anything in which implicates Jews generally rather than Zionists, the Israeli army or whoever is to blame for the oppression of the Palestinians, but having that slur thrown at you is an occupational hazard.

But it’s not racist to want to see the back of a state which has perpetrated a tyranny lasting 50 years. It’s racist to think that one nation should have to tolerate it when others should not, or to blame them for it when you would not blame any other, or to extend to one nation (your own, or one you sympathise with more than another) the right to be an oppressor when you would not condone it of any other. And you cannot accuse anyone of “holding Israel to a different standard” when you will defend them knowing it is an oppressor with no intention of giving up that status. Are these people simply blind to their own racism (they would not be the only ones), or do they just believe that some people deserve it and others don’t?

Possibly Related Posts:


Justice for LB: Southern Health pleads guilty

18 September, 2017 - 22:43

Part of the frontage of Banbury Court House, a two-storey yellow stone building.In another chapter of the ongoing battle to bring to book those responsible for the death of Connor Sparrowhawk (known as Laughing Boy or LB) in a bath in an NHS learning disability facility in Oxford in 2013, today the NHS trust responsible, Southern Health, pled guilty at Banbury magistrates’ court, Oxfordshire, to breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety Act, namely failing to ensure the safety of people other than employees. Sentencing was meant to take place on 12th October at Oxford Crown Court (the magistrate can only levy a very inadequate £5,000 fine) but the trust are in court on charges brought by the Care Quality Commission that day, so it is likely to be delayed until the new year. The management has changed somewhat since Connor’s death, with the then CEO Katrina Percy resigning in October 2016 (after having served in an ‘advisory’ role since nominally stepping down as CEO in August 2016) and all the non-executive directors resigning in March 2017; Connor’s mother, Dr Sara Ryan, tweeted that they “were dragged to the guilty plea by meticulous work by the HSE” and that Katrina Percy was still sitting on a £200,000 payout.

It’s still appalling that it has taken more than four years to get to this point; Southern Health have strenuously avoided taking any responsibility until they are forced to, in large part because of the persistence of Connor’s family and their friends, and as Dr Ryan says, the HSE. They behaved like a driver who has caused minor damage to someone’s car in a shunt on the A34 — as a professional driver, I’m well aware that we’re told to simply avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as an admission of guilt — not like a group of professionals who were supposed to keep someone safe, who needed to be kept safe, and didn’t. In fact, they (and to a certain extent also, Oxfordshire county council) attempted to shift blame, including onto Connor’s family, who they claimed would also not supervise him in the bath, and also disputed his epilepsy; OCC sent letters to two disability activists (as the first dismissed the story) with false claims about the family’s actions before Connor was admitted. In their statement today (which people are reporting on Twitter is absent from the front page of the trust’s website), they claim that “there have been times when our actions unintentionally added to the distress of Connor’s family”, but their actions have been self-serving and at best unthinking about the distress they would cause.

It will, of course, be the taxpayer who will foot the bill for this. That’s only right as it was a public healthcare trust, but if the trust’s new management cannot compel those directly responsible for Connor’s death and the conditions which allowed it to happen to pay at least some of the cost, the law should be changed to make sure they can, so that the public do not have to pay in the form of cuts to health services and patients do not pay in the form of more restrictive régimes caused by cuts to staffing, not only because of the cost of the fine but also because of increased public liability insurance premiums. George Julian has done some research on this and found that no NHS trust prosecuted by the HSE has been fined more than £500K and many have been fined less than £100K; others have been able to get their fines reduced with protestations about their tight budgets; these constraints never stop them awarding their directors large salaries or payouts.

It is, of course, vitally important that an NHS trust which caused someone’s death with a very elementary mistake — a mistake that even very basic training in epilepsy should warn against — has admitted or been convicted of the health and safety failing. Merely transferring a sum of money upwards, from an NHS trust to central government, will not change whatever rot had set in that caused this and so many other things to happen that shouldn’t. Where the money comes from and what it will be used for is less important, at this point, than the accountability required when a disabled person dies in a hospital because of negligence, especially negligence as basic and egregious as this.

Possibly Related Posts:


Why ‘platooning’ is a bad thing

14 September, 2017 - 16:38

Two articulated lorries with DAF XF tractor units bearing Dutch number plates, painted in a blue and white striped livery with "EcoTwin" and "European Truck Platooning" logos on bothI’m a truck driver and for the most part I enjoy my job. I get to see different parts of the country every day and much of what I see apart from roads (and industrial parks, service stations etc) consists of green fields, hills and valleys and pretty villages and small towns. Most of the jobs I do are low-pressure, varied, not banal and do not require me to be in close proximity to others (strangers) for long periods in the day. It can be tedious, motorway driving especially, but I can listen to the radio or stock up on podcasts and audio-books to listen to on the way. A lot of driving jobs, however, consist of the same trip every day, often from a pallet freight depot somewhere to a ‘hub’ somewhere in the Midlands in the evening and returning in the early morning. Every night the motorways are filled with these lorries, mostly ‘double-deckers’ about 16 feet high, usually about three of them from each of about five companies in each postcode area. In the USA, they are already testing a system they call ‘platooning’, or running three trucks together with only one ‘active’ driver, the others controlled by computers connected to the truck at the front, and tests of these set-ups are shortly to take place here. I think this is a bad idea.

To begin with, the ‘platoons’ do not consist of entirely driverless trucks; there will be a driver in all of them, but only the front driver is actually driving all the time. When the truck is on a long stretch of motorway in which nothing is expected to change for a long period, the middle and rear drivers can take their hands off the wheel. That works in parts of the USA where distances are long, such as in the Arizona desert. In the UK, there really aren’t long stretches of motorway like that. The M1, for example, has stretches where the hard shoulder is sometimes used for regular traffic and sometimes not, and stretches which are quite narrow and windy (e.g. near Luton), has frequent roadworks and closures (almost every night), and has very frequent interchanges. Many motorways have junctions where two or three lanes go under and one goes off to a roundabout (e.g. the M40 at junction 4). So human intervention is going to be required very frequently, to say nothing of the large parts of many such journeys that are not along motorways or where re-routing is necessary to avoid delays, sometimes at quite short notice. The driver will have to intervene in emergencies, and the nature of emergencies is that they happen in split seconds — a car pulling in between you and the vehicle in front and slowing rapidly, for example. So he won’t be able to have a snooze or read a book or do anything which will allow him to pay less attention to the road. The job will just be even more tedious than it already is.

I have my doubts about the technology involved. It has already been suggested that the wireless technology used to communicate between the leading and following vehicles may be subject to interception by terrorists. I find this unlikely as the driver can override it (or at least should be able to), although any truck can simply be hijacked, much as any aeroplane which isn’t locked down, as commercial airliners are now, can be. What is more likely is that it can just fail: most modern trucks have technology in every corner and yet sensor failures or defects happen all the time (though particularly on early computerised trucks; they have improved in the last few years) and drivers are faced with spurious errors about, for example, low tyre pressure, all the time. The wireless connection could be lost, for example because of interference, damage to the aerial, a loose connection somewhere or a bug in the software. The connection is likely to be weaker between the front and rear trucks than between the front and middle, despite being more vital as there are two trucks closely ahead instead of just one. The majority of articulated trucks do not have rear cameras to help with reversing (I’ve only seen one that has, and it appears to have been installed by the regular driver as no other truck on that fleet has one), and this would be a far more useful application for this technology.

The Freight Transport Association, which represents hauliers, has said that this technology will help to reduce fuel costs and emissions. However, it still involves multiple vehicles of up to 44 tonnes with 12- or 13-litre diesel engines travelling at between 50 and 56mph over several hundred miles. Of course, there are ways of reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but getting rid of the driver along sections where fuel use is generally constant anyway, because the conditions are (expected to be) constant, will not make much difference unless the driver is incompetent or makes perverse driving decisions; driving style makes more difference where there is more acceleration and braking being done, which is along stretches where they must be driven by the driver. A transport minister, Paul Maynard, has said that platooning “could benefit … other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion”; how? Three trucks of which two are controlled by computer are still three trucks, with the same three 12-litre diesel engines. And a three-truck pile-up caused by computer failure will have the same impact as one caused by driver error, and as part of the plan is that the trucks drive closer together than is usual with human-driven trucks, any failure of that technology has a high risk of having that effect, as the stopping distance of a computer-operated truck is the same as any other truck, and there’ll be no stopping if there’s no thinking.

The real reason I don’t like this development is that the end game is to eliminate drivers’ jobs, and it comes just at a time when a lot of eastern European drivers are going to be moving abroad and they don’t want to have to go back to paying wages that you could pay rent on in London to drivers again. Maybe they’ll end up with trucks being driven with a mixture of autopilot and ‘drivers’ located in front of rows of computers in an office somewhere, like drone pilots (all the better to increase load weight, of course). It will give them an excuse to pay the drivers on the tedious night trunk jobs even less than some of them are paid now, perhaps even minimum wage, for a job that will become even more tedious — it would not be quite so bad if you could ever put your feet up and read a book when driving a 44-tonne truck down a motorway but a £4/hr wage penalty is still a £4/hr wage penalty. There is already a way to move multiple large containers of goods from place to place; you have one big engine at the front, you link all the wagons with the containers on them together, and you have two metal rails underneath so the wagons can’t go astray. Of course, moving some freight from road to rail is good for the environment and in principle I don’t have any objections to automating some of the more tedious aspects of the routine driving jobs, but I fear it won’t stop there: it’ll destroy the enjoyable jobs too.

Possibly Related Posts:


Persecution of the Rohingya is nothing new

12 September, 2017 - 21:52

A bicycle abandoned in the grass in front of a burning building in a Burmese Muslim villageThe persecution of the Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar in the main native language) has picked up in the last few weeks, with obvious signs of genocide or as the UN has called it “classic ethnic cleansing”, the burnings of villages and half-hearted attempt to disguise the burnings as the Muslims (Rohingya) burning their own homes. The ‘provocation’ was some attacks on Burmese police and military by a new Rohingya militant force and this is being used to justify attacks on civilians by Burmese forces. Aung San Suu Kyi, long-time leader of the National League for Democracy who won elections in 1988 but was prevented from taking power by a military coup and is now foreign minister, has mouthed the military-dominated government’s line and been condemned by many of her former liberal allies in the West. There have been calls for her Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded, although there is no mechanism for this to happen.

I first became aware of the situation in Burma as a teenager, when I saw full-page adverts from Amnesty International which described the campaign of rape, torture and murder against Muslim civilians by the Burmese army in the early days of the second period of military dictatorship (then known as SLORC, or State Law and Order Restoration Council; they have used various other names in the period since the 1988 coup). The one I remember had the headline “The soldiers who crucified her husband and raped her 12-year-old sister to death will do it again, and again, and again. And there’s nothing we can do to stop them”. It described how a woman and her sister were imprisoned with a group of other Muslim women by soldiers who would pick a woman every day and rape her in front of the others. The sister eventually died of a seizure and the mother was released. The accompanying article said that the Burmese military did not care what Amnesty or anyone else thought of their butchery.

At the same time, AI were championing ASSK as a ‘prisoner of conscience’. At the time, she was being held under house arrest unless she decided to leave the country. She was the daughter of Aung San, a founding general of the Burmese army, premier of the British Crown colony of Burma and founder of the Burmese Communist Party (assassinated just before independence) and clearly got special treatment from the military regime; other high-profile political prisoners got far worse treatment from some less extreme dictatorships than Burma’s. Almost any time the dictatorship was mentioned in the British media, she was the only prisoner mentioned by name (on one occasion, U Nu, prime minister before the 1962 coup and also a popular spiritual leader) was mentioned in AI’s publication as a POC). No coincidence that she had spent much of her adult life living in Britain and America, that she had a British husband and two sons living in the UK and having a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Oxford University. Despite retaining Buddhist beliefs, she was obviously very westernised and quite photogenic from a western point of view.

I never trusted her. In the manner in which she rose to (near-)power, she follows the same pattern as so many other female Asian politicians such as Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and Megawati Sukarnoputri, namely being the daughter or widow of a dead (usually assassinated) male politician or “great leader”. She had two sons who were still children when she left the UK for Burma in 1988. Admittedly, she travelled initially to look after her own mother, but remained there for twenty years for vain political reasons and missed not only their adolescence but also her husband’s terminal illness. Apparently this was ‘the deal’ when she married Michael Aris in 1972 — that Burma had the ‘first claim’ on her — but her sons weren’t around when the ‘deal’ was made. I can’t admire a mother who chose not to be a mother to her children before they become adults; I’m not going to say “a woman’s place is in the home” (although that has proven to be her place for the intervening two decades, just not the home where her children live), but a mother’s place should be fairly close by. If she had been allowed to take office within a few years, the sacrifice could have been said to have been worth it, but she stayed in the country for more than 20 years and the rewards — becoming a minister in a military-dominated government at a time when persecution was turning into outright genocide — were so miserable. Yet her saintly reputation was promoted until recently, as well as the notion that there really was nobody to lead except her — and, of course, no other opposition leaders were ever given coverage in the western media. Did ASSK spend any of her time in exile building a government in waiting? If not, why is she considered the person to lead Burma?

As for the Nobel Peace Prize, there have been so many undeserving recipients over the years and at the time, ASSK did apparently merit it, in as much as any other recipient had — more so perhaps than Arafat and Rabin, or that friend of the Duvalier family and abuser of the sick, Mother Theresa, or Henry Kissinger. Many of them have not been people who devoted their lives to the cause of peace but people who had contributed to both war and peace. That said, is being an opposition leader who had not taken to arms despite the vicious nature of the regime she was opposing really that admirable? General Ne Win and SLORC were not the British Raj; they were not a regime with a conscience and did not have to answer to a public “back home” that would not tolerate massacre. ‘Peaceful’ resistance is always the type of ‘resistance’ powerful people preach to those they want to see crushed, and sometimes the only way to combat oppression is to combat it, in the traditional fashion.

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from Matthew Smith (no relation) of Fortify Rights, a human rights group which monitors the situation in Burma, saying “We condemn all attacks. Context: The vast majority of Rohingya militants in Myanmar carry sticks & knives. Myanmar Army carries an arsenal.” I responded that I supported the Rohingya’s right to fight back as they were being persecuted in their only home country and rejected by all their neighbours. I got a flood of tweets from people (or bots) supporting the Burmese regime, claiming that “they are just invaders from border, no more ethnicity” (sic), “#Myanmar have every right to fight back as they are being killed by bengali in myanmar country and rejected by all world media” and similar sentiments, echoing the line of the regime in Naypyidaw (the military regime’s new capital). I don’t play the condemnation game on Palestine and I won’t play it about the Rohingya either, and the situation in Arakan is far worse than in Palestine and has been for decades. The obligation for peacefulness and law-abidingness doesn’t apply when the ruling power is neither and there is nowhere else to go. The argument that “they came from over the border” is not valid even if true, as they came generations ago. They were citizens of Burma, serving in Parliament before the 1962 coup, until 1982 when the military dictator Ne Win excluded them.

Right now, the Rohingya’s best hope is to be taken in by surrounding countries, particularly Muslim countries of which there are many — Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan (I won’t count the Maldives as they have severe environmental pressures); it is possible that Turkey will also accept some. There is a case to be made for military action against Burma, as they will not desist from persecution and violence against the Rohingya if left in charge of their homeland, but between them they can absorb a million Rohingya and if the government also persecutes the Rohingya Hindu minority, India can take those. We cannot rely on the remote prospect of genuine democratic reform in Burma itself as the military are unwilling to give up power and the population has been subject to decades of propaganda from the regime as well as from monks sympathetic to a Hindu-style nationalism. But the wider world has a responsibility to the Rohingya and the Muslim countries of the region must take them in if they are unwilling to militarily guarantee their safety in their homeland. We as Muslims should be putting pressure on these governments to do one of these two things, as well as on our own governments to take in Rohingya refugees and to stop arming the Burmese regime. Of course, the United Nations cannot be relied on; they will not act to stop genocide and we will not even hear the word mentioned at the Security Council as it will mean action, which there has not been in the face of two genocides in the 1990s.

Possibly Related Posts:


Home schooling is vital

5 September, 2017 - 22:42

A picture of a mother and son doing schoolwork togetherHot on the heels of the Tower Hamlets Muslim foster care hoax, the Times today printed a story (behind firewall) claiming that home schooling was part of “a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists”, a claim made by Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu at a police superintendents’ conference in Stratford upon Avon:

Unregulated education including home schooling and the segregation of some communities are helping to create extremists and future terrorists, the national police counterterrorism co-ordinator warned.

Neil Basu, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, said that some “disenfranchised” members of society feel that the government fails to understand their religion and see “no future in the West”. He added: “Segregated, isolated communities, unregulated education and home schooling are a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists.”

Mr Basu told the police superintendents’ conference in Stratford-upon- Avon that the homegrown threat was from a “more extreme second generation” of jihadists and warned of the influence of social media.

There is no evidence presented of home schooling having any role whatsoever in fostering extremist views such as may have contributed to terrorism in any way. One terrorist or suspected terrorist having been home-schooled does not prove that the two were connected; were, for example, a bigger proportion of people convicted of preparing or instigating acts of terrorism home-schooled than of the general population. I recall that back in 2001 after the Oldham riots, segregated schools were found to be largely to blame and these were not Islamic schools but bad secular schools in segregated areas.

I do not have any friends I know to be extremists (though I do have a few that regard their Islamic identity as separate and more important than their British one, an idea Basu also accuses home-schoolers and clandestine Islamic schools of promoting), but I do know quite a few home-schoolers. None of them home-schooled their children to set themselves apart from society, or to set them against it. They did it because they wanted a different kind of education to that on offer: they may have wanted less book-based learning until about age 7, as is common in Europe, or they may have wanted a broader curriculum than what schools offer, perhaps without the over-emphasis on English and maths (particularly if they are already well able to read), or the exams at age 7 and 11 and, in particular, the over-emphasis on the exams throughout the top year of primary schools. I also know quite a few parents with children with special needs, particularly autism spectrum disorders, who find that mainstream schools do not even attempt to address their children’s needs and are often actively harmful, and that the same is true of the ‘special’ schools on offer, if there are any.

There are a whole host of other quite genuine reasons for parents to home-school:

  • They do not want their children bullied (or they already have been)
  • They do not want their children exposed to racism, or stigmatised on that basis when they are still children
  • They want to be responsible for their children’s sex education, rather than a stranger or other children
  • They want to encourage their children’s individuality, rather than have them change in undesirable ways or suppress interests in order to ‘fit in’
  • Their children have been refused places at all the acceptable school or the one all their friends are at, perhaps for reason of bias (e.g. a Catholic school with a habit of refusing children of mixed parentage)

Where people are misrepresenting themselves as home-school tutors in order to run clandestine schools and, worse, not maintain standards of cleanliness or physically abuse the children (as also alleged about some of those involved), I agree that this should not be tolerated. But the right to home-school one’s child is vital as mainstream schools are often just not adequate. Even though physical punishments have been banned in schools for many years, some of them are still violent places and are often cruel, irrational and unjust environments. I would not want to raise a child in a country where I could not teach them at home, all the more so if I could not find a suitable, friendly school where my values and my child’s rights were respected.

Possibly Related Posts:


Snooping round our door

4 September, 2017 - 22:12

Picture of Martin Narey, a clean-shaven middle-aged white man with greying hair wearing a white shirt and a blue and silver striped tie.Earlier today I heard an interview with Sir Martin Narey, a former director-general of the prisons service and later chief executive of the Natoinal Offender Management Service, then CEO of Barnardo’s and more recently an advisor to Michael Gove on children’s social care when he was Secretary of State for education, on Radio 5 Live in which he spelled out what was wrong with the Times’s Tower Hamlets foster care story last Monday. When the presenter, Adrian Chiles, asked him if Andrew Norfolk, the ‘investigator’ who uncovered the ‘scandal’, or the Times’s motive for publishing it was racist, he said absolutely not and praised Andrew Norfolk for his previous ‘brave’ reporting on the Rochdale grooming affair. (The interview is near the beginning of the show.) Also last night, I saw a series of tweets from Murad Ahmed, a Muslim journalist who used to work at the Times and now works for the Financial Times on “sport, hotels, sport, gambling, other fun stuff” and previously about technology (the tweets start here). He also cannot accept that there is any Islamophobia at the paper; he says it’s a “great paper” and that the author was a “fantastic journalist”, that his Rochdale story was “high class”.

If the motive in researching and publishing the story was not racism, what was it? I can think of one other possible motive, as I cannot imagine that a paper with access to the Times’s lawyers would do something this stupid by mistake. In the early 2000s a series of miscarriages of justice unravelled in which several mothers had been imprisoned for killing their babies who had in fact died of natural causes. The ‘science’ that sealed their fates came from Roy Meadow, a paediatrician knighted for previously uncovering so-called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (now known as Factitious or Induced Illness), a phenomenon in which parents harm their babies or seek unnecessary medical treatment for them in order to get attention for themselves. In one case, he secretly recorded a woman who submitted a urine sample from her baby which contained blood; it turned out that she was contaminating the samples with her own menstrual blood. In the first situation he was right, and his achievements justly celebrated; in the second, he was very dramatically wrong in both the conclusion and the science that led to it, and it resulted in years of unnecessary suffering, at least two broken marriages, and ultimately the death of one of the women.

Like Roy Meadow, Andrew Norfolk gained recognition for identifying wrongdoing among one section of the population — mothers, in Meadow’s case; Asian or Muslim men, in Norfolk’s. Both were right the first time and wrong the second time. It seems they both decided to mine the same seam again, looking for wrongdoing among the same group of people which had yielded results the first time round, and when they encountered what looked like ‘evidence’ of it, they could not conceive of it being anything else. Narey also called Norfolk “brave” for the Rochdale grooming investigation, which I really must question. Did he need to wear a flak jacket when going into that part of Rochdale? Reporting from a war, where there is very real risk to one’s own life (or the risk of kidnap) might be called brave; the likelihood of being called racist doesn’t really match up to that. Writing a story which incriminates a minority already held under widespread suspicion really is not, especially when writing for a paper with a long history of antagonism towards that minority. (The same paper and its parent company also has a history of antagonism to Labour councils, manifesting in spurious stories about “schools/childminders having to make white children wear saris” and other such things in “loony left” Labour council areas. So, this story ticked both those boxes.)

And for those of us affected by the stream of propaganda papers like the Times puts out, whether their intention was racist really is of secondary importance; what matters is its impact. I’m not talking about the occasional ignorant or off-colour remark here; I’m talking about a stream of articles in several newspapers over the course of several years which draws hostile attention to behaviours which are not harmful but simply different, and paints them as offensive or threatening, giving out the message that Muslims really have no place in public life and really should not be visible in public. Then when one of the papers involved make a front-page story out of a lady offering foster care who had some rules in her own house, we’re expected to believe it’s just a momentary lapse? Really?

You tell me he’s high class … well, I can see through that.

Possibly Related Posts:


Why did they lie?

3 September, 2017 - 19:32

A front page of the "Times" newspaper, with the headline "Christian child forced into Muslim foster care"Earlier today I saw an article on Medium titled “Why did Andrew Norfolk lie?”. Andrew Norfolk is the investigative reporter who wrote the story about the “Christian” girl being fostered with the Muslim foster family in east London that appeared last Monday. The article was written by Abdul-Azim Ahmed, editor of the On Religion magazine (not sure if he means the print magazine or the website). He writes:

Andrew Norfolk, in writing these words, knew they amounted to lies. The girl’s racial and religious background is mixed according to court documents, with foreign-born Muslim grandparents (though the mother disputes the religious identity).

The entire story, from headline to closing to paragraph, was a series of lies and lies by omission. Others have detailed this, the shoddy basis of the story, and the wider context of poor reporting on Muslims.

According to Islam it’s enough that a man repeats everything he hears that one may call him a liar. In British law the definition is more exacting: it’s libel to call someone a liar unless you can prove they knew at the time that what they were saying was false (I’ve been threatened with a libel suit in the past for calling Shiv Malik a liar on this blog). I don’t know how much Andrew Norfolk or his editor knew about the facts behind the story they were given but I can lay a fairly safe bet on why they published a story that anyone with any knowledge of issues surrounding fostering could have told them might be at least partly untrue, and which fell apart so dramatically within days: an agenda to demonise and stigmatise Islam and Muslims in this country.

In the past I have said that the Times is a right-wing newspaper but is in general not sensationalist, and although I subscribe to the Guardian I might have bought the Times if it was not available. In recent years the paper’s reporting on issues that have anything to do with Islam or Muslims have taken on a fear-mongering and hostility-baiting quality. In the 2000s they ran a number of stories, many of which appeared to originate from “Harry’s Place”, a generally Blairite, pro-Israel and anti-Muslim blog run by a bunch of people who wrote under pseudonyms, which drew attention to ‘extremist’ sentiments that had been expressed by people who were scheduled to speak at events in the UK and voiced demands that their visa be cancelled, often successfully. At the time, the government had a policy of barring anyone who had a record of public statements which could stir hatred, whether they were white or from a minority (Louis Farrakhan was banned for many years for this reason), and this was at least consistent.

In recent years they have crossed a line from exposing public figures accused of extremism to ‘exposing’ private citizens for demanding a bit too much or doing things differently to how white people usually do them. In keeping with a similar agenda in the Cameron government, such issues are often lumped into the ‘security’ (i.e. threat) category; for example, when the Times reported on the “Trojan Horse” affair in Birmingham (for more on which see this recent long read in the Guardian, which is quite comprehensive other than in not even hinting at the origin of the original hoax letter), in which a number of teachers and school governors were accused of turning academies into Islamic schools by the back door (and at the same time, drove up GCSE achievements such that Ofsted rated them as outstanding; most of the accusations were shown to be baseless and most of the formally accused individuals cleared), the article in question was co-written with Richard Kerbaj, the security correspondent; the government’s investigation into the matter was headed by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism division. Only today, the Sunday Times put the ‘issue’ of primary school age girls wearing hijaab as part of the uniform on the front page; a harmless practice made to seem otherwise by a few busybodies who speculate on what it really means or symbolises when an adult woman wears it, an issue I covered in another recent entry.

Abdul-Azim Ahmed offers a number of explanations for why Andrew Norfolk wrote the Tower Hamlets story: is he just thick? Is he just a liar? Is he desperate, or an Islamophobe? Personally I believe he shares the wider agenda of the Times; it was not just about his own attitudes. If his editor had cared to do his job, he would have seen that the story was paper-thin and a potential embarrassment, and liable to do great harm. The Times is part of the same Murdoch-owned group as The Sun, and is aimed at a wealthier and better-educated audience than the Sun which is targeted at working-class and lower-middle-class readers. It is aimed at peeling off middle-class support for multiculturalism by appealing to ‘liberal’ sentiments (hence the propaganda about “homophobia”, “gender segregation” — though not when it’s happening in mixed schools, not single-sex grammar or church schools in affluent areas — and “hijab sexualising young girls’ bodies”) and continually casting any controversy involving Muslims in a threatening light. Murdoch himself has written in the past that “maybe most Moslems (sic) peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible”.

The paper also knows its readers in the UK; it’s sold quite profitably for the past decade and a half with a regular diet of anti-Muslim stories from both its news desk and from its pro-war and pro-Israel writers, both Blairite and Conservative. It also has an eye on the American audience (the story was syndicated or at least repeated on various US right-wing media sites including Breitbart) and accuracy about Muslims is not high on the agenda in the American blogosphere. It’s an echo chamber where only ideological fact is treated as fact and ‘bias’ means not being biased in their favour. One suspects that the people behind this knew it would take on a life of its own, that it would continue being repeated elsewhere even after the truth came out, and that people would forget that the Times was its origin as almost every paper would print a version of it.

When it comes to hatemongers and bigots, we must remember that the ‘facts’ behind their stories are less important than the intention they represent. In this case they are laying the groundwork for future acts of hostility and even violence against ordinary Muslims in the West — not Hizbut-Tahrir, not the Muslim Brotherhood, but the average Ahmed and Khadijah who work in ordinary jobs, or socially beneficial jobs such as medicine and nursing, or who stay at home to raise their children, and are not necessarily involved in politics but live their lives according to Islam and look and speak differently and eat halaal. They want a way of distracting the public if Brexit goes ahead and causes economc disaster, but their main aim is to make it difficult for Muslims to live in this country by encouraging legal crackdowns on Muslim schools, marriage councils and slaughtering, as well as by fostering an undercurrent of personal hostility and violence against Muslims going about their business. Some of them are motivated by loyalty to Israel, but others hanker for the old days when “Britain was great”, and that meant white. The aim of the Right always was to keep Britain white.

The motive for this was nothing other than malice.

Possibly Related Posts:


So, it was all a lie

31 August, 2017 - 18:36

A stock picture of a six-storey red-brick block of flats, with grey skyscrapers in the background, one of them bearing an HSBC logo. In the foreground is the car park for the block of flats.The truth about the young girl fostered with a Muslim family in east London that appeared in the Times on Monday was revealed yesterday in an anonymised court judgement (PDF). The Times’ story was rubbish, based wholly on spurious claims either sourced from a third party, maybe friends of the family or maybe rogue employees of social services in Tower Hamlets, or maybe just made up by the newspaper. It turns out that the girl was not a “white Christian” at all; her grandparents were Muslims, albeit non-practising. The foster family is in fact mixed race and they do speak English. Not only had an independent guardian found no fault with the foster family but the mother offered no objections to her daughter being with the foster carers at all, nor it seems to her parents taking her daughter back to their home country. Tom Pride has published a breakdown of the claims and the facts here. Some other blog responses are worth reading:

  • Suddenly Mummy
  • Amaliah, a story by a Muslim mother who adopted children who had been fostered by non-Muslims
  • Tell MAMA: How did a fostering row in Tower Hamlets become about religion?

Despite the facts having been made known well before close of business yesterday, the Sun printed an opinion piece by Trevor Phillips which assumes that the Times’ inaccurate story is true. He speculates that the girl had been expected to learn Arabic “presumably because the women of the household were less than ­proficient in English”, when we now know they were (and by the way: Arabs are a small minority in Tower Hamlets). It claims that the judge “briskly dismissed the council’s objections and ordered them to take the child back to her grandmother”, when the court’s case management order states that the local authority’s position was that “the child AB is placed in the interim care of the maternal grandmother subject to Regulation 24 and a Written Agreement”. Phillips then witters on about how adoption in a family of a different race is preferable to a miserable childhood in care, but adoption is irrelevant to this case as nobody was seeking to have this girl adopted; she was in care because she was taken from her mother by the police in an emergency, and everyone agreed that the maternal grandparents were to look after her once the necessary checks had been made.

Phillips then says that it’s different for this particular child because “the test of a placement’s success isn’t some bureaucratic Dulux colour chart test — it is whether the child is happy and flourishing”, and “this child was frightened and lonely”. But this is only to be expected when a five-year-old child is suddenly taken from her home and sent to live with a strange family for six months, however competent and loving the foster family is. The point wasn’t that the council favoured its “pro-Muslim reputation” over the girl’s welfare; the grandparents were not known to the council, and their ability to look after the child (such matters as whether they were in good health, whether they even had a room for her, whether they were complicit in her mother’s drug abuse, among many other concerns) had to be assessed before she could be sent to live with them; otherwise the result could have been yet another tragedy along the lines of Victoria Climbie’s or Peter Connolly’s deaths.

Two women wearing black niqaabs, one of them wearing black gloves on both hands, the other wearing a mitten on one hand and using a mobile phone in the other.Maybe Trevor Phillips didn’t properly read the court documents, and therefore didn’t know the facts. Maybe he did. His editors, who would have had access to the court order which was published at 4:30pm yesterday (you can find the timestamp in the source of the Judiciary website’s announcement), had no excuse for printing a piece which ignores facts which had become known since the original story was printed; I suspect that they assumed their readers had not followed the story online and thus would believe the story they were presenting, which showed the council rather than the Times (owned by the same company as the Sun) in a bad light. (Even after the court ruling, the Times took to Twitter to solicit other stories of “children who were harmed/distressed after being placed with ‘culturally unmatched’ carers”.) But Trev declares that he writes “at the risk of being branded an Islamophobe”; he has in fact already proven himself to be one on at least one occasion. Most of his career over the past 20 years has been spent stirring up trouble over race or religion, claiming to be saying “unsayable” things that are in fact said all the time in high-circulation tabloids, and telling the public “what Muslims really think” on the basis of a tiny survey.

“Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection to children living in families who do not share their ethnicity or even their faith”, he proclaims. Well, if you put children with a Muslim foster family, they’ll be exposed to Islam. Don’t pretend you are open-minded about that — that you regard a child’s welfare as more important than your views on religion — and justify an intrusive and inaccurate story about a child being placed with a Muslim family when no other was available for miles, based on claims sourced from anonymous sources in the family or social services (who should be investigated for professional misconduct if they are the source), if indeed there is any source.

Trev is right about one thing. There should be an investigation into Tower Hamlets social services. The focus should be: who supplied this story.

Possibly Related Posts:


Shane Ridge case: Shurely shome mishtake

29 August, 2017 - 21:48

Picture of Shane Ridge, a young white man with short blond hair and a slight beard wearing a dark blue boiler suit standing in a room with white painted breeze-block walls with a whiteboard behind him, holding a letter in his hands headed 'Immigration Enforcement'I’ve filed this under “Immigration” even though the ‘immigrant’ in question, Shane Ridge from Colne, Lancashire, was born in the UK and both his parents are British nationals, but he has been told to prepare for deportation to Australia, where his mother was born during a family holiday although she has always lived in the UK. The ‘stumbling block’ is that his mother was not married to his British father at the time of his birth, and it is only since 2006 that a British father can transmit British nationality to his children if he is not married to their mother at the time of their birth (it has only been since 1983 that a British mother can pass her nationality onto a child born overseas). Still, I wonder why, as an illegitimate son of a British mother, he is not automatically a British national even if he may also be an Australian national. It sounds like a bureaucratic mix-up to me; according to the government’s own website:

You’re automatically a British citizen if you were born in the UK after 1 January 1983 and 1 of your parents was a British citizen or settled here at that time. You don’t need to register.

Shane Ridge is 21, so must have been born in 1996 or 1997. Also according to their website, one can register as a British citizen if born before 2006 out of wedlock to a British father and “would have become a British citizen automatically if your parents had been married”. I fail to see why this route is not open to Shane Ridge if he is not automatically British, as he appears to be.

There has been a trickle of these stories over the years of children of British nationals finding out that they do not in fact have citizenship because of some quirk of the circumstances of their birth: the elderly lady who discovered that she was in fact American because she was born there even though her mother had brought her back here as a young child; the man born to British parents in British India but lost his right to British nationality when he took Australian nationality (something that would not have happened to someone born here to the same parents), the woman born in the UK to Barbadian parents whose older brothers and sisters are all British but she is not because she was born after 1983, and the woman told she is legally a man, because of a mistake on her birth certificate, despite having given birth to three children. Usually these things are discovered when the affected person applies for a passport and is instead told they are an illegal immigrant and expected to leave the country when they have no connections to their supposed home country.

The nationality rules have changed over the years but have never been back-dated to extend the right of British nationality to those born before the law changed. If there was the political will, they could be simplified so that anyone born to any British national (or with two British grandparents) automatically had the right to claim British citizenship, as well as anyone born in the UK who has close relatives (such as siblings or grandparents) who are British nationals. This would eliminate situations where someone whose entire family is British is excluded because of some insignificant detail in their history or their parents’. All children of British nationals should have the right to British citizenship and at the very least the right to live and work in the UK without let or hindrance. It’s absurd that these outmoded laws still remain in effect in a supposedly equal, modern and multicultural state whose citizens have connections and kinship ties in all corners of the world.

Possibly Related Posts:


Muslim foster story is naked hate

28 August, 2017 - 18:17

A picture of a Muslim woman in a black robe and face covering and a white girl with long blonde hair, wearing a white T-shirt and black trousers or skirt. The girl's hair is blurred.The Murdoch Times has a front-page story today exposing a ‘scandal’ in which a young “white, Christian” girl was placed by Tower Hamlets council’s social services into the care of a Muslim foster family in which the wife wears the niqaab (which they explain is indicative of “Wahhabi” beliefs, which is not true) and which has not allowed her to wear a cross on a chain around her neck or eat pork in the house and encouraged her to learn Arabic; the current foster carer supposedly wears a “burka” (a term nobody uses here, and the garments known as burkas abroad are not worn here) which covers her whole face when outside. The Times’s version of the story is paywalled, but the Daily Mirror has published a paraphrase of the story which, like the Times’s version, takes the family’s and the anonymous “supervisor’s” tales at face value; we may consider the possibility that they are not telling the whole truth (as is often the case with aggrieved families that run media campaigns against social workers, something that journalists should be aware of in the light of the Ellie Butler case) or that neither the girl nor the foster family actually exist. The girl has apparently spent a total of six months in two separate Muslim foster homes in the second of which the mother wears a so-called burka which covers her whole face when outside.

The girl has not been identified, as is usual when reporting on childcare cases; the paper has also given us no details of the circumstances leading to the girl being taken into care, ostensibly also to protect the child’s identity. (In cases where protecting a child’s identity has been really important, as in the case of Ellie Butler’s surviving sibling, papers have been forbidden to even disclose the sex of the child, but it pulls extra heartstrings among bigots to mention that it’s a little white Christian girl.) There are a host of reasons why a child might be taken into care, some of them entirely innocent (e.g. one of the parents is off the scene and the other is sick and there are no other family members who can care for the child), but they include inadequacy or abuse on the part of the parent(s), such as neglect, drug use or addiction, failing to make sure they attend school or to make other arrangements, or bringing “risky adults” into the home who have a history of domestic violence or other behaviour that makes them unsuitable to be around a child; these are the usual reasons why a child may be in foster care “against their family’s wishes”. We do not know why this girl is not with another family member, as they are generally given priority over foster carers simply because they are not strangers to the child and may do the job for free, and because someone else will always need the foster place, whether within the borough or outside. As with any other case where a social service department is criticised, they are unable to respond because the child’s privacy is paramount and the Times exploits this.

An image of spaghetti carbonara, containing spaghetti, cheese, pepper and bacon.The fact that she was placed with a Muslim family locally demonstrates that the council considered it more important that she live close to her family than with a culturally more similar family a long way away, where she may not have been able to get to school and where seeing her mother or other family members may have been more difficult. I find it difficult to believe that the girl was really that distressed that she could not wear a cross on a chain, but then, many schools, including church-run schools, do not allow jewellery, even ear studs, for safety reasons. I don’t think it unreasonable that they did not allow her to eat pork under their roof, although maybe they should cook her something similar without pork (Muslims do eat pasta), and that arose when the mother gave the girl spaghetti carbonara, a pasta dish containing bacon, to take back to the foster home; it’s possible that this was done to cause trouble. The reports claim that the girl cried and begged not to be sent back to the foster home, but this may have simply been because she wanted to live with her mother. It’s understandable that she was upset about being uprooted from her home and sent to live with a family where the way of life was different, but this is inevitable with foster care.

The Times also quotes an anonymous social work ‘expert’ as saying it was “unforgiveably irresponsible” to place a child from an English-speaking family in a foster home where another language is spoken on a day-to-day basis. Why? If a child from a non-English-speaking home needs foster care, a council will look for a similar household but if there is none, an English-speaking one will have to do, and perhaps this was the case here as well. Refugees who arrive as unaccompanied minors from countries where English is nobody’s first language are routinely fostered in English-speaking homes. Learning a new language, be it Arabic, French or any other, is always of benefit; why is it always English speakers who assume they are above learning anyone else’s language? I have never seen the Times complain about the opposite happening, whether the issue is language or religion. Muslim friends tell me there is a shortage of Muslim foster carers, and thus when a Muslim child needs a foster carer and there is no family member deemed suitable, a non-Muslim has to do. Do they try to feed them pork? (I do know this has happened in the US.) Haven’t read it in the Times, but …

I saw a thread (starting here) on Twitter posted by a Muslim lady whose parents are foster carers. She writes:

Appalling article from The Times & co on fostering. As someone whose parents have been Muslim foster carers for 25+ years (caring for children from all faiths & backgrounds) … I can attest first hand to the dedication, commitment and struggles of the foster care system. Yes it is an imperfect system, but in the absence of anything better surely the discussion should be about the pressures on local authorities, the increase of children in care, and how to promote families of all backgrounds to step up to be carers rather than suggesting those who wear the Burka have some nefarious agenda.

The accusations here amount to v little. Yes LAs should try to match each child to a family with a similar ethnic and faith background, but with limited carers this can not always be achieved. What is of utmost importance is ensuring the child is in a safe environment. I struggle to believe carers, who are required to undergo extensive training and complete regular comprehensive reports, didn’t speak English. This would have been flagged up much earlier - what is more likely is the family spoke an additional language at home. If one was to flip the situation I know of Muslim children being placed in houses where there has been no religious accommodation, and children have been fed pork/non halal meat, prayer hasn’t been accommodated and more. But the safety of the child was paramount.

Nearly every child we have looked after has cried saying they want to go home at first. Many of these same children have then cried upon the placement ending saying that this [my house] is now their home and they don’t want to leave. Now I am not denying that there are bad apples or suggesting that every carer is perfect. We have all heard the horror stories - but what articles such as these serve to do is once again marginalise Muslims who wish to give back and help wider society, and most likely dissuade them from stepping up to serve.

An advertisement on the bottom of a tip-up seat, which reads "Foster carers come from all walks of life. Male or female, single or married, young and old, living alone, with a partner or with a family, you might have your own home or rent. We’re looking for people just like you and in return we are there to support you through it all" with a contact address.The story has been circulated not only to other British papers but to right-wing hate sites abroad such as Breitbart. I find the claims that the girl would quote her foster carer as saying “European women are stupid and alcoholic” difficult to believe; that doesn’t sound like something a five-year-old would say. Accusing a minority of harming the precious, defenceless children of the majority is a classic trope of racists and bigots down the centuries; consider how Jews were accused of eating the blood of Christian children and Gypsies were accused of “stealing children”. Here we have a ‘respectable’ newspaper, once regarded as the “newspaper of record”, emphasising that a “white, Christian girl” was placed with a Muslim family because her own family could not look after her, and what horrors were visited on her — she heard another language spoken, she couldn’t eat pork, she couldn’t wear a necklace with an offensive symbol, as her hosts saw it, on it.

Councils are crying out for foster carers and in almost every borough, inside and outside London, they are advertising for families to come forward, yet when a family takes in a child they are attacked on the front page of a national newspaper for having rules that the child and their normal family dislike. Who will want to do it if it exposes them and their whole community to hate? What’s “unforgiveably irresponsible” is not the placement but this story, and it exposes the Times yet again as not a paper of record but a biased and bigoted tabloid rag.

Possibly Related Posts:


Review: The State

27 August, 2017 - 22:02

Shakira, a black woman wearing a black gown and veil which is flipped back over her head, embraces Isaac, a young boy in a green-and-white striped T-shirt who is facing away from the camera. Dust is visible as it follows a bombing.The State is Peter Kosminsky’s four-part drama series on a group of young people from western Europe (the two central characters are British) who travel to Syria to join ISIS. It was shown on four consecutive nights at 9pm starting last Sunday night. Peter Kosminsky previously directed Britz, a mini-series from 2007 about two young British Muslims, one who kills herself after being subject to a control order and one who becomes a suicide bomber as a result. That was widely criticised for its unconvincing storyline and manipulative plot devices as well as the use of language Muslims would not use. The State, although it had its unconvincing parts and annoying details, clearly shows that Kosminsky has done quite a bit more research this time around; the two central characters are ‘believers’ in the mission of ISIS on arrival, but gradually come to understand the dark side of life in Raqqa and the corruption of its leaders; one escapes while another comes into conflict with the leadership and at the end is on the verge of imprisonment or execution.

In episode 1, a group of westerners arrives in Raqqa, among them Shakira (Ony Uhiara), a young black woman doctor fluent in Arabic who has a young son named Isaac, as well as a young man named Jalal (Sam Otto) whose brother had supposedly died fighting for ISIS and who wanted to know what had happened to him. There was also a former British Army soldier as well as a woman who wanted to be a “jihadi bride”, and was (briefly) satisfied. The women are greeted by an unattractive American woman who for some reason always wears a red hijab when not in front of men and has an annoying habit of calling everyone “sweetie”. She tells them that they will have to get married before very long, will not be allowed out without their husbands or a male relative, and will be expected to ‘support’ the fighters but not to do any work outside the home. All of them are provided with black gowns and niqaabs with a headband saying “there is no god but Allah” and the “seal” symbol of ISIS; the men are all issued with assault rifles and engaged in military training almost immediately and offered the prospect of slave-girls seized in battles in Iraq. The scene where the women don their niqaabs is drawn out and given dramatic effect as if this would be a wholly foreign experience to them; in fact, many Muslim women in the UK wear it and more did before a tabloid hate campaign in the mid-2000s.

Shakira is initially frustrated by being told she would be unable to work in the hospital, despite having been given the impression that they need doctors. She uses her knowledge of Islamic law to persuade the American to allow her out as well as the hospital administrator (a cold and contemptuous ISIS placeman) to allow her to work there. She finds that the hospital is critically short of resources, that babies are dying because there are no incubators, and that she is forced to wear her black gloves (which all women are required to wear in the streets) including when treating patients, which is obviously unsafe. It is suggested that she marry the placeman, a powerful man who lives in a very spacious house, to facilitate her working in the hospital, and she initially agrees but her son objects; instead, she marries a male doctor who is known to be gay, and is thus able to work alongside him. However, the male doctor is then sent off to the front line and the placeman she had earlier rejected repeated his offer; it was implied that he was behind the decision to send Shakira’s husband away. She is told her husband has died, although she demands proof and is not given any.

Jalal, a South Asian man with a black beard wearing a blue or grey turban wrapped around his head holds a mobile phone to his left ear.Jalal (left) is under the impression that his brother had died as a martyr in battle. While working repairing weapons with an older veteran (who had earlier served in Saddam Hussain’s army), he is told that his brother had in fact been executed for desertion. He gradually grows more concerned about the behaviour of the other fighters, especially their treatment of the locals for whom they have obvious contempt. He befriends a pharmacist who told him that he had helped his wife, who is a Christian, to escape; the man also said that it was nice to see one of the mujahideen with good manners as most of them have none. He later buys a slave woman and girl (a mother and daughter) who had been seized in Iraq to cook for the jihadi bride who had married a man who spoke no English and had complained that she could not cook; the mother wore a green gown that was very reminiscent of the clothing of the “Marthas” in The Handmaid’s Tale. There have been some claims that ISIS has been doing this, but this report notes that the accusation is in a document in which someone from ISIS provides a “religious justification” for the practice but does not actually prove that it is going on. It seems that ISIS are considered so beyond the pale that it doesn’t matter whether the details of this atrocity or that are accurate or not when really truth always matters. (More recently, it was alleged that they had been harvesting organs from their own fighters.)

Shakira ultimately decides to escape when she sees her son Isaac in a boys’ training camp playing “football” with a human head and taking it in turns to stab a “kaafir” who is pinned against a wall; she realises he is being brainwashed by the regime into something unrecognisable from how he was when he arrived. She finds a hole in the border fence and somehow makes her way to a village which we are not told if it is in Syria or Turkey, then takes a trip on a refugee boat to another unnamed country, before arriving at a British airport where she is arrested at passport control. (You’d have thought she’d have tried to reach Ireland, from which she could have passed straight over the border into the UK.) Isaac is taken into care; she is threatened with arrest and an extended separation from him and offered a deal to pass information about the Muslim community periodically to the police, which she was told would do more good than some articles for the Guardian. The fate of both — whether Jalal was killed or not, what course of action Shakira chose — was not revealed.

Apart from the inclusion of what may well be a myth about ISIS harvesting organs, another major weakness of this programme is the lack of any backstory about any of the characters except Jalal. We saw nothing of their lives back home and no scenes of debate between them and other Muslims (or others) about the legitimacy of ISIS or its behaviour, or about the Muslim leaders who encouraged a climate of disbelief about the Taliban and al-Qa’ida ten years ago but who now believe everything the media tells them about ISIS. We thus know little about either Ushna’s or Shakira’s life before leaving to join ISIS or anything about the reason they may have left — was it just about having believed propaganda about life in Raqqa, or whether there were problems at home or a recent encounter with racism, Islamophobia or both? To imply that the answer is irrelevant, or that there is no answer other than ‘radicalisation’, plays up to the government, right-wing media and “Prevent” narrative, and we cannot persuade young people not to support or join ISIS by telling them that they are young, stupid and easily brainwashed and should just listen to their elders. Still, it was a passable drama which reflected better research into the Muslim community and the language it uses than Britz, with fewer clangers than Britz.

Possibly Related Posts:


Pages