Look after your health, and fight for your healthcare

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 December, 2017 - 23:42

Picture of Erica Garner, a Black woman wearing a red sweatshirt with thin black horizontal stripes running across it. She also has a red ribbon pinned to her chest.Earlier today Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who was choked to death by New York police for illegally selling cigarettes in 2014 (one of a series of unarmed Black Americans, mostly men, who died violent deaths at the hands of police in various states in the four years leading up to Trump’s election) died after having been in a coma since Christmas Day following a heart attack. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter and Facebook claim that her death was contributed to her by what happened to her father and by the stress of being an activist: “This work takes a terrible toll on those who do the work despite their wounds. Reliving the pain, every time the families come out to speak, protest, write.”

I was pretty sure that Erica Garner must have had some chronic health condition and according to the BBC report her heart attack followed an asthma attack. She had had another heart attack earlier in the year “after a difficult pregnancy that ended with the birth of her son Eric — named for her father”. From personal experience I know that asthma can kill you regardless of your colour, class or your history of personal or family trauma or lack thereof: someone I know died very suddenly of it ten and a half years ago and he had no such history; he was in his 30s, happily married, living in a nice house with a job he liked. His name was Lee. (I even remember a young girl with no history of asthma dying of it during the hot summer of 1995, when pollution levels were high.) Erica Garner also had an enlarged heart, which can have a number of causes but complications include heart murmurs and failure, blood clots and cardiac arrest leading to sudden death.

I well understand the temptation to blame Erica’s death on the stress of losing her father and then throwing herself into the Black Lives Matter movement, but the truth is that these things at most worsened an already poor state of health. People in their 30s don’t die from broken hearts; that tends to happen to very elderly people after their spouses die (sometimes called “grieving widow syndrome” as it’s usually the man that dies first). A while ago I came across a video in which a woman who had suffered a stroke in her 30s, leaving her blind, blamed her condition on having “cried too much” after a relationship breakdown shortly before, but this struck me as rather unlikely, to say the least. (It’s unusual to see a woman blame a physical health event on her own emotions; they normally have to persuade doctors that their physical complaints aren’t psychosomatic.)

I am going to tell people in the light of the Erica Garner tragedy to look after their health: don’t do things that aggravate health conditions you know about (for example, don’t work in dusty environments without a mask if you have asthma), eat as healthily as you can afford to, don’t be embarrassed to see a doctor if you have a worrying change in your health (I’m talking to the men here in particular), and most of all don’t smoke — it contributes to so many illnesses including cancer (and not just lung cancer) and unlike other recreational drugs I can think of, does nothing else except making your breath and your surroundings stink and dulling your sense of taste. Some (including your doctor) might tell you not to have a child if you’re a woman with one chronic condition or another, but that’s your decision and I know for many women it’s more important than anything else.

But it also reminds us of the importance of public healthcare: people who aren’t wealthy and cannot afford insurance (and especially those with chronic conditions) need public healthcare and they need medicines to be affordable, especially things like inhalers and adrenaline injectors which are the focus for much profiteering. We must protect our health system from those whose sole interest is to make money and for whom curing disease and protecting people’s health is just a means to an end.

Both Lee and Erica were parents of young children who now have to grow up without them. Even if Erica’s son has a strong extended family, two of his close family are already gone. Stopping police violence and holding to account those responsible are vital, but so is guarding people’s health and making that possible by keeping vital medicines and basic care affordable if not free. I do not want to see more deaths like these two.

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Anti-sharia laws proliferate as Trump strikes hostile tone toward Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 December, 2017 - 16:35

Twenty-three bills have been introduced in 18 state legislatures this year to ban the practice of Islamic law – critics say the aim is to spread fear about Muslims

Anti-sharia legislation is spreading in state legislatures across the US, as Donald Trump’s hostile stance towards Muslims appears to be emboldening rightwing Islamaphobes.

Related: Dearborn, Michigan: a divided city grappling with what it means to be Muslim and American

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Amazon Tetris?!

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 December, 2017 - 23:16

A screenshot from a Windows version of TetrisScrolling through the timeline of “somebody that I used to know”, I saw a tweet which had been retweeted more than 25,000 times as of this writing and which has even been the subject of articles on mainstream media websites. It makes a claim about those weirdly oversized packages we sometimes get when we order things from Amazon — the cardboard envelopes which are several times larger than the thing you ordered. The tweeter, one Alexander Savin, is apparently quoting something he saw on Reddit but the words in the image read:

Amazon uses a complicated software system to determine the bay size that should be used based on what else is going in the same truck and the exact size of the cargo bay.

It is playing automated Tetris with the packages.

Sometimes it will select a larger box because there is nothing else that needs to go out on that specific truck, and by making it bigger, it is using up the remaining space so items don’t slide around and break.

This actually minimizes waste and is on the whole a greener system. Even if for some individual item is looks weird.

It is optimizing for the whole, not the individual.

I’ve worked for companies that deliver Amazon goods and I can state with authority that this is nonsense, at least as far as Amazon in the UK (where the oversized box phenomenon is also well-known) is concerned. I had a job last year which involved pulling a trailer loaded with Amazon pallets from their depot in Weybridge to some freight forwarding operation near Heathrow. The company I was working for was a small logistics contractor which only operated one “class 1” (articulated, i.e. tractor-trailer) vehicle (it also runs a number of smaller trucks). Each pallet had a sort of square cardboard ‘cage’ into which the packages were dropped, and they were just dropped in a random pile, not in any regular fashion. It did not look like they had been neatly arranged in a Tetris-like fashion. The pallets were arranged in two rows in the trailer, though sometimes the bulging pallets made this impossible. If they really did use a huge box because there was nothing else going out on an entire truck, one would expect to see much bigger boxes than the ones Amazon actually use, but of course they would not fit through anyone’s front door.

I’ve also worked for companies that do actually fill the trailer with individual boxes; even then, although we try to fill up the available space and shore up packages to stop them falling over and being damaged or causing damage, it’s impossible to arrange the boxes that neatly. The article seems like an attempt to make Amazon look like this super-efficient, ultra-computerised operation but this isn’t a description of their logistics at all. The most likely reason for the random use of oversized boxes is just that — randomness, or a mistake or rushed selection on the part of the Amazon worker.

(This idea, by the way, sounds a lot like a case of the Tetris effect or Tetris syndrome, in which “people devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams”, such as when someone who has been playing Tetris for hours imagine ways to make everyday objects fit together like the four-square shapes that drop from the sky in Tetris. Amazon cartons, however, are not that regular and don’t fit together.)

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When a Muslim celebrating Christmas causes angst it’s no wonder we think we can’t win | Tez Ilyas

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 December, 2017 - 15:16
Poor Mo Farah. The latest plot twist to this year’s annual Muslim conspiracy were complaints about a Muslim actually trying to get in the spirit of the season

Like most people, I spent the holiday period with my family. We had dinner, laughed, discussed our plans to forcibly implement sharia law UK-wide in 2018, played board games, and celebrated the key role that the British Muslim diaspora played in successfully defeating Christians in the now infamous “war on Christmas” of 2017.

I’m being flippant of course. Two of the above five things didn’t happen. But what I observed over the past couple of months has been curious to say the least.

A post shared by Sir Mo Farah (@gomofarah) on Dec 25, 2017 at 10:01am PST

Related: What is the best Christmas movie? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Lucinda Everett

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On Muslims, Christmas and other holidays

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 December, 2017 - 23:40

A picture of a Christmas tree decorated in large baubles and other decorations in the ornate lobby of a hotel; four storeys can be seen behind it.The other day someone posted an image to Facebook of two Christmas displays accompanied by a slogan to the effect that Muslims aren’t banning Christmas — this is how they do it in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. The latter was in a shopping mall and there was a huge Christmas tree. Muslims looking to get Christmas ‘banned’ or it being ‘banned’ by various local authorities to avoid displeasing Muslims has been a staple of the British right-wing mid-market press for years, and usually on closer examination the thing that was being called something other than Christmas was not Christmas at all. The Daily Mail, which parroted the ‘Winterval’ claim numerous times, apologised after the truth about that was exposed during the Leveson inquiry, but more recently this was one of the asinine tweets of the US President, Donald Trump (who, as a landlord in the early 1980s, forbade his tenants from putting Christmas decorations in the lobby in an attempt to force them out): “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”.

As a Muslim, the last thing I’d want to do is stop anyone from enjoying their Christmas, and I’ve never seen Muslims trying to do any such thing in this country. I’ve also not seen Muslims challenge laws based around Britain’s Christian traditions such as Sunday trading laws (which include a requirement for large shops to close altogether on Easter Sunday) or the lack of public transport on Christmas Day. A few years ago I was on a phone-in on a London radio station after the Daily Express (or Daily Spew as I call it) claimed that Muslims were forcing everyone else to stop eating because it was Ramadan, but I thought it wasn’t unreasonable to expect people working in an area where there were a lot of Muslims not to stuff their faces in front of them during a meeting, for example, but that’s not the same as expecting them to fast or not to eat anywhere Muslims might see them, which I do not believe anyone was suggesting.

It’s not Muslims pressuring anyone else not to celebrate or enjoy Christmas; it’s Muslims who are being pressured to take part in it despite the fact that there is no history of Muslims celebrating it any time before the Muslim lands were colonised by Christians and Muslims became immigrants in predominantly if not officially Christian countries. Depressingly, a lot of the pressure is coming from Muslims: there are comparisons with the mawlid (birthday celebrations) for the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and with the incident in which he observed Jews celebrating God’s saving the prophet Moses (peace be upon him) from the Pharaoh on his arrival in Medina, and thereafter fasted the day of Ashura and ordered the Muslims to do the same, although it did not remain a compulsory fast (you can read about this here). There are two important differences between these celebrations and Christmas, however. One is that the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) fasted for Ashura and is not recorded as having marked Christmas at all or as instructing the Muslims to do this. The second is that, although the Mawlid as we know it is a bid’ah or innovation, it is at least of Muslim origin and many great scholars and shaikhs have written poems celebrating the birth of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) which are recited at gatherings not only in Rabi’ al-Awwal but throughout the year. (It is notable that such gatherings take place every Monday in many Muslim communities, particularly in Yemen and around the Indian Ocean where the scholars of Hadramaut hold sway.)

The romanticisation of Christmas is fairly recent; until the 19th century it was purely a religious holiday and in some Christian communities including some pioneer communities in what is now the USA, it has been banned. Charles Dickens made a villain of a mean boss who would not let his worker (with a disabled son) have a day off with his family for Christmas in A Christmas Carol and anyone who spoils others’ Christmas joy since is compared to Ebeneezer Scrooge. Popular stereotypes of Christmas are dominated by films set in snowy New York and Chicago and by songs by North American singers such as Bing Crosby; the images are of snow and evergreen trees and even in the UK, where heavy snows are rare especially in the south, we think we should have a “white Christmas” even though they are not normal here and have not been in living memory.

So, the stereotypes are all American and the customs such as Christmas trees and present-giving on the 25th and 26th of December are all reflective of the customs in the USA and to a lesser extent the UK (the customs differ in other parts of Europe). The roots of Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ (peace be upon him) are largely forgotten in all the pageantry about Santa Claus (a character based on a Christian saint), reindeer and sacks full of presents which parents buy for their children at great expense but pretend are brought down the chimney from the North Pole. The fact that it’s all around us makes it difficult for people who aren’t Christians to avoid getting involved in, especially when some companies put on Christmas dinners and other functions and some actually require staff to attend, schools have Christmas plays and parties and shops play Christmas music non-stop. So Muslims tell each other that as the festival is not in itself polytheistic and we do not fundamentally disagree on the facts behind the festival itself (as with Easter), it’s OK for us to involve ourselves in it.

And it’s wrong. I don’t believe that “it’s not shirk” (polytheism/idolatry) is the real reason some Muslims think it’s nice to get into Christmas. It’s just that it’s part of the dominant culture, and they feel the need to prove to others that “we can do Christmas just like you do, we’re not spoilsports”. If the dominant culture were Chinese or Hindu then some Muslims would find an excuse to get involved in Diwali or Chinese New Year too, and cut out the actual worship parts (in the case of Diwali especially) and talk about the ‘values’ or ‘virtues’ it represents or something. Yet in the Muslim world, both in countries with large Christian minorities and those without, as long as there is significant exposure to western culture, we see Muslims in parts of the world where it really doesn’t snow (unlike in Africa!) putting on Christmas just like it’s New York and putting Christmas trees (or structures meant to look like them) which do not grow there.

I draw a distinction between Muslims with non-Muslim families taking part in some of the social aspects of Christmas, such as family gatherings and present-giving, and Muslims who were brought up Muslim and for whom Christmas is no tradition getting involved in it when not forced to at all. I don’t condemn the first but the second is indefensible. It is not a sign of warm-heartedness or good-neighbourliness to adopt part of the dominant culture when it’s against your religion, but of subservience. They, after all, are not rushing to join us for either of our Eids, or the Mawlid, and there are plenty of Scrooges who won’t let their Muslim employees have those days off.

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The Guardian view on surveillance in China: Big Brother is watching | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 December, 2017 - 14:15
In Xinjiang, cutting-edge technology is reinforcing tight social controls. These measures are unlikely to stay within the region’s bounds

“Orwellian” is a much-abused word; but in the case of Xinjiang, in China, its use is entirely apposite. Authorities’ grip on the resource-rich, violence-stricken north-western region – and most of all on the lives of its Uighur Muslims – grows tighter by the day. Orwell would recognise the relentlessness of surveillance, the innovative means employed, and the linguistic distortions that underline rather than disguise the exercise of power.

“The happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang,” a propaganda official there claimed this year. Beijing points to high investment in the region and, for example, extra points for Uighur students in college entrance exams. But a series of recent reports have unveiled a digital police state. Technological advances such as facial recognition software and biometric data collection are married to a vast and expanding security apparatus, a bureaucracy that inserts itself into all parts of life, and traditional hard power: shows of force by heavily armed police.

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Charity launches festive TV ad to challenge view of British Muslims as anti-Christmas

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 December, 2017 - 00:04
The Penny Appeal commercial explains how the charity is helping poor and homeless across the UK for a few pence each day

The first mainstream television advertisement by a Muslim charity will be aired over the festive period, a development many hope will help to challenge the misconception that Muslims are anti-Christmas.

The 59-second advert for the West Yorkshire charity Penny Appeal highlights the often ignored role of British Muslims in helping vulnerable people across the UK over Christmas.

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Aung San Suu Kyi once called for a free press. Now, fake news haunts the dead | Rossalyn Warren

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 December, 2017 - 11:29

As the Rohingya crisis escalates, the state of Myanmar is silencing the media – and the people who dare to talk to them

In December last year, after the Myanmar security forces had been accused of deadly attacks in the state of Rakhine, the government allowed a press trip to the area. Such visits are rare; this three-day, state-guided trip was allowed only after pressure from human rights groups and the UN to investigate allegation of atrocities against Rohingya people.

Thirteen journalists toured the area, closely watched by security forces. Locals were reluctant to talk from fear of retaliation. But yesterday Shuna Mia, a 41-year-old Rohingya man from the township of Maungdaw, bravely decided to speak out. According to activists who have seen footage of his interview, he said that people in his community had been raped and killed by security forces.

The government is targeting vulnerable citizens all over again. This time, it is orchestrating its own version of events

Related: In the name of humanity, don’t look away from the plight of the Rohingya people | Ian Woolverton

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Ban on unstunned halal meat in Lancashire schools is put on hold

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 December, 2017 - 16:37

Muslim leaders announce they are seeking judicial review of council’s plan to stop schools serving unstunned halal meat

Plans to ban schools in Lancashire from serving unstunned halal meat have been put on hold pending a legal challenge by local Muslim leaders.

Lancashire county council voted to introduce the ban in October, with the Conservative leader of the council, Geoff Driver, describing the practice of killing animals without stunning them first as “abhorrent”.

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A very merry Muslim Christmas: the slogan for ‘good’ Muslims | Shaista Aziz

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 December, 2017 - 16:25
A new report celebrates all the charitable work we do for our country, and faith. But the humanising Muslims industry is just mainstreaming Islamophobia

• Shaista Aziz is a former aid worker

It makes a change from the “Muslims are cancelling Christmas” headlines. But “A very merry Muslim Christmas” – the social media slogan for the first report by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims – still feels reductive: as we approach 2018, humanising Muslims is a trend that isn’t going out of fashion any time soon.

The parliamentary group was set up to address Islamophobia, and its report – launched this week with the title Faith as the Fourth Emergency Service – highlights the work of Muslim charities, communities and individuals in helping vulnerable people across the UK.

Related: Abuse of Muslims is now mainstream. I never thought my children would see this | Salma Yaqoob

When Muslims do 'good things', we are pitted against those other ones who don’t want to integrate and be fully British

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Why is speeding not a taboo?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 December, 2017 - 23:46

A lamppost under thick tree cover, with a 20mph speed limit sign and a banner reading "Welcome to Islington, London's first 20[mph] borough".There’s a video up on the BBC News website asking the above question, namely why speeding is not a taboo as drink driving became as a result of years of public campaigns including regular TV and billboard advertisements. Apparently speeding kills many more people than drunken driving, so it should be at least as much a ‘taboo’ thing that nobody would be seen doing. The argument is ‘supported’ with an appeal to emotion, namely a contribution from a woman who lost both her parents when they were run over by a speeding driver, and towards the end she accompanies some police officers using hand-held speed guns to detect people exceeding a 20mph speed limit and interviews a few drivers and asks them why or if they knew they were speeding. A few did not, but nobody just said they did not believe in the widespread 20mph speed limits that have been imposed by various local authorities, especially in London, with no great public debate.

The video has an air of propaganda about it: it’s softening the public up for more widespread enforcement of the blanket 20mph speed limits which have been imposed not only on minor residential roads and shopping streets (which most would consider quite reasonable) but also on main roads in several London boroughs including nearly all of inner London. I have a suspicion that the real purpose of these limits is to drive traffic off local authority maintained roads and onto the TfL-run Red Routes, much as many weight limits in rural areas seem not to be associated with weak bridges or narrow roads but with a local authority’s desire to reduce wear and tear by forcing heavy vehicles onto a limited number of main roads. Right now we rarely see speed cameras on roads with 20mph speed limits and while people rarely stick to them, in my observation, they do go lower than 30mph which may or may not have been the idea behind them — they have cut speed and thereby road injuries. But expecting everyone to drive at 20mph along main roads is just not reasonable.

Yes, it’s true that being hit by a car can kill or injure someone. Everyone knows that and it’s why we are taught from an early age to take care when crossing the road: to use crossings, wait for the green signal and so on, and (when we are children) to hold the hand of the adult we are with. Roads may not be race-tracks, as the video says, but main roads are also not playgrounds. As drivers, we are taught to look out for pedestrians and places from where they may walk out (e.g. behind cars and especially buses) and gauge our speed for the road conditions as the appropriate speed may be much less than the speed limit. There is no law against a pedestrian crossing the road anywhere they like in this country and the term ‘jaywalking’ is not part of the vocabulary here (quite rightly as in the USA anti-jaywalking laws are used to harass minorities) but there has to be a compromise between pedestrian safety and the need for people to get where they are going. If pedestrian safety really is all that matters, why stop at 20mph and not reduce the speed limit to 10mph?

A poster showing two hands, one holding an old-style British paper driving licence and the other holding a glass of beer, with the words "You can't hold on to both" in between. At the bottom is the slogan "Think you can drink and drive? Think again."And, of course, the video talks of ‘speeding’ but does not distinguish between exceeding speed limits by small amounts and doing so dramatically, when the majority of speeding offences are by small margins and it is possible to be driving above a set limit while still paying attention to the road conditions and potential hazards. The comparison with drinking and driving is not valid because that behaviour impairs your judgement and people would assume that they could drink and drive because they could “handle their drink” (hence the slogan, “think you can drink and drive? Think again”). The dangers of drinking and driving are scientific fact while speeding is speeding because the local authority says so — it does not mean driving too fast for the road conditions but rather above a set limit, which may or may not be set with safety in mind; they may be in response to lobbying, or for entirely unrelated reasons such as noise abatement. The point is that speeding does not always put anyone in danger, while drinking and driving always increases the risk of injury or damage because the driver will be impaired.

So, why is speeding not a taboo “like drunk driving”? Because speeding is not like drunk driving. The majority of drivers do not stick religiously to the speed limit because there is often no reason to do so other than that it is the law. The slogan “drinking and driving wrecks lives” was memorable and effective; “speeding is bad driving” less so, because it’s not true. Speeding on its own is just disobedience, and any attempt to portray it as inherently dangerous behaviour is doomed to fail.

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More religion on the BBC? Amen to that | Peter Ormerod

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 December, 2017 - 16:58
Ignorance of religion fuels antisemitism, the demonisation of Islam, and sectarianism. The BBC can help us to understand the world better

It’s a time for rejoicing and merrymaking. Let the drinks flow and the revelry abound, for into the darkness has come a great light. Yes, the BBC is going to start taking religion seriously.

This genuinely is good news for all. Whether you’re as pious as Dot Cotton or find the whole thing as boring as John Humphrys does, we should all benefit from our national broadcaster taking it upon itself to address something of a crisis in Britain: a burgeoning ignorance of religion. And at this particular point in history, it can offer no more important service to the public.

Related: BBC to increase religious coverage to better represent all faiths

Related: Why I want all our children to read the King James Bible | Richard Dawkins

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Faith groups welcome review of BBC religious programming

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 December, 2017 - 15:11

Religion and ethics report says broadcaster should increase coverage of non-Christians and continue with Thought for the Day

Faith organisations have welcomed a report that says the BBC should increase its coverage of religious issues, amid concerns that some of the report’s findings are “bizarre” in an increasingly secular society.

The BBC’s religion and ethics review, released on Wednesday, recommended increasing coverage of non-Christian faiths, introducing faith-related story lines into popular drama, incorporating greater religious understanding into news reporting, and creating a global team of reporters with religious expertise, under its first religion editor.

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The best places to be average

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 December, 2017 - 19:19

The ruins of Odiham Castle, which dates from the 13th centuryA study commissioned by Halifax (part of the big HBOS banking group but formerly a mutual building society) has found that the district of Hart in Hampshire is the best place to live in the UK, a position it also held in this survey from 2011 to 2013 although it was only 26th last year. The study looks at such matters as life expectancy, health, crime rates, earnings, employment, ‘wellbeing’ and the weather; Hart has the longest female life expectancy in the UK, for example, at 86.7 years. The list contains mostly rural districts throughout the country including several affluent southern districts, though two are in North Yorkshire, the Orkney islands are in second place and the cities of London and Westminster are also included. One thing does not seem to count, though: diversity.

I’ve been to Hart district a few times, having to make deliveries there quite a lot. It’s just west of the military conurbation on the Surrey-Hampshire border (Camberley, Aldershot, Farnborough etc) and consists of the small towns of Fleet and Blackwater and the large villages of Hook, Hartley Wintney and Odiham (not sure if the name refers to its race relations!); it also includes a fair bit of countryside, some military bases and some light industry (a large car auction site west of Blackwater and a big logistics depot at Hook, fo r example). It’s safe to say that the area is solidly middle-class and mostly White, with a fairly large representation of military families, quite possibly more senior ranks. It’s not as extremely wealthy as parts of nearby Surrey Heath or Windsor and Maidenhead but it doesn’t have serious pockets of deprivation either.

Quite a few people would not want to live in Hart even if they could afford it. True, one of the district’s two MPs is Asian (Ranil Jayawardena), but if you need an ethnic food shop (a halal butcher’s, for example), you won’t find many in that district (I suspect there’s a couple of halal kebab or fried chicken places in Fleet or Blackwater and there’s certainly one or two in nearby Camberley, but nothing much). Nearest mosques are in Camberley, Aldershot or Basingstoke, all out of district. At least Rushmoor, its firmly military Hampshire neighbour, has a large Nepalese community as a result of the government allowing Gurkhas to settle here. Not to say the people in Hart are rabid racists, but if you’re looking for culture, cuisine and people like you and you’re not white, you might not find it as pleasant to live in as if you were. And as a Twitter friend remarked, “middle-class places can be suffocating to live in, especially if you can’t conform to expectations”.

A few months ago the BBC published a survey of the supposed “best places to be a woman” and the top 10 was also dominated by affluent, mostly white non-urban districts and unitary authorities: West Oxfordshire, West Berkshire, Winchester, Mid Sussex and the bottom ten including four inner London boroughs and various old industrial towns in the North and Midlands, although Boston, an isolated rural district in Lincolnshire, came fourth worst. The London boroughs ranked low because of expensive housing and because — despite high average female earnings — they had a high gender pay gap. Despite both surveys finding that affluent areas were both the best place to live in general and the best place to be a woman, different areas topped the two; Hart came only only 110th for women, while Rutland (3rd place in the Halifax study) was only 144th in general (Orkney, 2nd in the general study, was 13th for women). Of the top 10 in the Halifax survey, only Winchester (5th place) was of similar rank in the BBC women’s survey (6th place); Waverley in Surrey (an affluent district that includes Cranleigh, Haslemere, Godalming and Farnham) is 7th in the general study and 11th in the women’s study. Fifteen of Halifax’s top 50 districts are in Yorkshire; none of the top 50 for women are in that region and only three are in northern England at all. Finally, Westminster and City of London rank 13th and 18th respectively in the general study but 8th and 7th from bottom (of 380 districts) in the women’s study.

It makes little sense to conduct surveys into the “best places to live” if they always show that the best places are the most affluent and often the least diverse. High average earnings do not reflect any achievement on a community’s part; they reflect the fact that the area has high house prices and the less well-off cannot afford to live there (even where high earnings appear in the same district as lower house prices, this could just mean that there is a deprived area in the district which drags the average down while the high prices remain in the areas with desirable properties). It would be more useful to compare like with like; similar-sized towns and cities, rural districts, those with similar demographics, university towns and cities and so on. Some affluent semi-rural districts have next to no public transport — buses that run once or twice a week or not at all — and for anyone who cannot afford a car or who for medical reasons cannot drive, these are not going to be good places to live regardless of any low gender pay gap or crime rates.

The biggest problem with both of these studies is that they take no account of diversity whatever. Nothing that could mostly be of interest to poor, disabled or minority ethnic people is considered. In the case of the women’s study, even its specificity to women is limited; the safety criterion is based on crime rates but not such things as sexual assault rates or the clean-up rate thereof; the education section is not broken down by gender (such matters as qualifications achieved by girls or the presence of all-girls’ schools). “Culture” is measured by visits to libraries, the cinema, arts exhibitions and museums, all well and good, but there is no measuring exposure to culture that is not white and western. If your idea of a good place to live involves ready access to diverse cuisines and a place of worship that is not a church, none of the supposed “best places to live” will appeal.

Why do we need a study on the best place to be average? That’s all these studies tell us.

Image source: Wikipedia, sourced from BabelStone. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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Finsbury Park van attack: why an imam saved a terror suspect

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 December, 2017 - 18:59

Mohammed Mahmoud made headlines when he stood guard over a suspect after a van was driven into Muslims on the street. He talks about the aftermath of that night and his problem with being called a hero

On a humid evening in June, Mohammed Mahmoud, the 31-year-old imam of the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, north London, finished tarawih, the evening prayer performed during Ramadan. It was nearly midnight when he returned to his first-floor office. “I hadn’t made the tea yet when one of the congregation came up and told me there had been an attack.” Mahmoud hurried downstairs and on to Seven Sisters Road, where he thought there had been a stabbing. A hundred yards outside the entrance, he saw a white van had mounted the pavement. “There were bodies scattered around and two people were stuck under the van.”

Darren Osborne, a 47-year-old father of four, is alleged to have hired the vehicle in Cardiff and driven it to London. In the tragedy that unfolded, one person died and 10 were injured. Osborne is yet to stand trial.

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Twitter suspends Britain First leaders as it enforces new anti-abuse rules

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 December, 2017 - 16:56

Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding suspended as social media platform takes steps to protect those targeted by abuse

Twitter has suspended the accounts of the leader and deputy leader of Britain First, the far-right group recently retweeted by Donald Trump, under the terms of its revised anti-abuse rules.

Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen’s accounts were unavailable on Monday afternoon hours after the social network’s new rules came into effect. The organisation’s main account was also suspended.

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Otto Frank and the editing of Anne Frank’s diary

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 December, 2017 - 11:32

A picture of a young Anne Frank sitting at an old-fashioned desk with an inkwellAn online women’s publication called “The Establishment” last year published an article attacking the editing of Anne Frank’s diary by her father, Otto Frank, for publication in the 1940s after the death of the author and several members of their family in the Nazi concentration camps. The article by one Stephanie Watson (of whom they give no biographical details) was written more than a year ago (November 2016) but the magazine has been re-publicising it on Twitter and has attracted a lot of quite justifiable criticism that it is offensive and in effect anti-Semitic. The final published work combined material from two versions Anne Frank wrote, one of them a personal diary and one of them a novelised version of the same that was intended for publication; the bits that were edited out consisted of unflattering remarks about her parents and comments on sexuality, menstruation and her own vulva. Watson considers the removal of this material ‘sexist’ and an invasion of Anne Frank’s privacy and says she turned off the audiobook version of the diary, read by Helena Bonham-Carter, before she had even heard the whole of the preface!

Watson gives a few examples of what was edited out, before complaining:

I already worried that heavy editing of Anne’s diary was disrespectful to her memory. But seeing the content of the changes, it seemed that the edits were also an act of misogyny. The redacted sections dealt with love, sex, and body changes, all topics that women were discouraged from talking about in the 1940s and are still discouraged from talking about today. If Anne had been a boy, would the publication house have deleted sections on discovering his body? On his thoughts about a girl? Would his thoughts about his parents be written off as just a “boy being a boy”?

There are many good reasons why this material was edited out of a book that was published in the 1940s with a view to children reading it. In the 1940s, published literature was heavily censored; I am not sure what the situation was in the Netherlands but in the UK writing on sexuality was particularly restricted and, for example, swearing was not allowed, nor even the impression thereof. The Netherlands was a quite conservative country then, heavily divided along religous (Catholic/Protestant) lines. It was not the aggressively liberal country we know today. As to the question of whether similar material by a boy on discovering one’s body would have been edited out, the answer would surely be ‘yes’ — boys certainly were not encouraged to openly talk about their private parts or about erections or nocturnal emissions in public in the 1980s, let alone the 1940s; it’s a ludicrous complaint.

Advertisement from ActionAid featuring a young African girl with the words 'She's lost her home, she's lost her family; will you help her keep her dignity?'And yes, some of the girls reading the book will be going through the same process as Anne Frank was at the time of writing, but should any girl need Anne Frank to tell her about periods or about the fact that she doesn’t urinate through her clitoris (a common enough misconception), or for that matter should a boy need to learn about girls’ bodies or their feelings about them from a diary written in the 1940s? Should any teenager learn these things when learning about the Nazis or Holocaust? Surely not. There are better books (fiction and non-fiction) that teach these things, although with a slightly older audience it could be appropriate, particularly given increased awareness of such things as the needs of women refugees (see advert on left and this related articlefor example). And her complaints about her parents were quite appropriately edited out as they were published at a time when some of the people featured were still living, and some were dead. Of course Otto Frank would not have wanted disparaging material about his wife, who had died only a few years earlier in Auschwitz while his two daughters (Anne and Margot) died from typhus in Bergen-Belsen, in the public domain, and one suspects that had Anne survived but her mother Edith had not, she might well have made similar decisions. The circumstances of publication were different from those of the book’s writing.

The fact that Anne Frank was only in her early teens when she wrote the diary also justifies a certain amount of adult editing. Many of us wrote diaries at that age which we would not like to see revealed to our families, much less anyone else, as adults. A lot of us wrote diaries after being inspired by Frank, or the Adrian Mole books (whose content on sex and sexuality was much less explicit than what was edited out of Anne Frank’s diary), The Color Purple or (in my case) Helen Cresswell’s book Dear Shrink (a book about a boy in care in the 1980s) but we didn’t keep them up for long and didn’t share them (or tried to avoid doing so). A lot of people write blogs, both as teens and as adults, and later delete them. Even diaries written by adults cannot always be published immediately as they contain sensitive material about people who are still alive; the novelist Margaret Forster wrote a diary which she kept secret, but her husband Hunter Davies, the journalist, has secreted them in the British Library with a 10-year embargo as mentioned in yesterday’s Guardian:

/> The precise contents are rather too interesting: her thoughts on her children, her husband, her relations, her health, her work and her experience as a Booker-prize judge contain “disobliging remarks about famous people”.

Forster’s schoolgirl diaries have been published, however.

The cover of a book, reading 'The Diary of Anne Frank [picture of author] The Critical Edition, prepared by the Netherlands State Institution for War DocumentationWatson says she consulted with various Jewish writers about the censorship of the original Frank diaries and one of them said that the diary is too important as a record of Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation and Holocaust to just not read. She suggests, however, that what should be taught is the Critical Edition, which consists of a “comparison” of the three editions of the diary as well as some other written material by Frank. However, this version is out of print; the original “Critical Edition” starts at £50 each on Amazon and the more recent “revised Critical Edition” starts at £190. I agree that it’s quite right that the full version was published after Otto Frank’s death, but this still does not make it appropriate to teach this version to children as the material edited out is not relevant to the reason children should read it.

As Louise Pennington (from whose Twitter feed I was alerted to this article) commented, “combatting antisemitism is more important than having tantrums about a grieving father editing his daughter’s diary” (her thread starts here and ends here and I recommend reading all of it). Books like this are important for educating young people about the dangers of racial and religious prejudice and the consequences it can have; children do not need to know intimate details about Anne Frank’s developing body to appreciate this. There was nothing misogynist about editing these things out of the original publication; the decision guarded several women’s privacy when they had not long died in the concentration camps and some of their friends and relations were still alive. It was quite appropriate in a much more conservative time than today.

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How Labour’s researchers passed up a chance to expose Tory racism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 December, 2017 - 17:38

A Liberal Democrat election poster that reads 'We propose putting patients first; we oppose putting targets first' above a Tory poster that reads 'Imagine 5 more years of it' above a newspaper clipping with the headline 'Council tax bills skyrocket'Yesterday Theo Bertram, a former advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, posted a tweet thread (starts here, ends here) on his work as part of Labour’s research team during the 2005 general election (the one that featured Tory slogans such as “how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?” and “it’s not racist to support limits on immigration” with the strap line “are you thinking what we’re thinking?”. Labour won a Parliamentary majority albeit with a share of the vote of just 35.2% — far less than some parties have lost elections with (for example, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gained 40% of the vote in this past election but still lost). The Tories under Michael Howard appealed to their Daily Mail-reading base, as they had in 2001 but with even more nastiness, and still lost, their anti-immigration stance being exposed when it was revealed that Michael Howard’s dad was an illegal immigrant from Romania, saved from deportation (and likely later death in the Nazi concentration camps) by the intervention of a Labour MP.

Theo Bertram’s team used to send its members into functions run by Tories and Tory-associated pressure and fringe groups to record politicians saying something potentially incriminating; they recorded Liam Fox boasting to a Tory think-tank about Tory plans to cut public services and another shadow cabinet member saying something “so explosive it caused Michael Howard to fire [them] in the middle of the election campaign”. But one tape they decided to sit on: a Tory making racist remarks which, they say, would have exposed their pretence that their anti-immigration stance was “not racist” as a sham. They called the idea of releasing that tape “the nuclear option”, and they never did because the remarks were unpresentative of “most Tories and their leadership” and would have made the whole campaign about “one thing: race”. The tape, he said, would almost certainly be gone now, and he does not name the individual, so we do no know whether they are still alive or dead, or male or female, or what.

To start with, pardon me for not being especially convinced that the racist remarks were not typical of the Tory party. If someone like this was in a senior enough position that if his remarks would have changed the course of the election if exposed, it’s likely that at least some of his colleagues knew of and didn’t especially disapprove, especially if they were made to a meeting of a think-tank. The Tories have generally been against open racism and displays of it (e.g. that of Enoch Powell) end careers, but pandering to those who resent seeing “too many” brown faces in their home town and can couch their racism in less vulgar terms than the N-word has never been beneath them. That every kind of bigotry that doesn’t involve “nasty words” is a stock in trade of most Tory mid- and low-market newspapers is no secret, and the internal racism at others (the policy of not carrying positive human interest stories about non-white people, or as they say, those “of the dusky hue”, for example) is also nowadays known about. Why must we automatically assume that when the mask slips, it must not be representative?

Labour’s fortunes were, at the time, on the wane. They were bitterly unpopular among many left-leaning and ethnic minority voters because of the Iraq war and policies hostile to civil liberties. Some people allowed themselves to imagine that “decent Tories” would be preferable to Labour on these grounds and even the Liberal Democrats proved themselves to be no friend of poor or disabled people, or public services, when in coalition with the Tories. If the team did not want to just release the tape on its own, it could have been passed to people who could have investigated the matter further and come up with a more complete picture. To just sit on it was to run the risk of a wafer-thin majority turning into a loss; to release it could have turned it into a respectable majority and perhaps also influenced the 2010 result in Labour’s favour as well. It would, at the very least, have made sure the person involved never held high office ever again.

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Canada's spy agency settles lawsuit over alleged racist and homophobic bullying

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2017 - 17:42

Details of the settlement were kept confidential after five employees claimed ‘discriminatory behavior has become the accepted culture’ at the agency

Canada’s spy service has settled a C$35m lawsuit launched by five employees who alleged they suffered years of bullying in a workplace rife with racism, homophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The allegations against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, documented in a statement of claim filed in July in Federal Court, offered a view into one of the country’s most secretive organisations.

Related: Canada spy service workers sue agency over alleged racist, sexist bullying

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Far right to gather in Prague amid fears of rising Czech populism

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2017 - 12:10

France’s Marine Le Pen among guests at conference likely to be met with protests as rightwing sentiment in country grows

European far-right leaders including Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders will gather in Prague this weekend for a controversial conference likely to be met with protests from groups fearful that xenophobic populism is on the rise in the Czech Republic.

The meeting of the rightwing Europe of Nations and Freedom group in the European parliament is being hosted by the anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD), which emerged as a force in Czech politics after winning nearly 11% of the vote in a parliamentary election in October.

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