Olympic Park: a sea of ugly

Yesterday I decided to have a walk through the Olympic Park, which opened a couple of weeks ago after having been closed since the end of the Olympics in 2012. I was excited that a new, large park had opened up in an inner area of London, but was hugely disappointed by what I saw. The park is scrappy, still full of building sites, and has too much concrete.

You reach the park by taking the train to Stratford and walking through a bit of the Westfield shopping complex. It’s then quite a long walk along a wide concrete pathway to the (still closed) athletics track. The Orbit “sculpture” is on the left, and a fairground helter-skelter is on the right, as if to invite comparisons with the hugely overblown, shapeless structure which appears to serve as an advertisement for a big Indian steel company. The London Aquatics Centre is also on the left as you walk into the park, and is now a public swimming pool (there is a viewing lobby off the entrance walkway, but you can only see the far end of the pool).

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Hunt opposes segregation (when it’s Muslims doing it)

Front page of the Birmingham Mail, showing the headline "Jihadist plot to take over city schools"BBC News - Hunt to warn against schools extremism in Birmingham

At a time when a “secret” report about a Muslim plot to take over schools in Birmingham and run them according to Islamic principles is looking increasingly like a hoax, Tristram Hunt, Labour shadow education secretary, shows up in Birmingham to “warn against religious extremism in schools” at the NASUWT (National Union of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers) conference:

Mr Hunt, addressing the teachers’ union conference in Birmingham, will say that he does not want a French-style separation of religion from schools.

But he will respond to what he describes as “allegations of infiltration, intimidation and the pursuit of a divisive religious extremism through systems of school governorship”.

Mr Hunt is expected to say: “We need to be clear about the duties which a state-funded school is expected to fulfil.

“We cannot have narrow, religious motives - which seek to divide and isolate - dictating state schooling.

“We cannot have head teachers forced out; teachers undermined; curricula re-written; and cultural or gender-based segregation.”

Has he not forgotten that a large proportion of British state schools are single-sex, and the majority of élite private schools, including his own school, University College School in Hampstead? Has he not forgotten that a large proportion of white, middle-class families prefer single-sex schools for their daughters, as they find that girls get less teacher-time as teachers tailor their lessons to keep the attention of boys, or rather certain groups of them, and that girls are subject to sexual harassment on school grounds? Has he not forgotten that a large proportion are run by either the Church of England or the Catholic church, and these schools have the right to discriminate in favour of children of church-going parents and to teach their religious doctrines as fact?

Does Hunt plan to force segregated schools in white-majority, affluent areas to integrate, or is this only a bad thing when it’s Muslims doing it? Shame on him and his party for using unproven and probably false conspiracy accusations as fodder for a political speech, and shame on NASUWT for allowing this. Perhaps they should change the “Women” part in their name to “White” to show they are open to race-baiting and communal trouble-making.

Image: Islamophobia Watch.

What kind of country are we?

Last week the campaign to stop a 19-year-old A-level student from Mauritius, Yashika Bageerathi, from being deported reached a climax. Yashika and her family (her parents and two younger siblings) came to the UK and claimed asylum on the grounds that their lives were threatened by an abusive relative back home, but as Yashika has become an adult, her case is being considered separately from theirs, although their claims have all been turned down. Yashika was detained when her family reported to the Home Office on 19th March, as asylum seekers are required to do on a regular basis, and was expected to be deported last Tuesday, but it appears that British Airways refused to take her. Today, another deportation date (again, alone) was abandoned, for reasons unknown (perhaps because there is a court action to prevent her deportation, perhaps because Air Mauritius also refused to carry her). The campaign has strong local support, including the support of the headteacher from her school in Enfield, and a petition in her support has gained, as of this writing, 166,330 supporters.

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Muslim “has job” shock

Harry’s Place, a malicious website which is devoted to exposing Muslims as extremists wherever they appear to have influence, today exposed the fact that a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir works as … a psychiatrist. Someone going by the name “Sparkbrook Citizen” writes:

Imagine if you or your loved ones were suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental health related issue and, after seeking professional help, you were to be assessed and cared for by a healthcare professional. After being given advice and care by this individual imagine you learnt that they were a member of a far-right extremist group that hates your ethnic group, despises your values and actively works to destroy the foundations of the society you and your loved ones live in. This individual, outside of work hours, actively promotes hatred, sexism, homophobia and discrimination whilst supporting appalling human rights abuses against people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

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Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry: Will they tackle learning disability abuse?

Picture of James DaviesThis morning, I saw on the Facebook group for Invest in ME a link to an article on the Mad in America website announcing the launch of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry (CEP), which is to take place at the Houses of Parliament (they don’t say which house; perhaps that will be supplied to people who attend) on 30th April. Their website seems to concentrate largely on the use of drugs in psychiatry, and includes a number of stories of people’s recovery from dependency on benzodiazepines (benzos), antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. The CEP was founded by James Davies, PhD, a psychotherapist and lecturer in social anthropology and psychotherapy at Roehampton, and the author of Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good. The launch is to feature Dr Joanna Moncrieff, a UCL psychiatrist, and Prof Peter Gotzsche of the Cochrane Collaboration, which analyses the results of drug trials. (The organisation is on Facebook and Twitter.)

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Start of 107 days for LB

Black and white picture of Connor Sparrowhawk, a young white man with dark, tousled hair with a T-shirt with four cartoon figures on it. He has a wide smile on his face.This is the anniversary of Connor Sparrowhawk going into the Slade House learning disability unit in Oxford, where he died 107 days later, in the bath, as a result of staff negligence. His supporters have organised a 107-day campaign of action for him, and Mark Neary has started a blog of 107 days of stories about his own son, Steven, when he was being held in a residential unit in 2010. I don’t have the time to blog every day for 107 days on this or any other subject, but I am going to offer a few thoughts here, in light of this and of recent media appearances by Sara Ryan (his mother) and the NHS trust involved, Southern Health. (I’ve written two entries about this subject recently. here and here.)

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When will Google fix the Chrome wi-fi bug?

I’ve been using Linux on the desktop (and laptop) since about 2003, and I’ve seen it progress from being something that didn’t work with most of the hardware I had access to (including the modem on my first laptop) to something that works without incident with most of what I use (although wi-fi is the most likely to be a problem, still). When I first used it, font rendering was its biggest drawback; these days, it has the best of any major operating system including Mac OS X (on which text looks dreadful on non-Apple monitors, including mine). Recently, a bug has appeared in Chrome, which will soon become the only show in town as far as general-purpose Linux web browsers are concerned (when Adobe stops supporting Flash on Linux except through Chrome) which makes it unusable on wi-fi: that it just stops loading anything.

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Katherine Bowes-Lyon’s death prompts outpouring of sycophancy

Picture of an old woman with curled hair, wearing an unidentifable dark garment with her arms crossed against her chestYesterday I read on the Telegraph’s website that Katherine Bowes-Lyon, a cousin of the Queen who was severely mentally disabled and had lived in an institution most of her life, had died aged 87. Her sister Nerissa, who had a similar disability and life history, died in 1986. The story was first revealed to the public in the late 1980s and Channel 4 ran a programme on them in 2011 (reviewed here), which also served as a study on attitudes to people with such disabilities in the early to mid 20th century and on the way conditions for them have changed over the years, which was panned in the media as giving no new information on the Bowes-Lyon sisters than was revealed in the 1980s. The Telegraph’s coverage was shocking, however; it claimed that she and her sister had been subject to “crass intrusion” and called her death “peace at last” in their headline. She was buried in a “private family funeral” and her death, on 23rd February, has only now been announced “because of the sensitivities involved”.

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What would Justice for LB look like?

This past week, since the publication of the report into the preventable death of Connor Sparrowhawk in a learning disability mental health unit in Oxford last July, my timeline has been buzzing with reactions to it — different blog articles (including mine) as well as criticism of the response from Southern Health and its leadership, the state of care for this group of people, not just in the Southern Health area, and of the more general attitudes of people, particularly the medical profession, towards people with learning disabilities and autism in particular. People have asked the question of “what would justice for LB look like”, and in this entry I intend to make a few suggestions.

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“Vote Red or get Blue” doesn’t work everywhere

“Want the Tories out next year? Only one way to do it” from Ron’s Rants

Ron Graves explains in the post above that if you want to get rid of the Tories in 2015, the only way to do it is to vote Labour, and not to “protest” by not voting, spoiling the paper or voting for a candidate that doesn’t have a chance of winning. While I agree that the best we can hope for in 2015 is a Labour government, unless you live in Scotland where the independence referendum gives other options, voting Labour will not get rid of the Tories in many constituencies - in fact, it may make a Tory win more likely.

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Sarah Vibert and her daughters: reunite them!

Picture of a white woman in a wheelchair, with two young girls facing herThis morning I read a news report and a blog about a single mother who is fighting to keep her two daughters out of the foster care system in Alberta, and find them a home after a temporary arrangement broke down. Sarah Vibert, who lives in Edmonton, has multiple sclerosis and in 2009 suffered a non-traumatic spinal-cord injury that left most of her body paralysed; she has only the limited use of one arm. She is currently in full-time nursing home care and her husband is out of the country and does not contribute maintenance. The girls are eight and nine, and Sarah home-schools them in her care home during the day, but they live with family friends, but those friends can no longer look after them because of family problems of their own. She explains the situation more fully in this blog entry (and the blog has more recent updates, though not “forever family found” as yet).

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Four years too short for “one-punch” killing

Front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper, showing the paper's logo in white on a red background in the top left, showing a black man punching a white man in the face with the caption "1 Punch, 1 Life, Just 4 Years Jail"It’s been reported recently that a man who killed a man with one punch on a street in Bournemouth has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison (see also today’s Daily Mirror), which means he will likely be released in half that time. Lewis Gill punched Andrew Young in the face after the latter had argued with Gill’s friend, Victor Ibitoye, over cycling on the pavement; he fell back and hit his head on the road, and died the next day in hospital. Gill claimed that Young had made a racist remark (Young is white, Gill and Ibitoye are black) and that he felt “threatened” as Young put his hand in his pocket, assuming that he intended to draw a weapon. He was given two additional three-month terms because he offended while on a suspended sentence for robbery and handling stolen goods. The Attorney General is considering reviewing the sentence. (The Mirror’s story also has CCTV footage of the attack.)

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“Royal housing benefit” story is irresponsible

A front page from the Daily Mirror yesterday, with the paper's name in white on a red background in the top left corner. The lead story reads "The Queen & Charles cash in on benefits: Councils paying thousands to Royal Family for rent of hard-up tenants".The Queen and Prince Charles cash in on tens of thousands of pounds' worth of benefits every year - Mirror Online

The Daily Mirror yesterday ran with a story about how the royal estates, mostly owned by Prince Charles and the Queen, are raking in tens or hundreds of thousands from housing benefits every year — according to them the Duchy of Cornwall (Prince Charles’s estate) was paid “at least £111,000 from a string of councils providing cash to households”, while the Crown Estate received “at least £38,539” from just one council last year, and those figures do not include money paid first to the tenant. The sums, of course, are trivial, both for the royals mentioned and even for the councils, let alone the national budget. The Daily Mirror probably thought they were following an angle of “the rich are the real scroungers” in this, but they are wrong.

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“Let it not be about lessons learned”

Black and white picture of a young white man with a straw hat on and rolled-up shirt sleeves, holidng an ice-cream cone in his hand, standing in front of a timber-framed building.Today the report into the death (PDF) of Connor Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old who drowned in an NHS learning disability unit in Oxford last July (see earlier entry), was published. That it was published was thanks to a long campaign by his mother, which faced much opposition from the NHS trust involved, which made such excuses as protecting their staff, and faced a last-minute obstacle when police delayed publication so as to consider a criminal prosecution. His death was the result of epilepsy, and he had been left in the bath with observation at 15-minute intervals, which is nowhere close to adequate when supervising someone with epilepsy in the bath. The report also exposes some of the inadequacies of Connor’s care at the unit, which was obviously ill-prepared to care for him and two of whose senior staff believed he should not have been there in the first place. (See also the Southern Health NHS trust’s statement and the family’s solicitor’s report. More: George Julian, Funky Mango’s Musings, Rich West, The Small Places, Mark Neary, FibroGirl, People First England, Making It Up, A Bit Missing, Julie’s Mum.)

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“Awaiting final written permission” (updated)

Update 5:43pm: The report is out. My response is scheduled for publication at 6:30pm GMT.

Southern Health: report publication update

Southern Health, the NHS trust responsible for the death of Connor Sparrowhawk in one of its units in Oxford last July, published this statement on its website this morning:

We are aware that many people are awaiting the publication of a report into the tragic death of a person whilst in our care. 

We are awaiting final written permission to publish this independent report.

As soon as we have this permission, we will publish the report on the front page of this website and share via twitter. 

We are doing all we can so this happens today. If we are unable to publish the report we will release a full statement later today.

The question remains as to whom they are awaiting this “permission” from, because they promised Connor’s mother last Friday that it would appear today. At which point did they realise that they would need anyone else’s permission?

It looks like yet another delaying tactic, and the family have been put through enough trauma by this shabby organisation. At every stage, paper seems to count for more than people - it was noted during the inspection of the unit where Connor died that four out of five staff were attending to administration rather than to residents.

Publish it now.

Update 4:45pm: This from Connor’s mother:

A plug for QTM

You probably know by now that (like most blogs) this blog uses WordPress. What’s less obvious is the software I normally use to write entries, and that’s because I write it myself and rarely mention it on here, but with the last couple of releases managed to get one out that fix some long-standing, irritating bugs that anyone using it would quickly run into, so I thought I’d mention it on the blog I write that most people read. The software is called QTM, and runs on all the major desktop platforms — Windows, the Mac and Linux, and that’s because it’s based on Qt, which (in theory) lets you write an app once and then run it on several different operating systems (not just the three mentioned, although they are the most common). In practice it’s a bit more complicated if you want the program to look good on all those platforms, but it will work.

QTM mainly supports WordPress these days, but also supports Movable Type as that’s what it was originally written for (not Blogger or LiveJournal). It lets you compose and format entries, save them and post them to your blog. It also lets you compose based on an existing story or blog post (similar to “Press This” on WordPress and “Quickpost” on Movable Type) and use templates to pre-format these posts. It supports Markdown on Mac and Linux (on Windows you will need to install Perl, since that’s what Markdown is written in). It doesn’t let you manage existing blog posts, as yet.

QTM’s web page is here and you can find a Windows installer and a Mac disk image there; I have also set up download repositories for the Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora Linux distributions. If you need help setting it up, let me know (easier set-up is probably the next thing on the list of things to do).

Rise in teens admitted to adult psych wards

A still from a TV programme showing a teenage girl wearing a pink cardigan and light blue jeans, sitting with her knees up and her arms wrapped around them, her face obscured.It was reported today that there has been a rise in the number of teenagers under 18 admitted to adult psychiatric wards, and that these were sometimes hundreds of miles from home and often proved to be highly unsuitable places for them. The BBC reported this here and there is a video clip of a young girl recounting her experience of being sent away (the other reports at present are just wire copy rewrites.) I have seen other reports of this sort of thing happening because of local inpatient facilities closing, notably this disturbing report of a young girl from Hull with Asperger’s syndrome who had been raped, who was sent to a secure unit in Cheshire after her local unit was closed to inpatients and there were no beds on other units in Yorkshire.

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CyModding your LG G-Pad

Picture of someone holding an LG G-Pad 8.3 in their hand, with a green and red background and a number of app icons on the screenSo, last week I got my replacement for my iPad, which I was dissatisfied with because of the completely inadequate Apple keypad (see earlier entry). I looked for a similar size Android tablet, because I did quite like the increased size of the iPad and my Nexus 7 was a bit long in the tooth. It seemed like the only Android tablet of similar size and with a decent screen resolution was the LG G-Pad 8.3, also known as the v500, which normally retails for around £250. However, I managed to get a last-minute discount as Amazon reduced its price to £200 just as mine was about to dispatch (if they’d dispatched a couple of hours earlier, they would have been £50 up) and they are still selling it for that price (make sure you get Amazon’s own deal, not the higher-priced one from LambdaTek). A major factor in my decision was that a version of CyanogenMod is available for this tablet, whose own OS is still two minor versions of Android behind (4.2 rather than 4.4). However, installing it on this tablet is much more involved than installing one on a Nexus, and somewhat riskier.

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The hidden costs of private schooling

I’ve just had my second letter in about a month published in the New Statesman, a British left-of-centre political magazine, this time on the subject of private education,  which they ran an extensive feature on two weeks ago and which continues to dominate their letters page. Last week they published a review of a BBC4 programme, These Four Walls, which featured several families as they struggled to make ends meet. One of them was a mother and daughter (we did not learn who or where the father was), the daughter having dreamed of attending the local private grammar school in Leeds. She sat the entrance exam and was awarded a full bursary, but her mother still had to meet the cost of the school’s uniform and a special bus pass, which came to £2,000, which she did by selling family heirlooms and borrowing from a loan shark. Sadly, and predictably, she left after a short time, despite achieving full marks, because the school (or other pupils) “made her feel like an outsider”.

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The dangers of racism in the anti-FGM crusade

Picture of a girl with her mouth open, apparently gasping in pain, with her legs spread (although only one of them is visible), with one woman on each side of her.The Thursday before last was apparently “Zero Tolerance of FGM day”, accompanied by widespread media coverage of various campaigns against it, a petition which apparently gained two signatures per second, interviews with anti-FGM campaigners and various editorials, particularly in the Guardian. In some of these editorials, the authors gave free rein to prejudices that liberals normally manage to keep hidden, and fail to consider whether some of the potential cures aren’t worse than the disease. As is so often the case, the white liberal gets angry when others don’t respond to appeals to become “civilised”.

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