Another FGM wild goose chase

A picture of a youngish South Asian man with a short beard and moustache wearing a blue shirt with no tie and a dark jacket over it, sitting at an outdoor table under a black umbrella holding a small cup of an identifiable drink in his hand, with a saucer underneath it.Yesterday a Somali man living with his family in Bristol was cleared on the judge’s direction of a child cruelty charge, brought as a result of his supposedly telling a passenger in his taxi that he had allowed his daughter to undergo a form of female genital mutilation (FGM). The passenger, Sami Ullah (right), was an activist with Integrate UK, formerly known as Integrate Bristol, and as a result of his information, two separate examinations were carried out on the girl in question (aged 6) and one on her two younger sisters, the first suggesting that some injury might have been inflicted on her but the second finding nothing. The man swore his accuser was lying and that he would not discuss his private life with strangers, and also that he did not want his daughter to suffer the health problems associated with FGM. This is only the third prosecution of anyone for FGM-related offences in this country and the third acquittal. A detailed report of the case can be found here.

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Swype dies unnoticed

Swype, for a long time my favourite keypad to use on Android phones which I first encountered on my Samsung Galaxy S back in 2011, has been killed off after years of slow development by Nuance, who bought it out in 2012. The announcement was made at the start of this month but has only just been picked up by the tech media which some might say demonstrates why its owner felt the need to discontinue it. Swype was the original keypad that let you trace words by moving your finger from letter to letter without removing it from the screen; other keypads just predicted words as you tapped on letters (you might recall that iOS lacked even this until version 8). Nuance is best-known for its Dragon dictation and voice-control software (widely used by quadriplegics who cannot use their hands to control their computers) and a version of this was included with Swype which for a while was branded “Swype + Dragon”. However, Nuance was a relative minnow once SwiftKey, its major competition among ‘independent’ Android keypads, was acquired by Microsoft, Google improved its own keypad and both were offered for free on the app stores.

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Review: Dispatches, “Inside the Priory”

Picture of Amy el-Keria, a young white girl with dark hair brushed across her forehead, wearing a maroon T-shirt with a dark blue apron over it, holding a plate of unidentifable food in both hands.This documentary on Channel 4 last night (19th Feb) exposed abusive practices, short staff, over-reliance on temporary staff (including the undercover reporter for this programme) and poor safety at a hospital unit, The Dene near Burgess Hill, Sussex, run by a company called Partnerships in Care which was taken over by the Priory Group in 2014. As it happens, many of us know of abusive practices in both pre-merger Priory and PIC units going back years, and had been waiting for a programme like this to be shown; it was a bitter disappointment, as it only focussed on one unit rather than a selection, and was too short at 25 minutes — when it finished, my thought was “is that it?” because Dispatches was always an hour-long investigative programme and there was so much more to expose than what was shown, which was bad enough but not the most egregious abuse I have heard of from both former patients and their families over the past few years. (Available on the Channel 4 website in the UK for the next 29 days.)

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Let’s investigate “death threats”

A small bottle of a red ink-like substance with a skull symbol on the side of the bottle. In the background is an old-style fountain pen and an inkwell.So, in the wake of Mary Beard’s ill-considered (patrician, soft-racist) tweet last week about how she wouldn’t go out to a disaster zone and do what those brave Oxfam staff (accused of sexually exploiting local girls) did, the usual accusations have been made by various journalists, political and media groupies and various other well-placed individuals, that Prof Beard has been “bullied” off Twitter by mobs of one sort of another. Beard may well have taken her Twitter account offline for a while, but I witnessed a lot of the reaction to her original tweet and it was roundly critical of her and much of it linked her attitude to her race and class, but a lot of that aimed at a public figure hardly counts as bullying. Ava Vidal, the comedian who has also carried out disaster relief work in Dominica after last year’s hurricane, suggested that “if someone uses their huge platform to make unsubstantiated claims of bullying, and this leads to someone being attacked, that person should be prosecuted”.

I would go a stage further: all accusations of “death threats” or other threats of violence should be investigated by the police. If you go public with such claims, you should have a duty to provide evidence to the authorities; if they are genuine, it is in everyone’s interest for the perpetrators to be found, and if they are not, it is in everyone’s interest for the falsehood to be exposed. In my experience every time there is a campaign of any kind and there is a lot at stake for some people and feelings run high (because there are people with a lot at stake, such as their health or independence, rather than small change), someone makes an accusation of “death threats” and this is used to discredit the whole campaign. I saw it with ME five or six years ago and I’ve seen it with almost every political campaign since the Tories came to power in 2010. It’s always the establishment, and people taking a pro-establishment line, that make these accusations, particularly Tories and the right-wing of the Labour party, and very often a little examination will reveal the claims to be, at the very least, exaggerated. It deflects from the fact that they are the powerful ones and encourages the audience to regard them as people who are being brave in the face of hostility, persecution or threatened violence. It is about time perfectly valid and necessary campaigns stopped being derailed or discredited by claims about what it at most a tiny minority of clowns and often, I suspect, outright fabrications.

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Mary Beard and the defence of low expectations

Two men dispensing rice and curry of some sort out of large tubs into small plastic containers. There is a queue of women in black niqaabs waiting.Earlier today Mary Beard, the Cambridge historian well-known for championing the role of women in academia as well as for her TV series, posted tweet defending aid workers accused of sexual abuse in disaster zones such as Haiti. She said,

Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in to help out, where most of us [would] not tread.

In response to people who criticised that tweet, she elaborated that, for example, “disaster zones are regions that none who have not been there understand” and that “from what I have read it involves the breakdown of fundamental values”. The original tweet and her defence of it was roundly condemned as colonialist and racist, defending white men who “gave into temptation” while stuck in parts of the world most people, including Beard herself, would not venture into, some of which are often given stereotypically as examples of places that are not very civilised at the best of times (for this critique see Anaïs Duong-Pedica and Jude Wanga; Priyamvada Gopal has called it “the progressive end of the institutional culture I have to survive day in day out”). I find the argument objectionable for another reason: it is a very common defence of abuse in institutions and by soldiers, and is no more valid there than here.

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A lesson they’ll never forget

A cover of a book, Collected Poems, by Roger McGough, a drawing of whom -- a white man in his 60s bald in the middle with white hair on the sides, wearing glasses, a blue shirt with no tie and a black jacket, standing against what looks like a kitchen with plants and flowers on the worktopEvery time there’s a mass shooting in the United States, the anti-gun-control lobby insist that the right way to stop such incidents is for there to be more guns rather than less; that the best defence against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If the massacre is at a school, as with yesterday’s atrocity in Florida, the same people will call for teachers to be armed. The fact that no other country in the world has such massacres on a regular basis, and most other developed countries have none at all (or at least one or so every decade or two) does not occur to them. We last had such a massacre here more than 20 years ago, at Dunblane in Scotland, and the result was that the government introduced legislation to ban the keeping of handguns and automatic weapons by private individuals; only single-shot rifles are allowed, and then only by vetted and authorised individuals who need them for a lawful purpose such as hunting. When the founding fathers of the USA passed the Second Amendment, the weapons that they had access to were much less powerful than some of these.

Growing up in the 1980s, a staple of children’s verse that we all read was the work of Roger McGough, a Liverpool poet best known right now for presenting the Radio 4 show Poetry Please. One of the most memorable is called The Lesson, which opens with the caption “this poem raises the question: should there be capital punishment in schools?”. In it a teacher, angered by struggling yet again to make his voice heard above the din of the “nooligans”, uses a sword, a shotgun and his bare hands to slaughter the lot of them. Mid-way through, the headmaster put his head through the doorway and on seeing what was going on, “nodded understandingly, then tossed in a grenade”. Given that state school teachers are not the best-paid profession in most western countries and in some schools have to deal with threatening or abusive situations on a regular basis from children and adolescents that are bigger than them but with whom they are required absolutely never to transgress the limits of reasonable force, as well as having family crises, mental health problems (diagnosed or otherwise) or grudges and embitterments of their own, the chances of a teacher with an automatic weapon perpetrating a McGough-style “Lesson” are probably greater than one becoming the proverbial “good guy with a gun”. And that’s if teachers even want to carry guns into lessons.

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Why Aditya Chakrabortty (may have) called himself Paul

A 'Welcome to Haringey' sign outside a shop on a road in Wood GreenThis morning I saw a Twitter thread (starts here, ends here) from Haringey councillor Joe Goldberg, purporting to expose the middle-classness and inauthenticity of the pro-little-people and anti-establishment stance of the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty, who has been a strong critic of the Labour council’s “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV), which involves selling off whole tracts of public property, including housing and a library, to a private developer which is expected to demolish most of it. This has led to a local revolt with a number of pro-HDV councillors deselected from the forthcoming local election and the (female) council chair resigning, blaming bullying and intimidation. The thread claims that on a previous occasion, Mr Chakrabortty took a similar “David versus Goliath” position on a major redevelopment project, championing the opponents as “David” and conveniently ignoring an ‘elected’ chair of a local residents’ association (I have not investigated this myself so I do not know how representative this “residents’ association” was) which supported the project. The Twitter thread claimed that Chakrabortty claimed to have been brought up in Edmonton, a deprived part of neighbouring Enfield borough, but in fact was brought up in well-heeled Winchmore Hill and went to a grammar school there.

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If you don’t like trucks, don’t buy stuff

A picture of a main road through a village which is not wide enough for two cars to pass or to justify putting a line down the centre. A four-storey red-brick house is to the left of the road with a pharmacy on the ground level. A car is making its way up the road (on the left side) and other cars are parked on the pavements on each side.A member of Kent County Council has called for trucks to be banned from roads in Kent, claiming they cause “more damage than 10,000 cars” driving through his village. Seán Holden, council member for the rural ward of Cranbrook, called for Kent to follow Leicestershire’s example and restrict truck access to roads in Kent, claiming that 87% of the lorry traffic through Kent is not going to Kent:

“When you see a lorry going down the roads, like I do, between Cranbrook and Benenden knocking down the hedges on both sides with its wing mirrors, that’s doing the equivalent to, if you have half a dozen of those down there over a day, around a year’s worth of cars.

“Those roads are not built for that. The potholes, that are the bane of the lives of everybody, costs us millions of pounds.

“This is a direct consequence of heavy vehicles using those roads. I want to see a strategy come into place because people’s lives are being ruined.”

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Zac Goldsmith, an authority on FGM?

Two girls with their faces painted white, both wearing blue caps and a skirt made of strings hanging from the waist over other clothing, take part in a dance.Earlier today, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour featured a 6-minute segment on FGM, tomorrow apparently being “International Zero Tolerance on FGM Day” and who better to invite on than the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FGM, Jess Phillips (Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley) and Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park who was returned to Parliament last year after being unseated when he called a by-election over the expansion of Heathrow airport; many of us associate him with the Islamophobic smear campaign he ran while running for mayor against Sadiq Khan in collusion with the Australian race-baiter Lynton Crosby. You may notice a curious omission: all the three participants were white (the presenter being Jane Garvey) and therefore nobody is from a country where FGM is or has been commonplace. In fact, given that it was Woman’s Hour, you’d think they’d have found a survivor (they’re all women) or at least a woman who works with survivors. But no.

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Review: Silent Witness, “One Day”

A stockily-built white man in a suit walking down a corridor in an institutional building carrying a red folder under his arm, followed by a white woman in a powered wheelchair wearing a grey overcoat and a pair of blue jeans.Silent Witness is a series based on the work of police pathologists: the “witness” refers to the body of a murder victim. It’s been running since 1996 and the stories are always in two parts on two consecutive nights (Monday and Tuesday, currently). It has always prominently featured female characters, notably the star Amanda Burton, who played pathologist Sam Ryan until she left in the 8th series. Early series were set in Cambridge, echoing other British crime dramas that were set in Oxford, but since series four it has been set in London after Ryan relocated to take up an academic position. Since 2013, it has featured the disabled actress (and comedian) Liz Carr as a lab assistant and has been regarded as a model drama in terms of using a disabled actor to play a disabled character without making it all about the disability. Last week, however, the story was about the murder of two women, one of them disabled, and the abuse of elderly and disabled people at two care homes, and her character (Clarissa Mullery) was at the centre of it. (You can watch the two parts here and here for the next five weeks at the time of writing; there is an interview with Liz Carr here.)

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It’s not just the Far Right

Picture of Makram Ali, a 51-year-old South Asian man with a bald head and a white beard, wearing a pale blue shirt.Yesterday (Friday), Darren Osborne, who drove a van into a crowd of Muslims after a night-time prayer (taraweeh) last Ramadan and killed a 51-year-old worshipper, Makram Ali (right), who had collapsed prior to the attack and injured several others, was given a life sentence with a ‘tariff’ or minimum time to be served of 43 years for murder and attempted murder. Osborne was a drifter with a drink problem who had not worked for ten years and had a long history of criminal convictions, including for violence, and developed a hatred of Muslims after watching the BBC drama-documentary Three Girls, about the Rochdale grooming case (in which small groups of mostly Asian Muslim men enticed young girls, mostly white, and then raped them and allowed other men to do the same), and subsequently reading material from the Far Right, including the former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA Tommy Robinson, online. Politicians and the media have been laying a lot of emphasis on the role of the likes of Lennon in ‘radicalising’ Osborne and other violent racists, but are silent about their own role.

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Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, racism and the appeal to authority

A picture of a Black woman wearing a long grey overcoat and a white headscarf walking along a street next to a Black man of similar age wearing an orange shirt with a beige jacket and trousers.Last week the High Court ruled that a doctor whose mistakes contributed to the death of a young boy in 2011 should be erased from the medical register for life. Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba had been convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in December 2015 and given a two-year suspended prison sentence in connection with the death of Jack Adcock, a six-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome who died of sepsis in February 2011 at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. The judgement has provoked outrage in the medical community with very many doctors, especially junior doctors, feeling that the situation Dr Bawa-Garba was in could have happened to any of them and that she is being made an example of rather than her managers, quite possibly for racial reasons. I have also seen some parent-disability activists dismiss them as a bunch of overprivileged crybabies who are simply worried at the possibility of now being accountable after being untouchable. Repeatedly I see some of them tweet reminders that she was found guilty in a court of law and that both a medical tribunal and a high court found against her, while her defenders have only read one side of the story. (More: Confessions of a Junior Doctor.)

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Esther McVey and the Samaritans: a conflict of interest

A picture of Kryten (an android) and Arnold Rimmer sitting in front of some controls on a spaceship, in the BBC comedy Red Dwarf.This week it was revealed that Esther McVey, the new work and pensions secretary (after Justine Greening refused the job) in the Tory government, was on the advisory board of the Samaritans, the charity which runs a helpline to support people contemplating suicide and which campaigns for awareness of the issue. The charity says that the advisory board “provides [them] with informal support, helping [them] increase [their] potential to influence and fundraise” and “has no legal or governance role in Samaritans and elects its own Chair and members”. McVey’s appointment is being criticised because many people blame government welfare policies for the suicides of people affected by them and one person I followed on Twitter said they had done an “awful thing” which led directly to a friend’s suicide. Vox Political compares her to Arnold Rimmer, “the incompetent chicken soup vending machine technician” in the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf who killed most of the crew by exposing them to radiation. Rimmer was a Samaritan for one morning and the five people who contacted him all killed themselves, including one who only called by mistake to find out the cricket scores.

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Who’s behind “Survivors Against Terror”?

A group of people running away from something on a London street at night. There is a man at the front who is running with a pint of beer in his hand.I don’t mean who’s at the front of it: the public faces of it are on their website and include Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, and some survivors of IRA and ISIS/Al-Qa’ida terrorist attacks or their victims’ relatives. The real question is who is funding it, and there is little indication of this on the website or, for that matter, on that of “More In Common”, the think-tank also founded by Brendan Cox which hosts the group’s two published email addresses. Think-tanks and pressure groups are often founded and follow agendas set by public relations companies paid by industry; to take an example, American victims’ rights lobby groups are often funded by the prison industry and lobby for increased minimum sentences, from which the prison industry profits. Think tanks and pressure groups are notorious for being opaque about their funding, while the media interviews their spokesmen as if they spoke for the “grass roots” rather than a corporate funder — Forest, a pro-tobacco lobby group funded by the industry, is often presented as a “smokers’ group” while Migration Watch’s spokesman refused to answer such questions when an interviewer for The Spectator asked why he was interested in the subject of ‘migration’.

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Polygamy and “violent societies”

I saw this video being tweeted out by the Economist, a London-based weekly news magazine, this morning. It posits the idea that polygamy is strongly linked to violence in a society.

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One lesson from Richard Handley’s inquest

Picture of Richard Handley, a young white man with Down's syndrome. He has a short beard and is wearing glasses with thin black rims and standing underneath a free-standing umbrella in a garden; a wooden and a metal chair can be seen behind him.Shitstorm. | Who By Fire

The inquest into the death of Richard Handley (right), who died of faecal impaction in Ipswich in November 2017, is ongoing and is being live-tweeted on the account @HandleyInquest, which I recommend everyone who is interested in the issues surrounding the care and treatment people with learning disabilities get in this country should follow. Richard Handley had Down’s syndrome and Hirchsprung’s syndrome, a disorder of the gut in which part of the bowel lacks motor nerves and has a tendency to narrow, trapping faeces above the point. His condition had been managed both when he lived with his family and later after he was admitted to a respite home and then a care home, but after that was converted (for cost reasons) to a “supported living facility”, the support stopped, the staff stopped managing his condition and his family were not able to. It’s too long a story to retell here so I recommend you read the above entry.

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Charities “refusing” Presidents’ Club donations

A picture of four people sitting around a table at the Dorchester hotel, with a large circle of hanging lights dangling from the ceiling behind them. The people are silhouetted. There is a small candle in the foreground.In light of the revelations about sexual harassment of hostesses at the men-only Presidents’ Club dinner, an annual event for very wealthy men at which expensive prizes (e.g. flash cars, cosmetic surgery, flights in private jets, the chance to name a hospital wing after oneself or characters in a David Walliams book named after their children) are auctioned for charity, which were aired in the Financial Times in a free-to-read article (and aired on BBC’s Newsnight last night) as a result of a sting in which one of the FT’s female reporters worked as a hostess, the BBC reports that a number of charities have refused the donations and two London children’s hospitals have said they will return previous donations from the annual dinner. The guest list included CEOs and owners of big corporations, some sportsmen and some politicians (e.g. Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi, who has been called in by the Tory chief whip to explain himself) and lords. The club has closed down as of this evening.

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Review: Panorama, “White Fright”

A still of a young white couple walking along the road somewhere in Blackburn. Both are wearing blue clothes, the woman in fairly tight blue jeans with a pink scarf round her neck. The man has two tubs of take-away food in his left hand.Last night a 30-minute Panorama programme was shown on BBC1 that looked at Blackburn, a town of about 140,000 in Lancashire (north-western England) where the white British majority live largely separate lives from the mostly Muslim Asian minority and the Asian population is growing and the white population decreasing. Ten years ago they broadcast another programme about so-called “white flight”, then as now appearing to view the Asian population as a “problem” and blaming them for “not integrating”. This time they focussed on pub closures, the expansion of state-funded faith schools and the increase in the numbers of women covering their faces, and show people speculating that in a few years’ time Blackburn will be a mostly Asian town, as if that is a bad thing in a country with dozens of mostly white towns to choose from. (You can watch the programme here for the next 11 months, if you’re in the UK; the original is on YouTube in three parts: [1], [2], [3].)

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It was the Muslims

Three girls aged about 10 or perhaps less, jumping over a skipping rope. All are of South Asian appearance, wearing a blue school uniform jumper with black or blue trousers. The girl on the left has a black and white patterned wrap-around hijab; the girl on the right has a pink wrap-around hijab, while the girl in the middle is not wearing one. A brick wall with an orange hoop painted on it is behind themSo, last Friday the school in Newham, a borough in east London with a large Asian and Somali Muslim presence, which had introduced a ban on girls under age 8 wearing the hijab or fasting during Ramadan at school, backed down and the chair of governors, Arif Qawi, resigned (the headteacher, Neena Lall, remains in place at present). This followed a high-profile social media campaign to pressure the school to back down on the policy and a petition (to the local MP, Lyn Brown) posted by local activist and student Hafsah Dabiri which received 19,723 signatures, as well as some investigative work which revealed that Arif Qawi had made some derogatory remarks about local parents and imams in an email that he accidentally copied to one of the imams in question (all his social media posts have been removed or made private, but screenshots were posted on Twitter and elsewhere). This was the latest bit of mischief-making the Sunday Times had been involved in with Muslims in east London, having published the intrusive but false story about the Muslim foster carer not letting a child eat pork under her roof last August (people are claiming the paper “sullied itself” with its “embarrassing” story about a supposed Momentum plot to oust sitting Labour MPs on today’s front page, but it’s not the worst story the paper has produced recently, by a long shot).

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“I’ve stopped fighting for Britain”

Two hand-made signs on the wall of a house, one of which shows the Spanish, EU and British flags with the words "Mamá, Me, Daddy" under them respectively, followed by "I will not be forced to choose, I am European". The second says "I want to keep my European wife, not more cod" with a cartoon image of a fish.BBC Radio 5 live on Twitter: "“I’ve stopped fighting for Britain” Olaya has worked as an NHS nurse for fifteen years. Now she and her family are moving to Spain becaus… https://t.co/5X3puABDbN"

An interview with an NHS physiotherapist who is packing her things and moving back to Spain, where she intends to buy land and start a business, after 18 months of abuse from racists in this country and being let down by people she expects to help her — friends, colleagues, family members of EU nationals — who stand by when the abuse happens:

People who hurl abuse are being allowed to hurl their abuse unchallenged. So there might be many people out there who don’t feel that way, that would never say these things, but they’re not standing up and saying anything either and this apathy from friends, from family members of EU nationals, from neighbours, from co-workers, is the most hurtful thing — way more hurtful than the abuse we get in the first place. When I get told that I need to learn to speak English properly, that if I don’t like it I should leave, that it was the will of the British people and I had no say in it and that it was the right thing to do, even though I’ve lived here for seventeen years and my husband is British, my children are British.

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