Molly Burke, a blind YouTube vlogger, posted a video of her speech last month at the London (Ontario) Music Hall as part of an evening on “Belonging” organised by the Walrus, a Canadian magazine and educational foundation. Molly told us about her condition (retinitis pigmentosa), the experience she had of people trying to ‘fix’ her condition which, in fact, was incurable and degenerative; she lost most of her sight at age 14. She argues that society should work on fixing itself so that a disabled person can live an independent life, rather than on fixing ‘disability’ itself. Here’s the video:
Last week a woman in the UK went on trial for murder after pouring sulphuric acid on a partner (Mark van Dongen, right) who had broken up with her. The unusual thing about this murder trial is that the woman wasn’t directly involved in the victim’s death; the man killed himself at a euthanasia clinic in Belgium after doctors agreed with him that the pain he experienced as a result of the acid injuries was ‘unbearable’. Earlier this year also, a man was convicted of manslaughter after a woman he had been harassing after she rejected his advances killed herself. These are the first incidents I am aware of in which someone is tried for killing someone who killed themselves as a result of suffering they inflicted, and I am wondering if this reflects a change in the law, or prosecutors testing out a new theory on juries. The Bristol Post has a detailed report on the proceedings on Wednesday.
Just now I saw a video of a YouTube personality who now works for the BBC, Lucy Edwards, talk about how her new flat in London that she shares with her boyfriend and guide dog is also shared with a family of mice which have left droppings under their cabinets. She tells us she has developed a fear of insects and animals (other than her guide dog, of course) since losing her sight four years ago, but as a vegan she does not like the idea of killing them, so she has hired someone to lay “humane” traps and then release them somewhere other than her house. I have heard this kind of talk from people on social media on more than a few occasions, and it’s wrong-headed, and not as humane as they think. These are not pets, but pests. Vermin.
This piece appeared in today’s Daily Mail and has been widely derided by both Muslims and feminists on Twitter, and for the most part rightly so. It peddles the old cliché that ‘feminists’ who demand that men cease propositioning or touching up their female colleagues at work, or people who interview them or otherwise do business with them, are “Victorian prudes” whose demands will lead to women having to cover up every inch of flesh by wearing something like the Muslim woman’s niqaab (as a Twitter pal has noted, at least he didn’t call it a burka). This is a spurious argument.
It’s long been a cliché that Prince William represents a “new generation” of British royalty who are unencumbered by the prejudices and stifling customs of their grandparents in particular — the ones who got Prince Charles to marry a woman he did not love because Camilla Parker-Bowles, whom he did love, was unacceptable, for example. Prince Phillip has always been notorious for bluntly expressing racist and otherwise offensive attitudes in public and this sort of behaviour has always been indulged as him being the delightfully oddball character that he is (or as him being really not up to all this royal business, despite having chosen to marry a royal) rather than being an unpleasant, bigoted old man. Recently I heard of similar behaviour by Princess Margaret, the queen’s sister, which was similarly indulged. Prince Phillip’s pet cause was wildlife; he is a co-founder and “president emeritus” of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and has in the past held forth about the dangers of human overpopulation; in a foreword to a 1987 book he wrote that, were he to be reincarnated, “I must confess that I am tempted to ask for reincarnation as a particularly deadly virus”.
Currently on the BBC there’s a serial about the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of Catholics in 17th-century England tried to kill the Protestant king by blowing up Parliament. It failed and the plotters who were caught were shot or hanged, drawn and quartered, and the early November bonfire and firework nights (which can be quite a spectacle, the one in Lewes, East Sussex being particularly elaborate) are a lasting legacy of that. The plot came at a time when Catholics were being persecuted in England, where it was a crime (punishable by hefty fines) to not attend the Protestant church and where priests worked at risk of arrest and execution, and often had to hide in tiny “priest holes” in people’s houses. Catholics did not have the right to vote until the 19th century, and the law enabling this was very widely opposed, attracting the biggest petition effort in British history.
The above article is in today’s Guardian and claims that anti-Catholic prejudice is still prevalent, but rather than Protestants being the main source of it, it is coming mainly from secularists:
If there is any prejudice left against them in the UK, any suspicion of popery, it comes from those who are avowedly secular. It was apparent in the protests during Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit in 2010. Hideous caricatures of the pope appeared on the streets, of the German pope carrying a swastika, rather than a crucifix. Catholicism seems fair game.
(This was because Joseph Ratzinger actually was a Hitler Youth as a young man.)
Antipathy to Catholic schools is evident too, an echo of the “Rome on the rates” loathing when they first appeared in the 19th century. But this is not merely a small secular protest: governments of various stripes have sought to forcibly limit the number of places these schools offer to Catholics. Catholic schools do educate non-Catholics, but headteachers, supported by parents and priests, want to decide for themselves, rather than have the policy thrust upon them.
Last week a man who had been studying for a social work degree at Sheffield University lost his appeal against the university’s decision to expel him for remarks he made on Facebook in a discussion about homosexuality. Felix Ngole, a Christian of Cameroonian origin, and his supporters claim that he stated the belief as found in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin; the entire wording of his comments is not given in the reports, but the Guardian quotes him as saying “the Bible and God identify homosexuality as a sin” and “same-sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not. It is God’s words and man’s sentiments would not change His words”, which are certainly not abusive or threatening or even, as the university claimed, ‘derogatory’. Ngole is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which has said that the ruling “will have a chilling effect on Christian students up and down the country who will now understand that their personal social media posts may be investigated for political correctness”.
Yesterday someone I’d never heard of, but apparently gets TV show appearances in the US, posted a tweet containing a ridiculously irrelevant observation about the current situation in Catalonia, the province of Spain whose political leaders are trying to break away from Spain, which is resisting:
This is probably a good time to mention that the last time Spain had a civil war a world war started shortly after.
I posted in response that the last time Spain had a civil war, it involved fascists who were already in power in Italy and Germany, and the war was about how the whole of Spain was governed, not the secession of one province. She replied:
Are you mansplaining the Spanish civil war to a political science graduate or was this tweet solely for your personal benefit?
Last Sunday there was a Nick Cohen article in the Observer about Russian influence and how, for example, Russian “dark money” is suspected of funding the Leave campaign now that it appears Arron Banks isn’t as rich as we had been led to believe:
The FBI is investigating how Russia hacked the Clinton campaign and used Facebook and Twitter to spread fake news. Ukrainians are preparing for the next stage of resistance to Russian forces. European foreign ministries and intelligence services have finally understood that Russia’s imperial strategy is to weaken the EU and Nato in every country except, it seems, this sceptred isle.
Russia knows its best tactic is to use migrant crises to stoke nativist fears. “German government threw their country under feet of migrants like a rug, now try wipe their crimes under carpet,” tweeted the Russian embassy in London in 2016 as the Kremlin began a successful campaign to promote the interests of the chauvinists in Alternative for Germany. A bank close to Vladimir Putin loaned $10m to Marine le Pen’s anti-EU Front National. He encouraged the anti-immigrant Freedom party in Austria, the Lega Nord in Italy and Jobbik in Hungary.
Cohen also gets in a dig at Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for having appeared on RT (Russia Today), the Kremlin-backed English-language TV channel, as well as their “satirically named ‘justice’ spokesman”, Richard Burgon, who “has never denounced the injustice Putin brings to Russia and the wider world during the nine occasions RT has had him on air”.
So, Heathrow expansion is in the news again, with another round of consultations being by the government this week and a report, the Airports National Policy Statement, being released which, according to the Daily Telegraph, “takes into account updated noise analysis and a new air quality plan as well as policy changes since the independent Airports Commission backed the Heathrow project in 2016”. The report also claims that “updated international evidence on vehicle emission forecasts was published at the end of September last year and this had to be considered in terms of the expansion’s potential compliance with emissions legislation” and that a north-western runway scheme could be carried out without “impacting the UK’s compliance of air quality limits”. The north-western runway would require the demolition of three villages, namely Longford, Harmondsworth and Sipson, and cause massive noise impacts on other neighbourhoods under the flight path, particularly to the east, such as Harlington and Cranford.
Recently I’ve noticed a trend among Muslims in the online community of associating Muslims and Islam with ‘brown-ness’ and in opposition to ‘whiteness’ as well as the uncritical parroting of dogmas which are in vogue in the US anti-racist or social justice community. I’ve also seen an increase in projects designed to highlight a particular racially-based group within the Muslim community, many of which strike me as unnecessary or divisive and which appeal to a sense of victimhood out of proportion to the situation. One of the major appeals of Islam going right back to the days of Malcolm X in the 1960s was that it broke down racial barriers and that nobody was superior to anyone else purely on the grounds of race or tribe, yet now there are people busy putting such barriers up in the name of activism or for cultural or artistic projects. Worst, we have people saying things which plainly put them outside of Islam while Muslims eagerly share and applaud their stance.
Unrest is a film about ME, made by Jennifer Brea (right) and which tells the story of her life with the condition since it forced her to cut short her degree. It also tells the story of the outbreak of the disease in Nevada in the early 1980s, which led the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to label it hysteria and obstruct biomedical research into it for many years, featuring interviews with American scientists who have treated sufferers, including Nancy Klimas and Paul Cheney, both heavily featured in Hillary Johnson’s book Osler’s Web. It also features interviews with other sufferers such as Jessica Taylor here in the UK, as well as the parents of Karina Hansen, the Danish woman forcibly admitted to a psychiatric unit in 2013 and only released earlier this year. This was partly a KickStarter funded project and I donated some money early on when it was working under the title Canary in the Coal Mine, which meant I got access to a free stream of the film as of last week.
The other day Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, a popular Muslimah poet and blogger, drew my attention to an advertisement she’d seen in a mosque in Birmingham. It was from a BBC radio producer looking for “an older, Muslim woman who feels deeply tied to a traditional interpretation of Islam — who covers her hair or perhaps wears the niqab”. The BBC would arrange for the woman to “talk to another guest, a younger woman adopting a more liberal practice”. The encounter would not be a “confrontation or a debate” but rather “each guest would take turns to talk about the experiences that have led to their convictions, while the other guest listens”. The promise of “no confrontation” might be intended to reassure, but the insistence on an older woman in hijab or niqab and a younger woman who follows “more liberal practice” is clearly not intended to demolish any stereotypes.
Last week a white man shot dead 59 people who were attending a country music show in Las Vegas from the window of his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay hotel/casino. Already people have started putting his action down to undiagnosed mental health problems or Asperger’s syndrome, something which happens every time a white person carries out a mass shooting which wasn’t obviously linked to a domestic dispute (which many such shootings are, and they often go unreported beyond the local media, if at all) or a workplace dispute. The complaints about “ableism” in this context are fairly well-founded as most people who are mentally ill, let alone those who are autistic, are not aggressive at all, let alone murderers. But another routine objection is that the term ‘terrorism’ was not used to describe his actions and that this term is reserved for actions committed by members of minorities or non-white people, particularly Muslims. This claim is not well-grounded, and founded on a sense of victimhood.
The controversy over supposed anti-Semitism on the left of the Labour party continues, with the Times publishing an article (paywalled) the other day proclaiming that Jeremy Corbyn had been called upon to throw out members of a group called “Labour Party Marxists” who distributed a leaflet quoting the Nazi police chief Reynhard Heydrich as saying, in 1935, that the Nazis had no interest in “attacking Jewish people”. The leaflet includes a transcript of a speech by one Moshé Machover, who during this writing has been expelled from the party; he is a Jewish socialist, mathematician and philosopher who was born in Tel Aviv but emigrated to the UK in the 1960s and took British citizenship; he is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of London and his son Daniel is a human rights lawyer. The full quote, “intended to establish that in 1935, when he made his statement, support for Zionism was indeed official Nazi policy”, can be found on Bob Pitt’s Medium blog and is sourced from Francis Nicosia of the University of Vermont.
Earlier today I saw a Twitter thread posted by the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock (son of Neil) who is a member of the Brexit select committee in Parliament (starting here, ending here, claiming among other things:
As a progressive democratic socialist I know that markets fail when they are not regulated properly. From banking to construction to energy have seen what happens when markets are left to own devices. Why shld labour market be any diff? It’s not possible to regulate labour market unless it is possible to regulate supply, and FoM makes supply-side regulation impossible
He does not seem to understand that there are other ways of regulating the Labour market without simply “cutting off the supply” by ending freedom of movement within the EU. One of them is to incentivise businesses, especially large ones, to invest in new talent rather than relying on immigrant populations which can supply experience on tap — and to penalise companies which refuse to do this.
If you’re a truck driver nowadays, you’ll need a HGV-aware sat-nav (GPS unit). There are many stories about truck drivers getting their vehicles stuck down back alleys, teetering on the edges of cliffs or wedged under a bridge with the top of their trailer torn off, because they were following inaccurate advice usually as a result of using a car sat-nav. Truck sat-navs let you enter the weight and height of your vehicle and other details (such as hazardous goods it may be carrying) and offers you a route that avoids low bridges and weight limits. Back in 2013 I bought an earlier TomTom truck sat-nav, the Pro 5150 Truck Live, which I found quite inadequate and sent it back very quickly. Since then I have been using Garmin units, mostly very successfully until, when driving a 44-tonne steel truck to a plant in Enfield a few weeks ago, it tried to get me to drive down a canal tow-path and then somehow get the goods (several tonnes of sheet metal) across the canal to the other side. Luckily, I was able to do a loop round a nearby trading estate and then go and find the correct route. But the forklift driver told me that delivery drivers with Garmin units often have that problem, while TomToms get it right. TomTom have a fairly new 6in unit out, the Go Professional 6250, which was being advertised in the margins of a truck drivers’ forum I belong to, and the user interface has been changed a lot since I last tried one. So, I decided to give it a go.
So, last night Twitter announced that they are trialling a new 280-letter Twitter format, and that certain people had been selected to try it out (I wasn’t one of them). The company’s blog post says that the change is going to affect “languages affected by cramming”, i.e. those languages where a single character does not represent a whole word (as is the case in Korean, Chinese and Japanese) and is meant to alleviate the problem of having to trim down tweets to fit within the 140-character limit. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (plain @jack on Twitter) said in one of the new extended tweets that “140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit”. The announced change has met with a fair amount of derision, with some saying the 140-character limit is what made Twitter what it was; that doubling the maximum length of tweets will remove the brevity: “Normal 140 char tweets, you can spend a few seconds on and move on if that. This completely breaks up that feel to it … that easy, scrollable, bite size thing Twitter has going for it will be gone”.
So, last Friday Theresa May, the British prime minister, gave a speech in Florence (full text here) in which she told us what sort of Brexit she hoped she could achieve, notably rejecting both the “Norway model” in which the UK would be a full member of the Single Market without a seat at the table when EU policies are made, and the “Canadian model”, the latter being a straightforward free trade agreement. One section of her speech that has caused a lot of upset was this:
The strength of feeling that the British people have about this need for control and the direct accountability of their politicians is one reason why, throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union. And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.
Earlier this week the minicab firm Uber, which allows people to hire cabs using an app which calculates the fare to their destination, lost its licence to operate in London and will have to cease operations here as of the end of the month unless it appeals (which it probably will) in which case it could continue to operate into next month. This will mean getting a cab ride in London will become either more complicated or more expensive, as minicabs have to be booked in advance and cannot be flagged down in the street, while taxis or black cabs, which can be, are expensive to ride even short distances. The cancellation of its licence by Transport for London, the transport authority overseen by the mayor, was because it was not “fit and proper” to hold a private hire licence on public safety grounds; the decision has been criticised by a lot of women who said it was the only way they could rely on getting home at night, as well as by black and Asian people who said that problems with minicabs and black cabs, whose drivers often refused to stop for them, made Uber the only way they could get a cab at all.