Why compulsory school dinners are a bad idea

A school dinner, consisting of a blue tray with compartments containing pasta, peas and mincemeat, an orange cut into quarters, a red cup of water, a piece of French bread and a fork and spoonBan packed lunches, head teachers urged (from BBC News)

The government has commissioned a report by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain (!) that says that take-up of school meals is low (43%) despite “huge quality improvements”. It claims that if everyone had school dinners then quality could improve as there would be more money in the system, that packed lunches are nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal and should be banned, and also suggests subsidised school meals for the first years of primary and secondary schools (Reception and Year 7), but does not recommend free school meals for everyone. (More: Tattooed Mummy, Same Difference.)

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Review: Don’t Call Me Crazy

A still picture of a young woman sitting on a bed with her knees up and her hands over her face, behind a heavy lockable (but unlocked) doorRecently a series called Don’t Call Me Crazy, set inside an adolescent mental health unit in Manchester, the now-closed McGuinness Unit, was screened on BBC Three, apparently the first time cameras had been allowed to film inside such a unit. They were given access to patients and staff, although some of both declined to be featured (or were unable to give consent) and their faces were disguised in the programme. The most prominently featured was Beth Whittaker, who had an eating disorder and was in the unit for six months, much of it on a section as she failed to comply with the treatment, but other patients had OCD, depression, psychosis and one had suffered a nervous breakdown. All three episodes are currently available online in the UK until next Monday (Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3) and you can read an interview with Beth here and some interviews with Beth and three members of staff on the programme’s website here. (More: Ilona Richards @ Mind [1], [2], [3], Secret Schizophrenic, And Then She Disappeared [1], [2], [3].) Also, Katy Gray published a very critical comment on this programme on TwitLonger, relating to consent issues.

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Who’s helping disabled Muslims this Ramadan?

Picture of a small, hexagonal domed building set inside a mosque, set on pillars.BBC News - Frederic Kanoute supports disabled man's Ramadan fast

Imraan Adam is a Muslim who lives in Derby and has cerebral palsy, and earlier this week it was reported that the council in Derby could no longer pay for the support for him to eat before sunrise and thus be able to fast the day. Imraan has fasted in Ramadan since age 10 (it doesn’t say how old he is now, although he must be over 21 as he has a degree) and in previous years the council has arranged for extra support, but has now refused, citing its difficult financial situation. In this case, the footballer Frederic Kanoute has stepped in and provided the money for him to pay for his extra care.

There are, of course, some people who will say that Muslims shouldn’t expect the wider community to fund “special treatment” like this, although the cost cannot be that great as the number affected (who do not live with families and are severely physically disabled) cannot be that many. This is really something that the Muslim community should be doing for its members, and if the money involved is not that great for a local authority, it shouldn’t be for a local Muslim community either. Every mosque, or at least one in every community, should have a fund to pay for this support. I would imagine that there are a lot of converts in that number. It’s an extra hour’s support for at most 30 days every year, and the community would not have to hire carers but simply pay a care agency (most likely the ones that the people affected are already using) to send someone round.

While on the subject of Ramadan, it’s a great thing that this year everyone in Europe is starting on the same day, and that the “Saudi followers” (mostly the so-called major mosques such as Regent’s Park, Westbourne Park and East London) are not starting a day early. The last time everyone started and finished on the same day was 2008 (when the month coincided with September), and it was widely regarded as a cause for celebration. We do not make a fuss about moon-sighting, or “moon fighting” as some people call it, for kicks or because we just hate the Saudis, but because we do not want to be fasting when it’s not Ramadan and having a big feast while it actually is Ramadan.

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Not quite Independence Day

Last week I read about two separate distressing incidents that underline the need for support for people with disabilities to remain living with their families if that is at all possible. The first happened in Ireland a month ago, but I only read about it on a feminist blog last Tuesday: a father of three disabled children, two of them autistic, was given a suspended sentence when convicted of the rape of his then 14-year-old sister-in-law in the mid-1980s, because the judge believed that sending him to jail would cause intolerable hardship for his family, his wife in particular. The second was a tragedy that happened very suddenly last Thursday: a young man with autism and epilepsy died in the bath in an NHS-run psychiatric unit for people with learning disabilities in the Oxford area, as reported by his mother on her blog. That story has yet to be picked up by the press but has been reported on social media. Neither the man nor the unit have as yet been identified.

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No, Andy Murray doesn’t deserve a knighthood (yet)

Picture of Andy Murray, a white man wearing a black Adidas T-shirt, holding a silver trophy.Sir Andy Murray? David Cameron backs knighthood | Sport | guardian.co.uk

So, Andy Murray finally won his first Wimbledon title, and Britain’s first men’s singles Wimbledon title since 1936 (as has been widely pointed out, there have been British titles in other Wimbledon disciplines since then, including the women’s singles and mixed doubles, the latter won by none other than Jamie Murray, Andy’s brother, in 2007). Almost immediately, it started being suggested that he might receive a knighthood, including from David Cameron this morning, but I was asked by a friend on Twitter if he had received a knighthood yet and whether the royal baby was going to be called Andrew. (The answer is that royal babies often have several names, more than the two that most commoners have, so Andrew might be in there somewhere.)

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Is Scotland really full of sexist Neanderthals?

Picture of part of a golf course, with temporary spectator's stands, on a rolling green landscape with a path through bushes in the foreground, and village buildings in the backgroundScotland’s handicap? Sexist golf clubs | Kevin McKenna | Comment is free | The Observer

There seems to be a trend recently with Kevin McKenna’s articles in the Observer, which is to depict Scotland as a land beset by misogyny and inhabited by an awful lot of sexist Neanderthals. Today, it’s Scottish golf clubs (in particular Muirfield, which hosts the Open this month) which refuse to admit women as members; two weeks ago, it was about “how sick Scottish society remains in the way women are viewed”, chiefly on the basis of a story about one Glasgow nightclub which installed one-way glass mirrors so that men could spy on women at the washbasin (not in the toilet itself as commonly reported). Neither of these things are particularly reflective of Scottish society or attitudes as similar things can, and frequently do, happen elsewhere.

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Korora 19: not a great advance on Fedora

Bruce SpringsteenIn my review of Fedora 19 (in the last entry), I noted that I thought Fedora had abandoned the idea of end-users using Fedora and were targeting distro developers instead. There is a Fedora derivative called Korora which has been in development for some time; it is called Korora and appears to be largely a one-man show. It bundles the things Fedora won’t, such as codecs (the code that lets you play MP3s and other common media files) and the Flash player, as well as making Google Chrome easily available in a repository. Korora 19, codenamed Bruce (I think that’s him on the right), was released the same day as Fedora 19, the first for this distro which had normally been developed from the “stable” Fedora release rather than alongside it. I downloaded the GNOME version of Korora, which is a live CD (there is no net-install or comprehensive 4Gb DVD unlike with Fedora itself). However, it’s not a huge improvement on Fedora itself.

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Fedora 19: clearly not for end users

A few months ago I published a scathing review of Fedora 18, the last release of the Linux distribution which started life as Red Hat Linux, once the version of Linux that everyone who knew anything about Linux knew about. For many people, Red Hat was Linux, and was the version that featured on almost every book on “Linux” (either the book was explicitly about Red Hat Linux or that was the version on the cover disk). It has lost a lot of popularity over the years as the product morphed into Fedora, the boxed version was abandoned and Ubuntu has become more popular, and Fedora itself concentrated on “freedom” by refusing to bundle software which had restrictions on it (i.e. free but proprietary software and sound and video decoders subject to licensing agreements). With the last release, they completely redesigned the installer which made it a highly confusing bit of software with the potential to wipe your data if you were not careful. This version is barely improved over the last one.

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TV adhan: media attack Muslim visibility

The front page of the Sun from 2nd July 2013. It reads "Ramadan a Ding-Dong" with the sub-heading "Stunt could inflame tension".Yesterday, the Sun led with a headline “Ramadan-a-Ding-Dong”, a reference to Channel 4’s decision to air the Muslim call to prayer at different times of day during Ramadan. Their article includes an endorsement from Anjem Choudary and the latest al-Muhajiroun front group, “Islamic Emergency Defence”, as well as claims from UKIP that it’s a PR stunt and that most Muslims would not want it; a Tory MP, Conor Burns, called it “politically-correct tokenism” and asked, “what would happen if they were to do this type of thing during a Christian festival such as Lent?”. The Sun also carried an opinion piece from Anila Baig, claiming that no Muslim will actually be watching C4 to hear the call to prayer and that it’s another case of how the channel “worships controversy” with such programmes as Dogging Tales and The Man with the Ten Stone Testicles. AN Wilson suggests that they also carry the other four calls (as the Sun claims they are actually doing) and not carry adverts for alcohol if they were really serious about providing a service to Muslims.

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Jeremy Forrest: what’s the meaning of abuse?

Picture of Jeremy Forrest, a white man with stubble with a grey jacket with a strap over his shoulderThe week before last (I have only just had the opportunity to write about it due to work), a teacher from Kent called Jeremy Forrest was jailed for five and a half years for having an affair with a schoolgirl and running away with her to France until they were both brought back. Besides his prison sentence, he was ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register and banned from working with children for life. However, the girl (whose name cannot now be mentioned in new articles although the media have not removed dozens of articles from last September when she was missing) has stuck by him, intends to visit him in prison and has allegedly been given permission, and yesterday and today interviews with her were published in the Sun (which referred to her as Gemma Grant, the name she assumed during her French ‘adventure’), in which she claimed that if anything, she groomed him rather than the other way round. There have been a number of comments published about this, among them by a woman who had an affair with a teacher while at sixth form college, Hadley Freeman in the Guardian saying that he is a “pathetic man-child” but no paedophile and in nothing like the same league as Stuart Hall or Jimmy Savile, and there are these two entries by the feminist blogger Louise Pennington, who calls Forrest a rapist (as she called John Peel and others in the rock world who slept with teenage groupies in the 1960s and 70s).

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What’s the point of ‘care’?

The other night I saw a Panorama documentary which covered the issue of children going missing from the care system in the UK. I had been expecting this to be about children who were in care after being trafficked, and disappearing into the hands of the gangs who trafficked them (mostly Vietnamese), but no — this was about teenagers, mostly, who go missing from children’s homes and very little effort is being made to find them. It made me wonder what the point is of keeping them in the care homes in the first place. (The documentary can be watched online here for the next year or so; there is an article here which discusses the issue.) Continue reading

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Mark Littlewood: making the War on Welfare personal

Today the Daily Mail published a quite astonishing and appalling article by Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs (and former spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the Pro-Euro Conservative Party and NO2ID) calling for the government to publish the names and addresses of every individual claiming benefits in the UK. This has already been reacted to with fury by disabled people on Twitter, many of whom have already faced public hostility by people who perceive them as benefit claimants. He compares benefit recipients to the companies whose tax affairs have come under scrutiny in the media (and, supposedly, at the G8 summit); he calls those companies “wealth creators and tax contributors” and benefit claimants “tax consumers”. (More: David Gillon @ Where’s the Benefit?, Latent Existence, Tom Pride.)

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People’s Assembly: a review

A marquee with a mostly seated audience facing the camera. Susan Archibald, a white woman wearing a black jumper and trousers in an electric mobility scooter, is speaking.Yesterday the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which has been holding “rallies” (I’d call them meetings, rather than rallies which I always thought were held in the street or at least in the open) around the country, including one in Brighton which I went to on 30th May, featuring Owen Jones, Mark Steel and local MP Caroline Lucas (there was a London one the same day, but it was in a pub and the ‘star’ speakers were Ken Livingstone and Lindsey German), held its big event at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. The Brighton one was somewhat disappointing as, taking place two weeks after Woolwich, the speakers (and workshop sessions) focussed entirely on economic matters and barely acknowledged (it was mentioned about three times) that the EDL were on the march again and racism and, particularly, Islamophobia were a major issue again. This time, though, there were sessions on the anti-war movement and combating the far right, of which I attended the latter (they were on at the same time). I’ve published a set of pictures of the parts of the event I attended on Flickr.

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Alex Spourdalakis: an atrocity, not a tragedy

Picture of Alex Spourdalakis, a white teenage boy, lying in a hospital bed with a cuff around his right wrist which is attached to the bed, with him holding an object of some kind in his mouth. He is covered by a white sheet from his waist down.Last week I heard the news that a 14-year-old boy with severe autism, Alex Spourdalakis, had been murdered by his mother and another female carer in a suburban area near Chicago after they had made appeals to get what they considered suitable care for him. Alex himself was first given an overdose of painkillers and when that failed to kill him, they stabbed him in his chest. They then attempted to take their own lives by an overdose, but were found alive and are now in custody, charged with first-degree murder. The American media (the story was not broadcast in the UK, although the Daily Mail reported it on their website) branded it a “tragedy”, quickly attributed the murder to the difficulty of caring for a boy with a learning disability, and implied that it had been waiting to happen. This is the stock response to the murder of a disabled child, and it’s wrong. (More: Ariana Zurchner, David Gorski @ Science-based Medicine, Wendy Baskin, Michael Scott Monae jr, Jo Ashline, Kassiane @ Time to Listen, Same Difference.)

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EDL versus Muslim extremists: Moore’s double standards

Picture of a burning building (the former Bravanese Centre in Muswell Hill, north London) with a fire engine and a white Ford Transit van in the foreground, with firemen trying to put the fire outWoolwich outrage: we are too weak to face up to the extremism in our midst - Telegraph

The above bit of EDL apologism by Charles Moore appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, and it also contains a dig at Tell MAMA, the formerly state-funded body that monitored anti-Muslim attacks (hence the acronym) and an attempt to stir up fresh outrage over the murder of Lee Rigby four weeks or so ago, claiming it has died down and people are focussing on a backlash against Muslims which he claims is exaggerated. The fact that it has prompted a resurgence of a formerly moribund violent street gang as well as at least three arson attacks on Muslim properties, one of them burned to the ground, is no exaggeration.

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Graffiti and the brutal conformity of the gang

Picture of a water treatment works with the tag "LGANG" sprayed on a large round building, with three tower blocks in the background and a lake, with swans swimming, in the foregroundLaurie Penny has an article in the latest New Statesman (not online yet) in which she bemoans the lack of graffiti on the trains and buses in London, which she says is ubiquitous on public transport and buildings in other cities such as New York and Berlin. She puts this down to the huge concentration of CCTVs in London and people’s willingness to accept them, and in the context of the revelations about the American National Security Agency’s data snooping operations, represents a “gradual chilling effect” of people getting used to constant surveillance. I’m not so sure.

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Let’s get the EDL banned

Graphic of a person putting a swastika in a dustbinProscribe English Defence League (EDL) - e-petitions

This is a petition to proscribe the English Defence League. This will not force the EDL out of existence, of course, but it will mean no more of their demonstrations and the public violence that always accompany them. It will mean displaying signs of belonging to the EDL, such as shouting slogans associated with it and wearing their T-shirts, will become a crime. It will likely mean that successor groups are banned as well if they are deemed to be the EDL rebranded, as has been the case with al-Muhajiroun. As with al-Muhajiroun, their reach will be greatly reduced and will have to go underground if they are to operate at all; any violent operations will be put down to “gangs of thugs” with “EDL links”, and it will not be mistaken for a lawful popular movement.

If you are in the UK I urge you to sign this petition. If enough people sign it, it may be debated in Parliament.

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Huge impact? Hardly.

Yesterday a 21-year-old Somali woman from London was given a community service order for posting an offensive tweet about the soldier Lee Rigby after his stabbing last month (but before the full facts about the attack became known), to the effect that anyone who would wear a Help for Heroes T-shirt deserves to be beheaded (she claimed this was a comment on the design of the T-shirt). She admitted “sending a malicious electronic message” and ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work by Hendon magistrates, who warned her that she could have been imprisoned and that her words “had a huge impact and clearly caused offence and distress”. The “offence and distress” manifested itself in threats to rape her and kill her by burning her house down, and she was arrested after going to the police to report this.

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London Bravanese mosque firebombed

Police probe mosque blaze amid fears 'firebomb attack' is Woolwich revenge - London Evening Standard

Picture of a burned-out red-brick building with yellow tape around it, with a fire engine and ladder to the right and houses behind

Last night a mosque in Muswell Hill, north London, was firebombed and the letters “EDL” were spray-painted onto the burned-out remains. Who exactly might have done this is still being investigated, and the fact that the EDL’s initials were sprayed on it doesn’t mean it was them, as opposed to a sympathiser. The mosque is next to houses, which meant that lives could have been endangered even if nobody was in the building, and is also very close to a primary school.

My experience with the Bravanese community (which originates from Brava or Baraawe in southern Somalia) is that they are far removed from extremism: they are traditional Sufi-type Muslims who have held out against the spread of “salafism” in the Somali community, let alone jihadi extremism. This is not to say that no Bravanese Muslim has ever become an extremist (although the killers of Lee Rigby were not even Somali and were not from that area), but it is highly unlikely that extremist ideas were being preached there. It is likely that the common denominator was race: most Somalis are black, like the two men of Nigerian origin who committed the Woolwich murder.

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Britain’s mosques are not a ‘swamp’

As the dust settles on the Woolwich murder, so the vultures are starting to circle and the ground is being prepared for generalised attacks on the Muslim community, however much it was made clear that ordinary Muslims condemn the murder and were not responsible for it. The Sun has another front-page story about a video’ed “rant” (meaning a lecture or speech) given by Anjem Choudary in an office in London (the same report was reproduced in the Evening Standard); Tony Blair last weekend wrote in the Mail on Sunday that the “ideology which inspired [the murder] is profound and dangerous” and that there was “not a problem with Islam” but “within Islam”, contrasting “Islamists who have this exclusivist and reactionary world view” with “the modern-minded … who hated the old oppression by corrupt dictators and who hate the new oppression by religious fanatics”, as if there were no in-betweens. Glasgow Labour MP Tom Harris (a member of Labour Friends of Israel) dismisses the idea that the EDL are bigger threat to “our way of life” than Islamists when they “can barely spell ‘fascist’”, as if you need to be able to spell to beat someone up and form a mass to cause enormous disruption and menace the public. Finally, David Cameron also harped on the “extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam” and claimed that “it is not simply enough to target and go after violent extremists after they’ve become violent. We have to drain the swamp in which they inhabit”, referring to university campuses, mosques and madrassas.

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