Johnson’s cycling proposals are no substitute for new laws

Boris Johnson’s bold thinking could change the future of London cycling | Environment | guardian.co.uk (also see this in today’s Observer)

I’ve been a cyclist since I was a child, although these days I mostly use public transport and I drive small goods vehicles for a living (when I can get the work). Boris Johnson has recently announced ambitious plans for cycling lanes in London, including a lane of the Westway, so-called quietways on residential roads, and an expansion of 20mph speed limit areas. I am not wholly convinced that any of this will make London a safer place to cycle, and is more likely to be a distraction from the rising cost of public transport.

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How not to market a smartphone (or: How to not market a smartphone)

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot about the newly revamped BlackBerry 10, which has been appearing in various phone shops (shops like Carphone Warehouse as well as the carrier franchises). It’s also appeared on the homepage for Qt, because you can develop applications for the new BlackBerry using Qt, which I use myself (it’s the basis for KDE on Linux, but you can run Qt apps on Windows and the Mac, and there have been numerous attempts at getting mobile Qt going but none of them have come to much). There is one thing missing, however: any means of testing them out using what most people will be using them for — networking.

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Human rights are not just for other people

A Venn Diagram by Paul Bernal. The right-hand circle is labelled "People who understand the European Convention on Human Rights"; the left-hand one is labelled "People who want to withdraw from the ECHR". The overlap is labelled "People who should not be in any position of power in any government, anywhere".

This Venn diagram by Paul Bernal has been doing the rounds on Twitter, and follows the announcement from the Conservative party that at the next election, their manifesto will include a commitment to changing this country’s relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights, an agreement of the Council of Europe (not, contrary to popular opinion, the European Union) enforced by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and enshrined in British law in the Human Rights Act, passed by the Labour government in 1998. Since then, it has become a major headache for governments of both parties as it has been used to challenge such policies as deporting suspected terrorists to countries which are ruled by dictators and where torture is common. It is also unpopular with the Tory tabloid press, which portrays it as a means by which stupid cases can be brought by people who are clearly in the wrong, to demand benefits off the government or to be allowed to stay in the country where they should really have no right to be here. Selling this policy depends on the assumption that human rights are only for the weak and the unworthy, and defending them, much as with defending the NHS and what is left of the welfare state, depends on making people realise it is for them as much as anyone else.

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A UKIP geography lesson

In Nigel Farage’s local pub, there are no Ukip activists, ‘just friends’ | Politics | The Observer

This “sketch” appears next to a large feature on UKIP and their plans to target northern England in the upcoming general election, and allows Farage to make some dubious claims about “rural” England and the attitudes of the people who live there, based on his “village pub in Kent”. The pub in question is the George and Dragon in Downe, the village best known as the home of Charles Darwin, when he wasn’t out sailing around South America on the Beagle, and claims:

Farage’s persona as an ale-drinking man of the people appears uncontrived, and the drinkers at the George are happy to serve as a weekly informal focus group.

They can also be deployed as firepower in Ukip’s perpetual battle against metropolitan liberalism. Last year on the subject of gay marriage, Farage said: “The division between city and rural is absolutely huge. In my village pub in Kent they are just completely against.”

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Ten years on, Nick Cohen celebrates the Iraq invasion with a straw man

Picture of a demonstration passing along Victoria Embankment in London in 2003. There is a slight mist which dims the view of the clock tower of Parliament in the distance. There are trees on either side of the road and the river Thames is on the left. The demonstrators are holding banners, chiefly saying "Not in My Name" and "Don't Attack Iraq".Ten years on, the case for invading Iraq is still valid | Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer

Ten years ago I participated in the demonstrations in London against the invasion of Iraq, or more particularly, British participation in it. It was the biggest demonstration in London for a long time, one that was airily brushed off by Tony Blair, who had always been unwilling to say no to George Bush (regardless of what his defenders, who claim “he believed the intelligence”, claim — he would have believed anything), claiming that a similar demonstration against a government policy would not have been possible in Saddam Hussain’s Iraq. The invasion led to a long occupation and a brutal civil war, and may have been a factor in motivating the group that bombed three London Underground trains and a London bus in July 2005. For all that, Nick Cohen, which responded to the demonstrations with a denunciation of “enemies of freedom” in the New Statesman in July 2003, responds with a series of straw men and irrelevant questions. (More: David Wearing @ New Left Project.)

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City University: Friday prayers are part of campus life

Five rows of young Muslim men standing in the open facing in the same direction, praying, with another man (the imam) in front of them.BBC News: University locks Muslim prayer room (video here)

Last Friday it was reported that City University in London had locked the room used by Muslim students for Friday prayers, having asked the organisers to let them screen Friday sermons, which they refused. The University claimed that it needed to be satsfied of the “appropriateness” of sermons at what are authorised campus events and had, according to the Huffington Post:

“repeatedly” asked the students leading the Friday prayers to work with the university’s Imam to “ensure that the process for selecting students is transparent and that the content of sermons is made known to the University in advance and is freely available afterwards for those unable to attend”.

The university’s spokesperson added: “Despite repeated requests and assurances, the information from those students leading Friday prayers was not forthcoming. Whilst this was a disappointment, the university could not continue to condone an activity taking place on its premises where it cannot exercise reasonable supervision.”

The University has also published a list of other places supposedly nearby where Muslim students could pray Friday prayers. The Muslim students affected have formed a group called Muslim Voices on Campus and have responded: “when you start submitting your sermons to be monitored and scrutinised then there’s a chance for it to be dictated what’s allowed and what’s not allowed”.

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Why might DLA help with your blisters?

Black and white cartoon of a man sitting on a sofa, with a woman tending to his foot, with the slogan "It's a bad blister, but a bit of Disability Living Allowance should make it better", with the signature "PUGH" in the top left-hand cornerThis cartoon accompanies a Daily Mail piece which was published today, alleging that people are rushing to claim Disability Living Allowance in the last weeks before it is phased out. Bernadette Meaden has a comprehensive response, which spells out what DLA is for:

Disability Living Allowance is awarded to people who cannot, to a greater or lesser degree, perform everyday activities without support. They may have difficulty getting dressed or bathing, or making a meal. They may have varying degrees of difficulty with mobility, meaning they can’t be involved in society without support. They will probably be experiencing unpleasant symptoms or pain on a regular basis. To suggest that DLA is available for something as trivial as a blister, even as a ‘joke’ in this context, is irresponsible.

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The rush to judgement on Oscar Pistorius

Picture of Reeva Steenkamp, a white woman in a light pink or peach colour dress holding an envelope in her right hand, and Oscar Pistorius, a white man wearing a black suit and tie.The story of Oscar Pistorius’s shooting of his girlfriend has been going on for a week and a half now, and last Friday, after a four-day bail hearing, he was released on bail of 1m Rand with a list of conditions including not contacting the family of his late girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or any but one family on the estate he lived on. What amazed me is the number of times the story changed from when it first broke on the 14th, with an enormous amount of speculative material released to and published by the media, and the willingness of some people to jump to conclusions based on this speculation. I must admit to having been caught up in this myself. (More: Bad Cripple ([1], [2], [3]), Funky Mango’s Musings, Writer in a Wheelchair, Constitutionally Speaking.)

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Fedora 18: Dangerous to your Data

image Last month Fedora released the latest version of their Linux distribution, version 18, codenamed “Spherical Cow”, a reference to an engineering joke, the main new feature of which is a redesigned installer (still called Anaconda, but visually and in other respects very different from the old Anaconda). I’ve tried Fedora a few times, and generally found it undistinguished since they moved away from the Bluecurve look they pioneered in 2002. However, Linux User and Developer magazine called it “a wonderful, minimalist-designed app”, although reviewers linked off DistroWatch often thoroughly disagree. I found this release hideous; it’s got serious bugs which reveal themselves at almost every turn. Continue reading

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No, you don’t have to go veggie

Picture of a dark-coloured sheep in a grassy field next to a stream in a valleyNo more excuses. The only defensible option is to go vegetarian | John Harris | Comment is free | The Guardian

The recent meat adulteration scandal (in which horsemeat was found to be present in a number of processed, frozen food products in British supermarkets) has not, unlike the BSE scandal fifteen years earlier (which failed to produce the hundreds of thousands of cases of the disease in people that was predicted), led many people to question their eating of meat, or even processed food, at all; the reaction has been solely focussed on the food companies and the villains have been quickly identified. The above article sheds some light on the murky world of the processed food industry; Will Hutton, in yesterday’s Observer, points the finger at free-market fundamentalists in the government who have been stripping away regulations since they came to power, and who now call for the same institutions they seek to abolish to take the lead on investigating food fraud. John Harris claims that the case for vegetarianism is a pressing environmental one; I would say that adulteration and the environmental cost of meat are separate issues.

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Horrible Economics

Terry Deary on Libraries (from the Guardian)

Terry Deary (of Horrible Histories fame) thinks bookshops are closing because libraries are cutting their throats by lending out books rather than selling them. Uh, not so fast.

Libraries were much stronger in the 80s as I recall, when libraries were being upgraded and extended (like the big library in Croydon, where I grew up). There were also a lot more independent bookshops around, rather than a couple of big chains.

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Linux Mint is Ubuntu. Get over it!

Earlier today I was browsing the latest edition of Linux User & Developer, a British Linux magazine with a more in-depth analytical focus than Linux Format, which concentrates on reviews, tutorials and interviews with various developers and corporate figures (though LUD has these too). There was a round-up of their ten best Linux distributions of 2012, and the top five (in ascending order) were OpenSUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu, Mageia and Mint. Mint is derived from Ubuntu, and the section on Mint refers to Ubuntu’s “much-publicised fall from grace” which has, it says, “proven the making of Mint”. While I agree that Mint has become a better desktop distribution for most purposes than the standard version of Ubuntu, this is to the credit of Ubuntu, not its loss.

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Cait Reilly and Workfare: some basic maths

Picture of Cait ReillyEarlier today I was listening to the Eddie Nestor show, an evening news phone-in programme on the BBC London station, which was discussing the Cait Reilly case. Reilly had been told, wrongly it now appears, that if she did not do an unpaid work placement at Poundland in Birmingham, she would lose her Jobseekers’ Allowance, despite this being full-time work and requiring her to give up another voluntary work position at a local museum. Another litigant, truck driver Jamie Wilson, had been told to do a six-month unpaid work placement for 30 hours a week, in return for benefits which amount to a day and a half’s pay per week.

Reilly is quoted as saying, “I don’t think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working”. Nestor quoted this line on his programme and suggested that she also expected to get paid for not working.

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Andrade tragedy is not unique

Picture of Frances Andrade, a white woman in her 40s with long curly hair, wearing a white T-shirt.Sexual abuse victim’s suicide sparks call for review of court procedures | UK news | guardian.co.uk

Last week it was revealed that Frances Andrade, the 48-year-old violinist and music teacher who had given evidence in the trial of the choirmaster, Michael Brewer, who has been convicted of sexually abusing her both at his school, Chetham’s music school, and at his home (his wife has also been convicted of one count), had apparently committed suicide after finishing giving evidence. She had been accused of being a liar and a fantasist while under cross-examination. Her responses were printed in the Guardian and bear repeating:

She was a combative, confident and emotional witness. When Kate Blackwell QC, Brewer’s barrister, alleged her account of being raped by the Brewers at their house was “utter fantasy”, Andrade loudly replied: “Bollocks”.

“You have told this jury a complete pack of lies about the visit to this house,” said Blackwell.

Andrade replied: “This is why cases don’t come to court. This happened.”

“You spent the night lying next to two of your rapists?” asked the barrister, referring to Andrade’s account of sleeping three in a bed with the Brewers after she said they had raped her.

Andrade answered: “But this happened. I felt guilty, I did not know how to get out of it.

“This is a lie,” said Blackwell. “You could have left the house at any time.”

Andrade replied: “You have got no idea clearly about what it is like to be raped. You have clearly no feminine understanding of what someone goes through like that. What shock your body goes through. How you almost feel you deserve it.”

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Kesgrave Hall: what do I hope to achieve?

Picture of Kesgrave Hall, a yellow Georgian mansion surrounded by fields and trees, with cars parked around it.Kesgrave: ‘It was survival of the fittest’, claims ex-pupil of abuse inquiry school - News - Ipswich Star

Last month I gave an interview to a journalist from the Ipswich Star, a local newspaper in Ipswich (which is near where my boarding school, Kesgrave Hall, was), over the phone to a journalist called Colin Adwent, who is the author of the above article. The same day, I spoke over the phone to a detective inspector from the Suffolk police force after being told by Josh Halliday of the Guardian, to whom I had spoken about my experiences there last November (this finally appeared in the paper on 14th December). The Ipswich Star piece gives more detail about what I personally experienced and witnessed, but Adwent asked me one question and my reply to that didn’t make it into the paper, which was: what do I hope to achieve by re-opening the inquiry?

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Google versus Samsung Android

Picture of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, a smartphone with a large screen and no front buttons, with a multi-coloured background, indicators for time, battery life and network strength, and various application iconsBattle of the Androids: Google Android vs. Samsung Android

Yesterday I took delivery of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which was the previous incarnation of the “official” Google phone line (it’s now been replaced by the LG-made Nexus 4 which has a quad-core processor, rather than dual as with mine, but has the same amount of storage), having previously used a Samsung Galaxy S since mid-2011, which I upgraded to the latest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean) through a third-party download since Samsung had declined to supply an update themselves. The above article states that some of the features Samsung build into their version of Android cost them little, but easily justify the increased cost of the phone. It does, however, gloss over the real reason some people avoid phones with vendor-customised versions of Android, which is lack of updates. (Other manufacturers are even worse than Samsung in this regard; some recent Android phones from LG, for example, are stuck on Android 4.0.)

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Women and Asperger’s syndrome: make-up is not compulsory

Cover of a book, with a black and white pattern background and the title "The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome", by Jennifer Cooke O'TooleThe Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome - book information - Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I recently came across the above title in my local Waterstone’s, published by Jessica Kingsley which has some very good books on autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and various other topics related to special needs (sadly, their book on ME is straight from the Action for ME cookbook and is not recommended). Many of them are written by actual people with the condition, like Luke Jackson, or by noted experts like Tony Attwood, and are written in a friendly and accessible style. This one, aimed at “Asperkids” and written by Jennifer Cook O’Toole who carries the authority of someone who “has been one!”, sadly falls short of their usual standard. I raised my issues with certain points in this book with the two ladies from my local Asperger’s service, and with two female friends who also have Asperger’s, and they broadly agreed with one inadequacy of the book, which is its section on make-up for women with Asperger’s.

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High Speed 2: London to Nottingham, the long way round

A green, two-carriage train on a railway line, with an old-style signal box to the right, on a sunny day with green trees on both sides.Earlier this week it was announced that the route for the proposed high-speed rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds, known as High Speed 2, had been released. The line is already projected to cut a swathe through the town and country from London to Birmingham, necessitating the destruction of homes and businesses around Euston before despoiling the pleasant countryside of the Chilterns and southern Midlands. It is now revealed that there will be two branches, one stopping at Crewe, Manchester Airport and Manchester city centre, and another to a place called Toton in Nottinghamshire, a shopping centre on the outskirts of Sheffield, and finally Leeds.

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Acton’s not white anymore, moans Salisbury Reviewer

Picture of Muslim-owned shops in Acton, west London, from the Telegraph. Two shops are clearly visible, one closed down, both with clearly visible Arabic lettering; rest are out of focus.‘I feel like a stranger where I live’ - Telegraph

This article appeared in today’s Telegraph and I had the ‘pleasure’ of seeing the print edition which has several stock images which are not in the online version. They include a picture of women in veils at an al-Muhajiroun demonstration, and a still from one of those “Muslim vigilante” videos that were shot in east London (Acton is in west London). The article is full of the familiar moans about how a “working-class area” has become full of unfriendly immigrants who cover up to their eyeballs and do not speak to white people or even serve them in shops. I cannot directly challenge the veracity of some of Kelly’s accusations against local shopkeepers, except to say that I doubt it. There are some claims that can be factually challenged, as well as the author’s bias exposed.

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Claire Khaw arrested, allegedly

Picture of Jessica ThomNewsflash! Claire Khaw Arrested, Apparently For Blog Post Accusing Jessica Thom Of Putting On Tourettes « Same Difference

Claire Khaw is the blogger best known for getting onto various radio talk-shows and online forums and spouting extremely offensive views about disabled people, among them that severely disabled children should be rejected (in one Facebook posting she used the phrase “drop it on its head”) because they are a burden on society (you can read of how the disability community came to know about this character here). She has been a member of the British National Party, though she recently tried to join the Tory party, but was expelled from the party after they discovered the nonsense she spouted (on which the Guardian reported here and here). This past week, she (or her friends) reported that she had been arrested, and her computer impounded, supposedly because she had accused Jessica Thom (AKA Touretteshero), pictured, of faking her condition.

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