The past week or so I’ve been following a series of posts by the blogger “Anna Raccoon”, who I earlier came across in her articles about the Court of Protection and her championing of Mark Neary’s cause (Mark Neary being the man whose autistic son was wrongly detained for more than a year for “challenging behaviour” by Hillingdon social services). She is a former pupil at the Duncroft school, the locked boarding school for intelligent but disturbed teenage girls which was supposedly used as a “paedophile’s sweet shop” by the late Jimmy Savile, at the same time as the abuse allegedly happened. She claims that the people who are making the claims were not there at the time, and points to a number of historical inaccuracies such as Savile’s Rolls Royce being the wrong model to have been made by the time some of the incidents happened. She also reported that the former headmistress, Margaret Jones, had been doorstepped by someone from the Daily Mail; I saw an “interview” with her in today’s paper, in which she describes the girls making the claims as “delinquents” who used sex to buy favours from men (Anna Raccoon said she did not actually give an interview, but did answer a couple of questions before spotting a hidden tape recorder). The paper describes her attitude as “cruel” and their picture of her is clearly intended to give that impression, though to me it looks like she was annoyed and suspicious at being doorstepped.
I just attended a talk by Dr Leon Moosavi, who some readers may know from Facebook, on the experience of converts from different backgrounds after they enter Islam. He mentioned the concept of “white privilege”, in which being white exposes someone to certain advantages that they may not notice (e.g. being less likely to be stopped by security guards or the police when in a public place) and that, as they enter Islam, they may retain some of these privileges but may also experience specific disadvantage or, as he put it, “white dis-privilege”. I have written on this subject on a number of occasions previously, so I will link them here — , , . Two of these posts were in response to a “blog carnival” that Brooke Benoit held in 2009; the full lists of posts for that event can be found at her blog.
A woman who took part with three men in a violent group attack on an Asian man, in which she kicked him in the head while calling him a “f**king Paki”, has been given a suspended sentence and ordered to attend “a programme for women offenders”. The other participants were each given a one-year suspended sentence along with a community order, despite one of them being known not to have complied with previous orders. The woman, Amanda Lowe, has four convictions from the past six years while the other three have 21 previous convictions between them, and the judge warned them that another offence would result in a prison sentence. He also warned her that her behaviour was a bad influence on her children:
‘The damage you are doing to your children - there at the time and seeing you drunk, the risk you put them at - is disgraceful.
‘Somebody who behaves like that when they are drunk I would think you have to keep a very careful eye on as a mother.
‘Kids who have mothers who behave like you end up behaving like you.
‘That damage starts from when they are tiny.
The government has ordered a review of building standards regulations, with a view to reducing the number of regulations, ostensibly to facilitate a revival of the construction industry. While no concrete proposals have been put forward, according to Paul King of the UK Green Building Council, “everything is up for debate”, and the “specific themes” being debated are “energy, water, security, accessibility, and even the amount of space available in new homes”.
Over the years that the Internet has existed as a mass medium (which is more or less my adult life — I first got online at university in 1995, before Google and just as the dot-com boom was taking off), I’ve often heard people put it down as a needless distraction to getting things done, or as a source of junk information, or as if it had little value to anyone except paedophiles, terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells. Some people express such sentiments with sarcasm, such as this tweet I just saw:
I was very angry about something on the Internet then I remembered the real world.— Tom Williamson (@skepticCanary) October 25, 2012
For many of us, the Internet is a hobby in itself or even a living; it provides opportunities for programmers, both professional and hobbyist, and support staff; for others, it’s an outlet for opinion. For many others, it’s a means to make and keep up with friends, to share information such as photographs more easily than could be done without. Granted, people of my generation and those before did for centuries without the Net, but the benefits have been enormous and many of us could not imagine life without it. However, some people still do not understand quite how vital it is for some people, and often these people have control over the wires.
This post is cross-posted to Same Difference, and you can comment there or here.
Captchas are a method websites use to tell whether a visitor is a person or a computer. This is typically used to prevent automated use of their system, and in the case of forums and blog comment boxes, this is used to stop spam. This often takes the form of letters contained in a picture, which a person can see and read but a computer can’t understand because, if they even download the image file, they won’t (unless they have special character recognition software) be able to tell what letters are in it. Captchas (which stands for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart”) exploded in popularity in the mid-2000s, because blogs got snowed under with adverts for indecent material and gambling.
I spent the past two days upgrading my Android phone, a Samsung Galaxy S (model i9000) to the new version of Android. There have actually been several new versions since the last one Samsung could be bothered to provide, but the one I have settled on is the latest, codenamed Jelly Bean (they name them after confectionery products in alphabetical order). I got my phone in July or August of 2011 and at the time was quite impressed with its performance compared with my previous Android phone, a HTC Hero (rebranded G2 Touch by T-Mobile). However, perhaps because applications have got bigger and more complex since then, or perhaps because they’re optimised for newer versions than I was using, most of those I use have seen a decline in performance, frequently hanging or crashing, often during an operation such as pulling down to refresh a timeline (Plume is the worst for that). I read about Cyanogen Mod in the Android magazine, and had a look into that because unlike most other Android developers who produce operating systems you can upload to your phone (known as ROMs, although it’s not really ROM anymore), they actually have a website, a forum, and a wiki which gives directions on how to install it.
This article appeared in the opinion section of yesterday’s Guardian and criticises the public and the anti-war movement in particular for saying nothing about the ongoing slaughter in Syria carried out by Assad and his militias, compared to the widespread outrage at Israeli violence against Palestinians and Lebanese. He repeats an old trope common among Israeli sympathisers: that people complain loudly when Arabs (or other Muslims) are killed by Israelis or westerners, but say nothing when it is their own people doing it. In the case of Syria, it just isn’t true.
Cristina Odone is asking why Muslims didn’t loudly condemn the shooting of Malala Yousufzaid in Swat, Pakistan, as well as the murder of a young woman in Herat, Afghanistan, for refusing to become a prostitute. She alleges that the Muslim Council of Britain, “the self-appointed leaders of the Muslim community in the UK” as she calls them, only issued a statement condemning the shooting of Malala Yousufzai once she had been airlifted to Birmingham and then it was only what she described as an equivocal one - “sinister groups are creating havoc in the country leading to such sinister events”. The full statement by the MCB can be found here and the Engage site has their answer to Odone’s demands here.
On Tuesday the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that the computer hacker Gary McKinnon would not be extradited to the USA to face charges of hacking into NASA’s and the Pentagon’s computers before and after 9/11, on the grounds that his Asperger’s syndrome would put him at enormous suicide risk following a review of his mental state. She also announced that the government would be considering a “forum bar” in which a court would decide which country is the appropriate place for a criminal charge to be tried. This, of course, comes two weeks after several Muslim men, including at least two British citizens, were extradited to the USA on charges related to alleged offences which did not take place in the USA but involved computers there or plans for events to take place there. To many in the Muslim community, there is an obvious double standard.
This post is also published at Same Difference, and you can comment there or here.
Back in August, a blog was set up titled “Dave on Wheels”, purportedly by a young disabled man called David Rose living in a nursing home in California. The man was profoundly deaf and had severe cerebral palsy, communicating through a Tobii speech aid using eye-gaze input. David Rose had a sister, Nichole Rose, and apparently “David” was so severely disabled that all his entries were in fact published by her. (More: Special Ed Post.)
Mehdi Hasan, a former editor at the New Statesman who has since moved to the Huffington Post, had a largely very well-reasoned article published on the latter website about how being opposed to abortion does not make him any less of a “lefty” than anyone else, that prominent figures in progressive politics (not all of them religious) from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Christopher Hitchens were pro-life, and that socialism should be “about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless”, and there is nobody more voiceless than the unborn child. The reaction has been a flurry of outrage, some of it mistaking his argument for a purely religious one (which, he makes clear, it is not) and much of consisting of the simple assertion that, as a man, he has no right to an opinion on the subject anyway.
Today the Daily Telegraph reported that the government were considering introducing a system of “smart cards” for benefit payments, which recipients will only be able to use to spend on “essentials” such as “food, housing, clothing, education and health care”. According to the Telegraph’s report, Iain Duncan Smith wants to “stop parents who are alcoholics or who are on drugs from using welfare payments to fuel their addictions” and has asked civil servants in his department (Work and Pensions) to “come up with proposals by the end of this month”. Currently, the government cannot stipulate how recipients spend their money, but a similar scheme has already been launched in Australia involving smart cards that can only be spent in certain ‘approved’ shops (though there, between 30% and 50% of the money awarded is given in cash — it remains to be seen whether the Tories intend to implement that aspect of the scheme here). The government supposedly identified 120,000 “troubled” families in a report following the 2011 riots, but the Economic and Social Research Council accuses the government of misrepresenting the research on which the report is based. (More: Latent Existence, reproduced [here] with more here, (http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/no-alcohol-or-tobacco.html), Johnny Void. Also see earlier entry.)
I’ve been following the response among my friends, most of them activists in the disability community, to David Cameron’s speech at the Tory party conference today (a full transcript of it is on the Conservative party website here and there is a BBC summary and video of it here). The reaction can be summarised as outraged, as you might expect, with a hint of disgust at the use of Cameron’s son to highlight what progress has been made in the field of disability as a result of the Paralympics a month ago. Sue Marsh called his platform “Compassionate Fascist Conservatism”, giving a list of recent examples of the government’s and its media allies’ “compassion” towards disabled people. The speech claimed credit for an awful lot of others’ achievements, but I also thought the speech was an appeal to “aspirationalism”, using the rhetoric of empowerment to encourage the moderately wealthy to look up rather than identify with those at their level, let alone below. (More: Same Difference).
Salisbury, 6th October 2012, a set on Flickr.
I stopped off at Salisbury yesterday on the way back from seeing my friend in Dorchester. I was only there two hours, and so took a wander down the high street into the cathedral grounds (I had obviously heard of the cathedral, but never knew about the massive grounds it’s in). There are some beautiful buildings inside and outside the grounds, though I didn’t go into any of them. Sadly most of the pictures I took really weren’t fit for publishing; it was late on an autumn day and that meant there were marked bright and shady parts which made getting the balance right difficult. Maybe I’ll go back on a less bright day.
I also took some pictures in Weymouth; you can view the set on Flickr.
I watched Wednesday night’s Exposure documentary in which the claims that have been made about his molestation of young girls in the BBC studios and at a special boarding school in Surrey in the 1960s and 70s were aired. Of course, the claims were aired at probably greater length in the media over the past four days than they were in the programme, which went out at 11:10pm — the Guardian’s reviewer said that going out at such a time on ITV in his lifetime would have represented career death for him — but it gave some of the claims greater impact to see the people making them in person. The scandal has quite a number of lessons for how we deal with vulnerable children, particularly those in residential care, but it has also led to an outpouring of nonsense by some feminists, who have taken to throwing the word “rapist” around at various early rock stars.
Last week, the issue of the grooming and sexual abuse of girls in Rochdale and other northern towns was in the news again, as a report by the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board was published which firmly criticised local police, social services and prosecutors for failing to protect the girls, mostly in their early teens or even younger, from being abused by gangs of Asian men of Muslim origin. The Daily Mail took the opportunity to cast this as primarily a racial issue, criticising some charities for refusing to distinguish between white child abusers and Asian ones, and giving prominence to Jack Straw’s comments that the “issue of ethnicity” was significant: that the Asian community was closely-knit and people must have known what was going on. The Mail, as ever, blamed political correctness and the authorities’ unwillingness to antagonise the local Asian community or be accused of racism. What really stands out, however, is their own class prejudice.
A comprehensive article about the debate that was to be held at Conway Hall between the “Muslim Debate Initiative”, which believes that the far right is best engaged in open debate rather than banned, and “Tommy Robinson” (really Stephen Lennon) of the English Defence League:
Like all far-right organisations, the EDL puts a lot of effort into acquiring a veneer of political legitimacy, obfuscating over their real aims and ideology in order to present themselves as a mainstream organisation that deserves to be given a hearing. The reality they try to hide, of course, is that the EDL is a movement of racist street thugs, many of them with fascist links, whose central purpose is to attack the Muslim community. As anyone who follows the coverage on Islamophobia Watch can confirm, hardly a week goes by without EDL members appearing in court charged with offences involving racist abuse, intimidation and assault …
In addition to all this, nobody can suppose that Lennon would have turned up at Conway Hall next week on his own – he would certainly have been accompanied by a gang of his thuggish supporters. The MDI was therefore not merely giving a platform to Lennon himself but was in practice extending an open invitation to a mob of violent racists to descend on the area where the meeting was held. While MDI members could happily return to the safety of their homes at the end of the event, local people would have been faced with the prospect of EDL hooligans getting tanked up in a nearly pub and then looking for some “scum” (their collective term for Muslims and political opponents) to intimidate.
This was one reason why Camden Trades Council, which unlike MDI represents people who actually live and work in the area, raised strenuous objections to the debate with Lennon taking place. As indeed did the local MP, Frank Dobson.
In defence of their decision to offer Lennon a platform, MDI asserts that “the Muslim community overwhelmingly welcome such debates, and are eager for such open and frank discussions to occur”. In which case, perhaps MDI should try rearranging the debate with Lennon at a venue in an area with a large Muslim population – in the centre of Tower Hamlets, say – and see how favourably the Muslim community responds to the arrival of the EDL leader and his followers in their neighbourhood.
The MDI is a pretty obscure outfit, which I had never heard of before today, and mostly organises “dialogue” events between representatives of Islam and Christianity, and I also have never heard of either of their two main speakers, ‘Abdullah al-Andalusi” (which I suspect may be a pseudonym) and Sami Zaatari. I am not that fond of the debate format, because it is treated as a sport and is not really about establishing truth but about who can deliver the most effective knock-out ‘argument’ regardless of whether a bystander could identify it as a rhetorical trick which does not advance the argument one bit. It is disrespectful to treat religion as mere entertainment, and it is preposterous to think we can invite the Far Right to play one of the little games we play with the evangelicals and think they will play by the rules. As this extract shows, their history demonstrates that they probably would not, but in any case, we know what the EDL think by what they shout during their demonstrations. Why should anyone bother listening to Lennon’s evasive, semi-sanitised version?
The other day my new Asperger’s job consultant in Kingston asked me if I had a Freedom Pass (a free bus and train pass issued to the elderly and people with certain types of disability). I said no, as I had never imagined I was eligible for one and had not been told by her predecessor. She told me I was, and that all of their service users had them and they had helped fill the application forms in. We filled mine in, I got a new set of passport photos done in Kingston, photocopied the required documents and I handed the bulging envelope in at the town hall yesterday. I looked forward to being able to go up London for free (now that off-peak day Travelcards cost nearly £8), but wondered how often I’d have to justify my having the pass to people who have no right to demand it. (More: Same Difference.)
I wrote the Telegraph a letter on Monday in response to Max Pemberton’s article on the issue of mental health stigma in ME (my blog response is here). You can find what they printed by following the above link, and scrolling down until you see “ME and mental health”. Alternatively, you can read what I wrote here. The gist of what I wrote did get through, but some details were left out.