So, the Olympics has finally started. I had been planning an article last week about the chaos in the preparation for the Games, the security etc., and the traffic disruption that would result from the Games Lanes which have appeared on various major roads, but later reports said that the disruption was much less than was feared and I had to drive in east and central London on Friday and there was absolutely none — if anything, the traffic was much less than normal and I had only one minor jam on the A13 very close to the centre of town, which wasn’t related to the Olympics. I had been opposed to the Olympics from the beginning, because it represented a huge expenditure on something that would be of dubious lasting value: I believed as I do now that the Olympic accommodation would become luxury flats rather than much-needed affordable homes, and that the sporting venues would fall into disuse and disrepair, as those built for previous Olympics have done. I wonder how much we really need a dedicated water-polo venue, for example.
Last week, a civil servant called Louise Casey published a report identifying 120,000 “problem families” and proposed an intervention scheme whereby social workers would actually sit in people’s houses and make sure they get up get their children to school, and suggest that they take responsibility for certain situations such as their children’s behaviour. She explains the thinking behind the report in this interview. On Saturday Morning Live yesterday, Samira Ahmad (the presenter) asked if the intervention was a waste of time, and if it would not be better to simply remove the children. The first feature was introduced by a video of James O’Brien, the LBC presenter, making the point that we should do just that. Also featured in the talk were George Hargreaves, a Christian pastor who is also the leader of the “Christian Party” (and one-time pop songwriter best known for “So Macho”), and Angela Epstein, a journalist who currently works on the Jewish Chronicle. (The programme can be watched here until next Sunday if you are in the UK.)
Isimeili Baleiwai served in the British army for 13 years, seeing action in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. Normally this isn’t someone whose cause I would be fighting for here, but he is the latest victim of the last two government’s drive to rid this country of “foreign criminals” at the behest of the tabloids. L/cpl Baleiwai was in a fight with an army colleague in 2010, which lasted under a minute and damaged a man’s tooth filling, for which he was fined £1,000. His commanding officer said in 2011 that his performance was of “of an exceptionally high standard” and that he was “charismatic, selfless and well-liked”. However, the UK Border Agency says that his disciplinary record amounts to a criminal conviction and thus he is not of good character, and therefore ineligible for either indefinite leave to remain or citizenship, for which soldiers from overseas can apply after four and five years’ service respectively.
Back in the days when Usenet was the main place online for discussion (if not the only), before web forums and blogs had been heard of (or at least, were anything like as sophisticated as they are now), there was a huge debate about spam and how to deal with it. Spammers used to post adverts in huge numbers to every group available, and a small group of administrators and their friends used to post “cancels” which told forum hosts to remove the original postings. This was, as you can imagine, only a partial solution as some people would see the spam, but it reduced it. It also wasn’t very efficient, as network bandwidth wasn’t as plentiful as it is now and one message had to be cancelled out by another. The spammers’ friends (and a few naive civil libertarians and a number of ‘kooks’ who all had axes of one sort or another to grind) protested that this was censorship and went against the freedom of speech guaranteed by the American constitution. The admins’ response was that they were, in fact, protecting freedom of speech, and that the spammers were the censors as they clogged up the forums everyone else was trying to use for their free speech.
Simon Jenkins is arguing that he agrees with Tony Blair who said in 2010 it was unwise for him to introduce the Freedom of Information Act that Parliament passed (with Labour having an overwhelming majority after the 1997 landslide) in 2000. He also says that the trend towards “total disclosure” has led to much less information being committed to paper and to civil servants, politicians and others being more circumspect about what they say to each other lest it end up in a newspaper. The BBC blog article he cites for the Blair quote actually says that the version that was passed was considerably watered down from what the government introduced, and suggests that Blair probably regrets it because it caused his party and government great embarrassment.
Just as I was writing my post about the validity of the term ‘Islamophobia’ yesterday morning, the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live programme were discussing it. A hotline called “Tell MAMA” (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) had published a report (not available online at present) that, of the 170 attacks they had recorded since March this year, 70% are against Muslim women who wear the hijab, that women who wear the niqaab are more likely to suffer repeat attacks, and that the majority of the attackers are men between 20 and 50. It also notes that there is a large contingent of EDL sympathisers spouting hate online. The panel was chaired by Samira Ahmed and featured Ann Leslie (whose foreign correspondent exploits were expressed, but at present she writes for the Daily Mail), Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, and Symon Hill from the Christian think-tank, Ekklesia. Fiyaz Mughal, from Tell MAMA, was asked if he thought there was a direct connection between these attacks and media reporting and replied, “absolutely”. (You can watch the programme here if you are in the UK until the next episode on the 15th.)
Back when I was at college, a feminist lecturer had a sticker on her door: “I’ll be a post-feminist in post-patriarchy”. Her feminism was mostly concerned with international relations; the feminism which has seen a resurgence since then mostly concerns body image and combating the rising pornography and thinly-disguised sex industry, against which it has had some success. James Bloodworth, a blogger who has contributed articles to the Independent’s website, claims that the term ‘Islamophobia’ originates, in modern usage, from the Iranian revolution and is now used “to shut down almost any contemporary political debate by blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Islam and the anti-Muslim prejudice of the far-right” and that it is commonly conflated with racism. (More: Myriam Francois-Cerrah.)
I found out about Netroots 2012 through a tweet by Sue Marsh, one of the main authors of the Spartacus Report, earlier in the week and decided to go, more or less on the spur of the moment. It was at the TUC’s Congress Centre in central London, and I paid for my one ticket late on Wednesday afternoon and received it in the post the next day — they are obviously pretty efficient. I was greatly looking forward to meeting Sue and one other Twitter friend, and had no idea who else would be talking. The event was intended for online-based community activists with a left-of-centre leaning. Among the people I did in the event hear speeches by were Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy (and previously of Pickled Politics), Raven Brooks of Netroots Nation, and Owen Jones, author of Chavs, who gave the closing speech. (Sue wrote her account of the day here and the organisers put up a list of blog articles about the event here.)
This is an article about a Muslim mother who was barred from parents’ evening at her son’s school because the staff insisted on her removing her face-covering for “security” reasons. This follows a string of incidents of bans on niqab in various public buildings in the UK that started after Jack Straw told a newspaper that he asked constituents to remove their face-coverings in his surgery in 2006, sparking a series of sensational anti-niqab stories in low-rent tabloid rags.
The recently published diaries of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former “spin doctor” who had been at his side from well before he became Prime Minister, reveal that Blair arranged to keep the facts about the legal case for war in Iraq from his own Cabinet, and prevailed upon his Attorney General, Peter Goldsmith, to present only one side of the issue so as to undermine opponents of the war within cabinet:
Lord Goldsmith presented a longer legal opinion to Mr Blair on 7 March 2003 in which he said he believed there was a “reasonable case” in favour of military action, but that “there was also a case to be made the other way”. According to Mr Campbell’s diaries, Lord Goldsmith warned Mr Blair that he did not want the Prime Minister to “present it too positively” in favour of military action because there was a “case to be made the other way”. Mr Campbell wrote: “TB also made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet, though it would have to happen at some time, and ministers would want to cross-examine. With the mood as it was, and with Robin [Cook] and Clare [Short] operating as they were, he knew if there was any nuance at all, they would be straight out saying the advice was that it was not legal, the AG was casting doubt on the legal basis for war. Peter Goldsmith was clear that though a lot depended on what happened, he was casting doubt in some circumstances and if Cabinet had to approve the policy of going to war, he had to be able to put the reality to them.”
But Mr Campbell added that this was blocked by Mr Blair and his gatekeeper, Sally Morgan, during a meeting of Mr Blair and his closest aides on 11 March: “Sally said it was for TB to speak to Cabinet, and act on the AG’s advice. He would simply say the advice said there was a reasonable case.”
Following the 11 March meeting, Lord Goldsmith produced a new, one-page legal opinion which put the “reasonable case” for war – which was discussed at Cabinet and used in Parliament to justify military action.
This doesn’t prove that Blair’s mind was not always made up about following whatever Bush wanted, and that he simply “believed the intelligence” (although I believe his mind was made up and he took very little convincing), but it does demonstrate his determination to go to war and his disregard for the legal implications: he knew he might be committing a crime. It also reveals his total contempt for the Labour party: his own cabinet was just a nuisance, a group of people that needed deceiving to go along with his will.
Last night (Monday), the BBC broadcast a 90-minute exposé on the state of care for orphans and disabled people in Ukraine, in which there are ten times as many children in institutional care as in England. The documentary was shot over six months and heavily features one particular institution for children, which is run by a very caring man named Nikolai but which has extreme difficulties finding suitable staff. It also exposes the way perfectly capable adults, some with minor disabilities, are declared “incapacitated” by the courts, often entirely spuriously, depriving them of their right to work or marry or live independently and consigning them to institutional life. Some also report being sent to mental hospitals as a punishment, and given beatings and psychotropic medication as punishments for non-compliance. You can hear the programme-maker, Kate Blewett, interviewed on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour here for the next week or so.
This article by Will Hutton appeared in today’s Observer, arguing in favour of building a third runway at Heathrow and the proposed “High Speed 2” railway from London to the West Midlands and northern England. He argues that infrastructure can be beautiful, as it often was in the Victorian era as demonstrated by St Pancras. Some of his other examples are not all that beautiful at all, such as the Jubilee line extension (several of whose stations are spooky places reminiscent of the ‘scenery’ of Star Trek, which of course appeas to some) and Heathrow Terminal 5. He fails to take account of the enormous destruction that any such project will entail and the environmental costs of expanding aviation.
A year ago today (16th June), Ayn van Dyk, an autistic nine-year-old girl living in Abbotsford, British Columbia, was seized from her school by the local social services (which operate as part of the somewhat Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Child and Family Development, or MCFD). This followed an incident in which she had briefly gone missing from her father’s back garden four days earlier, and turned up safe and well two hours later. The officials used the excuse that her father, Derek Hoare, a single father separated from his children’s mother, Amie van Dyk (who was still involved in their care and is currently supportive of his position), was overburdened with the care of three children, two of them with autism. Some details of the distressing events that followed can be found in my entry from September 2011 which I linked above. At that time, her father was able to give information about what was going on in the case; since mediation began, he has been told not to share details about what transpires in those sessions.
Yesterday morning, Vanessa Feltz dedicated much of her talk show (BBC London, 94.9FM, 9am-noon) to the supposed news that people who drive for long distances in the middle lane on the motorways (rather than the left-hand lane) rather than using it for overtaking, as it should be, face a £90 fine and three points on their licence (get twelve points and you are usually banned from driving for a year). I was unable to find a specific news story for this claim, but what is true is that the government are planning to raise the fine for minor motoring offences from £60 to £90, which includes speeding but also various other minor infractions including this one. As ever, Feltz raised the “irritation factor” with her own rhetoric and cliches about “taking the middle path”. I use the motorways a lot in my work (and getting to work), and this is one of the less serious examples of dangerous driving I see every day. (You can listen to the show here until next Friday.)
After the fiasco of the raised age limit for non-EU spouses (it was set at 21, ostensibly to prevent forced marriage), which was struck down by the courts on human rights grounds, the Government have proposed yet another social engineering measure that tells British citizens who they can and can’t marry. This time, they will be requiring the British partner to have an annual income of at least £25,700 (more if the foreign spouse has children). As the report says:
Immigration welfare campaigners say that the move will exclude two-thirds of British people – those who have a minimum gross income of under £25,700 a year – from living in the UK as a couple if they marry a non-EU national. They estimate that between 45% and 60% of the 53,000 family visas currently issued each year could fall foul of the new rules.
Ministers have also been considering extending the probationary period for overseas spouses and partners of British citizens from two to five years and introducing an “attachment test” to show that the “combined attachment” of the couple is greater to Britain than any other country.
This article is an interview with Jill Anderson, whose husband Paul killed himself in 2005 (on his fourth attempt). He had suffered from ME (which they both insisted on calling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) for many years and it had resulted in terrible pain, as well as forcing him to close his business and declare himself bankrupt. The immediate trigger, she believes, is his application for Disability Living Allowance:
The day Paul died, he and Jill had started, finally, to fill out a detailed, 60-page form that would allow them to claim disability allowance. It was something Paul had been putting off for months. Jill now believes it was the trigger for his suicide – and it was this realisation that made her rush home that hot July day. “The form meant Paul had finally accepted that he was never going to get better,” she says. “He failed on every question. It sounds stupid, but I think we were both stunned [by the realisation].”
The last four days, the UK has seen a whole lot of events related to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (marking 60 years on the throne) and these included a flotilla on the Thames through London and a big concert outside Buckingham Palace, as well as street parties and public events throughout the country (there was at least one street party here in Kingston). I didn’t go to any of the events as I don’t like huge gatherings and crowds, the possibility of not being able to get where I’m going (like, across the river, important if you’re in central London), and displays of mass patriotism and conformity, regardless of what country they are in support of. I’ve also been doing work that involves a lot of long hours and was grateful for a long weekend, which I didn’t intend to spend standing in the rain watching a concert down the other end of a street.
Yesterday it was announced that a radical feminist conference that was to be held at Conway Hall in London has had to find another venue after an online campaign led to the venue’s owners deciding it broke equality laws as well as the organisation’s own principles:
We had sought assurances that the organisers would allow access to all, in order to enable the event to proceed at the venue. We also expressed concern that particular speakers would need to be made aware that whilst welcoming progressive thinking and debate, Conway Hall seeks to uphold inclusivity in respect of both legal obligations and as a principle.
In the absence of the assurances we sought, the event in its proposed form could not proceed at Conway Hall.
Speakers were to have included anti-pornography campaigner Gail Dines, Australian lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, and Pragna Patel, a founder member of Southall Black Sisters, but no other speakers have been identified and no firm programme has been announced (there is a list of “indicative conference topics” which is identical for both of the days of the conference at the time of this writing). The website currently says that the venue has been “changed” (although they don’t announce that on the front page - you have to go to the “Conference venue” page to find that out, if you haven’t been following the discussion on Twitter) and also does not give any clue about ticket prices. (More: Outlines, The Goldfish, Stavvers.)
Catcalls, whistles, groping: the everyday picture of sexual harassment in London (from the Independent)
Yesterday (Friday) it was reported in the Independent newspaper in London, and discussed on the Vanessa Feltz show on BBC London (and to a lesser extent, on the same station’s breakfast show), that a survey had shown that four in ten young women (under 34) had experienced sexual harassment of some sort on the streets of London. Vicki Simister of the Anti Street Harassment Campaign did an interview with the station, in which she described an incident which escalated from a group of men shouting at her from a car to them pinning her to a wall inside a Tube station, and when bystanders intervened and the police arrived, they blamed her and told her that the assault was her fault for reacting to their initial verbal harassment from the car. There are two other opinion pieces from the paper here and here, and you can listen to the Vanessa Feltz show here until next Friday morning and to the breakfast show here (same time limit).
I’ve been noticing various articles about the impending Windows 8 release on OSNews appear recently, and it doesn’t look good. I’ve been using Linux a lot since about 2002, and one of the worst developments on the Linux desktop are environments intended to “unify” the desktop, laptop and tablet user experience when the three (tablets especially) are radically different. Ubuntu’s Unity, for example, was originally released for netbooks only in 2010 and was introduced for other computers in early 2011, to widespread condemnation; it is only in the present release that it has reached any semblance of stability. Windows 7 looks to be the last release of Windows in which the traditional Windows interface with the familiar desktop applications is the standard; Windows 8 will be dominated by Metro, which originates in the world of smartphones and its apps can only be run full-screen or tiled. Old apps will be run inside the so-called Explorer shell, which will function as an application in itself:
Contrary to popular belief, Metro is not a replacement for the Start Menu. Metro is a replacement for the Explorer Shell. The Explorer Shell itself has been turned into an application. Traditional applications run within this Explorer Shell, and cannot be managed from Metro. In other words, the Explorer Shell has become an application with a multiple document interface, running in Metro.
This, right here, is the main reason why Windows 8 is such a pain to use with a mouse and keyboard. You can’t directly switch to a desktop application; you always have to first switch to the Explorer Shell, and then switch to the desktop application you want running within the Explorer Shell. This is a convoluted way of using my computer, especially since Metro itself isn’t mouse-friendly to begin with, with finicky hot corners and UI elements that are too volatile.
Consider this. To switch to a Chrome browser tab, you have to: switch to the Explorer Shell in the Metro application switcher (and hope this doesn’t go wrong), switch to Chrome in the traditional taskbar, and then switch to the right tab within Chrome. This is insanity. Whenever I go through this in Windows 8, I hear this playing in my head.
It’s not a technical issue. Microsoft could easily integrate the two much more efficiently and more fluently if they wanted to. No, the real issue is that Microsoft doesn’t want to, because (and here’s the pill that’s so tough for some to swallow) the Explorer Shell is being deprecated. It’s dead. It needs to be cumbersome and unpleasant because Microsoft hopes this will make users demand Metro versions of their favourite applications.