Go after abusive media companies, not bloggers

Picture of Samuel JohnsonSamuel Johnson famously asked, in an essay written during the American war of independence, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”. These days, we hear the loudest yelps for free speech among a group of corporate bodies who act like the thuggish and brazen secret police of a tin-pot dictatorship. They harass members of the public who have the gall to be talented or otherwise famous, or who are unlucky enough to be a victim of a serious crime or to have some detail in their lives that these self-appointed Mukhabarat deem to be of interest to their customers; they rummage through their rubbish, they talk to their friends if the prey themselves will not talk, they hack their mobile phones and illegally access their voice-mail, they camp outside people’s houses and follow them down the streets, and they rely on gangs of photographers who have been known to pursue motor vehicles down roads and cause fatal car crashes. This week, these organisations have been loudly protesting a new form on press regulation that is meant to cut off the sharpest edges of their tyranny, while more moderate publications have announced that they will not be signing up to it or suggesting that it should not be the focus of an early-hours political deal. For once I agree with them: this new régime is the wrong way to go about it.

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Seven Years in the Making

Jessica Taylor has severe ME, and has been bedridden for seven years. She has previously made another video, “The World of One Room”, in which she describes how the disease has affected her life: among the years spent bedridden, she has spent several in hospital, unable to speak, paralysed and fed by tube. She improved somewhat, but recently suffered a setback because of another hospital admission during which she suffered neglect. This video shows her first time sitting in a chair in those seven years. Her story is a good example of ME almost at its worst, and should make anyone who still believes that it’s a primarily psychological condition sit up and notice, as well as emphasise the need for serious biomedical research.

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Perfidious Albion

Sign at a British airport that says "Welcome to Britain"BBC News - Leading music college loses border licence

Point Blank Music College, a well-regarded college which seems to specialise in modern music (teachers include DJ Pete Tong, alumni include Goldie and Leona Lewis) has lost its licence to sponsor students from outside the European Union, meaning that students they already sponsor have weeks to find a new college to sponsor their studies or leave the country. The reason is that more than 20% of the college’s applications for sponsorship over the period from June 2011 to June 2012; the number refused was 14 out of 33, which was 42% of the total, and the total refusal rate must be below 20%. Last year London Metropolitan University in east London also lost its permission to sponsor foreign students (known as highly trusted sponsor status), and 2000 students were affected.

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Because nobody gets raped in England, do they?

Picture of Stephen McPartland, a white man with short brown hair wearing a white shirt, dark grey suit jacket and blue tieBBC News - Barbados rapes: MP warns travellers island is 'unsafe'

Stephen McPartland, Tory MP for Stevenage, has been putting pressure on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to declare that Barbados is “not a safe place” until the police there properly investigate the rape of two British women in 2010. The police there responded by arresting the wrong man, which prompted the two victims to come forward and say that the man was in fact innocent. One of the victims, Dr Rachel Turner, originally comes from Letchworth (which is not in McPartland’s constituency but in NE Hertfordshire, which is held by Oliver Heald), but lives in Barbados and holds a post at the University of the West Indies.

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Don’t be tempted not to vote!

Picture of Richard Pryor, a Black American male actor, standing at a podium in front of four microphones, in front of a simultaneous video of him speaking, with the slogan "None of the Above" belowYesterday, in response to the abstention by most Labour MPs (and the party itself; forty Labour MPs voted against, including John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner) on the retrospective legislation to excuse the government for compensation to people stripped of their Jobseeker’s Allowance over refusal to do unpaid job “experience” placements, at least one erstwhile Labour member and voter said she was no longer going to keep her membership and would not vote for them, if at all, at the next election. This sense of disenchantment with Labour has been a factor since the election of Tony Blair, and that party’s refusal to challenge Tory policies and the demands of the Tory press has been the main reason I let my membership lapse in 1995 and have never once voted for them in a general election. However, I’ve always lived in constituencies where there there is a serious alternative (e.g. Plaid Cymru in Aberystwyth in 1997) or where they are not the biggest or second-biggest party. If your constituency is one where Labour and the Tories are the main challengers, that is not an option in 2015. (More: Latent Existence, Sue Marsh.)

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Why aren’t more people feminists nowadays?

Picture of Laurie Penny, a white woman with red hair wearing a black top with a red and yellow collar and two yellow stripes across the top of the chest.Laurie Penny: Feminism is the one F-word that makes eyes widen in polite company (from this week’s New Statesman)

The other week, one of my Facebook friends (who has severe ME) wrote that it made her sad that only one in seven women called herself a feminist, as being a feminist did not mean you could not be feminine. Laurie Penny, in the most recent New Statesman, notes that while touring the world “giving talks about anti-capitalism and women’s rights”, she’s met men who called themselves “equalists” rather than feminists, and young women who said “that despite believing in the right to equal pay for equal work, despite opposing sexual violence, despite believing in a woman’s right to every freedom men have enjoyed for centuries, they are not feminists. They are something else, something that’s very much like a feminist but doesn’t involve having to say the actual word”. She suggests that people regard feminism as angry, man-hating and unfeminine, and quotes bell hooks as saying, “most people learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media”.

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Lib Dem associations must act against backdoor Tories

Picture of Edward Davey, a white man in a dark grey suit with a blue tieLast week it was reported that the Lib Dem party conference had condemned the government’s plan for “secret courts” (as the BBC describes it, “some civil proceedings held in private for fear of damaging national security”), and yesterday the Scottish Lib Dem conference had also condemned the proposals. The parliamentary party’s support for the Tory proposals (which would, most likely, also be supported by Labour) also led to three high-profile resignations from the party. I am not sure resigning is the answer, however: for people who are in the party, the right way to proceed is to fight to unseat MPs who have betrayed their principles and those who voted for them.

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Is free speech free, or isn’t it?

Note: Further enquiries reveal that “Bethan Jones” is in fact Beth Tichbourne, and that her offence was not only to hold up the placard mentioned, but also to attempt to scale a barrier. Her account, reproduced uncritically on various websites, does not reveal that detail.

This morning I saw a post on Facebook by a woman who had been arrested during a protest aimed at David Cameron during the switching-on of the Christmas lights in Witney, Oxfordshire (the chief, albeit small, town in his constituency) last November. Bethan Jones had held up a placard saying “David Cameron has blood on his hands”, for which she was charged, and yesterday convicted, for causing “harassment, alarm or distress”, the magistrate reasoning that “I can think of nothing more alarming than the statement that ‘Cameron has blood on his hands.’”. To any reasonable person, this would sound like the normal stuff of political protest, and fairly tame compared to the lurid and defamatory material published in the commercial press every day. Jones also wrote that she had been beaten up by the police while the “celebrations” were going on. (Beth’s statement also republished at Bright Green Scotland, Liberal Conspiracy.)

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IDS: More Catholic than the Pope?

Picture of Justin Welby, a thin-haired white man with a black overcoat with a white clerical collar (or 'dog collar')The other day, Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, defended the welfare system that the present government are busy ripping up, describing it as a duty of a civilised society to support vulnerable people or those in need: “When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish. It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing. The current benefits system does that, by ensuring that the support struggling families receive rises with inflation. These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the Government.” The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, responded, according to the Daily Mail (from which I quoted the above) by claiming that the changes were about “fairness”, claiming that “hard-working” people had seen hardly any increases in their salary, yet the welfare bill had risen by some 60% under the last government:

That means they have to pay for that under their taxes, which is simply not fair. That same system trapped huge numbers, millions, in dependency, dependent on the state, unable, unwilling to work.

What is either moral or fair about that?

‘There is nothing moral or fair about a system that I inherited that trapped people in welfare dependency. Some one in every five households has no work – that’s not the way to end child poverty.

‘Getting people back to work is the way to end child poverty. That’s the moral and fair way to do it.’

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Hadley Freeman, feminism and intersectionality

Cover of "Lean In" by Sheryl SandbergHadley Freeman on Sheryl Sandberg, feminism and intersectionality (from today’s Guardian)

The above is an article by Hadley Freeman, who is one of the Guardian’s fashion columnists who also writes increasingly about feminist issues in her other column, about the responses to a book by one Sheryl Sandberg, a former US Treasury chief of staff who has also worked at Google and now works at Facebook, titled “Lean In”, which she describes as a “sort-of feminist manifesto”. I haven’t heard of her before and haven’t seen or read the book, but what interests me is Hadley Freeman’s take on “intersectionality”, the notion that people may be disadvantaged in multiple or different ways rather than simply by virtue of their sex:

The tendency to dismiss a woman discussing feminism because of her background is not a new development. Intersectionality in feminism – which argues that any feminist theory that does not take into account the different levels of oppression experienced by minority groups, such as women of colour and gay women – has been around since the 1980s and is, to a large extent, beneficial. Second-wave feminism in its early incarnation was notoriously bad at looking beyond the white middle classes and clearly greater representation is a positive development. But there comes a point when a well-intentioned move for greater inclusivity becomes an excuse for bullying exclusivity and a way for women to shut one another up. When Donald Trump writes a book about how to get ahead in business – which ultimately is what Sandberg’s book is about, but with a female emphasis – men don’t write articles claiming he is being elitist (they might write articles claiming he is an idiot, but that is another story.) No, Trump is not attempting to speak for all men in his book but neither is Sandberg attempting to speak for all women.

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Getting CyanogenMod on the Galaxy Nexus

Screenshot from a Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone running CyanogenMod 10.1. The screenshot shows a black strip along the top, with a Facebook logo, network and battery status indicators, and a clock. Below that is a calendar display showing a forthcoming "Asperger's employment assessment" and St Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland. Below that is a weather widget showing -1degC and "partly cloudy" in Surbiton. Then symbols representing a phone, an address book, a menu, a smiley representing the SMS program, and a Dolphin symbol representing a web browser. Below that are white buttons for Back, Home, recent apps and Search.A month or so ago I bought a second-hand Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone — I had intended to get a Nexus 4, but there were the usual supply problems at the time, and I bid on the Galaxy on eBay and won (much to my disappointment as the N4 came back on sale hours before the auction closed). Prior to that I had been using a Samsung Galaxy S, which I had upgraded to Jelly Bean using the third-party firmware CyanogenMod. This had produced a dramatic performance boost, but had also led to much reduced battery life, although this could be remedied by turning off mobile Internet except when I actually needed it. Last week, CyanogenMod released their latest milestone for Android 4.2, and after some inquiries I decided that was the time to install it. There was also a feature in the UK’s Android magazine, in the “Hacker Zone” section, on how to install CyanogenMod on a rooted phone; however, it gives no indication as to how to root in the first place.

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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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