Proud and Prejudiced on Channel 4 (available to watch for another month at the time of writing)
Proud and Prejudiced featured Saiful-Islam, one of the public speakers of the group commonly called Al-Muhajiroun, a “radical Islamic” group which hold noisy and gratuitously offensive demonstrations around the country but particularly in Luton, and “Tommy Robinson”, really Stephen Lennon, the leader of the so-called English Defence League, a group dominated by football hooligans which goes around holding noisy and often violent “demonstrations” outside mosques and in Muslim neighbourhoods. Although both men heavily featured in Stacey Dooley’s programme on BBC3 last week, this one was more heavily focussed on the two men rather than their organisations, and gave much more air-time to Lennon and his point of view, at the cost of investigating his claims. (More: Andy Carrington , .)
University graduate Lois Owen, 34, died after her weight plummeted to just 3st 2lbs | This is Derbyshire (also reproduced on the ME Association site)
Lois Owen achieved a first-class honours degree from the University of Derby while suffering from ME (or “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”), founded a charity called Therapeutic Arts which provided free classes in painting, drama, poetry, sculpture and music to “help users express themselves and improve their learning”, and was observed to have a great concern for helping others, once seen talking to a homeless man on a station platform that everyone else passed by. However, in March 2009, she died after having been unable to eat for a long period because of ME: according to the report, she did not have the “energy” to eat although her mind was very active, as demonstrated by things she wrote during that time. When she died, her weight was 3st 2lbs (20kg).
Building for the Future Blog: The Daily Mail and the “Strict Muslim” - Part 2
The above article reproduces the response of the Press Complaints Commission, a deliberately toothless “self-regulation” body for the British media, to complaints about an article about a man who was jailed for a series of rapes in east London. Sunny Islam, aged 23, was jailed in January for a minimum of 11 years for seven charges of rape, one of sexual assault and one of kidnap in mid-late 2010; the youngest of his victims was 15 (and claimed to be 11). Supposedly, he did this to punish them for being out at night.
Faiza Shaheen - I’m a jobs snob. Iain Duncan Smith should be one too. | the new economics foundation
There was also an article in yesterday’s Guardian from someone with a genetics degree from the same university as me (Aberystwyth), who protests against being forced into “meaningless assignments” in jobs in which he already has experience, aimed at instilling “discipline” when his success at getting a degree should prove that he already has that, in the same sector:
The Jobcentre has done nothing but hinder me in my search. When I was asked what qualifications I had, and I told them about my degree, Btecs, A-levels, AS-levels and GCSEs, they responded with “Are you sure? Have you got certificates to prove that?” To be patronised and looked down on didn’t faze me, but what did was the suggestion by a personal adviser that I take my degree off my CV, saying it might be scaring employers. I steadfastly refused, and later asked another staff member who said there was no way any adviser would suggest a customer remove a qualification.
Things degenerated when another adviser referred me to the “flexible new deal” programme. They made me attend a course at Pertemps People Development Group. This was a few rooms of rented-out office space with a projector, whiteboard and a few computers. My assignment was to complete a large black folder’s worth of worksheets, with topics like “verbal and non-verbal communication” which was more or less sit up and smile, and interview techniques with innovative methods such as not swearing and wearing a shirt and tie. All for a level 1 NVQ, which according to direct.gov is worth the same as a GCSE grades D-G.
After this my adviser decided that work experience was all that mattered. This was despite the fact that I already had work experience. As a student I was a “team member” at McDonald’s, “customer assistant” at Morrisons and even briefly worked for an online retailer, managing their website. This was all on my CV.
Why then did the “adviser” refer me to the mandatory work activity that is designed for young people who require “discipline” as they have “never had a job”. I have had jobs. I have discipline. I couldn’t have passed my degree without it. I have successfully passed over a hundred exams in my academic career, each one of them a good example of how I possess the skills of “arriving on time”, “carrying out specific tasks” and “working under supervision”, the aims of the mandatory work activity. Why are graduates being placed on this scheme at all?
BBC Three - My Hometown Fanatics: Stacey Dooley Investigates
Stacey Dooley is presented as someone who was plucked from working as a shop assistant at a perfume counter at Luton airport to presenting an investigative programme, titled “Stacey Dooley Investigates”, for BBC Three, their digital-only youth-oriented channel. She first appeared for them in their show “Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts”, in which a group of British youths, including Dooley, went to India to live and work alongside local garment workers, but her “strong interest in the nature of third world labour laws” got her a documentary series of her own. In this show, she returned to her home town of Luton to “find out why it is known as the extremist capital of Britain”. (The programme can be watched, if you’re in the UK, for the next five days. More: Engage.)
Eugenics: the skeleton that rattles loudest in the left’s closet | Jonathan Freedland | Comment is free | The Guardian
The article is about the enthusiasm of pre-war centre-left intellectuals for eugenics, the movement which aimed, as he puts it, “to increase the overall quality of the national herd, multiplying the thoroughbreds and weeding out the runts”. Until the war it attracted a number of the brightest lights of the liberal and socialist left, including Sidney and Beatrice Webb (who founded the Fabian Society), George Bernard Shaw, Marie Stopes, William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes, who was director of the Eugenic Society from 1937 to 1944. They believed in it, he says, because the left believed in planning, and believed that mankind could plan its own evolution by stopping the “genetically inferior” poor and disabled from breeding. All this went drastically out of fashion after World War II, when people saw that such ideas fed the Nazi ideology and, ultimately, its programme of mass murder.
Last Sunday night, the R&B singer Chris Brown performed at the Grammy award ceremonies, having apparently been given an exemption from the terms of his five-year probation to appear. Brown is probably better known for beating up his then-girlfriend, fellow R&B singer Rihanna, at the wheel of a car than for his music, although I’m no expert on that kind of music, except that it’s no stranger to stars who humiliate and abuse women. Of course, Whitney Houston died the night before, and I made some ostensible attempts to “cheer people up” on Facebook by suggesting that at least we could look forward to seeing Brown booed off stage, or maybe to him presenting “Best Female Solo Artist” to someone who punched him in the face. However, neither of these things happened, and his performance passed off without incident. Rihanna also appeared (both of them were meant to appear at the event in 2009, but couldn’t because they were either in hospital or helping police with their enquiries) and an early Daily Mail report on the event has Rihanna doing a duet with “Coldplay’s Chris Brown” — which might seem like a fine way to humiliate her violent ex if it were true, but Coldplay’s lead singer is in fact Chris Martin.
Recently there were two court cases which further established the secularism of the British state, despite its nominal Christian character: one involved an atheist councillor in Bideford, Devon, who resigned from a council after they refused to end their Christian prayers before each meeting, and the other involved a Christian couple who owned a guest-house in Cornwall, and refused to rent a double room to a gay male couple. In the first, brought by the National Secular Society, the court found that the inclusion of prayers on the agendas of such meetings was unlawful because of what the Daily Mail called “a technicality in the Local Government Act 1972”; as Ouseley said, quoted in the Guardian:
A local authority has no powers under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 to hold prayers as part of a formal local authority meeting or to summon councillors to such a meeting at which prayers are on the agenda.
The saying of prayers in a local authority chamber before a formal meeting of such a body is lawful provided councillors are not formally summoned to attend.
On Tuesday night, the BBC broadcast two programmes about online bullying, one of them specifically dedicated to the phenomenon of “RIP trolling”, meaning the phenomenon of mindless idiots posting insulting messages, videos and doctored images on Facebook memorials to deceased people. The first was on Inside Out London and was entirely dedicated to that phenomenon, while Panorama explored other types of online bullying, including a campaign of harassment against a young girl who (it seems, egged on by her father. who was later charged with child abuse) posted provocative videos on YouTube and elsewhere, leading to her ending up in a psychiatric unit (although they did not mention this, or the charges against her father), but came back to the “RIP trolling” issue which they claimed was perhaps the worst kind of trolling. They played police footage of an interview with one such individual, and confronted another that they had managed to identify as he caught a bus.
Recently someone put up a petition online calling on the Queen to refuse Royal Assent to the impending Welfare Reform Bill (i.e. to veto it), to which Sue Marsh, co-author of the Spartacus Report, drew my attention. The UK is, as far as I know, the only country in the western world where we have a monarch that is theoretically allowed to refuse a bill, although to my knowledge, the monarch has not done that since the 19th century — in fact, she does not personally sign bills into law anymore, but a member of her staff rubber-stamps it. This is the first time I have heard of people getting together to petition the Queen to actually refuse passage to a bill passed by the Commons. In fact, it is quite rare for people of the political left to put such trust in the House of Lords to frustrate the will of the Commons, and reflects the desperation of those doing it (such as the disabled activists) and their sense of betrayal by the elected politicians.
On Monday night, BBC2 broadcast a documentary titled Protecting Our Children, the first of a series of three programmes which follows a social worker in Bristol as they deal with one of their child protection cases. The social worker featured this week was the newly-qualified Susanna, whose case (and its ending) has already been described in two articles, one in the Guardian and another on the BBC website. Next week’s case features another social worker, and another couple who have already lost three children: its conclusion has already been given away in this week’s Bella magazine. What concerns me, though, is the attitudes of some people online to the social workers and their “clients”, and the wilful blindness they display.
One Born Every Minute is a series on Channel 4 (UK) which features women giving birth, and the nurses and midwives who attend to them. They feature two women (or couples, if the man is around) every week, and last week they featured Steve and Tricia McHale. Tricia uses a wheelchair and has cognitive impairments which stem from a head injury she received when hit by a hit-and-run driver when she was 13 (she is 40 now). The couple have been married for 20 years, and this was the first time she had carried a pregnancy to term — they had suffered two miscarriages and had trouble conceiving for reasons related to Tricia’s disability. You can watch the programme here if you’re in the UK, and there are some clips here and there is an article on the Daily Mail’s website about them.
There is a long article in today’s Guardian about the racism facing the Roma population in Hungary, which has faced acute discrimination since (at least) the end of Communism, particularly in the education system in which their children are often segregated from other children, given inferior accommodation and their work marked less than non-Roma children. One of the schemes introduced by the new government, a coalition of the right-wing Fidesz and the far-right Jobbik (which used to have a militia until it was forced to disband) is one ostensibly designed to get people off state benefits and back to work:
His government, he said, was rejuvenating the job market by getting people off benefits and into work: “Everyone should work who can.” It was the “saddest figure in Europe”, he said, that Hungary had the lowest employment rate in the EU.
For the long-term unemployed – a disproportionate number of whom are Roma – this means taking part in the government’s new public work programme. According to Jeno Setét, a Roma activist, between 70% and 80% of Hungary’s Roma population do not work (the rate for the whole population is around 10%). This scheme aims to get 300,000 people into work by 2014 via a sort of community service scheme for which participants are paid less than the national monthly minimum wage (around 80,000 HUF – £214 – for unskilled workers) but slightly more than they would receive in benefits.
Anyone unemployed for 90 days is offered a place on the programme, which administers projects cleaning streets or sewers, cutting down trees or building football stadiums or dams. Refusal to accept a placement will result in all social security benefits being stopped to the refusenik and family. Gyöngyöspata was chosen last year to run a pilot scheme. Unemployed locals – almost exclusively Roma – were deployed to cut down trees in a nearby wood.
For Setét, the public work scheme is a “smokescreen” that will do little to help Roma get “real” jobs and will reinforce their position at the bottom of Hungarian society. “If people on the scheme were paid properly and trained properly, I’d be all for it,” he added. “But they are not. Right now it’s a way of humiliating people and paying them a slave wage.”
While the system of “work for benefits” does not involve the obvious racism present in the Hungarian version, it does not even pay more than benefits and is not even in public services but consists of fake “work experience” schemes for large commercial organisations and also carries the threat of lost benefits. The US version is known to have pushed people into food banks and soup kitchens by withholding benefits in the absence of work; our other fellow-traveller in this is a notoriously racist country in eastern Europe which is becoming an undemocratic pariah state.
Yesterday, Rod Liddle had a venomous article printed in the Sun newspaper on page 13, which suggested that he might like to become disabled so that he could claim money off the state and use disabled parking places (“you park where you want. Right in front of the cashpoint for example”) and toilets. In his opening paragraph, he said that his disability might be “nothing too serious, maybe just a bit of a bad back or one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades – fibromyalgia, or M.E.”. The article is no longer on the Sun’s website, but Political Scrapbook reproduced it in image form here. James Delingpole weighed in on the Telegraph blog section in his favour with a piece titled “The fake disabled are crippling our economy”, alleging:
There really are far, far too many people sponging off the taxpayer right now with their fake or exaggerated disabilities and they’re one of the reasons we’re in the financial mess we’re in. … Every time the disability lobby squeals for more another few jobs are lost, another few basis points are lost from GDP growth. But these people don’t care; they know better than that: the government owns a magic money tree and its ability to distribute the fruits thereof is boundless.
Last night BBC1’s Holby City aired a quite ridiculous storyline in which a 16-year-old girl with the skin condition Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) received a bone-marrow transplant from her sister, which is supposed to cure the condition. I had always thought EB was incurable (and if it could be cured this way, the EB charity Debra would say this on their website as there would be a great deal of interest), so I tweeted a friend who has the condition, and she told me the storyline was nonsense, that the treatment on display had killed babies with EB in the USA, and that she was refusing to watch it. Debra has a page about the storyline here:
Has BMT been carried out in patients with EB before?
Yes, two clinical trials of bone marrow transplants from healthy donors without EB into children with severe EB are currently ongoing in the US. Early results from the trial indicate that, in some patients, there may be some benefit derived from bone marrow transplants.
However, overall results are mixed and, sadly, there is a significant risk of death. Consequently, such trials are not planned currently in the UK.
Self-employed business opportunity? No thanks | John Harris | Comment is free | The Guardian
This article exposes something I have had personal experience of in the past year, which is proper jobs (usually minimum wage jobs) being replaced by “self-employment opportunities”, in which the worker is paid directly and expected to look after his own taxes and National Insurance contributions, and commonly they are paid less than the minimum wage, which is quite legal as he is not actually an employee but a contractor. The Daily Mirror has been running a campaign, “Gizza Proper Job”, which exposes this behvaiour going on in a number of major companies including one that I’ve worked for (not on this basis), Hermes Parcelnet. Their full index of stories on the subject is here and sectors implicated include nursing, car manufacturing, hairdressing, telesales, doorstep energy selling, scaffolding, car delivery … you name it, it’s there.
Last Tuesday, BBC 5 Live’s morning discussion presenter Victoria Derbyshire hosted an interview with Maria Miller, the minister responsible for disabled people in the UK, and various disability activists including Kaliya Franklin of Spartacus Report fame, and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a former Paralympic athlete who is now a cross-bench peer (that is, a member of the House of Lords who is not a member of a party, either government or opposition). You can listen to it on YouTube here — the discussion goes on for just over 30 minutes.
Why British Muslim women struggle to find a marriage partner | Syma Mohammed | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Syma Mohammed is claiming that Muslim women find it significantly more difficult than men to find a partner, as evidenced (she says) by the disproportionate number of women to men at various Muslim marriage events in the UK. She offers a number of explanations, including the fact that Muslim men can marry “people of the book” but women can’t (they must marry Muslims), and that Muslim men are likely to be able to get a wife from “back home”, while women are unable or unwilling to do this. I do not believe the situation is as rosy for Muslim men looking for wives as she makes out.
Why the government was wrong to make me work in Poundland for free | Cait Reilly | Comment is free | The Guardian
Cait Reilly is currently suing the government after the DWP forced her to leave a voluntary work placement in a museum to do one of their unpaid “training” placements in Poundland (for overseas readers, this is a chain of shops that sells everything for £1) which turned out not to be training at all, but two weeks’ unpaid shelf-stacking and floor-sweeping, something anyone can learn to do in under an hour. Ms Reilly had worked in retail before, as have I, and even till work does not require two weeks’ training — in my case, it took one working day to give us the “customer service” pep talk and to train us on the tills.
I have just published a transcript of an interview Kaliya Franklin, one of the major authors of the “Spartacus” report I blogged about here, that she gave to Resonance FM which was broadcast yesterday (Friday) afternoon. I did the transcript because Kaliya’s voice is barely audible unless the volume is turned up, an effect of her disability, which makes it unsuitable for those who are deaf or those who do not have a quiet environment in which to listen.
You can read the transcript on this blog here or you can download it in PDF format here.