There’s currently a measles outbreak in South Wales, the reason for which is that a lot of parents didn’t vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine during the late 90s and early 2000s when the scare produced by Andrew Wakefield’s discredited and biased research was at its height. Many parents thought that these illnesses were mild, transient things that all children got and couldn’t do you any harm, least of all brain damage. In fact, measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) can cause encephalitis, which can lead to brain damage and death.
If you’re an adult male who hasn’t had any children yet, mumps can harm you particularly — it causes inflammation of the testicles and that can make you sterile. So if you didn’t get vaccinated when you were a child, you are well-advised to go and get it done now. If you don’t have strong counter-indications (i.e. medical reasons not to get vaccinated) and you are healthy, you should get vaccinated because others who can’t rely on others’ immunity to stay clear of these diseases themselves (this is called herd immunity, and when I mentioned this to someone on Facebook, she haughtily told me “I’m not a heffer [sic] to be herded”, a prime example of the cluelessness of anti-vaccination activists).
I’ve mentioned some scare stories and misconceptions about vaccines and ME on this blog in the past. Although there have been cases of ME being triggered by vaccines, it can also be triggered by infections including mumps. Read the story of Emily Collingridge then put that scare story to the back of your mind.
(And here is the relevance of the title, if you were wondering. Image source: Wikipedia.)
Last night the BBC’s weekly Question Time programme was filmed in Finchley, the area of north London represented for more than thirty years by Margaret Thatcher, and focussed on her legacy, featuring Polly Toynbee (a Guardian columnist who was a member of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s), David Blunkett, Charles Moore (former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Thatcher’s biographer), Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, and Kenneth Clarke, who served as a cabinet minister throughout Thatcher’s time in office. A stark distinction was obvious: those who lauded Thatcher talked about the past, the 1970s, before she came to power, and those who were against her usually talked about the time during and after.
This is the party election broadcast by the Labour party that was broadcast just now on British TV. You might notice that the first thing Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, talked about was immigration and how the last Labour government got the subject wrong. I recall that, in the 2004 London mayoral election, both BNP and UKIP talked about things that were outside the remit of the mayor, including immigration: UKIP’s Frank Moloney talked of “less illegal asylum seekers” while the BNP’s Julian Leppert simply said “we offer the BNP’s national immigration policies”.
Only yesterday, someone tweeted that when asked where he was when he heard that Margaret Thatcher had died, the answer was he was on Twitter on all five occasions. Why people publish hoax death announcements on Twitter I don’t know, much as it’s a mystery why people post derogatory comments on teenagers’ Facebook memorials, but this time I did not quite believe it until I looked again at who was posting the announcement, among them Ed Fraser from Channel 4 News. Almost immediately, some of the people I follow said they might have to leave Twitter, because they could not tolerate a flurry of tweets celebrating her death, and others pointed out that this was an old lady who had dementia and died of a stroke (others have said we shouldn’t be “celebrating a family’s grief”, which I don’t think it is). The BBC has devoted huge news coverage to tributes and interviews about her, among them BBC London which has pulled the drive-time show (normally at 5pm) forward an hour. Glen Greenwald has set out the differences between taking the “don’t speak ill of the dead” attitude when the deceased is a private individual and when he or she is a public figure, particularly a very divisive one, like Thatcher. Thatcher wasn’t an old dictator who died in office, but neither was she the kindly old school dinner lady, and given her legacy, it’s only to be expected that some people in this country are celebrating.
Cathy “Bug” Brennan, someone who I have heard described as one of the most extreme and irrational radical feminists, has done a brief comparison of two music videos, namely Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy (1991) and The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony (1997). They both take a similar format of the singer walking along a street while singing their song to the camera, but their behaviour is radically different: Nelson breezes through a very rough LA neighbourhood, apparently noticing and noticed by nobody, disturbing and disturbed by nobody, while Ashcroft, walking along a market street in Hoxton in east London, bumps into one actor, I mean, passer-by after another, and some of the actors, I mean passers-by, are young women, some of them are old, some of them are powerfully-built men (and all of those just glare at him), and at one point he jumps over a car bonnet (and the young female driver pursues him up the street, but he manages to ignore her and keeps singing) and when his path really is blocked, he stares into the window, either at the occupants or his own reflection, depending on your point of view.
This is the front page of tomorrow’s Daily Mail, one which cynically exploits the tragic death in 2011 of six children in a house fire started by their parents and their parents’ friend in a bid to get a bigger council house. The man, Mick Philpott, was a thorougly unpleasant character who, it now turns out, had previously been jailed for seven years in 1978 attempting to murder a previous girlfriend by stabbing her (and also wounding her mother). He had previously appeared in the media demanding a bigger council house because the one he occupied (with his children, wife and then girlfriend, whose departure appears to have triggered the Philpotts’ crime) was too cramped; he also appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show, in which a stream of seemingly inbred low-lifes shout at each other over petty disputes.
However, the Mail attributes his behaviour to “Welfare UK”, at a time when there have been savage cuts aimed at the poorest: to take just one example, a couple I know have seen their rent more than double as a result. Doubtless some of their readers will have their qualms about the benefit changes of this week expunged by reading of Philpott’s exploits. The system may well have enabled his sordid lifestyle to some degree, but the fact is, he was an immoral degenerate and would have been whether he gamed the welfare state or scammed other people (most likely women, as he did anyway). As I saw someone posting on Twitter just now, he no more represents welfare claimants than Lord Lucan represents the wealthy. Much as I do not like paying for the lifestyles of people like Mick Philpott — none of us do — it is better than the alternative. I have several friends who rely on the welfare system to make life liveable, because they and/or their partner or children are disabled, mentally ill or, in some cases, both. If they could not get help from the state, it would have to be from friends, until they fell on hard times themselves or get sick of them. It keeps people from being put in “homes”, ending up on the streets, or being trapped in abusive relationships. Maybe with a man like Philpott. Think about it.
Earlier this afternoon I saw an announcement on Twitter from SwiftKey, the people behind my favourite keyboard on Android: a new way of using their keypad that they called “SwiftKey Tilt”, which meant you could type by simply moving your phone up and down and from side to side while a “pinball” typed out words for you. This had a lot of people fooled, perhaps because phones do, after all, have gyroscopes which detect the position of the phone and trigger such things as automatic rotation (not very accurately in my experience, which is why I have that feature turned off). The most recent release of SwiftKey had something called SwiftKey Flow, which enables you to draw your finger across the keyboard to form words, rather than touch key after key (i.e. their version of Swype, effectively). I got annoyed at the Tilt announcement:
@swiftkey before starting on the next big adventure, why not sort out the problems in your app NOW, like how it deals with hyphens & colons?
This letter appeared in yesterday’s Daily Mail in response to the article by David Goodhart about the Ahmadiyyah centre in Morden last Monday (see earlier article). The letter starts off by stating that her family lived in Merton Park, “near Morden Underground station”, but decided to move away “when the Labour council gave permission for the mosque to be built”. She goes on to complain that Morden town centre has become run down and full of eastern European and Asian shops and “South Wimbledon, Colliers Wood and Mitcham are much the same”. For the record, there is a large Sainsbury’s, a Marks & Spencer’s and a shopping centre with a car park in Colliers Wood with no Asian shops in sight; Merton High Street has always been full of small shops that served the local population, which includes a large council estate. Clearly, as more Asians have moved to the area (there is now a Bengali-run mosque on that road), the shops have changed. It has always been a busy road (barely less so since the A24 was re-routed to the south) and not exactly a desirable shopping location, hence the preponderance of small shops. Wimbledon is also very nearby and has the usual town centre shops.
On Wednesday a former prison worker and two former policemen were jailed for selling information to the papers, and the information the prison worker passed on concerned one of the murderers of James Bulger, Jon Venables (he is now known by another name, which cannot be revealed to protect his safety). Richard Trunkfield was at that time in debt and had been caring for his mother who had cancer in 2008 and 2009. However, we know the reason the Sun would have wanted this information: because the story sells.
The above is an editable open letter — it is editable so that you can add your name to the bottom of it. I would be particularly interested in signatures from anyone with a position of authority — anyone who has written a book, edits or writes a well-known blog, runs or has a position of responsibility in a relevant organisation or who runs an online forum or mailing list related to these issues, but if anyone else wants to sign, the more the merrier. The letter is an appeal to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, to appeal the sentence given to a man, Jordan Sheard, who inflicted a horrific and painful death on a vulnerable young man, Steven Simpson, in June 2012. The sentence was 3 1/2 years; I believe it ought to be at least double that. The letter, and the rest of this entry, contain the details and a trigger warning applies.
I need to get some signatures fairly quickly, because there is a time limit for appealing a sentence on grounds of undue leniency.
Barely a month ago I responded to an article in the Daily Telegraph, by a contributor to the Salisbury Review, moaning that Acton (in west London) was full of foreigners, or at least people who look like foreigners, who wear hijab or cover their faces and don’t talk to her in the street. This month it’s the turn of Merton, the borough that starts just down the road from me, to get the treatment. David Goodhart, former editor of Progress magazine and director of the think-tank Demos, complains that it has gone from 90% white to over 50% minority today, and that a particular neighbourhood is “dominated” by what the headline calls a “mega mosque” that attracts “thousands of men in Pashtun dress” who come to listen to a man they regard as “the holiest man on the planet”. He alleges that Merton is symptomatic of the “polite apartheid” which has taken hold, “an accommodation rather than an integration”, in which the “white population has more or less reluctantly shuffled along the bench and allowed others to sit down”.
Samuel 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday, 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.)
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”.
Last 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.
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.)
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.’