Review: Unrest

A still of Jennifer Brea, a light-skinned mixed-race woman with short brown hair, wearing a yellow blouse, sitting in a car seat.Unrest is a film about ME, made by Jennifer Brea (right) and which tells the story of her life with the condition since it forced her to cut short her degree. It also tells the story of the outbreak of the disease in Nevada in the early 1980s, which led the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to label it hysteria and obstruct biomedical research into it for many years, featuring interviews with American scientists who have treated sufferers, including Nancy Klimas and Paul Cheney, both heavily featured in Hillary Johnson’s book Osler’s Web. It also features interviews with other sufferers such as Jessica Taylor here in the UK, as well as the parents of Karina Hansen, the Danish woman forcibly admitted to a psychiatric unit in 2013 and only released earlier this year. This was partly a KickStarter funded project and I donated some money early on when it was working under the title Canary in the Coal Mine, which meant I got access to a free stream of the film as of last week.

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Hijabi versus liberal Muslima

Picture of Birmingham Central Mosque, a red-brick mosque with a red-brick minaret with white decorations and a white low-rise extension at the front. There is an Arabic inscription at the entrance which reads (in Arabic) "there is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah" and another sign reading "Read Al-Qur'an, the last testament".The other day Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, a popular Muslimah poet and blogger, drew my attention to an advertisement she’d seen in a mosque in Birmingham. It was from a BBC radio producer looking for “an older, Muslim woman who feels deeply tied to a traditional interpretation of Islam — who covers her hair or perhaps wears the niqab”. The BBC would arrange for the woman to “talk to another guest, a younger woman adopting a more liberal practice”. The encounter would not be a “confrontation or a debate” but rather “each guest would take turns to talk about the experiences that have led to their convictions, while the other guest listens”. The promise of “no confrontation” might be intended to reassure, but the insistence on an older woman in hijab or niqab and a younger woman who follows “more liberal practice” is clearly not intended to demolish any stereotypes.

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No, the Vegas shooter wasn’t a terrorist. Get over it.

A picture of the Mandalay Bay hotel, a tower block with three 'wings' coming out of a central point, illuminated by the sun, with the name "Mandalay Bay" in capital letters at the top of each wing. A replica of the Egyptian Sphinx stands in front of one of the wings and an obelisk and a video billboard with "Luxor" on them are also in the foreground, where there are palm trees, streets and traffic.Last week a white man shot dead 59 people who were attending a country music show in Las Vegas from the window of his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay hotel/casino. Already people have started putting his action down to undiagnosed mental health problems or Asperger’s syndrome, something which happens every time a white person carries out a mass shooting which wasn’t obviously linked to a domestic dispute (which many such shootings are, and they often go unreported beyond the local media, if at all) or a workplace dispute. The complaints about “ableism” in this context are fairly well-founded as most people who are mentally ill, let alone those who are autistic, are not aggressive at all, let alone murderers. But another routine objection is that the term ‘terrorism’ was not used to describe his actions and that this term is reserved for actions committed by members of minorities or non-white people, particularly Muslims. This claim is not well-grounded, and founded on a sense of victimhood.

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Labour, anti-Zionism and the past

Moshé MachoverThe controversy over supposed anti-Semitism on the left of the Labour party continues, with the Times publishing an article (paywalled) the other day proclaiming that Jeremy Corbyn had been called upon to throw out members of a group called “Labour Party Marxists” who distributed a leaflet quoting the Nazi police chief Reynhard Heydrich as saying, in 1935, that the Nazis had no interest in “attacking Jewish people”. The leaflet includes a transcript of a speech by one Moshé Machover, who during this writing has been expelled from the party; he is a Jewish socialist, mathematician and philosopher who was born in Tel Aviv but emigrated to the UK in the 1960s and took British citizenship; he is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of London and his son Daniel is a human rights lawyer. The full quote, “intended to establish that in 1935, when he made his statement, support for Zionism was indeed official Nazi policy”, can be found on Bob Pitt’s Medium blog and is sourced from Francis Nicosia of the University of Vermont.

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On Stephen Kinnock and regulation of labour markets

A 40-tonne articulated lorry pulled by a red Mercedes-Benz Actros tractor unit with a Serbian number plate and identity oval, a red curtain side and a white door with the name of the former owner 'Magazin Transport' still apparent. Four men are running after it so as to board from the back, where one of the doors appears to be partly opened.Earlier today I saw a Twitter thread posted by the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock (son of Neil) who is a member of the Brexit select committee in Parliament (starting here, ending here, claiming among other things:

As a progressive democratic socialist I know that markets fail when they are not regulated properly. From banking to construction to energy have seen what happens when markets are left to own devices. Why shld labour market be any diff? It’s not possible to regulate labour market unless it is possible to regulate supply, and FoM makes supply-side regulation impossible

He does not seem to understand that there are other ways of regulating the Labour market without simply “cutting off the supply” by ending freedom of movement within the EU. One of them is to incentivise businesses, especially large ones, to invest in new talent rather than relying on immigrant populations which can supply experience on tap — and to penalise companies which refuse to do this.

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Review: TomTom Go Professional 6250

A TomTom Go Professional series truck sat-nav showing a roundabout on the A134 road in England; a sign pointing to King's Lynn and Downham Market can be seen behind it in the windscreen.If you’re a truck driver nowadays, you’ll need a HGV-aware sat-nav (GPS unit). There are many stories about truck drivers getting their vehicles stuck down back alleys, teetering on the edges of cliffs or wedged under a bridge with the top of their trailer torn off, because they were following inaccurate advice usually as a result of using a car sat-nav. Truck sat-navs let you enter the weight and height of your vehicle and other details (such as hazardous goods it may be carrying) and offers you a route that avoids low bridges and weight limits. Back in 2013 I bought an earlier TomTom truck sat-nav, the Pro 5150 Truck Live, which I found quite inadequate and sent it back very quickly. Since then I have been using Garmin units, mostly very successfully until, when driving a 44-tonne steel truck to a plant in Enfield a few weeks ago, it tried to get me to drive down a canal tow-path and then somehow get the goods (several tonnes of sheet metal) across the canal to the other side. Luckily, I was able to do a loop round a nearby trading estate and then go and find the correct route. But the forklift driver told me that delivery drivers with Garmin units often have that problem, while TomToms get it right. TomTom have a fairly new 6in unit out, the Go Professional 6250, which was being advertised in the margins of a truck drivers’ forum I belong to, and the user interface has been changed a lot since I last tried one. So, I decided to give it a go.

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280-character Twitter just isn’t Twitter!

A male linnet with brown and red plumage, sitting on a thin tree branchSo, last night Twitter announced that they are trialling a new 280-letter Twitter format, and that certain people had been selected to try it out (I wasn’t one of them). The company’s blog post says that the change is going to affect “languages affected by cramming”, i.e. those languages where a single character does not represent a whole word (as is the case in Korean, Chinese and Japanese) and is meant to alleviate the problem of having to trim down tweets to fit within the 140-character limit. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (plain @jack on Twitter) said in one of the new extended tweets that “140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit”. The announced change has met with a fair amount of derision, with some saying the 140-character limit is what made Twitter what it was; that doubling the maximum length of tweets will remove the brevity: “Normal 140 char tweets, you can spend a few seconds on and move on if that. This completely breaks up that feel to it … that easy, scrollable, bite size thing Twitter has going for it will be gone”.

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May’s speech rewrote history

A front page from the Daily Mail, with the headline "Europe's war on British justice"So, last Friday Theresa May, the British prime minister, gave a speech in Florence (full text here) in which she told us what sort of Brexit she hoped she could achieve, notably rejecting both the “Norway model” in which the UK would be a full member of the Single Market without a seat at the table when EU policies are made, and the “Canadian model”, the latter being a straightforward free trade agreement. One section of her speech that has caused a lot of upset was this:

The strength of feeling that the British people have about this need for control and the direct accountability of their politicians is one reason why, throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union. And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.

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Who’s celebrating Uber’s eviction from London?

A hand holding a Samsung phone with an Uber logo on display, in front of a Ford steering wheelEarlier this week the minicab firm Uber, which allows people to hire cabs using an app which calculates the fare to their destination, lost its licence to operate in London and will have to cease operations here as of the end of the month unless it appeals (which it probably will) in which case it could continue to operate into next month. This will mean getting a cab ride in London will become either more complicated or more expensive, as minicabs have to be booked in advance and cannot be flagged down in the street, while taxis or black cabs, which can be, are expensive to ride even short distances. The cancellation of its licence by Transport for London, the transport authority overseen by the mayor, was because it was not “fit and proper” to hold a private hire licence on public safety grounds; the decision has been criticised by a lot of women who said it was the only way they could rely on getting home at night, as well as by black and Asian people who said that problems with minicabs and black cabs, whose drivers often refused to stop for them, made Uber the only way they could get a cab at all.

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Anti-Zionism versus Anti-Semitism

A boy riding a suspension mountain bike with a bright blue frame in front of the Israeli concrete wall which is about three times his height. A graffito "Peace 4 Palestine" appears to his left.I’m a Muslim and an anti-Zionist. The latter means I support the right of the Palestinian Arabs to their country: all of it. Right now, part of it is a settler state that allows some remnant of the former Palestinian population to remain as citizens, part of it is occupied by that same settler state, and parts of it are under a form of limited self-rule, mostly without access to their external borders and subject to incursions, curfews and other impediments to normal daily life at the will of the Israeli army. These facts are the reason there is a well-established movement to boycott the state which oppresses the native people of Palestine and the settler state of Israel, and to bring an end to the oppression as has been done with similar régimes, ‘democracies’ which exclude a large proportion from any say in their own lives or how the country they lived in was run, in southern Africa. The settler state, however, has powerful friends in the West which denounces this movement as inherently racist and accuse it of desiring to see genocide against the Jews, effectively another Holocaust. Both these accusations are groundless.

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Justice for LB: Southern Health pleads guilty

Part of the frontage of Banbury Court House, a two-storey yellow stone building.In another chapter of the ongoing battle to bring to book those responsible for the death of Connor Sparrowhawk (known as Laughing Boy or LB) in a bath in an NHS learning disability facility in Oxford in 2013, today the NHS trust responsible, Southern Health, pled guilty at Banbury magistrates’ court, Oxfordshire, to breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety Act, namely failing to ensure the safety of people other than employees. Sentencing was meant to take place on 12th October at Oxford Crown Court (the magistrate can only levy a very inadequate £5,000 fine) but the trust are in court on charges brought by the Care Quality Commission that day, so it is likely to be delayed until the new year. The management has changed somewhat since Connor’s death, with the then CEO Katrina Percy resigning in October 2016 (after having served in an ‘advisory’ role since nominally stepping down as CEO in August 2016) and all the non-executive directors resigning in March 2017; Connor’s mother, Dr Sara Ryan, tweeted that they “were dragged to the guilty plea by meticulous work by the HSE” and that Katrina Percy was still sitting on a £200,000 payout.

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Why ‘platooning’ is a bad thing

Two articulated lorries with DAF XF tractor units bearing Dutch number plates, painted in a blue and white striped livery with "EcoTwin" and "European Truck Platooning" logos on bothI’m a truck driver and for the most part I enjoy my job. I get to see different parts of the country every day and much of what I see apart from roads (and industrial parks, service stations etc) consists of green fields, hills and valleys and pretty villages and small towns. Most of the jobs I do are low-pressure, varied, not banal and do not require me to be in close proximity to others (strangers) for long periods in the day. It can be tedious, motorway driving especially, but I can listen to the radio or stock up on podcasts and audio-books to listen to on the way. A lot of driving jobs, however, consist of the same trip every day, often from a pallet freight depot somewhere to a ‘hub’ somewhere in the Midlands in the evening and returning in the early morning. Every night the motorways are filled with these lorries, mostly ‘double-deckers’ about 16 feet high, usually about three of them from each of about five companies in each postcode area. In the USA, they are already testing a system they call ‘platooning’, or running three trucks together with only one ‘active’ driver, the others controlled by computers connected to the truck at the front, and tests of these set-ups are shortly to take place here. I think this is a bad idea.

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Persecution of the Rohingya is nothing new

A bicycle abandoned in the grass in front of a burning building in a Burmese Muslim villageThe persecution of the Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar in the main native language) has picked up in the last few weeks, with obvious signs of genocide or as the UN has called it “classic ethnic cleansing”, the burnings of villages and half-hearted attempt to disguise the burnings as the Muslims (Rohingya) burning their own homes. The ‘provocation’ was some attacks on Burmese police and military by a new Rohingya militant force and this is being used to justify attacks on civilians by Burmese forces. Aung San Suu Kyi, long-time leader of the National League for Democracy who won elections in 1988 but was prevented from taking power by a military coup and is now foreign minister, has mouthed the military-dominated government’s line and been condemned by many of her former liberal allies in the West. There have been calls for her Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded, although there is no mechanism for this to happen.

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Home schooling is vital

A picture of a mother and son doing schoolwork togetherHot on the heels of the Tower Hamlets Muslim foster care hoax, the Times today printed a story (behind firewall) claiming that home schooling was part of “a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists”, a claim made by Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu at a police superintendents’ conference in Stratford upon Avon:

Unregulated education including home schooling and the segregation of some communities are helping to create extremists and future terrorists, the national police counterterrorism co-ordinator warned.

Neil Basu, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, said that some “disenfranchised” members of society feel that the government fails to understand their religion and see “no future in the West”. He added: “Segregated, isolated communities, unregulated education and home schooling are a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists.”

Mr Basu told the police superintendents’ conference in Stratford-upon-Avon that the homegrown threat was from a “more extreme second generation” of jihadists and warned of the influence of social media.

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Snooping round our door

Picture of Martin Narey, a clean-shaven middle-aged white man with greying hair wearing a white shirt and a blue and silver striped tie.Earlier today I heard an interview with Sir Martin Narey, a former director-general of the prisons service and later chief executive of the Natoinal Offender Management Service, then CEO of Barnardo’s and more recently an advisor to Michael Gove on children’s social care when he was Secretary of State for education, on Radio 5 Live in which he spelled out what was wrong with the Times’s Tower Hamlets foster care story last Monday. When the presenter, Adrian Chiles, asked him if Andrew Norfolk, the ‘investigator’ who uncovered the ‘scandal’, or the Times’s motive for publishing it was racist, he said absolutely not and praised Andrew Norfolk for his previous ‘brave’ reporting on the Rochdale grooming affair. (The interview is near the beginning of the show.) Also last night, I saw a series of tweets from Murad Ahmed, a Muslim journalist who used to work at the Times and now works for the Financial Times on “sport, hotels, sport, gambling, other fun stuff” and previously about technology (the tweets start here). He also cannot accept that there is any Islamophobia at the paper; he says it’s a “great paper” and that the author was a “fantastic journalist”, that his Rochdale story was “high class”.

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Why did they lie?

A front page of the "Times" newspaper, with the headline "Christian child forced into Muslim foster care"Earlier today I saw an article on Medium titled “Why did Andrew Norfolk lie?”. Andrew Norfolk is the investigative reporter who wrote the story about the “Christian” girl being fostered with the Muslim foster family in east London that appeared last Monday. The article was written by Abdul-Azim Ahmed, editor of the On Religion magazine (not sure if he means the print magazine or the website). He writes:

Andrew Norfolk, in writing these words, knew they amounted to lies. The girl’s racial and religious background is mixed according to court documents, with foreign-born Muslim grandparents (though the mother disputes the religious identity).

The entire story, from headline to closing to paragraph, was a series of lies and lies by omission. Others have detailed this, the shoddy basis of the story, and the wider context of poor reporting on Muslims.

According to Islam it’s enough that a man repeats everything he hears that one may call him a liar. In British law the definition is more exacting: it’s libel to call someone a liar unless you can prove they knew at the time that what they were saying was false (I’ve been threatened with a libel suit in the past for calling Shiv Malik a liar on this blog). I don’t know how much Andrew Norfolk or his editor knew about the facts behind the story they were given but I can lay a fairly safe bet on why they published a story that anyone with any knowledge of issues surrounding fostering could have told them might be at least partly untrue, and which fell apart so dramatically within days: an agenda to demonise and stigmatise Islam and Muslims in this country.

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So, it was all a lie

A stock picture of a six-storey red-brick block of flats, with grey skyscrapers in the background, one of them bearing an HSBC logo. In the foreground is the car park for the block of flats.The truth about the young girl fostered with a Muslim family in east London that appeared in the Times on Monday was revealed yesterday in an anonymised court judgement (PDF). The Times’ story was rubbish, based wholly on spurious claims either sourced from a third party, maybe friends of the family or maybe rogue employees of social services in Tower Hamlets, or maybe just made up by the newspaper. It turns out that the girl was not a “white Christian” at all; her grandparents were Muslims, albeit non-practising. The foster family is in fact mixed race and they do speak English. Not only had an independent guardian found no fault with the foster family but the mother offered no objections to her daughter being with the foster carers at all, nor it seems to her parents taking her daughter back to their home country. Tom Pride has published a breakdown of the claims and the facts here. Some other blog responses are worth reading:

Shane Ridge case: Shurely shome mishtake

Picture of Shane Ridge, a young white man with short blond hair and a slight beard wearing a dark blue boiler suit standing in a room with white painted breeze-block walls with a whiteboard behind him, holding a letter in his hands headed 'Immigration Enforcement'Update: The Home Office has apologised after it established that Shane Ridge was indeed automatically a British citizen.

I’ve filed this under “Immigration” even though the ‘immigrant’ in question, Shane Ridge from Colne, Lancashire, was born in the UK and both his parents are British nationals, but he has been told to prepare for deportation to Australia, where his mother was born during a family holiday although she has always lived in the UK. The ‘stumbling block’ is that his mother was not married to his British father at the time of his birth, and it is only since 2006 that a British father can transmit British nationality to his children if he is not married to their mother at the time of their birth (it has only been since 1983 that a British mother can pass her nationality onto a child born overseas). Still, I wonder why, as an illegitimate son of a British mother, he is not automatically a British national even if he may also be an Australian national. It sounds like a bureaucratic mix-up to me; according to the government’s own website:

You’re automatically a British citizen if you were born in the UK after 1 January 1983 and 1 of your parents was a British citizen or settled here at that time. You don’t need to register.

Shane Ridge is 21, so must have been born in 1996 or 1997. Also according to their website, one can register as a British citizen if born before 2006 out of wedlock to a British father and “would have become a British citizen automatically if your parents had been married”. I fail to see why this route is not open to Shane Ridge if he is not automatically British, as he appears to be.

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Muslim foster story is naked hate

A picture of a Muslim woman in a black robe and face covering and a white girl with long blonde hair, wearing a white T-shirt and black trousers or skirt. The girl's hair is blurred.The Murdoch Times has a front-page story today exposing a ‘scandal’ in which a young “white, Christian” girl was placed by Tower Hamlets council’s social services into the care of a Muslim foster family in which the wife wears the niqaab (which they explain is indicative of “Wahhabi” beliefs, which is not true) and which has not allowed her to wear a cross on a chain around her neck or eat pork in the house and encouraged her to learn Arabic; the current foster carer supposedly wears a “burka” (a term nobody uses here, and the garments known as burkas abroad are not worn here) which covers her whole face when outside. The Times’s version of the story is paywalled, but the Daily Mirror has published a paraphrase of the story which, like the Times’s version, takes the family’s and the anonymous “supervisor’s” tales at face value; we may consider the possibility that they are not telling the whole truth (as is often the case with aggrieved families that run media campaigns against social workers, something that journalists should be aware of in the light of the Ellie Butler case) or that neither the girl nor the foster family actually exist. The girl has apparently spent a total of six months in two separate Muslim foster homes in the second of which the mother wears a so-called burka which covers her whole face when outside. (More: Transparency Project.)

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Review: The State

Shakira, a black woman wearing a black gown and veil which is flipped back over her head, embraces Isaac, a young boy in a green-and-white striped T-shirt who is facing away from the camera. Dust is visible as it follows a bombing.The State is Peter Kosminsky’s four-part drama series on a group of young people from western Europe (the two central characters are British) who travel to Syria to join ISIS. It was shown on four consecutive nights at 9pm starting last Sunday night. Peter Kosminsky previously directed Britz, a mini-series from 2007 about two young British Muslims, one who kills herself after being subject to a control order and one who becomes a suicide bomber as a result. That was widely criticised for its unconvincing storyline and manipulative plot devices as well as the use of language Muslims would not use. The State, although it had its unconvincing parts and annoying details, clearly shows that Kosminsky has done quite a bit more research this time around; the two central characters are ‘believers’ in the mission of ISIS on arrival, but gradually come to understand the dark side of life in Raqqa and the corruption of its leaders; one escapes while another comes into conflict with the leadership and at the end is on the verge of imprisonment or execution.

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