Earlier last week (before the story about the multiple rapist John Worboys being released from prison) the news was dominated by two stories, one about health and one about transport. The first was that the government had instructed British NHS hospitals to cancel ‘elective’ surgeries and outpatient appointments for the whole month of January in response to increased emergency demand, and there was much discussion about what that says about the government’s health policy and how important the NHS is to the government. The second was that rail fares were to go up well above inflation for the umpteenth consecutive new year. These were the focus of conversation on the morning radio talk shows I listen to when driving in the morning, such as BBC London’s early morning show and Vanessa Feltz’s phone-in after it, and the Today programme on Radio 4. In the case of the transport story, someone referred to off-peak fares as ‘leisure’ fares, as opposed to the peak-hour fares paid by commuters who travel before 9.30am. This tied in to something that stuck out about the coverage of ‘elective’ surgeries: it wasn’t stressed enough that these surgeries aren’t optional, even if they’re not urgent.
This is a letter in today’s Guardian from Joseph Pearlman (who appears to be an economist at City of London University, judging by a Google search for his name), claiming that a previous letter-writer “makes the charge that UK governments have been unclear about the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism” before claiming:
Most Jews in the UK would challenge the idea that there is much difference between the two. In recent years, anti-Zionism has manifested itself as opposition to the existence of a specifically Jewish state. In a 2015 survey, The Attitudes of British Jews to Israel, “90% of British Jews support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state”, the implication being that current anti-Zionism will be experienced as antisemitism.
Earlier today Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who was choked to death by New York police for illegally selling cigarettes in 2014 (one of a series of unarmed Black Americans, mostly men, who died violent deaths at the hands of police in various states in the four years leading up to Trump’s election) died after having been in a coma since Christmas Day following a heart attack. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter and Facebook claim that her death was contributed to her by what happened to her father and by the stress of being an activist: “This work takes a terrible toll on those who do the work despite their wounds. Reliving the pain, every time the families come out to speak, protest, write.”
Scrolling through the timeline of “somebody that I used to know”, I saw a tweet which had been retweeted more than 25,000 times as of this writing and which has even been the subject of articles on mainstream media websites. It makes a claim about those weirdly oversized packages we sometimes get when we order things from Amazon — the cardboard envelopes which are several times larger than the thing you ordered. The tweeter, one Alexander Savin, is apparently quoting something he saw on Reddit but the words in the image read:
Amazon uses a complicated software system to determine the bay size that should be used based on what else is going in the same truck and the exact size of the cargo bay.
It is playing automated Tetris with the packages.
Sometimes it will select a larger box because there is nothing else that needs to go out on that specific truck, and by making it bigger, it is using up the remaining space so items don’t slide around and break.
This actually minimizes waste and is on the whole a greener system. Even if for some individual item is looks weird.
It is optimizing for the whole, not the individual.
The other day someone posted an image to Facebook of two Christmas displays accompanied by a slogan to the effect that Muslims aren’t banning Christmas — this is how they do it in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. The latter was in a shopping mall and there was a huge Christmas tree. Muslims looking to get Christmas ‘banned’ or it being ‘banned’ by various local authorities to avoid displeasing Muslims has been a staple of the British right-wing mid-market press for years, and usually on closer examination the thing that was being called something other than Christmas was not Christmas at all. The Daily Mail, which parroted the ‘Winterval’ claim numerous times, apologised after the truth about that was exposed during the Leveson inquiry, but more recently this was one of the asinine tweets of the US President, Donald Trump (who, as a landlord in the early 1980s, forbade his tenants from putting Christmas decorations in the lobby in an attempt to force them out): “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”.
There’s a video up on the BBC News website asking the above question, namely why speeding is not a taboo as drink driving became as a result of years of public campaigns including regular TV and billboard advertisements. Apparently speeding kills many more people than drunken driving, so it should be at least as much a ‘taboo’ thing that nobody would be seen doing. The argument is ‘supported’ with an appeal to emotion, namely a contribution from a woman who lost both her parents when they were run over by a speeding driver, and towards the end she accompanies some police officers using hand-held speed guns to detect people exceeding a 20mph speed limit and interviews a few drivers and asks them why or if they knew they were speeding. A few did not, but nobody just said they did not believe in the widespread 20mph speed limits that have been imposed by various local authorities, especially in London, with no great public debate.
A study commissioned by Halifax (part of the big HBOS banking group but formerly a mutual building society) has found that the district of Hart in Hampshire is the best place to live in the UK, a position it also held in this survey from 2011 to 2013 although it was only 26th last year. The study looks at such matters as life expectancy, health, crime rates, earnings, employment, ‘wellbeing’ and the weather; Hart has the longest female life expectancy in the UK, for example, at 86.7 years. The list contains mostly rural districts throughout the country including several affluent southern districts, though two are in North Yorkshire, the Orkney islands are in second place and the cities of London and Westminster are also included. One thing does not seem to count, though: diversity.
An online women’s publication called “The Establishment” last year published an article attacking the editing of Anne Frank’s diary by her father, Otto Frank, for publication in the 1940s after the death of the author and several members of their family in the Nazi concentration camps. The article by one Stephanie Watson (of whom they give no biographical details) was written more than a year ago (November 2016) but the magazine has been re-publicising it on Twitter and has attracted a lot of quite justifiable criticism that it is offensive and in effect anti-Semitic. The final published work combined material from two versions Anne Frank wrote, one of them a personal diary and one of them a novelised version of the same that was intended for publication; the bits that were edited out consisted of unflattering remarks about her parents and comments on sexuality, menstruation and her own vulva. Watson considers the removal of this material ‘sexist’ and an invasion of Anne Frank’s privacy and says she turned off the audiobook version of the diary, read by Helena Bonham-Carter, before she had even heard the whole of the preface!
Yesterday Theo Bertram, a former advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, posted a tweet thread (starts here, ends here) on his work as part of Labour’s research team during the 2005 general election (the one that featured Tory slogans such as “how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?” and “it’s not racist to support limits on immigration” with the strap line “are you thinking what we’re thinking?”. Labour won a Parliamentary majority albeit with a share of the vote of just 35.2% — far less than some parties have lost elections with (for example, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gained 40% of the vote in this past election but still lost). The Tories under Michael Howard appealed to their Daily Mail-reading base, as they had in 2001 but with even more nastiness, and still lost, their anti-immigration stance being exposed when it was revealed that Michael Howard’s dad was an illegal immigrant from Romania, saved from deportation (and likely later death in the Nazi concentration camps) by the intervention of a Labour MP.
So, today a man detonated a bomb in New York, at the Port Authority bus terminal. The man, a 27-year-old from Bangladesh who lives in Brooklyn and was a cab driver before his licence expired, was injured when the “low-tech” device exploded in an underpass and has been arrested. The city mayor said he acted alone but fomer NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton alleged that he ‘supposedly’ operated in the name of ISIS; the New York Post are reporting that he told investigators that he acted out of ‘revenge’ for US actions in his home country: “they’ve been bombing in my country and I wanted to do damage here”. The same report says that it is unclear whether he detonated the device at that particular time and place intentionally or whether it went off accidentally.
Last weekend I had a brief exchange with three women on Twitter, two Muslim and one Jewish, after one of the two Muslims retweeted a conversation about Jews versus Blacks and why the first group does not “act oppressed” the way Black people supposedly do. I responded that Jews had long since lost any right to be called an oppressed or marginalised group in many western countries and certainly the UK and to a large extent the USA as well. In response to this and my post from a couple of weeks back about Julie Burchill’s racist diatribe (in which she said Judaism attracted high-quality converts while Islam only attracts the ‘dregs’ of society), I’ve had people accuse me of anti-Semitism or “bad faith” for making such generalisations as that Jews are no longer a persecuted minority and that they are generally wealthy. It ties in with the repeated accusations of anti-Semitism against people connected to Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Britain’s Labour Party, often for things that appear to have had no racial component at all (some of the other accusations of racism in the Labour Party, for example against Jess Phillips for abusive but not racist language against Dianne Abbot, are in my opinion equally spurious).
I’ve long been suspicious of the motives and loyalty of “Tell MAMA”, the project set up to monitor and report on hate crimes against Muslims. It’s not that it’s a bad thing for there to be an office to which Muslims can report incidents of hostility; of course it’s not. It’s just that, unlike the Community Security Trust, say, which performs a similar role for Jews and Jewish institutions such as synagogues and schools in the UK, Tell MAMA also tells on Muslims to the media, persistently and publicly berating us for displaying intolerance towards other groups (particularly groups that appear Muslim but are rejected, such as the Qadianis (or Ahmadis, as they call themselves). Tell MAMA does not consistently put the blame for hate and racism where it belongs — with the perpetrators and the media that feeds exaggerated stories about terrorism and anti-integrationism to the public — but blames the Muslim community both in its own social media feeds and in its media interviews. This has to change.
I’ve had an ‘Islamophobia’ category on this blog for as long as I can remember (my first post in it was about Oriana Fallaci in September 2006). Much of my work in writing it has been to attack Islamophobia, to counter Islamophobic narratives and policies. But the term has had its critics over the years, some of them Muslims and some not. One of the most common criticisms is that it’s terminologically inaccurate as it doesn’t really refer to a fear as such but to hostility. Another is that opposition to Islam is usually a cover for hostility to non-whites or “others”, and it is sufficient to call it racism. I’m not convinced by either argument.
In the past week the ‘issue’ of primary school age Muslim girls wearing hijab to school has been on the front pages of some newspapers as the chief inspector of schools announced that her inspectors would be asking young girls they saw in headscarves why they were wearing it, supposedly in case girls were being ‘sexualised’ by wearing a garment believed to be intended to hide potentially sexually arousing things from men. The claim that this is the intention or the effect of hijab has been floating around on Twitter for some time but has gone mainstream in the last few months, perhaps because the country’s white busybodies need some other excuse to interfere in the way minorities raise their children since the wheels fell off the FGM bandwagon (, ) a couple of months back. A common claim is that hijab is “not even mandatory until puberty” in Islam, but there is more to why women and girls wear the hijab than this. (More: Abdul-Azim Ahmed, The Muslimah Diaries, Amanda Morris on FB, MCB with 100 Muslim women’s views, Aisha Gani @ Buzzfeed.)
The Sunday Times reported today (gleefully as you might expect) that Alexandra Spelman, the head of Ofsted, the British schools inspectorate, had announced a plan for her inspectors to ask primary school-age girls who wear hijab to school about who or what had prompted them to wear it in the light of “concern that girls as young as four are being forced to wear the Muslim headscarf” (paywalled, but the story is also on the Guardian website). Earlier today on Radio 4, I heard a discussion about this in which a woman (who had a posh accent and who I would guess was white) was pontificating about how the hijab supposedly sexualises young girls, and there was no Muslim voice in the discussion to point out that this was not actually why a young girl would wear hijab - some Muslim friends of mine mention protection from headlice as a reason, something the media never consider (see earlier entry); it was strictly “about us, without us” as is usual with these arrogant crusading do-gooders. It reminded me of a study I had been alerted to by other friends on Twitter last week, published from Durham university (in England) in late 2000, which revealed that children of all social classes who are educated at home do better than those of similar socio-economic backgrounds who have attended state schools.
The researcher, Paula Rothermel, a lecturer in learning in early childhood at the university, conducted the study through face-to-face interviews with 100 randomly chosen home-educating families across the country and “found that 65 per cent of home-educated children scored more than 75 per cent in a general mathematics and literacy test, compared to a national figure of only 5.1 per cent”. The average score in the test was 81%, compared to 45% for school-educated children. She also found that home-educated working-class children did better than home-educated middle-class children (i.e. those with parents in professional careers), a finding she put down to the latter being more relaxed and “less likely to push their children”.
A few years ago you may have noticed lots of people adding “Pleb” to their name on their social media accounts. This followed the Tory chief whip being accused of calling a police officer a “f**king pleb” when the officer refused to allow him to take his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street (the scandal became known as Plebgate, and unusually for such scandals, it actually involved a gate). Today, in response to viciously bigoted article by Julie Burchill in the Spectator, I saw Muslims suggest among other things that we form an “ultimate dreg street fighting team to take down an army of racists”. Burchill’s article claimed that while Judaism attracts the supposed cream of western society as converts (she names Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and herself), Islam only attracts the ‘dregs’, among them “dozy broads who gravitate to it for kinky reasons after watching one too many Turkish Delight ads” like Vanessa Redgrave and Lauren Booth (right), “half-witted types who learn to build a bomb online”, “imam-huggers of the left” with “suppressed feelings of resentment towards the march of feminism”, and Prince Charles. This is, as you can see, an extraordinarily broad selection of people.
Molly Burke, a blind YouTube vlogger, posted a video of her speech last month at the London (Ontario) Music Hall as part of an evening on “Belonging” organised by the Walrus, a Canadian magazine and educational foundation. Molly told us about her condition (retinitis pigmentosa), the experience she had of people trying to ‘fix’ her condition which, in fact, was incurable and degenerative; she lost most of her sight at age 14. She argues that society should work on fixing itself so that a disabled person can live an independent life, rather than on fixing ‘disability’ itself. Here’s the video:
Last week a woman in the UK went on trial for murder after pouring sulphuric acid on a partner (Mark van Dongen, right) who had broken up with her. The unusual thing about this murder trial is that the woman wasn’t directly involved in the victim’s death; the man killed himself at a euthanasia clinic in Belgium after doctors agreed with him that the pain he experienced as a result of the acid injuries was ‘unbearable’. Earlier this year also, a man was convicted of manslaughter after a woman he had been harassing after she rejected his advances killed herself. These are the first incidents I am aware of in which someone is tried for killing someone who killed themselves as a result of suffering they inflicted, and I am wondering if this reflects a change in the law, or prosecutors testing out a new theory on juries. The Bristol Post has a detailed report on the proceedings on Wednesday.
Just now I saw a video of a YouTube personality who now works for the BBC, Lucy Edwards, talk about how her new flat in London that she shares with her boyfriend and guide dog is also shared with a family of mice which have left droppings under their cabinets. She tells us she has developed a fear of insects and animals (other than her guide dog, of course) since losing her sight four years ago, but as a vegan she does not like the idea of killing them, so she has hired someone to lay “humane” traps and then release them somewhere other than her house. I have heard this kind of talk from people on social media on more than a few occasions, and it’s wrong-headed, and not as humane as they think. These are not pets, but pests. Vermin.
This piece appeared in today’s Daily Mail and has been widely derided by both Muslims and feminists on Twitter, and for the most part rightly so. It peddles the old cliché that ‘feminists’ who demand that men cease propositioning or touching up their female colleagues at work, or people who interview them or otherwise do business with them, are “Victorian prudes” whose demands will lead to women having to cover up every inch of flesh by wearing something like the Muslim woman’s niqaab (as a Twitter pal has noted, at least he didn’t call it a burka). This is a spurious argument.