Who’s a waste of space, then?

A letter to … My godson, with whom I’ve decided to sever ties | Life and style | The Guardian

When I used to read the print edition of the Guardian, the paper I’ve read for most of my adolescent and adult life, a pet hate of mine in the last few years was the wastage of space, particularly after it moved to the Berliner format. As a standard part of their ‘style’, there were almost whole columns of empty space and on one occasion, a four-page feature on Syria (early in the civil war) featured a headline that spanned the top half of two pages, along with a small picture and some empty space. I wrote to complain, because the cover price had just gone up and I was annoyed at having to pay extra for blank paper. The wastage would have meant that another whole feature had to be cut.

But actual features can be a waste of space too. Back in the days of Q-News, the Muslim youth magazine that ran through most of the 90s and early 2000s, I once wrote them a fairly constructive letter, I thought, and it was never published — but a foully-worded letter, calling the writers “vermin” and “sewar (sic) rats Wahabi/Salafi” was. In the Family section of today’s Guardian, there’s an anonymous letter from an uncle who says he has cut ties with his godson/nephew because he won’t communicate promptly or warmly enough after the author cut ties with his parents.

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Germaine Greer’s views are extreme, but so are her critics’

Black and white picture of Germaine Greer, an elderly white woman with glasses, holding a glass of drink.The Goldfish last week posted an entry in which she examined the complaints of ‘silencing’ and ‘censorship’ regarding the petition to prevent Germaine Greer from speaking at Cardiff University on the grounds of having transphobic views, as well as picking apart an article by Roger Scruton, on the BBC News website, in which he complained that freedom of speech was being infringed by recent laws banning the incitement of hatred and by politicians seeking to introduce more such bans. Neither can claim to be suffering silencing or censorship, she says, because both have platforms in the mainstream press and on TV which far outstretch the audience they might reach at some university auditorium, and that some of the other claims of harassment against people who have expressed sexist, anti-gay or transphobic views (e.g. Tim Hunt) have been wildly exaggerated, while some of those affected by the views in question have suffered real social costs.

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About that “only disability in life” meme

A picture of Oscar Pistorius running alongside a little girl in a yellow dress with prosthetic legs similar to hisYou can’t be on social media for more than a few weeks at a time, especially in any group with any disability connection whatever, without someone posting that infuriating meme that says “The only disability in life is a bad attitude!” at least once. This morning someone posted it on an Asperger’s syndrome page I follow on Facebook, with the caption “like if you agree”. I posted a comment saying I didn’t agree, that some disability was the result of others’ attitudes and barriers placed by society, and of chronic pain and other symptoms which might prevent someone getting out of bed, let alone going to work or to do sports or whatever. Still, it seems I was in the minority, as 216 people, at the time of this writing, have “liked” it.

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Girls, careers and posh schools

Picture of Vivienne Durham, a late middle-aged, blonde white woman wearing a white jacket with a white top underneath and necklace of large white and orange beads.Girls must choose career or motherhood, says top head - Telegraph

The Telegraph has interviewed the ‘headmistress’ of a London private girls’ school, Francis Holland in Regent’s Park, who says that she’s “not a feminist” and that teachers should make it clear to girls that there is a “glass ceiling” and not deceive them otherwise, and that they have to “plan for a biological fact, i.e. motherhood”. The headline claims that she said that girls faced a choice — career or motherhood — but she doesn’t quite say that, or at least the article doesn’t say she does. What she does say is that women shouldn’t be judged harshly for choosing “the road less taken”. I am not sure whether she means having children and no career, or a career and no children, or either rather than trying to do both.

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Iraq: We were right all along

Picture of Tony Blair surrounded by a group of soldiers in army fatigues, some standing and some kneeling.So, today Tony Blair finally admitted in an interview on CNN (more here) that his action in following the Americans into war in Iraq in 2003 may have helped allow the rise of ISIS, that he received faulty intelligence and that he thought he had more sway with the Americans than he really did. These are things the anti-war movement were saying in 2003, not only about Blair himself but also his cheerleaders in the blogosphere, who believed they could use the war to bring about democracy in Iraq. Harry’s Place, one of the most prominent cheerleaders for the war (and later on in the 2000s, a regular source of anti-Muslim news stories), has yet to even mention the news at the time of this writing.

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It’s official: Connor Sparrowhawk died of neglect

A black and white picture of Connor Sparrowhawk, a young white man with dark hair with a dark grey jacket, white shirt with no tie, while on the right is a part of his drawing of a red London bus.Yesterday, the verdict was delivered in the inquest into the death of Connor Sparrowhawk, known as Laughing Boy or LB, in the NHS learning disability unit at Slade House, Oxford, in July 2013. The jury’s narrative verdict was of death by drowning following an epileptic seizure in the bath, contributed to by neglect. Contributary factors included lack of clinical leadership on the unit, lack of adequate training or guidance regarding epilepsy, and “a very serious failing” in relation to Connor’s bathing arrangements. The Justice for LB website has published the full jury findings here and a statement from the family here. Channel 4 News featured him last night and the report was posted on YouTube; the report notes that the Southern Health NHS trust issued an apology (seconds after the verdict, almost as if it had been written in advance) but did not deliver it to the family, instead releasing it to the media and their website; the family only heard when a reporter told them. (More: Uncounted, Mark Neary [1], [2], George Julian.)

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You were warned

A white woman wearing a grey suit and blouse, with an upset expression.I rarely watch Question Time, the late-night show on BBC1 in which an audience gets to ask questions of a panel of politicians and journalists, because it’s on too late (I usually start work at 7am). However, last night the talk of Twitter was a woman who attacked the Tories for cutting working tax credits after promising not to before the General Election. She said she had voted Tory at the last election because she thought they offered the “best chance” for her family, but wailed that they were now taking that away from her. She shouted that she worked “bloody hard” and cannot pay her rent or bills. The Daily Mirror’s report has a one-minute clip of the exchange in which they say Amber Rudd, the Tory Energy minister, “looked away in silence”. The Mirror’s headline claimed that the woman “totally nails” Rudd. She does no such thing. Complaints of this sort, that “I voted Tory and now my benefits are being cut / local hospital is closing”, go back to the 1980s and usually reflect astonishment that Tory attacks on waste, scroungers and the like won’t affect them. (You can view the programme here in the UK for the next year.)

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On Jeremy Corbyn and those nukes

A missile being launched from the sea, with fire projecting from its rear and much water thrown up in the airLast week Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, said in an interview that if he were Prime Minister, he would not use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, which provoked a storm of controversy with some commentators declaring that he had in effect disarmed the country. He is also known to be against commissioning a replacement for Trident, Britain’s nuclear submarines which carry American missiles and warheads. On this position he is not supported by a lot of Labour MPs who regard opposition to Trident as being a major factor in Labour’s unpopularity in the 1980s. Others have noted that Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons is long established, that it was part of his platform while campaigning for the leadership, and that Trident is a 1980s answer to a 1980s situation, i.e. the Cold War, which is no longer going on.

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No, meat is not murder (and other reflections on Corbyn)

Picture of Kerry McCarthy, a white woman with a rounded face and shoulder-length hair wearing a black jumper with a "tweet for Labour" badge.Last week it was revealed (or we were reminded) that the new shadow cabinet member for agriculture and the environment, Kerry McCarthy, was a vegan who gave an interview with the vegan magazine Viva!Life, published March 2015, in which she called for meat-eating to be treated like smoking, with public campaigns to encourage people to stop eating it, because of its environmental impact. She said, “Progress on animal welfare is being made at the EU level and I feel it is best left to those campaigning groups working there but in the end it comes down to not eating meat and dairy. … The constant challenging of the environmental impact of livestock farming is making me more and more militant, not least that CAP [common agricultural policy] payments are available for grouse shooting, controlling buzzards and forestry”.

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‘House Muslims’, whatever we call them, are a thing

A word cloud consisting of words used in hate crimes reported to Tell MAMA; prominent ones include terrorism, beheading, rape, Rotherham, ISIS, scum, rape, UKIP and Paki. It also includes more common racial slurs, swear words, terrorism references, and misspellings of all of the above.The other day Tell MAMA, which monitors hate crimes against Muslims, published an anonymous article claiming that certain unnamed “moral guardians of the Internet”, mainly aged between 20 and 35 “who spend their time on Twitter railing against prejudice and Islamophobia” and “shout Islamophobia at the slightest drop of a hat”, are in the habit of calling Muslims they disagree with on matters like extremism or Prevent “house Muslims”, “equivalent to the House Slaves who kept the machinery of oppression through slavery going” and “who ensured that the South’s policy of slavery continued on longer since they had sold their labour just to receive some basic privileges”. They continue:

Why are these statements problematic? They are problematic since those making them leave themselves open to the charge that they have no moral mandate in countering intolerance and prejudice, when they themselves are promoting a form of bigotry. They have no mandate since tackling racism and prejudice, speaks to power. These individuals do not speak to power, they simply re-enforce a mob-like mentality that bays, taunts and attempts to humiliate the individual, thereby re-enforcing power structures. This statement is also problematic, since it shows the hypocrisy in some who claim to be part of the anti-racist movement and who are nothing but charlatans and snake-skin salespeople playing to a mob mentality. Underneath the facade, they have slightly more in common with the plantation owner who sought to keep his slaves subjugated and controlled; boxed off and easy to understand. Well, we will have no part of it.

Anyone who uses the term ‘House Muslim’ should be regarded as being akin in his/her views to those who promote the false narrative that Muslims cannot be trusted and that they are secret Sharia or taqiyya peddlers. Both narratives are toxic and we simply should reject both with all of our energies.

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Saudi Arabia minimising civilian casualties?

Gabriel Gatehouse, a white male TV reporter wearing a blue shirt and black trousers, walking through a mosque with a red carpet strewn with debris left by a suicide bombingI was rather surprised to hear the ongoing war in Yemen being described as the “forgotten war” on BBC’s Newsnight, as I’ve been hearing about it almost non-stop on my social media feeds; but then, I don’t watch the TV news much anymore (although do listen to the radio news and I admit I haven’t heard much about it there). Newsnight featured the war in Yemen Thursday and Friday nights last week, showing the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a mosque and the bombing by the “Saudi-led coalition” of what they claimed was a training centre for African jihadists, but whose owners said it was a water bottling plant; the TV crew found no evidence for the Saudis’ claims. O’Brien interviewed a Saudi brigadier general, Ahmad Assiri, and a Tory MP, Daniel Kawczynski, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

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Name the problem: White Bigotry

Still of a woman wearing a black headscarf and niqaab, with only her eyes showing, on the left and a white woman with her hair clipped at the back, wearing a black jacket, on the rightThere are some themes which will be familiar to anyone who follows or is involved in feminist discourses about rape and other violence against women and children: that the perpetrators often go unnamed while victims are blamed; that the crimes are treated as if they were inevitable or natural occurrences, rather than the choice of some men to hurt women; that the attitudes which lead to male violence are not being tackled; that reporting or discussion of violent or sexual crime does not “name the problem” which is male violence. I was reminded of these arguments while listening to the reporting on both Radio 4 and BBC London this morning about hate attacks against Muslims, which according to Metropolitan Police statistics rose by 70% in the past year and which Tell MAMA claims mostly target visible Muslim women, during which someone from Tell MAMA, the organisation set up to “monitor anti-Muslim attacks”, claimed that the spike in attacks followed terrorist attacks by ISIS such as the shooting in Tunisia. This analysis fails to acknowledge contributing factors closer to home. The issue was also featured on the BBC’s Inside Out London programme this evening.

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Jeremy Corbyn, ‘Islamists’ and women-only carriages

Picture of Jeremy Corbyn, a middle-aged white man with white hair, wearing a cream shirt with a pen in its pocket, standing in front of a microphone in front of a London buildingEarlier this week Jeremy Corbyn (right) gave his support to considering reintroducing women-only carriages on trains, which were found in the UK until the 1970s and still in a number of other countries, particularly Japan. He actually did not come up with the idea himself, but in a policy document noted that he had been asked to consider it by women and was open to the idea:

“Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women-only carriages. My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform to the bus stop to the mode of transport itself,” he said. “However, I would consult with women and hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and on modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.”

This has provoked a mixed response, being rejected by the other three candidates (two of them women). Liz Kendall said that ‘gender segregation’ would be like ‘admitting defeat’ while Yvette Cooper said it would amount to “turning the clock back, not tackling the problem”. (Two Labour mayoral candidates, Gareth Thomas and Diane Abbott, said they were open to the idea, however.) Many feminists (and indeed many women) on my social media feeds like the idea, but a particular group claims it would open the door to ‘victim blaming’ against women attacked or harassed while using a mixed carriage. There has also been the suggestion that Corbyn got the idea from his ‘Islamist friends’, and attempts to compare the idea to segregation, as if men and women were to be forcibly separated. Some people clearly see this in the same light as the ‘university segregation’ issue.

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No, we can’t hold all air shows by the sea

A picture of a Hawker Hunter jet in mid-air. The plane has been painted mostly blue with red, white and blue target symbols.I heard the most extraordinary and ridiculous interview on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. John Humphrys was interviewing John Turner from the British Air Display Association about the accident outside Shoreham, West Sussex on Saturday in which a 1950s fighter jet (a Hawker Hunter, right) crashed onto a highway, the A27, killing up to 20 people. In an interview with people around Shoreham, the last thing said was that local people wanted to make sure ‘something was done’ so that the annual air show could continue but that there were no future disasters. Humphrys started by asking him if he agreed with the sentiment that “something must be done”, and Turner responded by saying that his association had had 63 years of accident-free shows and that it was important not to speculate until proper investigations had been done.

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Review: The World’s Worst Place to be Disabled

The World’s Worst Place… is a documentary featuring Sophie Morgan, a British model and TV presenter who has been a wheelchair user since being paralysed in a car accident twelve years ago, travelling to Ghana to investigate the situation facing disabled people there. She had been told by Shantha Rau Barriga, director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch, that Ghana was the world’s worst place to be disabled and that she would have to see it herself to believe it. So off she went, with her brother, to see various examples of poverty and discrimination facing disabled people, including children, around the country. I’m late reviewing this, so it’s only available for the next week here; the presenter has written a piece for the Huffington Post about the investigation.

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Fear-free healthcare, revisited

Picture of Emily Collingridge, a young white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a cream colour T-shirt wiht a long necklace of ornaments and a thick braceletBack in 2012, I published on this site a manifesto of sorts, calling for healthcare in the UK to be free of fear. Back then I was heavily involved in ME activism and three people with severe ME had died, notably the author and charity volunteer Emily Collingridge. These days my activism is mostly in the area of learning disability, but the same problems which provoked that article exist in this area too: where people need to go into hospital, neither they nor their family can be confident that they will not encounter prejudice against their condition, hard-set beliefs, abuse, neglect or isolation from their friends and family.

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Why does Amnesty need a policy on prostitution?

A group of people, mainly women, holding glasses of what looks like champaigne. One of them is holding a yellow rosette.Last week, Amnesty International adopted a policy supporting the decriminalisation of the sex trade after a debate in which it was subjected to intense lobbying from two groups of feminists (amid renewed mud-slinging between them; the two groups are the same as the pro- and anti-transgender feminist groups), one of which supports it because it claims a large proportion of ‘sex workers’ are in the business out of choice and need safer working conditions, while another regards the trade as inherently exploitative and abusive, questions the ‘choices’ that led to most of the women coming into the industry, and supports a “Nordic model” in which the selling of sex (mostly done by women) is decriminalised but the buying of it (mostly done by men) is a criminal offence. When Amnesty adopted the policy, feminists (those who had opposed it) denounced it as voting “in favour of pimps and johns over women’s human right to safety”; particular distaste was expressed for the spectacle of Amnesty staff sharing a bottle of champagne (!) after the vote was passed. This is how Amnesty justified their new policy.

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Review of Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant

Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant is another part of BBC Three’s ongoing season of programmes about disability, Defying the Label. In this two-part series, four young people with mobility impairments of differing severity were matched with carers by another disabled man who apparently specialises in matching carers to disabled people. This programme sought to get unemployed and inexperienced young people into caring jobs under the premise that there were all these unemployed young people and all these disabled people who needed carers or assistants. The result, as you might imagine, was that some of the recruits were very poorly matched indeed. (If you’re in the UK, you can watch episode 1 here for the next two weeks, and episode 2 here for the next three.)

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Yes, we do get rid of ‘hate preachers’

A picture of a group of migrants or refugees standing or sitting on a ramp behind a metal fench, behind which are several lanes of queueing cars, approaching the Calais ferry port‘If you hate the migrants in Calais, you hate yourself’ | Nick Cohen (in today’s Observer)

People have been sharing this feature by Nick Cohen since it first appeared online yesterday (and I had a hard job getting to it on the Guardian’s website, eventually having to scroll through all the contributors with C surnames before finding his among the Cohens which weren’t in alphabetical order). Someone pointed out that Cohen has been publishing Islamophobic, warmongering posts for years, and people forget this as soon as he writes something “right-on”. But actually, there’s nothing much right-on about this piece. It follows a very typical pattern for him.

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There’s more to the Binladins than OBL

The main building and control tower of Blackbushe AirportYesterday a light aircraft crashed when attempting to land at Blackbushe airfield near Farnborough. The airfield is a former RAF base which has also been a passenger airport, but these days is used for executive jets and for pilots’ training. More significantly, there is a big car auction site next to it, which has an auction house as well as acres and acres of car park used to store the goods (cars). The aircraft came down in the middle of one of these car lots and destroyed several cars. I’ve delivered there (during a three-week period driving cars to and from that site for British Car Auctions) and my first thought was that the plane might have hit the auction house, which would have caused far more casualties, but which it did not. Anyway, the three passengers all belonged to the Saudi Binladin family, a large and wealthy Saudi family which owns, among other things, a large construction company, but whose most famous member over here was Osama, who is better known for demolition.

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