Renewed harassment of McDougalls is indefensible

Picture of Kerry McDougallOn Sunday I read, via Sarah Ismail, that the McDougall family (Mark and Kerry McDougall, née Robertson, and their sons Ben and Lochlan) have faced renewed “investigation” since they have returned to Dunfermline, their home town, from nearly four years of exile in Ireland (see previous entry, and also this for another example of that department’s incompetence). They moved there in 2009 after local social services intervened to stop them marrying, and then threatened to take their first son into care, on the grounds of Kerry’s (mild) learning difficulties. In the event, Irish social services did take Ben into care, but returned him after nine months and allowed them to marry. The story was reported as the woman “too dumb” to understand her marriage vows, although Kerry had taken a childcare course and had worked caring for children and had other explanations for her lack of academic achievement, such as missing school because of surgery for a cleft palate.

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Maajid Nawaz plays to groundless fears over niqaab

Picture of a woman wearing a black head and face coveringWhy I, as a Muslim, believe the veil must be barred in our schools: A provocative view from Islamic thinker fighting for Glenda Jackson’s seat

Maajid Nawaz, the former member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir who was “turned” by Ed Husain and his friends about five years ago, tells the housewives of Middle England and the wives of Tory MPs what he thinks of “the veil”. In doing so he slips in a few inaccurate assertions about Islam itself (which he assumes his readers will not notice, although every Muslim reader will) and justifies needless, media-driven fears about Muslim women, throwing in some irrelevant details about how his friends and relatives dress so as to deflect Muslim criticism.

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CyanogenMod and ungrateful users

The CyanogenMod logo, featuring a turquoise Android symbol on a skateboard on a black background, inside a turquoise circular arrowRecently, as I posted here last week, I upgraded my main phone (a Nexus 4) to run CyanogenMod 10.2 which is based on Android 4.3 — they are starting work on the next version (11) which is based on Android 4.4, but this is likely to take months if the time this version took is anything to go by (Android 4.3 was released in late July 2013). As soon as the pre-release (which has proven to be more than stable enough for my purposes) was put out, people on the Google Plus page started asking why the CM team wouldn’t just stop working on this version and start on getting a CyanogenMod version of Android KitKat put out, and demanding to know if their particular device was going to be supported — this despite the repeated requests not to demand support for other devices as there are often reasons why they can’t be supported.

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Taking care of business

The last few weeks I’ve not been blogging as much as I used to, and there’s one important reason for this: I’ve been working on getting my HGV (truck) licence. You have to do this in two or three stages: the first is to pass the theory and hazard perception tests, the second is to pass the driving test for a single large vehicle, and the third is to pass the driving test for an articulated truck, i.e. one with a large trailer. I passed the first of these last month and the second this past week, which should open up a much larger range of agency work and I’ve already had one suggestion of a permanent job with a company I’ve done van and small truck driving work with (though they wanted a CV, and my CV doesn’t emphasise my driving work as I had been wanting to get other work).

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CyanogenMod 10.2 and the Nexus 4

Screenshot of a Nexus 4 Android phone's home screenI bought a Nexus 4 a couple of months ago when it was reduced to clear, having previously been using a Galaxy Nexus which ran CyanogenMod 10.1, which was based on Android 4.2. This past week, Google released the new version of Android (4.4 Kitkat) and a new Nexus 5 phone to run it. Other devices are going to get upgraded to Kitkat “soon”, which means weeks. In the meanwhile, CyanogenMod have just released the first “milestone” version of their version of Android 4.3, which I had been waiting for eagerly as I had seriously missed some of its features which are lacking in stock Android. Google have also announced that they’re not making Kitkat available on the Galaxy Nexus, a major disappointment to those of us who bought that phone more recently.

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A fortnight of upgrades

A man in a yellow top and tight black trousers on a surfboard with his arms outstretched on a large waveThe past couple of weeks, I’ve upgraded the operating systems on all three of the computers I own (not including my mobile phone and tablet). I’ve a Mac, a desktop PC and a laptop PC, all of which run Linux as well as their usual OS’s. Apple released OS X Mavericks last week, Microsoft released Windows 8.1 (actually 6 point something) the week before, Canonical released Ubuntu 13.10 “Saucy Salamander” and SuSE put out a release candidate of their new system, version 13.1. Of these, the Linux upgrades were by far the least troublesome, the Mac upgrade interfered with my Linux install on that machine, and Windows 8.1 simply wouldn’t install.

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Obama urged to show more clemency than we do

Barack Obama urged to show clemency to Briton deported from US | World news | The Guardian

Philip Hartley-Wall is a 42-year-old man born in the UK whose family moved him to the USA when he was nine, and he lived there until 2009 when he got into trouble for wrongly answering a question about his nationality at the US/Mexico border. For that, he served seven months and was deported on release. His family, namely his wife and a 12-year-old daughter who has a learning disability, still live in California and only got to see him for the first time last week; the family have had to move house because of the collapse of Hartley-Wall’s business:

Philip says he never particularly wanted to make the 5,700-mile trip to the land of his birth. Like many Americans, he never even bothered applying for a passport, having originally entered the US on his mother’s.

He had a green card, giving him “permanent alien residency status”. He had a driving licence and had built up a small tiling business, and claims to have paid taxes for years. “Despite being born in England, I do not feel remotely British. I’ve never thought of myself as being anything other than American,” he said this week …

However, because he had never actually gained US citizenship, he landed in hot water on a brief trip to Mexico when he mistakenly told an immigration officer on the way back that he was indeed from the land of the brave.

What followed was a punishment which, as Burnham argued in his letter to Obama, was “totally disproportionate to the original offence”. Philip had originally been arrested on suspicion of drug and firearm offences after border police found drug paraphernalia and a disassembled gun in the back of the car in which he was a passenger. But he was eventually only charged with “making a false statement to a federal officer” – a felony – by wrongly claiming to be American.

He pleaded guilty and served seven months in a federal prison.

On his release date he expected to be sent home but instead claims he was handcuffed, shackled and chained to another prisoner and put on a bus to an immigration detention centre in Haskell, Texas. Under US law, any green card holder found guilty of a felony can be deported.

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“Either HS2 or more motorways!”

Map of the route of the High Speed 2 railway line, showing a main branch from London to the Midlands, branching north-west for Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester and north-east for Leicester, Sheffield and LeedsWe must invest in high-speed rail or new motorways, warns HS2 chairman (from the Guardian)

The Guardian reported yesterday that Douglas Oakervee, the chairman of the HS2 project (the new high-speed railway line from London to Birmingham and several northern cities) has said that if his line is not built, Britain will need to build more motorways “if we do not wish our standards of living to deteriorate and our world status eroded”. He also told an audience of civil engineers that their predecessors “would be turning in their graves if they knew how much we had allowed their infrastructure to decay”.

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Rachel Reeves’s “toughness” will strengthen apathy

Picture of Rachel Reeves, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a purple jacketLabour will be tougher than Tories on benefits, promises new welfare chief (from the Guardian)

Rachel Reeves, “Labour” MP for Leeds West, former economist at the Bank of England and now Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, has promised that a future Labour government would be “tougher than the Tories” in cutting the “benefits bill”, claiming that the long-term unemployed (one year in the case of under-25s, two in the case of older people) would be offered a job and would lose their benefits if they refused. The ‘job guarantee’ part of the scheme would supposedly be paid for by a re-introduced tax on bankers’ bonuses; she also hinted that a Labour government would use procurement to drive wages up (and thus benefit costs down) by preferring companies that pay a living wage for government contracts. Paul Bernal wrote a letter to Reeves, and the Conservative Home website responded to the announcement by claiming that it meant Labour recognised that they could not fight the next election as “the party of the status quo ante; the party of the slob on the sofa”.

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Quilliam out of their depth with Tommy Robinson

Picture of Tommy Robinson, a clean-shaven white man with an aggressive look on his face, being arrested by a London police officerThis week Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the erstwhile leader of the English Defence League, announced that he was leaving the organisation he helped found to start some kind of new anti-extremism organisation which wasn’t “street-based”. Lennon was helped in this by the Quilliam Foundation, which portrays itself as an anti-extremism think tank and which includes a number of figures from the “former extremists” circus of a few years ago, including Muhammad Mahbub “Ed” Husain and Maajid Nawaz, a former British Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist who was jailed in Egypt under Mubarak for HT activity. Quilliam claimed that Lennon and Kevin Carroll left because “they feel they can no longer keep extremist elements at bay”, and according to him:

I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive. I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.

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We don’t need another Crystal Palace

Drawing of the Crystal Palace, a glass and iron building with a flag flying above it, with a group of people, some on horseback, in front of it, with a tree to the left.Last week I read that a Chinese businessman has presented plans to rebuild the old Crystal Palace on its old site at the top of Crystal Palace Park in south-east London. Ni Zhaoxing, chairman of ZhongRong Holdings, intends that the new building will house his art collection as well as a hotel, conference centre and “other commercial space”, according to the Daily Mail last Thursday, at a cost of £500m to him; the plan is supported by Bromley Council and the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and is said to include a redevelopment of the surrounding Crystal Palace Park. The original building burned down in 1936.

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What breeds anti-intellectualism?

Picture of Paul Johnson (right), Norman C Francis (centre) and Ruth Johnson Colvin (left).From the Archive: Paul Johnson on the Know-Nothing Left

This article first appeared in the New Statesman in 1975 when Paul Johnson was still associated with the British political left (in the late 1970s he became associated with the Right and admired Thatcher, and wrote columns for the Spectator instead; his son is Daniel Johnson, who founded Standpoint magazine). He claims that the Labour party at the time were in thrall to a trade union sector which had become thuggish and intolerant, which relied on numbers and power to get what they want, which had suffered an intellectual degeneration and which used the term “elitism” as a term of abuse, when in fact it the things they were denouncing as “elitism” were virtues, not vices:

Without a struggle, with complacency, almost with eagerness, it has delivered itself, body, mind and soul, into the arms of the trade union movement. There is a savage irony in this unprecedented betrayal, this unthinking trahison des clercs. For Labour’s intellectual Left had always, and with justice, feared the arrogant bosses of the TUC, with their faith in the big battalions and the zombie-weight of collective numbers, their contempt for the individual conscience, their invincible materialism, their blind and exclusive class-consciousness, their rejection of theory for pragmatism, their intolerance and their envious loathing of outstanding intellects.

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Roman Polanski raped a young girl. Not much nuance there.

Cover of "The Girl" by Samantha Geimer. Features a picture of Geimer, a white woman with reddish hair wearing a necklace and white blouse, with the words "Samantha Geimer, The Girl: A life in the shadow of Roman Polanski"Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification (in today’s Observer)

Victoria Coren Mitchell tries to make a case that the situation of Roman Polanski, the subject of a book published by the woman he raped as a young girl in 1977, was ‘nuanced’ and that we don’t like nuance in such situations; we insist that rapists must be monsters: “people are heroes or villains, victims or victimisers; sometimes neither, but never both”; while Polanski had suffered two separate serious traumas and his “work is filled with beauty and humanity”. Furthermore his victim, Samantha Geimer, has corresponded with him by email and doesn’t want to be seen as (just) a victim. Neither of these change the fact that he’s a convicted rapist. (More: The Goldfish, The F Word.)

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FGM and the fallacy of symbolism

Sarah Sands: We cannot lose the battle for liberal values - Comment - London Evening Standard

Sarah Sands is the editor of the London Evening Standard, and this article by her appeared in yesterday’s edition. She has previously been deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, edited the Sunday Telegraph, taking over from Dominic Lawson in 2005 (though she was sacked after eight months) and has also been a consultant editor at the Daily Mail and editor-in-chief of the UK Reader’s Digest. This article by her appeared in yesterday’s edition, and contains an awful lot of tenuous links and sloppy reasoning based on connecting things that offend her “liberal” values and arguing that opposing one will somehow weaken the other.

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Letter to the Guardian on Niqaab

A picture of a white woman wearing a light-coloured headscarf and face coveringI wrote this letter last Thursday after seeing a series of very hostile letters in the Guardian following Kira Cochrane’s article in which she interviewed women who wear the niqaab (who had been conspicuously absent from the discussion up until then) which was published last Tuesday. They included a particularly ludicrous letter (last Wednesday) which compared wearing niqaab in the UK to sitting at a cafe in Saudi Arabia dressed in “full crusader regalia”, the equivalence of female civilian clothing with male military uniform demonstrating a clear refusal to distinguish ordinary Muslims from terrorists:

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A suspected war criminal to settle a hostage crisis?

Picture of a black man holding a machete, standing in front of a burning building.The BBC just reported that the trial at the Hague of William Ruto, the Kenyan deputy president, for crimes committed after the 2007 general election, has been suspended so that he can go back and deal with the crisis at the Westgate shopping centre, in which Somali militants have already murdered some 60 people and there are still hostages and others missing. His lawyer, Karim Khan, argued that Ruto had a duty to be present and the BBC correspondent said that nobody in court had any objection. Ruto is accused of plotting to establish militias and encouraging his supporters to “uproot weeds”, i.e. people of other ethnic groups to his.

This is hardly the sort of person you want in charge when the country is facing a hostage crisis: it has huge potential for a criminal response, anything from a repeat of the ending to the Moscow cinema siege (in which hostages as well as terrorists) were killed by the gas the police pumped into the building) or other hasty response, to reprisals against Somalis (and possibly other Muslims) in Kenya, particularly those in Nairobi itself. There is no guarantee that the Kenyans will send Ruto back to the Hague once this crisis is over, or they might claim that there is an “ongoing crisis” and never send him back, much as dictators the world over use “emergencies” to justify repression over decades. The last thing that needs to happen at a time like this is to put a man indicted for war crimes who thinks of people who are different to him as weeds.

Coalition is not “Britain’s new normal”

Coalition Governing Could Be Britain’s New Normal Despite Liberal Democrats’ Troubles (from the New York Times)

This article claims that the “successful” Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition that was formed after the 2010 election has changed British attitudes to coalitions, which it says we previously “associated coalition governments with the unstable, revolving-door politics sometimes seen in Continental Europe”. It quotes one Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary, University of London, as saying:

All the dire warnings given before the general election, particularly by the Conservatives and by the press, about a coalition being chaotic and messy and making Britain ungovernable do not seem to have come true … Most people appear to accept that it could become the new normal.

It also says that relations within the coalition are “civilized”, in contrast with the previous Labour government “when officials were prone to feuding”. Both Paddy Ashdown (from the Lib Dems) and Kenneth Clarke, “a centrist Conservative cabinet minister”, admit that their views had been changed as a result of being in the coalition, the latter saying that the Tories “have delivered more than we probably could have delivered as a single party in government”.

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Outbreak of media splaining over niqaab

A page from the Sun, showing a picture of a woman in niqaab along with blurbs on how veiling is practised (if at all) in France, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Canada.The recent wave of media interest in niqaab that resulted from the Birmingham College and niqaab-in-court affairs has, as previously noted, featured a lot of opinionising from almost everyone except for wearers — plenty of white men, a smattering of women and even a few Muslim women, but hardly any of them wear niqaab. Finally, Kira Cochrane in the Guardian and the UK Huffington Post got round to interviewing some, but the chorus of know-it-alls expounding on what the niqaab symbolises (to them) continues apace, along with tabloid demands to do things that are already being done anyway (for example, it’s already up to employers to decide what employees can wear when facing the public, never mind letting them wear the niqaab (not that I’ve ever been served by a woman in niqaab, even in a Muslim bookshop). Yesterday (Monday), Jeremy Vine yet again featured Taj Hargey explaining how the niqaab is supposedly not of Islamic origin, while the Sun lectured us about what really goes on in Muslim countries, where other than in Saudi Arabia, it’s either rare or banned. There’s a term used on some social justice blogs — “splaining” — meaning patronisingly or presumptuously “explaining” things from a privileged outsider’s perspective that they know very well from an insider’s one, and this behaviour is commonly found any time there is a “debate” to be had about this issue. Continue reading

No basis for attack on niqaab

The front page of the Sun from tomorrow, calling for so-called vital reforms on niqabMy veil epiphany | Victoria Coren Mitchell | Comment is free | The Observer

Last Thursday a major further education college in Birmingham, the Birmingham Metropolitan College, backed down on a decision to ban face-coverings, including the niqaab worn by some Muslim women, after protests from the NUS Black students’ organisation and from a Muslim women’s group which called the ban “disproportionate” given the supposedly few wearers (there are actually a great many wearers in Birmingham, as well as other parts of the Midlands). I received a number of appeals to sign a petition opposing the ban, both from Muslim friends and others (particularly feminists); the petition gathered 8,000 signatures and a protest was planned for Friday, by which time the policy had already been reversed. This week, a judge also allowed a Muslim woman to appear in court without removing her veil (she showed her face to a female police officer who then affirmed her identity). Her barrister argued that there is no law in the UK on the niqaab and no rules prohibiting wearing it in court. It is she who is on trial for intimidating a witness, but her name has no far not been revealed.

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TSB is nobody’s local bank

I’m one of the people who’s been “bumped” from Lloyd’s Bank to the new TSB, a spin-off set up because the EU decided that Lloyds/TSB was too big after getting a government subsidy. The bit that’s now being branded TSB was going to be sold to the Co-Operative Bank, but they pulled out because they have financial trouble of their own. The new branding appeared on a number of Lloyds/TSB and Cheltenham and Gloucester branches last Monday, along with an advertising campaign trumpeting their return to “local banking”. These include adverts at railway stations like the one below (there was a similar one at Vauxhall, the first station out), which reads “Hello Waterloo, welcome back to local banking”.

A large advertisement from the TSB bank at a railway station, reading "Hello Waterloo, welcome back to local banking"

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