Is an iPhone really more useful than the early 90s’ gadgets?

Advert showing a Tandy 286-basec computer for $1,599, with various office software bundled.I saw this linked on Facebook yesterday; it’s centred around a 1991 American Radio Shack advert in which a Tandy computer is offered for sale at a then reduced price of $1,599 (about £975 today, though I’m not sure what the exchange rate in 1991 was), alongside a portable CD player for $159.99, a “mobile cellular telephone” (i.e. an in-car telephone) for $199, a VHS camcorder for $799 and speakers with a “massive 15in woofer” for $149.95. His point is that assessing inflation is difficult with these kinds of goods, because they cost far less than gadgets cost 20 years ago yet do more (and do different things), while an apple (with a small ‘a’) does the same as it does in 1991 and yet costs more. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to proclaim that the iPhone is vastly superior to a computer with a proper keyboard and screen: their functions are very different.

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No, it’s not just a sharp scratch

Detail of a woman's arm during a blood test, with a tourniquet and a butterfly needle leading to a syringeThis morning I went for my latest blood test, which I have to have roughly every six months or a year — I can’t even remember as I have so many of them — because of my thyroid condition (which is a severely underactive or absent thyroid, treated with levothyroxine daily since I was diagnosed at age four or five). It’s no big deal; I get a test form with a bag attached from my doctor, go to Kingston Hospital’s blood test department, have it done and go on my way. This morning I hardly had to wait five minutes, and the procedure itself took less than that. What annoyed me was something the nurse said just before she put the needle in, which they seem to say to a lot of people these days (and they even say it on *Casualty*).

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Wanted: decent Android Twitter app

A screenshot from the Android twitter client HTC PeepI’ve used Android since 2009, and I’m currently on my fourth phone and first tablet. I’ve used Twitter since about the same time, maybe a little bit more. Having a smartphone pretty much makes Twitter useful; it means you can communicate when you’re not at your desk and read and share things there and then rather than later, when they may have sunk down the timeline already and interest may have waned. My first smartphone came with a pretty awful Twitter client, HTC Peep, which slowed down my whole phone and I ultimately ditched it for Seesmic, which at the time worked a lot better. Time has moved on, Seesmic has been bought out and only infrequently now updates its client (and removed several of its others), and there are a whole lot of new contenders, yet none that is free of irritating bugs and missing features.
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World Hijab Day: DoA

Nazma Khan, an Asian woman wearing a hijab, delivering a lectureEarlier this week, there was a so-called Day of Acceptance (of Disability), organised by a company called 3E Love, which markets a variety of merchandise, like T-shirts, stickers etc, bearing their logo of a wheelchair with a heart-shaped ‘wheel’. Some disabled people objected that the event was a marketing scheme for that company’s products, that they had already accepted their disability and wanted other people to accept them and their disabilities seven days a week rather than one day a year. Saturday week (1st Feb) is meant to be World Hijab Day, “an open invitation to Muslims & non-Muslims to wear Hijab for a day”, which has been leapt on by various media outlets including BBC London. Much as with the occasional bit of disability tourism, however, hijab tourism (or niqab tourism) doesn’t really give an accurate impression of the full-time experience. (The event has a website and a Facebook page. More: [Muslim Matters](http://muslimmatters.org/2014/01/20/world-hijab-day/), Ms Muslamic [1], [2].)

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Claire Dyer update

Claire Dyer, a young white woman, wearing a yellow and blue Swansea FC shirt, holding a black and brown cuddly toy, in front of a fireplace with a miniature Christmas tree on her rightRegarding the ongoing case of Claire Dyer, the 19-year-old autistic woman from Swansea who is being threatened with a transfer to a secure hospital in Northampton, which neither she nor her family wants: a tribunal started today which is in front of a judge in which the family have a full legal team. The tribunal, however, was adjourned as the health board needed more time to gather or present their evidence. She is therefore still in the unit and can still see her family with the same frequency as before, with one night at home weekly. It has been confirmed that the psychiatrist cannot transfer her to Northampton until the tribunal makes its decision.

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Lethal psycho-babble

Picture of Claire Dyer, with some family photos in front of herI’ve been unable to get the ongoing case of Claire Dyer (right), currently being threatened with forced transfer to a secure hospital unit 185 miles from home under a wholly inappropriate section of the Mental Health Act, out of my head this past week; the post I wrote about it last Monday has received the biggest number of viewings of all my articles for the whole of the past month, despite being less than a week old (see earlier entry on Claire for an update). What is happening to Claire reminds me of what happened to a number of other young people subject to misguided psychiatric interventions for physical conditions, which in a lot of cases led to long-lasting, very damaging consequences. In one case, a young woman died.

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Why “state school fees” are a bad idea

BBC News – State school fees call for parents earning over £80,000

Dr Anthony Seldon, the principal of Wellington College, a well-known independent co-ed day and boarding school in Berkshire, has suggested in a report written for the Social Market Foundation that when parents with a high income send their children to “popular” state schools, that they pay either part or all of the cost of their education, saying that it would break “the middle-class stranglehold on top state schools” and raise money, but also that the UK would be in debt for years to come and that state schools were “the last great bastion holding out against the principle of payment”. This is in fact untrue, as it is only as free as public healthcare, but there are a number of other reasons why this is a bad idea.

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“The Lost Girls”: why it’s a load of old rubbish

The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters 'has reduced female population by between 1,500 and 4,700' – Science – News – The Independent

I saw this article in the Independent on Thursday, and a number of online activist friends immediately began denouncing it as racist dog-whistle journalism. I was a bit more circumspect as I was well aware that in parts of the Indian subcontinent and China, there is a massive imbalance in favour of boys because of widespread (albeit illegal) abortions. The worst area is north-western India, particularly Punjab. However, today I was alerted to this blog post in which the author dissects the statistics and concludes that they cannot really be used to prove significant imbalances in these communities and that the methods used were too simplistic to prove that nothing could have happened other than sex-selective abortions. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service tweeted that they did not have a disproportionate number of people from ethnic minorities seeking terminations:

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‘Wahhabis’ are not the only fanatics in Pakistan

The saints go marching out as the face of Islam hardens in Pakistan | World news | theguardian.com

This article is about how traditional, supposedly gentler and mystical, forms of Islam are being edged out in Pakistan by “radical itinerant preachers” and “hardline sects, many with strong doctrinal and financial ties with the austere Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia”, and that “the rapid rise of these sects is fostering intolerance against minorities and other forms of Islam, and can even act as a conduit towards militant groups such as the Taliban, one of the many militant movements that adheres to Deobandi ideas”. The article acknowledges that the corruption surrounding some of the cults around the shrines are driving people towards the “hardliners”.

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Claire Dyer belongs with her family

Picture of Claire Dyer, a white teenage girl with a grey jumper, a multi-coloured top underneath and a black "Swansea AFC" scarf, standing next to a footballer from said team, wearing a light grey jumper over a white shirtUpdate 23rd January: the tribunal has been adjourned with no decision made; this is because more evidence is needed from the health board. Claire therefore remains under section and the threat of transfer to Northampton remains, although her conditions, in terms of family and home visits etc, remain unchanged.

Claire Dyer is a 19-year-old who lives in Swansea, south Wales, a keen supporter of Swansea FC who loves going to watch them play and has met some of their players, who has a severe form of autism as well as a learning disability. She is currently living in an assessment and treatment unit (ATU, the same class of institution which Winterbourne View and the Oxford STATT unit were, although there is no suggestion that this unit is anything like either of those places), under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act, but is allowed out or home with her family most days of the week and for one night a week. She has challenging behaviour (i.e. she can be violent, although as with most such cases in autism, this is chiefly when she is bored or stressed), and has had to leave autism-specific units because they could not cope with her behaviour or she was bored, or both, or the places proved unsuitable for other reasons. Despite having spent a fairly successful five weeks at home last year, which had to end only because of lack of support, she is currently being threatened with a transfer to St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, which by the shortest reasonable route is 185 miles from home, something which is causing her considerable distress.

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Why Muslims don’t join the Christian Right

Picture of Cristina Odone, a white woman wearing a blue jumper with hands outstretched[The new intolerance: will we regret pushing Christians out of public life?](http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/01/new-intolerance-will-we-regret-pushing-christians-out-public-life): A Challenge to the Left

Cristina Odone’s headline article in this week’s New Statesman describes how a liberal consensus has taken hold which does not brook dissent: where despite there being an established Christian church, people who hold standard Christian positions on issues like marriage and homosexuality can be sacked or fined for upholding them and where conferences are frequently cancelled for the same reason. She fails to acknowledge the reason, however, why the Christian right remains weak: because like the Right throughout recent history, it supports only the “mainstream” in society, i.e. middle-class whites, and alienates others, forcing them to stick together despite disagreements.

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Don’t believe the “wearable tech” hype

Detail of a Google Glass prototype, showing an ear-and-nose-mounted headset with a camera and screen mounted over the right eye.SwiftKey: Top 10 tech predictions for the future

Last week SwiftKey (or rather TouchType Ltd), the company behind a sophisticated predictive keypad for Android devices (which I used for several years before switching to Swype and several of my family and friends still use) published the above article on the things mobile users had mentioned in a survey of 20,000 smartphone users. Responses included better batteries, voice recognition and cross-device integration, but the thing that they put first, and said came up again and again, was wearable technology, with one respondent writing: “Devices which are wearable, always on and are continuously learning about the owner”. Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

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Taj Hargey is wrong: there is no ‘British Islam’

Yesterday (Boxing Day), there was a letter in the Guardian from Taj Hargey, the self-appointed leader of the so-called Muslim Education Centre of Oxford and a regular go-to figure for media wanting someone to tell them that most Muslims were doing Islam wrong, praising Marks & Spencer, the British department store chain, for backtracking on a supposed policy of allowing staff with religious beliefs to refuse to serve goods such as alcoholic drinks and directing customers buying them to other tills. Naturallly, despite this policy applying to people of all religions, the story was spun as being primarily about Muslims (it seems to have stemmed from a single incident involving a Muslim woman, as the JC article explains). More recently, the chain apologised, and said that what they actually did was try to assign staff to roles that did not infringe their religious beliefs.

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Not the ‘ally’ Muslims need

In today’s Guardian, there’s an article by Laurie Penny attacking those who have been campaigning against the supposed gender segregation on British university campuses (meaning, the separate seating arrangements at some Islamic society gatherings), claiming that they are mostly white men who disguise their Islamophobia under a guise of feminism while saying nothing about sexism in mainstream culture, including on campus (the guest speaker and the three who staged the protest at UCL by invading the women’s area were all men). She edited the piece to mention that there were “Asian women’s groups and individual Muslim feminists” protesting as well, “sometimes taking personal risks to do so”, and it includes an aside supporting those protests:

I have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this “policy of gender segregation” by “Islamic extremists”, despite the fact that no such policy exists. Of course, I condemn all sexism within the academy. I condemn segregated drinking societies and the under-representation of women at the top levels of academia. I condemn rape culture on campus, traditions like “seal clubbing” and “slut dropping” where male students are encouraged to sexually humiliate their female classmates. If I’ve enough breath left, I’ll condemn the suggestion that guest lecturers be allowed a segregated audience for religious reasons.

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Woolwich murder was perverse, not merely extreme

Picture of Michael Adebolajo, a young black man with a plain white cap, standing next to Anjum Choudary, a South Asian bearded man who is holding a megaphone, with part of a banner behind themLast Thursday, the two men who murdered the soldier Lee Rigby in the street outside an army barracks in Woolwich and then paraded on camera with bloodied hands and a meat cleaver, were found guilty of murder. They face life in prison, although the judge delayed sentence until a separate case on the legality of whole-life terms is settled (indicating that the judge is minded to impose one). An interesting revelation was that the two men, who were found not guilty of charges of conspiracy to murder a police officer, had carried unloaded firearms so as to point them at police, to provoke them to shoot them dead so as to achieve ‘martyrdom’. This clearly indicates the perversity of their thinking, which places it well outside the realm of any Islamic movement, however radical or extremist, something that eludes commentators of both left and right who have placed the crime in entirely the wrong context, attaching it to an “Islamic movement” which would never have done something like this.

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The danger of knee-jerk closures of NHS units

Picture of John Sharich House, a brick one-storey building with flowerpots outside, with an NHS name plate to the leftA couple of weeks ago, a Care Quality Commission report was published that revealed that two NHS units for people with learning disabilities on the same site in Oxford were dreadful — they failed on every area of assessment, including the maintenance and quality of equipment and safeguarding of patients from danger and abuse (the full PDF is [here](http://www.cqc.org.uk/sites/default/files/media/reports/RW11V_Slade_House_INS1-927131809_Scheduled_21-11-2013.pdf)) and “selected lowlights” can be read on a blog run by the mother of an autistic man who died there last July [here](http://mydaftlife.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/cqc-selected-highlowlights/). The young man, known as LB, was 18, was autistic and had epilepsy, and drowned in the bath while unsupervised, which people with epilepsy, let alone learning disabilities too, should never be (see earlier entry); the tragedy is mentioned briefly in the report. The unit has already been closed to new admissions and there are now rumours that the unit where LB died (the Short Term Assessment and Treatment Team [STATT] unit, but not neighbouring John Sharich House) is going to close, much as Winterbourne View did after their dreadful abuse of patients was revealed on national TV. (*Update: the unit did close on 16th December.*)

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More on “segregation” pseudo-controversy

Following my entry on the fake controversy over “segregation” (i.e. separate seating for men and women) at Islamic society events in London, Channel 4 News covered the issue this evening, featuring interviews with Maryam Namazie, who they called a “human rights activist”, footage of a demonstration by “One Law for All” and an interview with both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Omar Ali from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). I have also seen people peddling falsehoods on both social media and on mainstream media websites. Also, Andrew Browne on the Guardian’s blogs has tried to re-ignite the controversy about creationism and the expulsion of Usama Hasan from the Leyton mosque, in which he blamed the whole thing on “Wahhabi Islam”. That is an entirely misplaced assumption.

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Separate seating is not segregation

The last couple of years various groups have stirred up a controversy out of nowhere about the tendency of some Muslim groups to separate men and women at lectures on university campuses. This has been going on for years and reflects the practice in almost every mosque, except for some major showpiece mosques such as Regent’s Park, which have a common entrance although washing and prayer areas are separate. The stirring has come from the usual sources: secularist “liberal” commentators and blogs who have been objecting to one thing or another the Muslims have been doing since 2001 and their allies among the Muslims, such as the shadowy “Student Rights” group and the so-called British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Two examples are this piece on the Spectator website by Nick Cohen, and this by Sara Khan of “Inspire” on the Independent’s website.

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What’s so great about TomTom?

Picture of a TomTom sat-nav showing truck specifications, next to its box.Last week I bought a new sat-nav, a TomTom Pro 5150 Truck Live, which is a specialist one for truck drivers which has information about vehicle size limits and truck speed limits (normal sat-navs do not, as they are made for car drivers and cars are not affected by any of these issues). I have been using a Garmin Nüvi 200 for about a year, which was the cheapest “decent” unit I could get at the time, and I had been getting frustrated with some of its shortcomings, including occasional misleading directions and mispronunciations of place names. I had heard that TomTom was *the* name in sat-navs and there was a good reason for this: that they were just better. This unit cost £30 more than the entry-level Garmin truck sat-nav (£300 rather than £270, although from an online supplier through Amazon rather than Halford’s), although the Garmin appears to have been reduced to clear because the cheapest Garmin is now £375.

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Mehdi Hasan’s phoney apologetics

Picture of Mehdi Hasan, a light-skinned Asian man, wearing a suit with a black jacket, white shirt and cream tie.[British Muslims should stand up and say it: there is nothing Islamic about child marriage](http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/11/british-muslims-should-stand-and-say-it-there-nothing-islamic-about-child-marriage) (at the *New Statesman* and also the [*Huffington Post*](http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/british-muslims-child-marriage_b_4310440.html?1385025500))

Mehdi Hasan argues that it is British Muslims’ responsibility to stand up and say that “child marriage” is against Islam because “child, or underage, marriage is very much a part of British society” and it is usually Muslims doing it. The evidence consists of the fact that some spies looking to make a TV programme contacted 56 imams around the UK and that “imams at 18 of those 56 mosques – or one in three – agreed to do so”, in one case despite being told explicitly that the girl did not want to get married. He makes a number of spurious claims about Islamic scholarship and its positions on these issues, which is foolish because both Muslims and hostile non-Muslims know that they have no basis to them, while they reinforce the politics of suspicion, i.e., demanding condemnation for things most Muslims in the UK are not doing.

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