Yesterday a British soldier was attacked by two men with butchers’ knives on a street in Woolwich, south-east London, and killed in broad daylight in public view near to a primary school not long before the end of the school day. The men made no attempt to flee, one of them making a political statement to a passer-by’s camera or mobile phone, the footage of which was released to the press. When the police finally arrived, they then made to attack the police but were both shot and are now in separate hospitals. The area around the scene of the crime (which is on part of the South Circular Road, a major route for trucks) is still closed off. Last night the government’s emergency committee, known as COBRA, was meeting and the incident was said to be being treated as a “terrorist incident”. The Daily Mail has a pretty comprehensive coverage of the incident, along with some gratuitous sideswipes at local minority populations (including the clear images of two Black women walking past the attacker, in obvious contrast with the white woman who confronted him). Note: a picture of the attacker (taken from the video footage) is over the fold. (More: Half a Giraffe, The Goldfish on phony mental health speculations, Scriptonite Daily.)
Last week seven men from Oxford were found guilty of various sexual offences, including rape, for ‘grooming’ young girls and ultimately raping and allowing other men to rape them. Many of them were in local authority care and others (as in Rochdale) were placed in care by their parents in an attempt to stop the abuse that they were complaining about, but carers refused to listen to the girls’ and their parents’ complaints, in one case telling one of the victims that it was ‘inappropriate’ to talk about the issue at that time. On Wednesday’s Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, he had two guests: John Brown of the NSPCC’s sexual abuse programme, and Taj Hargey, an “imam” that the media commonly wheels out to issue sweeping negative generalisations about Muslims. The programme can be listened to here until next Wednesday and is the first feature (which starts after Michael Jackson’s Thriller ends).
Last week Professor Stephen Hawking pulled out of a conference in Israel, reportedly as part of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions on the grounds of it operating an Apartheid-type regime against its Palestinian subjects. The decision prompted a number of Israeli sympathisers to reassess their views of Hawking from being a genius who triumphed over adversity to being a “stupid cripple” who should hurry up and die, or similar, but one Israeli law firm recommended that Hawking change the processor he uses in his tablet to communicate, namely the Intel Core i7 which is developed at an Intel base in Israel. There are a number of reasons why the demand represents the ignorance and bias of those making it.
“I’m not a ‘person with a disablity’, I’m a disabled person” (from xojane by Lisa Egan)
Recently I’ve noticed that a number of blogs by disabled people in the UK insist on referring to themselves, and similarly affected people, as “disabled people” rather than “people with disabilities”, the internationally recognised term which was commonly used in the UK until fairly recently, and that this term has become common (though not used consistently) in organisations such as government departments and student unions. The theory behind this is that the former term reflects a “social model” in which disability is the product of social barriers rather than a person’s physical impairments — the latter being termed the “medical model” in which disability is a medical problem to be cured, if possible. I see several problems with this use of language: it puts the British disability community out of step with those abroad, it regularly causes misunderstandings and misrepresentations, it is not inclusive, and is a false dichotomy in which an ideal model is presented in opposition to a composite of the worst disablist attitudes. (More: Emma’s Hope Book.)
Yesterday there were local elections in large parts of the UK and the news reported the fact that UKIP had made significant gains, with their number of councillors rising from eight to 147 and both the Tories and Liberal Democrats losing huge numbers (335 and 124 respectively). You can find the full results (including a clickable version of the map on the right) here among other places, and it is noticeable that three rural councils in the western Midlands and three in eastern England have gone grey for ‘no overall control’. In some of these places, the Tories could form an alliance with UKIP to control the council, but not all of them — in others (e.g. Gloucestershire), the Liberal Democrats are still the second party. The press made the UKIP surge the story because it’s new; what they do not report is what has not changed, and this reporting makes UKIP look more important than they really are.
I received a letter today from the Attorney General’s office, in response to an open letter I had sent (which many readers of this blog had signed) regarding the sentence of Jordan Sheard, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for the killing of Stephen Simpson at a party in June 2012. The letter was dated 18th April, so it may well have been sitting in our mailbox for a couple of weeks (we tend to pull letters out of the top of it rather than open it up), and this news has already appeared in the local media in Sheffield. The letter says that the Attorney General (Dominic Grieve, QC MP) has decided to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal, where it will be heard by three Court of Appeal judges who will decide whether or not to increase the sentence.
I am very pleased with this news: three and a half years is a derisory sentence for causing a brutal death to a vulnerable man. It is still a mystery that he was not charged with murder.
Rosa Monckton, as I have written on this page before, is an extremely privileged lady. I do not mean privilege as in white or, needless to say, male privilege. I mean she has enormous advantages: a lot of money, very powerful political connections and the ear of the national media. Not for her an article published in an obscure corner of the Daily Mail website, no, this woman can get a BBC documentary produced to air her views. She was a friend of Princess Di, she’s married to the former editor of the Sunday Telegraph who is also the son of a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher. Her views are taken seriously, particularly when they concern something which is no doubt very dear to her: the welfare of people with learning disabilities. Like her daughter, Domenica, who has Down’s syndrome. Unfortunately, she is somewhat set in her ways, not very fond of people with such disabilities having personal autonomy, and her articles bring out the prejudice in a lot of readers, such as the comment posted below her most recent lengthy article in the Daily Mail:
Thank you for highlighting this…independent living didn’t work before it won’t work again, nothing has changed people with downs are children and the do gooders need to get to grips with that ,not promoting human rights on the vulnerable people that are at risk..at the bottom of this it purely down to finances …yet again.
This rather hilarious article represents a BBC journalist’s ostensible attempt to live on £1 worth of food a day. You’ll notice that the food is rather appetising and colourful and looks expensive. A brief look at the price lists reveal that it was in fact more expensive than the single-serving cost and that the journalist cheated, one ingredient from the first meal alone blowing his daily budget and the total spend (of that meal alone, remember) coming to £8.27. The article is an insult to those who really do have to live on a tiny amount of food a day. (More: Aethelred the Unread, Potato Skin Belt, The Plan.)
Recently there has been a major outbreak of measles in South Wales, thought to be largely the result of large numbers of parents not getting their children vaccinated during the MMR scare of 1998. Despite the scare, and its author, having been utterly discredited in the years since, there remains an industry seeking to ‘cure’ autism through purging the body of mercury, supposedly the agent (delivered in the MMR vaccine) that caused the condition. It’s not only autism: chronic illnesses in general are held up as reasons not to vaccinate and anyone with a chronic illness apparently triggered by a vaccine is seen as an easy mark, as I saw a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine, who has severe ME, sought the advice of an anti-vaccine group on Facebook (which also has its own website) to “detox” from the chemical in a vaccine she received which triggered her illness.
Recently you may have heard that Rolf Harris, a well-known Australian entertainer who has been on the TV for one purpose or another (and in the pop charts occasionally) since the 1960s, was taken in for questioning over a historic accusation of a sex offence of some sort, and released on police bail (i.e. he has yet to be charged with anything, let alone convicted). There is a post here on a feminist blog I read occasionally, which makes the not unreasonable point that Harris having been arrested hasn’t ruined anyone’s childhood even if it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth — it’s those who were sexually abused whose childhoods were ruined. I made the point in a comment that actually, Harris hasn’t been charged, let alone convicted, and that we do not know anything about the claims — where and when the alleged offence happened, for example. Stavvers (the blog owner) called my comment a “non-sequitur” which “smacks of being linked to this obsessive focus on perpetrators rather than survivors”. Another comment, however, from one “rachel scotland”, really took the biscuit:
I’m going to say this one more time today:
“Innocent until proven guilty” isn’t meant for individuals and it’s utterly disingenuous when people pretend it is.
People can (should) assume people are guilty simply on the word of the victim. That simple. There’s no philosophical victory to be won here over who is the most magnanimous towards accused rapists, or who’s the most even-handed with their “listening to both sides” of a sexual assault.
When someone tells you they were raped, you believe them. “Innocent until proven guilty” when you are not a fucking judge means “I don’t want to believe the victim”.
Michael Gove, the current education secretary, has announced extended school days and longer terms, allowing schools to stay open until 4:30pm and reduce the length of the summer holidays to four weeks. He has given two reasons: one being that British children are supposedly being left behind by those in Asia who already have longer days and shorter holidays, and the other being that the current pattern is out of date, not taking into account the fact that there will be nobody to pick many children up at 3pm as there were in the past. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has pointed out that private schools have a holiday that is two weeks longer in the summer than state schools and do not apparently feel any need to change. David Priestland, in today’s Guardian, notes that Gove has already dismissed the reactions of experts, as free-market ideologues (both Tory and Labour) have done for the past 35 years, and will carry on and do what he thinks is right.
Margaret Jean “Jenny” Hatch is an American woman, aged 29, with Down’s syndrome. Until early last year, she lived independently in Newport News, Virginia, and had been working in her friends’ store. She had an active social life and according to the Quality Trust for Individuals for Disabilities, an organisation which campaigns for the rights of people with developmental disabilities, counted “past and present members of the Newport News City Council and the Virginia General Assembly” among her friends. In March 2012 she was involved in a road accident while cycling, and briefly moved in with her friends but because of a dispute over who was to pay for her care, she was forced to move into a “congregate setting”, i.e. a “group home” (or care home as we call it here in the UK), which confiscated her phone and computer, rendering her unable to communicate with her friends. Since then, her mother and stepfather have petitioned for guardianship and have insisted that she remains in the “home” against her wishes. Her mother acquired temporary guardianship in February and her case comes to trial early next month. (I first heard about this story through the blog of Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg, Disability and Representation, and a more detailed story, as of last November, is there.)
Now that I’ve got your attention …
There’s currently a measles outbreak in South Wales, the reason for which is that a lot of parents didn’t vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine during the late 90s and early 2000s when the scare produced by Andrew Wakefield’s discredited and biased research was at its height. Many parents thought that these illnesses were mild, transient things that all children got and couldn’t do you any harm, least of all brain damage. In fact, measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) can cause encephalitis, which can lead to brain damage and death.
If you’re an adult male who hasn’t had any children yet, mumps can harm you particularly — it causes inflammation of the testicles and that can make you sterile. So if you didn’t get vaccinated when you were a child, you are well-advised to go and get it done now. If you don’t have strong counter-indications (i.e. medical reasons not to get vaccinated) and you are healthy, you should get vaccinated because others who can’t rely on others’ immunity to stay clear of these diseases themselves (this is called herd immunity, and when I mentioned this to someone on Facebook, she haughtily told me “I’m not a heffer [sic] to be herded”, a prime example of the cluelessness of anti-vaccination activists).
I’ve mentioned some scare stories and misconceptions about vaccines and ME on this blog in the past. Although there have been cases of ME being triggered by vaccines, it can also be triggered by infections including mumps. Read the story of Emily Collingridge then put that scare story to the back of your mind.
BBC Question Time from Finchley, north London, 11th April 2013 (available in UK until 11th April 2014)
Last night the BBC’s weekly Question Time programme was filmed in Finchley, the area of north London represented for more than thirty years by Margaret Thatcher, and focussed on her legacy, featuring Polly Toynbee (a Guardian columnist who was a member of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s), David Blunkett, Charles Moore (former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Thatcher’s biographer), Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, and Kenneth Clarke, who served as a cabinet minister throughout Thatcher’s time in office. A stark distinction was obvious: those who lauded Thatcher talked about the past, the 1970s, before she came to power, and those who were against her usually talked about the time during and after.
This is the party election broadcast by the Labour party that was broadcast just now on British TV. You might notice that the first thing Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, talked about was immigration and how the last Labour government got the subject wrong. I recall that, in the 2004 London mayoral election, both BNP and UKIP talked about things that were outside the remit of the mayor, including immigration: UKIP’s Frank Moloney talked of “less illegal asylum seekers” while the BNP’s Julian Leppert simply said “we offer the BNP’s national immigration policies”.
Only yesterday, someone tweeted that when asked where he was when he heard that Margaret Thatcher had died, the answer was he was on Twitter on all five occasions. Why people publish hoax death announcements on Twitter I don’t know, much as it’s a mystery why people post derogatory comments on teenagers’ Facebook memorials, but this time I did not quite believe it until I looked again at who was posting the announcement, among them Ed Fraser from Channel 4 News. Almost immediately, some of the people I follow said they might have to leave Twitter, because they could not tolerate a flurry of tweets celebrating her death, and others pointed out that this was an old lady who had dementia and died of a stroke (others have said we shouldn’t be “celebrating a family’s grief”, which I don’t think it is). The BBC has devoted huge news coverage to tributes and interviews about her, among them BBC London which has pulled the drive-time show (normally at 5pm) forward an hour. Glen Greenwald has set out the differences between taking the “don’t speak ill of the dead” attitude when the deceased is a private individual and when he or she is a public figure, particularly a very divisive one, like Thatcher. Thatcher wasn’t an old dictator who died in office, but neither was she the kindly old school dinner lady, and given her legacy, it’s only to be expected that some people in this country are celebrating.
Cathy “Bug” Brennan, someone who I have heard described as one of the most extreme and irrational radical feminists, has done a brief comparison of two music videos, namely Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy (1991) and The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony (1997). They both take a similar format of the singer walking along a street while singing their song to the camera, but their behaviour is radically different: Nelson breezes through a very rough LA neighbourhood, apparently noticing and noticed by nobody, disturbing and disturbed by nobody, while Ashcroft, walking along a market street in Hoxton in east London, bumps into one actor, I mean, passer-by after another, and some of the actors, I mean passers-by, are young women, some of them are old, some of them are powerfully-built men (and all of those just glare at him), and at one point he jumps over a car bonnet (and the young female driver pursues him up the street, but he manages to ignore her and keeps singing) and when his path really is blocked, he stares into the window, either at the occupants or his own reflection, depending on your point of view.
This is the front page of tomorrow’s Daily Mail, one which cynically exploits the tragic death in 2011 of six children in a house fire started by their parents and their parents’ friend in a bid to get a bigger council house. The man, Mick Philpott, was a thorougly unpleasant character who, it now turns out, had previously been jailed for seven years in 1978 attempting to murder a previous girlfriend by stabbing her (and also wounding her mother). He had previously appeared in the media demanding a bigger council house because the one he occupied (with his children, wife and then girlfriend, whose departure appears to have triggered the Philpotts’ crime) was too cramped; he also appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show, in which a stream of seemingly inbred low-lifes shout at each other over petty disputes.
However, the Mail attributes his behaviour to “Welfare UK”, at a time when there have been savage cuts aimed at the poorest: to take just one example, a couple I know have seen their rent more than double as a result. Doubtless some of their readers will have their qualms about the benefit changes of this week expunged by reading of Philpott’s exploits. The system may well have enabled his sordid lifestyle to some degree, but the fact is, he was an immoral degenerate and would have been whether he gamed the welfare state or scammed other people (most likely women, as he did anyway). As I saw someone posting on Twitter just now, he no more represents welfare claimants than Lord Lucan represents the wealthy. Much as I do not like paying for the lifestyles of people like Mick Philpott — none of us do — it is better than the alternative. I have several friends who rely on the welfare system to make life liveable, because they and/or their partner or children are disabled, mentally ill or, in some cases, both. If they could not get help from the state, it would have to be from friends, until they fell on hard times themselves or get sick of them. It keeps people from being put in “homes”, ending up on the streets, or being trapped in abusive relationships. Maybe with a man like Philpott. Think about it.
Earlier this afternoon I saw an announcement on Twitter from SwiftKey, the people behind my favourite keyboard on Android: a new way of using their keypad that they called “SwiftKey Tilt”, which meant you could type by simply moving your phone up and down and from side to side while a “pinball” typed out words for you. This had a lot of people fooled, perhaps because phones do, after all, have gyroscopes which detect the position of the phone and trigger such things as automatic rotation (not very accurately in my experience, which is why I have that feature turned off). The most recent release of SwiftKey had something called SwiftKey Flow, which enables you to draw your finger across the keyboard to form words, rather than touch key after key (i.e. their version of Swype, effectively). I got annoyed at the Tilt announcement:
@swiftkey before starting on the next big adventure, why not sort out the problems in your app NOW, like how it deals with hyphens & colons?— Matthew Smith (@indigojo_uk) April 1, 2013
This letter appeared in yesterday’s Daily Mail in response to the article by David Goodhart about the Ahmadiyyah centre in Morden last Monday (see earlier article). The letter starts off by stating that her family lived in Merton Park, “near Morden Underground station”, but decided to move away “when the Labour council gave permission for the mosque to be built”. She goes on to complain that Morden town centre has become run down and full of eastern European and Asian shops and “South Wimbledon, Colliers Wood and Mitcham are much the same”. For the record, there is a large Sainsbury’s, a Marks & Spencer’s and a shopping centre with a car park in Colliers Wood with no Asian shops in sight; Merton High Street has always been full of small shops that served the local population, which includes a large council estate. Clearly, as more Asians have moved to the area (there is now a Bengali-run mosque on that road), the shops have changed. It has always been a busy road (barely less so since the A24 was re-routed to the south) and not exactly a desirable shopping location, hence the preponderance of small shops. Wimbledon is also very nearby and has the usual town centre shops.