Last Thursday, the British Parliament resoundingly defeated a government motion to join military action in Syria in response to the recent chemical weapon attacks in the suburbs of Damascus. Labour were joined in their opposition by a large number of Tory MPs, and it led to David Cameron blaming Tony Blair for “poisoning the well” of public opinion against British involvement in such actions. He may be partly right but as I have said before, British public opinion has supported more recent military action in support of Arab Spring uprisings such as in Libya. Syria is different, both politically and geographically, and this situation has all the warning signs of the kind of costly, long-term military entanglement that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be, which the British public understandably have no appetite for.
Yesterday the Guardian published the above article by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, best known for co-founding Vagenda magazine and for a column in the New Statesman, which romanticised the role of carers both paid and unpaid. She has a brother who is autistic and has learning disabilities, and recently one of his carers had to resign because her relationship ended and she could not afford to live by herself on a carer’s wages, so had to go and live with her parents a long way away. She called carers “the best kind of people”, doing an often unpleasant job for little money or a small sum in benefits. This provoked quite a bit of debate on Twitter among people who had both been carers and those who needed their care. The general consensus was that calling them “the best people” was not only far too simplistic but also patronising, serving to cover up low pay and stress among the carers themselves and abuse of the people who receive care.
Recently I saw a number of appeals on Facebook and other social media to sign a petition to save a “mosque” in Manchester, the Islamic Academy of Manchester, which had been sold to a property developer and is likely to be converted into flats by a specialist church conversion firm. The building had been owned by the council which leased part of it to a Muslim organisation, but the lease has expired and the building sold. The academy’s website has a press release and an article calling for “urgent action”, including contacting the media to protest “misrepresentations” and putting forward objections to the new owners’ planning application, but one kind of action is conspicuously missing.
The BBC’s online “Magazine” last week published three articles about transport issues, one of them about the notion of “road tax” and how it’s commonly used as a trump card in arguments between motorists and cyclists, and two about various major road and railway projects and how likely they are to happen. One of those is a bridge or tunnel across from the mainland to the Isle of Wight, which despite being right next to three small cities on the south coast is linked to it only by ferries; another is a motorway running northwards through eastern England, such as an extension of the M11 or an upgrade of most or all of the A1 to motorway. Having been up the A1 quite recently, I can agree that parts of it badly need upgrading, but not the parts that are commonly assumed.
Currently Channel 4 is running a series called Benefits Britain 1949, in which people are invited to live on benefits at 1949 levels (supposedly adjusted to inflation) for a week. The Daily Mail has published an article by Melissa Kite in which it is declared that this “extraordinary experiment … PROVES the welfare state has lost its way”. The three people featured are a 54-year-old grandmother who it claims is “smartly dressed in fashionable clothes, jewellery and sports an immaculate manicure”, a 24-year-old man with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair, and a 71-year-old widower, all from Nottingham where, she says “half the population is on some kind of benefit. Yes, half”. The experiment sees the disabled man get his “first real job” while the pensioner is packed off to an old people’s home.
Recently there has been some well-deserved condemnation on blogs and Twitter feeds that I read about the British government’s attacks on immigration, which took the form of vans telling people who are in the country illegally to “go home or face arrest”, as well as spot checks on people coming through certain London train stations, in which UKBA (UK Border Agency) officers were observed to be stopping non-white travellers. This has led to some to declare that the UK is sinking into fascism, which seems to be based on ignorance of what fascism really is.
Recently in the UK (not sure how many of my overseas readers are aware of it) there has been a major controversy about abuse of women activists on Twitter, which erupted when a feminist campaigner was targeted with threats of rape after her campaign to get a woman’s face (Jane Austen’s) on a UK banknote, as that of Elizabeth Fry, a 19th-century prison reformer, is about to disappear from them. Three others — historian Mary Beard, MP Stella Creasy and journalist Hadley Freeman — all subsequently reported that they had received either rape threats or bomb threats, and it was suggested, I believe by the Times columnist Caitlin Moran, that we all stay off Twitter last Sunday as some sort of protest because the site does not have an “abuse” button in the same way it has a “spam” button. There are two major objections to this reaction: one is that many people rely on social media, including Twitter, for any kind of social life, the other that it is a cave-in to the bullies.
Woman with Down syndrome prevails over parents in guardianship case (from the Washington Post website)
Yesterday Jenny Hatch, who had been fighting to free herself from a restrictive guardianship arrangement which required her to live in a group home against her wishes, won her case (see earlier entry). Jenny (officially Margaret Jean Hatch) had lived in the community in Hampton, Virginia, until last year when a bicycle accident meant she had to seek medical care, and although her friends were willing for her to live with them (and had been employing them in their thrift store, which is a kind of second-hand shop for British readers), they were under the impression that she could not get a Medicaid waiver (an allowance for free healthcare) unless she was in a group home. Shortly afterwards, her parents filed for legal guardianship and she was forced to live in group homes while the proceedings were ongoing. Her mother was awarded temporary guardianship in February. Yesterday that was quashed; temporary guardianship was awarded to her friends, Jim Talbert and Kelly Morris, for a year with the expectation that she will be released from any such arrangement after that. There are two local TV news reports here and an earlier Washington Post report here.
Last night there was a documentary on BBC Three about young people whose mental health conditions went untreated for months or years by the NHS mental health services, including in cases where they were experiencing severe psychosis and were at risk of killing themselves. The programme was part of the same “It’s a Mad World” season as Don’t Call Me Crazy, which I reviewed here three weeks ago, and the presenter, Jonny Benjamin, suffers from schizoaffective disorder and has been running a YouTube channel about his conditions (he also has Crohn’s disease) for three years and works for a TV production company (he is interviewed by Mind’s Time to Change here). As great as this documentary was, the title feeds into a media culture of blaming “the NHS” for things that are wrong with the health system, and plays into the hands of those who want to destroy or privatise it.
Last week Sunny Hundal posted an article on Liberal Conspiracy in which he made the choice that the Tories were evil because they advanced policies which caused misery, suffering and even death, lied to the public about it, suppressed the truth about global warming by removing it from the school curriculum, and supported dictators who were mass murderers. Mark Ferguson on LabourList countered by claiming that the Tories actually think their policies are for the greater good, and that calling them evil devalues the term, which really belongs to the likes of Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler. Owen Jones argues that calling someone evil makes it impossible to understand your enemy:
“Evil” is a comforting, but worrying concept. Its connotations are so extreme that, by applying it to someone, you at a stroke strip them of their humanity; you cease in any way to be able to imagine their rationales or thought processes; they simply become a cartoon villain, for whom the ultimate thrill is the inflicting of misery. As soon as you fail to understand your enemy, they have already defeated you. It would be easy to imagine the Tories as a cabal of upper-class sadomasochists, spending their evenings plotting ever more devious ways to hunt children on council estates like rural foxes. But it misses the point.
Ban packed lunches, head teachers urged (from BBC News)
The government has commissioned a report by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain (!) that says that take-up of school meals is low (43%) despite “huge quality improvements”. It claims that if everyone had school dinners then quality could improve as there would be more money in the system, that packed lunches are nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal and should be banned, and also suggests subsidised school meals for the first years of primary and secondary schools (Reception and Year 7), but does not recommend free school meals for everyone. (More: Tattooed Mummy, Same Difference.)
Recently a series called Don’t Call Me Crazy, set inside an adolescent mental health unit in Manchester, the now-closed McGuinness Unit, was screened on BBC Three, apparently the first time cameras had been allowed to film inside such a unit. They were given access to patients and staff, although some of both declined to be featured (or were unable to give consent) and their faces were disguised in the programme. The most prominently featured was Beth Whittaker, who had an eating disorder and was in the unit for six months, much of it on a section as she failed to comply with the treatment, but other patients had OCD, depression, psychosis and one had suffered a nervous breakdown. All three episodes are currently available online in the UK until next Monday (Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3) and you can read an interview with Beth here and some interviews with Beth and three members of staff on the programme’s website here. (More: Ilona Richards @ Mind , , , Secret Schizophrenic, And Then She Disappeared , , .) Also, Katy Gray published a very critical comment on this programme on TwitLonger, relating to consent issues.
Imraan Adam is a Muslim who lives in Derby and has cerebral palsy, and earlier this week it was reported that the council in Derby could no longer pay for the support for him to eat before sunrise and thus be able to fast the day. Imraan has fasted in Ramadan since age 10 (it doesn’t say how old he is now, although he must be over 21 as he has a degree) and in previous years the council has arranged for extra support, but has now refused, citing its difficult financial situation. In this case, the footballer Frederic Kanoute has stepped in and provided the money for him to pay for his extra care.
There are, of course, some people who will say that Muslims shouldn’t expect the wider community to fund “special treatment” like this, although the cost cannot be that great as the number affected (who do not live with families and are severely physically disabled) cannot be that many. This is really something that the Muslim community should be doing for its members, and if the money involved is not that great for a local authority, it shouldn’t be for a local Muslim community either. Every mosque, or at least one in every community, should have a fund to pay for this support. I would imagine that there are a lot of converts in that number. It’s an extra hour’s support for at most 30 days every year, and the community would not have to hire carers but simply pay a care agency (most likely the ones that the people affected are already using) to send someone round.
While on the subject of Ramadan, it’s a great thing that this year everyone in Europe is starting on the same day, and that the “Saudi followers” (mostly the so-called major mosques such as Regent’s Park, Westbourne Park and East London) are not starting a day early. The last time everyone started and finished on the same day was 2008 (when the month coincided with September), and it was widely regarded as a cause for celebration. We do not make a fuss about moon-sighting, or “moon fighting” as some people call it, for kicks or because we just hate the Saudis, but because we do not want to be fasting when it’s not Ramadan and having a big feast while it actually is Ramadan.
Last week I read about two separate distressing incidents that underline the need for support for people with disabilities to remain living with their families if that is at all possible. The first happened in Ireland a month ago, but I only read about it on a feminist blog last Tuesday: a father of three disabled children, two of them autistic, was given a suspended sentence when convicted of the rape of his then 14-year-old sister-in-law in the mid-1980s, because the judge believed that sending him to jail would cause intolerable hardship for his family, his wife in particular. The second was a tragedy that happened very suddenly last Thursday: a young man with autism and epilepsy died in the bath in an NHS-run psychiatric unit for people with learning disabilities in the Oxford area, as reported by his mother on her blog. That story has yet to be picked up by the press but has been reported on social media. Neither the man nor the unit have as yet been identified.
So, Andy Murray finally won his first Wimbledon title, and Britain’s first men’s singles Wimbledon title since 1936 (as has been widely pointed out, there have been British titles in other Wimbledon disciplines since then, including the women’s singles and mixed doubles, the latter won by none other than Jamie Murray, Andy’s brother, in 2007). Almost immediately, it started being suggested that he might receive a knighthood, including from David Cameron this morning, but I was asked by a friend on Twitter if he had received a knighthood yet and whether the royal baby was going to be called Andrew. (The answer is that royal babies often have several names, more than the two that most commoners have, so Andrew might be in there somewhere.)
There seems to be a trend recently with Kevin McKenna’s articles in the Observer, which is to depict Scotland as a land beset by misogyny and inhabited by an awful lot of sexist Neanderthals. Today, it’s Scottish golf clubs (in particular Muirfield, which hosts the Open this month) which refuse to admit women as members; two weeks ago, it was about “how sick Scottish society remains in the way women are viewed”, chiefly on the basis of a story about one Glasgow nightclub which installed one-way glass mirrors so that men could spy on women at the washbasin (not in the toilet itself as commonly reported). Neither of these things are particularly reflective of Scottish society or attitudes as similar things can, and frequently do, happen elsewhere.
In my review of Fedora 19 (in the last entry), I noted that I thought Fedora had abandoned the idea of end-users using Fedora and were targeting distro developers instead. There is a Fedora derivative called Korora which has been in development for some time; it is called Korora and appears to be largely a one-man show. It bundles the things Fedora won’t, such as codecs (the code that lets you play MP3s and other common media files) and the Flash player, as well as making Google Chrome easily available in a repository. Korora 19, codenamed Bruce (I think that’s him on the right), was released the same day as Fedora 19, the first for this distro which had normally been developed from the “stable” Fedora release rather than alongside it. I downloaded the GNOME version of Korora, which is a live CD (there is no net-install or comprehensive 4Gb DVD unlike with Fedora itself). However, it’s not a huge improvement on Fedora itself.
A few months ago I published a scathing review of Fedora 18, the last release of the Linux distribution which started life as Red Hat Linux, once the version of Linux that everyone who knew anything about Linux knew about. For many people, Red Hat was Linux, and was the version that featured on almost every book on “Linux” (either the book was explicitly about Red Hat Linux or that was the version on the cover disk). It has lost a lot of popularity over the years as the product morphed into Fedora, the boxed version was abandoned and Ubuntu has become more popular, and Fedora itself concentrated on “freedom” by refusing to bundle software which had restrictions on it (i.e. free but proprietary software and sound and video decoders subject to licensing agreements). With the last release, they completely redesigned the installer which made it a highly confusing bit of software with the potential to wipe your data if you were not careful. This version is barely improved over the last one.
Yesterday, the Sun led with a headline “Ramadan-a-Ding-Dong”, a reference to Channel 4’s decision to air the Muslim call to prayer at different times of day during Ramadan. Their article includes an endorsement from Anjem Choudary and the latest al-Muhajiroun front group, “Islamic Emergency Defence”, as well as claims from UKIP that it’s a PR stunt and that most Muslims would not want it; a Tory MP, Conor Burns, called it “politically-correct tokenism” and asked, “what would happen if they were to do this type of thing during a Christian festival such as Lent?”. The Sun also carried an opinion piece from Anila Baig, claiming that no Muslim will actually be watching C4 to hear the call to prayer and that it’s another case of how the channel “worships controversy” with such programmes as Dogging Tales and The Man with the Ten Stone Testicles. AN Wilson suggests that they also carry the other four calls (as the Sun claims they are actually doing) and not carry adverts for alcohol if they were really serious about providing a service to Muslims.
The week before last (I have only just had the opportunity to write about it due to work), a teacher from Kent called Jeremy Forrest was jailed for five and a half years for having an affair with a schoolgirl and running away with her to France until they were both brought back. Besides his prison sentence, he was ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register and banned from working with children for life. However, the girl (whose name cannot now be mentioned in new articles although the media have not removed dozens of articles from last September when she was missing) has stuck by him, intends to visit him in prison and has allegedly been given permission, and yesterday and today interviews with her were published in the Sun (which referred to her as Gemma Grant, the name she assumed during her French ‘adventure’), in which she claimed that if anything, she groomed him rather than the other way round. There have been a number of comments published about this, among them by a woman who had an affair with a teacher while at sixth form college, Hadley Freeman in the Guardian saying that he is a “pathetic man-child” but no paedophile and in nothing like the same league as Stuart Hall or Jimmy Savile, and there are these two entries by the feminist blogger Louise Pennington, who calls Forrest a rapist (as she called John Peel and others in the rock world who slept with teenage groupies in the 1960s and 70s).