Last week the Leveson inquiry finally reported, and the key points can be found here, but they include a new independent regulator backed by statute but independent of government and the industry, with membership not compulsory but non-members monitored by Ofcom; the watchdog should have the power to fine a newspaper up to 1% of turnover or £1m, whichever is smaller, with “sufficient powers of investigation”, a libel resolution unit, and possibly a First Amendment-style law. David Cameron immediately opposed statute-backed regulation, claiming that it would “mean for the first time we have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into law of the land”. He is opposed in this by Labour, the Lib Dems and much of the Tory party as well as some of those who reported to the inquiry about their experience of press intrusion, phone hacking etc., but supported by the Tories in his cabinet (and, of course, the commercial media).
The Lancashire Council of Mosques has advised Muslim parents in the county to boycott the new ‘halaal’ dinners being offered to their children by the local council in the schools because the meat comes from animals which were stunned before slaughter (press release here in PDF). The council previously had an arrangement with another supplier, which it terminated after an inspection, but council leader Geoff Driver insisted that the council would not supply meat from non-stunned animals and that the suppliers were accredited by the same body that certified meat for the Olympics last year.
Hope Not Hate has reproduced an article by Shiraz Maher from the Spectator, titled “Few would shed tears if Britain barred Anjem Choudary from returning”. Choudary is currently in Pakistan attending a conference of extremists at the Red Mosque in Lahore, where he is expected to issue a “fatwa” (which is not qualified to do, but anyway) against the teenage education activist Malala Yousufzai, who was recently shot by the Pakistani Taliban and is receiving treatment in the UK. He quotes a number of local religious leaders and secular columnists who say that Choudary should be barred from entering Pakistan, but concludes by referring to Choudary’s “spritual leader” Omar Bakri Muhammad who left “shortly after 7/7 after abusing our hospitality for years”.
A number of newspapers, and the BBC, have reported today that a foster family from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have had three children removed from their care allegedly becuase they are members of the UK Independence Party, which supports withdrawal from the European Union and a restriction on immigration, especially from eastern Europe. The children had been placed with them on an emergency basis in September, and according to Joyce Thacker of the borough council, the removal of the children from that couple’s care was planned and not sudden as they allege. The council has also been criticised by the courts for not meeting the children’s “cultural and ethnic needs”. (More: Zarathustra @ Not So Big Society, Same Difference, Simon Wilson (Tory candidate in Rotherham by-election).)
I’ve been pretty astounded at the tone of the response to the Church of England’s General Synod’s decision to reject the appointment of female bishops on Wednesday. The motion had been supported by the incoming and outgoing Archbishops of Canterbury and passed by two of the three houses — the Bishops and Clergy — but rejected by the Laity. This has led to the suggestion that the church is out of step with the rest of British society, almost making itself irrelevant, and that if it continues to refuse, its 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords should no longer be allowed to do so. Rowan Williams (right), the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, articulated the view of “irrelevance” particularly vociferously.
Lynton Crosby is the Australian electioneer who ran the campaign that saw John Howard elected for four terms in office there, mostly on anti-immigration platforms. He also ran Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaign in 2008, and the Daily Mail’s report the above Islamophobia Watch entry is based on is actually about something Crosby is alleged to have said when he was running that campaign. Crosby and Johnson today both said they had no recollection of this alleged incident, which is understandable even if he did say them, because such things tend to stick in the minds of those who hear them but don’t agree with them.
Yet again, Casualty gets the medical facts wrong in one of their plotlines. This time the condition involved was Morquio syndrome (pronounced Morkio), a genetic disorder which results in dwarfism, spinal defects and visual impairment. The condition is recessive and both parents have to carry the gene for the child to have the condition, but Casualty extrapolated from that to imply that the parents were usually related, and in this story the parents turned out to be brother and sister and not know it. (More: Normal Plus Wheelchair, written by someone with Morquio which gives far more detail than I have.)
Last Friday I wrote here about Simon Wessely, the psychiatric professor at King’s College Hospital in London who is notorious for promoting psychological theories about certain chronic illnesses, won an award for “courage” presented by an organisation he is on the board of. The organisation was Sense About Science, which claims to champion sound science over “dodgy science” as well as campaigning for the rights of scientists (such as by campaigning to reform libel laws so that scientists are not caught up in libel suits as a result of debate). I actually know of a few people in the chronic illness community who are strong supporters of most of what SAS stand for, and this made their endorsement of Wessely all the more disappointing to these people. However, a conversation with an activist friend last Thursday brought home how much damage Wessely’s theories have really done.
When I first got into blogging in 2004, one of the most prominent voices in the blogosphere (she was, and is, also a newspaper columnist) was Melanie Phillips, who by that time wrote for the Daily Mail (she had previously written for the Times and before that, the Guardian). She is widely known on the anti-war left and among Muslims as “Mad Mel”, for her seemingly hysterical denunciations of any concession to Muslim sensitivities and her fanatical devotion to the interests of Israel (not so fanatical as to go and live there, mind you) such that she would repeat the propaganda from the likes of MEMRI, “Honest Reporting” and the like as if they were facts, and accuse people of anti-Semitism if they treated Palestinian claims to their own land with anything but the contempt she believed they deserved. The “Mad Mel” soubriquet came because of her repeated insistence that “the West” was selling itself out and allowing itself to be destroyed from within by the Left, Muslims, and assorted other enemies. Yesterday, Craig Murray noted that Phillips had written a quite ludicrous article claiming that “with the re-election of Obama, America now threatens to lead the west into a terrifying darkness”, and calls this “ill-motivated” and “barking mad”. There is a blog on the Independent’s website, taking a similar tone, here. However, my impression is that Phillips has always known exactly what she is doing: serving the interests of Israel and attacking its real or potential enemies.
On Wednesday, Simon Wessely, notorious for promoting psychological theories about ME, was jointly awarded a new prize for courage in “standing up for science” by Sense About Science. Nature published the statement by the person who nominated him, who claimed that Wessely had developed CBT-based treatments which “in many cases brought about substantial improvement and in some was life transforming” and for his pains had been subject to “continued abuse and obstruction from a powerful minority of people who, under the guise of self-help organizations, have sought to promote an extreme and narrow version of the disorder”. The ‘abuse’ included death threats, hostile letters, mischeivous complaints and “bogus questions” in Parliament. He shared it with one Fang Shi-min, a Chinese scientist who exposed quacks who sell bogus remedies in China and has criticised official support for traditional Chinese medicine; it is alleged that “thugs hired by a urologist attacked Fang with a hammer and, according to Fang, tried to kill him”.
Nadine Dorries, the conservative (with a small ‘c’) Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, has been suspended from her party (and likely faces de-selection in the run-up to the next general election) following her travel to Australia to take part in the ‘reality’ show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. She claimed she had been planning to use the show to talk politics to the other contestants, but it has been pointed out that any political speechifying she did would be edited out under British TV neutrality rules, as has happened to politicians who went on previous reality shows. She is, of course, not the first MP to take time out of Parliament to go on a reality show, but is the first from a major party.
Yesterday I took the plunge and installed Windows 8 on my laptop. I had hesitated to do this, because of various reports such as that the Desktop (that is, the running of the normal apps like the web browser you are probably reading this on) had been downgraded to a kind of app itself, with Metro, the interface for mobile-derived apps, given priority. However, other reports said that the new OS was thoroughly stable and based on Windows 7 and would run everything Windows 7 ran. In addition, the upgrade only cost £25 (confusingly, they offer you a “Windows DVD” for £13 extra, but that is for a DVD in the post, not an ISO you can burn to DVD).
The past week or so I’ve been following a series of posts by the blogger “Anna Raccoon”, who I earlier came across in her articles about the Court of Protection and her championing of Mark Neary’s cause (Mark Neary being the man whose autistic son was wrongly detained for more than a year for “challenging behaviour” by Hillingdon social services). She is a former pupil at the Duncroft school, the locked boarding school for intelligent but disturbed teenage girls which was supposedly used as a “paedophile’s sweet shop” by the late Jimmy Savile, at the same time as the abuse allegedly happened. She claims that the people who are making the claims were not there at the time, and points to a number of historical inaccuracies such as Savile’s Rolls Royce being the wrong model to have been made by the time some of the incidents happened. She also reported that the former headmistress, Margaret Jones, had been doorstepped by someone from the Daily Mail; I saw an “interview” with her in today’s paper, in which she describes the girls making the claims as “delinquents” who used sex to buy favours from men (Anna Raccoon said she did not actually give an interview, but did answer a couple of questions before spotting a hidden tape recorder). The paper describes her attitude as “cruel” and their picture of her is clearly intended to give that impression, though to me it looks like she was annoyed and suspicious at being doorstepped.
I just attended a talk by Dr Leon Moosavi, who some readers may know from Facebook, on the experience of converts from different backgrounds after they enter Islam. He mentioned the concept of “white privilege”, in which being white exposes someone to certain advantages that they may not notice (e.g. being less likely to be stopped by security guards or the police when in a public place) and that, as they enter Islam, they may retain some of these privileges but may also experience specific disadvantage or, as he put it, “white dis-privilege”. I have written on this subject on a number of occasions previously, so I will link them here — , , . Two of these posts were in response to a “blog carnival” that Brooke Benoit held in 2009; the full lists of posts for that event can be found at her blog.
A woman who took part with three men in a violent group attack on an Asian man, in which she kicked him in the head while calling him a “f**king Paki”, has been given a suspended sentence and ordered to attend “a programme for women offenders”. The other participants were each given a one-year suspended sentence along with a community order, despite one of them being known not to have complied with previous orders. The woman, Amanda Lowe, has four convictions from the past six years while the other three have 21 previous convictions between them, and the judge warned them that another offence would result in a prison sentence. He also warned her that her behaviour was a bad influence on her children:
‘The damage you are doing to your children - there at the time and seeing you drunk, the risk you put them at - is disgraceful.
‘Somebody who behaves like that when they are drunk I would think you have to keep a very careful eye on as a mother.
‘Kids who have mothers who behave like you end up behaving like you.
‘That damage starts from when they are tiny.
The government has ordered a review of building standards regulations, with a view to reducing the number of regulations, ostensibly to facilitate a revival of the construction industry. While no concrete proposals have been put forward, according to Paul King of the UK Green Building Council, “everything is up for debate”, and the “specific themes” being debated are “energy, water, security, accessibility, and even the amount of space available in new homes”.
Over the years that the Internet has existed as a mass medium (which is more or less my adult life — I first got online at university in 1995, before Google and just as the dot-com boom was taking off), I’ve often heard people put it down as a needless distraction to getting things done, or as a source of junk information, or as if it had little value to anyone except paedophiles, terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells. Some people express such sentiments with sarcasm, such as this tweet I just saw:
I was very angry about something on the Internet then I remembered the real world.— Tom Williamson (@skepticCanary) October 25, 2012
For many of us, the Internet is a hobby in itself or even a living; it provides opportunities for programmers, both professional and hobbyist, and support staff; for others, it’s an outlet for opinion. For many others, it’s a means to make and keep up with friends, to share information such as photographs more easily than could be done without. Granted, people of my generation and those before did for centuries without the Net, but the benefits have been enormous and many of us could not imagine life without it. However, some people still do not understand quite how vital it is for some people, and often these people have control over the wires.
This post is cross-posted to Same Difference, and you can comment there or here.
Captchas are a method websites use to tell whether a visitor is a person or a computer. This is typically used to prevent automated use of their system, and in the case of forums and blog comment boxes, this is used to stop spam. This often takes the form of letters contained in a picture, which a person can see and read but a computer can’t understand because, if they even download the image file, they won’t (unless they have special character recognition software) be able to tell what letters are in it. Captchas (which stands for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart”) exploded in popularity in the mid-2000s, because blogs got snowed under with adverts for indecent material and gambling.
I spent the past two days upgrading my Android phone, a Samsung Galaxy S (model i9000) to the new version of Android. There have actually been several new versions since the last one Samsung could be bothered to provide, but the one I have settled on is the latest, codenamed Jelly Bean (they name them after confectionery products in alphabetical order). I got my phone in July or August of 2011 and at the time was quite impressed with its performance compared with my previous Android phone, a HTC Hero (rebranded G2 Touch by T-Mobile). However, perhaps because applications have got bigger and more complex since then, or perhaps because they’re optimised for newer versions than I was using, most of those I use have seen a decline in performance, frequently hanging or crashing, often during an operation such as pulling down to refresh a timeline (Plume is the worst for that). I read about Cyanogen Mod in the Android magazine, and had a look into that because unlike most other Android developers who produce operating systems you can upload to your phone (known as ROMs, although it’s not really ROM anymore), they actually have a website, a forum, and a wiki which gives directions on how to install it.
This article appeared in the opinion section of yesterday’s Guardian and criticises the public and the anti-war movement in particular for saying nothing about the ongoing slaughter in Syria carried out by Assad and his militias, compared to the widespread outrage at Israeli violence against Palestinians and Lebanese. He repeats an old trope common among Israeli sympathisers: that people complain loudly when Arabs (or other Muslims) are killed by Israelis or westerners, but say nothing when it is their own people doing it. In the case of Syria, it just isn’t true.