Life isn’t fair?

Two children, a girl with a white cloth draped over her head representing the Virgin Mary, holding a doll, and a bigger child of indeterminate gender with a large fake beard and a beige Middle Eastern-style headscarf representing Joseph, standing over a straw crib filled with what looks like cotton wool, in a school nativity playThe other day I came across a discussion on the forum MumsNet about a boy at primary school who had been, for the umpteenth time, given a trivial role in his school play while the same children who always got major roles got them. The boy was obviously upset and the mother was asking whether to pull him out of the play altogether, as he got the impression that it was not worth trying. Other parents commented that this is how it always is at schools, in their experience — nepotism rules, merit means little. Others argued that minor roles should not be dismissed as trivial as the play depends on them as much as on the big players, that the teachers may have been picking the children who showed the most talent, while others gave variations of the “life isn’t fair” theme, that the mother shouldn’t pull his son out as he had to learn that he couldn’t get his way all the time and that if he really wanted to be in plays, he ought to join a theatre group out of school hours. (The thread has been removed as it was “causing the OP [original poster] some real-life problems”.)

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Why couldn’t Dean Saunders get a secure hospital place?

Picture of Dean Saunders, a young white man with a short beard and moustache, wearing a two-tone grey sweatshirt, holding a young childLast Friday an inquest jury gave its verdict in the case of Dean Saunders, who killed himself in Chelmsford Prison in January 2016 having been remanded there having injured his father who tried to stop him self-harming during a mental health crisis in December 2015. The charity Inquest has published the full verdict on its website including statements from the family and their lawyers. The jury concluded that he took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed and that his death was contributed to by neglect. The jury criticised the police, the prison service and the private contractor (Care UK) which provided mental health care at the prison. The inquest heard much evidence, and found, that decisions made about Saunders’ care were made with a view to minimising cost, a claim strenuously denied by the head of healthcare.

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Treaty rights versus legal rights

The emblem of the United Nations, showing a map of the world centred on the North Pole (i.e. a polar azimuth projection), with olive branches around itA couple of days ago there was a demonstration in Dublin to pressure the government there to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which Ireland has signed but not yet ratified (Britain has ratified the Convention and the Optional Protocol). At the UN’s site you will find a map of which countries have signed or ratified the convention and protocol; you might notice that they include a large number of countries where disabled people are still held in institutions for much of their lives and otherwise denied what most of us consider essential rights including the right to life itself. A mother of a son with Asperger’s syndrome, and some unrelated physical impairments, made a blog post and some tweets claiming that “people with intellectual disabilities are not allowed a sexual relationship apparently”. Her son believes this, so someone must have told him. It is misinformation.

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How to make sure wheelchair users can ride the bus

Doug Paulley, with part of a Transport for All banner behind him‘Wheelchair v buggy’: Disabled man wins Supreme Court case — BBC News

Today the Supreme Court gave its ruling on whether FirstBus, a major provider of bus services throughout the UK, discriminated against a man who was unable to travel on one of its buses in West Yorkshire because a mother with a sleeping baby refused to fold her buggy, claiming it wouldn’t fold. The man, Doug Paulley, originally won his case but the company appealed; the Court of Appeal supported the company, while the Supreme Court has delivered what disability campaigners are calling a partial victory, finding that drivers must do more than just ask a parent to fold their buggy, stopping short of insisting that they eject the parent from the bus. It therefore doesn’t amount to a guarantee that disabled travellers will be able to travel on what is often the only form of transport available to them. (More: Doug Paulley.) 

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Stonehenge, and the A303, really need that tunnel

A picture of Stonehenge, a collection of standing stones, some with stone lintels on top, on a plain with a path leading behind it to a car park.Stonehenge Tunnel plan finalised by government — BBC News

So, the government have finally agreed on plans to build a tunnel to the south of the ancient stone circle, Stonehenge, outside Amesbury in Wiltshire. The site is currently one of several bottlenecks on a major route from London to the south west of England, a two-lane stretch in between two sections of good-quality dual carriageway, one of which links to the M3 motorway from London; however, a lot of the delays are caused by people slowing down to look at the stones as they drive past. The scheme will also include a by-pass around the village of Winterbourne Stoke, also affected by the slow and heavy traffic along the A303.

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Jill Saward, the Press and civil liberties

Last week Jill Saward (pronounced Say-ward), best known for having been the victim of the notorious “Ealing Vicarage” rape attack in 1986 in which she was raped and subjected to other sexual assaults and her father and boyfriend were beaten up and suffered head injuries during a burglary, died of a brain haemorrhage. In the 31 years since the attack she had become known as a campaigner on issues surrounding rape, at one point supporting the introduction of a kind of second-degree rape as found in the USA and perhaps other places, more recently for better education of jurors in rape trials. In the early 90s she testified about the intrusion her family had suffered from the press after the attack; more recently, she stood in a by-election in Yorkshire, in which the sitting MP had resigned in protest at extended detention for terrorist suspects; her platform was in favour of all of these things and of making the national DNA database universal; however, she made very little impact and lost her deposit.

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Watership Down: the significance of Cowslip

A yellowish book cover with the words "Watership Down" and the author's name "Richard Adams" on it, with a drawing of two rabbits among some bushes.In today’s Guardian, there is a piece by Giles Fraser about what might be the significance of the book Watership Down, whose author Richard Adams died earlier this week. Focusing on the part of the story where the migrant rabbits are briefly taken into Cowslip’s warren, where the rabbits had ready supply of vegetables (flayrah), are uninterested in the old stories of El-Ahrairah, the “prince of a thousand enemies”, that they knew and regularly were caught in snares, Fraser cites an American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, who opined that story “contained an important message about the relationship between stories and moral values; that Adams’ rabbits – like human beings – are shaped into a community by the power of the stories they tell each other. And these stories are the bearers of our moral values”. This leads me to wonder how closely he or Fraser read the book.

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On Black Lives Matter and Muslim participation

Picture of Hamza YusufOn Friday evening a well-known western Muslim scholar, in an interview with the British journalist Mehdi Hasan at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) 2016 conference in Toronto, made some offensive and inaccurate remarks about racism both in American society and within the Muslim community. This has caused outrage online, with African-American Muslims particularly hurt and his traditional supporters closing ranks, claiming he said nothing wrong, disimissing it as social media gossip and emphasising his greatness compared to those criticising him. Although the video was initially deleted from the RIS website, two eight-minute clips of his interview were eventually posted on YouTube and there is no getting away from the offensive nature of some of his comments.

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CyanogenMod knocked on head

A screenshot of an Android phone, showing an analogue clock and various app iconsUpdate 26th Dec: Cyanogen, Inc. turned off CyanogenMod’s web servers yesterday, likely in response to a final blog post from the team. The download site remains up until the end of the month.

As if 2016 couldn’t get any worse, I read today that the Android distribution CyanogenMod was being closed down; the parent company, whose founder (and founder of CyanogenMod) has left, will be turning off the servers at the end of the month. The developers have renamed the project Lineage and are currently being hosted at GitHub, but that currently doesn’t appear to include binaries that you can install on a phone. This isn’t the disaster that losing Alan Rickman or Leonard Cohen was, but is a pretty sad development, as CyanogenMod brought a lot of old phones to life, especially those whose manufacturers refused to provide further Android updates for them.

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Regarding Brandon Reid

A still from a video of Brandon Reid, a young white boy with dark hair with a black waistcoat and trousers and a yellow T-shirt with black writing on underneath, beign escorted down the hallway out of his house by two male police officers.Brandon Reid is a 16-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome whose family home is in Sheffield. He was in the news in November when a local paper and then the Daily Mail reported that the local police had turned up and used excessive force to remove him from his home and force him to go back to his care home in Stoke on Trent after he refused to go back after a family visit. A campaign has been launched to “get Brandon home for Christmas” as well as a petition and a Facebook page in which they encourage supporters to email the head of Sheffield children’s services, but the local authorities concerned are refusing to allow him a Christmas trip home, apparently insisting that his mother come to see him instead and stay in a hotel (perhaps because they fear he will refuse to come back, with similar results to what happened in November). However, there are inconsistencies in the family’s story as represented by the two articles about the case that have appeared in the media.

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Some thoughts on the Berlin truck atrocity

A black Scania R-type tractor unit with the owner's name 'Ariel Suraski' on its headboard, and a broken windowOn Monday evening, someone hijacked a 40-tonne Scania articulated lorry, murdered the driver, and then drove it into the Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people. Police arrested a suspect, an asylum seeker from Pakistan, but have since released him, having found no forensic evidence linking him to the truck; latest news is that the police are seeking a Tunisian they have named only as “Anis A”. The truck, which was carrying steel girders on its trailer, is owned by a Polish haulier and the owner’s cousin was the murdered driver. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh) claimed responsibility and both they and al-Qa’ida have encouraged Muslims to carry out similar attacks.

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Does Sleaford really matter much more than Richmond?

A large Anglican church with a spire, with a war memorial in front of itWhy Sleaford matters more than Richmond - CapX

Last week there were two by-elections in the UK triggered by resignations of MPs. One was in Richmond Park, in which Zac Goldsmith had resigned from the Conservative Party and stood as an independent (albeit unopposed by the Conservatives) and lost to an unknown Lib Dem. The other was in Sleaford and North Hykeham in Lincolnshire, in which a Tory resigned, citing differences with the government over Brexit, foreign aid and child refugees, did not defend the seat, and the Tory candidate who stood in his place won. The above article claims that the Sleaford result was more important than the one in Richmond, that there are many more places like Sleaford than like Richmond, and that the media’s fixation on Richmond is because the media tend to focus on those who live near them and think like they do.

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Why ban National Action?

A bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, which has had a banana placed in its left hand. Two young white men, one with his face covered in a grey and black scarf, are standing at its feet.Today the Home Secretary announced that she intends to proscribe the Far Right group National Action, which she describes as “a racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic organisation”. An organisation can be proscribed if the home secretary believes that it is “concerned in terrorism”, but the BBC’s report does not quote her as giving any evidence that it is doing this; rather she claims that it “stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology”. The group’s website quotes the Labour mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, as saying that National Action “makes the BNP look like Amnesty International” and Searchlight magazine as saying it does not appeal to “thickos looking for a fight” but to people willing to die for National Socialism. The trigger for the decision seems to be a tweet issued by a branch of NA praising the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in June, but there is no suggestion that the group itself was responsible for the killing although its website uses the slogan her murderer Thomas Mair used in court — “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

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Time to change the law on disability hate crime

Lee Irving, a young white man with very short hair wearing a light blue T-shirt with white, green, dark blue and white stripes, in what appears to be a garden with a house and fir trees behind him.Update 12th December: The Disability Hate Crime Network has written to the Attorney General to seek a review of James Wheatley’s sentence.

Last week in Newcastle, a man who had imprisoned and tortured to death a friend with a learning disability was sentenced to life with a minimum of 23 years for his murder. His mother, girlfriend and lodger were all imprisoned for between three and eight years for such offences as perverting the course of justice and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult. The main offender, James Wheatley, could have been jailed for a minimum of 30 years if the judge had ruled that the murder was motivated by hostility to his disability, i.e. a hate crime, but the judge ruled that it was motivated by money (Wheatley persuaded his victim, Lee Irving, to sign up to online banking so that he could clear out his account) and thus not a disability hate crime. The usual tariff for murder is 12 to 15 years; the seven years’ difference between the two sentences is roughly half that. As a friend put it on Facebook, ‘unless the defendant screams “I hate disabled people and think they should die” in the dock no judge in the UK will ever treat disability hate crime as disability hate crime’.

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Why I’m against Universal Basic Income

A 32-tonne tipper truck dumps a load of coins in front of a town hall, as people stand and applaud.Recently the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) has gained a lot of traction in Left circles in the UK, with calls for Jeremy Corbyn to adopt it and try and make it Labour party policy. This morning, I saw an article on Medium by Frances Coppola, Why the changing nature of work means we need a Universal Basic Income, which suggests that we cannot and shouldn’t try to turn the clock back to a time when there were plentiful jobs in manufacturing because they were “mind-numbing, repetitive jobs”, but rather we should embrace the automation that got rid of them: “bring on the robots, and let the humans go to the pub”. I think this is a rather naive view of both the problem and of UBI as a solution.

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Castro saved his country

Poster of Che Guevara, a former member of Fidel Castro's cabinet, on a red background with the slogan "Hasta la victoria sempre" at the bottom.Years ago, there used to be a common explanation for why communism didn’t work. It was all nice on paper, people would say; the state would share all the wealth around and make sure everyone had what they needed and worked as they were able; yet human greed made the dream impossible in reality. I heard this from an older boy at school around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall; I also saw it written in an opinion piece in the Sun, by Michael Winner if I remember correctly. It was also commonly claimed that the very early followers of Christ practised a form of communism, foregoing personal possessions and sharing everything they had between them.

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What is a congestion charge for?

A road sign saying "Transport for London, Congestion charging, Central Zone, Mon-Fri 7am-6pm". The street scene behind is blurred but seems to include a Hard Rock Café sign.London mayor Sadiq Khan issues £2.5m VW congestion charge call

So, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is demanding that Volkswagen pay up £2.5m to compensate the London taxpayer for a discount that drivers of some of their diesel cars received from the London Congestion Charge as it was thought that they produced low emissions, which it is now known, since the “defeat devices” scandal, that they did not. 80,000 of these VW, Seat, Skoda and Audi cars were registered in London, although how many of them went into the congestion charge zone (the area inside the Inner Ring Road) every day is not clear. Probably more of them were used for commutes outside that zone, where there are some of the worst polluted roads in the country (like sections of the North Circular Road).

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Lego and the Daily Mail: Before you get too excited …

A front page from the Sun, with the headline "Out on his Ears: Calls for BBC to fire Lineker as he peddles migrant lies"Lego ends advertising with Daily Mail after calls for companies to ‘Stop Funding Hate’ (from the Independent)

According to this report, widely shared by people I know on social media, Lego have announced that an advertising campaign they had been running with the Daily Mail has run its course and they have no plans for any more. This was in a comment to a post on Lego’s Facebook page from one Bob Jones, who said that he could not buy his son Lego for Christmas (which is what he wanted) while they advertised with the Mail. This has been taken as a victory for an online campaign called “Stop Funding Hate” which aims to pressure companies to withdraw advertising from newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express that demonise immigrants and lied to the public during the recent Brexit referendum. However, I believe the idea that this is a huge victory is premature.

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So, about those Democrat infiltrators …

Yesterday, someone posted a link to the blog by the author of the Dilbert cartoons, alleging among other things that violence at Trump rallies had mostly been caused by infiltrators from Clinton’s campaign, who have since been sacked:

1. Trump’s Tough Talk Inspires violence: Ask Clinton supporters if they have seen the Project Veritas video of Clinton operatives talking about paying people to incite violence at Trump rallies. The people on the video have been fired, and we haven’t seen violence at Trump rallies since.

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Is anti-Semitism really “a hate apart”?

Let’s be clear – antismetism is a hate apart | Howard Jacobson | Opinion | The Guardian

The above is in last Sunday’s Observer, and is part of a genre of articles in which an author tries to establish that anti-Semitism is somehow different from other forms of racism. This is in response to comments made by Jeremy Corbyn in regard to accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour party, in which he condemned anti-Semitism along with other forms of racism and Islamophobia. He asserts:

To assert that antisemitism is unlike other racisms is not to claim a privilege for it. Hating a Jew is no worse than hating anyone else. But while many a prejudice is set off by particular circumstance – the rise in an immigrant population or a locally perceived threat – antisemitism is, as often as not, unprompted, exists outside time and place and doesn’t even require the presence of Jews to explain it. When Marlowe and Shakespeare responded to an appetite for anti-Jewish feeling in Elizabethan England, there had been no Jews in the country for 300 years. Jewishness, for its enemies, is as much an idea as it is anything else.

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