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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Starhawk on Israel / Palestine

I, like many, have been seriously disturbed by the events in Palestine the last few days. The bombings and attacks seem not only endless, but so vicious and counter-productive that it leaves me despairing for the world.

I just received this beautiful writing from Starhawk, and was so glad, when I got to the end of it, that she encouraged sharing it, because I was desperate to do so!

Dear friends,

All day I’ve been thinking about Gaza, listening to reports on NPR, following the news on the internet when I can spare a moment. I’ve been thinking about the friends I made there four years ago, and wondering how they are faring, and imagining their terror as the bombs fall on that giant, open-air prison.

The Israeli ambassador speaks movingly of the terror felt by Israeli children as Hamas rockets explode in the night. I agree with him—that no child should have her sleep menaced by rocket fire, or wake in the night fearing death.

But I can’t help but remember one night on the Rafah border, sleeping in a house close to the line, watching the children dive for cover as bullets thudded into the walls. There was a shell-hole in the back room they liked to jump through into the garden, which at that time still held fruit trees and chickens. Their mother fed me eggs, and their grandmother stuffed oranges into my pockets with the shy pride every gardener shares.

That house is gone, now, along with all of its neighbors. Those children wake in the night, every night of their lives, in terror. I don’t know if they have survived the hunger, the lack of medical supplies, the bombs. I only know that they are children, too.

I’ve ridden on busses in Israel. I understand that gnawing fear, the squirrely feeling in the pit or your stomach, how you eye your fellow passengers wondering if any of them are too thick around the middle. Could that portly fellow be wearing a suicide belt, or just too many late night snacks of hummus? That’s no way to live.

But I’ve also walked the pock-marked streets of Rafah, where every house bears the scars of Israeli snipers, where tanks prowled the border every night, where children played in the rubble, sometimes under fire, and this was all four years ago, when things were much, much better there.

And I just don’t get it. I mean, I get why suicide bombs and homemade rockets that kill innocent civilians are wrong. I just don’t get why bombs from F16s that kill far more innocent civilians are right. Why a kid from the ghetto who shoots a cop is a criminal, but a pilot who bombs a police station from the air is a hero.

Is it a distance thing? Does the air or the altitude confer a purifying effect? Or is it a matter of scale? Individual murder is vile, but mass murder, carried out by a state as an aspect of national policy, that’s a fine and noble thing?

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this. Or rather, I do get it. I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel. The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis. But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story. There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out. It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story.

The result is a kind of psychic blind spot where the Palestinians are concerned. If you are truly invested in Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state, then you can’t let the Palestinians be real to you. It’s like you can’t really focus on them. Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they? They don’t exist.” We hear, “There is no partner for peace,” “There is no one to talk to.”

And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void. I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact. But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they? They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either. At times, in those border villages, walking the fencelines of settlements, you feel like you have slipped into a science fiction movie, where parallel universes exist in the same space, but in different strands of reality, that never touch.

When I was on the West Bank, during Israeli incursions the Israeli military would often take over a Palestinian house to billet their soldiers. Many times, they would simply lock the family who owned it into one room, and keep them there, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—parents, grandparents, kids and all. I’ve sat with a family, singing to the children while soldiers trashed their house, and I’ve been detained by a group of soldiers playing cards in the kitchen with a family locked in the other room. (I got out of that one—but that’s another story.)

It’s a kind of uneasy feeling, having something locked away in a room in your house that you can’t look at. Ever caught a mouse in a glue trap? And you can’t bear to watch it suffer, so you leave the room and close the door and don’t come back until it’s really, really dead.

Like a horrific fractal, the locked room repeats on different scales. The Israelis have built a wall to lock away the West Bank. And Gaza itself is one huge, locked room. Close the borders, keep food and medical supplies and necessities from getting through, and perhaps they will just quietly fade out of existence and stop spoiling our story.

“All we want is a return to calm,” the Israeli ambassador says. “All we want is peace.”

One way to get peace is to exterminate what threatens you. In fact, that may be the prime directive of the last few thousand years.

But attempts to exterminate pests breed resistance, whether you’re dealing with insects or bacteria or people. The more insecticides you pour on a field, the more pests you have to deal with—because insecticides are always more potent at killing the beneficial bugs than the pesky ones.

The harshness, the crackdowns, the border closings, the checkpoints, the assassinations, the incursions, the building of settlements deep into Palestinian territory, all the daily frustrations and humiliations of occupation, have been breeding the conditions for Hamas, or something like it, to thrive. If Israel truly wants peace, there’s a more subtle, a more intelligent and more effective strategy to pursue than simply trying to kill the enemy and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.

It’s this—instead of killing what threatens you, feed what you want to grow. Consider in what conditions peace can thrive, and create them, just as you would prepare the bed for the crops you want to plant. Find those among your opponents who also want peace, and support them. Make alliances. Offer your enemies incentives to change, and reward your friends.

Of course, to follow such a strategy, you must actually see and know your enemy. If they are nothing to you but cartoon characters of terrorists, you will not be able to tell one from another, to discern the religious fanatic from the guy muttering under his breath, “F-ing Hammas, they closed the cinema again!”

And you must be willing to give something up. No one gets peace if your basic bargaining position is, “I get everything I want, and you eat my shit.” You might get a temporary victory, but it will never be a peaceful one.

To know and see the enemy, you must let them into the story. They must become real to you, nuanced, distinctive as individuals.

But when we let the Palestinians into the story, it changes. Oh, how painfully it changes! For there is no way to tell a new story, one that includes both peoples of the land, without starting like this:

“In our yearning for a homeland, in our attempts as a threatened and traumatized people to find safety and power, we have done a great wrong to another people, and now we must atone.”

Just try saying it. If you, like me, were raised on that other story, just try this one out. Say it three times. It hurts, yes, but it might also bring a great, liberating sense of relief with it.

And if you’re not Jewish, if you’re American, if you’re white, if you’re German, if you’re a thousand other things, really, if you’re a human being, there’s probably some version of that story that is true for you.

Out of our own great need and fear and pain, we have often done great harm, and we are called to atone. To atone is to be at one—to stop drawing a circle that includes our tribe and excludes the other, and start drawing a larger circle that takes everyone in.

How do we atone? Open your eyes. Look into the face of the enemy, and see a human being, flawed, distinct, unique and precious. Stop killing. Start talking. Compost the shit and the rot and feed the olive trees.

Act. Cross the line. There are Israelis who do it all the time, joining with Palestinians on the West Bank to protest the wall, watching at checkpoints, refusing to serve in the occupying army, standing for peace. Thousands have demonstrated this week in Tel Aviv.

There are Palestinians who advocate nonviolent resistance, who have organized their villages to protest the wall, who face tear gas, beatings, arrests, rubber bullets and real bullets to make their stand.

There are internationals who have put themselves on the line—like the boatload of human rights activists, journalists and doctors on board the Dignity, the ship from the Free Gaza movement that was rammed and fired on by the Israeli navy yesterday as it attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid.

Maybe we can’t all do that. But we can all write a letter, make a phone call, send an email. We can make the Palestinian people visible to us, and to the world. When we do so, we make a world that is safer for every child.

Below is a good summary of some of the actions we can take.

Please feel free to repost this. In fact, send it to someone you think will disagree with it.
Starhawk

starhawk.org

Updated Action Alert on Gaza:
We Need "Sustained, Determined Political Action"December 29, 2008

As of this writing, a third consecutive day of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have killed an estimated 315 Palestinians and injured more than 1,400. According to the UN, at least 51 of the victims were civilians and 8 were children. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has vowed ominously "a war to the bitter end."

Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip are being carried out with F16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and naval gunboats all given to Israel by the United States with our tax dollars.

From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16's and more than $100 million worth of helicopter spare parts for its fleet of Apaches. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel and signed a contract to transfer an addition $1.9 billion worth of littoral combat ships to the Israeli navy. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and "bunker buster" missiles.

Make no mistake about it-Israel's war on the Gaza Strip would not be possible without the jets, helicopters, ships, missiles, and fuel provided by the United States.

Ali Abunimah, of The Electronic Intifada, wrote, "Palestinians everywhere are asking for solidarity, real solidarity, in the form of sustained, determined political action." In light of our country's enabling role in Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, it is the least we can do. Here's how:

Attend a protest or vigil and bring as many people to it as you can. If you know of a protest that isn't listed on our website, please send us all the logistical details and contact information by clicking here. More events are being posted all the time-check back frequently for the latest updates.

Make your voice heard in the media. Contact your local media by phoning into a talk show or writing a letter to the editor. To find contact info for your local media, click here.

Contact your MP to protest Israel's war on Gaza and demand an immediate cease-fire.

Forward this info to everyone you know and ask them to take action.

One Day,

... all email will be this good.

sf


(Btw, I'm incurablehippie on twitter).

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Free the Thulambo Family

Send to: UKBA and IndPublicEnquiries.

To: UK Border Agency – South Yorkshire Enforcement Unit

Fax Number: 01234 271349

To whom it may concern,

Re: The Thulambo Family HO Ref: T1099914

I am writing in relation to the case of the Thulambo Family currently detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre who were scheduled to be deported to Malawi on Monday 29th December.

As their removal directions have now been deferred pending Judicial Review and in accordance with the Home Office Enforcement Instructions & Guidance Chapter 55.3, there appears no compelling reason for their continued detention.

They have no imminent travel documentation, there is no evidence of risk of absconding and there is no evidence of risk of harm to the public. I request therefore that the family’s caseworker urgently reviews the justification for the continued detention of this family and considers that as previous victims of persecution and Mrs Thulambo’s diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, their release from detention should be arranged immediately.

Yours sincerely,


Some background (this article was written a few weeks ago and the deportation has been temporarily put off):
Home Office to Deport Zimbabwean Family who fled Mugabe's Regime.

Woman whose husband was killed for his links to the opposition has claim for asylum rejected after eight years in UK
By Jane Merrick and Emily Dugan
Sunday, 14 December 2008

A Zimbabwean woman and her two daughters who fled the Mugabe regime are to be deported from Britain despite promises by the Government to protect the country's citizens.

Priviledge Thulambo, 39, whose husband was murdered by Robert Mugabe's men, and her children are being detained in a controversial immigration centre after being seized by immigration officers on Friday.

Friends of the family said the Home Office would be guilty of "murder by the back door" by deporting the three women. They are all Zimbabwean nationals, but because they entered the UK on Malawian passports – the only way they could escape the Mugabe regime – eight years ago, they have had their claims for asylum rejected.

After spending Christmas in the grim surroundings of the Yarl's Wood detention centre, they will be forced on to a flight to Malawi on 29 December. Because of their Zimbabwean nationality they are likely to be immediately sent to their home country, where they face torture or death.

They are in this desperate situation despite UK government policy that no Zimbabwean nationals will be sent back there unless they are members of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

It follows criticism last week of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who warned cabinet colleagues of an "influx" of Zimbabwean refugees fleeing the cholera outbreak.

Mrs Thulambo and her daughters Valerie, 20, and Lorraine, 18, have spent eight years in the UK. Mrs Thulambo's Cambridge-educated husband, Macca, was killed for his links to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. His widow tried to leave Zimbabwe but was arrested at the airport, and later tortured and raped.

She and her daughters fled to neighbouring Malawi, where they obtained passports because of her late husband's dual nationality. Immigration officials seized Mrs Thulambo's Zimbabwean passport during their arrest at dawn on Friday.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, the family's former MP, said it was wrong to assess them as Malawian for immigration purposes.

He added: "It is time this Government gets tough on Mugabe, not his victims. This case illustrates the heartless approach from a Home Office more willing to deport people to their fate rather than do the right thing. Taking such a legalistic approach to Priviledge and her daughters shows that the Home Office is seeking to find any excuse or loophole to deport Zimbabwean nationals."

Mrs Thulambo is an active member of her local church, St Mark's, in Crookes, Sheffield. Valerie was looking forward to studying law at university after passing her A-levels, friends said. According to Kirsten Heywood, a family friend: "As soon as they arrive in Malawi they will be sent back to Zimbabwe – which means death. It is terrible what the Home Office is doing. This is back-door murder."

In a letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Clegg said: "I have met Mrs Thulambo on several occasions. She has suffered severe mental and physical health problems after the persecution she and her family suffered in Zimbabwe. She has become a respected and well-liked member of the community; her daughters attended the local schools and have integrated into society and have many friends.

"I believe this is a clear-cut case for the Home Office to demonstrate clemency and leniency on Mrs Thulambo's case and on others like her."

The Home Office yesterday declined to comment on individual cases, but added: "We only seek to remove families who are in the UK unlawfully after all appeal rights have been used and the courts agree that they have no further right to remain in the UK.

"Once all appeal rights are exhausted, we would much rather that those here illegally left voluntarily. Sadly, some families choose not to do so even though they are given every opportunity to leave voluntarily. We then have a duty to enforce the law."

Meanwhile, a landmark ruling has given hope to thousands of impoverished asylum-seekers, including those from Zimbabwe, who are barred from working while the Home Office resolves their cases. The Government's refusal to allow those who are trapped in the system for long periods to seek employment has been branded unlawful by the High Court.

According to current estimates, up to 280,000 refused asylum-seekers in the UK are forced into destitution – often for years – as they wait for their cases to be processed. Now the blanket policy that bars employment for those stuck in the Home Office backlog has been declared illegal under human rights legislation.

The Government has pledged to process its backlog of several hundred thousand cases by 2011, but for many this could mean facing a life of poverty for up to a decade with no hope of a job.


There is also this 'Comment Is Free' article from The Guardian:
A Callous Immigration System

Deporting Zimbabwean asylum seekers from the UK contradicts our condemnation of Mugabe's regime

by Jeremy Sare
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 27 December 2008 15.00 GM

Gordon Brown has roundly condemned Mugabe's murderous regime on several occasions. But at the same time, the government continues to deport asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe via neighbouring countries.

Priviledge Thulambo and her two daughters, Valerie and Lorraine, fled Zimbabwe in 2000, shortly after Priviledge's husband, Macca was murdered by Mugabe's Central Intelligence Organisation. She used her husband's dual nationality to obtain false documentation from Malawian authorities and flew to Britain.

The UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) has ruled that the family has no case for seeking asylum and after seven years in Sheffield, they will be deported to Malawi on December 29. As Zimbabwean citizens, they fully expect to be sent back to Harare, no doubt with a welcome from the local constabulary.

The judge in the Thulambo case found some inconsistencies in Priviledge's testimony and declared her to be "wholly unreliable". He cited her previous possession of a Malawian passport, through her late husband's dual status, as evidence of a "longstanding connection" to Malawi. The fact remains that Mrs Thulambo lived her life in Zimbabwe and her daughters were born and raised there.

Deporting this family is an outrage and another example of how callous the immigration authorities have grown under a Labour government. Macca Thulambo's murder is not a matter of dispute; his family, if returned, would be sure to be targets of the government-controlled police. The current spate of abductions indicates the high level of danger for any political activism in Zimbabwe. Mrs Thulambo finds the prospect of their return "terrifying… we are facing death."

In July, Gordon Brown proudly announced to parliament a moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe. The Immigration Agency seems to be applying a technicality of the Thulambos' use of Malawian documentation. The level of oppression and degradation in Zimbabwe has inspired several world leaders to call for Mugabe's removal. Deportations cannot continue alongside such condemnation.

This case follows other high-profile deportations where the actions of officials, at the behest of ministers, appeared particularly callous. In January, Ama Sumani, 39, was deported to Ghana when her visa expired, despite her continuing chemotherapy for cancer of the kidneys. She died two months later, leaving two children. The Lancet described Mrs Sumani's treatment as "atrocious barbarism".

The government is still considering a proposal to withdraw primary healthcare from GPs for failed asylum seekers in the teeth of opposition from health professionals. Ministers have struggled to find a coherent argument for allowing such discrimination, which can counter the General Medical Council's guiding principle for doctors: 'Make the care of your patient your first concern'.

Other parts of the immigration estate have recently suffered scathing criticism. The Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, condemned the annual incarceration of 2,000 children in deportation centres such as Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire as "shameful" "cruel" and "inherently harmful".

Nick Clegg has campaigned on a number of immigration issues since becoming Liberal Democrat leader. He successfully championed the cause of the Gurkhas when many faced deportation despite long military service for Britain. He is now lobbying for Mrs Thulambo and her daughters directly to home secretary, Jacqui Smith.

He said: "The Home Office seems determined to exploit every possible loophole in order to deport people who have clearly fled Zimbabwe. This government must get tough on Mugabe, not his victims. New Labour has presided over an asylum system which is at once incompetent and cruel. Bureaucratic incompetence means that some refugees must wait years for an answer, during which time they have no means to support themselves. Then, for no apparent reason, they are bundled out of the country even if they and their family have developed roots here. It is an inefficient and inhumane way to treat people fleeing violence and persecution."

Jacqui Smith has caused conflict within the cabinet about raising fears of an "influx" of Zimbabweans wishing to escape the cholera epidemic. Mugabe may make absurd announcements denying the existence of the disease but a spokeswoman for the South African Health Department described the outbreak as being "on a massive, unprecedented scale." The epidemic alone should be sufficient reason to not even contemplate deportation for the Thulambos.

Despite cases of asylum falling by two-thirds since 2000, the BIA has been taking an increasingly tough line on applicants. The agency is employing a degree of hardheartedness that feels well outside our national character and traditions for sheltering the persecuted. The appointment of Phil Woolas as immigration minister in the autumn appears to herald an even less sympathetic approach. Woolas has complained the solicitors representing asylum seekers were just "an industry … undermining the law and playing the system".

Mr Woolas's saloon-bar philosophy obscures an immigration system with significant flaws in its decision-making process and manned by a dispirited and undervalued civil service. The solicitors play a vital role in highlighting mistakes made in the fair consideration of asylum applications. The Refugee Council can show nearly 50 per cent of rejected cases from East African countries such as Eritrea are upheld on appeal.

The Council welcomed the halt to deportations to Zimbabwe, but then they found Zimbabweans were being deported to neighbouring countries. A spokesman for the Refugee Council said, "The UK government should simply be looking after the relatively small number of refugees who are here from Zimbabwe - rather than trying to remove them to countries which are themselves struggling to deal with the tens of thousands who have had to flee recently."

Mrs Thulambo and her daughters are fast running out of time. Her constituency MP, Labour backbencher Angela Smith, has offered her full support, lobbying ministers directly and instigating an urgent review of the case. Nevertheless the tickets for Monday evening's flight are still booked and the return to Mugabe's brutal dictatorship beckons.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Silliness #12

12 Days of Christmas, Irish Style, Frank Kelly



Nollaig Shona Duit!

Incurable Hippie Guff Filleted.

Ooh, ooh, ooh I'm feeling a bit giggly, having found myself discussed on a blog which links to Melanie Phillips, and not even as a joke!

Anyway, UK Commentators thought I was wrong to poke fun at Christian fundamentalists, as I did here, especially when I did the Amnesty International Greetings card campaign, including sending a card to someone held without charge in Guantanamo Bay.

So, UK Commentators thinks I have contradicted myself, indeed describes it as Cognitive Dissonance. He then linked to a couple of my photos (one of a star on the side of an old masons' pub and one of a demolished building. That's about it really.

The comments are worth quoting, for comedy value if nothing else. Here goes:
Rob said...
Note his mocking about the Christian who believed that "husband and wife should vote as one", yet is someone who sends Christmas cards to Islamists!

Bizarre. Does she really not see the reality of Islamism, or is she willfully blind to it just because they are our enemy, and any enemy of the West is a useful ally?

In an Islamist state, even a fairly mild one, her chances of remaining even a few of the things she calls herself - feminist, geek, warrior, etc are slim indeed. She could become a baby factory though. I'm sure she'd love that.

9:55 AM
Rob said...
Sorry, 'her' mocking

9:56 AM
paul ilc said...
Laban - Thank you for reading such guff as Incurable Hippy, and serving it up filleted and criticised. You have more patience and a stronger stomach than I have.

10:07 AM
Homophobic Horse said...
She could, at best, claim to be against both Islam and Human Rights abuse. This is unlikely.

9:22 PM


For what it's worth, I'm not a fan of any religion. Unlike the commenters, I don't see Islam or Muslims as any kind of enemy. I am uncomfortable with any kind of religious law, from swearing on the Bible to Sharia Law, Jewish Law or anything which involves personal beliefs in politics.

I am against human rights abuses of any kind, and I don't see sending a message of support to someone held against international law by America as the same thing as supporting fundamentalist Islam. They are completely different issues, even though the human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay are certainly fuelling any rise of people angry against the West.

UK Commentators has lots of links - I had to go visit Never Trust a Hippy but was quite disappointed. They also link to the attractively named Fulham Reactionary (I have a mental picture), and the author of that also writes on Christianophobia Watch and New Crusaders.

Others links are Nationalist News, which is particularly ugly, Vote Franco, Tottenham Lad, the dreaded Christian Voice, the Christian Institute, and of course the 'men's rights' Angry Harry, UK Men's Rights Movement and Fathers for Justice.

I'm leaving the links there - you can see for yourself if you want more (and there are plenty more), except for one final mention - Peter C Glover, notable for his post Sarah Palin: Conservative of the Year, in which he quotes Ann Coulter! I couldn't have found a better example of 'no need to parody because he does it well enough himself' if I'd tried!

Christmas Silliness #11

The 12 Days of Indian Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good Old Charlie Brooker

Old article, just about sums up my last few days...

There's a plague stalking the land and I'm terrified. But here's how to avoid Norovirus meltdown ...

Fear stalks the land; stalks my land at any rate. I've landed a starring role in my own personal horror movie: Day of the Norovirus. Gastric flu, the winter vomiting bug, spewmonia: whatever you want to call it, it's out there, somewhere, festering on every surface, waiting to infect me. Britain is diseased: a septic isle bobbing on an ocean of warm sick.
The media have had a field day, and to an emetophobe like me (someone with an uncontrollable, inbuilt fear of puking), this merely amplifies the terror. A headline such as "Vomiting bug spreads across nation" sets my pulse racing twice as effectively as "Mad axeman on loose".

Even worse are the war stories: vivid blog postings from survivors, gleefully describing the full extent of their biological meltdown. They're trying to outdo each other.

"I had to lie naked in the bath for three days, blasting hot fluid from both ends."

"Yeah? Well I vomited so hard, all the hair on my head got sucked inside my skull and out my mouth."

"Pfff - think that's bad? At one point I spewed with such force, the jet fired me backwards through a stained-glass window, and I literally burst apart on the patio, sending a geyser of vomit and crap 600 feet into the sky."

And if they're not online, they're crawling into the office to tell you all about them. While still infectious. If I was running things, it would be dealt with like a zombie outbreak: shoot all victims in the head at the first sign of infection, then barricade the windows till the end credits roll.

Worse still, it apparently strikes without warning. Infection takes 12-28 hours to come to fruition, quietly making its way to your small intestine, and, at first, you're none the wiser. The physical symptoms come on so suddenly, you only truly know you've got it when you suddenly spot a jet of vomit flying away from your face. And then you're locked in. It's like knowing the sun could explode at any second and being powerless to prevent it.

Naturally I want to avoid it like the plague, because it is a plague. And I've become an expert. Here's how to avoid it yourself.

Forget those fancy anti-bacterial handgels. They're pointless. Don't worry about breathing it in; unless you're unlucky enough to inhale a fresh droplet of sick or faeces (which can happen if someone explodes right beside you), you can still get away unscathed even if someone in your immediate vicinity comes down with it. It's not carried in saliva either. The one thing you must do is wash your hands with hot water and soap for a minimum of 15 seconds before putting them in your mouth, nose or eyes.

Easier said than done. Once you're aware of it, it's incredible how often you touch a shared surface, then your mouth, without even thinking. Say you pop to the newsagents and buy a bag of crisps: that door handle could be caked in sick germs, and you've just slid them down your gullet along with the salt and vinegar. Or you're in an office: you use someone else's keyboard, then eat a sandwich. Why not lick a toilet bowl and have done with it?

But even washing your hands is tricky. Take the workplace toilet. The door handle, the taps and the button on the automated dryer may all be infected. You have to turn the tap with your elbow, wash for 15 seconds (time it: it's longer than you think), then turn the tap off with the other elbow. Then you'll need two paper towels: one to dry yourself, and the other to open the door with on your way out. Unless you do all of this, you're doomed.

I've become an obsessive compulsive disorder case study, repeatedly washing my hands like Lady Macbeth on fast-forward, acutely aware of where my hands are at all times, what I've just touched, and where they're heading next. It's exhausting, like consciously counting every blink.

Yesterday, in an attempt to prod some sanity back into my life, I went to a restaurant. Eating out is insane: even if your chef is hygienic in the first place, unless he's devoutly following the paper-towel hand-washing routine outlined above to the letter he may as well wipe his bum on your plate. Nonetheless, I decided to risk it. Giving in to emetophobia would be like giving in to the terrorists, yeah? End result: I lay awake for hours last night, convinced that I'd start hurling any second.

There's one chink of sunlight for us emetophobes: we hardly ever actually vomit. There are various theories as to why, and it's all a bit chicken-and-egg: either we're so naturally hardy that vomiting is a rarity (and therefore more traumatic when it does occur), or we're so psychologically averse to it, we can will ourselves to stop. In fact, if I was on Heroes, that would be my superpower. A few years ago I caught a noro-style gastric nasty that made all my friends spew like ruptured fire hydrants. I lay in bed with cramps and a fever, battling extreme nausea for four days, and somehow didn't snap. Although what was happening at the other end of my body was another story altogether. Magic powers only stretch so far. That's why Superman wears rubber knickers.

Anyway, it'll blow over soon. The media have already got new scare stories to torture us with. In the meantime, if you're reading this on a bus, in an office, or at a shared computer, and you're eating your lunch - God help you. Now wash your hands.

Christmas Silliness #3

London Gay Men's Chorus: Coming Out at Christmas

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It takes a rich man to pour such scorn on the poor

by Matthew Norman.

As the disability defiant Churchill would agree, an army must carry its wounded

Please don't take this the wrong way, by reading into it any witless cockney rhyming slang intent that isn't there, but the man behind this new assault on our benefit-dependent poor would appear to be a total investment banker.

Perhaps I do David Freud, architect of the White Paper on welfare reform, a disservice. Maybe, during all his years raising £50bn for the likes of Railtrack and EuroDisney, Mr Freud sat up night after night with the ProPlus, studying the issue until dawn broke over a lavish home far removed, we may guess, from the sink estates he claims he wants to salvage from workless despair.

And yet, by his own words, it seems not. "I didn't know anything about welfare when I started," he told The Daily Telegraph in February, "but that may have been an advantage... In a funny way, the solution was obvious." The special hilarity here, apart from the notion of any obvious answer to so ferociously complex a social conundrum, is how long he took to travel from absolute ignorance to omniscience.

Hired by the Works and Pensions Secretary James Purnell to address this small matter, it took him – wait for it now; just wait for it – three weeks to research and write his initial report. Admittedly by New Labour policy-creation standards, this is hardly a rush job. But by any more conventional measure, 21 days is on the brisk side for so monumental an intellectual challenge.

Still, let's not fall into that very trap by rushing to judge Mr Freud as a man prone to the lure of the simplistic. Indeed, writing in yesterday's Times, he touched impressively on the thinking behind the wizard wheeze of forcing long-term incapacity benefit claimants back to work. "Some of our greatest national heroes suffered from disabilities," he explained, "from Nelson with his lost eye to Churchill with his 'Black Dog' depression, to the physicist Stephen Hawking..."

So there it is. Should you happen to be one of history's greatest maritime warriors, or suited to safeguarding the country from Nazi tyranny while moonlighting as a Nobel literature Laureate, or the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics with rare insight into cosmology and quantum gravity, you really have no excuse for allowing a disability to keep you marooned on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle.

It's the rest I worry about. For every Churchill manqué, Nelson wannabe and putative Prof Hawking, there may possibly (I haven't spent three weeks on this, so excuse the caution) be others who aren't up to much on the work front. They might suffer from crippling back pain, arthritis, or agoraphobia. Plagued by chronic depression, but denied the spur of having Hitler's army poised across the Channel, they might lack the motivation to clean offices or ask "fries with that?" in return for the minimum wage.

Or they might simply be too battered and bruised by the confidence-sapping, skills-denying residue of a shameful apology for an education to care less. Inevitably a portion of the millions subsisting on a benefit designed to make the unemployment figures more palatable are, to borrow from Mr Purnell, playing the system. And while we might argue whether their reluctance to work makes them lazy or inadequate, we surely agree that they are the walking (or slouching) wounded too; and that, as that champion of disability-defiance Winston Churchill would agree, an army must always carry its wounded.

This, it seems to me, is the crux of the debate. To Mr Freud it may be about gaining the entrée into the peerage or quangocracy men with untold bonus millions tucked away often crave. For Mr Purnell, who mollifies on the record while briefing the papers off it that he's one tough muthah with one gigantic cudgel, it's presumably about ingratiating himself with the Sun and Daily Mail with his summer 2011 leadership campaign in mind. For some of us, however, it's about clinging to what vestiges of a civilised society remain to us.

The fact that nothing significant will change – that this Bill will have its teeth filed down to the stumps by that gallant cabal of backbenchers who remember why they joined the Labour party in the first place – is not the point. Nothing important will change because in this area nothing ever does. Soon after taking power, in the week he chartered a 747 to Seattle for £700,000, Mr Tony Blair floated the intention to trim "workshy" single mothers' benefits by £11 per week. He earned a few nice headlines, and the reflex disgust from the centre-left that was also mother's milk to him, but the political price of such malevolence was too high, and the proposal was quietly buried.

This latest sub-Thatcherite, far right-wing political posturing may come loosely disguised in the raggedy cloak of stick-and-carrot philanthropy, but it would come at a higher price still. The wilful stupidity of the timing, with at least a million poorly paid jobs about to vanish, needn't detain us. The concept of punishing the poor for receiving the assistance that is their right, by making them dig the gardens of the better off, feels like a pastiche of the vindictive nihilism of the rock-breaking Alabama chain gang.

What stinks worse than the idea is the tone. From the pious, cruel-to-be-kind brayings of the Freud-Purnell pantomime donkey, every word emanating from the rear end, they seem confused into thinking that the jobless have a lesser stake in this society than the employed, and believe in the deserving and undeserving poor. To watch a minister with a plumply padded pension and a free widescreen telly and, of all creatures, an investment banker threaten those on £69 per week is to observe the unspeakable in pursuit of the unemployable.

The only way to address the syndrome of long-term dependency is through education. It requires massive, sustained public investment in buildings, equipment and, above all, teachers, and knowing that's not going to happen either the grown-up government accepts, as an unavoidable fee for a moderately civilised democracy, that some people will take liberties to secure as much each week as Mr Freud might spend on a bottle of claret, if he was pulling his horns in.

In the absence of schooling worthy of a developed nation, you turn a blind eye to the alleged scroungers not only because the risk of denying the more deserving their dignity is truly unthinkable, but because the lazy and above all the children of the lazy deserve some dignity too. What you don't do is further stigmatise the poor, the sick, the illiterate, the weak, the befuddled and the inadequate for the delight of tabloid editors.

"Love and work, work and love... that is all there is," said Sigmund Freud, and in a utopian world all of us would have oodles of both. Back in the world as it is, meanwhile, another of his quotes comes to mind. "If you can't do it, give it up!" he said. It's advice James Purnell would have done well to consider before unleashing Siggy's great grandson on his three-week crash course in welfare reform.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

DAN Press Release

DISABLED PEOPLES' DIRECT ACTION NETWORK

PRESS RELEASE (3/12/2008)

DISABLED PEOPLE TAKE DIRECT ACTION IN CENTRAL LONDON TO PROTEST AND DRAW
ATTENTION TO NEW BENEFIT HARASSMENT

Instead of celebrating the International day of Disabled People today, we -
and our supporters - are in central London protesting against the
government's
"Employment Support Allowance" (ESA) and "Work Capability Assessment" (WCA)
which are replacing "Incapacity Benefit" (IB). This punitive economic attack
will hit thousands of the poorest in society, forcing them further into
poverty and a discriminatory job market, while thousands more are losing
their jobs due to the deepening recession.

A DAN spokesperson said: "If the government were sincere in their attempts
to help Disabled Claimants, they wouldn't be cutting benefits or adding new
hoops in the process. They would target discriminatory employers and fully
appreciate the difficulties those with Invisible and Fluctuating conditions
will have in the job market. This is a cynical exercise designed to move the
goal-posts in assessments and ensure that many will no longer qualify for
the benefits they have been legitimately receiving."

* Political and media spin - suggesting there has been significant
increases in Incapacity Benefit claims - is misleading. The DWP confirms
there has actually been a drop in IB claims since 2000.

* A much higher percentage of Disabled People than previously are now living
in the community and claiming benefits, rather than being institutionalised.

* A long hours / short breaks culture (instead of providing flexi-time or
work from home) makes it harder for Disabled People and those with medical
conditions to cope with employment.

* There is a lack of access to meaningful education and training for
Disabled People, leading to a lack of qualifications, job skills and
therefore decent jobs with adequate incomes.

* ESA and the WCA is an even more punitive benefit and assessment than the
previous procedure (IB). Claimants who fail the new assessment will lose
entitlement to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as well as ESA.