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.

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.


(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, 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


PRESS RELEASE (3/12/2008)


Instead of celebrating the International day of Disabled People today, we -
and our supporters - are in central London protesting against the
"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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Bloody Did It!

I can't believe I've done it! I have completed NaBloPoMo 2008 and posted daily on this hippie blog and on my photography blog throughout November.

The Success! image above come from the funky typogenerator site.

You can see all November's photography blog posts and all November's incurable hippie's musings and rants blog posts.

It was really hard work at times, but a great thing to do as it has really got me back into the swing of regular blog posting again. Though I may have a few days off now!


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NaBloPoMo 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai in Mourning

From The Guardian.
India struggles to come to terms with the horror of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bad Week for the BNP. Ha ha ha.


BNP's Annus Horribilis continues... After last week's leak of their
entire membership list on the web (See SchNEWS 656), the flak has

* In our previous issue we linked to a website publishing the
membership list, but this has since been withdrawn due to personal
threats of violence to the webmaster. But don't worry you haven't
missed out, it is still online at

* This week the BNP were evicted from their merchandise warehouse.
Rented by Excalibur - the trading arm of the BNP - it stored such
lovely merchandise as replica military medals, Enoch Powell t-shirts,
'Great White' records and Union Jack mugs. Their ex-landlord made this
statement: "Evans Easyspace was aware of renting a property to
Excalibur, but were not aware of its links to the BNP. We have now
terminated their agreement and they are moving out at the end of
November." In response the BNP have announced that they actually
decided to move to better premises.

* While the BNP membership list revealed a litany of police, prison
officers, soldiers and even vicars, it also contains two paedophiles
- who were jailed last week for sexually abusing two
fourteen-year-old girls.

* In desperation over the disclosure of their membership list the BNP
has been forced into hiding behind the much-hated Human Rights Act.
They've also been firing off dubious legal threats to the likes of
Indymedia. The letter sent to Indymedia by Lee John Barnes LLB
(hons), from the "BNP Legal Affairs Unit", threatens to take legal
action, on the basis of theft, data protection and contempt of court,
unless the list of members is removed. For more of LJB's hilarious
antics check out

* This week, all but two of the thirty-three anti-fascists arrested
at the BNP's Red White and Blue Festival in August this year (See
SchNEWS 643) have had their charges dropped. Over twenty were
arrested for violent disorder after the group tried to blockade a
road into the fascist's knees-up. Others were arrested for failing to
comply with police directions on the mass demonstration.

* For more Fashwatch info see and

More such stuff at schnews.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Women demand asylum from rape

Press release from Black Women's Rape Action Project
On 25 November 2008, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we demand that the UK government meet its international obligations to provide protection to women seeking asylum from rape and other sexual torture.

In June 2006, Black Women's Rape Action Project issued the "Asylum from Rape" petition demanding official recognition of rape as torture and persecution, and practical help for women to overcome the many obstacles they face in making their asylum claims. Thousands of people have already signed the petition including journalists Victoria Brittain and Caroline Moorhead, lawyer Gareth Peirce, actress Juliet Stevenson and poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

An estimated 50% of women seeking asylum in the UK are rape survivors. Women are spearheading the movement for asylum rights and exposing the hidden atrocities in the asylum process. This self-help activity has encouraged opposition from many quarters, including high level protests against the detention of children and vulnerable people. The "Asylum from Rape" petition is one way of informing people about who seeks asylum and why, and is a tool to demand change.

We are calling on all concerned UK and international organisations to endorse the "Asylum from Rape" petition.

  • Whilst International courts recognize that rape is routinely used as a weapon of war and also as an act of genocide [1] , asylum claims by women seeking asylum from rape are routinely dismissed by the Home Office and the courts, flouting government guidelines, UK case law and international conventions [2] .

  • Whilst the conviction rape for reported rape in the UK is an appalling 6%, racism and official contempt for those who are from other countries and vulnerable compounds the sexism all women are up against.

  • Many women are accused of "fabricating" their account of rape. In other cases, sexual violence is dismissed as "simple lust" or "random acts" by "unruly officers", or women are told it is safe to live somewhere else in the country they fled.

  • Many mothers are also suffering the unspeakable violence of being separated from their children who they were forced to leave behind when they fled to the UK. See their campaign here.

  • Contrary to the government's own rules against the detention of victims of torture, over 70% of women in Yarl's Wood Removal Centre are rape survivors [3]. Some are imprisoned as soon as they claim asylum. The petition calls for an end to this "Detained Fast Track" procedure.

  • Many are being sent back to further torture because they weren't able to put before the UK authorities the full evidence of the rape and violence they suffered or were arbitrarily dismissed when they did. Most of the few women who have been able to stay in touch with BWRAP and Women Against Rape, report being raped or tortured again. Many are destitute and some have been forced into prostitution to survive.

  • Whilst only 7% of racist attacks in the UK result in a conviction, many women asylum seekers report increased racial violence, fuelled by government and media witch-hunts against so-called "bogus asylum seekers"

  • On this fifteenth anniversary of the creation of the post of UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, we urge the current Rapporteur Yakin Ertürk to intervene against UK government's policies which deliberately make women asylum seekers destitute and force women back to countries where they may face rape, other violence and even death.

Women in all of the above situations are available for interview. For more information, including how you can help, contact or call 020 7482 2496

1. In the coming weeks, three judges of the International Criminal Court in The Hague will decide whether Sudan's president will stand accused of masterminding the use of rape as a form of genocide against several ethnic groups in Darfur. [David Scheffer, "Rape as genocide in Darfur", Los Angeles Times 13 November 2008],0,4968269.story

2. "Misjudging Rape - Breaching Gender Guidelines & International law in Asylum Appeals", BWRAP & WAR, December 2006].

3. Legal Action for Women's research into women's rights violations at Yarl's Wood Removal Centre. [A "Bleak House" for Our Times, December 2005]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Irene Fernandez Is Acquitted!

I posted yesterday about Dr Irene Fernandez, and have received the fantastic news that she has been acquitted!


Monday, 24 November 2008

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has acquitted Dr Irene Fernandez, co-founder and executive director of Tenaganita.

The first words as she was congratulated, Irene said, "I am free! At last I am free!"

A scheduled court appeals hearing, which was to last until Friday 28 November was today ended when Judge Mohamad Apandi Ali gave his decision and set aside her 2003 conviction and reversed the conviction and sentencing.

Minutes later, Irene walked out of the court-room, free at last, saying, “I’m relieved that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I spoke the truth (and now) the conviction has been set aside,” she added.

It was a day of double surprises. The defence lawyer, M. Puravalen had asked that the motion of appeal stay. Turning the Public Prosecutor Shamsul Sulaiman, the judged then asked if the prosecution opposed the motion.

“Having been served the type-written notes, and having thoughtfully studied the notes, I have decided in the interest of justice, that justice itself would not be served by opposing this appeal.”

“You do not oppose, does that mean that you concede the case?” the judge asked.

“We do not oppose the appeal,” was the quiet reply.

The defence then asked that the conviction and sentence be set aside. The came the final surprise. From the bench, the judge gave his decision. “In the light of the respondent and Public Prosecutor is not opposing the appeal, I set aside and reverse the conviction and sentencing.”

The court room erupted into continuous loud cheers which the judge had to wave down. It has been thirteen long years, too long for anyone to wait to have their name cleared by the courts. But Irene has finally found closure.

Surrounded by her family, friends, colleagues and supporters, Irene said that the rights of defenders must be upheld. Ultimately, it is the people that we work with – migrants and refugees – that have been handed this victory. There is also vindication in the work that Irene does, and the organization that she heads.

Finally, to Ms Moganambal, who is Irene’s defence lawyer – from Irene and Tenaganita –we thank you and we love you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dr Irene Fernandez

Dr Irene Fernandez is an amazing woman who has done great work promoting the rights of migrant workers in Malaysia. After publishing an article on the living conditions of these workers, she was arrested for 'maliciously publishing false news' in 1996. She was on trial for 7 years, found guilty in 2003 and imprisoned for a further year. Despite being released after this, her passport is held by the courts and, as a convicted person, she was barred from standing as parliamentary candidate in the 2004 Malaysian elections. Despite her restricted civil rights, she carries on her everyday life and continues her work.

She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, in 2005.

Her appeal is due to start today, the 24th November 2008, and the petition below is demanding a return of her rights, and those of other human rights defenders.

Please read on, and sign.

From the Global Sisterhood Network.

Dear Friends,

We have drafted a petition letter for Dr. Irene Fernandez's freedom.

Dr. Fernandez is a staunch human rights activist and is the director
and co-founder of Tenaganita, a Malaysian NGO that promotes the rights
and welfare of migrant and agricultural workers. She is also a
Steering Council Member of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the
Pacific (PAN AP) and the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty
(PCFS), among many organisations. In 2005, she was given the Right
Livelihood Award for "her outstanding and courageous work to stop
violence against women and abuses of migrant and poor workers".

In 1995, Dr. Fernandez published a report on the living conditions of
migrant workers in Malaysia's detention centres. She was charged with
'maliciously publishing false news' against the Malaysian government
in 1996. After seven years of trial, the longest in Malaysian judicial
history, she was found guilty in 2003. She was allowed bail pending
appeal. Her civil rights are now restricted, but she carries on her
everyday life and continues her work.

The trial of Dr. Fernandez will resume on 24th- 28th November, 2008
and this may be the final round of hearings in the High Court in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia.

We call on organisations, institutions and individuals to support Dr.
Fernandez by signing the petition letter which is addressed to the
Malaysian government and other institutions in Malaysia, and is posted

By signing the letter, you and your organisation or institution will
appeal for justice and rights of human rights defenders like Dr.
Fernandez and it may give her the freedom to continue her work with
migrant workers as well as helping communities achieve genuine
people's Food Sovereignty.

Please circulate widely.

Thank you.

Norly Grace Mercado
PCFS Secretariat

See also heart's post on Irene.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Penalising the Punters

This is one of the only articles I have found which is positive about Jacqui Smith's proposals to criminalise men who buy sex from women who are controlled by a pimp. She has had to field some real hostility to the proposals and, from what I have seen, has stuck to her arguments and reasoning and is refusing to compromise. Good on her, we need more of that.

These proposals becoming law could make a huge difference to women trafficked, forced and manipulated into prostitution, and would be a great start to creating justice for women in this country.

Penalising the Punters

The home secretary has caused a storm with plans to change prostitution laws. She tells Julie Bindel why she is following the global trend to target men who buy sex

When I meet the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, on Wednesday afternoon, she is at the centre of frenzied press attention. She has just announced planned legislation to target those who buy sex from trafficked women, and though she has been talking about the subject all day, she shows no signs of flagging. She tells me she is "very proud" to have taken this step. I ask what motivated it. "I thought it was important to continue to look at the way in which we tackle prostitution," she says, "and we had not, until this point, looked at the impact demand has made on the sex industry." She explains that demand is one of the main reasons so many women are involved in the sex industry, including those who have been trafficked here to service the market. "We need to send out a message to men and to society in general, that most women do not choose to be in prostitution, whereas the buyers have free choice."

The proposals follow a six-month governmental review of the demand side of the sex trade. It should soon be a criminal offence to pay for sex with someone who is controlled for another person's gain - and it will be no defence for buyers to claim that they were unaware that a person was trafficked, pimped, or debt-bonded to their drug dealer or landlord. Kerb crawlers will also be penalised more than they have been: police currently have few powers to deal with a kerb crawler on a first offence, but the expected new law will remove the need to prove repeat violations. Police will also be given powers to close premises associated with sexual exploitation.

An estimated 80,000 women are involved in street, escort and brothel prostitution in the UK. According to government statistics, 4,000 women and children have been trafficked into prostitution in the UK at any one time, but the police suggest the real figure is far higher - studies have found that at least 70% of women working in UK brothels are trafficked from places such as Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. The fact is that a thriving sex industry, left to operate largely without government or police interference, is naturally a green light for traffickers keen to make easy profits in a welcoming environment.

The proposed new legislation has attracted both approving and angry attention from commentators, but one of the interesting aspects of this move is that it reflects an international trend. Lithuania and Finland both have laws similar to Britain's new approach, making it illegal to pay for sex with a trafficked woman. In Norway - where procuring, pimping and human trafficking are already illegal - the government is in the process of introducing legislation that will outlaw the buying of sex, but not the sale. This follows the lead set by Sweden, which criminalised all buying of sex almost 10 years ago, after a feminist campaign prompted by the suspected murder of a street prostitute called Catrine da Costa. The law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services in Sweden came into force in 1999 as part of the larger Violence Against Women Act, with the parliament defining prostitution as a serious form of male violence against women and children - harmful not only to the individuals involved, but also to society at large.

When this law was introduced, there were an estimated 2,500 women in prostitution in Sweden. Today there are around 500. And what is particularly impressive is that the number of women trafficked into Sweden is now between 200 and 500 a year - the lowest tally in Europe. Some anti-prostitution activists in the UK are disappointed that Smith has not followed Sweden and criminalised paying for sex in all circumstances. I ask why she has taken what might look like a half measure, and she cites a recent Mori poll which found that the majority of people do not support a blanket ban - but well over half agreed that paying for sex with a trafficked woman should be criminalised. "It is best to go with the grain of public opinion," she says, "rather than try to do something which may be met with resistance at this moment."

Another country that has targeted punters is South Korea. Here, the move towards criminalisation began in 2002 after brothel fires in which 14 women died - it transpired that the brothel doors had been locked from the outside by pimps and were only ever opened to allow buyers entry. In 2004 the South Korean government criminalised the demand side of the sex trade, with punters facing a year in jail or a fine if caught paying for sex. This has massively reduced the sex trade in a country where prostitution once brought in an estimated $21bn a year - 4% of the gross domestic product. Now the red light areas are largely deserted, and bed spaces in the many government-funded refuges for former prostitutes are usually full. (The South Korean government has dedicated substantial resources to helping women leave the industry, something Britain has yet to do.)

Even the Dutch - long notorious for their legalised brothels - are moving towards increased regulation of prostitution. For years, the story given by the Dutch was that legalising brothels had been a solution to the myriad problems associated with the sex industry. Then last year, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen admitted that legalisation had been a failure. "We want in part to reverse it," he said, "especially with regard to the exploitation of women in the sex industry. Lately we've received more and more signals that abuse still continues." Members of the UK government visited Amsterdam in 2007 as part of the demand review, and did not like what they found. "Ministers came back clear that the problems of illegality and abuse are not solved by legalisation," says Smith. "On the contrary, there were still problems with organised crime and trafficking." Many of the Amsterdam brothels where women pose in windows are now being closed by police, as are the street tolerance zones where men could once buy sex without threat of arrest.

As the Netherlands has found, legalisation doesn't seem to be the answer, and the reason for this international push towards criminalisation seems to stem, at least in part, from the experiences of other countries where the sex trade has been liberalised. In 1984, for instance, Victoria was the first Australian state to legalise prostitution, and the main arguments put forward for the move (including by pimps and brothel owners) were that this would sever prostitution from organised crime and make the trade much safer for the women involved.

The reality does not match that early promise, as underlined by the occupational health and safety advice that is handed out to women by states that have legalised the trade. Women are advised to pretend they have a stomach upset if a buyer "insists on anal sex without a condom"; they are told to be careful when injecting local anaesthetic into their vagina, as it can mask more "serious injuries". (The idea that anyone would inject anaesthetic into their vagina is a stark reminder of the trade's brutality.) Then there is the advice that women should "learn basic self-defence", "be aware some clients can be rough" and that, when visiting a buyer's home, they should check for signs of a planned gang-rape, including loud music and too many cars in the drive.

This suggests that legalisation has been far from successful in protecting women's health and safety, and there is also good evidence that it has failed to stop the illegal sex trade. There are about 400 legal brothels in Victoria, and far more illegal ones. This reflects the situation in Nevada, the only US state to legalise brothels, where the illegal prostitution industry is currently nine times larger than the legal one. The fact is that anywhere that liberalises prostitution quickly becomes a prime destination for punters - many more pimps will set up business there than are legally approved.

In the UK, Smith is bracing herself for more criticism from those who consider the new laws part of a "nanny state" approach to government. One man wrote on this newspaper's website that he was so appalled at the legislation that he would never again "vote for a female in ANY election, local or general". Smith laughs at this, and tells me that she believes she is doing the right thing.

"We are trying to get the vast majority of the law-abiding public to help protect vulnerable women," she says. "I am willing to accept that there are women out there who say they have chosen to sell sex, but they are in the minority, and laws are there to protect the majority. In this case, the majority of women in prostitution want to get out, and suffer violence and exploitation. If there are women who have made a free choice, there are more who have had no choice".

Friday, November 21, 2008

How I Spend My Days

Like, seriously. It's true! Oh, without the working bit.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thought for the Day

"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past": Lily Tomlin

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BNP Leak

Someone leaked the 2007 membership list of the racist British National Party, it was published on a website then withdrawn, but not before others had grabbed it. It is being published by wikileaks (which appears to have gone down due to the demand) and is also rapidly spreading through bittorrent files.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the situation. Channel 4 news summed it up quite well:

BNP leak - a liberal's dilemma?

Should somebody exposed for supporting the BNP lose their job? It is your average liberal's nightmare dilemma. Do you defend the right to free speech and the right to privacy or smile quietly that those you find abhorrent are getting their comeuppance?

The leaking of a membership list by, it is suspected, disgruntled former BNP activists has caused mayhem. A police officer, prison officer, several teachers, nurses - even a vicar - are on the list. A radio DJ who freelanced for talkSPORT has been blacklisted.

A police complaints investigation is underway in Liverpool because police and prison officers are explicitly banned from belonging to the BNP. And the teachers’ unions have come out and said they think teachers who support the BNP should lose their jobs, even though there is no obvious mechanism to do so.

There are reports of intimidating phone calls to those on the list, and recriminations that Nick Griffin and his cohorts were unable to keep data protected.

So what should and will happen? If one of my children's teachers was exposed as a BNP supporter, would I accept their right to private political views or demand their sacking? Is it any different to them being any other kind of extremist?

Certainly, their actions in the classroom would be under severe scrutiny, and it is hard to see how there would be any trust that the teacher could be left unsupervised.

It is not that BNP supporters are necessarily monsters - just that their actions are likely to be influenced by their opinions, and their opinions are incompatible with fairness. The law seems to be way behind the reality. And BNP members could in theory fight for their jobs through the courts.

So as long as those memberships were secret there was no problem. But now everything has been exposed, employers will have to do something. Very few people are prepared to debate with the BNP on television. They don't want to encourage us to give them a platform.

But we think there are questions to ask Nick Griffin so we will have him on tonight. And we'll also be hoping to get on one of those people who think BNP supporters should lose their jobs - especially in frontline public service posts.

I'm watching Nick Griffin on the programme now, describing others as fascists!

Looking at the leaked list, it's quite intriguing, especially the extra little snippets of information which appear alongside some of the members' details, for instance, "activist - Makes kites with BNP logos etc.", "ESOL teacher" (who could be worse to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages than someone racist?!), "Willing to give teaching re. BNP home-schooling" and "Resigned 17/9/07 (confused re. Party policy on ethnicity)" (confused how? If there's anything that is clear about the BNP, it's their policies on ethnicity!).

The information in the file consists of names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other information such as profession, date of joining, reason for leaving. have produced a map of the UK with indications of member numbers in each region.

There are children listed in the file, with their ages, and that makes me very uncomfortable indeed. Other people on the list are reporting receiving threats by email or by phone, and of course that can't be condoned. But then I do also find it difficult to have sympathy for people who are active members of a fascist political party.

We can't have racist people working as teachers, as doctors and nurses, as police officers and prison officers. Their attitudes would be way too likely to affect how they taught black kids, how they treated black patients, how they dealt with black offenders. I can totally understand the unions and employers being concerned - I would be, too, and hope they take action quickly and effectively.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pretty Cravings

Today I woke up with a really strong craving. I *had* to be somewhere pretty. It didn't matter where it was, as long as I was surrounded by prettiness.

I went out to Bradfield, so close in proximity, yet so far from the city centre in every other way.

I love living in a city. I also love living in a city that's so close to the country.

A bit of soul food that has helped lift my mood a bit.

See also today's photography blog post on the subject.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Will You Join Me to Help Free Burmese Human Rights Activists?

From Campaign for Burma

Over the past few weeks, the ruling military regime in the Southeast Asian country of Burma has locked up over 100 human rights activists and sentenced them to long terms in prison.

They join with Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, as political prisoners in Burma.

Just as many people came together to help Nelson Mandela when he was imprisoned in South Africa, I want to do something to helps Burma's political prisoners and Aung San Suu Kyi in their courageous struggle for human rights and democracy.

Will you join me in signing an online petition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon? The petition asks him to take immediate action to secure the release of all political prisoners in Burma, urges him to travel to Burma, and asks him to support a global ban on weapons sales to Burma's military regime.

As you may know, Burma is ruled by a brutal military dictatorship that uses torture, systematic rape, and political arrests to suppress a nonviolent democracy movement. Last year, a peaceful march lead by Buddhist Monks called the "Saffron Revolution" was violently crushed by the Burmese military. Nearly 2000 political prisoners remain in jail. The regime continues to use intimidate the movements leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

I hope you will join me in helping to stop these abuses. A great organization -- the U.S. Campaign for Burma -- is leading this effort.

You can sign the petition by going here

Thank You!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

UK Government Sells Out Tibet

How can they have done this? And so sneakily and quietly.

See the Free Tibet Campaign wiki entry, the Friends of Tibet blog, the T for Tibet campaign site, the International Campaign for Tibet, and the Free Tibet site who have already responded to this situation with:

U.K. Policy Angers Tibet Ahead of Beijing Talks

The Tibetan government-in-exile criticized Britain's move to more explicitly recognize China's sovereignty over Tibet, a dispute that could complicate talks between Beijing and representatives of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The U.K. has long acknowledged Chinese control over Tibet, but its policy for nearly a century has stopped short of formally recognizing Tibet as part of Chinese territory -- a stance that bothers China's government. In a statement on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called that past British policy an "anachronism" and effectively abandoned it, saying that the U.K. does recognize Tibet as "part of the People's Republic of China."

The shift is largely symbolic, but some analysts say it could further weaken the position of the Tibetan exiles in ongoing talks with China. Britain's stance was unusual among foreign governments, and its rejection of that position could undercut Tibet's argument that it wasn't seen as part of China before Chinese troops occupied the territory in 1951.

A British official at the foreign office in London said on Friday that Mr. Miliband's statement represented only a clarification, and that the U.K.'s actual position hasn't changed. On Friday, Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharmsala, India, said: "Before 1950, we had many treaties with British India government in which Britain recognized Tibet as an independent country." For the U.K. to say now that it always saw Tibet as a part of China is "testifying to [a] falsehood," he said.

The Tibetan statement came as two high-level Tibetan emissaries arrived in China for five days of talks, starting the eighth round of negotiations since 2002 over the future of Tibet. The last round ended with an impasse in July, during heightened international pressure on China before the Beijing Olympics in August.

British officials said Mr. Miliband's statement was aimed at helping the negotiations.

The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that he seeks not independence, but autonomy and the ability for Tibetans to worship freely and maintain their culture. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the British statement.

China welcomes UK Tibet decision

A senior Chinese official has welcomed the UK's decision to recognise Beijing's direct rule over Tibet.

Zhu Weiqun, who is leading talks with Tibetan exiles, told the BBC the move had brought the UK "in line with the universal position in today's world".

But Mr Zhu would not say whether it might be linked with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's efforts to bring China into a new world economic order.

Beijing says Tibet has been part of the Chinese nation since the 13th Century.

Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.

After a brief military conflict between China and Tibet in the early part of the 20th Century, Tibet declared itself an independent republic in 1912.

China sent troops to Tibet in 1950 and summoned a Tibetan delegation the following year to sign a treaty ceding sovereignty.

Since then there have been periods of unrest and sporadic uprisings as resentment to Beijing's rule has persisted, most recently in March, when there were riots and demonstrations both in Tibet and surrounding provinces.

Q&A: China and Tibet

The Chinese government says rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles say security forces killed dozens of protesters and were guilty of repression.

"I simply don't agree about repression," Mr Zhu told the BBC. "Tibetans are our brothers and sisters."

"Innocent civilians were hacked or burnt to death last March. In one shop, five girls, one of them an ethnic Tibetan, were set on fire and killed. Criminal acts like these have been dealt with according to law. Do you call this repression?"

On Monday, talks between Chinese officials and Tibetan exiles on the future of the Himalayan region ended after they failed to make any progress.

Mr Zhu is a vice-minister of the United Front Work Department, which conducts negotiations with Tibetan representatives.

He blamed this week's deadlock on the Tibetans, whom Mr Zhu believes still want independence.

The Tibetans have yet to comment officially, but the Dalai Lama, the head of exiled Central Tibetan Administration, has previously said he does not want independence for his homeland, only meaningful autonomy.


Despite the stalled discussions, Mr Zhu made it clear that China wanted them to continue.

"China has done everything it can to talk to the Dalai Lama," he said. "The door is still open."

The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, leaves hospital in Delhi on 16 October
The Dalai Lama's "middle way" seeks autonomy but not full independence

In a little publicised parliamentary statement on 29 October, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband gave his strong backing to the talks and also backed the Dalai Lama's call for autonomy as a basis for agreement.

Mr Miliband also referred to a historic agreement dating back to the early 20th Century, which acknowledged China's "special position" in Tibet, but asserted that Tibet had never been fully part of the country.

Describing the policy as an "anachronism", he asserted: "Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China."

Mr Zhu said his government appreciated the British statement.

"I think this is a recognition of an already existing objective fact," he said. "It has also brought the UK in line with the universal position in today's world."

BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson says Mr Zhu diplomatically sidestepped the question whether the British decision might be linked with Mr Brown's efforts to bring China into a new world economic order; though that is certainly what many observers think.

They also think the Dalai Lama's position has been weakened by the UK's decision, our correspondent says.

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