Sully, Put Down The Shovel

Andrew Sullivan doubles down on what was already a stupid reaction to Sally Ride’s lesbianism, with a quote from David Link:

The injustice of gay inequality, and particularly the injustice of the closet did not bother Ride. Or, maybe more accurately, it did not bother her enough to do anything with the public side of her life to try and change it. She simply accepted the closet, and took advantage of the work that others were doing on that front in order to live in a not-very-public-but-not-entirely-private lesbian relationship.

She shares this approach to the gay rights revolution with Mary Cheney. They are among the free-riders of this struggle, letting others do the fighting.

Sullivan adds:

But Mary Cheney was publicly out at least – which is more than be said for Ride.

As I pointed out in my previous post, Sally Ride came to prominence in 1983, which to anyone with an iota of knowledge about that decade will realise was not the most gay-friendly decade. Mary Cheney’s sexuality became a public issue in 2000, when gay marriage and the fight for gays in the military had only just begun to gather a real head of steam. Sally Ride’s father didn’t work for a superior who proposed an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution that would have banned her and all other gay people from marrying their partners. So the comparison Sullivan and Link make here is not only invalid, but to compare Sally Ride unfavourably to a woman who was prominently associated with a political party actively seeking to deny gays civil rights, is nothing short of disgraceful.

I’d also like  to address Link’s offensive description of both Mary Cheney and Sally Ride as ‘free riders of this struggle, letting others do the fighting’. By this logic, everyone who never put on a uniform for their country is ‘free riding’ on the freedom the military has, over the years, bought for them. Do they think every single black person in the country alive during the civil rights era was involved in the civil rights battle? Or that those who were unwilling to face the risk of violence and death were ‘free riding on the struggles’ of those who were wounded and killed? Not everyone is made to be a footsoldier. There is no moral draft where if you happen to be drawn into public life, you now have to serve your minority’s cause.

And the most important thing Sullivan and Link are conveniently failing to address here is that while Sally Ride was a public figure, her partner wasn’t. By slamming Ride and saying she should have outed herself for the greater good, they’re forgetting, or worse choosing to ignore, that Tam O’Shaughnessy also had a right to privacy. It was her decision too. The decision to be an activist for a cause carries burdens and responsibilities which rest not only on the shoulders of the person in question, but their families and even friends. They were perfectly within their rights to decide to spare their loved ones the shitstorm that would inevitably have ensued had they chosen to take a stand.

 

The Real Benefits Scam

With the House of Lords voting to approve the coalition government’s truly awful welfare reform package which will plunge thousands of families below the poverty line, and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party already stating that they’ll vote for amendments to the bill, and won’t actually oppose it, Britain took a considerable turn for the worse today. And the worst of it is it’s a bill based on out-and-out lies and pure, vicious ideology.

Let’s start with the £26,000 cap on household benefits, and how the Government arrived at that figure. Iain Duncan Smith claims that this is the average household income in Britain, but this is extremely misleading, as the Guardian points out (the article as a whole is an informative Q&A piece on the consequences of welfare reform):

Critics say it is excessively draconian. The Children’s Society says the cap confusingly compares non-working household income with average household earnings. Were it to align the former (more fairly) with average household working income – which includes tax credits, and a range of benefits – the cap would be set at £31,500. This would mean thousands of poorer households would not be pitched into poverty by the cap.

What the Conservatives have successfully bludgeoned out of people’s minds is that housing benefit is not actually income. It does not in fact go into the pockets of the people receiving it, but goes to pay the rent their private landlord is charging.  And as housing benefit makes up the bulk of the average household on welfare’s payments, the right wing’s justification for this horror of a bill, namely that people on welfare at the moment can earn more than people who work, is shown for the pack of lies it is. If you want to blame anyone for ‘excessive welfare spending’, as our dear Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, blame the landlords who jack up the rent to ridiculous levels. After the banking industry, the housing industry is probably the next most in need of regulation. But of course, the Government’s attitude to this is: if the rent is too damn high, move!

Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the reforms were not designed to “punish” families.

He told Sky News: “I simply make the point to them that the purpose of this is not to punish people but it is to give fairness to people who are paying tax, who are commuting large distances because they can only afford to live in the houses that they have chosen.”

It’s particularly galling that this dismissive ‘just move to a cheaper area’ message is coming from a group of people to whom moving house involves using taxpayers’ money to finance the mortgage and furnishing of a second home in London. Unfortunately, poor people don’t have the option to put the costs of upping sticks on expenses. And, of course, there’s the fact that moving house would have a serious impact on children in myriad ways; being uprooted from a place they call home, having to change school and start all over at a new one with no friends, living in reduced circumstances (but hey, you and your siblings, who may be of the opposite sex, being packed together in one bedroom is no big deal according to Duncan Smith, who also lies about the charity Shelter defining this as homelessness on its website; it doesn’t). And there’s the problem of finding another house. As anyone with any actual experience of the real world will know, a great many landlords refuse to accept people on welfare as tenants. Finding a house that suits your family’s needs is not easy either. Hard as it may for the green-eyed monsters of the Daily Mail to believe, the reason those large families they pin on their front page in their idea of public shaming live in large houses is – this will come as a shock, I know – large families need more space.

A one-size-fits-all plan is a supremely cack-handed approach at the best of times, but when it impacts actual human beings, the results are even more horrendous. A single parent family with, say, 3 kids in London will have very different needs to a two-parent family with one child in Liverpool. To force the same cap on everyone receiving benefits, regardless of individual circumstances, is not only incredibly stupid, it’s unfair and yes, contrary to what Iain Duncan Smith says, punishes people. Because that’s what this is all about, really. The Tory approach to winning elections is and always has been: further improve the lives of their traditional voting bloc, the rich; then get a big slice of the middle-class to vote for them not by making their lives better, but by fanning the flames of resentment towards those on welfare and making the poor’s lives shittier, to make the middle feel better about themselves. It’s the same dynamic you see in the battle over public sector pensions; instead of encouraging the private sector to offer their employees better deals, the Tories instead dishonestly bash public sector employees and work to strip them of the pension rights they have earned by accepting reduced salaries during their working lives. It’s disgusting, it’s despicable, and tragically, it works.

And here’s the most depressing thing about this whole sorry debate:

All three parties are behind the benefits cap in principle – but there are disagreements over the details.

And then there’s this, which makes you wonder what the fuck the point of even having an opposition party is:

Labour reacted cautiously, suggesting that it would try to find a compromise. “Labour won’t be voting against the benefits cap, but we will be seeking to amend the Bill.”

That’s the sort of bold, principled leadership we’ve come to expect from Ed Miliband’s Labour!

In Britain, people on welfare are now everybody’s whipping boys – not just the right wing’s. And this a prime example of why I laugh my head off at the idiotic liberals in America who whine when a bill that is inherently progressive whatever happens to it gets watered down. Here, the only thing that gets watered down by our allegedly ‘left wing’ (ha!) parties is right-wing political and economic theory.

 

 

We All Live In A Post Racial Era, A Post Racial Era, A Post Racial Era…

Thank God President Obama’s election ended all the issues America had with race…wait, WHAT?

Christopher Braxton told ABC News affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta that he couldn’t believe the assignment his 8-year-old son brought home from of Beaver Ridge Elementary school in Norcross.d graders in in Gwinnett County, Ga., were given math homework Wednesday that asked questions about slavery and beatings.

“It kind of blew me away,” Braxton said. “Do you see what I see? Do you really see what I see? He’s not answering this question.”

The question read, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

Yeah.

Whoever the hell thought that this was a good idea shouldn’t be within a 100 miles of a school.

Reflections On South Africa: My Birthplace And Childhood Home

South Africa’s governing party the ANC celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, but it’s not a happy occasion for the vast majority of South Africans. As I lived there for the first decade of my life, it breaks my heart to see a country once full of promise, on the brink of becoming a shining light in a continent for which the description of ‘Dark Continent’ is now not so much an archaic European term but a grimly apt one, go so far down the wrong path that it’s hard to see how it can find its way back again.

I was born in Krugersdorp just as the sun was setting on the brutal and evil apartheid regime, the year before Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom finally reached its triumphant conclusion. For the first 5 years of my life, I was raised by my grandparents as my mother was single and couldn’t work and look after me, until she met and married my father in 1994 (I was a little bridesmaid at the wedding – I consider it a blessing to have been able to actually be there to see my parents get married). It was a happy time – I caught a bus to nursery school every day (which made me feel very grown up at the grand old age of 4) and spent my spare time playing with our dogs and watching the Super Sport channel with my granddad (which I’m pretty sure accounts for my passion for sports). There were however, some painful moments; I was heartbroken when my favourite dog, Brandy, went missing, and despite driving around the area a lot for days afterward we never found him. The town where I went to school, Merriespruit, was devastated when the tailings dam nearby burst, killing 17 people and destroying much of the town. I still vividly recall the gaping hole in the dam and the buildings flattened and covered in mud.

After my parents’ marriage, I went to live with them for good. I was delighted to be with my mother, who had seen to it that I was given the best life possible out of the awful circumstance of single-parenthood she had found herself, and my father, who I’d loved from the word go, and who had immediately adopted me as his own (my parents are truly the most wonderful people I know). We had a very good life – we lived in the kind of house you’d have to be a millionaire to own in Britain in a well-to-do suburb near Johannesburg. I went to a fantastic primary school – which is closer to a combination of the US middle and junior high than the traditional British primary school. Children attend it from the age of 7 through to 14, classes ran from 7.30am to 1.30pm (awesome for kids but a pain in the neck for parents – after school some of my friends and I would go to an aftercare facility run by a lovely woman who we called Aunt Greer). There, I learned how to swim (it had a massive swimming pool and the athletics/sports facilities were excellent as befitting a sports-mad nation), and found my academic endeavours were rewarded and recognised by the headmaster (such, sadly, was not the case in the UK, where the only successes deemed worthy of recognition were on the sports field).

This idyllic existence was undermined by an ever-present sense of danger, which I, being very young, did not appreciate at the time. For example, a private security firm checking up on our security was nothing out of the ordinary to me; now I realise the fact it was actually a necessity indicated how dangerous, even then, it was to live there. However, several incidents occurred which convinced my parents that no amount of private security could provide peace of mind, and so we could not remain in South Africa. My mother’s car was stolen in broad daylight from her place of work. She was mugged as she waited at a traffic light by a black man – he smashed her window, and grabbed her bag and tried to tear her necklace from her neck – and only the light turning green saved her from anything worse. My mother later told me that the most frightening thing about the attack was the look in the thief’s eyes; she felt he regarded her as utterly meaningless and did not see her as fellow human being. And on another occasion, shots rang out in our garden.

By the time I left with my mother and sister (my father had gone on ahead to Britain to find housing and work) in January 1999, my mother was completely unable to get a peaceful night’s sleep. When she returned to South Africa in 2010 for my grandfather’s funeral, she experienced again a panicky sense of fear and insecurity – as by then the atmosphere and conditions in South Africa had further deteriorated; when she drove my grandmother through Klerksdorp, there were signs up warning of ‘carjacking zones’. The move was painful for me: while both my parents were originally from Britain, and were returning to a country they were familiar with, I was leaving friends, my beloved grandparents, and a country I loved for an unknown, alien one for reasons I did not fully comprehend.

But I do now. The country of my childhood has mutated into one where an ANC youth leader, Julius Malema, is defended by the ANC for singing songs about killing white people, but be suspended from the party for the political threat he poses to current president Jacob Zuma, not for inciting racial hatred, They trumpet bringing the appalling high murder rate down from 66 per 1000 people to a still appalling 33/1000 while effectively sentencing millions to death thanks to the AIDS denialism of the Mbeki government. In addition to denying AIDS exists, the government did nothing to discourage the horrific and false beliefs spread by witchdoctors that having sex with a virgin will protect you from/cure AIDS, leading to an explosion of unbelievable evil: baby rape, which compounds an already hideous rape culture wherein 1 in 3 South African women have been raped. Instead, it preferred to inform its people that a fusion of garlic, beetroot and lemon is an effective cure for AIDS (I really wish I were joking).

As if this were not bad enough, the ANC has completely betrayed its own by effectively creating another apartheid: they live in riches and splendour while millions of black people live in the most dreadful poverty and face horrific violence with little hope of escape. For who will help them? South Africa is effectively a one-party-state; there is no significant challenge to the ANC’s supremacy. The ANC, like all institutionally corrupt organisations, will not reform itself as it does not serve their self-interest to reform. Unfortunately, this is why Julius Malema’s Mugabesque calls to seize white-owned land without compensation are striking a chord among poor black South Africans; they know the ANC has not improved their lives, they bitterly resent the corruption which has resulted in them getting poorer while the political elite gets richer, and so, when Malema bangs his populist drum attacking the government for abandoning poor black people, they feel that finally, someone understands their plight and speaks for them. It is becoming brutally clear that if you are a white South African, you have no future there.

I watched Invictus again recently (True story: my dad was given a ticket to that very Rugby World Cup final – which happened to fall on the same day as his and my mum’s first anniversary. He gave it up to take my mum out for a celebratory dinner). The ending, so heartwarming, triumphant and full of hope for a new, united South Africa is no longer a happy one, but tragic – it represents what could have been, what should have been, and how far from that idealistic goal South Africa has fallen.

And on that note, I wish the African National Congress a very miserable 100th anniversary.

 

NOTW Phone Hacking: Dead Soldiers’ Families Also Targeted

Sweet Jesus. The News of the World scandal hits rock bottom:

Phones owned by relatives of dead UK soldiers were allegedly hacked by the News of the World, a national newspaper reports.

The Daily Telegraph claims the phone numbers of relatives of dead were found in the files of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The Government can’t resist calls for a full public inquiry for much longer. And who knows what further revelations are coming? However, it will be extremely hard for it to get worse than being discovered to have hacked the phones of bereaved families of the men who fought and died for us. I’m running out of variants of ‘disgusting’ to describe this loathsome rag’s actions.

 

 

Rebekah Brooks Is Either Incompetent Or A Liar

Rebekah Brooks continues to deny all knowledge of the despicable hacks into Milly Dowler and 7/7 families’ phones, leading to only two possible conclusions: either Brooks was so incompetent an editor that she had no control over and no idea of what was being done by her own newspaper, or she’s a liar, neither of which does her credit.

As the Independent revealed today that she asked the same private detective who dug up the Dowlers’ number to do other searches, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Ms Brooks, while editor of NOTW, used Steve Whittamore, a private detective who specialised in obtaining illegal information, to “convert” a mobile phone number to find its registered owner. Mr Whittamore also provided the paper with the Dowlers’ ex-directory home phone number.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which successfully prosecuted Whittamore for breaches of the Data Protection Act in 2005, said last night it would have been illegal to obtain the mobile conversion if the details had been “blagged” from a phone company.

Ms Brooks, who said yesterday she was “shocked and appalled” at the latest hacking claims, admitted requesting the information. But she said it could be obtained by “perfectly legitimate means.”

I highly doubt that, but let’s leave the ‘means’ aside for a minute and focus on her actual request – trying to discover the private owner of a private mobile phone for no justifiable reason, on top of gaining access to a phone number that was removed from the directory books precisely to stop unwanted callers from obtaining it. Ethics, schmethics.

 

From New Labour To Hard Labour

In the row over public sector pensions which led to tens of thousands of workers going on strike today, the Tories have behaved as you’d expect: with threats and continuing to turn the word ‘fairness’ into newspeak. You would think, however, that the party whose roots are entrenched in the labour movement, hence the name ‘Labour’, would be sympathetic, if not supportive of the public workers’ battle to secure the pensions which compensate for poorer salaries than those in the private sector.

But alas, the Labour leadership has shown no sign of returning from the centre-right ground staked out by Tony Blair. For all the taunts of ‘Red Ed’ and suggestions of radicalism, Ed Miliband is not so much Marx as Milquetoast: an ineffective leader who put himself in the ridiculous position of attempting to bash the Government while offering absolutely no support to to the striking workers, calling the strikes ‘wrong’:

Labour leader Ed Miliband has delivered a blunt message to striking teachers and council workers: “You’ve made a mistake.”

Addressing the Local Government Association conference at the ICC in Birmingham, Mr Miliband said: “I understand the anger of workers who feel they are being singled out by a provocative and reckless government.

“But I also believe this strike is wrong. Negotiations are on-going and it was a mistake to go on strike.”

And days earlier, Ed Balls adopted the mantle of concern troll by telling mutinous workers that striking would just play into the Tories hands, and so they shouldn’t strike:

Ed Balls has urged public sector workers not to strike over the government’s planned pension reforms saying: “The trade unions must not walk into the trap of giving George Osborne the confrontation he wants.”

Between the two of them, the Eds illustrate exactly why people did decide to take industrial action – because if they didn’t stand up and fight for their rights, who would? Certainly not this awful Labour Party that has never been less worthy of the name. Tony Blair created ‘New Labour’, perhaps the current incarnation should be called ‘Hard Labour’.

UPDATE: Paperback Rioter has a good piece up giving background to the whole sorry situation and showing what a crock the Tory and Miliband positions are,

Man, Do Anti-Abortion People Have Issues Or What

You know, I thought it’d be impossible for anti-abortionists to get sicker than their effort at continuing the Saw series, but was I ever wrong:

Greg Fultz, 35, is causing controversy in his hometown of Alamogordo, N.M. To get back at his ex-girlfriend, Fultz erected a billboard on the town’s main drag in May claiming that his ex had an abortion.

The $1,300 anti-abortion ad shows Fultz holding the outline of a baby and reads: “This Would Have Been a Picture Of My 2-Month Old Baby If The Mother Had Decided To NOT KILL Our Child!”

The kicker? This psycho ex-boyfriend isn’t even sure if his ex did have an abortion, or had a miscarriage. Not that it matters if she did in fact terminate her pregnancy, because it’s her body and only she has the right to make decisions regarding it, whatever this sick lunatic thinks.

Oh and, he claims he did this not out of spite (yeah riiiiiight) but to highlight pro-life issues he had in the first place:

“My original intentions when I started this campaign were quite simple,” Fultz told ABC News. “I just wanted to shed the light on pro-life issues and fathers’ rights. I have had no closure over my own personal loss and that’s where the billboard came into play.”

Let’s get one thing straight: fathers have rights when their child is born. Not before, because they aren’t the ones who are pregnant for 9 months, going through physical debilitation, running the risk of life-threatening complications, before giving birth in agony. Yes, it takes two to tango, as it were, but the mother bears the whole burden of carrying a child.

 

Unreasonable Doubt

Rape victims already find it horrendously difficult to report the crime that was committed against them. We have a culture that seems to go out of its way to find ways to blame the victim for what happened to her – “If she hadn’t been drunk/worn that short skirt/acted like a flirt it wouldn’t have happened.” – while telling women ‘Don’t get raped’ instead of telling men ‘Don’t rape’. They face the knowledge that they will almost certainly have to confront the person who violated them and stole so much from them in court, have their character mercilessly assaulted by a defence lawyer, and that there’s a good chance that they could be forced to relive the horror and the perpetrator for nothing as he could be acquitted. Those women who come forward display an immense level of courage.

So the news that the jurors in the trial of two NYPD officers for the rape of an intoxicated woman in her own home chose to acquit them, even though they were convinced they were guilty, because there was no DNA evidence, has just struck another blow against the effort to get more women to try to bring their attackers to justice. For one thing – it is extremely common for women who have been raped to shower immediately, to scrub and wash the horrible feeling of their rapist off of them as soon as they can. This case shows that now this could well mean the chances of their rapists being brought to justice have plummeted. And furthermore, the fact that the defendants in this case were police officers is likely to damage a lot of people’s faith in the justice system. People will ask: would they have been acquitted if they hadn’t been cops? How can you seek justice from those who are seemingly above it?

Here are snippets of what the jurors said. If their comments don’t enrage you, nothing will:

“[Kenneth Moreno] raped her,” the unidentified female juror tells DNAinfo. “There is no doubt in my mind.”But never mind that whole “beyond a reasonable doubt” business, today’s modern jury demands DNA. As juror John Finck, 57, explains, “We were strictly bound by the judge’s instruction that there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendants of the major charges of the case.”

That does NOT mean there needs to be DNA evidence, but as one legal expert told the Post after the verdict was announced, “CSI has made things difficult, there’s no law saying that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ means we show you DNA. It means ‘evidence that points to a moral certainty that is beyond dispute.’” “My heart breaks for her. I think the system failed her terribly,” says Hernandez, the juror who played a crucial role in the system that acquitted the cops.

“I think the system failed her terribly.” You’ve got to love that ‘system’, a convenient way for individuals like Hernandez to avoid responsibility for their own decisions that have an enormous impact on the lives of other human beings. It pops up all the time – when people die, when injustice happens, it’s the impersonal, ambiguous monolith of The System that’s to blame, not human error, not human failure, not human ignorance. This is why miscarriages of justice on both sides of the court and in other walks of life will continue to happen, because as long as we can all comfortably blame injustice on an abstract thing that doesn’t really exist, people can avoid accountability, the buck can be passed, and no effort need be made to educate people about crucial things like the definition of ‘reasonable doubt’.

But that’s not to say there aren’t problems with juries. The key is in that first word, ‘reasonable’. As we see here in this appalling case, juries are now seeing not just any doubt in their minds, but anything that could cause doubt as enough to vote in favour of the accused. This has always been one of the major flaws of trial by jury, and why I have long believed professional jurors would vastly improve justice systems. By throwing 12 random people together who likely as not know nothing about law, are not trained to think logically or weigh evidence, the result is that you are inevitably going to get ridiculous verdicts like this, because the jury is ignorant of what reasonable doubt actually is – and thus so frightened of sending an innocent person to jail that the tiniest of discrepancies get blown up into reasons not to convict.

 

 

 

Measles Cases Explode In UK, France Thanks To Fake Science

I will always maintain that striking Andrew Wakefield off the list of those permitted to practice medicine was nowhere near a severe enough punishment. For the damage he and his cohorts inflicted and are still inflicting on children, he should be in jail.

More than 330 cases of measles have been reported in the first three months of this year in the UK, nearly as many as were reported in all of last year. According to the Guardian, a total of 334 cases of measles have been confirmed in England and Wales, as compared with 33 cases for the same period last year, and 374 in all of 2010. There have been outbreaks in universities, schools and in individual families, with most of the cases occurring in London and the south-east, followed by Yorkshire and the Humber.

Even more alarming are figures about measles cases in France where more than 5,000 cases have been reported this year. The World Health Organization says that, as of mid-April, 6500 cases of measles have been reported in 33 countries. Outbreaks have also occurred in Denmark, Germany, Norway and Serbia.

To illustrate how awful this is: 5000 is the number of cases France reported for the whole of last year. We’re only halfway through 2011 and they’ve reached that number already.

Please parents, make sure your children are vaccinated with the MMR jab. It is your responsibility to your children and others’ children to prevent it spreading.