Notes and Comment Blog

Ne regrettez rien

Jul 14th, 2016 11:57 am | By

So Ginsburg took it back.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court on Thursday expressed regret for her recent remarks about the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, saying they were “ill-advised.”

“On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them,” Justice Ginsburg said in a statement on Thursday. “Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect.”

In general, they should. But a potential Hitler isn’t “in general.” Hitler didn’t run on a platform of killing all the Jews, after all. German voters didn’t know that was what they were voting for. He was just an ordinary anti-Semite and right-winger when he ran, albeit one with a history of violence and a prison record. It’s not safe to assume that Trump won’t really be the racist bully he seems to be if he gets elected. It’s not safe to assume he’ll be sobered by the responsibility if that happens. So I’m not convinced RBG was wrong to deviate from the usual custom for judges.

Few legal experts had expected Justice Ginsburg to offer the apology that Mr. Trump demanded. Justices typically remain largely out of the public eye and are insulated from political pressures and news media coverage that can compel action.

But the torrent of criticism, especially from supporters and allies of Justice Ginsburg, appears to have pierced that protection.

Former Justice Antonin Scalia, who died this year, was often the target of demands for apologies for his acerbic comments from the bench or in speeches. They generally did not materialize, though the justice did apologize to reporters in 2004 after a deputy federal marshal ordered them to destroy recordings of a half-hour speech by Justice Scalia at a Mississippi high school.

At least RBG didn’t say she would be more circumspect “going forward.”


Jul 14th, 2016 10:03 am | By

Can’t anyone put a stop to this?

“Parents hold their child down – three of them holding them down – and give this stuff as an enema,” says Emma Dalmayne. “Many feed it to their children. They even put it into their babies’ bottles.”

Dalmayne, a stay-at-home mother and autism campaigner from London, is describing Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), a “supplement” being sold online to parents as a “cure” for their autistic children. But MMS is essentially bleach. It is 28% sodium chlorite, and when used as instructed, generates chlorine dioxide – a potent bleach that’s used to strip textiles and for industrial water treatment.

It’s been around for years, people have been campaigning against it for years, but it’s still being marketed. People are still advertising bleach as a cure for autism – bleach to be ingested, not bleach to disinfect the garbage bin.

It is highly dangerous to ingest. Taken directly, MMS can cause severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, damage to the gut and red blood cells, respiratory problems, and can be fatal. “MMS can cause serious damage to health and in some cases even death,” says a spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency (FSA). “Anyone who has bought these products is advised to throw them away.”

It’s poison. Poison poison poison. It will kill you. It’s stuff you keep in a locked cupboard if you have young children. Yet people are marketing it as something to ingest.

Kerri Rivera, a prominent proponent of MMS and author of Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism, says: “Almost all of the people with autism have high levels of pathogens; virus, bacteria, parasites and heavy metals. Chlorine dioxide kills pathogens and helps the body to detoxify itself. It is considered safe at doses we use for weight.” She adds: “There are over 225 people who no longer have autism after using it.”

Weapons-grade quackery, and lethal to living beings.

Dalmayne has discovered a Facebook group for parents of autistic children – many from the UK – that’s centred on these “cures”. With the tagline “Solving the puzzle one drop at a time”, the more than 9,000 members of the group discuss using chlorine dioxide, often posting photos of their children with skin rashes and bleeding – “bragging” that it’s a sign it’s working or asking for help when they’re afraid.

“People post, ‘my child can’t walk because she’s/he’s doubled up in pain’ or ‘their urine’s pink’,” Dalmayne says. “One had three seizures in a day. But they’re always told by the other members, ‘That’s normal. That’s the autism leaving them.’” The people being given the “solution”, who are discussed in the group, range from vulnerable adults to children as young as 10 months, Dalmayne tells me. “It’s like they’re going to war with their own children,” she says.

That’s so terrifying.

Although the FSA’s food crime unit is working with councils and government departments to combat the promotion and sale of MMS, Dalmayne says the law needs to be changed. While it is unlawful to sell a product such as MMS that is injurious to health, “you can say, ‘this is a cure for autism’ – and right now there’s nothing we can do about it”, she says. She is campaigning with for the government to introduce legislation to ban the marketing of products to the public based on the false claim it will cure autism, as is already the case with alleged remedies for cancer.

I just signed that petition.

You couldn’t make it up

Jul 13th, 2016 5:04 pm | By

I guess we’re all living in a surrealistic comedy show based on a competition between the UK and the US on who can put more absurdly unqualified and dangerous people in minor jobs like head of state or head of foreign affairs.

Or to put it another way, I go out for a couple of hours and come back to find that Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary. Boris Johnson! Is Foreign Secretary!

Mr Johnson said he was “very humbled” to be appointed foreign secretary.

He said Mrs May had made a “wonderful speech” earlier, saying there was a “massive opportunity in this country to make a great success of our new relationship with Europe and with the world”.

But Lib Dem leader Tim Farron predicted Mr Johnson would “spend more time apologising to nations he’s offended” than working as foreign secretary.

Slate has a partial list of the offendings.

  • In 2003, Johnson described U.S. President George W. Bush as “a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, unelected, inarticulate, who [epitomizes] the arrogance of American foreign policy” in an unsigned editorial in the Spectator.
  • In a 2005 Telegraph column, he wrote “…compared with the old British Empire, and the new American imperium, Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase….Chinese culture seems to stay firmly in China. Indeed, high Chinese culture and art are almost all imitative of western forms…. The number of Chinese Nobel prizes won on home turf is zero, though there are of course legions of bright Chinese trying to escape to Stanford and Caltech.”
  • In a 2006 column, also for the Telegraph, Johnson wrote “For 10 years we in the Tory Party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.” After backtracking furiously, he said he would “add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apology.”

Naturally it makes sense to appoint someone who has a global itinerary of apology to the job of Foreign Secretary.

  • In an op-ed published in April, he claimed President Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office upon assuming the presidency in 2009 because “it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British empire—of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” comments several leading British members of Parliament (rightly) condemned as racist.

He’s been rude about both Clinton and Trump.

Interesting times.

101 photoshops

Jul 13th, 2016 4:11 pm | By

The National: the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland:

Free to say what they really believe

Jul 13th, 2016 11:52 am | By

Nicholas Confessore at the NY Times on Trump as the racism candidate.

The chant erupts in a college auditorium in Washington, as admirers of a conservative internet personality shout down a black protester. It echoes around the gym of a central Iowa high school, as white students taunt the Hispanic fans and players of a rival team. It is hollered by a lone motorcyclist, as he tears out of a Kansas gas station after an argument with a Hispanic man and his Muslim friend.

The chant is just one word – Trump.

In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.

And that’s why he’s so terrifying. This isn’t some joke or stunt or tv show or publicity move. It may be any or all of those in Trump’s mind, who knows, but that is no guarantee that he wouldn’t act on his message of racial hostility if he were elected. Racist chanting doesn’t stop with racist chanting.

Mr. Trump has attacked Mexicans as criminals. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants. He has wondered aloud why the United States is not “letting people in from Europe.”

His rallies vibrate with grievances that might otherwise be expressed in private: about “political correctness,” about the ranch house down the street overcrowded with day laborers, and about who is really to blame for thedeath of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

In cries of “All lives matter.”

“I think what we really find troubling is the mainstreaming of these really offensive ideas,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups. “It’s allowed some of the worst ideas into the public conversation in ways we haven’t seen anything like in recent memory.”

And not merely “offensive.” People can get over being offended, but the ideas are dangerous as well as “offensive,” and it’s the dangerous part that makes Trump terrifying.

Some are elated by the turn. In making the explicit assertion of white identity and grievance more widespread, Mr. Trump has galvanized the otherwise marginal world of avowed white nationalists and self-described “race realists.” They hail him as a fellow traveler who has driven millions of white Americans toward an intuitive embrace of their ideals: that race should matter as much to white people as it does to everyone else. He has freed Americans, those activists say, to say what they really believe.

Yeah. And that’s a bad thing.

You have to do both

Jul 13th, 2016 10:38 am | By

This was last week, but I missed it – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Twitter, a hashtag – #Rationalia.

Oh god. The word all by itself is enough to kick the nausea-mechanism into life. Rationalia: the land where all the self-admiring dudebros wander up and down congratulating each other on their towering Rationality.

Tyson tweeted him a tweet, a tweet tweeted he it, on June 29.

Earth needs a virtual country: , with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence

Dude. No. What are you thinking?

Well, we know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking what Sam Harris was thinking when he wrote his awful book on morality. He’s thinking what the self-admiring dudebros always are thinking when they tell everyone else to go away and learn how to think. He’s thinking “reason” is all there is to it.

He’s thinking a one-line Constitution is a possible and a desirable thing, and that evidence is the only relevant factor in how people should treat each other. Did you notice the one word in there that overturns that whole idea? It’s the word “should.” What evidence can determine what we should do? Not influence or shape, but determine? “Should” according to what?

A single ten word sentence is not enough for a Constitution. That ten word sentence is not enough for a Constitution or for basic life advice. I can think of better single sentences for the purpose without breaking a sweat. “First, do no harm” is a contender, and that’s only four words. “Be good to each other” is one more word. “Don’t be evil” is a mere three. All of them are more to the purpose than Tyson’s absurdity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has 30 articles. Most of the articles have numbered items, and most of the rest are several sentences. Actual Constitutions are longer than that, and that’s not just because humanities types like to ramble on while Rational Men of Science know how to cut to the chase.

Some people posed for photos.

Reason is good. Following the evidence is good. Thinking carefully is good. But they are not enough.

The humans are losing ground

Jul 12th, 2016 3:51 pm | By

More on the looming problem of antibiotic resistance.

The golden age of antibiotics appears to be coming to an end, its demise hastened by a combination of medical, social and economic factors. For decades, these drugs made it easy for doctors to treat infections and injuries. Now, common ailments are regaining the power to kill.

Harvard University infectious disease epidemiologist William P. Hanage cautions that “we will not be flying back into the dark ages” overnight. Hospitals are improving their infection control, and public health experts are getting better at tracking new threats. But in a race against nature, he said, the humans are losing ground.

That’s a clumsy use of the word “cautions.” One doesn’t “caution” people that things aren’t all that terrible. He clarifies rather than cautions.

Until very recently, few made the connection between antibiotic use in individual cases and the emergence of antibiotic resistance, said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, an infection-control expert at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Patients with earaches, sinus pressure and sore throats demanded antibiotics, and physicians tended to oblige.

The results have been deadly. Each year, more than 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with a bacterium that has become resistant to one or more antibiotic medication designed to kill it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 23,000 people die as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant infections, and many more die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection, the agency says.

But it’s getting worse rather than better.

A survey released in June by the Infectious Diseases Society of America found that only 30% of Americans believe that antibiotic resistance is a significant problem for public health.

Which is probably why so many Americans still demand antibiotics for colds, and some doctors still give them.

The problem goes beyond treating infections. As bacterial resistance grows, Lesho said, “we’re all at risk of losing our access” to medical miracles we’ve come to take for granted: elective surgeries, joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapies. These treatments give bacteria an opportunity to hitch a ride on a catheter or an unwashed hand and invade an already vulnerable patient.

We grew up taking powerful medical technologies for granted. It won’t be pleasant watching them weaken and fade away.

Dancing with the Exes

Jul 12th, 2016 11:17 am | By

ExMuslim flashdance at Kings Cross.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain:

On July 5, 2016 a number of ex-Muslims from Bangladesh, Britain, Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan and Syria converged on Kings Cross for a flash “dance” in support of freethinkers and “apostates” across the globe. On their faces and chests, they had written of “Ex-Muslim”, “Kafir”, “Atheist”, “Migrant”, “Refugee”, and “Apostate”.
They danced to Shaggy’s “I Need Your Love”** in support of all those who are isolated, intimidated, harassed, and even killed for leaving Islam or thinking freely.
They also danced in memory of Adel Al-Jaf, a young Iraqi dancer, who was killed the day before in a mass suicide bombing in Iraq with over 200 others. He had to dance in secret; they danced for him and all those who cannot dance, think, live and love in public.
Dancers include: Aftab Ahmed, Hana Chelache, Imad Iddine Habib, Mahdi Khalidi, Maryam Namazie, Rayhana Sultan, and Zee Jay.
Dance was organised by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
Filming: Poone Ravi
Soundtrack: Shaggy’s I need your love
Artists: Shaggy Feat Mohombi , Faydee and Costi
Music : I NEED YOUR LOVE ( itunes)
With Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB)
Imad Iddine Habib
Zee Jay
Maryam Namazie
Hana Chelache
Aftab Ahmed
El Mahdi Khalidi
Rayhana Sultan

When neutrality becomes impossible

Jul 12th, 2016 10:52 am | By

Trump is angry (or is pretending to be angry) at Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she has said harsh things about him in public. Supreme Court justices aren’t supposed to take sides in political campaigns.

“I think it’s highly inappropriate that a United States Supreme Court judge gets involved in a political campaign, frankly,” Trump told the Times by phone. “I think it’s a disgrace to the court and I think she should apologize to the court. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.”

Ginsburg in recent days has ramped up her criticisms of Trump’s campaign. She has said he’s a “faker” who should release his tax returns, that she “can’t imagine” a Trump presidency, and that “everything” would be up for grabs with him occupying the White House. Ginsburg’s comments are unique in that a Supreme Court justice typically doesn’t comment on presidential candidates during election season.

I don’t know. I can see why the Supes don’t usually get involved, and why it’s better that they don’t…but Trump is a special case. He’s special because he has no relevant experience or education, and because he’s a reckless pugnacious loose cannon. He’s not a real “presidential candidate” in the normal sense of the phrase. He’s a noisily self-promoting tv personality and “tycoon” – he’s a joke rather than a serious candidate. He’s also a vocal, aggressive racist. He’s not so much a candidate as an emergency. The rules change for emergencies.

He said the situation was “business as usual”

Jul 12th, 2016 10:23 am | By

Well, this seems like one unmistakably bad result of Brexit – UK scientists are being pushed out of projects because of worries about funding.

In a confidential survey of the UK’s Russell Group universities, the Guardian found cases of British academics being asked to leave EU-funded projects or to step down from leadership roles because they are considered a financial liability.

In one case, an EU project officer recommended that a lead investigator drop all UK partners from a consortium because Britain’s share of funding could not be guaranteed. The note implied that if UK organisations remained on the project, which is due to start in January 2017, the contract signing would be delayed until Britain had agreed a fresh deal with Europe.

In other words Brexit has slapped a huge handicap on UK scientists who want to collaborate with European colleagues.

Incidents reported by the universities suggest that researchers across the natural sciences, the engineering disciplines and social sciences are all affected. At least two social science collaborations with Dutch universities have been told UK partners are unwelcome, one Russell Group university said in the survey.

Speaking at Oxford’s Wolfson College last Friday, the university’s chancellor, Chris Patten, said Oxford received perhaps more research income than any European university, with about 40% coming from government. “Our research income will of course fall significantly after we have left the EU unless a Brexit government guarantees to cover the shortfall,” Lord Patten said.

The uncertainty over future funding for projects stands to harm research in other ways, the survey suggests. A number of institutions that responded said some researchers were reluctant to carry on with bids for EU funds because of the financial unknowns, while others did not want to be the weak link in a consortium. One university said it had serious concerns about its ability to recruit research fellows for current projects.

Yeah but at least they told Poland a thing or two, right? That’s worth all the tsuris, right?

A week after the referendum, science minister Jo Johnson told academics and industry figures he had raised concerns over potential discrimination against UK researchers with the EU science commissioner, Carlos Moedas. Johnson has asked a team at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to gather evidence for discrimination and urged organisations to report any incidents. Until the UK left the EU, he said the situation was “business as usual”.

Others see it differently. Joe Gorman, a senior scientist at Sintef, Norway’s leading research institute, said he believed UK industry and universities would see “a fairly drastic and immediate reduction in the number of invitations to join consortiums”.

Only 12% of bids for Horizon 2020 funds are successful, a rate that falls by more than half in highly competitive areas. Given the low probability of winning funds at the best of times, Gorman said it was natural risk aversion to be cautious of UK partners. In many cases, British organisations will not have a clue they have lost out. “If you don’t get invited to the party, you don’t even know there is a party,” he said.

It seems very clueless to me to call it “discrimination.” It’s not “ewwww, they’re British, they have cooties,” it’s a consequence of Brexit and its implications for funding.

“I strongly suspect that UK politicians simply don’t understand this, and think it is ‘business as usual’, at least until negotiations have been completed. They are wrong, the problems start right now,” he added. As a former European commission official, Gorman oversaw research projects and now advises universities and companies on how to succeed in EU-funded research programmes.

It’s almost as if complicated technical issues shouldn’t be decided by referendum.

Moral fiber

Jul 11th, 2016 4:27 pm | By

The Bookbinder twins are in the Washington Post.

It was nearing 6 p.m. one Sunday last month when Jeremy and Eliana Bookbinder heard about an injured hawk on a hiking trail not far from the camp where they were working.

The 20-year-old twins from Prince George’s were at Camp Marriott, a Boy Scout camp in the Goshen Scout Reservation, about 20 miles from Lexington, Va.

Some hikers had told a camp staff member that they had found an injured hawk, and the information had been passed along to the twins.

You know the story from Eliana’s write-up. Eliana found the bird – a juvenile bald eagle – and found that it was in bad shape.

It was “very, very still and quiet,” she said, and it was “covered in flies.”

Bookbinder called her boss, Matt Anderson, and told him about the eagle. She also texted him a photo of the bird. But from the other end of the line came an order: She was not to call the wildlife rehabilitation center, nor was she to transport it to a wildlife veterinarian.

“I pointed out that this was a massive violation of the Scout law,” Bookbinder said. “Part of the Scout law is to be thoughtful and to be kind, and this was neither.

“I have never been so angry that I cried,” she said. “At that point I just thought okay, I’m just going to do it anyway.”

She called Jeremy for backup.

She also called the emergency after-hours phone number of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. She was told that if she could safely capture the eagle, she should do so and bring it to the center, located about 45 miles away.

That’s the part that makes the firing impossible to understand. She called the correct experts, and the correct experts told her to bring the eagle in if she could do it safely. I don’t know why that isn’t all there was to it.

At the Wildlife Center, the two handed over the eagle and filled out paperwork, and staff at the center started assessing the bird’s condition.

It was about 11 p.m. by the time the Bookbinders arrived back at camp. They were called to Anderson’s office. According to Eliana Bookbinder, Anderson berated them for having done a “terrible” thing and said that their actions had “endangered the reputation of the Boy Scouts.”

Next morning they were fired.

The people in charge act as if they’re running the Pentagon or something, and refuse to explain.

Contacted by The Washington Post for comment, Barbash deferred to his chief spokesman, Aaron Chusid.

“We have no comment at this time as it is our policy not to comment on employment matters,” Chusid wrote in an email. “At Goshen Scout Reservation, our first priority is always to promote the health and safety of our campers while adhering to Scouting’s values as stated in the Scout Oath and Law.”

Blah blah blah; question not answered.

21 years ago

Jul 11th, 2016 3:19 pm | By

The Srebrenica massacre was 21 years ago today.

The United Nations had declared Srebrenica a safe haven for civilians, but that didn’t prevent Serb soldiers from attacking the town they besieged for years. As they advanced on July 11, 1995, most of the town’s Muslim population rushed to the nearby UN compound hoping that the Dutch peacekeepers would protect them.

But the outnumbered and outgunned, peacekeepers watched helplessly as Muslim men and boys were separated for execution, while the women and girls were sent to Bosnian government-held territory. Nearly 15,000 residents tried to flee through the woods, but were hunted down and also killed.

The victims were buried in mass graves, which were dug up shortly after the war by the perpetrators and relocated in order to hide the crime. During the process, the half-decomposed remains were ripped apart by bulldozers. Body parts are still being found in more than 100 mass graves, put together and identified through DNA analysis.

21 years ago. Not more than 70, like the Holocaust, but just 21.

Peter Popham looked back a couple of months ago.

In late-1991 I spent a few days under bombardment in Croatia reporting on the civil war for The Independent, then moved on to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, to see if something similar was brewing there.

The locals were expansive, charming, bibulous and comprehensively reassuring. “What? Serbians, Bosniaks and Croatians turning on each other and killing each other?” The idea was laughable, I was told. This was a modern, sophisticated town full of mixed couples and families, where the bloody borders dividing Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim which had scarred the Balkans for centuries had been swallowed up and forgotten in happy modernity: first Tito, then European liberalism, had buried the region’s ugly history.

Yet within months the siege of Sarajevo was under way.

It can happen any time. It can happen anywhere and any time – no country or set of people is immune. It’s dreadful to admit that, and to be aware of it…but it’s dangerous not to.

Bosnian Serbians could not have picked up their guns and trained them on their Muslim and Croatian neighbours without believing they were doing something right and necessary.

The man who provided that belief, Radovan Karadzic, is now beginning the 40-year sentence handed down this week in The Hague. Charismatic, theatrical, a poet with something of the prophet and much of the charlatan about him, Karadzic was the right man in the right place, infusing his Serbian brethren with an intoxicating belief in their high racial destiny, involving a millennial conflict with the Muslims who, under the banner of the Ottomans, had inflicted that never-to-be-forgotten defeat at the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389.

We make a mistake if we see Karadzic as a unique monster. Figures like him are springing up and prospering right across the world, wherever the old state structures nourished by the post-war order totter. The viciousness of the historic divisions in the southern Balkans lent a fire-and-brimstone quality to the Karadzic rhetoric, just as the medieval touchstone of fundamental Islam justifies the barbarities promulgated by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of Isis. France’s Marie le Pen, Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Lega Nord each know how to apply the flame of rhetoric to the blue touchpaper of atavism. Each is as different as the clans to which they appeal, but all appeal to blood and soil. Civilisation as we know it was an awakening from such nightmares. These people lead us back into the dark.

Nigel Farage, Donald Trump.

They need to go back

Jul 11th, 2016 2:38 pm | By

Yarl’s Wood is cutting costs. We know what that means…

Staff are being replaced by “self-service kiosks” at the troubled Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre as the main way of driving through a £42m cut in the costs of a new Home Office contract to run the centre, it has been disclosed.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) published on Thursday also reveals that some women have refused to go on “humiliating” hospital visits after a tougher Home Office policy made it more likely they would be handcuffed on outside visits.

Handcuffs – as if immigration were a violent crime.

Let’s take a look back.

A former senior Serco official who worked inside the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre has alleged that an anti-immigration culture was “endemic” among staff, and that vulnerable women have been deported without their mental health being properly assessed.

The claims came after the Observer revealed last week that the private outsourcing giant is to be investigated by MPs when it was forced to disclose a secret internal report revealing evidence that it failed to properly investigate a claim of repeated sexual assaults by one of its staff against a female resident.

The whistleblower also claimed that another alleged case of sexual assault by a Serco member of staff occurred in August 2012, involving a particularly vulnerable detainee with profound psychological issues. It is understood she has since been deported.

The claims come from the first senior employee to have broken rank since the immigration detention centre – which is so tightly guarded that the Home Office recently banned the United Nations from entry – opened in 2001.

The whistleblower claims Yarl’s Wood is not fit for purpose and that he detected a culture of disbelief towards female detainees, claims which are rejected by Serco.

He said: “Officers would say openly: ‘They need to go back, they need to leave the country, they’re only coming here to use NHS resources.’ A common phrase was: ‘They’re only putting it on to block their removal.’ I’ve actually heard [senior staff] say: ‘These people are putting it on.’ It was endemic … even the senior management structures were saying this, it was a mindset.”

Oh well – now it’s all kiosks, so problem solved.

Brains and addiction

Jul 11th, 2016 12:08 pm | By

On Fresh Air a few days ago:

We’re going to talk about new ways of understanding and treating addiction. My guest, Maia Szalavitz, is the author of a book that examines scientific, behavioral and medical research about addiction. She says the methods of treatment and punishment haven’t caught up with the research.

Szalavitz is a journalist who’s been covering addiction and drug-related issues for nearly 30 years. She writes a column for VICE and has been a health reporter and columnist for Time magazine. She was addicted to cocaine and heroin from the age of 17 to 23. She stopped using in 1988, about two years after she was arrested and charged with cocaine possession. She faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years to life. A little later, she’ll explain why she never served time. Her new book about addiction is called “Unbroken Brain.”

GROSS: OK. So you were 17 when you started using hard drugs. And what do we know now about the brain development of teenagers and why teenagers are more vulnerable to becoming addicted?

SZALAVITZ: Well, there are three critical periods of brain development in the human. The first one is obviously prenatally. The second one is 0 to 5. And the third one is adolescence into young adulthood.

And what’s going on in the brain at that time is that the areas that give you drive and motivation and that get you out of the house and that get you seeking boyfriends and seeking friends and, you know, seeking to interact with your peers more than your parents – those areas are growing really strong.

And you are learning, you know, how to seek thrills and pleasure and how to maneuver amongst your peers and how to have relationships. Unfortunately, the stuff that develops later are the regions that are involved in self-control and in reining in that motivation and reining in that desire. So when you’re a teenager, you have sort of a very strong engine with weak brakes.

And the brakes don’t really develop until your 20s or so. And that means that if you are engaging in a highly pleasurable or highly comforting experience as a teenager, you’re going to be more likely to get addicted because your brakes aren’t developed that much yet.

Ah yes. I remember that teenage engine – that surge. I remember the way it used to rev itself sometimes with no road to run on. You know? Wild feelings with no very clear referent? “I want to…something…run away…somewhere…what do I want?” The link to addiction seems to make a lot of sense.

GROSS: So you quote a couple of things. You say 90 percent of all addictions begin during adolescence. And addiction is less common in people who use drugs for the first time after they’re 25. And addiction often remits with or without treatment among people in their 20s just as the brain becomes fully adult. What do you extrapolate from those statistics?

SZALAVITZ: Well – that this is a developmental disorder. And that there is a period of extreme risk. And this is not to say, of course, that you cannot become an addict later in life. But the most common time and the most likely time for you to develop an addiction is your teens and early 20s.

The teenage person isn’t the real person yet. Or, you could argue, the teenage person is the real person, before the fakery and caution and hypocrisy of the developed prefrontal cortex have tamed and limited her. I don’t buy the romantic view, myself: I prefer people with judgement and self-control over people with strong but self-centered feeeeeeeelings. I do think people are more their real selves as they gain judgement and experience.

And another thing that’s going on at that time is – if you aren’t using drugs or escaping into something else excessively at that time, you are developing social skills and self-soothing skills and other skills that allow you to live comfortably in your body. And if you spend that time escaping with drugs, you aren’t learning those other things – so that when you try to stop, you won’t have those ways of dealing available to you.

They go on to talk about “tough love,” and Szalavitz says it’s a crock of shit.

This notion of tough love and hitting bottom. It was two years after I got arrested that I got into treatment. After I got arrested, I got worse and worse. I didn’t hit bottom when I had the insight that allowed me to seek help. What I got at that point was some kind of hope that I could change.

And we have this idea that if we just are cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction that they will suddenly wake up and stop. And that is not the case. Addiction is actually defined by the DSM and by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as compulsive behavior that continues despite negative consequences. That’s the definition of addiction. So therefore, if punishment, which is just another word for negative consequences, worked to fight addiction, addiction actually wouldn’t exist.

And so we just have this thing so wrong. Addiction is a problem with learning from punishment, and we expect punishment to fix it. There’s something deeply wrong with that.

The harm reduction approach is much better, she says. Needle exchanges and respect; those work much better than “tough love.” Interventions can backfire – Kirt Cobain killed himself after an intervention. I did not know that, even though I drive past his house when I take Cooper for walks along Lake Washington. (You’d think I’d have picked it up as local knowledge, I mean.)

Then there’s a part where they talk about 12 step programs, and Gross keeps saying they’re very successful, which annoyed me because the stats for 12 step are terrible. It’s a huge myth that they succeed – they rarely do.

GROSS: So, you know, a lot of people have been able to give up their addiction, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, with the help of 12-step programs. And I think it’s fair to say a 12-step program helped you, although there are things that you found were not helpful within the program.

But you say, like, just relying on 12-step programs is the equivalent of saying to somebody who has cancer, we’re not going to give you any drugs. But here’s a self-help group. It’s really going to help you.

SZALAVITZ: I think the 12-step programs are fabulous self-help. I think they can be absolutely wonderful as support groups. My issue with 12-step programs is that 80 percent of addiction treatment in this country consists primarily of indoctrinating people into 12-step programs. And no other medical care in the United States is like that. We don’t tell people with cancer that you must learn to surrender to a higher power, to pray, to confess to your sins, to make restitution.

If you went to a doctor for cancer and you were told that, you would think that you had found a quack. But in addiction, if you go to a treatment center, you will be told this is the only way. And the alternative is jails, institutions or death. So what I think is that we need to have within professional treatment no 12-step content.

That too is a problem, but I don’t think they should be called fabulous self-help when they seldom work. I think I blogged about a long article on the subject in The Atlantic last year, including this stark passage:

In his recent book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor from Harvard Medical School, looked at Alcoholics Anonymous’s retention rates along with studies on sobriety and rates of active involvement (attending meetings regularly and working the program) among AA members. Based on these data, he put AA’s actual success rate somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. That is just a rough estimate, but it’s the most precise one I’ve been able to find.

Szalavitz explains why 12 step programs shouldn’t be pushed on people some more, and Gross just repeats the myth about their success.

That doesn’t mean that professional treatment can’t refer people to AA as a support group. But professional treatment should consist of things that you cannot get for free elsewhere. So it should consist of cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational enhancement therapy or any of a number of different talk therapies that help people with addiction. I am not saying if 12-step programs work for you, you should quit them and do something else.

I am saying that your oncologist is not your breast cancer support group.

GROSS: But, I mean, 12-step programs do help so many people.

No. They don’t. That’s a myth. (What’s the source of the myth? Why, 12-step programs!)

SZALAVITZ: The data shows that cognitive behavioral and motivational enhancement therapy are equally effective. And they have none of the issues around surrendering to a higher power or prayer or confession. I think that one of the problems with the primary 12-step approach that we’ve seen in addiction treatment is that because the 12 steps involve moral issues, it makes people think that addiction is a sin and not a disease.

The only treatment in medicine that involves prayer, restitution and confession is for addiction. That fact makes people think that addiction is a sin rather than a medical problem. I think that if we want to de-stigmatize addiction, we need to get the 12 steps out of professional treatment and put them where they belong as self-help.

And not very effective self-help at that. I think they should be seen as support groups and nothing more.

In the hands of strangers

Jul 10th, 2016 4:04 pm | By

Joanne Payton pointed out this article by Afak Afgun to me, on that issue of women being banned from funerals in some Muslim countries or cultures or both.

She starts with the loving relationship she had with her father, and his death at the age of 46.

It was after his death that I became more aware of my gender. I cannot forget the day I saw his dead body. This was not to be the worst part of my day. Random Pakistani adults were coming up to me, as the eldest child, and telling me that now I have to be the ‘son’- as if a daughter couldn’t do what a son could. My father had never made me feel inferior because of my gender. All of a sudden everyone around me was communicating that I should feel bad because I was a girl and not a boy. It was devastating to hear such insensitive comments thrown at me, disguised as ‘sincere advice’ when this tragedy had befallen my family. There was not just sorrow, but pity in people’s eyes. Why? Because our nuclear family now consisted of just females, and a five-year old boy. I had never felt so insecure, frustrated and helpless. The day my father died was the day when I became exposed to the misogyny and hypocrisy engrained within the patriarchal culture I belong to.

He protected her from the patriarchal culture, but once he was gone, it came crashing down on her. It takes a whole world to resist patriarchal culture.

Our voices were sidelined in all the decisions around the funeral. My father’s wish for a quiet grave by a lake was ignored because the men in my extended family preferred a funeral in Pakistan. My sisters and I protested, but we were told not to quibble over such a ‘trivial matter’. My mother, raised in this very traditional, conservative and patriarchal society, complied with the men of the family. She had her own fears to deal with. Fear of exclusion from the family, fear of being stranded in Pakistan, fear of losing the custody of her children: a sad reality of countless young divorcees and widows in Pakistan.

So she left the girls with an aunt in Norway while she and the boy went to the funeral in Pakistan.

Funerals are an essential ceremony in many cultures. Even though funerals might be a traumatizing experience for some, for many, it is a chance to say farewell, pay respects and take final goodbye with the loved ones. For my sisters and me, having this opportunity taken away from us was not just gross discrimination, but I believe also caused unnecessary suffering.

Like many religious ceremonies across the globe, traditional Islamic funerals are also influenced by androcentric interpretations. Traditionally, the women do not attend the gravesites nor take part in the burial rituals in many countries. A few years ago, I learned about Afghan women who buried a woman without men present, and how an American Muslim woman flouted at her local imam and attended her father’s funeral. This is when I fully understood the unfairness of male-centered ceremonies and its negative impacts on women. Sadly, many women from Muslim heritage unquestionably accept such forms of exclusion from meaningful ceremonies and rituals of life. I find this profoundly worrisome.

So do I. It’s an exclusion I hadn’t been aware of before, and I find it dreadfully sad.

It was my mother, sisters and I, who nurtured my sick father, and who loved him. It still doesn’t make sense to me that we had to leave him in hands of strangers just because we were women. Those men did nothing for him when he was alive. So why should they get the privilege of burying him? Just because they are men?

We need to do better.

It’s the preaching

Jul 10th, 2016 3:43 pm | By

Irshad Manji says why it’s not enough for apologists for Islam such as CAIR to condemn the slaughter at Pulse.


No good-bye for you

Jul 10th, 2016 11:12 am | By

I mentioned yesterday that the BBC photo of the crowd at Edhi’s funeral seemed to show only men. I’m now learning that in some majority-Muslim countries women are barred from all funerals, period. The Muslim Women’s League puts it this way:

The custom of excluding women from funeral ceremonies is a cultural tradition garbed in Islamic clothing that varies from one place to another, applied for example in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but not necessarily in Egypt or Syria. Iran, considered by several media in the West as the most fundamentalist state in the Middle East, does not bar women from attending funeral services.

I find that heart-breaking.

He helped everyone without distinction

Jul 10th, 2016 10:50 am | By

Kashif Chaudhry on Facebook:

Extremist “Khatme Nabuwwat” group warns Muslims against Abdul Sattar Edhi and donating to his charities. In another message three years ago (attached), they prayed for his death and cursed him, calling him a disbeliever and blasphemer. Reason: He helped everyone without distinction and praised the Ahmadiyya Muslim community’s humanitarian work across the world.

Edhi is Pakistan’s supreme pride. The shameless & extremist Khatme Nabuwat group should be called out for spreading hate and poison in young minds against one of the world’s leading humanitarians. He is far more Muslim in my mind than all these ignorant mullahs combined. ‪#‎EdhiMyHero‬

Religion, eh? Tribalism first, universalist humanitarianism nowhere.

A fundamentalist agenda that seeks to communalise law and social policy

Jul 10th, 2016 9:18 am | By

Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal explain the concerns behind the open letter to Teresa May on the Sharia inquiry.

In 2015, the UK government announced that it would hold an independent inquiry into the operation of Sharia Councils in the UK.  Predictably, some dismissed the move as yet another example of ‘Muslim bashing’ and ‘Islamophobia’ because it was located within the State’s counter- extremism strategy.

But some of us welcomed the inquiry precisely because it provided a vital and rare opportunity for the state to examine the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and extremism within black and minority communities in the UK, and its impact on gender equality and justice.

For years, many of us have been in the forefront of challenging minority religious fundamentalist and conservative forces, particularly Islamists, who want to legitimate the role of religion in the legal system. We have opposed the slow but insidious drip-drip effect of a fundamentalist agenda that seeks to communalise law and social policy in relation to women and family matters, bearing fruit in developments such as gender segregated seating in universities and the Law Society’s promulgation of ‘Sharia’ compliant legal guidance on inheritance. We have warned against those who tout Sharia or religious personal laws as alternative and ‘authentic’ forms of community mediation and governance: a profoundly regressive idea that has increasingly gained traction in this age of austerity and the state’s retreat from its promise to look after its citizens from the cradle to the grave.

We had hoped and understood that the inquiry into these alarming developments – that are conveniently ignored by some civil rights campaigners who decry state but not fundamentalist abuse of power – would be truly independent. However, we are now dismayed to learn that far from examining the key connections between religious fundamentalism and women’s rights, the narrow remit of the inquiry will render it a whitewash; and instead of human rights experts and campaigners, it is to be chaired and advised by theologians. The danger is that the inquiry is setting out with a pre-determined objective that will approve the expansion of the role of Sharia and religious arbitration forums and their jurisdiction over family matters in minority communities, albeit with a little tweaking to make it more palatable to the state.

Theology and human rights are fundamentally opposed. Human rights are human, secular, this world; they’re not about gods or “God.” The problems with religious laws and tribunals are human rights problems, so bringing in theologians to consult on them is quite the wrong way to go about it.

Those of us who work with abused and vulnerable women, largely from Muslim and other religious backgrounds, are alarmed by the prospect of a further slide towards privatised justice and parallel legal systems in the UK.  We know that in such systems vulnerable women and children will be even more removed from the protection of the rule of law and governance based on secular citizenship and human rights norms. These are norms that we, along with others worldwide, have struggled to establish within formal domestic and international legal systems.

At a time when we are threatened with the loss of the Human Rights Act, our concerns about the make up and terms of reference of the inquiry raise profound issues of constitutionality, legality and democratic accountability. It is for this reason, that an unprecedented number of women and human rights campaigners from across the world have come together to endorse the following open letter to Theresa May, the UK’s Home Secretary.

Then follows the open letter, which you’ve already seen.

Shamsia Hassani

Jul 10th, 2016 8:52 am | By

From A Mighty Girl:

A young Afghan street artist is helping transform Kabul’s war-torn walls into colorful canvases filled with messages of peace, hope, and female empowerment! 28-year-old Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female street artist, hopes to use her art to “cover all the bad memories of war from people’s minds with colors,” while at the same time promote women’s rights. “I want to show that women have returned to Afghan society with a new, stronger shape,” she says. “It’s not the woman who stays at home. It’s a new woman. A woman who is full of energy, who wants to start again.”

Hassani, who was born in Iran to Afghan refugee parents, moved to Afghanistan in 2005 to study Fine Art at Kabul University. She first started creating street art after a British graffiti artist named Chu held a workshop in Kabul in six years ago. Street art, she says, appealed to her because it is so accessible to the general public; “I think that graffiti is better because all people can see it and it is available for all time.” Although the Western world often considers graffiti a crime, in Afghanistan, where there are few art galleries but plenty of blank walls, graffiti and street art are embraced as an opportunity to make cities more beautiful.

There’s a difference between graffiti and street art aka murals, isn’t there?

Hassani, who also teaches graffiti at the University of Kabul, adds that “life as a female street artist poses particular problems when people who believe women should be in the home see her at work. “I worry all the time about security problems when I am in the street,” she says, “and maybe that something will happen, and I am afraid that I should leave.” But she is determined to continue spreading her art as a message of hope: “If I color over these bad memories, then I erase [war] from people’s minds. I want to make Afghanistan famous because of its art, not its war.”

In particular, Hassani intends to continue using her art to highlight women’s issues. “In the past, women were removed from society and they wanted women to stay only at home and wanted to forget about women,” she says. “Now, I want to use my paintings to remind people about women… I am painting them larger than life. I want to say that people look at them differently now.”

You can see more images of Hassani’s graffiti series on HuffPost — or follow her on Facebook at Shamsia Hassani.