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Thursday 28 March 2013

Postcript: Outing and 'positive images' in Hollywood

In this post, reflecting on discussion of 'positive images' in mainstream movies, I noted how:
Something like William Friedkin's Cruising can now be looked at by bleeding-edge film-maker James Franco as a sexy artefact to be examined. Back then it was yet another movie in which gay people receive their just desserts: death. Both that and the now seen as camp Basic Instinct, made 12 years after Cruising, attracted demonstrations when they were being filmed.
Huffington Post reports that Friedkin, like Silence of The Lambs director Jonathan Demme before him, has now expressed regrets.
I thought there might be some negative criticism of it, but I thought that that would come from more of the so-called 'straight community' who were not used to seeing those events depicted. To be accurate, the film was about the S&M world. It was a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the S&M world at that time, in the late-seventies. It was not about the gay community at all. But, here's the historical fact about it. Gay liberation had begun to make powerful steps forward and I'm sure when 'Cruising' came out, it was not the best foot forward for gay liberation. I recognize that in hindsight but I didn't at the time.
To say the movie is "not about the gay community" is disingenuous to say the least but, hey ho, regret ...

Exporting American homophobia

One of the criticisms which you sometimes hear from 'global south', particularly African activists, about international LGBT activism as well as Western media is the failure to tackle Western religious groups and their interventions.

I thought of this whilst reading an extremely detailed post by Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest, and Jandira Queiroz, a Brazilian activist, about the activities of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). This multi-million dollar organisation, founded by US televangelist Pat Robertson, is actively funding and organising anti-LGBT efforts in Zimbabwe, Kenya and elsewhere in Africa and now, the article reports, in Brazil:
Filipe Coelho, director of the newly formed Brazilian Center for Law and Justice (BCLJ) and a friend of the Sekulows from his time studying in the U.S., says ACLJ decided to open an office in his country after discovering last year "how strong evangelical power is within Brazilian politics." A well-connected evangelical in the rapidly growing Assemblies of God church, Coelho was able to arrange a meeting for Jordan Sekulow with Brazil's vice president on 48 hours' notice. With more than 40 million people identifying themselves as evangelical in Brazil, the world's second-largest predominantly Christian country (after the U.S.), it presents a tempting prize for ACLJ expansion.
Though Brazil boasts the largest Pride parade in the world, it may come as a surprise that same-sex couples cannot marry or adopt and lack constitutional protections. In 2011 Rev. Silas Malafaia, pastor of the nearly 20,000-member Victory in Christ Assemblies of God church and vice president of the Interdenominational Council of Evangelical Ministers in Brazil (CIMEB), mobilized thousands to march through the capital city of Brasilia against a bill that would have extended protections to cover sexual orientation. After the Pride parade the same year, Rev. Malafaia, a family friend of the Sekulows and Coelhos, told listeners of his television show that the Catholic Church should "beat [literally 'stick'] down those gay activists" for using saints' images on posters.
Facing language like this, for 11 years Brazil's LGBTQ movement has unsuccessfully promoted an anti-homophobia bill that would make discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor in hate crimes and speech. Evangelicals perceive this as a threat to their "religious liberty" to preach on national television that homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God. When Rev. Malafaia, who calls himself "public enemy No. 1 of the gay movement" and leads "crusades," asked his audience in 2009 to vote against the anti-homophobia bill, in a poll posted on the Senate's webpage, there were half a million "no" clicks in less than a week. His Twitter followers number close to half a million.
Brazil has some of the highest reported rates of anti-LGBT violence in the world. In 2011 I reported on how:
Thousands of Twitterers [are] expressing support for homophobic attacks on LGBT using the slogan "Homophobia? Yes!" (#homofobiasim, see English translation of tweets, some of which are explicitly pro-violence, pro-'corrective rape' of lesbians) or used the number of the proposed hate crimes law (yes=#PL122Sim, No=#PL122Nao).
Say Kaoma and Queiroz:
The ACLJ typically hires local staff for its international offices to mask the U.S. origins of their assault on LGBTQ and reproductive rights, while hypocritically using that façade to attack human rights advocacy as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on the country in question.
Warren Throckmorton has reported on another, similar organisation, Family Watch International (FWI). That group is particularly active at the United Nations, where LGBT activists have had a long presence and have been slowly gaining victories. FWI has worked with Islamic countries, including Iran, in opposition to UN resolutions calling for decriminalization of homosexuality and opposing violence against LGBT.

FWI President Sharon Slater has said that:
Iran is one of the strongest nations in standing up for family values at the UN.
Throckmorton reports that FWI has held conferences to "immerse UN delegates in U.S. right wing culture war talking points about homosexuality." This means working with discredited groups preaching the snake oil of conversion therapy like the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

American-sourced ideas that sexuality can be changed, so-called conversion or 'reparative' therapy, has gone around the world, popping up from Hong Kong to Ecuador.

Throckmorton, an evangelical who is professor at a liberal arts Christian college and has been a leading reporter on Uganda's 'Kill the gays' bill and 'reparative' therapy, had a message for fellow American Christians:
Social conservatives who generally support “pro-family” causes should take pause to consider what being pro-family means in a country like Uganda or Nigeria, where the conservative position is to detain gays on suspicion of homosexual behavior and then threaten them with jail or stoning.

David Miliband and refugees: some context

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2010 about Labour's record on LGBT international human rights and LGBT refugees. To contextualize, we had just come off an election campaign in which Labour had paraded its LGBT credentials and I had tried to take them down a peg or two, see this article. Having worked closely with Iraqi refugees their reaction on that issue in particular made my blood boil. Hence the tone.

Just after that time I spoke with a lesbian woman who made a lot of allegations regarding the IRC (International Rescue Committee, one of the world's big refugee support groups), the organisation that David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary, Labour leadership candidate and Ttony Blair prodigy, is going to work for. In particular she talked about an appalling episode of mismanagement similar to the one experienced by two Iraqi gay refugees sent to Texas. Nothing ended up resulting from her allegations, as usually occurs, though I had connected her with interested American journalists and a whistleblower support organisation.

On a side note, a journalist friend of mine told me that the IRC had a long and unsavory history during the Cold War as a major front group for the CIA, which all came out on the public record during the 1974 Senate special committee investigating intelligence abuses hearings. This is covered in Eric Thomas Chester's book 'Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee, and the CIA'.

Groups like IRC have an enormous potential to aid LGBT refugees, as LGBT specific aid groups are tiny in comparison. And that is worldwide potential. There are LGBT refugees in the biggest refugee camps in the world, like Daabab in Kenya.

The big refugee assistance groups have shifted at the top over the past few years to recognition of that LGBT assistance role but it may be different at the coalface, hence an episode like the one reported to me regarding the Iraqis can repeat. So that makes leadership important. And so in that respect Miliband still has an opportunity to effect LGBT issues internationally, just as he did at the Foreign Office. Remains to be seen whether he follows through. Here's a bit of alternative history on Miliband's record for consideration if you're punting.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Foreign Office and LGBT human rights: fake concern from shameless Labour

Wednesday 27 March 2013

*Northern Ireland only: Why is the BBC ghettoising the Troubles?

Why is excellent TV about the Troubles, the war in Northern Ireland and Britain, only shown in Northern Ireland?

This month the BBC broadcast a fascinating and moving documentary, from which the above image comes. It is one of the most famous photographs of the whole war. It shows the priest Fr Alec Reid administering the last rites to a dying soldier, who had strayed into the wrong place and been beaten to death and shot by the IRA.

The documentary was '14 Days' and covers a fortnight during which the British state shot three IRA members in cold blood in Gibraltar, then their funeral was attacked by a Loyalist gunman and then two soldiers were killed. When he was administering to the soldier Fr Reid had in his pocket a letter which he was carrying in his capacity as a go between. Reid was one of the earliest actors to attempt to bring together key parties to try to get a ceasefire, that letter was from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to the leader of the 'moderate Catholic' SDLP, John Hume.

The film uses the device of those two weeks and the focus on one man to try to tell a bigger story of how individuals can have great impacts during momentous times, times when all hope appears lost. It's cinematic and has many powerful images like the one above, the capturing of which itself forms part of the narrative.

'14 Days' is not without its problems.

Professor John D Brewer writes that Reid's pain as he relives this time is seen in his face but it isn't properly explained in the film:
I am certain that what peaceful future Northern Ireland has is down in no small measure to the courageous individuals like Father Reid in the churches who brought paramilitaries, politicians, civil society and others together in sacred spaces.They were not all Catholic clerics. Many were Protestants. We glimpsed in 14 Days the equally seismic role of clergy like Harold Good, Ken Newell and others, working alongside or in parallel to Father Reid.

But there was one thing we didn’t get from this otherwise excellent programme. The Catholic and Protestant clergy more or less acted on their own authority, outside the conservative, cautious institutional church. They were mavericks, independents, easily left out on a limb when the secret back-channel dialogue they were facilitating became public and the institutional church disowned them.

Father Reid was pilloried by the Catholic Church – as was Ken Newell by some of his fellow Presbyterians. Only the Methodist Church gave its peacemakers something approaching official backing. And that is why Father Reid paid such an emotional price for his compassionate commitment to peacemaking.


The institutional churches did not perform with honour in trying to establish peace and relegated themselves to burying the dead and comforting the widows. The job of getting their hands dirty was left to a select brave few and it is appropriate to echo that never before was so much owed by so many to so few.
Mick Fealty, aka the blogger Slugger O'Toole, spoke with me about the film and echoed Brewer's criticism. Fealty said that a "more penetrating documentary would have looked in more depth at the context and the deaths of the three on Gibraltar to see where the political story was."

In that famous photo, Reid was carrying, says Brewer, "the first draft of the eventual blueprint that evolved later into the Downing Street Declaration and thence the Belfast Agreement." The 1998 Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, reestablished devolved government on the basis of power sharing.

But this version of history leads on to another problem, says Fealty, and one which comes back to the problem of British TV viewers not hearing about Northern Ireland. "I think it ['14 Days'] suffers from 'Peace Processism'", says Fealty. "This place is in a sustained state of cold war."

Brits don't want to know

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Canberra memories

The 100th birthday of Australia's capital Canberra has seen a lot of debate about the place. Not least on the BBC, after an article called it "dull and devoid of soul".

It's also seen a lot of history discussed, such as where its pronunciation came from (the Lady who pronounced it Can-berra at the opening ceremony), what the name means (much amusement about alleged 'tits' reference to local aboriginal names for mountains), how it was built for trams but, like most places of the era, got cars instead, how the building of it really only started in the 1960s and Malcolm Farr in Punch, who says it lacks "flesh and blood" because the humanity of those who built it has been deliberately removed:
There is a strange belief elsewhere in Australia that Canberra simply happened, as if it fell from the sky in final form, complete with clipped hedges and pampered inhabitants.

Thousands of people bent their backs to the task of carving Canberra from a group of farms. These people should be recognised because without them there would not be a centenary to celebrate.
Argues Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Age:
What was splendid in the vision was sterile in the living. [Canberra architect Walter Burley] Griffin had designed a city that pre-empted the primacy of the car, which was both prophetic and pathetic. Instead of a tightly knit centre, six (now seven) small districts emerged, separated by vast space and ill-connected by public transport. Between these centres lies mandated green space, which is pretty for tourists but pushes locals apart, limits land availability and drives up property prices.

All of which demonstrates the cruel irony of Griffin's vision of a ''humanised'' city - a vision that demands some of the lowest density living among our capital cities. Griffin applied to his canvas a vision that sought splendour in empty roads and monuments, rather than in the people that would inhabit it.

It's as if Griffin had unwittingly designed Superman's Fortress of Solitude for wonks and staffers.
My memories of Canberra are of a place exactly with humanity removed. There is not only no roadside advertising but shops and petrol stations are behind hedges, like something which needs to disguised. Everything is zoned to within an inch, Sim City on steroids. At that time it was the only place porn could be legally purchased in the country, but you had to go to the industrial zone near the airport, Fyshwick. The train station was nowhere near the city centre.

Getting around by car from my memory was stunningly quick, all the way across town in thirty minutes (though I read locals complaints now of traffic jams) and then there was the utter un-walkability of the central area where all the attractions lie. But also how amazing many of those attractions are, with particularly fond memories of the National Gallery.

The Gallery has Nolan, Streeton, Boyd, Roberts, Drysdale and Pollack, Matisse, Warhol, Rothko. But for my money its most striking work is the first thing you see as you walk in, the Aboriginal Memorial, a beautiful installation of 200 hollow log coffins from Central Arnhem Land. It was installed in the bicentennial year of 1988, a time of great anger and sorrow. 'Reconciliation' wasn't an idea then, Aboriginal art itself had yet to make much of a mark on the art world.

The Memorial was created by an Aboriginal man who was in part inspired by John Pilger's 1985 documentary 'The Secret Country', which covers the wars and massacres which came with the invasion. That history still lies largely buried, both in actuality as well as in the Australian psyche.

Canberra has a huge War Memorial and museum, Australia in general has almost nothing memorialising the tens of thousands who perished as their country was taken over.

Outing and 'positive images' in Hollywood

A speech last week arguing for an end to anti-LGBT stereotypes by a Hollywood studio leader has received much attention. Amy Pascal, chair of Sony Pictures, said:
Old stereotypes still exist. The most benign stereotypes would have a gay kid believe that they will end up being the asexual, witty best friend of the pretty girl, or a drag queen, or a swishy hairdresser. The list goes on.

Of course, there are great images, too, like the family in The Kids Are All Right. The way the boy in Perks of Being a Wallflower and the middle-aged man in Hotel Marigold and the 75-year-old man in Beginners come out to a better, richer, more fulfilled life. It’s treated as a celebration.
I hated The Kids Are All Right. I hated the people depicted, just the worst sort of self-absorbed Californian liberals, I hated the dialogue, but what I most hated was how they treated the help, the Hispanic gardener, something which received no comment in any review I saw. So, one persons 'positive image' is anothers waste of time and money.

Pascal led off by citing The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo's seminal history of gay representation at the movies. Tellingly, Pascal referred to the documentary, not the book.

Russo's book is about how representation was there right from the beginning of cinema, if you knew where to look. But in the later years Celluloid Closet shows how so much of this became relentlessly negative. This is hardly surprising. Just as is happening now in Africa, increasing gay visibility in the United States at that time created a backlash.

I thought of this time when reading Richard Smith's take on Pascal's speech:
It's a bit simplistic and resurrects a rather tired 80s argument about "positive images" in popular culture. Haven't we got over this by now?
During those 'tired' 80s and well into the 90s, Hollywood representation became a leading gay political issue. This was the time of the AIDS crisis, of Act-Up civil disobedience, and of a movement challenging Hollywood on the streets. There were protests at the Oscars, twice. Location filming was disturbed.

The power of the culture to impact facts on the ground is self-evident now, when we see something like the Vice President of the United States citing TV show Will and Grace for why he changed his view on marriage.

Actor Wilson Cruz, who starred on cult classic TV series My So-Called Life in the 1990s, explained on Melissa Harris Perry:
We cannot overstate how powerful that is when someone walks through a story and experiences a life on their television screens in their home. They really understood who we are as a people. So now they're voters. Now they're legislators and running the country. So story is important because we get into the heart and the mind of people.
Back then the power of the culture was self-evident too, if only to some, and that was because the negativity was relentless. Something like William Friedkin's Cruising can now be looked at by bleeding-edge film-maker James Franco as a sexy artefact to be examined. Back then it was yet another movie in which gay people receive their just desserts: death. Both that and the now seen as camp Basic Instinct, made 12 years after Cruising, attracted demonstrations when they were being filmed.

'Inning' Jodie Foster

Sunday 24 March 2013

Follow up: The Lucy Meadows bandwagon

Some comment and interaction about my post deserves follow-up.

I tweeted at two advisory board members: Paul Hilder (Oxfam), and; John Wood (TUC). No response yet, if it comes I will add it here.
Update: Kaytee Riek, Campaign Manager, at the SumOfUs New York office emailed me, referred to my tweet to the Board members and said that she'd "be happy to talk with you about your concerns". I reminded Riek of my point on consultation and that some trans people were suggesting caution. I asked again why their petition was launched in competition with an existing petition and why the initial PR was so bad.

I haven't heard back from her but following today's (Wednesday's) delivery of 200,000 signatures new PR from them reflects a change in no longer directly blaming Littlejohn for the suicide, instead it talks of his "connection to the tragic death of transgender schoolteacher Lucy Meadows". It also says that he and the Daily Mail have "become focal points of outrage over an abusive press."

I didn't sign the petition so haven't seen this but there are claims of fundraising emails to signatories.

The petitioner has also been in touch - you can read his comments at the re-post of my post. If he responds to my email I will post anything relevant.
Meadows' MP, Graham Jones, in a long interaction with me, pointed out that:
The Leveson debate was too often glowing about the innocence of local newspapers.
Jones suffered his own 'reputational damage' through local media last year when he was falsely accused of intimidating voters.

Liz Gerard on her blog gives an example of how local media can, and maybe should, cover the same sort of situation to the Lucy Meadows' one, this time in Chelmsford. She generally praises the consideration but not the front page headlining (pictured).

Then Essex Chronicle Editor Alan Geere wrote about how he wrestled over the story in a blog post.

A Google search on the Accrington Observer has their last 'gay' article at more than five years old. Reader Norena Shopland wrote to say:
Last year I put together the first history of LGBT in Wales and during my research I did a survey on the number of 'local' titles owned by groups such as Tindle, Trinity, etc. Most have a search engine from 2000 onwards and my survey consisted of standard keywords but the results were almost non-existent - they rarely if ever published any LGBT news. Even when laws were changed! There was only the occasional article which, like this one, was negative.
At least one person will not be buying the Accrington Observer or the Lancashire Telegraph again after reading my post.

In another bit of local input, Julie Carpenter writes:
I agree that not enough emphasis has been made on the local and other press behaviour over this, and I tried with my little twitter account to raise that yesterday. I even posted on the Accrington Observer's comments, but oddly there was a cull of any posts that criticised their involvement and it (and other) posts doing the same disappeared after a few hours.

There is a huge 'anti-DM' movement and it's a shame they have pinned themselves to the coat tails of this. I guess Littlejohn makes a good pantomime villain and it has raised awareness, but there is a risk that the core point about the on-the-ground behaviour of the press is getting lost in the calls for his sacking.
Former "news agency hack" Dan Waddell has contacted both the Accrington Observer journalist Stuart Pike and the quoted aggrieved parent and had no response. He suggests from experience that Pike spun the original 'non'-story. But this wasn't enough for the Daily Mail so a local news agency added more spin. Waddell goes into great detail about the history of this story, with follow up here.

"The story of Lucy Meadows death is a tragedy. The story of how her story was reported in the newspapers is very revealing about how the press operates," Waddell writes.

In a echo of the Mail's removal of Littlejohn's bile:
The Accrington Observer's Twitter feed usually promotes their front page and other stories each week. In the week of the Lucy Meadows story nothing at all was tweeted. Looking through the timeline, I can't find another week where that's the case. Anyone would think there was a story in their newspaper they might be ashamed of.
Waddell also notes that:
Stuart Pike tweeted about Lucy's death. There was no acknowledgement of his involvement, the previous story he wrote, or any remorse. Just a matter of fact link to the news story in the paper.
David Allen Green, whose tweets have driven much of the traffic to my post, described it as "balanced and measured" and resummarised it as follows:
You think the Lucy Meadows case is just about bashing Littllejohn?
He noted that journalist Amanda Kendal has argued that:
.. however much Littlejohn himself was bang out of order, he is far from unique and he is not ‘The Problem’. Were Littlejohn to disappear off the face of the Earth tomorrow, transphobia would not be consigned to history with him.

We need a cultural change in attitudes toward trans people – indeed, toward both sex and sexuality as a whole.
Indeed. Worth noting that journalist David Banks tweeted earlier a link to the Samaritans media guidelines which, amongst other things, notes:
Avoid simplistic explanations for suicide

Although a catalyst may appear to be obvious, suicide is never the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several inter-related causes. Accounts which try to explain a suicide on the basis of a single incident, for example unrequited romantic feelings, should be challenged. Where relevant, news features could be used to provide more detailed analysis of the reasons behind the rise in suicides.
Martin Robbins in the New Statesman has linked to my post and followed some of my points. He also got this quote from Trans Media Watch:
We understand the anger behind calls for Richard Littlejohn to be sacked. He has persistently belittled trans people in his columns, but we feel that the real problem is bigger than one man and we don't want to see him become a scapegoat, allowing others to avoid responsibility.
David Allen Green has compiled 'What we know and what we don’t know about the death of Lucy Meadows'.

Music · Giorgio Moroder · New (old!) product

Giorgio Moroder is one of the most famous and influential disco producers, although the kidz all appear to know of him just because of Daft Punk and not because of Donna Summer's seminal 'I Feel Love' (which is embedded after the break).

CoS reports that Moroder, now 72, is releasing a whole stack of tracks from The Time Before Disco: Schlagermoroder (Volume 1: 1966-1975). And the lot, plus some later tracks, can be heard, for free, on Soundcloud. “Enjoy my tracks, some of them are rare," says he.

CoS highlights:
.. an extended version of Scarface‘s “Push It to the Limit” which soundtracked what’s  arguably the most quintessential ’80s montage in the history of filmmaking.
That is one maaajorly remixed track (not a fan).

Moroder's theme from Midnight Express, one more oldie but funky goldie, plus I Feel Love and two newly re-released tracks after the jump:

Saturday 23 March 2013

The Lucy Meadows bandwagon

Like numerous other, similar instances in the UK, the death of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows appears to have been hijacked by people with an agenda other than the welfare of the people concerned.

In particular, the scandal's focus has been shifted onto the Daily Mail and their £1million RWNJ (right wing nut job) columnist Richard Littlejohn.

In his column, Littlejohn said a lot of vile and ignorant things but he did not actually call for Meadows to be sacked. And now, as the New Statesman columnist and legal bod David Allen Green has pointed out, we can see from what evidence there is that media harassment of Meadows and the school, including of parents, is sourced to elsewhere in the press and that Meadows never referred to Littlejohn's column.

But the focus has been onto the Mail firing Littlejohn as some sort of trophy head-on-a-spike that'll teach 'em about how to treat transgender people. But this isn't how those actually engaged at the coal face in trying to change the media's approach see the way forward.

Instead, writes Trans Media Watch, who presented a very detailed report to the Leveson Inquiry (which Allen Green helped draft):
As a charity we prefer to build positive relationships and bring about change through education, providing training and resources for media.

Littlejohn is a pantomime hate figure, he is pretty much employed to do that job! But he doesn't represent the sort of doorstepping and agenda driven reporting which is cited in what evidence exists as to what Meadows' possible state of mind was prior to her apparent suicide. That comes back to the local newspaper, which is owned by Trinity Mirror not Associated Newspapers, the Daily Mail's owner. Trinity Mirror must be breathing a sign of relief that no shit seems to have stuck to them

Before this evidence came out perhaps it was natural for people who want-to-do-something to start a petition and, lo, so it came, via an interesting choice.

The petition to fire Littlejohn was on, a US based company which is expanding around the world, the UK being an early expansion target. is an enormous operation and it is for profit. It is assumed to be progressive but that was exposed last year when it agreed to promote campaigns against the Chicago teacher's strike.

There is a lot of competition when it comes to 'clicktivism' (typically meaning the signing of online petitions). The resultant lists of email addresses have great value and can be used to generate revenue from 'partners'. Most companies in this game say they have some sort of ethical basis for who they will work with - now insist they never claimed they had. But the game is the same, generate clicks/signatures to build up your 'clicktivism' outfit.

So it is telling that over Lucy Meadows a Brit chose to go first to rather than a British competitor.

It is also telling that another group has decided to set up in competition with over Lucy Meadows and Littlejohn. These are the people, note their UK Advisory Board members - especially people from the TUC and Oxfam. This is how it describes itself: is a global movement of consumers, investors, and workers all around the world, standing together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable and just path for our global economy. seems to be a split from other US, probably just Silicon Alley New York, based groups. The publicity I received for their 'Fire Littlejohn!' petition came from someone who had done PR before for the LGBT 'clictivism', New York-based group

Their publicity was headlined:
Thousands Outraged After Daily Mail Reporters’ Bullying Leads to Teacher’s Suicide
'Leads to ..'? Littlejohn a 'reporter'?

I have worked with AllOut and one of the things I liked about them was that they were very careful to work with groups on the ground, for example in Uganda and Brazil. I am very much reminded of that careful work, particularly in Uganda, when I note that this petition plainly has no connection with Trans Media Watch. It's just bandwagon jumping and very ethically dodgy, no matter how you slice it, because this would build a mostly UK list and that has value and that gets funds for the group.

How it actually helps transgender people in the UK and not just is not clear, unless those involved think their 'global movement' can decide what actions will help without any apparent consultation?

WTF are the TUC and Oxfam thinking?

Pike's angry parent find
Added: The journalist who first 'monstered' Meadows is Stuart Pike of the Accrington Observer.

He was the one who went out of his way to find controversy and an angry parent, which was the picture (seen right) accompanying his story.

Pike's story is then what was repeated by the Daily Mail, which was then covered by Littlejohn. Yet Pike's possible breach of journalistic ethics has had no consequences, for either him or his Trinity Mirror owned Newspaper. He hasn't even been targeted on Twitter.

Irony of ironies, Pike appears to have a relationship with Alastair Campbell, who is singled out as a shit-stirrer in the Mail's response to the call to sack Littlejohn.

» » Follow up on reaction to this post is here.

Friday 22 March 2013

A modest proposal on language

David Shariatmadari has an interesting piece 'The language of LGBT love' in the Guardian.

He looks at an update of a film made about young gay people in London in the 1980s for the current London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

That GLC-funded, Daily Mail provoking, three decade old film he found striking in its innocence of language, of how people described themselves and their lives. Whereas today ...
... what stood out was the way they talked.

Translated into 2013ese, the blunt vox-popping of shoppers ("D'you know any lesbians?") morphs into something more postmodern ("Do you know anyone who self-identifies as LGBT?"). This generation namechecks "genderfluidity" and appears to embrace "questioning" (the last word in the variant LGBTQ) as an identity, as opposed to a phase, or a state of mind. In spite of claiming they want to get away from definitions and labels, to avoid "putting people in boxes", they reflect an online culture that finds room for the asexual, the pansexual, the heteroflexible and the demisexual. The boxes haven't gone away, they've just got smaller. Personal definitions are listed, menu-like, in that vast banqueting hall of the self that is social media.
Someone should really do a timeline on when and how this overwhelming, alphabet soup of PC language descended on us.

A couple of things struck me.

'Queer' is a vile term. Much of my and earlier generations of gay men got killed off by Iris the Virus, so less around to complain then, but all those still standing remember what that term meant and it still sends a shudder up my spine. It seems a bit ridiculous to, on the one hand, hear today's activists paying tribute to those who went before and, on the other hand, hear this hideous word still used in polite company, let alone 'reclaimed', whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean (by whom? who for?).

Both Ellen (DeGeneres) and (Rachel) Maddow, two of the most famous lesbians in the word, to pick off the top of my head, refer to themselves as 'gay'. Everyone knows what they mean.

So here's the proposal, drop 'LGBTQIetc' and just use 'gay'. Everyone knows what you mean because we went through all that stuff which a timeline should be written about and now everyone knows that 'gay' does not mean just 'gay men' -- the reason this process started in the first place and why we now have the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. 'Gay' = that whole 'alphabet soup' plus 'heteroflexible' and whatever the next flavour-of-the-month term comes out of some University.


HT: Fagburn
Image: Uly's Comics

Thursday 21 March 2013

Arabic Wikipedia vs conspiracy theories?

One of the reasons why the Youtube anti-Muslim video became the source for massive, violent demonstrations last year was because people could not believe it wasn't 'government approved', a conspiracy.

A Demos researcher, Jamie Bartlett, wrote last year for the New York Times:
When Americans visit the Middle East or the broader Islamic world, they are often struck by the vitality of public interest and discussion about world affairs. Less comfortably, they often find the public to be cynical about Western interests, and quick to believe that shadowy groups control the world: that a cabal of Jews was responsible for 9/11 or that the C.I.A. instigated the Arab Spring for oil access.

This is not a stereotype, but a fact of Middle Eastern cultures – and a fact that Western nations must reckon with. Conspiracy theories of this type are ubiquitous in the region.
Conspiracy theories are not the only reason such people might distrust 'the West', as Stephen M. Walt points out angrily here in Foreign Policy. But it is nevertheless pleasing to read in Global Post of a massive expansion in Arabic Wikipedia and a rapidly growing project linking academia with the encyclopedia.

Bartlett points out that:
Skepticism is usual and healthy, but conspiracy theories inspire a generalized, knee-jerk cynical mistrust.
That Wikipedia is linking up in this way, in this part of the world could have the potential to seriously undermine the conspiracy brokers.

The Post article says that universities in Ukraine, Poland and Egypt are encouraging their students to post their thesis as Wikipedia entries.
Although critics warn that Wikipedia articles are no substitute for rigorous academic papers, supporters say more than simply putting more information at public disposal, erasing boundaries between the internet and academia will invigorate scholarship by enabling it to benefit everyone.

"Contributing to Wikipedia considerably increases students' motivation since their articles can be read by the whole world, not just their teachers or supervisors," argues Sergei Petrov, one of the Wikipedia project coordinators in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute ran a test program during its last fall that produced 23 new or expanded articles on Wikipedia Ukraine.

Since anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, point out mistakes or improve an article's structure, the argument goes, thousands of reviewers could lighten the load for college professors by helping out.
The one area, critics say, in which this idea may not work is social science.
Launched two years ago, the Wikipedia Education Program encourages professors around the world to assign writing entries as class work.

The program has helped produce nearly 6,000 pages of published content in its first year and almost double that in the second, thanks to a growing flock of volunteers and more than 3,500 trained new editors.
Says the Post, maybe a little hyperbolically:
Twitter arguably started the Arab Spring, but it will be up to Wikipedia to keep it going.

HT: Andy Mabbett

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Home Office bans access to annoying web forum

A few years ago I was around when Whitehall webbies drew up guidance on social media use.

At the time the guidance was well received by everybody. It was common sensical, it was written in plain English, it fulfilled its brief -- it didn't piss off any interests. Blogging was being developed across government, seen as an existential part of communications.

Here's what that has turned into at the Foreign Office and here's my old mucker Jeremy Gould, one of the men from the Ministry who pushed it all along, covering its early development.

That straightforward guidance has been developed on, applied elsewhere, and here [pdf] is what was drawn up by civil servants at the Ministry of Justice and it covers judges, amongst others.

Now, the Home Office has decided that those judges cannot write anonymous comments, perhaps even read them, on this forum and this forum alone:
The Free Movement forum is a private, progressive space in which immigration lawyers, campaigners, academics, students and select others can help one another and discuss any or all immigration, asylum, nationality and human rights law questions and policy. It is restricted to members only and cannot be viewed by the public. It is not open to those who work for or with the Home Office.
You think this forum's Home Office worker ban might have something to do with it?

One is reminded of the playground. The guy behind the forum correctly labels this action "hysterical overkill":
Singling out particular websites for banning orders probably isn’t the right way forward. It is flattering to think that Free Movement is a special case in some way because of its wide readership amongst immigration lawyers and judges. It is just a blog and forum after all, though, not a cesspit of moral turpitude. Will a blacklist of other banned sites be maintained somewhere? Are immigration judges also to be banned from socialising where only claimant lawyers are present at a gathering? Will they be forbidden from being in the same room as a Home Office Presenting Officer where no one else is present? Will they be banned from professional or other organisations from which Home Office civil servants are excluded? What about judges in other areas of law?
They also block Free Movement forum and blog access for immigration detainees. Can't have the illegals communicating, or reading certain information can we?
The ban seems a shame. Some interesting tidbits are emerging on the forum already ... Immigration judges remain welcome readers of the main blog, at least so long as they aren’t banned from looking at it as well.
I wouldn't put it past them ...

Setting up gays vs black women

The wonderful writer on HIV, Elizabeth Pisani, points me at a BBC radio journalist, Paul Henley's, piece on Russian homophobia.
Without whining, Henley gives a wonderful flavour of what it is to be hated by people who don’t even know that they hate you. For me, the encouraging thing about this story is that the wall of hostility that Henley is obliged to bang his head against in Russia is new to him. Had he been born even 30 years earlier in the UK (and maybe still now in many parts of the United States) the blanket of homophobia would be woven, consciously or not, willingly or not, in to his life and his soul.
Henley's sexuality is relevant to the story and his sexuality brings a flavour to the story which couldn't come from a heterosexual journalist.

He only brings it up because it is relevant. His listeners would not know, for all mainstream media journalists this would be true. Until it becomes relevant no one would guess.

This brings me to the Salon and MSNBC journalist Steve Kornacki, who came out last year in a piece about being the opposite of a stereotype of a gay man. He's a sports nerd and not the world's snappiest dresser.

On the daytime MSNBC show he's part of the team, the nerd who brings up obscure political history. His sexuality is mentioned only when its relevant. MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, who is lesbian, similarly rarely brings it up but like Kornacki never acts closeted, Maddow will mention her partner where relevant.

Schedule changes opened up the weekend morning slot this week, where Chris Hayes has built a crowd for the intelligent and in-depth Up. Hayes moved on, who would replace him?

Kornacki got the job.

I noticed a lot of complaining on Twitter. People instead wanted the job to go to Joy Reid, who is black and has ably stood in before for Melissa Harris-Perry on her show, which follows Up.

Some wanted Reid on her merits (I actually agree, for the format I'd bet she'd do it better) but the argument which made me grind my teeth, even when it was pointed out that he is gay, was that Kornacki getting the job was a blow against 'diversity'.

Since when were white gay men excluded from notions of 'diversity'? If you want the sort of 'diverse perspective' which something like Henley's piece exemplifies, or which you get from a gay or lesbian presence in choosing what stories to cover, then you actually need a gay presence!

You also need more black and brown people and more women. But the argument that Kornacki represents a 'diversity' negative is wrong and ridiculous and needlessly sets gay men up against black women. 'Diversity' has increased! Now if the next job goes to a white, heterosexual man, and the one after that ... no, that is not 'diversity'. This time it is.

Emily Bell: Meet the ancient Interwebs

Emily Bell, the esteemed former leader of Guardian Online, attacks the proposed new press regulator:
This is all about restraining a notion of the press and journalists as some kind of easily identified pack which feeds into a neatly industrialised process, when in fact the forces are moving in the opposite direction: anyone can be a journalist, yet the institutional support for journalism has seldom been economically weaker.
She points out that what becomes 'news' can start from, and here is one example of hers, a tweet about a raid that turns out to be Osama Bin Laden's house:
The impact a story has now is as much dependent on the network it travels through as on the news brand that presents it.
Bell's point seems to be that the 'times they are a-changin'. But they're not really.

Of course I can blog here and you can tweet there. People have been stapling together pieces of paper and distributing them since whenever. You didn't then need Bell's "industrial publishing complex behind you," as Lord McAlpine - cited often in this context (Leveson and the oldies failure to understand t'internet) numerous times over Twitter - could tell you.

The trashing of McAlpine started in Scallywag in the early nineties (Google if you must, I'm not linking). More people can read it now but it still got wide enough circulation then for McAlpine to get that scandal sheet shut down.

Go further back and people would be distributing 'news' via things called 'leaflets'. I believe some of these may have been involved in starting revolutions? Much like the new fangled interwebs was tied to that 'Arab Spring'?

I distinctly recall something called a Roneo (illustrated above), which was an extremely messy but cheap printing method employed by activists and campaigners and cranks to 'get the word out'. Every so often something which had been ronoed would make it into the Daily Mail -- 'look what the loony left are saying now' kind-of thing -- much like the Mail cherry-picking the interwebs today.

The idea that because we now have new methods of distribution that we don't still have centres of power alongside them and won't have them in the shiny future is wrong. The people always need to have some way to control the powerful, which is what setting up independent regulation of the press is all about.

Self-regulation doesn't work (that big inquiry just proved that), government regulation is not desirable, so that leaves ...

Once the independent regulator is set up it can evolve and tweek and whatever else might need to done. The point is to win it first, which is why the press barons are going apeshit and throwing their toys out the pram.


One note on the beloved Ian Hislop, Editor, Private Eye.

His big point seems to be that you just need Lily Law because all the bad stuff which led to Leveson was illegal anyway and the law just needed applying. So why was there a press code? That wasn't law it was just the industry defining how it should practice. Leveson showed not just law breaches like hacking but constant code breaches, contempt for code, but alongside absence of remedy for the powerless.

'Papers please' for trans people?

My friend Jim Burroway has something to share: "I live in a total freak-show of a state".

Jim lives in Arizona, whose infamous 'papers please' law about having to constantly prove you're not one of those illegal brown messicuns to authority figures is currently being judged on its constitutionality.

Arizona is now considering, Jim reports, a 'papers please' law for bathroom use. This 'save us from the transgender people' proposition is that only those with the right birth certificate can use the right, gendered, bathroom.

So, ladies, if you are caught in mile-long queues and slip into the gents? The slammer for you!

Apparently there is an emergency, the proposal has an "emergency" clause. “This is about the person who will use gender identity or expression as their ruse to gain access to opposite-sex facilities,” says its proponent, who is from a group it will shock you to learn has 'family' in their title. A "ruse" you say? My, those trans people are forever plotting like some fifth column to "gain access" to your bathroom!

The reality is that trans people and anyone who doesn't fit in can face harassment and violence around bathrooms.

Here's a comment on Jim's report:
I was the victim of a sever beating for entering a men’s restroom with the wrong gender presentation. Paradoxically I was using the men’s restroom because on a previous occasion a police officer had warned me that should I use the female restroom I could be arrested on sexual deviance charges because a mother had complained about me using this restroom before. Now then this fine young college student who outweighed me by almost a 100lbs got off on the gay panic defense.

So from this we can determine that when a person enters the restroom displaying the wrong gender this can instill panic in young adult men, so shouldn’t it behoove the Arizona government to not write legislation that will result in the panic and distress of our young college age men?

I only ask it this way because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m asking for special rights, but please someone think of our heterosexual college age youths.
Here's a web resource which find locations that are, the answer's in the URL,

Why is this Arizona proposal happening? Locally it is kickback because Phoenix passed anti-discrimination which included the 'T' in 'LGBT', but nationally it's because of media attention on trans kids, little kids, like a six-year old in Colorado (pictured), whose bathroom use has been the focus of bigoted parental reaction to them.

That despicable attitude to kids with a condition they obviously are born with is so reminiscent of the reaction to kids living with HIV/AIDS in the eighties and nineties.

These people don't just merit mockery -- very easy to perform mockery -- but disgust. They are obvious bigots, just like those who drove Ryan White from his school and vandalised his grave.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Humanity really is f*****

Graph from Science of the earth’s temperatures going back 11,000 years
The Guardian's Jonathan Kaiman reports today on how China is extremely interested in the Arctic.

Climate change is opening up a new trade route to Europe and access to resources.

I doubt this is news to many, in the general if not the specific. Even the likes of Fox News aficionados are undoubtedly aware that humanity, thanks to warming in the Arctic, has the technical whizz-bang-ness to double down on its own destruction.

It really matters not whether you absorb this news in whatever country you are in or through whatever ideological perspective you filter it through or whichever state of de-Nile you exist in or whether you decide to genuflect to a 'Yellow Peril' meme as you absorb it. It just IS, the outcome is the, global, same.

The world's next superpower is joining the rest of us M'F*****s in the End Times in what the NY Times rightly calls the 21st Century 'Great Game': whoopee, let's exploit the Arctic.

The world's current superpower, despite its leader's pleading, is not going to do anything to stop the Worst Case Scenario. No surprise there then, but ...

Most lefty superstars say sweet FA about climate change. There are no - none, zip, nada - lefty superstars in the entire world who are at all preaching on climate change.

Example: What did Chavez say? Who on the left - or the right!? - writing about Chavez even bothers about what he said on climate?

'Imperialism'? 'Sulfur'? Reams of copy. Role in humanity's end through greenhouse gas production? His thoughts on same? Anyone?

The left could have changed things

Monday 18 March 2013

'Fairweather friends' and palpitating queer/ns

Today, Hillary Clinton announced her support for marriage equality in a video (see it after the jump). On any LGBT website below the line, in the comments, you will read - presumably - L,G,B or T people condemning her.

It is too late, why didn't she do it before, she's no real ally - you can guess the script.

When the first serving Republican Senator came out for marriage equality last week similar things were said. Same with the conservative British Prime Minister. And the sharpened poison aimed at President Obama by gays on his supposed inauthentic support for gay rights is everywhere.

In her video, Clinton notes her work on LGBT rights whilst she was Secretary of State. In particular, Clinton gave a powerful speech, introducing new policy, in Geneva in 2011 defending LGBT human rights, which she talks about today.

Following her speech, I published an explanation by Doug Sanders of how Clinton's new policy and outspokenness was actually a 'catch up' on the work of numerous other countries well before the US finally got to work. Yet that critique of Clinton is noticeably absent from any of today's criticism of her. The insularity of American gays who are today criticising her, and actually of those citing her State Department work in her defense as well, is telling.

What distinguishes Obama from Clinton is that he has been explicit on numerous occasions in acknowledging that, horror, he is a politician and that it is pressure from below, from movements, which moves him towards, say, openly supporting marriage equality. I've written about this numerous times, particularly in the context of the 2008 fight for the Democratic Party nomination where his statements on this subject contrasted sharply with Clinton's.

During the campaign he gave one interview to an LGBT publication in which he said the following:
Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit -- I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, "Wait your turn." I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, "Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom."
A year after Obama's election he addressed the Human Rights Campaign and here is what I posted at the time:
Here's my tweets as I listened to his speech.
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner "I love you Barack" "I love you back"
pauloCanning:#hrc dinner Obama: "It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady GaGa"
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner He's referencing Stonewall as 'inspiring'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner simple message "here with you in that fight"
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'it's not for me to tell you to be patient' - as with civil rights - now I'm teary
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'you know - and I know - we don't want to be defined by one part of us that makes us whole'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'Do not doubt the direction we're heading +the destination we will reach'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'we will put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'we're pushing for a employee non-discrimination bill. we're ging to put a stop to it.'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'we are rescinding the ban on entering US based on HIV status'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'I will end DADT, that's my commitment to you'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'I've called on Congress to repeal DOMA'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'It's about our common humanity, our ability to walk in someone else's shoes'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner now he's talking about PFLAG 'that's the story of America'
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner 'tonight somewhere in America a young person ... ' THAT'S leadership
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner brilliant rhetoric, worried by the look on his face
The speech was amazing. Historic.

Like the audience, who spent most of their time on their feet, I was really moved to hear a US President say what he said. His last flourish, which stuck progress of LGBT equality firmly into the mainstream of the 'American dream', I couldn't capture quickly enough. It was his classic rhetorical end flourish and he stuck it firmly onto the LGBT cause.

My friend Tobias Grace, who edits New Jersey's LGBT newspaper, said: "Paul: I cried - not so much on my own behalf but thinking of all the young people who will grow up in a world shaped by this man's words and leadership."

But, but ... perhaps that's why I noticed the look. He wasn't smiling. He knew that outside the cheering crowd he faced weren't just pissed LGBT at the lack of actual progress on issue after issue but a mountain of opposition to everything he'd pledged.

Remember, this was the day on which he'd been awarded the Nobel. On what he represents he'd got that acknowledgment and that's a f*cking heavy burden.

I wish I'd captured that exact look as he walked off the stage because it seemed to me one of a man who believed what he'd said, every word, but understood fully what 'change' actually means.

A bitter, bitter fight lies behind "don’t tell me to wait for my freedom". As always, it's accompanied by the background/backroom faint (to some) buzz accompanying it in the LGBT movement between those who would be inside and those who'd be outside, demanding.

Tomorrow's LGBT march on the Capitol is for the demanders and something tells me Obama is with them.
Watch Clinton's video released today after the jump:

Hacking worse than rape: America

An American court has just sentenced a 'grey hat' computer hacker who exposed corporate security flaws to more jail time than another court sentenced a group of rapists.

Andrew Auernheimer, aka 'Weev', got three and a half years, more time than two teenagers just found guilty of infamously raping a girl in Steubenville, Ohio.

Auernheimer's prosecution was vicious. That he went after the failings of telecom firm AT&T was used against him, was the reason to demand a long prison term.
Auernheimer likened his actions to walking down the street and writing down the physical addresses of buildings, only to be charged with identity theft. He later sent an e-mail to the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, blaming AT&T for exposing customer data, authorities say.

“AT&T needs to be held accountable for their insecure infrastructure as a public utility and we must defend the rights of consumers, over the rights of shareholders,” he wrote, according to prosecutors. ”I advise you to discuss this matter with your family, your friends, victims of crimes you have prosecuted, and your teachers for they are the people who would have been harmed had AT&T been allowed to silently bury their negligent endangerment of United States infrastructure.”

But prosecutors say his interest went beyond concern about the security of customer data.

According to the criminal complaint, a confidential informant helped federal authorities make their case against the two defendants by providing them with 150 pages of chat logs from an IRC channel where, prosecutors said, Spitler and Auernheimer admitted conducting the breach to tarnish AT&T’s reputation and promote themselves and Goatse Security.
'Tarnishing' corporate reputation is the real reason this guy is in jail. Apparently, the guy is a troll and a bit of a pain, a "discordian .. into throwing apples .. a right mouthy bastard". Is that why America threw him in jail?

John Koetsier explains how what the illegality of what Auernheimer did to expose the security flaw makes everyone a potential criminal.
You could be charged with unauthorized access to a computerized device, for instance, simply because you clicked on the link that brought you to this article. Oh, and Google, one of the most successful corporations in the world, is the root of all evil. A Get request is simply a note from a browser computer code asking for a resource. You issue thousands of them every day all by yourself. Google issues billions.

Whether the receiving server responds to that request in any way, shape, or form is entirely at the discretion of the developers and system administrators who control that server.

The CFAA [relevant US law] does not define the phrase “unauthorized access,” so according to Auernheimer, the government essentially told the jury that his access to the server was unauthorized because they said it was. Which, if true, means that whether you commit a legal act or an illegal act is at the discretion of anyone who runs a webserver, who can change their mind at any time without you knowing.

Good luck following the straight and narrow.
There's a lot of anger from the kidz. Writes Asher Wolf:
Putting Weev behind bars is pointless and tragic. Jailing the most outspoken men and women amongst our generation won’t stop the leaks, the hacks, the news revelations, the whistleblowers – and most of all it won’t stop the rage of the malcontent, dispossessed youth from eventually tumbling down upon the heads of the bureaucrats who sold us out and then tried to lock us up when we complained.

.. they can’t shut us all up. Fuck ‘em.

You could make it up

In today's collective strop by the newspapers about regulation there's one theme, a supposed threat to investigative reporting. One story being pointed at as potentially being threatened by 'government control of the press' is the 'scandal' of hundreds of 'avoidable deaths' at Stafford hospital.

What's funny about the press using this example to make their argument is that their Stafford reporting has, universally, from the BBC all the way to the Daily Star, been terrible, shockingly terrible.

The number of 'avoidable deaths' - the figure commonly reported is 1200 - is completely made-up. Any reporter doing their, you know, job could figure it out.

Blogger Steve Walker explains at length how '1200 deaths' was pulled out of someone's ass thin air and how its basis is undermined by just a cursory understanding of statistics. Here's a key passage:
As I explained in my post on the real story of Mid Staffs, Prof Jarman’s HSMR (hospital standardised mortality ratio) system rates English hospitals according to where they sit according to the average death rate for the nation. A hospital hitting exactly the average rate would receive a ‘score’ of 100. A hospital doing better than average would have an HSMR below 100, and one doing worse would be over 100.

So far, so clear – I hope. But here’s the key fact: every year, the system is ‘rebased‘ – the averages are re-measured and ’100′ is re-calibrated to the new average.

This leads to 3 key problems:
  1. Because of how averages work, unless by some miracle every single hospital in the country got exactly the same score, you will always have some hospitals above 100 and some below. This does not mean the ‘extra’ deaths in those hospitals were avoidable – it just means that somebody has to be above the line because it’s an average.
  2. Because the ’100-line’ moves every year, a hospital can maintain exactly the same standard in one year as it achieved in the previous year – and yet can score below 100 one year and above 100 the next. The performance of the hospital did not get worse. The line just moved. It’s not only wrong but ridiculous to extrapolate ‘extra’ or ‘avoidable’ deaths from a position above or below a line that moves every year.
  3. Leading on from number 2 – and it’s impossible to overstate this – there is no ‘standard’ rate of deaths from a particular illness. No expert clinicians are sitting down together and saying ‘Yes, we agree that out of every 100 patients with an intracranial bleed, this many are going to die’. No. All that happens is that the average for the previous year becomes the re-calibrated ‘expected death’ figure for the following year. This means that HSMRs are measuring the success/failure in achieving/beating/failing to bear a target that moves every year – and has no basis in clinical expertise. It’s just a number.
In his testimony to the Francis inquiry, Prof Jarman claimed that he had to present the figures this way because the English are ‘simple-minded‘ – but in doing so he has committed a fundamental error of logic worthy of a simpleton.

These fundamental logical errors mean that even if everything else was perfect, HSMR scores over 100 cannot be used to calculate avoidable deaths.
Walker explains how behind the media's scary headlines lies 'rubbish in, rubbish out'. The data wasn't being properly recorded at the hospital and the woman brought in to fix that, who he has met, wasn't allowed to give evidence or speak to the media.

That women's work on correcting the errors produced the exact opposite outcome to the screaming headlines:
When Ms Kirkbright arrived at Mid Staffs, she carried out a re-coding exercise on past deaths. This re-coding corrected the absent Z51.5 code and used the case notes to add in the co-morbidities (what is known in the jargon as ‘depth of coding’) that was missing. This brought down Mid Staffs’ HSMR to 88 – well below the national average death rate.
HSMRs are a statistical device. If you want to be sure whether deaths were avoidable or not, you need to look in detail at the case notes for each patient. The doctor in charge of the Independent Case Note Review (INCR) was asked by the inquiry how many ‘excess’ deaths he had discovered among all of the cases for which families asked for a review. His answer was telling – but has been almost completely ignored:

    Perhaps one such death.
And further, Walker reports evidence that hospitals are gaming this bonkers system because of funding pressures - to increase their incomes.

Plus Walker gives examples of how reporting on supposed bad treatment of patients at the hospital could simply not be true.

The man behind the headlines, Professor Sir Brian Jarman, has a clear conflict of interest. He is financed by a company which sells services that allow NHS Trusts to use and monitor HSMRs. That has not been reported.

What is also not being reported is that the entire system is based on the most ridiculous way of recording and therefore supposedly monitoring morbidity rates.

HSMRs are based on ‘first diagnosis’.
If a patient arrives unconscious and the ambulance driver reports ‘He fainted’, fainting would be the first diagnosis. If that patient is then discovered to have had a serious stroke and dies, that death will be recorded against ‘fainting’ – a condition with a very low death-rate – resulting in an inflated HSMR.
There is no recording of post mortum results. The system is utterly broken. You couldn't make it up!

It's plain once you read Walker, or the handful of other bloggers, or this lonesome letter to The Guardian, or Computer Weekly, all similarly demolishing the media's reporting, that the headlines about '1200 avoidable deaths' aren't wrong because the media are all idiots, they are the result of an agenda. A stealth-privatisation, anti-National Health Service agenda.

Says Walker:
The threat is serious, because a lot of people will believe what’s being said and written just because it’s in the media and has apparent statistical/scientific support. Very few will look beyond the soundbites to see whether they stand up to scrutiny.

So please, if you’ve read this article and agree with its premise, spread the word. We need good information out there to counteract the absolute tripe that’s being force-fed to the British public.
Happy to oblige

Sunday 17 March 2013

American politics' Rosetta Stone: Found?

Bill Maher on Realtime Friday night nailed how tiny, loud conservative groups have an outsized impact on American politics.

Maher (watch the NSFW video after the jump) pointed out that polls consistently show that Americans do have far more liberal views than 'Beltway' thinking assumes they do.

Earlier, he pointed out that although the budget put forward by the Republicans and especially that of their Tea Party caucus has media attention, the budget put forward by the House's Progressive caucus has zero attention. And yet the Progressive budget when given the 'blind taste test' treatment has been found to be overwhelmingly favoured by ordinary Americans.

Last week on Up w/ Chris Hayes (video after the jump) a new political science study (PDF) was discussed which shows just how misread America is. The study, discussed on the show with one of its authors on the panel, finds, writes Sal Gentile on the show's Tumblr, ..
.. that politicians tend to overestimate just how conservative their constituents are. Conservative politicians are especially bad at gauging their constituents’ beliefs — they underestimate support among their constituents for policies like universal health care and same-sex marriage by as much as 20 percentage points. 
These findings explain so much about the state of modern American politics. There seems to be such a larger appetite for conservative policies like war and austerity among politicians than among actual voters. In the latest budget fight, for example, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been insisting on the need to cut spending and “entitlements.” But polls show consistently that Americans believe spending cuts are bad for the economy, that they want to reduce the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts and that they want to preserve funding for cherished social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. 
This disconnect between politicians and constituents has, arguably, gotten worse over the past three decades. As shown in the graph above, the share of Americans describing themselves as “conservative” has remained largely unchanged since 1976, even dipping considerably in the 1990s. House Republicans, meanwhile, have become more conservative than ever before,according to the DW-Nominate scale, a system of rating the ideology of lawmakers devised by political scientist Keith Poole. 
The striking divergence between how conservative Congressional Republicans have gotten and how conservative the American people are explains so much about how broken and dysfunctional our politics are.
Watch the Bill Maher (NSFW) and Chris Hayes segments after the jump: