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Posted by Docs Not Cops

The Labour Party’s 2017 Conference begins this weekend. Docs Not Cops highlight opportunities for attendees interested in migrant access to the NHS to intervene. 

Image: Flickr/SMA

Jeremy Corbyn has attracted support in his leadership and general election battles due in part to his firm position against privatisation in general – including NHS privatisation - and also due his history of support for migrants and anti-racist organising.

Yet Labour’s health policy platform is currently limited – as pointed out in this excellent recent article by Allyson Pollock. And the party appears to have no formal policy and little to say in public about the “hostile environment” the government has been creating for migrants.

The Party’s conference this weekend offers members, delegates, and those outside the party, opportunities to improve this situation.

The government is trying to blame the severe and growing NHS funding crisis on migrants, but this is a distraction. The numbers don’t add up: ‘deliberate health tourism’ costs, at most, £300 million a year – just 0.3% of the overall NHS budget. The costs that can be recouped by charging people for their care are a drop in the ocean for the NHS, but potentially ruinous for patients now being landed with multi-thousand pound bills – or being put off accessing healthcare altogether.  

The Socialist Health Association has put forward a motion to conference – supported by at least a dozen constituency parties – that calls for the party torestore our fully-funded, comprehensive, universal, publicly-provided and owned NHS without user charges, as per the NHS Bill (2016-17)”. What this means is that the Labour party’s aim should be to return to a publically funded NHS that doesn’t charge patients. While immigration checks and charges are not mentioned specifically, the references to “comprehensive” and “universal” care, and clear emphasis on an “NHS without user charges” are welcome.

The SHA motion also references the NHS Reinstatement Bill. Docs Not Cops also supports this Bill – developed by Professor Pollock in close association with NHS campaigners - in part because the central function of the Bill would be to restore a publicly owned, managed and accountable NHS. The Reinstatement Bill would end the wasteful and damaging competition between parts of the NHS that has been introduced in order to enable private companies to extract profits. 

Crucially, Docs Not Cops also supports the aim of the bill to ensure healthcare is available on the basis of need, not ability to pay or migration status. The bill contains a commitment we feel is essential - to “abolish the legal provisions passed in 2014 requiring certain immigrants to pay for NHS services”.

For any of this to be discussed at conference, the NHS will have to be selected as an area of discussion in the ‘priorities ballot’ on Sunday morning. And for the NHS Reinstatement Bill to be discussed/voted on, it would need to survive the process of ‘compositing’ NHS motions. CLP delegates can attend the compositing meeting on Sunday evening to debate motion composition with the relevant NEC Policy Commission co-convenor and shadow Minister (as Momentum’s guide to the conference explains). 

Corbyn himself is registered as a supporter of the NHS Reinstatement Bill. In Diane Abbott’s 2016 Speech to Conference the then Shadow Health Secretary claimed the party would be “returning our NHS to what it was originally conceived as: a publicly-owned, publicly-funded, publicly-accountable universal service, as outlined in the NHS Reinstatement Bill”. But this has not yet been adopted as party policy, and it didn’t feature in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto. So it’s crucial these issues are discussed at conference.

On EU Freedom of Movement, there has been more questioning of Corbyn’s recent rhetoric. Labour’s immigration policy in the context of Brexit has been the subject of criticism more generally, but Corbyn has at least raised the issue of NHS access requirements based on citizenship or immigration status at Prime Ministers’ Questions. In November 2016 he challenged Theresa May: "Rather than distracting people with divisive and impractical policies, could you provide the NHS and social care with the money that it needs to care for the people who need the support? [...] Instead of looking for excuses and scapegoats, shouldn’t the prime minister be ensuring health and social care is properly secure and properly funded?” 

Such statements are obviously welcome – particularly compared to the likely approach of alternative leaders. But the Labour manifesto and recent campaigning has been silent on the issue. Indeed, Labour appears to have no formal policy and little to say in public about the range of “hostile environment” policies the government has been creating for migrants – whether in the NHS or education, housing, or with regard to access to bank accounts and driving licenses. We urge those attending Labour conference to take the opportunities – informal if not in terms of conference proceedings – to ensure that opposition to “hostile environment” policies (immigration checks, data sharing, and/or charges) are included in discussions.

Chances to get involved both inside and outside conference

Movement for Justice (MfJ) have organised an “Immigrant rights, anti-racist march and rally at Labour Party Conference” – making the demand to “Reverse the hostile environment of racism in Britain” on Sunday 24th. The newly formed Brighton Docs Not Cops group will be joining this march (11am Brighton train station, Midday rally at conference).

Sussex Defend Our NHS have organised an NHS march and rally “It's a Matter of Life or Death!”, featuring Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Allyson Pollock and Dr Alex Scott-Samuel from the SHA (11am The Level, 12.30pm rally at conference, Sunday 24th.

At The World Transformed festival which takes place alongside Labour Conference but which is open to others there is a “People Not Profit: Reclaiming the NHS” event from 11.am-12.45pm on Monday 25th. Emphasising that “there is still a long way to go for the entire party to back” “a comprehensive, universal, publicly-provided NHS”, the workshop will “explore building a network of NHS activists in Labour that works with unions and health campaigns”.

Stronger policy is desperately and urgently needed.

The Conservative’s 2016 Queen’s Speech promised an "NHS (Overseas Visitors Charging) Bill". The Department of Health’s new “overseas visitor charging“ regulations (pdf) are about to come into force next month, forcing school nurses, health visitors and community mental health teams to charge patients up front if they are not entitled to free NHS treatment.

The impact of the 2014 Immigration Act is already being felt. Twenty hospitals are currently running pilots of passport checks and upfront charges for all patients accessing NHS services. Those deemed ineligible for free treatment will be charged 150% of the usual NHS rate for their care. Recently London North West Healthcare - one of the trusts - sent a letter demanding eligibility documents from an eight-day-old baby.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHR) – another of those on the pilot – claims that ‘maternity services, or treatment which the doctor or nurse thinks is immediately necessary or urgent, will never be withheld.’ But it has also sent at least one pregnant women a letter threatening that future appointments may be cancelled if she cannot pay a deposit for treatment. BHR states that patients will be asked to pay a deposit before treatment starts, and will be billed afterwards (£6,500 for maternity care). 

At St George’s Hospital in Tooting, they’ve just concluded an evaluation of the first part of their pilot into ID requirements for patients in maternity care. The report found ‘no obvious issue with eligibility in obstetrics’, and the new policy led to just 1% of patients being charged for care (18 out of 1,660) over the course of the pilot – revealing the basis of the policy on a politics of scapegoating. These 18 people are now the targets of the hospital’s debt collection agency - we don’t know anything about them, their jobs, or their families. We don’t know anything about their complicated immigration or asylum statuses – or how they can possibly pay these bills, £45,000 in total. We do know that their details may be passed on to the Home Office a practice that has been going on for years but has just this year been set out in a Memorandum of Understanding.

The St Georges evaluation claims that no patient was denied treatment due to ‘charging issues’ (3.9) but policies like this have their main effect before passports are demanded at the hospital: they deter people from accessing care in the first place. Maternity Action regularly hears from women who have received large bills from the NHS and are distressed because they cannot pay them. It has been shown by Doctors of the World, among others, that pregnant women with irregular immigration status are avoiding seeking NHS antenatal care, out of fear that they will be deported or face unpayable medical bills. In doing so, they are being put at serious risk.

Not only does this raise difficult medical ethics issues for the overstretched NHS staff who are supposed to carry out these checks; it will destroy the relationship of trust between NHS staff and patients. NHS workers shouldn’t be forced to police the people they’re treating. It is costly and time-consuming. We know the way to ensure the NHS funding crisis ends is by ending PFI contracts and the billions wasted on running the NHS as a market. We believe that a party that is “for the many not the few” should take into consideration the impact of these moves on access to healthcare and marginalised communities. We ask Labour members and supporters to put pressure on the party to ensure the right to healthcare on the basis of need is not trampled on, and that migrant rights are at the forefront of the conference. And that they consider joining us at our #PatientsNotPassports event next Saturday 30th September when Docs Not Cops along with a coalition of anti-racism and pro-migrant organisations will gather at a London location to protest the introduction of immigration checks and upfront charging for all NHS patients and to share stories highlighting the human impact of these changes. 

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Trump, trans, and threat

Sep. 23rd, 2017 09:30 am
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Posted by DanP

On 26 July, 2017, President Trump tweeted his plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. Besides the “tremendous medical costs” that he cited (which is actually less than a thousandth of 1% of the Defense Department’s annual budget), Trump referenced the idea of “disruption.”

When I read the tweet, a thought crossed my mind: What exactly is being disrupted?

In short, the “natural” sex-gender order —where “what you have” is “what you are.” This is a conflation of “sex” and “gender.” Sex is considered “what you have”— genetic makeup, hormones, reproductive sex organs, membership in one of two biological categories. Gender, however, is socially constructed, certain characteristics perceived as associated with biological categories of male and female. These are known as masculinity and femininity, and often referred to as traditional gender roles. In other words, a binary biology determines your personality, your ability to excel in certain careers, even your salary. It determines who you will fall in love with: traditional gender roles predetermine a sexual default—heterosexuality. The privileging of this sexuality and its acceptance as given is called heteronormativity.

The sex/gender order is the foundation of what is known as the “patriarchy,” or patriarchal society. This societal system produces Insiders and Outsiders based on their conformity to this order; anyone who does not conform is considered weird, deviant, even dangerous. Examples include people who are trans or gender fluid (not identifying as male or female), or even “cis-gender” people (who identify with the sex they were born with) not acting “appropriately” feminine or masculine, like men who cry openly, or assertive women who are derided as “bitchy” or “bossy.” Race and class also play a role in determining Insiders and Outsiders. Any Outsider is perceived as a threat to society. Trump’s tweet is a response to this perceived threat, his action an example of the defense of the sex-gender order.

To minimize perceived “disruption,” public spaces are policed as non-trans zones (see trans “bathroom laws”). A 2015 National Center for Transgender Equality study in the US found that 46% of the 27,715 respondents were verbally harassed in the last year. As of 2015, trans people in 34 European countries could not change their name or registered gender without compulsory genital reassignment surgery, divorce, or until very recently, sterilization. The requirements are telling. Compulsory genital reassignment surgery removes any sense of grey zone between the binary—you are either male or female, and the parts must match the gender. Divorce and sterilization keep trans people from having families and children, maintaining its heteronormative and cis-gendered form.

By Jamie Bruesehoff/@hippypastorwife. Used with permission.

The sex-gender order is considered natural, but, as these examples and the infamous tweet show, is in fact an elaborate social construction that requires constant surveillance to maintain it. Individuals who fall outside this order are shunned and disciplined—by state control, by biopolitical regulation of trans bodies and minds, and by rejection from public spaces and state institutions. These mechanisms of repression are incredibly dangerous because they all build to warrant the final stage of threat removal—fatal violence.

The concept of trans-as-threat has been used as a legal defense of violent crime—even murder of trans individuals. The basis of the legal argument is that murder was justifiable (even provoked) because of the victim’s lack of normative gender-genital agreement. This is called the “trans panic” defense, and follows closely a long history of the “gay panic” defense, first utilized in 1965. A “trans panic” defense was used in 2004-5 in California by three defendants who had murdered trans woman Gwen Araujo. The lawyer for one of the defendants argued that they were “only” guilty of manslaughter on the basis of this “trans panic,” that the “discovery of [the victim’s] ‘true sex’ had provoked the violent response to what was represented as a sexual violation ‘so deep it’s almost primal’” (Bettcher 2007:44). This defense attempts to naturalize violence against threat, to propose that it came from a “biological,” “primal,” “normal” response to what is considered deviancy. And the jury was persuaded: three defendants were found guilty of lesser charges, and the murder was not deemed a hate crime.

Race also plays an important role in how threat is perceived. Trans people of color are especially targeted as racism, misogyny, and transphobia all intersect. In 2016, 27 trans people were murdered, one of the deadliest years on record, and most of them were women of color. The long history of institutionalized prejudice against people of color (including formal and informal segregation within the US military), with its innumerable injustices and violence, persists because the Western patriarchal order equates the “Insider” with “White.” People of color in America, along with people who live outside of the confines of the sex-gender order, are considered Outsiders. This Inside/Outside divide perpetuates and reinforces the idea of threat.

And as we have seen, this idea plays politically. Recent findings have shown that Trump’s base is motivated by perceived threat: racial resentment and fear of a “status shift” of their ethno-national majority. Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and now anti-trans language reinforces the Inside/Outside, the “Us” and “Them,” and the base responds positively to it. The trans ban is just another brick for his wall, a way to bolster the racial and gendered hierarchical order. Clearly, it is part of the 2018 midterm election strategy, as a Trump administration official stated.

Ultimately, policies like this resonate because of the ways our patriarchal culture privileges traditional gender roles and heterosexuality, because of the ways that threat is constructed and “resolved.” What is important to realize is the big picture: these policies and the attitudes they reflect will continue to persist, beyond this presidency, unless we move past these norms.

Featured image credit: Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington, DC USA by Ted Eytan. CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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When The Received Wisdom Is Wrong

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:52 am
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Posted by Mike Glyer

This month fanhistorians were turned on their ears when a previously unknown shortlist of 1956 Hugo nominees came to light — unknown, despite the fact that it had been hiding in plain sight for over sixty years. As the official … Continue reading

Redirecting the colonial gaze

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:03 am
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Posted by Hakan Sandal

Are we “decolonising queer liberation” or disciplining the Kurds? Let us attempt a careful and nuanced consideration of the historicity of different struggles.

lead It's going down: TQILA-IRPGF Speaks from Rojava. Anon.The situation of the Kurds in a drastically changing Middle East has received little attention in academia and less in the media despite their growing impact on regional and international politics. The biggest stateless people living in the Middle East are on the verge of a new status, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a referendum for independence takes place on September 25, 2017, but also in Syria and Turkey. The stories of Iranian Kurds and the conditions they live in are the least known, not only by the international community but also by fellow-Kurds living in three neighbouring countries, due to an intense isolation. And then, in this closing contribution, there are 'the intersecting modalities of power.' This week’s short series looks at current political struggles of the Kurds in four neighbouring countries or in a country that does not exist on the world map but in the hearts and mind of 40 million people. Mehmet Kurt, series editor.

The establishment of “The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army” (TQILA) on 24 July 2017, under the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF) in Syria, has attracted considerable global interest.

This interest has become manifest in two distinct versions. One response has been the intense excitement and support elicited from some parts of the left and various LGBTI+ activists. The other has been one of critique and scepticism, especially towards the western liberal discourse surrounding TQILA. Razan Ghazzawi’s piece “Decolonising Syria's So-Called 'Queer Liberation,'” published on Al Jazeera, is a noteworthy expression of this second reaction.

Keeping these ideas at the core of my argument, in this piece, I want to suggest that Ghazzawi however unintentionally reproduces the colonial gaze on Kurds and the organized Kurdish struggle.[1] I want to elaborate on what we risk missing in the political sphere because of these flaws, and in the process try to extend the ground of the critique towards the decolonial approach that Ghazzawi espouses.

Sharp turn

Ghazzawi begins the piece by giving a brief background to the establishment of TQILA and its depiction in the west, associating the group with the “war on terror” narrative, along with the organized Kurdish struggle in Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan.[2] Bringing non-normative sexualities into the discourse itself opens up a site of resistance vis-à-vis complex power relations that constantly regulate bodies, geographies, and ideologies in various ways.

Ghazzawi’s piece is a sound effort to reveal these intersecting modalities of power. However, when it comes to the Kurdish struggle in Syria, the piece reproduces the colonial framework by making Kurds’ history of resistance, memory of colonialism, and oppression under four different states invisible. Concisely, Kurdish geography was divided into four parts and Kurdish people were distributed among Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey as a consequence of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 by imperial powers. They were subjected to various atrocities, varying from cultural assimilation, to epistemic violence, to massacres, in each of these countries.[3]

Ghazzawi’s critique is levelled against not only at colonial/white use of queer struggles, but also the Kurdish struggle in Syria. The sharp turn he makes from a decolonizing queer perspective to an anti-Rojava narrative renders the intention of the piece ambiguous. Instead of subverting the colonial form of knowledge that is criticized in the piece, the author redirects the colonial gaze towards the Kurds. Eventually, the piece itself becomes, quite unfortunately, a stereotypical anti-Rojava treatise hidden in an otherwise well argued decolonial queer text. The political unfairness, in addition, distorts the power of the decolonial argument and transforms it into a condemnatory iteration, cementing the epistemic violence against the Kurds.

Silenced Kurds

In the piece, the strategy and existence of Kurds’ organized effort – despite its historicity—is utterly reduced to being part of “war on terror.”[4] This presentist argument only becomes possible when the motivations, emotions, and history of the Kurdish struggle are silenced. This also reinforces the stereotype historically attributed to the Kurds, in four parts of Kurdistan: they collaborate with imperialism, they are not civilized, and they have a secret agenda. These stereotypes historically legitimized the rule over the Kurds.

For example, the discourses of “backwardness” and “tribalism” when it came to the Kurdish issue were reference points for the Turkish Republic’s modernization and westernization ideals.[5] In a report, the first Inspector General Avni Doğan asserts: “The Republic's settlement in the East is like the settlement of the civilized nations' in Africa."[6] Similarly, according to Lieutenant Muhammad Talab al-Hilal’s report of Jazira, dated 1963, “the Kurdish people did not exist because they possessed neither ‘history nor civilization; language nor ethnic origin.’”[7] This “security report” formed the basis for anti-Kurdish policies in Syria.

When this discourse surrounding the Kurds is evaluated starting with the stereotypes attributed to them, and then their results, the need for a layered understanding of decolonization becomes visible. A hastily put together decolonial argument can become the most useful tool for the very colonial mechanisms it intends to criticize.

Critical engagement

Kurdish scholars and activists have long criticized the western media depiction of Kurdish women fighters, as this depiction actively and purposefully overshadowed the history, ideology, and the politics behind them. These critiques, which have also come from inside the Kurdish armed movement, dismantle western colonial fantasies and resonate well with Ghazzawi’s concerns about anti-colonial struggle. It is noteworthy, though, that Ghazzawi chooses not to reference any of those women’s voices. Instead, the author concentrates on western depictions, erasing the agencies, knowledge production, and histories of local women’s struggles and with a dismissive gesture, conveniently chooses to situate these women within the “war on terror.”

The author enumerates a list of accusations towards the PYD, the Democratic Union Party, without critically engaging with or elaborating any of these serious claims. Ghazzawi gives ten links in two very short paragraphs, accusing the PYD without including even a single statement given by the PYD or a single bit of counter-evidence against these accusations. As an example of such counter-evidence, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’s report denies that the PYD/YPG forcibly evacuated Arab and Turkmen civilians, as is claimed in Ghazzawi’s piece:

Though allegations of “ethnic cleansing” continued to be received during the period under review, the Commission found no evidence to substantiate claims that YPG or SDF forces ever targeted Arab communities on the basis of ethnicity, nor that YPG cantonal authorities systematically sought to change the demographic composition of territories under their control through the commission of violations directed against any particular ethnic group.[8]

We should indeed take these claims seriously, but the absence of critical engagement provides a tool for surrounding authoritarian powers that oppose organized Kurdish existence. Ghazzawi’s claims about the PYD are disturbingly very similar to those of the Turkish state, whose role in Syria’s current destabilization, and its decades-long war on the Kurds, are well known. This similarity lends unintentional support to the colonial domination of the Kurds and tends to reproduce the status quo.

Our paradise or their theatre?

Ghazzawi cites a Kurdish queer transwoman, Ziya Gorani, without giving any background information on their [Gorani’s] experience, other than three paragraphs of selected narrative supporting the author’s argument against the PYD and Rojava. In addition, Ziya Gorani says: “They’re a bunch of international fighters with YPG, trying to sell an image that LGBTQ people can wander the streets of Rojava without being discriminated against – that’s a lie. That’s not how things are in Rojava.” With genuine respect to Gorani’s experience, nobody – neither the internationalists, Rojava’s grassroots activists, nor the PYD – has ever argued nor can argue that Rojava is an LGBTI+ paradise.

On the contrary, that is why a queer struggle is necessary – without putting struggles’ into a hierarchy – just like it is necessary everywhere else, in different contexts and forms. We, as Kurdish LGBTI+ individuals and activists in four parts of Kurdistan and in the diaspora too, know our societies’ reality very well, and hold discussions htat make every effort to open up spaces for our very existence.

Ghazzawi’s theoretical framework and grounding have serious potential to provide a powerful tool for the oppressed. But the text’s decolonial epistemic power is undermined by the flaws I have identified. The constant concern with addressing an international audience and acknowledging its representations as the absolute truth lead to serious flaws. 

The argument that the west’s primary interest is fighting ISIS, and that these Realpolitik concerns might be overshadowing the anti-Assad struggle, might be valid, but that does not reduce the Kurds’ struggle to these Realpolitik goals. Nor does the anti-ISIS war by the west reduce the Syrian Kurds or the PYD to operating merely in a colonial theatre, without their own historical agency or alternative objectives.

Screenshot: It's going down. Anon.

Does that mean that the PYD is beyond criticism? Quite the contrary. Every authoritarian tendency should be closely monitored. However, instead of perceiving anti-oppression struggles as monoliths, it is more productive and accurate to read the distinct struggles against various oppressive mechanisms and dispersed powers. With a cautious optimism, I believe that these struggles can come together, and constitute a common ground to resist authoritarianism and colonialism together, recognizing and respecting each other’s histories and agencies at the same time.

In conclusion, taking into account the history of the Kurdish struggle with its own dynamics, capacity, and motivation to oppose various oppressions, in addition to Syria’s other grassroots activists, the discourse surrounding TQILA cannot work as a re-colonizing tool in Syria, nor can it erase the struggle of the peoples of Syria. Nonetheless, my assertion does not mean peoples of Syria, queer activists, or leftists should not be critical towards TQILA or IRPGF. On the contrary, the channel of critique should be kept open, but with a careful and nuanced consideration of the historicity of different struggles.



[1] By Kurdish struggle (PYD/YPG-YPJ), I mean the organized struggle initiated by Syrian Kurds, taking its roots from the Kurdish movement in Northern Kurdistan/Turkey’s Kurdistan.

[2] Rojava means “West” in Kurdish, referring to the Western part of Kurdistan. It is located in northern Syria. For a detailed investigation on Rojava, see Michael Knapp, Anja Flach, and Ercan Ayboga, Revolution in Rojava—Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan, Pluto Press, London, 2016.

[3] For further scholarship on the Kurds under four different states, see: David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, London: I.B. Tauris, 2004; Jordi Tejel, Syria’s Kurds—History, Politics and Society, translated by Emily Welle and Jane Welle, Routledge, London: New York, 2009; Zeynep Gambetti and Joost Jongerden, The Kurdish Issue in Turkey: A Spatial Perspective, Routledge, Oxon, 2015; Abbas Vali, Kurds and the State in Iran: The Making of Kurdish Identity, I.B. Tauris, London: New York, 2014; Choman Hardi, Gendered Experiences of Genocide: Anfal Survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq, Routledge, London, 2016; Ismail Besikci, International Colony Kurdistan, Gomidas Institute, London, 2015.

[4] It is worth noting that the PYD was founded by Syrian Kurds in 2003, the US-led international coalition was formed in 2014, and the Syrian Democratic Forces was announced in 2015.

[5] Mesut Yeğen, Devlet Söyleminde Kürt Sorunu, İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul, 2015.

[6] Mehmet Bayrak, Kürtler ve Ulusal-Demokratik  Mücadeleleri, Özge Yayınları, Ankara, 1993, (quote, my translation).

[7] Tejel, 2009, pg. 60-61.

[8] Conference paper of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, 13 March 2017, p. 21.


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Posted by Penelope Lively

The Booker prizewinning novelist tries to fit in a couple of hours of writing a day, but she no longer feels guilty if she would rather be in the garden

What writing day? I am 84, for heaven’s sake. Which is not to say that I no longer write, simply that the concept of an ordered daily ritual is now out of reach. I look back – not with nostalgia, but with a kind of friendly interest – to those years when I would get to the desk by about half past nine and stay there till five or so, even if staring out of the window a good deal of the time.

Not that my working days were always like that. There were many other commitments: organisations to which I gave time, much travelling for bookish reasons. The desk days were jealously guarded. Looking at old diaries, I see that I am always complaining that I can’t get to the book that I am writing – too many other demands. One year, I left Heathrow 12 times. Well, no more of that. One of the pleasures of old age is the thought that I shall never see Heathrow again.

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Posted by Tony Bradman

A magical excursion into a land of mysterious forests, witches and warriors by the author of How to Train Your Dragon

A hugely successful series is a hard act to follow. Those of us who loved Cressida Cowell’s brilliant How to Train Your Dragon books about Hiccup, his dragon Toothless and the Viking world they live in might have felt a little concerned when they came to an end in 2015. What would she do next?

I am pleased to report that The Wizards of Once – the first book in a new middle grade series – is terrific. It introduces us to a new fantasy world, though its roots again lie deep in a familiar mulch of history and legend. Not the Norse myths this time, but a fantasia of ancient Britain, a land of dark, mysterious forests and powerful magic.

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Posted by Philip Womack

The 2015 Costa prize winner is back with a worthy follow-up to The Lie Tree, set just before the English civil war

Frances Hardinge’s last novel, The Lie Tree, won the overall Costa book award in 2015; the only other children’s book to have done so is Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, in 2001. Hardinge is at the forefront of children’s fiction, with a rich, unusual taste for language, an eye for the striking and apt image and stories that reveal a staunch defence of the weak and the oppressed. What is more, she combines a subtle, intellectual approach with plots that swoop and soar.

Her darkly splendid new book is a worthy follow-up to The Lie Tree, set just before the start of the English civil war. Hardinge has always been interested in splits and doubles; in how a character, apparently good, can be only a sliver away from being bad; in how perceptions and opinions shift according to perspective and situation. Her heroine in Cuckoo Song was a fairy changeling, unaware that she had been created and placed into the family that she thought hers; Faith in The Lie Tree must fight against the strictures placed on women in the 19th century, while unpicking a web of falsehoods around her scientist father.

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Posted by Mark Lawson

The Child in Time, starring Cumberbatch, kicks off a trio of adaptations that may make the author the most screen-friendly novelist of his generation

Three decades after it won the Whitbread prize, Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time has become a TV film. It will be screened this weekend in the coveted Sunday 9pm drama slot on BBC1, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing a children’s writer whose daughter vanishes on a shopping trip.

This transmission launches an unofficial festival of McEwan adaptations: Dominic Cooke’s On Chesil Beach (in which I play a minor role) will be shown at the London film festival next month before a general release next year, soon followed by Richard Eyre’s movie of The Children Act.

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Smile like you mean it

Sep. 23rd, 2017 07:30 am
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Posted by DanP

“With a camera you can go into the stomach of a kangaroo,” mused Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. “But to look at the human face, I think, is the most fascinating.” It is hard to contest Bergman’s claim that “the great gift of cinematography is the human face” – or at least that it is one such gift. The face has long been an important subject in painterly and photographic portraiture, and it surely plays an important role in many forms of theater. Through its capacity to capture movement, to frame the face with unprecedented intimacy, and to render drama through facial expression, however, the art of film subsumes and intensifies the ancient artistic preoccupation with the face.

Denis Lavant in Rabbit in Your Headlights (Jonathan Glazer, 1998).

It is not all about expression though. Often enough, the sheer look of a face is enough to capture our attention, from the varieties of beauty the world of filmmaking constantly parades before us, to the equally compelling focus on the memorably idiosyncratic faces that also grace our screens (consider the magnificently weird visage of Rossy de Palma – flanked here by María Barranco and Antonio Banderas – for example, or the rough-hewn landscape that is the face of Denis Lavant).  The great Hungarian scenarist and film theorist, Béla Balázs, was the first to explore this feature of the new art of film in depth, extolling its capacity to illuminate the “microphysiognomy” of the face.

Rossy de Palma, María Barranco and Antonio Banderas in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988).

Cinema is a product of the late nineteenth century, and the facial close-up emerged as a central filmmaking device soon afterwards. The same period saw the formation of psychology as a scientific domain, and the impact of Darwinian ideas on both science and culture in general. Darwin’s third book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), forms a fascinating link between the apparently separate worlds of art and science. For in this classic work, Darwin not only made extensive use of cinema’s sister art, photography, to support and illustrate his investigation into the forms, functions, and evolutionary origins of emotional expression he also laid the foundation for a theory of emotion which greatly illuminates our understanding of facial expression in the arts.  This, at least, is one of the hypotheses of my Film, Art, and the Third Culture, in which I seek to synergize the creativity of filmmakers working with the face and the dramatic expression of emotion, the insights of scientific psychologists unearthing the laws of emotion, and the interpretive skills of the critic – along with the theoretical acumen of the philosopher in showing how these superficially disparate elements, in the words of Wilfrid Sellars, do in fact “hang together.”


Darwin; The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. CC-BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Consider the smile. On Darwin’s view, a smile is a way one individual conveys to another their positive state of mind to one or more other individuals. It is, precisely, an expressive behavior – revealing in behavior an individual’s current emotional state. So far, so familiar: like other expressions, a smile points inwards and outwards, conveying the happy state of mind of the smiling individual to the world outside. In this way, emotional expressions perform the critical function of socially co-ordinating individuals. But as Paul Ekman – perhaps the most eminent neo-Darwinian psychologist of the past fifty years – argues, smiles come in various shapes and sizes. Alongside uncomplicated smiles of joy, there are smiles of relief, pained smiles, rueful smiles, embarrassed smiles, and sadistic smiles  to name but a few variations. Though arguably all of these variations depend on the felt, happy smile as a basic template, we cannot rest with the adage: a smile is a smile is a smile.


Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo in Fargo (Noah Hawley, 2014).

Arguably the major distinction to mark among smiles – in Dacher Keltner’s words, “the first big distinction in a taxonomy of different smiles” – is that between the smile of happiness and the social smile. Among specialists, the former is known as the “Duchenne smile,” after the nineteenth-century French physiologist Duchenne de Boulogne who discovered the distinction (and upon whose photographs Darwin drew for his Expression of the Emotions). In a Duchenne smile, the muscles around the eyes are active along with the those that pull the sides of the mouth into the familiar upwards curve (the crow’s feet wrinkle and the eyes narrow); a social smile is, roughly speaking, only half a smile, the orbicularis oculi around the eyes remaining unresponsive.


Clarissa (Salome Kammer) gives a reassuring “social smile” to her mother in Heimat 3 (Edgar Reitz, 2004).

The social smile is as important as the felt smile, in life and in film, and insofar as we cannot take a social smile at face value, it opens up a world of complexity. In this scene from The Affair, Alison briefly adopts the smile we see here.

Alison (Ruth Wilson) in The Affair (Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, 2014).

Isolated from the unfolding action and abstracted from the moving image, it is difficult to identify this as a social smile, but in context it is clear enough to any attentive viewer. In the midst of sexual foreplay, Noah notices some marks on the inside of Alison’s thighs. Alison’s mood abruptly changes (“Hand me my fucking dress!”), and we understand that what Noah has discovered are the scars of self-harm we have witnessed Alison inflicting upon herself in flashbacks. Then the smile: a smile meant to reassure Noah even as she withdraws from sexual activity with him. Ekman suggests that an adopted expression like this will often be compromised by the “leakage” of felt emotions onto the face, and will lack “smoothness in the way that it flows on and off the face.” Alison’s smile is certainly only fleetingly adopted.

Alison (Ruth Wilson) in The Affair (Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, 2014).

As social creatures, we are highly sensitive to the subtle variations in emotional expression exemplified by the smile. Filmmakers use their craft to streamline and sculpt the expressive repertoire of the human face in different ways for different aesthetic ends. And so the play of emotions on the human face becomes part of the fabric of film.

Featured image credit: group photo by Creative Vix. Public domain via Pexels.

The post Smile like you mean it appeared first on OUPblog.

Louise Zhange: Sydney, Australia

Sep. 23rd, 2017 12:00 am
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Posted by Artistaday.com

Louise Zhang is a Chinese-Australian artist based in Sydney, Australia. Spanning painting, sculpture and installation, her work negates the space between the attractive and repulsive. With an interest in horror cinema, particularly body horror, Zhang investigates the idea of the visceral as medium, method and symbol in negotiating horror as art form.

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Posted by Howard Jacobson

And if two glasses are good, only imagine the benefits that accrue to me from five

By my reckoning, I must be the healthiest person in the country. Brisk 10-minute walk a day? Tick. Two glasses of red wine every evening? Tick. (And if two glasses are good, only imagine the benefits that accrue to me from five.) Four cups of coffee a day? Tick. No smoking? Tick. No recreational drugs? Tick. Sunscreening? Tick. Statins? Tick. More than five hours’ sleep? Tick. More than six hours’ sleep? Tick. Emotional agility: as, for example, overcoming negative emotions by welcoming them with self-compassion? Tick. Porridge? Tick. Porridge and berries? Tick, tick. Cheese (I was once off it to avoid fat, now I’m on it again for protein, calcium and vitamins A and B12)? Tick. Not wearing Lycra? Tick. (I’m not sure whether I shouldn’t be wearing Lycra for health or for fashion reasons, so I’m not wearing it for both. In which case, make that another double tick.)

So why aren’t I feeling well? Could it be that some people are simply not fashioned to feel well no matter how many boxes they tick? There’s a presumption in the health industry that all any of us wants is to get ourselves into shape and live for ever. We are shepherded into blooming longevity, and before we are able to ask ourselves if we wouldn’t rather burn with Walter Pater’s “hard, gem-like flame” and then go out early, we find ourselves 110, unable to remember our name.

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Posted by Eileen Battersby

The plight of African asylum seekers in Europe is vividly drawn in this powerful, candid novel

Displacement has moved beyond a literary theme; for millions, it is reality. The notion of war has been overtaken by upheaval, which forces desperate people to flee without hope of a final destination, allowing history to repeat itself, relentlessly. This is the humanising lens through which Jenny Erpenbeck, Europe’s outstanding literary seer, views our world.

Previously she had looked to the layered history of her own country, Germany, in dazzling metaphysical fictions such as Visitation and The End of Days. As a Berliner born in the former East Germany in 1967, her early experience was dominated by living in a divided city within a fractured country; her work suggests that she believes human understanding resides in memory.

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Tabs and links in web browsers

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:23 am
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
[personal profile] mtbc
The current iteration of our website at work is well-received but some of its a tags for the hyperlinks use a target="_blank" attribute which means that a new tab or window is always opened when one clicks on the link. That this persistently irritates me makes me suspect that I may be an atypical visitor to the website.

For the most part I think of browser tabs as to-dos. For mouse-like peripherals I use input devices that offer me at least three buttons. For hyperlinks I expect one of the buttons to replace the content in the current tab and another to open the content in a new tab. So, I always have effortless means at hand to select one behavior or the other and this manual target override feels like that choice is removed to no good end.

I hypothesize that we may have gone with this website design because it works better for people with more normal setups and that mine is abnormally useful by default. Alternatively, I may be unusual in being mindful of the choice of where to open the new content as I click around.

Let's cut some buses

Sep. 23rd, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by diamond geezer

I just wanted somewhere to store this.

Daytime bus frequency cuts in September 2017

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
11every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour
29every 5 minsevery 6 mins2 buses an hour
47every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
156every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
205every 7-8 minsevery 8 mins1 bus every 2 hours
210every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
222every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
269every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
345every 7-8 minsevery 8-9 mins1 bus an hour
391every 10-11 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
488every 12 minsevery 15 mins1 bus an hour
C3every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour
H98every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour

It's an updated list, and so is this.

Weekend nightbus frequency cuts in September 2017

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
6every 10 minsevery 15 mins2 buses an hour
24every 15 minsevery 30 mins2 buses an hour
43every 20 minsevery 30 mins1 bus an hour
88every 20 minsevery 30 mins1 bus an hour
94every 15 minsevery 30 mins2 buses an hour
134every 12 minsevery 30 mins3 buses an hour
N5every 10 minsevery 30 mins4 buses an hour
N8every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour
N9every 10 minsevery 20 mins3 buses an hour
N16every 20 minsevery 30 mins1 bus an hour
N20every 10 minsevery 30 mins4 buses an hour
N29every 3-4 minsevery 8 mins8 buses an hour
N91every 15 minsevery 30 mins2 buses an hour
N98every 10 minsevery 15 mins2 buses an hour
N207every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour

While we're here, let's make a start on next month.

Daytime bus frequency cuts in October 2017

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
187every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
276every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
C11every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
E6every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
P12every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
U4every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour

More cuts will be announced later, I'm sure.

I'll try to keep these lists up to date as the year progresses.
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Posted by WW4 Report


BoliviaIndigenous protesters at the Bolivian Altiplano pueblo of Achacachi lifted their blockade of the main highway to the Peruvian border after a full month of paralyzing traffic on the artery. Following a clash with National Police, villagers agreed to dialogue on their grievances, to be mediated by the Catholic church and Bolivia's human rights ombudsman. The conflict reveals a split over the stance of Bolivia's powerful indigenous movement toward the government of President Evo Morales.

Indigenous protesters at the Bolivian Altiplano pueblo of Achacachi lifted their blockade of the main highway to the Peruvian border on Sept. 20, after a full month of paralyzing traffic on the artery. Following a clash with National Police troops three days earlier, villagers agreed to dialogue on their grievances, to be mediated by the Catholic church and Bolivia's human rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo. A new "mixed" municipal government was declared, with participation from both sides in the factional split at the pueblo. But the town's mayor, Edgar Ramos, who has taken refuge in La Paz, says he will not step down. And residents are still demanding the release of 47 protesters detained in the police operation. (Eju!, Santa Cruz, Sept. 21; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, La Razón, La Paz, Sept. 20)

read more

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Posted by Joan Didion

In 1970 the writer spent a month in the south because it seemed to represent the future of America. And now that we are ‘living though the scariest of times’, she has decided to publish her notebooks

John and I were living on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles. I had wanted to revisit the South, so we flew there for a month in 1970. The idea was to start in New Orleans and from there we had no plan. We went wherever the day took us. I seem to remember that John drove. I had not been back since 1942–43, when my father was stationed in Durham, North Carolina, but it did not seem to have changed that much. At the time, I had thought it might be a piece.

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Posted by Sherwood Smith

Some days I need a little silly.

During my time as a sixth grade teacher at a private school, Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood was one of our texts. Its faux-medieval Victorian prose was actually a fairly easy way to accustom the ten-year-olds to medieval language, preparing them for selections from Malory the next year, and Shakespeare the year after.

As school-assigned books go, Robin Hood was pretty popular, though some of the girls sighed that the females were few. But they were used to that in a literature program that depended so heavily on classics.

But there came a day when I had to be absent from school, and I knew that few subs would be up on this book. So I left behind instructions that the students could either get a head start on their vocabulary sheets, or . . . they could write a Missing Chapter, which I would read aloud the next day.

I knew I had a couple of creative writers, but I had no idea how enthusiastic the class would be until I got back to discover that not only had Sixth Grade English been quiet as a pin during my absence, but many had taken their stories home to finish as homework, unasked: they loved being read to, but no poet or author, be they ever so famous, was in any way as thrilling as hearing their own words read out loud, with suitable drama.

So this fill-in became a regular staple of my curriculum.

Many years this or that class was reluctant to tackle the archaic verb conjugations. I always demonstrated, but didn’t hammer it too hard; I wanted these verb forms familiar, not memorized when they were still trying to deal with the vagaries of modern English.

So the kids usually got wot, wottest, wotteth, but the modal auxiliaries seem to trip up some. Doth became a universal, but no one ever seemed to remember dost–and then there were some who couldn’t grasp that -est = second person singular familiar, -eth  = third p. blah blah.

In fact, some were still shaky on the concept of verb conjugations at all,  despite the fact that I had a collection jar and required a nickel penalty* for every uttered “I laid in bed yesterday” or “The dog was laying down,” after I had thoroughly drilled all tenses and forms of lay and lie.

Anyway, over the years I gave this assignment the young writers happily slapped slap est and eth onto adjectives, adverbs, and nouns left and right, figuring it sounded good’n’Plantagenetoid. Either that or adding ‘eth’ suffixes would sufficiently age a word they weren’t sure they could get away with. Thus Robin could kick the Sheriff’s butteth.

As for the stories, one year the class had two alpha girls, their posses dividing the class right down the middle, with plenty of drama. One alpha decided to write her particular lieutenants into her story, inspiring a flurry of Mackynzi and McKyli and Logan and Ryli appearances throughout her story, heroically raiding the castle where her rival and her gang were all sniveling Sheriff’s weasels, cheating Normans, or Prince John’s spies.

Naturally, this story electrified half the class and outraged the other half with as much intensity as if those girls really had gone and shot up a castle with arrows, and poisoned Prince John’s dinners for his gathered villains and spies.

But the Sheriff also had feisty, heroic daughters in other stories, all of whom ran away to join Robin’s band.

In one of these chapters, a sheriff’s doughty daughter fell in love with Robin at first sight, and he with her, so by the time the two had finished walking into Sherwood, they were engaged to be married.

The merry men promptly decorated the forest for a wedding, which was carried out–presumably they had the beautiful white gown with the spangles among their disguise kits. The merry men turned out to have warehouses full of disguise kits in the greenwood.

After the wedding later that afternoon, the Sheriff appeared, demanding his daughter from Robin and the men, who were busy celebrating by having a shooting match. Where was the new wife? In a cave baking her wedding cake, of course, what else would she be doing?

Anyway the story ends with her emerging from her newlywed cookery to yell at her father and demand pardons all around, which of course the abashed Sheriff instantly provided, and all lived happily ever after.

Except for the Sheriff, who had to get a new cook.

In another, Robin and the Sheriff decide to besiege one another, which resolved into a dare. My inventive young student obviously thought that writing was far more arduous than drawing, and so his second page was taken up with the drawings of the castles the arch-enemies built in this deadly competition.

Robin was by far the better builder–his castle not only possessed towers but crenelations. The Sheriff’s offering was a mean little brick and stone hut that looked suspiciously like an outhouse.

And of course all these were built in a day.

In another story, two daughters of one of the Butchers of the Butchers’ Guild went off to the forest looking for adventure, instead of doing their shopping. They spent a delightful day with the merry outlaws, and went home at dark, of course.

Their dad got angry until they told him that Robin Hood was so impressed with their shooting and quarterstaff skills that he invited them into the band, whereupon Father promptly gave his permission, because he knew the girls would be helping good Saxons by robbing the rich and giving to the poor.

One student, whose dad only let him read fiction if it was assigned in school (otherwise his strictly supervised reading was entirely science based),  worked hard to be poetic. This story was packed solid with oddly written (perhaps the kind word would be lyrical) description of the countryside, which I duly gave credit for, even if I’ve never actually seen crinkling bushes or heard birds hale.

Altogether, the Sheriff had a terrible temper if anyone called him a loser or stole his lunch, Prince John seemed to spend a lot of time lurking and spying in the forest, just to get coconuts dropped on his head, or fall into mud, and the Merry Men were respectful of curfew and cheered on any eleven-year-old who challenged the Sheriff and all his guards to a duel.

Because the kid always won.

Finally, if the Sheriff wanted to lure Robin to another shooting match, all he had to do is send a mysterious lady to the Blue Boar inn to proclamatize it, dressed in fledged feathers and plooms.



*the penalties provided a surprise donut morning whenever I had accrued enough cash.




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