“This Lent I will eat no food, to highlight the hunger all around us”

“This Lent I will eat no food, to highlight the hunger all around us” says Keith Hebden, in a “Comment is Free” piece for the Guardian on Monday. As an atheist, I have no automatic respect for religious rituals. I think it’s a good idea to eat fish at least once a week, for example, but I don’t see why it should be a Friday.

So a religious man, doing something that ties in with his religion, but taking it a little further, is just a publicity stunt. One that I applaud.

We can probably all recall at least one Tory politician who has spent a week on as much money as someone on benefits gets, to show how, with a bit of planning, it’s possible to adequately look after yourself. These cynical ploys are undermined, either by abject failure, or by revelations of cheating.

Keith Hebden isn’t trying to prove anything by fasting. He isn’t trying to show either how easy it is, or how difficult. He almost certainly won’t suffer any long term health problems, though I hope he has taken, and will heed, medical advice. He isn’t even evangelising for his faith, as he concludes his article with:

“We can all help: whether you are spiritual, religious, or just that wonderful thing called “human”.”

He’s fasting to raise awareness of a very real problem. The phrase “publicity stunt” is usually taken to mean that there’s an ulterior motive, but it doesn’t have to and, in this case, I don’t think there is.



You can follow Keith’s progress on Twitter by clicking here.

Atos On The Run


No doubt most of you will have heard that Atos are attempting to abandon the contract with the DWP that saw them lying about disabled people in Work Capability Assessments to enable the department to take away their benefits. You may also have heard that Atos are trying to distance themselves from the bad publicity they’ve been getting as thousands of people have died as a result of their experiences with Atos, some by their own hand when they couldn’t cope with the added stress.


Atos’s first stratagem was to change the brand name to OHAssist. They thought nobody would notice! Of course, the news travelled across the internet quickly, so they tried something else – silence the critics.

Then they said that they wanted out of their contract because they were protecting their staff from violence and death threats, allegedly around 170 a day, but couldn’t give any examples even of reports to the police, pretending that they were not willing to violate their staff’s anonymity.

Now they’re trying to silence any opposition. Two Facebook groups, the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights and ATOS Miracles, have been sent this message by Atos/OHAssist:

“We ask kindly that you remove this page as it incites hatred towards our staff and members. Thank you.”

They may have asked “kindly” but, the “request” is based on a lie. Neither group incites hatred, they merely report on the iniquities perpetrated by Atos. Of course, some of the people commenting on posts on the pages might be intemperate, but if that’s a reason to take the pages down, then all news websites should remove the facility to comment, or be shut down.

They are now claiming that OHAssist is not connected to Atos, despite doing so on a site with the Atos name on it. (See the links below for more details.) They just can’t stop themselves from lying!


If Atos/OHAssist don’t like people saying bad things about them, they should stop doing bad things.



Read more at these blogs:

Huge Victory For Sick And Disabled Claimants As Atos Chased Out Of Vicious Benefit Assessments

Originally posted on the void:

atoskillsgraf French IT firm Atos saying they are planning to pull out of Work Capability Assessments, the shambolic and cruel tests designed to strip away benefits from sick and disabled people, is the most humiliating blow yet for Iain Duncan Smith’s bodged attempt at reforming social security.

In a stunning victory for campaigners, Atos say the Work Capability Assessment isn’t working, for them, claimants themselves and even the hapless DWP.  The attempt at early withdrawal from the contract comes just days after protests were held outside Atos assessment centres in towns and cities across the UK.

The astounding announcement also sheds new light on The Guardian story which revealed that the DWP were secretly plotting to get rid of Atos and bring in new contractors to run the tests.  There is truly no honour amongst these thieves as Atos and the DWP bicker in public about who dumped who first.  Meanwhile…

View original 494 more words

The Atos Protests

Did you hear about the nationwide protests against Atos, and the Work Capability Assessments they carry out? Wasn’t it great? What, you didn’t know anything about it? I wonder why. Perhaps you get your news from the BBC which, for all the Tories’ accusations of left-wing bias, is becoming more and more like Britain’s version of Fox “News” every day.


The protests did happen though, and they were reported, but mainly by local newspapers, and by bloggers.
Here are some links to a few of those blog reports:

That’s just a fraction of the posts on one blogging platform, WordPress. Pity the Beeb don’t feel the concerns of so many licence fee payers are worth mentioning. Perhaps there was something more pressing to report, like a celebrity losing weight, or a royal personage meeting someone ordinary.

The Anti-Smoking Lobby’s Real Agenda


I don’t know whether Arwa Mahdawi is a paid shill of the tobacco or pharmaceutical industry, or merely an incompetent hack, but she’s recently written a ludicrous article, for the Guardian no less, though it reads more like a hatchet job in the Mail, bemoaning the advertising of electronic cigarettes on television, claiming that it “risks renormalising smoking; negating the millions of pounds of taxpayer money that have gone into health campaigns designed to make puffing on a cigarette seem more gormless than glamorous.

Mahdawi seems annoyed that the people in the ad look healthy. No doubt she’d prefer them to be coughing and wheezing, like proper smokers, but the experience of many ex-smokers who’ve switched to e-cigs has been a lot less coughing, and much easier breathing.

The addition of sciencey sounding phrases into the article don’t help her case either. Sure, nicotine is a “parasympathomimetic alkaloid”, but so is caffeine, and using such terms in a scary, patronising way just shows her bias, or she’d be arguing for coffee to be banned, and since you can get e-cigs with no nicotine, that would have to include decaf.

Perhaps a degree of regulation is necessary, and an age restriction for buying e-cigs, say 18, should be imposed. That wouldn’t be a huge burden on retailers, as I am not aware of a single one who sells to anyone under that age. It’s far easier for kids to get hold of real cigarettes, and to use them undetected, but e-cigs are more expensive initially, although they work out cheaper in the long run, and the batteries need recharging, so parents need only pay a little attention to their offspring’s activities.

So if children aren’t able to get their hands on the e-cigs, the ad’s target must be existing smokers. Surely switching from tobacco, which has proven harmful, to e-cigs, which may have long-term (unproven) harmful effects, but which are decidedly less harmful than tobacco, is a good thing.

That’s if you are genuinely interested in promoting health. If you’re more interested in protecting the tobacco or Pharma industries, or simply enjoy being judgemental with no justification, then e-cigs are bad, bad, bad!

BBC Capitulation

Tory Press

The WoW petition has smashed though the 100,000 signature barrier, so tomorrow, at 4.30pm, Iain Duncan Sith will be hauled over the coals by the Work and Pensions Select Committee  to answer for his lies and brutality. It could be very embarrassing for him, especially if the proceedings are shown on the BBC Parliament channel.

Which, it seems, it won’t be.

Instead, there’ll be a tribute to Nelson Mandela.

When complaints were made, the BBC had this to say:

We have received complaints from viewers and listeners who felt there was too much coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela. Some audience members felt there was not enough coverage of the storm affecting the UK.

We also received complaints from viewers unhappy about the disruption to the BBC One schedule on 5 December.

Response from BBC News

Nelson Mandela was one of the most important world leaders of the 20th century whose long and complex life story represents a moment of historical change for people in South Africa and around the world. His death was something we regarded as sufficiently significant both to break into our scheduled coverage and extend our news programmes. His political and cultural influence was global and as both a UK and international broadcaster it is important that we reflected that, and the range of reactions to his death, to all our audiences.

BBC One viewers received updates on the storm in their area during regional bulletins broadcast at 2250 and in a weather forecast at 0030, on the BBC News website and on BBC local radio stations throughout the night. We are continuing to report on the aftermath of the storm.

Response from BBC Scheduling

Interruptions to programmes are rare but we regard the death of Nelson Mandela to be of significant public interest.


“…we regard the death of Nelson Mandela to be of significant public interest.”

Well so do I, but why does a tribute to him need to be shown at such a specific time. The select committee hearing is important to millions of people, and deserves to be shown live. There are plenty of slots on the Parliament channel, that are usually padded with recordings of sessions in the Commons, often from several months earlier.

And the BBC assertion that the complaints were of ” too much coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela” may be true in some cases, but not at all true of every complainant.

The BBC seem intent on continuing their cover up on behalf of the government, and will even slander the public they’re supposed to serve to do it.

RIP Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, alongside Ruth First, during the Defiance Campaign of 1952

Nelson Mandela, alongside Ruth First, during the Defiance Campaign of 1952

Putting “RIP” in the title goes against the grain a little for an atheist, but if anyone deserves a peaceful afterlife, it’s Nelson Mandela.
Although he started off in less privileged circumstances than the white rulers of South Africa, he could have had a fairly comfortable life, compared with his black countrymen. His sense of justice wouldn’t allow that, however, nor would it allow him to choose violence wholeheartedly. Even when, in 1961, he helped found  the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), it’s campaign of sabotage was waged at night in order to minimise casualties.

An opportunity to justify violence presented itself when he was imprisoned for 27 years but, on his eventual release, he did everything he could to avoid that violence. When he was elected President, he deliberately missed another chance of revenge, instead working hard for reconciliation, and even included National Party officials in his government.

The reactions to Mandela’s death have been of three main types: those who think him a saint; those who regard him as a terrorist; and those who thought him a terrorist, but find it convenient now to laud him as a saint.

Mandela was no saint, and I doubt if he ever thought of himself in that way. He was no terrorist either. The terrorists in South Africa were the people who supported Apartheid. Many of their supporters from abroad actively worked against the abolition of Apartheid, until public opinion became so vehement that they realised they were on the losing side.

Crocodile tears