Saturday, January 26, 2008

Declan’s Google Mail is raided

This afternoon, while Declan and I were waiting in the Idea Store Whitechapel library for my next booked computer, his Google Mail was raided: the first email that appeared in the inbox is dated 12 August 2007, and I also had about 250 lists of scientists, each one containing 10 names and emails, wiped. Declan has written to Google’s chief executive, Dr Eric Schmidt, stating: “… this afternoon between 3.15pm and 3.30pm, while I had no access to a computer, all my draft documents (over 300) were lost, along with all emails sent to me since 12 August 2007”. I have since found out that, through the search facility, emails sent to Declan can still be found, although it would seem that all my drafts are well gone.

Declan also states in this email to Dr Schmidt: “On 9 January 2008, I drew to your attention that from 9.15am to 11.15am I was unable to access my Google Mail at I was however able to access my wife's account at”. The problem is that not owning a laptop, I am forced to keep all emails in Google Mail, despite knowing I am a sitting duck. We are of course concerned that Declan’s petition to the UN, which has already been signed by 280 scientists, including 21 Nobel laureates, could be seriously targeted next, despite us having a print of all the signatories.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Begging for over a week

Less than two weeks before the European Court of Human Rights “possibly” examines Declan's application of 8 September (Declan received a letter from the Registrar turning down his request for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of the Court – see previous blog), things couldn’t be much rougher for us. Since 10 January, I have been forced to go into the local train station early in the morning and ask people for some spare change in an attempt to get £4 or £5 so Declan and I can get by for the day.

The last time I had to beg was on 20 November when, as result of all the problems we were having with street distributors while attempting to sell The Big Issue (a magazine sold by homeless people on street pitches), I also had to go into the train station to get some money to be able to buy a few Big Issues for the week. (While trying to make some money from selling this magazine, we have run into all kinds of difficulties, some of which I have reported throughout this blog, and others which I have written up in the diary I have been keeping since 19 November in the event I am prosecuted for begging – see entry titled "Defence for a court”. Among other things: we have been threatened and insulted by other Big Issue vendors; our pitches have been taken over by distributors of The London Paper, London Lite, Sport, ShortList, etc on countless occasions, and sometimes for long periods; and Declan has to travel to the Big Issue head office every Monday to ensure the proper registration of our pitches because of repeated “administrative errors” in respect of same. It doesn't seem to matter that Declan has done everything possible to amend our situation – all of his many emails to the Big Issue from 10 September to 10 January seem to have fallen on deaf ears.)

The reason why I have now been reduced to begging for food is because for the last two weeks we have sold almost no Big Issues at all due to bad weather (although I am sure that our pitches wouldn't make it into The Big Issue top 200 London pitch list): since New Year, Britain has been hit with freezing Siberian winds and the Met Office warned on 17 January that this month is on course to be the wettest on record, and that the country faces its wettest year ever. I tried to postpone the begging for as long as possible – it’s illegal in England and I already had two police tickets for begging (13 and 14 November) – and since the end of December I have almost exclusively been eating the bit of grated cheese and two white sandwich bread that the nuns from the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre give the homeless “for later”, but on 10 January I had to choose between starvation for the weekend or beg (we could get some cheap breakfast in the Methodist Church-run Whitechapel Mission on Saturday and Sunday, but we were barred back in June due to concerns about our safety).

My luck ran out on Friday at 7.52am when I was stopped by a police officer as I was about to leave the station. “Maria, isn’t?” he asks. I recognise him too. He was the officer who issued me my first ticket, as his partner proceeded to call me “the scum of the earth”, and then forcibly threw me out of the station. “You have been seen in the station this week asking for money and stuff,” he says, as he is writing my details to issue me a ticket, “and you can’t do that. Next time, you will be arrested.” Well, that is some advancement. The last time, as he and his partner were pushing me into the wet street, he told me I wouldn’t be so lucky as to be arrested – adding that why would they arrest me, to be able to get warm and be given a hot cup of coffee and some food?

Of course, tomorrow morning I have no choice but to go back into the train station, although for a shorter period, just to raise enough money to keep Declan alive for the day. The problem now is that we won’t have the money to spend Friday nights in the internet café in Leicester Square when things are hot: Friday
night appears to be the time of the week when I am at most risk back at the porch (I sleep on the outside so that Declan can sleep with our well-tied bags): I was repeatedly kicked in the chest and shoulders on a Friday; dragged out of the porch by the ankles and, a few hours later, kicked in the back on a Friday; and on an additional two Fridays we have had beer thrown all over us as we slept.

We won’t have the money either to go to our local internet café (£3 for seven hours) when things take another turn for the worse in the Tower Hamlets Council-run Idea Store Whitechapel (the borough’s flagship library, learning and information service), with its 3-hour limit on internet access, save computer availability. Only this afternoon Declan had to email the manager:

Subject: Internet access

Dear Mr Abidin,

I wish to confirm, as verified by your supervisor Asab Ali, that my wife (card no. D000350314) booked computer 14 on floor 1 in Idea Store Whitechapel between 2.00pm and closing time at 4.45pm today. At 3.00pm, she was unable to log in due to another card holder’s name appearing on the monitor for the hour, thereby reducing what was a booking for 2 hours 45 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes.

I reconfirm that on 10 January my wife’s 2-hour booking on computer 15 on floor 1 was reduced to 45 minutes when she again lost her booking to another card holder in similar circumstances; that on 7 January, in the middle of a 1-hour session on computer 5 on floor 1, she was unable to open any web page (while all other computers around her appeared to function as normal) for a reported 10 minutes; that on 4 January, in the middle of a 1-hour session on computer 15 on floor 1, she once again lost her booking to another card holder; and that on 14 November, in the middle of a 1-hour session on computer 15 on floor 1, she was unable to open any page from the internet or send an email.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey
Card no. D000355837

Last Thursday the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) here in the UK offered year-long licences to two teams of scientists who want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with cow or rabbit eggs, in the hope that they will be able to extract valuable embryonic stem cells from them. The cells are expected to lead to revolutionary therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even spinal cord injuries. The Department of Health initially decided their use would be banned, but changed its position after lobbying from scientists - in January 2007, 45 scientists, ethicists and politicians, including three Nobel Laureates, wrote to The Times to support the hybrid embryo work.

In this regard, the papers have been carrying quotations by Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of Developmental Genetics at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London, Sir Richard Gardner, chairman of the Royal Society's stem cell working group, and Lord Robert Winston, one of the world's most respected medical academics and researcher of the human reproductive system (all three distinguished scientists are signatories to Declan's petition to the UN in support of research cloning of embryos and stem cells).

Christian Concern for our Nation protest at Westminster

Needless to say, Christian groups – who represent a small minority albeit loud religious voice – were voicing their total opposition to it. On Tuesday, campaigners from the group Christian Concern for our Nation demonstrated outside Parliament as the peers began their consideration of the Bill. And in the papers, there were all kinds of fantasy statements from organisations like the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, the Christian Medical Fellowship, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, and Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, the UK's Christian bioethics institute, claiming that the research would blur the boundary between humans and other species. Meanwhile, a pastoral letter sent to all 500 Catholic parishes in Scotland this week by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland describes the fusion of animal and human material as a "monstrous act against human dignity".

HFEA approval comes as innovation secretary John Denham called for greater respect for science in public policy in a speech to the Royal Society on Thursday. But in an article that appeared in the Telegraph on 26 March 2007, Professor of Philosophy AC Grayling states that “all the major religions have become more assertive, more vocal, more demanding and therefore more salient in the public domain”. NAC, of course, seeks to accord a more balanced framework for decisions on the important issues associated with cloning for reproductive and therapeutic benefits.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

European Court of Human Rights declines to expedite Declan’s case

Declan has received a letter from the European Court of Human Rights in respect of his request of 8 September for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of the Court. The Court is not going to consider the request, and will examine his application, also of 8 September, possibly before the end of the month. According to Philip Leach in Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights, cases "usually take at least four to five years to progress through the system (if they pass through the admissibility stage) and some cases take longer", so obviously we are not very happy about this.

In addition to providing the Court with full reasons for expedition, Declan also sent the Registrar his latest hospital discharge summary report of 4 October (this time from the Royal London Hospital, where he was hospitalised for two days with a viral infection), my police statement of 22 September (I was woken by a guy who repeatedly kicked me in the chest and shoulders), and two tickets police issued to me for begging on 13 and 14 November. Alas, we were not able to convince the Court of the merits of the case.

Anybody browsing through this blog cannot but note that it has been some achievement to survive on the streets for so long. I haven't written anything since 25 November, primarily because we have been too busy, but the entries in my diary since then – I have been keeping a diary in case I am arrested for begging and brought before a court – might have inspired Charles Dickens for one of his books. Among other things: we stand in our registered pitches to sell The Big Issue (a magazine sold by homeless people) in the bitter cold and rain and still the London Lite and The London Paper regularly take over Declan's pitch (oh, on three occasions a Big Issue vendor refused to leave Declan's pitch when asked); for two nights of the second weekend of December we were graced with the alarm of the porch we sleep in, all night; and on 15 December somebody defecated and urinated in the porch (a first). Things like walking everywhere carrying all our belongings (as result of all the problems while attempting to sell The Big Issue, we haven't been able to afford transport since July), being reduced to washing in public toilets (we were barred back in June from the Methodist Church-run Whitechapel Mission due to concerns about our safety), and wearing clothes barely fit for a scarecrow (the last time I asked the nun in charge of clothes in the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre, she didn't have a pair of jeans for me, and gave me a jumper so old you can't figure out its colour) don't even register in this diary.

All of that being said, we consider it a small price to pay in light of the success of Declan's petition to the UN in support of research cloning of embryos and stem cells: 151 signatories so far, including 20 Nobel Laureates. We are incredibly frustrated though, because despite that we get up at 4.50am every morning and go to sleep around 10.00pm, the time we get to spend on computers is only a fraction: everyday we walk two or three hours; have to queue outside the Dellow Centre for even a cup of tea; stand in our Big Issue pitches unless it is extremely cold or particularly rainy; one of us must stand over all our bags while the other washes in public toilets (more time ridiculously wasted); and Declan takes what it seems to me forever collecting cardboard and securing the bags for the night.

There really is not much work we can do in such a short space of time. I do the research and the emailing, while Declan has the difficult job of maintaining the spreadsheet, which contains all kinds of relevant information, including the date(s) scientists have been emailed. Research from a public library is particularly nightmarish, so I have a notebook and also use a couple of free on-line bookmarking services to store pages I find on the web – I have them in dozens of folders and subfolders for quick access. My ultimate objective is to build a campaign to accompany this petition, and our model is Oxfam International's website ‘Make Fair Trade’, which 20 million have signed to date. I also think wildly interesting the page that Greenpeace UK has created in relation to the current proposal to build a sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport – what a brilliant idea for people who support embryonic stem cell research to put their comments on a video. Still, I have hundreds of scientists that we want to email but haven't because I don't have the time.

A matter of particular worry to us is how many emails are actually getting through. Declan has already been informed by some signatories that they didn't receive the email he had referred to, despite me having a record of it having been sent. Last week, for example, I found two emails from scientists, asking Declan to add their name to the petition, in the spam box! We believe France in particular is targeted in this regard: our spreadsheet is broken up into batches of 10 and you can see that in some batches containing mainly French scientists nobody has signed. We are aware that the late Italian Luca Coscioni sent faxes to scientists when he was seeking their support and Declan would very much like to supplement the emailing with faxes and phone calls, at least to leading scientists and Nobel Laureates.

Even when I have more time at my disposal I encounter difficulties. Take last Friday. Because we only had two Big Issues to sell come evening time – due to the difficulties with Declan’s pitch and my pitch not being a very good one, we can only afford to buy 5 or 6 magazines a day – I stayed in the Idea Store Whitechapel library only to lose my computer to another person. This afternoon I also ran into problems. A member of staff refused to book me a computer for a fourth hour, despite that she can override the library’s 3-hour limit if there are computers available at the time, and if it wasn't because Declan confronted her with an email from her manager informing him of procedure, I would have found myself at 3.00pm with nothing to do. I had the same problem just prior to the holiday period: a member of staff more or less told me that if the library was deserted and all the computers were free, she still would refuse to book me. Of course when things like that happen we go to the internet café – if we have £3 we buy ourselves 7 hours. Anyway, this is the email that Declan sent to the manager of Idea Store Whitechapel on Friday night:

Subject: Internet access

Dear Mr Abidin,

I wish to confirm that this evening, in the middle of a 1-hour session on computer 15 on floor 1 in Idea Store Whitechapel, my wife (card no. D000350314) had to re-start the computer after an unexpected interference with her work and lost her booking to another customer. A member of your staff (name withheld) informed my wife that she had to give the computer up.

Please would you acknowledge receipt. Below is a copy of my email to you of 14 November, to which I did not receive a response.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey


Subject: Internet access

Dear Mr Abidin,

My previous correspondence refers. I wish to confirm that this evening, in the middle of a one-hour session on computer 15 on floor 1 in Idea Store Whitechapel, and as verified by your floor supervisor Ms Nadine Lasmel at 6.30pm, my wife (card no. D000350314) was unable to open any page from the internet or send an email.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey
Card no. D000355837