Thursday 31 January 2019

Kumbh Mela: How to find someone lost at the world's biggest gathering

The ongoing Kumbh Mela festival in the northern Indian city of Allahabad (recently re-named Prayagraj) is billed as the largest gathering of humanity on earth, with 110 million people expected to attend over 49 days. But for the thousands who get lost among the crowds, help is at hand. The BBC's Geeta Pandey spent a day at the lost and found centres.

"Most people we get are elderly, mostly women above 60 years," says Umesh Tiwari who heads the Bhule Bhatke Shivir (lost and found camp), run by local charity Bharat Seva Dal.

Allahabad's oldest, this camp was set up by his father Raja Ram Tiwari in 1946 and has since helped reunite more than 1.5 million families.

At the entrance, a policeman writes down the details of the new arrivals in a register - their names, addresses, where they came from, any details of who to contact.

Inside, dozens of people who've been separated from friends or family are waiting anxiously. Some are sitting on rope cots inside the compound while others squat on the ground outside in the sun.

The atmosphere is fraught with tension. Anxious hours have been spent worrying over the fate of a loved one. There are tears and pleading voices: "Please announce my name [on the public address system] one more time."

'We got lost on the way to the bathroom'
Among them is a 35-year-old woman (who doesn't want to be named) with her eight-year-old daughter. The child is wrapped in a blanket because when they came in, she had no clothes on. "My husband and son had bathed and I accompanied my daughter to the bathroom. When we returned, we couldn't find them," she tells me.

Pilgrims at the mela bathe at the Sangam - the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Hindus believe that doing so will cleanse them of their sins and help them attain "moksha", setting them free from the cycle of birth and death.

"We asked around and reached this place at 11am," says the woman. "We've been waiting here for several hours now and don't know what to do."

Her mobile phone, her handbag, everything is with her husband. The mother and the daughter don't remember any phone numbers and are uncertain how to find their way back home.

Mr Tiwari says his calling is to help reunite separated or lost people
The oldest lost and found camp has been reuniting people since 1946
Some oversized clothes have been found to dress the child and repeated announcements have been made, but so far no one has come for them.

Mr Tiwari offers to give them money for bus fare, but they're not keen to travel after dark. "There's no last mile connectivity where I live. How will we reach home safely?" the woman asks. Mr Tiwari says they can stay the night in the tents at the camp.

As she sits fretting, weighing her options, one of the staff members comes in to say that her husband has arrived. Looking visibly relieved, the couple leave along with their daughter.

"On some days, the crowds are so thick that people easily get disoriented. We've received 560 people at our centre since the morning and 510 have been reunited with their families," Mr Tiwari says.

As dusk falls, the wait continues for the others. Among them is an elderly man who was separated from his wife in the morning. "Where is she now? Would she have had something to eat? She has no telephone and no money," he says, wiping away a tear.

The Kumbh Mela is the world's largest gathering of people
"People think what could go wrong? But when adversity strikes, everything does and you can't do anything," says Mr Tiwari.

They have 25 volunteers who fan out across the mela grounds and bring in any one who appears lost. "It's god's will to separate or reunite people, my calling is to serve them. These people, the lost ones, are my god."

'No-one knows my real name'
A couple of minutes of walk from the Bhule Bhatke Camp is the brightly-lit Khoya Paya Kendra (Lost and Found Centre), run by the police. When I visit the centre at midday, it's a hive of activity.

The registration counters are staffed by volunteers - mostly young men and women - who take down the details of the missing in their computers. Some of the volunteers who have come from outside the state are struggling to understand the local dialect and have little understanding of the cultural nuances.
Most of those lost are elderly
At one counter, a volunteer asks a 60-year-old woman, who's been separated from her group, her name so she can fill up a form.

"Ram Bisal ki amma (Ram Bisal's mother)," she responds. The volunteer is perplexed. "I don't need to know your son's name, I need your name," she repeats. The woman says no-one knows her real name, but when the volunteer insists, she reluctantly says it's Sarsuti Devi Maurya.

Sarsuti Devi says she is visiting the fair with five of her neighbours from her village. She got separated from the group at the Sangam. She landed up at the centre after trying to search for them on her own for an hour. Though she is able to name two of the men in the group, she has no telephone numbers to share.

Many others waiting to be reunited with their friends and families have similar profiles - they are elderly, with little or no education, and remember no telephone numbers. Many are not even sure about details of where they've come from. Most can name their villages but many are unsure about the districts.

Sarsuti Devi is lucky - while her case is being registered, two young men also trying to register a missing person report at another nearby counter spot her. They are, in fact, there to find her.

Sarsuti Devi Maurya is reunited with her group
Relief is visible on their faces as they all start talking at the same time. "We were afraid something had happened to her. She's our neighbour in the village. How would we go back and show our faces?" said Parvesh Yadav.

Within minutes, Shyamkali, an older woman, joins the group. The two women are relieved to see each other, but they are also upset - Shyamkali thinks Sarsuti Devi was being overconfident and adventurous in going to the river alone, while the latter blames the others for being careless enough to lose her. But soon, they are hugging each other.

Meanwhile, a constant stream of arrivals is keeping the volunteers busy. Although most people who get separated are reunited, a handful of stories don't have happy endings.

Announcements are made from the lost and found centres throughout the day
Several hours after Nokha Devi walked into a lost and found centre, the volunteers are still unable to prise any information from her. She looks troubled and is unable to answer questions.

"If no one comes for her in the next 12 hours, we'll hand her over to the police and she will be taken to a shelter for destitute people," says one of the volunteers.

'What will we tell her family if we can't find her?'
While I'm hanging around, listening to stories of people, two elderly women come up to me with a small scrap of paper. Two names are scribbled on it with mobile numbers in Hindi.

"Can you please call them to check if my friend is at our camp?" one of them asks.

Her name, she tells me in Gujarati, is Prabha Ben Patel. She's from the western city of Ahmedabad and she is visiting with two friends.

"We bathed in the holy waters and went to visit a temple nearby where we lost our friend," she says.

Prabha Ben Patel was worried about her missing friend
It's hard not to get involved. The women are anxious. "What will we tell her family if we can't find her?" she asks me.

I call one of the numbers and once it's answered, I hand over the phone to Prabha Ben. She explains the situation and hangs up.

A couple of moments later, my phone rings. At the other end is a woman, speaking excitedly. I hand back the phone to Prabha Ben.

She's finally relaxed. And smiling. Her friend is alright and has turned up at the camp.

Next door to the Bhule Bhatke Shivir is a camp exclusively for women and children. Also run by a local charity, the Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Smriti Samiti camp has been running since 1956.

Its manager Sant Prasad Pandey tells me they have reunited 950 people since the morning and that 15 people are still waiting to hear from their families.

"We are providing food, clothes and blankets to those waiting here. And for those who can travel on their own - we are buying them tickets or giving them money to travel home."

Mr Pandey says they have more than 100 volunteers covering the 32 sq km festival ground and that they have been told to especially keep an ear out for children who are wandering around alone, crying, and bring them in.

'I hope someone finds my five-year-old daughter'
That's the reason why Sandhya Vishvakarma is waiting at this camp - she's looking for Radhika, her five-year-old daughter.

"It's been more than an hour since we lost her," she says, crying. "We looked for her everywhere and then came here to make announcements about her. I hope someone will find her and bring her here." Her sister tries to console her.

Mr Pandey tells her that the police at the centre are in touch with the other two centres and that they will let her know as soon as they receive any information about her daughter.

Soon, information arrives that a child matching Radhika's description has been brought to the nearby police-run camp.

Sandhya is reunited with her five-year-old daughter Radhika
When Sandhya and her sister arrive at the other camp, a policewoman is holding Radhika. The police ask the child if she recognises Sandhya. "Yes, it's mummy," she says.

But first, there are formalities to be completed. The girl is handed over after police are satisfied that Sandhya is who she says she is and not a child trafficker.

"The police told us that an old man found her miles away from here and brought her to them," says Sandhya.

Radhika says "the uncle" who found her and the "police uncles" were nice and that they bought her treats.

"We were crying our eyes out, she was happy," Sandhya says. The tears have been replaced by joyful smiles as they pose for photographs.

It's a story that has ended well.

Kumbh Mela at a glance

  • A pilgrimage in which Hindus gather at points along the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers
  • This year's event expects 120 million visitors over seven weeks, dwarfing last year's Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, which drew about 2.4 million
  • Astrology determines most aspects of the festival, including its date, duration and location
  • The last full Kumbh, held in 2013 in Allahabad, was also a Maha (or great) Kumbh, which happen every 144 years. It attracted an estimated 100 million visitors

Photographs by Ankit Srinivas

(Source: BBC)

The difference a year makes

When starting school, younger children are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD

Could a child’s birthday put him or her at risk for an ADHD misdiagnosis? The answer appears to be yes, at least among children born in August who start school in states where enrollment is cut off at a Sept. 1 birth date, according to a new study led by Harvard Medical School researchers.

The findings, published Nov. 28 in The New England Journal of Medicine, show that children born in August in those states are 30 percent more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, compared with their slightly older peers enrolled in the same grade.

The rate of ADHD diagnoses among children has risen dramatically over the past 20 years. In 2016 alone, more than 5 percent of U.S. children were being actively treated with medication for ADHD. Experts believe the rise is fueled by a combination of factors, including a greater recognition of the disorder, a true rise in the incidence of the condition and, in some cases, improper diagnosis.

The results of the new study underscore the notion that, at least in a subset of elementary school students, the diagnosis may be a factor of earlier school enrollment, the research team said.

“Our findings suggest the possibility that large numbers of kids are being overdiagnosed and overtreated for ADHD because they happen to be relatively immature compared to their older classmates in the early years of elementary school,” said study lead author Timothy Layton, assistant professor of health care policy in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

Most states have arbitrary birth date cutoffs that determine which grade a child will be placed in and when they can start school. In states with a Sept. 1 cutoff, a child born on Aug. 31 will be nearly a full year younger on the first day of school than a classmate born on Sept. 1. At this age, Layton noted, the younger child might have a harder time sitting still and concentrating for long periods of time in class. That extra fidgeting may lead to a medical referral, Layton said, followed by diagnosis and treatment for ADHD.

For example, the researchers said, what may be normal behavior in a boisterous 6-year-old could seem abnormal relative to the behavior of older peers in the same classroom.

This dynamic may be particularly true among younger children given that an 11- or 12-month difference in age could lead to significant differences in behavior, the researchers added.

“As children grow older, small differences in age equalize and dissipate over time, but behaviorally speaking, the difference between a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old could be quite pronounced,” said study senior author Anupam Jena, the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and an internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. “A normal behavior may appear anomalous relative to the child’s peer group.”

Using the records of a large insurance database, the investigators compared the difference in ADHD diagnosis by birth month — August versus September — among more than 407,000 elementary school children born between 2007 and 2009, who were followed until the end of 2015.

In states that use Sept. 1 as a cutoff date for school enrollment, children born in August had a 30 percent greater chance of an ADHD diagnosis than children born in September, the analysis showed. No such differences were observed between children born in August and September in states with cutoff dates other than Sept. 1.

For example, 85 of 10,000 students born in August were either diagnosed with or treated for ADHD, compared with 64 students of 10,000 born in September. When investigators looked at ADHD treatment only, the difference was also large — 53 of 10,000 students born in August received ADHD medication, compared with 40 of 10,000 for those born in September.

Jena pointed to a similar phenomenon described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” Canadian professional hockey players are much more likely to have been born early in the year, according to research cited in Gladwell’s book. Canadian youth hockey leagues use Jan. 1 as a cutoff date for age groups. In the formative early years of youth hockey, players born in the first few months of the year were older and more mature, and therefore likelier to be tracked into elite leagues, with better coaching, more time on the ice, and a more talented cohort of teammates. Over the years this cumulative advantage gave the relatively older players an edge over their younger competitors.

Similarly, Jena noted, a 2017 working paper  from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggested that children born just after the cutoff date for starting school tended to have better long-term educational performance than their relatively younger peers born later in the year.

“In all of those scenarios, timing and age appear to be potent influencers of outcome,” Jena said.

Research has shown wide variations in ADHD diagnosis and treatment across different regions in the U.S. ADHD diagnosis and treatment rates have also climbed dramatically over the last 20 years. In 2016 alone, more than 5 percent of all children in the U.S. were taking medication for ADHD, the authors noted. All of these factors have fueled concerns about ADHD overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

The reasons for the rise in ADHD incidence are complex and multifactorial, Jena said. Arbitrary cutoff dates are likely just one of many variables driving this phenomenon, he added. In recent years, many states have adopted measures that hold schools accountable for identifying ADHD and give educators incentives to refer any child with symptoms suggesting ADHD for medical evaluation.“The diagnosis of this condition is not just related to the symptoms, it’s related to the context,” Jena said. “The relative age of the kids in class, laws and regulations, and other circumstances all come together.”

It is important to look at all of these factors before making a diagnosis and prescribing treatment, Jena said.

“A child’s age relative to his or her peers in the same grade should be taken into consideration and the reasons for referral carefully examined.”

Additional co-authors include researchers from the Department of Health Care Policy, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Department of Health Policy and Management, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

(Source: The Harvard Gazette)

Stop ‘fighting’ cancer, and start treating it like any other illness

People with cancer are fed up of the language of war. As I have experienced, using calmer terms helps us fear this illness less

Do you have a cancer? Or are you “a brave hero fighting against the demon foe”? Have you something in your body that needs removing, or are you a heroic victim in a war you may “win or lose”? A poll by Macmillan Cancer Support has found that many people with cancer are fed up with the language of war. They want to be treated like anyone else who is ill. They want to discuss their treatment with a doctor. It is as simple as that.

Anyone with experience of a cancer knows well the lugubrious looks you get. You poor thing. We are so sorry. How long have “they” given you? Be brave. Be positive. Fight back. Don’t give in and “lose”. It suggests you lacked courage and were “beaten”.

Language always matters. It matters not because it affects physical wellbeing – a subject on which psychotherapists differ – but because it affects how people live with their illness and relate to those around them. The taboo that surrounds cancer is still intense. Until the middle of the last century, its apparent incurability made it the great unmentionable. That taboo still turns initial diagnosis, even of the commonest and most curable cancers such as breast, bowel, lung and prostate, into a devastating blow that can be treated as a premonition of death by family and friends.

 ‘People with cancer want to be treated like anyone else who is ill.’ Spectators at the
London marathon, 2018. Photograph: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images
Having some time ago been through this myself, I am sure a way to de-escalate the language of cancer is to stop referring to it like bubonic plague. Rather use the indefinite article, as “a” cancer, a specific thing, an intrusion, a growth. There are certainly blood, bone and cell cancers that are, or have become, “blanket”. But most are malignant growths to be removed or destroyed in situ, the quicker the better. If they have not spread, they are gone. It does not leave people “in remission”, with the veil of death still hovering over them.

The image of cancer as an invading army, an immortal alien no human body can resist, derives in part from the failure of medical research to find a “cure”. There has been a suspicion that the pharmaceutical industry likes this image of being engaged in a cold, or hot, war as it helps fundraising, not least from government – and that this lay behind big pharma’s resistance to immunotherapy research, now at last ending.

A sensible approach to cancers (plural) should owe less to the language of the Pentagon and more to a local GP surgery. It would comfort thousands of ordinary mortals, who want to handle this illness like any other. In most cases, this means: “Have you a cancer? I am so sorry, when are they taking it out?”

(Source: The Guardian)

Suman Kumari makes history, becomes Pakistan’s first Hindu woman judge

Suman Kumari has become the first Hindu woman in Pakistan to be appointed as a civil judge, according to a media report.

Suman, who hails from Qambar-Shahdadkot, will serve in her native district.

She passed her LLB examination from Hyderabad and did her masters in law from Karachi's Szabist University, Dawn reported.

According to Pawan Kumar Bodan, her father, Suman wants to provide free legal assistance to the poor in Qambar-Shahdadkot.

According to her father, Suman wants to provide free legal assistance to the poor in
Qambar-Shahdadkot.(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@Danyal Gilani)

“Suman has opted for a challenging profession, but I am sure she will go places through hard work and honesty.” - Pawan Kumar Bodan, Suman’s father

Her father is an eye specialist while Suman's elder sister is a software engineer and another sister is a chartered accountant.

Suman is a fan of singers Lata Mangeshkar and Atif Aslam.

This is not the first time that a person from the Hindu community has been appointed as a judge. The first judge from the Hindu community was Justice Rana Bhagwandas, who served as the acting chief justice for brief periods between 2005 and 2007.

Hindus make up nearly 2 percent of Pakistan's total population and Hinduism remains the second largest religion in Pakistan after Islam.

(Source: The Quint)

Fate of castles in the air in Turkey’s £151m ghost town

Drone footage of 300 chateaux in abandoned development lays bare challenges facing Turkish economy

Drone footage of an eerie abandoned urban development of mini castles in Turkey has shone a light on the troubles facing the country’s economy.

Burj al Babas, billed as a luxury housing development near Mudurnu, a village roughly halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, was left unfinished last year after its developers Sarot Property Group went bankrupt.

The future of the 300 closely packed chateaux – which cost an estimated £151m to build – is now uncertain and the project has become a cautionary tale for other developers in Turkey’s debt-laden construction sector.

Work began in 2014 on units primarily designed as holiday homes for wealthy Gulf tourists. The plans also included Turkish baths and an entertainment complex.

Only a handful of the £379,000 Disney-style homes were sold, however, and several investors have since pulled out, Mezher Yerdelen, deputy chair of the Sarot Property Group, told Agence France-Presse.

Of 732 planned buildings, 587 were completed, and the company is now £20m in debt.

Empty homes in the Burj al Babas development. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images
The construction project has long been hated by Mudurnu locals, who say it is not in keeping with the area’s traditional architecture, characterised by Byzantine buildings, traditional Ottoman wooden houses and a 600-year-old mosque.

Since Burj al Babas got the go-ahead, the Turkish government has introduced new building regulations designed to preserve local character and heritage. In several places, housing developments must now be low-rise and fit in with existing neighbourhoods.

But it may be too late to undo some of the damage, said Yaşar Adnan Adanalı, an Istanbul-based urban development researcher. “I worry that projects like Burj al Babas opened Pandora’s box, in some respects,” he said. “Developments without proper planning that do not contextualise the geography and history of their surroundings have exploded in Turkey since.”

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has encouraged a construction boom during his time in office, hailing large, job-heavy infrastructure projects as the engine of the Turkish economy.

However, the weakening Turkish lira has left many companies struggling to pay off the foreign currency debt borrowed to finance projects, stalling work and bankrupting companies. The collapsing construction bubble has resulted in half-finished high-rises and ghost towns all over the country.

A row of empty homes in the development. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images
Atilla Yesilada, Turkey analyst for GlobalSource Partners, an emerging markets analysis firm, said Burj al Babas’s fate was a snapshot of the wider malaise plaguing the Turkish construction sector. “It’s not just the homebuilders who go bankrupt. The people who supply goods to those industries – the architects, the technicians, the glass makers – those people suffer too,” he said.

Last year, Turkey slashed the financial and investment criteria for foreigners to become Turkish citizens, in a move it is hoped will double annual property investment by foreigners to around £7.6bn.

Despite no sure indications that the country’s economic woes will reverse in the near future, Sarot Group is still hopeful Gulf investors, lured by the prospect of Turkish passports, will return and Burj al Babas will be finished.

“We only need to sell 100 villas to pay off our debt,” said Yerdelen. “I believe we can get over this crisis in four to five months and partially inaugurate the project in 2019.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound

When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. We need a new literacy for the digital age

Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing - a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.

As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.

‘We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate’ reading brain’ Illustration: Sebastien Thibault
This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.

We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.

 The negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade
Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.

Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading comprehension in older high school and college students. In Stavanger, Norway, psychologist Anne Mangen and her colleagues studied how high school students comprehend the same material in different mediums. Mangen’s group asked subjects questions about a short story whose plot had universal student appeal (a lust-filled, love story); half of the students read Jenny, Mon Amour on a Kindle, the other half in paperback. Results indicated that students who read on print were superior in their comprehension to screen-reading peers, particularly in their ability to sequence detail and reconstruct the plot in chronological order.

‘Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading.’ Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61
Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.

Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes, human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.”

US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade - with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.

The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.

There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice. The story of the changing reading brain is hardly finished. We possess both the science and the technology to identify and redress the changes in how we read before they become entrenched. If we work to understand exactly what we will lose, alongside the extraordinary new capacities that the digital world has brought us, there is as much reason for excitement as caution.

We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a good society.

(Source: The Guardian)

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Brazil mother narrates football matches for blind son

A passionate Brazilian football fan has drawn nationwide attention for narrating her local team's football matches live to her blind and autistic son.

Silvia Grecco and her son Nickollas (12) have become minor celebrities for the Sao Paulo team Palmeiras after the mother was spotted on TV last year narrating one of their matches from the stands.

Silvia Grecco and her son Nickollas at one of Palmeiras’ home match.
"I describe details: this player is wearing short sleeves, the colour of their football boots, hair color," Grecco (56) said during a recent game between Palmeiras and Botafogo de Ribeirao Preto.

Nickollas jumped up and down with friends at the right moments during the match, in unison with the thousands of other enraptured fans wearing the club's dark green shirts.
“My narrating is something of my emotions. I’m not a professional. Everything I see and feel, I tell him, even when I need to curse the referee!” It is not the first time disabled fans have caused a social media sensation simply by following the sports they love.”
Silvia Grecco, Nickollas’ mother

During the 2018 World Cup in Russia a video of a Colombian fan narrating a match against Poland to his deaf friend using hand movements went viral.

A Brazilian interpreter then showcased a similar technique with a group of deaf fans in Sao Paulo.

The Grecco mother and son have been featured on various Brazilian TV programmes, and even visited a Palmeiras training session.

Silvia and Nickollas with the Palmeiras team during one of their training session.
 The boy's father and sister however support other teams -- so to avoid family divisions his die hard Palmeiras fan mother came up with a scheme.

She resorted to the skills of none other than the boy's idol, PSG star Neymar, when they met at an event.

Silvia and Nickollas with Palmeiras coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
“Neymar lifted him on his shoulders and he passed his hand through Neymar’s hair, it was a big moment! So I asked Neymar what team he used to support as a child, and he said he was a Palmeiras fan! So I said ‘Do you see, Nickollas? Your mother, your player ... I think your team should be Palmeiras!”
Silvia Grecco, Nickollas’ mother
A local businessman recently hosted the duo and some of Nickollas' friends for the season opening match in a stadium box at the Allianz Park in Sao Paulo.

One little boy with Down Syndrome, who wore huge earphones and the national football jersey, threw his arms in a trusting hug around every stranger.

Another, with autism, wildly rocked to the live DJ music.

But when the match started all attention was on the football pitch, with Grecco narrating throughout.

They weren't disappointed. Palmeiras won 1-0.

(Source: The Quint)

Qatar managed emotions well against UAE

There was never any doubt that man-to-man and on form Qatar were the overwhelming favourites going into the Asian Cup semi-final against the United Arab Emirates. But playing in front of raucous and unruly home fans can put even the most experienced players off the boil.

But the current Qatari team – comprising mainly of players in their early 20s – were unperturbed and determined on the job at hand yesterday as they thrashed the hosts UAE 4-0. It has also helped the players that their coach Felix Sanchez played down all political talk, instead focusing on strategies and keeping his players sharp, physically and mentally.

“It wasn’t an easy situation,” admitted Sanchez after the semi-final win. “The players were aware there was going to be a lot of pressure but they managed their emotions quite well — I’m very proud of them.”

The 43-year-old Sanchez, who took over as Qatar’s head coach 18 months ago, has been involved with the current crop of players since 2006. And much to the Spaniard’s credit he has marshalled his boys splendidly as they have become the first Qatar team to enter the Asian Cup final. Previously, The Al Annabi only managed to reach the quarter-final stages, in 2000 and 2011.
Qatar’s Boualem Khoukhi (C) celebrates his goal with teammates during the AFC Asian Cup
semi-final against the UAE in Abu Dhabi yesterday. (AFP)
But this team under Sanchez is out to make history and their performance so far suggests that they will be upbeat about their chances against Japan in the final on Friday. Sanchez has repeatedly said his team are keen to prove they are worthy of a World Cup 2022 debut and they have shown it on the field as they beat two of Asia’s best teams South Korea and Saudi Arabia en route to the final.

Yesterday, Sanchez stuck to his 4-2-3-1 combination to UAE’s 4-3-3. Tournament top-scorer Almoez Ali operated as lone forward and the Qatari forward troubled the lacklustre UAE defence until he was replaced with eight minutes to full time and the match clearly out of the hosts’ grasp.

While the UAE players watched by the 38,646 home fans at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium were under pressure, even struggling to make the simpler of first touches, the Qatar players were put in a calm and composed show.

Like all good modern football teams, Qatar were lightning quick on the counterattack, which brought them their first goal of the night. In the 22nd minute, Boualem Khoukhi raced down the right as he struck a not-so-powerful shot only to see the UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa fluff a straightforward save as the ball slipped into net after his tame effort.

And after Almoez Ali scored a record-equalling eighth goal of the tournament for a 2-0 half-time lead, the victory was never in doubt. While UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni put all his men forward in search of two goals in the second half, it only played into the hands of impressive Qatar.

Captain Hassan al-Haydos and substitute Hamid Ismail put themselves on the score sheet in what once again highlighted their title credentials.

While Qatar have hammered 16 goals in six matches, they are still to concede one so far. Last night’s clean sheet against UAE ensured they became the first team in the history at the Asian Cup to not concede a goal in opening six games.

Barring one chance in the second half, UAE rarely troubled Qatar’s goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb as Qatar’s back four put in a solid show. This was despite Sanchez missing Bassam al-Rawi and midfielder Abdulaziz Hatim, who were suspended after picking up two yellow cards.

But Assim Madibo and fullback Abdelkarim Hassan who were slotted into the side after serving their own one-match bans more than made up for it.

Before yesterday’s match, Qatar faced just seven shots on target across their five games and while UAE had three, they were far from any serious threat to the Qatar defence.

Qatar left-back Pedro Correia took great satisfaction from silencing the haters. “We like to play games like this,” he said. “Everybody knows about the problems but we don’t care — we just play football. Let the people talk, winning 4-0 is more important.”

(Source: Gulf Times)

Qatar takes bragging rights in 'blockade derby' at Asian Cup

For all the talk of a "blockade", it was perhaps ironic that Qatar should progress past United Arab Emirates so serenely to reach the final of the Asian Cup for the first time in its history.

While the occasion was ostensibly about football, the build up to the contest -- also dubbed the "blockade derby" -- was surrounded by analysis of the politics and diplomatic strife in the region.

The semifinal clash represented the first time the two had come face to face on the football field since the UAE joined Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in breaking off relations with Qatar in June 2017.

Those relations are unlikely to be improved following Qatar's 4-0 victory in Abu Dhabi in a game where home supporters threw sandals and bottles onto the field of play to register their disgust.

While the UAE finished the game with 10 men following the sending off Ismail Ahmed, Qatar's players were left to celebrate ahead of Friday's final against four-time Asian Cup winner Japan.

This contest had already been ramped up as a grudge match owing to the geopolitical crisis before either side had taken to the field.

Objects are thrown onto the pitch after Qatar score their third goal during the semifinal.
The boycott of Qatar, the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the Gulf Arab states in decades, followed allegations that the state was supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region.

Qatar rejected the accusations, labeling them "unjustified" and "baseless."

Much of the criticism aimed at Qatar comes from its alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group considered a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Qatari citizens were given 14 days to leave Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, while all three countries banned their own citizens from entering Qatar.

Yemen, Mauritius, Mauritania, the Maldives and Libya's eastern-based government also joined the boycott.

The air and land blockade imposed on Qatar also meant that the national team had to take a longer route to reach the UAE, flying via Kuwait instead.

Fans throw bottles and flip-flops at the pitch during the semifinal.
According to UAE law, sympathizing politically with Qatar is a crime punishable by a jail term of three to 15 years in prison and a fine of no less than AED 500,000 (USD 136,000).

Keen to avoid any potential embarrassment, the hosts had pulled out all the stops to ensure its team had full backing ahead of the clash.

In order to bolster the crowd and further home advantage, the UAE Sports Council bought all unsold tickets, giving them away for free to UAE residents.

The UAE Ministry of Education encouraged students to attend and watch the game, cutting the school day by two hours, while the public sector was given time off to watch the contest and cheer the team on to victory.

But Qatar, the host nation of the 2022 World Cup, appeared undaunted.

Qatar's forward Almoez Ali (C) shoots to score during his side's win over UAE.

Its run to the final of the competition, which included victory over the much-fancied South Korea in the quarterfinal, has been remarkable.

Ranked 93 in the world, Qatar has won all six of its games without conceding a goal and boasts the tournament's top scorer in Almoez Ali.

It was Ali who scored his side's second goal, adding to Boualem Khoukhi's opener as Qatar took control of the contest.

Hasan Al Haydos netted a third with 10 minutes remaining before Qatar took advantage of Ahmed's sending off with Hamid Ismaeil scoring a fourth.

(Source: CNN)

Cheering crowds, victory marches, jubilation pour out on Qatar streets

A festive atmosphere prevailed around the country after the Qatar national football team defeated the UAE on Tuesday to qualify for the Asian Cup final for the first time. Thousands of Qataris and expatriates took to the streets of Doha and other places -- as well to social media -- to celebrate the occasion.
A jubilant crowd at The Pearl-Qatar. PICTURE: Ram Chand
The victory was particularly special as the Qatari team -- Al Annabi -- emerged victorious despite hostile conditions in the UAE -- one of the four countries that imposed the unjust blockade on Qatar back in June 2017. Fans had gathered at places such as Souq Waqif and Katara -- the Cultural Village, among others, in large numbers to watch the semifinal live on giant screens.

Fans celebrating on the Corniche. PICTURE: AFP
At Souq Waqif, Qataris, alongside hundreds of fans from other countries -- including Egypt, France, Jordan and Algeria, watched the match intently. At first the crowd were nervously quiet but as Qatar's dominance became apparent, the fans become much noisier.

Fans celebrating on the Corniche. PICTURE: Reuters

Qataris danced through the half-time break with their team 2-0 in front, and in the second half cheered every block and tackle as "Al Annabi (the Maroons)" fought to hold on to their lead.

The final whistle saw the start of huge celebrations at the Souq, with more music and dance. "Congratulations! Congratulations! They deserve it," said one unnamed jubilant Qatari immediately after. "The Qatari people and the residents deserve it. "We've hit them with four goals."

Fans celebrate Qatar's victory at Katara. PICTURE: Jayaram
He added that the victory was for the country's leaders, including His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Nearby, an excited Algerian, Karim, said Qatar should now beat Japan in Friday's final. "It's very fair, they gave a great performance, they deserve it." TV networks broadcast clippings of the celebrations from various parts of Doha, including Katara, Aspire Park and Souq Waqif.

A massive crowd had gathered at Souq Waqif to watch the match. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Traffic along the Doha Corniche was jammed bumper-to-bumper with fans celebrating the victory, many honking horns or waving Qatari flags from car roofs.

A Qatari celebrating the victory said the result was much "sweeter" because of the opposition. People were keen to express their joy and pride in various ways, including waving the Qatari flag and chanting slogans of support, while others started to dance to the tune of national songs. 

There were also a plethora of congratulatory messages -- from ministers and other dignitaries to common citizens and residents -- on social media. Sports experts and analysts agreed that the Qatari team deserved to qualify for the final of the Asian Cup due to their impressive performance so far, especially in the semifinal, thanks to the strategy of Spanish coach Felix Sanchez and the fighting spirit of the Qatari heroes against the Emirati team.

(Source: Gulf Times)

Sandal-throwing UAE fans mars Qatar's crushing win

Qatar punished unwelcoming hosts United Arab Emirates 4-0 in a politically charged clash marred by disgraceful crowd behaviour on Tuesday to reach their first Asian Cup final.

The Qataris, whose national anthem was drowned by boos before the game, face Japan in Friday's final after goals from Boualem Khoukhi, Almoez Ali, Hasan Al-Haydos and Hamid Ismaeil sealed victory for the 2022 World Cup hosts amid ugly scenes in Abu Dhabi.

Some 42,000 fans at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium looked downbeat as Qatar fired two goals in each half in what was an electrifying performance from coach Felix Sanchez's side.

When Bualem Khoukhi opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, some UAE fans threw water bottles but when Almoez Ali fired a beauty in the 37th, it all turned ugly.

Fans throw bottles and flip-flops at the pitch during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup semi-final football match between Qatar and UAE at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 29, 2019. / AFP / Giuseppe CACACE

UAE fans started throwing footwear and water bottles at Almoez who was stopped from celebrating his record-breaking strike.

In the second half, captain Hassan Al Haydos was seemingly hit by a water bottle when the Qatar captain fired his side's third goal. Even UAE players urged Qatari players not to overdo with the celebrations sensing the disgusting behaviour of the home fans.

In the dying seconds, substitute Hamid Ismail made it 4-0 for Qatar. After the final whistle, Qatar players were urged to quietly move into the team locker-room whereas Qatar coach Sanchez went about for quick handshakes with the UAE players.

Qatar, who had never gone beyond the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, will now meet Japan in the final of the tournament set for Friday.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Qatar crush UAE 4-0 to reach Asian Cup final

Qatar overcame a hostile crowd atmosphere to register a resounding 4-0 win over UAE to book a maiden Asian Cup final.

At the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi today, Boualem Khoukhi and Almoez Ali struck for Qatar in the first half to silence the UAE fans and set up a title clash with Japan on Friday February 1.

In the second half, Qatar added two more goals through Hassan Al Haydos and Hamid Ismaeil.

Qatar started on a bright note enjoying more ball possession but could not trouble the scorers before the 20-minute mark.

Coach Felix Sanchez side struck in the 22nd minute.

 Boualem Khoukhi's angular shot from the edge of the box broke through the defense of  UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa and ended in the back of the net, 1-0.

There was a pin-drop silence at the stadium and some fans threw water bottles and chapals at the players.
Qatar added a second one in the 37th minute, which turned out to be a gem of goal from Almoez Ali 
The speedy Qatari striker notched his eight goal of the tournament to go level with the great Ali Daei for most goals in a single AFC Asian Cup campaign.

The striker curling effort goes beyond the reach of Eisa.

In the second half, Qatar added a third goal in the 80th minute with Al Haydos getting his name on the scores list, beating the advancing keeper with a gentle chip over Eisa.

Qatar completed the humiliation with a fourth goal in injury time, with substitute Ismaeil who came in for  Akram Hassan Afif in the 90th minute beat the UAE keeper with his right footed try to give Qatar a facile win.

(Source: The Peninsula

Qatar erupts in joy after humbling arrogant UAE

Doha erupted in celebration on Tuesday as jubilant Qataris and expatriates flooded the streets after their team's victory over bitter sporting and political rivals the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar punished the unwelcoming hosts 4-0 in a politically charged clash marred by disgraceful behaviour from shoe-throwing Emirati fans to reach their first Asian Cup final where they will face Japan on Friday.

The Qataris, whose national anthem was booed by many uncivilized spectators before the game, scored through Boualem Khoukhi, Almoez Ali, Hasan al-Haydos and Hamid Ismail in Abu Dhabi.

As they celebrated a famous win and record sixth clean sheet at a single Asian Cup, plastic bottles rained down from angry local fans -- as they had for each Qatari goal, with midfielder Salem al-Hajri even hit on the head after their third.

Qatar's midfielder Boualem Khoukhi (C) celebrates during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup semi-final football match between Qatar and UAE

Traffic along Doha’s Corniche, was jammed bumper-to-bumper with exultant fans celebrating the thumping 4-0 Asian Cup semi-final victory, many honking horns or waving Qatari flags from car roofs, and others showing four fingers to emphasise the emphatic victory.

"I am so happy, of course, because now we will play in the final," Ahmed, 24, said as he watched the celebrations smoking from the side of the match.

"But for us this match is better than the final, it's revenge for everything bad they (the Emiratis) have said.”

His Syrian friend Hattim agreed.

"This is history. Qatar has God with it. Qatar always acts the right way," he said.

Meanwhile, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said his team handled the pressure well.

"It wasn't an easy situation," admitted Sanchez. "The players were aware there was going to be a lot of pressure but they managed their emotions quite well -- I'm very proud of them."

A match bristling with regional tension over the long-standing Gulf blockade of Qatar quickly burst into life as a meaty tackle from Bandar al-Ahbabi on Akram Afif put the Qatari midfielder up in the air.

But Qatar drew first blood after 21 minutes when Khoukhi's shot squirted under UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa, much to the horror of a hostile crowd .

Afif was then targeted by bottle-throwing Emirati fans as he tried to take a corner, appealing desperately to the referee as he stepped away from the kick.

Bottles and footwear are pictured on the pitch during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup semi-final football match between Qatar and UAE at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

Qatar exacted swift retribution eight minutes before the break, however, Ali smashing home a right-footed shot from the edge of the box to equal Ali Daei's 1996 record of eight goals in a single Asian Cup.

As Ali celebrated, more bottles and even shoes -- a deeply insulting provocation in Arab culture – were thrown at the players.

UAE almost pulled a goal back after the interval when Ali Mabkhout forced Saad al-Sheeb into a fingertip save before Ahmed Khalil also tested al-Sheeb's reflexes.

But Qatar never looked seriously troubled and captain al-Haydos coolly chipped in a third to spark further chaos as the atmosphere began to turn sinister, al-Hajri knocked to the ground as more missiles streamed onto the pitch.

UAE defender Ismail Ahmed was then shown a red card in stoppage time for an elbow on al-Hajri, before Ismail added a breakaway fourth to compound UAE's misery.

Qatar's Pedro Correia took great satisfaction from silencing the haters. "We like to play games like this," the defender told AFP.

"Everybody knows about the problems but we don't care -- we just play football. Let the people talk, winning 4-0 is more important."

UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni confirmed after the game that he was stepping down.

“We simply failed in our objective," he said.

In pro-Brexit Thanington, residents are more worried about the rats

Thanington is a deprived district on the outskirts of Canterbury which used to be called “Little Beirut” because of its high levels of crime and violence.

Caroline Heggie, a local resident, says: “When I moved in in 1998, half the houses [in my street] were empty. Out of 40 houses, 20 were empty because of antisocial behaviour. I moved into my house which had a broken window where a crossbow bolt had been fired.”

Di Hutchinson, a teacher’s assistant who has lived in Thanington for 59 years, agrees with her, saying: “We had a terrible reputation.”

There were no facilities for communal activities and the toys for a children’s play group had to be kept in the gravediggers’ hut next to the cemetery. Anger over poor social conditions grew so intense that it provoked a riot in the late 1990s. A local social activist who objected to youths smashing bottles on the road and handed a bin bag full of broken glass to the mother of one of those responsible says he had bricks thrown at his house and firecrackers pushed through the letterbox.

What turned Thanington round was substantial aid from the European Union.

Some residents in Canterbury’s deprived outskirts are living on a prayer ( Getty/iStock )

Paul Todd, a former resident who works on housing and homelessness issues, says: “About 20 years ago it was regenerated when it got a large dose of money out of the European regeneration budget.” The funding was used to make extensive renovations such as putting new roofs on the council houses and renewing bathrooms and bedrooms so the homes of council tenants looked better than those privately owned. In addition, the regeneration money funded a community centre, known locally as the Resource Centre, which provides space for sports and recreation, as well as accommodation for children doing homework which they could not do at home.

Paula Spencer, who has managed the centre since it was built, adds that the EU “spent £2.5m in doing up the estate and getting rid of the rat-runs. It used to be that they would nick your video machine and disappear down an alleyway.” Crime and antisocial behaviour dropped by 50 per cent as the regeneration measures took effect. As a newly arrived council tenant, Heggie says that she had been worried by the crossbow bolt incident but “apart from one broken car window on my driveway I have had no trouble since”.

The EU intervention enabled Thanington – which I previously featured in the first instalment of this series – to lose its nickname of “Little Beirut”, but its residents complain that they have lacked public investment ever since, and that this is beginning to show. The 2,794 people who live there work mostly in low-wage jobs, often as cleaners or in supermarkets in and around Canterbury, or they are on benefits. Educational standards are low, illiteracy is high, and many single-parent families are headed by women. Nevertheless, residents and outside observers agree that Thanington retains a strong sense of communal solidarity.

“It’s largely retained its village identity,” says Todd, whose relatives still live there and who has great affection for its people. “Everyone knows everyone else’s business.”

"Over the past summer, we had a lot of guys coming down from London and selling drugs. They’d move into a house, take it over and intimidate the tenant. Then there was the shooting." - Brett Bellas

The only state institution to help preserve this small and vulnerable community was the EU, so it is worth asking why so many of those living in Thanington voted Leave in the 2016 referendum. At first glance, their actions, repeated in many deprived areas receiving EU funds in England and Wales, appear to be an inexplicable example of social and economic self-harm. Nevertheless, it was probably the high Leave votes in deprived white housing estates which tipped the balance towards Britain voting for Brexit. So it is important to discover why people from such places voted as they did in such overwhelming numbers. Was it a vote very much determined by opposition to immigration, or was it a more general protest by the “left-behinds” and the “left-outs”? 

Most people in Thanington voted for Britain to leave the EU, and they did so because they are poor and feel neglected, according to Todd, who has known the area for 30 years. He says that there is an “assumption there that immigration has affected their prospects. I don’t think people are aware of how much Thanington did benefit from the EU. The European regeneration money certainly made a huge impact on the quality of the housing stock up there. It probably gave some of the houses another chance, otherwise they might have been knocked down. Some people want immigration cut and others think that talk of another referendum is an indicator that their concerns haven’t been taken seriously.”

Brett Bellas, a residential support worker with five children who has lived in Thanington for 10 years, agrees that people there feel neglected by everyone in authority. He points out that the full name of the district is Thanington Without [the medieval walls of Canterbury] and says that a running joke for people living there is to refer to it as “Thanington Without Prayers or Hope or Money” – a bit tongue-in-cheek, he says, but “for me it’s [about] lack of [public] investment”.

Only time will tell (AP)
Bellas did not mention and may not have known about the EU regeneration effort which happened before he started living on the estate after years of homelessness and holding insecure jobs. In any case, the impact of that funding is running out and there are signs of growing decrepitude and insecurity.

“It’s quite a deprived area,” he says. “There’s a lot of people with drug problems and alcohol issues, and they seem to be moving families in who have already been evicted from homes because of antisocial behaviour. Everyone’s got a right to live anywhere but it doesn’t do great things for the estate.

“Over the past summer, we had a lot of guys coming down from London and selling drugs. They’d move into a house, take it over and intimidate the tenant – ‘you’re going to sell this for us’ – a lot of guys in Mercedes, real high-end saloons, who don’t fit on the estate. Then there was the shooting in the summer, which was a direct result of these guys coming down from London and that happened just around the corner from us.”

“It’s a lack of funding and a lack of police. You only ever see police when these things happen and it’s after the fact. Our kids don’t play out on the street. I know all my neighbours and I know all their kids, but it’s really difficult because there are people from off the estate come to sell their drugs that I don’t know. We had a heroin dealer set up in the house next door to us and for about six weeks, we had people knocking on our door coming to pick up their drugs up and it took 50 phone calls to the police to get them to sort it out.”

The shooting Bellas refers to took place on 19 July last year when two men in balaclavas shot and seriously wounded Danny Mobey in Thanington’s Godwin Road.

Bellas voted Leave in the referendum, denying that this had anything to do with immigration and saying that his decision was more to do with democracy and resistance to power being devolved to a centralised European government and unelected officials making decisions on his behalf. He says: “I just feel that there is something quite sinister and secret about a federal government.”

Activists outside parliament are not indicative of many citizens’ apathetic view of Brexit (AP)
About the economic consequences of departure from the EU, he is optimistic, arguing that the Germans, French and Spanish will want to go on selling goods to Britain. He says that a lot of people he knows had voted Leave influenced by “the Brexiteers’ promise that there would be £350m extra for the NHS”. His two biggest concerns are the lack of policing and the decline of the NHS, where his wife works as a nurse, and which he fears the government wants to privatise.

Even in a place as small as Thanington, perceptions of violence vary markedly from street to street and person to person. Di Hutchinson agrees that things are getting worse: “I was ill last Christmas and I saw a drug deal going down and I was shocked because it was the first time I’d ever seen it.” Overall, however, residents and outside observers say that Thanington is no worse than other housing estates and other areas of deprivation anywhere in UK. (There are more affluent parts of the district away from the estate.)

"People came to me and said that there were rats in their kitchens, rats in their children’s bedrooms, running over kids’ feet, and under bathrooms so there was raw sewage seeping everywhere."- Paula Spencer

Financial aid from the EU and other advantages stemming from membership had little effect on poor Leave voters in 2016. Either the EU’s achievements were under-publicised, or – and this is probably the crucial factor – whatever the EU did was not enough to counterbalance a pervasive sense among millions of voters that their lives are getting more pressured and insecure. This was as true in east Kent as it was in Cornwall, an example of ingratitude for EU largesse often cited. That county has a population of 530,000 and received €654m (£574m) from the EU between 2007 and 2013. It was due to receive another €600m before 2020, yet 54.5 per cent voted Leave.

Fear of immigration was probably the most important factor in the way people voted, but so too was the privatisation and outsourcing of utitlities and services, job insecurity, decline in real wages, high rents, deindustrialisation and a lack of cheap transport. The EU and its supporters can justly complain that Brussels is being unfairly scapegoated for failings that it has nothing to do with, and which should be blamed rather on globalisation, privatisation and the austerity policies pursued by Conservative governments.

Yet, even if the EU is not responsible, this does not mean that the deep discontent revealed by the referendum result is not real. Simply put, Brexit is a symptom as well as a cause of the crisis which has enveloped Britain and envenomed its politics. The ill-considered Remain slogan of 2016 – “Better Together” – was never going to resonate with those whose standard of living had stagnated or deteriorated over the past decade despite Britain being in the EU.

Thanington is a useful microcosm showing why so many all over Britain feel they are on the receiving end of multiple pressures. In many respects, Thanington is a community that feels under siege. Just to its south, a large new housing development is under construction. Spencer – described by one former resident as being “if not the heart beat [of Thanington], the one who brings heartbeats together” – says that this is worrying news for the community. She says that the two new communities with respectively 750 and 450 private houses being built means that “all the traffic going there will have to pass through the estate, which will cause resentment”. There will be little parking and children will no longer be able to play games in the street.

Transport is already scarce: according to Spencer, it takes two bus trips to get to the nearest doctor, while there is only one bus every two hours in the evening. A planned new exit from the A2, which is being contested by local residents, will make Thanington even more isolated from the rest of Canterbury than it is at present. And as houses become more expensive and cost far more than the present population on their low-paying jobs can afford, the traditional community will break up as parents find that their children have to move off the estate if they want find anywhere cheap enough to live.

Even more seriously, the insecure low-paid work done by many in Thanington does not provide enough to pay rent and food. The result is reliance on food banks and free school meals. Caroline Heggie says that people are becoming more and more indebted “because now you’ve got companies giving out credit cards to people with low credit ratings”.

A telling sign of the growing deprivation in Thanington – and the sort of event which may explain why people there failed to endorse the status quo in 2016 – is a recent plague of rats.

“People came to me and said that there were rats in their kitchens, rats in their children’s bedrooms, running over kids’ feet, and under bathrooms so there was raw sewage seeping everywhere,” says Spencer. The origin of the rat infestation is unclear: it may be that rats were disturbed by the new housing construction in nearby fields, or that the council no longer deals with rubbish that has been left to pile up. Cuts in public services of all kinds have hit Thanington hard, and services dropped include pest control.

A rat catcher charges £60, which tenants must now pay themselves though there may be 10 or 12 rats to be disposed of, necessitating more than one visit. Heggie says: “You used to have council ‘rat people’, but because of austerity, you don’t have them anymore.”

(Source: The Independent)