Saturday, 13 February 2016

A Spectator At The Spectator

On Tuesday, I must admit to being privileged to have attended The Spectator's annual health debate entitled Can We Trust Health Advice? I am a bit of a veteran of such things but this was as polished and entertaining as they come.

I suppose that shouldn't come as much as a surprise considering it was chaired by the polished and entertaining Andrew Neil, who I understand owns the Speccie, but the venue and panel members were top notch too which only served to complement Neil's suave overseeing of proceedings.

I have to mention that I'd arrived early and so enjoyed a perfect waste of time in the locality at a pretty perfect pub for my particular interests. If you're ever in the Temple area of London, do check out the Edgar Wallace, as well as being an unapologetically traditional pub it's also an awesome treasure trove of hedonistic memorabilia.

Anyway, I digress. Arriving at the venue we were directed to a rather impressive library for pre-debate drinks, a stepping stone between the traditional and the modern.

And, half an hour later, were politely herded into the state-of-the-art, bells and whistles conference arena known as the Turing Lecture Theatre for the main event.

The speakers - as much as I could work out - were divided into three who believed health advice to be mostly trustworthy and three who mostly didn't (having said that, there were unconfirmed rumours that one of those in favour had changed their mind a few days before the event, I'll leave you to guess which).

First up was Dr Ellie Cannon of the Mail on Sunday who highlighted the slip slop slap campaign in Australia as a great piece of public health advice which raised awareness of the dangers of sun exposure and encouraged people to think about protection.

Dr Ellie Cannon
She is, of course, right about that but this was in the 1980s when hectoring and coercion were frowned upon; it was also of a time when 'public health' hadn't yet been carried away with its own self-importance and actually cared about outcomes rather than self-indulgence and posturing. Therefore the campaign was entertaining and persuasive rather than being based on doom and scaremongery like the ones we see today.

If that statement above sounds like opinion, yes it's supposed to be. This is a blog, it's kinda what such things are all about.

When she had finished, Andrew Neil, as is his style, peered over his glasses at the notes he had been making and asked Dr Ellie what she thought of Sally Davies's modern guidance that only "six and eight teaspoons (35ml) of sun cream per application" should be applied when in the sun. As I recall, she was fairly non-committal, but next speaker Dr Christian Jessen of Embarrassing Bodies fame was far more forthright.
Andrew Neil: Dr Christian, what do you think of the CMO's advice to only use six teaspooons of sun cream?
Dr Christian: Batshit crazy!
Now, Dr Christian was a bit of a conundrum on the night.

Dr Christian Jessen
Ostensibly he was on the pro-health advice side yet pretty early in his spiel railed against the appalling nonsense being spouted about e-cigs.

Indeed he is correct about that and his words carried the added advantage of legitimising any vaper on the panel or the audience who was using one on the night too. Which was nice of him.

His contribution was to say that sometimes health advice is good, sometimes it is awful. He also pointed out that when celebrities get involved it is quite wrong and they should really shut their traps (a certain gobby rotund TV chef comes to mind).

This theme was echoed by Spectator Health editor Max Pemberton who also leaped to the defence of science on health.

Max Pemberton
According to Pemberton, newspapers and broadcast media "sensationalises science and distorts research", but he was adamant that the science itself was always sound. As you can imagine, after some of the appalling junk we have seen from 'public health' researchers recently I had my reservations about that so made a mental note to bring it up in the Q&A.

The baton was then passed to Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, a man so condemnatory about shonky health advice that he wrote a book about it.

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick in full flow
Drawing laughter throughout the audience, Fitzpatrick not only ridiculed the current Chief Medical Officer's absurd alcohol guidelines, but also entertainingly ripped into the insane scaremongery of her predecessor, Liam Donaldson, who all but predicted the end of the world and cost the country a small fortune over swine flu.

I've seen him before and he was as box office as usual, so much so that Neil was forced to stop him as he more than strayed over his seven minute time slot. Neil also saw an opportunity to poke at Fitzpatrick's mistrust of just about all health advice, but it didn't really work.
Neil: Whose medical advice do you follow Dr?
Fitzpatrick: I avoid all of it!
This prompted Dr Ellie to bring up the slip slop slap thing again and ask if Fitz uses sun cream when on holiday. A fair point which broke his momentum for a few seconds, but he countered by pointing out that the simplicity and unconfrontational nature of that campaign was why it had been taken on board by most people since.

Next up - and my personal favourite on the night - was Dr Richard Harding, a member of the 1995 committee which came up with the previous alcohol consumption guidelines. He was so calm and laid back that you could almost have missed the subtle contempt he has for Sally Davies and her ridiculous "no safe level of alcohol consumption" nonsense.

As someone who has studied the subject for many years, he joins a long list of people who think Backbone Sally is a raving lunatic, he was just very nice about it.

Last on the stand was Chris Snowdon (who has released the basis of his contribution here). Central to his point was that 'public health' stubbornly refuses to accept that settled science on moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial to health.

Highlighting the difference between useful health advice and 'public health' lobbying posing as health advice, he finished with a revealing admission acquired by FOI request.

I'm sure we'll hear more of that in time, and very much look forward to it.

A lively Q&A followed - impeccably marshalled by Andrew Neil - and I did get to ask my question of Max Pemberton. It went something like this.
Max, you place great faith in public health science and state that the media misrepresent it, but - and I think Dr Christian will have knowledge of this example - how about a recent study into e-cigarettes where the paper said one thing and the press release by the researchers declared something completely different and led to damaging headlines in the press? 
Dr Christian did, indeed, back me up but said he couldn't remember what the abuse of science was (it was this)

Sadly, Pemberton seemed to misunderstand the question so just re-emphasised that science is good and media bad, oh yeah and celebrities shouldn't get involved. Andrew Neil, however, did understand and pressed him more, asking how we can trust scientists if they release biased opinions to the media. Max conceded that was wrong if it was happening but that it was rare.


So, with a customarily professional summing up of proceedings by Neil, the audience exited into the February night and went their separate ways. Myself, I ended up in quite salubrious surroundings with like-minded people for a few more beverages and enthusiastic chat.

And that's how I came across a fitting postscript to the night's event. While discarding my warm clothing and settling into my seat, I put my iStick on the table only for a staff member to see it and advise me that "smoking is not allowed here". I naturally replied "that's fine because I won't be smoking" and he walked off utterly confused.

If you want proof that health advice is not to be trusted, there it is. Over a decade of e-cigarettes being in use in the UK yet misinformation and ideological junk science has not only led to ignorance-led bans on their use, but also the people entrusted to enforce the bans are woefully ill-educated about what they are and how to refer to them.

Kinda suggests that health advice is not really doing what it is supposed to and - as it is currently communicated - isn't enlightening the public as it should be, don't you think?

See also: The Speccie's account of the evening here.

Link Tank 13/02

The weekly link dump.

The argument for the legalisation of cannabis has been won. Now for the difficult bit

Twitter’s new ‘Safety Council’ makes a mockery of free speech

A sugar tax is anti-consumer and anti-business

Sally Davies accused of 'eroding pub culture'

This could be the best tourist attraction ever!

Indonesia bans gay emojis (pic)

Man eats at every McDonald’s restaurant in London in one day

Health and Safety Executive to sue Star Wars

Watching porn to save the whales

iPod watching mice

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Curious Incident Of The Wonk In The Night-time

At the weekend, the boy P and I went along to an Aviva Premiership rugby match at The Stoop to see Harlequins v Northampton Saints.

Sadly they have a pretty pathetic policy on smoking and vaping outdoors.

This means you can't smoke or vape in the huge area behind the south stand specifically created for pre-match relaxation and enjoyment. So therefore both are forbidden here ...

... and here ...

... and most definitely here by the entertainment.

Nope, if you want to smoke or vape you have to leave the stadium completely, and two members of staff plus two stewards are on hand to assist you in doing just that.

On a bitterly cold day with a spiteful wind whipping round the place, I'm sure all attendees - who have never seemed particularly bothered in previous seasons - felt comfortably 'protected' from a few wisps of smoke and some vapour. Outdoors!

Of course, it's not about that, there is - and never will be - any evidence that smoke outdoors is harmful to bystanders, and August's PHE report stated that there is no evidence of vapour being harmful to anyone at all!  Nope, it's the dictatorial anti-social 'public health' policy of "denormalisation" in action. In other words, bullying people into ceasing activities of which they don't approve.

This policy was brought about by a particularly rancid state, EU and pharma-funded organisation called Health Equalities Group (HEG), an offshoot of which is Healthy Stadia who conned clubs into installing these ridiculous bans, as I mentioned in January.
You see, some will know that I am a cricket and rugby fan so am acutely aware of how this group's badgering of sports venues has resulted in such fascist illiberal bans. So much so that in 2014 I enlisted the help of a fellow jewel robber to ask what Healthy Stadia had done to encourage outdoor vaping bans in particular. Their spokesman, Matthew Philpott, was adamant that they only "consulted" the clubs as to their policy.
We have not carried out consultation with fans concerning use of e-cigarettes at stadia, only with individual clubs and governing bodies.  
I should also state that we have not been instrumental in directing UK clubs to ban e-cigarettes – we have simply conducted consultation on their current policies regarding this matter.
Follow up questions asking for evidence of the material they sent to the clubs concerned was ignored, so I contacted a few clubs to ask exactly what Healthy Stadia had sent them. You won't be surprised to learn that it didn't correlate with Philpott's innocent explanation.
The advice they gave us was that e-cigs still normalised smoking and guided us to our Council Public Health views which was not to encourage. 
Advice? Erm, I thought it was just consultation.
So the bullying has come directly from pharma-funded HEG. If you've ever been told you can't smoke or vape outdoors by a sports club, they are the nasty, vindictive, interfering bastards who are responsible.

With vaping in particular, the HEG is a key promoter of anti-science scaremongery about e-cigs. Their Twitter feed can always be relied upon to seize any opportunity to create doubt about the products. Here's a nice example from yesterday.

Robin Ireland, of course, is HEG's CEO and a faithful sidekick of Martin McKee. He was referred to in December's FOI as someone willing and eager to leap to McKee's side and spout cherry-picked anti-vaping propaganda at the drop of a hat.

So, with all that in mind it was intriguing to see a guy called Michael Viggars pop up on Twitter the other night and post a quite remarkable tweet.

Could this be because the person he tweeted sarcastically dubbed himself an "ex-vaping astroturf"? Well probably yes, because you see it turns out he's part of HEG too. 

And he's really not a big fan of e-cigs. 

Therefore he has either had a Damascene change of heart or this would appear to have been a muck-uncovering exercise.

Well, I suppose they could change it by not being vile anti-vaping shit-stirrers who advocate for entirely unnecessary bans, but perhaps that would be too easy.

Anyway, it didn't last long. This olive branch of engaging with vapers soon evaporated once it became clear to Michael that the people he was tweeting were not astroturfers, merely vaping members of the public, and he began rapidly deleting tweets like those above. He also didn't feel keen on 'engaging' anymore.

Anyhow, it was all rather interesting and another epic social media fail from those who are inexplicably ideologically opposed to harm reduction.

By the way, if you are anywhere near Merseyside, you might be interested in this event that vape-hating propagandist Robin Ireland has lined up on Thursday next week.
Why vapers think e-cigarettes will lead to the end of cigarettes, and why their optimism may be misplaced – Robin Ireland 
When:  Thursday, February 18th 2016, 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Vines, 81 Lime St, Liverpool 
Robin Ireland, a Liverpool-based public health advocate, will discuss the evidence as much as it is available in the context of tobacco control efforts in England.
I'd bet he will do nothing of the sort. Expect formaldehyde, popcorn lung and every other debunked junk research to be heavily emphasised and the vastly more prevalent positive studies to be ignored or glossed over.
His position on e-cigs has led him to be vilified by vapers on social media
Quite rightly too, as anyone who is a "denormalised" sports fan chucked out of venues thanks to him and his hideous organisation will agree.

If you go, I'd obviously be very interested in what he has to say. Take pics.

H/T Top screen grabbing from @d4nno_

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sydney: A Glimpse Of The Future?

Last summer a good friend of mine, Tim Andrews, popped by on his way to Europe and shared more than the recommended amount of sherberts with a few of us in London.

To peals of laughter, he regaled us with tales of some of the barmy rules his home of Sydney has imposed on drinking. From stories about the state deciding when he is allowed to drink to waiters chasing him around with a plastic chair because he walked out into the sunshine to enjoy a beer - where it is illegal to drink without being seated - we could only react with pity. Well, a lot of hilarity too, of course, I mean how could you not?

My personal favourite was a story of a politician who was offered a drink late at night and chose a single malt. His companion went to the bar but was told he couldn't be served that particular drink because it counted as a shot and the law said they were illegal after midnight in order to tackle binge-drinking. "What a stupid law that is!", raged the politician, to which his friend replied, "yes, but you voted for it".

Now, if you read Saturday's links, you might have seen this article. It not only suggests that Tim wasn't exaggerating, but also that the hysteria over drinking in Sydney is quite insane and is destroying the night time economy.
As I write this in 2016, not a day goes by without the press reporting of yet another bar, club, hotel, restaurant or venue closing.
Repeat after me. The state only ever steps in where free markets fail, OK?
Kings Cross, in particular, has been decimated so badly that it will never, ever, come back as an entertainment precinct. Hugo’s Lounge closing, which was the swankiest bar in Sydney for fifteen years and voted Australia’s best nightclub five years running, was the last nail in the coffin for the area. 
The venue also housed the 130-seat Hugo’s Pizza, which had not just won Best Pizza Restaurant in Australia at the Australian Restaurant & Catering Awards, but was also named the World’s Best Pizza in the American Pizza Challenge in New York. 
Manager Dave Evans cited revenue falling by 60% due thirty-six different "stringent conditions" that had been placed on the business over the past two-and-a-half years. The closing of the venue made seventy staff lose their jobs.
But how can this happen? Surely the state has our interests at heart? They serve us after all, yeah?
And oh, how ridiculous these rules have become in Sydney. A special little person has decided that there is a certain time at night when we are all allowed to go out, and there is a certain time that we are allowed into an establishment and a certain time that we are all supposed to be tucked into bed. There is a certain time we are allowed to buy some drinks, and over the course of the night the amount of drinks we are allowed to buy will change. The drinks we buy must be in a special cup made of a special material, and that special material will change over the course of the night at certain times. The cup has to be a certain size. It cannot be too big, because someone might die. Over the course of the night, this special little person will tell you what you can and cannot put into your cup because someone might die
It is now illegal to buy a bottle of wine after 10pm in the City of Sydney because not a single one of us is to be trusted with any level of personal responsibility. Apparently there is an epidemic of people being bashed to death over dinner with a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that we have all been blissfully unaware of. 
Likewise it is now illegal to have a scotch on the rocks after midnight in the City of Sydney because someone might die.
Ah, that's the one which caught the politician out.
You can drink it if you put some Coca-cola in it, but you can’t drink it if the Coca-cola has been mixed previously with it and it’s been put in a can. Because that is an “alcopop” whatever the hell that means. The only person more confused than me is the bartender. The poor sod is only trying to scrape a few nickels to make it through university; not only are they struggling with their hours being drastically cut back with venues shutting, but the government is now threatening them personally with fines if they break any of the rules.
Oh what a tangled web we weave when 'public health' is allowed free reign in the city of Simple Simon and his snobby, judgemental friends, eh?
It is also now easier to get a beer in Pyongyang, North Korea, than it is in Sydney.
It's a long read but do pour yourself a bevy and have a gander at the whole thing. I guarantee you your drink will taste ever the sweeter as you thank your lucky stars that the absurd restrictions Sydney residents are forced to put up with thanks to extremists are not in force over here. Yet.

I've said before that I pity the hell out of Tim for having to live in that Godawful city, but I've made a mental note not to laugh so much next time he recounts his stories. After seeing what he has to put up with, laughing about it must appear to him to be as cruel as kicking puppies.

Also bear in mind that these bansturbators share information globally and there are many temperance nuts who would like to create the anti-fun hellhole of Sydney over here too. It's why they need to be watched like a hawk and their efforts should be resisted at every turn. Sydney proves what can happen if we're not vigilant.

For the sake of your children who have to grow up in the world that 'public health' aspires to create, always remember that we're on the side of the angels here and they are most definitely not, won't you?

H/T Entropy72

Monday, 8 February 2016

Fake Charities, From Blog To Statute

What with the joyous news of both the imminent shutdown of Smokefree South West and the government's new rules on 'government lobbying government', it's been a marvellous few days, hasn't it?

On the latter, here's a bit of history for you that many might not be aware of. Back in 2008 I started writing here and the blogosphere was completely different. Iain Dale was not a publisher and presenter on LBC but instead one of the pioneers of political blogging (he was arguably instrumental in raising blogging to a level where many now rival or even eclipse the MSM). His enthusiasm for the platform was infectious and his Daley Dozen - literally a dozen blog articles every day - would promote left of centre blogs as much as he would his preferred Tory ones.

One of the best and most visited blogs of the time - and therefore featuring regularly in Dale's round-ups - was the magnificent Devil's Kitchen, a site which carried some of the best libertarian writing you could ever hope to read. Fiercely splenetic, unapologetically sweary and containing fantasy violence, it took no prisoners but could still make you laugh out loud over your monitor of a weekday lunchtime.

Despite this, the blog author, Chris Mounsey, was (and still is) an incredibly astute and knowledgeable observer of politics. It was he, back in 2008, who first noticed the proliferation of state-funded groups which would use their tax-leeched funding to lobby for new laws. The term 'government lobbying government' arguably began on his blog and he coined the description "Fake Charities" which still applies to lobbying organisations like ASH Scotland (85% state funding and whose sole function is to demand new laws) to this day.

The brilliant news of government clamping down on the abuse of 'charities' abusing taxpayer grants to further their own ends was brought to prominence by the IEA but it was DK who kicked it all off with a quite inspired website.
That was the date and time that your humble Devil first registered the domain—19th January 2009. I built the first site that night, using a simple Open Source CMS called WebsiteBaker. 
I then populated this simple site with a few organisations that I, and Kitchen contributor the Filthy Smoker, had identified as being particularly egregious specimens of the type we called "fake charities"
A few days ago, and a mere seven years later (!), the work of that night—and the efforts of many grassroots and blogosphere contributors—became a significant victory.
You will hear a lot of bluster from the charities who have been caught with their hands in the nation's till over this; they will try to blame corporations, or perhaps those nasty think tanks and their shadowy funders. But it is incontestable that this egregious abuse of taxes was first discovered by a guy who just enjoyed recreational political writing; was never paid for his work; did it in his spare time; and just knows a wrong 'un when he sees it.

It was a victory for the blogosphere and was a grass roots campaign which has gone from a corner of the internet to the upper echelons of the state, resulting in a rule which is - as we speak - prompting 'charity' meetings up and down the country to formulate plans as to how to keep their noses in the trough.

Congratulations, DK, you done good. And I say this as someone who never did get awarded a Bloody Devil you tight bastard!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Why It's Right To Rejoice At Smokefree South West's Demise

Following Friday's fantastic news that Smokefree South West have lost their funding and are to close in six months, it seems there are many tobacco controllers who are rather piqued that some of us are delighted.

Apparently, it's considered bad form in tobacco control circles for anyone to express such a view. I've seen it variously described as "unpleasant", "unnecessary", and "spiteful" amongst other adjectives. For example:

I find the chutzpah being exhibited there quite staggering!

This is an industry which has routinely trampled on smokers for decades. Their jubilation and triumphalism when the smoking ban was installed was vile and vomit-inducing. I don't remember any concern for smokers at the time; there was no consoling arm for people whose social lives they had destroyed on the back of a lie they fabricated.

They didn't say "we're really sorry smokers, we realise this is unfair on you but it's something we feel we have to do". No, Health Secretary of the time Alan Johnson almost punched the air in delight announcing it; Cancer Research UK sent out newsletters to all its donors "rejoicing" in the news; and Deborah Arnott described how smokers had been "exiled to the outdoors". ASH then published a report boasting about how they had connived, cheated and bullied government into abandoning manifesto commitments to accommodate smokers.

They also didn't care one jot about the tens of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs they destroyed. In the particular case of Smokefree South West we can now see exactly why they didn't care about the carnage they caused pubs in their area, seeing as they recently morphed into Public Health Action to bully drinkers too. For them, pubs closing was a feature of the ban, not a bug.

Smokefree South West were part of all that, and very proud of it they were too.

Fully signed up to the policy of denormalising smokers, they have never cared that their approach has been described as turning smokers "into lepers".
Government anti-smoking policies, the report said, can generate hostility against those seen as a threat. 
‘The history of public health is scarred by policies which, pursued in the name of health protection and promotion, have served to intensify public vilification and state-sanctioned discrimination against already disadvantaged groups."
Their policies encouraged some of the most disgusting people in society to spit their bile at law-abiding citizens, and even as recently as last year they were still doing the same, describing outdoor smoking bans that they had demanded in Bristol as "exciting".

I don't see anything in any of the above which suggests Smokefree South West recognised that they were being "unkind"; no acknowledgement that they were making many people's lives "a wee bit worse"; no contrition that their policies cheerlead the most anti-social in society into "hating and hurting people". No, they couldn't have cared less.

Their attitude to e-cigs was also woeful. While composing the press release for the Bristol outdoor bans - as recently as February 2015, remember - they included a case study which attempted to smear e-cigs too. Smokefree South West was also one of only two respondents to a consultation which resulted in an outdoor ban on smoking and vaping in the grounds of North Devon hospitals, leading to a headline in the local press declaring "e-cigarettes not welcome".

That local news item was released just a few days after Smokefree South West had held a meeting with e-cigs advocates but decided to invite representatives from pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson along too. Just six weeks later, these ads started appearing all over the London Underground.

Needless to say, those lovely, cuddly, caring, sharing people at Smokefree South West - who we are supposed to feel sorry for - didn't bother to reply.

This, of course, after Smokefree South West had expressed their abject disappointment that the MHRA hadn't demanded that e-cigs should be immediately banned until licensed as medicines back in 2013, before they had even the first clue about what they were. Had they bothered to talk to vapers back then? No. Did they care what they would do to vapers with such a policy? Also no. So why the fuck should anyone care about them?

What's more, as Snowdon points out, it's all their own fault anyway.
This 100% state-funded lobby group has burned millions of pounds of our money in recent years to harass and demonise smokers. Dishonest to the last, its final act before it had its ill-gotten gains withdrawn was to retweet a lie from one of its fellow state-funded sock puppets.
Indeed they have wasted our money. In 2012, they spunked nearly half a million pounds of government grants, not on helping smokers to quit, but on lobbying government in favour of the tobacco control industry's self-perpetuation policy of plain packaging.

They also wasted government grants on tobacco control's smear site Tobacco Tactics, throwing £135k of your money down the drain on an ideological white elephant which is so inept as to be laughable.

In an era of austerity, such wilfully irresponsible waste of state funding is quite obviously going to attract the attention of politicians who are looking to make savings to cut the deficit. Just this weekend we have seen the government move to stop such blatantly wasteful spending in the future too, and I'm sure Smokefree South West's casual treatment of scarce government resources would have featured in the thinking behind that decision.

If Smokefree South West employees are hurting at losing their jobs, perhaps they should blame the person in charge of the organisation, seeing as they were so myopic as to think their tax-funded gravy train would last forever with them taking the right royal piss. After all, these wastes of taxpayer cash are all since the economy collapsed in 2008, so what on Earth were they thinking?

Well, I'll tell you. They had bought into the tobacco control industry's war on tobacco companies and denormalising smokers lock stock and barrel, launching themselves into it with gusto. Their own side - including those bemoaning the poor treatment of Smokefree South West above - often talk about this "war", so if you position yourself to be at war with a group of people how can you  possibly complain when the other side celebrates winning the odd skirmish?

So I'll say it again. I'm absolutely thrilled that Smokefree South West's days will soon be over, they brought it on themselves by being arrogant and stupid at administering taxpayers' money and not giving a tuppeny toss about the people their policies would negatively affect. Bravo to those who have stopped their obnoxious and wasteful practices, the south west is well rid of them.