Tuesday, 31 January 2012

It's Personal, Plain And Simple

You'll have smelt the nasty whiff of yet another 'urgent' and 'vital' anti-tobacco campaign, I take it? Even more so than the last one which, err, hasn't concluded yet.

Yes, the tobacco displays won't be fully hidden till April - with all the unintentionally accompanying hilarity that nonsense entails - but tobacco control is already spending money like water to, as Snowdon astutely comments, "justify its existence" with the latest expensive hare-brained exercise in abject failure. Plain packaging.

Now, I've seen many a 'meh' reaction to this initiative, some from those who should know better. They think this is just an attack on the tobacco industry and doesn't affect smokers at all.

Sadly, they couldn't be more wrong. ASH explains why here.
Smokers display the branding every time they take out their pack to smoke. In doing so they are making a statement about how they want to be seen by others as they display and endorse the brand they have chosen.
Y'see, ASH don't want smokers to be able to make any statement, they only want them to be denormalised. That's why plain packs must be bullied through at any cost.

Can't have smokers believing they have a sense of identity or worth, now can we?

In fact, one of the reasons Aussie MPs fell in love with plain packaging enough to pass the law down there, was precisely the attractive nature - one might even call it 'glitzy' - of how it impinged on smokers' self-expression.
The study showed how cigarette brands and cigarette package designs gave meaning to personal characteristics, to social identity and to positions in hierarchies of status. (page 6)

Pack design doesn’t just communicate the ‘personality’ of a cigarette brand to the smoker... it also allows smokers to project these characteristics to others when they handle and display the package throughout their daily routines. Just as designer clothing, accessories and cars serve as social cues to style, status, values and character, so too can cigarette packs signify a range of attributes about users. As ‘badge products’, cigarettes can reinforce the characteristics conjured by brand image.(page 7)
Identity? Style? Status? Values? Character? These aren't attributes any self-respecting anti-smoker wants tobacco consumers to be able to enjoy. They must be stamped out at any cost.

Any fool knows that smokers must only be seen as malodourous, litterers, selfish and thoughtless, unattractive and undesirable, undereducated and a social underclass, addicts, excessive users of public health services, and employer liabilities. And how do fools know this? Because the prime architect of plain packing laws in Australia, Simon Chapman, told them all of the above in 2002.

Make no mistake. This is just the latest attack on all smokers. Further heavy-handed denormalisation tactics aimed not at industry, but at individuals who choose to smoke.

Which is why you may have noticed a new widget at the sidebar for the Hands Off Our Packs campaign whose website was launched yesterday. Please do go have a look around the site as it explains the state-funded idiocy surrounding this issue. To object, simply fill in the form on the right and your voice will be forwarded to Westminster.

Of course, even plain packaging isn't the end for tobacco control (well, would you give up such a rich tax-funded gravy train just because you're not getting any meaningful results?). No, Snowdon points to some of the next logical steps.
LICENCES to puff, foul-tasting cigarettes, and financial incentives to stop smoking are next in a bid to help the nation quit a $5 billion addiction to tobacco revenue before the end of the next decade.
I'll just add a couple of others, if I may.

How about 'single presentation' as in Uruguay, whereby only one line is allowed from each tobacco company. As a result, many popular brand variants would cease to be allowed by law.

Or, perhaps minimum tobacco pricing, as suggested by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies.

Plain packaging is most certainly an attack on the individual, and will just pave the way for even more hideous treatment in the future. Please do go register your objection by signing up here.


Monday, 30 January 2012

Competitive Tendering: A Personal Anecdotal Update

Last Spring, some may remember a piece here on public sector competitive tendering; the way that it now arguably costs the taxpayer rather than saves; how it is a right royal boon to Puddlecote Inc; and how, despite that, I still fundamentally despise its EU-led, self-serving administrative pomposity on principle. Go read it if you have time, as it is a pre-cursor to this latest chapter.

You see, in that article I explained how our competitors had been whittled away in the past seven or eight years. Where there used to be around 120 of us battling for the opportunities from public sector contracts, at time of writing last April it was down to just under 40. We were successful in being accepted for that particular framework, but things have moved on somewhat since.

In what, at times, resembles a game of oneupmanship, a different authority re-tendered their available work in our field ... with even more administrative pre-qualification than that described, at the back end of last year.

This time, incredibly, it demanded a submission of nearly 10,000 words, which took me six full days to compose, along with comprehensive vehicle listings; profiles of all staff, along with full CVs in certain cases; and a pricing structure questionnaire running to five A4 pages. This, for an industry populated mostly by industrious working class people not adept at understanding, let alone regurgitating, middle class Sir Humphrey-speak.

Again, it would seem that many of our competitors have thrown their hands in the air and walked away from the whole process (I can tell you that there were times when our own office urged me to do the same). We ploughed on though and, from what we can gather, our competition has now been whittled down by a further 40% or thereabouts.

We thought that would be it, but oh no. Word has reached us that 'presentations' have been hastily arranged for the surviving short-listed firms, with just two days to compile them. We are expected to present - for 40 minutes including Q&A - exactly the same information I spent a week and a bit detailing in shark-jumping detail at the turn of the year. It's like they read all the reams of paperwork and said "Yes, very good. Now, tell us it all again over tea and biscuits.". Fortunately, we are large enough to devote one person's time - muggins's - exclusively to this hoop-jumping exercise, but others have no such luxury even if they were willing and able. There's the small matter of them actually performing the paying employment which keeps their businesses alive, you see.

Remember, there is still not a penny of work on the table yet. This is all just to be placed on a framework agreement for the opportunity to bid.

Anyway, I suppose that's a round about way of telling you that there might not be much content here in the next two or three days, as I'll be busy building an entirely unnecessary Powerpoint slide show to justify the budgets of the concerned authority's procurement division. While I enjoy writing in all kinds of settings, I'm afraid priority goes to doing so where I have the chance of being paid, and that ain't here.

Oh, silly me, I nearly forgot to mention. The said procurement division, as I understand it from someone who retired from there last year, used to comprise 12 staff. They now boast 75.

Still, there are upsides to all this effort, though not for the taxpayer natch. Firstly, there was certainly more wriggle room when it came to pricing this lot up, there being a big drop in competition and all. And one question required of the presentation is dead easy to address, that of our ability to bring in staff to cope with the extra demand. The constant stream of applicants through our doors - from former competitors losing work the whole process inflicts on them - means we won't even have to spend anything on recruitment advertising.

I can only finish with the same denouement as last time.
Remember, our industry is just one small part of public sector outsourcing. Every supplier, in every field, is being put through this.

Competitive tendering is supposed to act against monopolies and cartels, yet EU legislation is actively encouraging them in every town hall up and down the UK.
Sadly, this is the big problem. Whereas the rules on competitive tendering were designed to empower the little guy in providing a service to drag costs down amongst the bigger players, burgeoning administrative demands - through red tape handed down in so many areas it would require a new article just to list them all - means that the public sector is profiting at the expense of efficiency and increased savings to the taxpayer.

It's never been better to be a big fish, and never been worse to be a small one trying to get a first fin on the success ladder. Fortunately, the government are furiously working on the problem, as their incredibly busy Red Tape Challenge Twitter feed shows.

Sigh.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

E-Cigs Are "The Future, They're Cool"

Just yesterday, I mentioned an article detailing the overwhelming momentum of e-cig popularity thus.
[Michael Ryan, co-founder and director of E-Lites said] "We're rapidly approaching a tipping point. In the next year to 18 months, we expect electronic cigarettes to become fairly widespread among smokers."
The day before, I'd reported on how ITV had rammed a stake through the hearts of every pharma-funded anti-smoker worldwide by advertising e-cigs as a smoking cessation product. The very thing tobacco control is very keen to prevent as a concept.

Now, it seems that even some of their erstwhile lap dog Labour allies are turning on them. Here is Laurie Penny, darling of the the left, giving a massive thumbs up to e-cigs on one of the BBC's prime political programmes, no less.


That cosy symbiotic relationship between tobacco controllers and pharmaceutical NRT, studiously built up over decades, is falling apart at a gloriously alarming rate thanks to the humble e-cig. And, with every overweening far-fetched denouncement or attempt to ban vaping, anti-smokers worldwide show themselves up to be even more shrill, hysterical, and disingenuous than before.

It's pretty to watch, so it is.

H/T Guido - yes, really.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Monty Python Policy-Making Hits The Market Place

No! Don't Look! Gah, too late

The peerless Kate of UK Vapers highlighted a very interesting piece about not only the current rising fortunes of e-cigs (scroll to the bottom), but also the tobacco market in general.

Squirrelled away amongst the comprehensive trade info, though, were these startling - and uncomfortably amusing - couple of paras describing the lengths cash and carry outlets are forced to go to in satisfying the daft tobacco display regulations by April 6th (emphases mine).
But it also looks as if cash and carries are going to have to make significant changes to the way they handle and sell tobacco, with the added complication that the precise rules are unlikely to be published until March, just one month before they are implemented. The FWD intervened on behalf of its members and was given guidance by the Department of Health, and it is expected that cash and carries will have to ensure that only tobacco traders can see tobacco products on their premises.

This will mean that tobacco rooms will have to be equipped with doors and controlled to ensure non tobacco traders do not enter. In addition any tobacco products being moved through depots, whether they are being delivered or they are on customers' trolleys will have to be covered up so they cannot be seen. The guidance was only published shortly before this feature was written, so cash and carries said it was too early to say precisely how they would be dealing with it. One cash and carry boss summed it up as "bags, doors and personnel", and also pointed out that it would mean considerable expense and there was very little time in which to implement the changes.
Stop giggling for a second and picture the scene.

There's your local Makro, or other such entity, building isolation units for boxes of tabs, cigars and tobacco for fear of a food retailer catching a glimpse of an outer of Marlboro. There'll need to be an announcement to 'look away now' when the door opens, of course, to protect anyone tempted to peer inside.

Meanwhile, in the loading bay fork lift drivers - presumably wearing a blindfold - are clambering on the back of artics, draping tarps or blankets over pallets of Hamlet, to ensure someone walking past isn't subject to the life-threatening prospect of seeing the packaging.

On the sales floor, customers are walking around with trolleys groaning under the weight of shrink-wrapped wine gum boxes and baked bean trays, but with the radioactive cig boxes concealed by black bags in case someone who doesn't sell tobacco is infected by baccy-package-itis.

God help the tobacconist who removes his supplies from their church of public health burqa to have a little look! Sirens will sound; rotating red lights will flash; and store staff will come running as if he'd begun letting off acid-laced fireworks. OK, maybe not the sirens and lights, but I'm sure the terror of resultant fines will ensure a sound telling off for any hapless customer who doesn't dutifully comply.

It's all a bit Python-esque, isn't it? Reminiscent of the World's funniest joke sketch ...


... which is quite apt, seeing as this kind of law really is just that. A Westminster joke at the electorate's expense.

As mentioned in yesterday's diatribe, how very pathetic are our politicians that they think we will be enamoured of them for passing such inconsequential nonsense, solely to justify the salaries of a few increasingly hysterical anti-tobacco loons? That none of them feel just a little bit stupid for voting in regulations with absurd consequences like those detailed above? That there is not a flicker of concern for the difficulties - and expense - they have inflicted on traders, and their customers, to satisfy ridiculous hobby horse self-aggrandisement.

Government has become farce. Yet still they're baffled as to why more and more of us can't be bothered to vote for any of them.

Considering Monty Python would probably make more sensible policy than the current set of Westminster clowns, it's hardly a surprise, is it?


Link Tank 28/01

The rinky-dink Link Tank, and it's as plain as your nose ...

How about butting out of family life?

Why McDonald's has adapted so well in France ...

... And how they are upsetting Seventh-day Adventists in California

In a strange twist, private business bans e-cigs, local state authority supports them

Aussies celebrated Australia Day this week - New South Wales joined in by implementing alcohol bans

In defence of pyjamas in public

The seven best libertarian songs you've never heard of

Uzbekistan bans Valentine's Day

No need to panic about global warming, say sixteen concerned scientists

The marvellous mechanical mouse dispensing machine


Friday, 27 January 2012

Chocolate Oranges And The Hideous Arrogance Of Politicians

This article comes with a red mist-o-meter alert, as long time readers will recognise from the graphic further down.

The Mars Bar has long been considered a reliable measure of inflation, but we can now add the Chocolate Orange as a telling indicator of our country's appalling political class.
Ed Miliband has attacked David Cameron for failing to stop the sale of cut-price Chocolate Oranges - something the PM complained about in opposition.

In 2006, Mr Cameron criticised WH Smith for discounting chocolate rather than fruit despite the UK's obesity crisis.
Here we have two walking, talking broom handle politicians exhibiting how extremely wrong British politics has become, for four reasons.

Chocolate Oranges are one of life's little treats. The overwhelming majority of the public like them. Indeed, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't like chocolate.

Yet here we are with two leading politicians arrogantly competing to be the one who appears toughest on making that treat more difficult to enjoy. This isn't a mind-altering drug we're talking about here - legal or otherwise - merely a fucking Chocolate Orange!

Secondly, the hideous mindset of the modern politician is of the opinion that they have the right to interfere in decisions of a business - any business - for even something as trivial as a fucking Chocolate Orange! Again, this isn't instant debilitating, excruciating infection such as e.coli in question; no pressing need for regulation on an environmental health kind of level (though I'd argue it's debatable if even that should be handled by the state).

No. They feel empowered to intervene to the degree of a few arse-wibbling pence, on some absurdly minute chance that someone will be tempted to grab armfuls of them to eat in a hedonistic orgy of gluttony ... and then, presumably, carry on doing so for decades before succumbing to diabetes and dying.

Statisticians would punch you in the face if you suggested they waste their time calculating the risk of death from 30p off a fucking Chocolate Orange from WH Smith's, yet the Prime Minister - let me say that again, the fucking Prime fucking Minister - and the leader of the bastard opposition both consider this subject worthy of creating policy.

Now, it's sad that our population can't recognise the third reason as they might be rightly irate if they could pull their heads out of sleb worship long enough, but the message being sent by Messrs Cameron and Miliband is that their mental function is too weak to resist eating a fucking Chocolate Orange or twenty ... just because Smith's have saved them a bit of shrapnel.

I'd like to see them being honest. Come on, you two, let's see it. Go up to the average working man in the street and tell him he is stupid and incapable of making decisions without supervision. Oh yeah, and do it without your bodyguards, you cowardly pricks. Get yourself ready to rumble, eh?

Because, the fourth - and perhaps most important - aspect of current political thinking this tells us is that they all treat us like we are pre-pubescent retards. Infants who need to be led by the nose, simply because our appointed overlords took a course in politics and rimmed their local party committee's back passages.

They are adults perfectly able to control themselves in Westminster with its subsidised bars and groaning shelves of free wine, but the public? You, the public, are just knuckle-dragging fuckwits with the IQ of a nursery school kid.

So, in summation, they have decided that their employers - from whom they steal earnings to fund their disgusting self-righteous posing by way of threats and intimidation - are not able to weigh up decisions for themselves despite trumpeting the brilliance of the education they have taken on themselves to provide. As such, they are unanimous in deciding that a fucking Chocolate Orange should be denied to you, and that the seller should be bullied into complying with our politicians' pompous, and pathetic, posturing.

And they wonder why we increasingly think they're a bunch of self-serving cunts who don't merit a fraction of our time to put an X in a box?

Thanks for showing your collective hands, Miliband. Mind if we just carry on treating you all with utter, undiluted, all-consuming contempt?


Thursday, 26 January 2012

More E-Cigs Exposure: ITV Kick Tobacco Control In The Love Spuds

These occurrences are becoming embarrassingly frequent for the obsessive anti-smoking community.

We've seen the absurd prohibitionist stance made to look more than a trifle stupid on US TV, followed by celebrity endorsement by Katherine Heigl on the Letterman Show. Then, on this side of the Atlantic, Dr Hilary Jones described how harmless they are on Daybreak.

But this is the best of the lot! Tuesday's edition of This Morning saw national darlings, Phillip Schofield and Holly (swoon) Willoughby, discussing with Birds of a Feather star Linda Robson the virtues of the e-cig as ... wait for it ... a smoking cessation product!

Can you imagine the pandemonium amongst the massed ranks of spew-gilled bansturbators when they saw that? I'll wager the ITV switchboards lit up like a magnesium brick hosed with water, whilst pharmaceutical industry meetings were urgently called for marketing execs all sporting the expression of someone whose office had been hit by a shit-filled hand grenade.


With anti-smokers worldwide scrambling to ban these devices to protect their pharma pals' profits, e-cigs are fast becoming a superb tool for shining a very public spotlight on the hypocrisy and cant of the tobacco control industry.

Delightful.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

CAMRA Fail Community Pubs - And Everyone Else - Again!

The Morning Advertiser's big splash yesterday detailed how CAMRA were condemning the government for their treatment of 'community pubs'. I tweeted it thus.

Because we all know how fervently they campaigned for the property rights of community pub owners pre 2007, don't we? Oddly, the triumphant post at CAMRA's website which welcomed the smoking ban has been removed, but local chapters give you the general gist of their stoic resistance.

Still, at least they're manning the ramparts now, albeit late, by commissioning a comprehensive report. Well, kinda. Despite the observable damage - widely predicted prior to the ban - there is little in it about restoring some kind of self-determination of smoking policy for community pubs. This is about the sum of it.
IPPR asked colleagues at Sheffield University to explore some potential reasons for explaining why pub closure rates might be higher in some areas than others. They examined the correlation at constituency level between pub closures and two other variables: the level of deprivation and smoking rates. The latter was intended to allow us to explore the impact of the ban on smoking in public places.
They could have, I dunno, suggested relaxing the 50% exposed rule on smoking shelters, or restated earlier calls for smoking rooms for 'landlocked' pubs, but decided to swerve such things.

So, the extent of this deep research was to see if differences in geographical closures could be explained by geographical conditions, completely ignoring that pub fortunes had suffered markedly everywhere since July 2007 (and well before the onset of the recession); that the pub experience had been devalued for smokers and many non-smokers; and that working class areas (where smoking prevalence is higher) are traditionally more unwilling to ditch pub life than wealthier ones, which would confound such a simplistic approach.
Our brief analysis of why pub closure rates differ between parliamentary constituencies indicates that there is a weak positive correlation between closure rates and smoking rates in England. However, this may be hiding other explanatory variables: for example, it may be simply because smoking rates are higher in more deprived communities.
And the whitewash is complete. The real problem - obviously something CAMRA find a bit too sticky to tackle - can now be ignored, which is all rather hunky-dory for an organisation who quite like smokefree pubs despite community ones being destroyed by the ban but still, politically, need to show some semblance of 'doing something'.

All of which probably explains their choice of report author. You see, out of all the think tanks they could have chosen, they plumped for one which is rather compromised. Recommending amendments to the smoking ban wouldn't play well with the IPPR's funders, for a start.

Such as, in the £10k-£20k category, Pfizer - manufacturers of nicotine replacement therapy extraordinaire, and perennial sponsors of smokefree conferences worldwide.

Under the more generous £50k-£100k group, we find the Nuffield Foundation, who designed the 'Intervention Ladder' for clamping down on what the state deems as unapproved lifestyle choices. Not heard of it? Their graphic below gives you a clue.

And, of course, the sole funder in the £100k+ category, and therefore not to be offended in any way whatsoever, is the EU. This continent's prime driver of anti-smoking policies.

CAMRA knew, by commissioning the IPPR, that any correct - but inconvenient - analysis of why pubs are dying on their arses would be swept under the carpet, especially since the IPPR have quite a link to the party which bludgeoned through the Health Act 2006 in the first place.

That's quite a few big feeding hands that the IPPR would do well not to bite too hard. And, do you know, I think CAMRA knew this when they sat down to 'help' community pubs. Treble Bishop's Fingers all round!

If you're knowledgeable in this area, you'll also have noticed one other striking coincidence - happily for CAMRA - in the choice of University to carry out the smoking ban research. Sheffield have form, you see.
2008 - University of Sheffield government-funded research suggests minimum price would reduce alcohol harm.
In fact, the University of Sheffield 'research' on minimum pricing of alcohol is the one quoted exclusively by anti-booze campaigners in the face of dozens of others which rubbish the - well, rubbish - idea.

But then, why choose any other when requiring a report to come to this conclusion.
5.2.6 Minimum pricing to reduce the price differential between the on and the off trade

The difference between the price of beer sold in the on and the off trades has led to more people drinking at home or in places other than licensed premises. As beer tax has increased, so too has the price of beer in pubs. The supermarkets are able to use their market power to ensure that increased duty is not passed on by their suppliers.

They can also afford to sell alcohol at below cost and as a loss leader to entice customers through their doors and spend on other products. Alcohol is not like any old commodity, because excessive consumption is damaging to health and contributes significantly to crime and disorder. This is why alcohol is taxed in the first place. There is therefore a case for preventing the sale of alcohol at very low prices. To do this a minimum retail price per unit of alcohol should be introduced.

The Scottish government is now implementing such a policy and in England the chief medical officer has voiced his support. Researchers at Sheffield University estimate that a minimum price of 40p per unit would reduce consumption especially among excessive drinkers and the young. While this would put up prices in shops and supermarkets, pub prices are already well above that level and would be unaffected.
When, oh when, are these CAMRA blockheads going to recognise a threat when they see it? Sheesh!


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Public Sector Says No

The little Ps just received another valuable life lesson, that being the rigid refusal of the public sector to embrace common sense. What's more, it has made yours truly seem like I possess the predictive powers of the Oracle at Delphi.

The girl has been rehearsing hard for a theatrical production to be performed next week, and the boy's school has been invited to watch it during the day, before evening performances for parents and others.

The girl's school is a 5 minute walk away from Puddlecote Towers, the boy's school a bus ride of a couple of miles and, to attend the show, he is expected to be there 20 minutes earlier than usual. This is to give enough time for the long walk ... back to where he has come from.

As such, the girl had a quite brilliant plan. She would ask her school if her brother could walk to where the show is being held that morning (her school) with her and her friends. You know, maybe wait in reception or somewhere like that. I mean, what's the point of all the otherwise unnecessary palaver, eh?

I said it was a brilliant idea, but confidently told her/them that at least one of the schools wouldn't allow it. "Why ever not?", they both cried! I simply replied that the public sector didn't understand common sense and would think up some way of avoiding employing it.

The girl returned home today with an incredulous look on her face. Yes, her school had flatly refused to consider it. Stifling my amusement and accompanying smug grin, I enquired as to which of the many public sector "more than my job's worth" excuses they had used.

"They said they have no-one to look after him", she spluttered.

A school. Designed to cope with 1,500 kids. With a payroll of over 100 staff. Unable to find somewhere for a 10 year old to sit quietly for 30 minutes.

As an example of statist Britain's pathetic administrative intransigence, you've got to admit that's a cracker.


Monday, 23 January 2012

South Korea Rolls Out The Red Carpet For Big Pharma

You may have read - in a place not very far away from here - that moves are afoot in South Korea to "ban production and circulation of tobacco products".

Now, via SteveVape, we find the Korea Herald reporting that they're not very keen on e-cigs, either.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced Thursday that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens, or cancer causing substances, just as cigarettes with tobacco do. They also contain environmental hormones that could damage the endocrine system.

A bill is pending at the National Assembly to include e-cigarettes under the cigarette management law.

Health authorities said the ministry will study the harm of vapors from e-cigarettes to humans. They also plan to examine the effects of secondhand smoke from the product later this year.
This kind of behaviour is uncannily similar to the demented gushings of some of the more extremist elements of tobacco control. You know, wild fantasies of imminent tobacco prohibition, hysterical scaremongery, and pursuit of junk science in the pursuit of removing any obstruction to pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapy profits blinkered, and dangerously irresponsible, 'quit or die' policies.

That's an awful lot of prohibitive activity for such a freedom-embracing country, isn't it?

Do you suppose it has anything to do with this?
In accordance with decision FCTC/COP4(25) the fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC (COP5) will be held from 12 to 17 November 2012 at COEX Convention Centre in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Well, there's no point in hosting some of the world's most obsessed and spiteful finger-waggers for best part of a week, only for them to abuse the hospitality by turning their self-righteous hectoring on the Korean government, is there?

No. Best get the prohibitionist cards on the table early, and make everything ship shape and embarrassment free before their arrival. Slicing away at the liberties of ordinary Koreans is well worthwhile if it means a pat on the head from world-leading tax leeches and their pharma paymasters.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Furniture Rearrangement, Err, Rearrangement

You may remember that we were supposed to have threaded comments courtesy of Blogger from Wednesday. Well, um, sadly there are glitches aplenty with their new tool, so much so that post URLs were compromised and under some platforms the blog disappeared entirely, as a few of you kindly e-mailed to point out. On looking at support forums, these were commonly reported problems so it was changed back. There's work apparently being done to fix these but it's slow in coming.

I'd really taken to the idea of a bit of to and fro in the comments, though, so being an impatient soul had a play with Disqus which offers just that. It all seems to slot in nicely, and if it's good enough for the ASI, it must be pretty decent. If you find anything hideously wrong, let me know.

On another note, do look in over at Pat Nurse's place (edit: and Leg Iron's) if you haven't already as there's a worthy appeal which could do with your modest financial help.


Err, Where Are The Staff?

Spot the exploited worker

It was all about bar workers, you see?
We've seen them all clambering to the special 'outside lounge' to spark up but now it appears the Celebrity Big Brother housemates are being left out in the cold.

The smokers of the House have been told they must now only puff on cigarettes in the actual CBB garden which has no covered roof or comfy seats.

And if they fail to do so show chiefs could be prosecuted and face a fine of up to £2,500.

But smoking has now been made more difficult for the smokers of the house as they can now only puff away in the cold uncovered part of the garden.

Environmental health officers from Hertsmere Borough Council have now ordered heads at the makers of the show, Endemol, to comply with their new ruling.

And as a result Endemol chiefs have ordered the remaining stars to stop lighting up in the covered garden, which has three walls and a roof.
Smokers making their own decisions and harming no-one but themselves? That just won't do.

The fact that no bar workers forced into medieval fug-filled conditions against their will - or any other staff for that matter - can possibly be harmed is irrelevant.

Thank you, Hertsmere Council, for showing the smoking ban up for the utter crock of disingenuous shit that it has always been.

H/T Mrs P's Chief Bridesmaid


Friday, 20 January 2012

Personal Safety Ban Logic

Friday night is smoky-drinky-curry night at a friend's gaff, but afore I go ...
"Everybody is aware of the risk of cell phones and texting in automobiles, but I see more and more teens distracted with the latest devices and headphones in their ears," says lead author Richard Lichenstein, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "Unfortunately as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases."
Headphones as a safety hazard. Hmm, interesting.
Researchers reviewed 116 accident cases from 2004 to 2011 in which injured pedestrians were documented to be using headphones. Seventy percent of the 116 accidents resulted in death to the pedestrian. More than two-thirds of victims were male (68 percent) and under the age of 30 (67 percent). More than half of the moving vehicles involved in the accidents were trains (55 percent), and nearly a third (29 percent) of the vehicles reported sounding some type of warning horn prior to the crash.

[...]

"I hope that these results will help to significantly reduce incidence of injuries and lead us to a better understanding of how such injuries occur and how we can prevent them."
Well, we already have a much-vaunted precedent as to how to prevent them, don't we?

Seat belt laws are widely regarded (by politicians, anyway) as being a 100% success despite outlawing personal choice of one's own level of risk. They save lives and - despite what others have claimed - have not merely shifted deaths from those inside the vehicle, to those outside. Nope, not at all.

Cycle helmets are also compulsory in New Zealand and Australia (natch), and there are regular calls for the same policy to be legislated on here. All for your own good, of course. The benevolent state removing your freedoms to save you from yourselves.

So, if it is to be accepted that the state is entitled to pass laws solely for the purpose of restricting our bad choices, then the logical answer to the problem of sensory deprivation by headphones is to instigate spot fines for pedestrians who wear them, surely. Or is that just too obviously illiberal for our omniscient overlords to spin their way out of?

Well, apart from Mayor Bloomberg, of course.


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Stony Stratford: A Characteristically Delirious Epilogue From Herr Bartlett

As you may have read elsewhere, the wise and thoughtful Councillors in Stony Stratford decisively threw out Herr Bartlett's barmy plan on Tuesday night (previously in this saga, check the Stony Stratford tag).

The margin was seven votes to one (can you guess who?), to go alongside prior epic Barlett failures. The man was his usual barking self during the meeting, at one point being made to apologise for a disgustingly spiteful wish for other members of the council (you know, normal psycho unhinged anti-smoker stuff).

However, once he popped his bug eyes back in his head and stopped frothing at the mouth, the ever-diligent AboutMyArea/MK11 managed to coax a comment or two out of him. Do go have a read as, incredibly, despite unconditional, disastrous, humiliating defeat, he feels he has made some kind of progress!

"It is noticeable that only one member of the public came to the meeting on 17th January to object and this may reflect a general change of mood in public opinion ..."
Really? If so, it's extremely difficult to spot at the Stony Stratford Facebook page judging by this selection of comments.

"bartlett you are out of touch ,use your time more wisely go and tidy tour garden up it,s a tip , and get a real job"

"My god daughter is better behaved than him and she's 3!!!"

"Is he still a bit mad??"

"He is a terrible person to represent [Stony Stratford] :("

"The pathetic smug arrogance of the man. Unbearable."
Those who went to the town in July last year can attest to Stony Stratford's charm, but it would appear that its residents are genial and astute people too.

Congratulations to Stony Stratford Town Council for reflecting the public mood so accurately.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

You Don't Say!

Over half of smokers in Ireland smoked more than usual over the recent Christmas period, with most blaming this on increased socialising, new research has found.
No, really?
According to a survey of over 1,000 adults, 55% smoked more than usual over the festive period, with almost seven in 10 putting this down to more socialising. Some 40% said they would smoke at least a full extra pack of cigarettes during Christmas week then they would in a normal week.

Other reasons for an increase in the habit at this time of the year included 'boredom', 'no work restrictions' and 'I'm treating myself'.
Hmm, what a conundrum for tobacco control. How do they prevent this? Well, enforced restrictions on home smoking might help, eh?

Oh yeah, and ban Christmas! When health is the only issue worthy of consideration these days, it's a no brainer, isn't it?


Furniture Rearrangement

Just to point out that I've installed a new widget from Blogger which means you can reply directly to other commenters. The shortcut takes you to the bottom of the comments at the moment, but I'm told they're working to clear that up.

Should liven things up a bit, eh?


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Precedent? What Precedent?

Late on parade, busy day. Here's an interesting one for you, though.

Remember this bold assertion from Smokefree Action's briefing - first, of many to come, mentions here - on why everyone should be incredibly happy at their attempt to uglify Britain that little bit further with plain packaging for tobacco?
Myth #7: It may be tobacco today but other consumer products will follow

FACT: Tobacco is not like any other product, it is the only legal consumer product on the market which is lethal when used as intended. That is why the UK and over 170 other governments have signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which places legal obligations on governments to strictly regulate tobacco products. Plain packs for tobacco will not therefore set a precedent for other consumer products.
Yeah, well just to emphasise this unwillingness to encourage other vested interests to follow their lead, here is the current home page of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies website (click to enlarge, natch).

On the pollution link, Professor John Britton - a conspiracy theorist anti-smoker - divorces the subject entirely from the 'unique' issue of tobacco.
"Essentially, pollution outdoors is probably doing much the same as tobacco smoke indoors,"
The Responsibility Deal link also makes it quite clear that tobacco control can never be accused of encouraging precedents.
"There's no evidence that voluntary approaches work." Using smoking as an example [Professor Anna Gilmore, an expert in public health at Bath University and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies] said: "The internal records of the tobacco companies became available when they were sued. They show that companies pushed voluntary approaches specifically in order to avoid binding legislation."
Nope. No hint of precedents being fostered there. either.

Meanwhile, at the Facebook vodka link, co-architect of the smoking ban Vivienne Nathanson waxes lyrical about how alcohol should suffer the same treatment as tobacco ...
"This shows how the alcohol industry needs to be regulated in order to curb alcohol misuse," she stated.
... whilst anti-tobacco propagandist Linda Bauld says something vaguely familiar.
"Companies lie (sic) Diageo are wanting to recruit drinkers of a young age and using Facebook is a key way of getting to children."
Probably because it is.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said "The evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers, so it makes sense to consider having less attractive packaging. It's wrong that children are being attracted to smoke by glitzy designs on packets."
Conclusive evidence, then, that tobacco controllers are solely interested in tackling tobacco harm, and would abhor their methods being replicated towards 'other consumer products', so they would.

I mean, what a ridiculous myth that is, eh?


Monday, 16 January 2012

Korea: I Know, Let's Have A New Drug War!

News from Korea.
A group of people filed a petition with the Constitutional Court, Wednesday, asking the court to review the constitutionality of the law on the state’s tobacco industry.

In the petition, nine citizens claimed the law infringes on the people’s rights to health, saying the government acknowledges the harmfulness of smoking but allows tobacco companies to manufacture cigarettes and sell them.

If the court finds the law unconstitutional as they claim, the decision may bring huge repercussions as it will mean the state should ban production and circulation of tobacco products.
Yes, I know what you're thinking, but's it's not that Korea, we're talking about the {cough} 'free' one here.
“The right to health, guaranteed by the Constitution, means the government not only has the duty not to harm people’s health but also is responsible for making and implementing policy for people’s health,” the group said in the petition.

“The government should scrap the law and instead establish a law banning the production and trade of cigarettes. It also needs to categorize tobacco as drug,” they said.
Hideous human pecksniffs they may be, but at least they are sincere, especially if they thought of this all by themselves.
Participating members include Park Jae-gahb, a former director of the National Medical Center, who is an ardent anti-smoking campaigner; [...] Former Government Legislation Minister Lee Seog-yeon filed the petition on their behalf.
Not such a (lemon?) grass roots campaign after all, then.

So, South Korea joins Finland in the race to become the first country to ban smoking entirely; refuse hefty tax receipts; and create an entirely new - and extraordinarily lucrative - market for organised criminal activity. Bravo!

Meanwhile, in that dictatorial place over the border ...
Signs are that North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un is a smoker.

Kenji Hujimoto, a former Japanese chef for the late Kim Jong-il, was reported to have said that Jong-un began to smoke cigarettes and drink liquor when he was around 15. He said Jong-un sometimes asked him to share cigarettes he had.

Hujimoto called Jong-un “one who loves to smoke,” adding that he likes to smoke Yves Saint Laurent, among others.

Both his father and grandfather are known for their love for cigarettes.
Luckily for South Korea, and their nine patriotic anti-tobacco champions, I'm sure North Korea would have no designs on undermining their neighbours by copping a deaf 'un to cross border tobacco smuggling operations, should tobacco become illegal by order of a Seoul court.

Nope, nothing could be further from their minds.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Chalk Up Another Win For The Good Guys

Well, that was unexpectedly quick.

We unveiled the shortlist here on New Year’s Day. In total, 903 readers cast a vote in the past two weeks. Here are the results in full:

32% (288 votes): Mark Littlewood
13% (117 votes): The Occupy Movement
13% (115 votes): Kenneth Clarke
11% (98 votes): Mohamed Bouazizi
10% (90 votes): Nick Davies and The Guardian
8% (74 votes): Ai Weiwei
6% (57 votes): Hugh Grant and the Hacked Off campaign
4% (33 votes): Hillary Rodham Clinton
3% (31 votes): Barack Obama
This morning's call to mouses attracted just over 400 page views, so congratulations to those who clicked through and voted on a very satisfying winning margin. The most votes ever received for the winner in the Lib Dem poll's five years, it would seem.

Nice to see another win for the good guys, isn't it?


Time To Pat Another Good Guy On The Back

After a couple of hectic and blog stifling weeks, things are easing up here in Puddlecoteville, so it's time for some catching up as my to do list has been growing at a steady rate.

To start with, let's try to emulate our previous successes in a poll being conducted at Lib Dem Voice. They are looking to award their annual Liberal Voice of the Year prize, but include some rather illiberal options such as Obama and the Occupy Movement, for some strange reason.

The stand out choice on their short list though, it seemed to me, is Mark Littlewood, a man with impeccable classical liberal credentials as regularly displayed on his Daily Mail blog and at the IEA website. Liberal Vision - always a good guide - are backing him, and their reasoning is perfectly sound.

But perhaps the real reason why we here at Liberal Vision think that he deserves to win is that he has, almost single-handedly, championed the cause of personal freedom. He has taken on ministers over regressive plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol; tackled lobbyists over the crippling smoking ban; called for the legalisation of drugs. He has demanded time and time again that adults should be treated as adults and not patronised; not spoken down to; not dismissed by those in power. He has been THE VOICE for all those people out there who believe that Government meddling, nannying or nudging is insane, frequently counter-productive and too often unfair – but have no opportunity to say so. He speaks for millions.
I couldn't agree more, which is why I've cast my vote in his direction already. If you'd like to do the same, just click here and vote in the sidebar on the right.

See if we can't show some more jewel robber power, eh?


Friday, 13 January 2012

That Non-Existent Slippery Slope Again


Because only a conspiracy theorist would predict that anti-smoking methods will be used on other products.

Thirty years after health activists in Perth gained notoriety by spraying graffiti on cigarette billboards, fast food has become the new target of a consumer backlash.

A Hungry Jack's billboard in North Perth promoting its premium range of burgers has been daubed with the message, "Obesity has never tasted so good".

A group known as Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions, or Buga Up, defaced tobacco billboards in Perth from the late 1970s.

[Chief executive Maurice Swanson said] "So while the Heart Foundation doesn't condone this graffiti, as was the case with tobacco this type of action could become the catalyst for legal restrictions, this time on the avalanche of junk food marketing and advertising that we're all exposed to, especially children."
Hey, at least they only want advertising restricted. I mean, once they have that, they'll be perfectly satisfied. Yep. With that small concession gained, attacks on fast food will cease, offices will close and the public will be left to make their own decisions.

Only a fool would think otherwise, eh?


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Truth Is Out There

Sorry to pinch the X Files tag line, but getting the truth out of lobby groups and indolent media hacks really can be as exhaustive as discovering alien encounters these days.

They still leave little clues lying around, mind. Like this, from Sunday's BBC article on incorrigible gin-soaked pensioners.

Older people are much more likely to drink every day than those of other ages, according to an NHS study into alcohol use.

While the rest of the population is drinking slightly less, and slightly less often on average, this is not the case for older people, it said.
They can use qualifiers if they like, but less can only mean less, and has been lessening for quite a while now.

ONS General Lifestyle Survey 2008:

Following an increase between 1998 and 2000, there has been a decline since 2002 in the proportion of men drinking more than 21 units a week, on average, and in the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units.
ONS General Lifestyle Survey 2009:

This trend seems to be continuing under the new methodology; between 2006 and 2009 the proportion of men drinking more than 21 units a week fell from 31 per cent to 26 per cent and the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units a week fell from 20 per cent to 18 per cent.
What's more, if all the oldies are not only intransigently refusing to change their lifestyles to fit in with the trendy church of public health, but doing the opposite instead, and consumption is still on the wane, that must mean the young are reducing their levels by an even greater degree. No?

Well, yes, actually.


Despite changing the way unitary intake is measured to make consumption appear worse, young men definitely - and arguably all young people taken as a whole - are still drinking less of those units than they were in 1992.

This'll be the irresponsible, binge-drinking, liver-diseased, perennially-sozzled alky section of society who are driving the crisis level booze epidemic we keep hearing about, and for which we require acres of illiberal and collective punishment style primary legislation to solve.

Seems a bit odd, that. Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them, eh?


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

BHF's Latest Piss Poor Plain Packaging Propaganda

You may remember a piece last month highlighting The British Heart Foundation spending good faith donations - which the public believe is spent wholly on charitable activities - on lobbying government instead. Here they are, again, not keeping their noses out of politics.


See? I did warn you that there was going to be some desperate scratching around for justification in the matter of plain packaging, didn't I? But this one from precocious Adam really is a bit of an own goal.

Tobacco companies have always maintained that packaging has one purpose, and one purpose only - that being to compete for market share with other companies and brands. So what does Adam do to disprove this? Why, ask smokers which brand they would choose based on the packaging, of course. Way to go advancing big tobacco's defence, dickhead. It is, after all, illegal for under 18s to buy cigarettes (we have laws to stop them and everything), and if they're over that age, it's their choice and none of your business Adam, d'you see?

Interestingly, the likes/dislikes votes for this on YouTube are around 50:50 which is encouraging, with comments underneath equally dismissive if not more so. And this, we must presume, is from those sent to it by BHF's publicity. None of us have even got stuck in yet (though who am I to dissuade you?).

On that basis, Adam did nail one thing squarely in the video (43 secs in) ... the vast majority of the country don't think it matters, nor do they feel legislation is required. In fact, almost no-one gives a stuff. But then, we're not the ones trying to do something - anything - to keep that salary coming in on the back of tin-shakers who believe it is spent on things like palliative care instead of political lobbying.

After all, they have been a bit short of things to badger MPs with with since getting vending machines and tobacco displays banned, haven't they?


Ineptocracy

A new word for 2012 is brought to you via Menzies House.




Monday, 9 January 2012

It's Only Helpful If WE Get Paid For It

It seems Anna "say anything for a grant" Gilmore (that's her on the left) has taken to diversification of late.

Having just about squeezed UK and EU tobacco control budgets dry with her trademark 'torturing of statistics for hire' consultancy provision (motto: no job too small, no untruth too big), she is now offering her services as an expert in other areas.

The demonisation of alcohol companies, to be precise.

The recent issue of Bulletin of the World Health Organization carries a round table section: "Global Fund collusion with liquor giant is a clear conflict of interest. The First article is by Richard Matzopoulos, Charles DH Parry, Joanne Corrigall, Jonny Myers, Sue Goldstein and Leslie London. They describe how the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) has recently included SABMiller as a recipient of funding for an education intervention aimed at minimizing alcohol-related harm, including HIV prevention, among men in drinking establishments.
This is what most people call philanthropy, something which is positively encouraged, even lauded, in many spheres of business. But, as is customary, black is white for those in public health.

Anna B Gilmore and Gary Fooksa, two researchers familiar with conflict of interest issues from the tobacco field, say the Global Fund needs to address conflict of interest. They point to the apparent failure by both the Global Fund and the Government of South Africa to recognize and adequately address the potential conflict between corporate interests and public health goals.
For decades now, the public have been told that tobacco companies are evil because (tobacco haters claim) they denied the harms identified by anti-smokers, and refused to take part in any initiatives to minimise them.

Here we have a separate industry openly doing just that, yet it is still derided for doing so, using - it's difficult to deny - the same marginalisation of industry tool perfected by the tobacco control template.

Remember, though, that tobacco is unique and measures directed towards controlling it "will therefore not set a precedent for other consumer products".

Nope. Nothing for the drinks industry to be worried about. At all.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Iron Lady: Still Humiliating 'Wets'

If tumbleweed begins to drift around this tabloid corner of cyberspace, don't be too surprised as I'm about to embark on an incredibly busy week. A large tender document requires my attention, involving the writing of detailed method statements which could fill a small book, whilst I'm also helping Mrs P with an urgent project, and a disciplinary matter surrounding a soon-to-be ex-employee needs sorting.

So, prior to the coming stresses, we packed the kids off to watch Puss in Boots at the local multiplex today and - once they were out of view with their pound shop sweets - bought a 'how-fucking-much' size portion of popcorn and snuck in to watch The Iron Lady.

Not being much of a film-goer, this was an unprecedented second attendance in two weeks after our new year Sherlock Holmes jaunt which had already seen me exceeding my entire movie-watching experiences of 2011.

As the film is brand new, and promoted by a bit of a media frenzy, I'd expected the place to be quite busy. However, this is comfortably numb suburbia we're talking here, and with Mission Impossible and Alvin and his bleedin' Chipmunks also vying for short-spanned attentions, is it any surprise that only ten souls had ventured out to sprinkle themselves sparsely around and watch something a trifle more thoughtful.

We were curious to see what had seemingly upset both left and right of the political pallet, and for once I'm more inclined to agree with the lefties as the film surprisingly portrayed Thatcher in a very favourable light.

In the opinion of someone with an interest in politics, it lacked more detail of the issues she faced during her premiership, but presumably this is to attract larger appeal with populations who are increasingly unable (or unwilling) to understand current affairs or the history of them.

I'm assuming that the movie was designed to show a former world leader as being powerless as the rest of us in her dotage, but there were also striking scenes in the film which should make modern political players shift uneasily in their seats.

It reminded us that Thatcher - though many can argue with her politics - was uniquely driven by a sense of duty to the country, rather than self-interest. Those who shape policy in the 21st century have long since forgotten such a concept, as Streep's character succinctly described early in the piece.

"It used to be about doing something, now it is about becoming something."
Yes, I think she was looking at you, Blair, and the current incumbent who is also just treading water until his lucrative book deal and lecture tour - not to mention the legions of lobbyists acting solely in the interest of their next grant or subsidy, to the detriment of the populace as a whole.

It's also good to be reminded that Thatcher was one of the fiercest illustrations of 'girl power' ever to emerge in the UK. Striding into number ten and sweeping the limp 'wets' in her cabinet aside, she embarked on proving that a woman can compete perfectly well with men should they have the quality to do so, instead of the modern trend of women beating men into surrender and dragging the whole country down to a simpering miasma of offence-seeking and effete terror of the world around them. Thatcher sought to drag the country up to be proud, resilient, and (a very rare quality these days) self-reliant. The current crop would make Thatcher's 'wets' seem like they had multiple wrought-iron spines by comparison.

In fact, the screenplay hinted at this difference in approach - rightly or wrongly - with Thatcher referring to the current PM as a 'smoothie', and at one point denouncing modern politicians as 'appeasers'. Not a trait Thatcher was ever comfortable with, as we were reminded in a scene where she dismissed Alexander Haig's suggestion of leaving the Falklands in Argentinian hands because they weren't politically or economically valuable.

The performances were impeccable. Streep, particularly, portrayed Thatcher's airs and graces brilliantly, and she nailed the unmistakeable voice of such a globally recognised person with aplomb, the fact she is native to a country which usually struggles with British accents makes her expertise even more impressive. Jim Broadbent also captured Denis's unvarnished character and down-to-earth wit extremely well, whilst Tony Head reined himself in nicely to mirror Geoffrey 'dead sheep' Howe's self-effacing nature.

At 105 minutes, it's not of a length which leaves you with a numb backside and an empty bag of jelly babies for the last half hour, and the photography is, at times, quite stunning. And, of course, the subject matter is some of the most interesting political times in post-war history, so it is very easy to recommend this as good value for your £6+ ticket.

As I mentioned earlier, lefties won't remotely enjoy seeing their bĂȘte noire being portrayed sympathetically, but the way right of centre politicians have lined up to aim subtle digs at the film is equally interesting. Cameron and others have questioned why such a film should be made "right now".

Considering it shows what a real Tory PM should be like, his comments can probably be translated to read that he wishes no-one had made such a film ever.


Friday, 6 January 2012

Quick! Justify Our Existence!

Tim Worstall today highlighted a classic case of desperate scraping of the barrel in justification for illiberal measures.

In the same vein, here's another bang up-to-date example from Alcohol Research UK.

20% of men and 10% of women aged 65 and over exceed recommended drinking guidelines and 3% of men and 0.6% of women aged 65-74 are alcohol dependent.

Moderate drinking in later life has a beneficial effect on all-cause mortality and confers a number of psychological benefits, possibly through reduced stress and improved mood and sociability.
Isn't that great news?

However multiple biological, psychological and social changes that accompany the ageing process make older people uniquely vulnerable to alcohol problems. These vulnerabilities can include loneliness, diminished mobility, multiple bereavements, chronic pain, poor physical health and poor economic and social supports.
I see. So, because old people tend to suffer from ailments which affect old people, state-funded prodnoses should be employed to nag them on their alcohol consumption.

Brilliant!


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Great Ideas For The Future - Electronic Tagging For Kids

Welcome to this week's edition of Tomorrow's World, and to start off we report on an ingenious breakthrough for future public health screening ... electronic activity tags for kids.

In early 2012, wristwatch-like devices called Polar active monitors will be used by older students in PE classes at all 18 Parkway elementary schools. District officials say the devices should help improve the students' fitness and academic achievement.

Later this school year, the district plans to collect data about activity levels and even sleep patterns for a week at a time. It will have the students wear the devices round the clock.
All rather ingenious, so it is.

The monitors measure activity by tracking every movement of the person wearing them. They display steps taken, calories spent and time spent at various levels of activity. An animated figure on the monitor indicates the activity level. A bar shows the target time for doing moderate to vigorous activity and the amount of time achieved at that level.

Under the pilot program, the three schools each received 25 monitors, which cost $90 apiece. The monitors have been rotated among third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in physical education classes.

Each of the district's elementary schools will receive 25 monitors in January and begin using them in PE class.

However, the focus of the monitors' use will change gradually, so that by the end of the year students will continually wear the monitors for a full week at a time to assess activity levels.
Of course, like any innovation, there are always going to be teething troubles.

Neil Richards, a professor of law with Washington University in St. Louis who teaches privacy and civil liberties courses, said he feels the plan for the devices constitutes "a major privacy issue."

"The school district eventually will be engaging in surveillance of kids' sleep and exercise patterns outside the school day," he said. "Though physical activity is important and obesity is a problem, the district could not require kids to wear them because I think it would be a violation of their and their families' Fourth Amendment rights, which is pretty easily unconstitutional."
Bah! They're only primary school kids, for God's sake. Get with the program, Grandad. Anyway, such worries are being addressed as we speak.

Ramspott said the district plans to share all physical activity and sleep reports with parents [...]
See? The benevolent state is nothing if not generous. Plus ...

Ramspott said Parkway will require parental consent to participate ...
But, of course.

... largely because of the responsibility of caring for the monitors.
Hey, at $90 a pop it's expensive kit!

Still, parents should be asking what data is being collected from those devices and when, Richards said. They should ask what rights they have to control the data, whether data is anonymous, what safeguards will be in place to protect data, whether the district is going to give it or sell it to anyone, when data will be destroyed, and whether the district has a privacy policy available to parents.

"If a university would do this study, they'd need to have lots of approval and consent from our internal review board, because this is a form of human subject research," Richards said. "Though the district should be applauded for ensuring kids are healthy, this kind of biological surveillance seems to go far beyond what they should be concerned with."
For crying out loud! What is it with this guy? Does he not realise that it's essential for the state to concern itself with how children are raised - parents, less so?

He wonders what's next.

"Will they start monitoring kids' nutrition at home or how many hours they spend reading at home?" Richards asked.
Oooh, what a fantastic idea! We'll pitch it to the Department for Education next week.


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Man Speaks Common Sense, Gets Slated

It's not often I excitedly applaud an article at the BBC, but this is one such piece.

[...] it offends my sensibilities as a professional social researcher, but it also offends me as a parent. With my wife, I have raised three boys in south London, and I think it is disgraceful that such a range of people - organisations, politicians and journalists - use terrible evidence, or in many cases no evidence at all, to perpetuate negative myths about the state of childhood and family life in the UK today.

I am also dismayed by how readily we as a society choose to believe them.
Oh this is so true. How, for God's sake, can anyone truly believe that kids are having a terrible existence in the modern world when, in the modern world, adults are increasingly having to engineer their lives around kids?

For example all the best evidence shows that parents now devote more time to caring for their children than ever before, and in particular the current generation of fathers has massively increased the amount of time they spend with their children compared to previous generations.
Demonstrably so. The experience of anyone who has kids will tell you that modern parenting is now almost a competitive sport. Mums and Dads of the late 20th and early 21st century are replaying the 'keeping up with the Joneses' battles of earlier times by trying to show how much more perfect they are than parents of their offspring's friends.

It's a pan-national race to the top, with kids being the undeniable winners.

Nor I would argue are our kids passive victims ripe for commercial organisations. They are actually rather savvy, and I think understand very well what commercial organisations are trying to do when they communicate with them, particularly when it comes to engagement online.
Hmm, I wonder which clowns are promoting such concepts, eh? Vested interests who are looking only to their next pay cheque, perchance?

So why is such a misleading picture being painted? Well first of all I think I have to point the finger at my profession. Quite a lot of bad social research is done, and people draw conclusions from their research that really it is not fair to draw.
You're preaching to the choir there, sunshine.

Another contributory factor is that the media love a bad news story, and reject good news ones. And of course the plethora of children's charities, competing for headlines and donations, understand this.
He's not ... he's not going to say the unsayable? Is he?

Those headlines, for example, were reporting views and research from the likes of Save the Children, the Children's Society and Barnardo's. These charities ratchet up the emotional ante, and I think as they do so their voices become ever more shrill, and reason disappears from the argument.
Yes, he is! Hallelujah!

A man after my own heart as I believe we've covered that kinda thing here before.

Academics feel the same pressure - to accentuate the negative. Their next research grant may depend on getting media coverage for their research, which is greater if the story is negative.

So there are real vested interests driving this.
At this point, I had to pinch myself to believe I was still reading the BBC.

My own children have all lost friends from their homes in south London when the parents, wanting to do the right thing, take them away from the city amid fears of violence and knife crime.

They take them to the countryside, where of course all the statistics show that they are far more likely to be run over in a rural road traffic accident than they ever were to be a victim of knife crime in south London.
The same risk-petrified mindset which encourages paedohysteria like this, in fact.

So the next time you read or hear about social decline, simply ask yourself what evidence do they have, and then ask whether it is really getting worse.

You may find that things are much better than you thought.
And wild applause as he nails the dismount.

So how was this received by the great British BBC reading public? Well, with derision and denial, of course. Commenter after commenter queued up to advance the ideas they have had implanted by decades of drip drip media and vested interest misinformation.

Just as readers here will all have been ridiculed for, at some point, explaining facts to their friends and colleagues such as alcohol consumption has been declining for years, or that obesity isn't really any kind of problem if one looks at the figures instead of the Daily Mail.

Because we are living in an age where myth has been installed as fact, and many incontrovertible truths are dismissed by a majority who trust people who simply don't deserve it. 'Jamie Oliver said it, so it must be true' syndrome.

The Heresiarch pointed to just such an example between Christmas and New Year.

"Britain’s problem with alcohol is not due to price, but a culture of excessive consumption," says the Telegraph. Actually, excessive consumption isn't the problem (by European standards, it is not excessive). Culture, though, is. What causes the Hogarthian scenes that disfigure town centres of a Friday or Saturday evening? Not alcohol, but rather a set of cultural beliefs about alcohol that produces (prompts, encourages, excuses) loutish behaviour. Read Kate Fox's Watching the English if you don't believe me. She discusses psychological experiments that show people will get drunk on placebos while staying sober on alcohol that they believe to be water, and notes that "many other nations manage to consume much larger quantities of alcohol without becoming rude, violent and generally disgusting." She writes:

These basic facts are, among my fellow cross-cultural researchers, so obvious and commonplace as to be tedious. We are certainly all very weary of repeating them, endlessly, to audiences who either cannot or will not accept their validity. Much of my professional life has been spend on alcohol-related research and my colleagues and I have been trotting out the same irrefutable evidence for over a decade, every time our expertise is called upon by government departments, police conferences, worried brewers and other concerned agencies.

Everyone is always highly surprised... and politely determined to let nothing shake their faith in the evil powers of the demon drink. It's like trying to explain the causes of rain to some remote mud-hut tribe in thrall to the magic of witch-doctors and rain-makers.
For 'mud-hut tribe', substitute Westminster, and for 'audiences who cannot and will not accept validity', how about your friends, acquaintances, and neighbours who are so easily hoodwinked by professional liars?

A well-respected 'expert', pictured yesterday

It's not like they're even making life easier or more enjoyable either. I suppose yer average bread and circuses engrossed human just feels comfortable being shat on.

Such a shame that so many are happy to abrogate their time on this Earth to self-serving people who care nothing for them, and never will.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Myth-Busting For The Masses

Oh dear, word is starting to get out that those advisory alcohol units - which public health like to portray as rigid limits - are a bit crap. Once the most venerable Stephen 'national institution' Fry pronounces against them, you just know that alco-worriers are on dodgy ground.


Delightful.

H/T The Skinner


Monday, 2 January 2012

The Irresistible Rise Of The E-Cig: Bad News For Tobacco Control

The subject of electronic cigarettes is fast becoming one of the most interesting public health battlegrounds of 2012 and, gloriously, it looks like it could also be a very embarrassing one for anti-smokers.

We're very used to 'swarm politics' from the tobacco control industry, whereby they all spout off on the latest proposed prohibition when one of their coalition blows an embargoed whistle, but press coverage of e-cigs in the past few days has been relentless without any noticeable co-ordination.

For a start, the fiercely anti-smoking Independent have come out firmly in favour of them. Their Chief sports writer, James Lawton, penned a puff piece on New Year's Eve while on the same day, even tobacco company involvement didn't deter the paper from publishing more extremely positive column inches.

Companies, including some of the biggest names in tobacco, are poised to launch a generation of devices that mimic the experience of smoking without the lethal effects.

One, being developed by a 29-year-old Oxford graduate, has attracted the attention of BAT, one of the world's largest tobacco companies, which has bought the rights to market it. A profusion of electronic and other devices has appeared in the past year, thanks to a legal loophole which allows them to be sold freely so long as they do not make any health claim.
Can you just imagine the horror of the psychotic wing of anti-smoking when they read such heresy in one of their favourite left-leaning rags? For the most committed tobacco-hating bigots, e-cigs are just a means by which many smokers are able to escape hideous, holier-than-thou, evangelical bullying, so I'm sure the bug eyes of one renowned weapons grade arsehole would have burned like being injected with acid if he opened the page and was hit with that.

He wouldn't be alone, either. As I've said before, e-cigs confuse (and scare) the hell out of anti-smokers, so much so that they have been charging around trying to ban them everywhere they possibly can. I wrote the other day about Holland's sad capitulation, but they're also currently illegal in supposedly free societies such as Australia, Brazil, Finland, Singapore and Canada.

Of course, if scathing articles like this today from one of Canada's largest news sources become more frequent, that may change.

It’s clear that since nothing is being combusted in an e-cigarette, their use is significantly less harmful than smoking. A 2010 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy reviewed the available data and concluded that, “electronic cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes.” Researchers at the Canadian organization TobaccoHarmReduction.org called e-cigarettes “the tobacco harm reduction phenomenon of the year.”

But just because a technology has the potential to save millions of lives, doesn’t mean someone hasn’t tried to ban it.

To figure out why the government would try to prohibit the use of these products, one simply has to follow the money. Between 2001 and 2008, the federal government collected $20.4-billion worth of tobacco taxes. Rather than implementing policies that are in the best interests of Canadians, it is the government that has become addicted to the lucrative tobacco industry.

It’s time to break the addiction: End the Canadian ban on electronic cigarettes.
Amen. Although the author solely places the blame on politicians, rather than equally the mentally unbalanced smoke-haters and richly-funded - partly from tobacco taxes - professional tobacco prohibitionists who advise them.

Because that's the way the pharma-backed "quit or die" approach is intended to work. You quit by approved crony capitalist means, or the state and its allies will be quite happy to see you die.

It really hasn't ever been about health, and e-cigs are a perfect example. Especially since we've seen it all before, as the last of those recent articles I mentioned points out.

Writing for Ad Age - again, today - Judann Pollack recalls a time in the 80s when the battle for nicotine profits was won by smoke haters, and when - by tobacco control's very own reasoning - thousands of people died prematurely as a result.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 10 million smoking-related deaths since 1988. I often wonder whether that figure would be lower if it weren't for the rigidity of the anti-smoking lobby.

Our story this week about marketers being unable to tout the potential health benefits of electronic cigarettes brought to mind an Ad Age storyline from 1988: The rise and fall of Premier. Premier was an audacious attempt by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to sell a cigarette that heated, rather than burned, tobacco. It created no sidestream smoke, produced no ashes, contained zero tar, and had 97% less nicotine and 70% less carbon monoxide than other brands at the time.

Yet health advocates rebelled, maintaining, as they do now, that there's no such thing as a safer cigarette.

So with the best intentions, anti-smoking groups swooped into the St. Louis and Phoenix test markets faster than you could say "cancer stick." Local health organizations petitioned the state Board of Pharmacy to label Premier a drug and remove it from market. It was denounced by health commissioners in Missouri. New Jersey held hearings to ban Premier, even though it couldn't be purchased within 1,000 miles of the Garden State's border.
Err, I'd argue with the 'best intentions' bit, unless talking about protecting salaries and research grants of course, but the rest is quite true and documented elsewhere.

Former tobacco control activist Michael Siegel regularly highlights instances where the movement have gone off the rails and actively encourage politicians to bring in legislation which is pathetically thought-out and arguably kills people, but e-cigs are the best example yet by a long chalk.

And it is a major one which is happening now while modern communications enable the proof of their disgusting (and lethal) rent-seeking methods to be spread widely.

They have tried their utmost, globally, to extinguish (pun unintended) e-cigs despite their being a demonstrable boon to those wishing to move away from smoking. All because tobacco control's favoured quit partners and sponsors - who, by an amazing coincidence, all happen to be competing pharmaceutical companies - have told them to.

That they haven't succeeded, and now look likely to have to admit abject defeat, is not down to anything else other than true 'grassroots' opposition, rather than the feigned state-funded one that the likes of ASH still try to portray themselves as.

Time for some trumpet-blowing, I think, as I did predict as much last March.

As user numbers swell, government's enforcers in Whitehall are going to find it increasingly difficult to cut off vapers from an alternative to tobacco which offers massive harm reduction potential, without showing themselves up as vested interest stooges (if they haven't already, natch).
To put it bluntly, any anti-smoking organisation who continues to act against e-cigs are openly admitting that they have no care for smokers' health (as if they ever did), and that can only be a good thing.

The sooner they are seen as the prohibitively costly, self-serving tax leeches that they are, feeding the prejudices of the most obnoxious in society, warping social fabrics worldwide, while delivering little by way of net health benefits, the better for all concerned.

The game's afoot for 2012, and I for one be watching developments with great interest.