Wednesday 31 March 2010

The Righteous On The Couch

The Telegraph yesterday revisited the topic of government advertising.

The Government has become the biggest spender on advertising in the country for the first time, new figures have disclosed.
As regular visitors to this brazenly hedonistic corner of the blogosphere will remember, Labour's dirty tryst with the advertising industry is monitored regularly here.

Still, the latest Telegraph report gives another chance for the Central Office of Information (COI), the quango entrusted with splashing advertising cash, to trundle out their standard self-aggrandising defence.

A COI spokesman said: "Government campaigns help save lives and money. During the past year there were important campaigns tackling issues such as obesity and climate change."
This is a slight deviation from their chosen justification in January.

Labour argues that the COI’s role is to promote important campaigns such as anti-smoking, obesity and in the past year swine flu.
Now, in what is fast becoming a bit of a Puddlecote catchphrase, I'd venture to suggest that a lot of what is being 'promoted' is none of the government's fucking business, but let's put that aside for now.

Reason being that, as the British Psychological Society pointed out this week, the COI's claims that their campaigns are incontestably beneficial are rather optimistic. Particularly when it comes to methods aimed at scaring the living crap out of us in order to influence behaviour.

A new study makes the surprising finding that for a portion of the population, scare tactics can back-fire, actually undermining a message's efficacy.

The report referred to a study showing links between caffeine consumption and a fictional gastro-intestinal disease 'Xyelinenteritis'. One version was extra-scary, highlighting a link between Xyelinenteritis and cancer and saying that the participant's age group was particularly vulnerable. The other version was lower-key and lacked these two details. Both versions of the article concluded by recommending that readers reduce their caffeine consumption.

The key finding is that participants who scored high on cognitive avoidance actually rated the threat from Xyelinenteritis as less severe after reading the scary version of the report compared with the low-key version. Moreover, after reading the scary version, they were less impressed by the advice to reduce caffeine consumption and less likely to say that they planned to reduce their caffeine intake.
Cognitive avoidance is the mindset that downplays personal risk by dismissing it, or rating it as less threatening than generally perceived. It's the opposite of the positive self-delusion required by national lottery players. One thinks 'it could be me', the other believes it 'probably won't be me'.

On the other hand, highly cognitive avoidant participants were more responsive to the low-key report than were the low cognitive avoidant participants. In other words, for people who are cognitively avoidant, scary health messages can actually back-fire.
It's an interesting conclusion, and one which is surely doubly true when applied to government's hectoring on lifestyle issues.

Those who enjoy tobacco, alcohol, or unapproved foods are, by their very nature, risk takers. We are well aware of the health dangers as they have always been vigorously highlighted by UK administrations. They are now, of course, impossible to avoid since Labour embarked on their programme of game theory-led eugenics.

For risk takers, cognitive avoidance is hard-wired into our DNA.

The treasury is very well aware of this fact as their extortionate ramping up of sin taxes, budget after budget, proves quite conclusively **. They know full well that such products have a high inelasticity of demand, so they can vehemently tax away without the threat of drastically reduced receipts.

Yet the Department of Health, particularly, continually resorts to ever more hysterical hyperbole in their vain attempt to scare and bully people who have seen all the scares and bullying before ... and resisted all of it.

Considering that recent campaigns have warned of premature death for kids who eat a cake, a glass of wine killing women, and smokers being speared with fish hooks or the quite laughable murdering others at a wedding, one must question their state of mind, their grip on reality, or even their sanity.

Perhaps the British Psychological Society could get a few of the hideous lunatics at the DoH on the couch and work out exactly why they persist in spending truckloads of our money on campaigns which could only be dreamt up by a psychopath, and which their public sector colleagues in the treasury know to be, at best useless and, at worst counter-productive.

Straitjackets all round, I reckon.

** And for future budgets, sin taxes on sugar, fizzy drinks and (I kid you not) fruit juice.

Not Today, Thanks

Quite a few have noticed that there's something whiffy about Power 2010.

Today, anyone who took part in their web poll will have received a Power 2010 e-mail attributed to Billy Bragg ... which kinda confirms all such suspicions. Who are we going to hear from next? Ben Elton? Tony Woodley? Swampy?

I'm so out.

John Healey: Pointless Politician

You didn't see me, right?

Frequent pubs regularly enough and you'll have seen him. The guy who props up the bar boastfully stating that he 'really should be at work, but the boss will never notice'.

Some pub near Westminster has one called John Healey.

Britain's first Pubs Minister - John Healey MP - has been picked by Gordon Brown to lead a task force charged with saving a national asset: the local.

"I've always enjoyed the camaraderie of good pubs, the sense of community that thrives," he insists. "That's why I'm taking this role forward with gusto."
With gusto, did you say, John? Well, since you were appointed at the start of February, let's see how you've been getting on then, shall we?

Westminster Hall debate entitled 'British Pubs', 23rd February:

Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

It is a pleasure to introduce this debate, Mr. Gale. I declare my interest as vice-chairman of the all-party group on beer, and as a member of the Campaign for Real Ale. I am delighted to see the Minister here, but a little surprised that the Government are not represented by the newly appointed pub supremo.
Where's Healey?

House of Commons debate, entitled 'Alcohol', 10th March:

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West, Liberal Democrat)

There has been a cultural change in the on trade, too. The sector of the on trade that is particularly suffering is the traditional community pub that has a particular role not only in being somewhere for people in the area to meet but in being a controlled sociable atmosphere where people of all ages will go.
With over 30 references to pubs in that debate, it was definitely something for a Minister for Pubs to get his teeth into, yes? Or would have been if he could have been bothered to attend.

Meeting to discuss the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, March 30th:

Last night, two weeks after it was confirmed that pubs minister John Healey would meet two MPs - Greg Knight and David Clelland - and me to discuss our campaign to amend the smoking ban, Healey's office got cold feet and decided that I couldn't attend today's meeting after all.
Too much like hard work, obviously.

A Minister for pubs who dodges every opportunity to actually do something to stem the tide of pub closures? Quite a problem if the issue is to be addressed, I'm sure you'll agree. Still, as long as there is at least one alehouse left in which to rest his indolent arse, I suppose he's not too fussed.

If you see Healey's gurning features anywhere near SW1, do us all a favour, eh? Tell the lazy malingering pillock to get back to work.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Comment Of The Day

On the day that three MPs three lawyers turned up at court to face fraud charges, Enemy of the State continues the recent nursery rhyme meme at Guido's.


Sing a song of parliament,
Pockets full of cash.
Fraudulently claiming,
And adding to their stash.
With their ploy discovered,
They said they'll give it back.
If you or I had done the same,
We'd promptly get the sack.

Sing a song of freebies,
Snouts all in the trough.
Giving back their ill-got gains,
Is just not good enough.
Sponging off our earnings,
With a likely tale.
If working folk had done the same,
They'd soon end up in jail.

Sing a song of fraudsters,
Counting out their money.
They smile and look quite unashamed,
As though they think it's funny.
Sitting in a secret place,
Counting out their dosh.
On plugs for baths and cleaning moats,
For crisps and orange squash.

Sing a song of MPs
Who took us for a ride.
It's up to us at election time,
Their future to decide.
It's gone too far to bring back trust,
Of anyone in power.
To most of us they'll always be
A really great big shower.
(and a bunch of crooks).

A Sound Bite For The Tories

Tom Clougherty at the ASI.

Anyone earning between £7,100 and £45,400 will be better off with the Tories than with Labour. For others, it won’t make a difference which party is in charge.
Quite compelling.

Now, if they could just stop fannying around on civil liberties and personal responsibility issues as well, they might be onto a concrete winner.

Monday 29 March 2010

Forget Party Affiliation - If This Doesn't Anger You, Why Not?

Check out the education tag on the sidebar for my personal experience of primary schooling in Greater London. I'll be diplomatic and say it's poor and that there is more than a certain amount of Guardianista massaging.

Nothing on a par with this though, courtesy of Rab. It may be 4 minutes long but click through and try to keep your jaw from making contact with the ground.

I dare anyone left of centre to defend this. Remember that Diane Abbott is still a serving MP.

Politicisation of 8 and 9 year old kids is wrong, and I would feel the same if it were a homage to a Lib Dem or Tory MP, or even a Libertarian one.

If this guy isn't drummed out of the education service sharpish, there is something very wrong with our country.

Quite staggering.

UPDATE: Someone didn't like their political handiwork being publicised - the film has been taken down

UPDATE 2: Resurrected

Follow The Money

Considering the appalling self-serving nature of our MPs, although revelations by the Financial Times today should come as something of a shock, can anyone say we are truly surprised?

Eighteen all-party groups of MPs and peers are taking money from private companies regularly without any obligation to declare how the funds are used.

Almost half the bodies receive secretariat assistance from outside organisations. Of these, about a third are provided directly by a lobbying group.

The Associate Parliamentary Health Group, for example, receives £168,000 a year in "associate membership fees" from 26 health- related and pharmaceutical companies. These include AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.
Well, well, well. All that big pharma input would certainly go some way in explaining wall-to-wall, 24 hour overkill of smoking cessation adverts paid for by the Department of Health, would it not?

And look, there's Pfizer again. I seem to remember mentioning them a very short while ago. How prescient.

All-party groups with the highest level of regular income include the Parliamentary Beer Group, which received £66,110 from 66 pub and beer companies including £4,800 from each of Molson Coors, Punch Taverns, Greene King, Enterprise Inns and InBev.
Cross-referencing here, could this be why MPs, in their frenzy to 'tackle' the binge-drinking epidemic which doesn't exist, direct their attentions solely on supermarket sales and raising the minimum price of alcohol, both of which will have little or no effect on such obviously philanthropic firms? And why the parliamentary beer group refuse to accept the fact that pubs are being destroyed by the pharma-led smoking ban.

As a mild mannered police station janitor once said ... "Could be!". And isn't it all so very intra-Westminster nepotistic?

Everyone in the 'village' slapping each other on the back while simultaneously slapping the public in the face.

Matthew Sinclair of the TPA describes these revelations thus.

After MPs expenses and ex-ministers lobbying, this looks like it is a candidate to be the next big Parliamentary scandal. All the FT was able to get hold of is the groups' income, as they aren't subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Indeed, and it's going to stay that way.

The Ministry of Justice and Information Commissioner have confirmed that all-party groups are exempt from the FoI Act.

The ministry said: "All-party groups are private, informal interest groups and are not regulated by parliament. Given that they have no formal place in legislature, they do not fall within the scope of the FoI Act." There were no plans to amend the act.
As Sinclair points out, this is a bit of an administrative dodge.

While the letter of the law may not compel all-party groups to answer FOI requests, the spirit of the law should clearly include them.
Yes, but as we have seen in recent months, the spirit of any law or regulation is anathema to our MPs. When caught, however egregiously, their instant line of retreat is that they are innocent as they didn't contravene the letter of the law.

Again, this case is evidence that one should always follow the money where politicians are concerned. If their approach on any issue appears daft, wildly ridiculous, or not based in reality or common sense, there is something pecuniary in it for them.

Unfortunately, MPs can follow money better than an experienced sniffer dog with the smell of the ink fresh in his nostrils. And they are equally as adept at burying their big juicy reward from the prying eyes of those who believe they should be acting more responsibly in the interests of their electorate.

It really is us, and them.

What Policy Exchange Didn't Mention

As any anti-tobacco pharma shill will tell you, it's only those big bad tobacco companies who are corrupt. Isn't it?

Pfizer to pay $142M for drug fraud

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been ordered to pay $142 million US in damages for fraudulently marketing gabapentin, an anti-seizure drug marketed under the name Neurontin.

Data revealed in a string of U.S. lawsuits indicates the drug was promoted by the drug company as a treatment for for pain, migraines and bipolar disorder — even though it wasn't effective in treating these conditions and was actually toxic in certain cases, according to the Therapautics Initiative, an independent drug research group at the University of British Columbia.

The trials forced the company to release all of its studies on the drug, including the ones it kept hidden.
The ones it kept hidden, you say? Interesting.

Because, you see, while ASH will point continually to big tobacco bias and suppression of harm from passive smoking, they are very coy about telling you that the tobacco industry hasn't been able to hide anything at all since 1998. The, ahem, unelected World Health Organisation even has a document advising on how to search their exposed files.

Strangely enough, the pharma-funded (and, did I mention, unelected?) WHO is much quieter in pointing out wrong-doing by the pharmaceutical industry.

Still. Perhaps I'm making too much of Pfizer's potentially health-damaging fraud. After all, it's just a one off.

Err ...

Pfizer agrees record fraud fine

US drugmaker Pfizer has agreed to pay $2.3bn (£1.4bn) in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice.

It comes after the firm was found to have illegally promoted four drugs for uses which had not been approved by medical regulators.
Do you know what? I reckon, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, that this Pfizer may very well be the same Pfizer who market a smoking cessation drug called Champix (Chantix in the US), otherwise known by its clinical name of Varenicline.

If you're alert this Monday morning, you may remember that Policy Exchange's Henry Featherstone had quite a lot to say about that particular drug in his execrable nonsense earlier this month.

Such a hypothesis may explain why, at times, the report resembled an elaborate advert for smoking cessation drug Varenicline.

Varenicline is the most cost-effective treatment option in the NHS Stop Smoking Service. Studies consistently demonstrate it to be superior to any other therapy, but it is only used in 20% of cases. Varenicline should be offered as first line drug treatment for all patients wishing to quit smoking
On page 9, it even commands its own sub-heading and almost the entire page is taken up with boasts about its efficacy, culminating in the recommendation:

The NHS Stop Smoking Service should offer varenicline as first line drug treatment for all patients wishing to quit smoking.
PE is amazed that it is not prescribed more often, stating.

[...] the [NHS] only prescribes varenicline in 20% of cases, since it is often confined to patients who have failed with NRT. There is no good reason why all patients should not be offered it
Well, actually, there is.

Varenicline is more readily known as Champix or Chantix and makers Pfizer have been slapped with the strongest possible warning in the US due to its habit of inspiring people to kill themselves.
Henry didn't tell you that. He also didn't tell you that he was deeply involved with ASH, and that ASH are deeply involved with Pfizer.

What's more, he didn't even consider it necessary to inform you, and the rest of the world, that PCTs are paid for pushing a drug which has been ruled as a danger in the US, as I mentioned elsewhere back in June with reference to the Warwickshire PCT.

GPs and Pharmacies are reimbursed for service delivery (inflation still to be applied for 09-10):

£10.50 for each client setting a quit date
£40 for each client still quit at 4-week follow-up
£10.50 for each client not quit at 4-week follow-up. No additional payment for those not followed up at 4 weeks.
Pharmacies only - £3 per supply of NRT

Contact 1: Plan strategy for quitting, including assessment for drug therapy including carbon monoxide test, access to nicotine replacement therapy, Zyban® or Champix®

Contact 2: Possible quit date
Ensure access to NRT, Zyban® or Champix®. Carbon monoxide test
And that Pfizer are heavily involved in the process.

Joint working with Pfizer around targeting of clinics/drop-ins

Joint working with Pfizer to develop more effective recruitment campaigns in N&B, also targeting health professionals to refer more and more effectively.
One has to admire Henry's gumption in defending his heart-ruling-head poppycock, but the fact remains that he is, effectively, shilling for a company which has been proven to have been fraudulent on two separate occasions in the US in promoting dangerous drugs, as well as having the panacea Henry was advocating being awarded a big black health warning by the FDA.

I wonder if Henry will someday tell us which organisation paid for his quite laughable economic report.

Probably not. But I reckon we could hazard a guess.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Ire And Ice

Mrs P is watching Dancing on Ice. A couple just took to the rink jauntily dressed as cuddly faux stereo-typical punks, dancing to some effete, soulless, sanitised cut-down of a Buzzcocks number.

A northern band who burst onto the late 70s punk/new wave scene in the wake of the Pistols, with tracks such as Orgasm Addict and Oh Shit, are now background muzak for no-mark celebros, slithering badly around a family friendly white oval, for an audience of studio blue rinsers and domestic sofa-bound comfort zoners.

I think a part of my very being just died tonight.

Tom Harris, Our Sovereign

For a Labour MP, Tom Harris is usually fairly balanced, and even exhibits that rare Labour ingredient of common sense, occasionally. Which is why this article on Heathrow expansion came as a bit of a surprise.

IT’S BEEN confirmed that the true government of the UK is based not in Westminster – and not even in Brussels – but in the High Court.

The daft decision by Judge Carnwath on Heathrow’s third runway may well set a precedent that means governments can no longer make policy decisions without the approval of their bewigged masters.

Now, I have no doubt that for those who oppose the third runway, this is a victory for common sense. But for those of us who believe that parliament is – or should be – sovereign, it’s a very worrying development.
Now, I'm not a politics graduate, nor a lawyer, nor an expert on royalty and constitution, so I'm quite happy to be shot down on this.

But isn't the 'sovereign' in our domestic governance the, err, sovereign?

Despite the fact that she's not likely, very soon, to put her foot down and tell this bunch of idiots to stop playing silly buggers (her being quite rubbish and all that), she IS still the head of state and her power trumps parliament every time.

The courts are offices of the Crown - hence defendants being quoted as being prosecuted by the monarch - and therefore answerable to the Queen, not parliament.

Parliament itself handed any claim to be top dog to Brussels by signing Lisbon.

So, out of the four authorities involved (one of which was not mentioned by Harris) - the monarchy; the EU; the courts; and parliament, the one which has least claim to be 'sovereign' is parliament.

The EU is in charge thanks to Queenie not quashing the Lisbon ratification, her nibs comes second, the courts make law themselves by precedent and one of the purposes of the courts is to keep the common man in check if they take the piss.

Parliament is the House of Commons. A collection of commoners elected to represent the people. There is nothing sovereign about them and they should be, and are, as accountable to the courts as anyone else in the country.

To this commoner, Harris's claim that parliament should be left alone by those pesky judges appears to be another illustration of the arrogance exhibited by 646 645 (sorry, added one too many) massively-inflated egos.

By the way, for the record, and in the interests of transparency, I am in favour of Heathrow expansion.

Sunday Morning Wisdom

Apologies if you've read these before today, but two articles from blogrollers yesterday, both prompted by this piece from Henry Porter in the Guardian, deserve as large an audience as possible.

Firstly, Tom Paine, usually a man of efficient wordage, delivered a long, and quite awesome, damning of this government. If I were to quote anything, it would be just about all of it, so please read the whole thing here.

Longrider also finds great form in commenting on Porter's piece.

Who would have thought, in the dying years of the 20th Century, that the United Kingdom would slide inexorably into acquiescent totalitarianism by the end of the first decade of the 21st? Not by the gun, the bullet or the bomb; not by armed insurrection or war; but for the chiiiiilllldreeen, for health and safety – oh, yes, most certainly safety, for it is a human right these days to be safe.
That's just a snippet, it gets even better than that, trust me. So go read the whole thing while I play around with bacon, eggs, fried bread, but not beans.

Not this week, anyway.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Ironic Epilogue To Nick Hogan Jailing

The Lancashire Telegraph is reporting that Nick Hogan's stand against the smoking ban has been vindicated in startlingly ironic fashion.

A MAN who was kicked out of smoke ban rebel Nick Hogan’s pub for lighting up returned brandishing a knife.

“The customer swore at him and was ejected, but he returned about 20 minutes later with a huge carving knife and was brandishing it at them. Luckily the security staff locked the doors and the man went off. The police are now looking for him."
Unless you've been on an extended potholing holiday, you'll be aware that Nick Hogan was jailed at the end of last month for non-payment of fines accumulated due to contravention of smokefree legislation.

Nick argued that it was up to the authorities to police the smoking ban, and that it was wrong, and dangerous, to force him to be an unpaid enforcer. Both Anna Raccoon and Old Holborn highlighted this unfair delegation of authority as they raised the near £9,000 required to free Nick from prison.

This incident makes it crystal clear that Hogan's concerns were far from unfounded, and that his argument has now been conclusively proven as valid.

Despite the fact that there has still not been a single identifiable death, worldwide, from passive smoke, smoking bans very quickly establish themselves as instigators of violence in their own right wherever they are applied.

For example, a mere two weeks after the New York ban was implemented, a bouncer was killed enforcing it. In England, the first murder caused by the ban occurred just 23 days after it came into force on July 1st 2007.

These were both well reported, coming as they did so soon after the infliction of an unpopular law but, as we see with Hogan's case here, the division, violence, and occasional death still occur. In the main, such crimes are not picked up by the national press, and sometimes not even locally, but are merely subsumed into the figures for anti-social behaviour.

But the constant threat does exist, and is a danger to pub and club owners, and managers, the length and breadth of the country.

Cowardly MPs can't even buy a kebab without a police escort, are continually talking of the violence which accompanies alcohol, and would never dream of tackling such a problem themselves.

Yet they are happy to see others put themselves in danger by policing the state's ideological ego trips at pain of crippling fines and, as we witnessed in Hogan's case, imprisonment.

And politicians wonder why we hate them.

Fines for not 'enforcing' the smoking ban should be repealed, immediately and without question. They have already led to more violence and death than passive smoking ever will, and they will continue to do so.

Don't Forget

Turn your lights on for a celebration of human endeavour tonight

During Human Achievement Hour, people around the world will be recognising the incredible accomplishments of the human race.

Originally conceived by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 2009, Human Achievement Hour coincides with the earth hour campaign but salutes those who keep the lights on and produce the energy that makes human achievement possible.

Millions of people around the world will be showing their support for human achievement by simply going about their daily lives. While earth hour activists will be left in the dark, Human Achievement Hour participants will be going to the cinema, enjoying a hot meal, driving their car or watching television.

Human Achievement Hour 2010 will be between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Saturday 27 March.
Let's rejoice in style by lighting up the joint as if it's Christmas.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to put your clocks forward tonight, too.

H/T Dizzy via Mr E

Link Tank 27/03

A baker's dozen links to go with your egg and soldiers.

The Department of Health has failed both the profession and the public in its claims about smoking cessation (highly recommended)

Cameron's election chances will benefit by distancing himself from climate scaremongery

"Maybe men and women really are different from each other, and they're both equally valuable"

The US war on drugs kills people in Mexico

New Zealanders are a bunch of liars

The drastic reduction in kids' playtime

Iceland bans striptease

US quack advises the public to keep away from smokers

The righteous, stung by 'nanny state' taunts, come up with a counter-accusation ... the 'ninny state'

Camilla Long gets an award for being a hideous bitch

California to vote on legalising pot

A guide to environmentally-friendly sex

MPs more stupid than Chelsea hooligans

Friday 26 March 2010

Exporting A Righteous Hypocrite

You may have noticed from previous posts that I've little time for self-serving, hypocritical, faux-righteous, money-grubbing, attention-seeking, socially-damaging, culinary whore, Jamie Oliver.

By way of attempt after attempt at right-on headline grabbing, he finally hit on one crusade which gained him the kudos to go with the book sales, and in doing so has cost the country a reported £1bn for little benefit, encouraged public health bansturbators, and introduced scope for a multitude of unintended authoritarian consequences.

Not that he should care too much. It's earned him a skipload of readies, so screw everyone else.

So, it's good to see that his decision to go the rock 'n' roll route and try to 'break' America is encountering stiff resistance. David Letterman, normally a welcoming host, was visibly dismissive of Oliver the other day, as you can see in this clip (and if you believed Oliver was only trying to encourage, and not coerce, before, your view may change at around 3:00)

Oliver is a parasite, an evil turd who is not satisfied with earning a fortune from entertaining and useful books, but instead wishes to tap into huge government reserves to impose his own life choices on everyone else ... for incredibly lucrative personal gain. He will claim to be acting altruistically but, if he truly believes that, he must be rather short-sighted (or thick) not to see the potential downside of his nagging.

Reason carries an article highlighting how Oliver is going to find it more difficult in the US where libertarian ideals are more cemented than over here.

These men, women, and children of the Mountaineer State may or may not understand Oliver and his British accent and order of chivalry, but they no doubt understand why he is there. They’ve read the same things I have—that Oliver would like nothing more than an invitation to the White House to make policy with healthy-eating Czarina Michelle Obama.

If Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is a hit, then Great Britain’s so-called national treasure may find an Obama White House invitation is just the first step in one chef’s quest to subjugate the American diet.
Read the whole piece as author, Baylen Linnekin, contests Oliver's contribution to public health, both in the UK and the US, as well as incorporating a video to illustrate that the mockney twat has completely overlooked the real problem, and pointing out his bandwagon jumping nature in pursuit of approval.

Then, enjoy Charlie Brooker taking the holier-than-thou pratt apart in this BBC Four clip from three years ago.

Perhaps there is an upside, though. If he's successful over there, we might be lucky - he may never come back.

Mascot Watch (3)

Philip Davies lets rip at Power2010, who accused him of 'failing our democracy', on Conservative Home today.

As Conservative I believe in liberty. It is from this belief in liberty which my support for a smaller state derives. I do not believe that the state should interfere unnecessarily in the lives of individuals.
And ...

Take the example of the smoking ban, which is a clear affront to an individual’s liberty. If an individual wants to smoke, an activity which is perfectly legal, in a private establishment where those who attend do so of their own free will then they should be free to do so. The ban on smoking in public places is a clear restriction of liberty by an over intrusive state.
Yup, he still 'gets it'.

Bloody Foreigners!

They come over 'ere, pinch our jobs, claim our benefits ... err ... shag everywhere?

(click to enlarge)

The New Blackout

I haven't said a lot about the call for smoking to be banned in all cars but, if I may, I'd like to point out that I did predict it last summer.

It must have caught the fake charities as cold as it caught Forest though, as they were all wibbling at cross purposes.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said the charity was in favour of a ban on smoking in cars.

The risks were not just to children but to adults suffering from conditions like heart disease, she said.
That's the problem with being caught off-guard, Debs wasn't able to tailor her junk science quickly enough to the nonsense in hand so had to just grab what she was working on at the time - the total ban on smoking in cars, with or without children present. An interesting view into the future, I thought.
Of course, telling the likes of Arnott and the RCP to go suck on a Toyota Yaris exhaust pipe isn't a course of action our incredibly short-sighted MPs are capable of contemplating, so the unintended consequences concertina and buckle as they pile up in the queue of things that must be addressed.

Two letters to The Times today illustrate my point very well.

Sir, Based on the numbers of drivers I spot every day using a handheld phone, most still feel there is little chance of being caught breaking the law. A law on banning smoking while driving will be just as ineffective unless a better method of enforcement is found.

The deterrent must be more severe. The enforcement of penalties, such as an automatic driving ban, would undoubtedly help towards achieving a higher level of compliance.

William Garman
Dittisham, Devon

Sir, If we have to penalise drivers for causing smoke, why not introduce spot fines for sitting parked with the engine idling? The fumes are concentrated at ground level and do not disperse. Edinburgh City Council introduced fines for doing this in 2003. Why not make this a national policy?

S. Macreynoldson and M. Hughes
London N6
Off you go then, you dim-witted parliamentary fucknuts. You want smoking banned in cars? You'd better start working on automatic driving bans for phone use and spot fines for idling engines, too.

Those damned smokers looked such an easy target, didn't they? But now the motorist lobby comes into play, and they will be a different matter entirely. But hey ho, all risk must be eliminated, remember?

OK, since I have proven that I'm Mystic Dick on the machinations of swivel-eyed anti-smoking goons, let's float my next prediction, which is admittedly a trifle bold.

Drum roll please ... smoking to be banned in private homes within the term of the next Labour government. Ta da!

The incredibly impartial Anna Gilmore - who has taken over £10m in grants from legislators requiring anti-smoking junk science, and is conveniently in charge of the smoking ban whitewash review - points us in the right direction [Powerpoint - page 8].

The key factors influencing children’s exposure are modifiable (i.e. we can do something about it):

- whether parents smoke
- whether carers smoke
- if smoking allowed in home
While Laura Jones of Nottingham University cuts to the chase and lets the pussy wander from the wildly wriggling sack [Powerpoint - page 6].

Need to promote smoke-free homes

- Mass media campaigns
- Behavioural interventions
- Legislation
Final confirmation of 'the logical next step', then. Just a few months later than I had previously envisaged.

The smoking wardens peering through your windows ordering you to "Put that fag out!" aren't far away, people.

Thursday 25 March 2010

This Could Be Awkward

From Saturday, thousands of visitors will join the monkeys in the “bio-dome” where humans and primates interact freely, with no bars or glass in the way — a model for the rest of the zoo’s exhibits.
All very touchy-feely but ... taking into account the quite stunning ignorance prevalent in the UK, it begs the question how will they distinguish between who should stay, and who should be released, at the end of the day.

Yes, I know it's cheap, but I couldn't resist.

Speed Cameras To Be Abolished

Well, why would GATSOs be required if it was rendered impossible to exceed the speed limit?

Hey, you can call me cynical if you like, but a written parliamentary question to Paul Clark of the DfT suggests we are a fair way down that particular avenue of public control already.

This draft is being tested through pilots, first in Lancashire as part of a Road Safety Partnership Grant-funded project looking at an advisory form of Intelligent Speed Adaptation, and more recently through a second pilot with Greater Manchester, building on work they have started as part of their review of A and B road speed limits. The technical document will be made available to authorities to use following any necessary post-pilot revisions.
'Intelligent Speed Adaptation'. Now there's a phrase which reeks of civil service euphemistic licence, no? Unsurprising, really, considering the quite sinister possibilities of such a system.

Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) is an in-vehicle system that uses information on the position of the vehicle in a network in relation to the speed limit in force at that particular location. ISA can support drivers in helping them to comply with the speed limit everywhere in the network.
Aww, ain't they nice? 'Helping' us to act as they demand again, how very thoughtful.

ISA is a collective term for various systems:

- The open ISA warns the driver (visibly and/or audibly) that the speed limit is being exceeded. The driver him/herself decides whether or not to slow down. This is an informative or advisory system.

- The half-open ISA increases the pressure on the accelerator pedal when the speed limit is exceeded (the 'active accelerator'). Maintaining the same speed is possible, but less comfortable because of the counter pressure.

- The closed ISA limits the speed automatically if the speed limit is exceeded. It is possible to make this system mandatory or voluntary. In the latter case, drivers may choose to switch the system on or off.
The system consists of a GPS device in your car, rather like a SatNav, which sees how fast you are travelling, compares it to the applicable speed limit, and nags you like some electronic mother-in-law.

Nanny right there in the front seat with you. Every time you switch on the ignition. Every day. Perfect, huh?

Now, if anyone can come up with a reasonable argument as to why government - taking into account their track record of imposing mandatory provisions after declaring voluntary ones unacceptable - won't swiftly move to a 'closed' system being compulsory in all new vehicles, then I'd be pleased to offer to sell them a large London monument.

And as it's GPS-based, you can no doubt be tracked in any number of ways into the bargain.

What's not to like ... if you're a hideous, scum-sucking poser of an MP with control freak tendencies (ie., most of them)?

Phone In Filler

If it appears quiet around here, it'll be due to a Puddlecote jaunt to Westminster last night for an IEA presentation on the future for free marketeers. I may write something on it later but, for now, I'm wolfing down medicinal muffins at an alarming rate ... those policy wonks are very generous with the grape.

Meanwhile, Angela Harbutt of Liberal Vision has kindly compiled edited highlights of yesterday's Radio 5 Live phone in concerning calls for a smoking ban in cars. You might wish to have a listen ... the first lie pops up at 1:05.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Righteous Fun With Cooking

If you don't read Cooking Lager's blog regularly, you really should.

There has been a dearth of good supermarket offers on of late. Recently I had to buy a 10 pack of Stella 4% for £6, that’s 60p a can! All because that was the cheapest lout I could find in Tesco. For someone used to paying 40p a can the checkout was painful.

Cooking lager enthusiasm, you see, isn’t just about loving the lovely lout; it’s about loving paying buttons for it. Buying it dirt cheap is part of the fun.
That's how to fight the righteous. Not by self-shaming, but by heartily defending one's own choices or even, as Cooking Lager does, glorying in them.

Go read the whole thing for more defiant delight plus tips on cheap supermarket deals.

Budget Live Chat

Mascot Watch (2)

Alternatively titled, "Power 2010 should stay off the mind-altering substances".

The guy to the right of our Philip in the picture below, Tom Harris (looking a bit like he has just been caught by the LAPD on Sunset Boulevard), carries the story.

Power 2010 justify their choosing Davies thus.

- Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, who opposes a fairer voting system that would make every vote count, has contempt for civil liberties and would prefer a House of Lords of appointed cronies and wealthy donors to an elected chamber.
"Has contempt for civil liberties"?

Over 600 MPs and they somehow finger Davies as an authoritarian? Crikey, they must be ingesting some seriously potent mushrooms. They obviously didn't see this, then.

It's interesting that the Power 2010 initiative has been trailed by Liberal Conspiracy, yet Lib Dem Voice, in their recent investigation, ranked Davies as 451st most authoritarian MP based on criteria they considered important just a week ago.

It would appear that the Devil was spot on in his analysis of Power 2010, and that, on this showing, Liberal Democrat bloggers are probably the most inconsistent out there. Left, right, centre, who gives a chuff who they attack as long as the Lib Dems divert attention from their own quite stunning assaults on liberal ideals.

Lib Dems really aren't the answer.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Budget Live Blog Tomorrow

You may have seen this elsewhere by now, but fellow jewel robbers have been invited to participate in a multi-blog collaborative effort to discuss tomorrow's budget.

GOT describes it thusly.

Pound to a pinch of snot that the Chancellor’s speech will be a blatant attempt to gain more of those brain dead Labour voters, so we can expect plenty of unaffordable bollocks, deferred until after the Election, in the hope that the Conservatives are left well and truly in the shite.

So why not come and join in the Budget Live Blog which, apart from the opportunity to have your say, promises to be a great fun as 10, yes 10 blogs will all be hosting it simultaneously.

This 'chat' collaboration will be between A Tangled Web, All Seeing Eye, Barking Spider, Biased-BBC, Corrugated Soundbite, Dick Puddlecote, Governmentitus, GrumpyOldTwat, Man Widdecombe, and Subrosa - all excellent and highly recommended blogs.
The chat will be available around midday tomorrow, so look out for a dedicated post here to join in with your observations.

Cathy Ashton's EU Country Club

Labour's skills secretary, John Denham, has recently been battling a vociferous lobby bent on protecting publicly subsidised adult education.

The skills secretary faced boos when he agreed to meet campaigners against cuts to evening classes

"People have been changing dramatically how they learn in the past 10 years," he said, and there was a need "to capture" this. If he had to choose between funding courses for people who could not read or write, or "subsidising people who want to learn Spanish for holidays" ... The end of the sentence - words to the effect that the decision was a no-brainer - was immediately drowned.
He is quite right, of course. The state should have no role in funding unnecessary education from taxes.

Interesting, then, that the BBC report the over-promoted Cathy Ashton to be 'considering' taking French lessons at the behest of French EU affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche.

The EU's new foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, is considering whether she can squeeze some French lessons into her busy schedule.
Well, according to EU Observer/The Times, she is past the considering stage, and has somehow found a couple of weeks in her packed desk diary which are totally blank.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has accepted France’s playful offer to teach her thе ‘language of diplomacy.’

“I hаνе just been talking to Pierre. I’m delighted. In fact I hаνе already accepted,” she said.
Polish President, Jerzy Buzek was also invited, but was either far more busy, or thought it a bit of a daft idea, or both.

Mr Buzek's spokeswoman Inga Rosinska told the BBC that he would not attend a French course any time soon because he was "extremely busy".

She explained that for work in the European Parliament: "It's not 100% necessary to spend weeks learning French."
Not necessary, but the highest-paid female politician in the world can take time off for non-essential personal improvement, following a 'playful' offer, while more parochial Labour politicians are using the same kind of superfluous language lessons as an example of profligate spending.

And the cost to the EU taxpayer of a two week course, on Ashton's £328,000 salary, just to satisfy some equally underworked Frenchie? Approximately £12,500.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, David Blunkett defends John Denham's stance on state-funded educational jollies with a spot of fairly standard economics.

No one matched the devastating impact, however, of the former education secretary David Blunkett, who began his contribution by declaring that Denham "does give a damn about adult education" but had a difficult balancing act with finite funding.
Isn't it fortunate for Ashton that the EU, being the bottomless tax money pit that it is, doesn't appear to suffer from such financial constraints?

It's all just a big, tax-funded, Brussels-based country club really, is it not?

Tobacco Promotion, Courtesy Of ASH

"I'll thqueam and thqueam till I'm thick!": Amanda Sandford, pictured yesterday

ASH spokeswoman, Amanda Sandford, appears to have thrown a bit of a tantrum.

Prosecute Damon Albarn over on stage cigarette urges anti-smoking charity

Sandford said: "There can be no excuse for that as it is an indoor place and the law is very clear. We are not allowed to smoke on stage unless it's relevant to the act. They should be fined. It's not just the artist, it's the premises where the act is held. I would expect the local authority to take the appropriate action. It's not just illegal but more importantly it's about the message it sends out to fans. People in the public eye have a duty not to promote smoking. It's very irresponsible - I suppose they think it's rebellious and they may get some extra kudos from it and maybe some extra publicity."
It seems that, following on from Paul Weller, Lady Gaga and Lily Allen, Albarn is yet another rock star who refuses to do as Sandford commands.

There is an element of desperation in her righteously indignant shrieking. Because, again, not a single member of the audience felt the urge to lodge a complaint ... no-one cares except Amanda and her fellow socially-retarded misfits at ASH. And even they only complain because they are paid, out of tax receipts and the marketing budgets of big pharma, to do so.

Blur smoking on stage is a knife to Sandford's granite heart as, no matter how illegal or 'denormal' she and her colleagues have contrived to make the humble cigarette, rock stars still don't consider smoking to be damaging to their image or reputation.

In fact, the more Sandford thqueams, the more ASH denormalise, the more government legislates ... the more cool cigarettes become to the young.

Nice job, 'Manda. The cheque from Imperial Tobacco is probably already in the post.

Monday 22 March 2010

Jocks Still Talking Gibberish

It was a widely-accepted fact in the early 80s that the Scottish were bloody difficult to understand ...

... but, as if the accent wasn't enough, Nicola Sturgeon has decided that their wibbling deserves further lingual masking.

I can also announce today that in the coming year we will deliver 60,000 alcohol brief interventions across Scotland.
Sorry, love, didn't quite understand that. 60,000 what?

These are effective interventions delivered by health professionals when they think someone’s health problems are alcohol related.
Interventions, did you say? Is that some kind of highland cipher?

They are a tried and tested way of helping people address problems before they become too serious.
Oh, I think I've got you now. You're talking about bullying people into adhering to your personal view of how they should live their lives ... when it is NO FUCKING BUSINESS OF YOURS.

If they want to be 'helped', they will come to you. One 'intervention' isn't necessary, let alone sixty fucking thousand of them. Why not allow Scots to live how they choose to live, and tailor your governance around their preferences? That's kinda the point of a 'free' society, doncha think?

Just stick to what you're best at, eh Nicky? Eating oats and doing your damnedest to keep benefit fraudsters out of jail.

Yup. I reckon there may be enough scottish stereotype references there to have me bumped from mini-kilted Rosie's blogroll.

A Public Sector Mountain And Molehill

Warning: Transport-related post, it could be time for you to go and do something less boring instead.

Regular readers will remember my describing the ninth circle of bureaucratic, business-obstructing, hell this time last month.

Yes, it's still rumbling on. In fact, one of our more experienced office staff has been almost exclusively working on solving the whole state-created mess so, in time and motion terms, this entirely irrelevant episode has already cost us in the region of £2k.

Sometimes, though, even when taking on the role of a prize in some public service inter-departmental game of pass-the-parcel, there are still moments which stand out as world class form-filling ineptitude. Here is a prime cut.

Having booked one vehicle in for a DVLA inspection last week as a test case (this exercise in itself took best part of two hours and could only be arranged for three weeks from the time of phoning), we decided that it would be more indicative for our purposes if a different vehicle was sent, so rang up to notify them for their records.

You're probably ahead of me already here. Of course it wasn't as easy as merely changing the vehicle registration on their computer - what were we thinking?

Naturally (for the public sector), the appointment would have to be cancelled and re-booked ... at the back of the queue. Still, we had already paid the - customarily-extortionate - £280 fee, so at least that wasn't a concern. Right?

Wrong. That would have to be cancelled too or, more accurately, the fee refunded by the same method as our remittance.

So, the simple process of changing a vehicle registration number for an inspection, which has yet to take place, finishes up as a cancellation, a re-booking, a further delay of another week, a cheque drawn by the DVLA and posted to us, and our writing a fresh cheque and remitting it back to them.

Because, presumably, the computer said no.

Still, what are businesses for if not to provide employment and circumlocution opportunities for mentally under-endowed box-tickers and water-cooler gossipers, eh?

To boost the economy by injecting profits, did you say? How very last century. Get with the programme, Grandad.

An Anti-Authoritarian Groundswell?

However, the insidious accretion of power to a benign and democratic state, through the use of the legislative process to restrict what we do and shape who we are, is more destructive in the long run because it creates a society of pliant individuals who look for someone else to help them out. Personal responsibility is destroyed and gives way to a notion that the state or one of its many agencies will provide everything. We become dependent upon others rather than on ourselves; supplicants and clients of the state.
Couldn't agree more with this guy's entire article. Seriously, go give it a read, it'll have your head nodding furiously in approval.

I'm getting me the book.

Have you noticed that anti-authoritarian, common sense articles such as this are becoming ever more prevalent recently? Could the pendulum of opinion at last be swinging back towards liberty?

Pay Now, Ask Questions Later

Ministers are preparing to move the system of paying Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA), currently claimed by 1.58 million people, largely online later this year in a major cost-cutting drive.

The aim is to make 80 per cent of JSA payments online within months, with a view to boosting the figure over time to 100 per cent.

Ministers are considering the best way of making sure someone is available for work if they no longer need to attend Jobcentres.
Err, shouldn't the latter have been fully considered, and decided, before even thinking of preparing for the former?

Sunday 21 March 2010

Super Sunday

As Sundays go, it's a been a good 'un in Puddlecoteville.

A gloriously sunny day. A trip to the park where, while the little Puddlecotes were cycling, another kid suffered a nasty looking fall while his Dad was off buying some orange drinks. I asked if he was OK and he showed me a grazed and slightly bleeding hand, so Mrs P supplied some of our drinking water for him to clean it with. Dad returned. Not a suspicious hint in his face (as is more than usual in recent years), merely a genial smile and an expression of thanks.

I think I was undercharged in the cafe for our post-park bacon, sausage, eggs and chip butty-fest. And then the boy beat us all at Cluedo ... despite my using every sneaky trick I'd picked up over 30 odd years, thereby achieving his first Da Vinci box-ticker.

Life unencumbered by the sick, dumbed-down, restrictive attitudes inflicted on our society by Westminster, just as it used to be. Something though, surely, had to taint it.

On the contrary. Instead, after family duties, I read this.

[...] several politicians recorded by an undercover reporter posing as a company executive looking to hire MPs for lobbying work.

- Patricia Hewitt, a former health secretary, who claimed she helped to obtain a key seat on a government advisory group for a client paying her £3,000 a day.

- Margaret Moran, the Luton MP who was forced to pay back £22,500 in expenses, boasted that she could ring a “girls’ gang” of colleagues on behalf of clients.
Still my beating heart. To read about two of the most odious political arsewipes ever to enter parliament being publicly mangled, with hopefully further stress and personal shame to follow, is an ecstatic end to a darn good day.

The Puddlecote memory is elephantine when it comes to my list of disgusting bastards who have contrived to produce as intolerant a society as we are now enduring. They are all mentally noted, and softly softly catchee monkey, as they say.

Today, two more on that list were exposed to the wider public as hideous anti-social troughers, blind to the interests of those they were elected to serve, as I have always maintained.

Let's first talk about Hewitt.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt will vote for a complete ban on smoking in pubs and clubs in England when MPs vote on the plan, the BBC understands. Pubs not serving food and members' clubs were to be exempted from a ban.

But Labour MPs and ministers have been given a free vote on the issue - increasing the chances of a total ban. The move means Ms Hewitt - who differs from her predecessor John Reid on the extent of a smoking ban - will be voting against her department's policy.
Yes. THE prime motivator. The head honcho. The bansturbator general.

And unrepentant with it.

This is a triumph for public health and a huge step forward for health protection. Thousands of people's lives will be saved and the health of thousands more protected. Smokefree legislation will protect everyone from the harm of secondhand smoke when working, socialising and relaxing and will provide a more supportive environment for smokers who wish to give up.

[...] the experience of going smokefree in Ireland, Scotland, New York and elsewhere has been good for business.

Well, as I have mentioned before, someone with a job lined up selling nicotine replacement therapy would say that, wouldn't she?

Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has landed lucrative jobs with Boots and a company that owns 25 private hospitals.
As for Moran, arguably one of the most egregious troughers of all those revealed by the Telegraph last year, the allegations of being paid for lobbying are even more astounding ...

... considering she violently opposes listening to the views of her constituents.

As Luton working mens' club owner, Sean Spillane, found out last year when he wrote to the local newspaper about Moran's abandonment of the smoking ban exemption for private members' clubs.

Dear Sean Spillane,

I refer to your most recent letter regarding the smoking ban. The contents are noted, however I refer you to my previous reply on this subject, particularly the evidenced health benefits of the ban.

As MPs we are elected to weigh in the balance the greater good for our constituents*, and it is for this reason that I wholly support the current policy. No amount of public bullying of the sort you indulge in will change my position.

I also understand that the constitution for working men's clubs mandates that they are not party political. I therefore understand that your public statements have been referred to the relevant governing bodies.

Yours sincerely,

Margaret Moran MP
Labour MP for Luton South
Disagreeing with your MP's desecration of a manifesto commitment is apparently public bullying, according to hideous trougher Moran. Reason enough, even, to engage in a bit of spiteful mud-slinging against someone exercising their democratic right to freedom of speech.
A constituent doesn't offer enough scope for filling her amply-proportioned trousers with cash, it would seem.

I think the humble Devil puts my view of these two disgusting maggots best.

These absolute fuckers were willing to pass laws—indeed, have already passed laws—that compel us to do the bidding of their corporate masters. They were willing to take money to fuck us—that's you and me—so that they could stuff their own wallets.

These cunts should be hanged for treason against the British people

I should also add that any legislation which passed over their desks, should these claims be proven, are an affront to our parliamentary system and should be instantly quashed.

And I mean all of it. Repeal the lot and start the process again.

Any, and every, law which Byers, Hoon, Hewitt and Moran have been involved in implementing is infected with an anti-democratic disease and is therefore illegitimate.

This won't happen, of course, as our politicians view their employers - all of us - with contempt.

So, next time one of the big three knocks on your door with a painted smile (and there will be plenty in the next few weeks and months), give them the same contempt back in spades. Don't be polite, don't feel sorry for them as they are only foot soldiers, doing so simply dilutes the message. No. Give them hell, return the grief they have given us, firmly and verbally rip their guts out. Send the message loud and clear. Let them know we are angry and that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

They had their chance to treat us with respect. They failed. It's time that they were told in no uncertain terms.

Today was a good day, but we can all have days like this every day if these rancid fuckers, who believe their tiny minds are superior to yours, are brought to heel.

What have we to lose but the interminable corruption and grief?

* Except when that is trumped by what one is being paid to advocate.

Mascot Watch

A mascot (see sidebar) is for life*, not just for adornment. So I have been keeping an eye on our Philip. Here he is answering a question on climate change recently.

Oh joy.

(Mascot Watch could become a regular item)

* Or until being voted out, natch

Saturday 20 March 2010

You Decide

From the BBC's Have Your Say.

Stunning ignorance? Or top drawer subtle satire?

Does the British pub have a future?

299. At 12:21pm on 20 Mar 2010, Sue Doughcoup wrote:

Not being a pub user I don't really know. I don't consider myself a pub user as I probably go into a pub about 4 times a year - and that's a good year. Before the smoking ban pubs were dirty, smelly places and I objected to the smell of smoke on my clothes. Now I can't afford the price or the time. I did try the pub after the ban with a few friends, but that very quickly tailed off because as soon as a conversation got going the smokers among us inevitably went out to have a smoke and the conversation ended abruptly. I cant see the point in having split smoking/non-smoking areas cos the smokers are too selfish and will only go in the smoking areas. Hardly a social occasion so I don't bother. Then again I don't drink much anyway - the odd bottle of ale every now and again.

Link Tank 20/3

This Saturday's salubrious selection

Guinness is the father of modern statistical methods

Snoop Dogg thinks the New York smoking ban stinks ... after ... Bloomberg decided not to tolerate tolerance.

Labour plans to reduce the drink drive limit: Authored by the EU, supporting junk stats courtesy of a fake charity

Banning meow meow will only increase the harm it causes

Your chance to own the syringe which killed Jacko ... for $5m

France bans dedicated wine TV channel

Can England’s last Catholic adoption agency beat Labour’s attempts to destroy them?

PETA still killing animals, 2,301 cats and dogs last year

This week's hot female teacher on a sex with student charge

Getting fatter may be part of your body's defence against the worst effects of unhealthy eating

Slideshow: The 12 funniest newspaper retractions

Pubs that duck the smoking ban with beer gardens to be taxed

MillerCoors to make beer to a pre-prohibition recipe

Science’s love affair with statistics has spawned countless illegitimate findings

Friday 19 March 2010

If You No Longer Wish To Receive ...

For someone of my age group (by now you should have surmised the bracket to which I belong), e-mail is a quite stunningly simple means of communication. Compared with typing, or hand-writing, letters along with accompanying envelope and the trot to the post office for a stamp and a hole to stick it in (stop it! this isn't a Carry On film), e-mail is a doddle.

In the 80s, an application for a job, for example, would routinely elicit a written reply - even if only a one-liner - to invite for interview or to say "thanks, but no thanks". As businesses sought to reduce costs, it was understandable that such practices fell by the wayside in later pre-electronic days.

However, that has seemingly carried on into the digital age and I can't, for the the life of me, work out why.

Replying to an e-mail takes seconds. It requires no cost whatsoever, and is surely common courtesy. You don't want to write anything major yourself? Fine, but considering e-mail has already dispensed with 'Dear ...' and 'Yours ...' it really shouldn't be too difficult to politely acknowledge receipt. A one-liner, or even one-worder would suffice. Auto-generated replies are even more effortless.

Still, each to their own and I'm not one to decide rules for e-mail conversations, except ...

... we all hate spam, obviously, but how much effort is it really to delete it? The time and effort taken is remarkably minute. Anyone who can control a mouse is able to banish unwanted mail in a fraction of a second. What's more, there isn't even the need to lift more than a muscle on one's clicking finger. You can delete at your heart's content without taking your feet off the desk/secretary/cat. Receiving acres of it is irritating, but with spam filters, junk mail boxes, marking e-mails as acceptable etc., the phenomenon is not that great a deal.

But, again, if spam truly hacks you off, it's quite understandable.

What I really can't fathom, though, is what mind-blowingly, instantly-irritated, preciouses can have led to the routine disclaimer on many a circular e-mail of "If you no longer wish to receive messages from us, click here".

Yes, it simplifies the process, but you just know (in fact, I know for certain) that someone, somewhere, has spent a great deal of time complaining about receiving a message they didn't wish to read and, instead of deleting it in a second, or politely notifying the sender that it is not required, decided instead to make a big fuss and spent a hell of a lot of time vehemently complaining about it. Just their doing so has eaten up more time than it would take to delete 4 or 5 years of daily 'updates'.

If it is that annoying, it shouldn't be too hard to send your own reply notifying the sender that you're not happy with receiving what they consider a life-enhancing message, or you can just add them to your banned list. Especially since the majority of such e-mailed updates have, at some point, been generated by the receiver on using a service or actively contacting the sender.

It strikes me that the "If you no longer wish to receive ..." signature is merely another sop to those in our society who decide they have a right to not only not be offended, but to not even be inconvenienced for more than a nanosecond.

OK. It's just me, then.

How Much?

Fancy finding out how much extra tax you're paying now compared to a decade ago?

Here's a handy calculator from Reform to do just that. It ain't pretty.

H/T James Kirkup

The Road To Serfdom

The Institute of Economic Affairs has waded into the Policy Exchange debate with this article by their Director General, Mark Littlewood.

"If I drop dead in my mid 40s from lung cancer, I have – I’m told – let the side down. I should have been economically productive for another couple of decades, for the sake of the nation’s GDP. The authors do not seem to realise that people get paid to work. They benefit from their own productivity. Their productivity is not a social benefit – except very marginally – from which society as a whole gains."
Do read the whole thing as it's more evidence that the centre right have declared a 'nutter alert' and are distancing themselves from Henry Feathers' lunacy at Usain Bolt speed.

Looks like you're on your own, Henry.

Thursday 18 March 2010

The 'Independent' Henry Featherstone

Remember that 'independent' study by the Policy Exchange? You know it. The one with gaping holes in its methodology.

Well, just thought you'd like to see a picture of its author. So here he is pictured independently sitting next to Deborah Arnott at the independent ASH AGM in December.

Glad that we have the issue of vested interests sorted out with this guy. Straight as a die, he is, and no mistake.

If I were a Policy Exchange wonk, I'd be deeply ashamed right now.

UPDATE: It's interesting to note that the BBC wouldn't touch this. The Telegraph did, but James Delingpole has promptly torn into Policy Exchange on his Telegraph blog. It's a right royal disaster for PE. Independent? Yeah, OK.

H/T Dave Atherton

That Policy Exchange Nonsense

This explains a lot. Could the 'something' be a shonky report by HenryFeathers of Policy Exchange?

It's not just the Tory party who have forgotten what being right of centre is all about. It would appear that the Policy Exchange are considering donning a Che Guevara shirt and a CND badge now, too.

The tax on cigarettes should be increased as the burden on the taxpayer is too high, even taking into account revenues from duty, a think tank said.

Research conducted by Policy Exchange found that while tax on tobacco raised £10 billion a year for the Treasury, the annual cost of healthcare and other consequences of smoking totalled £13.74 billion.

That total includes £2.7 billion of NHS care, £2.9 billion lost in productivity during smoking breaks, the £342 million cost of cleaning up butts and £507 million spent putting out fires.

Lost productivity due to the deaths of smokers and passive smoking victims costs £4.8 billion and £2.9 billion is lost in increased absenteeism, their report - Cough Up - concluded.
Like others, I found the most surprising stat to be the relatively small £713m accredited to "the loss of economic output from the deaths of passive smokers". So, on finding the report, I started at that bit.

PE's figure was based on notional deaths of 7,700 'passive smokers' at a cost of £92,500 each! Per year. Quite how they came to the conclusion that each phantom death cost the country that much money, they don't say. But the loss of output arising from the death of smokers (£4.07bn per year) is even more incredible.

In the 35-39 age range, for example, they assessed that the number of employed smokers to have died was 648 in 2008 ... resulting in a loss to the country of £470m ... £725,000 each!

Now, I can imagine they might have a point if they meant this to reflect a lifetime loss, but no. There on page 17 is the breakdown of the £13.74bn per year figure, with the rounded £4.1bn included.

Their sources leave a lot to be desired, too. The fact that they actually annotated to the Jill Pell study on a 17% heart attack reduction in Scotland was rather telling. This was thoroughly debunked on the BBC web-site and dubbed one of the worst junk stats of 2007 by The Times. What's more, being a study, it was merely guesswork before the official figures were available. Of course, once the admissions data was collated, it showed no abnormal decrease at all. Still, they did point to meta-analyses which confirmed Pell's faulty conclusions, but considering one was co-authored by Stanton Glantz, the (arguably insane) US Godfather of hysterical antismoking junk science, one must wonder at the independence of this 'independent report'.

There is a clue in the acknowledgements.

Policy Exchange would like to thank Dr Robert Nash for generously giving his time to help research and write this publication. Without his commitment to reducing tobacco harm this research note would not have been possible.
Quite so. Only a blinkered anti-tobacco stooge could possibly regard Stanton Glantz as anything but a crank. And only someone with such a vested interest would favour the Pell study over actual admissions data, despite the PE report clearly stating:

The huge amount of data collated by the NHS allows costs to be calculated reasonably accurately.
Why not use them, then? And also, if you really must pop over the pond for a study on smoking bans and heart attacks, why not choose the largest one ever undertaken, covering 217,023 heart attack admissions and 2 million heart attack deaths in 468 counties in all 50 states of the USA over an eight-year period?

With such inherent bias in the way Policy Exchange set about this task, and the sources employed (a 60% public approval of increasing tobacco taxation over and above inflation is evidenced by a report written by ASH), it would appear that this was merely an exercise in getting costs above the £10bn duty revenues by any means possible.

Once you realise this, the rest of it is difficult to take seriously and, to be honest, the whole thing reeks of what the PE's charity commission accounts, under restricted funds, describe as 'programme specific' or 'project specific' donations.

Such a hypothesis may explain why, at times, the report resembled an elaborate advert for smoking cessation drug Varenicline.

Varenicline is the most cost-effective treatment option in the NHS Stop Smoking Service. Studies consistently demonstrate it to be superior to any other therapy, but it is only used in 20% of cases. Varenicline should be offered as first line drug treatment for all patients wishing to quit smoking
On page 9, it even commands its own sub-heading and almost the entire page is taken up with boasts about its efficacy, culminating in the recommendation:

The NHS Stop Smoking Service should offer varenicline as first line drug treatment for all patients wishing to quit smoking.
PE is amazed that it is not prescribed more often, stating.

[...] the [NHS] only prescribes varenicline in 20% of cases, since it is often confined to patients who have failed with NRT. There is no good reason why all patients should not be offered it
Well, actually, there is.

Varenicline is more readily known as Champix or Chantix and makers Pfizer have been slapped with the strongest possible warning in the US due to its habit of inspiring people to kill themselves.

Stop-smoking drugs Chantix, Zyban must carry suicide warning

For Chantix, the FDA has received 98 reports of suicides; for Zyban and bupropion, the drug's generic name, 14. There also were 188 reports of attempted suicides by Chantix users, 17 by smokers trying to quit with bupropion. Nicotine-replacement products haven't generated similar reports
Perhaps why it is only prescribed in the most extreme cases, then. And it is certainly a reason why it should not be given out willy-nilly.

Interestingly, considering there are numerous instances of PE, for clarity, explaining their research in layman's terms, it's rather baffling that they didn't feel it worth mentioning the drug by its trade name. Champix or Chantix are not mentioned at all in the document. Disguising the mad uncle in the attic as a kindly maiden aunt, perchance?

I could go on as the whole thing is riddled with one-sided, or pharma biased, conclusions. Oh sod it, I've got nothing better to do at the moment, I will go on.

Page 5 sets out the basis for financial benefits of tobacco tax increases with reference to a 1996 study on price elasticity of demand. Quite irrelevant and out of date considering the large reduction in smoker prevalence since then. As the UK is right on the Pareto 80/20 barrier in 2010, the predicted quit rates are pure fantasy if calculated on 14 year old research.

Page 10 talks of the need for less regulation and more harm reduction, with no mention whatsoever of non-pharma produced e-cigs, for which heavy regulation is imminent despite the huge scope for harm reduction. Hmmm, I wonder why that should be?

Page 13 comes up with a loss of productivity based on the number of smokers in one study, and the time spent on smoking breaks in another ... to produce a monetary figure (£2.9bn) which eclipses the findings of both.

Page 16 concludes that all these smokers giving up, while deletorious to the tobacco industry, will have an impact on the economy of £nil as the money will be spent elsewhere (the economic 'free lunch', benefits without corresponding cost). Conversely, however, the cost of cleaning up cigarette litter is valued at £342m with no reasonable assumption that the streets will still need to be swept anyway (unless there are dedicated fag butt sweepers paid £342m pa that I didn't know about).

It really is quite an appalling mess from Policy Exchange, smells distinctly of obsequious rent-seeking, and author Henry Featherstone should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for producing it.

I'll leave the last word to Mark Wadsworth, who points out another glaring omission in Henry's calculations which renders his entire folly moot.

But a figure that the Righteous are determined to ignore when wailing on about 'the cost of smoking' (to the NHS or the economy or the taxpayer or whomever) is the saving in old age pensions.

In round figures, there are 12 million pensioners, a fifth of whom have smoked. The smokers live an average of 12 years in retirement and the non-smokers live on average 22 years. This averages out at twenty years claiming a pension.

If the smokers lived as long as non-smokers, the total number of smoking pensioners would be 2.4 million pensioners x 22 years/12 years = 4.4 million pensioners, so there'd be 2 million more pensioners.

The total average taxpayer-funded pension is (let's say) £10,000 a year (not just state pension but public sector pensions, other benefits and so on), 2 million x £10,000 = £20 billion, which dwarfs even today's made-up figure of total cost of smoking £13.74 billion, even ignoring £10 billion-plus in VAT and duty on tobacco.

Seen your raise, Henry, and raised again. Let's see your financial contortions to beat that.