Tuesday 30 November 2010

NSPCC Render CRB Checks Pointless

The NSPCC's rent-seeking MO of painting everyone with the paedophile brush continues apace, I see.

Via the Manifesto Club comes this prime example of normal adult/child interaction being presented as potential kiddie-fiddling (pun unavoidable in this instance).

As teaching musicians point out in this forum discussion, not only is the video a 'caricature' of their usual (and in no way sinister) instruction methods to elicit the correct creepy response, it is also unhelpful to the student.

Teachers note that touch essential - it is the simplest way to straighten backs, reposition hands, or deal with all the myriad errors in technique reproduced in every young player. They also note that no-touch policies make everybody anxious, and make the whole thing into a big (and potentially seedy) issue.

The Musicians Union, who collaborated with the NSPCC in this dirty-minded effort, say that the kids being taught may feel 'uncomfortable' but - anecdote alert - my only uncomfortable moment when being taught the cello in my youth was when the handlebar-moustachioed teacher loudly farted in the middle of a mock grade 3 exam, thereby right putting me off (perhaps that was the point, I never asked). His moving my fingers up and down the strings never raised any thought in me except that I was ballsing things up.

That aside, what I find quite extraordinary about this is that it would appear to suggest that the system of CRB approval is entirely useless. Here we are, as a country, suspiciously checking up to 14 million people in order to ensure they are safe to work with children yet - even after being cleared, as every personal music teacher will have been before holding lessons - any touch is still automatically considered to be grubby and assumed as a precursor to abuse.

The NSPCC are very good at spreading such irrational fears, which have led to sports days excluding parents, grandmothers being banned from taking pics of their grand-kids swimming, and friends being barred from looking after each other's children. But then, if they didn't, donations may suffer and their consultants wouldn't be able to sell as many books.

Oh yeah, and without such funds (£157m last time of asking), they also wouldn't be able to produce scaremongering videos about music teachers, or loan employees to political election campaigns.

If you ever wondered how we came to be in the position where parents aren't allowed to take photos of a nativity play; where mothers require a CRB check to help out on school day trips; and where voluntary theatre groups deem it not worth their while to accommodate kids, you should look carefully at the NSPCC and their self-serving scaremongery.

Call me old-fashioned, but people who see filth in every natural life situation used to be derided as 'sex cases'. Now they are respected and given money.

That's progress, I suppose.

Monday 29 November 2010

Is Lansley Killing The Golden Goose?

Prior to the election, I was quietly informed by a 'connected' person that a certain news organisation was scouting round for stories which portrayed Labour in a bad light. I was aware of tons of 'em, of course, but nothing a rational person could believe the MSM would be interested in considering their usual stance on matters we discuss here.

I don't know why I mentioned that, really. Probably just a bit of self-aggrandisation creeping in, perhaps. Because it's completely irrelevant to my highlighting today's 'The Sun Says' column. Just want to make that absolutely clear.

Crying shame

ANN Widdecombe took time off from making fools of the Strictly Come Dancing judges yesterday - and stomped all over Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Mr Lansley is faced with a horrific report on 19 NHS hospital trusts with "alarmingly high" death rates, 30,500 patients with "avoidable blood clots" as well as other failings - like 150 "foreign objects" left in patients after operations.

Yet what is he concentrating on? Micro-managing our lives this week with plans to cover fag packets in plain paper, banning low cost supermarket booze and urging hard-pressed firms to provide facilities for mums to store their breast milk.

They are the sort of measures you would expect from big-government Old Labour.

As former Tory Minister Ann says: "I could absolutely weep."
The Tories, of course, were boosted greatly by Rupert Murdoch's patronage in the run-up to the general election, and very glad they were of the support too, one suspects.

Yet Lansley appears to have forgotten that The Sun is the Murdoch media tool particularly aimed at working class voters. You know, the type of people Lansley's party need to recapture from the the well-constructed pervasion of centre left ideology?

This piece commanding coverage in the opinion pages of white van man's favourite read is a warning to Lansley that he is seriously screwing up here by embarrassing a high profile cheerleader. Instead of incubating the prized Murdoch egg under his ample derrière, the dopey twat is squatting, Guardian in hand, and shitting on it.

After an election campaign where Murdoch's News International convinced many a regular guy to vote for Cameron's new kind of politics, Sun readers are going to feel rather betrayed by Lansley attacking the meagre pleasures they hold dear.

It's a shot across your bows, Lansley. If your white paper tomorrow carries on with this type of anti-working man gobshitery, your stock over breakfast and tea at greasy spoons up and down the country is going to plummet greatly.

Now then. Who is more important? The rent-seeking vested interests at the DH and their array of tax-sucking quangoes and fake charities? Or the productive backbone of the country who read your current supporter Murdoch's papers?

Tuesday promises to be very interesting.

Taxi For Government Regulations

At a house party on Saturday night, I engaged in an interesting conversation with a London black cab driver. Evidence that public sector interference is mostly ill-judged, inconsistent, and inherently leads to unintended consequences is thick on the ground in his industry.

For example, he regaled me with regulations being inflicted on cabbies in the environmental cause. Boris Johnson is apparently soon to implement the policy, mooted by Ken Livingstone before his being kicked out (no surprise that Tory=Labour there), of banning the use of taxis which are over 10 years old.

Now, one reason that the iconic 'jelly-mould' black cab has changed little in sixty-odd years is because they were originally built to last as long as possible. That is, to do the job intended for them, for a long, long time. As a result of cabbies driving the same taxi for decades, which was cost-effective, it wasn't as lucrative for new models to be produced for taxi drivers as it was for the domestic market. Such was a unique London sight created.

Taxis are designed to run for hundreds of thousands of miles, and their reliability and profitability reflected in the £35,000 price tag for a new one. By placing a time limit on their use, a raising of overheads will be created for cabbies, and thousands of vehicles will be rendered obsolete overnight.

In pursuit of a cleaner engine, waste is being encouraged and producers incentivised to skimp on reliability, thereby leading to more manufacturing (err, bad for the environment?) and, no doubt, higher fares to further dissuade leaving one's car at home.

Talking of which, the person I was speaking to has stated that he isn't going to bother anymore once the new rules come in. He's 63 and it's simply not worth his while to shell out for a new vehicle to replace his 12 year old one which is in perfect health.

Especially not since the congestion charge came in. That was when a quite incredibly stupid Livingstone decided that so many people would be dissuaded from driving into London that an extra 4,000 taxi licences (on top of the 21,000 previously licensed) were required to take the extra traffic. Quite how he believed a £5 charge would 'nudge' people into paying, err, about the same or more for a London cab is anyone's guess.

Of course, more supply equates to lesser demand and ultimately fewer taxi drivers, but with costs higher due to state interference, no reduction in fares is likely. Those left in the trade lose income or are forced out, but there is still no extra incentive to take a taxi instead of the car.

The 10 year policy is laughable enough without taking into account that the Public Carriage Office has strict guidelines on emissions already, so the new restrictions (forced on us by the EU, natch) will make little difference in pollution levels.

Great job, Mr Mayor.

On disability access, it appears that although all cabs must now be comprehensively wheelchair accessible, the result has been pricier vehicles but the extra time it takes for loading - along with the damage that regularly occurs when poorly-driven motorised chairs damage an expensive cab - means that most cabbies just 'look the other way' when someone in a wheelchair tries to hail them.

Even smoking regulations are half-arsed. It's illegal to allow anyone to smoke in a black cab, yet the cab itself will be failed on inspection if it doesn't have two ashtrays in the passenger area. I'm not kidding! Presumably they are required to deter littering, despite customers either jamming them up so much that they break, or just leaving their waste on the floor.

And, lastly, parking regulations. In the effort to raise revenue keep roads clutter-free, there is now nowhere in central London - according to my acquaintance - where a cabbie doesn't have to either park illegally or pay at a meter to take a piss ... that's if there is anywhere left to piss anyway since public loos have been closed down wholesale to discourage cottaging.

All this without mentioning the Olympics, the road plans for which put such burdens on black cabs that a huge number are talking of not bothering to work for the duration. Large expanses of London will consist of routinely busy roads having their capacity restricted by 50% to facilitate overwhelmingly empty 'VIP lanes'. Imagine, for example, the Limehouse Link - a car park at the best of times - being turned into a one lane highway with £200 fines for straying into the unused part of the road we pay our taxes for.

In the words of my new cabbie friend, "I could earn £50-£60 to go from Southwark to Docklands, but I wouldn't be happy doing that". Nor, I suspect, will the tourists who visit London for the event in 2012.

Remember, this is just one tiny area of state jurisdiction we're talking about here, but a perfect example of how legislation royally cocks things up - in thousands of different areas - whenever the public sector puts pen to incompetent decree.

The very best law that our government could enact would be one which requires lobotomisation of MPs and councillors to restrict their thinking, thereby stemming the resultant tide of absurd ideologically-led ideas.

Sunday 28 November 2010

They're Not Even Pretending Anymore

May seems such a long time ago now, doesn't it?

Over the last decade, thousands of new rules and regulations have amassed on the statute book. And it is our liberty that has paid the price. Under the cover of pretending to act in our best interest, the state has crept further and further into people’s homes and their private lives. That intrusion is disempowering. It needs to change.

The culture of state snooping has become so ingrained that we must tackle it with renewed vigour. And, especially in these difficult times, entrepreneurs and businesses need our help. We must ensure we are not tying them up in restrictive red tape.
So what have the coalition been doing about it this week?

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said it was time to try a new approach.

"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."
See that state rolling back, leaving restrictive state-imposed red tape littered in its wake?

Following a consultation with representatives from the catering industry, including fast food restaurants, the Government will publish details of their plans for calorie displays in the spring.
Yep, back, back, back it keeps trundling.

Supermarkets are to be banned from selling wine, beer and spirits below a national "minimum price" under plans to be unveiled by ministers.

The formula, aimed a clamping down on "loss leader" deals, means that no outlet will be able to sell any alcoholic drink for below the cost of duty on the product, plus VAT.

If they do they are likely to lose their licence to sell alcohol as well as face fines.
Back to exactly the same intrusiveness and government prodnosery that was prevalent before the election, and that we were promised an end to.

Why the fuck do we bother with the expensive charade of polling stations, ballot papers, and overtime bonanzas for local authority officers, only to return a carbon copy bunch of self-righteous centre left MPs every time, whichever box is crossed?

Two-faced, venal, arrogant, hypocritical, gullible, finger-wagging, dangerous, dictatorial shitsticks, the lot of them.

Change? What fucking change?

Saturday 27 November 2010

Shop Till They Pop

Quite appropriate for a Saturday afternoon, this.

I've mentioned before that e-cigs give anti-smokers a severe attack of the willies, so this development has the potential to make their eyes swivel like a bastard.

Totally Wicked is proud to announce that it is the only vendor in the United Kingdom which offers a truly unique "try-before-you-buy" service.

Gain confidence before you make your purchase and visit the Totally Wicked Retail Outlet in Darwen/Blackburn, Lancashire and experience the wonders of such products like the Titan 510 and Titan Tornado for yourself. Here, you will meet informative, helpful, staff who will assist you in making the right choice for yourself and your vaping needs.
Vaping has already made its TV debut in America, and now looks as if it is preparing to make the big step out of the internet and into a more tangible setting.

Just imagine scenes like this in high street shops up and down the country, neatly rubbing shoulders with Carphone Warehouse and Clintons.

With awareness of the existence of e-cigs spreading, such a prospect becomes ever more likely. As a result, it's quite possible that we may see Scanners-esque psycho anti-smoker head explosions outside Marks & Sparks in the near future.

The only possible obstacle would be if our political elite can be persuaded by big pharma interests that water vapour is somehow a deadly substance. And they'd never be so stupid as to fall for such tactics, would they?

Oh, hold on.

Link Tank 27/11

Top two especially recommended with your chosen beverage, but it's been a good week overall.

"Public health has been transformed into a medically induced assault on the health of society"

Lots of people like drugs, try asking them about it

In advance of the inevitable Christmas nanny avalanche, Turkey fat is good fat

Antartic ice sheet scaremongers appear to have ignored key elements of physics

Seven ways the Mafia made the US a better place

Irish Cancer Society figures show non-smokers are nearly twice as likely to die as smokers are

One letter difference, yet two countries' respective banking policies result in opposite outcomes

Punk isn't dead as Lydon prompts Jamiroquai to call for airline farting bans

New Zealand's experience proves that decriminalisation of prostitution doesn't lead to a 'free for all'

Monty Python's 'Hell's Grannies' become reality

Shifting the consensus on civil liberties

'Buy a tramp a can of Stella' this Christmas, it's what the little baby Jesus would want

Friday 26 November 2010

Frame Wars Are GO!

It was a long time ago, but I used to be a philatelist doncha know. After viewing a pristine (and valuable) collection owned by an RAF friend of Mr Puddlecote Sr somewhere near Dusseldorf one summer holiday, I determined that stamp-collecting was the game for me!

It only lasted about six months, mind, but we are talking 1977 when German radio played The Name Of The Game incessantly, so my attention to licking folding hinges was easily distracted once I got a punchbag and gloves for Christmas ... then I wanted to be a boxer. That didn't last long either. In fact, the only trait I still carry from back then is a love of lebkuchen.

Having said that, if Royal Mail were to issue stamps like this more often, any guy my age could be tempted to invest in another set of tweezers.

Not only that, the January release also includes this glorious pictorial of the Thunderbirds countdown sequence.

It's going to right mess up Mrs P's well-planned decoration of our wall space, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist on having these framed and on display somewhere.

I'd plump for the hallway, but considering the 1983 original BPI awards press photo of Hazel O'Connor and Susanne Sulley I placed there last year ended up in the loft a day later, I think I may have a battle on my hands.

Wish me luck.

Dick Goes All European Again

Last time that Wikio E-blogs picked one of my posts, it seems I misjudged them by opining - tongue firmly in cheek - that they had "studiously waited for a post devoid of references to fags or booze".

They've blown that one out of the water by taking my anti-smoker playing cards piece and translating it into French, Spanish, German and Italian.

You can see the Euro-ese version here (click on the flags at the top for translations into 'foreign'), complete with link to the psycho catalogue. Wouldn't a European anti-smoking psychosis contribution be interesting, eh?

(subscribe to Wikio E-blogs' RSS feed here, or their Twitter here).

Thursday 25 November 2010

Good Work, Agent McKeith

I expect I'm late on this as I haven't watched a single second of the celebrity jungle thingy, but I was alerted to this Gillian McKeith character by the witch in Birmingham who put me up during the Tory conference (don't worry, it's a term of endearment really).

All I was given was an account of the woman's torture in being put in a jail with Shaun Ryder as he smoked a cigarette. I imagined somewhere cramped, concrete-encased, with her knees forced under her chin, and little space to act as a retreat. How else could one think when told of her terrified reaction, and her claim that Ryder would kill them all if he smoked.

So, imagine my surprise on researching and seeing that this is the boxed-in, oppressive, airtight space she was talking about.

No roof, little by way of walls, much much more than fully compliant with even the quite ludicrous conditions placed on smoking areas by a committee of trained monkeys at the Department of Health ... and placed in the middle of a fucking jungle!

The woman is quite insane! Brilliant, isn't it?

She is the very embodiment of the rabid anti-smoker. Incapable of interacting with other humans in a civilised manner; perpetually thinking of herself; screeching like a crack-addled banshee; so stupid as to place herself in a position which she won't enjoy; before blaming just about everyone else for it and demanding that her rights be observed to the nth degree at the expense of the comfort of others.

She is also cowardly, loud-mouthed, terrified of absolutely everything, and in atrocious health considering she has spent her entire life looking after, err, her health.

According to her website, she is supposed to be a bit of a clever scientist** (and a little bit prone to regular bouts of debilitating illness), yet is blissfully unaware that there isn't - and never will be - any science, even junk ASH-tortured stuff, which can point to people dying from the smoke emanating from one cigarette in the open air ... in a fucking jungle.

She's perfect!

If I were an ASH tax-sponger, constantly trying to put a serious face on the fantasy bullshit of passive smoking, I would be reading articles like this through my fingers. Seeing pictures of a haggard old 'health-conscious' crone, held up as a hate figure on national TV, alongside accounts of her spewing out utterances so unbelievable as to make even ardent smoke-haters think twice about what they have been fed, while exhibiting psychosis and proving that they aren't fit to integrate in society, isn't exactly an image the publicity-conscious Shoreditch Mafia will be happy with.

For years, Roy Castle has been touted as the anti-smoker talisman (due to sparse and faulty logic, as we know), but now, those opposed to the rantings of anti-social half-wits have our own poster girl.

Cheers, Gillian, you weapons grade fruitcake, you've just made the job of painting the hysterically smoke-averse as wild-eyed, joyless, death-obsessed, reality-challenged, clinically-certifiable nutjobs even easier than it was increasingly becoming.

The longer she stays in the competition, the better.

** To be fair, the selective Bad Science crowd think she's loopy too I understand, so perhaps this may even make them embarrassed at being in the same ideological camp on the secondhand smoke myth.

Nudging Is The Misguided Answer To A State-Imagined Problem

If you get a chance to 'listen again' to BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze programme from last night, please do so as it strikes right to the heart of what we talk about here.

Chris Snowdon took part and was aggressively interrupted by an advocate of this government's policy of 'nudging'. The fact that an opposing view should be seen as such a threat that the questioner didn't feel comfortable with it even being heard lends creedence to our perception that nudging has long since descended into bullying.

The audio shows quite clearly that what is currently being utilised by the state is far removed from the original concept as advanced by the authors - Richard Thaler even rocked up himself to highlight how Cameron's understanding of the premise is deeply flawed.

But then, nudging is the answer to a problem which has been artificially created by a fundamental failure of Blair's administration, which applied machine-like attributes to human beings.

In 2007, the three-part documentary, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, explained how game theory has been increasingly used as a tool of populationary control in post-war years, most notably by Blair's government. The idea was that the public will react 'rationally' to stimuli enacted by the state.

As a concept of social control, it fails miserably since it relies on people acting as a homogenous, computer-generated, mass of unthinking drones with no outliers or rebels.

Humans are not machines. They cheat, they avoid, and they self-administer in a society which has been accustomed to a semblance of freedom. In short, the British tradition of self-determination has never been compatible to the application of a one-size-fits-all measure of the perfect lifestyle. It just doesn't work. We're not the state's dream of a compliant and malleable population - we have our own thoughts, dreams and aspirations, and all interventions inevitably throw up unintended consequences which mess up the state's best laid ideological plans.

So it bombed.

Faced with the incontestable fact that government control isn't the panacea which was envisaged, and seeing people gleefully acting in what the state views as an irrational manner - as a human population is always going to do - which rendered game theory irrelevant, the response seems to be nudging. Because it will apparently 'correct' us and drive us back into the preferred position of being 'rational' about the choices they have determined on our behalf.

It's the discernible point at which nanny turns bully.

Instead of accepting that the nanny state - on the back of discredited game theory - has been an abject failure, politicians, rent-seekers and shroud-wavers instead chose a different path. They reasoned that an inherently diverse population could be forced back to the robotic thinking required for game theory to succeed by turning previously free-thinking (irrational) people into ones which fit their flawed eugenic agenda.

This trend began under New Labour with the politics of behaviour, where ministers explicitly said they considered it their business to force us to be healthier, more socially active, even happier citizens. The Lib-Cons are taking this politics to a new low by including not only our health and waistlines but also our thoughts and emotions, even our sub-conscious processes, under the remit of the Ministry of Good Behaviour (they don’t actually call it that, but why not?). Bereft of ideas for remaking the world, for boosting and improving society, our leaders take refuge in the brain instead, hoping that they can fiddle with the mental where they cannot get to grips with the social. Controlling individuals’ interaction with the world that currently exists takes the place of what counted for politics for thousands of years, from Aristotle to the Suffragettes: debating how the world should ideally look.

The second problem with the nudge state is that it’s alarmingly illiberal. Built on the idea that individuals are essentially irrational – ‘people are sometimes irrational’, says the Cabinet Office paper; ‘people are often systematically irrational’, prefers the RSA – the elitist politics of the brain treats the mass of the population as not worth seriously engaging with. Indeed its very premise is that we are not rational beings who can be reasoned with, but rather are simply collections of nerve endings and subconscious processes who need to be subjected to a mental MOT.
Machines who can, and should, be 'nudged' back to a position where the computer-modelled existence planned for us by the state will all of a sudden be viable.

It's a solution to a problem created by government's ridiculous and unnatural belief that all humans follow computer profiling, and that since we don't, the answer is to alter human behaviour rather than the flawed computer models they, and their quangoes, are invested in adhering to.

The initial premise has failed, so instead of accepting that and working out some way that the population is to be accommodated, our politicians have decided that the better option is to make us fall into line. Or, as the referred article eloquently put it.

In the modern political era, it is supposed to be governments that shape themselves in response to what people want, not people who reshape their lifestyles in response to what the government wants. Democracy is meant to involve the formulation of a government that expresses the people’s will; it is about the people putting pressure on the authorities to believe in and pursue certain ideals. Under the nudge tyranny that is turned totally on its head, as instead the government devises more and more ways to put pressure on us to change.
Nudging shouldn't be a plank of coalition policy. It should instead be viewed as proof that our government has failed to represent our interests in a democratic society once, and that the solution is not to compound the same daft mistake by trying to rectify a failure entirely of the state's making.

But then, with the paucity of intellect in Westminster these days, it would appear they naïvely believe that two wrongs will result in a right.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Righteous Still Relentlessly Promoting Big Business At The Expense Of The Poor

Articles have been sparse here so far this week due to real life and business necessities figuring largely, so apologies and all that.

In the 'life' bit, the little Ps' home tutoring has been ramped up with vocabulary being a priority. When the PHSE junk, climate change indoctrination, equality conditioning, and ethnic awareness isn't being thrust down the kids' throats by our state education system, the schools find 10 minutes or so for spelling tests comprising some fantastic words. The problem is that the little Ps aren't actually taught what they mean. The result being that they can now perfectly spell words like 'according', 'illuminated', and 'technique', without actually being able to use them in any meaningful context. So, I've got them both reading like a mofo from selected texts. For a 9 & 10 year old to be entertained in their post-school time, while still being exposed to intelligent prose, I chose "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" to start, accompanied by a notepad and dictionary (or, more likely, me) to explain previously unknown words they encounter. It's working a treat ... even iCarly has been taking a back seat thanks to Douglas Adams.

The business tender front has seen a round of public sector organisations holding meetings to potential suppliers, all titled with the now endemic buzzword 'framework' so reviled by this blog and its readers, and run by local officials who seem to have no clue about the industry they are dealing with.

On an entirely tangential front, your humble host has also been invited to make a first foray into public speaking, and as these things go, it's a bit of a biggie. More info of that perhaps in the new year.

However, although merely catching up tonight, via Taking Liberties one could hardly not enjoy the righteous being shown up yet again in Spiked.

Curiously, the BMA’s press release chose not to highlight the very same article’s finding that: ‘There were no short-term significant changes in prevalence among youths or adults.’ In other words, no one in Ireland has stopped smoking because of the [tobacco display] ban: the policy is a failure.
Well, of course, because tobacco control is addicted to failure, as I keep pointing out.

But that, it would seem to me, is to misunderstand their existence. They talk incessantly of the chiiildren, of protecting the poor from pernicious advertising, but the same thread runs through all their wibblings.

They just hate big business of any stripe, and in doing so they always, but always, hurt smaller businesses and punish the poor.

Let's take the tobacco display ban for starters. The BMA have been screeching about this since it looked like the coalition might - quite rightly - ditch such a barmy idea. As the Spiked article articulates (you really should read it all, by the way), there is no credible evidence of a reduction in youth smoking rates (the sole motive for it according to politicians), but the BMA desperately want it anyway. So much so that they completely change their methods to hide the stark lack of evidence in its favour.

They know it won't stop under 18s gaining access to cigarettes, they know it could be disastrous for independent newsagents and corner shops. But their hatred of 'big tobacco' is so intense that they are quite willing to risk an increase in youth smoking, and unconcerned that thousands of corner shops may go under in their war against an impervious industry.

Tobacco companies won't lose a penny.

The same applies in the minimum alcohol price debate. The assault is on the perceived evil drinks industry. It matters not that ALL evidence consistently shows that alcohol consumption is reducing, or that there is no realistic chance that a minimum price will have any effect on those dangerous 'three Stellas in one night' hellraisers (the definition of a binge-drinker, apparently).

Manchester is still pursuing this quite laughable nonsense, and the BMA are also right behind it. The problem is that the drinks industry itself would benefit greatly, while only the poorer in society would be penalised.

It's OK, though, because the righteous have a plan to counter that. No, not making sure the poor don't suffer ... don't be stupid. Oh no, just preventing the drinks industry from benefitting, of course. That definitely wouldn't do.

A levy could also be imposed on the drinks industry to stop them making windfall profits from the higher prices introduced under the scheme. The money raised would be earmarked for public health campaigns warning of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
Only public sector organisations are allowed to profit from the exploitation of the poor, you see. It's perfectly acceptable that money extracted from the less well off is taken from the productive economy and handed to the BMA's fellow tax-spongers, on the basis of a fake scare invented by the very same beneficiaries.

Because that's responsible. That's the 'right thing to do'.

Likewise the campaign against McDonalds and those other successful nasty fast food providers. Ever-tightening laws must be brought in to stop their practices. You know the sort of scandalous behaviour we're talking here. Constantly making their food healthier and still earnings loads of money. It's obscene, so it is.

Therefore, kids must lose their happy meal toys and calorie police must be employed so that, err, McDonalds will easily sidestep it while smaller businesses - not able to draw on economies of scale - go to the wall.

But remember, it's all to look after those chiiildren, and the little guy against big, evil business.

Only rich righteous are allowed to fly too. It's not they who are killing the planet, you see, just us plebs encouraged by a rampant 'big oil' and airline alliance.

Every righteous campaign carries the same watermark. Little or no evidence of any note; an evangelical hatred of big business; and solutions which disproportionately target the poor, small businesses, and - most bizarrely of all - children.

But then, as in every other facet of life, one must follow the money, and all these 'life-enhancing' ideas always direct resources towards the hideous bastards who are promoting them.

None of this nonsense has ever been about health, or equality, or the children. If it were, the policies being advocated wouldn't potentially worsen health, widen equality, an punish the poor and children ... while simultaneously feathering the public sector's - increasingly, and hypocritically, corporate - nest.

Monday 22 November 2010

Conservatism Should Be Taught In History Classes

After yesterday's immensely amusing Tory-ribbing fun, Lord Norton (a Tory, believe it or not) has provided me with further ammunition for future stirring of Tory-voting parents.

There are reports that citizenship teaching in schools - it has been part of the national curriculum since 2002 – is under review and may possibly disappear. I made the case that there may have been problems with the teaching of citizenship but that this derived from such teaching being under-resourced and under-valued. My view was that it was essential that it was retained and that schools were provided with the necessary incentives to take it seriously.
Err, it's probably under-valued because it (termed PHSE at the little Ps' schools) quite simply does not belong in our education system, so if it has been under-resourced, fantastic.

The link has changed since I wrote about this in March last year, but not by much.

So what is taught in PHSE? Teachernet gives us the lowdown.

Citizenship at Key Stages 1 and 2;
Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco;
Emotional Health and Wellbeing;
Nutrition and Physical Activity;
Personal Finance;
Sex and Relationship Education.
Look around the site yourself. It is heavy on health & safety; risk assessment; drug, alcohol and tobacco education; emotional health; 'correct' food; financial capability; safety again; and loads of sex ed.

There is a search facility, so I tried it. It returned one match for 'lesbian', two for 'racism', three for 'cancer', and four for 'gay'. There were 14 for 'environment'.

However, a search for the words 'selfish', 'selfishness', and 'tolerance', came up blank.

It goes without saying that 'personal responsibility' didn't figure either.
Is a Tory truly saying that the above should be compulsory (it is planned to be so from next year) in schools, instead of being taught by parents in the manner of their own choosing?

That the state should dictate - from a quango-chosen list of pet issues - how children are instructed to live their lives? How to think along 'approved' lines? And that parents are to have no say in it, nor given the choice to opt out?

Now, there may be an argument that some parents simply can't be arsed to advise their kids about some important life matters but I always believed that Tories - as I understand conservatism to be, at any rate - were against the state effectively over-riding parental responsibility. Especially since we're all paying for such ideology by spending either our own time filling the real educational gaps left while schools peddle this garbage (as I did this evening, like every evening), or in the case of others I know, spending cash to hire someone else to do so.

Following Lansley's superlative fuckwittery yesterday, this will be quite the shit-flavoured alka seltzer to treat the delusional hangover my previously enthusiastic Tory acquaintances are now waking up to.

Another rubbing-noses-in-it exercise beckons.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Tory Lansley Provides Acres Of Tory-Baiting Fun

You just know it's a Sunday (because for the righteous, weekends are nag time) when you wake up and read cockwaffle like this at the BBC.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said it was time to try a new approach.

"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.

"We would prefer it if people did not smoke and adults will still be able to buy cigarettes, but children should be protected from the start.

"The levels of poor health and deaths from smoking are still far too high, and the cost to the NHS and the economy is vast. That money could be used to educate our children and treat cancer," Mr Lansley said.

"We will shortly set out a radical new approach to public health in a White Paper."
There some were holding very high hopes for Mr Lansley ... and then he goes and shows himself up as a monumental dickhead.

Of course, I couldn't wait to rub it in.

I made a call to the Tory afficionado who is continually telling me how the new government are "making the right noises" on removing unnecessary state interference. Having revealed the 'good' news, I was initially worried when he failed to answer for about 5 to 10 seconds. He did though, eventually, to ask where I read such rubbish. "Err, on the front page of the BBC website, mate", replied I, with a suppressed snigger which desperately struggled to sneak out.


A few e-mail exchanges and a couple more phone calls later, and the comedy was rolling along nicely. All the Tories who had assured me that their party were going to put things right; that they weren't the same as the last lot as I'd stubbornly claimed; that all this nonsense was now over, never to darken our doors again unless Labour managed to get back into power; all of them squarely kicked in their ideological nuts by this quite absurd nonsense from Lansley.

Lastly, kids in tow, I just had to actually visit the most true blue of them all. The one who I always envisage close to placing a picture of Cameron on his wall, complete with halo.

He gave me a very nicely-chilled bottle of Nastro Azzuri once we sat down, so I asked him for some brown paper to wrap it in.

"Why?", he asked, laughing.
"For the children, of course. They'll be gagging to start drinking if the pretty colours aren't hidden", I replied, desperately trying to hold my straight face.
"Hahahahahaha, don't be so ridiculous! Where did you get that stupid idea from?", he roared, whilst his belly rippled with hilarity at the sheer stupidity of such a notion.
"Where? From your party's Health Secretary, of course", before showing him the BBC article on his PC.

The sight of him reading it through his fingers was priceless, and an image which will live with me for a long time. Betrayal can be a bitch, but is extremely useful for illustrating how very treacherous this coalition is.

So Lansley has not only informed us today that a tobacco display ban will go ahead as planned (despite the Tories and the Lib Dumbs being against the idea in opposition), but also decided that government is now able to steal any company's logo and brand awareness whenever they so choose.

And this, from a Tory!

Now, I've mentioned before that most MPs are so dense that they could bend light, but this is quite the most intensely stupid idea I've ever heard.

There is precisely nil evidence that any kid will be tempted to start smoking because of packaging, but centuries of proof that making anything taboo is a huge incentive to the young.

There is precisely nil evidence that any kid will be tempted to start smoking because of packaging, but only a simpleton would deny that more bland packaging is a gift to cigarette counterfeiters.

There is precisely nil evidence that any kid will be tempted to start smoking because of packaging, but plenty of scope for big businesses to be very worried about their long-established brand marketing.

By Lansley's reasoning, we could soon see McDonald's being forced by a Tory-led government (in fact, any government by precedent) to ditch their bright red/yellow imagery and hide the golden arches from kids to counter obesity; Coca-cola will be forced to package in brown and lose the wavy line trademark in favour of a bland arial font; Burger King won't be allowed the jolly king; 7up's green bottles will have to go, as will KFC's Colonel.

Think that's a bit of a reach? Not really, since health nutters are already talking about it.

This is without mentioning anything from Carlsberg's nightclubs to Famous Grouse's, err, grouse. Because they're already in the righteous cross hair, of course.

Lansley has now opened the gate on billions of pounds being wiped off the balance sheets of British companies, and others who provide jobs here, at the stroke of a legislative pen.

One can only hope he was suffering the mother of all weekend hangovers when he uttered that astoundingly naïve and ill-informed garbage, as it's far preferable to the potential reality of someone so dull-witted wielding a position of such national influence.

Still, if he truly intended to scare away future corporate party donors, while simultaneously setting in train a precedent with the capacity to unilaterally disable the nation's economy, the boy done good.

If this is an example of what will be in the coalition's upcoming white paper, I can see we're going to have some fun here in the spring.

UPDATE: The Appalling Strangeness today posted a good piece about this subject - Nudge Off!

Friday 19 November 2010

How Health Scares (And Lies) Begin

Here's one to file under 'everything causes everything'.

"This case indicates that Facebook, and social networks in general, could be a new source of psychological stress, representing a triggering factor for exacerbations in depressed asthmatic individuals. Considering the high prevalence of asthma, especially among young people, we suggest that this type of trigger be considered in the assessment of asthma exacerbations."
Facebook as a cause of asthma? Perhaps Asthma UK should pull their Facebook group sharpish, then.

No. Of course it isn't the fault of Facebook. The real cause was the patient's self-induced stress after being dumped, Facebook merely set off a psychosomatic condition.

Prof Jon Ayres, Professor of Environmental and Respiratory Medicine, at University of Birmingham, said: “The issue of psychological stress triggering asthma is as old as the hills.

"In Victorian times asthma was regarded as a “neurotic disease”. Asthma attacks induced by stressful situations are common and in the 1970s studies showed that in some people with asthma, attacks could be induced through the power of suggestion.

"We see people brought in with asthma attacks who have just come from funerals or other stressful situations; this is nothing new. I guess that Facebook simply provides another way in which susceptible people can be exposed to stressful situations.
In which case, just about anything could be a blamed as a trigger for asthma in 'susceptible' people if they get worked up enough about it.

The problem in this case, though, is that Mrs P e-mailed me with this development, as it was apparently announced on Capital Radio news (if that's what one can call it) this morning. As a result, neurotic teens, helicopter mums, white van men and black cab drivers will all have had Facebook as a health hazard implanted in their minds, and a new game of chinese whispers begins.

Watch that particular urban myth fly.

Thursday 18 November 2010

The Illiberal Licensing Racket

Reason.tv yesterday reported on an armed raid directed at a Californian members-only club for having the temerity to sell food which customers actively show an interest in eating. The film below explains in full.

As the accompanying text rightly queries. Why?

[...] this particular raw foods case stretches across county lines and involves at least five separate government agencies, despite the fact that not a single member of Rawesome has complained or been harmed by the raw foods. In fact, members have to sign a contract stating that they understand and accept the risks of consuming raw foods before they are allowed to step inside.

If members of a private club sign a waiver stating that they want to drink a certain type of milk, why is the government getting involved?

State officials will claim that they are acting purely in the interests of public health; that it's vital to protect consumers from the scary consequences of eating and drinking substances which haven't been treated as government demands. But, again, if the customer has accepted risk to be able to sample something different, why is there any need for intervention, let alone one involving such an invasive show of force?

Well, I suggest a clue may lie in another recent American case involving a hot dog seller who is challenging the local authority's burdens on street vendors.

After months of unemployment, 57-year-old Steve Pruner decided to create his own job selling hot dogs in downtown Durham. Problem is, state laws and regulations called “onerous” by a Durham County health official have sidelined Pruner’s hot dog cart.
Again, the motive is protecting the public. But there is also quite a lot of money to be taken in the process.

Pruner never anticipated how much red tape would stand between him and the “American dream.”

Unable to build a box-on-wheels that satisfied city planners, Pruner ended up purchasing a “professional” pushcart for $2,500. Next, he set out to get a vending permit from the city, but found out he also would need to get a health permit from the county. Total cost: $150.

Before he could get a health permit, however, he’d need an inspection. To get an inspection, he would have to enter into a “commissary agreement,” requiring him to prepare his food, wash his cart, and store his supplies in a permitted restaurant or commissary.

Pruner claims it’s nearly impossible to convince a restaurant owner to enter into such an agreement, unless you are a friend or family member. Those who do make the agreements hardly ever honor them, he said.

“They’re supposed to go there every morning before they open and in every evening after they close, but no one does,” Pruner said. “It’s just a piece of paper. Once they get it signed, they’re cleaning their carts at home just like I did.”

Finding the rule an “undue restriction” on what he deems his “constitutional right to work,” Pruner chose to ignore it and to open his business — Outlaw Dogs — without permits about nine months ago.

Since then, the health department has tried to shut him down three times — first politely asking him to leave his vending spot, then issuing a cease and desist order and suing to have him declared a “public health hazard,” and finally having him jailed for 24 hours on Oct. 27.
The issue, of course, is licensing. It's not only a money-spinner for the authority, but also a perfect element of control which will curry favour with established businesses which are naturally keen to place barriers in front of new entrants to any particular market.

Try to circumvent the licensing system and the state will come down hard. Not only because they aren't able to add that new entrant to their revenue stream, but also because those already paying the licence fees will begin to rebel against having to pay themselves.

In my industry, transport, for example, there is a debate being held in many a local authority about what to do with such arrangements if and when councils attempt to join forces to cut costs. With transport being transient by nature, a business like mine can be licensed just about anywhere in the country which is favourable to them. The authorities are not concerned with how to go about the process safely, but more worried that it will be their own offices which may be denied the licensing aspect and revenue that goes with it.

As I've written before (and so has the UK Libertarian), there is no need for local authorities to be involved in food regulations at all - public health can be satisfactorily protected, and more economically so, if outsourced just like many other services - so why would the state be so keen to keep paying the cost of enforcement, unless ... it's not a cost after all?

Unfortunately, once a public is scared witless by imaginings of life-threatening diseases of the gut, they are quite happy to defend any ridiculous implementation of licensing. Even though all of it places a cost on businesses which will be passed onto them in higher prices, whilst simultaneously restricting their choice and denying them certain products altogether. Even if they are fully prepared to take the risk.

Pick A Card, Any Card

A fellow jewel robber from across the Atlantic has highlighted an ingenious new twist on the smoker hatred meme. Although originally intended for the psycho catalogue, I thought that such assiduous and well-crafted smoker hatred deserved a post all of its own.

Because now you aren't restricted to just hating smokers when you see them. Oh no, you can buy playing cards to remind you of how filthy, smelly and vile they are whilst playing poker with your smoker-hating mates (click to enlarge).

And just so you don't forget that it's not merely an aroma thing, these doozies will also point out how smokers are killing everyone else, causing carnage on the roads, and destroying the planet.

Not too keen on the jolly 'life' cards? No problem, there's always the 'death' set instead.

Brilliant, huh? Especially since all this demonisation of tobacco is producing such excellent results in deterring youth smoking. Isn't it?


Wednesday 17 November 2010

In Prague

After returning from Prague earlier this month, I said I'd give an account of the trip but busy-ness forced me to let that idea slide somewhat, just as with the promised, but ultimately non-existent, write-up from Tory Conference. The difference being that a long weekend in Prague is obviously more interesting than a couple of days in Birmingham, as more than one reader e-mailed to say they'd noticed the omission.


Let's start with the Heathrow airport experience, then - yes, I know you've all flown before, but it works as a contrast to later in the piece, so bear with me - and, specifically, the 'pub' at Terminal 5.

It calls itself a pub, it has a bar, it has beer, but is as far removed from a British boozer as it's possible to be, even Wetherspoons would appear almost old colonial after this place. I travelled with a painter/decorator friend of mine who is also partner in a new business venture, I'll call him 'Spike', and we were both ready for lunch once we'd passed through security (where my watch didn't set off the metal detector to great hilarity from Spike).

A burger would have done the job nicely, but all around were eateries which sold sandwiches designed more to look pretty than to taste good, using bread mixed with seedy shrapnel and 'healthy', sugar, fat and taste-free ingredients presumably sourced from a deli in Islington. Even the 'breakfast sandwich' spoiled the Lincolnshire sausage with some unpronouncable eye-tie cured meat and a spearmint coloured mayonnaise. And it was nearly four fucking quid!

So we plumped for the 'pub', as it termed itself. Aaaand what does one do when one enters a pub? Well, go to the bar, of course. Spike collared a barman and ordered a pint of Beck's Vier and a Strongbow while I sat at a table.

Not for long though, as a waiter (in a pub?) told me I couldn't sit there because it was messing up his seating plan. He pointed me to another and I sat down, only to see Spike getting rather agitated at another waiter (in a pub!) who was gesticulating and didn't look too happy. When he got to the table with the beers he had paid for, Spike told me that the guy was berating him for not sitting down and waiting for table service. You see, it was a 'pub' where you're not supposed to go near the bar.

I dunno, perhaps they should have called it a 'restaurant which happens to have a pub-like bar' rather than a pub. It could have saved the confusion.

The menu was attractive and at good prices but we didn't feel we had time for a roast dinner and 'death by chocolate' to finish, so plumped for the £2.95 chips each. It worked out at (I know as I counted them) 12p per paprika-coated chip. I'll say that again ... paprika-coated chip ... in a pub ... where you're not allowed to APPROACH THE FUCKING BAR!

The post meal ciggy, naturally, would have invited sirens, spinning orange lights and a code red lockdown of the terminal enforced by Uzi-wielding coppers in bio-hazard suits, so I just drew on the e-cig which had passed through the x-ray machine without a murmur.

So off to Prague we flew, arriving at our extremely comfortable 4 star hotel just in advance of dinner time thanks to the one hour time difference. Bags dumped - Spike in his non-smoking room, mine in a smoking room with an ashtray the size of an Essex boy-racer's alloy wheel (both €41 per night including breakfast) - we ventured down to the hotel restaurant which was apparently well-regarded in the city.

That's when we passed a sight so awesome that I was tempted to drop to my knees and offer homage. A bar of beauty and finesse (left), offering the finest of chilled Czech beers and (as we later found out) some gorgeous wines, staffed by smiling waistcoated women, every seat occupied by a happy-looking person, and an ashtray - yes, an ashtray - on every table.

Some people were smoking, others weren't, all were enjoying themselves but there were no dead bodies piling up, no bar staff clutching their hearts and calling for an ambulance, no animosity, no division. Just people enjoying their evening unharassed.

It minded me of Captain Ranty's evocative description of his times in Africa.

As much as I look forward to seeing my clan again, there are some things I will miss about both Nigeria and Ghana. Cheap beer, cheap fags, cheap food, and cheerful people. Being able to smoke in a bar. If you are a non-smoker you have no idea just how wonderful, and how liberating such a simple thing actually is. I felt normal. No-one was doing that wanky hand-waving and false-coughing so prevalent amongst the UK Righteous.
Indeed, and all the cheapness is equally true of Prague, except that it's in Europe. A member of the EU, in fact. And now one of the few countries still clinging on by its fingernails to liberty in the face of advancing authoritarianism from Brussels.

It was the only place one could smoke, thereby leaving every other part of the 354 roomed hotel - and two non-smoking lounges - for non-smokers, including the restaurant where we were heading. More than fair unless you're an anti-smoker who demands everything to be to your personal liking ... not like those 'selfish' smokers, eh?

Oh yes, the restaurant. Nothing too fancy on the prices front, we ate two starters, an exquisite wild boar (seriously) main meal on big plates with that balsamic decoration beloved of SW1 establishments, and a rather nice Sauvignon, for £30. That's right, in a four star hotel in Prague, you can eat top chef-prepared food for less than the price of a Harvester meal in Sunderland.

We were there for a specific event (no Bill Bryson-esque sightseeing critique here, I'm afraid), so after eating decided to decamp to the bar to socialise. It was at this point that the deeply-ingrained no-can-do facet of UK living was brought home to me in one small request. Could I take the delicate Czech crystal wine glass out of the restaurant (Spike had finished his) to the less calm surroundings of the hotel bar? Now, I've encountered many a 'no' when asking the same in the UK. Glasses have to stay where they're supposed to stay, you see. There is a system; a place for everything and everything in its place; computer says no; customer is right only if it doesn't interfere with our way of doing things; no ordering at the bar as we do waiter service here, for example (see? I told you it was relevant).

"Of course", answered the waiter (in a restaurant, fine) with a puzzled look on his face as if to wonder why I was asking. I was the customer after all, and in Prague, they are still always right. An ethos which held firm for our entire trip, leading to the sense of a burden being lifted, as I mentioned on my return.

Prague was such a blast you could clear quarries with it, the UK state-imposed shackles fell away with every minute spent there.
The rest of the extended break (we left on the Monday) was spent with incomers from Belgium, France, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Holland, Norway, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic, of course, amongst others. I spoke to as many as possible, occasionally blowing the cobwebs off my A level linguistics when the consequences of Babel frustrated, and was rather surprised at the overwhelming opinion voiced by a mostly working class clientele.

They hate the EU. Well, actually, they don't all hate the EU, the Germans quite like it but hate the Euro and stated that a clear majority wished for the return of the mark as their currency. But the overwhelming antipathy towards our empire-building overlords in Brussels was distinctly tangible. OK, it's not scientific, but these are real people, with real experiences, and almost as one they bemoaned the fact that they haven't been given a choice in the matter. They are European, and love fellow Europeans as our very friendly discussions proved, but would prefer to keep their identity and certainly want nothing to do with a federalised supra-national state.

Which kinda explains why referenda on the EU Constitution and Lisbon have been so few and far between. Letting people have their say doesn't really suit the EU or europhile politicians, does it?

Sorry I can't tell you more about the much-vaunted beauty of the city itself (though the post cards looked nice), but I was there for one purpose only and it wasn't being a tourist. That will come when I undoubtedly visit again with Mrs P.

I did leave the hotel event on the Saturday to have a look round the immediate vicinity and to do some gift-buying, so can attest that 20 B&H Gold is just over £3 a pack (but very little rolling baccy on offer, probably because there isn't much demand at those prices), that although there is a smoking ban in effect, you'd be hard-pressed to notice, and that despite the lack of overt government control, people seem to be living very well, ta, complete with posh shops and quality bars, cafes and restaurants. Along with a transport system that is affordable and clean, used by a populace which is friendly and relaxed with itself.

So it's a thumbs up for me. A definite recommend.

Finally, to tie things up nicely, let me quickly tell you about the Prague airport experience. Having checked in and headed early for the gate as Spike likes to do, we had an hour to spare so looked for somewhere other than a brushed metal seat to wait. Handy, then, that there was a bar within 30 seconds walk and, again, ashtrays were available. You were allowed to order from the bar, with no irritable waiter anywhere in the vicinity. Czechs seem to understand pubs more than we do.

The only downer was that, again, my watch didn't set off the metal detector. As Spike fell on the floor laughing, I was so hoping someone would appear from behind a screen wearing a pair of marigold gloves to wipe the smile off his face.

But then, Prague isn't that kind of suspiciously vindictive place, and long may it remain so.

Two Years On ...

This evening marks the second anniversary of this blog stuttering into existence following encouragement from its honorary Godfather, Ian PJ. I felt I had something to say but wondered at the time if there was room for yet another libertarian blog (how things change, eh?). However, Ian assured me that the more voices calling for less state interference, the better, and that a new point of view may bring something different to the bloggers' table.

I can't remember what my expectations were back then, or whether this is that dissimilar to other freedom-chasing sites ... although there always seems to be more hard-drinking, fag-puffing and kebab-munching going on here than most. Perhaps you'd noticed that?

Still, two years on and there have been 1,476 articles, drawing 9,306 comments from a readership which last month racked up 22,000+ visits and just over 500 daily RSS subscriptions, so there must be at least a few words of interest in amongst this lip-shot jumble of 'tabloid' guff.

I read every comment even if I sometimes don't have time to add to them, and have enjoyed the past two years immensely (though it can be infuriating to shoot down the same statist lies time and time again, as others have noted), so hearty thanks is owed to everyone who has popped by since November 2008 (except watchers from ASH, of course, you can go play catch with chainsaws as far as I'm concerned).

The libertarian blogosphere has a different look and feel about it to the one I joined back then, but I can only plough my own furrow. So all the while swivel-eyed health loons keep peddling their bullshit, I'll continue producing froth-mouthed rantings from this small, taped off bio-hazard corner of the web.

Stubbornness is a Puddlecote trait and I'm certainly not ready to give up just yet (Mrs P smiles at the thought of a further monopoly of the tellybox), so here's to the next two years. Cheers.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Recession? What Recession? (3)

Someone left an oddity lying around today ... a copy of the Times. So, since their stuff is hidden away from us these days, I couldn't resist a furtive look at what is so private we're not allowed to see it (just the kind of reaction hiding cigarettes will encourage, funnily enough).

One article rang a bell as it was linked to a piece covered here last month, and amusing it was too if you know the back story so, having found an online version, here's an update.

You may remember that the Lib Dem council in Sutton had spent £11m in two years on daft schemes - despite the recession - including a £3m revamp of the town centre. It has been a constant source of amusement for local Tory councillor Paul Scully, who followed up by describing a bit of a safety issue on the launch weekend.

Those that did come witnessed a giant robot, some giant painting and a giant accident when a lady in a motorised scooter drove off the edge of a raised platform on the new Trinity Square.
Oh dear. It would seem that someone at the town hall didn't do their risk assessments properly.

Which is exactly what today's Times article was about. Here's the local paper's account.

Last week the Sutton Guardian reported several of the new log benches on the High Street had been cordoned off because of a dangerous problem with the locking mechanism.

We can now reveal the problem was discovered after an elderly lady fell off one of them.

She said: “I tried to sit down but the whole log shifted away from me. I fell face first on to the floor with a tremendous crash. I was very shocked. Even the secure log seats are a potential danger to old age pensioners like myself. There are no handles to lower or raise yourself and the seats have no backs to them.”
So eager to spend taxpayers' cash were the Lib Dems, that none seemingly took a closer look at what they were actually installing.

Even the most risk-tolerant amongst us could spot that the bench above is an accident waiting to happen (likewise the wooden animals pictured last month) let alone a council which one presumes is riddled with health and safety advisers and risk assessment administrators.

Yet, as the article mentions, a councillor is rolled out to say that there are no problems, it isn't an almighty fuck up, no money has been wasted, and that everyone loves it ... except 100% of locals in the comments who express views to the contrary, of course.

Although this is a bit of a brazen example, we can all point to a council near us which treats the funds entrusted to them by the public in the same cavalier fashion. No-one takes responsibility, council taxpayers won't get any of the wasted cash back, no-one gets fired, and councillors organise a meeting to discuss what to waste money on next.

Meanwhile, some continue to tell us that the public sector is struggling for funds and that government not-quite-cuts will turn the country into an impoverished, anarchic, disease-ridden wasteland.

Don't get out much, do they?

Monday 15 November 2010

The Ever-Changing Message

Shelley Jofre, by my calculations, peaked at a rate of two public health-crafted soundbites per minute in tonight's Panorama.

Obesity crisis, empty calories, and liberal sprinklings of diabetes all got in, along with 'maybes', quite a few 'coulds', and a load of 'something must be dones'. She swallowed the super-sized lot.

It's not available to watch again yet. Still got to go the rounds in every available BBC platform, you see, so I'll have to paraphrase the first jaw-dropper (about 2 minutes in).

[Some large young girl said] It makes it easy for me to be fat because chocolate is sold in double packs. When I buy these I eat it all instead of just one.
The message being, of course, that the less toxic pleasure available, the better. This from a programme talking about how tackling obesity can learn from attacks on tobacco.


Strange, then, that Ireland banned sales of the smaller packs of ten cigarettes - leaving only the double-sized packs of twenty to buy - in 2007, to rapturous applause from ASH Ireland.

The same doctors who are itching to see smaller chocolate bars are also pushing for a measure to increase the same economies of scale for cigarettes in Scotland, and it's been mooted on our side of the border too.

The message from tobacco control, then, would appear to be that if you only make larger packs available, consumption reduces.

I wish these bansturbators would at least try to be consistent occasionally.

If this were truly about health (which it's not), and small really is beautiful, then the best course of action would be to allow sales of single cigarettes surely? Except that they are banned by our oh-so-wise state, of course.

Confused? You will be if you listen to public health tax-scroungers.

I Want Compo!

With Monday's extra-curricular child-training finished, I'm half way through my first glass of wine and have read just three of today's blogroll articles.

At Taking Liberties I learn that a pro-choice advocate is defending ASH, Anna Raccoon is bawling out one of her own correspondents and sticking up for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, whilst Iain Dale is championing Phil Woolas and calling his readers stupid.

I'm complaining to Sainsbo's in the strongest terms tomorrow. Hallucination is a sure sign this bottle has been spiked with something very nasty.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Suffer The Bar Workers ... Not

The 'overwhelming evidence' of, err, harm to non-smokers by passive smoking just keeps piling up. Here's the latest.

Cases and controls did not vary significantly in the total hours exposed to ETS during childhood or adulthood at home (data not shown). Among never smokers in our population, we observed no association between either exposure to ETS at home or at the workplace and lung cancer risk (Table 2). In general, the effect estimates for ETS exposure were similar between the total population and only among never smokers.
So that's another negative association to add to all the others.

If someone can point to any other area of 'science' where around 13% of results proving weakly positive is classed as 'overwhelming evidence', I'd love to see it.

Yet this is the scientific justification for the trampling of property rights and personal freedoms - promoted by those who are paid specifically to do so - on the flimsy basis that tobacco smoke is somehow akin to mustard gas.

The 'debate is over', you see, despite the debate clearly illustrating that the tobacco control loons are wrong. By a very long chalk.

A tiny proportion of studies point to a tiny relative risk (ie, not a real one) in long-term involuntary, unventilated exposure to heavy smoking ... and as a result, short term, voluntary ventilated exposure is prohibited by law under the threat of imprisonment.

All, of course, to save the lives of poor bar workers who have no choice but to be herded into public house gas chambers for slaughter.

Bollocks, isn't it?

Especially if you read the rest of this latest study.

In our examination of the effects of several occupational exposures among never smokers in the greater Toronto area we found several significant potential sources of increased risk including exposure to solvents, paints or thinners, welding equipment and smoke, soot or exhaust (from sources other than tobacco). This information is important as data concerning occupational exposures and lung cancer among never smokers are still lacking in the literature.

Our results support the concept that exposure to exhaust fumes and or soot/smoke (from non-tobacco sources) is a source of carcinogenic exposure.
So painters and decorators, taxi drivers, welders, foundry and shipyard workers, mechanics, and even candlestick makers** are far more at risk of cancer than any bar worker will ever be from passive smoking.

All of which kinda rubbishes the desperate anti-smoker argument that destitute souls are forced by poverty to take on bar work which will kill them if not for the existence of comprehensive smoking bans.

When the same 'health' argument is used to 'save' apprentice welders and metal workers, decorator's mates, traineee mechanics, and newbie cabbies from feeling compelled to take low-paid - potentially life-threatening - work in the face of financial adversity, perhaps their daft hyperbole can be taken seriously.

Interestingly, Dutch bar owners are preparing a case for loss of earnings now their ban has been partly rescinded. The sum mooted is only around £2m. Imagine the huge claim British pub companies will one day sue for when this government-funded, anti-science fraud finally comes crashing down.

We're talking £billions here, all the pubcos need to do is grow themselves a spine. The evidence - and a barrowload of resultant compensatory cash - is staring them in the face. If I were a government official, I'd be rather worried about the straw floorboards I was standing on in the passive smoking debate.

** Not to mention solvent cleaned trumpet-players. Roy Castle, anyone?

Saturday 13 November 2010

ASH Scotland's 11+ Maths And The Futility Of Tobacco Tax Hikes

I haven't yet passed comment on this week's laughable 'study' by ASH Scotland claiming that smoking costs the Scottish economy £1.1bn, for three reasons.

1) Because it's been a busy week.
2) Because others tackled it admirably, and ...
3) Because I've kinda rubbished it once already.

Not following me? OK, let me explain with reference to the handy list of 'costs' broken down by Simon Clark.

- £271m in direct NHS costs of treating smoking-attributable disease
- £692m in productivity losses due to excess absenteeism, smoking breaks and lost output due to premature death
- £60m in lost output to premature deaths due to second-hand smoke in the home
- £34m in cleaning cigarette litter from the streets
- £12m in fires caused by smoking in commercial properties
Now let's look at the dog's dinner collated by Henry Featherstone - ASH's useful idiot at Policy Exchange** - earlier this year.

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.
You may have noticed that the two sets of figures bear something of a relationship. That's right, ASH Scotland's figures are simply Featherstone's poppycock divided by ten. I presumed from this that Scotland's population was probably roughly a tenth of that of the UK, and lo and behold, on googling it, yes it is! (England, Wales and NI total 55m, Scotland 5.2m)

ASH Scotland's litter clearance and NHS costs figures are exactly 10% of Featherstone's nonsense, while productivity losses are 10% of those Featherstone came up with less his £713m attributed to passive smoking (treated differently by ASH), and the passive smoking figure itself 10% less a bit for residual 'passive' exposure outside the home.

The only stat that differed from this golden rule was for fires, perhaps due to domestic ones being omitted. No doubt because such claimed costs are too easily shot down, as Mark Littlewood at the IEA unerringly did in the Spring.

With regard to house fires, buildings insurance companies – just like life insurance companies – are certainly entitled to charge higher premiums to smokers if they wish. The fact that they do not suggests that the risk is too trivial – why should the government step in and over-rule them by collecting extra taxes on cigarette smokers to cover the costs of extra house fires.
In short, ASH Scotland's 'study' was a simple case of thinking of a number based on Featherstone's garbage from March. And it wasn't too difficult to find the (deliberate?) over-stating of costs and childlike mathematics in that when I looked into it at the time.

So, armed with a calculator to divide everything by ten, and a copy of Featherstone's pdf, ASH's report could have been drafted in about an hour. In fact, Featherstone could have brought the copy himself, as he was acknowledged for his help on page 2.

And for back-of-a-nicotine-patch-packet stuff like this, ASH Scotland have been funded by taxpayers to the tune of at least £1.42m in the past two years. Quite a racket, doncha think?

So, what of the resultant demands of this report from ASH Scotland's tax-scrounger-in-chief, Sheila Duffy?

The Ash Scotland chief executive called for cash to be put into services to help smokers quit and also said tobacco duty should be increased.
Past experience should have told 'handout' Duffy that such taxes simply don't yield the increase in receipts she claims her squealing is designed to facilitate.

In fact, the very day after her report was released, concrete proof of its failure as a tax-raising measure was being reported in New York.

Sales of taxed cigarettes have plummeted a staggering 27 percent statewide since the highest cigarette tax in the nation took hold in July, a Post analysis has found.

[experts say] sales have simply shifted to nearby tax havens that allow New Yorkers to stockpile cut-rate smokes at the expense of the state treasury.

Both Pennsylvania and Vermont, which each have significantly lower cigarette taxes, have seen tobacco sales rise since New York's hike, [...] as well as tax-free Indian reservations in western New York and on Long Island.

The increase has brought in only $13.8 million a month, according state sales figures, which means the plan could be as much as $136 million in the red by March 31.

"That's what we warned would happen, and obviously it has come to fruition," said James Calvin, of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

"Every tax increase drives more smokers to that dark, shadowy, unregulated, unlicensed, untaxed side of the street. The whole policy is self-defeating."
How Duffy thinks Scotland is going to be any different, only the sugar plum fairy she obviously discusses economics with every night knows.

So, in summation, what we have here is a shonky study a 10 year old could produce, referencing discredited data from a policy wonk who struggles to hold a calculator the right way up, to bring about a tax rise which won't bring in extra revenue, but will harm scottish business and increase smuggling and cross-border sales.

Congratulations Holyrood and the Lottery, that was £1.42m well spent, wasn't it?

** Well, he used to be at Policy Exchange but now seems to have been replaced - was it something he wrote?