Friday 30 September 2011

Prohibition Is Unnatural - A Review Of The Art Of Suppression

The Art of Suppression is the third book from Chris Snowdon, and the second on the theme of historical prohibitionists following Velvet Glove, Iron Fist which - if you haven't yet read - you really should put on your Christmas list, or something.

Chris's blog tackles many of the same issues as discussed in Puddlecoteville; with generally the same viewpoint; and he writes as eliquantly elloquentley good as what I does on here, like; so you'll not be surprised that I was expecting to enjoy his latest offering. I do try to be objective in these things though, so will give my honest opinion throughout.

I read this in one session while taking a very rare day off due to an agonisingly painful strained back (life doesn't begin at 40 ... the aches and shonky bits do). Its arrival came in very handy as I couldn't move many more muscles than a hand and a couple of fingers without experiencing what felt like a Ford Focus with a suspension problem being driven up and down my lower spine by a 17 year old joy-rider. 246 engaging pages distracted me long enough for the muscles to chillax, visit a health spa, and enjoy a couple of cocktails before getting back to their day job of enabling me to stand without inducing an ear-piercing scream.

Sub-titled "Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800", Chris split his work into six chapters charting prohibitionist tendencies in a number of areas. Beginning with the battle against alcohol in America - much of which had been touched upon already in his first book owing to the intertwining of personnel in the anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco debates of the late 19th and early 20th century - he then moved on with chapters on the move to extend US Prohibition to the rest of the world; the banning of Opium (effectively the starter gun in the 'War on Drugs'); the very silly - and lethal - continued EU ban on snus; before detailing the arguably sillier policies towards 'designer drugs' such as Ecstasy and Mephedrone (aka Meow Meow). The last chapter ties it all up with a bow, and includes 'a modest proposal' which would induce a fit of the vapours in any prohibitionist worth his salt sodium substitute, and therefore is worth the purchase price alone.

By pulling together so many different strands of prohibition - or attempts thereof - into one concise, easy-to-read narrative, Chris manages (to me, anyway) to highlight how very similar the methods used over a century ago are to the ones employed regularly today. And, as he wrote himself just the other day, it's odd that we are able to spot, quite readily, the misdirection, bandwagon-jumping, and quackery from the past, yet seem unable to identify the very same bullshit when it is thrown at us from the point blank range of right now.

Bullying of politicians; the default, and false, demonisation of industry to avoid debate; the level playing field as a tool for authoritarianism; misrepresentation of societal indicators; manipulation of the press; pinning of their particular grouse to a populist (and often racist) scare; the use of taxation as a cover for prohibition; lying (a biggie in the snus debate); science by press release; incubation of irrational moral panic; and the bastardisation of science and education for ideological ends. All have their roots in history. All are still used today. All are still swallowed by an unquestioning public. All lead to outcomes which make little difference - or sometimes increase the danger - to the substance or practice which is being targeted.

For example, after Prohibition in the US, the World League Against Alcoholism was set up to bring the same 'success' to the rest of us, as had been enacted in the USA. Triumphant temperance yanks were despatched to every continent to instruct others how to get the same policies rammed through. We see the same phenomenon in ASH training alcohol bansturbators now, and in Australia's decision to go global with their tobacco control expertise.

Chris highlights other similarities in approach, such as a disgusting callousness endemic in single issue nutters, exhibited in a quote by chief US prohibitionist Wayne Wheeler - who ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohol to stop it being used to make moonshine - on hearing that it had killed, crippled, or blinded 10,000 people.

"If a man wishes to violate the Constitution of the United States, he should be free to commit suicide in his own way"
Rather reminiscent, don't you think, of Jane 'they'll just have to die' Deville-Almond.

And, of course, the 'next logical step', which we are all very much used to by now. The dangerous irresponsibility of those who see appeasement as a valid tactic against these hideous people could not be made clearer by the words of Herman Trent - a prohibitionist from New Jersey - who celebrated all his temperance dreams coming true with this victory speech on the eve of Prohibition.

I regard the anti-liquor crusade as merely the beginning of a much larger movement ... If I had my way I would not only close up the saloons and the race-tracks. I would close all tobacco shops, confectionary stores, delicatessen shops, and other places where gastronomic deviltries are purveyed - all low theatres and bathing beaches.

I would forbid the selling of gambling devices such as playing cards, dice, checkers and chess sets; I would forbid the holding of socialistic, anarchistic, and atheistic meetings; I would abolish the sale of tea and coffee, and I would forbid the making or sale of pastry, pie, cake and such like trash.
Darn! Shame he's dead, else he could have walked into a five-figure salary at the BMA.

Now, if you think this is all doom and gloom for those of us who possess some proper life perspective, you'd be wrong. Chris lays out the history accurately but with a sublime humour. While distinctly depressing at times, the one thread that is unavoidable throughout is that prohibitionists have always experienced eventual failure. Yes, they have reached goals and achieved targets, but their efforts have contributed precisely zero to the human existence.

To name but a few - prohibiting alcohol led to a prolonged crime spree, higher fatalities, and more unsafe practices with the distilling of moonshine; banning opium availability led eventually (with the help of the medical profession) to vastly more dangerous morphine and heroin dependency; attacks on smoking have contributed to higher incidences of obesity; and clamping down on the benign Ecstasy has spawned a plethora of legal highs which governments are scrambling to control, but never will.

This is because prohibitionists completely misunderstand the irresistible force they are up against. Any form of prohibition fails for one simple reason, it is not compatible with the human condition, as Chris touches on in a final chapter laced with dark satire and calm commentary in equal measure.

Prohibition flounders because it is unnatural. Not only does it wage war on plants that grow in the soil, but it denies the human urge for intoxication. Whether we call this urge the 'restless search for bliss' or 'the pursuit of oblivion', it is an innate characteristic of our species which the law cannnot suppress.

On the downside - as I did say I'd be critical - there was a spelling mistake on page 60-something I seem to remember.

Apart from that. Buy it, it's a cracking read.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Hit Me Baby One More Time

The UK is the worst place to live in Europe, with people getting a "raw deal" on quality of life and high cost of living, a study has revealed.

Comparison website uSwitch said that things were getting so bad that one in 10 people in this country were considering emigrating.

France and Spain came out on top of its Quality of Life Index, with the UK bottom of a 10-country league table, covering working hours, VAT, holidays, spending on health and education - and hours of sunshine.

The UK also came bottom of another table based on the cost of energy, petrol, food, alcohol, cigarettes, and life expectancy.
That's very depressing. It's puzzling how the proud British public have allowed their country to get itself into such a mess, so it is.

There's a clue in the poll in the article's sidebar, though.

An example of learned helplessness? Or collective amnesia?

Opium: The Gateway Drug To Milk

Within an hour of mentioning Chris Snowdon's book yesterday, it arrived in my morning post ... which was delivered at lunchtime. It's such an engaging read that I've finished it and will review it here in due course.

One of the topics touched on in the book is that of the War on Drugs in all its forms. The first US shots were fired with state bans on opium between 1875 and 1890. As Chris points out, these were notable as being the first bans on consumption of a drug in American history and, although probably more motivated by a distrust of Chinese immigrants when the whole picture is studied, the official reason was of course public health.

Scroll on 130 odd years and the US legislature's idea of substances the individual should be 'saved' from has gotten a little out of hand.

In response to a request from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, [Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler] issued a clarification of his decision last week regarding his assessment of the constitutionality of food rights.
This refers to a farm which offers a 'cow ownership program' whereby people may choose to join the club, sponsor a cow, and to therefore be allowed - as owners - to drink raw milk. They have made that choice themselves.

The state expressed their disapproval of this a while back, but have now escalated their efforts after some of those who had chosen this milk came down with a bug called Campylobacter.

The state says that you shouldn't be allowed to take such risks, which has led to a quite astonishing ruling by the aforementioned judge.

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;"

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice..."
This isn't a battle that is restricted to Wisconsin, either. The same measures are being applied to other co-operatives which attempt to provide raw milk, to those who wish to consume it, in other states as I have written before.

From the small acorn of banning drugs 'for your own good', legislative powers have enlarged to such an extent that they are now battling your right to ingest any natural substances (just like opium, in fact) unless the state has approved them first. In so doing, the 'land of the free' has now deemed - because this judgment can be cited elsewhere - that its citizens fundamental right to consume foods and drink of their own choice has been spirited away by governmental decree.

I don't fancy McDonald's chances much once this concept is applied to fat, salt and sugar content in earnest, do you?

Now then, about your compulsory five a day ...

Wednesday 28 September 2011

And This Is Normal?

In compiling the Psychosis Catalogue here at Puddlecote HQ, the idea was to exhibit the unintended consequences of pandering to the hideous in society by way of encouraging their deepest prejudices.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that we're not just talking a handful of insane individuals issuing death threats and glorying in gory anti-smoker fantasies here. Their role models are as certifiably mad as the mouth-frothers themselves.

Consider this article from Montana.

Young women are discouraged from walking across campus alone at night. Most of the University of Montana stays well-lit, but dark shadows still creep across the grass and the flashing blue lights of emergency phones can seem far apart.

With the new smoking ban, young women living in the dorms must now walk to the edge of campus for a cigarette.

Chief of Campus Security Gary Taylor said this issue has not been fully addressed yet.

"We're forcing girls into a dangerous situation," he said.

"We've tried so hard to get people to smoke off campus that we never considered these girls,"
Surely, in the modern atmosphere where all risk must be eliminated, a compromise will be swiftly drawn up to rectify this situation.

Nah, course not. They're only smokers, after all.

Linda Green, the director of Health Enhancement for the Curry Health Center, said she hopes students will follow the smoking ban despite the hazards of walking alone across campus.
Here is a real identified risk to the safety of young girls, as opposed to absolutely no health risk whatsoever from passive smoke in the open air - nor will there ever be one since even the most extreme anti-smokers have completely given up trying to prove something so ridiculous - yet dogma prevails to the detriment of those under their care, coupled with a complete disregard for routine health and safety which would be unimaginable in any other circumstances.

Do read that twice, like I did, to take in the full psychotic - either that or deeply retarded - mindset of such grotesque people.

When seen in such a context, it's more easy to understand the gross gratification people like Australia's Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, get from placing superlatively gruesome images (one of the many recently unveiled examples is pictured left) on tobacco packaging.

Well, it can't be anything else, can it? There is no convincing evidence that such warnings will have any effect on reducing smoking, as implicitly admitted by the EU as a result of a report they commissioned back in January. Indeed, one of the very reasons the EU is considering plain packaging at all is that consumers are completely ignoring the graphic warnings. Conversely, there is evidence that such images could have the opposite effect.

While we have righteous, brow-furrowing idiots over here proposing bans on displaying the body beautiful, similarly myopic idealists are happy to unleash quite disgusting images which can be viewed by all and sundry.

It seems almost perverted that 'progressive' politicians can, on the one hand object to mild nudity, while at the same time be overjoyed at thrusting guts, disease and healthist porn in front of an apathetic public?

These people have lost the plot. Totally. In pursuit of their obsessions, they have turned into hideous anti-social animals intent on the uglification of our lives for their own personal gratification.

And there is a very real possibility that they won't be stopping there, either, as pointed out by tobacco control veteran Michael Siegel last week.

For example, could the New York City Health Department not then require that McDonalds display prominent anti-obesity posters at point of purchase of Big Macs, with gross pictures of fat-laden arteries and a message urging consumers not to consume this fat-laden product?

Could the Boston Public Health Commission not require that coffee containers include a graphic picture of a person suffering a cardiac arrhythmia, with a warning discouraging consumers from drinking coffee out of fear of suffering such an arrhythmia?
There's no 'could' about it! Judith Mackay confirmed as much just a few days after Siegel's hypothesis.

Every single measure against alcohol, fatty foods, salt, coffee - and any other public health target you can mention - has drawn on the methods employed by fanatical tobacco controllers.

They don't care if young girls (or anyone else, in fact) are unsafe as a result of their policies, and they don't care that the world will be a more ugly place in their drive to re-create it in a form that they, personally, have decided is ideal.

When, as a society, we're choosing who requires denormalisation and banning from civilised discourse, it's the prohibitionists and their hideous, sick-minded methodology who should be first in line. Not the sane and tolerant global majority.

Yes, Definitely

Timmy says you probably should order this book, and the Devil gives one reason why. I tend to agree.

For me, especially, this sentence in the introduction rings some very familiar bells.

The number of illegal activities in the average Western democracy has long since become incalculable, but it is a rare day that passes without fresh prohibitions being demanded by ardent pressure groups and grandstanding politicians.
It's precisely this phenomenon which I find uniquely abhorrent in the 21st century, and which eventually prompted the setting up of this blog a few years ago. I expect the book is going to tell me that it's not merely a modern anti-social problem, after all.

As such, my copy is on its way. If your interest is similarly piqued, you can order yours here.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Nature Has Nothing On The Power Of Governments

In yesterday's article, the supranational state's intentions were laid out by Dr Judith Mackay. You are to be told what to eat, drink, and not smoke, and you must comply or be hit with crippling "taxation, taxation, taxation".

You may think that this is a trifle unfair. We are, after all, supposed to be living in free societies where personal choice is cherished.

So how is this discrepancy to be tackled? Governments want - demand, in fact - that we shun products which we enjoy for the sake of their arbitrary decisions for our health. However, we - in overwhelming numbers - would prefer not to, and may feel rather empty and miserable if we did.

Fortunately, politicians have an answer for the problem. You see, they are in charge of nature itself now.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of the National Restaurant Association on Monday that Americans need to “adjust” their tastes so that they like the kind of food the government believes they should eat—and “we have to make sure that what we do is create the appropriate transition.”

“You know, as we deal with this issue of reducing sodium and sugar, it sounds simple to do, but you all know better than I do, it’s not as simple as it sounds,” said Vilsack.

“It’s going to take time for people’s taste to adjust and they will adjust over time, but it will take some time,” he said. “So, we have to make sure that what we do is create the appropriate transition."
Is he really saying that our tastes must evolve to fit in with government health policy?

Yes. I think he is.

Doesn't that say a lot about how politicians view their importance in the world as opposed to ours? Governments worldwide have now ceased arranging themselves around how their employers (we, the public) wish to live, but instead expect the exact opposite - for us to change our lifestyle, and even our genetic make-up, to suit what they (our staff) have pronounced.

Anyone else feel they've inadvertently walked through a wardrobe into some strange fucked-up parallel universe?

Monday 26 September 2011

Taxation, Taxation, Taxation ... To Save You From Your Personal Choice

While the rest of us were going about our business just earning a living, watching a film with the missus, or kicking back with some wine or a moody curry, last week a bunch of unelected health finger-waggers were having the mother of expense account parties - with cranberry smoothies thrown in, no doubt - and you paid for it.

I'm talking of the global gathering of health zealots in New York - who have contributed barely a productive dollar to their collective name - to discuss 'Non Communicable Diseases' (NCDs).

Unfamilar with the term? Well, let me explain. NCDs are what we used to call 'shit happens' (or mostly doesn't) when coupled with a life which isn't dictated by an almost religious adherence to purity and health. The New York delegates are committed to making absolutely sure that shit will never happen for other people, whether they wish to take the risk or not.

They plan to do this by ensuring you will never be allowed to take such risks. 'Preventable' means making you change your life, against your will, to fit in with how government say you should live. Going about their business by sticking their nose into yours, basically.

The ever-observant Belinda serves us up with a perfect example of this hideous, interfering mentality in her spot of an interview with high profile delegate, and anti-smoking pioneer, Dr Judith Mackay (left).

Do go have a listen, because in the first half of a 20 minute piece with a simpering stooge, she fully validates everything I have ever written here about the pernicious invasion of our liberties on the back of the tobacco control template.

She used to think the tobacco industry was "uniquely awful", but now wants to have a serious go at ...

"the alcohol industry, the fast food industry, the sugar, the salt industry [...] the arguments that they are using are very similar, the advertising they are using is very similar"
That's because, by her own admission, the techniques employed against those other industries are increasingly becoming very similar.

"With tobacco, we are now legislating so that you don't see packets of tobacco as you come out of the supermarket, in other words they are going to have to be sold below the counter, or they are going to have to be sold in plain packaging. So I think, you know, we need to shift all the other industries in the same direction."
Oh, the dismissal online article commenters receive when suggesting that crisps, coke and burgers might have to be hidden in the future now that the precedent has been set, eh? Yet here it is being advocated with brazen pride.

Judith doesn't have much faith in personal choice. In fact, she doesn't have much faith in anyone who isn't paid out of your taxes.

"You may argue that some of these things are the responsibility of the individual, whether they're thin or fat, or whether they do exercise or not, but I think what was discussed today - and this was, of course, a government meeting - this was essentially about what governments can do. Not so much what the individuals can do, but governments. [...] Governments have got to set the template for healthy behaviour, and this is not a nanny state, this is actually the responsibility of governments to make life conducive, to help people to make those healthy choices."
Nope, no nanny state there. Not a bit of it.

But the truly sinister aspect of this woman is her blithe dismissal of any policy except brutal fiscal bludgeoning of anyone whose life view is different to hers. Using the soundbite of "taxation, taxation, taxation" (yes, she really did say that), the roadmap she is promoting is pure and unequivocal.

"Today at the UN, there was a lot of talk about this, you know, should people be looking at taxing food that has a higher level of salt, or has a higher level of transfats, you know, can we put up the tax on unhealthy food [...] I think the understanding of some of these issues of legislation and taxation is moving very quickly."
Like a drink? A Big Mac? A Snickers? You're all smokers now. Or may as well be, because the New York contingent view every man jack of you as something to be controlled and forced to change. Either that, or you have to pay through the nose for the same products you have always chosen to enjoy. Though I'm sure the fact that a proportion of these extra taxes will find its way into the pockets of those who order global governments to enact such policies has nothing to do with their obsessive zeal. Oh no.

Think you can perhaps reason with these people? Yeah, right. Mackay (who Labour made an OBE, FFS!) has previously gone on record as stating that no-one should be allowed to opt-out, and educating kids doesn't work. Sorry, but you're all going to have to fall into line, or empty your wallet/purse at the state.

The tobacco industry famously once described Mackay as "one of the three most dangerous people in the world".

That's one hell of a crystal ball they have there.

Sunday 25 September 2011

The State And Its Back Seat Driver

I can see I'm going to be referring to this work of art at Counting Cats for quite some time to come.

Here, for example, is a perfect illustration of the scenario painted so vividly by IanB.

Motorway speed limits could be raised to 80mph to shorten journey times and boost the economy, it is reported.
Fantastic! Before the full story emerges, that is.

The current 70mph restriction is rarely enforced, police often turning a blind eye to anyone driving at up to 10mph faster than the limit.

Experts have argued that by having a higher speed limit that is enforced more readily, drivers are more likely to have respect for the rules.
See what they did there? They'll change the rules for us (ain't they kind?), but only if we have respect for their arbitrary - and now very much out-of-date - limits. This, in technical parlance, is known as giving with one hand while inflicting buggery by way of sandpaper glove with the other.

Let's look at the history here. Motorways were designed when the average family saloon suffered from speed rattle once you hit a mile a minute. However, engineers - as they have always been wont to do - built in a margin and designed them for safe travel at 90mph (can't find a link but, trust me, it's my job). And this was back when cars were heavier; not regulated to hysterical standards as they are now; didn't have ABS, power steering, crumple zones, etc etc; when there were no seat belt laws; when drink drive limits were not yet set; when crash barriers were mostly non-existent, let alone computer crash-tested; and when the driving test could be passed after an hour or two of shite tuition in a Morris Minor with Uncle Freddie.

The 70mph limit is as irrelevant to the 21st Century as The Bay City Rollers. As illustrated by its origin.

Q: When was the 70 mph motorway speed limit introduced in Britain?

A: The 70 mph National Speed Limit was introduced as a temporary measure in December 1965. It is often blamed on Barbara Castle, but at the time the Minister of Transport was Tom Fraser.

The reason given was a spate of serious accidents in foggy conditions, but it is often claimed that the MoT had been alarmed by AC Cars testing their latest Cobra on the M1 at speeds up to 180 mph.

It was confirmed as a permanent limit in 1967, by which time Barbara Castle (a non-driver) had become Minister of Transport.There was surprisingly little debate at the time: the fact that the average family car of the time could only just exceed 70 mph perhaps had something to do with this.
This was a rule originally set to tackle either a phenomenon which is much more unlikely now or, as some believe a rare anomaly, but was done in true political fashion to affect just about no-one too unduly.

This has now been turned into a golden rule which will lead to instant death if it is reviewed. So, yet again, the state approach is to assuage those who would give them grief over it. But unlike in the past, it's not us voters who governments are afraid of, it's the 'campaigners' (aka the righteous). Let's quote IanB.

Just as by the 1970s a government couldn’t make any decision without asking the Unions for permission, now no government can make a decision without consulting The Campaigners. And just as nearly everyone accepted the situation as normal back then, so it is that most everyone treats the situation now as normal too.
The Campaigners in question here are no doubt 'experts' like Brake or RoadPeace. And everyone does indeed think this is normal.

The public would now prefer to abrogate their right to have government listening to them, by allowing unelected - and often publicly-funded - quangoes and fake charities to do the dictating instead.

So we have a situation where even if our parliament comes out with a rare good idea - such as raising the speed limit to a realistic level, commensurate with modern living rather than rent-seeking fantasy - they are obliged to temper it with some hideous big boot to get it past the professionally aggrieved.

If this long overdue re-casting of the motorway speed limit is eventually enacted, you can bet your Nat West piggies it will be accompanied by more fines on non-compliance, and a whole raft of initiatives to bring city driving down to a maximum of 20mph.

If not, the nagging, vilification and shrill squealing by special interests whose livelihoods rely on slicing your freedoms up bit by bit, would become unbearable.

This is how government works in the Britain of 2011. They'll give us more rope, but will hang us high with it to avoid suffering the inevitable incessant whinging that would result otherwise.

Friday 23 September 2011

Prohibitionists Have Always Been Absurd

In this concise and subtly amusing 3 minute video, the IEA's Stephen Davies points out some absurd historical reasons for banning drugs. Except that they're not really historical, are they?

A stimulus for debauchery; the big evil suppliers; and cost to the economy are all still the main planks of puritannical ban-seeking in the 21st century on any substance from McDonald's to a bottle of Pimms.

Davies's denouement is "don't give them any more ideas". No need, they haven't finished using the last lot yet!

Thursday 22 September 2011

The Battle Of Stirling And The Start Of The British War On Fizzy Drinks

The shrill, anguished tantrums continue over Stirling University - quite rightly - being ordered to hand over details of their studies under Freedom of Information laws.

So far, we've seen the health lobby call in some favours from their pliant lefty media friends, and a hypocritical and back-firing employment of Facebook by Gerard Hastings.

None of it is getting them anywhere, so their willing stooge in the Scottish Assembly got an e-mail asking for a bit more squealing ... just for them. He didn't disappoint.

*S4M-00893 Richard Simpson: Protecting Research Information Given in Confidence by Children—That the Parliament applauds the work of researchers at the University of Stirling who are studying why teenagers start smoking and how they respond to tobacco marketing; is aware that, over the past decade, this research has engaged up to 6,000 teenagers and young people aged 13 to 24, who understood that their views were given in complete confidence; is concerned therefore at news that tobacco giant Philip Morris International has submitted freedom of information requests seeking all the information given by young people about how they respond to tobacco advertising;
Err, stop right there, old chum.

Firstly, we are all able to see the actual FOI request as it's in the public domain. You - especially since you're a politician - should have researchers to tell you that PMI aren't seeking any information given by young people. The exact wording of the request is detailed on page 3 of this document, and concerns merely how the data was sampled, the method of data collection, how non-responses were treated, and the way it was weighted and analysed.

What's more, the issue of protecting the confidence of children who responded to the study wasn't given as a reason for refusing the request by Stirling University. Reason being that they are very aware the Information Commissioner's response would have been "oh, per-lease!", because they know damn well that all studies they conduct are liable for disclosure under the FOIA. Their issuing inept assurances, that the law doesn't allow them to honour, is no defence.

So, after such an emotive - and truth-challenged - preamble, where is Simpson taking us?

calls for a discussion, as part of any review of Scotland’s Freedom of Information Act, on use of the act to access information given by individuals as part of a research project that has received ethical approval where consent has included strict confidentiality as a condition of individuals providing researchers with information
A change in the law, of course. He wants the FOIA tailored specifically for Stirling University to carry on producing studies to fit whatever agenda it is pursuing at the time, without recourse to scrutiny by anyone but those it chooses.

Not sure he quite understands the definition of transparency, myself.

I know what you're thinking, "Who is this odious control freak, Dick?". Well, I have written about him before. You see, he's the guy who - when faced with evidence that hiding tobacco displays would have no effect on youth smoking prevalence whatsoever, and was likely to lead to the closure of many a corner shop as in other countries - replied with one of the most egregiously anti-democratic quotes you're ever likely to see.

The fact that we do not have all the evidence is not a reason not to have such a ban
Rumours that his ancestors used to pop along to town meetings and assert that "the fact we don't have evidence that she is a witch is not a reason not to burn her", though eminently believable, have yet to be confirmed.

But then, I suppose we should expect it from a representative of the BMA (who want a national ban on alcohol on public transport and a tax on fatties), and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (who call for pensioners to be terrorised) for whom politicking is just a sideline which enables facilitation of banning just about everything he woke up in the morning with the horn for.

Including this doozy which he just threw in for jolly while he was there championing Stirling's cause amongst a plethora of other motions which - to be perfectly honest - reminded me of teen angst-ridden beret-wearers baring their naïve bleeding hearts in a 1980s campus student rag.

*S4M-00892 Richard Simpson: Vive la France—That the Parliament applauds the French Government, which is introducing a tax on sugary drinks that it expects to raise €120 million for the French treasury; [...] and calls on the Scottish Government to consider giving local authorities power to introduce a tax on sugary drinks
For the record, this particular cock is of the Scottish Labour variety.

More Epic Fail From Herr Bartlett

As if being trounced 148 votes to 2 wasn't humiliating enough, life goes from bad to worse for Stony Stratford's chief smokerphobe.

Councillor Paul Bartlett, who proposed a controversial blanket ban on smoking in Stony Stratford's streets, lost a motion of a vote of no confidence in the town council's chairman, Rob Gifford, on Tuesday night.

Cllr Bartlett withdrew the motion with regards to the smoking ban until a later date, as he believes it should be broadcast for those not able to make the meeting.

But this would be in contravention of the council's rules, or standing orders, and so has been initially blocked - something he has accused Cllr Gifford of breaking the standing orders by doing.

So on Tuesday night, he motioned a vote of no confidence in the chairman, which was voted down by eight votes to one.
Another resounding defeat, the one vote in favour presumably being Bartlett himself. That's not all, though.

But at the same meeting, Cllr Richard Skellington motioned a similar vote in Cllr Bartlett, due to 'his behaviour in recent weeks which has placed unreasonable demands on the council's staff, and caused undue stress to council members'.

This motion was passed by eight votes to one.
Oh dear. Mustn't laugh ... well, maybe just a lot.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Gerard Hastings: Utter Clown

Belinda reports that the Stirling University "Oh poor ickle us being forced to comply with the law" Facebook page - which I mentioned last week - has been taken down.

She subtly suggests that it might have something to do with the brutal kicking they were getting in the comments, something which is difficult for control freaks - such as they are - to guard against when someone else is in charge of the code.

It was the brainchild of Stirling's chief bansturbator, Gerard Hastings, as announced by this Kiwi anti-tobacco site.

Professor Gerard Hastings is inviting people to express their views on whether or not they should comply with the request. Visit their Facebook page (or search for ‘Stirling University Freedom of Information Request’) to take part in their poll, leave a comment, or ‘like’ the page.
Well, that explains the appearance of so many upside-down prodnoses in the early exchanges, then.

But hold on, is this the same Gerard Hastings who was pouring forth on how Facebook had been tainted by vested interests in the Graun yesterday?

Gerard Hastings, director of the Institute for Social Marketing and the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at Stirling University, who gave evidence to the health select committee on alcohol marketing to children, said: "I think what unnerves me most is the insidious nature of social networking being used for marketing purposes. Facebook is supposed to be about genuine friendship and real relationships, not commerce."
Genuine friendships like Stirling University and anyone who'll listen, perhaps? Or real relationships such as a publicly-funded Scottish Uni Prof and random people directed to a page via a New Zealand-based pressure group?

Or just a case of marketing bad, 'social' marketing fine and dandy?

Hypocrisy simply doesn't get much more monumental than that.

Onwards And Upwards

Now that Total Politics have finished milking the hits for their blog poll results this year, we've snaffled a couple more jewels for the sidebar.

I was particularly chuffed to see this humble abode make 5th Libertarian Blog, and for my tabloid guff to be placed 6th. Looking at those placed higher in both sections, it's about the very best that could have been expected short of packing in the business, selling the family, and writing full time (hmmm, now there's a thought).

While in the overall poll ...

... a rise on even last year's lofty position to 23rd top blog and 27th top blogger.

It was also very heartening to see other blogs tackling the same themes doing very well. There's obviously quite an appetite for this stuff amongst a growing section of the population who are sick to the back teeth of being ordered around.

I am indebted to those who took the time to vote for this regular slice of prohibitionist gloom and correspondent unstructured ranting, and am as grateful for your support as I am in admiration of your stamina in returning here, day after day, to wade through the clutter.

Here's to the next twelve months where - if current trends continue - there is going to be even more health-obsessed bullcrap to pour scorn on. Please continue to pop in, comment (I read every one), and hold my hand as we manoeuvre our way through the denormalisation process that is over-weening big government.

We'll try not to let the buggers grind us down without a rare old scrap first, eh?

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Nice Work Agent Harris

Not the sharpest knife in the picnic hamper is he, that Evan Harris?

As the Lib Dems attempt to close the stable door on the stampede that is their ever-shrinking support, his idea of smart political manoeuvring is to attack page 3.

Photos of topless women could be banned from newspapers under plans backed by the Liberal Democrat conference.

Former MP Evan Harris held up pictures of Page 3 girls in The Sun yesterday as he issued his call for newspapers and magazines to be subject to the same restrictions as pre-watershed television.

Dr Harris told the conference, in Birmingham: "Tabloid newspapers in particular, which call themselves family newspapers, should not be able to portray women in a sexualised way, in a way that the broadcast media would not be able to do in soap operas and children's television programmes before the watershed."
Unsurprisingly, it hasn't gone down well with the tabloids concerned, who think he is worth a much more prominent berth than the ladies in question ... the masthead.

Oh dear, Harris must have forgotten the power of these newspapers. For much of today, his face would have decorated the front dash of thousands of white vans, while in transport caffs up and down the country, forks would have hit crockery all morning accompanied by gasps of anger as brickies, decorators and roadworkers read of his plans and wondered how best to rip off his head and shout down the hole.

This is the same Harris, remember, who lost his Oxford West and Abingdon seat by just 176 votes in May last year. A narrow margin which could arguably have had something to do with The Sun's page 3 story (with pictorial scrumptiousness) on the morning of the election.

SIXTEEN Page 3 Girls in all their glory represent the very image of freedom in this country.

But if Labour or the Lib Dems win the election, this could be the last time they are allowed to pose together.

MPs Harriet Harman and Lynne Featherstone will move swiftly to change the law and ban Page 3 forever.
As far as many of those readers are concerned, the Lib Dem conference is as relevant to them as the weather on Jupiter, but Harris got their attention all right. They'll know about Clegg, of course, he's the one that Bert - the old geezer who knows a bit about that politics gubbins - says is a right tool. So, obviously the party is full of 'em.

It'll matter not a jot what any of his colleagues say this week in Birmingham now, to readers of two of the most prevalent newspapers bought by working class people, the Lib Dems are a bunch of muppets completely detached from the ordinary lives of people they expect to vote for them.

Great work, Evan, I'm sure other Lib Dem MPs with small majorities will be right chuffed with your shaving a few hundred votes off of their tally next time round.

Now then, about this 'liberal' bit in your party name ...

Sunday 18 September 2011

More Attacks On Free Choice From Unelected Appointees

Where would we be without unelected supranational organisations, eh?

Fresh from the campaign of denormalisation against tobacco, the World Health Organisation is turning up the heat on those who enjoy a drink or several, as is made clear as crystal in this press release from earlier in the week.

“The harmful use of alcohol is a priority public health concern. The evidence supporting this action plan is large, diverse and persuasive,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Countries are well aware of the expensive and devastating damage it causes and our action plan is intended to provide them with technical guidance and support on what can and should be done to reduce this harm.”
CAMRA and their ilk will no doubt continue to be unconcerned at the invasive nature of such creeping health hysteria. They're moderate drinkers, after all, and burying one's head in the sand is a brilliant tactic when other vices are being attacked. Why ruffle feathers, eh? It's the 'others' the WHO are coming after, so best just to nod health fanaticism through by way of appeasement. Appeasement works every time.

Well, not really, no.

Alcohol harms people other than the drinker, whether through violence on the street or in the family, or simply by using up government resources.
Is this a way of describing passive drinking? Yes, I believe it very well may be.

Most alcohol is drunk at binges, or other heavy-drinking occasions, which worsen all risks as they are a cause of all types of intentional and unintentional injuries, and of ischaemic heart disease and sudden death.
Sounds quite reasonable, I suppose, unless you are aware of what these people class as a 'binge'.

The UK Government definition of binge drinking was calculated for the sample, i.e. 6 or more units in a single drinking occasion for women and 8 or more units for men.
That equates to a woman drinking more than two-thirds of a bottle of wine on one night of the week or - and this should set a few alarms ringing - a CAMRA beardy drinking three pints of Young's Winter Warmer on one night of the week. OK, I suppose beer afficionados could stay beneath that level, but that isn't hair shirt enough for the WHO. Oh no.

The amount of alcohol consumed over a lifetime increases the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disorder. There is no safe level of drinking, and in many societies no difference in the risk for men and women.
Effectively, every real ale festival is an event that the WHO would like to see stamped out.

And why not? It's not like there is any measurable benefit to alcohol consumption. Not in the eyes of the WHO, anyway.

The total tangible cost of alcohol (costs of health care, production losses, welfare provision, injuries and violence, research and education) to the European Union, as it existed in 2003, has been estimated at €125 billion, 1.3% of gross domestic product. Actual spending on alcohol-related problems accounts for €66 billion of this, while potential production lost due to absenteeism, unemployment and premature mortality accounts for a further €59 billion. Aside from these tangible costs (actual spending on alcohol-related problems of €66 billion and unrealized potential production of €59 billion), alcohol use results in an intangible cost of between €152 and €764 billion.
I should think that a larger percentage than 1.3% of the European population find alcohol to be a pleasurable item on their shopping list, but there is a noticeable lack of recognition of such a fact. Costs without benefits is how they nailed tobacco; it is the method of choice when turning their guns on alcohol; and will be the same routine when the voter-immune health lobby switch to anything else people enjoy which isn't entirely pure.

So, what joys have we to look forward to from our friendly, local, democratically-unaccountable dictatorship in the next eight - yes, eight - years?

The five main objectives of the [European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020] build on previous European plans, and align with the WHO global strategy on alcohol, to:

•raise awareness of the magnitude and nature of the health, social and economic burdens due to alcohol;

•strengthen and disseminate the knowledge base;

•enhance capacity to manage and treat alcohol-related disorders;

•increase mobilization of resources for concerted action; and

•improve surveillance and advocacy.
Marvellous! And all funded by your taxes without any consent whatsoever.

I've said it before, and they'll doubtless one day carry me off in a pine box with it scratched on the side. Without adopting a united front in objecting to assaults on all lifestyle choices - whether you approve of them yourself or not - there is no chance of ever stopping these arseholes in their tracks.

Sadly, a pervasive I'm-all-right-Jack mentality ensures this will never happen, so we're stuck with them until the intolerant and selfish in our midst begin to wake up to the threat their indolence carries for their own self-determination.

Not mentioning anyone in particular, of course. Or did I?

Friday 16 September 2011

Friday: Laugh At California Day Postponed

We've had a bit of fun at California's expense in the past couple of weeks and, believe me, there'll be more where that came from, without doubt.

But credit where it's due, you've got to applaud when they get something right. This is pretty special from Governor Jerry Brown himself in relation to a bill which would make the wearing of helmets compulsory for kids.

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.


Edmund G. Brown
OK, the fact that the bill got so far as to require veto by the Governor is further proof of the west coast's out-of-control authoritarianism, and Brown is as much a fully signed-up member of the bansturbulary as anyone else in the sun-addled state, but every dog has its day, I suppose.

For once, you did good Guv'nor.


Thursday 15 September 2011

We Want You To Buy E-Cigs - But Not To Use Them

Well, knock me down with a monkey's crutch! Government are advocating e-cigs now?

No, seriously. That's what has been all over the media today, even on the BBC!

Encouraging smokers to switch to smokeless "fake" cigarettes could save tens of thousands of lives, according to a government-backed report.
They're talking about e-cigs. Trust me.

In its first annual report, the BIT said the government should promote the use of "safe" alternatives to cigarettes - products which deliver nicotine in a fine, pure vapour, instead of in harmful smoke which also contains toxins and carcinogens.

However, versions of smoke-free cigarettes are currently illegal in a number of countries, including Canada and Brazil, because their potential side-effects have not been fully investigated.
Or, more to the point, the brains of legislators in said countries haven't been investigated for bits of fluff and rubber band balls which should be cleaned out. Of course, this will never work with the empy-headed morons who run Australia.

The Graun chips in with this additional info.

The Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is looking into approving these devices for use. If it finds in their favour, the government is likely to push for them to be placed prominently in shops alongside tobacco cigarettes, where they would be sold at a cheaper rate.
This, for the uninitiated, is the concept of harm reduction. And it is a thoroughly good thing. How very encouraging then that the UK government is actually talking in serious terms about adopting it as a policy.

Finally, the 'nudge' unit have managed to shake off their long-ingrained authoritarian mentality and offered something of real benefit. The problem, of course, is that simply deciding that bans on e-cigs won't be pursued anymore - which had been mooted before - will be pretty useless on its own.

What would really help, though, is a bit of common sense being applied to where they are allowed to be used.

Wetherspoons have famously banned them because, well, they're fucking idiots. But misunderstanding is rife amongst proper companies with regard to such a new technology. 'Vape' in any private property which ASH have claimed as being public and you'll face a barrage of questions or, more likely, be ejected before you can point out that they are perfectly legal and not covered by the smoking ban. Being shit scared of crippling fines enforced by a pharma-enthralled government will do that to a business.

It ain't getting any easier either. In the US, hysteria has surely peaked with this quite absurd nonsense from Obama's collection of fruit-loops and wheyfaced arm-wavers.

Smoking electronic cigarettes would be explicitly banned on all domestic and international commercial flights in the U.S. under a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Airline passengers have rights, and this new rule would enhance passenger comfort and reduce any confusion surrounding the use of electronic cigarettes in flight," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Wednesday.
Because comfort is obviously enhanced for vapers on long flights by banning a harmless device, and confusion is a perfectly valid reason for imposing legislation.

For years, flight attendants have spoken out against electronic cigarettes, saying passengers have confronted attendants over electronic cigarettes because some air travelers argue that the federal tobacco ban does not apply to electronic cigarettes.
Yep. It must be so difficult to educate flight attendants as to the legality of e-cigs, and for them to have the inconvenience of doing their job and talking to passengers about it.

Much easier to just pass a law to ban something inconsequential instead in the 'Land of the Free'.

The BBC report reports that Oliver Letwin is quite keen on the Behavioural Insights Team being a success.

[He] told the Lords science committee earlier this year that its ideas were not guaranteed to work, but said it was worth trying as the moves suggested were "pretty cost-free".
Perhaps, but in the particular area of smokeless cigarettes e-cigs, it has to be coupled with pointing out to businesses that they're not really helping by passing silly rules.

Although there is no UK law on the matter, British Airways, Thomson and Virgin have all prohibited them, as have many cinemas, restaurants and pubs. If e-cigs can only be vaped where smoking is already allowed, where is the incentive to put down the fags and try the electronic version?

It's a start, Oliver, but you're going to have to do better than that. Try chatting to some of your corporate friends over a nice Chablis sometime and asking them to help you out a bit, eh?

Make e-cigs welcome where users would prefer to be smoking (we'd like to have a chat about that, by the way) and you may well have a chance of success. Making them available everywhere but not usable in any place that tobacco is banned will just 'nudge' people towards carrying on with the tried-and-trusted analogue version. You might be well-advised to consider lifting the ban on snus while you're at it, too.

Think joined-up government, Olly, old chap. Or else your nudge initiative will just end up in the bin labelled "stupid ideas like the cones hotline".

UPDATE: Thanks to westcoast in the comments for the 'nudge' (see what I did there?). There is a campaign to normalise e-cig use in the form of CAM-VIP, click here for more information.

UPDATE 2: As expected - and in double quick time - Patsy offers an opposing view, I'd have been disappointed if she didn't. Do go have a read.

+++ Stony Ban Motion Is Withdrawn +++ UPDATED

With just five days until Stony Stratford Town Council were finally due to discuss Herr Bartlett's outdoor ban proposal ... he's dropped the idea.

Chalk one up for our side, scorer.

Click Here for all previous articles on the Stony ban proposal.

UPDATE: Just to add a little more on this.

I first heard a rumble that Bartlett had ditched his plan yesterday afternoon, but thought it best not to tempt fate until there was confirmation. As always, AMA/MK11 proves to be a top quality local news source, as they did before and during the 'Standoff' in July.

If we had the luxury of a peer into Bartlett's confused and heavily-jumbled mind, I suspect the withdrawal of his motion was more due to his coming down from the high of national publicity than his respect for the residents of Stony Stratford, or their overwhelming rejection of his daft proposal.

It would appear that a video spot on BBC local news, a visit from Rod Liddle, and his 'tired and emotional' rant on TalkSport convinced him that he had somehow been catapulted into the big time. Like some political X-Factor wannabe who stubbornly refuses to notice the thinly-veiled smirks of those judging him.

In the intervening couple of months, he has talked of a 'national debate' in the media - heavily involving him, of course - and even at one point suggested that Tuesday's meeting should be televised for the nation!

If any individual - or organisation - has been encouraging his sad delusions of grandeur, they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Because what has become patently clear from the report stage of the Localism Bill is that Bartlett's idea of the police enforcing his little scheme was pure fantasy. There are no powers afforded to councils for such initiatives, only primary legislation - it would seem - is able to offer the kind of big boot required to make a localised outdoor smoking ban stick.

What his supporters may have wished for, though, was a cause to hang their anti-smoking hat on. Something to point to as 'proof' that the public are ready for bans on smoking in the open air.

As his plan lies in smouldering ruins (it's OK, that smoke doesn't harm anyone), so too does Bartlett's political career if local reports are to be believed. He himself has admitted to being subject to insults, and one has to wonder how long he will be able to hang on to his post on Stony's Town Council - perhaps something which he has previously found to be quite life-enhancing.

For a brief while, he was the cause célèbre of the anti-smoking community, but he'll now be left friendless and without support as they forget Stony Stratford and move on to somewhere else to get their kicks.

I suppose that's politics and he partly has himself to blame for being an utter fool, but a little word to the wise - from professional bansturbators who knew full well he was setting himself up for a massive failure on a futile exercise - should have been offered a long time ago.

Of course, those of us who were targeted by Bartlett's prejudices are pefectly entitled to blow the short-arse a hefty raspberry. C'est la guerre, doncha know.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Will Nationwide Outdoor Smoking Bans Get A Green Light Tonight?

Remember Conservative MP Bob Neill's statement on the Localism Bill less than a month ago?

"Reports suggesting that the Localism Bill will allow the introduction of smoking bans in public places are wide off the mark. There is nothing in this Bill that provides additional powers to prohibit smoking in open spaces or in private cars."
Nothing in the Bill at the time of that quote, no. But then, the final wording hasn't been decided yet, has it?

In fact, according to the BBC's Democracy Live, they'll be discussing exactly that in the Lords tonight. And just look at the amendment Baroness Gardner of Parkes* has submitted to proceedings.

193 Insert the following new Clause—

“Power to make byelaws about smoke-free places

(1) A local authority may make byelaws designating as smoke-free any place or description of place that is not smoke-free under section 2 of the Health Act 2006.

(2) The place, or places falling within the description, need not be enclosed or substantially enclosed.

(3) The byelaws may provide for such places, or places falling within the description, to be smoke-free only—

(a) in specified circumstances,
(b) at specified times,
(c) if specified conditions are satisfied,
(d) in specified areas,
or any combination of those.
(4) Terms used in this section have the same meanings as in the Health Act 2006.”
Baroness Gardner, by the way, is a Tory.

Now, she could just be an irritating old pecksniff - her other amendment enabling councils to force homeowners to decorate at their neighbours' request suggests as much.

I do hope so, because if the Conservative machine has nudged her into dropping this amendment in where most wouldn't notice it, they're slippery two-faced maggots. And if Trixie has been prompted by ASH ... well, it'd be just more proof that they are a political lobby group and shouldn't be classed as a charity, wouldn't it?

As for Bob Neill, perhaps we'll need to have a word or two with him should this amendment get passed.

* Another bloody interfering Aussie!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Stop Accepting Tax Cash, Stirling, And Your Problem Is Solved

Patsy has highlighted an article by Donna Edmunds at The Commentator which is well worth a read.

It concerns Stirling University's illegal refusal to abide by the Information Commissioner's decision - which I quote here - that they should release data to Philip Morris International.

So desperate are Stirling that, as Edmunds has discovered, they have set up a Facebook group specifically to create the illusion of some upsurge of popular revulsion at the very idea. Sadly, of the first five entries, four are paid to comment since they work in public health, and only one is not from Australia. From that unpromising start, it just goes downhill once the call to action alert drags in vested public sector interests from across the net to spout how outrageous it is that a University should be made to observe the law.

Some of the comments are hilarious:

Elaine Rodger - I was surprised and appalled in equal measure to know that it was even possible to try to use the FOI legislation in this way.
Surprised and appalled that Freedom of Information legislation should make information - paid for by taxes that we, and companies, are forced to hand over - available to those who fund it, so she is. A law doing exactly what it says on the tin? How ridiculous!

Carole Furlong - They shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the data. if they want to do thier (sic) own research on the best way to get young people addicted to a lethal product, they should fund it themselves.
Great idea Carole, love, except that your piercing logic has been somewhat destroyed by ... Stirling University.

[Professor Gerard Hastings, of the uni's Institute for Social Marketing] said: "If Philip Morris ran focus groups asking 14-year-olds what they thought about smoking, there'd be uproar.
Hmm, we'll take that as a non-starter then.

Vicki Snelgrove - [...] if there was an agreement not to share data beyond the study then surely the uni is bound over to their participants...
This is the most wibblingly arrogant of the lot. A University, according to Vicki, is bound more by the people it chooses to canvass than it is by the law of the land. Despite the fact that - in accepting funding - the University would have been well aware of their obligations to satisfy the terms of the FOIA 2000. In fact, it would have been stated categorically in the document they signed before being given the cash. It's a standard clause when dealing with any public sector organisation.

If they want to offer promises to their subjects, perhaps they should have refused the funding in the first place. They quite simply - under the law - can't have both.

Just a quick aside, but doesn't this hint at the increasing sense of independence from accountability that all public health bodies now seem to operate by?

ASH (at least, this time, the English version) slung their oar in too.

Martin Dockrell - Our Government is supposed to be protecting health policy from the tobacco industry lobby machine. Handing over this information is putting our universtities (Freudian sic?) at the service of Britain's biggest killer.
No, Martin. It puts our Universities at the service of those who pay for them. Remember us taxpayers? You know, the poor saps who pay your mortgage - and, indeed, that comment you just wrote on our time - you hideous tax-sponging creep?

Sam Warren - assurances were made to the participants in this study on how their data would be used and this data should NOT be shared.
As above. Such assurances were arrogant, misguided, and illegal.

Claire Valentin - They should read the published research like everybody else. This FOI request clearly has wider implications for anyone doing research, in a number of respects.
Yes it does, Claire. It means that if you want to keep research hidden, pay for it your bloody self.

Becky Freeman - Absolutely not. Sharing confidential research data with an industry that will surely exploit it for its own financial gain cannot be permitted. How could the public ever trust public health researchers again?
You're making a wild assumption that any of us trust you as far as we could throw you, Becky. Of course, I can't throw you very far because you live in Australia, so what the fuck has it to do with you?

Robert West - It takes courage and determination to stand up to this kind of bullying.
Join the club, Robert West of CRUK. It is government legislation which is the 'bully' here. You don't seem too concerned when you use such a thing to your own advantage, do you?

But the best of the lot comes from Australia's undisputed Champion of anti-smoker hatred..

Simon Chapman - The day Stirling should share its data, is the day that the tobacco industry shares its data on how much it now earns from underage smoking and its forward projections on what today's and future generations of child smokers will mean to its bottom line.
I had so much to say about why Philip Morris have no obligation to reveal data in the same way as Stirling University definitely do. Fortunately, Tim Worstall has already articulated it wonderfully on the tangential subject of think tank funding.

I’m entirely happy with entirely voluntary disclosure on such matters: what individuals do with their money is up to them, just as what brand or style of bread you buy is private to you. What the money which has been raised from us at gunpoint gets spent on is rightly a matter of public record.

That Friends of the Earth Europe gets more than 50% of its funding from the EU, funding supplied so that it can lobby the EU, is important information. That Alcohol Concern gains some 90% (these numbers are from memory, do check them at Fake Charities if you wish) of its money from government, that the salt puritans, the smoking bansturbators, are similarly funded is equally important.

And I’ll even make a deal. When Deborah Arnott’s screen and radio appearances, public utterances, are accompanied by a “this wanker is paid for out of your taxes” warning then I’ll make sure that my income, and thus my funding, is similarly disclosed. Until then you’re all cordially invited to fornicate and travel.
And this is the problem Stirling face. Once they accepted tax-funded cash, they were legally obliged to abide by The Freedom of Information Act and, consequentially, the Information Commissioner's decisions. They knew this when they took the money, they will have signed a document to register acceptance of that fact. Stirling registered their objections to the ICO and they were roundly rejected. End of. Game over.

Philip Morris, however, accept only money freely given to them by consumers, so are under no such obligation ... however much Chapman would like to fantasise about it. The difference could not be more stark.

Here's my advice to Stirling University, in Chapman's parlance for easy comprehension.

The day Stirling should be able to hide its data, is the day that they refuse all funding from the taxpayer for all of their activities. That means no more research grants; no more government subsidies; no more tax-funded salaries; nothing. Then, and only then, can they withhold information which is covered by the law.

To quote Martin Dockrell's ASH after the jailing of Nick Hogan.

A spokesman for anti-smoking lobby group ASH said: “The smoking legislation is very clear."
As is Freedom of Information legislation. Rules is rules. Go private and leave our taxes alone, or cough up the info and stop bleating.

Your choice.

Monday 12 September 2011

Spongebob Squarepants: Shameless Health Risk

The Sun carried an article today on the dangers of Spongebob Squarepants. Yes, you read that correctly, the dangers of ... this guy.

I suspect the currant bun just wanted to raise a few hackles amongst its readers - and perhaps a derisory expletive or two - at the expense of people who would suggest such a thing. They are lagging behind the Daily Mail in that respect nowadays, after all.

Here's their take.


SPONGEBOB SquarePants can turn kids into dunces, say researchers.

Just nine minutes of watching the cartoon was found to impair the ability of four-year-olds to learn.

Their behaviour was also worse compared to children the same age who spent the time watching a gentler and more realistic programme — or simply reading.

Professor Angeline Lillard, who led the research, said: "Parents should know that children who have just watched SpongeBob SquarePants, or shows like it, might become compromised in their ability to learn and behave with self-control."
It matters not that the study - such as it calls itself - tested just 60 kids, and that they were all 4 years old when Spongebob Squarepants is intended for a higher age group. Some parents, somewhere, are no doubt already making a mental note to ban their offspring from watching the little yella fella in case their bubble-wrapped preciouses start leaking brain juice through their ears.

And this is the problem, because this nonsense is already flying around the globe at an alarming rate. All of which is quite handy for dragging out the old-fashioned kiddie TV police in the form of people like Dimitri Christakis, who is the type of over-protective hysteric we thought we'd seen the back of.

You know, the kind who predicted world chaos on the back of Tom and Jerry cartoons?

Given the enormous influence that electronic media in all of their forms exerts on the lives of children, it is astonishing how little parents, researchers, and policymakers have been spurred to action.

Most of what has been done to date to understand, curtail, or regulate the negative effects of media on children can be viewed as failure. Every single children's G-rated movie released in US theaters from 1937 to 1999 contained at least 1 act of violence.
I remember that drum being banged when even I was a kid, and some are still refusing to put down the sticks despite no-one taking them seriously, especially since they were gloriously lampooned on The Simpsons.

But where there is a newly-terrorised public willing to believe any old health scare, there's a new angle to help the professionally-deranged tumble out of their box.

Christakis - in a commentary on Lillard's piss poor study - has imagined a new way to present his little crusade. Now, I wonder where he got this idea from?

"Media is a public health issue, and harm reduction approaches are what is needed. Steering children and adolescents toward safe or even health promoting media activities must be a goal, and actionable strategies for reaching that goal must be devised."
Bingo! The new cult of all-encompassing public health - from smoking bans to reading Facebook - delivers once again.

From now on, it's Blue Peter, Newsround, or nothing for the little 'uns, I'm afraid. Anything else and you're a shite parent, don't you see? Child abuser, even.

It's quite amazing what one can achieve with determination, some junk science, and a gullible public wedded to the idea of total elimination of even the most risible of risks. Isn't it?

Sunday 11 September 2011

There Goes The Neighbourhood

Sounds nasty.

A dazed inventor was found outside his home in blackened underpants after his attempt at making vodka went badly wrong - and he blew up his home.

Lawrence Toms, 43, was tinkering with his vodka distillation equipment in his bedroom when neighbours suddenly heard a massive blast, which blew out the windows and the roof of his home.

South Wales Police said they believe that the explosion was caused by home-made alcohol. "The windows were blown out of the property and it was lucky no one in the street was injured."
It's becoming quite common, isn't it?

Five men have been killed and another seriously injured in a huge explosion at a Boston industrial estate amid claims it was sparked by an illegal vodka making operation.

Authorities were amazed that no more residents were killed during the "rapid explosion".
D'ya think it might have something to do with the UK imposing amongst the highest alcohol duty rates in the EU?

Imagine the carnage, then, if Baroness Murphy were to get her way.

The price of beer and cider has fallen by about 30 per cent in real terms since 1990, while wine and spirits have fallen by about 20 per cent.

Put the price of alcohol up to where it was twenty years ago and the problem would more or less be solved.
Or, worse still, bansturbator-in-Chief Kevin Barron?

We believe that alcohol duty should continue to rise year on year, but unlike in recent years, duty increases should predominantly be on stronger alcohol drinks, notably spirits.

[...] if the duty on a bottle of spirits had increased since the early 1980s at the same rate as earnings, it would now be £62. If the rate had increased in line with the retail prices index and not with average male earnings, the duty on a bottle of spirits would now be £38.60.
With rates that high, we wouldn't need fireworks night. Houses and flats in some areas would be going up as regularly as party poppers at an office Christmas party.


Saturday 10 September 2011

Earning, Not Burning, In Gibraltar

This is quite a coincidence.

While I was describing how UKBA dispose of seized tobacco, that is by pumping secondhand smoke - which isn't dangerous anymore when mixed with water, cellophane and cardboard, apparently - around Slough, the Gibraltar legislature were discussing the self same thing.

The Gib Chronicle explains in full, the day after my article was published.

New legislation approved unanimously by Parliament yesterday will allow the Gibraltar Government to resell stocks of cigarettes seized from smugglers.

Until yesterday, confiscated cigarettes were destroyed and a significant source of potential revenue for the public purse went, quite literally, up in smoke.

The amendment to the Tobacco Act 1997, passed yesterday, came after Chief Minister Peter Caruana learnt that there was “a significant stock” of tobacco products about to be destroyed.

Mr Caruana said there was no reason to destroy “perfectly valuable” tobacco and that reselling these stocks could generate substantial revenue for the public purse.

“Tobacco itself is not per se an illegal commodity,” Mr Caruana said, “I believe this is a huge destruction of value.”.

Only people with a wholesale tobacco licence will be able to buy at the auctions, and only tobacco in good condition will be sold.

The proceeds of the auctions will go into the main government account and will represent “...a significant source of revenue that can be ploughed back into law enforcement or anything else,” the Chief Minister said.
Indeed it can. And, of course, the wholesalers will be obliged to add duty to their government-purchased tobacco before resale (if it hasn't been added at auction). As such, the end consumer will have paid 100% of the cost of their tabs to the state.

That, my friends, is what I call a right royal earner.

Fortunately, governments are immune to the natural human stimuli they ascribe - without exception - to the rest of us, so won't be remotely tempted to pinch more tobacco at the borders. Oh no. Even though doing so can now help them to further increase their budgets.

I mean, whoever heard of a conniving politician, eh?