Friday, February 29, 2008 

Political correctness goes back to school.

You can always rely on the Sun to pick out the most important parts of the various documents it chooses to report on. "Kid flag ban by PC teachers" it screams, referring to a research document published by the government on Childhood Wellbeing.

It took me a while to track down the actual report, but I did finally find it on the dedicated research website for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (PDF). This is a 78 page document, presumably commissioned in the aftermath of the damning UNICEF report which found childhood wellbeing in the UK as the worst in Europe. The section where it discusses political correctness is on the key issues undermining a good/content childhood, and is the sixth out of eight entries. The entirety of the research is presented as is; exactly what the parents they interviewed said is provided, and it isn't questioned or investigated further to actually find whether it's true or not.

Hence the first half of the political correctness section is mainly on complaints that the latest group of immigrants are getting the most help, a familiar complaint and one that doesn't really have much evidence to support it. It also explains that claims of racism come from all sides, whether white or from established ethnic minority communities. They also seem united though in denouncing the latest to arrive, this being one of the choice quotes the document provides:

“If people from [a country cited] bring their fights here we’ve no hope. There was that story in the papers about someone from [one European country] stabbing someone from ... I think it was [another European country] (Mothers, 35-45, eldest child in KS 3/4, C2D(E), Worcester Pk)

Not that all of them do rely on the tabloids for their views, as the opening says that most who talked to them opened their conversations with the statement, "I don't want to sound like the front page of the Daily Mail but...". This is the part about the banning of the flag, which the Sun does quote reasonably accurately:

Many of the groups, both upmarket and downmarket, those who contained only white English, and those who contained BMEs, felt that it was not longer permitted to be proud to be English. There were many stories told of how their children had been sent home for wearing clothing containing the Cross of St George, or being reprimanded for having a English flag on their van. The general perception amongst respondents (parents and carers in particular) was that it was no longer acceptable to be proud to be English.

“[His employer] had a go at me and made me take it in, during the World Cup, I ask you. Every single other nation was proud to be flying their flag, and they made us take ours down. What does that tell you about England nowadays?” (Father, Family Depth, eldest child in KS3, Ripley)

It doesn't then suggest that the flag being "banned" had anything to do with political correctness on the part of teachers. Indeed, it's probably quite possible that those that were sent home for wearing the flag were because they were breaching the school's code on uniform, however unfair or stupid that seems when they're only supporting their country and national football competitions happen every 2 years. The quote the report uses isn't even about a school reprimanding someone for flying a flag from his van; it was his employer who objected, meaning the Sun's claim that schools were discipling children simply for being dropped off in vehicles flying the flag is utter nonsense.

As is often the case, the more interesting parts of the document are the ones that aren't instant hackle-raisers. The last part of the "political correctness" section deals with the complaints of parents whose children, for various reasons, had failed to excel in the academic subjects, but who felt their children were being held back because sports days had been reduced to non-competitive events and that drama, dance and music classes were ruined because everyone, regardless of ability, had to be involved. Not of all this is either down to political correctness or the familiar complaints of health 'n' safety, but this is of far more importance than whether your child can wear the England flag or not during the World Cup. This is children's lives, and their future, and it's ignored by a sensationalist press more interested in pressing the reactionary buttons. Similarly, the next section, neatly headlined 'It's our culture, we don't like children' is damning of how children are stigmatised and made to feel like second class citizens simply for existing, with families being dismissed also. Presumably the Sun didn't feel the need to mention this because of its constant demonisation of all youth as either yobs or potential yobs.

Fact is, these reports are used by all sides to confirm their own prejudices. Our children are being ruled over by politically correct lunatics! You can't be proud to be English any more! Our kids are the most materialistic ever! And so on. They can only be ever viewed as a snapshot, a simulacrum, and acted upon accordingly, but that makes no difference to the press with their file to copy and the editor screaming down their neck. It's getting the proper perspective that as ever remains so difficult.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008 

The BBFC murders Murder Set Pieces.

The British Board of Film Classification, after having remarkably reformed itself over the last few years from its bad old days under James Ferman, appears to have hit a wall constructed by the very same forces that initially sparked the moral panic over video nasties. First the video game Manhunt 2 was banned, ostensibly because of its "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone" as well as its "casual sadism", but certainly not without a campaign in the press and allegations that the first Manhunt had prompted a murder, something denied by both the judge and the police, also being taken into consideration.

Now in the aftermath of a new furore over the BBFC giving an 18 certificate to the former video nasty SS Experiment Camp, something which the media only took 18 months to notice, as well as a private members bill being introduced by Tory MP Julian Brazier, a bill that would in effect introduce state censorship, the BBFC have banned the first major film ("documentaries" such as Bumfights and Traces of Death, DVD extras and BSDM porn have been banned more recently) since Women in Cellblock 9 was rejected back in 2004.

Murder Set Pieces, directed by Nick Palumbo and submitted to the BBFC by TLA Releasing is a fairly a-typical slasher cum serial-killer flick, made independently for around $2,000,000, and features a number of well-known horror veterans, including Tony Todd and Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre). While I haven't seen it, and most of the reviews of the film have been fairly critical, it seems little different from other films that have been passed uncut by the BBFC. Its main tone appears to be that it's unrelenting and highly misogynistic, with the major point of controversy that it features the killer pondering whether to murder a small child, who then releases her, with her going over and hugging her already dead mother.

Even so, it doesn't seem to have been the involvement of children in the film that so challenged the BBFC, but rather the level of the violence and what the depiction of it "portrays or encourages", something that since its 2000 consultation which established comprehensively that adults didn't want to be told what to watch at 18 outside of the concerns about sexual violence has previously not resulted in cuts, let alone a rejection.


The BBFC's long-winded justification is convoluted, difficult to understand and downright unclear:
MURDER SET PIECES is a US made feature focussing on the activities of a psychopathic sexual serial killer, who, throughout the film, is seen raping, torturing and murdering his victims. There is a clear focus on sex or sexual behaviour accompanied by non-consensual pain, injury and humiliation. Young children are among those terrorised and killed.

In making a decision as to whether a video work is suitable for classification, the Board applies the criteria set out in its current Classification Guidelines, published in 2005. These are the result of an extensive process of public consultation and research and reflect the balance of media effects research, the requirements of UK law and the attitudes of the UK public. The Board’s Guidelines clearly set out the Board’s serious concerns about the portrayal of violence, most especially when the violence is sexual or sexualised, but also when depictions portray or encourage: callousness towards victims, aggressive attitudes, or taking pleasure in pain or humiliation.

The Guidelines for the ‘18’ category requested for this video work state that such concerns 'will not normally override the wish that adults should be free to choose their own entertainment' but make clear that exceptions to this general rule may be made in certain areas, including 'where material or treatment appears to the Board to risk harm to individuals or, through their behaviour, to society – eg any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts… [and that the Board] may intervene with portrayals of sexual violence which might, eg eroticise or endorse sexual assault'. Under the heading of 'Rejects', the Guidelines identify as of particular concern 'graphic rape or torture', 'portrayals of children in a sexualised or abusive context' and 'sex accompanied by non-consensual pain, injury or humiliation'.

The Board’s position that scenes of violence with the potential to trigger sexual arousal may encourage a harmful association between violence and sexual gratification is reflected in research and consistent with public opinion. It is the Board’s carefully considered view that to issue a certificate to MURDER-SET-PIECES, even if statutorily confined to adults, would involve risk of harm within the terms of the Video Recordings Act 1984, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, and would be unacceptable to the public.

The Board considered whether the issue could be dealt with through cuts. However, given the unacceptable content features throughout, and that what remains is essentially preparatory and set-up material for the unacceptable scenes, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.

They then therefore seem to be hedging their bets, mentioning everything against the guidelines and not making obvious what it is that so worried them about the film. Is it the sexual violence? Is it the overall tone? Is it worry over the callousness? Or is it violence that the BBFC thinks has the potential to trigger sexual arousal and therefore "harm"? Maybe it's all four; maybe it's none of the above and they're deeply worried about adding fuel to the fire of Brazier's bill, not to mention press reaction to the latest depraved and corrupt atrocity on DVD.
The BBFC's press release is little clearer; it emphasises the "sexual violence" and also says that due to the involvement of children states that if appealed the BBFC would have to consider whether it potentially breaches the Protection of Children Act, although seeing as the child appearing in the film's parents were in the room when it was filmed that seems doubtful.

The reason why this is so worrying is that it's the first film in a long while to be made recently to be banned, especially when you consider that it's a long while since any such "mainstream" film made recently was even cut; the last was
Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer, cut for sexual violence back in 2002. Murder Set Pieces, despite its independent origins, has been picked up for distribution in the United States by Lions Gate Films, although it was heavily cut by the MPAA to avoid a NC-17 rating. The majority of films outside of pornography now cut by the BBFC are generally 70s/80s exploitation and due to their sexual violence content.

It's also dubious because of how many other brutal and unrelenting films have been passed uncut recently: the Saw series for example after the original are little more than one long connected collection of gore sequences, with the deaths apparently worked out before the plot is; the recent remake of Halloween, a incredibly poor film, seriously ups the ante in terms of brutality and in its callous tone, while the
previous work by its director almost made heroes out of its murderers; other serial-killer flicks such as Henry and The Last Horror Movie work on similar terms to Murder Set Pieces, are far better films and have been passed uncut; and then there's even the latest addition to the Rambo series, which packs 269 kills into 90 minutes, working out at 2.59 people dying for every minute of screen time, all without the BBFC so much as batting an eyelid. Perhaps it's because they're worried Sly himself might storm into their offices.

I might of course be entirely wrong about the Brazier plan having any influence; the howls of outrage over SS Experiment Camp might have completely and rightly ignored; and the BBFC might not have taken into consideration the recent outcry about the series of horrifically violent murders by Wright, Dixie and Bellfield, as Murder Set Pieces was always likely to have trouble, and probably end up at least being cut. As with Manhunt 2 however, it increasingly appears that the BBFC is taking the cries of a few in the gutter press and in the unreconstructed wing of the Tory party (as well as the new head of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, who Brazier's bill would put in control of vetting the appointments of the BBFC's board) more seriously than it actually ever did. Even James Ferman, when attacked viciously in the Mail after he passed
Crash uncut, never gave in or directly pandered to newspaper opinion. He was vigorously independent to the extent that films he personally disliked remained banned for decades, but at least he could be held directly accountable for that, rather than the organisation as a whole or outside influences being responsible.

In an ideal world, the BBFC would lose its few remaining powers of censorship and instead act merely as a classifying body, but due to the history of this country that's about as likely as Jon Gaunt losing weight. The Brazier bill, which even though it doesn't have a chance of becoming law, still needs to be resisted with every breath. We've made great progress from the dark old days when something like 20% of 18 rated films were being cut, and for that to be brought to an end exactly when the internet is close to making organisations like the BBFC obsolete is far more obscene than anything contained in Murder Set Pieces. Adults simply have the right to chose what they watch - end of. The BBFC needs to increasingly recognise that is the mood of the public, not yet more futile acts of cutting and banning in order to "protect" either the vulnerable or children.

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Scum-watch: Maddieballs returns and so do the immigrants eating our swans.

Just when you think it's safe to look at a tabloid newspaper again, Maddieballs emerges from out of nowhere! This might well be the most pointless, potentially slanderous article to have appeared in the Scum for some time:

A TAXI driver claimed yesterday that Madeleine McCann was in his cab the night she vanished — with suspect Robert Murat.

Antonio Cardoso, 67, insisted he took the little girl and four adults on a short journey to a hotel where they all switched to a Jeep with foreign plates.

And he said of Murat, who was named by Portuguese police as the first suspect or “arguido” in the case: “I later recognised him on television. I am sure it was him."

Damning, isn't it? There's just one problem with this story:

Last night Maddie’s parents Kate and Gerry, both 39, were in shock over Cardoso’s claims but rejected them as “entirely wrong” because of timing inconsistencies.

Yep, that's right, it's complete and utter bullshit, as the taxi driver claims he had Murat and Madeleine in his cab before Madeleine had actually gone missing. For perhaps any other journalist or newspaper, this would have meant that there wasn't a story, that the guy is a crank and that it should never have gone before the first draft stage. Not in the Sun though, where the story continues for another 350 words, giving the space to the driver's story even though it's completely and utterly wrong. This story was featured on the front page - while Shannon Matthews is still missing and getting hardly any of the same attention still given to Madeleine.

Similar journalistic skill was involved in the headlining of the report of trial of Thomas Hughes for the murder of Krystal Hart. Hart just happened to be blonde, 22 and as the Scum headline says, "pretty". Presumably if she'd instead been 55 and slightly wrinkled the paper would have put that in the headline and also given it the same amount of space.

Meanwhile, the Sun has resurrected the most hoary of old tales, that of asylum seekers and immigrants cooking and eating our swans. While there have been a couple of cases that have reached court, the Sun on this occasion actually seems to have acquired something approaching "evidence" that swans have been eaten, or at least killed; the story features photographs of what certainly looks like a swan carcass, although this doesn't tally with the "piles of swan carcasses" the article describes, or "pile of swan wings piled" it also mentions. As both Enemies of Reason and 5cc point out, there's no evidence, despite the fact that there were individuals apparently camped out there that it was the work of immigrants, unless you're willing to jump straight to conclusions. The Sun leader column notably doesn't say it's the work of immigrants, merely "vagrants". It does however say this:

The Sun first revealed in 2003 how the graceful birds were being butchered and barbecued by migrants living rough.

This would presumably be the same story which the Sun had to clarify after an investigation showed that large parts of the story, if not all of it, were completely bogus.

Elsewhere, David Wilson, presumably the same David Wilson who wrote this tosh in the Grauniad last weekend on the murders in Ipswich, writes a suitably vague and lacking in any real insight whatsoever piece for the Sun today on Mark Dixie, Steve Wright and Levi Bellfield. Among his thoughts are:

The seemingly “normal” facts about their lives — that they could drive and hold down a job — are exactly the things that helped them to become successful killers.

The three men were all able to maintain sexual relationships with women and have children.

However, all three had multiple relationships.

Part of their anger at women seems to have come from the fact these came to an end.

...

You will often find that there is evidence of a minor sexual offence in the personal histories of serial killers.


If you wanted to be really cliched you could also say that they might have tortured or killed animals in their childhood, but no one seems to have looked that far back as yet.

Oh, and finally, there's yet another fake photograph of a UFO which various "experts" jizz over.

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Soldier goes to war shock caption competition!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008 

How to lose the war on drugs.

On one level, you have to admire the ambition of New Labour. Not even communist China or Stalinist Russia attempted 10-year-plans; they were rank amateurs compared to the bureaucrats and civil servants behind the scenes given the horrendous task of drawing up 10-year-plans on such various areas of government as transport, children or today's latest on drugs.

Perhaps even Trotsky, the proponent of permanent revolution, would have balked at the prospect of a never-ending war, especially one on such a widely defined and ill-drawn category of substances as drugs. New Labour though, partly down to its now close to 11 years in power, has discovered the optimum way to ensure that you can continue with such a preposterous, ignorant and populist set of policies. Despite Blair's leaving of the scene, Brown and his press team have stolen his clothes superbly well. Blair learned that the best way to brief the press on what your latest policy wheeze is is to release the most draconian, ill-thought out and unworkable part of the plan, which will naturally appeal to the headbangers and suitably piss off the remaining soft rump of the Labour left, and then more quietly let the actual document itself, not usually as controversial and therefore not newsworthy, out a couple days of later.

Hence we've had the morning newspapers screaming at us of how those on benefits who refuse to attend treatment for their drug problems will have their state handouts taken away. This is nonsensical on a couple of levels: firstly, the average weekly payout to the individual on benefits will nowhere near cover the drug habit they likely have if they're addicted, meaning the government's claim that the taxpayer is "sustaining their drug habit" is ridiculous; secondly, it will only make it more likely that those that have no intention of giving up their habit (albeit these are a small minority) will simply lie to those in charge of the programme about their progress. The government's drug treatment and testing orders failed in a similar way exactly because of the level of compulsion involved in them, as well as how they were themselves built on a foundation of falsehood. You have to want to give up your habit; compulsion simply doesn't work, regardless of the political difficulties this entails. The other get tough measure, that suspected drug dealers will have their "bling" confiscated not when they're found guilty but when they're first arrested is just yet another astonishing step in the march towards the end of the presumption of being innocent until found guilty, bound to lead to a myriad of injustices. Jacqui Smith, who by the day seems to be doing her best to rival her three predecessors in sheer knuckle-headedness and illiberality, says that this is all right because if they're found "completely innocent" their property will be given back. What about if they're found innocent of dealing but do have some drugs for personal use then Jacqui? Will they still have their expensive consumer goods stolen by the police?

Much like the war on terror, the war on drugs is a misnomer built on a multitude of assumptions, prejudices and simple refusal to see something approaching sense. Just like you can't defeat al-Qaida and the takfirist jihadists through force alone, with all the signs being that it in fact only makes indoctrination and radicalisation more widespread and even harder to uproot, you also can't defeat drugs through prohibition. Indeed, one of the marvels of this latest 10-year-plan is that we've heard so very little of whether the previous one was a success or not. This might possibly be because rather than reducing the availability of illicit drugs at street level, one of the government's key objectives last time round, all the evidence suggests that the prevalence of Class A drug use has actually increased, especially among under 25s (PDF from Transform which contains much of the source material of this post and is also available on their excellent blog). Reported use of cocaine among 16 to 24-year-olds has gone from 3.1% in 1997 to 6.0% in 2006/07, while use of crack has gone up by 0.1% over the same period to 0.4%. Heroin use rose up until 2001, and has since stabilised, at the highest level across Europe, while Class A drug use by "vulnerable" young people increased by over 3.4% in the space of just one year.

The other suitably stupid way in which the government aims to control drug use is by supply side intervention, i.e. seizing drugs and shutting down the gangs that distribute them, and therefore raising the price as well making them less readily available, which is meant to make them less likely to be used. Quite apart from the fact that if drugs became scarcer and more expensive it would mean that users who fund their addiction through crime would became more desperate and have to commit more offences/robberies/burglaries/thefts in order to pay from them, the price of heroin and cocaine has actually almost halved over the last ten years, as the government itself admitted in an answer to a parliamentary question last week. If you wanted to really drive the skewer in, you could quite reasonably argue that the comprehensive failure in Afghanistan to either eradicate the poppy crop, persuade farmers to grow other crops or to buy it and use it for much needed painkillers is also attributable to government policy in the Middle East, considering the Taliban almost completely eradicated the crop to 2000. It now depends on it to fund the battle against coalition forces and the Afghan government.

The government's entire sheet of claims of success is questionable. It claims that "drug-related acquisitive crime" has fell by 20% over the last five years but the government doesn't even have any statistics on drug-related crime rather than acquisitive crime, as the minister Vernon Coaker admitted that crimes such as robberies are only recorded as robberies, not as a result of drugs or influenced by them! New Labour does have major form in this area.

As mentioned, the report isn't all bad. One of the few bright spots is that it recommends a rolling out of a programme of prescribing injectable heroin or methadone to addicts that don't respond to other forms of treatment. It's well established that methadone is in fact far more dangerous and insidious than heroin itself, which addicts tend to dislike and/or end up getting just as addicted to as they do heroin. "Pure" heroin in its prescribed form is relatively safe; it's the black market that cuts it with other substances that increases the dangers of using it. Providing safe injecting centres and prescribing heroin, with clean needles, battling the plague of Hepatitis C/HIV that goes hand-in-hand with sharing dirty and used needles is one way of massively reducing the cost to the NHS, not to mention that of the crime involved in funding a habit. The support for families, and an expansion in drug treatment programmes are also welcome, but whether the funding will actually be there, or whether effective drug treatment is possible in a prison setting, especially in such currently overcrowded jails is questionable.

The policies that would genuinely go some way towards tackling drugs are the exact ones that governments dismiss and the tabloid press are horrified by. Increasingly, chief constables and others within the police realise that they cannot possibly win the battle against drugs in the way it's currently being fought; it's almost a complete waste of time, raiding and destroying one supply chain only for another to immediately pop up in its place. When a few brave officers stick their head above the parapet and suggest that Class A drugs such as Ecstasy are relatively safe, the brickbats thrown at them are not just directed against the individual that made the comment, but also at any government that considers adopting a more measured approach. The biggest first step Labour could make towards ending the failure of prohibition would be to abandon the class system all together and instead institute something like the scale of harm posed by drugs such as that recently published in the Lancet. From there appropriate regulation of the substances could be defined and organised. Removing or destroying as much of the black market itself, not the supply, as possible is the key; without first adopting an evidence-based approach, we'll simply be stuck in the current mess for ever more.

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HMP Blunkett.

Blogging simply doesn't get any better than this.

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No further comment necessary.

Sometimes you still get gems like this on the letters page:

Like many "marriage phobic" couples (For whom the bells toll, G2, February 25), we only decided to marry when advised that we, on the premature death of one of us, would pay far more tax - to Margaret Thatcher's government - than we would if married. That decided us: after 17 years and two children we "did the deed". We "vowed", however, that when we had a Labour government we would divorce, because we wouldn't mind paying more tax for a decent government with better public services. We're still married.
Lucy Craig and Gordon Best,
London

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008 

The drugs can work.

Whenever there's a new major scientific study released, especially one that hits the front pages of most of the so-called qualities, it's always a good idea to see what the crew over on the Bad Science forum think, both of the report itself and of the subsequent summaries of that report in the press. Their verdict (Ben Goldacre's own is the last post on page 3), especially on the Guardian's report, isn't especially encouraging.

The Grauniad article opens with this statement:

Prozac, the bestselling antidepressant taken by 40 million people worldwide, does not work and nor do similar drugs in the same class, according to a major review released today.

Except the study, which is itself a meta-analysis of the 47 studies which the researchers obtained from the American Food and Drug Administration doesn't come to that conclusion at all. It instead finds that Prozac (fluoxetine, an SSRI), Seroxat (Paxil in the US, paroxetine, SSRI), Effexor (venlafaxine, an SNRI) and Serzone (Nefazodone, neither an SSRI, an SNRI, an MAOI or an older tricylic anti-depressant, and which is no longer prescribed in the US because of links with liver damage) actually do work, or at least up to a point. Compared to placebo, the study finds that the drugs do in fact have a slightly higher clinical effect, but for mild to moderate depression it's not significant enough under the NICE criteria for them to be considered cost effective (Endofphil has an MS Paint diagram example).

Where the drugs are considered effective and perform far better than placebo is on those with severe depression, and which in any case is what doctors are meant to only be prescribing them for. For mild to moderate depression doctors are pointed towards offering counselling or "talking therapy", up to cognitive behavioural therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy. This though is often unavailable in certain NHS trusts, and even if it is the waiting list tends to be a mile-long, leaving doctors with little option other than recommending the almost cliched exercise, talking to friends or getting out a bit more. Many people who feel they're at their wits' end go and see their GP and beg for anti-depressants, something that most will most give in to, even if they don't appear to be severely depressed. The figure banded about for anti-depressant prescriptions is 16 million written a year, but that of course includes repeats.

Seeing as I have something approaching "experience" in this area, my path towards getting help was roughly as follows. After summoning up the courage to see my GP, he referred me to a psychiatrist. By the time my appointment with him was coming up, my situation had declined considerably and I was taken to see the psychiatrist at the local A&E, whom prescribed me Lustral (sertraline, Zoloft in the US, an SSRI). I then saw the first psychiatrist whom also prescribed me an anti-psychotic (first Zyprexa, olanzapine, now Seroquel, quetiapine) and introduced me to the psychiatric nurse, who I've been seeing for almost roughly 5 years now every month or so. In between then I've been referred to various individuals, among them a psychologist, with whom I underwent interpersonal psychotherapy, a youth worker who I basically just poured my heart out to, a group on overcoming depression, which started off with around 10-12 people attending and at the finish with around 4 of us, and probably some others I've missed out. I certainly can't say the NHS hasn't bent over backwards to help me, that's for certain. Out of all these things, what I do think has helped the most? To get over the initial bad period, I have very little doubt that the drugs helped immensely; after which, I think the interpersonal psychotherapy was the most rewarding, challenging and effective.

The main problem with anti-depressants is that some have the impression that they're a panacea, and this isn't just down to being ill-informed, but rather because the drug companies, big pharma or whatever you want to call them lobby and advertise furiously that this is indeed the case (see above advert). Because of both the NHS, the advertising laws and otherwise, we don't have the drug companies directly advertising their wares to us in this country, or at least the ones that are prescription only. In America however they do, and they don't just recommend the SSRIs in them for depression, but also for a whole assortment of other mental disorders, some for which their efficacy has been uncertain at best. This is partly why this study is important: it contains reports submitted to the FDA but which weren't officially published, for the simple reason that the study didn't find the drug to have the beneficial effects the drugs company claim they do. This is publication bias, and it buries the results which don't chime with what the company funding the development of the drug wanted to hear.

The other problems with the SSRIs are well-documented. Since Prozac, the first SSRI to be mass-marketed arrived, there have been claims suggesting that in some cases the drugs have actually contributed to suicides or in some rare occurrences, homicides. As a result of further research on the use of SSRIs in those under 18, they were highly recommended not to be prescribed to the young as some, and the accusations against Seroxat were the loudest, were found to actually increase the risk of suicide. This could potentially not be down to the drug itself, which take around a month to six weeks to start to work in most people, but rather due to the depression not reaching its apex when the prescription was first written, although the decision is certainly sound. Getting on the drugs is usually fine: I was sick for a couple of days when first going on them and suffered from dry mouth for about a week, then both went away. It's the getting off them that's incredibly hard, as the withdrawal symptoms, which often ironically resemble the symptoms for why you went on the drug to begin with, can be incredibly severe. Effexor, which is also considered one of the most powerful and is apparently most used in mental hospitals, is especially notorious for its withdrawal symptoms, while GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Seroxat have had class-action lawsuits brought against them in both the US and UK because of the withdrawal those on them have suffered. I can't say I'm looking forward to eventually getting off either of the drugs.

The above are exactly why anti-depressants shouldn't be available on demand. We're an increasingly hypochondriac society, and it doesn't just affect those that read the Daily Mail and one day are told something's good for them and the next day that it's bad, all via press release and competing studies where their funding is obtuse at best. Neither should the drugs be dismissed in the way that some of the reports today have done; it's well and good lauding CBT and the rest of it, but the very need for it has increased because of our increasingly fractured and atomised lives. We don't feel that we can take anyone into our confidence, and the friends that we do have and do think we can talk seriously to we then think don't want to be burdened down with our own personal misery, and in most cases we'd be right. At its core, the idea of the anti-depressant is one bound up in both consumerism and materialism; a magic pill that takes away the blues. Like consumerism and materialism, it's a myth and one perpetuated by the exact same forces. It can help, but that's all. It's only when we open up and are honest with ourselves and everyone else that we might directly help each other, and it well might be that goes most against the very nature of our modern living.

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It couldn't be snobbery, could it?

This (short) post is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but here goes.

It's been exactly a week since Shannon Matthews went missing, with no apparent sightings of her since whatsoever. It looks increasingly like she's either died and her body has yet to be found, or that she's been snatched, although of course I hope to be proved wrong on both of those points. The original view was likely that she had ran away, having made such comments to her friends and written something along those lines on the wall of her bedroom, about wanting to live with her father, which mitigated against the media response being over the top. Even so, all the elements that made the Madeleine case so compelling last year are here; the vanished daughter, albeit one older and not quite as photogenic; the tearful parent, begging her to come home or for anyone who has her to let her go; and the police with apparently no leads whatsoever. The disappearance has even happened in this country, meaning that there is something those in the surrounding area can actually do to help, whether keeping a look out, reporting anything they thought suspicious, or actively searching for her.

Why then has it not caught the public imagination in such a way? Could it possibly be because this is a distinctly working-class family, where the father and mother have split up, and where the mother is, not to put too fine a point on it, not as aesthetically sympathetic as Kate McCann was/is? Or that this has happened up in the sunny climate of Dewsbury, a classic Yorkshire town, which simply can't compare to the attractions of Praia da Luz for the travelling hacks?

It might simply be missing white girl fatigue, especially coming on top of the murder cases recently resolved. Either or neither way, if I was a relative, I think I'd be distinctly insulted by how Madeleine was thrust back onto the front pages last week by yet another tourist claiming to have spotted her, this time in France, while a little girl missing in this country is relegated to the far inside pages.

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A (former) US soldier writes...

When someone comments on a year-old post, it's either one of two things: spam or someone so rigidly opposed to what you wrote that the bile has risen so far up that they just have to let it out. Therefore, in the interests of balance, here's in full what Sergeant First Class Cheryl McElroy (RET) thinks of my Scum-watch: "Prophets are rarely honoured in their own land" post.

The Iraq war was a suicidal act?
Scuse me, sweetcakes, but Iraq is just one of the battlefields in the war on Islamofascism. We've beaten the Taliban and Al Qaeda into slushy pulp, which puts you lefties in a real funk.
In case you forgot, America was attacked by thugs supported throughout the Middle East, by Muslim zealots hellbent on a world Caliphate.
In case you don't get it, they want to kill us. They proved that on 9/11. What's the matter? Didn't the London bombings hit close enough to your own backyard?
Personally, I'd have leveled Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan (for starters)on 12 September 2001. But, I'm a former Soldier, not a pusillanimous apologist for Islam. Our policy should be simple: you attack us, we annihilate you, your supporters, your country, everything.
Hussein was a WMD-wielding megalomaniac who supported al Qaeda. He thumbed his nose at every resolution enacted by the U.N. including Res. 1441, which in conjunction with Congressional approval, gave us the authority to use military force. You ought to read it some time.

Hussein's terrorist connections:
The Mother of All Connections: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/804yqqnr.asp?pg=1

WMDs found:
1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians.
Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/13/AR2005081300530.html

1.77 metric tons of enriched uranium and roughly 1000 highly radioactive sources.
http://www.energy.gov/news/1388.htm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3872201.stm

Warheads loaded with Sarin
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,124576,00.html
IEDs and artillery shells containing Sarin
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,120137,00.html

And:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20060313-123146-7380r.htm

We did not wait until Hussein had the ability and chance to use them on U.S. forces in the region. I was over there, and I'm damned glad we eradicated the son of a bitch and destroyed the WMDs we found.

Afghanistan, conspicuously absent from your complaint, was a major operating base for Al Qaeda. Lots of dead Taliban there, too. No body counts for them in your blog? Tsk, tsk.

Oh yeah, and your quote about the Iraqi dead being
"somewhere in the region of between 200,000 and up to 1 million Iraqis, the median being 650,000" is total bullshit.

First of all, the “sources” and the assertions made in the phoney Lancet study funded by leftwingnutbag George Soros, claiming the astronomical deaths, has been thoroughly debunked
here:

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/warner-todd-huston/2008/02/09/us-has-killed-655-000-iraqis-soros-funded-lancet-study-debunked

and here:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3177653.ece

Leftwingnuts have no shame for their blatant attempts at presenting fiction as fact.

There are brave Soldiers, American and British, who are putting their lives on the line so ingrates like you won't have to worry about being subjected to Sharia Law. At least act as if you're worth the sacrifice.

Sergeant First Class Cheryl McElroy
US ARMY (RET)


Slight update: Here's Cheryl's blog, linking to all the usual neo-con/anti-jihadist/Islamophobic crowd and it seems from a reply to another left-wing al-Qaida apologist who secretly wants Sharia law who dared to disagree with her that this was something of a stock response.

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Monday, February 25, 2008 

Scum-watch: A lesson in attempting to puncture its own emotional balloon.

It's interesting, these days, watching the Sun (No, please, come back!). Last year after the failed patio gas canister bombings it clearly didn't have the slightest idea how to respond to them: first with hackneyed blitz spirit type defiance; then scaremongering, and the resurrection of its demands to scrap the human rights act; and finally, resorting to patriotism, ordering everyone to fly the flag. This remember is the paper which over the 80s and up until recently was often considered the weathervane of the nation, or symbolic of how a majority of how it was responding, typified by how when it changed from supporting the Conservatives to New Labour that it was considered the final, death blow against John Major.

Since then of course we've had the online revolution; now the most visited UK newspaper website is the loony-left Guardian, closely followed by the Mail Online. Circulations continue to plunge, with the Sun recently slipping below the 3 million mark, only rising back above it because of price cutting. The real success story of today is the Daily Mail, and by far the most despicable, distorted press coverage of late, directed at asylum seekers and immigrants, has come not from the Sun but from the Express and Mail. Whether it's because the Sun's reflecting society at large or not, or that it's lost its way as the country has become more liberal and has tried but failed to follow, it no longer has the zest or vim that it had under Kelvin MacKenzie's editorship, as rabid as that was in places. The rot set in under David Yelland, the most memorable of his front pages one asking Tony Blair whether we were being run by a gay mafia, and Rebekah Wade, most notable beforehand for her "name and shame" campaign against paedophiles on the News of the World, has done little to change that.

Even so, it's surprising that it's been so surprised by the vehemence of the response to its call for a debate on capital punishment. For years it's been claiming without the slightest amount of evidence that judges are liberal loonies, that crime is getting worse while the figures suggest the opposite and that the criminal justice system is failing us all. The result of this campaign for "toughness", led not just by it but by the other right-wing tabloids also, is both obvious and apparent; our prisons are now so full that there is little to no room whatsoever left in them. Of late, the rallying cry has been against binge drinking and youth, or rather "yob" violence. This was crystallised by the death of Garry Newlove, a loving, caring father kicked to death by 3 teenagers who had drank large amounts of strong alcohol and smoked cannabis beforehand. It's one of those cases, like the murder of Rhys Jones, that pushes the press into a familiar period of soul-searching of how we've reached this lowest-collective ebb. The reality is of course that it's an aberration, a terrible crime that is thankfully very rare. Nonetheless, it gave the Sun and Newlove's loving widow, an opportunity: both want change, but for very different reasons. The Sun wants improved sales and to be able to crow about changing government policy, as well increasing its own influence; Newlove wants vengeance and for her husband's death to not be in vain. Newlove, along with a shopping list of other demands, clearly stated how she longed to be able to personally execute the 3 boys who killed her husband. Never mind that even in most American states it would have been highly unlikely they would have been sentenced to death because the crime wasn't premeditated, and that perhaps only in such freedom loving countries as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran would such a punishment have taken place, the Sun at the time didn't speak up and say that it was personally against capital punishment. It did all it could to encourage a grieving, deeply hurt woman to keep going.

Then, in quick succession, we've had other troubling murder cases, which due to their own individual circumstances have caught the public's attention, or at least certainly the media's. In Steve Wright's, because he murdered 5 prostitutes with no apparent motive, not even a sexual one, and was apparently not mentally ill; and Mark Dixie's, in that he stalked and killed a beautiful 18-year-old aspiring model, who had a whole string of portfolio photographs that the media could splash all over their pages. Today Levi Bellfield was convicted of the murders of two young women, and suspected, like the previous two, of having potentially killed before. While the relatives of Bellfield's victims haven't spoken out yet, it won't be much of a surprise if they too, like the next of kin of those killed by Wright and the mother of Sally Anne Bowman, Dixie's victim, suggest that they would also like to see the return of the ultimate penalty.

The Sun on Saturday then, presumably because of the response on its talkboards which are usually filled with individuals not always residing in this country demanding the restoration of capital punishment, set up an actual poll asking whether readers would like to see hanging back. The response seems on the surface to be overwhelming, and despite the Sun personally coming out against it. 99% of 95,000 wanted it brought back, according to their you the jury poll. The poll result is of course questionable; you can vote multiple times on the online poll, and doubtless can on the actual phone lines too. Even if you consider that it is a seemingly massive response, the Sun has over 3 million sales, which means that 3% of its readers' responded and want it back. The Sun also claims to have an actual readership of 8 million, meaning that the figure goes even lower when you factor that in.

Despite its past polls returning similar overwhelming results, the paper in this case genuinely seems taken aback by the response. The question has to be: why? Its attitude to crime has always been leading towards such a policy, even if it actually balks at the possibility. I very much doubt it's because polls that are representatively sampled suggest around 60% or lower (albeit from a few years' ago) are usually in favour of capital punishment being brought back, with even only 65% of Tory voters wanting hanging to return; rather, it's because it's greatly perturbed that its readers aren't hanging off their every editorial word. The Sun is, first and foremost, pure propaganda, and it expects its line to be swallowed. Secondly, it almost seems worried that it can't control what it's started off.

As Tim Ireland writes, it almost seems as if the paper is trying to control the mob it set in motion. Wade couldn't do it when she named and shamed paedophiles and a paediatrician ended up being hounded out; how on earth could she manage it now? In any case, she's making an attempt: as well as listing all the relatives of victims who want capital punishment back, the paper remarks on how Sara Payne, one of those whose line in criminal justice policy based purely on her own experience as a victim has been pushed relentlessly in the paper, doesn't want it back. It points out how Pierrepoint didn't believe that it was a deterrent (although Wikipedia asks whether this was just a selling tactic for his book), without mentioning how he, merciful and humane despite his role as executioner, was only interested in making sure that the end for the person being put to death was as painless and quick as possible, something at odds with many of those calling for its return, who clearly want those put to death to suffer. It even says that the hated Germans brought hanging to this country, almost as if wanting to put its readers off it by its pure heritage; the page 3 girl, the paper's purest piece of propaganda, asks for life to mean life rather than for capital punishment; and only two of the Sun's gor blimey commentators, both of them the loathsome talk radio hosts Jon Gaunt and Fergus Shanahan, want it back.

Today's leader column is extraordinary therefore for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I agree with large parts of it, which is almost a first; secondly, because of its sheer flaming hypocrisy:

THE clamour for the death penalty is deafening.

Some 99 per cent of 100,000 voters in our poll demand its return.

Such an overwhelming response is no surprise after the killings of Garry Newlove, Sally Anne Bowman and the five Suffolk Strangler victims. Not to mention the anarchy that has erupted in some parts of Britain.

No one reading the heart-rending interviews with any of the victims’ families could fail to understand their desire for the ultimate revenge. Most of us share it.

But The Sun does not believe in capital punishment. It will not be brought back on a wave of public emotion, however much we sympathise with it.

Emotion cannot dictate a nation’s system of punishment

Yet that is exactly what it has wanted by giving over so much space to Helen Newlove and others. Helen Newlove claims in her own case for why it should be brought back that it isn't about revenge or vengeance - yet anyone reading her demands and frankly chilling account of how she'd like to execute her husband's killers couldn't fail to realise that was exactly the motive on which she was acting. Emotion or revenge cannot possibly even begin to be a part of any justice system which is going to attempt to be fair - yet by not pointing that out forcefully enough the Sun has failed those that it's given such succour to.

This is the Sun's main argument for what should take capital punishment's place - and it's just as flawed as capital punishment itself is:

Demands for capital punishment are only so strong because the justice system fails at every turn.

Too few police. Too few arrests. Too few offenders being locked away because there are too few jails and, scandalously, they were allowed to become too full.

Too few judges taking public safety seriously.

And far too many serious offenders whose “life” terms mean nothing of the kind.


Except we've got almost the most police ever. How can you possibly say too few offenders are locked away when there's currently 82,000 in prison and we are among the most heavy users of prison as punishment in Europe? Yes, the jails are too full, but that's not just the fault of the government but of the very same newspapers that have demanded ever tougher punishments, got them, and then demanded even harsher sentences. The very reason we're currently at bursting point is because when we have these sporadic bursts of draconian sentiment the judges are inclined to send those they might have previously fined or put on a community order to prison. They're reflecting what is apparently public opinion, even if polls now suggest that the country is split equally over whether more prisons are the answer. Judges are doing their very best in difficult circumstances; and "life" terms are usually about right. Learco Chindamo perhaps should have got more than 12 years, yet when the evidence suggests that he is a rare success story of prison actually working beyond just locking the dangerous away, he gets attacked, the victim of his crime is given centre stage to voice her disgust, and the demands for tougher sentences grow once again. Who could disagree with Dixie being sentenced to over 30 years, meaning he'll be 70 and a danger to no one if he is eventually to be released? Wright's sentence was also the right one, as was mostly the ones given to Newlove's killers. Life should only ever mean life where this is no chance whatsoever of redemption, or in the case of someone committing multiple murders. Despite common belief, life sentences have never meant life in this country, and the time served for a life sentence has actually continued to rise since the abolition of capital punishment. Believe it or not, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks this, our current justice system model gets it about right. The occasional cases where it either gets it wrong, with both miscarriages of justice and with those who either get away with it or kill again needed to be taken into consideration, are relatively few.

The most true and again, also line which contains the most chutzpah on the Sun's behalf in this one:

Revenge is the real motivation behind the calls for the return of capital punishment. That’s not enough in a civilised society.

And who knows just how the average supporter of capital punishment will take to being spoken to in such a tone by the "reactionary" Sun newspaper?

Related post:
Impotent Fury - Tabloid legislation - why do we bother having a government?

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Blogging can be tedious - when you resort to the ad-hominem.

On Saturday, Unity posted a critique on Liberal Conspiracy of a post by Donal Blaney (the lawyer who Guido shacked up with in threatening Tim Ireland with legal action) attacking the BBC Asian Network. The title, "It’s not the BNP but it is the next best [worst] thing…" and the opening paragraph "[T]here is a fine line between making a legitimate critique of multiculturalism and using the semblance of such a critique as a means of pandering to racist attitudes and promoting a manifestly fascist vision of society..." are clear: Unity isn't calling Blaney a fascist, but suggesting he's pandering to those sort of views.

Blaney's response was thus. Firstly, to accuse Unity directly of calling him a "racist", "homophobic" (not sure where that came from) and a "fascist"; and secondly to throw a whole variety of insults at him. Here's my attempt at summarising them all. Unity and others who disagreed with Blaney were variously:

“stupid”, “venal”, “intellectually insecure”, “onanists”, “(accused of having) intellectual weakness”, “(of secretly being) deeply unhappy”, “insecure”, “lonely”, and “bitter”.

If I missed any, happily correct me in the comments. Blaney's overall point was that responding to others' criticisms of your views was tedious when they completely misrepresented them. That Unity didn't in any way whatsoever was besides the point. In any case, misrepresenting someone's views is one thing; resorting to ad-hominem attacks in such a pathetic, say, intellectually bankrupt way, is quite another.

Blogging is all about the discourse - you can scream, shout and swear at politicians and those you disagree with, and you'll get a decent audience, as long as the invective is inventive and humourous enough, hence the success of Mr Eugenides and Devil's Kitchen, although I personally much prefer the former over the latter. You can also, like Blaney and say Iain Dale are meant to, and which I aspire towards, argue with nuance, give the opposition's side of voice either a fair go or at least attempt to prove it wrong or the worst option, while also being witty, readable and engaging. Some say blogging needs rules and clear lines of what's acceptable and what's not, and I'm a glass half-empty person on that, but one thing ought to be if not verboten then at least unacceptable, and that's personally attacking the other person purely because you either feel like it or can't respond to their argument. Blaney, on those grounds, ought to at the least be disregarded for his petulant attempt at response. It diminishes all of us who blog, and only makes it less likely that we'll be listened to in the future.

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Break a leg - or don't, if you happen to be an Arsenal player.

I hardly ever post about football, mostly because it's covered so effusively elsewhere and usually well. Where I think it's fell down so spectacularly this time round is on one of the most fundamental points of the game - the right for players themselves not to have their legs broken, however accidental, mistimed or clumsy the tackle or whatever it is that does the damage.

The horrific injury which Eduardo suffered on Saturday (look on YouTube if you must see it) is one of the most shocking of recent times, except for perhaps the fractured skull suffered by Chelsea's Petr Cech, which I'll return to in a moment. What I object to is the attempt by a large section of the media to minimise what happened to Eduardo, or even to excuse it. David Platt (ex-Arsenal, for God's sake), for example, during Sky's coverage, claimed that the tackle that broke Eduardo's leg wasn't worthy of a red card, while Birmingham City's own Steven Kelly had the audacity to claim that Martin Taylor was only sent off because he had broken Eduardo's leg. For those who missed it, here's the defining photograph, just milliseconds before Taylor connected, that shows just how completely unacceptable and downright dangerous it was:

Mistimed, clumsy, accidental, however you describe it, that is simply a horrendous tackle, as Arsene Wenger originally rightly described it. Anyone who takes such a lunge at a player should be sent off, get a ban lengthier than the current 3 matches and hope above hope that they don't do permanent damage to the player they perform it on. Martin Taylor is said to be distraught with what happened, quite understandably, and the very last thing that should be performed is a witch-hunt against him. Wenger was wrong to originally say it was unforgivable - it was undoubtedly a mistake by Taylor, who is already paying penance beyond what should be expected of him - but by the reaction, both on talkboards, phone-ins and the media itself was almost as if Arsenal had been the villains of the piece.

Imagine if this tackle had broken Wayne Rooney's, Steven Gerrard's or even Ronaldo's leg. There would have been unanimous uproar, Alex Ferguson would undoubtedly have made a far stronger statement that Wenger did if it was the first or the last, and certainly have not retracted it within a matter of hours, and there would have been baying for blood for potentially destroying an England star's career. Most of the assaults or charges of hypocrisy are because of Arsenal's own disciplinary record, which although bad has to my knowledge never involved a player breaking another's bones (excepting Eboue's similarly mistimed challenge on John Terry, which didn't result in a sending off), or because of the reckless challenges in the Man Utd/Arsenal game last weekend. The accusations there sting the most - the way Arsenal players went for Nani after he somewhat showed off his skills, with one player flying in an appalling tackle, not on the scale of Taylor's but certainly nasty, and then Gallas kicking the back of Nani's legs, which was a tap rather than really malicious - all of which should be condemned, but were nowhere near on the scale of danger of that of Taylor's tackle. Wenger is certainly deliberately blind at times when questioned about contentious decisions in matches - but then so is Alex Ferguson, who receives none of the same opprobrium over it. Ferguson has on multiple occasions either defended or excused blatant dives in the penalty area by both Rooney and Ronaldo - yet because he's so tenacious, admired and petulant - he never talks to the BBC for some stupid reason, and does the same to other media if they perform some perceived slight, he gets completely away with it.

To come back to Petr Cech, everyone seems to have already forgotten how Chelsea responded to his fractured skull, the result of a purely accidental clash with Reading's Stephen Hunt. Not only did they continue to maintain that it was deliberate, right up to when the FA cleared Hunt of any responsibility, Jose Mourinho personally laid serious accusations at both Reading and the NHS's door when he said that they had taken their time in calling for an ambulance and then in the ambulance arriving. Chelsea's version of events was destroyed by the South Central NHS trust version, that showed that Chelsea's own doctor didn't consider the injury serious enough for an ambulance to be called until 25 minutes after he reached the dressing room - and the ambulance then arrived within 7 minutes. Chelsea never apologised for the slur on either the club or the NHS.

By that standard, Arsene Wenger's justified fury and emotion, after seeing one of his best player's legs potentially broken beyond repair was mild. That he realised he had got it wrong within a matter of hours and retracted his statements was a sign of how the moment had got the better of him, as I expect it would most of us. His other criticised statement, that teams set out to kick Arsenal in order to stop them playing is a contentious one, but if you look at recent games against Blackburn for example I challenge anyone to disagree with him.

The reports today on how long it will take Eduardo to recover - 9 months if he's very lucky, 12 months if he's merely lucky, never if he's unlucky - show the seriousness of the incident. Footballers are rightly disparaged for being spoilt and overpaid, but Eduardo at 25 faces the nightmare of potentially having his career and livelihood destroyed. The experience of David Busst, who broke his leg and had to retire as a result (in his case I think the pitch was covered in blood in the aftermath, something that thankfully didn't occur with Eduardo's injury), and which has been all over the press is a chastening one. It ought to show those that have downplayed Eduardo's injury what can happen, even as a result of a dreadful accident or mistimed tackle. Football is a contact sport, and long may it remain so, but such terrifying challenges need to be kicked out of the game. Those attacking Arsenal for their response ought to examine how they'd feel if it happened to a player in their team before they launch attacks on the most majestic footballing side in the country.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008 

A cheap holiday in someone else's misery.

Much risible finger-pointing and political point-scoring over the supposed "gaffe" by David Cameron of calling visits to Auschwitz a "gimmick". In actuality, the Tories, in a ham-fisted and similarly pathetic press release (PDF) attacking 26 supposed political gimmicks since Gordon Brown became prime minister, are criticising the fact that schools and colleges are still having to stump up £100 to fund the trips to Auschwitz, despite the £4.65 million of funding given towards it. Even this isn't clear: it's not apparent whether the schools would have to pay £100 for every sixth-former who wanted to go or even for just the two that the government are definitively providing funding for.

The Tories have hit back saying that they would provide funding in full for those who wanted to go (yeah, right), but the danger of linking "Auschwitz" to the word "gimmick" should have been plain to the most gormless of Conservative party workers doubtless employed to draw the document up. It was supposedly a response to a document released by Labour charting their top 50 "achievements", examined in detail by Lee Griffin here. The Tory document is just as dishonest as parts of that though: for instance, it attacks Brown for announcing a review of 24-hour drinking and for "his aides spinning" to the Mail that the policy would be scrapped, without providing evidence that was what actually occurred. That the review is presumed to find that the legislation is working well and therefore doesn't need to be changed is hardly gimmickry. It's on surer ground attacking Jacqui Smith over powers for confiscating alcohol from teenagers, powers the police already have, then blots its copy book over Jack Straw and titan prisons, which although an idiotic policy, has not been cancelled at all. It's similarly stupid over Caroline Flint's disgraceful plans on kicking social housing tenants out if they didn't find work, which was clearly being floated as an idea and not as actual policy. The charges of gimmickry over migrant charges and knife scanners are similarly unsubstantiated.

In any case, as Chris Paul points out, David Cameron is hardly one to talk about gimmicks when his whole reign has been one after the other. To bring this back to Auschwitz, I'm pretty sure that even the most feeble of teachers can express the horror of the extermination camps without actually needing to take students to see them at first hand. There's something eminently distasteful about places like Auschwitz and Belsen becoming almost tourist attractions; as powerful as I'm sure they are, and preserved as they should be, we really ought to be starting to make an effort to move on from the second world war, which still so dominates our thinking in a whole plethora of different ways. Believe it or not, there is history beyond Hitler, Stalin and the Holocaust. We must never forget, but nor should it constantly be on our minds.

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Say no to 24 hour thinking!

24-hour drinking fuels rise in crime, sighs the Telegraph. Nowhere in the article is the obvious pointed out: that because the change in the law has meant that the pubs/clubs now don't chuck out all at the same time, i.e. 11pm or 2am, it means that the police have been much better able to deal with offences that would have previously overwhelmed them.

As an actual police officer wrote on the Mailwatch blog:

The licensing act (24 hour) has also helped a great deal. Instead of kicking-out time for everywhere at 11pm, we’ve got slow dispersement into the night, so the police haven’t got a great mass of people all at once. Crime has ’shot up’ after the licensing Act because we CAN detect, arrest and deal with more people, rather than be swamped and therefore unable to arrest/detect any crime at all! This ‘crime-spike’ was intended by the Home Office and the police as a result of the above reason, but you won’t read that in the Daily Mail!

Nor in the Telegraph.

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Bizarro tabloid world.

There were calls last night for the abolition of calling for the abolition of the death penalty to be overturned after the latest horrific murder case to shock Britain reached its conclusion. As the killer of Sylvia Miller was sentenced to life imprisonment, her mother Edith Miller spoke out to reporters.

"Actually, I feel that justice has been done. It's unlikely that my daughter's killer will ever be released, and although I can never forgive or forget the immense pain he's caused to our family by taking away our beautiful daughter, I also don't see what putting him to death will achieve. I believe in justice, not vengeance, and I also don't believe that even if we had the death penalty it would have made him think twice before doing what he did."

In another surprise development, the police said that they were actually completely satisfied with the way the DNA database was currently working, and that they saw neither the need to extend it to encompass the entirety of Britain's population or to take samples from children as soon as they're pulled out of the womb. "Doing so would surely be one of the first steps towards a true police state, where you're presumed guilty until proved innocent," said PC Politically Correct, who then went off to inspect his recently delivered politically correct brigade new squad car. "Instead of being equipped with a loud, noisy siren, this new vehicle is instead fitted with an ice cream van's music player, which is intermittently interrupted with the word "police" whispered lightly so as not to disturb anyone," said the officer (cont. page 94)

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