Sunday, 31 January 2010

Diana Watch

Celebrate good times, come on! It's a celebration! 0.1% growth in the UK economy, we are, officially, out of recession. Excuse me whilst I blow into some celebratory whistle type thing.

 A nice new feature of UK news reporting is a complete lack of context. The BBC reported that our GDP dropped a record 4.8% during this recession, although the OECD says 5.5%. But what about other countries? I am not a fan of the “but at least it's not as bad as them” school of thought, i.e. “yes, I am fat but not as fat as them” or “yes our rates of teenage pregnancy is high but it's not as high as theirs” because it is usually a distracting irrelevance but here it is useful. It is possible, as it was a global recession that affected all economies, to see how Government responses and actions affected the outcomes to a certain degree. I do except that there differences in how other countries economies are structured, some are based more on manufacturing and others, like ours, lean towards the financial services. Even with these caveats I think comparison is worthwhile.

GDP fall %
Unemployment Rate %

You could spend all day looking at each country and comparing it to us to but this gives you a quick snapshot.
 So did our Government stop it getting any worse? Ok, they were complicit in the whole thing to begin with but since then have they picked up their game a bit? It does seem that when you look at the numbers that it could have been much worse. Whilst 8.5% unemployment is why to high it is much better then both Germany, France, Italy and Spain and it is lower than the UK recessions in the !980’s, when it was 9.6%, and in the 1990’s, when it was 9.5%. There are different theories as to why the unemployment rates have been different this time and they were discussed on Radio 4’s Think Allowed on the 20/1/10, you can listen here (or you can download the podcast if you want to listen.)
 I am not saying that this recession wasn’t that bad, our GDP fell by much more than the preceding ones (1980’s 4.7% and 1990’s 2.5%), but you do need context in able to judge things properly.
 It is, of course, easy for the opposition to say it would have been better this way or that way but there is no way of proving that. The things that happened happened, everything else is hypothetical and not really of much help.

 The Kraft takeover of Cadbury is another example. “OMG, a foreign company is taking over one of are proud British companies. Think of all the workers that will be sacked” seems to be the line that is being taken by the press. There have been many stories speculating on what may happen to the workers or whether or not the factories will be closed and moved to somewhere  scary  in foreign. What they are not mentioning is that Cadbury employs 7000 less people then it did 2 years ago, so they are doing quite a good job of firing people on their own thank you very much but that doesn't fit the press' narrative and so it is ignored.

 I wanted to blog about me vs. the massive douchebag that is the Health Ranger (the least popular of the Power Rangers) and his response to my complaints about his website and their removal of my comments on his nasty article about what “Sceptics Believe”. All I asked him to do was to put some links or references into his article so that he could show us where he got his information from. Oh and I commented on some of the other comments. Then I got a bit stroppy and sent them a message on this new fangled electronic mail thingy,  

I am a little disappointed that you do not allow people who don't agree with you to comment on the articles posted on this site.
 I have now been blocked twice for asking questions and correcting people’s mistakes. This hardly leads to an open discussion on topics.
 I like forward to hearing from you and you explanations as to why you shy away form debate.
 Thank you for your time.

As you can see I was perfectly polite and lovely, although you would expect no less from me.
 For those that don't know Mike Adams, aka the Health Ranger, runs a website called and it is a spectacular fact free zone. It seems to exist only to shift product, mostly his, and very little else. It recommends all the usual suspects of Alt med and Woo, such as Reike (disproved by a child), acupuncture (disproved by many, many studies) and, of course, Homeopathy (It seems everyone survived their overdose yesterday.)
 All I wanted was a quick exchange of emails. A few words from him to explain his, and the websites, position on moderating comments and dealing with criticism.
 I wanted to blog about this but I can’t because I haven’t heard a thing back form him/them. Way to get involved in the debate you snake oil salesman! Stop taking advantage of the sick, the worried, the gullible, the poorly informed, the trusting, for your own personal gain you unpleasant man.

The Award Having The Joint Lowest Age Of Consent in the World.

This goes to the Vatican. I will say no more but here is a link that shows you Ages of Consent from around the world. I am deeply saddened to see in how many countries Gay sex is illegal.

The Award for Looking a Bit Like a Comedy Slightly Racist Puppet,

Separated at birth, Gok Wan and Team America's Kim Jong-il puppet.
The Award for Showing Again How Wrong the Tories Are about Everything,

This goes to you lot because you are not getting divorced as much as you were. The divorce rate has dropped for the 5th year in a row. Now I’m not saying that the Tories “broken Britain” and tax ideas to encourage people to stay together things are gimmicks and not seriously thought through social policies but…. Oh now wait, that is exactly what I’m saying.

Things that I haven’t talked about but wanted to,

Andrew Wakefield is back in the headlines. It seems that he was/is a twat and his research was very bad. MMR is safe.

Clothes! We seem to be terrified of clothes. The French seem to want to ban the Burka, Mail and Express readers are terrified of nice warm jumpers with hoods and now it seems that the Welsh (specifically Tesco workers) are scared of pyjamas.
 I have always been curious about the differentiation between clothing types, i.e. Night clothes/day clothes, underwear and a bikini. What is the difference between my PJ bottoms and someone else's jogging bottoms?

In the week that a survey (probably rubbish because it was in a papers revealed that the British are much more liberal than they used to be (did they ask anyone in Dorchester?) a little section of Society proved wholeheartedly how they don't represent you and me.
 The House of Lords (remember them? The Labour Party promised us reform, went well then) have voted down the Government's Equality Bill because they claim it would force the Church to employ Gays and Transsexuals despite the Government saying it wouldn't. Although what would it matter if it did?

Have an excellent week my lovely readers.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Bad Coffee

We haven’t talked about the badness of some coffees recently so here is a reminder of the league table of shame some far,

1) TGI’s, Tower Park, Poole
2) Wetherspoons, Dorchester
3) Service Station somewhere in the North that I can’t remember the name of
4) Toni and Guy, Dorhester

Well the good (or bad, depending on your out look) news is that we have a new entry.

We were shopping in Bournemouth on Sunday, Significant Other did well (lots of really nice clothes) and I bought 2 new albums. I got Mumford and Son and the new Eels albums (they are both fantastic). We decided to pop into the Slug and Lettuce for lunch. Ok so it is not the world’s finest catering establishment but never the less you expect some standards.
I asked for a double espresso because a single is never enough, although it was in this case.
The problems started when I saw how much coffee was in the cup. It is supposed to be a small cup, that’s sort of the point, the concentration of flavours, but this, in comparison to a normal espresso cup, was a veritable bucket. Please take note at this point oh high street purveyors of caffeinated beverages, the amount of liquid that we get is not the important thing, it should taste nice! Or in the case of some of the larger chains of coffee shops, it should taste of something!
Of course, if you dilute something quite a lot you get less of the thing that you started with and this does not make it more potent (quick dig at homeopaths there. The 10:23 mass overdose is tomorrow, 30/1/10, by the way.) and so the flavour was almost non-existent.
I am not a coffee snob, I drink instant sometimes and I only have a cheapish espresso machine, but I do like coffee and it’s not that hard to make well. This is all I ask for and I don’t think that it’s too much; if you sell coffee then it should be nice coffee.

So here is the revised table, I think that the Slug and Lettuce go in at number 5,

1) TGI’s, Tower Park, Poole
2) Wetherspoons, Dorchester
3) Service Station somewhere in the North that I can’t remember the name of
4) Toni and Guy, Dorchester
5) Slug and Lettuce, Bournemouth.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chris Morris

For the purposes of fairness I would like to point out that I am a massive fan of the person I will be discussing in this piece.

 Praise be to God, which ever one it is you support, (as an atheist I’m not sure how it works but I have assumed that it is a bit like football. Your choice of football team/ religion is sort of forced on you as a child and there is really very little you can do about it. Although there will be some people who choose which ever one is winning) for Chris Morris is back.

 He seems to have been away for a very long time, yes there were those excellent appearances in the IT Crowd and Head Jam (a radio series) and Jam (for TV from the radio show) were great but since the controversy around the Brass Eye paedophilia special he has kept somewhat of a low profile seeming to have decided that writing, such as the brilliant Nathan Barley with Charlie Brooker and script editing Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, was the way forward.

 So those of us that our fans of the great man, I’m not including the Daily Mail on that list, “Ban This Sick Filth”, the Premier of his new film “Four Lions” at the Sundance Film Festival is a really big deal. And so, it seems, is it a big deal for the press who really, really want to be offended.

 For those of you that don’t know the film is a comedy following some Jihadist as they prepare for a suicide bombers. The planning and the purchasing of equiment. Ok, so some people may think that this isn’t a subject for comedy but one of the things you will notice about the sort of people that think that terrorism isn’t a subject of laughs are the same sort of people that think that racist and misogynist comedy is fine.

 The build up to being offended has already begun. On Sunday morning Andrew Marr’s program tried to bring it up as the film was on the covered in the papers but was shot down by the lovely Kirstie Young who said that any subject should be up for comedy and on Monday morning I turned on the Today program which was doing an article from the Festival and weren’t really talking about the film, they were talking about who might find what offensive. The Mail, who has a bit of a history with Morris, also published an article on Sunday about the film with out having seen it.

 But as it was before so it is again, and it seems that the point is being missed. The “Controversial” Brass Eye special was not about “isn’t sexually abusing children funny”, it was about how the media hysterically over reacts to this, thankfully, quite rare crime.  In that case either the media missed this subtle distinction, some of those who claimed to be offended also admitted that they hadn’t actually seen the program, or they wilfully ignored it because it was about them and they didn’t like it.

 The film, it seems, is about 4 men and their relationship. Yes they are Jihadists and yes, they do try and carry out a suicide bombing at the London marathon dressed as comedy big animals but it is still about the relationship between some men. And to be perfectly honest what is wrong with mocking terrorists? Why can’t he do this? They are bastards after all. Would it not do us some good to laugh at people like this? To point out the ridiculousness of what they do and of their silly beliefs? I mean, 72 virgins? Really? Is that what you want? And are some attempted suicide bombers a bit stupid? Thunderpants bomber, Glasgow Airport not measuring the size of the door and the size of his car. The suicide bomber who inserted the explosives into his rectum and succeeded in blowing himself to pieces but no one else. Come on these people need to have the piss taken out of them. This film is not mocking the victims of any terrorist outrage; it is mocking some stupid people who aren’t very bright and their stupid ideas. And maybe the idea of the bombings themselves.

 I truly don’t understand how mocking these people is offensive but I also don’t understand the bigger argument of “there are some things that comedy should avoid”.  Why should it? If a joke is funny, the joke is funny. We live in a culture of fear that is perpetuated by our press who go on constantly about the threat terrorism. Terrorists, by definition, exist to spread terror. They have not been defeated by armies and air forces, maybe laughing at them will have more effect. Let us replace the fear with laughter. If a terrorist can no longer terrorise you because you are chuckling at a joke you heard about terrorists surely he has lost.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Diana Watch

 I seem to be the luckiest person in the world. Last year I was chosen to help a Kenyan Prince to help him transfer his money out of the country (small fee to me) and now this,

Dear E-mail Bearer,
You have won the sum of £500,000.00 GBGBP  in the British Online.
Sweepstakes Promo head on Sat 16 Jan 2010.Your Your e-mail address
Dream Number draw 367 the winning lucky
numbers:1 9 6 1 3 1 9.(Dream number)
To claim of your prize,you are advise to contact your claims
department with the below informations.

Contact Person:Brender William
Contact Number:

You are advice to provide him with the following information
Full Names:
Tel / Mobile
Country Of Residence:


(A)Bank transfer Services?
(B).come to office in UK?
(c) Use Courier Service?

Congratulations in advance.

Yours Faithfully,
Mr. Patterson Jim.
Lottery Coordinator
How lucky am I?

 As we all know there are some spectacularly entertaining world leaders, Colonel Gaddafi for instance. A man who has a protection squad made up of only Amazonian proportioned woman and, when making what was supposed to be a 15 minute speech to the UN, went on for so long that he went through 2 translators
 Then there is President Chevaz of Venezuela. He host a live program on the state owned Television company on which he holds forth on the subjects of the day and takes phone calls from the public. This show, called “Hello, President!”, can often last 5 hours. Then, of course, he said that he could still smell the sulphur when he took the podium so time after George W Bush, again at the UN. What is it with the UN and great comedy performances? See also Colin Powell in front of the Security Council trying to convince them that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, “See this document proves that Saddam tried to buy nuclear material from Africa.”
 “Then can you explain Mr Secretary why, in this document, that Saddam Hussein is President of Iran and “nuclear” is spelt incorrectly?”  
 But by far the most amusing is Silvio Belesconi. Late last year I felt a tremor in the comedy force. It was if a million people laughed out loud at once and were then silent. I had to find out what had caused this mass chuckle. To the News Channels! Economics, no, Sport, no that's' not it, what can it be? “And now the headlines. The curiously smooth fore headed Prime Minister of Italy has been struck in the face by a small, ceramic model of a cathedral” Oh that will be it then.
 I didn't think that this story could get any funnier but hurray for the Italian Judiciary. Italian Judges are not fans of the sex addicted convicted fraudster and have been accused of trying to bring down the President by prosecuting him for various things.
 At the moment they are deciding what to charge the man who lobbed the statuette in his general direction with and Italian Law is quite specific about this. If the injury deemed to need less than 40 days recovery then he will be charged with wounding. Any longer and the more serious charge of wounding with intent comes into play. Mr Berusconi seemed to get better in about 21 days despite his Doctor saying it would take 90 so the Prosecutor Armando Spataro ,who is investigating the case, has asked for two facial specialists doctors to examine Berlusconi next week and give a report. There is much talk that they think it was a stunt.
 Is that possible? Could he have colluded in this? How would this have been bought up at a meeting? “Umm, I was wondering,” (oh and please read this with a comedy Italian accent, whether out loud or in you head) “It seems the people are not so keen on you, our President.”
  “Well why not? I own half the press and control most of the news. Many of them only hear what I want them to hear.”
 “Well Sir, it may be your fraud conviction or that you are a bit of an international embarrassment, what with the divorce and the alleged sex addiction.”
 “Well obviously it isn't either those things but I will humour you. How would you make me more popular with the ungrateful Italian public?”
“Well Sir, first we need a small china church and someone with a great right arm.”
“Go on....”

This week I have complained to the Advertising Standards Agency about the Daily Express. It describes it's self as “The Worlds Greatest Newspaper”, it isn't. Unfortunately they rejected my complaint.  

And so to the much-more-glamorous-than-the-Golden-Globe Awards (You should see the frock I’m wearing),

The Award for Least Relevant Mention of a Favoured Subject,

Usually we don't have the same award 2 weeks in a row but I think we can cope. Not only is it the same award, it is the same paper and the same favoured subject.
 The deputy headmaster of a school in Kent has been arrested and charged with possessing child pornography. Can you guess who used to go to this school? Yes it was Princess Diana.
 To be honest it wasn't just the Daily Mail that run the story with this link (although they have since changed the article on their website and make no mention of Her but as you can see from the URL,, it used too  ) it seems that most of them did.

The Award for Thinking Someone is Much More Important Than They are,

The live subtitles on Sky News are always amusing, as I have said before, but on Monday evening they excelled themselves, “Boyzone to carry on For Peace”. Really? They think that they can bring about world peace? Umm, no. It was later changed to “Boyzone to carry on as a four piece”.

The Aware For Just Being A Little Bit Brilliant,

 The Dorchester restaurant Sienna has been awarded a Michelin Star. It is the first establishment in our town to have this honour bestowed upon them for 20 years. I can assure you that this isn’t an advert for them (although they can pay me with free meals if they want to, I want to be corrupted) but I had to best food I have ever tasted there. Has food ever bought a tear to your eye because it was so good?

The Award for Thinking That YOU Are More Important Than You Are,

This really has to go to the BNP just about ever week but this week they have, at least, put some effort in.
 They are attempting invoked the 1872 Ballot Act (well it proves that at least one of them can read I suppose). They are worried about vote rigging or ballot stuffing because they think everyone is against them (well they are) so, under a clause in this law they can have their own seal on the ballot box. They will also require a member of their party to be present at the opening of the box to check the seal.
 Well done the BBC for bringing this to my attention. If it hadn’t been for you reporting it and having their spokesman on a prime-time news program I would never have heard about it this self promoting stunt. Another attempt to cast themselves as victims. Well done and thank you.

Sadly the rugby commentator Bill Mclaren has died and just before the start of the new 6 Nations tournament. Nature can be so cruel. Anyway, just a brief Youtube “His best bits” thing (I feel like Davina but with out the shiny, flowing, chestnutty locks),

See how the new regime of a shorter, more concise Sunday blog has fallen down at the second hurdle, sorry about that. Although, in my defence, there was lots I wanted to mention like the crime rate was down 8% yet David Cameron gave a speech on Friday about how bad crime was in Britain. Good fact ignoring there. Oh and that unemployment down as well. Fingers crossed for a bit a Labour recovery. Please don’t vote Tory.

 No more from me, have a good week all.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

TB and Homeopathy

Now, it’s not my job to pick apart every link that Dr Nancy Malik posts on twitter and this is the last one I promise. I am only going to do this one because it is so easy. She posted a link to homeopathic treatment of TB. This pricked my interest because I used to work on a respiratory ward and so have seen the very successful treatment of this nasty disease.
The page starts out as review of TB, it symptoms and causes. This is all well and good, although it does look like and cut and paste job and a lot of the language is quite detailed Medical speak (I don’t wish to patronise Homeopaths but u suspect that many of them have not done 5 years at medical school followed by all the in Hospital training that follows that.)
There are several interesting parts to this article, the first being in the section headed “Case Finding Tools” by which I think they mean “Diagnostic Tools” but I’m being picky. In hospital, if we suspected TB due to symptoms such as persistent cough, high temperature and Haemoptysis (all included it this section), we would do a chest x-ray and do Sputum culturing. Sputum culturing is a bit dull but is very easy. You just get the patient to cough some flob into a pot first thing in the morning on 3 successive days. Send them off to the lab and a couple of days later you get a nice result. Here’s what the article says about Sputum culture “culture of sputum is only second in importance in a case finding programme. It is not only difficult, tedious, lengthy and expensive but also needs special training and expertise.” Difficult and tedious? Not really but “needs special training and expertise”? Does not all diagnosing of disease? Are homeopaths not specially trained? Do they not have expertise? After all Dr: Felix James claims to be an MD(Hom), I’m assuming that the Hom. is homeopathy, is that not special training or did he just save up tokens form the back of cornflakes packets for his MD? Personally I would like my health problem diagnosed by someone who has had special training.
I think that this shows the lack of intellectual rigour that pervades the whole homeopathic community; medicine is a bit hard so let’s just make something up.

The other part of the article that interested me was the numbers bit. I love numbers; they can tell you so much. In this case they can tell you the Medicine works very well thank you very much.
Here is the Data they present for the UK,

England and Wales:
346 / 1,00,000 in mid 19th century
126 / 1,00,000 at beginning of this century
31 / 1,00,000 in 1951
6.7/ 1,00,000 in 1960

Note the large drop off in deaths from 1951 to 1960. The reason for this is two fold. 1) in 1953 the BCG vaccine against TB was introduced into the UK and there was a wide take up. 2) in 1952 Triple antibiotic therapy was bought in. You see, we got on top of it without the use of magic water. Science at work there people. Oh and Anti-Vax idiots, proof I think you’ll find that vaccines do save lives and they do work.
Whilst we are at it let’s look at a few more numbers, here is a link to the Health Protection Agency. This table shows morality rates up to 2007 and it has fallen to 0.7 per 100,000 in 2006.
We reached this level in the mid-80’s and it hasn’t dropped of any more which is annoying but can be explained, I think, though population migration.

There then follows the list of things that can be treated and by what, is one of those things Cancer? Does it say that? I’m not sure but let’s point them in the direction of the 1939 Cancer Act just to make sure they are not claiming that.

I’ll stop now; I’m beginning to bore myself.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

#ten23 Lead Me Here

Whilst I was enjoying a spirited defence by Dr. Nancy Malik of homeopathy yesterday on Twitter (I don’t agree with her but she is allowed her say no matter how stupid it is) (you can view the posts by searching #ten23 or @DrNancyMalik, she is currently promoting homeopathic AIDS/HIV treatment) she linked to some cartoons that she thought were a) funny and b) so satirical that they would bring down all of established science. They weren’t. I wouldn’t have minded if they had at least been funny but here is a prime example,

 Ho ho, see now we who work in Medicine (all shills of Big Pharma by the way) are actually trying to kill and even if we’re not trying to kill you we don’t give a fuck about you anyway. As an aside, I hate big pharma. They don’t give cheap medicines to countries in need, they medicalise sociological problems and they have been caught manipulating results. However, quite a lot of their products actually work and do save lives.
 Back to my point. I found this cartoon quite offensive as it portrayed people who work in health care as heartless bastards, which is a little unfair. Maybe U.S. Doctors are in it for the money and do prescribe things because they get money from the patients health insurance (another good argument for socialised health care there, appropriate prescribing) but that doesn’t really happen here and I am certain that nurses aren’t in it for the money.
 The cartoon lead me to this article  on the same website about why you (woman obviously) shouldn’t get a mammogram. It’s delicate title is “Mammograms cause breast cancer”. Now I am not going to argue that radiation is good for you or that mammogram is perfect but I can assure you that it saves lives. Whilst, as we know, the plural of anecdote is not data, we are dealing with homeopaths here were anecdote is data and data that doesn’t agree with them is ignored (rather like Ann Coulter and transitional fossils. Robin Ince joke there.) Several friends of my mother have had their lives saved by mammogram and chemo and radiotherapies. Homeopathic proving.
 What the article sets out to do is to scare woman into not getting an examination. For example “Since mammographic screening was introduced, the incidence of a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) has increased by 328 percent. Two hundred percent of this increase is allegedly due to mammography.” Ok this may be true (they sight no reference for this number and it seems that most of the references throughout the article are to other articles on the site. Intellectually rigorous then) but 128% of the rise wasn’t caused by mammogram and they give no survival rates for this cancer and no rates of detection for this cancer by the test. If you’re interested 80% of this type of tumour is detected by mammogram alone as “very few cases of DCIS present as a palpable mass”.

 My biggest problem with the article (apart from the fact that it is written by someone described as a Citizen Journalist. So, just some person then, not a specialist then. It is quite a serious subject after all.) is the complete lack of context in which the numbers are presented. From the article I have learnt that one examination gives you 1 rad of radiation. Well that’s helpful if you are trying to weigh up risk. Perhaps they could compare that to say, radiation exposure whilst on a trans-Atlantic flight or just from living in Cornwall. Or the amount Peter Parker received from that radioactive spider (it was a girl spider and had recently had a mammogram. True story, to quote Pat Robertson). If you believe the Daily Mail, which I know we all do, if lightening goes off near your plane the X-ray exposure will be 400 times that of a chest X-ray.
 Percentage rises are quoted throughout with no context and, again, only referencing the site. This is a just unhelpful. I know they want to sell their product and promote their dangerous and unhelpful philosophy but this is so one sided as to be almost lying. Quote away with your statistics by all means but reference properly and give context. Oh and offer some alternatives. At they end they refer to some new technology that does sound good but is also being produced by the same people that bought you the mammogram, you know the sort of people describe in the cartoon that start me off.

 If you are not aware of the 10:23 campaign click here and have a read.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Diana Watch

Hello to all of you. I'm trying to make this weekly post a little shorter than it was last year because it did seem to go on a little. I will try and do more post in the week but I make no promise that I can't keep, do I look like Gordon Brown/David Cameron/Nick Clegg/Barack Obama*

 *Delete as applicable, according to your own political standing. Although you are reading this so I have some idea as to your political leanings.

 Something unspeakably terrible happened in Haiti this week. I'm sure you all know what it was and if you haven't already, you can donate here. Or text 'GIVE' to 70077 & donate £5 to the DEC Haiti earthquake appeal
  But whenever genuinely horrible things happen along comes some massive twat saying something so unbelievable obnoxious that you have to wonder how they have managed to get to being an old man without getting punched full in the face.

 Let us hope that this isn't the view of the US right wing, perhaps Rush Limbaugh (Super right wing duffus, radio show host and quite influential person with the Republican movement) has something a little more informed to say.
 The White House has set up a fund so that people can donate easy. In response to this he said “If you do that, you’ll probably just end up on an Obama campaign mailing list – and a big chunk of your donation will get siphoned off by government bureaucrats.” Well, so far so incredibly unpleasant and cynical but it gets worse, “You already give to Haitian relief – it’s called the income tax." What a really lovely, deeply religious (sic) person he is. Let us hope that if something unpleasant happens to him that he is helped by an atheist. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called Limbaugh’s assertions "really stupid".
 As you can imagine many, many people have aired their opinions on how disgusting these two are but I think that the best take down of these two “men” of god came from Keith Olberman.

 I think that that's more than enough about these 2 who shouldn't be given the oxygen of publicity, maybe not even (to steal someone else's joke, I think it might have been the mighty Linda Smith) the oxygen of oxygen.

 Someone else who I’d be quite happy to ignore for the rest of her life is Sarah Palin but I fear that that is going to become increasingly hard. This week it has been announced that she has been signed by Fox News (which describe it’s self as “fair and balanced” on its website) as a “pundit”. Now I have to assume that on the bits of Fox News that aren’t fear mongering, race baiting, lie-athons, that they cover quite a lot of moose hunting and Skidoo racing because they can’t have hired her as a Political pundit. I’m not going to do a she’s-so-stupid-and-uninformed bit because it’s unfair and others have and will do it better than me but I don’t think we will be expecting in-depth analysis of complex political situations from her, do you?

OK, so time for the first awards of the year,

The Award for Least Relevant Mention of a Favoured Subject,

This goes to the Daily Mail. The story is a very sad one indeed. A woman was found dead in Kensington Gardens in London. It is thought she may have fallen though ice on the lake, dragged her self out but then froze to death. This an awful way to die and a waste of a life but what headline did the Mail run? “Body of young woman found 'frozen to death' just yards from Princess Diana's former home”. Beautiful. Well done to all involved.
 The article ends with a brief history lesson and reminder, “
Kensington Palace was the official residence of Diana until her death in 1997. It has been a residence used by the Royal Family since the 17th century.”

The Award for Getting Stupid things Banned,

  Under pressure from the right wing press the Government has decided to ban Islam4UK (which is the worst name for a group ever) citing terrorism concerns without offering any evidence at all. Now whilst I agree that their message is nasty and their choice of venue for their protest march was a little poor (let's be honest, we all knew that they weren't going to do it), it was designed to get them publicity and the press duly gave them their wish.
 So have we now started to ban groups that we don't agree with? Is this how we protect our freedoms, by limiting them? If we are going to ban groups that we consider to be offensive may I recommend the Conservative Party.

 The Award for Completely Ignoring Really Important News Because You Actually Agree With the Decision But It Was Made By People You Hate,

 This goes to the Daily Mail (again, sorry but they've had a good week) who have not covered a story at all (well not on the website anyway, I'm not buying that shit to see if they covered it there). They haven't touched it all because a organisation that they hate almost as much as Muslims got involved in UK law but did something that they agree with, can you image the soul searching (if they have souls at the Mail) that went on over whether to cover this or not.
 Over the horizon rode the 4 horsemen of Bureaucracy otherwise known as Europe. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Stopping and Searching people without reasonable suspicion (which the police are currently allowed to do under section44 of the terrorism act 2000, we've got a War on Terror you know) is “not in accordance with the law”. So if you are in London and a Policeman asks you why you are taking pictures of famous landmarks and points of interest and he/she then asks to search your bag or trys to confiscate your camera, he/she is breaking the law.
 I know you understand this and I understand this but do the right-wing press, The EU is protecting your rights to go about your life without interference from the Government. First a European Constitution and now this, it must hard for you Euro-Sceptic types.

 See how the new shorter version of this still goes on a bit. Sorry about that, but if you have made it this fair, thanks.
 Have a good week, I'm off to wait for some men to deliver a new washing machine and the most exact time they could give us for expected deilivery was “Sunday”. Thanks for that. Although Boiler Servicing man who's coming tomorrow wasn't much more helpful, “We'll be there on Monday”. Sigh.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Re-engaging with Politics

If you were watching the Television on Saturday night and managed to drag yourself away from “So You Think You Can Dance” or “Take Me Out” you might have been watching BBC2. If you were you would have seen a program about the election campaign of who is now President but was then Senator Obama. It’s called “By The People” and it may still be on the Iplayer.

The thing that struck me most during this excellent documentary was the vast number of the activists who seemed to be under 30, possibly even under 25. Yes, there were middle aged men in suits on the campaign but those out on the streets and making the phone calls were young, really young. Can you imagine that happening here? It wasn't wall to wall inspiration though. There were a few annoying characters. I don't think, for instance, that you would catch many English people doing a motivational dance based on a scene from “The Fresh Prince of Bell Air”.
How did they do this? OK, so Senator Obama was different to just about every other Presidential candidate ever. He was a young and black but it simply can't be that. He also wasn't President Bush which seemed to be to his advantage but then, neither was John McCain. But there seemed to be something else. There was something that got people excited about him before he started going on about “Hope”, a lot, or quoting Bob the Builder. As I'm on the wrong side of the pond it is hard to say but might it be the he spoke to people as if they were adults. As if they are clever enough to understand the problems and that sometimes there aren't simple solutions and that some things take time.
Whilst the 24hr news channels on both sides of the ideological isle were screeching and squawking about anything and everything and delivering every story as if it was the end of the world, Senator Obama was calm and made his point in a way that tried to avoid hyperbole or as he put it “Never to high or to low”. Ok, his big set piece speeches were filled with the sort of “Eagle soaring over the Great Plains” imagery so beloved by the US political speech writer, (although his main speech writer Jon Favreau is only 29) most of the time he was relatively sensible. He managed to get his sensible tone across despite the media.

And there lies our problem. How can we engage our youth? (That sentence makes me sound so old but, hey, I am). Again I think that, whilst politicians have to shoulder some of the blame for the public disconnect with the body politic, the media, both print and broadcast, have done an amazing job in turning us off for politics. It has got to the point that a politician has to point out that they think that people are grown ups and can cope with nuanced argument rather then being able to go on the radio and assume that the Today program is listened to by adults. The British press has reached a place were the subtlety of argument is almost impossible. They just want to deal in black and white, well some newspapers it is only the white. They want fear and emotion. The want to describe all politicians as on the make or croaked in some way, when, in fact, most members of parliament are there because they want to help people and they believe in what their party stands for. They encourage cynicism about politics and politicians and then act surprised when we have a low turn out on Election Day.
TV news is no better. Despite the fact that it is on for 24hrs a day they still seem to be in a hurry. All news readers have now taken the Paxman approach to interviewing which is less about extracting useful information and having a debate and more about showing that they have a lack of deference and showing how big you balls are, and this includes the woman. This is the reason that our leaders (and those that wish to lead us) go on the soft programs like GMTV or end up chatting on Mumsnet, they are able to get a word in edgeways, although this doesn't save them from being misreported, I give the Gordon Brown biscuit incident as evidence for this. It was reported in our papers that he is such a ditherer that he could even answer a question on which was his favourite biscuit. What a fool. The thing is, this isn't what happened. According to the founder of Mumsnet the question was asked but due to a technical error the Prime Minister didn't see the question hence no answer. However, despite the fact that it is untrue, I saw this being used this week in a newspaper as a fact.
The problems of reductionism are not just the fault of the press; Politicians must share the blame too. Take the problem that we have with drinking. The cost to the NHS and to the police. According to the papers it's binge drinking that's the problem. Extended licensing hours, yes, that's to blame. And it's all young people. As I record this the Tories are blaming the Term units of alcohol and want to bring in Centilitres of alcohol like they have in Europe, I don't think they've run this idea past the whole party, “like they have in Europe, I think not, on principle”. The Government are also looking at labelling but also at a mandatory minimum price per unit for alcohol. So the same people are being punished by both sides here with simple easy to understand and totally useless plans. No one talking about the at home drinkers who drink every night and in large quantities doing serious long term damage to themselves and much more importantly then all of those things, no one is asking why people drink so much. And why aren't they asking? Because it is a hard question to answer. There are no simple solutions and it won't fit easily into a press release.
Our press would have you believe that people care not for politics because, after the expenses scandle, we have found out that our politicians are corrupt. Personally I would say human, taking advantage of a lax system is human but they would say corrupt. But if this is the reason then why do Americans get so excited about their politics? Whether they admit it or not (and I don't think they will) their system is incredibly corrupt and their press is considerably more divisive then ours. Elections there are all about who can raise the most money and voting in the house and the senate is influenced (to a greater or lesser extent) by which lobby group has paid the money to the representative's election war chest.

So, again, we are left with the question, why where so many people excited by Barack Obama? Did they think that he was, like episode 4, a new hope? Coming to sweep away all that has gone before because that seems unlikely, people have noticed how slowly politics changes. Or maybe they just mistook it for a giant reality show in which they could get involved. That would explain the vast number of young people involved. Perhaps they were interested more in his “journey” than in his policies. Is this a bad thing? Maybe not. If they were interested enough to make phone calls and delivery leaflets maybe they might have read them and become a little more informed.

We are forever hearing ways that might encourage people to vote. We could do it at Supermarkets or by text or by post or by pressing the red button (oh no, that was Dr Who extra, but my point stands). Armando Iannucci described this in his book, The Audacity of Hype, as process replacing content. Giving people more ways to vote isn't really the answer to their lack of enthusiasm; you need to give them more reasons to vote.
But maybe way can see a way ahead because we are going to have pre-election debates. Finally all 3 main parties have agreed to have a US style debate and this can only be a good thing. The 3 leaders will have time to discuss their visions for the country on Prime time television, 3 times. I would imagine that Nick Clegg leapt at this opportunity and grabbed it with both hands, as he should. Whilst there will be questions from the moderator they will get time to make their point, without being interrupted by an imbecile, well David Cameron might say something. It will be 3 men standing up and discussing their point of view in the middle of the evening, hopefully with a minimum of fussing and extraneous nonsense, although I can't image that Sky will be able to do it without covering the screen the screen with a news crawler and up to the second live Polls and weather up dates. This is why we all need bigger televisions, it's so we can see the little tiny picture in the middle of the screen a little better. But back to some sort of point, is this the sort of thing that will help people start to re-engage with the political system? A couple of hours of, hopefully, decent debate not viewed through the cynical prism of the British Press, let's hope so. The reason that parties like the BNP did well in the local and European elections is 2 fold. Firstly people are disconnected from the main parties because they are not dealing directly with their hopes and fears (mostly fears that are prayed upon and exaggerated by the opportunistic hate mongers) and secondly their voters are highly motivated and go out and vote. European and local elections use proportional representation which leads to minority parties doing better over all. Whilst the General election will continue to use the first past the post system, which will make it much harder for smaller parties to have anything the impact they did before, if you do not vote then you have no one else to blame but yourself if the wrong person becomes your MP.

In short, I have no answers. We are in this state because we have allowed ourselves to get here. We have bought nasty, cynical newspapers and we have not complained when our Television news is uninformative and treats us like idiots.
Let us hope that we find a way to re-engage the populaces because if we don't only about 40% of those entitled to vote, if we are lucky, will vote in the next general election. This means that if the winning party gets, say 45%, only 18% of the people who could have voted voted for the party of Government. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Return of Diana Watch

Can I start with a question? Oh I've already asked one and used that joke before I think, ah well, a second question then, are attempted plane bombers just really, really committed environmentalists? By sewing some explosives into his pants and then using a syringe to add a substance to the hidden package (tee hee) so that he could set light to his testicles hence earning him the nickname “thunderpants”, he has made air travel and the resulting super increase in pointless security so horrible that people will be put off of flying. Think of all that carbon he has saved. Greenpeace should thank him. He should get a hand written letter from Ed Miliband.

 Usually I don’t use this blog to talk about stuff that is going in my life but due to the fact that all of Britain is snow bound there has been little else in the news. So little news if fact that Jonathan Ross leaving the BBC got 15 whole minutes on PM on radio 4 on the day he left. Well at least they weren't talking about snow for that quarter of an hour. Well, that's not completely true; Ross made his statement to the press carrying a tray of tea for them because they had waiting for a while IN THE SNOW. What non-English (because we don't know what's going on in Wales or Ireland) readers have to understand is that English weather is the worst in all of the world. It may only be -4 degrees C here (quite a bit colder in Scotland at night though) but clearly, by the amount of trouble caused by this not-that-cold-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things, our scale is different to, say, Russia's where the MAXIMUM temp will be -13 on Saturday or maybe Finland's, because it seems to be causing significantly more problems here than anywhere else and this leads me to that conclusion. Foreign's scale is different and easier, so our weather is worse. Well it's either that or we are just a bit rubbish at dealing with inclement weather and it can't be that.

 On Sunday we picked up a new kitten having been cleared for adoption (is that the right word? Do you adopt a cat or is it more like sub-letting?). She is very pretty and quite friendly, too significant other mind you, not me. See for yourself,


 Whilst we were being interrogated by the slightly crazy cat women we mentioned that we were thinking about getting a second kitten to keep Tilly the Cat company. Oh my, we were met with a sob story. We heard about a kitten that had beaten up and this had resulted in a broken pelvis, cracked ribs and she has had to have half of her tail removed. Could we not take this cat? Are we dead inside? Well significant other is, she doesn't cry at  “It's a Wonderful Life”, but that's not the point. Of course we couldn’t and so on Friday we picked up our second kitten of the week, Ladies and Gentlemen I give you….. Pootle 2. (Named after our old cat and as a Simpsons reference)


As you can see she is a black cat, I like black cats and, because I’m not Rod Liddle, I don’t blame them for most of the small bird deaths in my area or all of the shit in my garden.
 This morning one of the kittens managed to get her paws underneath the duvet and attack Significant Others toes. She responded to this by saying “right! I'm going to have to get falconry socks to protect my feet”. It's a good job that people in the real world don't over react to a single attack in this same sort of over the top way, oh now, wait......

It must have been a great day in the office of the Daily Mail when this “report” came in. “Young children who are smacked 'go on to be more successful'” read the headline and the study, by Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of Psychology at Calvin College in the U.S. state of Michigan, “found there was not enough evidence to prove that smacking harmed most children.” Now, I have emailed Prof Gunnoe to try and see if this is what her report found but she is yet to get back to me. The thing is that the article written by the Mail goes on to, sort of, undermine its own headline.
Teenagers in the survey who had been smacked only between the ages of two and six performed best on all the positive measures.” So between 2 and 6 disciplining your child is a good thing. Now I don’t think anyone can argue with that, however, after that it all gets a bit more vague.
 “Those who had been smacked between seven and 11 fared worse on negative behaviour but were more likely to be academically successful.” If you smack your child between 7 and 11 they will behave more badly. Now that is interesting. They seem to do better in School but their behaviour is worse. Take your pick parents, do you want a child that does as it is told or one that gets good11 Plus?
 “Teenagers who were still smacked fared worst on all counts. “ Not really a great surprise there.
 So the article that started out as a pro-smacking article very quickly talks itself into admitting that smacking (and by that they only mean a smack every so often, when needed, like when I was about to put a metal teaspoon into an electrical socket, not regular beatings, which I assume never did Littlejohn any harm. Except to make him hate all of humanity.) was only effective within a very specific developmental stage of the child.
 The brilliant self-undermining continued when right at the end they concluded with “Two years ago, Britain was criticised by the UN for failing to ban smacking in the home, after experts said it was a form of abuse. And growing numbers of the public seem to agree: A recent poll found 71 per cent of parents would support a ban on smacking.”  

 There won't be any awards this week because so little has happened that wasn't snow related and I've already written about to ill-fated Hewitt/Hoon
 If you live in England, keep warm, if you live in a cold foriegn country, it's not as cold in your country despite what your therometer tells you.
 Have a good week all.