Friday, 31 July 2009

The hypocrisy machine.

The Sun's exclusive on Theresa Winters, the woman from Luton who has had all thirteen of her children taken into care and is now pregnant with her fourteenth, ticks all the paper's buttons. Broken Britain, scrounging feckless layabouts and of course the bourgeois journalists working for a "working class" newspaper sneering at their own target market. It doesn't really make much difference that I can't think of anything less feckless than being perpetually pregnant, and that yet again the paper is pushing for benefit reform by finding the most extreme case it can, regardless of how the kind of reform it demands would punish those who are deserving as well as those who "aren't". Combine this with the casual dehumanisation which infects all such stories, with Winters described as the "Baby Machine", leeches and slobs and you have a classic example of a newspaper providing its readers with a target they can hate without feeling bad about doing so.

The ire directed at the couple is based around how they've cost the taxpayer "millions" with their selfish ways, and of course how the benefit system encourages such behaviour (it doesn't; they've just abused it, but never mind). Yet when the BBC's Look East went round to their flat in an attempt to get their own interview, they were informed that they'd signed an exclusive contract with a national newspaper which prevented them from giving one. I can't obviously comment on whether such a contract involved the couple being paid for being abused and used as scapegoats by the Sun, but it seems doubtful that they would have done so unless their was something in it for them. Rather then than it being we have an underclass because we "fund it with handouts", which only someone who occupies an ivory tower from which they can't even begin to see the tops of the houses from could believe, it seems that the Winters will be able to rely on income from a national newspaper should she decide to go for baby fifteen. Encouraging and abetting such selfish behaviour? The Sun? Never!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Paedophil(i)e Dectector

Today's Sun has one of its regular articles seemingly published to whip up public hysteria over paedophiles. This particular article covers a government trial which will test freed rapists and paedophiles to see if they have reformed using a lie detector/polygraph.

The Sun states that they are infallible:
It is virtually impossible to trick a lie-detector because it picks up signals of fear, which emanate from the hypothalamus gland in the neck.
No, they're not!

What is the evidence regarding their accuracy? Well, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that they are no good at actually detecting whether or not someone is lying. Amongst other things there are no studies into any placebo-like effects, i.e. it is not possible to know whether the results are accurate or whether they are simply due to someone believing them to be accurate. There is also the slight problem in that it is entirely possible that a person could be telling the truth but is nervous while doing the test, which would lead to results that suggest that they are lying. Conversely, someone whom is lying may be capable of controlling their emotions, which would lead to results that would suggest that they are telling the truth.

What about the "Top US lie-detector expert" that the Sun refers to? As far as I can make out, he is a business man with an honorary qualification from the Hawaii Organization of Polygraph Examiners (who appear to have no internet presence at all...), the Texas Association Of Polygraph Examiners but he doesn't appear to be on their list of members, but the company is (but this hasn't been updated since October 2007) and the American Polygraph Association, whose membership list is currently being upgraded. He's labelled as a BS - the US name for a BSc - but it doesn't say what it is in.

So what can we say in summary? The best bet is to quote the APA
For now, although the idea of a lie detector may be comforting, the most practical advice is to remain skeptical about any conclusion wrung from a polygraph.
Given the difficulties in also establishing the "expert"'s qualifications, I can only concur.

Of course, if anyone is able to find any more about the "expert", leave a comment.

No shame over Amy Winehouse.

The Sun has led the last two days on Amy Winehouse's ex-husband's story of life with her, the paper having bought it, doubtless for a huge wad of cash.

This is despite the fact that the newspaper on numerous occasions directly blamed Blake Fielder-Civil for Winehouse's descent into drug addiction, and which it is now handsomely profiting from, with such eye-opening exclusives as the fact that Fielder-Civil saved her from an overdose, and that she stole cocaine from Kate Moss's bag. Winehouse herself in fact claimed that Fielder-Civil saved her, as reported by the Sun at the time, except with the added aside by the paper that FC then left her in hospital to go and collect another fix. Doubtless though, the Sun was merely misinformed, and reports headlined "Amy's lag hubby has no shame", "Amy and Blake back to worst", "for God's sake, get help Amy!", "Amy stop your brainrotting", and "You should be ashamed Blake" were mistakes, all now rectified thanks to a bulging cheque. The Sun of course, when it comes to circulation and making money, has no shame over such reverse ferrets.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Wi-fi Stress makes you ill

With the country seemingly doomed due to pig flu, the Sun turns its gaze to another pressing and urgent medical condition which is on the verge of wiping us all out: Electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

It has an article about some DJ who claims that his life has been ruined due to wi-fi singals. He claims that whenever he goes somewhere that has wi-fi he gets headaches and feels dizzy. He also says that there is "anecdotal evidence", i.e. a friend of a friend, of it affecting people. However, I could say that a friend-of-a-friend suffers from being exposed to massive radiation whenever he uses a cash machine from the display screen, but nobody would give this any credence. It's simply a story, not data.

The problem is, from what he says it appears that he knows in advance whether or not a place has wi-fi. As anyone who has conducted medical trials knows this leads to serious problems with blinding: he expects certain things to happen and those things do in fact happen, but it could be due to something completely different to what he claims or due to a subconscious belief that wi-fi makes him ill, which would then cause his symptoms (a psychosomatic illness).

I suggest that people look at the Wikipedia article on the subject. It demolishes the claims using actual peer-reviewed evidence and systematic reviews (effectively taking numerous small studies and using various statistical techniques to combine them into one big study) to show that there is no evidence that the condition actual exists. This is probably why it's listed on Wikipedia's "List of topics characterised as pseudoscience". I would also recommend the episode of the Skeptoid podcast about this area as a good debunking of the claims.

On the plus side the Sun does state there is "no hard evidence that wi-fi is dangerous to your health", but it then goes on to give scare stories about teachers wanting wi-fi banned in schools and the German government telling people not to use it. The Sun also has a small comment from one of their doctors, which although not supportive, doesn't state that it is rubbish.

It is entirely possible that the guy's lifestyle - he's described as a top DJ who plays in major clubs in Ibiza - has caused a stress reaction and so leading to his symptoms which he attributes to wi-fi signals.

I don't know how old the guy is, but from his picture I'd say that he's at least in his 40s. I'd recommend that he takes a more relaxed approach, for example, by spending more time in his Cornwall cottage. He needs to realise he's getting old and his body won't be able to handle as much as it used to. If he does, then it's likely that his symptoms will resolve without the need to go to such extremes as to fence himself off from modern forms of communication.

[Disclosure: article researched from my laptop using wi-fi]

UPDATE (28-07-09): Just found this (via Mashable who reported it today) in the Telegraph which goes into further details as to why it's false, using the frequency of the radiowaves that are emitted.

UPDATE (29-07-09): The Sun's article has also reached Ars Technica. Their coverage isn't favourable to say the least...

Of course, a comment on shows it in simple language that surely even the Sun could understand:

I'll let you know if I see any other coverage.

Some context, please

If there's one thing that is guaranteed to help make a run of the mill story a better story, it is too leave out the context.

This one for instance...
Four times as many kids OD on coke

Four times as many kids overdose on coke as what? Fall of bikes? Cook their mothers dinner? Masturbate?

It gets even worse in the sub-header...
THE number of kids rushed to hospital after overdosing on COCAINE has soared by 400 per cent in ten years, figures revealed yesterday.

Do you hear? 400 per cent!! Sod Swine Flu, it's cocaine that's gonna finish of our kids at this rate.

It's ridiculous, isn't it. 400 percent of 4 is 24. 400 percent of 100 is 400. same percentage. Very different numbers. With out the numbers, the percentage increase means nothing.

The next paragraph, we finally get some numbers...
Casualty departments treated 60 under-18s who had taken the Class A drug last year - compared to just 16 in 1998/99

60 kids overdosing is too many. But is it a number to get hysterical about? And is the rise as big as The Sun is making out?

I will confess I'm not too good with figures, but I'll have a go.

First of all a 400% rise from 16 would be 64. From 16 to 60 is 375%, or x3.75. There the figure is coming down already. and over the 10 years the amount of deaths hospital admissions has increased on average by 4.4 kids a year.
Don't get me wrong, any amount of deaths hospitalisations is bad and an increase is definitely not good news. But has the rate increased, slowed or were the increase in deaths admissions all in one or two years? With out a comparison, or a figure to work out what percentage of kids actually doing coke are ODing, that figure for the rise in deaths admissions is also meaningless.
Maybe, just maybe that over the last ten years ODs' have increased by 400% 375% but the figure for the amount of under 18s that are doing coke has risen by 450%. That would mean the death admissions rate has actually dropped.

How does the amount of deaths admissions compare to the amount of kids? If there are only 70 kids doing coke, then these figures are catastrophic. But if there are thousand of young people doing coke up and down the country every weekend as we are led to believe then, tragic as it is, these deaths admissions do not call for a mass panic. The reasons why the increase need to be looked at, but to scream hysterically as the Sun wants you too, is a bit much.

The Suns' article then mentions how much coke costs. As little as £1 a line. That is like saying 'look how cheap petrol is. It's only 11p for 10mm.' It's a pointless exercise using those measurements, because you're just as likely to be able to buy 10mm of petrol as you are a single line of coke. 'A line' is not an official measurement, either. So one person would get 10 lines out of their gram of Colombian Marching Powder, someone else will get 30.

As I said before. I'm not saying that these kids don't matter, or that a rise in deaths hospital admissions is a good thing, just that lets have some more detail to get things in proportion. Without those figures, this article is so un-informative it might as well not have been written.

The post has been updated as I misread hospital admission for deaths, somehow. The point still stands, though.

I also said I wasn't too good at maths and Mark in the comments has corrected me here too. I was on the right lines but...
Oh, and their maths - and yours - is wrong.

400% of 16 is indeed 64, but a 400% rise would mean it increased by 64, giving a total of 80. The 60 that there actually were is a 275% increase.

Again the point of my article still stands and in fact because of my rubbish arithmetics I missed that not only are the figures out of context but that the 400% rise figure is just plain wrong, too.

"We surveyed 100 people..."

... although I doubt it was even that many.

We've all seen those stupid surveys, pretending to be a scientific survey when in fact that survey for a womans magazine about who is the worlds's sexiest bloke has only been conducted with only the ladies in the PR companies office and such like.

They usually try to keep up the pre-tense of either being a proper survey or at least throw in somewhere, somehow, that it's all just a piece of fun.

Well, Charlotte Martin, either wants to work in advertising or used to and forgot she is supposed to now be a journalist.

WHOSE body parts would you choose to create the perfect female body?

Nigella's ample chest, Kate's perfect pins and Beyonce's lovely bottom?

A new survey by organic weight loss experts Proactol has revealed which celeb body parts are deemed "most perfect" by UK men and women.

And the survey has some fairly suprising (sic) results.

I won't bore you with the details of the article as it just lists celebrity body parts and although the name of the company issuing the press release is mentioned as normal, there isn't usually a direct link to the company, is there...
For more information on Proactol and the perfect celebrity survey visit

A nice bit of advertorial there, churning out a press release, which Charlotte still got wrong. At the Proactol homepage there is no mention of the survey at all.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Rebekah Wade snared in phone hacking.

As might have been expected, Private Eye (1241) has some additional information on the phone hacking scandal:

"... There was, however, one bit of evidence he [Nick Davies, at the Graun's appearance before the Culture committee last week] omitted. A file seized by the Information Committee from private investigator Steve Whittamore in 2003, which was later obtained by lawyers for Professional Footballers' Association boss Gordon Taylor, included a personal request for Whittamore to trace someone's address via his phone number. The request came from Rebekah Wade when she was editor of the News of the Screws.

Davies was asked to keep quiet about this by the man who accompanied him to the committee hearing, Grauniad editor Alan Rusbridger, who feared that the skirmishes between the Grauniad and News International would turn into all-out war if there were any mention of the flame-haired weirdo who has now become NI's chief executive.

This may also be why the Guardian has yet to reveal that the secret payment of £700,000 in damages and costs to buy the silence of Gordon Taylor was not a mere executive order. It was decided by the directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd, the NI subsidary which owns the Sun and the Screws, at their board meeting on 10 June last year. If their involvement were revealed, it could cause grave embarrassment for the directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd - not least one James Murdoch."

The latter more or less came out yesterday, when we learned that James Murdoch had known about the settlement and agreed with it. The Wade revelation is though entirely new, and while there is no indication that Wade was using Whittamore for anything specifically illegal, it is an example that editors at the Screws knew about the "dark arts" and even personally used them. That makes it all the more ridiculous that both Andy Coulson and Tom Crone were so ignorant about what was happening all around them. It's also surprising that Wade herself was so tenacious in accusing the Graun of being "deliberately misleading" when they had such information on her; either she knew they wouldn't dare use it, as PE suggests, or shedecided to try to tough it out. Either that, or she didn't know.

By far the best comment on yesterday's reprise of Manuel from Fawlty Towers was from Peter Burden, who also interpreted their body language.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The "chain of terror" breaks.

It probably says something about the mounting cynicism concerning the war in Afghanistan that even the Sun, by far the most ardent supporter of our presence in Helmand province, has been moved to commission a justificatory article on the "chain of terror". As you might have expected though, to call the arguments made piss poor, utterly confused and easy to rebut would be an understatement.

To begin with, Oliver Harvey seems to be confused exactly where it is and who it is we're at war with. It is Afghanistan or Pakistan? Is it the Taliban or is it the Pakistani Taliban, who for the most part are entirely separate? This extends to Harvey's geographical knowledge: he claims that Malakand is near to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border when it is in fact quite some distance from it. This is an attempt to link Mohammad Sidique Khan and Omar Khyam to the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban; the problem here is that there is no link. Khan and Khyam, if trained by any particular grouping, were most likely trained by individuals with links to al-Qaida. Khan might well have left for Pakistan with the intention of fighting in Afghanistan; he left behind a video for his daughter which made clear he wasn't expecting to return. The fact that he did rather undermines any links he had with the Taliban, who are fighting only in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than having worldwide ambitions.

Next we have just the word of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama to convince us that somehow British troops in Afghanistan do make us safer:

Gordon Brown made his remarks last week as the war in Afghanistan entered a particularly grim phase, with 17 British soldiers killed already this month.

The PM argued the sacrifice made by our troops - 186 have died since operations began in Afghanistan - was vital and that to stop fighting the Taliban would make the UK "less safe".

Justifying the UK military presence in Helmand, he said: "It comes back to terrorism on the streets of Britain.

"There is a chain of terror that links what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain.

"If we were to allow the Taliban to be back in power in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda then to have the freedom of manoeuvre it had before 2001, we would be less safe as a country."

US President Barack Obama agreed, insisting: "The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much, if not more, of a stake in than we do.

"The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States."

Government officials state around three quarters of the most advanced plots monitored by MI5 have Pakistani links.

They said the security service is aware of around 30 serious plots at any given moment, suggesting that at least 21 of them are tied to Pakistani groups.

Again, we're meant to take it that Afghanistan and Pakistan are inseparable. Yet we have no military presence in Pakistan, and nor does the United States. The only thing that comes closest to it is the incessant drone strikes on alleged high profile militant targets. Afghanistan and Pakistan might be connected, but our military offensive is not, despite the recent AfPak change in emphasis by the Americans. The fact remains the al-Qaida doesn't need the freedom of manoeuvre it had in Afghanistan up to October 2001, both because it has something approaching that freedom in Pakistan and because its ideology has gone global, just as it hoped it would. 9/11 was mostly planned in Germany, having been first proposed years before by Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, just as 7/7 was mostly planned in this country. While attending a training camp is still integral to those who go on to become terrorists, most information can now be found and accessed through the internet. Furthermore, the fact that so many of these plots have roots in Pakistan is not always to do with how they can be linked back to the Taliban or al-Qaida there, but simply because so many of the Muslims in this country originate from Pakistan and have support or themselves support relatives back there.

And Afghanistan provides the bulk of the heroin on Britain's streets - with the profits funding Taliban guerrillas.

A staggering 93 per cent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan - two thirds of it from Helmand, where British troops are fighting and dying.

Taliban chiefs often "tax" narcotics gangs ten per cent for providing security.

Afghan police chief Lt Col Abdul Qader Zaheer, 45, told me last year: "If it wasn't for heroin there wouldn't be a war here. It pays for Taliban guns."

Of course, this omits the fact that the Taliban themselves first almost eradicated the poppy crop. They only turned to it once they needed to. It also fails to acknowledge that solutions to the poppy crop, such as buying it to be turned into medicines have been ignored or rejected. That the Sun also objects to even the most timid moves towards liberalisation of the drug laws also means that the opportunities that legislation offers are completely off the table. Heroin itself though has nothing to do with our presence in Helmand - we're not fighting a war against drugs in Afghanistan - this is just another distraction.

The tentacles of jihad linking Britain and Afghanistan begin on the Helmand frontline.

One dead Taliban fighter was found with an Aston Villa tattoo. The discovery suggested the insurgent was from the UK and followed news that RAF radio spies picked up Brummie accents while listening in on Taliban "chatter" over the airwaves.

These UK-born fighters arrive through the mountainous and sieve-like border from Pakistan - the same desolate, lawless region where Khyam and Khan received their bomb-making masterclass.

We've dealt with these same, unconfirmed and impossible to verify claims before. There probably are some Brits fighting in Afghanistan, but if there weren't fighting there, they probably would be somewhere else. In a way, this actually gives some credence to the claim that we're safer due to our presence in Afghanistan - fight those jihadists who want to do battle with their own countrymen outside the actual country rather than here. This isn't though the government's case - their case is that through defeating the Taliban and preventing al-Qaida from returning they're making us safer, which was dealt with somewhat above.

It is believed Khan filmed his "martyrdom" video in Pakistan. In it, he glares at the camera with his hatred of the West clearly evident and declares icily: "We are at war and I am a soldier."

Pakistan is the next link in the chain of terror. British jihadis receive not only weapons training there but are also further radicalised by preachers of hate at madrassas or religious schools.

Khan's fellow 7/7 murderer, Shehzad Tanweer, is said to have worshipped at Islamabad's notorious Red Mosque.

This is more nonsense - the idea that jihadists go to Pakistan to be "further radicalised" is specious. They wouldn't have gone in the first place if they weren't already somewhat committed to the cause. If anything, this further undermines the case for presence in Afghanistan: if all the radicalisation, training and hatred is going on in Pakistan, why are we in Helmand province? How does being there make us safer than stopping what goes on in Pakistan would?

We're then treated to some boilerplate rabble-rousing from a cleric whom Harvey had the privilege to meet:

The Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan make no effort to disguise their aim to introduce Sharia law to Britain. In the dusty Pakistani town of Kahuta, a cleric was happy to tell me last year of his desire to bring beheadings and stonings to our shores.

Imam Qari Hifzur Rehamn, 60 said of Britain: "Non-believers must be converted to Islam. Morals in your society, with women wearing revealing clothes, have gone wrong.

"We want Islamic law for all Pakistan and then the world.

"We would like to do this by preaching. But if not then we would use force."

The Imam of the town's religious school, where kids as young as nine are taught jihad or holy war, added: "Adulterers should be buried in earth to the waist and stoned to death.

"Thieves should have their hands cut off. Women should remain indoors and films and pop music should be banned.

"Homosexuals must be killed - it's the only way to stop them spreading. It should be by beheading or stoning, which the general public can do."

Again, this fails to even begin to back up the case for our presence in Afghanistan. If Harvey had met this imam in that country perhaps he might have a point - but he didn't. The idea that those taught similar things are suddenly going to be any sort of threat to this country except as an irritant is ludicrous - if they can't even begin to impose their beliefs on Pakistan, how are they meant to do it in a country thousands of miles away?

But the US-led coalition has vowed to stop the radicals from governing the desperately poor nation again and fermenting an ideology of holy war against the West.

The final link in the jihadi chain is a return to Britain.

Khan slipped back into the UK in February 2005. Just five months later he detonated his rucksack bomb at Edgware Road Tube station, murdering six people.

On the sun-baked plains and river valleys of Helmand today, our forces - some just 18 - are locked in deadly combat with a resilient Taliban army.

The prize in this bloody war, and the legacy for those brave soldiers who have returned here to heroes' funerals, is to snap the chain of terror for good.

Except there is no such thing as a Taliban "army", just as there is no such thing as one Taliban. This so-called "chain of terror" cannot be snapped by an army based in just one province, with just less than 10,000 soldiers on the ground, in a country which has been at war for almost 30 years. It would require an army at least 10 times that size to have even the slightest chance of controlling the whole of Afghanistan, let alone Pakistan, which this piece invokes repeatedly. The Soviets had over 100,000 units on the ground post-1980 and they couldn't manage it. How can such a fragmented coalition as Nato currently is even begin to?

The article doesn't even begin to consider any alternatives, let alone any counter-arguments. It can be argued that our very presence in Afghanistan in fact makes us less safe: it makes us a target for reprisals whereas if we were not involved we would not be. 9/11 and 7/7 did not occur in vacuums; they did not happen simply because "they hate us". The chain of terror would have breaks in it if we did not involve ourselves in battles in which we have no dog in. It would not completely remove the threat, but it would decrease it exponentially. That the Sun doesn't even start to imagine the opposing side even exists speaks volumes.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Hypocrisy? What Hypocrisy?

Via a Google alert in my in box comes this little teaser...

Going well until he hit upon...? What? What did Gordon hit upon?


It's for your own good, you know.

Monday, 13 July 2009

PCC: "Schizo" is not offensive

Back in May the Sun had a story about a pregnant woman who was stabbed to death by someone who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

The Sun had a headline "'Sorry' for stabbing by schizo" which led to 43 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission over the use of the term "schizo". There was even a comment to the article which made a simila point:
Whilst I appreciate that this is a news story and that Benjamin Holiday’s mental health condition is relevant to the case to refer to him as a “schizo” does not add to the facts, all it does is turn a mental health condition into a term of abuse.

Mental illness still carries a taboo; language like “schizo” reduces someone to their diagnosis in the most derogatory way using playground-taunts.
According to a Facebook post on by the Rethink mental health charity, the complaints will not be upheld, but it does not say why.

However, they also refer to the fact that in April the same word only led to 7 complaints and so they are not too disheartened.

[via a tip-off from Distillated]

The Sun: supporting Our Boys by stealing their footage!

Another dismal leader in the Sun today, supporting the unwinnable war in Afghanistan to the hilt by claiming that leaving the country to the Taliban will obviously mean that the bombs killing "Our Boys" out there will quickly be coming here

More interesting though is a video clip which the Sun are predictably claiming as an exclusive, showing British troops in action near the Inkerman base in Helmand province and which they've slapped their logo on.

The Sun has in fact stolen the footage, as you might have expected. It was first posted on Liveleak on the 7th of July by someone called campbell. The Sun has simply cut it so that only the video and not the identifiers remain. Nice work, and doubtless whoever campbell is will be contacted so that he can paid for the paper using his video without permission.

Ghoul-gle Streetview

In today's Sun someone claims to have spotted a ghost in the window of a house using Google Streeetview.

From having a very brief glance at the photo it's clearly condensation but it's a good example of pareidolia - seeing images in random patterns.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Hacks of the news.

As you perhaps might have expected, the Sun has not had a single word to say about the rather high profile elsewhere news that the News of the World had been hacking into the mobile phones of at least hundreds of various celebrities and politicians, or at least has not mentioned it on their website. Doubtless this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that some of this occurred under Rebekah Wade's watch, and instead that the Sun is simply concentrating on more serious news. Like the fact that a tennis player has had the size of her breasts reduced. I'm sure they'll get onto it tomorrow...

The Easter Island Wonder Drug

I was going to take apart this article about an alleged "wonder drug" that increases your lifespan by "decades".

However, MacGuffin over at Tabloid Watch, has done a similar thing with the Daily Express's coverage.

As far as I can tell, the only difference in the two papers' coverage is the name of who wrote the article and so I recommend that you go there instead.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Michael Caine - in two minds

Wading through ankle deep through the shite that is the Sun, I came across an article dated 21 March by Michael Caine.
It's about the he was filming then, about an old widower ex-marine whos' only friend gets murdered by drug gangs and then take the law into his own hands and starts killing the gang members one by one in revenge.

The title in the URL is 'Michael Caine on Broken Britian', and the tie in there is that the film is based on reality. Apparently the makers, just like those of Slumdog Millionaire that used children from the real slum of Mumbai, used real youngsters from London estates. Whether those kids were real gangsters, which to make the comparison with Slumdog would need to be the case is not mentioned.

Anyway, apart from pointing out how wrong Michael is about the gangster of days gone by being gentlemen and not using guns and knives, there is a point to this post that your reading.

Michael, in March, says...
"You don't have to go to Mumbai to find slums.

"I am always looking for something to stretch me as an actor, and this film does it. It is also about something that interests me - the kids on the sink estates. We are all sort of responsible for them being there.

"Their family let them down, the education system let them down, the Government let them down.

"In other words, we all let them down, and that's why they are like they are."

"We all let them down"

In April Michael is all for throwing in the towel and turning his back on the place...
“We’ve got three and a half million layabouts on benefits and I’m 76 and getting up at 6am to go to work to keep them,” says the star of Billion Dollar Brain.

Sir Michael will move to America rather than pay more than half his earnings in tax to bail out these scroungers.

If Michael cares that much about the youngsters of these estates, why would he bugger off and desert them because of a mere 5% rise in tax. He might have a £45m fortune, but he is not going to be taxed at 50% on all of that as it isn't income. Also, if he isn't funnelling as much as he can through a tax haven, then he's probably the only millionaire that isn't.

S'funny how people can change their view so much in a month, isn't it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Sun and the crime: here we go again.

We're getting into one of those periods again when the Sun decides it's time to go after Labour's record on the criminal justice system. This is one of those dividing lines where the "hawks" think that Labour hasn't been harsh enough, i.e. the Sun, other tabloids and the Tories, although I doubt they'll be much difference should they get into power, and the "doves", i.e. the likes of bleeding hearts like me, who think that Labour has legislated far too much and imprisoned far too many even while crime, according to the official statistics (and replicated across the Western world) has fallen to levels last seen in the early 80s.

Last week we had the claim that Britain was the most violent European country, while also claiming that also included the United States and South Africa, where there are other 20,000 murders a year. This was based upon highly incomparable figures released by the European Commission, which were then compiled by the Conservatives, who sent them on to sympathetic newspapers. The actual data on which these were based either hasn't been released publicly, or hasn't been by any of the organisations involved in compiling it - there's nothing on the EC site, nothing on the Eurostat site, and nothing on the Tories' site, making it impossible to even begin to verify the claims.

Today the Sun is stunned, stunned to learn that "life" doesn't mean life. Alongside the obligatory report on Michael Jackson's funeral, the front page shrieked about how "Lifers do just 9 years". Those who don't bother to read the story, or the further explanation provided in the paper might be surprised to learn that this doesn't include those convicted of murder, as they might imagine. They instead do an average of 16 years. Rather, those sentenced to life imprisonment but convicted of manslaughter, violent rape or armed robbery and released from prison in 2007 served an average of 9 years, based upon the 146 who were allowed out. This is hardly surprising, as those sentenced to life are always given a minimum term which they must serve before they can apply for parole. What the Sun doesn't mention, and which is often glossed over in the tabloids when reporting such "shock, horror" figures, is that those sentenced to life imprisonment remain on licence for the rest of their lives - if they commit another crime after being released they are immediately recalled to prison. This of course doesn't always happen - as the other figures released yesterday, which amazingly revealed that up to 1,000 people meant to have been recalled instead made a run for it, suggested. The vast, vast majority are though, and if the Sun has a problem with the time served by "lifers", it ought to take it up with the judges who originally set the term, not the prison and probation system which then have to work with those limits. It also notes that 6% of mandatory lifers were then convicted of another offence after being released, which seems remarkably low considering that up to 67% of those sent to prison are recidivists, having previously been behind bars.

All of this overlooks that not only has the prison population vastly increased under Labour, but that sentences have been getting longer, as a past Prison Reform Trust report found. A report released on Monday by the Howard League for Penal Reform reached much the same conclusions and called for a reduction in the prison population, for some prisons to be closed and for local authorities to take control of the prison system, as well as for a major expansion in community sentencing as opposed to short, worthless, if not downright damaging sentences which are currently keeping the prisons full and which have expanded massively under Labour.

This is naturally diametrically opposed by the likes of the Sun. That isn't "tough"; that's "soft", just like Labour have been, and as today's editorial states:

CAN you believe 1,000 criminals, including murderers and rapists, are walking free when they should be behind bars?

Of course you can. After 12 years of "Soft Labour," nothing surprises us about our shambolic criminal justice system.

This doesn't of course take into consideration that this was the first ever complete audit of those meant to have been taken back into custody and dates back to 1984 - 13 years of which Labour can hardly be blamed for, although that hasn't stopped either the Sun or the Tories. The real blame here lies with the police for not chasing warrants or being given the resources to do so, not with the criminal justice system itself.

No wonder, when convicted criminals are let off with non-custodial sentences or let loose on licence after serving half their time.

"Let off" - doesn't even give a chance to either fines or community sentences. The reason why so many are now serving half their sentence, or even just a third is down to the continual demands for harsher sentencing and more prison places; continual growth in places simply isn't possible without planning restrictions being rode over and greatly annoying those in the vicinity of the new establishment. This was the case when the Sun called for Connaught Barracks to be turned into a prison - the local community predictably went up in arms and saw off any chance of it happening.

The average "life" term is a derisory NINE years! Some thugs might consider that a price worth paying.

Well, no, it isn't, as its own story makes clear. The idea that anyone will consider the potential prison sentence they will receive before carrying out a crime which will attract a life sentence is to give credit to them which they almost certainly don't deserve. 9 years in prison is hardly a walk in the park, regardless of how often the Sun claims our jails are "cushy".

Now the Justice Department admit hundreds of prisoners who have broken their licence have done a runner.

They include 19 murders, two convicted of manslaughter and 26 sex offenders including 12 rapists.

The government claim this is because of their crackdown on licence breaches.

But most people will believe a different explanation... that releasing violent offenders early puts us all at risk.

Except as noted some these date back to the 80s, and they don't include just those released early, but those released on parole at the end of their term who have then re-offended. The Sun, by such repeated attacks, helps ensure that there can be no change in the policies on law and order between the two main parties. We urgently need to put a stop to the war on crime in its current form, just as we do all the other so-called wars.


Why, what do we have here? Some confirmation of yesterday's post perhaps? From further on in today's leader:

TORY leader David Cameron risks being accused of promising all things to all men.

He wants cuts in public spending, yet ring-fences the gigantic NHS and foreign aid budgets against any serious pruning.

He rightly vows to slash the hugely expensive brigade of bossyboots who run meddling quangos like Ofcom.

Unlike the brigade of bossyboots and meddlers in Wapping and News International, naturally.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lottery win is bad for you. Here's Saturday's numbers

Monday's Sun had an article stating that winning the lottery is good for your mental health, but bad for your physical health.

As far as I can see, it relates to this working paper (dated March '09) (PDF) (via the New York Times's Economix blog) [I'm currently unable to find a more recent version].

After reading the paper, it does appear that the Sun is mainly correct in how it reports the study, even though it doesn't mention that winning the Lottery has no significant effect on a person's general health status (para 5.1, p. 15).

I do however, have two main issues:
  • It names people whose lives have become "tragic" due to winning it. Leaving aside potential invasions of privacy that may cause, this implies that the paper also mentions them, even though it doesn't: the data is based on people's self-reported health from before their win and after it and a comparison is done (p. 6-11);
  • It states that they suffer from long-term health problems, implying that winning the Lottery causes them, even though the paper states that winning it has no effect on these (para 5.3, p. 17)
Of course, there's also the fact that if the lottery really is damaging to public health, should the Sun really be providing the latest lottery numbers in the next paragraph?

Instant arsehole, just add tea

Independent Minds...
Further to the reference in the paper [The Independent]on 14 June to Rebekah Wade allegedly hitting her first husband, Ross Kemp, after a "drinking bout" with David Blunkett, Mr Blunkett has been in touch to correct the record: "The alleged 'drinking bout' was a cup of tea at 5.30 in the evening (with witnesses including Rupert Murdoch)... There was no 'drinking bout', I've never been involved in such a 'drinking bout' ? with or without Rebekah Wade."

No booze was needed, then.

Gaunty goes supernatural

I saw this next quote from Matthew Norman on the Independent's site and thought I'd have a look at Gaunty's piece for myself, see what else he said, but where once there were columnists, and there are now none. Not just the link to the columnists page removed, but the page itself now.

Anyway, here is Matthew's notes on the subject of Jacko and Gaunty... fell to Jon Gaunt to strike the perfect note in The Paedo Gazette (formerly The Sun), by fixating on the child interference angle. "It is never too late ... to send a clear warning to others that they will never get away with their heinous crimes," wrote Gaunty of a deceased man never convicted of anything. "Even in death." Precisely how he means to pursue Mr Jackson is not made clear, but the item is on its way to the Afterlife Department at Bletchley Park, and should be decoded within a fortnight.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The BMI Calculator

I've noticed that the Sun now has a body-mass index calculator (BMI) on its Health & Diet page.

If you're not aware, BMI is used as a guide to whether someone should be classed as overweight, by taking the ratio of their mass to the square of their height.

The problem is that the Sun simply advertises it as follows:
Overweight? See our BMI calculator
It implies that it an absolute measurement, but Wikipedia shows that it isn't what it's designed for:
BMI has become controversial because many people, including physicians, have come to rely on its apparent numerical authority for medical diagnosis, but that was never the BMI's purpose. It is meant to be used as a simple means of classifying sedentary (physically inactive) individuals with an average body composition.
The Sun doesn't bother to say that if, for example, you're a body builder then it would be a waste of time using it (because muscle has a greater mass than fat, which would warp the results), nor does it state that it is simply a guide for an average person. In any event, the Sun doesn't give any explanation as to what BMI does until you type in your details:
For Adults:

Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
Overweight = 25-29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

For children, see BMI charts
For the record, my BMI is 21.6, which is in the middle of the "Average" range.

What is odd is the way the Sun goes about calculating BMI: they ask for your height in feet and inches - no metric option is available - and it asks for your weight in lbs. Does anyone actually weigh themselves in lbs in the UK? I was expecting stones and possibly kg.

While I appreciate the Sun's attempts, it could have done a lot better with a minimal amount of effort.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Alfie Patten: the PCC is shown to be useless yet again.

To get an idea of just how useless the Press Complaints Commission is, you only have to look at its non-investigation into the Alfie Patten disaster. You would have thought that they might just have something to say about how the Sun, the People and the Sunday Mail had almost certainly paid his family for personal interviews which led to some of the most invasive and potentially damaging intrusion into the private lives of children for some years, only for it to subsequently turn out that, oops, Alfie wasn't the father after all.

Today the Commission announced that it is to do, well, nothing. To be fair, that isn't quite what it's done. Because of the restrictions imposed by the High Court, which prevent the families of both Patten and Chantelle Steadman from being approached, the PCC supposedly has been unable to determine exactly what was paid, what was expected in return for that payment, how the families intended to use the money, how concerned the newspapers were about the children's welfare and the circumstances surrounding the original mistaken identification of Alfie as the father. It has instead elaborated on its guidelines on payments to parents for material about their children, which while welcome, is not for a moment going to stop this happening again.

While it's unfortunate that the families themselves cannot tell their side of the story, this is letting the opposite side completely off the hook. Is the PCC a regulator or is it not? A regulator with any teeth would have demanded that the newspapers themselves reveal what was promised, and just how, if the reports of the Sun setting up a trust fund for the child are accurate, it was intending to deliver the payment. It isn't clear that this information was sought at all; instead, it seems the PCC was relying purely on the families to inform them of what deals were made.

What the papers did provide the PCC with, predictably, was their arguments on how it certainly was in the public interest for them to claim that a 13-year-old who looked more like 8 had fathered a child:

The newspapers argued that the articles involved the important issue of the prevalence, and impact, of teenage pregnancy within British society. By identifying the principals involved and presenting them in a particular way, the story dramatised and personalised these issues in a way that stimulated a wide-ranging public debate, involving contributions from senior politicians (which included the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition). The newspapers said that they were fulfilling an important duty in publicising to a large audience a social problem that is perceived to be widespread. Their position was that the case was, on the evidence available at the time of publication, an exceptional example of the problem.

This is all true. This however doesn't take into account the fact that it was not in either Patten or Steadman's best interests for the entire world to know intimate details about their lives, with their parents making the decision for them based presumably on the fact that there was money offered in exchanged. There was only a story because of how Patten looked; 13-year-olds being fathers is rare, but not that rare. 15-year-olds being fathers and mothers however, is not a story at all, as in this case it subsequently turned out to be. Some might think it should be a story, and that it's a sad reflection on society at large when it isn't, on which they might have something approaching a point, but that isn't the issue here. Most damningly, the newspapers don't seem to have taken any real interest in how their stories would affect the children, and in the case of the People, doesn't seem to have decided that how Patten had to be begged, almost forced to come and speak to them might have suggested that they shouldn't be running such reports.

The Sun especially must be laughing at the weakness of the PCC. To say they profited from the story would be an understatement: almost purely down to the Patten report, which went around the world at the social horror of a baby himself becoming a father, they sky-rocketed to the top of the ABCe tables, becoming the most popular UK newspaper website for Feburary, with over 27 million unique visitors. However much they promised to pay the Patten family, they must have surely more than made their money back. For a newspaper editor who has dedicated herself to campaigning for child protection, either for Sarah's law or for "justice" for Baby P, Rebekah Wade seems to have completely lost her moral compass over Patten, and the only organisation which could have punished her has spurned its opportunity.