My visit to Fat Central on a mission to find out who’s really to blame for our obesity crisis

So. Today we turn the spotlight on Amanda Platell who is here to make sure we know why fat people are fat, the big fat fatties. Let’s begin with a balanced and calm opening from Amanda herself.

“I find obese people unappealing in almost every regard. They are physically unattractive, they lead unhealthy lives, they take up too much space on public transport, and (most of all) they are a strain not only on their clothing but on NHS resources.”

It’s really the taking up too much space on public transport that I find the most offensive and confusing. Attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder so if a bit of padding is not Amanda’s thing that’s fine, for every person who shares her opinion there is another who wants a woman with curves or a cuddly man (and indeed some who want even more, I’m not telling Amanda she shouldn’t fancy tories). But public transport? Is this really an issue? If it is, I must admit it’s one that has completely passed me by.

Amanda continues, blaming lack of self-control around food and then making statements of mock-outrage at how, whenever she voices these sorts of opinions, she receives lots of angry letters. I have my own views on why she might receive these letters but for now let’s hear her reasons. Who do you get letters from Amanda? Who?

“From fat people, of course. Because they say they can’t help it – it’s society’s fault, the government’s neglect, the curse of a fat gene or heavy bones.

And joining in their chorus of protest are the bien pensants of the Left who, because they believe only the power of the state can transform people’s lives, indulge the fatties’ sense of victimhood and cosset their over-indulgence with the protective embrace (and generous hand-outs) of welfarism.”

I could be wrong but I’m not sure we have a fat benefit, if we do, will someone please tell me where I can sign up? The frustrating thing already with this article is we all can see where it’s going and we’re barely a quarter way through. “Fat people are fat because they eat too much and do too little exercise.” Well, yes, in SOME circumstances this is almost certainly the case but why are they eating too much? And why are they exercising too little? And what about those who have gained weight due to genuine medical conditions? And why does it bother Amanda as much as it seems to? And also why at no point is it mentioned that people DO have different body shapes and some people gain weight easier than others and some are naturally curvy and… oh let’s just go back to her shall we.

“There are other factors, too, of course. In particular, in our consumerist, throw-away society we have stopped placing a priority on home-cooked meals as an essential part of healthy family life.

Not just for their role in bringing the family together, but also as a way for parents to fulfil their duty to their children and nurture them physically as well as spiritually.”

Well that’s a bit of a left turn? Is Amanda saying that parents already nurture their children spiritually? Because previous articles such as this and THIS suggest she has as much time for the modern world’s parenting skills (or indeed lack of the same) as she does for Dawn French’s Terrry’s Chocolate Orange adverts. Let’s rewind however, the point about a consumerist society is a valid one and it made in many other papers and columns from both ends of the political spectrum. Where the cheapest food on the market is nearly always the most unhealthy in terms of quality and content, the logical expectation is for the average weight to rise. However, has this stopped home-cooked meals? With the likes of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith et al, I’d say the value on home cooking is higher than it’s ever been.

“New research has revealed that one in three children-in the West Midlands is now either overweight or obese. One in three!”

I can’t find this research (and I’ve looked quite hard) so I can’t comment on its veracity. However, being an ex-resident of Birmingham, I feel that one in three is a VERY high estimates unless we’re taking overweight or obese from the BMI index… ah yes, that’ll be it. Sorry, I have to go on a small tangent here and point out what everyone already knows, BMI is outdated, outmoded, unstructured and fails to take into account some basis principles of body such as bone weight, muscle to fat mass ratios, water retention and the difference in physical make-up of humans from difference racial backgrounds. Almost all footballers and definitely all rugby players would be ranked as obese if one went on BMI alone not to metion a whole host of swimmers, boxers and people who engage in regular manual labour. Muscle weighs more than fat so someone who works hard in the gym toning and building muscle might be incredibly healthy but on the BMI scale, would be told to lose weight.

Anyway, as Amanda doesn’t mention BMI, we should get back to the article in question. She pulls no punches at all pointing out that members of her family are fat and whilst she loves them, it’s pretty much their own fault and she has no sympathy. She does not, unsuprisingly, go into detail as to just how fat they are and what, if any, problems their size has caused them. Perhaps she’s saving that for her next article.

“Nowhere is this problem more acute than in the town of West Bromwich. So that’s where I headed, notebook in hand.

Let me say immediately that I met many wonderful people in West Brom and that it is somewhat unfair to have picked on this town alone because flab is a national problem. But I didn’t invent those statistics and I had to choose somewhere to investigate this disturbing national phenomenon.”

Well, it’s good to know that you are not picking on the people of West Brom directly Amanda and you’re just there because of maths. Oh no hang on a second:

“The High Street in West Bromwich is typical of the pitifully rundown town centres around Birmingham where the once close-knit working-class community thrived on steady hard work, but with the closure of factories now flounders on welfare (it has one of the highest levels of families on benefits in Britain).”

There we go, the loss of that close-knit working-class “wasn’t Coronation Street a great documentary” community from the days of yore. Children would run down the cobbled streets in clogs chasing a metal hoop, men were real men and would come home from the factory with a pay packet and the knowledge of a home cooked meal waiting for them, women would stick by their husbands no matter what and… no sorry, I can’t go on, I’m going to cry. It’s interesting that Amanda often talks about the loss of the community spirit in towns across the country. Somehow, she always seems to forget that that particular trait is incredibly prevalent in many of the ethnic minority communities. I can’t for the life of me think why.

Meanwhile, back in West Brom circa 2009:

“Everywhere, there were fat people. Men with stomachs so large it must have been decades since they’d seen their toes; women so overweight they had rolls of fat cascading down their backs, their thighs so large they couldn’t walk, they waddled.

More troubling still were the huge number of people on motorised buggies – every one of them obese. Others staggered along supporting their bulk by leaning on shopping trolleys. It doesn’t take long to see that immobility is the inevitable outcome of a lifetime of obesity.

Saddest of all, though, were the young kids, just teenagers, with arms so fat they stuck out from their sides, legs so large their feet pointed outwards. I’m sorry if that sounds cruel. But until we recognise the reality of the problem, we’ll have no hope of beating it.”

That’s it Amanda, what these people need is a good sharp shock from your pen. It’s so simple, they just don’t know their fat do they? They’ve been so busy scrounging off the welfare state they have no idea what size they are any longer and what they really need is a middle class journalist in their midst holding up and mirror and saying “Look at yourself, just look, you disgust me”. There’s nothing better to make you motivated to eat better and exercise more than feeling the scorn and hatred of the popular press.

The next line is my favourite:

“Just as in a war zone, it’s important to bring home the horrors of the frontline, not some sanitised PC version.”

A war zone? Are we not perhaps blowing this out of proportion somewhat? No? Oh ok, please continue. Amanda interviews some ‘case studies’, two girls who work in a café who describe themselves as plump and she kindly corrects them as on “…the roll call of the town’s obese” (although in the paper, not to their faces as that would be mean). Then after listening sympathetically as they blame the government for their condition (wasn’t she ridiculing people who did this just a few paragraphs ago), she manages to wander off onto another of her pet hates.

“West Bromwich boasts a vast new art centre called The Public that cost £65m to build and is universally despised.

The town could have had an Olympic-class sports centre for that kind of money. The locals would have settled for a half-decent swimming pool. Instead they got a giant white elephant.”

Yes those liberals and their art. Clearly such a place can only persuade more people to waste their time trying to be creative when they should be out getting proper jobs in factories and sweat shops just like the one Amanda does. Interestingly, this isn’t the first attack on this building made in the Mail as you can see here. Also, figures on it’s actual cost seem to vary from £50million to the Mail’s quote of £65million.

Whatever the actual cost, The Public has brought jobs, tourism and entertainment to a city which is by all accounts including Amanda’s, in dire need of investment. Additionally, there are at least two swimming pools in West Bromwich and a whole host more in nearby Birmingham all funded by the council. I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be more, everyone likes a swim but it’s not as if The West Midlands is having a chlorinated water drought.

“Yes, people worried about their weight, but said they didn’t know how to lose it. They wanted help and saw it as the Government’s responsibility, not their own.”

My main issue with a majority of Amanda’s articles is she doesn’t seem to be able to decide exactly what she thinks. Take the above statement, are people fat because they’re lazy or is it because they’re uneducated? Should they have taken control of their own bodies from day one or is it the governments fault?

“West Brom may have no swimming pool, but it has fast food outlets galore. And then there are the cake shops – I’ve never seen so many of them in my life, their windows groaning under piles of iced buns and custard cakes.

Down the road at the popular Pie Factory pub you can get a ‘Desperate Dan’ meat pie – all 4lb of it – for just £8.99. It’s enough to feed a family of four but is sold as a meal for one.

You couldn’t eat healthily in this town if you tried. And I did.”

So perhaps, for a few lines, Amanda and I are on a similar page (not counting this one). Ignoring the fact that she is continuing to contradict herself from what she said at the beginning, the point she is making regarding the quality and type of food sold in a poor urban area such as West Brom and how it can have a direct impact with the health of the people living in that area is one I’m totally onboard with. Still, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for her, it’s almost as if she get’s no joy out of food and see’s it as an enemy combatant in her never-ending fight. How often does someone really go for the ‘Desperate Dan’ pie alone? I like a pie, possibly more than most, but even I might veer off at some point through 4lbs of mean and pastry. I don’t think it’s the only product the Pie Factory produce.

Our intrepid reporter moves on from here to speak with people who run a fat fighting group. From the quotes, they sound like perfectly reasonable persons and not nearly as judgmental as Amanda herself.

“’It is clearly linked to poverty and deprivation,’ says Rosemary, though she concedes that ‘there are many poor countries in the world where people are far more deprived and yet no one is fat’.”

Oh she concedes that does she? I can just imagine how quickly Amanda got that line in after Rosemary’s sympathetic outlook. There is a near insumountable difference between the poor areas of a rich, developed country, that has the technology at it’s disposal to produce cheap food at literally the click of a button and the poor areas of a deeply poor country, one that has not had an industrial revolution or, if it has, it’s been one forced through in a few decades instead of two centuries. I can’t help but feel that this would be considered a moot point. In Amanda’s article, just as in many Daily Mail articles on obesity, if poorness caused people to be fat, why are the poorest in the world starving.

“But while Rosemary and Gordon are justifiably proud of their scheme and optimistic it will make a real difference to the obesity problem in the area, what it cannot do is alter the endemic blame culture.

The tragedy of the welfare state in places like West Bromwich is that it breeds a hopelessness and a helplessness, a poverty of ambition, a reliance on the state so great even the size of a person’s backside is blamed on the Government.”

The welfare state causes obesity? But I thought the problem had nothing to do with wealth or income? I wonder if Amanda has considered what would cost the NHS more, some people suffering from ailments brought on from an unhealthy diet, or those same people suffering from a whole range of diseases and illnesses because they did not have the money to buy clothes and food. As I say, I’m just wondering.

“Surely if ever there’s one thing each and every person can take charge of it’s what they put in their mouths and the number of times they get their bums off the sofa and out in the fresh air to exercise. It costs nothing but willpower and a decision to be accountable for your own life and your own health.”

And thus every person who is incapacitated by ill health or literally cannot afford “good food” or has bigger problems to worry about that the size of their ass is reduced to being both stupid and lazy. But hold on, it get’s better (and by better I do mean worse).

“But I’m not holding out much hope for the good citizens of West Brom. They will go on getting fatter, more immobile, more unhealthy and, ironically, even more of a drain on the very state they blame, as they queue up for their hip and knee replacements and fill doctors’ surgeries for diabetes and heart problems.”

Does everything in this paper come down to money? Well, yes actually, it pretty much does. Also, Amanda was very clear she didn’t want to ‘pick’ on West Bromwich and yet that hasn’t stopped her having a snide remark handy at every possible opportunity.

To give this some balance, she does pass on some credit to Kayleigh (the one she added to her ‘obese list’ earlier) by saying she is working and trying to get on with life. However, it is a small respite from her true views.

“I had thought the sight and plight of people in Britain’s fattest town might soften my attitude to the obese, but while I have sympathy for the individuals I spoke to, I’m sorry to say my overall thinking has only been hardened by what I witnessed.

In a world where many suffer terrible diseases through no fault of their own, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for those whose ‘illness’ is self-inflicted, who refuse to take any responsibility for their bodies and actions, who blame everyone but themselves for their misery – then leave us to foot the bill.”

So what is your answer Amanda? Should the government be helping or would that be interfering? Should we be banning unhealthy foods and closing MacDonald’s or is that just Nanny Stateism? You say people should take responsibility and yet lump blame on the government for building an arts centre instead of a swimming pool? The girl you interviewed is trying to make ends meet and earn a wage yet you would have her putting money towards weight watchers classes instead of saving.

The frustrating thing about this entire article is it lumps all ‘fat’ people into one group. It gives them all the same attributes as lazy, slovenly, greedy and a drain on society. It also makes sure to be clear that they are all of ‘lower class’ and most are on benefits which are paying for their increasing weight. It makes no account for personality or personal circumstances. It makes no differentiation between those who gain weight because they just eat too much and those that have struggled with physical and mental illnesses which have caused a dependency on food. Also, it takes the absolute argument that “BEING FAT IS BAD”. There is no room for the fact that there have been fat people throughout history, that some people are perfectly happy with the size they are and that others find them attractive, fancy them, fall in love with them and *gasp* even have sex with them.

In a country were women are told daily to lose weight, shave their bodies, cover up wrinkles, calve off cellulite, dye their hair, iron their clothes and look like airbrushed celebrities from dawn to dusk, I would think Amanda would encourage some sort of variety in the people around her including the variety of size so we aren’t conforming to the “liberal media’s” view. She never talks about an epidemic of underweight people? Is that because they don’t exist? Or because they fit a social ‘norm’ already divised by the media as to how we think we know we should look.

And with that bit of covelution. I’m off for a burger. And I’m going to enjoy it!

Insults that betray the bigotry of gay zealots

Another almost overwhelmingly depressing column today from Amanda Platell. I think of all the Mail‘s writers, Amanda is the hardest to read – her columns are, almost without exception, viciously judgemental, spiteful and negative to a point where they become quite upsetting to read. Working my way through the snapshots of aggression she takes each week is a draining and dispiriting experience and one which sorely tests my sense of living in a world of positivity and hope, surrounded by equals deserving of my understanding and love. I mention this because central to Amanda’s main column this week is a complaint:

“In articles for this paper, I have committed the heresy of stating my belief that married heterosexual couples make the most suitable candidates to be adoptive parents.

In return, I was subjected to a vile and filthy campaign of personal abuse from the gay media. In one online forum, a contributor suggested the only reason I held such views was that I obviously ‘wasn’t getting enough’.

That’s the sordid level of debate we’ve now reached about an issue with profound implications for the most vulnerable children in our society.”

Amanda is completely right – one of the central principles of this blog is that, in responding to negativity, we need to elevate the argument beyond personal attacks and vindictiveness. Although I often feel that my moderation falls just the wrong side of being po-faced, I think it’s important that the debates we have are civil if we are to generate light in them, and not just heat¹.

This is something which works both ways. The following all appear on the same page as Amanda’s justified and fair complaint about personal abuse:

“We’re used to her craven, attention-seeking publicity stunts, but even by Madonna’s standards, the news that she’s exchanging Kabbalah vows with new toyboy boyfriend Jesus is puzzling.

Then again, if the legal reason she can’t adopt Malawian orphan Mercy is because she’s a single mother, it’s not so much a marriage of convenience as of conveyance.”

“He says he [David Beckham] ‘only has eyes for Victoria’. Yes, but what about your other body parts, Dave?”

“Artistic, inspiring and so modest with it. Is there no beginning to Ms Frostrup’s talents?”

“At first glance, the new pictures of the original Calendar Girls 10 years on was a bit much to, er, bare. But in this body-fascist world, any woman who feels good enough about her body to strip naked at 75 earns my admiration. I just pray they don’t do a 20th anniversary version.”

“Pass the sickbag, Sarah. Paris is a tacky celebrity who’s made millions out of being an airhead. Mrs Brown already has one lost cause at home – she doesn’t need to go searching for new ones.”

“The most astounding thing about the ill-tempered exchange between BBC News 24′s presenter Carrie Grace and Lord Foulkes was that this very forgettable, middle-ranking news presenter gets paid £92,000, while co-presenter Simon McCoy gets £190,000.”

So, we have the impugning of the motives of the relationship arrangements of Madonna, a slur on the current fidelity of David Beckham based on old allegations about his sex life, a snide personal attack on a successful broadcaster, an almost hilariously hypocritical review of a charity calendar², a snide personal attack on Paris Hilton rolled into the doubting of Sarah Brown’s judgement³ and a snide personal attack on a news reader. This is the sordid level we’ve reached.

I don’t want to attempt to justify abuse of Amanda Platell, I think it’s wrong. What I will say, though, is that the Buddhists are right when they suggest the world is acting on you as you act upon it. If you live you life in the life states of animality and anger, the world returns your actions to you on the same terms. If your career is based on weekly personal attacks delivered to strangers, can you be so surprised when strangers see you as a fair target for personal attacks? Any such attacks are not justified, any more than an attack on David Beckham is, but they are inevitable.

This is particularly the case when you are seeking to deny human rights based merely on your own prejudices. It is not heresy to suggest “that married heterosexual couples make the most suitable candidates to be adoptive parents” – it is merely incorrect, based on an ignorance on the research that shows gay and lesbian couples to be as suitable as straight couples. To suggest that view is “backed by an increasing weight of academic evidence” is factually incorrect, and I would encourage readers to complain to the PCC to ask them to correct this. As an introduction to research in this area, I would recommend The American Psychological Association’s ‘Lesbian and Gay Parenting‘¨, and for readers to move from there to the massive and increasing number of studies, meta-analyses, reviews and governmental reports in this area. This would be a much more constructive reaction to Amanda’s column than personal abuse would be – a shining of light into the dark.

It would also avoid Amanda’ fear that:

“No, the real danger of this hate campaign is, first, that it unjustly tarnishes the whole gay community, thereby provoking the very homophobia it seeks to condemn. And second, in its rabid attempt to defend the rights of gay couples, it overlooks the rights of adopted and fostered kids to be raised with a mother and a father.”

Instead, it would show up Amanda’s homophobia for what it is – a position taken against the gay community on the basis of prejudice and ignorance rather than evidence. It is homophobic to oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians purely because they are gay and lesbian. Given the overwhelming evidence that gays and lesbians make parents just as good as any straight couple, there is no non-homophobic reason to oppose their inclusion in the adoption system. In opposing Amanda’s attack on such inclusion, this would be defending a much more important right for children – to be brought up in a loving family.

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I’m sorry for the over personal nature of this post – I genuinely find Amanda upsetting, viscerally so, and haven’t found a way of distancing myself from that emotion and dispassionately commenting on her negativity and aggression.

¹ And, as ever, where I fall short I hope to be corrected by readers.

²I believe I’ve mentioned before that if you’re apologising before you say something, you probably shouldn’t be saying it. Delivering an ‘anti-body-fascist’ comment either side of a ‘body-fascist’ one doesn’t undo the harm of the ‘body fascism’, but merely underlines it. Particularly when you’re doing so in a newspaper so obsessed with the figures of celebrities.

³ It’s worth noting here that Sarah Brown actually met Paris Hilton, so is arguably in a better position to judge ‘what she’s really like’ than someone basing their opinions on Paris’ public persona.

¨ In passing, we can put this ‘debate’ down as another of the Mail‘s conspiracy theories. Amanda, and fellow columnists, are asking us to believe that every scientific body to have pronounced on the matter, the peer-reviewed scientific journals in which positive research is published, the governments that are advised by such research, the charities (such as the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, whose comments were the starting place for today’s column) who have taken a position in line with the governments’ – that all these groups are acting against the evidence, or fabricating false evidence, to further the agenda of a minority. How ridiculous does your conspiracy need to be before you accept the alternative? What could be the motivation of these groups? Is the American Paediatric Association really run by a gay mafia?

Twix bars, condoms and the betrayal of our young

Hidden beneath a piece on condom adverts is this from Amanda Platell:

“Lewis Hamilton is set to be our first sporting billionaire. He says of criticism that he is arrogant and superior: ‘I will take it on board and try to understand why it is being said.’ Here’s a hint, kiddo: perhaps people don’t like you because, the moment you hit the big time, you skipped the country to avoid tax. Now we’re in a recession, that bitterness will only grow.”

A couple of things: firstly, objections based on arrogance and superiority would seem to be conceptually distinct from objections based on tax status. While Amanda is right in suggesting that the animosity generated by the latter might give people an additional reason for airing the former, as indeed she is proving, her advice is flawed because removing one of the two objections does not remove them both. People will still think Hamilton arrogant and superior even if he returns to pay tax.

A second point is the injustice of attacking someone who leaves the country to protect their earnings. It is a solid Daily Mail principle that our tax money is routinely misspent (recent examples here, here and here). It is also a solid Daily Mail principle that people should contribute to pay for services that they use (recent examples here, here and here). So how can someone be blamed for wanting to pay their tax elsewhere, to the extent that they’re prepared to leave the country of their birth forsaking its benefits and services? It’s not as if he’s avoiding tax while living in the UK, and so not contributing to the upkeep of services he benefits from. Unlike Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail and General Trust’s chairman. In fact, describing his activities as ‘avoiding tax’ is misleading – Hamilton is merely avoiding paying it in the UK, it would be more accurate to say that he has chosen the tax regime he wants to live under. Which makes Amanda’s complaint look more like jealousy than principle.

Jacko and a sad day for British values…

I’m totally baffled by Amanda Platell’s column today, I can’t work out whether she’s for the rule of law or against it:

“What possessed Jack Straw to grant Jack Tweed (already convicted of a vicious attack on a 16-year-old) another extension on his curfew, just days after being convicted of a second offence of assaulting a taxi driver?

Spending a night at the bedside of his new wife, Jade Goody, Tweed says: ‘I just wish I could be there all the time.’ The irony is, he could have been – if he wasn’t such an unmitigated thug.”

It’s not the most compassionate of positions, but there’s an argument that the Law should be dispassionate and that punishments should be meaningful, so it seems fair enough. If the Law says Tweed’s punishment is a curfew, Amanda’s question of why this isn’t being applied is a reasonable one. However:

“The scenes of hysteria as Michael Jackson announced his farewell tour in London were as bizarre as they were troubling. Why on earth is a man who admits to having slept with young boys in his bed being welcomed to Britain at all?”

There are a few reasons why a non-EU national would be refused entry to the UK, a list of which can be found here. The mere sharing of beds with boys is not on the list. Odd and questionable though this behaviour most certainly is, it’s not actually a crime – it might be a reason for us to be wary of letting our youngest sleep over at Michael’s, but it’s not enough to keep Michael out of the country¹. However, Amanda can do better:

“Jackson may have been cleared on charges of child molestation, but the details that emerged at his trial four years ago paint a picture of a deeply perverted man. One whole section of evidence was devoted to the pornography he kept at Neverland, inluding two books featuring pictures of naked young boys and DVDs called Barely Legal.”

This isn’t much better, as she lets slip that Jackson was cleared of molestation charges, but it’s a decent attempt, as it implies that this exoneration was unsound. There are a couple of things to note about this. The first is that her basis for this opinion is his possession of legal pornography (the title should have given her a clue) and two legal books², which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling case. More worrying though is her implication that she, as a reader of the foreign press coverage of a court case, is in a better position to judge the innocence or guilt of a defendant, overturning as it does the idea of the fair trial. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would dispense with trials completely, allowing instead the Press to fit the more lurid bits of evidence into whatever narrative they felt was most compelling with media pundits working out guilt and innocence along the way. This is a hellish vision of utopia. If being cleared in open court isn’t enough for you to be considered innocent, what chance does civil society have? How acrid would our relations become if suspicion were considered guilt?³

Now I know that my desire for consistency across mini-articles on the same page of the same newspaper by the same author is almost as unfair as it is anal, but I’ll ask this anyway: how can Amanda complain with one breath that the Law is being stretched in one place, while attempting to sideline it completely with another? I imagine she thinks she’s being consistent as the two subjects of her disapprobation are, in her mind, guilty and all she’s seeking is to see that they’re punished. What she’s missing is that while Tweed is not being punished as the Law says he should be, Jackson is. Until her opinion is accepted as Law, this distinction will continue to make a fool of her.

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¹ Actual paedophilia would be as it’s a crime carrying a sentence of more than 12 months so a reason for excluding entry, although it’s worth noting here that the crime exclusion appears in the section looking at discretionary refusals (see here for a handy explanation), so Jackson could still be let in even then.

² My source for this is the BBC’s article on the evidence bit of the trial. The books listed there are ‘Boys Will Be Boys!’, which is available on Amazon, and ‘The Boy: A Photographic Essay’, which is also available on Amazon, and images from which are available here. I admit I haven’t read either of these, so Amanda may well be in a better position to judge this than me, but on the basis of this evidence, casting these as paedophilia pornography is not unlike casting Titian’s ‘Cupid With The Wheel Of Fortune‘ as the same. [Edit - the Titian link doesn't work, try this]

³ Probably about this acrid: “Don’t forget, the only reason he needs the money in the first place is to pay back the massive loans he incurred thanks to years of monstrous extravagance. Bailing out greedy and incompetent bankers was bad enough. Bailing out Jacko is just asburd.” Here Amanda is against someone trying to earn themselves out of debt by selling their services freely on the open market, merely because she would not, hereself, buy their services. Jackson’s behaviour sounds like someone taking responsiblity for their actions, which, in other areas of people’s lives Amanda is dead keen on: “It’s bad enough we have to pay for their gastric bands, diet-induced diabetes and stomach stapling; now we learn that thousands of obese people are on benefits because they’re too fat to work. If they want to be fat, that’s their choice. But why should the rest of us pay for their Krispy Kreme cravings?” The clash between these two is striking. But I digress.

Sorry, why should the NHS treat people for being fat?

Rather noxious little piece today by Amanda Platell. To summarise briefly, we shouldn’t waste money treating fat people, because they deserve their fatness.

“Ah, say the fatties, but you can’t deny us medical treatment, any more than you can refuse to treat an alcoholic who needs liver surgery, or a smoker who develops lung cancer. I agree that these, too, are the result of individuals choosing an unhealthy lifestyle.

But the crucial difference is that you cannot cure cancer by stopping smoking, nor replace a liver by becoming teetotal. The vast majority of the chronically overweight, by contrast, could ‘cure’ themselves simply by following a healthier lifestyle.

Quite simply, with a cash-strapped NHS that can’t even afford to treat the dying, we must stop indulging the self-indulgent.”

And, to summarise again, what the column misses is the fact that the similarity between the clinically obese and the alcoholically is often precisely that they didn’t choose their unhealthy lifestyle. This is something Amanda edges round the side of in her anecdote about her doctor friend and the patients completely unable to follow a healthier lifestyle, but then totally misses:

“I have a friend who runs a weight-loss clinic at a London GP’s surgery, and she tells me that at times, it’s the most soul-destroying job. ‘I have patients who come in and swear blind that they eat a healthy diet, and can’t understand why they’ve been piling on the pounds,’ she says.”

When said doctor asked them to list what they were eating, the patients reported “fizzy drinks, fried food, snacks throughout the day”. Amanda concludes from this that they were lying when they said they were eating a healthy diet. Not they were telling the truth, but weren’t aware that the junk food was bad for them, which would seem to be the more obvious conclusion to draw from the guileless admition that they were eating unhealthy food after initially saying that they weren’t. Presumably Amanda is keen to avoid  the trap she subscribes to ‘liberals’:

“I laugh outright when I hear the oh-so liberal lament that the obesity crisis is due to the gap between the rich and the poor. The poor, we’re told, eat junk food because it’s all they can afford. The rich have the ‘luxury’ of a healthier diet.

Set aside, for one moment, the monstrously patronising premise contained within this theory, which implies poor people are too stupid to take care of themselves.”

This is a straw man¹. We can happily accept that the patients above are not stupid while still seeing them as ill-informed. Which is unsurprising, when papers like the Mail actively agitate against health education schemes as redolent of nannyism. Amanda may well be able to take care of herself, watching ‘Jamie’s Ministry of Food’ and having been brought up in an Enyd Blyton novel:

“We swam, ran, climbed trees, played football. We ate healthily and lived healthily.”

but for those living on council estates, situated in the middle of food deserts, attending schools whose playing fields have long since been sold off, whose benefits do not stretch to free access to the local swimming pool and free lessons to enable them to use it, whose habit of processed food makes healthier options taste bland, things are a lot harder. It’s fine for Amanda to claim that the gap between rich and poor doesn’t cause obesity, but she’ll have to explain the very solid link between poverty and obesity (here’s the Office of National Statistic’s most recent dataset) by some other means. The idea that it’s self indulgence alone is less convincing than the more nuanced view that it’s to do with the lack of ready access to healthy food, a cost disencentive to buying healthier, less processed food, a lack of access to sporting and recreational facilities, a lack of education about healthy foods, the generational compounding of the above, co-incidence of contributary factors like alcohol consumption and smoking, a lack of employment and incentive to self-development, and a lack of social support. Especially since it conveniently ends up concluding that the best course of action is one that serves the interests not of the poor and obese, but of Amanda Platell and her middle class friends:

“In principle, I’m against any form of NHS rationing. The great joy of the health service is that it is free at the point of use, regardless of the medical condition that necessitates it. But obesity isn’t an illness. It’s a self-induced condition.”

Frankly, if you’re against any form of NHS rationing then you’re a fool – there are, and always will be, treatments whose benefits are so marginal that they are not worth the expense. Obesity treatments do not fall into this category – they give a chance to people society have failed. It’s easy to call for things to be taken away from people we don’t know, and don’t spend time with. It’s easy to say:

“The fact is, the current politically correct non-judgmental policy is not only failing to solve Britain’s obesity crisis, it is actually fuelling it. What’s needed instead is some tough love.”

when you don’t feel any love for the people in question. That’s self-indulgence; having someone else take the hit so you don’t have to. Only these people will be paying with their lives. This is repugnant.

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¹ While we’re talking about straw men: “Consider, instead, a simple truth: it is no coincidence that the poorest nations on Earth do not suffer from an obesity crisis – only the rich ones.” Which must be a joke inserted by a mischevious sub-editor.

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