Placeholder II (You are not forgotten)

Fellow bloggers of the mail and readers of the bloggers of the mail and possibly even reader of the mail… Hi!

I am off on my (late) summer holidays which will mean little access to the internet. However, please consider it time for me to do some reading and come back afresh ashte Autumn picks up. No doubt, the end of the silly season will throw a lot more wood on the fire so to speak.

So until then, Alone in the Dark will be a tad quiet. Dormant… but only for a short time.



Good riddance to the freak show that shamed Britain (and no, it wasn’t Big Brother)

Back to the present today and another biting article from the sharpened pen of Richard Littlejohn. His target here is New Labour and that really isn’t the issue. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on political parties and he just so happens to have a very public platform from which to air his. I was going to just ignore this article as it really isn’t saying anything new and feels a bit like a slow news week filler (because the death of Ted Kennedy, continued election protests in Iran, the ‘end’ of the war in Darfur and continued ramifications of the ‘Libyan Inncident’ are seemingly not worthy of Richard’s comment right now). However, I couldn’t get past a few of the comments he makes which we shall look at now.

The entire article is written in what I imagine he hoped would be a witty and sly allegory between the end of Big Brother and of the New Labour party. So he uses contestants instead of MPs and audience instead of electorate… Anyway.

“New Labour has demeaned its contestants and audience alike, coarsened our culture, debased living standards, promoted a climate of bullying and exhibitionism and lowered Britain’s standing around the world. It has become a byword for corruption and incompetence, obsessed with sex, greed and racism.”

Well let’s just start with this shall we. Exactly how has our culture been coarsened by New Labour. What does that even mean? It seems now every time someone says something on television that is deemed immoral, insulting or just displeasing to the readers of Richard’s very paper, there are swift apologies, sackings, resignations and the sphere of freedom given to entertainment is contracted that little bit further. If anything, I’d say culture is being tamed and is much the worse off for it.

Britain’s standing around the world has been on a decline since people started pointing out that travelling about in boats, occupying and enslaving countries and calling them ‘ours’ was perhaps not the nicest thing and maybe we should give things back. Under Richard’s beloved Conservative party we saw the unnecessary and damaging war over the Falklands because we felt we had the right to some islands on the other side of the world. Britain supported the first gulf war, made no action to stop the atrocities occurring in many African nations throughout the eighties and nineties and put across such a euro-skeptic and isolationist from for most of those two decades it’s a wonder the Channel Tunnel ever opened.

Finally, how exactly are we anymore obsessed with sex and greed (we’ll get to racism in a moment). That Thatcher and Major governments were devoted to the accumulation of wealth and the building of a fully operational consumer society. As for sex, we saw just as many so-called scandals in the Tory party as we have in Labour. The truth is less that New Labour themselves have bred corruption and sleaze and more that any party in power for a long period of time will be to some extent overpowered by it’s own success. This isn’t a New Labour problem, it’s a power problem.

As for racism, I for one am glad we’re a country ‘obsessed’ with racism (if that is indeed the case) as perhaps we can use that obsession to lessen the amount of it that occurs. Richard is always so worried about his freedom of speech being limited he rarely stops to consider his responsibility of speech. The freedoms given to him to say whatever he likes about whomever he likes should be used with the respect they deserve, not to decry anyone of a different faith or with a different skin tone or (gods forbid) someone with less money or no job. If New Labour has instilled us with an obsession regarding prejudice then this is not something we should be critisising for. I don’t want to live in a country that’s regarded elsewhere as the place where ‘they don’t like anyone different’.

“Housemates included an effete public schoolboy, a former ship’s steward, a dour son of the manse, a blind man and his dog, a gay public relations man and his exotic Brazilian boyfriend, and a scary, former convent schoolgirl who quickly became known as the Wicked Witch.”

I have noticed a trend with Richard and other Daily Mail columnists to be much harsher on female politicians and public figures than male. They get the cruelest names, the most attacks on their looks and the constant disparagement of their ability to do their job. Of course this should not be a surprise to anyone as a fair number of the columns are solely about the non-existence of misogyny or how women have ‘never had it so good’. Whatever your views on Ruth Kelly, is it fair to label her as scary and call her the wicked witch whilst the men are pretty much given a label of what they are. Peter Mandleson is predictable defined by the fact he his gay and had a partner who was not British. Really Richard? Thirteen years and you’re still on that tired bandwagon?

“More than four million CCTV cameras were erected all over Britain so that every move of the audience could be captured, too, and used in evidence against people putting out their dustbins on the wrong day.”

Oh and this bandwagon too (ir should that be rubbishwagon). I will never understand why the rules of dustbins upset him so much. In a world where close to 2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water and a good 75% of them are also starving, I would think the fact out rubbish is taken away on a weekly or biweekly basis would not be something to fill pages and pages of newspaper every single month. We could of course go back to the Victorian era where everyone was white, no-one talked about sex, queers will killed and everyone knew their place. Oh and rubbish was generally left in the street or dumped in the rivers. Yes, I’m sure Richard would enjoy that life much better, especially if he had to work in a factory as he believes every unemployed person should be forced to.

“From the start, the show was mired in controversy, after one of the housemates, Cookie, was caught having sex with another contestant, a flame-haired civil servant called Gaynor.

Ally, the house bully, a recovering alcoholic and pornographic novelist, with a history of mental illness, forced Cookie to leave his wife or face eviction.”

Yes because being about to write erotica AND having overcome an addiction AS WELL as suffering from depression means you should definitely not be in power. Actually, you shouldn’t be allowed to have a job at all, better go on benefits wouldn’t you say Richard? I always felt sorry for Robin Cooke that he was made a total scapegoat for New Labour’s obsession with being the anti-sleaze party. I’m not condoning infidelity but as one in two marriages now ends in divorce it’s going to happen in parliament and sometimes, the details will leak. In the grand scheme, I’m not sure it should be punished or require public apologies but there’s a discussion for another day.

“[Blair’s] emotional reaction when the popular royal housemate, Diana, was killed in a car crash in only the third episode made TV history and proved to be the defining moment of series one.”

Yes, even Richard finds it hard to critique this one, especially as his favourite royal family did not come off so well from the whole affair. Better to just breeze over it I think.

“New Labour’s resident village idiot, Two Jags, was captured on film punching a member of the audience during the warm-up to the second series. He was the clown you loved to hate, always raiding the fridge while the other housemates were asleep.”

But surely Richard giving those protesting layabout sum the old one two is exactly what they need? Hasn’t the country wanted leadership that wasn’t afraid to apply the carrot as well as the stick? Or does that only apply when said leader is not a working class man from Hull? (Again, I’m not condoning John Prescott’s actions, violence is never, ever the answer and I do not want politicians in power who lash out because their suit get’s a bit eggy. All the same a surprising about face for Richard “bring back corporal punishment” Littlejohn).

“Then there was Blunkett, the first blind character, who formed a passionate attachment to the only American housemate, Kimberley, drafted in on the strength of her performance as Snow White at Disneyland.

Viewers were captivated by Blunkett unravelling as he launched a demented paternity suit to prove that he was the father of Kimberley’s baby.”

Of sex and infidelity, by my count, the Conservative 1979-1997 run is still in the lead.

“Today, the programme is a shadow of its former self. Only two of the original cast remain: dour, Scottish sociopath Gordon and gay PR man Mandy, the self- styled Prince of Darkness.”


“After Blair was evicted in 2007 and went on to become a global star, earning millions of pounds a year, Gordon attempted to become the main character, but ratings continued to slump and he soon realised there was nowhere to hide.”

Once again, if this is truly supposed to be a commentary on thirteen years of Labour government, Richard is somewhat ignoring some key events that have led to the current unpopularity of the party.

“Other housemates were drafted in, notably Jackboot Jacqui, a disciplinarian schoolteacher from the Midlands who marked her arrival with an ostentatious flash of cleavage. For a while, the tabloids were fixated upon her breasts and her enthusiasm for punishment.”

WOMAN HAS BREASTS! AND DOESN’T WANT TO COMPLETELY COVER THEM! Ok, I’m going to have to stop accidently hitting caps lock. Honestly for a man who writes so often about the Burqa and the Niqab, Richard get’s very upset when any woman decided to wear something any less than a nun’s garb. Unless they’re a ‘smoking twenty year old hottie’, then it’s “phwoar ma’am don’t mind if I do”. Am I being unfair? Possibly a bit and for that I apologise but this sort of comment after at least discussing some of the policy of the men in the party infuriates me. He takes Jacqui Smith and reduces her to nothing more than a dominatrix figure to be laughed at. How carefully Richard uses disciplinarian and then mentions her breasts and how she likes to punish. Not ten paragraphs ago he was talking about how New Labour had brought on an obsession with sex, I think we might be seeing where some of the impetus has come from..

“As New Labour has resorted to increasingly desperate and cynical stunts, viewers have stopped watching, the sponsors have dried up and the show has run £1.3trillion over budget.”

Well the budget is somewhat overrun yes, I don’t think anyone can argue that the current financial status of the country is relatively dire but I would love to know how any other government would have dealt with a global economic crisis of the scale we’ve seen across the past two years.

I also note in this whole article Richard doesn’t mention anything about what the government has achieved in it’s time in office. No comment on fox hunting bans, smoking age changes, improvement in education from the Major years (in terms of funding and teacher training), legalising civil partnerships, championing the Northern Ireland Peace process, devolution, regulating the House of Lords… some of these things are subjective but they have none the less been achieved. The government is far from ineffectual, they’ve done things I don’t agree with and things I do but to reduce the whole thirteen years to an allegory with a low quality reality TV show is simplifying things to the level of pointlessness.

On second thoughts perhaps this is nothing more than slow news week filler, even if it is filled with Richard’s usual stereotypes of women in power, gay men, liberal ideology and of course those ‘bloody bins’. Don’t worry Richard, under the next government, I’m sure that your favourite ‘dole scum’ will be hired to come and eat your rubbish on a daily basis. And you can whip them while they do.

“The final episode is due to be broadcast next May. We will all be glad to see the back of it.”

And how long will that last I wonder? And which party would you like to replace them Richard… oh, he’s gone home.

Dave, leader of the ‘Heather has two Mommies’ Party…

As Alone in the Dark was on hiatus for a couple of months I thought I’d trawl back through some of columns and articles written in The Mail during that time to see if there was anything worthy of note. Well, there’s quite a bit and as we’re still fighting our way through the silly season, it seems as good a time as any to bring one of these up and have a chat about it. Who better then to start with than Mr. Peter Hitchens who, back at the beginning of July brought his this little joyful piece regarding his views on the Conservative Party and its new relationship with the LGBTQ community.

Peter begins by listing all the things he thinks the Conservative Party should apologise for. Let’s have a look shall we?

  • Privatising the railways
  • Joining the Common Market
  • Loading the police with paperwork
  • Devastating the Armed Forces with cuts
  • Introducing the GCSE
  • Flattening half of British industry by accident in the early Eighties
  • Failing to oppose the Iraq War
  • Sacking the brave miners of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire who defied Arthur Scargill’s bullying mobs
  • I could go on….

So could I Peter and I shall… I’d actually agree that we could use apologies for some of these things from the Tories. The privatisation of the railways has been a disaster although I’d be intrigued to see how Peter would respond to a government take over, especially if it upped his tax rate. The Conservatives have never been anti-war so why Iraq should have been any different is beyond me. The treatment of the miners from the removal of their jobs to the brutal attacks by police is horrific especially as the government failed to create any viable alternative employment.

However, for some reason, Peter has missed a few other things off this list for which personally, I’d like to hear the word sorry uttered by someone on the blue benches.

  • Being drawn into a war in the Falklands over land we neither needed nor used in any particular way.
  • The stigmatisation of single mothers, working class persons, teachers and immigrants throughout the 1980s.
  • The removal of funding from classrooms across the country.
  • The cutting of funding for the NHS.
  • The constant harping on about moral and family values whilst many Tory MPs got involved in sex, money and drug scandals.
  • Allowing public hysteria to stamp on freedom of speech in the video nasty debacle.

Oh… and Section 28. Surely that piece of hateful prejudicial legislation is something that definitely deserves an apology isn’t it Peter?


David Cameron journeyed specially to a ‘Gay Pride’ event to kowtow to the sexual revolution and simper: ‘We got it wrong. It was an emotional issue. I hope you can forgive us.’

Forgive them for what? Section 28 resulted from a fuss over the appearance of books aimed at children, intended to spread the view that single-sex couples could bring up children without any disadvantage to those children.

I still remember the titles: ‘Jenny Lives With Eric And Martin’ and ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’.”

A fuss. Well, that is one word for how it came about. The original catalyst came from a well know newspaper (guess which) that published an article in 1983 regarding the two books Peter so helpfully named. The paper claimed that these books were promoting homosexuality as the ‘new’ lifestyle and were part of a campaign for the abolition of the family. Within a matter of years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of MP, Jill Knight plus other prominent Conservative party members, Section 28 was introduced in parliament and after a few attempts was included as an amendment for the 1988 Local Government Bill and became law on 24th May 1988.

Using this clause it was now technically possible to make sure councils, teachers and public figures could not attempt to promote homosexuality or (as they were referred to) ‘alternative sexual lifestyles’. At one point the National Union or Teachers tried to claim that it only impacted on councils and not on the schools themselves (in what I assume was a bid to remove themselves from the murky prejudicial waters the law had gotten them into) but this was quickly overruled, once again by Jill Knight who said.

“This has got to be a mistake. The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them.”

So the UK which had openly gay and lesbian figures on TV and several openly gay men in the higher echelons of the political arena was suddenly in a position of wondering what it could and couldn’t say about sexuality to children.

Peter however, didn’t and still doesn’t see this as much of a problem.

“Less than 25 years ago, only revolutionaries such as Ken Livingstone endorsed this sort of thing.”

I.E. Talking to children about sexuality.

“Mainstream politicians and newspapers alike were as doubtful about it as most people still are in their private thoughts.

Nowadays, opinion formers and MPs have been scared into conformity, and the unhappy majority have learned to keep quiet about their concerns, for fear of the Thought Police.”

Oh those pesky Thought Police, they do cause Peter problems don’t they getting into his brain and mooching through his private thoughts about what we should really do with immigrants and the political party he’d really like to see running the country. Except I would like to believe that people aren’t supportive and open about LGBTQ issues now because they have been forced to be. I’d like to believe it’s because they’ve realised it’s something that affects millions upon millions of peoples lives, it’s something that is part of people from the day they are born and to try and oppress others because of their sexuality is just the same as any other form of bigotry and hatred even when wrapped up in a nice numbered clause.

Who a person does and doesn’t sleep with providing it is consensual has nothing to do with the government or restricting the rights of that person. I wonder how blasé Peter would be regarding Section 28 had he had a gay or lesbian child during the 80s or 90s in the UK.

“This supposedly wicked law was little more than an expression of opinion by Parliament.”

Well this is an interesting point because it seems whenever Parliament now pass laws based on their ‘opinion’… banning fox hunting, banning smoking indoors, allowing a dying man to return to his country before his sentence, Peter get’s very upset about it. Why then should this opinion be allowed to impact on peoples lives and the others not? Personally, I don’t think parliament should have opinions per se. It’s there to reflect and respect the will of the people and I would hope by 2009, the will of the people would not be to ignore sexuality and LGBTQ issues and prevent children from learning about them to help create a culture of understanding and respect. Anyway, back to Peter…

“Nobody was ever prosecuted under its provisions. Try as they may, the homosexual liberation movement have never produced evidence of any martyrdoms resulting from it.

What they still hate about it is that it was the last stand of those in British politics who were not cowed into silence or acquiescence by the sexual revolution.”

Was there a sexual revolution? History suggests that there have always been a myriad of sexualities in cultures for thousands of years and it’s just depended on how liberal and open that society is as to which of them can be expressed. This so-called ‘sexual revolution’ didn’t make more gay men and lesbian women, it just allowed them to come forward and express themselves for who they were. People don’t hate section 28 because it was about non-conformity, they hate it because it was about prejudice, fear and bigotry.

Oh and whilst Peter is correct in saying no-one was ever prosecuted. There were a few trials brought to court under the legislation and, had the law not eventually been repealed, it’s possible someone could have been prosecuted because of it. Here’s my favorite line of the article.

“That way, there is no chance that the stable married family, or the society it supported, can ever come back.”

Yes, that’s right, that’s what all the gays want isn’t it Peter. When they’re not on telly and in movies, Ian McKellan and Stephen Fry and Graham Norton and Sue Perkins and Sandi Toksvig are all sat in a room working out how best to destroy the ‘traditional’ nuclear family. Believe me Peter, when us queer folk get together (I myself am bisexual) we talk of nothing else than making sure all Fathers are shot as soon as they’ve procreated and all children are brought up as screaming queens. It’s ever so much fun!

Sorry, where were we? What Peter and many of his colleagues at the Mail don’t seem to understand at all is that Stonewall and it’s members are not out to take something away from straight people. This is a tired argument and the same that is brought up against gay marriage:

“But it’s destroying the concept of marriage…”, people say. Well, no it isn’t. It’s just allowing MORE people to get married. Surely that is actually building up the concept of marriage? If more people are doing it? It’s actually more popular? Is this a bad thing? Am I talking to myself again?

Section 28 was there to appease the homophobia and bigotry that was institutional in many MPs in the Conservative Party (and, let’s be honest other political parties too). Through apologising, David Cameron is putting that piece of the party’s past behind them and moving forward without the prejudicial undercurrent. Whether this is a genuine move or one to get votes is another matter but I think the sentiment is important. Peter seems so terrified of this ‘other’ world that appears to be encroaching on the ‘nice’, ‘safe’ one he’s built for himself.

He is sort of right though, the days of a society which believed that “one man-one woman” married families could be the only path to stability is long behind us and I sincerely hope it never, ever comes back. We are past it and Peter needs to get past it too.

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!

And if you thought WPCs in burqas were ridiculous

If you’re going to start somewhere, it may as well be with the big guns. Richard Littlejohn has decided to explore gender identity in the police force. Let’s see what he found out.

From the title onwards, this article makes two basic and intrinsically incorrect assumptions.

Firstly, it assumes that “You”, as in “Me” or rather as in “Everyone” thought the idea of WPCs in burquas was ridiculous. I will be honest and say I’ve never really considered the matter but if I were to make a personal (and totally impulsive) judgment call, I’d say as long as the dress wear doesn’t interfere with the job, then it’s all fine by me but obviously there is a police uniform for a reason. Interestingly, when I went back to look at the article in question, it had nothing whatsoever to do with Muslim women in the police force wanting to wear burquas while on duty. It was, as Richard himself states in his opening paragraph:

“three soppy policewomen in Sheffield had kitted themselves out in full burqas and gone shopping, so they could empathise with fundamentalist Muslims.”

Now, he makes sure to get his opinion across whilst stating this fact with the words “soppy” and “fundamentalist” because, as we are all aware, only someone with the bleeding heart of Jesus himself would ever dream of trying to understand another culture by adopting their style of dress and, more importantly, it is only fundamentalist Muslims who wear the burquas. You know, the ones who want to kill us all. This statement alone could fill a column by itself but we are here on other matters, so…

Secondly, it makes the assumption that transgendered persons are totally accepted in society with no issue and that their being in the police force is so common place that they have no need for a special interest group to support that. Of course, this argument wouldn’t matter either way to Richard as he makes it clear:

“As I wrote at the time, police officers should be defined by the uniform they wear, not the colour of their skin, their sexual inclination or their religious beliefs.”

You know what? Fine. Absolutely fine. Being in the police is a vocation, choosing to devote your time in the service of the law and the protection of society. When you’re doing your job, those features that are used to define you should not impact on that job to any significant degree or bias could easily slip in, a trait police officers must try to quell. That said, just because you’re out there, doing your job and not thinking about your race, religion, gender or sexuality does not mean that others aren’t thinking about it including the people you work with.

What Richard appears to miss time and again (or possibly just gloss over) is that interest and support groups aren’t there to champion one section of society over another. They’re not their to stage a coup or make everyone’s life harder or separate us into more boxes than we already have separated ourselves. They are certainly not there:

“serving only to foster a culture of division, grievance, permanent unrest and opportunism.”

They are there to make sure that those who ARE in a minority, whatever that may be are treated with the same respect and understanding as the majority treat one another.

Let’s step back for a minute and let Richard do some talking shall we?

“Every time I bring you one of these stories, I wonder where it will all end. Now I discover that there’s a National Trans Police Association, too.”

He goes on to repeat the mission statement from the NTPA website and then displays some high levels of ignorance, especially as he is writing an article on the topic. In response to the fact that whilst they list many types of gender identities, they do not go as far as to assume they have infinite knowledge and have added a caveat, somewhat like “and many more” but with much more tact, a trait Richard fails to emulate.”

“Note the ‘but not exclusively’. You might have thought that any outfit encompassing transgendered, androgyny and intersexuals (whatever the hell they are) had pretty much covered the waterfront.”

“The criteria is so widely drawn that, theoretically, it could also include centaurs, who are currently under-represented in the ranks of the Old Bill.”

“There appears to be no limit to the number of obscure subcategories the police can split themselves into.”

He says more along these lines but you can read that in the article yourself if you so wish. In these three statements alone Richard has shown his lack of knowledge regarding sexuality, mocked those with gender identity issues by comparing them with a mythical being and once again made the assumption that this is all about splitting the police into different groups, rather than supporting those people in the police who do not fit the ‘traditional’ majority mould.

This it would seem though is not his main problem. All the above has merely been leading up to the point were Richard could stand it no longer and just had to write of this new case of liberalism gone made

“An application for Home Office funding is sure to follow and is almost certain to be granted.

It can be only a matter of time before a transsexual officer sues for discrimination after being turned down for promotion or demands that the police funds his gender reassignment surgery.”

It’s not about gender, it’s not even about special interest groups or support teams. It’s about money. How much will it cost? Will he have to foot the bill? As Richard lives happily and permanently in Florida, I think that even if the police started offering gender reassignment surgery to the whole populace, it wouldn’t impact too much on his bank balance. He continues:

“No doubt I’ll be accused of stirring up ‘transphobic’ hatred. For the record, I have no more objection to transvestites forming a club than I do to philatelic societies. But it should be done in their own time and not at public expense.”

Well, I won’t be accusing Richard of anything today. What he is and isn’t guilty of is up to you. However, after demeaning most gender identities, he goes on here to ignore all transgendered people and just focus on transvestites. Actually, rethinking, what he’s really doing is LUMPING all transgendered people together and calling them transvestites. He seems to be under the impression that the desire to dress in clothing which is not traditionally assigned to your gender and to have the physical and mental issues that come with being born a sex you are unhappy with, to feel no attachment to either sex or to feel you inhabit several genders are the same thing. I’m sorry Richard, as years of research from institutes around the world will show you, they are not even remotely the same thing and some would say they are not even connected in any way other than both can sometimes influence the choice of clothing and of course, come under the umbrella heading of “Gender Issues”.

Oh and he also makes sure to mention the money thing again.

He tries to recover with some sense of understanding:

“I acknowledge that some people have gender ishoos and are entitled to understanding.”

Sorry, just a quick aside, I have never understood Richard’s prediliction for misspelling words he seems to have personal problems with. Perhaps it would be worth keeping a tally of how often he does this. Anyway, back on topic, he also tries to show how much he embraces equality:

“Recruitment and promotion should be solely on the basis of ability, not race, religion, gender or sexual proclivity. Everyone ought to be treated equally.”

But is quickly returned to his real point, you know, the money one…

“The time, money and effort wasted pandering to minorities with an exaggerated sense of entitlement is scandalous – especially when chief constables are whining they haven’t got the resources to keep police stations open and put bobbies on the beat.”

I’ve done a bit of reading around and can find very little terms of chief constables “whining” about resources. There has been the occasional closure of small police stations over the last few years and some articles on the shift of focus to patrolling in cars rather than by foot but nothing to suggest that the force is trying to eke out a meager existence to the point where it can’t finance the same support groups you will find in almost every business in the country. Perhaps I am misunderstanding him. Once again, he is assuming that this group has formed because transgendered people are trying to get one over on him rather than just making sure they are treated correctly.

As Richard rounds up, he can’t help but confuse transvestites with transgendered persons once more as well as purporting the idea that this is all a ploy to overthrow the police uniform as with his opening statement about burquas.

“…at this rate it won’t be long before a cross- dressing copper complains that his stockings and suspenders are chafing under his blue serge uniform and insists on being allowed to go on patrol in a leather mini-skirt and an Amy Winehouse wig.”

It’s unlikely that ANY officer would be allowed to wear the above items of clothing, no matter what their gender identity or religion. Richard cannot let go of his belief that special interest groups are somehow there to change physical things when mostly the only thing they ever change is peoples perceptions, usually for the better.

I am left wondering how many times in his life that Richard has felt like the outsider. How many times has he been in the minority and felt that he was being oppressed, ignored, bullied or negated? As a white, wealthy, middle class male I would hazard a guess that the feeling of loneliness and alienation is not one which often crosses Richard’s mind. I could be wrong of course, this is pure conjecture. Perhaps he is very lonely indeed.


Apologies but I realised I forgot to pass any comment on the lovely little cartoon that adorns Richard’s column this week. Actually, I forgot to comment on the hideously offensive massive cartoon that uses half the writing space. In and of itself, it’s a pretty standard and slightly inane newspaper drawing. When brought into context with the article however, once again, it is stereotyping all transgendered persons into one tired old cliché. I don’t know much about the eponomous “Gary” but I suggest that he, much like Richard, should catch up on some reading from Gender Matters before continuing to deconstruct this exact vein of sexuality.

Placeholder (The Future is coming)

Why hello there and welcome to “(Still) Alone in the Dark”.

You may or may not be aware that this blog has recently gone through a change of ownership (for reasons, please go here). As such, I’m doing a bit of tinkering before re-launching the never ending task of blogging the mail.

My name is Omni and I will be following your previous hosts style of looking at the various columns written in the mail on a weekly basis. The regularly entry, “Strange Ontology” will not be continuing, primarily because there are a host of sites out there focused solely on the Daily Mail’s obsession with the causes and preventions of oncological disease. I will put up a list of the best ones in the links section.

Apart from that, all continues as normal, this blog will still be about raising the level of debate with the Mail’s columnists and refraining from making personal attacks and unsupported statements. The comments will remain on moderation for now but I may change this is the future. Keep you posted.

Please tell your friends, all are welcome.


Strange Ontology: Week begging 25th May 2009

Original research

26th May

The gene that links gum disease to heart problems

Which mentions: Michaud et al. (2008) Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study The Lancet Oncology 9:550-558

Life-saving wonder drug to fight prostate cancer ‘available in just two years’

A report on: Attard et al. (2009) Selective Inhibition of CYP17 With Abiraterone Acetate Is Highly Active in the Treatment of Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer Journal of Clinical Oncology doi:10.1200/JCO.2008.20.0642

27th May

Green tea extract could help to fight leukaemia

A report on: Shanafelt et al. (2009) Phase I Trial of Daily Oral Polyphenon E in Patients With Asymptomatic Rai Stage 0 to II Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Journal of Clinical Oncology doi:10.1200/JCO.2008.21.1284

Cancer sufferers facing extra security checks at airports after common drug destroys fingerprints

A report on: Choo and Tan (2009) Travel warning with capecitabine Annals of Oncology doi:10.1093/annonc/mdp278

28th May

Major tumour-busting ‘breakthrough’ in fight against breast and ovarian cancer

A report on: Yun and Hiom (2009) CtIP-BRCA1 modulates the choice of DNA double-strand-break repair pathway throughout the cell cycle Nature 459:460-463

31st May

Boosting levels of vitamin D ‘could cut cancer by up to 25%’

A report on: Garland (2009) Symposium in Print on the Epidemiology of Vitamin D and Cancer Annals of Epidemiology doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2009.02.002

Testicular cancer test on the horizon as scientists pinpoint faulty genes

A report on: Kanetsky et al. (2009) Common variation in KITLG and at 5q31.3 predisposes to testicular germ cell cancer Nature Genetics doi:10.1038/ng.393

And: Rapley et al. (2009) A genome-wide association study of testicular germ cell tumor Nature Genetics doi:10.1038/ng.394

Causes in brief

25th May

As a woman is hypnotised into believing she’s had surgery: Yes, the power of the mind can heal your body

“Even being told you are in a ‘high-risk’ group for a certain cancer, heart disease or stroke seems to increase your chances of getting these conditions.”

30th May

How 200,00 kitchen utensils were recalled by Marks & Spencer after cancer alert

“The chemical [diaminodiphenylmethane] is found in primary aromatic amines, a group of compounds shown to be related to cancer during animal testing.”


26th May

Record 10,400 Britons hit by deadliest skin cancers

“Last month the charity revealed that malignant melanoma had overtaken cervical cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in their 20s. Almost every day, one woman aged 20 and 29 is diagnosed with skin cancer – making it twice as common as breast cancer.”

Shyness could cost me my life: How a mother too embarrassed to discuss her symptoms is now battling advanced cancer

“Every year, around 35,000 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed in the UK. The second most common cancer after breast cancer, it causes more deaths every year than breast and cervical cancer put together, although it receives far less publicity.”

REVEALED: The secret to losing half a stone overnight… Get a tan

“‘Responsible action has to be taken now as in the UK alone, there are more than 67,000 new cases of skin cancer every year and the figures are rising faster than any other form of cancer.”

29th May

Facebook forced to lift ban on breast cancer victim’s ‘sexual and abusive’ mastectomy scar photos

“Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK, with around 45,000 cases diagnosed each year.”

BBC sports presenter Clare Balding is battling thyroid cancer

“Thyroid cancers are a fairly rare form of the disease, with around 1,600 new cases in the UK each year.

Women account for around 75 per cent of cases and surgery is their main option, with most cases able to be treated successfully.”

Revolutionary bikini to make tan lines history: ‘See-through’ swimming cossie guarantees all-over bronzing

“However, there was concern from skin cancer campaigners who are already tackling an increase in cases of malignant melanoma.

The number of people who have been diagnosed with the condition is expected to reach 10,000 this year.”

31st May

‘Her tumour weighed the same as two bags of sugar’: Melanie Slade on her sister’s battle with kidney cancer

“[Kidney cancer] mainly affects adults aged over 50, with more than 60 per cent of cases diagnosed in men. There are more than 7,500 newly diagnosed cases in the UK every year and more than 3,700 people died from kidney cancer in 2007. The one-year survival rate is only 68 per cent for men and 65 per cent for women. After five years, that drops to about 50 per cent for both sexes.”


31st May

New test for lung cancer ‘could save thousands’

An advert for these guys.

Strange Ontology: Week beginning 18th March 2009

One of the oddest things about ploughing through every week to chart the Mail’s cancerphilia is the complete lack of reflectiveness of the Mail’s columnists. Take this, from Jan Moir’s MPs’ taste? Pass the John Lewis sick bag: “Jade Goody had the services of professional make-up artists to make her look radiant in her dying days. These are media conceits, which muddy the truth and make real-life cancer patients feel worse. Ask yourself this: What is the real purpose of the Farrah Fawcett documentary, except to glamorise poor, dying Farrah?”. Or this, from Deborah Ross’ Vote for me or I’ll poke your eyes out!: “Also, we [her proposed political party] will keep everyone on their toes by saying wine gives you cancer one day, and declaring it good for the heart the next. It’ll be fun.” You begin to wonder whether they read the paper they write for – who is doing this glamourising, who is keeping everyone on their toes? It isn’t the government dispensing the weekly potted summary of essentially random studies, it isn’t the academic media who are reporting on celebrities. It’s the Mail. Their newspaper. Which they write for. Themselves. Should someone tell them? The poor things probably think they’re writing for the Guardian or something – their evil agents every week carefully cutting their columns out and sticking them over Ben Goldacre’s before allowing them to see them.

Incidentally, the article on tea gets the Finnish study wrong – it referred to both tea and coffee, not just tea, found a reduction of a particular type of stroke, nots strokes qua strokes, and only in male smokers, not men in general.

This week, there might be a pill for renal cancer, tea is good for you, ginger might make chemo less awful and there might be a treatment for liver cancer involving an engineered virus. Mastectomies might not always be the way forward, however.

The Motzer and Molina paper is open source.

Original research

18th May

New kidney cancer pill extends the lives of patients by two years

A report on: Motzer and Molina (2009) Targeting Renal Cell Carcinoma Journal of Clinical Oncology doi: 10.1200/JCO.2009.21.8461

19th May

Can cancer drugs harm your memory? Patients complain of mental problems after chemo

Which mentions in passing: Skoogh et al. (2008) Long-term cognitive function among testicular cancer survivors treated with chemotherapy Journal of Clinical Oncology 26:5035

Is a mastectomy for a breast lump ALWAYS a lifesaver… or could it be a terrible mistake?

Which mentions: Zahl, Mæhlen and Welch (2008) The Natural History of Invasive Breast Cancers Detected by Screening Mammography Archives of Internal Medicine 168:2311-2316

And also: Gøtzsche et al. (2009) Breast screening: the facts—or maybe not British Medical Journal 338:b86

21st May

Brighten the twilight years: ‘Sunshine vitamin’ boosts brain function in the elderly

A report on: Lee et al. (2009) Association between 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and cognitive performance in middle-aged and older European men Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry doi:10.1136/jnnp.2008.165720

22nd May

Three cups of tea a day ‘can cut heart attack risk by 70%’

A report on: Ruxton (2009) The health effects of black tea and flavonoids Nutrition & Food Science 39:283-294

Also mentioning: Larsson et al. (2008) Coffee and tea consumption and risk of stroke subtypes in male smokers Stroke 39:1681-7

Also mentioning: A French study I can’t trace using the information given in the article.

Scientists adapt common cold virus to attacks cancer cells but leave healthy tissue unharmed

A report on: Cawood et al. (2009) Use of Tissue-Specific MicroRNA to Control Pathology of Wild-Type Adenovirus without Attenuation of Its Ability to Kill Cancer Cells Public Library of Science Pathogens 5:e1000440.

23rd May

How taking ginger can help ease nausea after chemotherapy

Mentioning in passing: Ryan et al. (2009) Ginger for chemotherapy-related nausea in cancer patients: A URCC CCOP randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of 644 cancer patients Journal of Clinical Oncology 27:15s(abstr 9511)

Causes in brief

19th May

For heart survivors, a big waistline could be a lifeline

“Evidence from other studies suggests obese patients also fare better after being diagnosed with other chronic illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and kidney failure.”

The (non-cancer related) study is here.

20th May

Jacko denies he’s got skin cancer – but this horrific picture of his bleached-out face will cause fans just as much alarm

“Vitiligo, the disease which Jackson was reportedly diagnosed with in 1986, is thought to be linked to skin cancer.

The pigmentation condition means that there are areas of the sufferers’ skin which do not contain melanin, which gives the skin colour and protects it from the sun’s rays.

Due to this reduced protection, those with the disease are at greater risk from cancer.”

21st May

£3 Asda sun lotion shines out as top performer among protective creams

“UVB light is linked to several types of skin cancer, including the most serious and least treatable, cutaneous malignant melanoma.

Some products also claim protection against UVA, which is identified through a star rating.

UVA is also linked to some aggressive cancers and ageing.”

22nd May

Rice milk arsenic contamination prompts food watchdog warning for children to stop drinking it

“Arsenic is known as a poison but is also associated with the development of certain cancers.”

23rd May

Bed by 11pm, lose the paunch – and take up the electric guitar… How to avoid a midlife crisis

“This not only looks unsightly, but fat around the waist is linked to metabolic syndrome which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and even prostate cancer.”


19th May

Girl, 10, is the youngest person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with breast cancer

“He said about 0.1 percent of breast cancer occurs in children and is generally less aggressive than in adults.

Often those who develop breast cancer at such a young age have a genetic disposition to the disease.”

20th May

Schoolgirl, 8, becomes youngest Briton to battle ovarian cancer

“Around one in 120 women develops ovarian cancer by the age of 70. Although it is usually found in women after the menopause, it can sometimes strike in young children.

In 2005, three girls aged four or under were diagnosed with the disease and one aged between five and nine.”

21st May

Pictured: Cancer-stricken Patrick Swayze poses with wife Lisa to combat ‘death’ rumours

“Last year, after losing a dramatic amount of weight, Swayze was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his pancreas.

As it had spread to his liver, he was told surgery was not an option.

Medical experts say most patients have less than six months to live after being diagnosed with such cancer.”

23rd May

Tandemic! How love of sunbeds has sent skin cancer soaring

“However, new statistics from Cancer Research UK reveal that tanning can be a killer. It is now the most common cause of malignant melanoma among 15 to 34-year-olds, and sunbeds double the risk of developing it.”


19th May

Health news: Gas to beat MRSA, how blackcurrants soothe dry eyes and caffeine for pain

“A Caffeine drip is being used to combat pain.

In a new trial, it is being given intravenously to treat acute and chronic pain associated with cancer. It is administered in conjunction with traditional drugs to see if the caffeine boosts their pain-killing effects.”

22nd May

Mother-of-eight Colleen Hauser goes on run to stop court forcing son, 13, to have chemotherapy

“A mother has gone on the run with her desperately-sick teenage son to stop him having chemotherapy for cancer.

Parents Colleen and Tony Hauser have resolutely refused to let Daniel, 13, be treated with conventional medicine, instead advocating alternative treatments.”

Strange Ontology: Week beginning 11th May 2009

The most interesting thing this week is the story covering the latest research on alcohol pricing. Does anyone remember how the Mail responded to Dr Liam Donaldson’s suggestion, earlier in the year, that passive drinking was a scourge which should be responded to with price floors for alcoholic drinks? Well, his position was based on this week’s research, which is covered approvingly as it gives the paper an opportunity to round on the Prime Minister for supporting their previous position. As Mr. Littlejohn so often points out -you couldn’t make it up.

The ‘Obesity linked to many, many thousand cases of cancer, even more than we used to think’ story has gone in ‘Other’, as it doesn’t appear to be peer reviewed. As is the one on gender bending chemicals. If proven wrong, I will happily provide a full reference for it.

There’s also a story I haven’t been able to categorise, Gwyneth Paltrow says shampoo causes cancer. Is she right? (16th May) – it is, gloriously, a reassuring story debunking cancer-related myths. Which doesn’t refer to original research, or causes, or stats, and which seems to deserve slightly more prominence than to be buried in ‘other’. Congratulations to the Daily Mail for taking this positive stance for public information. I look forward to a similar approach on MMR, global warming and same-sex adoptions.

Nothing new causes or cures cancer this week, but we might soon have a better test for prostate cancer and price floors may help cancers of the liver.

The Meier et al. (2008) paper is open access.

Original Research

12th May

Health news: How blood pills cut your risk of dementia, whether mud baths ease arthritic pain and how prostate results vary day to day

A report on: Erm, something in this journal. Sorry – but you try tracking it down using the information given in the article…

13th May

Accurate prostate test which could save hundreds from surgery every year a step nearer

A report on: Nilsson et al. (2009) Prostate cancer-derived urine exosomes: a novel approach to biomarkers for prostate cancer British Journal of Cancer 100:1603–1607

15th May

Charging 50p a unit for alcohol ‘would save 3,400 lives a year’

A report on:  Meier et al. (2008) INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF THE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL PRICING AND PROMOTION: Part B; Modelling the Potential Impact of Pricing and Promotion Policies for Alcohol in England: Results from the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model Sheffield: University of Sheffield

Causes in brief

11th May

Credit crunch sees people opt for sunbeds over beach holidays

“Some UV rays from sunbeds can be up to 15 times higher than that of the midday sun and using a sunbed once a month or more can increase the risk of skin cancer by more than half”

12th May

Taking folic acid for a year ‘cuts risk of premature births by 70%’

“But there are concerns that [folic acid] could raise the risk of breast and bowel cancer.”

The curse of thalidomide limb defects is explained 50 years on

“A synthetic form of thalidomide could also be a very effective treatment for early stage cancers, they say.”

13th May

Health officials label boy, 5, ‘overweight’… for exceeding NHS guidelines by just 1lb

“‘As adults, children who are overweight are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”

16th May

Millions face serious health risks over lack of vitamin D in diets

“Around 90 per cent of the body’s supply of vitamin D comes from sunlight, but exposure is controversial as it can trigger skin cancer, said Dr Ruxton.”

Brave Michael Jackson shows his face as he ‘secretly fights skin cancer’

“Experts have warned that anyone who bleaches their skin would increase their risk of cancer”

[see also the ‘Skin Cancer Facts’ section on the same page]


14th May

300,000 old people are denied the right to die in their own homes, say MPs

“The report said half a million people die each year in England – three quarters following chronic illness, such as cancer or heart disease.”

17th May

Heart disease is not a ‘man-thing’: How to stop the equal opportunities killer

“Women may be more afraid of breast cancer but it is more than five times as likely they will die from heart disease. It is so common that one in three adults of both sexes over 65 has some form of heart complaint.”

How Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s wife lost five stone on just 500 calories a day

“This year’s walk has already raised more than £1.3million to help combat  the most common cancer among British women [breast cancer], claiming more than 12,500 lives a year.”


11th May

Obesity ’causes 19,000 cancer cases every year’

A report on this press release.

Does cancer treatment mean my sex life is over?

“Although radiotherapy is an effective treatment for prostate cancer, about 70 per cent of patients are subsequently unable to sustain an erection.”

13th May

Gender-bending chemical timebomb fear for boys’ fertility

A report on this report.

Also mentioning: Myrup et al. (2008) Testicular cancer risk in first- and second generation immigrants to Denmark Journal of the National Cancer Institute 100:41-47

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.


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?