In Memorandum

It is always difficult to blog about a child dying. Gabrielle Price died last month, I understand there’s a small chance that some of Gabrielle’s friends may find this site and I would like to make clear that I mean no disrespect by discussing her tragic death.

What I would like to take aim at is the disgraceful speculation which has followed her  death. Most notably, scaremongering in the gutter press, such as The Daily Mail and The Sun and cheap moral populism from papers such as The Telegraph.

From the BBC we know that the events of the night of her death included: the arrest of a 17 year old man and 39 year woman on charges of possessing and supplying drugs; drug taking at a party and the death of a 14 year old girl. Further details emerged that the drugs in question were Mephedrone, a legal high, and Ketamine, a horse tranquilliser.

This is all that was known that this point. However, bastion of investigative reporting that they are, it appears that The Sun found “a neighbour” and The Mail found multiple “neighbours” to come forward to claim that:

[T]he student had taken the clubbers’ drug [mephedrone] – which can be bought legally – mixed with illegal ketamine

Of course following Gabrielle’s death The Daily Mail made it quite clear that “a post-mortem examination had failed to pinpoint the cause of death and that toxicology reports had been ordered to establish what the girl had taken.” Sadly this did not stop their cynical attempts to capitalise on her death.

The Daily Mail helpfully put its idle speculation in speech marks and I am sure this was of much consolation to the girl’s family. Likewise The Sun’s “tasteful” headline was also written with the “best” of intentions.

Of course a subsequent article left little doubt about what The Mail had decided had happened to Gabrielle Price. “Mephedrone menace: The deadly drug that’s cheap, as easy to order as pizza… and totally legal.”

Disgracefully, The Telegraph claimed that “Miss Price’s death is not the first harrowing account of the devastating effect the drug can have.” As reported in The Argus Gabrielle Price died of natural causes so it most certainly is “not the first harrowing account” it is not an account of a drug related death at all.

Teenager Gabi Price – whose death triggered fears over the dangers of ‘legal highs’ – died of natural causes, a coroner has revealed.

A pathologist’s report showed the 14-year-old died of broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection.

Mephedrone is not a controlled substance but has effects similar to ecstasy and cocaine, it was originally manufactured by a “legal high” company called Neorganics in Israel but was discontinued in 2008 when Israel made Mephedrone illegal. Production has since shifted around the world, with much of it now produced in China. It is available over the internet for as little as £7 a gram, and that includes Royal Mail recorded delivery.

Since Gabrielle’s death interest in the drug has surged as has the incidence of dreadful newspaper articles bemoaning those that take, sell or fail to regulate legal highs.

I certainly do not want to engage in the same proselytising here. While I hope my own views on drugs and drug use have been made clear elsewhere this is neither the time nor the place to advocate one drug policy regime over another.

As Professor Nutt discovered it is difficult to discuss drugs in anything other than the most derisory terms. Our press have meekly followed – as well as helping to create and enforce -this rule in the articles discussed above but in doing so they have descended to out right speculation and evidence free moralising.

What this death offered was a chance to be be honest and nothing more; nobody was forced to write an article with any more detail than that which was put up by the BBC, linked to above. As has become clear Gabrielle’s death was linked to drugs only by proximity and hearsay but this did not stop a string of articles in the quality and gutter press taking advantage of the circumstance of ther death.

I can see at least three reasons why this may have happened. First of all, paper’s staffing levels have dropped significantly while they have maintained a similar word count to a few decades ago. On top of the erosion of fact checking and real investigative journalism, this means that personal tragedies which can be given a wider angle have become essential to creating a full newpaper at the expense of journalistic integrity. See Flat Earth News for more on this.

The angle given to this story, that of the menace of drugs, has become something which is guaranteed to increase sales and hence revenues. Provocation has become one of the most important ways to sell papers. For example, every Express front page has this element, but this stands out for me.

Lastly there is of course the moral certitude of those working and running these papers that means they thought they already knew what had happened before the coroner or Sussex Police. It turns out their “spcualtion” was incorrect yet don’t expect to see correspondingly sized retractions, or any retractions.

My heart goes out to her family – I am truly sorry that her death has became a good way to sell papers and a talking point for illiberal reaction.

The Times: Now comes in “stupid”

When it comes to missing the point, it is hard to miss it harder or more intensely that in this piece from The Times’ Ruth Gledhill.

Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’s latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery he associates with religious baggage. With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the youngsters with broad grins seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.

Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of the country’s most devout Christian families.

The British Humanist Society have in the past run bus adverts proclaiming “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Sick of adverts informing non-believers they were heading for hell, they decided to strike back in to defend the godless, moral majority.

Following the success of the last campaign they have decided to run a new one on an altogether more serious topic.

The new campaign is at least in part inspired by this passage from Dawkin’s The God Delusion (excerpt from Friendly Atheist) (H/T Joé McKen):

At Christmas-time one year my daily newspaper, the Independent, was looking for a seasonal image and found a heart-warmingly ecumenical one at a school nativity play. The Three Wise Men were played by, as the caption glowingly said, Shadbreet (a Sikh), Musharraf (a Muslim) and Adele (a Christian), all aged four. Charming? Heart-warming? No, it is not, it is neither; it is grotesque […]

[…]

Imagine an identical photograph, with the caption changed as follows: “Shadbreet (a Keynesian), Musharaff (a Monetarist) and Adele (a Marxist), all aged four.” Wouldn’t this be a candidate for irate letters of protest? It certainly should be.

Children are innocent, they are yet to develop the power to choose for themselves, and so it is unfair to arbitrarily label them with the philosophical beliefs of their parents. Nothing controversial here, not least if you’re a Baptist.

This campaign has generated a lot of hot air from morons comparing Dawkins to Stalin and Hitler. But little can compare to the utter lunacy, the true idiocy of the Times today.

The headlines says it all really. In bold type across a page is emblazoned: Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals.

No. They aren’t. They are children. Let me reiterate once again; if these children cannot be Monetarists or Marxists then they cannot be evangelicals.

This is the whole point of the campaign! And for around 700 words Ruth Gledhill misses this point, again and again and again.

She even quotes a demolition of her argument:

The British Humanist Association said that it did not matter whether the children were Christians [LO: they are not Christian]. “That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director[LO: Well, duh!].

Not only that, but her sub-editor thought this piece was cogent enough to be put on page seven. Her editor thought it was worthy of printing at all. It is not worth the fish and chip wrapping it is printed on (in fact, I don’t think I’d want my chips wrapped in a turd sandwich like this).

This argument falls over before it is even put up. It is a nonsense which is deconstruction by twelve words from the Humanist Society and the picture of a cute, philosophically agnostic 8 year old.

Not that Ruth Gledhill knows that. Oh no, she’s just written a terribly clever article for The Times.

When it comes to the PCC we’re all just monkeys

The new head of the Press Complaints Commission Baroness Buscombe wants to regulate us bloggers.

Unity has helpfully provided an open letter to sign, which declines her amorous advance rather more politely than many other bloggers would. All bloggers are welcome to sign up and I strongly recommend you follow the link above and add your name. The letter concludes:

Consequently we would suggest that before your even consider turning your attention to our activities, you should direct your energies towards putting your own house in proper order. Should you succeed in raising the ethical standards and practices of the majority of the national press, particularly the tabloids, to our level then we may be inclined to reconsider our position. Until that happens, any attempt by the Press Complaints Commission to regulate the activities of bloggers will be strenuously resisted at every possible turn.

It appears that there appear to be many things which Baroness Buscombe is unaware of with regard to blogs, but that there are a few things she could teach us all about cheap point scoring with future bosses.

As has been pointed out there are many reasons Bloggers should and would resist being brought within the PCC’s remit.

  • Errors are clearly marked on the posts themselves, and not on page 18 of an issue several months down the line. This is done no matter how embarrassing errors were because the truth matters; we’re not here to make money.
  • Few bloggers are keen to sign up to an organisation which is ineffectual in regulating the traditional media but which would be very keen to regulate blogs critical of it (i.e. all of us). Ultimately those who run the “traditional” media also run the PCC. (H/T Paul Sagar)
  • And last but not least, there is the general air of loathing which pervades any blogospheric discussion of the PCC.

Beyond all this there is another reason why Baroness Buscombe has no chance of regulating us bloggers. Criticising the mainstream media – and attacking its ineffectual watchdog/poodle – are key signals that you are “one of us.”

This signalling reduces the opportunity cost of working out who our allies are. There’s a lot of information out there and its rational to be ignorant of most of it, this behaviour  makes it cheaper to work out friend from foe.

In Chimpanzees grooming is used not only to “pluck parasites” but also “as a social glue between related and unrelated apes.” In the blogsphere criticising our ineffectual press is necessary because of the state of modern journalism but it is also used as something to connect unrelated bloggers like Devil’s Kitchen, Sunder Katwala and Paul Sagar.

This is our in group and there is good reason to stick with it. It provides security, solidarity and a sense of society.

As shown by the recent spat between Laurie Penny and Harry’s Place – and any comments thread anywhere ever – the internet can be an unremittingly hostile place, and this signalling behaviour helps counteract this tendency.

If you look to Tim Ireland‘s brilliant anti-Sun videolemic – or his well drafted A4 insert – you can tell quickly he is on “our” side. Conversely, when someone rushes to defend The Sun or The Mail, because they “just reflect public opinion,” without confronting the fact that they are “just fucking liars,” you know they are dealing with someone from an outgroup.

Numerous blogs have been created to monitor the press but few in the blogosphere refrain from putting the boot in. To some it may seem pointless or that we are merely preaching to the converted, but it serves a much deeper purpose.

We’re just great apes, the ticks we pick are called The Sun, The Mail and The Express, but in the end we just sit around, plucking out vermin. We do this not only because its essential for everyone’s health and sanity but also because it binds us together.

Left Wing blogger in rage at Daily Mail shock: Updated

Its hardly news is it? The Daily Mail’s readers are reactionary bigots.

However, just how shockingly hateful they are is hard to comprehend until you’ve seen their reaction to the death of an immigrant. You worry as soon as you see the title: Migrant found dead in the back of a lorry as it prepares to enter Channel Tunnel (H/T Five Chinese Crackers and Tabloid Watch). But what follows is one of those articles that reveals the Mail does have writers who can write; its not vitriolic, its not angry, its even vaguely concerned. Its the comments that really shock. By now I know they shouldn’t, but they do.

Saved us a house car and free money then.
– martyn robinson, northampton uk, 31/10/2009 09:12

one down, millions to go
– crackers, yorkshire, 31/10/2009 2:42

Good news. One less to worry about!
– keith jones, porthcawl, south wales, 30/10/2009 22:13

Shame but I would be a hypocrit if I said I was sorry!
– Nanny B, West Sussex, 30/10/2009 17:42

At least 115 people have clicked on the green “up” arrow for that top one. 115 people think that this immigrant is better off dead because he was after a “house car [sic] and free money then.”

Mark Twain said that a “lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” and it seems Carol Malone‘s lie that immigrants are given cars is one of them.

The Mail creates an atmosphere where displaying joy at someone’s death seems appropriate. Often its said that The Mail merely reflects it readers views, and to an extent its true, however The Mail will always run up against a problem. Immigrants aren’t that bad.

Sure some are illiberal nut jobs, but I don’t see anyone arguing for Melanie Philips to be deported (well I do… but that’s besides the point) and some do “scrounge” but the vast majority do not.

In fact, economically they bring benefits, that’s pretty hard to argue with, I’d say impossible. The culture, music and food – especially food – that they bring enriches this country, you’re entitled to disagree but remember this. You’re wrong.

So to get round these simple truths the Mail regularly lies, distorts and misleads, ask Nick Davies if you want to know more. This is the end result. This is the real “Broken Britain,” but I don’t imagine I’ll see much about it in anyones manifesto. Apparently hate sells and more hate gets you elected.

Updates from Five Chinese Crackers.

**UPDATE** It’s lunchtime on Monday, and I’ve been checking in now and again, watching as the comments get red-arrowed by the more sane.  One seems to have been deleted, but it’s not possible to tell which one since the option to view all comments has been disabled.

**UPDATE UPDATE** A few minutes later, and the comments are down to 5.  I can’t imagine they’ll all be there by the end of the day, since ‘One down and quite a few to go’ is still there.

**UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE** Quarter to four and they’re all gone.  Phew!

**UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE** Now two are back.  Including my favourite one about trucks not being searched at border controls.  Genius.

It appears the Mail may have realised not all those visiting the site are frothing racist mouth breathers and have removed some of the content. Wouldn’t want the advertisers taking fright.

Just in case any advertisers were interested in what the Mail chooses juxtapose with their material, there is a picture here of the comments in question (H/T Y Dysgwr Araf and Nic Dafis. Cymru am byth!). Delightful I’m sure you’ll agree, really puts me in the mood to buy stuff.

Courtesy of Y Dysgwr Araf

Courtesy of Y Dysgwr Araf

Give ‘em enough rope

The BNP leader Nick Griffin gave a ridiculous performance on Question Time, it seems too soon to really take stock of what happened, but it looked like car crash from where I was watching.

Later on This Week, Diane Abbott mentioned that it may not look so embarrassing outside of multicultural London, but I’m not so sure. Someone pretending it is illegal to explain their views on the Holocaust doesn’t go down well anywhere.

Neither do I think he looked bullied, everyone was just in shock at the nonsense pouring out of his mouth.

The only weak part of the evening was when the evening turned to immigration. Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative MPs all tried to talk tough sat opposite Nasty Nick.

Has the Government position on immigration helped the BNP? It depends if 5 acts in 12 years is not enough for you. It depends if removing all legal entries to the UK for asylum seekers is too soft for you. It depends if you think immigrants paying 37% more in tax than they claim in benefits, as they did last year, counts as scrounging.

Perhaps the Government has helped the BNP, but not in the way they think it has, judging by the answers given tonight.

Luckily Nick Griffin is a moron, no racist can look otherwise. Give the man enough rope and he’ll hang himself, give him enough airtime and he’ll tie himself in knots.

Platform the Bastard, he hasn’t got a chance.

BBC: UK economy ‘is growing/is still not growing/is shrinking’

Great reporting form the BBC.

Contrary to expectations, the UK economy did not grow in the third quarter of the year, an influential economic group has predicted.

Gross domestic product (GDP) was unchanged from July to September, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) calculated.

That’s bad news isn’t it? Oh wait a minute.

The NIESR points out that its forecasts tend to be within 0.2 percentage points of the first official estimate from the ONS, which means that it is likely the economy will show either a small amount of growth or decline.

So the story comes down to: “we might be growing, we might not be growing, or we might be doing neither.”

Really enlightening. You may as well read the press release (pdf), at least it has a pretty graph.

Given that at one point the “NIESR incorrectly predicted earlier this year that the downturn ended in March” and in the hope of finding some scoop, I checked the the NIESR figures on their own accuracy.

Annoyingly they are particularly accurate and fair.

The NIESR declare to have an error rate in the region of o.1 to o.2 percent of GDP. Below are figures comparing the quarterly GDP change from the NIESR and the Office for National Statistics.

NIESR        ONS
2008 Q1 +0.7    2008 Q1 +0.8
2008 Q2 -0.1    2008 Q2 -0.1
2008 Q3 -0.7    2008 Q3 -0.7
2008 Q4 -1.8    2008 Q4 -1.8
2009 Q1 -2.5    2009 Q1 -2.4
2009 Q2 -0.6    2009 Q2 -0.8
2009 Q3 0.0    2009 Q3 N/A

At this point this is a non-story but it fits nicely in with the “new” narrative  from the Conservatives’ that “Labour isn’t working”.

This is another example of a story that gets coverage even when it lacks content because it fits within a dominant media narrative.

Labour still isn't working

Still a cunt: Peter Hitchens caught abusing the Holocaust

Yesterday the Irish voted YES to the Lisbon treaty. Septicisle surmises the reaction from the blogosphere [inserted below] but I personally don’t really have an opinion.

On the Irish yes vote to the Lisbon treaty, although some wrote before the result was known,Lenin bemoans the victory for neoliberalism, Bob wonders where this leaves the Tories, as does Jamie, while Nosemonkey critiques the view that having a second vote was undemocratic.

Having studied it at University the only thing I am certain about is that the EU is incredibly boring. So dull I can barely finish this sen…

…where was I? Ah, for the record I am vaguely in favour of supranational institutions but think that the EU is a particularly badly run one. [1] One run in the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

I’m more interested in the thoughts of Peter “if I had come first, it would have been hitchenary not reactionary” Hitchens.

Peter is of course livid that the Irish have voted to adopt the protocols of the Lisbon Treaty. But he decides before attacking the EU, or the treaty, or our own Government, he would attack Jews.EUIRELAND

I don’t think he’s an anti-Semite, Jews are probably one of the few groups towards which he does not regularly pour his vitriol. But this throwaway paragraph really took my breathe away [my emphasis].

The Passport you hold is not British, but European. You are a European citizen. British Embassies are European Embassies – as they already show by flying the EU’s meaningless and tasteless blue and yellow dishcloth.  Shouldn’t somebody have pointed out that in the recent history of the Continent, yellow stars call up only one dismal image, the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

The jaw dropping ignorance of the man is palpable. The coy manipulation of history is truly sickening.

The holocaust still matters. It is as impossible to understate the horror as it is to visualise the scale of what occurred. And Peter “in fact, just shorten that to Cunt” Hitchens wants to use it to attack the fucking EU?

You might not like the EU, but you do not use the holocaust to attack a fucking flag you don’t think is as good as the Union Flag. That makes you a colossal fucking prick.

Peter Hitchens is one of your common and garden Armchair Imperialists, and I understand his hostility to the EU. Not only that but I can see his target market every time I stumble into an Agricultural Show.

He often claims to be speaking from history – he even approvingly quotes Hugh Gaitskell in this same article – but this vile display of manipulation puts pay to any notion of objectivity or historical insight.

As I’ve written this post I’ve gradually become more and more angry, and have inserted sweary things where once were polite ripostes. Fucking Bastard.

[1] In the EU’s defence, it was one of the first transnational institutions and had to make all the mistakes other learn from.

UPDATE: NoseMonkey has also noticed this ridiculoous article and has rightly pointed out the Peter Hitchens represents exactly what is wrong with Euroskeptics today.