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Obesity and the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail’s editor may or may not have been exhorted to “give them something to hate every day” by its proprietor, Lord Northcliffe, but today, the subject of the hate is fat people. Apparently 12,000 people are on disability benefit because of “metabolic disease”, which the daily mail has taken as a proxy for “too fat to work” despite the fact not all the cases of diabetes will be due to blubber.

In a population of 70,000,000, 12,000 people is less than 0.02%. This really isn’t very many, and some of whom will be ill without being fat. Obesity costs the NHS £9bn a year? I doubt that too. I suspect the Mail has just asked what heart disease, Diabetes and so forth costs the NHS and assumed that’s all Obesity. In any case, in an NHS budget of £115bn, this too isn’t that big a number. But the fat, like smokers die younger, costing the country less in pensions and die quicker, meaning they cost less the NHS less than a healthy person in their final years.

Having lied with statistics and asked the readers to blame the deficit and the breakdown of the NHS on salad-dodgers, we are then asked to blame the food industry. A nice, simple daily mail morality tale. Wicked businesses, allied to weak, stupid, gluttunous fat people (defined as ‘people fatter than you’) are costing YOU money. If only THEY could be made to behave, the problem would go away. Having waded through the article, I suspect most readers have got a very inaccurate impression as to the actual size of the problem of people who’re “too fat to work”, and the root causes of obesity.

The problem is obesity is not about sugary drinks or high calorie ready meals, or fast food. It’s about a vast number of factors, most of which are not yet fully understood. Obesity has a genetic component. Some people have a greater propensity to put down fat than others. It has an environmental component: it’s easier to eat healthily if you live in a relatively affluent area. Poor kids are less likely to have access to safe outdoor play. It has a life-style component. Active people don’t tend to get fat.

But ultimately the problem is a combination of readily available high calorie food, and jobs that don’t burn it off. We all have the appetite of a hunter-gatherer who roams miles in search of food, but we sit behind desks. Our jobs are stressful, which raises cortisol levels. Driving is stressful too. Yet our bodies do not get to make the “fight or flight” for which they are prepared, and instead lay down fat. And as our jobs get ever more sedentary, and ever more labour-saving devices are employed in the home, we will burn ever fewer calories as we move about.

There is a moral component to getting fat. It is possible to look in the mirror and say “I’m getting fat, and I must do something about it”. But if you’re fat as a 10 year-old, it’s really not your fault. All studies show losing weight, and keeping it off is hard-to-impossible without lifestyle changes. Raising your activity levels isn’t easy either. Having got fat, ‘going for a run’ puts an intolerable burden on knees and backs. Thighs will rub together and bleed. The extra activity needed to burn off the blubber is simply agony for the obese. ‘Take daily exercise’ isn’t that simple.

It seems that at some point in development, your body decides how much fat it wants to carry, and this happens quite young. Most people get steadily fatter as they get older, and research suggests a bit of middle-aged spread isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly better than being underweight. What matters far more than Body Mass Index is how active you are. People who take regular, moderate exercise are much, much healthier than those who don’t, even if they carry a few extra pounds.

This is why active transport – cycling and walking is so important. It will allow an increase in activity, without requiring the willpower to “go for a run”. A bicycle is a labour saving device, relative to walking, and in any sensible society, should be the first choice of transport for journeys under a couple of miles. But as Daily Mail readers are viciously opposed to bicycles, as the transport of people they don’t understand, the one thing that might reduce obesity will not be supported.

So the Daily Mail plays its vicious little morality play, feeding idiots’ righteous indignation by lying with statistics, in order to fuel animus against THEM. All the while, being a significant part of the problem itself. The Daily Mail is a hateful little rag, which leaves its readers a little less informed, every single day.

Multiculturalism

‘Multiculturalism’ is a much abused word. Broadly, when used as a pejorative by those of the Daily Mail tendency, usually in phrases such as “the failed experiment in multiculturalism” which means “I don’t like wogs”. When used enthusiastically by the loony left in phrases such as “Celebrating multiculturalism”, it means “White people are evil”. The dictionary definition is “the policy of maintaining a diversity of ethnic cultures within a community”. In practice, it’s often for or against “the muslims”.

Maybe it could be a libertarian idea? I like the fact that Britain is home to people whose family origins are all over our formerly vast empire. People liked the mother country sufficiently to settle here, and despite New Labour’s best efforts, this country remains a better place to live than Somalia, Afghanistan or France. This is good. Now as a libertarian, I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about what people say, do, or think, so long as they leave me and my friends alone, and refrain from sponging off my taxes, so I enthusiastically endorse the dictionary definition of multiculturalism. The point of libertarianism is that individuals should be free to live as they choose, with the above caveats. And as most people display “in-group preference”, there is a tendency for ethnic and cultural groups to concentrate into discreete areas of towns. Jews in Golders Green, Bangladeshis in Whitechapel and dick-heads in Hoxton, using London as an example. So long as this is not enforced either legally or informally in any serious way, this is just natural. A side effect of such assortive residency leads naturally to the easier maintenance of cultural norms such as ringlets, beards or stupid, identical haircuts with a spiky hairspray mohecan and a job in
“media”a mobile phone shop – and bingo!: Different areas have recognisably different people in them. We’re “Multicultural”.

The “hoxton fin”

Consider this, when you start using the word “multicultural”: Are you actually disapproving of the actions and culture of people you don’t know, facing different challenges and problems to you, about whom you know little? Are you hoping that “multiculturalism” might act as a wedge, to change the country you live in to one you might approve of (but probably won’t)? Or does “multiculturalism” mean “live, and let live”? If so, Amen! Right on, brother, we’re onto something.

The Opponets of Legalisation SpEAk their BrAnEs

Heffer, this morning.

That alone illustrates the moral failure of our drugs policy, and perhaps helps one understand why the Ainsworths of this world feel that we might as well give up and legalise these killer substances. Theirs is a counsel of despair, however. The liberal society has failed. If we want to deal seriously with the drugs menace, we must start by admitting that, and reversing its odious doctrines.

Anyone whose argument concludes that “the liberal society has failed” has defeated his own argument, because the liberal society has created more happiness than any of the brutalised and repressed societies which preceded it. It may not be perfect, but more repression, locking more people up because they don’t behave as Simon Heffer thinks they ought, is not the answer. Who are we helping by such a policy? He trots out the same, tired, lazy arguments, which at the risk of boring my colleague Travelgall (who basically thinks the public’s view issue will NEVER change – itself a council of despair) I shall deal with the Heffer’s “arguments” in order. None are convincing.

…if you seek to undermine what Mr Ainsworth correctly calls the “gangsters” by reducing their ability to make money from drugs, they will simply find another commodity to exploit

There has never been a business as profitable as illegal drugs. Whatever dealers do instead will be less profitable, harder and therefore less attractive. Some will “go straight”. To say in one breath “drugs are an evil scourge on society” and in the next suggesting that whatever dealers will do instead would be worse is solipsistic.It pretends labour cannot be re-deployed (I was unaware that Mr Heffer took his Labour market economics from the Socialist Worker). In any case the argument amounts to “we can’t legalise drugs, because drug-dealers would lose their jobs”. I am sure this is not what Heffer had in mind.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and criminals used to idling for a living on a huge income are not suddenly going to get jobs stacking shelves in Tesco.

Most drug dealers are on, in effect, the minimum wage. True, there’s a chance of success by climbing the value-chain to the top, but the economics of Drugs are not easy riches. This shows how much research Heffer has done for this opinion piece. He then goes on to say that the taxes levied would be so high that the illegal traffickers would simply undercut the legal supply, and that

Given the damage done by drugs in terms of health and consequent criminality – such as addicts mugging and burgling to afford their fix, which would not change.

He offers no evidence to back this up. Some, perhaps most of the serious health problems of drug use are caused by illegality. No-one is going to pretend that pot is good for you, but there are regular users who remain productive members of society. Cocaine use is widespread in the professions. Many people remain occasional users. Heroin users, if they use clean needles and have a supply of quality drugs can remain productive members of society. They tend to remain less visible than the smack whores who remain the public image of heroin use, but I know of at least a couple of people who maintained a recreational Heroin habit for years without becoming smack-addled derelicts, including one who was a semi-pro rugby player. The point is that it is mucky, adulterated smack is the cause of much ill health, a situation that would be amenable to legalisation. Nothing I can see suggests that illegal drugs, especially Cannabis and Cocaine are far removed from the harm potential of Alcohol. Either ban Alcohol (what’s that, you say it’s been tried?), or legalise drugs.

Next he trots out the tired old “slippery slope argument.

… the other effects of legalisation would be to encourage people who don’t use drugs to have a dabble; and to encourage those who use so-called “soft” drugs (though the psychotic effects of cannabis seem to me to render it anything but “soft”) to try something a bit more serious.

“Seem to me”, well, he’s obviously done his research. That’s me convinced! The psychotic effects of Cannabis are not proven, and seem to be at most increasing the likelihood of schizophrenia in very heavy users who may have been already prone to the condition. Again no-one would say any drug is good for you, but compare the psycotic effect of alcohol: how many pot-fuelled fights are there in the UK every Friday night? How many booze-addled tramps are ruined by Booze? Pot is not good for you, but it isn’t worse than Alcohol. And who’s to say dabbling with drugs is entirely bad? Find me a graduate who hasn’t tried a spliff? Although some of those undergraduate pot-smokers become Journalists, most make something worthwhile of their lives.

Never in all the years I’ve been writing on this issue has anyone addressed the fact that there are FAR more problem drug users than when the substances were legal, available over the counter at your local chemist. Supporters of continued prohibition must ask themselves why. An illegal drug habit is expensive and the easiest way to maintain it is by dealing yourself. This encourages users to recruit other users in a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme. Whilst it is true that in the short term, there will be a great many people who will be tempted by a line of Coke or a Spliff, I suspect that anyone who would be tempted to mainline heroin is already doing so. A young impressionable pot or Ecstasy user is less likely, were they legal, to be exposed to a dealer whose supply of Green or pills had gone a bit dry, suggesting that he try some brown instead. Legal drugs would come with health warnings, and education material sponsored by nannying Government departments, rather than tips on how to get high from an experienced user. The slippery slope argument is as much an argument against prohibition as it is against legalisation.

The most widespread drug, Alcohol is at least as harmful as most illegal drugs. It is certainly responsible for the majority of the visible drug failures: the derelicts littering park benches and shop doorways. If we tolerate a drug with this potential for harm, it makes no sense to make illegal and spend billions interdicting supply, and criminalising users of drugs like pot which are FAR less harmful than booze.

Opponents of legalisation have to address the question of the availability of drugs. With all the money spent on preventing it getting to the UK, a crop which requires chemical processing and is grown on the mountains of South America, despite the USA spending 10 Billion a year on crop-sprayers and troops, despite all the sniffer dogs at airports, despite draconian punishment for traffickers, Cocaine can be had for £30-£40 a gram in every town from Inverness to Penzance. Cannabis can be had for £15 for an eighth (why cocaine is metric, and pot is imperial is an issue which has long vexed me). How could legalisation possibly make such drugs more available? They’re available everywhere, now! Anyone who is minded to try anything can already do so, after hours and to the underage, illegal drugs are easier to get than booze.

To suggest that the answer is savage repression against something that millions, yes millions of people do every weekend in the UK, and to even think this policy would make for a happy country, is absurd. Legal drugs would be cleaner, cheaper and there would be less stigma attached. Friends and family would be able to monitor people’s drug use as they already do with alcohol, as such use would be less hidden. Problem users may be tempted to seek help earlier than at present. It would remove a vast source of profit from organised crime, and put a stop to the recruitment of users by low-level dealers seeking to fund their own habit.

Nowhere, in all the world’s decriminalisation experiments has the supply chain been removed from criminal hands, yet not one has seen a significant increase in harm (use is different from harm). Reports of more widespread use may just be lower stigma increasing reporting of use. So decriminalisation hasn’t led to social unrest in Portugal. Pot is effectively legal in Spain, Holland and Germany without the reefer madness promised by the prohibitionists. I cannot see how removing the Gangster’s profits and redeploying the resources on actual crimes which hurt people can be anything other than a cheap win. Bleating about “families destroyed by drugs” seems to forget that these families are destroyed when drugs are already illegal. Perhaps they would not be so destroyed under a more humane system?

“Because they are illegal” is not an answer to “why are drugs bad?” The trade exists and cannot be controlled or prevented in a free society. Nowhere has succeeded in suppressing the trade, no matter how draconian a the country gets. A law which millions disobey every weekend brings the law into disrepute, and gifts millions to criminals who fight over the profits. Every drug death is an indictment of the current system and policy. “More of the same” is not, and cannot be an answer.

Heffer with his tired, ignorant, knee-jerk moralising has ignored every argument, and simply asserted what he believes to be true without deigning to do any research, or even thought. Remind me again, why does anyone pay any attention to journalists? How is repeating your readers prejudices for pay any more “moral” than selling them a relatively harmless herb to help them relax?

To be, or not to be, (on the birth certificate)

In matters of relationships, I’m a strict libertarian. I don’t care with whom you shack up, and what you do behind closed doors with consenting adults. Marriage should not concern the state one jot, as it is a public declaration to family and friends, and as far as the tax advantages of “marriage” go, that’s what the civil partnership’s for, gay or straight. The state is not interested in the wedding vows, but the signing of the register.

Now the issue of children is a different matter. Deliberate single motherhood, without asking the father’s permission is evil, as is abandoning a woman during pregnancy when you’d promised to help support her. The problem comes when the issue of child support creates an incentive to trap a man into fatherhood, and the issue of benefits forces a potentially loving nuclear family apart. The state has regulated too deep, and intrusively and created perverse incentives in doing so.

However, there is no legal requirement for Milliband minor to be on his spawn’s brat’s child’s birth certificate, though it could in theory (but probably not in practice) affect his legal rights as a parent, but neither of the above cases apply to him she neither entrapped him, nor he abandon her. I’ve no doubt that he’s an admirable father, if slightly awkward and bug-eyed, with an anoying nasal whine, which he will no doubt pass on to the unfortunate offspring. Though I suspect anyone trying to make political hay out of the Millisprog’s bastardy or anything else related the new Leader of the opposition’s unwedded state to be a Daily Mail-reading git, Milliband minor did vote for laws which intrude into the bedroom, in which case, the nastiness is just deserts. Reap what ye sow, interfering socialists.

The War on Drugs


I’m a libertarian. That means I believe in freedom of choice is for the individual and not the state. With that principle underlying most of my political beliefs, I find a dilemma with drugs. Cannabis should be legalised from a personal freedom point of view, and there is no need to go through the arguments. It’s “hard drugs” which pose the greatest problem for society and lawmakers.

Being addictive, especially the opiates and the highly refined chemical drugs, can freedom of choice really be said to be exercised by the individual? Does the state have a duty to protect the British subject from substances that remove freedom by encouraging addiction? That is the principal argument behind the “war on drugs”.

The state, I believe does have a duty of care, and therefore should act to limit drug use, but the prohibition of sale and interdiction of supply are doomed to failure, especially in a free society. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BUSINESS AS PROFITABLE AS ILLEGAL DRUGS. This morning, the Government spokesman on the subject Paul Goggins boasted about an increase in seizures of drugs at ports. Well that’s more likely to reflect greater flow than greater success in stopping the trade. Even if the supply were temporarily interrupted, the price in the market would rise, and so would the rewards to potential traffickers. In any case 60% interdiction is necessary to seriously disrupt the supply chain instead of the 20% stopped now.

The drug lords therefore operate in a Government guaranteed oligopoly, but do not have to provide any welfare for their staff or customers. Indeed the cutting of drugs with less than savoury mixers to increase profits leads to many of the health problems associated with drug use. Furthermore, there have been cases of a wave of overdoses if a batch unusually pure heroin for example hits the street. All these are symptoms of the drugs’ illigality, not the drug itself.

The crime associated with drug use is also, in part, a symptom of government policy. The policy of interdiction keeps the price artificially high, and once hooked, an addict will find it harder to get help than he otherwise would were drugs legal. Because the price is high, theft is easier than work to fund a habit. The surest way to fund a drugs habit, though, is to become a dealer yourself, and this guarantees an efficient pyramid marketing scheme that creates more users. It also puts layers in the supply chain, each further insulating the organised criminals who run the business from the law. People who like, for example a bit of pot to pass round with their friends, or a tab of MDMA for a party get exposed to this criminal marketing scheme. This is dangerous.

Drugs are bad for you. Nothing will change that, but prohibition makes the situation worse. Instead the resources (huge resources) that are currently tackling the supply should instead be directed at limiting demand through education of the dangers and rehabilitation of addicts. At present, the government is treating heroin addicts with methadone, even more addictive, which is just crass. Instead a rehabilitation program using the real thing, as has been successfully used in Switzerland would be more successful.

By removing the extreme sanctions against drug use, users would be more inclined to seek help before they lose their jobs and lives. Habits would be easier to sustain from within normal society, so the effects of a habit would be mitigated.

A state sanctioned supply of all drugs would break the criminal hold on the industry. The highly efficient pyramid marketing scheme would collapse. The price would fall and habits would become cheaper to sustain. The drugs themselves would become purer and less harmful to health. Demand for some of the really harmful drugs would recede. Why take crack or crystal meth when cocaine or heroin is freely and cheaply available?

This issue is one where a 180 degree change in policy is needed, but one where the “daily mail”* viewpoint would mean that the best solution: total legalisation of everything combined with vigorous anti-drugs propaganda and massive increase in resources for rehabilitation, would be political suicide. The daily mail arguments against such a policy “Government says drugs OK”, “Kids free to be hooked on drugs” can be safely ignored, but there are real risks to such a policy.

Arguments about the increased availability of drugs undser a legalised regime are reasonable. You are never more than a short bus ride away from your next hit, even in the leafy suburbs, but a legal supply is easier than an illegal one. It is likely however that, in the short term at least drug use will increse as people experiment. Just as with Tobacco, this will receed with time and education. Organised crime, denied its most lucrative business, will find something else to do, and that won’t be pleasant. Someone is going to make a legitimate profit from the sale of drugs, and that is difficult to stomach. It will be hard to legalise something so clearly harmful, but I feel it is the least bad option.

Whatever the objections, it is clear the current policy is failing everyone except organised crime. It is time for a radical rethink. I would really like to hear anyone’s opinion on this, so comment away!

*for American readers, the Daily Mail is a nastly little right-wing authoritarian rag with pretentions to seriousness, parodied in the BBC’s Yes Minister as “the paper read by the wives of the people who run the country”. If there is anything wrong with the Tory Party, it is the Daily Mail’s opinion that is at fault. The only paper I hate more is The Guardian, a tedious left-wing rag for sanctimonious, pretentious sociology students and Islington polenta-eaters that represents everyhig about the smug left that I loathe.