A Modest Ambition

April 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm (anonymous, blogosphere, censorship, Max Dunbar)

The glorious moment of spring so far has been Simon Singh’s victory against Mr Justice Eady’s ruling in the chiropractic libel case. You know the story. Singh wrote an article for the Guardian that claimed, rightly, that the British Chiropractic Association promoted bogus treatments. The practice itself was invented by a disgraced nineteenth-century magnet therapist who was convinced that back massage could treat 95% of illnesses. Singh showed that the association promoted spinal manipulation as a cure for a range of childhood ailments including ‘colic, sleeping and feeding problems, ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying’. (Ben Goldacre has analysed the evidence – such as it is.)

The BCA was offered a right to reply but instead it sued for libel. Eady ruled that it wasn’t enough for Singh to back up his assertions with hard fact. He had to prove that the chiropractors were deliberately lying rather than just delusional. As Amie realised, that ruling took the case into ‘deep philosophical waters’ – Singh couldn’t win the case unless he developed an ability to actually read his opponents’ thoughts.

Like the girl in the Millennium trilogy, Singh had kicked the hornet’s nest. His case sparked a popular fury and turned an obscure liberal campaign into a public movement. The victory has been so quick and decisive it’s astonishing. The three main political parties have had to pledge a commitment to libel reform, and although it can’t happen until after the election, at the moment change seems inevitable. Senior judges at the Court of Appeal agreed that litigation had ‘a chilling effect on public debate’ and, realising it couldn’t win, the BCA dropped its case.

Of course the battle is not over – to quote Dr Evan Harris: ‘For every Simon Singh who wins there are hundreds of writers who never dare publish or who give up their legal battle because they cannot risk the cost of losing.’ There’s an NHS cardiologist, Dr Peter Wilmshurst, who’s being sued by an American company under English law after he raised concerns about a heart implant device the company made.

Still, even at this early stage Singh’s win sends a message. His case generated huge media coverage with petitions, public meetings, merchandise, celebrity involvement and the offending article reprinted all over the blogosphere. His online supporters hunted down every chiropractor in the UK offering expertise that they could not back up with evidence and reported them to regulatory authorities. The impact caused the McTimoney Chiropractic Association to send out a panicky email to its members. Quackometer got hold of it.

REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice… If you use business cards or other stationery using the ‘doctor’ title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately… IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION… Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients[.]

Too late. Currently a quarter of UK chiropractors are under investigation.

Singh’s victory sends out a clear message to bullies and exploiters of all kinds. It is this. If you try to use the law to silence debate, you are going to have a fight on your hands. You will be challenged and scrutinised at every turn, you will become famous in ways you do not want and even if you win, you will come away damaged, perhaps mortally.

Nick Cohen makes a fine point about contemporary free speech activists:

There is an overlap with the more assertive atheism which followed 9/11. Like atheists, skeptics treat as patronising and contemptible the cynical modern belief that you should not examine religion or alternative medicines because the simple-minded and uninformed find comfort in them. But you do not have to be an atheist to be a skeptic, merely commit to the free examination of evidence. This modest ambition is surprisingly potent.

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The Men Who Stare At Votes

April 17, 2010 at 12:05 am (cinema, democracy, elections, Jim D)

h/t: http://invereskstreet.blogspot.com/

… I also liked this (below), even though the thought comes from That Place:

…and this:

h/t: http://liberalconspiracy.org/

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Independent Record Store Day and memories of Dobell’s

April 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm (jazz, Jim D, music)

Today is “Independent Record Store Day“. They used to be social centres, Aladin’s caves, political, cultural and educational rendez-vous and sometimes (when your luck was in) sexual ones too. Occasionally we even bought the odd record.

Sadly, many of the best ones are long  gone:

These joints were usually owned and/or managed by some eccentric, benign dictator and/or semi-fanatical character:

“Dobell’s in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s was to Jazz fans and visiting American musicians what the old Commodore Music Shop on East 42nd had been in the 30’s and 40’s New York. It was a nice place to hang out, with a following of regular customers from all walks of life who were often as knowledgeable and informed as the clerks who worked there. 

“Presiding over the store was Doug Dobell himself, always immaculately dressed and looking like like a combination of two Georges – Wettling and Raft. Cigar in hand, Doug would dispense hospitality from his little office, usually a stiff glass of scotch, and talk about the music and musicians he loved” – Keith Ingham (pianist and Dobell’s regular). 

Another Dobell’s regular (and the painter of the murals that made the joint a little less dingy than it otherwise would have been), has just died: the Django-style guitarist Diz Disley. Here he is playing ‘Tiger Rag’ with Stephane Grappelli in 1976:

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That Salma Yaqoob post: what I take back…and what I don’t

April 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm (blogging, Champagne Charlie, elections, Galloway, islamism, truth)

A couple of days ago I posted a piece here about ‘Respect’ leader Salma Yaqoob’s campaign in Birmingham Hall Green. My fellow-blogger Voltaire’s Priest removed it without consulting me and for a while it looked like the end of a beautiful friendship, and possibly of this blog.

We patched things up last night over a few bottles while watching the Great Debate. 

Even after our pow-wow, however, I’m still not entirely clear on why Volty did what he did. I know he was concerned about Respect’s record of running to the bourgeois courts, using the tyrants’ friend Mr Galloway’s considerable wealth to silence critics. I would also accept that my article wasn’t very good.

However, I insist that the article was honest and I absolutely deny accusations made in the comments box to the effect that I’d simply made it all up.

For those who didn’t read the now-deleted article, let me explain: the article was based upon an off-the-record conversation I’d had with someone who’s been out campaigning for Yaqoob. This person criticised the Yaqoob campaign for concentrating entirely upon the Pakistani and Bangladeshi wards (Sparkbrook and Springfield) whilst ignoring the more ethnically mixed wards of Hall Green and Moseley/Kings Heath. S/he rejected the description of the campaign as “communalist” but did describe it as “ghetto politics.”  The person also accepted that Yaqoob is not a socialist in any “conventional” sense of the word, but insisted that she represents something “progressive” on the grounds that she is “anti imperialist.” S/he agreed that Respect has no governmental slogan or position “beyond calling for a Labour government!”

The person closed by stating that Respect appears to have given up on the idea of offering any sort of serious alternative to Labour.

It was a bad article because (as I made clear in the comments box) it was my recollection of a conversation, not a formal interview: however, I put the person’s comments in quote marks as though these were being set down verbatim. From a purely personal point of view, I also felt bad about the piece because I didn’t make it clear to the person that I was going to base an article on their comments.

So, yes, it was a bad article and Volty (whatever his motives) was, on balance, right to remove it. But it was an honest, truthful account of a real conversation with a real person.

Interestingly, no-one in the comments objected to the one statement in the article that was verifiably inaccurate: that Respect were only standing three candidates (Yaqoob, Galloway and Abjol Miah): in fact, they’re standing 11, although they’ve made it clear that they’re only campaigning seriously for those three.

Yaqoob’s bag-carrier and campaign manager, the (not very good) pugilist  Ger Francis (who seems to be obsessed by people he calls “Orange Zionists” who are behind all criticism of Respect) is most certainly not someone I’m about to take any lessons from about honesty or accuracy. Like the SWP (who expelled him), I believe he’s unfit to be considered part of any kind of reputable politics.

Mr Francis’s complaint that the article attributed a particular quote to him (supposedly upon hearing that Labour MP Lynne Jones was supporting Yaqoob) which he denies,  is one I’m willing to accept, however: I accurately reported what I was told, but it cannot be independently verified so I’m not repeating it.

In short: a bad but honest article.

Also in short: whilst there may be grounds for voting for some explicitly socialist anti-Labour candidates; there are no grounds whatsoever for voting for the reactionary shower called ‘Respect.’

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Dunkin’ bagel—splash! In the coffee. Matzo ball, matzo ball-o-roonie! Gefilte fish, gefilte fish-a-fruitie!

April 16, 2010 at 12:00 am (jazz, Jewish music, Jim D, multiculturalism)

Some light relief, courtesy of that Brockley man:

“Dunkin’ Bagel
Dunkin’ Bagel
Dunkin’ Bagel
SPLASH in the coffee
Dunkin’ Bagel
Dunkin’ Bagel
Dunkin’ Bagel
SPLASH in the coffee”
Bam Brown: “Matsoh Balls” Slim: “Matsoboutsiereenie”
Bam: “Gefilte fish” Slim: “Gefilte fish avoutie”
Bam: “Pickled Herrings” Slim: “Pickled Herrivoonie”
Bam: “Macarootie”  Slim: “Macaroonie”
piano solo (perhaps by Slim, but probably by [Dodo] Marmarosa)
guitar solo (very much in the vein of Charlie Christian)
Slim singing: “Dunkin’ Bagel” etc
and then as a coda the spoken words:
Bam: “How about a bowl of gefilte fish?”
Slim: “Cold? Hot?”

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The debate: Clegg wot won it???

April 15, 2010 at 10:11 pm (Champagne Charlie, David Cameron, elections, Gordon Brown, media)

I’ve just witnessed The Great Debate (in the company of Volty amongst others): we all agreed that in terms of presentation, Cameron “won”.

Yet the immediate media feedback is that the idiot-boy Clegg got the public’s nod. Despite Cameron’s effective jibe about the Lib Dems receiving money from a convicted criminal “still on the run” – to which idiot-boy had no answer.

How the fuck did Clegg “win” that encounter?

Actually, if it had been on radio, I’m pretty sure that Gordon Brown (like Nixon in 1960) would be judged the “winner.”

PS: Volty and I have now agreed a concordat with regard to the future of this blog and my ‘Salma Yaqoob’ post that he removed without my agreement. All will be revealed tomorrow.

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What Can You Do For Dave?

April 15, 2010 at 6:19 pm (anonymous, comedy, elections, Max Dunbar, media, Tory scum)

So finally my roving satirical eye turns to the general election. A month ago, I thought the Tories would walk it. Now I’m not sure. David Camerons needs to take 116 seats to get even a technical majority. The polls are in his favour but under first past the post this means nothing if the votes are not well targeted. Camerons has realised that the Daily Mail manifestos of the previous three elections will get him nowhere. He needs big ideas.

The Camerons idea is the Big Society. Launched this week, the Conservative manifesto is titled ‘Invitation to join the Government of Great Britain’; quoting the American founding fathers as well as JFK, Camerons said that: ‘It’s about we, the people. And it’s time to say to those who think it’s all about unchecked individualism: no, it’s not about me, the individual. It’s about we, the people’.

In policy terms, this means ‘enabling parents to open new schools’, ‘letting neighbours take over local amenities like parks and libraries that are under threat’, and ‘giving the public greater control of the planning system’. Boring, creaky old state delivery will be replaced by a new era of social responsibility and community activism. From the manifesto:

Our ambition of every adult citizen being a member of an active neighbourhood group … our alternative to big government is the big society: a society with much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility; a society where people come together and improve life for themselves and their communities.

The problem with Dave’s idea is that what with work, family and social commitments most people don’t have time to set up a boarding school or decide the allocation of new brownfield sites. Moreover, many state services need to be delivered by people with the necessary skills and training. This central flaw has produced a CiF thread that’s actually worth reading.

Following Armando Iannucci’s plan to set up his own police force in Wigan, commentors chime in with ideas including: ‘I have decided to set up a school in my shed’; ‘I have a hosepipe so I can be the fireman for my street’; ‘I’m going to collect tax on everyone who passes my house’; ‘I’m tackling Britain’s immigration policy by installing Total Wipeout – style obstacle courses at all our borders’; ‘I’m setting up a co-operative to float the local library on the FTSE’; ‘The kid next door and I are going to run the local hospital. He’s really good at Operation, and I’ve got a white coat that I took off one of the people chasing me with butterfly nets.’

Of course the Tories know perfectly well what’s wrong with the basic idea. All the Big Society spin would mean in practice is that more and more public sector services will be farmed off to charities and faith groups. The website even says it: ‘Promote the delivery of public services by social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups, encouraging them to get involved in running things like Sure Start’.

It’s a very old Tory idea that’s worked for them since Victorian times. Vote for change and the Salvation Army can look after your kids. That’ll be the only option when Dave’s little platoons are marching over the hill.

(Image from Political Cream, via Paul Waugh)

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A break from the blogging

April 14, 2010 at 9:26 pm (blogging, voltairespriest)

There’s one more thing. I’ve decided, due both to my own lack of output and also lack of time to properly deal with its administration at present, to take a break from this blog. I’m handing over ownership of it to the other authors, and will also no longer be the administrator for the site.

I’ll still be around in the comments box etc, but will not have a role in determining or writing the content of the site.

See you all around!

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Comments about editorial policy

April 14, 2010 at 6:23 pm (blogging, voltairespriest)

A brief word, folks.

This blog has historically had a liberal stance when it comes to editing and publishing posts. There is no full-time editor, and overall control of what is published rests with no-one. We try to do the right thing, balancing posts from people of divergent political views on topics which are often controversial.

Similarly, with regard to comments policy, we try to be as liberal as we can. allowing even highly critical views the maximum possible airing (hi, Red Maria!).

However, we are also receptive to polite requests to reconsider what is written, and to general comments about the tone and tenor of the blog.  These can be addressed in the comments boxes and also to the email address at the top of our main page. All such comments and requests will get a fair hearing.

That is all.

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Anna the hero of Gdansk dies in Smolensk disaster

April 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm (good people, history, Jim D, unions, workers)

Anna Walentynowicz, the crane driver and trade unionist who fought the “communist” bosses at the Gdansk shipyard, was amongst those killed in the Smolensk plane crash. She was an ex-CP member and a class fighter: her victimisation in 1980 sparked the formation of Solidarity and – eventually – the collapse of Stalinism,  not just in Poland but throughout the world. Later on, after the disappointments that followed the reintroduction of capitalism,  she fell out with Solidarity’s leader Lech Walesa under circumstances that I have never properly understood.

Above: Anna standing next to Walesa (right of picture)

Not everyone who died in that crash was the sort of person that socialists would mourn. But the crash –  as the victims were flying out to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Stalinist massacre of Poles at Ketyn – must be seen as yet another Polish tragedy. And we should all mourn the working class hero Anna Walentynowicz.

PS: Anna’s struggle in the shipyard is depicted, in thinly disguised form,  in the excellent film ‘Strike’

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