Tuesday, 30 March 2010

May All People Be Free, Free From Fear

“May all beings living to the east. May all beings of the universe be free, free from fear, free from all distress, free from poverty. May they have peace in their hearts.
May all people be free, free from fear. Free Aung San Suu Kyi. Our Cause, Our Cause.”


I finally got around to watching Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country last night. It's a brilliant piece of journalistic documentary film-making, edited together from first hand accounts of Burmese citizen journalists standing in often imminent danger on the front lines of the 2007/8 protests against their military "government".

Shocking, provoking, and so full of information it actually made me feel ignorant and extremely stupid and ashamed of myself; if you haven't seen it and you're the slightest bit interested in the world around you, you need to watch it.

I don't think much more needs to be said really. Absorb this documentary - it isn't hard to do, you barely realise how long it's been on for until you're trying not to cry and realise you can't get up to inconspicuously go to the bathroom because you have really bad pins and needles.

****UPDATE****UPDATE****
If you want to support the Democratic Voice of Burma - the subject of the documentary, the group of exiled journalists who try to show the rest of the world exactly what goes on behind the closed doors of Burma - then here is where you can donate towards keeping them in business. They're non-profit, but every now and again their equipment is confiscated and their members are imprisoned, so every penny is precious to their efforts. Be generous, it's not often you see such brave journalism for the sake of exposing the truth and promoting democracy.


Then, if like me you're incredibly appalled and intrigued by the situation, carry on reading. May I suggest starting here.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Doing What the Press Probably Wouldn't/Shouldn't Do - Chatting to a Dealer About Mephedrone

I have discovered that I really enjoy researching stories if I talk to people you wouldn't normally have thought of. There's nothing like spicing up a story with an intelligent conversation with a total shot in the dark.

Here is the latest installment of my somewhat obsessive coverage of mephedrone/MM-Cat/MMKAT/miowfuck or whatever you want to call it. I'd prefer if you called it mephedrone, cheers. It makes you sound less like a 50 year old trying to sound 'down with the kids' (as I got told when I was interviewing somebody. Aaaawkwaaardd...)

I was going to write this up properly in true Biscuit-style oh-look-a-nice-story-interview um, style, but due to a combination of HUGE loads of uni work and the fact that I don't want to stifle my source with my own inane prattling, I've just left it as Q/A. Hope you don't mind. I know it's shabby journalism, but it's not like you're paying for this page, is it?

So, to find out more information on mephedrone - in particular it's popularity, it's make-up, where it came from and where it's likely to go, I tracked down a dealer who has asked me to name him rather ironically as "The Botanist". As a self-confessed drugs-nerd, I feel that he was the most interesting person to ask about synthesised cathinones, and he's probably the most informed, if I'm totally honest.

So here he is, for your reading pleasure.

Hope you learn something :)

> How quickly did Mephedrone's popularity spike?
> Mephedrone was only first synthesised about 2 years ago, and since then it's popularity has exploded. New research chemicals are being created all the time and this particular one gained great attention from enthusiasts of such substances, it was only inevitable that it would gain interest from the general public after a while.

> What do you think has made it so popular with party-goers?
> At the current moment in time there is a drastic shortage of MDMA, due to increased enforcement against it's production in china. for the past 2 years it has been difficult for people to acquire, and ecstasy pills are now being contaminated with all sorts of other substances to mimic the effects of MDMA. This unsatisfied demand has been filled with mephedrone, as well as several other research chemicals which have similar effects to MDMA. It's legality has also made it incredibly cheap to produce, making it cost as little as £5 a gram when bought in bulk. It was inevitable that a new research chemical was going to fill this gap in the market! (Also, it is important to remember that even MDMA was a research chemical a few years back!)

> Have you ever sold anything else?
> No, although it's not the legal aspects of the drug that make it appealing to sell, but the availability and popularity more than anything else. As well as the ability to buy it in bulk for discount prices.

> Is it the legal aspect of the drug that makes it appealing? Or is it the effects or even the price and availability?
> All of these factors are important in different measures to different people. the legal aspects affect mainly price and availability which are the main factors of attraction, as most people accept that even when caught with a substance like this in a club, it will likely be confiscated anyway, or assumed to be an illegal drug.

> Do people know what they are buying, or are they buying it simply because somebody else told them about it? (Sort of 'monkey see, monkey do')
In most cases, people will try it when offered it by a friend and if they decide they enjoy it, they will attempt to buy some for themselves at a later date. very rarely will someone buy a drug without trying it first, especially with a drug like this which, at a party, at least a few people will be willing to share.

> Have many people asked for methedrone or anything else by accident simply because they weren't too sure of what MMCAT was?
Yes! many people mispronunciate it's name, which in certain situations could be dangerous (such as ordering from a chemical supplier.) methedrone is a distinctively different research chemical, which is reported to be highly dangerous in fact! also, M-Cat (methcathinone) is another different drug, which is already illegal in the UK. technically the correct way to reference mephedrone, would be by it's designated name mephedrone (of course :p) or by the name 4-MMC, or 4-MM-CAT. it is, however, acceptable to drop the '4' and just call it MM-CAT.

> How many people roughly thought it was actually thought it was plant food?
>Probably half of people aware of the substance believe that there are actually people out there who feed it to their plants. Feeding it to your plants will either do nothing at all, of just kill them! It's important to understand that the whole 'plant food' label is only assigned to such substances in order to bypass the Medicines Act, which states that such untested substances can't be sold for human consumption.

> Do people simply not care what it is, just as long as it has the desired effect?
> To a degree, yes. especially with the misinformation spread by the media regarding the substance, people still accept that it is incredibly dangerous but will still take it. this is not unusual though, as most people who are willing to take drugs accept that it is not good for them but still take it for the desired effect. (I met someone who took MDMA, but also believed that MDMA use drains your spinal fluid! This is completely wrong or course)

> Would people still take it in similar quantities if it was illegalised?
> I believe that if it was criminalised a year ago, it would have faded into obscurity. however, mephedrone has since gained a lot of popularity and i believe that people will still consume it after criminalisation. criminalising it now will only serve to hand over control to organised crime, subsequently making the drug much more dangerous to take as well as putting money into the pockets of those who do not deserve it.

> Do you ever feel like you know more about designer substances such at Mephedrone, 2-CB, 2-CI, Methelone etc than those enforcing laws against them?
> In short, yes. however the ACMD who serve to advise the government regarding such substances are very knowledgeable indeed, although it is my opinion that their intelligence is wasted on trying to find evidence to back up legislation that the politicians have already decided on, as opposed to providing impartial information and letting the government base legislation on their findings. Also, it's spelt 'Methylone'. :p (Whoops - Biscuit)

> Has anybody attempted to arrest you for possessing a legal substance despite it's legal status? Are you wary that this might happen?
> I've never been caught by the police with any legal research chemicals, although i feel i am knowledgeable enough to convince them that what i possess is legal. when in public with more than a few grams, i always carry a reciept or the original packaging in order to prove what the substance is. (I never buy it in large quantities from anyone other than reputable companies so i always have some form of reciept.)

> Why do you think mephedrone is popular in Leeds especially, especially mixed with Ketamine?
> I have not heard of many good experiences with mixing mephedrone with ketamine, and am unwilling to try it myself due to the limited information regarding mephedrone taken on it's own, never mind with other drugs. in leeds however, i think the large student population is responsible for the inflation of mephedrone use in this area. it's low cost makes it appealing to students on a limited budget!

> Has the original rush of popularity worn off, or are people still into it?
> Absolutely not! i think that the initial rush of popularity is still in effect, and use will continue to rise until it's inevitable criminalisation. Most people who have taken it in the past continue to take it at later dates.

> What, in you opinion, is going to be the "next big thing"?
> There are countless number of research chemicals being developed all the time, and with criminalisation of mephedrone some of these similar research chemicals will also fall under legislation (Methylone, Butylone, Flephedrone to name a few). There are chemists around the world, however, who are researching into just that, the 'next big thing'. as soon as mephedrone is criminalised the most promising research chemicals will be sold to replace it. one of these is MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone), although anecdotal reports of use of this substance don't sound promising (think amphetamine-like insomnia and tachycardia). I am confident, however, that better, safer chemicals will take mephedrone's place than MDPV, which personally I am unwilling to try.

> Is legalising substances ever going to change the way people think and act about drugs?
> I would definately think so, but it would seem that attitudes towards drugs need to change BEFORE anything is legalised. currently the media love the opportunity to create a scare story about a 'dangerous new drug called meow meow' and would prefer to sensationalise such reports as opposed to disseminate useful truthful information. It appears to be a classic vicious circle.

> Do you find it interesting that there is a small correlation between the rise in the use of Mephedrone and the fall in the amount of Ecstasy seized on the streets by police officers?
> Absolutely not, however i believe that mephedrone use is the effect of this fall in ecstasy use, as opposed to the cause. The active chemical in an ecstasy pill (MDMA) is in drastically short supply since about 2 years ago, and ecstasy pills have subsequently been filled with substitutes to mimic MDMA's effects. one of these is BZP, which was also a legal research chemical until this year. personally i believe that BZP is an awful substitute and this attitude seems to be shared with most other ecstasy users, hence the drop in 'ecstasy' use. other ecstasy substitutes in pills at the moment include amphetamine, 2C-B and of course, mephedrone!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Doing What the Press Should Do - Talking to a Professional about the Facts Regarding Mephedrone

Mephedrone has hold of this country’s thrill-seeking clubbers and easily-influenced youngsters by the scruff of the neck, if the latest news reports on the substance are anything to be believed. This legal high has quickly infiltrated the illicit drugs market, and its cheap price tag, problem-free procurement and risk-free (as far as the law is concerned) nature has kept it more popular than any other synthesised cathinone in Britain over the past two years. But why has MMKat been singled out as the most dangerous legally obtained drug by the press and latterly the police and the government? Why are there currently calls to rethink its legal status? What even is it? And why are people taking it, rather than other more established party drugs?
Dr Karenza Moore, a criminologist from Lancaster University, has been involved with several important reports into the nature of drug and rave culture over the years, alongside colleague Dr Fiona Measham, a noted expert on drug culture. Every year or so there is another new substance to research and analyse, so what does she think about mephedrone’s rapid rise in popularity?

“I think that mephedrone (and to a lesser degree methylone) has grown in popularity partly due to a reduction in the availability (and thus purity) of illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine. The resultant disillusionment amongst users has been a key motivation for displacement to substituted cathinones, which are conveniently and legally purchased online. Users also perceive mephedrone to be 'purer' than street drugs, and think it is reasonably priced. It will be interesting to see whether users revert back to pills and coke after mephedrone is made illegal. My feeling is that an illegal market in mephedrone will be created post-criminalisation, and that mephedrone will continue to be one drug amongst the many that clubbers use.”
She says that no matter what the substance or the context, the key to damage limitation is the spread of facts and information. Notably she looks at the way drugs are portrayed in the media, and how this affects their usage on the street and their likely paths towards criminalisation via the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. “The ACMD work within a prohibitionist framework. Any substance that creates a 'high' is likely to be criminalised as this is the usual ACMD/UK government response to recreational drug use. This is part of what Fiona [and I] have called 'the criminalisation of intoxication'. The drive to criminalisation also relates to media coverage of mephdrone. As word of mouth has spread, alongside growing internet publicity and the inevitable press coverage of the latest ‘demon drug’, mephedrone sales have spiralled. At the time of writing this there are press reports of another teenager dying “after experimenting with legal drug meow meow”, although a toxicology report has yet to confirm the cause of death.”

With such little evidence to support the stories surfacing about the dangerousness of mephedrone in relation to its illegal drug peers, why is making the substance illegal the first course of action for the government? It was reported in the Daily Mail (16/03/2010) that the Conservatives, in their run up campaign towards this year’s election, were stating that one of their first acts should they win would be to address the legality of mephedrone. According to the Telegraph however, any efforts to ban mephedrone were seriously hindered by the swift sacking of top drugs adviser David Nutt after his comments on legalising cannabis and ecstasy being statistically “less dangerous than horse riding in its 20 years of use”. Within the article, Niamh Eastwood from drugs law charity Release said: “Our position is that scientists should be able to express their opinions without fear of being sacked, and the Government's decision to sack Professor Nutt did a lot of damage to the ACMD.”



So has unwarranted fear of the unknown prevented the government and its research bodies from acting out of the interests of the public? It certainly seems that nearly 20 years since Leah Betts died after taking ecstasy at a party, little has changed in the way the news and information about drugs is imparted to the public, despite more and more substances becoming readily available on the street. Karenza Moore explains that in her field of research, it is lack of information that causes the most damage. “My main concern is that there are people using mephedrone who have not had experience with other drugs, and so may be lacking in basic harm reduction knowledge, about carefully controlling dosage for example, or drinking fluids and making sure they don't get too hot. As with most drugs, it is the context in which they are taken and the other substances, including alcohol, that they are taken with that increases their 'dangerousness'. This issue points to a need for good harm reduction initiatives that acknowledges that people will take drugs rather than preaching 'just say no', which doesn't work, and tries to minimise the possible harms involved. Medical and social scientific research needs to be undertaken on mephedrone (indeed all the substituted cathinones). This research should then be communicated to parents and users.“

Mephedrone isn’t the only substituted cathinone on the block though. Cathinones have been around for over 50 years, as a synthetic substitute for Khat, a naturally occurring stimulant used for centuries and described by the ancient Egyptians as a “divine food” capable of releasing a person’s divinity. In recent years it has become increasingly easy to find synthesised cathinones, each with their own specific effects on the mind and body. Some may have more hallucinatory properties, whereas others may simply work almost as an amphetamine. With so many substances causing so many different effects, the danger here is users not knowing what they are getting themselves into.

Mephedrone is clearly the most popular of these substances, because of its availability, price and the fact that it has no legal implications. Closely related to MMKat however, is methylone, a different drug with different effects but with an incredibly similar name due to its chemical make-up. After asking parents about the perils of mephedrone, it was shocking to see just how many had mistaken the drug for “methedone” – the drug given to recovering heroin addicts in order to wean them off the class A substance. Methedone is, in itself, a class A drug on the streets, and has absolutely no connection with mephedrone. This may be a seemingly benign mistake, but small misunderstandings can cause major problems, and when parents are totally unaware of what drugs their children may be encountering, what effects they might have, and critically what they should do in any type of emergency, this is where the dangers start to occur.

Will making MMKat a class C substance change the way people consume it? According to Dr Moore, it is unlikely that the main reason people have turned to mephedrone is because of its legal status. “In terms of legality, the appeal of mephedrone appears to relate less to a fear of arrest and more to the convenience arising from its legal status. By comparison with the more familiar illegal drugs, mephedrone is comparatively easy to obtain. There are no restrictions to online purchase in terms of minimum age requirements, quantities or customer identification; nor is it necessary to acquire the requisite subcultural knowledge of illicit markets as is required to purchase illegal drugs.

“Research indicates that enforcement alone does not necessarily have a significant impact on illegal drug markets at street level. While the rapid rise in mephedrone use is evident, what is less clear is the extent to which these push factors of lack of availability and low purity of illegal drugs are combining with the pull factors of curiosity to experiment with a new legal high – and whether this curiosity will be as easily dampened as it has been ignited. This is illustrated in the recent Mixmag survey, with the main reason given by clubbers for taking legal club drugs such as mephedrone and BZP being the lack of availability of other drugs.”

So what next for this non-plant-feeding plant food? Is it nearly game over for legal cathinone substitutes? The ACMD certainly hope so, and if the papers are anything to go by, and usually what’s on the front page of the middle-market press is a good indication of what the government is thinking (or about to think); mephedrone is soon to be relegated to the misuse of drugs act 1978. Will changes in the law prevent potential deaths and dangers being caused by MMKat? Will making mephedrone illegal make any noticeable difference to the use of designer drugs in this country? Karenza doesn’t think so. “In short, no. People will keep taking it, but get it from street dealers instead of over the internet. I recently spoke to a mephedrone dealer in a club. I asked him what he planned to when it was made illegal. He said "I'll put my prices up".”

Information in this article sourced from interviews and articles: "Tweaking, bombing,
dabbing and stockpiling:the emergence of mephedrone and the perversity of prohibition - Measham, Moore et al., 2010
" and "Repertoires of distinction: Exploring patterns of weekend polydrug use within local leisure scenes across the English night time economy - Measham and Moore, 2009"


More information, transcripts and quotes on request. k.taylor.cronshaw@gmail.com

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Twinterviews - Meet the Twitterati: DRUNKHULK

Wouldn't it be nice to ask your favourite twitterers questions about life, death, the celebrity solar system and what the best sandwich is?

Introducing the first in a new feature I'm trying - Twinterviews: Meet the Twitterati is a tongue in cheek look at the silly sods who keep the twuniverse spinning round, 140 characters at a time.

Today, meet @DRUNKHULK in his first ever interview. He's loud, he's drunk, he's got outspoken views on central government, and he's green. Just don't tell him happy hour finished 6 hours ago.


Hello Mr Hulk, how are you?

HELLO! DRUNK HULK GOOD! THANK! DRUNK HULK FEEL STRANGE! THERE NO 160 CHARACTER LIMIT! DRUNK HULK FEEL PROLIFICABLE! LIKE JOYCE CAROL OATES!



What's been driving you to drink this week?


LET SEE! PUBLIC OPTION: FINAL SHOT: PART 6: FINAL CHAPTER! NEW YORK SALT N’ PEPA BAN! EX CONGRESSMAN TURN INTO GROPY MARGOT KIDDER! MAN MARRY PILLOW! CRAZY ECONOMY! DRUNK HULK NO GET OVER FACT LIFE BECOME LOST MAX HEADROOM EPISODE!


Where do you get your reinforced drinking vessels from? Or do you just drink out of normal glasses *very* carefully?


DRUNK HULK LIKE YOU! DRUNK HULK PUT DRINK IN MOUTH ONE SHOT AT TIME! LIKE ALL PEOPLES!


Where is your favourite place to drink?


DRUNK HULK LIKE DRINK AT CHILIS! THEY STUPID! THEY HAPPY HOUR 10 HOUR LONG! IT LIKE DRINK INSIDE TARDIS!

What is your favourite drinking holiday? Mine is Christmas.

CINCO DE MAYO! DRUNK HULK NO WAIT TO NOVEMBER TO CELEBRATE AGAIN!


Over the months you've changed from making funny comments to make people laugh, to making funny political commentary that makes people laugh. Why did you decide to use your powers this way?

DRUNK HULK NO MEAN BE POLITICAL! REALLY! DRUNK HULK INTEREST IN POP CULTURE! AND THESE DAY! IT ALL SAME! ONCE PEOPLES REALIZE POLITIC NO ENTERTAINMENT! THEN MAYBE THEY TAKE IT SERIOUS AGAIN! DRUNK HULK LIKE TALK ABOUT ALL THINGS!


Who do you go drinking with?

DRUNK HULK DRINK WITH ALL PEOPLES! DRUNK HULK EQUAL OPPORTUNITY DRINKER!


Which celebrities make you angry?

CELEBRITY NO MAKE DRUNK HULK ANGRY! WAY PEOPLES REACT TO CELEBRITY MAKE DRUNK HULK ANGRY! ALSO NO LIKE WAY PEOPLES WILLING ACCEPT ANYONE AS CELEBRITY! WHEN PEOPLES SET BAR LOW! ANYONE BE FAMOUS! EVEN FICTION DRUNK VERSION OF FICTION PERSON!


What did you do to vent before twitter?


BEFORE TWITTER! DRUNK HULK RELAX BY SOOTHE REPETITION OF PITFALL! WHEN ATARI 2600 BREAK! DRUNK HULK DISCOVER THE TWITTER!


Are you a superhero? Or are you just always in the right place at the right time? Or do people needing your help just always get in the way while you're in the middle of a bar crawl?

TINA TURNER SAY ALL CHILDRENS SAY THEYS NO NEED OTHER HERO! SO DRUNK HULK NO HERO! AS FOR PEOPLES! THEY ALWAY IN WAY! HEMINGWAY SAY THAT ONLY THING THAT SPOIL DAY IS PEOPLES! DRUNK HULK AGREE!


Please use this space to speak about something that has been getting on your nerves recently.

DRUNK HULK ANNOY WITH LARRY KING SHOW! DRUNK HULK APPRECIATE SHOW ASK HARD HIT QUESTION! IT JUST ANNOY DRUNK HULK THOSE QUESTION COME FROM CALLER! AND NO LARRY KING! ALSO! ANNOY SALMA HAYEK STILL NO MARRY DRUNK HULK!


Any final thoughts or wise words?


NO BELIEVE HOW MANY PEOPLES INTEREST IN DRUNK HULK! DRUNK HULK FEEL LIKE PENELOPE WITH ALL SUITORS! IT MAKE DRUNK HULK FEEL PRETTY! DRUNK HULK THANK VERY MUCH FOR SUPPORT! ALSO! SPECIAL THANK TO PEOPLES AT MARVEL! FOR THEY PATIENCE WITH DRUNK HULK! ALSO! SORRY DRUNK HULK SO LOQUACIOUS!

So there you have it - a big green man with an appetite for tequila, and an especially unique talent for using capital letters as what they were meant for; really, really funny things, being said in a loud voice over the internet.

Join us next time, where there may be another made-up star, or a real-life legend. Who knows? This is twitter we're talking about after all...

My Age Does Not Make Me A Lonely Planet Hiking Bastard

It may come as a bit of a surprise, but rather than my vulgar language, inability to remember people's names, birthdays and significance to me, and my plain selfish ability to only write in first person as if I were telling stories to cross-legged and easily-influenced children; the thing I find myself gratuitously apologising for when I meet new people is my age. That number that hangs around my neck, ticking over slowly, with no real relevance to my life other than to remind me that in twenty years time I'll either be success or any children I may have popped out will have left me. My apology is often performed with a grimace, to show that errgh, yeah, it's a bit unfortunate really. Sorry about that. As if I'd cracked a particularly offensive joke at a mingling tiny-food-and-boring-chat party and later was introduced to a nice man who had indeed been incarcerated in a POW camp and the things I had said undid several decades worth of expensive and extensive hypnotherapy. Whoops, eesh, oh I am terribly sorry. Will an awkward facial expression and the knowledge that I'll be sleepless for 6 years about this horrifically embarrassing incident make you feel better?

I'm not sure how to rectify this situation, though. Apart from immersing myself in menial jobs and going travelling (or "travelling" as I like to knowingly call it, as I embark on another oh-so-exasperated rant about twat students and their twat trust funds and their twatty fucking Lonely Planet hiking bastard holidays) for several years until I become a regular adult age, I'm doomed to spend the next four or five years of my life - good, solid, nothing-wrong-with-'em-eat-your-tea years - shuffling about trying to avoid people from looking at my evidently fetal face. It isn't my fault I was born in 1988. Blame the baby boom after Black Monday. Not that my parents were in any way affiliated with the banks. Had I been born earlier, things may be different. As it stands I have people to meet and places to do and things to look at, all the while feeling as thought there's a giant birthday badge pinned to my chest, shouting joyfully that I'm ONLY TWENTY TWO! Were I the type more inclined to scrawl miserable metaphors I'd liken the burden to one of those cheery birthday balloons with ribbons on, made of lead instead of plastic foil and helium, dragging me through a ... Oh I don't know. A world made of shit. Or something.

I want to be absolutely clear that I'm not complaining about being young. I like being young. Being young means that I can eat chocolate weetos for my tea and go drinking on a Tuesday, and live entirely off Diet Coke and Marlboro Menthols, should the mood take me. It just becomes a bit grating when meeting people who you would desperately like to be seen as a mature equal - job interviews or making contacts are the two best examples I can think of - and they comment on how youthful you are. "You seemed old enough to drink on the phone!" they joke. "Don't you look young!", "So, are you Nine?", "Are you out on work experience?" are some of my favourites. Yes, but the last laugh is on you, because I will only be thirty when you are in your seventies, and my skin will have extraordinary elasticity well into middle age thanks to my fifty-pence-piece-shaped baby face. Fuck you. You're just jealous that you didn't have a dictaphone and an arrogant sense of self at my age. Either that or you think I'm a vile child demon, who shouldn't be trusted, and should be ignored at all costs. The last one is probably right. After all, I'm pretty much boasting that I'm young and trying my best to steal your job. I should be shot. Or at least publicly humiliated.

For now I'll have to turn up to places looking like a toddler in mummy's old suit, with fisher price recording equipment and coloured gel pens. Aww, look, she finks she can do a wite! At least it's something I'm going to get better at.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Have You Heard the One About The English Libel Laws Being Full of Shit?

I recently wrote a law essay for my university course, intended to be a discussion on whether libel cases were useful anymore based on the fact that the amount of damages being given out has dropped severely over the years.

It quickly evolved into a rant about the strangulation of free speech, and although I may not get top marks for it, I feel I have done myself proud.

Below is a section of the quite frankly ridiculous piece of billowing self-aware chest-beating I have ever come across.

Feel free to tell me I'm full of shit in the comment section below, what am I gonna do? Sue you?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Different Case: Libel Laws and Science

In some cases, libel laws set down to protect reputation have in fact made it easier for lies and misgivings to be spread more easily to the general public, as those presenting the information have essentially been protected. A campaign set up by scientists, journalists and academics called “Sense About Science” has the sole purpose of attempting to push through Amendment Four, which calls for libel laws to be reformed in England. Professor Richard Dawkins is a member of this campaign group, and was invited to speak at the Liberal Democrats Conference in 2009 to explain why he feels so strongly that the legislations needs to be changed.

“Of course there must be some redress if you are maliciously attacked in a way that damages you, but if such a law is cast too wide it can have disastrous consequences on the public interest...the vulnerable need to be protected from unproven or fraudulent claims for cures, whether by alternative therapists or big pharmaceuticals. Homeopathy...can lure patients away from the best evidence-based medicine. The trouble is it’s hard to know whether you’ll be sued, do we really want discussion s on matters of science and medicine, and indeed any area of public interest to be conducted in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty?”

This national petition for libel law reform would essentially mean that libel laws would hold no sway over what was said in scientific discussion – providing a similar sort of leeway as politicians have in the House of Commons under absolute privilege. Sense about Science is an independent charitable trust which promotes “respect for evidence and urges scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult” . Among it’s board of trustee members is Dr Simon Singh, a BBC broadcaster within their science department, who was recently taken to court by the British Chiropractic Association after he challenged claims that chiropractic medicine could cure asthma and other childhood ailments. Despite this being a fairly important claim, especially is Singh was to be proven correct in his cynicism, the BCA are suing him for his critique. “The burden of proof is reversed in libel cases” he says in an article titled ‘BCA v Singh – The Story So Far 3 June 2009’, “I have to prove the accuracy of my statement, as opposed to the BCA proving that I am wrong, which in turn means that I am guilty until proven innocent.”

This odd situation of having the truth as a “burden” clearly shows how in a case such as Singh’s, where the stakes are much higher than merely a cash payout at the end of a court hearing, libel laws in England sometimes show themselves to have faults. It would be naive to suggest that libel laws have lost their credibility simply because of small claims courts and the rise of people suing companies within the past twenty or so years. The libel laws are not losing credibility simply because of the dwindling figures on damages cheques; over time they have simply been shown to have weaknesses, and as with all parts of the justice system, it might be reasonable to suggest a solution to fix these problems. Libel laws, as was previously explained, were put in place to save reputations from unwarranted abuse or disparaging remarks. As time progresses, however, people learn how to use laws to their advantages, and it is for this reason that libel laws should be subjected to an upheaval to correct the twisted ways in which they are being put to use in court today.

Judge Eady, who was used in a previous example of a libel law case, has become famous in his field for his often controversial rulings in cases such as these. Nick Cohen, a writer for the Observer and voracious blogger on the subject of free speech said of Eady’s judgement in the Singh case: “Because Singh used the word "bogus", the judge said he had to prove that chiropractors knew they were worthless but "dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public". The learned judge did not seem to understand that the worst thing about the deluded is that they sincerely believe every word they say.”

After his ruling, Simon Singh sought an appeal against the British Chiropractic Association. Lord Justice Laws who oversaw the appeal said that “Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression” and described Justice Eady’s judgement based on Singh’s use of the word ‘bogus’ as "legally erroneous". Singh was seen to have exercised his right to free speech and his articles were shown to have been published due to a real view that they were within the realms of public interest. This was sadly only found to be the case after thousands of pounds worth of legal costs, and a great deal of time spent within the courts.

Is Defamation Still A Necessary Law?
Keeping reputations safe from untrue allegations is still extremely important, as it was back in the late 1700s when these laws were first called into action. What needs to be changed is not the very fact that in English law there is a libel law to stop untruths from causing damage, but the way in which those laws are used. Every law was created with the betterment of society in mind, but for every law there is always a loophole or clause to get past it and turn it to work in your favour. The media has always had a fraught relationship with the libel laws, being that it can be seen to infringe upon the freedom of speech that they have, and certainly in the past year the press has seen some absurd twists of libel law legislation in the form of injunctions and super-injunctions. Gagging the press is certainly not what a libel law in good working order should do, and it is in these circumstances that they should be looked at and amended to suit the needs of today’s society, especially with new laws incorporating the Right to Information Acts.

Within the realms of science and academia however, different should apply. A Dawkins said in his address to the Liberal Democrat party, scientists use evidence to disprove theories they think might be wrong. Since science works on the premise of providing irrefutable evidence before a theory is even remotely suggested as fact, sharing your evidence which proves somebody wrong should never be brought into contention; being proved wrong and having to rethink your hypothesis and experiments is what being a scientist is all about. To bring libel into the proceedings creates a feeling of fear and disparity between those working in the field of research and discovery, stopping them from proving potentially very important points simply to avoid a weighty law suit or several thousands of pounds worth of damages.

These problems do not only manifest themselves in the science world however; journalists, performers and academics have found themselves silenced by claimants pursuing a libel case. Natasha Loder, President of the Association of British Science Writers says of the libel laws effect on journalists: “Censorship does not begin in the courtroom, it doesn’t start with your editor, it doesn’t even start in the pen, it starts in my brain. The difficulty and cost of defending a libel case mean I am not able to write the truth, which has to be wrong.” Author, actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry notes; “From true free speech flow cultural richness, political liberty and wider prosperities. Instead our current laws can be manipulated to protect the corrupt and to hide the truth. They are threatening to throttle the life out of openness and freedom and to betray all those who fought over the centuries to keep us free.”

When it comes to matters of free speech, the ground can become very unsteady with regards to those fighting against it. As a free and democratic country, England has a heritage and history of upholding strong values regarding opinion and fair comment. Unfortunately, after so many libel cases brought to the doors of journalists and scientists who were simply attempting to objectively criticise another’s work, England’s ensnaring network of laws and legislations has become a joke around the world. “Libel tourists” often use English laws to “quash dissent” in their own countries, and yet there is no English law to defend public interest. Companies can easily manipulate the laws to serve their own ends and suppress criticism. Is this what the laws were put in place for? No, it is not. It is a great shame that this is what they have become, a web to catch those attempting to cast doubt on dubious claims and statistics, on those willing to chase fact rather than accept spoonfed information, and on those who genuinely care that free speech is a right worth keeping and exercising at every opportunity. England is proud if it’s grand old public rights, but if a person such as blogger Jack of Kent can feel threatened merely because he questions the judgement of his peers and those he feels justified to comment upon, then where is the right of free speech? After all, if industry professionals should be allowed to comment on the work of his peers no matter what profession they are in, and a law blogger should have no fears of being persecuted simply for airing his views on his personal website, as long as they are clean, factual and are not grossly disparaging with no evidential backing. Journalism in itself is becoming an unstable industry, and it needs writers working off their own backs with inside knowledge to fill the gaps where once newspapers had their own team of specialists. While the English libel laws continue to restrict the voices of those less powerful or affluent, opinions will be lost, a great number of vibrant sources of information will cease to exist through persecution or exasperation, and the large corporations will win out. The fourth amendment will help to diminish these dour possibilities from happening within our lifetime, but something more robust must be done to fix it for the future.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

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London is a Nightmare, but Coming Home is Worse

"It's lovely that you see London as a holiday", a friend said to me on Saturday as I gingerly sipped my Fosters in a Soho bar; I had noted that previous drinkers in the same pub had been Mozart and George Orwell. Taken over by a double whammy of awe and hostility (us Northerners can't really express complex emotions) I replied something along the lines of it being about 400 fucking times better than the slum that I called my home. What I meant to say was "Of course it's a holiday, this place is bloody mental, and I love it."

I don't like telling people that I like London. It's what cool people said about 15 years ago. It's also not strictly true. I have a very complex relationship with the city, and most of my issues with it are simply to do with convenience and cost. For example, it cost me £12 to buy a round of three drinks. This is seen as acceptable, for some reason. My bank manager disagrees.

Despite the downsides, I could easily see myself living there. But first, let us tackle the downsides.

Oyster Cards

Seen as a great invention heralding the future of transport the first time I visited anywhere other than the dead centre of the city, I quickly learned that this money disintegrating system has no consideration for your wellbeing, mental state of mind, or indeed that your train is just about to go and you do not have time to fanny around taking it out of its Ikea wallet and battering it with several tonnes of force into the stupid yellow circle pad because tapping it wasn't enough. On more than one occasion I found myself explaining, teary-eyed with anger and frustration, that I had indeed bought a day card and my STUPID FUCKING BLOODY ARSE of an Oyster card was claiming I had no money. The solution? Buy another travel card. Can't tell you how angry I am about that, and at how many dinner parties/family functions/house parties/christmas dinners I'm going to tell this story in a high-pitched gin-soaked absolutely livid voice.

Drinking After 11

I have yet to find somewhere to drink in London that is open after 11:30pm and doesn't charge you to get in, and then proceed to charge £400 for a bottle of wine that largely tastes of puddles and the thought that you could be spending £3 in Lancaster for the same thing. Yes, being in Lancaster would be shit, and London has benefits and blah blah etc but I refuse to believe that any Londoner is happy with this state of affairs. I just want a pub that's open til at least 2am. I know that's possible, because I have worked at one. Sort it out, so-called capital city.

Water

The water is fucking disgraceful. Being spoilt Yorkshire folk, brought up round dales and beautiful mountains, we (that is, my friend Sophie and I) are used to water soft enough to make a decent cup of tea with. Washing my hair in a hostel in Charlton before going out was probably the biggest mistake of my life, considering that I stepped out of the bathroom with what can only be described as extremely combustible tinder stuck to my head where once there was a fairly good mop of hair. I have set my fringe on fire on a number of occasions. I do not need any help. Also drinking it is akin to licking rain off a tramp dog. Yes yes, you can get bottled water, but it's the PRINCIPLE. I do not live in a deprived country. I was in the capital city of England, and I could not drink the tap water because it made me ill. SORT IT OUT LONDON.

Other Tourists

GET OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY

The London Eye

"That in no way looks fun, and I would be crying in the fetal position for a good 40 mins of the ride" - said by me, while looking at it.

"It isn't meant to be fun or a ride. It is meant to be a serious landmark." - Sophie Lea

"Fucksake" - a unified agreement that this was the worst idea for a landmark ever.



London has its upsides too though. We saw Krishnan Guru Murthy on the tube. You can get the bus home at any time of the night. Everyone is rude, so when you say "for fuck's sake" when somebody bashes into you, an eyelid is neither batted nor raised in fury. 24 hour shops are precisely that - no legal requirements that see them shut at midnight on a Saturday for them. Everywhere you look, massive ancient buildings have been plonked between La Senza and an off license, forcing you to take a step back and think that actually, parts of the town are astonishing. Even residents have to admit that Trafalgar Square is fucking lovely.

The Worst Part

Stepping off the train onto platform 7 at Leeds City Station, suddenly realising that nothing has changed and that London is miles and miles away. London Come Down is a serious affliction, and has met me with drowsiness, general depression, and a willingness to join some Vice mag-led squatter-prick society if it means getting to remain there more permanently. Perhaps it's more a wish to self-harm than to raise the quality of my life, but I seriously would not hate to live there for a while. And that, coming from me, is a huge compliment.
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