16 March 2007
A Channel 5 News
report on welfare reforms (affecting
long-term unemployed and lone parents) announced
that, "overall, 92.8 billion pounds were
spent on benefits last year". (Channel
This figure is incorrect. In 2005-2006, out
of a total UK welfare expenditure of £123
billion, only £21 billion was spent on
working-age benefits (including Income Support,
Job Seekers Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Statutory
Sick Pay, etc).*
A recurring media fallacy is that welfare costs
more than other areas of government spending
combined. This is typically stated in news stories
(as above) about unemployment. The implication
is that jobless people are by far the biggest
drain on the economy. This error arises from
confusing unemployment-related benefits with
total welfare spending. Over half of the total
welfare budget goes on old-age pensions.
We wrote to the Channel 5 reporter, Jane Dougall:
report on welfare (Channel Five News, 5.55pm,
4/3/07) quoted the figure of £92.8 billion
as the overall spent on benefits last year.
Where did you get this figure?
quote the Department for Work and Pensions [Trends
2000/01-2007/08]: "People of working age
- Spending stable at just over £30 billion
a year in real terms; most spending is through
income-related benefits and Incapacity Benefit.
Main reasons for benefit receipt among working-age
people are unemployment, lone parenthood and
sickness or disability."**
Of course, if you include
spending on pensions (£70bn per year )
you get a much bigger figure - but your report
was about getting people into work, etc, not
on looking after the elderly. It would be misleading
to include pensions costs in this context.
[Email from Media Hell
to email@example.com, 14/3/07)
Incidentally, according to the DWP, "benefits
for unemployed people account for only 13 per
cent of all working-age spending in 200607.
Lone parent benefits account for a further 23
per cent and incapacity-related benefits 36
per cent. The remainder is made up principally
of bereavement, carer and maternity benefits."**
Banks make billions
from illegally charging customers "penalty
fees" (for bounced cheques, overdrafts,
etc). BBC2's Money Programme (12/12/06)
investigated this scam and revealed the following:
You can claim back all the penalty fees you've
been charged over the past six years (the legal
maximum period for reclaiming). You can also
charge your bank interest on this. They may
object at first, or offer only a partial refund,
but eventually they will cave in, because:
Under the "Unfair Terms in Consumer
Contracts Regulations (1999)" penalty
charges have to reflect administrative costs
- profiting from them isn't allowed. The banks
make an estimated £4.5 billion in profit
from such charges each year.
Penalty charges are often £30
or higher, but the cost of processing overdrafts,
bounced cheques, etc, is estimated at between
£2.50 and £4.50, depending on the
amount of manual intervention. In 80% of cases
there is no manual intervention.
Although your bank may initially threaten to
defend itself in court against your refund claim,
no bank has done so to date. This is because
they know they have little chance of winning,
and they are petrified of bad publicity. In
practice, people determined to be refunded have
been fully refunded (in some cases by thousands
How to reclaim your money:
A new study published
by the Lancet claims that "approximately
600,000 people have been killed in the violence
of the war that began with the U.S. invasion
in March 2003".
This figure was produced by statistical extrapolation
from a survey of over 1,800 households, and
includes civilians and "combatants".
It isn't comparable to the figure produced by
Iraq Body Count (approximately 50,000)
which represents a running tally of corroborated,
media-reported, civilian deaths (and which isn't
presented by IBC as the "true" total,
since media reports necessarily provide only
a sample of overall deaths).
More comparable (in terms of methodology used)
is the larger (over 21,000 households surveyed)
ILCS survey, which found a much lower number
of violent deaths (in an overlapping period
it estimated nearly 24,000 civilian deaths
in the first 13 months of the conflict) than
is implied by the new study.
Jon Pedersen, research director for the ILCS
study, is quoted by the Washington
Post as claiming that the Lancet numbers
are "high, and probably way too high.
I would accept something in the vicinity of
100,000 but 600,000 is too much."
Researchers at Oxford University and Royal
Holloway, University of London have argued
that the Lancet study's methodology is "fundamentally
flawed and will result in an over-estimation
of the death toll in Iraq". They claim
the study suffers from "main street bias"
by only surveying houses that are located on
streets which intersect main roads (which would
make it unrepresentative of the Iraqi population
as a whole).
Also, the team of researchers behind Iraq
Body Count has raised some questions
about the implications of an estimate of over
600,000 violent deaths. For example, a discrepancy
of 500,000 death certificates (between the number
the Lancet study implies were issued and the
number recorded centrally as having been issued).
On the other hand, twenty-seven academics are
signatory to an article in The
Age, citing the Lancet's figure of over
600,000 dead as "the best estimate of mortality
to date in Iraq". However, the article
ignores the larger ILCS study (whose figures
as mentioned above don't support
the Lancet's), and doesn't address the difficulties
of validating such surveys in conflict zones
(a use they weren't originally designed for).
In short, much of the criticism of the new
study seems to warrant further investigation,
and probably shouldn't be conflated with uninformed
dismissals from the likes of George Bush.
(Washington Post blog)
('The Age' article)
(Main street bias)
(Main street bias)
(Lancet paper, free registration required)
(Associated paper by Lancet team)
A postman was suspended
from his job after delivering his own
leaflets on how to avoid junk mail. Roger Annies
was accused of misconduct (and faced dismissal)
for notifying residents of an opt-out service
that the Post Office provides on request. His
"As you will have certainly
already noticed, your postman is not only delivering
your mail; he/she also has to deliver some (anonymous)
advertising material called door-to-door items.
For the near future, Royal Mail plans to increase
your advertising mail [...] You may be interested
in reducing your unwanted advertising mail,
and reduce paper usage in order to help save
the environment. If you complete the slip below
and send it to the Royal Mail delivery office,
you should not get any of the above mentioned
Within days, his local sorting office received
at least 70 completed forms demanding an end
to junk mail. A Royal Mail spokesman said: "If
we did not deliver unaddressed promotional items
then someone else would". (Times,
Last year, Tony
Blair said: "our system starts
from the proposition that its duty is to protect
the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't
misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any
criminal justice system. But surely our primary
duty should be to allow law-abiding people to
live in safety. It means a complete change
of thinking." (Our emphasis)
It's true the foundations of the legal system
(eg trial by jury) were put in place to protect
people from abuses of power. But what does Blair
imagine has changed since the system
He seems to be implying that the threat from
crime (but not from authoritarian government)
is greater now than at any other time since,
presumably, Magna Carta. There's no evidence
to support this (even if "terrorism"
is included as a subset of crime). On the contrary,
scholarly consensus holds that over the long-term,
society has become more peaceful, with massive
falls in violent crime. For example:
"In Britain the
incidence of homicide has fallen by a factor
of at least ten to one since the thirteenth
century [...] The long-term declining trend
evidently is a manifestation of cultural change
in Western society." (Ted
Robert Gurr, Historical Trends in Violent
violence decreased remarkably in Europe between
the mid-sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries."
(Manuel Eisner, Long-Term
Historical Trends in Violent Crime, 2003)
- homicide - has declined in Western Europe
from the high levels of the Middle Ages. Homicide
rates fell in the early modern era and dropped
even further in the nineteenth and twentieth
Monkkonen, Homicide: Explaining America's
6 July 2006
Knife crime is the
latest media-hyped panic. The UK press
have reported an "epidemic" of stabbings.
The crime figures show something different:
no rise in knife killings in the last decade.
In 1995 there were 243 murders with sharp instruments;
last year there were 236. Over the last decade
the average weekly number of knife murders has
been four and a half. In the midst of the current
panic, there have been no more than four knife
murders a week.
Politicians/media didn't reassure the public
with these facts. Instead we had the usual hysteria-fest,
with political parties competing to be "toughest"
on crime. In fact, overall crime continues to
steadily decrease, down 43% since 1995 (according
to the authoritative British Crime Survey),
and is falling in Europe.
Tony Blair recently held a crime seminar in
Downing Street. According to reports from dismayed
criminologists who attended (as relayed by the
Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee), Blair
"seemed to mix together low-level antisocial
behaviour with serious crime, terror and other
international crime into a single pot of alarm".
(Guardian, 9/6/06) http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329500440-103390,00.html
7 June 2006
Enterprisers" (Part 1). J.P. Morgan
(1837-1913) a famous name in "free
enterprise" started out in business
by swindling the US government. The 23 yr-old
Morgan bankrolled a scam to buy 5,000 rifles
declared dangerous by the US army (they blew
up in soldiers' hands) for $3.50 each. These
were then resold as "new" (but actually
unmodified and still dangerous) to another branch
of the army, for $22 each.
After 2,500 guns were shipped, the scam exploded.
But Morgan didn't back down in shame, caught
defrauding his country. Instead he sued for
full payment, and eventually won. The Court
of Claims ruled a contract was a contract.
(Source: An Underground
Education, Richard Zacks)
After the BBC
upheld our complaint about a fundamental
error in a BBC report on crime rates, they then
misreported our complaint. We'd
complained about an incorrect (and scaremongering)
claim that violent crime had "significantly"
increased (when statistics showed otherwise).
This was in a headline BBC1 10 O'Clock news
report on latest crime figures.
After a long investigation, the
BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU)
ruled that BBC1 news had "breached editorial
guidelines" on "truth and accuracy",
and that there was "no basis"
for claiming a significant rise in violent crime.
But the opening to the published summary of
their ruling was worded (incorrectly and ineptly,
we think) as follows:
complained that the introduction to a report
about measures about gang culture in the Ten
O'Clock News (BBC One, 20 October 2005)
made the erroneous claim that violent crime
had increased significantly."
We pointed out that our complaint
had nothing to do with an item on "gang
culture" (which was a completely separate
item that followed the report on crime figures),
and suggested a clearer wording: "A
listener complained that the report of the official
The head of ECU said he agreed that
the wording was in error to the extent that
it shouldn't have included the words "about
measures" (which he subsequently removed),
but disagreed on the "gang culture"
point. See if you can make any sense of what
would be wrong to give readers the impression
that [our ruling] also related to the report
which followed [on gang culture]. I included
the information that the report was "about
gang culture" to guard against that impression,
by making clear that the topic of the report
was entirely distinct from the theme of your
complaint." (Letter from Head
of ECU to Anxiety Culture editor, 10/3/06)
ruling on our complaint >
Our original complaint
to the BBC, and further details >
9 March 2006
According to Mojo
magazine (February 2006), the BBC banned
a number of songs during the first Gulf War,
because "they might cause offence".
These included "Walk like an Egyptian"
(The Bangles), "Saturday Night's Alright
for Fighting" (Elton John) and others.
Some innocuous TV ads were also banned (from
commercial channels) eg a Cadbury's
Caramel ad featuring cartoon bunny-rabbit
and soldier ants.
It makes you wonder: do the censors (whoever
they are) employ some pretty FAR-OUT psychologists
to vet all media output?
The latest official
UK crime figures were published on January
26. Violent crime has dropped by 43% over the
past decade, according to the British Crime
Survey (Guardian 27/1/06). BBC1 10pm
News (26/1/06) chose to ignore this,
and instead focused on the 11% increase in robberies
due mainly to increased use/theft of
iPods, mobiles, etc.
Barry Glassner's book, The Culture of Fear,
noted a similar fear-mongering tendency in US
media: "Why, as crime
rates plunged throughout the 1990s, did two-thirds
of Americans believe they were soaring. How
did it come about that by mid-decade 62 percent
of us described ourselves as 'truly desperate'
about crime - almost twice as many as in the
late 1980s when crime rates were higher?"
Latest UK crime figures
(PDF file): http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs06/hosb0306.pdf
Former Pope a cocaine-head
and corporate product-endorser. It's
no urban myth that Coca Cola originally contained
cocaine (as well as four times the current level
of caffeine). That was back in 1886. The aim
of Coca Cola was to duplicate the success of
a popular European cocaine-laced wine called
Pope Leo XIII endorsed this wine an
advertisement from the time has a big picture
of Pope Leo, with the caption: "His
Holiness the Pope writes that he has fully appreciated
the beneficent effects of this Tonic Wine and
has forwarded to Mr. Mariani as a token of his
gratitude a gold medal bearing his august effigy."
(Source: 'Underground Education' by Richard
Cocaine, of course, was legal in those days.
As was heroin, the main ingredient of a popular
cough remedy, "Dr James Soothing Syrup".
BBC amends news
story after we complain. The Director
of BBC News responded to us as follows (after
we criticised a BBC report on "benefits
Dear Mr Dean
you for your email about our coverage on Friday
of the NAO report. The home editor of our news
website had some sympathy with your concerns
and [has] modified the focus of the online report
to emphasise the complexity of the [benefits]
system rather than the issue of fraud.
[Helen Boaden, BBC Director of News,
in email to Anxiety Culture editor, 21/11/05]
This is about the BBC exaggerating the problem
of "benefits fraud" (yet again). Presented
with a report primarily about administrative
complexity/error in the welfare system, the
BBC turned it into a story about fraud
(a BBC Radio 4 presenter used the term "scroungers")...
Last week, the National Audit Office (NAO)
published a report, 'Dealing
with the complexity of the benefits system'.
It found an over-complex system, but no direct
link between complexity and fraud.
BBC Online's headline was: "Benefit
system is 'open to fraud'." BBC Radio
4 ('Today' news, 18/11/05) announced
that "nearly £3 billion is lost
due to fraud and error". But the NAO
report doesn't include the phrase "open
to fraud", and the "£3 billion"
figure seems to be a figment of a BBC reporter's
The NAO report is clear:
"In 2004-05, the
Department [for Work and Pensions] estimated
that [fraud] amounted to around £900 million.
There is no evidence to establish to what extent
this was due to the complex system."
Anyway, at least the BBC have now changed their
Original headline: Benefit
system is 'open to fraud'
Amended headline: UK
benefits system 'too complex'
Incidentally, it's worth comparing the cost
of benefits fraud (£0.9 billion) to other
Corporate tax avoidance: £85
Business fraud: £14 billion
(BBC Radio 4, 'Today',
Government fraud in Whitehall:
£5 billion (BBC
Radio 4 News, 1996)
> (NAO report, pdf)
(Amended BBC report)
I sent the following
email to BBC reporter Mark Easton after
a bizarre BBC1 news report on violent crime
(see, also, the related news
I enjoyed your report (BBC1
News, 20/10/05), but felt that it was another
lost opportunity to clarify the reported "increase"
in violent crime.
Fiona Bruce introduced your
piece by claiming violent crime had "significantly"
increased. I regard this as misleading, if not
downright false. Your report unfortunately gave
The British Crime Survey shows
violence down by 7%. Recorded violence, however,
has risen due to a new system requiring that
police record every minor fracas (one drunken
youth hitting two people is now recorded as
two violent crimes).
The only "significant"
thing about the reported increase in violence
is that it reflects no actual increase
in violence. The Association of Chief Police
Officers and the British Crime Survey agree
on this. When will BBC1 news point it out?
Your report graphically depicted
the horror of being shot. But it didn't mention
that gun crime is stable (ie not rising, with
the exception of crimes involving replica
guns). Surely this fact is important given the
context of the report (ie Fiona Bruce's introductory
Public fears over violent crime
are increasing. Why is this, when violent crime
is actually stable or falling? Could it have
something to do with news reports which focus
on gruesome (but rare) cases whilst omitting
to present the real trends?
I appreciate that your report
focused on a side-issue (a youth project to
make a video against gun culture). As a self-contained
piece on urban culture, I'd have no problem
with it. But it was presented as "news"
- it was shown as a news report accompanying
the news headline about an "increase"
The effect was bizarre and
shocking (especially the graphic simulation
of a young girl being shot in the head, complete
with spray of blood and resulting panic, in
the first few seconds of your report). Can you
see how this might be regarded as remote from
what most people consider to be "news"?
Latest crime figures: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs05/hosb1805.pdf
See, also, our page on media
The head of MI5
has warned that civil liberties might
have to be eroded to combat the threat of terrorism:
"We also value civil liberties
... But the world has changed and there needs
to be a debate on whether some erosion of what
we all value may be necessary to improve the
chances of our citizens not being blown apart."
The chances of not being struck by lightning
are so good that we don't concern ourselves
with improving them. The chances of not
being blown apart by terrorists are similarly
good (in most places on earth, including UK
and US) so why the hell "erode civil
liberties" to improve them?
Sure, take a few common-sense precautions (like
not bombing poor countries, or like not playing
golf in a thunder storm), but leave it at that.
(Meanwhile, latest US state department figures
show terrorism at its lowest level in
35 years: http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2003/31751.htm)
media doesn't often depict poverty in
"developed" nations (US, UK, Europe,
etc). In fact such depictions are so rare that
many people believe there is no "real"
poverty in these countries. If everyone has
a TV and phone, how can there be poverty?
The New Orleans media coverage at least shows
that TV ownership might not be a good criterion
for establishing whether or not people suffer
from poverty. In many circumstances, people
need spare income. The amount
one gets from selling the TV and phone probably
won't do the trick.
20 July 2005
I had a letter of mine published by both
the Times and the Independent:
Tony Blair dismissed the Lancet report on Iraqi
deaths. He also dismissed the LSE report on
ID-card costs. He now dismisses the Chatham
House report linking the London bombings to
the Iraq war. Is it rational behaviour to simply
dismiss everything that contradicts one's worldview?
Incidentally, the Times printed
my letter quite prominently, in a separate section
next to a letter from the Iraqi Ambassador.
The latter reads like a catalogue of bad logic
it "argues" that the Chatham
House report (which claimed that the Iraq
invasion increased the likelihood of terrorist
attack in Britain) is "gravely misleading",
without saying why. It simply lists the usual
"straw man" cliches:
(As if the Chatham House report
or anyone else claims that this
is the right response).
if the Chatham House report or anyone
else suggests that Iraqis should
surrender to terrorists).
(As if the Chatham
House report or anyone else suggests
that Hitler, or equivalent, should've
Perhaps what the world needs most right now
is a course in basic logic.
4 July, 2005
PR The UK government claims that
new biometric ID cards (which require fingerprinting/eye-scanning
of the population) will prevent terrorism and
benefit fraud. But there's little evidence to
support this claim.
According to a recent study by Privacy
International (2004), there's no evidence
to suggest that identity cards can combat terrorism.
Their report states: "The presence of
an identity card is not recognised by analysts
as a meaningful or significant component in
anti-terrorism strategies." Meanwhile,
of State (link currently dead
see links immediately below) figures show terrorism
at its lowest levels for 35 years.
(see the "Year in review" section)
(7.4MB PDF file)
As for benefit fraud, the government admits
that false identity represents only a tiny fraction
of benefit fraud only £50 million
out of an estimated £2 billion yearly
total. (ID cards could cost £19 billion
according to recent estimates nearly
400 times the cost of identity fraud in
the benefits system).
(LSE estimate of ID card cost)
(Good FAQ on ID cards)
I sent the following
letters to various UK newspapers:
the second letter on comparative cost
of ID cards was published in the Guardian
newspaper on 6 July 2005)
The only research ever conducted
on the relationship between ID cards and terrorism
(by Privacy International, 2004) found no evidence
to support the claim that identity cards can
combat terrorist threats. Meanwhile, US Department
of State figures show terrorism at its lowest
levels for 35 years. What is the point of ID
The cost of identity fraud
in the benefits system is 400 times less than
the potential cost of ID cards, according to
recent estimates - ie £50 million (DWP
identity-fraud estimate) compared with £19
billion (LSE ID-card estimate). Is this good
value for the taxpayer?
(For a list of newspaper
email addresses, please see our Letters
to Newspapers page.)
5 May 2005
the media (eg BBC and ITN) failed to highlight
the following over recent leaks on Iraq:
The Attorney-General's (7/3/03) legal advice
to Tony Blair says: "regime change cannot
be the objective of military action".
(From section 36 of the advice http://tinyurl.com/9mrmx
This is confirmed in a high-level leaked memo
published by the Sunday Times: "The
Attorney-General said that the desire for regime
change was not a legal base for military action."
And it's confirmed in a civil service briefing
paper: "Regime change per se is not
a proper basis for military action under international
The same briefing paper reveals that Blair
had decided on regime change by April 2002:
"When the prime minister discussed Iraq
with President Bush at Crawford in April, he
said that the UK would support military action
to bring about regime change."
"What is important is that whatever
action we take is done in accordance with international
law" Tony Blair
1 April 2005
An increasing number
of top celebrities appear in TV ads,
whoring their talents to endorse overpriced
crap. Are they short of money or something?
The latest is John Travolta flogging Heineken
until it's reported he's teetotal. And
Ray Liotta, previously edgy star of films such
as Goodfellas now foolish star
of marketing crud.
of ours complained to the BBC that the
number of tsunami death-counts reported by the
BBC over a few days exceeded the total number
of Iraqi death-counts reported since 2003. The
BBC's director of news, Helen Boaden, replied
"I think the real problem
is that the estimates of Iraqi civilian dead
are so divergent and so open to challenge that
we find it very hard to quote them in brief
Well, the claims of Saddam's WMD threat were
also "divergent" and "open to
challenge", but that didn't stop the BBC
reporting such scary claims frequently.
is a term for the ways marketers use
knowledge of the brain to sell you stuff
and to manipulate you. An example of a neuromarketer
is Clotaire Rapaille, head of Archetype Discoveries
Worldwide a marketing consultancy that
has some big corporate clients. Rapaille's work
involves identifying "unconscious codes"
that access the "reptilian brain".
He also seems to be involved in political PR.
I'm reminded of a line from the political novel,
"You want to use value
words. You connect midbrain, subcortical
you want to hit them down in their lizard brains...
where they don't think where they just,
Here are a few interesting interviews with
say it took several armies, $100 billion
and thousands of civilian deaths to remove a
national leader (Saddam Hussein).
Official accounts also say it took one man,
unaided and with a budget of $1 (for bullets),
to remove a national leader (JFK).
Saddam Hussein's security must've been 100
billion times better than JFK's. Or maybe inflation
has been higher than reported since 1963.
See if you can figure
out "free market" economics
from the following media snippets:
"Soap. 24p. See,
the more we sell the less we charge."
(Tesco soap ad, 17/9/04)
"A rail operator
is withdrawing a range of cheap tickets because
too many people were using them. Central
Rail is ending its cheap day returns...
it found they were too popular"
UK Politician Adam
Price has launched a campaign to impeach Tony
Blair for misleading us over Iraq (http://impeachblair.org).
In a BBC Newsnight interview with Price,
presenter Gavin Esler seemed determined to dismiss
the evidence against Blair as "political
differences". I sent him the following
In the first 15 seconds, Adam
Price mentioned the "compelling evidence"
that Blair "misled" the country. You
"...You're trying to
criminalise political differences we've
gone over this endlessly on the programme...
we know the political differences."
Ironically, many see Newsnight
reducing a catalogue of factual evidence to
the status of "political difference".
Take one example: the student thesis masquerading
as a dossier hardly a "political
difference". And no "endless"
coverage by Newsnight there. Wouldn't you agree
there might be a case for impeachment when a
government publishes a fraudulent document to
support its case for war?
In the inquiries, Blair appointed
his own judges and juries. Nothing but respectful
sighs from Newsnight. But when someone outside
of Blair's circle attempts to hold him accountable,
your first question is: "This isn't
just a stunt is it?"
You don't expect
logical argument from politicians, but
you expect at least a crude, kindergarten level
of logical analysis from the "respectable"
media (eg BBC). But apparently that's too much
to ask. Tony Blair was widely reported making
the following "argument":
"The war removed
Saddam Hussein. Removing Saddam Hussein was
a good thing. Therefore the war was justified."
Logically, this argument is equivalent to saying:
"Robbing a bank helps pay the rent.
Paying the rent is a good thing. Therefore robbing
a bank is justified".
Maybe Blair could attempt to construct a less
flawed argument if pressed (eg add premises/qualifications,
insert logical steps on the way to his conclusion,
etc). But he isn't pressed. BBC reporters and
commentators seem incapable of even the most
elementary logical criticism (which is an entirely
different matter than issues of so-called "political
The glossy mainstream
style mag, Sleaze, printed an
article of mine about consumer debt. They ruined
it by adding their own careless prose (without
informing me). Here's the opening paragraph
they tacked on:
"As you've no doubt seen
in endless weekend supplements and on TV panel
discussions, Britain has a "borrowing"
problem. Endless facts and figures tell us we're
spending too much, while the overall message
is that we're greedy consumers who can't stop
buying. Thing is, it's not our fault... In fact,
our national debt has helped the UK out of potential
recession, and guess who's stuck with the bill?"
This confuses "national debt" with
consumer debt. It relies on overused journalistic
clichés ("guess who's stuck with
the bill"). It has unconscious repetition
syndrome ("endless" repeated
in second sentence). Also, the line "Thing
is, it's not our fault" sounds more
like a reflexive grunt of defensiveness than
As if this wasn't bad enough, I didn't get
paid (Sleaze's publishing company has
gone into liquidation). "Moral": don't
be flattered when mainstream publishers approach
The Sleaze Debt
article (minus their inept editing) >
Elections due in
UK on European issues. Lots of frenzied
political campaigning leaflets through
letterbox, etc. At the moment, my thinking on
politics/politicians is: "leave me alone".
Put a poster up in my window saying: "E-democracy
electrons welcome, politicians unwelcome".
shopper" bought a store's entire stock
of Mars bars, costing GBP 2,131 (10,656
bars). The woman took advantage of a "five
bars for a pound" offer at a London Woolworths.
She was reportedly non-white, and Saddam Hussein
is fond of Mars bars, so you'd think that, at
the very least, there'd be a terrorist alert.
(The Sun, 5/5/04)
The UK media hypes
the "threat" of "asylum seekers"
who "crowd" the country. Why would
anyone take this more seriously than the monarchy's
claim that it shoots deer only to reduce deer
overpopulation? I mean, when did deer overpopulation
or immigrant overcrowding last
make you late for work?
When climate change puts half of the Northern
hemisphere underwater, we'll all become asylum
seekers. How's that for scaremongering one-upmanship?
Ghettopoly, a new game (roll a
six, collect $50 "for services your hoe
provided") has attracted legal action from
Hasbro, owner of rights to Monopoly.
But Ghettopoly's UK promoter claims Hasbro stole
Monopoly from the Quakers.
Monopoly originated as "The Landlord's
Game", created by Quaker Lizzie Magie to
promote the ideas of "alternative"
economist Henry George to demonstrate
the extortion and wealth-monopolisation inherent
in the landlord system.
Work kills more
than war. The ILO* estimates that approximately
two million workers lose their lives annually
due to occupational injuries and illnesses
equivalent to 5,000 workers dying each day.
This is more than double the figure for deaths
from warfare (650,000 deaths per year). According
to the ILO's SafeWork programme, work kills
more people than alcohol and drugs together.
(*ILO: United Nations' International Labor
Development of the
Eurofighter aircraft (a UK/European
military project) went over budget by £30
billion, with a total cost of £50 billion.
It's a decade overdue some defence experts
say it's already an obsolete "dinosaur".
The total cost to UK taxpayers was £20
billion approximately £1,000 per
These large sums mean little without comparison,
so compare the yearly cost of "Jobseekers
Allowance" (unemployment welfare) for the
whole UK: £2.3 billion (latest government
(Source: 'Eurofighter: Weapon of Mass Construction',
It's reported that
Rupert Murdoch meets Tony Blair regularly,
visiting Downing Street at least every 6 months.
Murdoch's empire includes UK newspapers The
Times, Sun, Sunday Times and News of
the World. Newscorp Investments
is Murdoch's main holding company in the UK.
Its accounts reportedly show profits of billions
since 1987, yet it has effectively paid no tax
in the UK since 1988 receiving tax rebates
in some years that have cancelled out payments
Corporate tax avoidance costs Britain £85
billion a year, according to estimates in the
Guardian (12/4/02). That's enough to
pay the total cost of unemployment benefits
(about £5 billion a year) for 17 years.
told the Financial Times: "I
am more comfortable with an Adam Smith philosophy
than with Keynesian theory."
Arnie sounds like the latest in a line of politicians,
business-folk and economic conservatives bowing
to Adam Smith, without having read his work.
I hope "the public" eventually gets
the joke, which is that Smith, in many ways,
seems like the kind of "whining leftist"
that fiscal conservatives (like Arnie) loathe.
For example, Smith wrote that markets lead to
a type of labour which dehumanises workers.
He also wrote of the merchant class "conspiring"
against, "deceiving" and "oppressing"
Road traffic congestion
is a major problem. The UK government
recently announced that its "solution"
is to widen roads. Meanwhile, a survey of British
Telecom home-workers estimated that 3,149 miles
a year, on average, were saved per person working
at home (compared with travelling to the office).
Most of these miles would have been by car rather
than by public transport.
(Source: MOTORS AND MODEMS REVISITED, a report
by National Economic Research Associates)
According to Edmund King, executive director
of the RAC Foundation: "If each employee
could work from home just one day per week we
would see a 20% cut in [road] traffic."
Presumably working from home would also reduce
fossil fuel consumption and pollution. Government
policy (to repeat): widen roads; ignore reason.
A UK sex-toys chain
recently won a legal battle to overturn
a ban on it advertising vacancies in job centres.
Since the unemployed must accept any
available job (or risk losing their benefits),
I foresee embarrassing moments for job centre
Ironically, the ban was supposedly to protect
jobseekers, not bureaucrats, from humiliation.
Funny, I always thought the general policy was
to create maximum humiliation for the
19th June 2003
The inept "historian"
Andrew Roberts, in one of his numerous
media appearances (does he give sexual favours
to TV chiefs, or is he related, or both?), described
the war on Iraq as "brilliant". Meanwhile,
the Guardian reports that Iraqi civilian
deaths may number upto 10,000. "Appalling",
"tragic", "criminal" or
"brilliant"? take your
pick of adjectives. But maybe I'm misinterpreting
Roberts perhaps he merely thought the
soldiers' uniforms were brilliant.
Bush says "have
patience" in the search for WMD,
unless it's Hans Blix doing the searching, in
which case "have no patience". Rumsfeld
suggests Iraq deviously destroyed WMD before
the war. Well, that's what he told Iraq
to do before the war; that's what Iraq said
they'd done before the war; that's what Blix
was trying to confirm before the war.
7th May 2003
Many people compare
western democracies to dictatorial regimes.
This is unfair and unpatriotic. It's true that
western governments hold bogus elections, break
international laws, start wars, forge intelligence,
bug diplomats, broadcast lies and censor the
...But they are entitled to, because they're
democracies. And dictatorships aren't. That
is the difference.
joy at being liberated (as BBC
news presenter Peter Sissons put it) was communicated
to the world via TV pictures of "jubilant
scenes" accompanying the symbolic toppling
of a statue of Saddam Hussein. Baghdad has a
population of 5 million; only a few hundred
people were involved in the jubilation scenes.
A long-shot photo of the event gives a very
different impression from the TV hype: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2842.htm
20th March 2003
Hans Blix stated
(BBC Radio 4 Today 20/3/03)
that Iraq cooperated in the inspections process
this year. He also stated that no WMD has been
found, that US intelligence on WMD was poor
and sometimes bogus. He said that lack of accounting
of destruction of WMD wasnt evidence of
existence of WMD.
The BBC, believed by many to be politically
impartial, has consistently misreported Blixs
reports. More than once Ive heard BBC
news claim that the inspectors report no cooperation
Ive seen a parade of politicians and
media-pundits assert that Iraq has 10,000 litres
of anthrax. This ignores and contradicts Blixs
reports, yet is unchallenged by BBC presenters.
A case for war based on endlessly repeated
assertions, unsupported by evidence, unquestioned
by the media, unmitigated by common sense, unconvincing
to most people, and unspeakable to the thousands
of Iraqis about to be slaughtered.
5th March 2003
co-chair of Project for the New American
Century (PNAC a rightwing
think-tank), has coined the slogan Americans
are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus
from his theory about power-loving Americans
v. peace-loving Europeans. He argues that we
need the American way (military
might) when operating in the jungle
(ie the Third World).
It looks like a Mickey Mouse theory,
yet Kagan is getting a lot of media attention
(Guardian article, BBC Newsnight
Of course, its not about Europeans
and Americans, its about politics.
In which case, a better slogan might be: US
politics are from Arse and Euro-politics are
For more about PNAC, see:
8th January 2003
The media seem to use
the term conspiracy theory to
discredit perfectly plausible viewpoints. For
example, the BBC described as conspiracy
theory the belief that US oil interests
are behind the war on Iraq.
Meanwhile, the official (but unproved) theory
of a link a conspiracy between
Saddam and al-Qaida is never described
as a conspiracy theory by the media.
Most of what George Bush says about threats
to our safety sounds very much like
conspiracy theory. The Axis of Evil
out to destroy our way of
life? Holy shit, call Batman! Or,
better, Michelle Pfeiffer in a latex catwoman-suit.
You cant destroy imaginary conspiracies
with bombs. You need imaginary FBI agents
(Jodie Foster, Gillian Anderson catsuits
To deal with imaginary military threats, the
Pentagon hawks can imagine watching faked
footage of smart bombs dropping
down air-vents while they play with their imaginary
22 December 2002
Had the following letter
published in The Guardian (on 19/12/02):
So, no public money to improve pensions, no
money for public-sector wage increases, no money
for students, precious little money to improve
public transport. But didnt productivity
rise dramatically during the technological revolution?
Didnt national wealth soar? So where is
all the money going, and what happened to the
dream of increased leisure?
18th December 2002
and The Daily Express printed
the following letter of mine on 13/12/02:
The government has overlooked an obvious way
to tackle road congestion: give employers financial
incentives to allow staff to work from
home. If only 10% of office staff worked one
day a week at home, wed notice a significant
reduction in road traffic (and pollution).
The Sun (surprisingly) printed
another letter of mine on 28/11/02:
If Tony Blair thinks we cant afford the
firefighters 16% pay rise, maybe its
time to close the tax loopholes exploited by
the super-rich. That should generate around
£85 billion (according to previous press
reports) more than enough to fund generous
public sector pay rises.
(For a list of newspaper email addresses,
please see our Letters
to Newspapers page.)
28 November 2002
If anyone is confused
with all the economic talk about inflation
and deflation, etc (I certainly am), it might
help to remember two simple laws: F.L.E.E.C.E.
and S.L.E.A.Z.E., which, together, underlie
the whole intellectual edifice of conventional
F.L.E.E.C.E. (First Law
Explaining Everything Concerning
Never give the peasants a reason to
believe they should be better off than they
S.L.E.A.Z.E. (Second Law
Explaining Apostolic Zeal
in Economists) states:
The more economists obey the first
law, the more they get paid.
16 November 2002
According to a Channel
4 survey, 32% of Britons see George Bush
as a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein.
This kind of wrong-thinking disrespect
of Americas leader has been criticised
by Prime Minister Tony Blair, novelist Martin
Amis, and various others. They say that it doesnt
help to portray Bush as a moron. And that we
shouldnt be spreading the following kind
When Dubya was just a youngster,
he went to the chemist and asked the pharmacist,
Sir, can you tell me where the ribbed
The chemist replied, Son, do you know
what condoms are used for?
Sure do. They keep you from getting
The chemist was impressed. Thats
right, son. Do you know what the ribs are for?
Dubya paused and then answered, Well,
not really, but they sure do make the hair on
my goats back stand up.
(Taken from: http://www.rawilson.com/jokes.shtml)
5 October 2002
a campaign to abolish the Nobel Peace Prize,
and to replace it with a Nobel Prize for Minimising
Collateral Damage Whilst Militarily Enforcing
The way it would work is that national leaders
could be nominated for the new Nobel prize if
their military campaigns (for peace) killed
or maimed less than, say, 100,000 innocent civilians.
(The exact number would be subject to negotiation
by the Nobel panel, nominated world leaders
and Mars, the god of war).
Back to top
Iraq has agreed
to unconditional weapons inspections,
which seems to put containment and deterrence
back onto the agenda. Containment and deterrence
of the lunatics in the Pentagon, that is.
10 September 2002
Tony Blairs logic
goes as follows: We cant
just do NOTHING, therefore we must use military
action. This is curiously similar
to the logic of his welfare-to-work policy:
We cant have people sitting at
home doing NOTHING, therefore we must force
people into low-paid shit-jobs.
Its a strange inability to see more than
two options where thousands exist, and it seems
to be a common mental defect among politicians.
Perhaps it proves the argument that having your
head up your RECTUM on a regular basis
is more psychologically damaging than regular
28 August 2002
If President Coke and
the Pentagon junta really desire
war and environmental collapse, what media-friendly
PR message can they put across next (after the
failure of the Evil Saddam ruse).
The answer is simple: the economy is at stake.
War and eco-disaster good for the economy?
Sure, why not? Theres a perfectly logical
economic rationale. Read any conventional economics
textbook youll see that the capitalist
economic system is based on the idea of scarcity.
In fact, without scarcity of resources, the
fiercely competitive, dog-eat-dog capitalist
approach would seem absurd. If theres
an abundance of resources for everyone, why
Were now approaching a post-scarcity
era (with potentially enough to go around for
everyone). Thats a threat to the status
quo. For the current economic system to survive,
we need to ensure the continuation of scarcity.
War and environmental collapse are good ways
to guarantee scarcity. It all makes sense, after
19 July 2002
Heres what some
US conservatives say about the current corporate
scandals (Enron, etc):
People shouldnt take political
advantage of it
Strange. After all, the political system
like the market runs on competition
and self-interest. Which means that everyone
should always take political advantage
of everything. George W Bush, for example, magnificently
took political advantage of September 11th.
So, Mr Corporate Conservative, dont knock
political opportunism great nations are
built on it.
12th July 2002
According to todays
newspapers, the average person in Britain
is burgled only once every 50 years. Ive
cancelled my home contents insurance
policy. (Guardian 12/7/2002)
In their campaign
to stamp out terror, the peace-loving nations
have now bombed (killed) over 5,000 innocent
civilians. Each time we bomb some more people,
our politicians say:
Nobody wants civilian
casualties, but this is war, and, sadly, the
innocent get hurt in war.
Which, of course, is nothing like an
Nobody wants people burnt
alive, but this is arson, and, sadly, people
get burned when I torch buildings.
Not that wed compare politicians to arsonists.
Arsonists sometimes take responsibility for
Back to top
stars are enlightened. They get paid vast
sums for work they love. But they are so free
from ego and vanity that they think nothing
of SHITTING their talents away on product
endorsements. This is spiritual non-attachment
in action. Non-attachment to the neocortex;
non-attachment to the brainstem.
17th June 2002
the growing gap between the rich and poor,
is acknowledged as fact by most people. The
disagreement begins over how damaging it is.
Free market fundamentalists argue
that inequality is necessary to the healthy
functioning of a market economy. Maybe they
should pay more attention to the writings of
their own hero Adam Smith, the so-called
godfather of capitalism. Smith argued that only
under conditions of equality (not inequality)
could a market function efficiently, and that
the measure of a properly functioning market
would be its tendency to create income equality
7th May 2002
that the UK economy is successful.
Then the government says it will take 20 years
to eradicate child poverty in the UK. Pardon
me, but if the economy is really successful,
we could eradicate poverty now, not in 20 years.
3rd May 2002
countries get wealthier and wealthier. But
governments tell us theres less and less
money available to spend on public services.
Listening to governments whine: Oh,
theres no money available to improve hospitals,
education, transport... etc, youd
think that technology was going backwards and
that economic output was decreasing.
30th April 2002
make vast sums exploiting microfluctuations
in international currencies. If currency-market
transactions were taxed (at a very low rate,
eg 0.2%), it would generate billions of dollars
per day enough revenue to solve
many of the urgent problems facing humanity.
(Search on: Tobin tax).
Closing down offshore tax havens would also
generate hundreds of billions of dollars. Why
should the super-rich be allowed to avoid paying
Meanwhile, the World Game Institute
shows how most of humanitys social and
environmental problems could be solved using
30% of the worlds total annual military
27th April 2002
Sent a letter to
all the major UK newspapers. The Independent
printed it yesterday (26/4/2002):
One reason for the popularity of the far right
in France is public fear about crime. The British
media should learn from this that exaggerating
the crime problem doesnt merely sell newspapers
it can have damaging repercussions for
society too. When newspapers interpret an increase
in cell phone theft as crime spiralling
out of control, they play a dangerous
game of scaremongering.
(For a list of newspaper email addresses,
please see our Letters
to Newspapers page.)
18th April 2002
Corporate tax avoidance
costs Britain £85 billion a year, according
to estimates in the Guardian (12/4/02).
Many large companies are so clever at exploiting
tax loopholes that they pay no tax at all.
Notice how compartmentalised news stories seem.
Another story covered this week was deteriorating
public services. As usual, two options
were discussed: (a) better public services
(paid for by a general tax increase) or, (b)
lousy services (with no tax increase).
Since the above stories were kept in separate
compartments, nobody said: Hey, theres
a third option if we close the tax loopholes
exploited by the super-rich, we can have better
public services without general tax increases.
They can compartmentalise the news, but they
cant compartmentalise our brains.
Back to top
7th April 2002
Most people have noticed
that private enterprise doesnt work as
it should. News of corporations saved from financial
disaster with public money inevitably leads
to the question: Isnt private
enterprise meant to stand on its own feet?
In addition to publicly-funded bail-outs,
most big companies benefit from technological
advances/infrastructure funded by public money.
They get most of it free. If they didnt
theyd never make a profit in a million
years. Given that we, the public, funded technology,
isnt it time that we received the economic
benefits eg much shorter working hours.
24th March 2002
If the warmed-up corpse
of Hitler was President of the US, and a
lobotomised sheep was Prime Minister of the
UK, I couldnt be less optimistic than
I am now.
On the other hand, there are more
people on the planet working towards positive
solutions for humanity than at any time in history.
There are millions of individuals trying to
balance constructive optimism with sociological
realism, working behind the scenes, trying not
to succumb to apocalyptic nihilism or small-minded
political/social expediency. I see these people
everywhere, except on TV, or in the newspapers,
or inside political parties.
9th March 2002
A study by Reed
shows that workers are being given fancy job
titles instead of pay increases. Examples include:
Technical Sanitation Assistant
Optical Illuminator Enhancer (window
Head of Verbal Communications
Senior Corporate Events Manager
Apparently, words like Head,
Chief and Senior are
being used to appeal to the vanity of workers
(and to distract from the appallingly low pay).
28th February 2002
Last year I made
a formal complaint to the Independent
Television Commission (ITC) about the governments
Welfare Cheats TV advertisements. I claim
these ads serve a political purpose (political
TV ads are forbidden in the UK). If you havent
seen the ads, you can download them: http://www.targetingfraud.gov.uk/campaign.htm
The ITC has the power to withdraw
ads from TV, so this is potentially a big embarrassment
for the government (the ads cost at least £15
million of taxpayer money).
The ITC is still investigating.
I will put all the details of my complaint on
the Anxiety Culture website as soon as
there is an outcome.
Incidentally, while I was researching
the ITCs Code of Advertising Standards,
I noticed the following rules:
Advertisements must not without
justifiable reason play on fear.
No advertisement may exploit the
Hmm... to my mind that would disqualify
90% of TV ads.
11th February 2002
satire?: George Bush and Tony Blair have
been jointly nominated for the 2002 Nobel peace
prize – for their bombing of Afghanistan (which
resulted in the death of at least 4,000 Afghan
civilians). The nomination was made by a rightwing
Norwegian politician. Downing Street responded
with an embarrassed no comment.
3rd February 2002
Fifty church ministers
are planning to live on the minimum wage for
Lent, to highlight the problem of low pay. The
Anglican bishops and other clergymen say they
want to learn what its like to live in
poverty. Hmmm... Lent lasts for just 40 days.
If theyre serious, they should try it
for at least two years, without any access to
their savings accounts or stock dividends. Otherwise,
its equivalent to a Conservative politician
spending a week on welfare to show that
its no great hardship (which once
happened as a TV political stunt).
15th January 2002
During the Gulf
war, UK authorities banned various TV
content as inappropriate during
a time of war. One item banned was an ad for
Cadburys Caramel chocolate bars.
This ad a cartoon showed marching
soldier ants and a sexy, languorous female bunny-rabbit
trying to tempt the soldier ants away from their
regimented marching with the offer of Cadburys
Caramel (and a sweet Marilyn Monroe persona).
The catch-line was Take it easy with
Presumably the unstated message
lazy sex & chocolate is better
than marching to war was seen
as undermining national security. A Ph.D thesis
could probably be written about the various
meanings of this ad, but youd have to
be paying very close attention to single it
out, amongst all other TV output, as inappropriate.
Who pays such close attention, and do they have
a job description?