Archive for October, 2007

Beyer clutches at straws

The anti-smut campaigner “Massah” John Beyer has leapt on a new report by the Ministry of Justice entitled “The evidence of harm to adults relating to exposure to extreme pornography”. He saw it as an excuse to grind his Axe of Prudery and call on the Government to revoke all licences to pornographic TV channels.

But what is the report actually about, and what are its conclusions?

It is an rapid evidence assessment of the effects of “extreme pornographic material” which it defines as

actual scenes or realistic depictions of: explicit intercourse or oral sex with an animal, explicit sexual interference with a human corpse, explicit serious violence in a sexual context and explicit serious sexual violence

None of which, of course, are actually shown by the government licenced pornography channels which Beyer is railing against.

The report concluded that there existed “some harmful effects from extreme pornography on some who access it”, in particular “men who are predisposed to aggression”.

It is upon this evidence that the Sage of Ashford makes his demands to Ofcom:

In line with other recent warnings over swearing and violence before the watershed, it would be consistent if Ofcom issued a warning over harmful pornographic content, such as Fanny Hill on BBC4, The Secret Diary of a Call Girl on ITV2 and Californication on Five.

Shameless. Utterly shameless.

UPDATE: (4.50 pm) The report itself has been heavily criticised by over 40 academics

The evidence presented in the Rapid Evidence Assessment is extremely poor, based on contested findings and accumulated results. It is one-sided and simply ignores the considerable research tradition into “extreme” (be they violent or sexually explicit) materials within the UK’s Humanities and Social Sciences.

(Thanks to Mark in the comments)

Hell’s angel

“Respectable Polish Catholics, the place from which I address you is fiery hot,” proclaims Karol Józef Wojty?a. The reason for his discomfort is that poor Karol Józef – alias Pope John Paul II – is in hell.

“At the beginning of my stay at the epicentre of fire I, John Paul II, was a little dismayed by the fact that, having been a faithful servant of God, I ended up in hell along with such characters as Goebbels and Himmler,” he says.

The man who used to kiss airport aprons – not yet a saint, but surely an angel in the eyes of Catholics – has, through his depiction by a Danish satirist on his Polish-language website, led to the sort of outrage the Motoons kicked off after they’d been published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, but without the body count.

“Many think Pope John Paul II is a saint,” says Jan Egesborn, satirical artist and founder of the Danish satirical group, Surrend, “but he didn’t do anything about sex abuse of children by priests in the Roman Catholic church and this is why we think he belongs in hell.”

Egesborn says early responses from Poles who have seen his satirical webpage have been strong. “For Poles it is just as controversial as the Mohammed cartoon was for Muslims,” he said.
Bottoms up!
But to would-be censors he has this to say in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Satirical art has a mighty force and we see people have an enormous response to it.”

The Surrend group has lampooned, inter alia, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and the Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko, and the current superstitionist-in-chief, Joseph Ratzinger, alias Benedict XVI. Indeed, Ratzo is “quoted” as saying, in the English caption below the picture shown here, which is on Surrend’s English-language site, “I am against homosexuality, but for paedophilia.” Brings a whole new meaning to “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” dunnit?

And long may such groups thrive! The Danish seem pretty good at leading the way in the free-expression stakes at the moment, as we can see from the story two posts down the page from this one (see “Mohammed, the far-right poster boy”).

Keitel to play Jerry

The lead role in January’s Carnegie Hall production of Jerry Springer: The Opera will be played by Harvey Keitel.

Mohammed, the far-right poster boy

The far-right Danish People’s Party unveiled their controversial election poster today. As you can see, it features a drawing of the putative prophet Mohammed, inventor of Islam.

The slogan reads “Freedom of speech is Danish, censorship is not”.

DPP leader Pia Kjaersgaard explains that the ad

…is a part of an election campaign centring on Danish values, which we want to push forward. Among them are gender equality and solidarity. The ad clearly falls under the issue of freedom of expression.

Kassem Ahmed, a spokesperson for the Danish Islamic Society, said that the Society will

ignore the provocation, and prefer dialogue with those who subscribe to freedom of speech in a more decent and respectful manner.

Perhaps it is necessary for portraits of Mohammed to be published in order to give Muslims the opportunity to demonstrate that they are able to rise above it. And if a few of them still aren’t, well we need to know that too.

UPDATE: (Oct 30) The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has decided that the Danish election is its business, and issued a press release commenting on the DPP poster:

The Muslim world, while taking note of this unprovoked propensity of some Danish circles to demonize Islam, its figures and symbols remains vigilant and watchful to this trend which might, again, lead to increased tension.

Where would we be without the OIC’s vigilance and watchfulness?

Stop playing the offence card

A “ThinkPiece” article by Josie Appleton at Spiked online is so spot on it could serve as the MWW manifesto.

Highlights include:

The accusation of ‘hate speech’ or ‘phobia’ characterises an opponent as irrational, and not worth arguing with. Their views are apparently not opinions, to be listened to and debated, but merely the expression of instinctive hate or a knee-jerk phobia.

The focus on crying ‘hate speech’ means that lobby groups become organs for complaint. Their role is less to celebrate their own cause, than to present themselves as the victims of their opponents. Muslim organisations now spend very little time talking about the virtues of Islam, or offering moral guidance for a good Muslim life: instead, many have dedicated themselves to unearthing Islamophobia in every nook and cranny, analysing TV coverage and the subtexts of newspaper reports.

Similarly, gay organisations talk less about free love, free choice, or the virtue of love between people of the same sex. Instead they dedicate themselves to highlighting homophobia – for example, by exposing the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult in school playgrounds and students unions.

If discussion is merely the exchange of accusations of offence, it is worse than silence, and fixes empty opinions as polarities to one another. After a few minutes of ‘Islamophobia’ versus ‘homophobia’, who really knows – or cares – what it means to ‘be Muslim’ or to ‘be gay’? A social exchange should produce new ideas, and develop both parties – in this case it numbs and stunts both. Discussants leave feeling more angry and more convinced of their own rightness, but ultimately more hollow.

Read it all.

UPDATE: (26 Oct) Claire Fox has a piece in the Independent on the same theme.

Free speech and the natural selection of ideas

David Thompson has an interesting post based around “Islamic Awareness Week” at Tufts.

It touches upon “offense”:

Very civil and inarguable comments can, for instance, cause “offence” to someone who is determined to be offended for political gain and determined to exploit the pretence of being hurt. Indeed, the pantomime of being conspicuously aggrieved can be a form of passive-aggressivism – a way to express hostility or dominance while hiding being the role of victim. This tactic is widely employed by the morally incontinent and by bullies of all kinds.

And the stifling effect religious censorship has upon human progress:

Progress depends on the vigorous testing of ideas and this process can involve unflattering collisions and breakage. Poor arguments and unsupportable beliefs are often damaged in free debate, sometimes beyond repair, and disrepute and embarrassment may prove difficult to avoid. That’s the nature of progress. Moves to spare the feelings and prejudices of designated victim groups inhibit that testing process and give undue immunity to those with the poorer argument, or no argument at all.

Manchester Cathedral “forgives” Sony

When Sony set a scene of its video game “Resitance: Fall of Man” in Manchester Cathedral, the Church demanded an apology, the withdrawal of the game, and a substantial donation. It got only a “sorry if you were offended” apology.

But everything is okay now. Sony has been forgiven.

Nanny Beyer censures the censors

Nanny Beyer is at it again. He wants heads to roll at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) because it’s revealed that it no longer cuts violent scenes from 18-rated movies.

It presumably believes that adults can make up their own minds, and treat fictional violence as fictional violence.

“The controversy was triggered by the board’s decision to approve the ultra-violent film Eastern Promises without any cuts,” reports the Daily Mail (well, it would be the Mail, wouldn’t it?). “Critics said the British Board of Film Classification’s members had adopted a policy of ‘anything goes’ and were a ‘law unto themselves’.”

The film, released this week, includes graphic scenes of throat slitting, child prostitution and a man having an eye gouged out. (Any King Lear fan will have seen that last trick done on stage several times – in front of kids, too, sometimes quite graphically, with a generous spattering of stage blood and a lot of screaming by the Duke of Somewhere-or-Other.)

But Massa Beyer – who would, by his own admission, and this is well known to MWW readers, no doubt prefer to watch a screening of The Black and White Minstrel Show – wants the lot of them sacked.

“The BBFC has become increasingly lax and ineffective and is completely out of touch with public opinion,” says the fount of artistic wisdom. “It needs to be replaced with another body which will show more responsibility on the issue of violence.

“Despite the latest statistics in gun and knife crime showing that the problems of violence are at an all-time high, the BBFC refuses to take action.”

And where is the evidence of a causal link?

One can’t help but wonder where Beyer was when the Mel Gibson gorefest The Passion of the Christ came out. Some Christians were even calling for its classification to be changed so that impressionable youngsters could see it.

Oh, but that’s religion. Scourging, crowns of thorns, nails through flesh and bone, much screaming – but that’s OK. It’s religion. A quick look at the Mediawatch-UK website reveals nothing on The Passion.

OK, let’s run a little competition. Who can come up with the best name that the initials BBFC might stand for, using “Beyer” for one of the two Bs (nothing libellous, mind)? A signed copy of John Beyer’s extremely slim volume, My Favourite Post-Watershed TV Programmes, will go to the winner as soon as he’s written it.

Motoons news: leader of Islamic world in denial

Dr Ekmeliddin Ihsamoglu, the General Secretary of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, played a major role in turning the publication of the Danish cartoons into worldwide political clash. He saw the chance to use the Motoons as a means to effect an international law against blasphemy – something the OIC had been trying to do for years.

Using the type of veiled threat common is cases such as these, Ihsamoglu wrote to the Danish prime minister urging him to take action to avoid further “escalation”. When no action was forthcoming, he stirred up outrage at a Mecca meeting of the OIC.

So, having kicked up such a stink, does the good Doctor accept any responsibility for the resulting smell? Karsten Kjaer put the question to him in the Bloody Cartoons documentary.


Either Ekmeliddin Ihsamoglu is guilty of political dissembling, or he has a remarkable capacity for self-deception.

Homeopathic censorship

We’re a bit late to the party with this one. Homeopathy isn’t really a religion per se, but it is certainly faith-based. As this story shows, their reaction to critics of the faith is identical: try silence them.

The Quackometer is “a project based around the automation of debunking quack medicine on the web” run by Dr Andy Lewis. He published an article criticising the Society of Homeopaths (Europe’s largest professional homeopathic association) for its inadequate reaction to a Newsnight investigation in which it was revealed a lot of homeopathic practitioners were giving dangerous advice about malaria to travellers (ie, homeopathy will protect you) .

The SoH wheeled out its lawyers and forced Quackometer’s web host (the Isle of Man based Netcetera) to pull the article.

So here it is:


The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programmeexposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel- worded press statements. The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48 · Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority. · No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimatedto be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ‘she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

UPDATE: (22 Oct) Bad Science has more details, including the polite letter sent by Andy Lewis to the SoH, which was rudely met with more legal threats.

Also, a commenter on DC’s Improbable Science makes this rather amusing observation:

I’m a bit stumped by this. Surely, shouldn’t the SoH folk, of all people, know that removing every detectable trace of the offending post from the blogosphere will just increase its effectiveness?

(Tip Cabalamat)