Thursday, December 21, 2006

lies, damned lies, and melanie phillips

It's like having one of those long-term spots that you can't help picking at. It never does any good, you'll only make things worse, but somehow your hand wanders back there of its own accord and by the time you realise what you're doing, you're already squeezing and the germs have been spread.

So it was that I found myself halfway through this week's Melanie Phillips column in the Daily Mail.

Why even open the fucking thing? Well, it was a free copy in the swimming pool wating area, and after the photo of a donkey that's in a stage musical, Phillips' thing was the next thing that caught my eye.

She's like some sort of uber-Mail columnist, reading her stuff is like drinking pure essential oil of uninformed bigot.

I first found out about her in her guise as climate change denier

forests are actually partly responsible for global warming. Rather than ’save the trees’, it seems, it’s ‘blame the trees’!

According to a new study, living green plants may be contributing as much as one third of the methane in the earth’s atmosphere - and methane is second only to carbon dioxide in the rogues’ gallery of greenhouse gases said to be responsible for global warming.

That's not true. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane is 25 times worse than CO2. Nitrous oxide is 298 times worse. Sulphur Hexafluoride is 22,800 times worse.

if the climate is indeed overheating, that does not mean that man-made emissions are necessarily to blame. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that they would be since carbon dioxide forms a relatively small proportion of the atmosphere, in which the biggest greenhouse gas is water vapour.

It's not just about the proportion of the atmosphere made up of a gas but, as she herself just said, also about how powerful it is at inducing the effect, and crucially - and this is where humans come in - what happens when you change the balance.

Methane levels have done the same ski-jump upcurve as CO2 and other industrial gases since industrial times began. By Melanie's logic there should have been a commensurate rise in the number of trees. Still, it didn't stop her from seeing her belief as the new and wise position

Oh dear. No doubt Galileo had the same problem when all medieval parchments agreed that the sun went round the earth; or Christopher Columbus, when all navigational maps agreed that the earth was flat.

Which is uncannily like a bit in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Hocus Pocus

Wilder gave him his supercilious, vulpine, patronizing silky debater's grin. 'A majority of the scientific community,' he said, 'would say, if I'm not mistaken, that an epitaph would be premature by several thousand years'. That debate took place maybe 6 years before I was fired, which would be back in 1985, and I don't know what scientific community he was talking about. Every kind of scientist, all the way down to chiropractors and podiatrists, was saying were were killing the planet fast.

'You want to hear the epitaph?' said Ed Bergeron.

'If we must,' said Wilder, and the grin went on and on. 'I have to tell you, though, that you are not the first person to say the game was all over for the human race. I'm sure that even in Egypt before the first pyramid was constructed, there were men who attracted a following by saying "it's all over now"'.

'What is different about now as compared with Egypt before the first pyramid was built-' Ed began.

'And before the Chinese invented printing, and before Columbus discovered America,' Jason Wilder interjected.

'Exactly,' said Bergeron. 'The difference is that we have the misfortune of knowing what's really going on,' said Bergeron, 'which is no fun at all. And this has given rise to a whole new class of preening, narcissistic quacks like yourself who say in the service of rich and shameless polluters that the state of the atmosphere and the water and the topsoil on which all life depends is as debatable as how many angels can dance on the fuzz of a tennis ball'.

It's led George Monbiot to lay into her heavily and personally

Writing in the Daily Mail in January, she dismissed the entire canon of climatology as “a global fraud” perpetrated by the “leftwing, anti-American, anti-West ideology which goes hand in hand with anti-globalisation and the belief that everything done by the industrialised world is wicked.” This belief must be shared by the Pentagon, whose recent report pictures climate change as the foremost threat to global security. In an earlier article, she claimed that “most independent climate specialists, far from supporting [global warming], are deeply sceptical.” She managed to name only one, however, and he receives his funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Having blasted the world’s climatologists for “scientific illiteracy”, she then trumpeted her own. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which collates the findings of climatologists), is, she complained, “studded with weasel words” such as “very likely” and “best estimate”. These weasel words are, of course, what make it a scientific report, rather than a column by Melanie Phillips.

He's given her a coveted place in the Bluffers Corner section of, where he takes apart the article I've been quoting. Her article is so full of utter shit that he doesn't pick her up on the points I've quoted.

So then, that's who we're dealing with here.

And there I was, reading her pronouncements on the recent Suffolk murders.

One of the most striking things about the Ipswich prostitutes was that drug addiction — as often as not starting with cannabis — led them straight into the trade that in turn led them to their terrible end.

Most people who use hard drugs have used cannabis first. They are also more likely to have been users of alcohol, tobacco and solvents. They are more likely to have been in trouble with the police. Cannabis can no more be blamed for their heroin addiction than their exposure to police handcuffs.

Conversely, most cannabis users do not ever use hard drugs. Indeed, most people who try cannabis don't even become regular cannabis users. Far from being a gateway drug, it's actually more of a terminus.

This has caused some to conclude that both illegal drugs and the prostitution trade should be legalised

As regular Badgerers will know, I've talked about the drugs thing before, here and elsewhere. Prostitution should be legal and regulated for many of the same reasons. It isn't going to go away, criminalisation only exacerbates the problems and creates a bunch of new ones.

A few years ago I saw an Australian documentary about how the recently legalised brothels were going in New South Wales. The one they featured was out of town, in nobody's way, run by a former policeman. There were good sanitary facilities, the women had banded together to be effectively unionised, health workers came round every week, and there was good security if any client did turn out to be violent.

Straightforward, pleasant and safe; it was really shocking to see the sexual appetite being treated like the other human emotional/physical hungers that we pay for at restaurants, pubs, fairgrounds and sports matches.

Prostitution embodies a view of women which is intrinsically brutalising, dehumanising and predatory.

Work embodies a view of people which is intrinsically brutalising, dehumanising and predatory.

Some people cannot see prostitutes as more than sex objects in the same way that some people cannot see waiters as more than automata. Stigmatisation reinforces that view, acceptance and regulation breaks it down.

Prostitution is just people selling their time, health and skills, same as any other job. A prostitute is selling something that is unarguably theirs. How on earth could we dare to say otherwise?

The crucial fact that such proponents fail to acknowledge is that if illegal activities become legal, many more people will engage in them. That means a huge increase in the damage they do

Neither of these points is true.

The first is factually wrong. Cannabis use did not significantly increase in the Netherlands after decriminalisation. It has stayed below the levels of the prohibitionist countries like the UK and USA. The title of her piece is 'Red light tolerance zones would cause prostitution to rocket', as if there are loads of us gagging to use prostitutes but are put off by the criminalisation.

The second is logically wrong. Even if the incidence of either activity increases, damage does not need to. Safer use of drugs, safer working environments for prostitutes would see a downturn in harm even if use were to increase.

All countries which have liberalised their drug laws have seen a vast increase in their drugs trade.

As have all other comparable but prohibitionist countries. Why do we have higher levels of drug use than our Dutch cousins?

She lambasts a

Home Office which effectively gave the green light to cannabis use, thus putting a rocket booster under drug use in Britain — which in turn is inextricably linked to an equivalent explosion of people-trafficking and prostitution.

Former Home Secretary & Safety Elephant Charles Clarke thought downgrading cannabis would lead to increased use. Unlike Melanie, he's seen the subsequent figures. Which, like anyone who's studied the facts, means he disagrees with her:

The preliminary assessment is that, contrary to my personal expectation, reclassification has not led to an increase in use.

But more to the point, she's still clinging to that 'cannabis to people trafficking by way of heroin and prostitution' thing. As if people who grow and smoke their own are somehow responsible for people trafficking.

Now the drug legalisers are trying a new tack. Medicalise drug use by legalising heroin, they cry, and drug crime will go away...Legal drugs would always be undercut — both by lower prices and higher strengths — by a black market.

If a doctor is giving me pure heroin, for free, how can a black market make it stronger and cheaper?

Switzerland is unencumbered by UN membership or other things that tamper with a country's ability to act unilaterally on drug policy. Facing a huge heroin problem in Zurich, they first tried allowing a park to be a users safe place. Muggings in the vicinity rocketed, so they tried a new approach to treatment. People would be given rehab, including heroin on prescription. People turned up to clinics several times a day for their dose (none of that selling your script on the sly, which Melanie gives as a reason not to prescribe). It was made a medical rather than criminal problem.

The results were stunning. The number of user deaths dwindled, the number of users funding their habit by crime dropped from over 70% to less than 10%, the number on benefits halved and accordingly the number in work doubled, their health improved. A bunch of Christians forced a referendum to try to end the policy, but the public had seen what was working and overwhelmingly said to carry on.

Ah, but it's not about the users, it's about the way it sends a message of tolerance so that more people become users. Right?

A report published this year in The Lancet shows an 82% decline in new heroin users in Zurich since the new policy began 15 years ago.

As George Monbiot marvelled

Where does she get it from? How do you acquire such confidence in your own rectitude that neither the evidence itself, nor the Royal Society, nor the combined weight of the major scientific journals can alter by a whisker the line you have taken? Are you born knowing you have prophetic powers: that everything you believe is and will forever be true? Or does it come with experience? If so, what might that experience be?

So if the evidence disproves her assertions on the way legalising drugs affects the health and numbers of users, what is really driving her? Straightforward puritanism.

Contrary to their argument that the ‘war on drugs’ has been a failure, the problem is rather that we have never given an unambiguous signal that all drug-taking is wrong.

We have never grasped that a coherent policy against vice means criminalising not merely those who supply the prostitution and drugs trades, but the male punters and drug-takers who make use of them.

'All drug taking is wrong'. In and of itself.

Is she like this for other vice too? For, say, gambling and alcohol?

Over and over again — with abortion, pornography, under-age sex, drinking, drug-taking or prostitution — we have lifted the constraints of both law and the informal sanctions of shame and stigma in pursuit of an ‘enlightened’ doctrine of tolerance

So, it does appear that we should be banning alcohol. And apparently we were better off in the days of illegal abortion too. She is actively campaigning for an increase in shame and stigma - her choice of words! - for reasons that have no factual basis, only her dislike of the idea of anyone enjoying the activities to be proscribed.

I don't mind the Daily Mail employing narrow-minded bigot columnists. What am I saying, of course I mind.

What I mean is that's not the thing that surprises me. The thing I can't comprehend is how she can, over and over and over again, put forward such factually incorrect writing, deliberate lies to back up her position that are so demonstrably untrue, and still be allowed to do more.

God, if I were the Mail's editor (and I'd have to become some kind of puppy-boiling Nazi to find myself in Hell with that job) I couldn't even employ her on grounds of 'provoking a response'; publishing such made-up bollocks makes a total fucking mockery of any publication that prints her stuff.


Anonymous said...

the problem is rather that we have never given an unambiguous signal that all drug-taking is wrong

For a couple of years now, I've been taking a combination of drugs to regulate my blood pressure. According to several very well-qualified doctors, I'll almost certainly suffer a stroke before I'm forty if I don't continue to be a drug user.

But of course, we know that Melanie isn't talking about those drugs. She doesn't really mean "all drug-taking" (even though she says it). She means "taking bad drugs". Quite how she distinguishes between the "good" drugs and the "bad" ones though... that confuses me.

When my Dad was fighting cancer he was given diamorphine after his operations. It was to control the extreme pain he was suffering. Presumably that's acceptable, despite MPs generalisation that "all drug-taking is wrong".

But diamorphine is heroin. So in Melanie's world, it's clearly not the drug itself, but the user, that is "wrong". Perhaps they're poor. Or black. Or live in the wrong part of town. That's the essence of Melanie's bigotted views. She not only doesn't like anyone different to herself, but she actively seeks to hurt them for their differences.

Personally I think that there is one minority who do deserve persecution... those people to whom compassion and empathy are merely intellectual concepts rather than felt experiences. They should be rounded up, have the word "avoid" tattooed on their foreheads, and banned from playing any part in public life.

Anonymous said...

What you mean if you were a Nazi, you are a Nazi

merrick said...

Anonyperson, I think you're going to have to expand on your point. Who is the 'you' you refer to?

What does this have to do with past and present Nazis?

jublianco said...

Is anonymouse(sic.) a Mailist I ask myself?
Great critique of Melanie's 'writing' there merrick.
The frightening thing is of course,that in the U.S. Phillips is regarded as a serious political and social commentator.Her books sell well and are thought to portray a realistic picture of the British status-quo.This is no good obviously, as any major dude who's caught her on Question Time can attest.This woman is misguided,wrong,and psychologically wounded.Rather like a Mail reader,funnily enough.I wonder had you mentioned any less savoury or humane of Israel's policies,would 'anon' have labelled you anti-semitic?Melanie undoubtedly would.I must be of course for raising the matter.Bonkers old fascist crone.