Friday, August 10, 2007

Guilty pleasures

Cancer Research UK has released research that some cancers have risen due to our lifestyle. Cancer is now characterised as a kind of earthly retribution - paying for the sins of a hedonistic lifestyle - eating, drinking and tanning yourself to death. A timely message perhaps, given that many will be off on their jollies to abuse (enjoy?) themselves in such a manner. CRUK have also kindly provided a twenty page brochure on what you can do to reduce the risk of cancer.

I explored the brochure , where it illustrates the reduction in the number of people smoking has been reflected in a reduction in deaths from lung cancer. The document also rightly emphasised the importance of early detection and prevention. The main message is that personal responsibility is key.

The brochure also heralded a new £12m research project "on health behaviours associated with tobacco use, diet and nutrition, obesity and physical activity, which are major risk factors common to several major disease groups".

I think the conclusions will be pretty obvious without the need to spend £12m - don't smoke, eat a balanced diet and exercise. Pay me please.

However, whilst the brochure calls for personal life changes to prevent cancer (nothing wrong with that), nothing is mentioned of external factors - chemicals and hormones in food and water, cosmetics and household chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, air pollution, and a whole host of other environmental nasties. Indeed the word environment doesn't even grace the pages.

Now as you've probably guessed, I've got my Waste Management Strategy hat on at the moment so I also explored the brochure for the mention of incineration's biggest risk - dioxins. You guessed it, it's not there. I looked on CRUK's website, which dismissed dioxins as "a group of chemicals that are formed unintentionally by industrial processes such as burning fuels and incinerating waste". The word 'unintentionally' stinks of appeasement. It's like the pharmaceutical euphemism 'side-effect' or the military one 'collateral damage'. We know it happens - but tough shit babe, you can't do anything about it.

Some press releases from CRUK even downplay research suggesting links between the environment and cancer - comments that wouldn't be out of place on a government or chemical company press page.

That environmental factors have become the silent elephant in the room invites accusations that CRUK aren't being entirely honest. The cancer charities should be out shouting on the streets as loudly about the environmental risk factors as they are about their new 'live healthy' guilt trip.

But if they did, would they suddenly find funding dry up?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

God bothered

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at a South Tyneside primary school and saw something I found to be disturbing. This school is what's commonly known as a 'faith school'. I've never visited a faith school before.

These types of school have never bothered me much, except perhaps for their discriminatory practices where children from families with the same religious orthodoxy as the school would get enrolment priority before children from another religion or from a non-religious background. Often these schools are defended not on the basis of religion, but that of education - statistically, those who attend faith schools tend to do better in exams than their contemporaries in mainstream (not overtly religious) schools.

It could be that a culture of religious belief is responsible for the grades, or that children attending these schools tend to come from homes which value and instill aspiration, hard work, discipline and reward. Or a bit of both.

At the meeting my mind wandered during a particularly dull discussion and my eyes scanned the walls of the school hall for a bit of light diversion. I found a section on wall which could be summarised as "Postcards to God". The wall contained a number of small cards with a short bit of text on them. Here's some examples:

"I belong to God's family, I feel special."

"I belong to God's family, I feel loved."

"I belong to God's family, I feel happy."

And so on. Each card also held the name of child, and by the handwriting I would guess the age of the authors to be around 8 to 10 years old.

This is when it struck me how divisive faith schools are.

As an aside, I must admit, I don't even like the term 'faith school'. The two words somehow seem incompatible with each other. Faith is something you believe without reason or evidence. It's the ideology of ignorance. Where children are 'taught' creationism as an alternative science to evolution, as in places like the Christian fundamentalist Vardy schools. This is loony indoctrination, not education.

The subtext of the Postcards to God is one of group superiority. "I belong to God's family, I am special" logic has a flip side which implies that those who don't belong to God's family are not special, not loved and somehow less worthy.

The world of religion is full of terms for those who don't follow your particular cult - gentile, unbeliever, infidel, heathen, heretic - all pointing to those outside your religious 'family' with an alien otherness. It's fortified with lessons that those who don't believe in your god and follow the rules are going to spend the afterlife in an eternity of torment, whilst believers and martyrs will be rewarded with an eternity of infinite bliss in paradise.

Sounds pleasant, but from such ideologies killers are created, comforted and confident that their god approves of and rewards their atrocities.

We could point fingers and select religions for particular criticism. Suicide bombings by Muslim extremists are a recent manifestation of killing in the name of religion. But Muslims who have lost their marbles don't have all the fun to themselves. Scratch the surface of an atrocity and chances are religion is somewhere underneath.

The cash to run faith schools comes from tax payers, who are funding the ignorance and indoctrination of next generation of religious bigots. Schools should be where we teach our children how to think - not what to think.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

WOT, no War On Terror?

Gordon Brown's avoidance of the phrase "War on Terror" confirms that the term will no longer be used by UK government officials. It's seen as a change in direction where terrorism is redefined as a purely criminal action, stripping any context which might prompt examination of motives.

With an election looming Brown will want to avoid any terms linking himself with Tony Blair's handling of terrorism, so changing the landscape of the language used is a key tool.

This is a common marketing technique - rebranding. It's a bit like changing the name of the Marathon bar to Snickers. The product hasn't changed, just the name.

But the ghouls of extremism are still there, and Brown is going to stoke the fear of them to keep the rest of us terrified. Despite the change in arse keeping the PM seat warm, our government continues to invoke 'terrorism' and 'security' in order to control.

Move over Poodle, here's Scottie.

Conjuring the spectre of 'rogue states', the government's announcement that it is going to allow the USA, without any debate in Parliament, to use the listening station at Menwith Hill for it's nuke treaty-busting 'missile defence system' indicates that Brown views democracy with the same contempt as Blair. It also shows that Brown, like Blair, puts Bush's interests before that of Parliament. In a world teetering on the edge of a new cold war, Brown happily helps Bush to tip us into a new arms race.

Corporations are getting in on the 'security' act to quell protest, as is seen in BAA's attempt to stop climate protesters enjoying their liberty to demonstrate peacefully.

Like the Marathon rebranding, the War On Terror market repositioning exercise is being used by Brown and his chums to continue to sell us something that is as sticky and nutty - the erosion of our freedom and democracy.