Tag Archives: panics

Paperchase and Copywrong

A lot of my (mainly non-Twitter using) readers may be unaware of the controversy surrounding designer Hidden Eloise and greeting card giant Paperchase. In short, Hidden Eloise alleges that a design which Paperchase are using on a variety of products has lifted the central image of a girl from one of her own works He says he can hear the forest whisper.

It could of course be a coincidence but make up your own mind:

I have to say that the whole situation looks pretty cut and dried to me. Not so according to the Paperchase chief executive Timothy Melgund who, with the support of the Telegraph, manages to portray the whole incident as a case of a blameless, struggling company being bullied by a selfish designer, a cynical novelist and the lynchmob they have whipped up on Twitter (the whole article is a classic; even the headline marks a new low in Fox News-style values for the Telegraph: Paperchase forced to deny it ‘plagiarised’ British artist’s work after Twitter campaign):

“We bought the designs from a reputable central London Design Studio along with a number of other designs on good faith.

“We take all reasonable precautions when we purchase our designs from companies or individuals, because, to be blunt, we want to make sure they are entitled to sell it.”

He added: “We have not done anything wrong. Our reputation is of course very important to us. We spoke at length to the Design Studio in question and they categorically denied any plagiarism.

“What upsets us as a whole is that a lot of our good customers have been angered by this and there is no reason for it.

“We spend a long time building up our reputation for creating dynamic and interesting stationery and then something like this happens.”

Mr Melgund said the issue raised serious concerns about the “powers, and there in the danger of Twitter”.

“I am sure it can be beneficial but if you get an untruth (on it) it can be very dangerous,” he said.

As brass necks go, Timothy Melgund must be in for a shot in the 2012 Olympics. Indeed, it made me wonder: why would they mount such a robust defence unless they were absolutely sure the design was not only copied but that Hidden Eloise herself might have been the one doing the copying? The wheels on that hypothesis have now fallen off by the admission by the designer of the Paperchase design that she did, in fact, copy it from Hidden Eloise:

When creating the group of designs bellow I used the outline pose of your Hidden Eloise Girl in one of the designs to create a new pose for my princess. I did not intend to copy your character but use its pose to create a new design for my own character, my intention was not to copy your character, I now realise the pose was too close to your Eloise and apologise to you for this, I also apologise to paperchase for the trouble this has caused.

What is disturbing about this whole incident is that Paperchase have left it to both the freelance designer and the design agency who commissioned her to take a bullet on their behalf. Throughout the whole process, Paperchase have insisted that they had reassurances that it wasn’t a copy and that settles the matter. But it doesn’t because it is blatantly obvious that one design is based on the other. They didn’t need lawyers or reassurances to confirm that a wrong had been committed; they just needed eyes and a conscience. Let’s not forget that Hidden Eloise originally raised the issue with Paperchase in November; they had three months to avoid what is now a public relations disaster for them. Their calculation must have been that there was very little that an independent designer of modest means could do to them. Timothy Melgund’s comments on Thursday only reinforce the impression that his primary motivation was to dissemble rather than right a wrong.

That he went running to a rightwing newspaper to give him a sympathetic hearing and trotted out the usual line about Twitter inciting the mob (© 2009 Jan Moir) only makes him even more despicable. This suggests not only contempt for Hidden Eloise but for his customers. Frankly, I would describe it as a Gerald Ratner moment were it not so unfair on Ratner: at least he was only telling the truth.

Whoever lied to who, Paperchase are the big guys in this incident and they are the ones who should have been big about it. To not do so speaks volumes about their ethics and values. I’ve used Paperchase quite a lot over the past few years; they’ve just opened a new shop near where I work and assumed I would go on doing so. After this week, I’ll be making the strenuous effort of walking around the corner in future. Spread the word.

A final thought on copyright: this is yet another example of how existing copyright laws appear to do more for protecting corporate interests than in protecting the rights of artists. The costs of Hidden Eloise bringing forward a court case on this would have been prohibitive, yet record companies feel they can go around threatening their customers with jail – and in some cases pursue court cases against them – merely for downloading a song on a non-commercial basis. Isn’t it time we reassessed this?

PS I’m bookmarking this article in several places not to self-aggrandise but to ensure it is given wider coverage.

UPDATE: For completeness, and because I don’t think it will remain up on the Paperchase website for much longer (it only appears on the “contact us” page), here is Paperchase’s latest – and possible final – public statement on this matter:

Hidden Eloise / Kitty Mason / Gather No Moss

In an attempt to do the right thing and end this episode we want to briefly set out what happened here, offer our sincere apologies to all involved, and go back to operating our business as we have been doing for many years – albeit with a few lessons learnt from this incident. So, please bear with me.

By now, those of our customers and the social networking community who have been following this story, will know the basis of it. However, for the record:

• Paperchase bought a number of pieces of artwork from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
• By the end of November 2009 four items that contained the ‘copied’ image were on sale.
• On 27 November, Hidden Eloise contacted us saying that her work had been plagiarised, and we – as we would always do – went immediately back to our source to verify the claim. In retrospect we should have withdrawn the items from sale while the claim was investigated – our mistake.
• The studio, Gather No Moss, wrote back to us on 1 December stating that the image we had bought “was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s”. Again, in retrospect we should have withdrawn the items, but this was categoric confirmation that we had not been sold a plagiarised image. We assumed we had been told the truth. Another mistake.
• We advised Hidden Eloise of this confirmation on 2 December and heard no more until last Thursday when the accusation on Hidden Eloise’s blog gained worldwide coverage. While we established the “real” truth, we immediately removed all potentially offending items from sale and retraced our thinking. Press reporting could have been more accurate and our attempts to calm the situation through our web announcements met with limited success. Our communication could / should have been better.
• By Friday the truth emerged, and you can read the two statements from Gather No Moss and their freelance illustrator, Kitty Mason, below. This is not about blame, as some have suggested, but a genuine attempt to discover what went wrong. You must decide for yourselves where the faults lie. In retrospect we, Paperchase, are certainly not without blame.

So, we have been chastened by this experience and offer Hidden Eloise, our customers and those from the social network community our sincere apologies that we were not more rigorous in establishing the truth in the first instance.

Finally, please do not take some of the wilder accusations you might have read about our business too seriously. We are absolutely committed to design and independent illustrators alike. We are lucky in that the available artistic skill is so vibrant that it has allowed us to build our business, along with our loyal customer base, to where we are now.

Timothy Melgund
Chief Executive

Gather No Moss and Kitty Mason wish to make the following statements.

Gather No Moss
“Gather No Moss purchased the design known as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ from Kitty Mason in September 2008.
Paperchase bought Kitty Mason’s design from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
At the end of November 2009, the Artist named Hidden Eloise, contacted retailers Paperchase accusing them of plagiarism.
Paperchase contacted Gather No Moss and asked them whether there was any truth in this allegation.
Gather No Moss then asked the designer, Kitty Mason, whether she had copied Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) in her own design.
Kitty Mason clearly stated to Gather No Moss that her ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s” ‘character’ only the pose was the same. Gather No Moss then conveyed this to Paperchase.

We are issuing this statement, to clarify our position and to hope to clear Paperchase of any direct fault.
We apologise unreservedly to Paperchase, their customers and to the artist, Hidden Eloise for this very regrettable sequence of events”.

Kitty Mason
“I created the design known as “Alice in Wonderland” in September 2008. I copied the outline pose of the Hidden Eloise ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) to create a new pose for my ‘character’. I did not intend to copy the girl but use her pose to create a new design for my own ‘character’, I now realise it was wrong to do this.
In November 2009 Gather No Moss contacted me regarding Hidden Eloise’s allegation, I told them that my ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ only the pose was the same.

I would like to offer a full and unreserved apology to Paperchase, their customers, Hidden Eloise and Gather No Moss”.

Liberal Vision concede defeat

Godwin’s law strikes again:

What is more worrying, however, is that an appendage of the state is now a matter of national pride. Daniel Hannan has been called a “traitor”. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what national socialism looks like.

Sara goes on to insist that by “national socialism” she was not, of course, referring to Nazism. Surely any rational person would assume she was referring to all the other ideologies that espouse national socialism. You know, the ones which we refer to as “neo-Nazis.” So, not invoking Godwin’s law at all then, clearly.

UPDATE: I should make it clear that I am referring to the author of the above referred to Liberal Vision article, Sara Scarlett and not Sara Bedford or indeed any other Sara.

Tears for Blears

You can tell it is a slow news day when the BBC decide that a bit of vandalism counts as major national news.

I also have to admit to a bit of sympathy for Hazel Blears. Whichever way you add it up, she is a victim here and doesn’t deserve being paraded on public display in the way that the BBC and the Manchester Evening News have done here. It is neither big nor clever to broadcast that mobile phone footage.

However, my sympathy ran out as soon as I read her statement:

This was an act of anti-social behaviour by some youths, the same kind of anti-social behaviour unfortunately many of my constituents have to put up with.

No it isn’t. It is criminal behaviour. Labour introduced the concept of anti-social behaviour in the run up to the 1997 general election. Before then, it was was a psychiatric term with a precise and narrow definition.

These days it can mean absolutely anything, from not giving up your seat on a bus to cold blooded murder. Ironically, it can even be made to refer to parking on a double-yellow line – something that Blears can clearly be seen to have done. It is a sad testament to Labour’s 12 years in office that senior politicians like Blears feel they can no longer call a spade a shovel and label this a “crime.” Instead they have to resort to this essentially meaningless jargon. This pretty much sums up the failure of Blears’ career as a Blairite Ultra for me.

This obsession with anti-social behaviour has not only lead to an increasing number of people being locked up for no good reason but seems to have left us feeling less safe than ever before. It is a categorical failure. The best thing that could happen after the 2010 general election is for this concept to be buried once and for all and for us to stop criminalising basic naughtiness. But can anyone imagine David Cameron doing that (or, to be fair, even Nick Clegg)?

Airbrushing: will Jo Swinson blind us with science?

Having been away for a week, I didn’t comment on the proposals to ban the airbrushing of models which will be debated at the Lib Dem conference next month.

The real problem about commenting on this is that we have yet to see the full proposals. The Lib Dem blogosphere, particularly the Libertarians, love to get terribly exercised at the prospect of banning things. It’s just not liberal! we are constantly reminded, or more precisely, it is Fundamentally Illiberal (complete with scary looking capitalisation). Personally however, I tend to take a more evidence-based approach before banging on about John fucking Mill (I think the Lib Dems should produce their own God Trumps inspired Liberal Trumps, with the Mill card always winning. It would save a lot of time). Philosophy is always reached for, psychology or sociology almost never. It is as if the last 100 years never happened. More to the point, it is as if dualism was never critiqued. Frankly, if we did all live in a state of complete seperation of mind and body, the libertarians would have a point. The fact that time and again we learn that environmental factors affect behaviour is a problem they have never come to terms with.

With all that said, I remain somewhat sceptical of this proposed policy. What exactly are we going to ban, for example? When Jo Swinson talks about “air brushing” is she talking literally or figuratively? If the idea is some tightening up of existing advertising guidelines, including a general prohibition against promoting an ideal body image to children, then I would look a lot more favourably to it it than a blanket ban on “airbrushing.” There is a real danger of confusing the medium for the message here. Is it really okay to promote images of “perfect” bodies so long as they are produced with the use of lighting and lenses rather than Photoshop?

The proposed rules about advertising aimed at adults sound, if anything, more difficult to regulate. If augmentation is okay so long as it is admitted to, how big will the disclaimer have to be? 8-point text where you won’t notice? A fag packet-proportioned 50%? Will it just be beauty products targeted or all advertising? Will film posters, Photoshopped to within an inch of their lives, have to carry the same disclaimers?

But fundamentally, where is the evidence behind any of this? Thus far, the only statistic I’ve seen anywhere is a 47% increase in under-18s admitted to hospital for anorexia or bulimia treatment. That is clearly bad, but is it a spike or a trend? And what evidence is there that such a ban would change behaviour?

In the case of restrictions on smoking there was a lot of evidence produced, over decades. You might quibble about some of it. You might argue that we went too far, or that we acted too slowly. But the debate was evidence-led. What I haven’t seen thus far is anything to suggest that a ban like this would achieve anything. What would an airbrushing ban achieve that won’t be immediately be undone by all those Barbies, Bratz and Disney Princesses? You don’t need photographs to sell fantasy to children (or indeed anyone).

I’m not against bans in principle. If a judicious ban or restriction here and there can help people exercise their own personal judgement instead of being influenced by a bombardment of propaganda, then in principle it is the only liberal thing to do. But it has to be evidence-based and in most cases I’m not convinced there really is that much evidence out there at the moment. I have yet to be convinced that the new Lib Dem policy paper is going to make a case for restricting “airbrushing” – here’s hoping that it contains, to quote the immortal words of Jennifer Aniston, a pretty damn meaty “science bit.”

WARNING! Reading this blog could make you fat.

I was otherwise occupied last night. If I hadn’t been, I’d have joined in with the chorus of disapproval regarding Nuffield Health and Prof Michael McMahon’s pop at fat ‘role models‘ (see also the Metro’s coverage).

What to add that Costigan and Carol haven’t already said (or for that matter, Susie Orbach and Phill Jupitus)? Merely that the links between the diet/’fitness’ industry and the current obesity panic is one of the most under-reported scandals of our modern age.

It hasn’t gone completely unreported. I blogged about the Independent’s expose of The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (which was quickly wound up thereafter, although you can still find their muddy footprints all over teh internets). TOAST was established by LighterLife who managed to rope Sandra Gidley into a gobsmackingly ill-advised press stunt which involved her walking around in a fat suit* (this exercise apparently proved that I am incapable of tying my own shoelaces – all it really proved is that Sandra must be considerably less fit than me). This latest bit of hate-filled PR by Nuffield only demonstrates quite how brazen they feel they can get away with being.

I get angry about all this because I know how it would have affected the younger me and thus I’m pretty sure how all this affects overweight children and teenagers today. When I look at old photos of my I’m amazed at how relatively unfat I actually was. If only I knew that then. I used to find it hard to imagine how an anorexic could look at themselves in a mirror and see themselves as larger than they really are – until I realised that I did that every day when I was in my teens and twenties.

And aside from Prof. McMahon and his gastric bands, or LighterLife and their magical yoghurts, what actual help is there out there? For me, it was a dietician who told me off for not looking after myself and gave me helpful advice like “if you feel like eating a chocolate bar, eat a digestive biscuit instead.”

These days, I appear to beyond medical help. The last two times I’ve registered at a doctor I’ve been too heavy for the scales – so even if BMI wasn’t totally bogus, they can’t actually tell me what my rating is. Yet I’m rarely the fattest person sitting in the waiting room. So what’s going on? How can the NHS lecture people about the obesity epidemic when they can’t even be bothered to actually measure how much people weigh?

Even the Wii Fit can’t help. I gamely stepped on our nice new one last week only for the computer to order me off and delete my records. Thanks a bunch. Real motivational that one.

The diet and fitness industry is established to make money out of the excessively vain and the desperate. If you fit into neither category, you are just fair game as far as they’re concerned. Like so many other aspects of modern living, they preach individualistic solutions to a phenomenon that is – if anything – a social problem. Walk through Chapel Market, as I do every day, and you’ll notice that most of the obese people you walk passed are from the local estate not executives from the nearby office buildings. Obesity and poverty go hand in hand, yet we are constantly assured that it is all the fault of individuals for eating too much despite evidence to suggest that diets simply don’t work.

I’m not sure that enough has been done to look into the links between mental health and obesity. There does appear to be a link with depression (and indeed a link between mental health and equality). Every week there appears to be new research about the placebo and nocebo effects – suggesting that the role the mind has over the body is still only dimly understood. It is odd that we are expected to believe that people like Beth Ditto and James Corden are such role models to their fellow fatties, yet the idea that obesity might be linked to self-esteem is ignored by the same people.

Either way, there must surely be something sick about a society that seems to simultaneously think that obesity is caused by over eating and can be solved by even more consumption.

One pig flu over the cuckoo’s nest

We are officially now in the grip of a new panic. Quite how justified all this screaming and shouting about swine influenza is remains to be seen, but there is certainly a lot of secondary nonsense starting to form.

My favourite thus far is the Israel government’s insistence that it should be renamed “Mexican flu” on the basis that pigs are not kosher. Are we to infer from that that eating Mexicans is Okay?

I’ve written about this strange mutation of Jewish (and Islamic) dietary law into a perverted list of “animals which must not be mentioned” before. A couple of years ago there was the bizarre attempt to replace the Three Little Pigs with dogs in a school play (the council apparently “stepped in” and insisted the heroes were porcine). My favourite remains the finger wagging Labour got in 2005 for portraying Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin as “flying pigs” by, erm, the Ham and High (the local paper for a sizeable proportion of North London jews). None of this seems to have anything to do with religion and everything to do with people (either religious people themselves or silly people claiming to speak on their behalf) going out of their way to find offence in nothing. And it seems to be getting worse. I am quite certain that if Leon the Pig Farmer were made today, a combination of the media and a small bunch of hopping idiots would have lead to it being branded as anti-semitic. The idea that religious people have an inalienable right to not be offended is still only believed by a minority of people, but that minority seems to be growing, getting louder and become increasingly irrational.

There is absolutely no connection between pigs and Judaism (they aren’t actually mentioned in the Torah) except in the mind of someone who can’t get over the fact that the latter don’t eat the former despite the deliciousness that is bacon. It is no more offensive to Jews to talk about pigs as it would be to talk about rabbits or elephants (or indeed pretty much any animal which Jews can’t eat – i.e. most of them). Yet strangely, people like Yakov Litzman seem to now be making the connection themselves. Ultimately, the only thing that all this hypersensitivity seems to achieve is to give true anti-semites another stick to beat Jews with.

Go back a hundred years ago, and the images of choice for anti-semites were spiders and octopi. We were meant to associate Jews with alien, many tentacled creatures spinning webs of deceit. Portraying them as cute, wuddly piggy-wiggies – at least as far as I am aware – simply didn’t come into it. Yet start shouting foul every time a pig appears in popular culture, and you can bet the BNP et al will leap at every opportunity to goad.

Why on Earth would you want to arm your true enemies like that? And why on Earth would you want to muddy the water between your true enemies and your friends in this way? It is a perverse form of madness.

Addendum: I have to admit to being entertained by this related web page which I came across (I was going to make a gag about man flu, but the Mexican joke was better), for two reasons. Firstly, it seems unaware of the commandment against murder, which one would have thought prohibits most opportunities for cannibalism straight away. Secondly, Leviticus does in fact prohibit man from eating any animal from eating any animal which doesn’t have cloven hooves or chew cud but pointing that out would mean admitting that humans are animals and that most Christians ignore the Bible when it comes to dietary laws in the first place. And I love the conclusion that cannibalism is okay so long as there’s nothing else on the menu. Who writes these things?

Addendum 2: I’m a little uncomfortable, by the way, at this talk of equating references to usury with disguised anti-semitism. Usury has a lot to answer for – and is explicitly prohibited by the Torah. The only reason we historically find jews specialising in banking is that is one of the few professions Europeans allowed them to perform back in the day when the church actually enforced those particular laws. I don’t doubt that the BNP do use it in a coded way, but I hope that won’t be used as an excuse to stifle debate about economic reform.

To prevent a riot, it was necessary to cause one

Very busy at the moment and haven’t had time to sit down and really work out what I think about the police handling of the protests on Wednesday. So instead, here are a few random links. First, an eye witness account by Tom Brake:

Danny Finkelstein thoroughly disapproved of Brake and company doing this, as Stephen Tall relates.

Justin McKeating has a number of useful links on the subject.

John O’Connor meanwhile makes the case for the police.

As for my own view? John O’Connor’s article made my blood boil. What it amounts to is a refutation of the right to protest. At all. His argument is that the police should always engage in “massive overkill” because it prevents potential injury and damage to property. It is a defence that can, and increasingly is, used to justify everything. Jack Bauer with a truncheon. The fact that it causes inconvenience and even distress on the 95%+ of the people who are there for peaceful reasons is treated with disdain.

Let’s not forget that the police have been hyping the 1 April protests for weeks; indeed they were telling anyone who would listen that the violence would break out on the 28 March demos. This is, they are set on telling every journalist they can get their hands on, is the start of a “summer of rage.”

This media advance hype appeared to only serve two very negative purposes. The first was to scare people away. That means that the thugs make up a greater proportion of the crowd. As a casual observer, I have no evidence of this, but it does appear that violence in protests tends to break out either when the protest is small or when a breakaway faction goes off the beaten path. The larger a demonstration, the more peaceful it tends to be. Is it police policy to take steps to ensure that protests are small and violent as opposed to large and peaceful?

The other factor, and again I am no social scientist so view this with caution, is to question whether such media coverage actually incites violence. Ben Goldacre pointed to research into this regarding suicide last week. Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe pointed to research at how media coverage incites school shootings. This is all becoming quite well understood in other areas. To what extent are the police and their media collaborators actually inciting the violence they are “warning” us of?

This is an issue the Police Complaints Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee ought to be looking into.

Finally, rightly or wrongly, a man died. Again, rightly or wrongly, thousands of people had their liberties restricted. Just why is it that the Damien Green affair generated weeks of headlines while the best most newspapers seem to be able to do is put out misleading accounts (several now withdrawn) reminiscent of the Sheffield Hillsborough Sun coverage claiming that the protestors hurled bricks and bottles at the police trying to help the dying man? Why the fuck are Parliamentarians and journalists (plenty of notable exceptions, yes, but I suspect they would be the first to agree with me in the generality) not doing their fucking jobs?

But look! Doesn’t Michelle Obama look sensational in that dress! Ooh! And JK Rowling read excerpts from her childrens book to a bunch of politicians’ wives – all over 40…

Calm as Hindu cows

Jonathan Calder and I have a different take on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” phenomenon. I have to admit that until I had read the Guardian article yesterday, this whole thing had passed me by. Now that I am aware, I don’t find it as charming and comforting as some of the commentators do in the piece by Jon Henley.

“Carrying on” is a much overrated concept. The fact is we can’t carry on as we have done for the past twenty, thirty years. The economic collapse was caused by people spending far too much time “keeping calm and carrying on” instead of questioning what they were doing. Climate change is a similar tragedy waiting to happen. In whose interest is all this “calm” supposed to serve?

Jonathan draws a link with the Metropolitian Police’s new anti-terror poster campaign, something which I found myself commenting on as an “expert” on LBC on Monday (I’d put a recording up here, but they’d probably sue me). Where Jonathan sees a change, I see a clear continuity – it’s just that the Met are now being rather less classically understated.

Given that we have not, as far as I’m aware, in a more vulnerable situation than we were six months ago, one has to ask why the police have suddenly come up with this campaign now. Could it, perchance, be related to this “summer of rage” stuff the Met are also pushing at the moment, or the apparent “guerilla” raids anti-globalisation protestors will be deploying during the G20 summit? Is it really about preventing terrorism or ratcheting up the sense of fear on the streets? Are the police really focusing on collecting intelligence about terrorists at the moment, or protestors?

I was shocked to learn the other day that my intern was stopped and questioned by the police under anti-terror legislation on Tuesday because she was waiting on a tube platform and, realising she was early for an appointment, decided not to get on the next train to arrive. She was left intimidated and scared. What was the point of that? Is not getting on a train really potential terrorist activity? Does it help their statistics to arbitrarily pick on white females (as opposed to the black and brown males they usually profile – as another of my colleagues can attest)? Does word getting around of a bit of arbitrary bullying like that help the Met create a heightened sense?

This sort of sneering bullying from the state seems to extend in other areas to. Even the latest Home Office campaign on the new “Policing Pledge” – which is supposed to be about how the public have a right to expect a certain level of service from the police – is being conducted in a vaguely sinister manner. On the back page of the Guardian yesterday was an advert bearing the legend “You have the right not to remain silent” (you may recall that we had the right to silence taken away from us 15 years ago by those great civil libertarians, the Conservative Party last time they were in power). Other slogans used include “We’d like to give you a good talking to” and “Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence”. Subtext: you are all suspects, fuckers. The most striking thing about this advert was the design they used, which is an explicit homage to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” And so we have come full circle.

The Home Secretary: an unacceptable risk?

I can’t help but feel that this statement reveals all too much about the mental state of our beloved Home Secretary:

Speaking during Home Office questions in the House of Commons, Ms Smith said: “I’ve spoken to him this morning about his comments. I’ve told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article reported.”

She added: “I’m sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.

“For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs.”

Ms Smith also said: “I made clear to Professor Nutt that I felt his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect of him as the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

“He apologised to me for his comments and I’ve asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy.”

No-one is questioning the validity of Professor Nutt’s statistics; indeed they are a matter of public record. However, simply mentioning them in the same paragraph is enough to get an “independent” advisor publicly excoriated. Talk about inconvenient truths.

If nothing else sums up madness raging within the Home Office and other government departments then this does the job. Faced with the choice between a hard headed risk assessment and an unquantifiable dread, Jacqui Smith goes for the fear and loathing every time. It reminded me of her petulant whinging at the end of the 42 days debate (which she lost). At least with our war on terror (which of course officially isn’t a war any more), they can hide behind that amorphous thing called “national security”. With the war on drugs (still officially a war as far as I know), she has no such safeguard.

Yet the fact is that you are more likely to die of ecstacy, however low those odds may be, than be killed by a terrorist. Think of all the billions of pounds, all those liberties compromised, all that unneccessary fear aroused, for something that remains an extremely low risk. A something that is intended to spread fear and dread and thus fulfils its objective if governments react in this way.

People die on the roads, fall off horses and die of preventable diseases every day. Smith accuses Prof Nutt of “trivialising” the deaths of ecstacy users, but since when were those deaths more significant than all the others? Ignoring the real risks of drug use (and terrorism) is to fetishise it. If anyone is in the business of trivialising deaths, it is Smith.

The Daily Mail: the paper for pervs

I’m struggling to avoid writing about the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair, but it has to be said that the Daily Mail really do take the biscuit on this one. In it, Georgina Baillie calls for Brand and Ross to be sacked for leaving her grandfather ‘utterly horrified and disgusted’ after ringing him up and claiming that Brand has slept with her. Of course, it happens to be true and the Mail see fit to print several pictures of Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter which might conceivably also ‘horrify’ and ‘disgust’ him, but sod that – BURN THE WITCHES!

To be fair though, that story is being printed in most tabloids today. It is to another story we must turn if we want to really uncover the dark heart of Dacre. Today the Mail also prints a story about teachers having sexual relationships with their pupils. Under the headline “Dear Sir, I really thought you loved me…,” it includes several soft focus pictures of girls in school uniforms and paragraphs like this one:

Awkwardly, 14-year-old Laura Walker sat down on the log, among the dark trees, her thigh just brushing against that of her 32-year-old teacher, Steven Edwards.

‘I had butterflies inside my tummy,’ she says. ‘I knew what was coming.’

The mature man bent his head and kissed the young teenager – ‘snogged’ is the word she uses.

‘I was so excited,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t believe that he was interested in me, but he was clearly showing that he was. The kiss was very passionate.’

Do we really need this level of detail and flowery prose in an article which is supposed to be about exposing child abuse? This isn’t the first time I’ve read stories in the Mail which are ostensibly censorious but appear more than a little salacious. I recall reading an article about an actress a couple of years ago who was apparently raising her child with a gay man which went into an inordinate amount of detail about her physical characteristics and naked frollicking.

But the killer, for me, is the change in tone when the story examines the case of a female teacher sleeping with a male pupil:

Looking at Dean Dainty – a normal, spiky-haired, slightly scruffy schoolboy – you wonder how any grown woman could think it appropriate to view him as a sexual being.

The relationship began when Dean was 15 and the teacher gave him a mobile phone ‘for doing so well in her class’.

On it, he found her own personal mobile number, and they began texting each other. The texts quickly became sexual. No doubt the schoolboy could not believe that this pretty, blonde teacher might be interested in him.

‘We arranged to meet up, and she swore me to secrecy,’ he says.

He went to after-school break-dancing sessions with her, and she took him into a pub.

The affair was clandestine, with the pair – Dean was by now 16 – snatching sex wherever they felt they would not get caught.

Where are the references to his thighs? Or the talk about how ‘passionate’ their kisses were?

This ambiguous attitude towards paedophilia is of course nothing new in the Mail – it was one of the things that Chris Morris’ Brass Eye Special a few years ago both parodied and highlighted in its immediate aftermath. But we should never forget that these self-appointed guardians of moral virtue are uncomfortably close in attitude to the very people they claim to be condemning.