Daily Archives: 3 September 2007

Fighting Fat is Pie in the Sky

It’s a good job I was staying at a hotel on Saturday because if I’d been in the privacy of my own house, I’d have probably put my foot through the telly watching News 24’s coverage of the so-called “fat epidemic“.

Apparently, 50% of boys will be obese by 2050. This is one of those nonsense statistics where you take the current trend and just continue it across time until you have a satisfactorily scary sounding soundbite to regurgitate ad nauseum.

In reality, I suspect that even if climate change doesn’t radically alter all our eating and exercise habits by that time, it will plateau at a much lower rate.

The BBC coverage (which I can’t seem to find online) was something else. At one point, a health worker went on camera lamenting that boys didn’t have role models such as Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham to encourage them to stay thin (I swear I’m not making this up). Another one complained that it is already too late to solve the problem.

Want to reduce obesity in this country? Well, take it from a fat bastard: the best way to do this is to shoot every health specialist and nutritionist. That includes Jamie Fucking Oliver. These people are paid serious amounts of cash to make fat people feel bad about themselves. The response? More comfort eating.

When I was a teenager, I was taken to a nutritionist. Her helpful advice was the tell me that if I didn’t do something about my weight problem I’d have heart problems by the time I was thirty (still seems to be ticking okay), and that her magic solution was for me to eat digestive biscuits every time I wanted a choccie bar. All going to see that nutritionist achieved was to make me feel bad about myself and to reinforce the notion that I was fat. Looking back at photos of myself back then, relatively speaking, I was certainly chunky but nothing compared to the Goodyear Blimp I am now. Yet in addition to the casual playground bullying and name calling, which was generally easy to handle, I had to deal with institutionalised bullying and name calling, which wasn’t. I became utterly insecure, ran away from the rugby team, gave up the one sport I actually felt comfortable doing (swimming), and generally became a fat caricature.

If society wants to sort out its obesity problem, the simplest solution is just to stop obsessing about it. This obesity epidemic industry has nothing to do with the interests of people who have serious weight issues, and everything to do with the egos, paychecks and sadism of those who enjoy peddling doomsday scenarios.

Get tough on the fear of crime

One of the things that most irritated me about the Orange Book a few years ago was David Laws hectoring the Lib Dems for not doing enough to acknowledge how the fear of crime affects people’s daily lives (I paraphrase as I don’t have the book in front of me right now). Boris Johnson made a similar comment during the launch for his bid for London Mayor today and last week the Observer wrote:

The state cannot order civil society back into being, but it can facilitate the process. A first step is to recognise fear of crime is not irrational just because recorded crime is down. It is a reasonable response by a public feeling remote from the police.

Nonsense. Well, half nonsense. Because it is certainly true that the fear of crime is a debilitating thing, and that it needs to be dealt with. But we will only be able to get a grip on it once we recognise that it is indeed irrational, and stop pretending otherwise.

If the fear of something is greatly out of proportion to the possibility that it might happen, then that fear is irrational, full stop. All parties have been going on about the semi-mythical “bobbies on the beat” for decades, yet it is simply impossible to have a policeman on every street corner, at all times. The level at which a visible police force would start to ‘reassure’ the public would be simply unattainable. Spending a fortune on recruiting, training and retaining policemen who will then be given nothing more to do than walk around to ‘reassure’ people would be simply silly.

It simply isn’t good enough for parties and journalists to persist with this line. We don’t need the police to reclaim the streets, as the Observer suggests, but the public to. How we tackle such a seemingly intractable notion is the big question, but by asking it we might just find the answer.

One thing we, as a society, might try is to reverse the trend towards viewing anti-social behaviour as criminality. 12 years ago, we had more crime, but no-one knew what anti-social behaviour was. One of New Labour’s most pernicious legacies has been to convince people that naughtiness, rowdiness and petty vandalism is something the police should handle when in the past it was something the community itself sorted out. The more we concentrate on anti-social behaviour, the worse it seems. We can never win the war on anti-social behaviour because it is so mutable: unless all young people transform into angels en masse, there will always be someone doing something that upsets someone.

Worse, it seems to have created an antagonism towards the police that eclipses even the attitude when I was a teenager. I remember my sixth form being chased down Bromley High Street by coppers with dogs simply because the landlord at a pub we had paid to hold a party at smelt a spliff. That was a moronic over-reaction by the boys in blue. Now they are charged with enforcing curfews on any kid who doesn’t look like they have a place to go. You couldn’t invent a better system for alienating young people from authority if you tried.

I’m sure that round the edges there are things that governments could do to sort this unholy mess out, but ultimately it is up to all of us to actually turn this situation around. In my view, we need to develop a mass participation consciousness-raising campaign such as Full Stop or Make Poverty History, to persuade people that they are the agents of their own destiny, that they need to take responsibility over their own children and that they need to rebuild the adult solidarity. Such a campaign, if it could be made a success, would be one of the most liberating mass movements in our history. As such, it would inevitably come up against a political and cultural establishment – politicians, the police and of course the tabloid press which would all be emasculated by it.

How could we achieve such a thing? Haven’t the foggiest, sorry. Answers on a postcard please. All I know is that the alternative – to continue indulging the fear of crime – leads to a vicious circle of self-destructive madness.

In the meantime, I suggest we can make a start by doing things such as getting former policemen who admit to finding the concept of anarchism appealing elected as London Mayor. Just an idea.

Why Islington Labour are the most appalling hypocrites

There’s been some hoohaa recently about Emily Thornberry MP buying up former housing association property at auction. Interestingly, she denies it is an investment, claiming the property will be used to, as Ms Thornberry puts it, “provide cheap and cheerful accommodation for some young people,” while the Islington Tribune article that appears in suggests it will be used for renting out to her “Parliamentary aides”. Does this mean she will be subsidising staff income by providing subsidised property? If so, my reading of the PPERA 2000 is that she will need to declare it as a donation in kind, either to Islington Labour or her Parliamentary Office.

All rather cheeky for someone who has adopted such a high moral tone about Islington’s housing crisis. But the fact is, Labour’s muddle over social housing in Islington doesn’t end there.

The latest episode in the council’s decision to sell off its commercial property portfolio is that apparently 50% of existing residents have either declined to buy their property, or failed to stump up the cash in time. I can see why these shop owners are nervous; Structadene’s bid does indeed appear to have been over the odds and they can expect to see major rent increases. I could bore you for hours about how the existing system gives rich landholders enormous benefits by enabling them to speculatively drive up the price of property and effectively squeeze the little guy out and increasing their property portfolio still further (in fact, if you are a long-term reader, I probably have). Perhaps Structadene will be model landlords and that the shop keepers who missed out were simply badly advised. Either way, the council has a legal obligation to sell to the highest bidder (courtesy: HM Labour Government), and will be using a substantial proportion of the money raised from this sale to invest in social housing.

Given that Structadene’s bid was so high, you would have thought Labour would be delighted. After all, back in April they were demanding that the District Auditor should investigate claims that the council was flogging these properties “on the cheap“. In the event, the money raised from this sale is £69m – £9m more than the optimistic forecasts. Now they’ve done a huge, vaulting, 180-degree U-turn and are claiming to be the resident’s new best friends. It really does beggar belief.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Aaron Sorkin, at his best, has produced some fantastic television. The West Wing, for all its flaws, had some great moments and is remarkable as one of the few pieces of drama that presented politicians as sympathetic human beings.

I’ve now watched the first six episodes Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and I like it, but whether it could have extended beyond its first season is open to question. It seems to be already running out of steam.

The fact that it tackles the subject of live TV comedy with the same reverence as the top tier of US politics is simultaneously ridiculous and sublime. The show has already demonstrated how its initial conceit allows them the opportunity to explore big themes about American culture and where it is headed. Even some of Sorkin’s worst habits, such as his apparent dictum that no problem exists in the world that is so difficult that it can’t be solved by an inspiring speech in the final act, sort of works in this context because in the context of a TV show it is the performance that counts.

The latest episode to be shown in the UK however, was almost parodic. It concerned several plot strands:

  • One of the performers shows his parents around the studio, and it emerges that a) he has a communication problem with his father and b) they’re very worried that his younger brother is fighting in Afghanistan.
  • Danny (aka Josh) tries to hook Matt (aka Chandler) up with some girls to get his mind off the Love of His Life who turn out to be vacuous airheads.
  • The Love of Matt/Chandler’s Life spends the evening with a baseball player who is opposite to him in every way. Opposite to the extent that he comes onto someone else.
  • Matt/Chandler is taken to a club by Token Black Lead to talent scout a comedian who turns out to be doing the same Angry Black Man act that Eddie Murphy ripped off Richard Pryor. Cue heartfelt monologue about living in Da Hood. But, hurrah! It turns out that there is another black comedian who is intelligent and sensitive (but not very funny). He gets recruited on the spot. This character is not in any way similar to Charlie in the West Wing. Honest – he wears glasses and everything!
  • An elderly man is caught sneaking around the backlot. It turns out that he was a World War II hero and writer for Studio 60 in the 50s, but got Blacklisted during the McCarthyist purges. Cue: swelling music and lots of leaden comparisons between Then and Now.

Can you spot the plotline that isn’t a hackneyed load of dingo’s kidneys? Trick question – there isn’t one! Add to that Amanda Peet continuing to flail around completely out of her depth and the fact that Bradley Whitford (see, I do know his real name) still isn’t being used to anything like his full potential and you have the TV equivalent of popcorn – tastes vaguely sweet but completely unsubstantial pap.

All you needed to make this a totally Sorkin episode was a moody scene in which a character stared out of a window while the rain pours down to signify torment. But this being set in LA, I suppose that wouldn’t be practical.

In short, if you have to resort to this kind of by-the-numbers plotting by episode 6, it’s no wonder it didn’t survive past its initial run.