Friday, March 31, 2006

A Man And A Woman

In a letter to The Irish Times the other day, that I can't find on the website, a woman from the National Women's Council of Ireland appealed for people to sign their online petition, which calls for:

"All sporting bodies, including FIFA and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) to publicly disassociate themselves from the sexual exploitation of women around sporting events and to affirm the dignity and human rights of all women."

and:

"The Irish government to put the issue of trafficking in women for prostitution and the human rights abuses and violence associated with that, on the agenda for the next EU Council of Ministers (Justice and Home Affairs) in Luxembourg on April 27th/28th 2006."

I've signed the petition.

Now the second one of those is a no-brainer, there's been a few newspaper specials and news reports of this, it really is a vile abuse of people, and it's why I've signed it and forwarded the link to friends.

But I'm not so sure about the first proposition. For a start why should FIFA or any sporting body have to publicly disassociate themselves from prostitution? It might seem reasonable until it's suggested that the GAA, for example, should disassociate themselves publicly from Stringfellows if a bunch of Kerry fans intend heading in on All Ireland weekend, then it seems slightly ridiculous. Should every concert promoter in the country publicly disassociate themselves from the taking of illegal drugs? And so what if FIFA do - does it make a blind bit of difference to what's going to happen?... "We hope you enjoy our tournament, we know we've enough on our plates trying to ensure you don't all kick the crap out of each other, but we'd like to remind you that we would also frown on your intention to pay a woman for sex".

I'm also pretty sure there are women who genuinely choose - under no pressure, threat or intimidation - to be prostitutes, strippers, lapdancers and so on. It says the "NWCI views prostitution as sexual exploitation, in which women – legally or not – are physically and psychologically harmed." Well, if the studies exist to comprehensively back that statement up, then OK. But surely it's a woman's right to choose (ensuring, of course, she's in a position to do so), aren't we always getting told that?

I just think they've blurred the issues unnecessarily on this one, kind of like the way attempts are made to lump drug users in with the gun-toting nutcases trying to control the supply trade. People trafficking is a present and growing crime against humanity in itself. The debate on prostitution should be separate.

UPDATE: The Observer ran another focus piece on the topic of sex-trafficking yesterday.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Complete Control

Following the Arse's pretty fantastic display last night in battering The Old Lady of Turin, the English media's reaction was more than a little predictable. Here, in all its glory, is possibly the easiest Private Eye-esque satire of the papers this year...

'Since last August, readers may have had the impression that we believed Arsene Wenger had erred spectacularly in selling Patrick Vieira. This may have been reinforced by our repeated claims that Arsenal were too lightweight in midfield without Vieira and lacked the necessary fight to win matches etc etc.

'Following Arsenal's win over Juventus, in which Vieira's ageing legs were shown up by young Cesc Fabregas, we would like to confirm that we always knew that Arsene knew best and it was obvious that Vieira’s legs had gone and that Arsenal had pulled off a masterstroke by selling the Frenchman for £13m last summer.

'We would like to apologise for any misunderstandings that may have occurred.'

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Drug-Stabbing Time

The drug company Pfizer (the world's largest drug company as a result of years of growth by acquisition) announced today that one of their new drugs, Lyrica, has been approved for the treatment of General Anxiety Disorder in Europe. You may not have hear of General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD as the inevitable acronym will be. That's because, until drug companies needed to find a new drug that lots of people could be persuaded they need to prop up the share price, GAD would have been known to the world as 'being a bit worried' or 'being a bit tense'.

Now however, it has come to light that "an estimated 12 million patients in Europe suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, a common and chronic psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive worry and tension". Forgive my cynicism... “GAD is much more than the normal anxiety people experience under times of stress. It is a chronic, debilitating illness that can greatly disrupt an individual’s daily life, yet the disorder is undertreated,” said Dr. Stuart Montgomery, Professor of Psychiatry, Imperial College School of Medicine, University of London. I wonder how much he was paid to say that. Pfizer go on to claim that "The direct annual healthcare costs associated with GAD in Europe are approximately $1.5 billion." Of course it is.

It's not that I don't believe the drug is effective; it's that I believe that popping pills every time you don't feel great is simply wrong. As much as I despise charlatan homeopaths, acupuncturists and other quacks for deluding people into temporary feelings of wellbeing, I despise the drug companies for inventing vague ailments and using the power of suggestion to persuade people to pressurise their GPs into prescribing drugs they really don't need.

The sad thing is that Lyrica appears to be a very effective treatment for a real condition - Postherpetic Neuralgia (acronym PHN!), basically severe nerve pain post-Shingles. But definable physical disorders like that don't bring in the bucks. There's not that many people around that can be convinced they are suffering with severe nerve pain; there is, however, plenty of people around that can be convinced that the worry or tension they suffer is a medical issue that should be treated with drugs. Not right.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Overpowered By Funk

The thing about this years Electric Picnic line-up to date is that there is no single act that I love to attract me to the festival, before I get to know some of the other stuff. Now, seeing as I'm going to be in Stuttgart anyway... C'MON IRELAND..., I'm quite glad - but, as I loved last years festival so much, I'm still a bit disappointed in a way. Also three days is just daft.

As for the, apparently Damian Rice inspired, BIG TREE... "Surrounded by leafy oaks The Big Tree is a party in balance with nature. Combining late night acoustic music and dancing with a restful daytime area in the shade of the trees, The Big Tree will be carbon neutral and full of delicious organic food, drink & craic – satiate yourself without a negative impact on the environment other people or yourself. Enjoy nature, the arts and the human spirit and relax into the inner peace."... the word Molotov springs to mind! God-damn hippies...

In the meantime, to get over my festival dissapointments, I have bought tickets for Razorlight and Hard-Fi in Dublin, WOO HOO!, and Editors in Cork, WOO HOO! again. The Razorlight gig is on in three weeks and I only found out when I browsed to Ticketmaster this morning. Am I gonna have to start buying Hot Press? Say it ain't so! I'll also look out for Radiohead tickets even though I've bought nothing of theirs since OK Computer managed to hack me off back in '97. The Bends is still class, though.

UPDATE:
Ian O' Doherty in the Indo is on the same wavelength... "Just to get things right in my head, punk did happen, didn't it? Weren't we supposed to have hunted down and killed these type of people years ago?" Amen, brother!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Oh. My. God.

This is the most barrel-scratchingly awful concept I may ever have come across. There should be laws. No really, someone should be imprisoned for this. And tortured. And killed. I'm tempted to believe that it's all supposed to be a bit of fun, or whatever, and for charidee; but I'm sorry (and I don't mean to be generally offensive) you have to be a retard to watch something like this...

"The line-up for RTÉ's new reality show 'Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels' will be announced in Dublin later today.

The Marty Whelan-hosted show, which begins on RTÉ One at 6.30pm on Sunday 26 March, will feature seven celebrity contestants facing off against each other in a bid to impress the judges and the voting public with their Irish Dancing skills.

The judges for the show are Jean Butler, Colin Dunne, George Hook and Robert O'Byrne, with each contestant partnered and tutored by a professional Irish Dancer.

Each contestant will dance to a contemporary Irish rock and pop soundtrack, including U2, Van Morrison, The Thrills, Paddy Casey and Divine Comedy.

After each show the public will be able to vote for their favourite contestant, with the results broadcast after the 9 o'clock news.

Each contestant will represent a charity chosen by them, with the majority of money raised during tele-voting going to the charity.

Three contestants will battle it out in the Grand Final on Sunday 30 April."

UPDATE:

Sweet Jebus...

23 March 2006
Jigs 'n' Reels contestants revealed

The line-up for RTE's new reality show 'Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels has been revealed, with boxer Michael Carruth and former Eurovision star Dana among those taking part.

Joining them in donning their Irish Dancing shoes will be television presenter Emma O'Driscoll, 'Fair City' star Killian O'Sullivan (Lorcan Foley), tenor Paul Byrom, costume designer Jen Kelly and beautician Suzanne Walsh, who also starred in 'The Salon'.

The Marty Whelan-hosted show, which begins on RTÉ One at 6.30pm on Sunday 26 March, will feature the seven celebrity contestants facing off against each other in a bid to impress the judges and the voting public with their Irish Dancing skills..."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If Music Could Talk

...it would say why the hell are the two big festivals, Oxegen and Electric Picnic, on the same weekends as the World Cup Final and Ireland's away trip to Germany? Fudge (I've stopped cursing). Anyway Electric Picnic is definitely out and I'll only go to the Saturday of Oxegen, unless they're going to show the final somehow. In the meantime I'm going to see The Flaws tonight in Cork.

The Magnificent Seven

Well that was facile. Still, they're nicely setup for the visit of the toffeeshite at the weekend.

I've avoided mentioning the egg-chasing 'til now because I don't want to make it quite so obvious that I've a chip on my shoulder. In truth I did, sort of, enjoy the game on Saturday - although watching the repeated stamping when an opponent was the 'wrong side' by Irish players (yes, I know it's legit, doesn't mean I have any respect for such a rule); and knowing the English forwards were up to all sorts of biting, eye-gouging and testicle squeezing in the mockery of sport that is a scrum; plus a good few swung punches for good measure - tempered my green-tinted paddywhackery somewhat.

Watching one fat rugger bugger calling an even fatter rugger bugger a fat james blunt was pretty funny, though. Also watching people going mental over winning the Beaten by France trophy was funny too. Roy Keane must be turning in his grave. The one thing that doesn't bother me is the row over the anthem. The IRFU have taken the approach for years to use Ireland's Call at away games instead of the National Anthem to keep the Nordie Unionists on board. Excepting for a moment that the song itself is a pile of insipid toss, written by an insipid tosser; that seems perfectly reasonable. Obviously the band-wagon jumpers who've come on board in the last couple of years don't agree, but being band-wagon jumpers the fuss will die down when France and England sort out their club scene annd start thrashing Ireland again.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Drowning Man

Markham's year is finally up and, as suspected, he hasn't exactly taken back to the drink like a duck to water. The review is certainly interesting. I didn't drink a whole pile in the three months before Christmas, but I've been overdoing it for the last 6 weeks or so and am feeling the draining results. His comment that "No matter where you are, after about 11.30, there's really no point to it. There's no-one to talk to, and if you're in town you're paying through the nose for drinks you're probably going to have spilled on you anyway. You don't meet anyone, you can't chat to anyone, and you don't feel like dancing, particularly in a nightclub of people drunk enough that they can't smell their own farts." rings very true.

I won't give it up but first of all I'm going to cut from pints back to bottles and then I'm going to finally give up the going to clubs at 1am craic that I've been at for years and is ALWAYS a waste of time. Man-breasts are a danger if I'm not careful!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Silver And Gold

Cork has gone Pyramid-scheme crazy. People who you would consider sane, or at least sane by Cork standards, get a crazed glint in the eye as soon as the topic comes up. People are attending meetings in pubs, clubs and parish halls; all being regaled with stories of neighbours getting rich quick. It seems that the one thing around here to drive people wild with jealousy is the belief that people are getting money for nothing. Though I'll admit I'm biased - as I've long since concluded that the meanness displayed in Cork would put any Cavan-man to shame!...

"Investigating gardaí say they have been taken aback by the pace at which the scheme has spread. In Cork city, meetings are taking place once or twice a week and there was trouble at one of those meetings last Thursday night when several hundred people turned up at a hotel on the outskirts of the city."

This is pretty astounding stuff as anything but a cursory glance at the system shows that wealth is never created. All that happens is that you gift €5,000, or whatever, to a stranger in the hope that eight other people turn around and gift you a total of €40,000. You have to hope that those people are willing to assume another 64 people will make the same investment. On and on it goes until there are literally thousands of people desperate for thousands more to join in... and then the whole house of cards collapses. The people in the fifth wave of entrants - 128 people - will not see any money until a total of 1,792 people have joined the sixth, seventh and eighth waves. The 1,024 people in the eighth wave will be waiting for another 14,336 people to join the ninth, tenth and eleventh.

It really is head-scratchingly moronic stuff - even using the term 'investment' for what is the transfer of wealth from the many to the few is ridiculous. It's like having dozens of people joining in a game of musical chairs without actually adding any more chairs and they all still expect to win; like a gamble where the longer you wait to make your bet, the more likely you are to lose.

The Albanian economy collapsed in 1997 because of a government sponsored pyramid-scheme (and we laughed at *them* then) and it's not that long, I think, since Women Empowering Women used female emancipation as the cover for a similarly ruinous stunt. Read this Guardian article from all of five years ago for the details and then wonder at the seemingly never-ending depths of stupidity that people seem capable of descending to.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Deny

Over the last couple of years quackery has unexpectedly become something of a topic for me - ever since I wrote about my amazement at a PhD Chemist work colleague being totally credulous about the ability of a foot spa to remove 'toxins' from the body. Since then I have become more and more attuned to guff about homeopathy, acupuncture and the like; disparaging comments about 'western medicine'; shite about vaccination 'overloading' the immune system etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

But I have to vent again. The Observer is my Sunday paper of choice (I wouldn't wipe my arse with the Sindo and the rest of the Irish ones are just populist or sensationalist to try and grab readers from each other. The Sunday Times has some good columnists and the pretty excellent Culture section, but it's news 'exclusives' are sometimes as laughable as what you'd get in the NOTW). Anyway each week The Observer has a fine 'Observer Monthly' supplement - Sport, Food, Music and Woman.

Yesterday was the Woman edition, which is the most recent addition to the stable. I flicked through it for a while after I'd read the rest of the paper and came to this section - Beauty Queen. Now this girl writes that she's getting married and is worried about eczema patches appearing on her face. The solution?... "You might want to do a little alternative investigation into why you suffer from eczema. Homeopathic practitioners often see eczema as a way that your body 'acts out' when it is out of balance, stressed or overwhelmed by inoculations." Well, maybe they do - it doesn't make them right though. Then there's "there are also a lot of traditional/western medical explanations available" almost as an afterthought.

Allow me to make a prediciton. Eczema the condition is exacerbated by stress. The build up to a wedding is, particularly for women who see it as the culmination of childhood fantasies, a particularly stressful time. This girl is likely to get increasing bouts of eczema (unless she's a very cool, calm, collected sort). If this girl believes that homeopathy will offer a respite then she'll visit the homeopath, spend the hour, or whatever, getting things that are stressing her out of her chest. The quack will then handover the placebo and this girl will get some respite for her condition.

I suppose the question is 'what's wrong with that?' Well it depends. Do you believe it's OK to perpetuate a myth as long as it allows someone to feel better? Do you believe it's OK to relieve the symptoms of stress without ever tackling the root cause of the stress? What about people who suffer other physical symtoms as a result of stress - is it healthy for them to never tackle what's really wrong as long as they get quick short-term placebo-fixes from a bunch of quacks? I say no in every case. And, as an aside, is it sexist to believe that women seem far more prone to believing this rubbish than men?

Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm So Bored With The USA

Andrew Sullivan writes about "What I got wrong about the Iraq war. But why I still haven't given up." All worth reading of course. There are two aspects to the war - 1) did they do the right thing by invading? and, 2) did they get the invasion right? I still believe that, ultimately, Saddam Hussein had to be toppled but that the Americans basically lied to and hoodwinked their own people. The American government used fear and disinformation (at best) to get the American people's support a unilateral invasion to achieve certain goals, none of which were related to improving the lot of the Iraqi people.

On the second point, well that's easy - considering the ease of the overthrow itself, the post-war has been the biggest cock up imaginable. Personally, I'd be ashamed to be in any way associated with it - and that includes people who voted for or otherwise supported Bush in the last election. For that matter it also includes those who continue to support his administration regardless of how much evidence of gross incompetence accumulates. Apart from anything else they have the needless deaths of hundreds or thousands of young Americans on their hands as a result of the post-war cock up.

As for the row over a Dubai-based company buying US ports from a British company, is anyone even pretending that what's happening is not rampant Xenophobia across the spectrum? Or is Capitalism only a good thing when it's an American company exploiting the assets of a foreign country?

And the ongoing legal hair-splitting of what is mass internment and illegal extraditions without trial or anything resembling due process, when we all *know* that what's going on is wrong, is just further proof that, at heart, Americans believe in their country - right or wrong.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Deny

After reading this report on plans to vaccinate poultry across Europe, I had a thought - why isn't conventional veterinary allowing its patients to be treated with complimentary or alternative veterinary? I mean all the cherry-picked research shows that there is a positive response to acupuncture in chickens and that ducks given homeopathic treatments when contracting the 'flu are up and paddling around quicker than they can say quack. Anyway, as any fule kno, vaccines would just give the birds the 'flu so that would be just daft. Has anyone thought to check out the feng shui of our avian friends' living arrangements?

The other thing I want to know is why the carcasses of all our recently deceased friends are being incinerated? I mean why aren't they being recycled? What kind of world are we living in when people just burn animal carcasses with no regard for environmental impact? Surely carting them all to a recycling facility (preferably in another country far away so we can't see it and it can't affect our house prices) would be a scientific, 21st Century approach as opposed to the discredited incineration approach? Bird carcasses could be recycled as... ehh... insulation for houses maybe?... emm... a substitute for aviation fuel (something in there must be making them fly)...

Speaking of birds getting acupuncture, Van Gogh would have been screwed...

Drug-Stabbing Time

First things first - Stan Staunton, tactical genius. There's a real feel-good factor about the team again after the disaster that was 2005. Second things second, trip to Liverpool - a great time but a poor game. Third things third - I saw last night coming a mile away. The Crouchasaurus was presented one on a plate and screwed it up. The whole team visibly wilted then and that, as they say, was that. Ah well, at least all my "5-Times" memorabilia isn't out of date!

Anyway Tysabri, Elan's MS drug, has been given a green light (with some caveats) by the FDA to return to the market after last year's health scare. But the issue throws up an ethical question - should people suffering debillitating or life threatening diseases be prevented from receiving proven medication on the grounds of possible life-threatening side-effects?

In this case the drug was withdrawn after the deaths of two patients from a rare disease of the Central Nervous System. But the link to Tysabri wasn't actually proven and MS sufferers the world over were prevented from recieving treatment for the last year while clinical trials were reviewed. MS sufferers pleaded with the FDA for access to the drug during the recent hearings; '"I'm elated. I get my drug back," Cheryl Bloom, an MS patient from Idaho, said after the panel vote. Two monthly infusions of Tysabri "gave me my life back" after other drugs failed, she said.'

But it was also pointed out that 'the risk of PML appeared to be about 1 in 1,000, but that estimate could change after more experience with the drug, FDA officials said. There is no known treatment for PML. "If (a patient) gets this, it's going to be very bad. It's not going to be reversible. That is what the patient is going to have to weigh against the benefit," said Dr. Robert Temple, director of the FDA's medical policy office.'

So that's the quandary - should a patient be allowed to risk their own life to take a treatment that drastically improves the life they have? If, as in this instance, there is a 1 in a thousand risk of being killed by your treatment, would you still think taking it was the right thing to do if it turned out you were that one? And how would your family react? And, for that matter, would your loved ones go on to seek redress in the courts from the drug companies?

Remember, for example, that Big Pharma was slated when it distributed as yet unapproved TB treatments in Africa. They were seen as treating poor people like guinea pigs, despite TB being a death sentence for many in the developing world. It's a tough one to call because where do you draw the line? In general, if a link to a potentially life-threatening condition is proven, a drug gets pulled from the market - regardless of it's effectiveness and the rarity of the side-effect. That might now change as people seek greater powers over their own life choices but at what point will a risk be deemed too great?...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Gone

Ireland match tonight, followed by a trip to Liverpool for the weekend via Manchester. Slán!

Oh and read this: Two deaf YooSA fans have decided they saw Steve Finnan racially abuse Patrice Evra because they read his lips!!! Are they deaf or just dumb?
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