Tuesday
Feb152011

Man's arrest leaves a bad taste

According to a BBC News report:

A man has been arrested following a complaint that Crawley Town's FA Cup song featured a supporter mocking the victims of the Munich air crash.

Sussex Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress and bailed until 25 February.

Are they serious?

I haven't seen the video (and I don't condone people mocking the dead) but this seems more a question of bad taste. Is that illegal? Seriously, I'd like to know.

Very occasionally I have edited/censored comments on this blog on the grounds that, in my opinion, they are in bad taste and I don't wish to encourage such comments or be associated with them.

But report the person to the police with a view to having them arrested?

Words fail me.

Tuesday
Feb152011

State adopts zero tolerance to personal choice

Demolition Man, says Martin Cullip, was a film set in a terrifying fictional society where autonomy was seen as a hindrance to state control. In 2011 does our own democratic government now regard this as a valid utopian goal?

Clifford Lyons, an inmate at Carstairs Psychiatric Hospital, last week successfully challenged a ban on unhealthy food designed to “improve the health of overweight patients”. Fitness-focussed Lyons argued that the prohibition of his obtaining protein bars under the terms of the hospital’s ‘Chocolate Ban’ was an abuse of his rights and he was rightfully vindicated by the court.

While it is easy to counter that he should be afforded no rights at all considering the reason for his being there in the first place, this is by no means a concern merely for those placed under the health spotlight as a result of their heinous crimes ...

Mr Lyons is without doubt a rather unpleasant individual, but his court success is a timely roadblock against the public health juggernaut which has set itself in motion to mow down personal choice and determination of what food we choose to provide, for ourselves or our families.

Sadly, the epilogue is not encouraging. Rather than admit that their approach is illiberal and contrary to the freedoms we cherish in our society, Carstairs Hospital is examining its options with a view to finding a way round the judgment.

Full article: Anything not good for you is bad, hence it should be illegal.

PS. Joe Jackson's tongue in cheek article about dogs, published by The Free Society last week, has now been published by the online magazine spiked under the title Dogs must be banned from all public places.

Tuesday
Feb152011

Smokers are voters too

Good luck to John Mallon who is launching Forest Eireann's 'Smokers' Manifesto' in Cork this morning.

The manifesto urges politicians to:

• respect the rights of adults who have made an informed choice to smoke tobacco in full knowledge of the health risks associated with this legal product

• acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of smokers are ordinary, decent, law-abiding adults whose habit does not affect their ability to make a positive contribution to Irish society

• relax the smoking ban so that pubs and bars can provide smoking rooms that allow adults to smoke in greater comfort without bothering non-smokers

• cut tobacco duty to tackle smuggling and reduce the temptation to buy tobacco abroad

• recognise the major financial contribution made by consumers who buy tobacco from legitimate retailers in Ireland

• review the use of public money to fund groups and quangos dedicated to persecuting adult smokers

• engage with the consumer so that one million smokers no longer feel ignored and disenfranchised from the political process

• treat one million voters [the number of adult smokers in Ireland] with the respect they deserve

The manifesto is being published in advance of the Irish election on Friday February 25. You can download it from the Forest Eireann website. Alternatively click here.

Sunday
Feb132011

My Spanish adventure

I think I'd like to move to Spain.

This week was only my second visit but the weather alone was enough to give it serious thought. Bright sunshine, clear blue sky, crisp, clean air and a mild temperature. Perfect.

The first time I went to Spain, eleven years ago, I attended a smokers' rights conference in Seville. Those four days did more than anything to convince me that working for Forest had a purpose, contrary to what some people might think.

I met people from right across Europe - Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Spain itself. Most of them smoked but they didn't make a big deal of it. It was as natural to them as breathing.

They were smokers' rights activists but, more important, they were ordinary, considerate people who knew the health risks and couldn't understand why they were being lectured and marginalised for having a perfectly legal habit. They were prepared to take a stand but they didn't rant. They were thoughtful and charming.

I liked them very much and I have harboured an ambition ever since to organise a similar event in London, if only to demonstrate the "normality" of smokers and their habit which doesn't, I'm sorry to say, come across on some online forums where many activists sound as shrill, obsessive and intolerant as the opposition.

Anyway, on Tuesday I flew to Madrid where I was met at the airport by Alvaro Garrido who runs Club Fumadores por la Tolerancia, the Spanish equivalent of Forest. Alvaro also organised the conference in Seville. We have kept in touch and I was delighted to see him again after all these years.

After I checked in to my hotel Alvaro introduced me to his colleague Javier Blanco. We had lunch at Casa Lucio, a traditional tasca in old Madrid, and afterwards they took me on a tour of the city - on foot and, later, by car.

The smoking ban, they told me, is generally being observed in Spain and there is little or no opposition to the new law among mainstream politicians. If I understood correctly, bar owners are waiting to judge the effect of the ban before taking any further steps. By then, of course, it will be too late for some.

Some bar owners, it was suggested, will draw a curtain or usher someone they know into a separate room to allow them to smoke indoors, but customers fear getting the owner into trouble. Sound familiar?

Interestingly, the law in Spain exempts private smokers' clubs. In truth there are only a handful of clubs in Madrid and not a lot more nationwide. They can't sell food and drink and they can't make a profit so don't expect smokers' clubs to pop up all over Spain any time soon.

Anyway, it was a very productive - and enjoyable - couple of days and I am meeting Alvaro again in Brussels tomorrow. We are working on a joint project but I won't tempt fate by saying what it is. Not yet anyway.

See also: Meet the Spaniards fighting to stub out authoritarianism (spiked), and Prohibido prohibir – Ban the bans (euobserver.com)

PS. At my hotel in Madrid I ordered an "All-Spanish" breakfast. According to the menu this consists of churros (water and flour batter sticks, deep fried in oil), torrija (milk soaked bread dipped in egg), mini-tortilla (potato omelette), cured ham on tomato, rubbed toast, slices of butifarra sausage, fruit salad, orange juice, jam, honey and butter.

It was delivered to my room at 7.00am and it won't surprise you to learn that I returned home a little heavier than when I left. (Thankfully, Ryanair didn't charge me for excess baggage but it's only a matter of time.)

Which reminds me, I don't think I saw anyone in Madrid who could be described as overweight, and none who might be called obese. Not one. How is this? If you know the secret please let me know!

Saturday
Feb122011

That was the week

Reports and articles you may have missed:

1. I'm really choked that Barack Obama has quit smoking (Daily Telegraph)
2. Kick the bullies, not the habit (Independent)
3. Are e-cigarettes evil? (Huffington Post)

From the blogs:

4. Radical thinking on forestry (ASI blog)
5. No meat for Forest Green fans (Velvet Glove Iron Fist)

From The Free Society:

6. It's a dog's life (Joe Jackson)
7. Talk like an Egyptian (Jason Smith)

And finally ...

8. Bloomberg says police won't enforce new smoking ban for parks and beaches (NY Daily News)

Friday
Feb112011

Watch this space

I'm back from Madrid - wonderful weather, great food, fantastic coffee - but very, very busy so unable to blog for a bit.

Feel free to talk among yourselves and watch this space.

PS. Good piece on The Free Society website. Talk like an Egyptian: "Is it any wonder that successive UK governments have been able to erode civil liberties so easily when liberal middle-class professionals fail to support democracy around the globe, asks Jason Smith".

Tuesday
Feb082011

Departure lounge

There will be little if any blogging for the next two days. I am currently at Stansted waiting for an early morning flight to Madrid. Watch this space.

PS. Saw Roxy Music at the O2 in London last night. Had to leave early to catch a train home but enjoyed the evening. Got three hours' sleep before I had to get up and drive to the airport. Definitely in need of some strong coffee ...

Monday
Feb072011

Climb in a car, march off to war, but don't smoke in a bar

I was reminded this morning of the song Joe Jackson wrote in protest at the introduction of the smoking ban in New York City in 2003.

Joe moved to America in the Eighties and lived in New York for 20 years. On his website he explains that "The song was written to send up Mayor Bloomberg and the New York smoking ban, but also to help those fighting to get the ban repealed and to prevent similar bans elsewhere. All proceeds from CD sales and downloads will go to activist groups Forces, NYC Clash, and Forest".

Listening to it today it sounds as fresh and topical as it did seven years ago, but you be the judge:

In 20-0-3
a man drank a whisky
and a martini
or three, maybe four
He climbed in his car
and roared off at eighty
and that night he checked out
along with three more

So they cleared up the mess
but they didn't ban cars
and they didn't ban whisky or gin

[CHORUS]
So do what you want, or do what they tell you
It's the land of the free but don't take it too far
You can do what you want
You can smash up your car
But in 20-0-3 you can't smoke in a bar

In 20-0-3
a man ate a burger
and then ate another or two
Every day
at last he keeled over
but no-one could lift him
And there's millions just like him
and millions to pay

So they issued more warnings
but they didn't ban eating
and they don't ban potatoes or grease

[CHORUS]
So do what you want, or do what they tell you
It's the land of the free but don't take it too far
You can do what you want
You can live just on lard
But in 20-0-3 you can't smoke in a bar

In 20-0-3
a man joined the army
and soon he got shipped out
to fight in Iraq
He was caught in a crossfire
and lost his right arm
But they didn't ban bullets
or missile attacks

He's on his way home now
and who wants to tell him
he can't have a smoke with his beer

[CHORUS]
So do what you want, or do what they tell you
It's the land of the free but don't take it too far
You can do what you want
You can march off to war
But in 20-0-3 you can't smoke in a bar

Click here to listen.

As it happens we have just published Joe's latest article over on The Free Society. Dog lovers, you may want to cover your eyes!