Look! BOOBS!

The Duchess of Cambridge’s boobs have got me thinking: where do I stand on the privacy debate?  With respect to celebrities, this isn’t a question I have ever properly considered, nor is it as clear-cut as I anticipated. Perhaps for this reason, the laws involved are hazier still. In the case of Kate Middleton, for example, the status of the château at which the pictures were taken is bizarrely uncertain, according to Duncan Lamont of Charles Russell LLP, ‘The château is rented out and there may be debate as to how truly private it was.’ A legal battle could take years to resolve. Not that media giant Closer has cause to worry: any fines enforced will pale in comparison to the revenue generated by this week’s issue.

Credit: The Mirror

In my opinion, if a person doesn’t want their photograph published, it shouldn’t be. End of. Yet we live in a society where many celebrities covet the front page, even if it takes an untamed armpit hair to get them there. So how is the paparazzi to know where exactly the ‘red line’ (as it was termed in a statement by St James’ Palace) lies? Of course, one would be stupid to have imagined that the Windsors (with the exception of Prince Harry) were likely to accept such scandalous amount of boobage with a mere sporting laugh. But in many instances, the boundaries must be damn confusing: whilst celebrities are unable to endorse every shot of them pre-make up, such coverage is often welcomed by those needing greater publicity. It is as vital to them as a personal statement is to a university applicant (topical simile right there.) It screams ‘I’m just like you! See there, look at craaazy me disgracing myself after too much Dom Perignon. Take me into your hearts, love me, want me.’ Or something like that.

And we do want it. I expect that half of those currently condemning Closer have been just as fervently tapping Kate Middleton’s name into Google Images. The other half are making a bomb in newspapers such as The Guardian, reporting on the scandal with the same level of intimacy as any nude photograph.

So we can’t exclusively blame the press; the issue over privacy is much bigger than a few shutter-happy reporters. Either we stop our obsession with Paris Hilton’s knickers (or lack of), or simply accept the gossip-centred world that we live in. With laws so easily twisted and ignored, I can see no middle ground.


Project Disillusionment: Towns of Yesterday

Yesterday, a leaked document by the education department revealed Michael Gove’s latest plan to meet his three objectives as Education Minister:
1. Demoralise youth.
2. Recreate 1950’s Britain.
3. Achieve a class divide of which Thatcher would be proud.
By 1916 2016, GCSE’s will be obsolete. In their place, a resurrection of the two-tier examination system used in the mid-1900’s, with the bottom 25% of 16 year olds taking CSE’s, whilst the more academic sit O-Level’s.
  Conceived in 1984, GCSE’s provided hope for greater social mobility (admittedly, this hope was meagre under Thatcher, but let’s think long-term) by creating a full-spectrum qualification which would support the aspirations of all young people, not just the elite. Thirty years on and regressive thinking by the Tories threatens to segregate society once more;  2016 is sure to see the remaining sinews of social mobility perceptibly tauten. CSE’s are destined to become the qualification of the lower classes and, by corollary, the qualification of the North; Liverpool and Hull are already down as the ‘CSE towns of tomorrow’, according to figures by Chris Cook of the Financial Times.
  Aged 14, most young people have barely begun to seriously consider their futures- their main focuses in life are their friends and hobbies- and yet, according to Gove, this is the point at which we should effectively cut off the bottom 25%. How, when the futures of these young people are still so malleable, is it possible to gain any suitable degree of accuracy when determining their potential? Figures show that of those in the bottom 25% aged 11, one-third will have broken out by the time they are 16. Under Gove’s plans, such promise of development will be choked off at the midway point.
  Arguably, though, the pressure of a deadline may generate a more positive response to education, resulting in swifter academic development. Be that the case, why stop there? Let us end play fights and instead clobber our youth with textbooks; let us tear down the river ropeswings and drown them in Radio 4; let us pop those dastardly footballs, to be replaced with quick-fire mathematics. There’s no such thing as ‘too young’! Who needs childhood, anyway, when there’s a sparkling adulthood of affluence awaiting?

Curiously punchable

  Unfortunately, there is a flipside to that inspiring vision: a country simmering with dejection and resentment. To simply be told that your aspirations are now worthless and to be unable to revoke that decision, to claim back your future, is an extremely disempowering concept. Friendships, which are so important in youth, could be torn apart, not only through physical segregation, but through mental reassessments of status. Moreover, a child who has the potential to reach a grade C at GCSE level may, in 2016, find themselves moved onto the CSE curriculum. With the only possible outcome being a ‘dead-end’ qualification, why should they even bother? I know I’d give up. Admittedly, under the current system, we have ‘Foundation’ GCSE papers for those who are aiming at a grade C. However, unlike the proposed CSE’s, the grade isn’t belittled by the means through which it were achieved: there is no record of the person having taken, what could be seen as, a less-prestigious paper.
As for the longevity of these plans, don’t depair just yet: Mr Clegg has promised to block Gove’s proposals just as he did with Trident, and wind power, and Proportional Representation, and tuition fees, and… Oh dear.


Animal Testing

 The response to Stena Line’s departure from the life science transport industry has been largely one-sided: I hope to give a fuller picture.

This week, Radio 4’s Today programme revealed that the ferry company, Stena Line, has left the life sciences transport industry due to targeted pressure from animal rights activists. With the likes of P&O having already withdrawn, Stena is the final major ferry company to have been beaten by the anti-vivisection pleas.

The news was met with furore amongst medical professionals; although only 1% of Britain’s research animals come from overseas, many claim that the sharing of specific models is vital to efficient experimentation. Former Labour minister, Lord Drayson, condemned the protesters for effectively ‘choking off vital research into debilitating diseases,’ whilst Science Minister, David Willetts, expressed a hope that the government could create a code of practice for animal transportation which would allow the resumption of trade. This, he argued, ‘makes sense for everyone.’

For everyone? Really? I presume, then, that we aren’t including the animals in this assertion?

However, the obstinate silence of the animal rights activists provides us with no alternative viewpoint: we are instead left to absorb the arguments of their comparably vocal opposition. Yes, the pain caused to animals in research is regrettable, but surely it is worth it if it gives us the cure for cancer, or diabetes, or Alzheimer’s?

That’s exactly the point though: if. Supporters of vivisection are largely so on consequentialist grounds. But isn’t it the case that there must be substantial proof of consequences before one asserts that they will be beneficial? We cannot say, for certain, that when we experiment upon an animal the result will be positive for humankind, nor, more to the point, can we say that it will not be negative; in recent years, drugs such as Vioxx, E-Ferol, Oraflex and Selacryn have all been removed from our shelves because of their adverse effects on humans. All were tested on animals. Therefore, the most we can know, for certain, is that an indefinite number of animals will suffer and die in research in the hope of positive consequences for humans.

… a great deal of animal experimentation has been misleading and resulted in either withholding of drugs, sometimes for years, that were subsequently found to be highly beneficial to humans, or the release of drugs that, though harmless to animals, have actually contributed to human suffering and death.

Jane Goodall, ‘Reason for Hope‘, 1999

But are there really any plausible alternatives? Many argue that the only ethical means of testing drugs is on animals so we must make do, regardless of genetic discrepancies. In the early stages, human trials are simply far too dangerous and could lead to the exploitation of the poor.

Others claim that proper regulations would eliminate any such issues. There is also a push for epidemiological studies,computer models and cell cultures to take the place of animals. It is proven that these would produce more reliable and less painful results; activists allege that the only reason these methods haven’t been adopted is due to experimenters’ archaic preferences.

Underlying most arguments in favour of animal testing is the assumption that we, as humans, are of greater moral value than all other beings; we are superior. We assert this on the basis of:

  1. Intelligence

It is generally accepted that humans are, at the very least, academically superior to other animals.

But the question is whether intelligence and moral value are synonymous. Surely intelligence gives us a responsibility to care for, rather than exploit, those that are vulnerable, just as a fully intelligent parent cares for a baby? We may contest that this is different because a baby has the potential for high-level human intelligence. Yet potentiality has very little relevance in most areas of life- for example, all humans have the inherent potential to be dead, but we don’t treat them like corpses- so why should we consider it in this particular case?

Moreover, not all humans are of elevated intelligence- many are mentally incapacitated to the extent that they are at, or below, the level of animal consciousness.

Peter Singer

…whenever experimenters claim that their experiments are important enough to justify the use of animals, we should ask them whether they would be prepared to use a brain-damaged human being at a similar mental level to the animals they are planning to use.

Peter Singer, ‘Animal Liberation‘, 1991

As Singer illustrates, we would generally be quite happy to vivisect an animal, but would be absolutely appalled at the idea of experimenting on a human of the same intelligence.

2.  Religion

Many religions uphold humans as superior to animals- the general belief is that they are closer to God.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26

Again, there is debate over whether this means that we can do whatever we like with animals or whether this gives us a duty of stewardship which demands that we prioritise their care. After all, for theists, animals are just as much a part of God’s creation as humans.


Regardless of the arguments for animal liberation, David Willetts’ point that ‘The UK benefits from one of the most stringent regulatory environments regarding the use of animals in scientific research’ could be problematic for activists. Yes, perhaps we can prevent life science imports, but what then? Do the breeding companies reduce the number of animals they produce? Or do they simply get sent elsewhere? I cannot claim to have the answer to this, but with regards to the latter, surely if UK animal testing guidelines are amongst the most rigorous in the world, it would be better to continue to import animals than to allow them to suffer the potentially awful alternative?

It seems, then, that if there is to be truly successful alleviation of animal suffering, the matter must be tackled multilaterally. A hefty task. And possibly an unrealistic one (decades after reaching a consensus that nuclear weapons are actually quite horrible, we are still fervently fondling our detonators.)

Personally, I don’t believe that this can be achieved through the current activist technique- their taciturn response to this week’s outcry has painted them as the antagonists. Mild militancy is all very well but it only works if you have a substantial number of people on your side. I’m worried that the activists’ controversial movements could damage their cause; perhaps it would be more beneficial to concentrate on gaining support through raising awareness and giving alternatives. A prime example of this in action is the 1965 television programme, ‘Up the Junction’, which brought the dangers of backstreet abortion into the mainstream, leading to the 1967 Abortion Act. In my opinion, the activists are sprinting before they can walk in an area which, with enough people involved, may require no more than a gentle jog- ‘Up the Junction’ changed public values so significantly that militancy was hardly needed.

And, as for that ingenious idiom, you can count me in.

Worth a read: Abbie Copley's take on the Grand National: 'Only two died' they say. 

Like an old married couple…

Image: sodahead.comAnger over Osbourne’s marriage tax delay

Last Saturday, Chancellor George Osbourne ruled out the inclusion of transferable marriage tax allowance, which would have seen married couples £150 better off, in next month’s Budget.

This sparked accusations from traditional Tories that Osbourne was ‘kowtowing’ to Lib Dem pressure. Amongst those fighting for the allowance is Work and Pensions Secretary, Duncan-Smith,  who said: ‘It’s about the Government recognising that stable two-parent families are vital for the creation of a strong society.’ His view has been supported by many others based on evidence which suggests that children from cohabiting or lone parent households are more likely to turn to drink, drugs and crime than those whose parents are married.

 Marriage v Cohabitation

I am gravely concerned with regards to the intelligence of those running our country. To favour marriage over cohabitation on the basis of stability is idiotic. Surely nobody is stupid enough to believe that marriage increases the love between a couple? It simply increases the feeling of obligation. Thus a relationship in either circumstance is just as likely to break down as the other.

Whilst the success rate of marriage may seem greater statistically, the claustrophobia created by remaining in a relationship out of marital-obligation is perceptibly unhealthier than conceding to an amicable separation. Not only this, but the former is likely to affect any children involved on a much deeper level: even if they don’t turn to the aforementioned degenerate behaviours, it is probable that they will adopt warped expectations of marriage, leading to further destructive relationships.

In response to Duncan-Smith’s drivel: marriage does not necessitate stability, nor does stability necessitate marriage.

‘Vote for Change?’

Marriage tax allowance was abolished in April 2000 in the recognition that it had become an outdated and discriminatory policy (ironically, the money generated was reinvested in child tax credit increases.)  As Clegg put it (just hear him out- he does have a point): ‘We shouldn’t take a particular version of the family institution, such as the 1950’s model, and try and preserve it in aspic.’ To return to marriage tax allowance would be regression, not change.


So ‘Kowtow’ to your heart’s content, Osbourne.

Not only does his hesitation prevent a ridiculous policy from being enforced, it is also exposes the cracks within the Tory party which are elongating under the pressure of the coalition, making a 2015 election victory less and less likely.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the Bevanites v Gaitskellites internal conflict suffered by Labour prior to their 1951 election defeat. From Clause IV to marriage tax allowance; the H-Bomb to wind farms; Europe to, um, Europe. The marriage between the Tories and Lib Dems is looking somewhat unstable, wouldn’t you say?

Image: sodahead.com