Life, death, journalism, free speech and censorship

[I wrote this as a comment in response to a post on The Free Speech Blog : Official blog of Index on Censorship entitled “Let’s not make suicide a taboo“. Since it contained many links which the commenting system rejected as spam I posted a stripped version over there with the information that a linked version would be here. Apologies for the interruption to the usual service, whatever that might be.]

I am at a loss to understand what a post of this nature is doing on the blog of a reputable organisation campaigning against censorship. You conflate suggested media guidelines for reporting on an issue of – literally – life and death importance with censorship. It is misleading and profoundly irresponsible.

Within the first three paragraphs you link the “dangers in silence” to a suggestion by the Samaritans that coverage of a recent double suicide may have prompted a second, similar incident. The evidence linking copycat suicides and social contagion as a result of media reporting is compelling as documented in the Samaritans media guidelines “Copycat suicides and media reporting (to which you do not link).

You say it’s important for journalists to be reminded of the media guidelines produced by organisations such as MediaWise and the Samaritans. Neither organisation expresses the opinion or the aspiration that the issue of suicide should not be discussed. The Samaritans media guidelines on Reporting Suicide (to which you also do not link) include specific recommendations encouraging coverage (points 8, 9 and 12).

However, as you will no doubt be aware, both guidelines you mention cite clear research evidence of the direct and often substantial negative effects – an increase in deaths by suicide and the attendant suffering such events cause – should the discussion/reporting cover certain clearly defined territory, most importantly explicit details of the method used. Or, to quote the author of the CPA “Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide” – “The take-home message is that there is solid evidence in the psychiatric literature that there are dangerous and safe ways of reporting suicide.”

Your central proposition appears to be that guidelines for journalists on the reporting of suicide pose “a risk to the public interest… What if it becomes the norm not to cover suicides?”

The substantiating evidence that this is not “fanciful” is what you call “strong hints” at the possibility of self-censorship in the MediaWise study and undocumented anecdotal evidence that there are some local papers which “sometimes never” mention suicide.

You then discuss “some peculiar modern perceptions of privacy” which you see as a potential bar to the reporting of suicide. And yet on page 4 of the MediaWise document “Sensitive Coverage Saves Lives” you will no doubt have noted the following:

As far back as 1841 doctor and statistician William Farr considered that:

“no fact is better established in science than that suicide (and murder may perhaps be added) is often committed from imitation . . . Do the advantages of publicity counterbalance the evils attendant on one such death? Why should cases of suicide be recorded at length in the papers any more than cases of fever?”

You will of course be aware that the provision in the draft Coroners and Justice Bill giving coroners power to ban publication of the name of the deceased in some cases of apparent suicide to protect bereaved relatives from unnecessary or gratuitous invasion of their privacy was withdrawn before the Bill became law in 2009. This was to be replaced by “consideration” of “how current codes of conduct for the media might be refined to ensure there is appropriate emphasis on the need for sensitive reporting” (p16). It seems, therefore, that your complaint about “some peculiar modern perceptions of privacy” has already been noted by the “officialdom” to whom “it is not satisfactory to leave important matters”.

If one is to deduce from your article that journalists, rather than “officialdom” would be best to sort out “important matters”, and further to deduce that these “important matters” are whether or not the news media report suicide, and/or how they do it, then I refer you again to the MediaWise report you cite. On pages 19-20 are the details of round-table (ie not “behind closed doors”) discussions designed to bring media practitioners and mental health agencies together. Not one single journalist turned up to any of them.

In your penultimate paragraph you describe suicides as “deaths which seem out of the ordinary”. According to the National Office of Statistics deaths on the roads in 2007 were 5.4 per 100,000 population. However in the same year the NOS says death by suicide among men in the UK was 16.8 per 100,000 and among women 5.0 per 100,000 population. In other words for every one person killed in a car accident there are five people who die as a result of suicide. This is not an “out of the ordinary” problem.

Suicide is a major public health challenge, so much so that government has put in place the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England, chooselife in Scotland and Talk to me in Wales. Each of them contains, as a central plank of its strategy, working with the media towards responsible reporting of suicide.

And the danger to “public interest” if your “non-fanciful” self-censorship by the media of suicide coverage should come about? That the public would be “poorly informed” about suicide, “knowing considerably less”.

If the information you fear might be repressed by journalists is of the quality of that of your post the public will have been done a service – should journalists indeed be cowed into silence by guidelines. If the information in your post bears any relationship to that which students of journalism are provided with on their courses then we still have a very long way to go in tackling this very real, very complex and very important issue.

Small niggly things

On the plus side: I’ve worked out a way of having the icons I want at the top of the stacks in the mac dock, inspired by a recent post on lifehacker.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get the suggested method of adding drawer overlay icons to work. So after a bit of googling I downloaded the freeware programme Micon, made a new folder called “0000” in each stacked folder which had the usual blank folder icon, ensured all folders were arranged by name and then replaced each blank 0000 icon by an appropriate informative icon.


dock icons

It required a restart, btw, to get the new icons to appear in the dock.

So that’s good. The default behaviour of the stack icons has been pissing me off for ages.

On the annoyingly-neither-here-nor-there side: the “post links to blog” thingy isn’t working. Hasn’t been for weeks. So I reactivated the sidebar feed after deciding that my public links are so for a reason – because I hope they’ll be useful or interesting to other people.

But. Butbutbutbutbut. What’s with the encoding issue? why does a perfectly ordinary, run-of-the-mill and obviously frequently-employed in the circumstances ” get rendered as & quot ; (without the spaces)? I changed the output encoding of the feed from UTF-8 to ISO-8859-1 but that hasn’t made the slightest difference. And I know bugger all about encoding anyway.

So that’s annoying because a problem, which is inexplicable in the first place (why should the thing stop working anyway?) has been addressed, although not entirely surmounted since there are still not blog posts, and that partial solution contains another annoyance.


The last niggle is also in the annoyingly-neither-here-nor-there side: the internet connection. After the modem fritzed I was lucky enough to get hold of another. I can now surf, tethered by an ethernet cable to the replacement ADSL modem in question. However, try what I may, I cannot get the modem to talk to the airport.

Both are old models of their kind, both now discontinued. But I know for a fact that they used to converse merrily. The sound of their chatter filled the house, more or less, apart from the upstairs room at the back. I know this because this is the model of modem I had before the previous model of modem which recently fritzed.

But what is the problem, you might cry. You have the internets. You are, at this very moment, demonstrating that fact by adding more crud to them. Well yes indeed. However I may be all right, but the Spawn are not. Gone is their independent access to the iTunes store, cheat sites for console games, facebook, club penguin, the BBC iPlayer and no doubt sundry other destinations. So my poor pooter is much in demand and has become the focus of sundry disputes.

I have, in my efforts to resolve this problem, updated the firmware of the modem, downdated the firmware of the airport, downloaded the pre-Leopard version of the airport admin utility for graphite and snow so I can continue to talk to the downdated airport. I have a feeling that the solution to the problem may be hinted at somewhere in this page but I can’t actually understand it.

In a previous life I would have thought fuck it and bought a single replacement for both knackered-but-not-yet-dead items, but in this life it’s not an option. So if anyone knows how to make a D-Link DSL-300G+ ADSL modem connect to an apple AirPort Extreme Snow to give lovely wi-fi yumminess I’d be hugely grateful if they’d let me know the secret. In words of one syllable that I can understand. With illustrations. Please.


UPDATE: It works! It works!! It works!!! I don’t know who Rod Hagen is, but I think I love him and want to have his babies. Not only is his avatar a small white puppy, he also, back in 2003, posted crystal-clear, step-by-step instructions on how to make a 300G talk to an AirPort Extreme. Dear Rod Hagan, you have made two boys (and their mother) very happy. Thank you.

Single parent = fucked; single parent + ill = totally, utterly fucked

I get quite a lot of searchers landing here for information about “single parent on benefits”. I fear I am not a useful resource but, given the opacity in the system and the difficulties I have encountered trying to find out information (with my fluent English, degree-level education, internet connection and middle-class background), I’m not surprised that desperate seekers end up here.

However my situation is slightly different to the usual single parent dilemma, which is that workplace inflexibility and the high cost of childcare often means you’re worse off working than on benefits. And believe me, as one who does it, living on benefits is not a picnic. My situation includes the fact that I have been, and still continue to be, not sufficiently well to work.

I’ve written already about the existing difficulties of being an ill single parent but it’s worth recapping them.

  • If you are an unemployed single parent with a child under the age of 16 you are entitled to claim Income Support (IS) – in my case £59.15 per week.
  • If you are too ill to work, and certified as such by a doctor, you are entitled to claim Incapacity Benefit (IB) – in my case £59.20 per week.
  • You are not entitled to both. The Department of Works and Pensions (aka “Belfast”, because that’s where the offices are based) assesses your case and awards you whichever benefit is the greater, regardless of any other factor. In my case this was incapacity benefit, by 5p per week.
  • What you are not told is that if you are on income support you are (eventually, after varying qualifying periods of up to a year and a half) able to claim:
    • – free prescriptions;
    • – free dental care;
    • income support mortgage interest (ISMI) as a homeowner, a benefit which only comes into effect after 18 months unemployment. Those in rented accommodation can claim housing benefit – see link below under council tax benefit;
    • – free school dinners for the children (administered by the local council);
    • – council tax benefit (CTB) (handled by the local council).
  • What you are also not told (and what I had to find out, slowly and painfully while my savings dribbled away) is that if you are on incapacity benefit you are not entitled to any of the above. Which obviously add up to considerably more than 5p per week.

The moral is – if you’re a single parent you can’t actually ever be ill.

Now, however, the landscape for single parents is about to undergo very significant change.

Today I went to a “work-focused interview for lone parents” at my local Job Centre. Compulsory. You have to take your passport along to prove it’s you and not some ringer you’ve sent along while out earning vast sums of money doing… something or other. And, for no reason that I could discern, I was asked if I’d been abroad any time in the last two years.

At this interview I was told that the government has new plans for single parents. The government, I was told, is busy creating just the sort of jobs that are ideal for single mothers with children, part time, between the hours of 10am and 2pm, although I wasn’t told what these jobs are or where they’re situated. However we have to take on trust the fact that suddenly, out of nowhere, there will be jobs doing something, earning at least the minimum wage, at the appropriate hours so parents can drop off and pick up their children to/from school.

This sudden job-creation activity is because from next year single parents will only be entitled to claim IS if they are caring for a child under seven years old. If their child/ren is/are over seven years of age they will be entitled to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). In my case this would be £59.15 per week.

What’s the problem, you may ask. IS is £59.15 per week, JSA is £59.15 per week too. Well, there’s a difference between the two. Obviously, otherwise the government wouldn’t be making the change.

This alteration in legislation was, apparently, announced in December 2007 with minimal publicity, according to an article examining the widespread repercussions:

Although there is a lot of talk in the government’s proposals about personalised help and support, anyone who has had experience of the JSA regime knows that there is a gradual tightening-up of eligibility for JSA the longer the claimant stays on that benefit. There may be a presumption from the Jobcentre that suitable child care is available and that the working tax credit system will be available to help with up to 80% of the cost. Some parents may be reluctant to use that child care and some parents may be worried that 10- to 13-year-olds – who are often too old for child care – may be left unsupervised after school.

The changes will affect about 300,000 lone parents on income support with a youngest child aged seven or over, or nearly 40% of those currently claiming the benefit. As the hardly revolutionary Social Security Advisory Committee commented: “We are concerned that the Green Paper proposes greater responsibility upon claimants without balancing proposals for how the rights of claimants will be enhanced.”

Having read the government document Ready for work: full employment in our generation, specifically (pdf) Chapter 2 Sustainable employment for lone parents, I am filled with foreboding. This is a surreal document. There are, on many pages, blue boxes headed “What you said about X” where X is the particular issue at hand. And without exception the opinions expressed therein, from relevant organisations and individuals, are at least 75% opposed to the measures proposed. But this appears not to matter in the slightest.

So the aim of the exercise:

Increased obligations will be supported by appropriate and affordable childcare, suitable and flexible jobs and tailored employment and skills provision, with Jobcentre Plus advisers given more discretion to assess individual circumstances.

Current and new flexibilities and services will help lone parents meet their obligations to look for, take up and stay in work.

There is a basic assumption that as a lone parent, once your child has reached the age of seven, it is less important that you work to parent your child and more important, an obligation in fact, that you work. And this is going to be possible because of three things – childcare, jobs and skilled advice. Let’s take each in turn.

Just where is this “appropriate and affordable childcare”? The government has devolved responsibility for this provision to the local authorities. Judging by my experience with my local authority it is irresponsibility bordering on insanity to expect them to have in place appropriate childcare by, the report states, April 2008. That’s last month. There’s also an “aim” that “by 2010, every school in England will be an extended school”. And how will that come about? through “working with local partners”. I can’t see that happening either, even if I actually thought it was appropriate childcare and wanted my children to spend from 8am to 6pm (nearly all their waking hours) in school.

Jobs. For lone parents. Who may or may not be able to access and then, oh joy, afford childcare (paying someone else to look after their children because they themselves, the parent, have an obligation to work. Doing something other than looking after their child). There are, apparently, going to be “Employment opportunities”. According to the report: “On 6 November 2007, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of older, teenage children.” There’s no definition of “older” but, for the government’s purposes so far “older” appears to mean “over the age of seven years”. An intention. To request. So that’s where all these lovely 10am-2pm jobs are going to come from. Which, no doubt, allow the employee to take off the 13 or so weeks of school holidays throughout the year to look after their child/ren. No obligation on employers to grant flexible working, of course. Should the government follow through on its “intention”.

And finally advice. The Jobcentre Plus employees (hired and paid by… the Department of Works and Pensions) are going to be trained, one would hope, to guide lone parents through the complexities and significance of the new regulations. “We are here to help and support you” said the woman I saw today. Fine. Lovely woman. However these are the people who, presented with a woman with no job, severe depression and the lone parent of two young children, tell her to claim IB. At no point do they appear to realise or, if they do realise, point out, that she’d be better off claiming income support. These are the people who, having received all the (tens of pages of) paperwork, return it after a month without any action having been taken on it because the claimant (that’s me) had failed to write her name in capital letters in one box on the back of one medical certificate.

These are the people with whom the claimant (that’s me) has had not one, not two but three personal interviews to expedite the process of claiming benefits, a claimant who clearly finds the process difficult (I have broken down on each occasion) and who have never, not once, volunteered a single piece of information regarding optimising the benefits. “What you need is a big hug” said the woman I saw at the second interview as I wept uncontrollably, suicidally, over her desk. She proceeded to give me one, and other of the advisers joined in. I was touched beyond words. I was overcome with gratitude. I feel slightly sick, looking back on that. Because however much I might have needed a hug, and I did, what I needed a very great deal more was an accurate answer to my question “how am I supposed to feed, clothe and house my children on £59.20 a week incapacity benefit?” The answer, presumably within their grasp, was not “you need a hug” but “stop claiming IB and start claiming IS”. This, unfortunately, was not vouchsafed to me.

Forgive me if I am a little wary of the motivation and/or abilities of the Jobcentre Plus staff to “help and support” the claimant.

So where does all this leave me, individually? Well, there are a number of lessons I can learn from my experience today.

The first is that it is not a normal nor proportionate reaction when informed of the immanent cessation of IS to be washed with despair, immediately to think that the difficulties would be best resolved by suicide so the children could be cared for by employed people, that I am the problem and if I wasn’t around everything would be perfect. To weep uncontrollably. This leads me seriously doubt my ability at this time to hold down any sort of job, be it shelf-stacking in the local supermarket or something (like journalism) that I am qualified to do.

Depression is a vicious and horrible disability, all the more so for being invisible and stigmatised. I’m profoundly grateful to be able to do what I can do. Love my children. Keep them clean and warm and fed. Keep their lives as stable and organised and predictable as possible to allow them to grow and develop. I thank god for it, because I know that until so very recently it just would not have been so. But today told me what I already suspected to be the case, that these simple tasks are at the edge of my current level of capacity. Anything more would be extremely, extremely difficult.

The second is a reinforcement of the impression that the Jobcentre Plus staff either do not to know what they’re doing or that their remit is not to work for the best interests of the claimant (and the claimant’s child/ren) but to avoid informing claimants about benefits available if they do not already know about them. I base this on the fact that none of the collection of staff who had gathered round to stare at the woman weeping with her head on the desk of one of their colleagues mentioned the fact that under the new legislation they, the Jobcentre Plus staff, will have wide-ranging discretionary powers. None mentioned (whether through ignorance or design) that, according to the report, “Lone Parents with a health problem or disability may be able to claim the new Employment and Support Allowance”. Let me quote the report:

Some respondents were concerned that Jobcentre Plus advisers sometimes do not use the flexibilities that are available. As part of the plans to increase the tailoring of provision to meet the needs of each person, we plan to increase the discretion available to advisers. This will be backed by clear guidance for advisers on the existing and new flexibilities, and supported by the Jobcentre Plus reward and recognition systems.

This means that lone parents who have genuine reasons, or good cause, for not complying with their obligations to look for, or take up, work will not be penalised.

A search for “Employment and Support Allowance” reveals the following:

This will replace incapacity benefit and income support paid on the grounds of incapacity. It is is intended to start for new claimants from October 2008. From April 2010 all existing incapacity benefits claimants will be required to take the work capability assessment.

ESA will be paid to people in Great Britain (separate legislation will be introduced for Northern Ireland) who satisfy the following:

* have a limited capability for work – have a physical or mental condition, which means that it is not reasonable to require them to work.
* are at least 16 years old and who have not reached pensionable age
* are not entitled to income support or jobseeker’s allowance (including joint-claim jobseeker’s allowance)
* pass either a national insurance contribution test (similar to that for incapacity benefit – people under age 20, or age 25 in certain circumstances will not have to satisfy the contribution test) or an income test (similar to that for income support).

Anyone claiming ESA will be assessed during a 13 week period, or longer if necessary, to determine whether they have a limited capability for work but also whether or not he or she is capable of ‘engaging in work-related activity’.

And further:

Suggested changes to the mental health activities and descriptors

There were 15 suggested activities in the October 2006 report rather than the current 4. These have different descriptors. A number of further recommendations were made in the transformation of the personal capability assessment report – February 2007 which reduced the proposed activities to 11. The 11 activities are now:

1. learning tasks
2. understanding instructions
3. memory and concentration
4. getting about – the February report recommended that this activity be renamed from “forward planning”
5. coping with change
6. execution of tasks
7. initiating and sustaining tasks – the February report recommended that this be reworded from the previous “initiation of tasks”. It was also recommended that the previous activity 12 “maintaining appearance and hygiene” become a subset of this activity.
8. inappropriate behaviour with other people – the February report recommended that activity 8 (appropriate behaviour with other people) and 11 (emotional resilience) be amalgamated into this single activity.
9. dealing with other people – the February report recommended that activity 9 (forming relationships with other people) and 10 (ability to communicate appropriately with other people) be amalgamated into this single activity.
10. coping with social situations – now includes the old activity 14 – “panic attacks”.
11. awareness of hazard.

The pass mark for mental health activities will be 15. It is possible to score 6, 9 or 15 in any one of the 15 activities.

I have no sense of what the implications of all this are for me. Does the fact that I can research and collate all this information mean I am employable? or does the fact that I weep on benefit advisers’ desks and contemplate suicide mean I am not? I have absolutely no idea. Should I, in preparation for this new scenario, be consulting with my doctor about being “signed off” as unfit for work even though I am not claiming incapacity benefit?

What I fear is that I shall be forced to take work of some sort which I shall struggle with, fail at, become more depressed, become even less able to work; my depression will affect my ability to care for my children, my children will suffer; our already precarious financial circumstances will spiral out of control into a completely untenable situation; my already tenuous ability to fill in all the forms, pursue every last avenue and grapple with bureaucracy will be eroded; we shall sink. I shall sink. I shall give up the struggle and pursue the course that seems the most obvious at these times. I don’t want this. Oh dear god I don’t want this. But I fear it, I fear it terribly.

UPDATE: points of information

There are two other benefits not mentioned above because they are not directly related to being a single parent.

The first is the non-means-tested, tax-free, universal child benefit.

The second is the means-tested tax credit scheme.

Louis Vuitton and a modest proposal to end the crisis in Darfur

Only yesterday Hg and I were talking of Jonathan Swift‘s pamphlet A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick. This classic work of satirical economic genius can be downloaded for free as an ebook or audiobook.

We were saying, Hg and I, how relevant Swift’s work is today, and nodding sagely over our coffees, as one does. Or, to be accurate, I nodded over my coffee and he over his glass of water.

This morning I discovered just how hip and happening Swift remains. After all, you can’t get much more hip and happening than Louis Vuitton, now can you. Here, as exhibit A, is the current picture on the international page of their website. I record it below merely because the levels of their hipness and happeningness are such that their images are probably frequently changed.

luxury leather luggage, French fashion designer

See the skull there on the table? we’ll be coming back to that later. But for now note the hint of Africana in the zebra-skin patterning of the shirt.

Louis Vuitton seems to have an affinity with Africa. Perhaps the best exposition of this is my friend Koranteng‘s post Bags and Stamps which explores, in all its glory, the iconography of this particular desirable designer article:

The significance of the logo or stamp of approval is iconic in expressing authenticity, legitimacy and belonging, demarcating the boundaries separating countries at once, and luxury status symbols delineating the rich from the poor.

That was a year ago and, as we know, fashions change fast. However Louis Vuitton’s interest in things African has not waned. The company recently discovered an image called Simple Living made by Dutch artist Nadia Plesner and sold on t-shirts and posters to raise awareness of the Save Darfur campaign. All the profits from their sale go to Divest For Darfur:

poster.jpg (JPEG Image, 1181x1589 pixels) - Scaled (46%)

My illustration Simple Living is an idea inspired by the medias constant cover of completely meaningless things. My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs appearantly is enough to get you on a magasine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs attention.

If you can’t beat them, join them. This is why I have chosen to mix the cruel reality with showbiz elements in my drawing.

The aphorism “if you can’t beat them, join them” is obviously not one to which the legal team of Louis Vuitton subscribes and in a letter to Nadia the director of the company’s intellectual property team requires that Nadia confirm by return fax that she will discontinue distribution and promotion of the products.

Although we applaud your efforts to raise awareness and funds to help Darfur, a most worthy cause, we cannot help noticing that the design of the Simple Living Proucts includes the reproduction of a bag infringing on Louis Vuitton’s Intellectual Property Rights, in particular the Louis Vuitton Monogram Multicolore Trademark to which it is confusingly similar. We are surprised of [sic] such a promotion of a counterfeit bag.

Nadia is refusing to cease and desist and now apparently faces a lawsuit filed by Louis Vuitton claiming more than $20,000 per day if she continues with the project.

Clearly Louis Vuitton have made a regrettable blunder. An individual art student is quite obviously not going to be in a position to provide them with the $20,000 per day they require. This is where my modest proposal might help. Not only will it furnish the company with the income it obviously so desperately needs but it will also, at the same time, end the crisis in Darfur!

Consider these two facts. Firstly the fact that, as book-binders have long known, human skin makes excellent leather:

They found human leather to be relatively cheap, durable and waterproof.

The second fact is that there’s already a developed market for human skin luggage products! This particular fabric is of course merely a pale and man-manufactured (as opposed to grown) imitation of the real thing, comparable to a cheap plastic knock-off of a genuine Louis Vuitton bag.

The war in Darfur is an ethnic crisis with predominantly nomadic Arab militias tacitly backed by the Sudanese Government against a group of non-Arab, pastoralist ethnic groups. So if the non-Arab ethnic groups no longer existed the conflict would be resolved, right? Right!

And what better way to bring about this happy state of peace than to find a really good use for all the children which would take them right out of the unpleasant conflict zone! Their parents could be paid to look after them carefully until the optimum age, taking care they don’t get burnt, scarred or in any other way sustain serious dermal damage. Then the older generation could use the payments to retire somewhere well away from the stresses of armed conflict.

It is almost as if the geniuses at Louis Vuitton have been planning for the solution I have proposed. Does the small skull in the picture on their web page hint at the future? For already they have a range of goods in “Nomade” leather which is, appropriately enough, of a pale brown colour. All they require now is a complementary range of genuinely agriculturalist origin and a delightful contrasting dark brown colour. The name for the new range is easy too. “Anthropodermic” is too clinical-sounding despite the benefit of accuracy. However the term “Pastorale” with its echoes of classical music and its terminal “e” mirroring that of the French word nomade would be ideal and bring to mind associations with the great corpus of delightful European pastoral literature as well as referencing its pastoralist origins.

Since the company is clearly extremely protective of its intellectual property rights it seems appropriate to prevent any unscrupulous tanners getting their hands on the LV hides so I further suggest that young children are early tattooed with the famous monogram, or the Louis Vuitton “stamp” used to such effect on the plaid bag pictured above, to prevent any use by a rival firm. The tattoos would, of course, have to be quite small to allow for subsequent growth but I have no doubt that dermatological research will provide the appropriate tattoo dimensions to result in patterning after the tanning process of exactly the right size.

alpha bullshit

alpha bullshit

Presumably someone somewhere has to sit down and write this stuff. I wonder how much they get paid for it.

The product, should you be consumed by an irresistible desire to acquire it as a result of reading the description, is a light switch.

Don't buy an Olympus camera

Just don’t. Really. I have no idea why anyone ever does. I so wish I wasn’t tied into the damn things. They’re probably fine and dandy if you’ve got shed-loads of cash. If you haven’t, they absolutely stink.

Take, for example, the subject of a ring flash for macro photography.

If you are fortunate (or sensible) enough to have a Canon or Nikon DSLR not only will you already have a high quality, reasonably priced macro lens (unlike the pathetic misguided – and I use the word advisedly – Olympus owner) but you will also be able to acquire a perfectly adequate ring flash for a mere £128 or so, no doubt considerably cheaper in dollar terms if you live in the US.

If you own an Olympus then dream on. There’s no third-party ring flash for you. Should you want a set-up like your happy Canon or Nikon owning friends you have to shell out for the notoriously over-priced Olympus branded accessories. So a mere £470 (lowest price I could find) is all that’s required. Unless of course you actually want to – gasp – use it with your macro lens. In which case you also have to shell out for the “optional Flash Adapter Ring FS-FR1” (in what sense “optional”, I ask myself, when the fucking thing won’t actually fit on the lens without it) which is a no doubt highly engineered piece of kit looking suspiciously like a plastic tube which costs the absolutely trifling sum of £85.

To summarise. Nikon or Canon? £128. Olympus? £555.

And don’t get me started on lenses. Just don’t. I might have an embolism or something.

Don’t buy an Olympus camera

Just don’t. Really. I have no idea why anyone ever does. I so wish I wasn’t tied into the damn things. They’re probably fine and dandy if you’ve got shed-loads of cash. If you haven’t, they absolutely stink.

Take, for example, the subject of a ring flash for macro photography.

If you are fortunate (or sensible) enough to have a Canon or Nikon DSLR not only will you already have a high quality, reasonably priced macro lens (unlike the pathetic misguided – and I use the word advisedly – Olympus owner) but you will also be able to acquire a perfectly adequate ring flash for a mere £128 or so, no doubt considerably cheaper in dollar terms if you live in the US.

If you own an Olympus then dream on. There’s no third-party ring flash for you. Should you want a set-up like your happy Canon or Nikon owning friends you have to shell out for the notoriously over-priced Olympus branded accessories. So a mere £470 (lowest price I could find) is all that’s required. Unless of course you actually want to – gasp – use it with your macro lens. In which case you also have to shell out for the “optional Flash Adapter Ring FS-FR1” (in what sense “optional”, I ask myself, when the fucking thing won’t actually fit on the lens without it) which is a no doubt highly engineered piece of kit looking suspiciously like a plastic tube which costs the absolutely trifling sum of £85.

To summarise. Nikon or Canon? £128. Olympus? £555.

And don’t get me started on lenses. Just don’t. I might have an embolism or something.

And the Zimbabwe elections?

Don’t turn to the BBC News website for Africa for any answers – they’re stuck in July 2002. Sheeeesh.

Update: It’s the link from the map on the front page that isn’t working. All other links to the Africa page seem to be going through to the correct place. Complete with Zimbabwe story.