Should Cigarette Brands Be Hidden?

Australian cigarette packaging
Australian cigarette packaging

This week, the UK government ended a consultation on whether cigarette companies should continue to be allowed to use branding and packaging to make their products more attractive. I’ve read and listened to some of the coverage, trying to decide as to whether this strategy will be effective in cutting smoking, but so far few facts have emerged from the noise of debate. Anti-smoking campaigners argue passionately for the ban, while “libertarian” free market advocates claim it will have no effect, and stifle freedom.

My heart is with the ban; the tobacco industry has proven itself to be the worst kind of scum, successfully denying any link with cancer for decades after 1950s research revealed the risks (indeed, denial of the tobacco-cancer link until the 1990s was a favourite moron argument, paralleling today’s denial of climate change). Only when huge class action suits threatened the industry’s very existence did it turn away from lying about its product’s health risks. Tobacco is by far the most dangerous of all recreational drugs, linked with an estimated 18% of all deaths in British over-35s, and 5% of all hospital admissions. My libertarian sympathies, also, aren’t aroused by the prospect of forcing the removal of branding from packaging. Liberty is for people, not corporations, and nobody is (yet) suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to buy or smoke tobacco (I’d strongly opposes any outright ban on tobacco sale or consumption). The idea that anyone is losing liberty by having to buy Marlboro in an olive rather than red-and-white pack is ludicrous (yet this kind of argument is a common piece of “libertarian” nonsense).

Would a branding ban reduce smoking? That seems less clear. Its advocates seem to have more passion than facts at their disposal. A comparison with the illegal part of the recreational drugs business suggests that branding isn’t a pre-requisite for product popularity. Highly popular drugs, such as MDMA (pure Ecstasy crystals) and cocaine are typically delivered in small plastic bags, or neatly folded up in a old lottery ticket. Cannabis is sold in a plastic bag or clingfilm. There are some approximations to branding: batches of Ecstasy tablets can usually be identified by size, colour, shape and stamp. Mitsubishi pills were popular a decade or so ago, and popular brands like Apple and Nike have taken over more recently. Rumours of a particularly good batch of pills would make a particular brand popular; but in a black market with no trademark protections, if “Apples” are all the rage, manufacturers will quickly begin producing fake Apples. Cannabis is “branded” based on its strain; a grower who creates a hybrid to be proud of will give it a memorable name – classics include White Widow and Orange Bud. But once the seeds are in the public domain, all brand control is lost.

Due to their illegality, cannabis, cocaine and Ecstasy can’t be effectively branded; but their popularity seems undented nonetheless. For decades (millennia in the case of cannabis), these drugs have only increased in popularity. It seems that branding, rather than increasing overall market size, simply increases the ability of corporations to control the market. To me, that seems like a bad thing – corporations create brand loyalty in order to ultimately reduce consumer choice and dominate the market.

It seems that brands contribute to the monopolisation of markets, reducing competitiveness and choice. The huge variety of recreational drugs for sale, and the endless scientific innovation in the field contrasts favourably with the increasing lack of innovation in legal markets, where corporations, having established dominance, get better returns from crushing competition than from investing in research and development. This is the classic contradiction of Capitalism; by succeeding, it dies.

On this basis, branding is the ultimate enemy of the free market. Can anyone claim that McDonalds or Budweiser have led to improved choice or quality? Brand psychology is hugely sophisticated, and we’re all susceptible, however aware we are. It’s why Brad Pitt sells more movie tickets than a brilliant, but unknown actor. It’s why in a strange city, I gravitate to Starbucks – it’s not the best coffee, but it’s familiar and I know what to expect.

Perhaps libertarians, rather than defending the right of British American Tobacco to lure us with fancy packaging, should be welcoming the tobacco experiment, and calling for its extension. In a sane world, perhaps adults would be presented with a choice of unbadged tobacco, alongside unbadged cannabis, cocaine and Ecstasy, all of which have far fewer health issues than cigarettes. Of course, we don’t live in a sane world – but it’s worth at least thinking about.

Bringing Love to the Children of Palestine

Palestinian ChildThe news from Israel/Palestine (at least the real news, rather than the sterile state-approved variety carried by much of the world’s mass media) is relentlessly grim. The lives of ordinary Palestinians, so dehumanised by racist, biased reporting, are always on the verge of desperation. Israel constantly turns up the pressure, preventing people from travelling to work, restricting supplies of clean water and other basic goods; not to mention daily small-scale violence, and the occasional, astonishing act of mass-slaughter, like Operation Cast Lead almost four years ago.

I report frequently on news from the area (often using the wonderful resource provided by Jews For Justice For Palestinians) – I see no short-term solutions, but the first act must simply be to raise awareness worldwide. But what can ordinary supporters of Palestine do to help? If the political problem is intractable, at least the lives of ordinary Palestinians can be relieved by gestures of love and care. The Palestinians often feel abandoned by the world – with good reason.

It’s currently Ramadan, the fasting period, which is followed by the celebration of Eid. Four Londoners, will soon be travelling to Gaza to volunteer in the Jabalia refugee camp, in which around 100,000 people are squeezed into 1.4 sq km, which makes it among the mostly densely-populated places on Earth. The Israelis, in their wisdom, bombed one of the UN-run schools in the camp during Cast Lead, killing 40 civilians, mostly children. The four will be carrying gifts for some of the children there; at least to give a moment of happiness, as well as a reminder that people outside Gaza do care about the atrocities being perpetrated.

Please support these four Londoners in their journey. They are covering all of their travel expenses by themselves; any donations will go towards Eid gifts for the children of Jabalia refugee camp.

You can donate here: http://gofundme.com/gifts-for-gaza

Pole Dancing and the Olympics

Another article from our striptease correspondent Edie Lamort: a stripper’s view of the Olympics, pole dancing and “objectification”.

ItStripper Edie Lamort was a working weekend for me and it coincided with the Olympic Super Saturday. There were only a handful of customers up until 10pm so we all sat there cheering on the athletes and watched Team GB row, run, jump and throw their way to Olympic gold. Girls in their underwear cheering and applauding for Jess, Mo and the rest of team. Then the conversation switched to the next day and the men’s 100 meters.

“Are you watching it?”

“Definitely!!!”

It seemed that most of the girls were planning on watching, to drool over the astonishing physique of the male athletes. So lengthy conversations flowed between ‘how amazing it would be to have a body like Jessica Ennis’ and ‘which discipline resulted in the best male body?’ ‘Is it the athletes? How about the swimmers? The boxers? Or the gymnasts?’ Now were we wicked women ‘objectifying’ these poor athletes? Focusing on their bodies rather than their feelings, opinions and stories? Having those very detailed discussions about the thighs, bums, shoulders and biceps of these alpha males at the height of their physical fitness. They use their bodies for their work and spend all their time striving for physical perfection. Is that a terrible thing?

Then it was time to ‘jug’ and go on stage. I went around and collected for my show, smiling and making small talk with the handful of customers, patiently waiting to watch some striptease. Small talk such as; ‘enjoying the Olympics?’

“Which ones?” asked a customer, “The track and field on the TV or the gymnastics on stage?”

Well thanks guys! It’s nice to know all that training gets noticed. All of us on the shift were pole dancers who stretch, train and practice our pole moves. We lift our body weight, do vertical splits on the pole, hang upside down from one ankle and hold on with one armpit. One of the girls I was working with is also a black belt kick boxer who trains three times a week and competes. She is an amazing ‘poler’ too with muscles I didn’t even know existed.

“Pole should be an Olympic sport,” said another group “It’s a form of gymnastics.”

The audience clapped at the end of the show, and also during the show, each time someone did an impressive move. From the incredibly posh boys in their suits and cravats, who had been at the rowing that day, to the rock ‘n’ roll-tattooed groups from the nearby council estate. These people appreciated the show we were putting on. There we only two idiots during that shift, one who I watched in amusement as he insulted the black belt kick boxer, and thought, ‘feminists’ worry about the safety of the girls but maybe they should be more concerned for the safety of the men!

The night before I had been at another pub in Shoreditch and the same conversations were happening. Screens at the side of the stage were showing athletics next to girls on the stage, doing gravity-defying pole moves. The female athletes were wearing tiny crop tops and hot pants, kind of like we do for the first half of our shows, before getting naked. I could see customers glancing from screen to stage making the connection. There was a particularly good set of dancers on that night including this year’s runner-up in Miss Pole Dance UK; a girl who is beautiful to watch and trains for a couple of hours a day, including an hour of stretching. Her shows are wonderful because it is the combination of aerial performance and the sexiness. As opposed to just a show of strength it also has the grace of dance and a stripper’s ability to be sexy. I admire her dedication to her training because I certainly don’t do that!

So as athletes performed on the track, strippers in London’s east end did shoulder mounts, hangback into half moon into bow and arrow, Aisha holds and vertical splits, flags and hand springs. Our mostly male, respectful audiences ‘get it’, those ‘feminists’ who wish to make us illegal do not.

Who ‘objectifies’ and fetishizes us? It’s not the majority of the customers in the strip pubs. What does that ridiculous word ‘objectification’ even mean?  Some of the bizarre questions and obsessional sanction we get from the prohibitionists verges on a weird kind of voyeurism. I love my art form and have recently added another move to my repertoire, which is exciting and very satisfying. I look forward to doing more training and getting more graceful. I like the feeling of health and strength, and I like my biceps, even though they may not be considered feminine. We are independent and strong women. We do not need to patronized or rescued. We need to be celebrated!

Porn Trial: How Consenting Sex May Be Illegal in the UK

Met Police
Coming Soon To A Bedroom Near You

Here’s a perfect illustration of how authoritarians make use of moral panics to persuade people that personal freedoms must be monitored and attacked by the state.

In 2003, a Brighton teacher called Jane Longhurst was killed by Graham Coutts. Coutts claimed that she had died during consenting sexual asphyxiation play, but the prosecution suggested that the two had not been lovers, and that she had been raped and murdered. He was convicted of murder and imprisoned. Much attention in the trial focused on Coutts’ interest in asphyxiation, and on his possession of pornographic images depicting this.

Although no evidence was provided to show that the porn had led Coutts to kill Longhurst (and indeed, such porn has become widespread without an increase in such crimes), a moral panic began over “violent porn”. The Labour government, already hugely authoritarian in many ways, first tried to ban web sites carrying “violent pornography”. When this moronic attempt at censorship failed, their next approach was even more authoritarian: to ban the possession of “violent” pornographic imagery. This was put into law as Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, better known as the Violent Porn Law.

Starting from the killing of one woman, and based on unfounded rumours that her killing had been linked to pornography, the UK government had instituted one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in recent British history. Now, a person could be imprisoned for downloading or possessing on video or DVD any pornography that might breach the law, even if they were unaware of the law’s existence.

The key parts of the law defining violent porn are as follows:

  • An act threatening a person’s life
  • An act which results (or is likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals

So for example, sexual asphyxiation could be deemed to threaten a person’s life. Although many people enjoy this act, possessing an image of someone enjoying it is now illegal. Note that the owner of the image has responsibility not just to be familiar with the law, but to make the decision as to whether is it “life-threatening” or not. In other words a video of two consenting adults engaging in asphyxiation, and causing no harm to each other, may still be deemed illegal, and result in a prison sentence for anyone possessing it.

The second provision is similarly vague. Anal fisting is an act enjoyed by many people, gay and straight. It’s perfectly legal to fist (or be fisted) so long as the act is consensual. And yet, if a photograph is taken, published on the Internet and downloaded, the person downloading it can be imprisoned.

The New Labour control-freaks have triumphed yet again: viewing of a consenting sexual act has become illegal. The government feels it has a right to decide which consenting sex acts are unsuitable for the British public. And to be clear, the key word here is consenting.

As I write this, Simon Walsh is on trial at Kingston Upon Thames Crown Court for possession of images of anal fisting. The police had raided him, found no imagery on his work computer, but then gained access to his email and found images attached to emails that he had received. The police have no evidence that the attachments were ever opened. By the fact that Walsh had simply received images of consenting sexual activity, the police and Crown Prosecution Service have decided there is a case to answer – and Walsh is facing up to three years imprisonment.

It gets murkier: in his professional life, Simon Walsh has been involved in… guess what? Prosecuting police officers who are charged with disciplinary offences. Perhaps this explains the police enthusiasm in finding pornography in his “possession” – and then proceeding with a prosecution.

I wish Simon Walsh all the best in winning his case, and furthermore hope that his victory will be a first step in revoking this ludicrous, draconian law.

The ongoing case can be following via the Twitter hashtag #porntrial. Walsh’s lawyer is Myles Jackman, who can be followed at @ObscenityLawyer and via his blog.

The New Holocaust Denial: Ignoring Israel’s Final Solution

Vanishing Palestine
If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is?

To hear Europeans speak today, you’d think that nobody in the 1930s and 1940s supported the industrialised genocide that destroyed Europe’s Jewish population. And yet, history tells otherwise. Most people in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy and other European states simply ignored what was going on (if they weren’t actively complicit). Britain and other nations refused to allow in Jewish refugees. Most of those on the right, and many on the left, accepted at least part of the “Jewish Problem” justification. European Jews had no powerful friends.

When the state of Israel was founded after WWII, Europe rushed to recognise and embrace it. Although it was created by terrorism and ethnic cleansing, Europeans turned a blind eye – partly out of guilt, and partly to maintain that anti-Semitism was someone else’s fault. “Me, anti-Semitic? But look, I support the state of Israel!” As millions of Arabs were forced from their homes, nobody said anything.

But those who thought the Zionists would simply be content with driving out some Arabs, taking some land, weren’t paying attention. Israel’s founders were already patiently working to a plan: the annexation of all the land.

Every war, every attack is an opportunity for retaliation. As we have seen repeatedly, a single terrorist attack – even one that claimed no lives – could be the excuse for a full-scale military onslaught, with troops, bombs and chemical weapons used against civilian targets. Although Israel repeatedly claims to be “defending itself against terrorism”, only the most blinkered could still believe that to be true. Every act of Israel’s has been to destroy peace treaties and encourage terrorism. When Yasser Arafat’s PLO was ready to do business, Israel aided the creation of Hamas, to make sure no deal could be done. In 2006, Hamas seemed ready to recognise the state of Israel – so the Zionists responded by attacking Hamas and strengthening anti-Israeli sentiment in Gaza. Israel is not looking for treaties or surrenders; the Zionist goal is, and has always been, a Jewish state on the entirety of Palestine (and quite possibly beyond).

The map above illustrates a clear trend. Israel knows that its genocide cannot be carried out too quickly; it must be slow enough that the Americans (if nobody else) can be persuaded that it isn’t even taking place.

Yesterday, I tweeted a link about yet another small part of this slow genocide. Israel is about to begin rounding up around 70,000 Bedouin Arabs,  destroy 35 villages, and place these people into – effectively – concentration camps. I used the term Final Solution in the tweet – this term related to the annihilation of European Jews by the Nazis.

My tweet received some hostile reaction (as tweets about the reality of Israel always do) – and not just from Zionists. It seems that the term – Final Solution – is now exclusively for Jewish use, and can only be applied to one specific genocide. But I picked the term very carefully. To deny use of the term means denying a deliberate genocide, with a planned end-game,  is underway in Israel/Palestine. And without doubt, genocide is happening before our eyes.

The Nazis talked of a “Jewish Problem”, and formulated a Final Solution to it: the Holocaust. Likewise, the Zionists see the existence of Arabs in Israel and the West Bank as their “Palestinian Problem”, and they too are working on a Final Solution. The round-up of the Bedouin mentioned above is just one of many small pieces of this genocide. Most of the genocide takes place in fragments so small that unless you pay attention, it could appear like a series of unlinked incidents. Use of chemical weapons against civilians. Cutting water supplies. Olive groves destroyed. Zionist settlers allowed to shoot civilians, even children, while the IDF stand by and watch. Day in, day out, Palestinians are killed, injured, arrested, beaten, driven from their homes, see their homes demolished and many more humiliations, provocations and injustices.

Many on the left are either afraid to be labelled anti-Semitic, or are genuinely blind to the scale of the Zionists’ ambitions. Being of Jewish background, I can laugh off accusations of anti-Semitism; I applaud the bravery of those non-Jewish supporters of Palestine who are called anti-Semites on a daily basis. The Zionists use every tool in their arsenal, and accusing opponents of racism is one of their favourites. I find it tragic that the mainstream left, which failed to see Europe’s approaching genocide in the 1930s, seems oblivious to an ongoing genocide.

In case you’re still missing the big picture, you’ve ignored the past 60 years of evidence, and the map above doesn’t help either, let me put it in plain English: the Zionists have no intention of stopping until every last scrap of land in Israel and the West Bank is taken by Jews. But this leaves them with a “Palestinian problem” – despite already killing or expelling millions, there are still millions of Arabs left. From the Zionist perspective, this must be dealt with – and it will be. The Zionists have not stopped advancing, killing or grabbing land for one single day since the 1940s. How naive would you have to be to assume they intend to stop now?

Simply grabbing most of the land isn’t enough for the Zionists to achieve their goal. Even within Israel, there is a growing Arab population. Left untouched, this will overtake the Jewish population in size at some stage. The Zionists are on a long-term mission; the creation of a permanent Jewish state requires a Final Solution: a permanent guarantee that Israel will remain Jewish. This inevitably means “cleansing” the land of non-Jews. Their logic leaves no space for any other interpretation. Besides the endless violence in the West Bank, and the brutal blockade of Gaza, the Final Solution must take place within Israel too. Recent mob attacks on African immigrants have been widely reported; but this is institutional, not just street violence. Non-Jews are harassed at the border, and refused medical treatment. Now Arabs within Israel itself are being rounded up by security police – how much more closely does Israel have to resemble Nazi Germany before the world takes action?

Anyone who follows and understands the Zionist mindset will understand what is going on. The rise of fascist sentiment in the Israeli leadership, military and population is a prelude to what the Zionists believe must happen next; Israel has always committed atrocities since its birth, but now, much more blood must be spilt to finish the job. The West Bank cleansing is growing in speed; attacks on non-Jews in Israel are accelerating. And Israel beats the drum of war towards Iran and Lebanon too. It appears that some sort of deal has been struck between the US administration and Netanyahu – he went quiet after his meeting with Obama earlier this year, and is likely waiting for the US Presidential elections to be held in November. After that, whoever wins, expect to see Israel go on the warpath (with the US in support).

It’s not fashionable to deny the Holocaust, but denying that Israel is committing genocide is perfectly normal. Politically correct, even. The European left bites its tongue, as it did in the 1930s. Many members of my extended family died in the Holocaust – I make no apology for comparing the Nazis with today’s Zionists; many Holocaust survivors have also done so. Again I feel frustration and shame as the cowardly left makes the same mistake it did in the 1930s – misunderstanding and underestimating the genocidal nature of fascism. The last Palestinian village in the West bank will look just like the Jews’ last stand in the Warsaw ghetto. And just as in Warsaw, most of the Western world will just look the other way.