Tagged: United Kingdom

We Few, We Fragile Few

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John Richards of Boston (the one in Lincolnshire, not the one in Massachusetts) is an atheist. He decided to express his atheism on his own property in a rather mild way: he put up a letter-sized piece of paper in his window with the slogan "religions are fairy stories for adults."

In the modern United Kingdom, this simply would not do.

John Richards was told by officers that he may face arrest if he put up the sign at his Vauxhall Road home, as it could breach the Public Order Act by distressing passers-by.

Now, when I first encountered the story, I thought that Mr. Richards might be exaggerating, or that this might be the act of a single out-of-line officer. In fact, when called on this, the local constabulary merely confirmed it:

In a statement Lincolnshire Police said the 1986 Public Order Act states that a person is guilty of an offence if they display a sign which is threatening or abusive or insulting with the intent to provoke violence or which may cause another person harassment, alarm or distress.

The statement adds: “This is balanced with a right to free speech and the key point is that the offence is committed if it is deemed that a reasonable person would find the content insulting.

“If a complaint is received by the police in relation to a sign displayed in a person’s window, an officer would attend and make a reasoned judgement about whether an offence had been committed under the Act.

“In the majority of cases where it was considered that an offence had been committed, the action taken by the officer would be to issue words of advice and request that the sign be removed.

“Only if this request were refused might an arrest be necessary.

So, it's not as bad as you thought. You don't get arrested immediately for hurting someone's feelings — you only get arrested if you refuse to stop hurting someone's feelings.

Today I'm not going to repeat my usual free speech rant: how suppression of the right to express oneself is vile, how the "balancing" of that right with a supposed right to be free of offense is unprincipled, and how such censorship is dangerous because it arms the state not only with weapons to suppress speech it doesn't like, but with ambiguous standards allowing it selectively to harass enemies.

Instead, I'd like to say a word about character.

What is the character of a person who sees a sign like that in a pensioner's window, and runs to the police to complain?

Could a person with such character stand up, against great odds, in the face of the the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt? Could such a person do his duty, as England expected, at Trafalgar? Could such a person keep calm and carry on? Would such a person fight on beaches, on landing grounds, in fields and streets, in the hills, and never surrender? Is such a person capable of having a finest hour?

I ask because of this: societies that make rules like this one, encouraging its citizens to scamper mewling behind the skirts of the government when faced with the least offense, produce people with the character necessary to take them up on the offer. It is hard to imagine how a nation run by people of that character can endure — or at least, how it can endure as anyplace you'd want to live.

Hat tip to Josephine Jones on this story.

Your Speech Has Been Weighed In The Balance And Found Wanting

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A couple of weeks ago I described events at University College of London, where the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society got in trouble with the Student Union because it posted a "Jesus and Mo" comic on its Facebook page.

That incident demonstrated that the "we have a protected right not to be offended" sentiment survives and even thrives.

It ain't over yet. The controversy has spread to the famous London School of Economics, where the local Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society posted the same "Jesus and Mo" comic on its Facebook page in solidarity with their UCL chapter, and received an even stronger response from the local Student's Union: a threat that they could be expelled from the Student Union unless they took it down. The LSE Student Union's statement on the matter is a master class in the mindset of censorious bureaucrats; indulge me and read it in full, with my emphasis:

On Monday 16th January it was brought to our attention via an official complaint by two students that the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society posted cartoons, published by the UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, depicting the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus "sitting in a pub having a pint" on their society Facebook page. Upon hearing this, the sabbaticals officers of the LSESU ensured all evidence was collected and an emergency meeting with a member of the Students' Union staff was called to discuss how to deal with the issue. During this time, we received over 40 separate official complaints from the student body, in addition to further information regarding more posts on the society Facebook page.

It was decided that the President and other committee members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society would be called for an informal meeting to explain the situation, the complaints that had been made, and how the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students' Union policy on inclusion and the society's constitution. This meeting took place on Friday 20th January at 10.30am. The society agreed to certain actions coming out of the meeting and these were discussed amongst the sabbatical team. In this discussion it was felt that though these actions were positive they would not fully address the concerns of those who had submitted complaints. Therefore the SU will now be telling the society that they cannot continue these activities under the brand of the SU.

The LSE Students’ Union would like to reiterate that we strongly condemn and stand against any form of racism and discrimination on campus. The offensive nature of the content on the Facebook page is not in accordance with our values of tolerance, diversity, and respect for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religious affiliation. There is a special need in a Students' Union to balance freedom of speech and to ensure access to all aspects of the LSESU for all the ethnic and religious minority communities that make up the student body at the LSE.

All the tropes of the censorious bureaucrat are there: leaping into action to bring petty power to bear, inquisitorial demands about the reasons for speech, and a bold pronouncement that free expression must be "balanced" — the balancing to be done by petty bureaucrats — against open-ended, vague, and unprincipled anti-discrimination principles. All of this was a result of a cartoon, on an organization's own Facebook page.

There are two ways to approach this phenomenon in the university. One way is for student organizations to abandon student unions and their petty speech-policing martinets and go their own way at the cost of funding and facilities. Student union funding has often been used as a weapon to suppress disfavored speech and association, and American courts have sometimes supported that use — as when the Supreme Court recently ruled that public schools could use anti-discrimination principles to de-fund religious groups unless they allowed non-believers to take leadership positions. This is a hard path — that student union money and those student union facilities, meager though they may be, can be essential to getting an organization off of the ground.

The other approach is to speak out, forcefully, and call out the bureaucrats who use their petty power to suppress expression they don't like under the thin guise of anti-discrimination principles. The seeds of the student unions' destruction lies in their own hubris, their own words. Ask any student: do you really trust student union leaders to "balance" your right to speak against whatever they feel is important on any given day? Ask any student: what sort of puerile, sanitized campus will you have if the student union defunds any group that ever says anything that anyone could find objectionable? Ask any student: do you really think, for even a moment, that the student union will weigh speech in the balance even-handedly? The London School of Economics Student Union condemns and censors a satirical cartoon on a humanist site — but do you think that those same student union members will lift a censorious finger to condemn or discourage actual threats of violence by people who claim offense at such discourse?

The survival of core cultural values like robust freedom of expression depends upon you — and people like you — calling out and condemning the censors of the world. I'd like to see the specific LSE Student Union leaders who took this action named and shamed worldwide. What can you do to help?

Hat tip to Ophelia Benson.

Edit: Via the comments, two more posts about the incident: the LSE Student Union paper, and Legal Cheek.

This Week In The Right Not To Be Offended — University College London Edition

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Listen to me: no sensible and well-ordered society can recognize a right to be free from offense. It's unprincipled and mercurial, a celebration of the rule of subjective reaction over the rule of law. It's an open invitation to censorship-by-heckler's-veto. It chills satire, parody, sharp retorts, hard truths, and uncomfortable revelations. George Bernard Shaw says "all great truths begin as blasphemies" — so where is the room for exploration of truth in a society that lets every entitled group define its own blasphemies and demand that everyone avoid uttering them? Going to courts complaining of fee-fees is no basis for a system of government.

Why the mini-rant? It's because today, courtesy of Ophelia Benson, I learned of a loathsome example of the assertion that we all have the right not to be offended, and an illustration of how it can be used as a weapon of suppression. The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London has a Facebook page, and on that page they posted a picture as part of an invitation to a party:

And you know what happened next:


Chris McGrath v. Vaughan Jones: An Unpleasant Peek Into U.K. Libel Law

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I'll be the first to admit: sometimes we are more than a little mean to the United Kingdom here at Popehat. But we kid because we love. The language, the history, the culture, the television, the fond memories of student life spent shivering on cobbled streets after the bars closed ludicrously early, waiting for a kebab van so that we could eat some gray meat carved off of a questionable shapeless haunch — we love it all.

But we don't love the U.K.'s approach to libel, and we applaud the recent rumblings of reform there. Though the SPEECH Act helps to protect Americans from the worst excesses of the U.K.'s plaintiff-biased and libel-tourist-destination system, that's cold comfort to Brits who get sued.

Consider the case of Vaughan Jones, a young blogger sued for leaving negative reviews of a book. I learned of Mr. Jones when he made some kind comments in the course of discussing legal threats from bumptious fake lawyer Marc Stephens. From there, I found and read John's fascinating and chilling blog about being a libel defendant in the U.K.

U.K. law limits what Jones can say about his own case. But he has a good summary of links to media coverage, including this one. The case concerns reviews Mr. Jones left on Amazon — now deleted — regarding Chris McGrath's book The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need To Know. McGrath has also sued Amazon itself over these negative reviews, and has sued Richard Dawkins and the Dawkins Foundation for their commentary. As you know, we have a low opinion of people who sue over negative book reviews. They are loathsome.

Apparently a decision is expected soon based upon the initial hearings. I look forward to reading it. Meanwhile, consider Jones' discussion of proposed reforms to U.K. libel law. Also consider his description of proceedings, some of which seem very odd to our tastes.

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation;"

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Judging by Twitter, the British public is waking up to one of the worst excesses their country perpetrates against the right of free speech: the ability of celebrities, the powerful, and the connected to obtain injunctions "contra mundum", or against the world, prohibiting publication of their embarrassing secrets.  Though allegedly this injunction (a prior restraint against speech as we would call it in the United States) is available to anyone, as a practical matter British courts issue it only for the better sort of person.

In theory, such an injunction prohibits anyone, in perpetuity, from mentioning that BBC political editor Andrew Marr is a shameful hypocrite who used his influence and power to cover up an extra-marital affair with another journalist for three years.  Though now that he has been caught, Marr claims to be ashamed for participating in such an abuse against free speech and a free press, even for writing this  from the United States, Marr could use Britain's notorious libel laws to attack your humble author for truthfully discussing his wanton lewdness and adultery.

Fortunately Popehat has no British readers.

They're all too busy speculating about which English Premier League "footballer" (a term I understand refers to a soccer player) obtained an injunction, contra mundum, prohibiting the world from discussing his extra-marital affair with BBC reality star Imogen Thomas.

Rumor has it that his name is Ryan Giggs.

SPEECH Act A Bulwark Against Buffoonish Brits

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I've been meaning to blog about good news on the free speech front: Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a fairly strong libel tourism bill.

The bill, called the SPEECH Act, limits recognition of foreign judgments. It prohibits any federal or state court from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation unless (1) the judgment creditor can prove that the foreign court offers equivalent protections for free speech as the defendant would have enjoyed in United States courts under the First Amendment, or (2) the judgment creditor can prove he or she would have prevailed even under the stricter standards in the United States. In addition, the SPEECH act provides that foreign libel judgments are unenforceable to the extent they are inconsistent with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides that people who run web sites are not liable for the content of comments left by visitors. Better yet, if a foreign judgment creditor tries to enforce a judgment here and the defendant resists it successfully on First Amendment grounds under the Speech Act, the defendant gets attorney fees and costs. Moreover, a domestic defendant faced with a foreign judgment can bring an action in federal court seeking a declaration that the foreign judgment is unenforceable.

In short, the Speech Act is an effective shield to prevent libel tourists from enforcing shitty foreign defamation laws against Americans. Hence countries that have terrible, censorious libel laws that encourage libel tourism, or have ambitions to police the internet by allowing foreign suits for things written on web sites hosted in the United States, will be thwarted — they'll be left with a useless foreign judgment unenforceable against people in the United States.

Why is this important?

Just ask the folks at the popular blog techdirt.

Years ago techdirt ran a blog post asking whether a company called Jeftel was a front for spammers. The post was long forgotten, and its untended comments ran to spam, cut-and-pasted Bible quotes, inanities, and squabbling. Standard internet stuff, in other words. Years later, a commenter suggested that the owner of the company offered preferential treatment to employees who shared his Jewish heritage. [Review the thread and judge the evidence on the spamming issue yourself; as to the anonymous commenter's assertion, it's obviously foolish and credulous to believe such things because an anonymous commenter says them.]

This drew an extraordinarily bumptious demand letter from a British lawyer, Brian Addlestone of Addlestone Keane in Leeds. Techdirt posts the letter, and I've saved it here as an artifact of extraordinary assholery. Addlestone threatens suit in the United Kingdom, claims that the accusations of spamming are untrue, and complains that the comment about preferential treatment is anti-semitic [sic]. Addlestone, in a flurry of self-important aggression, demands that techdirt shut its site down (not just take the post down, but take the entire site down) or Addlestone will get a British court to do it for him, and give him damages as well. Addlestone explains that he can get a British court to give him a judgment and then enforce it in the United States. So SHUT TECHDIRT DOWN. Or I'll ask again!

Thanks to the SPEECH Act, Addlestone's foolish threats are impotent. Even if he gets some pseudo-court in England to issue an injunction and damages award under the United Kingdom's loathsome defamation law, he'll never enforce it here. It will be, like Addlestone's diploma, an expensive but ultimately pointless scrap of paper. A United States court will never enforce an injunction taking down an entire web site on the theory that a post was defamatory. A United States court will never enforce a defamation judgment premised on a statement by a commenter; that would violate Section 230.

A cautious lawyer, before sending such a strident threat, might have checked first to see if there had been any recent developments in the law governing perfection of foreign judgments, particularly because prior versions of the SPEECH Act have been floating about, well publicized, for some time.

I hope Addlestone's client didn't pay him too much. Remember, kids: however inane your demand, you can always find a lawyer to utter it for you.

Only People with SOMETHING TO HIDE Close the Blinds

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What happens when the surveillance/informant state clashes with the speech-regulating state?

Well, at least in the United Kingdom, it looks as if the speech-regulating state wins.

Via Thatcher, I saw this decision by the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, the U.K.'s advertising watchdog. The decision reviewed an advertisement with the following text:

A radio ad for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline stated "The following message is brought to you by Talk Sport and the Anti-Terrorist Hotline. The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential, Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 XXXXXX. If you suspect it, report it".

The Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers defended the ad as "raising awareness" and informing the public that a combination of factors might lead them to conclude that someone is up to something nefarious. The ASA ruled that the ad should not be broadcast again. The ASA did not so rule on the basis that the advertisement represents part of the U.K.'s abandonment of its remarkable common law heritage of liberty, and its steady march towards a freakishly regulated surveillance state that is obsessed with getting citizens, including children, to inform on each other for wildly speculative reasons.

No, the ASA found the ad violated the ultimate speech-regulating sin — it's not that it promotes an authoritarian state that treads on all that makes England great, it's far, far worse than that. Someone's feelings might be hurt.

However, we considered that the ad could also describe the behaviour of a number of law-abiding people within a community and we considered that some listeners, who might identify with the behaviours referred to in the ad, could find the implication that their behaviour was suspicious, offensive. We also considered that some listeners might be offended by the suggestion that they report members of their community for acting in the way described. We therefore concluded that the ad could cause serious offence.

Now, the ASA is dead right that the advertisement is offensive. It's horrifically offensive to suggest that if you mind your own damn business and keep your blinds closed and avoid getting into debt by eschewing credit cards, there's any remotely rational basis to think you're up to no good. It promotes governance according to the socially totalitarian fantasies of the Gladys Kravitzes of the world, and indulges our base tendencies to suspect and scorn the odd man out. But focusing on it being offensive is missing the point, like asking whether or not police officers said "please" and "thank you" when they conducted an illegal search on your house. It's awful because it promotes the informant state and tightens the grasp of law enforcement over society, and encourages the view that everything, however mundane, is potentially deadly, so obey your local police officer! Only he can protect you!

If you're going to give a quasi-government, quasi-private entity the authority to regulate advertising expression based on "offense", why not give it authority to reject government advertising on the basis that it takes a shit on your cultural heritage and promotes totalitarian thinking?

Stalin's Final Victims: Orlando Figes' Reputation, Wallet, And Marriage

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Damn that Stalin!  He forced historian Orlando Figes to write sock-puppet reviews trashing books written by other authors.

One of Britain's leading historians, Orlando Figes, is to pay damages and costs to two rivals who launched a libel case after a row erupted over fake reviews posted on the Amazon website.

The award-winning Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London, admitted in April to posting critical reviews of books by a number of authors, including fellow historians Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service, praising his own work and rubbishing that of his rivals.

Initially, Figes denied the allegations, threatening legal action against colleagues, journals and newspapers that suggested he had written the reviews. …

Figes's lawyer, David Price, contacted the newspaper, demanding a "corrective publication", and suggesting that his client would be entitled to damages. Hours later Price issued a new statement, which said Figes's wife, the barrister Stephanie Palmer, had posted the comments, and that Figes himself had "only just found out about this, this evening".

In fact, Figes' cover story that his wife had written the reviews, some of which appear to have been connected to the suspiciously named "Orlando-Birkbeck" account, was also false.  Figes was later forced (by whom?) to admit that he'd written the reviews himself, and that he'd lied to his lawyer, not once ("I didn't write this! Sue the bastards!"), but twice. ("My wife did it!  I'm innocent!")

Which makes Figes' last line of defense, that he was driven to malign other historians by the stress of meeting victims of Stalin's Gulag, rather suspicious.

According to Dr. Rachel Polonsky, one of Figes' victims:

"I understand that he is claiming that he has been traumatised by the research he did with victims of the Russian gulags which caused him to behave like this. I think it is horrific to use one of the greatest acts of criminality in history to excuse his bad behaviour. In any case he has been behaving like this for years beforehand."

Walter Olson, from whom I got this story, wonders whether Figes would have been forced to pay damages in an American court.  Probably not.  But consider:  Figes' defense of his conduct, that he was in effect driven to sockpuppet and defame by Stalin's crimes, seems unlikely, perhaps even untrue.  Stalin committed appalling crimes, but are we to believe that Stalin drove a historian to destroy his career almost 57 years after the tyrant's death?

Under Russian law, even the dead (or more properly, their estates) may file defamation actions.  Joseph Stalin, in particular, has a litigious family.

It's possible Orlando Figes will, in the end, have to answer not just to Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service, and not just to his wife (to whom he probably answers every hellish night), but to Stalin himself.

Could Britain Get Any Weirder?

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It might well.  Current polls show the Liberal Democrats (descendants of the Liberal Party of Lloyd-George and Gladstone) in the lead for parliamentary elections in May.  Evidently voter disgust with Labour (Democrats) and the Conservative Party (Republicans) has gotten so high that the British people are seriously considering giving power, or at least the right to form a government, to a party that's equivalent to Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, and H. Ross Perot rolled into one.

But of course Britain has a vibrant tradition of multi-party democracy.  Except it doesn't.  And Britain's economy is in much worse shape than America's.  Except it isn't.  In any case, the British establishment seems to be getting very nervous about all this.  Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who by most accounts won Britain's first and only televised debate among party leaders, trouncing Gordon Brown and David Cameron, has the opportunity to repeat tonight.

Britain could indeed get weirder.  This weird.

God I love Tom Baker. And American politicians should take note.

Simon Singh Routs the Thug Quacks — But At What Cost To Him?

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I've written before about British scientist and journalist Simon Singh, who has been subjected to a lengthy and expensive defamation case under England's awful libel laws for writing this:

“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”

The British Chiropractic Association has consistently argued that Singh's use of the word "bogus" meant that he was accusing them of knowingly lying when they claim they can cure children of various diseases by fondling them, and that he must prove the truth of that claim under England's idiotic rule that the defendant must prove the truth of the challenged statement. Appallingly, they prevailed on that view in the trial court. Fortunately the Court of Appeal was more sensible:

he written judgment said that the original decision threatened to silence scientists or science journalists wishing to question claims made by companies or organisations. It said: “This litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic.”

Asking judges to rule on matters of scientific controversy would be to “invite the court to become an Orwellian ministry of truth”, the judgment said.

The BCA made noises about appealing further. Now, though, they have ignominiously abandoned the field, filing a "Notice of Discontinuance" of the action and issuing a self-serving statement.

Someone more familiar with English law can correct me, but it's my understanding that even under England's loser pays system, the BCA will not have to pay Singh's very substantial attorneys fees after abandoning its case. In that sense Singh's victory is Pyrrhic. The British Chiropractor's Association has successfully established that even when the legal system ultimately upholds your right to call a quack a quack, ultimately the quacks and their interest groups can inflict vast litigation expenses on you.

So, if we care about the freedom of scientific dialogue, how can we fight back against the thuggish quacks like the BCA? Well, we can fight back by writing and talking about incidents like this, and by pointing out that any "scientific" or "medical" entity that sues critics is inherently suspect and cannot be trusted. When the BCA is firmly and permanently associated in the public mind with censorious attacks on its critics, perhaps the public will be less likely to accept its junk science without critical judgment. Plus, we can urge our friends in England to agitate for reform of defamation law.

Attention Potential Immigrants To The United Kingdom

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If you'd like to move to Old Blighty, Prime Minister Gordon Brown would like a word with you.

He added: “To those migrants who think they can get away without making a contribution, without respecting our way of life, without honouring the values that make Britain what it is, I have only one message — you’re not welcome.”

Now, I have my suspicions about what that means, and you might as well:


But prudence, my friends, dictates that we be sure before we show up on Great Britain's doorstep with our suitcases. So I did a little research, and I think I have a list of essential items that form part of the U.K.'s way of life and form the values that immigrants must honor. Here are some precepts:


Great News For Christian Scientists, Witch Doctors, And Dionne Warwick!

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Jealous of all those smug oncologists and neurologists getting all the money, while you're left with the scraps and an untreated brain tumor?  You need merely emigrate to the United Kingdom, where anti-discrimination law will guarantee you a living, and a medical degree:

Alan Power, who has been a member of a Spiritualist church for 30 years, argues that his belief in the power of mediums should be placed on a par with more mainstream religious and philosophical convictions.

He has already secured a legal ruling that his principles are covered by laws designed to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace, and is now seeking to prove that they were the reason for his dismissal.

Mister Power was dismissed by the city of Manchester because he consulted psychics.  Oh, did I call him Mister Power? That should be Detective Power. Power was fired from his job as a police trainer because he recommended that budding British cops consult psychics to solve crimes.

Of course it doesn't matter that British courts won't accept psychically derived testimony as evidence, any more than it matters that British tumors won't respond to sincere prayer or ginseng root extract.  Someone has been discriminated against.  It's unfair, and there ought to be a law!

Naturally we can't predict the future.  We can't know, yet, that British courts will recognize a right for Christian Scientists to work as physicians, free of the the twin tyrannies of biology and so-called "good medical practice."  Only a psychic could know that.  But the precedent follows naturally.

As for those wrongly convicted, or whose diseases go untreated as a result of this groundbreaking precedent, at least they'll be free of discrimination in their cells and hospices.

Via Overlawyered.

No Country For Old Women

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Renate Bowling, a 71 year old widow who escaped to the free world from East Germany, is now a common criminal.  She had the poor judgment to "poke" a 17 year old hooligan who was part of a gang throwing rocks at her house.  While in America or any other sane country Ms. Bowling would have been let off with a warning, Ms. Bowling is not so fortunate.

She has the bad luck to live in the world's worst nanny state.

The Crown Prosecution Service today defended its decision to take legal proceedings against a 71-year-old woman who prodded a 17-year-old youth in the chest.

Renate Bowling, of Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire, confronted the boy in the street after stones were thrown at her home.

The disabled widow, who walks with a steel frame, said she thought it was a "joke" when police arrived at the scene and arrested her for jabbing the teenager with her finger.

While the Crown, which undoubtedly prosecuted this vicious criminal for the sake of the children, claims there was no evidence that the youth who received this vicious jabbing threw the rock, it ignores Ms. Bowling's own account, in which she saw the boy standing in the street, in the direction from which the rocks had been thrown, and later hiding behind a wall.  Ms. Bowling had to toddle out with her walker to confront the little monster.

As we wrote a couple of months ago, discussing a very similar case:

Funny, it wasn’t too long ago that Mrs. Lake wouldn’t have had to strike young hooligans who vandalize war memorials. The police would be doing it for her, and deservedly so. While it would probably set a bad example to actually give her a medal, the most she should have gotten is a strong warning, delivered with a smile.

Shame on the child’s parents, for allowing their son to run wild like a beast in the streets, and shame on the prosecutors who brought charges against her.

What sort of country raises entitled young hooligans, who abuse old ladies by pelting them with stones and calling them "German whores"?  Hooligans who run to the police when they're beaten up by the old ladies? What sort of country tolerates, encourages, and condones this sort of behavior?

It's a good thing that prosecutors in the UK can exercise their discretion.  Otherwise there might be some serious injustice going on.

Jack, of "in the Box" Fame, Needs Warning Label in England, France

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This is Jack.


Lawmakers in the United Kingdom and France want to make sure that you understand that is not Jack's real head you see in that picture there. Depending on the picture you view, Jack's gigantic head is part of a costume, airbrushed, or digitally enhanced.

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom and France believe that you cannot be trusted to understand that advertisements contain trickery, airbrushing, props, costumes, and digital enhancements all designed to make people and things look more enticing or interesting so that you will buy the products they are selling. (If you are in the United Kingdom or France, and have voted for these lawmakers, they might be right about that.) Moreover, lawmakers in the United Kingdom and France believe it is the place of the government to regulate the populace's potential misconceptions about head size.

Lawmakers might not actually have Jack in mind. They are thinking mostly of attractive women. Lawmakers in England and France want to pass laws limiting advertisers' ability to airbrush their models. French legislators want warning labels and fines:

French MPs are demanding airbrushed photos come with a government 'health warning' to protect women from false images of female beauty.

British legislators, by contrast, want outright bans:

The Liberal Democrats today backed a ban on the airbrushing of photos which create "overly perfected and unrealistic images" of women in adverts targeted at children.

The party also formed policy calling for cigarette-style health warnings by advertisers for the adult market which "tell the truth" about the use of digital retouching technology.

It will be interesting to see the Liberal Democrats draft legislation defining exactly what images of women are unrealistic and "overly perfected." Will they use Margaret Thatcher as a benchmark?

Anyway, all of this is premised on the notion that airbrushed models are harmful to the self-esteem and body images of women:

Mrs Boyer, who has also written a government report on anorexia and obesity, added: 'We want to combat the stereotypical image that all women are young and slim.

'These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents.

'Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age.

Apparently these legislators believe that women, and girls, are stupid creatures who credit advertising messages uncritically. They also believe that parents are incompetent to teach their children otherwise. This was something of a surprise to me. The most incisive critics of advertising messages I know are women. And I'm already having fun teaching my kids how to spot subtext and message in advertisements. They are doing well at it already, and learning to see it as the game it can be. Perhaps England and the Continent has people who are . . . well, let's let kindness draw the curtain on that.

For as long as there has been advertising, it has been based on presenting fantasy, not reality. Beer will not make you attractive to women, unless it is the women drinking large quantities of it. Your teeth won't look that white. Your hair won't bounce like that. Your hamburger isn't going to look that good. And if you say, "No, dear — to ourhealth," your spouse isn't going to laugh delightedly. He or she is going to get a conservatorship and put you in a home, you nattering old fool.

Do advertisements send messages about body image? Of course they do. They send the message "extremely beautiful people buy our products, and if you buy our products, you will be extremely beautiful too." A warning label that says "This model in the advertisement might not actually look this way if you caught him or her before three coffees, or after a bad day or a pub crawl" does send a counter-message. But that counter-message is not "hey, you are beautiful and acceptable, too." The counter-message is a deeply condescending and humiliating one: "Hey, you are a fucking moron, fatty, and your government cant trust you to sort out reality from advertising unless we spell it out for you."

Critics say that it is terrible that advertisers are creating norms for what is beautiful and what appropriate body-image is. To that I respond: is it better to have the government responsible for regulating what is beautiful and what appropriate body-image is?

Give the lawmakers this, though: they are at least adding value through a combination of self-deprecating ironic humor and brutal honesty:

"Liberals don't like bans," she said. "But we do recognise we all need it to protect children from harm, whether it's smoking, watching violence or sex."