spiked-geist, 27 February

Exploding teddy bears, 'Your NHS', and Bush's verbal diarrhoea causes a run.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

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Don’t believe what you read

The Pentagon has stirred up a hornet’s nest by setting up an Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), says the Daily Telegraph. The aim is to promote a positive image of the ‘war against terrorism’ and to send out some ‘black propaganda’ to the foreign media. ‘A Pentagon source, who asked not to be named, said there were some European nations that “sometimes needed to be helped to see the light”.’

Europeans are not amused. One unnamed diplomat said, ‘All I can see this sort of thing doing is giving a mighty good excuse to our enemies for dismissing all coalition claims as black propaganda’. Surely the point of covert operations is that you don’t tell anybody what you’re up to?

(update – 27/2/2002: Donald Rumsfeld has now announced that the OSI is to be closed down. Apparently, ‘the office has been so damaged that it is clear to me, it’s pretty clear to me that it cannot function’.)

And today’s number is 79.8

The BBC ran a series of programmes and online events on ‘Your NHS’ – to find out what is really going on in the NHS and to ask us, the consumers, what the NHS’s priorities should be. Viewers and listeners had the chance to rate which services they thought were most important, with the top five then being put to prime minister Tony Blair in a BBC interview. The choices were: cleaner hospitals, drugs regardless of cost, free long-term care for elderly, improved accident and emergency services, more money for mental health, more pay for NHS staff, a reduced wait for heart/cancer care, and the ability to see a GP within 48 hours.

Forget the political process of electing representatives who closely monitor our leaders and call them to account – let’s have a fashion parade of the most worthy health problems instead!

And who picks which of ‘our’ priorities make it into reality? Cleaner hospitals v more pay for staff? I think hospitals should be clean, and I think staff should get paid a decent wage. Does that mean we should now put up with filthy hospitals?

The other thing ‘Your NHS’ allows you to do is calculate your life expectancy. That this is a wholly unscientific thing to do is not mentioned. Instead you are asked:

Do you eat more than a couple of hot dogs, sausages or slices of bacon a week?

Do you have a bowel movement at least once every two days?

Do you engage in risky sexual (unprotected or promiscuous) or drug-related behaviour, that increases your risk of contracting HIV or viruses that can cause cancer? (Am I supposed to know which viruses cause cancer?)

Which statement is applicable to you?: ‘Stress eats away at me. I can’t seem to shake it off’ or ‘I can shed stress’. This might be by praying, exercising, meditation, being able to respond to humour, or by other means.

As a non-smoking, occasionally exercising male with a family history of heart disease, the quiz came up with the bizarrely precise figure of 79.8 years, which means I’ve only got 35.75 years to go! Maybe I should jack in this job and make the most of the few precious months (429) I have left.



The World Health Organisation says that 18 percent of the global population is now obese (Independent). ‘The global “fat epidemic” is no longer the exclusive problem of rich countries and many poorer nations are now facing the double threat of some of its citizens being malnourished while others are seriously overweight, the American Association for the Advancement of Science was told.’ Apparently, the number of overweight people in the world is now close to the number who are malnourished.

There’s something decadent about a society that makes such a fuss about obesity. It is true that weight is linked to a number of illnesses, but malnourishment is associated with far more illnesses. The fact is, most of us eat more and better food than ever before and we do less physical labour because more work is automated. Are these really such bad things?

Bush’s verbal diarrhoea causes a run

Great to see President Bush’s mouth back on form. The Independent tells how Bush managed to induce a mini-run on the Yen by saying that he had discussed ‘devaluation’ with Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. What he meant to say was that he had discussed ‘deflation’, but the correction only came after the Yen fell on the exchanges.

Bored of the Rings

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times hit the nail on the head with his review of The Lord of the Rings: ‘It is a tedious, boring, pointless waste of three hours… . This is the plot: the bad guys are coming. Run away from the bad guys. More bad guys are coming. Fight off the bad guys. The bad guys are taking over the world. Kill off as many bad guys as possible, but not the important ones just yet.’

My backside went to sleep during the film. Even my flatmate hated it and he’s a Tolkien fan. So I can see why Brown is outraged by the 13 Oscar nominations.

But he has been deluged with bitter correspondence from Tolkienites, including this gem: ‘From one who has seen it 16 times, I most ardently disagree with your assessment that LOTR is a good cure for insomnia. I haven’t fallen asleep even once during all those viewings. I am constantly finding new and interesting things (since I pretty well know that script) in the set designs, etc. I always sit through the credits so I can listen to Enya’s Song.’ Jeez, get a life.

Okay, so I’ve seen Pulp Fiction eight times – which works out about once every nine months since it was released. But it is one of the wittiest and coolest movies ever made, and not a pile of childish nonsense about a made-up world.


Happy Valentine’s Day

Do people still celebrate VD, as it were, with any gusto? Is it just another excuse to buy cards? Or more likely, another excuse for newspaper columnists to tell us that love has a dark side, too….?

Nobody seems interested in the plus-sides of love these days, except boy bands – and they spend half their time warbling about how heartbroken-they-are-without-you.

Take sending emails that say ‘I love you’. As BBC News reports, there is a now a service that allows you to send an anonymous email to the person you fancy, and which allows them to reply without knowing who you are. Haven’t these people heard of Hotmail?

I sent Her Indoors the modern man’s Valentine gift – free text-messages for life. About one billion SMS messages will be sent on Valentine’s Day, says the Observer. Not only is it a good way to keep in touch with your true love, but also a good way to find out if the bastards are screwing around behind your back. Haven’t these people heard of pay-as-you-go? No itemised bills, you see.

The Observer’s article has a great little anecdote bringing together infidelity and 11 September: ‘Nick’s long-term girlfriend discovered his infidelity on 11 September when he was in New York, having arrived the night before the World Trade Center disaster. Getting no response to frantic texts to him and despairing of his health, his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend found the telephone number of the hotel he was staying in and called his room. Nick’s new love answered the telephone.’

Even teddy bears are not immune from this darker side, as the New York Post reports. The FBI warns of a bomb threat to planes from devices hidden in teddies, based on the shock-horror observation that a Middle-Eastern gentleman had bought some teddy bears, cans of propane and BB pellets in a Wal-Mart (what are BB pellets?). There is no other evidence of a threat. But like love, terrorism can bring paranoia.


According to the Daily Telegraph, some poor unfortunate Portuguese wine company has had to recall 300,000 bottles of the stuff because the picture on the bottle, a bearded man in a turban, looked too much like Osama bin Laden.

Read on:

See my weblog, Roblog.

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Topics Politics


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