Charlie Brooker — A Little Bit of Politics

Interesting article from Charlie Brooker on his attitude to drugs and their reporting. It’s quite a good example of his style, which I saw critiqued a little unfairly in the Radio Times recently which said he tended to go after obvious targets and then pull his punches but that, sadly, he was about the best around at what he did.

What tends to be disappointing about Brooker is that while he sometimes seems to be on the brink of concluding something very idiosyncratic, his conclusions always seem to return to re-inforce the type of liberal orthodoxy that has atrophied in the values of his audience of Guardian readers for about the last 30 years (the big irony is they still see themselves as daring and progressive when, in fact, they now really represent the forces of inertia and conservatism). Maybe Brooker really shares these views — exemplified, for example, in the flawed logic that sees alcohol equated as an inherently more dangerous drug than many prohibited substances. (Of course it can be but most people don’t misuse it.) Yet even if he has leanings this way then his points would still be better made if he didn’t back so timidly away from questioning so many sacred cows — it’s almost like he has a little Ben Elton of the nauseous 80s sparking suit vintage (not the current sell-out Queen musical writer) barking inside his conscience.

Brooker seems pathologically scared of making general points that might offend these ingrained prejudices even when his real strength — his surreal self-deprecation — demolishes brutally many pompous,New Labour sensibilities. In this article he humorously describes his less-than-satisfactory experiences taking banned drugs and makes some very good points about the questionable motivations of the many people who still glorify a completely irrelevant and anachronistic 60s counter-culture (if it ever existed): ‘I don’t want to get out of my head: that’s where I live’.

All great stuff but then he diverts into safer territory by making an analogy about delusion peddled in newspapers which seems calculated to play to the Guardian reader gallery. Of course then his predictable targets are the tabloids who print pictures of Lady Ga Ga (though plenty supposed quality papers do too). It would be nice for a change if he took on the sort of mood-altering newspapers that print a diet of self-mythologising cant  which re-inforces the moral smugness of their readership — fulfilling similar fundamental psychological needs in the same sort of manner as those who are just satisfied by seeing whether Lady Ga Ga’s managed to keep her knockers from falling out of her dress today.

A Welcome Report Against the Tide

The tide of scare stories in the press about alcohol has been temporarily stemmed by reports, first mentioned in the Sunday Times, of a study in Boston (the US one) that suggested that alcohol isn’t actually as fattening as commonly assumed — for women anyway. Alcohol contains a lot of energy and it had been assumed that any excess in the body was converted into fat, as with any other foodstuff. However, it’s now hypothesised that regular drinkers’ livers process energy from alcohol in a more complex way than previously thought and that much excess energy is turned to heat, not fat. So the argument goes that alcohol is not as fattening as its calorie count might suggest.

A couple of pieces of anecdotal evidence might support this. One is that while there are many CAMRA types who have large beer bellies, they’re probably not as large as their calorie intake might lead one to believe. A moderately heavy ale drinker might drink twenty pints a week — at a couple of hundred calories a go that’s four thousand extra calories — almost the equivalent of two days worth of energy for an adult male — or about 15 Mars bars a week. Most drinkers in this category take a surprisingly long time — several years — to develop a belly. I’ve also been on an alcohol reduction drive recently and have expected the weight to fall off. Even allowing for my new found substitute of chocolate digestives, I’ve not seen my weight plummeting to the extent that the shortfall in calories might suggest. And also there are plenty of women wine drinkers, as the study suggests, who aren’t anorexics but don’t put on the vast amounts of extra weight that the calorie content alone of the wine might suggest.

However, I don’t subscribe to the point of view that’s current in some drinking circles that beer is entirely unfattening and it’s the fondness for curries and takeaways that it creates which is wholly responsible for bellies.

This article in the Daily Mail summarises the various healthy effects that have been scientifically proven for a number of drinks — from red wine to beer via Baileys, gin, cider and others. It has to be added that the overall negative health effects of alcohol aren’t included but these generally tend not to be pronounced at moderate levels anyway. Beer is revealed as being a particularly nutrient-rich drink, with four pints giving an adult’s complete daily intake of folate.  There’s even a study that purports to dismiss the causative effect of beer on large bellies.

Big People, Fight For Your Rights!

Today outside the Mayor of London’s office there’s a demonstration against prejudice against obese people. I thought this might be more self-pitying, politically correct rubbish until I noted one of the protestors’ objectives: ‘protesters want the UK to follow San Francisco, where a law bans “fat-ism”…and stops doctors pressing patients to slim down’. Seeing as there’s far more of a causal effect between obesity and poor health than there is with alcohol, I’d fully support these radical ‘persons of size’ because that would set a precedent that would stop the constant lecturing of the likes of the BMA about the dangers of alcohol. There was yet another piece of dubious statistical interpretation released to the press today and all over Google News.