Alcohol, Drugs and Media Cognitive Dissonance 

I spotted this article in a tabloid newspaper. It follows the same formula as most articles about young women dying from taking ecstasy (the media don’t seem to care as much about young men – or anyone else part from young women – dying from taking ecstasy, curiously).

To put it in context, in Scotland in 2015 there were:

  • 15 deaths from ecstasy-type drugs – this being one of the highest rates ever recorded
  • 1,150 alcohol-related deaths

If the newspapers were to report alcohol-related deaths the same way, they would have to print three front pages for each alcohol-related death EVERY DAY.

While this is undoubtedly a tragedy, in the context of drug and alcohol-related deaths you have to wonder why this one tragedy warrants a front cover story. Perhaps because the publishers cynically know that people care more about a young women dying than the scores of older men dying of alcohol-related deaths each year.

Also, the article fails to mention that many ecstasy-related deaths result from the nature of our drug policies. Ecstasy is illegal, therefore we cannot control it’s strength, it’s purity, whom it is sold to or where it is sold; the best we can do is tell people not to take it – when we know for absolute fact that asking somebody not to do something greatly increases the likelihood that they will do it. It’s called reverse psychology – people have a negative reaction to being persuaded or convinced out of a belief, and thus rebel against persuasion. Likewise, deterrence through threat of punishment doesn’t work either, and we’ve known this for decades. But that’s another rant…

Why don’t tabloids report deaths related to alcohol in the same sensationalist way they do ecstasy-related deaths? Perhaps it’s a case of mass cognitive dissonance, with two conflicting opinions about two drugs, despite both being drugs. Conflicting opinions about the dangers of one over the other, despite the evidence showing that it is the legal drug that is most dangerous.

Perhaps it’s because alcohol is the drug of choice for the elite, the media included and ecstasy is the drug of choice for the young and increasingly marginalised?

(not to say they don’t enjoy some Cocaine between friends after a long hard misreporting drug-related deaths to sell more papers – more cognitive dissonance, coupled with corporate greed)
There’s a drug policy debate in Parliament today, several years after the government’s own report finds that decriminalisation is a better approach than the current one, that punishment does not deter use, and that decades of punitive drug policy have failed outright, with drug use and drug-related harm, including deaths, practically rising year on year.

This isn’t because drugs are inherently dangerous – it’s because our drug policies are inherently dangerous, and the corporate media are party to perpetuating anti-drug myths that in turn maintain our current approach – patently the wrong approach – cognitive dissonance and all.

Corbyn and the corporate media elite 

Image credit:wikipedia

This fantastic post by Chris Renwick is doing the rounds on social media, and I thought it was worth sharing on here: it sums up a lot of my thinking about the elite and their collusion with the media and big corporations – to essentially screw the rest of us over and maintain their privelage and influence.  

Regardless of what you think about Corbyn, Chris makes some very good points about the corporate media, and the rest of the elite sh*tting themselves at the real respect of change if Corbyn is elected.

Here’s what I’m really struggling to understand. All I’ve ever heard from people, for years, is:

“bloody bankers and their bonuses”
“bloody rich and their offshore tax havens “
“bloody politicians with their lying and second homes” 
“bloody corporations paying less tax than me”
“bloody Establishment, they’re all in it together”
“it’ll never change, there’s no point in voting”

And quite rightly so, I said all the same things.

But then someone comes along that’s different. He upsets the bankers and the rich. The Tory politicians hate him along with most of the labour politicians. The corporations throw more money at the politicians to keep him quiet. And the Establishment is visibly shaken. I’ve never seen the Establishment so genuinely scared of a single person.

So the media arm of the establishment gets involved. Theresa phones Rupert asking what he can do, and he tells her to keep her mouth shut, don’t do the live debate, he’ll sort this out. So the media goes into overdrive with:

“she’s strong and stable”
“he’s a clown”
“he’s not a leader”
“look he can’t even control his own party”
“he’ll ruin the economy”
“how’s he gonna pay for it all?!”
“he’s a terrorist sympathiser, burn him, burn the terrorist sympathiser”

And what do we? We’ve waited forever for an honest politician to come along but instead of getting behind him we bow to the establishment like good little workers. They whistle and we do a little dance for them. We run around like hypnotised robots repeating headlines we’ve read, all nodding and agreeing. Feeling really proud of ourselves because we think we’ve came up with our very own first political opinion. But we haven’t, we haven’t come up with anything. This is how you tell. No matter where someone lives in the country, they’re repeating the same headlines, word for word. From Cornwall to Newcastle people are saying:

“he’s a clown”
“he’s a threat to the country”
“she’s strong and stable”
“he’ll take us back to the 70s”

And there’s nothing else, there’s no further opinion. There’s no evidence apart from one radio 5 interview that isn’t even concrete evidence, he actually condemns the violence of both sides in the interview. There’s no data or studies or official reports to back anything up. Try and think really hard why you think he’s a clown, other than the fact he looks like a geography teacher (no offence geography teachers) because he hasn’t done anything clownish from what I’ve seen.

And you’re not on this planet if you think the establishment and the media aren’t all in it together.

You think Richard Branson, who’s quietly winning NHS contracts, wants Corbyn in?
You think Rupert Murdoch, who’s currently trying to widen his media monopoly by buying sky outright, wants Jeremy in?
You think the Barclay brothers, with their offshore residencies, want him in?
You think Philip Green, who stole all the pensions from BHS workers and claims his wife owns Top Shop because she lives in Monaco, wants Corbyn in?
You think the politicians, both Labour and Tory, with their second homes and alcohol paid for by us, want him in?
You think Starbucks, paying near zero tax, wants him in?
You think bankers, with their multi million pound bonuses, want him in?

And do you think they don’t have contact with May? Or with the media? You honestly think that these millionaires and billionaires are the sort of people that go “ah well, easy come easy go, it was nice while it lasted”?? I wouldn’t be if my personal fortune was at risk, I’d be straight on the phone to Theresa May or Rupert Murdoch demanding this gets sorted immediately.

Because here’s a man, a politician that doesn’t lie and can’t lie. He could have said whatever would get him votes anytime he wanted but he hasn’t. He lives in a normal house like us and uses the bus just like us. He’s fought for justice and peace for nearly 40 years. He has no career ambitions. And his seat is untouchable. That’s one of the greatest testimonies. No one comes close to removing him from his constituency, election after election.

His Manifesto is fully costed. It all adds up, yes there’s some borrowing but that’s just to renationalise the railway, you know we already subsidise them and they make profit yeah? One more time… WE subsidise the railway companies and they walk away with a profit, just try and grasp the level of piss taking going on there.

Unlike the Tory manifesto with a £9 billion hole, their figures don’t even add up.

And it benefits all of us, young, old, working, disabled, everyone. The only people it hurts are the establishment, the rich, the bankers, the top 5% highest earners.

Good, screw them, it’s long overdue.

Mon yersel’ Chris, couldn’t have put it better myself. We’ve had generations of poverty and suffering despite being the sixth richest country in the world. It’s time the elite, corporations and the super rich paid their fair share. 

Govan Graving Docks

Govan Graving Docks, Glasgow UK

(click image for more detailed version)

This is one of my quiet places, a big space to wander about in with little chance of bumping into other people. A space to wander in alone with my thoughts. The site is totally unique in Scotland, and a reminder of Govan, and Glasgow’s, shipbuilding heritage. The term ‘graving’ refers to the process of coating the bottom of boats with pitch to prepare them for long sea journeys, and this was the main purpose of the docks as well as ship repairs.

Sadly there are plans to turn the space into flats, probably flats that nobody in Govan can afford (queue the gentrification of Govan?). Developments on the site were originally touted to be around the idea of promoting the heritage of the site and perhaps building a museum or something similar that the community could access and enjoy, but as always it comes down to money and so they’ll wreck this historically significant site to build some bland luxury apartments so the middle classes can enjoy a shorter commute to their tax-avoiding city jobs.

I’ll be enjoying the space as much as I can until then.

Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read 🙂

Cuts to Scottish Welfare Fund – A hint of things to come? 

WelfareFundTitle_1The Scottish Welfare Fund is a discretionary payment allocated by local authorities and funded in part through the UK Department for Work and Pensions and topped up by the Scottish Government. This is because the DWP transfers the funding for the scrapped Community Care Grant and Crisis Loan, both of which the DWP used to administer, to the Scottish Government:

“On 1 April 2013, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) abolished two elements  of the Social Fund – Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans – and transferred funds  previously spent on them to Scottish Ministers. In its place, the Scottish Government  established the Scottish Welfare Fund”

(Scottish Government, 2016a)

So the SWF is funded by the UK government (via taxes – which are then transferred to ScotGov) and then topped up by the Scottish Government. It is widely seen as the Scottish Government’s response to welfare reform, but given it is funded by UK Gov this is a little misleading – even if some (the lesser amount) is provided directly by the Scottish Government, since most of the funding for the SWF still comes from the UK government. This means that:

“For 2013/14 and 2014/15  [the amount provided by the DWP] amounted to £23.8 million. The Scottish Government topped this amount up by a further £9.2 million, giving the Scottish Welfare Fund a total budget of £33 million for  both these years.  This level has been maintained in 2015/16 by the Scottish  Government at £33 million”

(Scottish Government, 2016a)

So, given that ScotGov has championed the SWF and many in Scotland have seen the SWF as an indication of both the ScotGov’s unwillingness to cut welfare and their resistance to such cuts enacted by the UK Government, I was surprised to see this in my mailbox at work, from Glasgow City Council:

“Glasgow City Council has seen a reduction to the Scottish Welfare Fund allocated from the Scottish Government in 2016/17. Further reductions are also expected into future years”

(Glasgow City Council, 2016)

Now, this is surprising – particularly since, having loudly championed the SWF (a cynic would say this was as much about making the UK government look bad – which requires little effort anyway – as mitigating the impact of cuts to welfare on people living in Scotland), the Scottish Government have said little about this cut (lending credence to the more cynical), instead leaving local authorities to announce it individually. Why is the SWF being cut? Is there less funding from Westminster, or can ScotGov not make the top-up they have in previous years? Essentially, why has the same level of funding not been maintained and why is it expected to drop in coming years?

Looking at the bigger picture, what does this indicate about the Scottish Government’s commitment to social welfare, particularly since some welfare powers are soon to be devolved to Scotland? This includes responsibility for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – will we see a cut in provision of these benefits, intended for adults and children with illness and disability that require extra support?

The Scottish Government seem to be cutting welfare before they even have their hands on it – and given the DWP guarantee the larger element of the SWF, you have to ask if it is ScotGov’s contribution which has been reduced, leading to the reduction in funding to Local Authorities. If that is the case, why aren’t the Scottish Government using their overspend, which has occurred for the past three years, to boost SWF funding?

As someone who voted Yes in the Scottish Independence Referendum I’m conscious that had the vote been in favour of independence, Scotland would be an independent country as of this year. Given the current reduction to the SWF, what might have occurred in a Scotland where the whole welfare system is under the Scottish Government – would we now be seeing cuts across the board to match Tory cuts to the UK welfare system? This is the crux of the problem for me regarding the SNP – we will never know how capable they really are until they can no longer resort to blaming Westminster – and by that point it would be too late, should their performance be less than satisfactory. That’s a chance I was willing to take back in September 2014, but now I’m not so sure.

The SNP sell themselves on a ticket of progressive politics and social equality, but that doesn’t seem to be their practice (yes, they are more progressive than the Tories, but that says very little – they aren’t any more progressive, or socialist, than Labour in power under Corbyn might be, but this is an unknown at present). With further welfare powers and responsibilities to be devolved, we’ll soon see the SNP’S true colours – I hope they stick to the principles they championed during the IndyRef and ensure a fair and secure welfare system for Scotland, and in doing so put people first.

As always, thanks for reading.

Scottish Government (2016b)

Scottish Government (2016a) Scottish Welfare Fund Statistics: Annual Update 2015/16. Official Statistics publication for Scotland.

Scottish Government (2016b) Social Security for Scotland: Benefits being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. SSFS slidepack update, July 2016.

(Disclaimer: Any criticism of the Scottish Government or the SNP is usually perceived as an attack by some SNP supporters. Let it be noted that I am not currently affiliated with any party, either as a casual supporter or a paid member. This article isn’t intended as a political attack, but to highlight potential issues in the future of Scotland’s welfare system and to hold the Scottish Government to account on this matter – whichever party might be in charge – in the interests of everyone living in Scotland)

George Orwell on ‘the pigsty we’re in’

George Orwell's Burmese Passport photo. Image credit:
George Orwell. Image credit:

“I do not believe that a man with £50,000 a year and a man with fifteen shillings a week either can, or will, co-operate. The nature of their relationship is quite simply, that the one is robbing the other, and there is no reason to think that the robber will suddenly turn over a new leaf. It would seem, therefore, that if the problems of western capitalism are to be solved, it will have to be through a third alternative, a movement which is genuinely revolutionary, i.e. willing to make drastic changes and to use violence if necessary, but which does not lose touch, as Communism and Fascism have done, with the essential values of democracy. Such a thing is by no means unthinkable. The germs of such a movement exist in numerous countries, and they are capable of growing. At any rate, if they don’t, there is no real exit from the pigsty we are in.”

– George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters; Vol 1 (via reliving the 80s)

The ESA assessment: Institutional classism in action

DPAC [Disabled people against cuts] protesting PIP assessments - which share many of the same issues with ESA - in Norfolk, July 2016. Image credit: Roger blackwell
DPAC [Disabled People Against Cuts] protesting PIP assessments – which share many of the same issues as the ESA assessment – Norfolk, July 2016. Image credit and more info about DPAC Norfolk: Roger Blackwell
New research this week, conducted by RadStats and reported by Welfare Weekly and the Guardian, indicates that the ESA Capability for Work Assessment is unfairly applied based on the area an individual lives in – and potentially their level of educational attainment – not their health or their actual capability for work:

“[T]he research has established a significant relationship between work capability assessment outcomes and local educational attainment. In areas where children finish school with more GCSEs, claimants were placed into the support group more frequently rather than being placed in the work-related activity group – the group in which disabled people must undertake preparation for a return for work or risk having their benefits sanctioned.

Hume says that a possible explanation of this is that people with more qualifications might be more able to complete the significant paperwork required to claim ESA, or are better at seeking appropriate evidence and assistance.

Ultimately the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] is making decisions that seem to be influenced by factors other than the health of the claimant,” he adds.”

In areas where there is more need to be in the Support Group, due to greater instance of morbidity and health inequalities, individuals are essentially less likely  to be placed in the the Work Related Activity Group (the group in which the DWP places individual who are likely to be able to return to work), regardless of whether they meet the criteria or not. This suggests that classism is indirectly playing out via discrimination on the basis of educational attainment – which, as research shows,  has a causal relationship with income.  Even when other factors are controlled for, growing up in a low-income household still has an impact on individual educational opportunities and employment up to 12 years later.

This seems to confirm something I’ve thought since joining a Welfare Rights service and was being trained on ESA – that the ESA (and PIP) questionnaires and assessment are designed to be confusing to people with lower levels of education (and often, therefore, from a poorer and more disadvantaged background) in an attempt to deter them from applying or going through with, what is, as standard sadly, a highly stressful process of reconsideration and appeals – through which not just their health, but their lives are interrogated by successive faceless DWP ‘Decision Makers’ and callous tribunal staff that can’t even look people in the eye when declining their benefits.

Just in case you missed that, we receive training on how to complete the ESA50 Capability for Work Questionnaire – but individuals, often with health conditions that affect their mental or cognitive capacity, are supposed to be able to complete the form themselves, without issue. This is in addition the the problems they experience already in relation to their health condition, and for many is just too much to deal with without significantly impacting their health. There is now an ever increasing list of people who have died after being found fit for work by the DWP, some have died as a result of being found fit for work. Comparisons between the DWP and the Nazi eugenics programme seem less and less like hyperbole each day.

Help exists for those having difficulty with the form. At present our agency can get you in for an appointment within two weeks, usually. Citizens Advice, a more popular and well known service, has a significantly longer waiting list – and often operates on a first-come-first-served ticket basis. This isn’t a criticism of CAB – it’s merely meant to highlight the difficulties people face in getting support to apply for the benefits they need to survive.

You can read the full article via Welfare Weekly (originally reported in the Guardian).

And you can check out this report from Spartacus Group, which highlights the issues faced by individuals claiming ESA and makes recommendations for a better system (there’s a brief executive report at the beginning for those of you in a hurry).

Thanks for reading.

Brainstorming is dead, long live brainwriting! 

If you’re a bit of an introvert like me, you’ve probably grudgingly taken part in some form of groupwork brainstorming-type session at some point, while thinking to yourself “I’d be better doing this alone”. And, well, you’d actually have been right to think that. A recent article based on research into brainstorming techniques states that:

The old brainstorming method infiltrated the American workplace over half a century ago, after an advertising executive named Alex F. Osborn coined the method in the 1940s. As companies all over the country adopted the method, psychologists started to wonder: Does brainstorming actually work? Many scientific studies later, they had their answer: a resounding no. Study after study found that people who use this group technique produce fewer good ideas than those who ideate alone”

So there you have it, throw that at your over-eager HR manager next time you and your colleagues are forced to ‘share’ ideas round a table like a group of toddlers at pre-school.

But wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself. Is thinking on your own really the best option, then? As it turns out, that’s also a resounding nope. Unsurprisingly researchers have found that a mixture of individual and group thinking produces far better results – so you don’t quite have that free pass to introvertsville yet. Specifically, researchers employed the use of group ‘brainwriting’ (already sounds better than brainstorming, right?) alongside individual thinking sessions to produce better results:

Ultimately, the researchers found that if you only had two options—to work in a brainwriting group or work alone—you’re better off in a group. The brainwriters came up with 37% more ideas than the loners. The team also discovered that if people did brainwriting in groups and then brainstormed on their own, they produced more good ideas than when they did the reverse scenario (i.e., working alone, then group brainwriting). “We’ve found that what happens is once you’ve been in a group for a while, interacting and sharing ideas, and then you’re alone, there’s a big jump in your creativity”

However, when there are only two options – brainwriting or individual thinking – the best option turns out to be the former, so us introverts aren’t quite off the hook yet. Nonetheless, as someone who can’t stand phonecalls (something I wish my PhD supervisor would realise) because it’s difficult to organise and articulate my thoughts when I’m also having to worry about the social and interactional aspects – the psychology – of working with others, brainwriting definitely sounds like an improvement. It also sounds like the library equivalent of group work, with fastidious silence and a focus on writing, not speaking. Writing is a great leveller when you remove all the personal factors like voice and physical appearance and just focus on the words and their meaning.

A final word about group work. What I liked about this research is that is forces both introverts and extrovert to question the assumptions of their behaviour and demonstrates that each of the different modes of thinking – brainwriting and individual thinking – have their merits, but that ultimately a combination of the two works best. Or put in other words, a compromise between introversion and extroversion is best for all.

I like this because it highlights the value that individual working can bring and the value of introverts being occasionally left to their own devices, but does so without totally trashing group work and the benefits it can clearly bring as well. I can only imagine that for some people used to brainstorming as a main method of producing ideas, the brainwriting approach might help them become more independent and therefore creative in their thinking, and that can never be a bad thing.

So next time you’re hassling your introverted friend to go to the club or your quiet colleague to take part in some dreaded group exercise, instead of feeling sorry for them, fill their heads with ideas then leave them to stew it over on their own – that’s apparently how you’ll get the best results out of us. Who knows, by forcing introverts to work with others permanently with no time for personal reflection, maybe we’re delaying the cure for cancer, or the answers to finding life on Mars. At the very least, you’re really, really annoying us, so take a leaf out of our book for a change.

The full article that inspired this post and details of the research I’ve referred to can be found over at

I couldn’t find a source for the image I used at the start of this post. If it’s your image and you want it taken down, or would like it credited to you, then please get in touch.

Same problem – different century

Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, Louisiana (2016) Photo credit: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters.

I’ve been following the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and it genuinely saddens me that the country still hasn’t been able to address their race issue – though that said, we’ve not exactly been shining examples of racial equality over here in the UK recently, either (see racist referendum campaigns, etc). The photograph directly below has been doing the rounds on the Internet, and, as someone sharing the photograph on Twitter said, “will be in history and art books from this time”. This got me thinking about some of the photography from the American Civil Rights movement, and the similarity not only in the picture but in the social situation of the time – most notably black people being systematically oppressed by the state, and killed with impunity.

The photo on the right was taken by photographer Bruce Davidson in 1963 and shows a black woman being arrested by two white male police officers at a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama.  The photograph on the left, taken by Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman this year, shows a black woman being hurriedly approached by two white male police officers while demonstrating for the Black Lives Matter movement in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The woman was later arrested.

Birmingham, Alabama (1963) Photo credit: Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos.

While not totally similar visually, together these photographs tell you about the troubled history of race in the United States. These pictures tell you that, despite being taken 63 years apart, black people are still having to fight for their rights – the fact that these photographs, separated by decades, depict very similar events in neighbouring states, should be a wake-up call for America. The U.S. is an increasingly multicultural country, with the white majority steadily declining. If the country’s racial problems aren’t addressed soon it’s almost inevitable that more people will become victims of America’s dark racial legacy. The potential for the country to tear itself apart is very real.

Black Lives Matter protest racially-motivated police brutality in the United States, spurred on by a spate of incidents in recent years where members of the African-American community have been murdered by predominantly white police officers. You can get more information and show your support here and by using #BlackLivesMatter

(Photographs are the intellectual property of Jonathon Bachman/Reuters (top), and Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos (bottom)).

Tory austerity: economics for the top 10%


After several years of George Osborne’s ‘we’re all in this together’ austerity package, these are the results: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We are seeing the resurgence of ‘working poor’, with levels of wealth inequality not seen since the end of WW2 and the beginning of the Welfare State.

This is the result of persuing unfettered growth coupled with financial deregulation and the primacy of ‘profit over people’ (as Chomsky puts it). This is the reality of the neoliberal project initiated by Thatcher, continued with so much more cold-hearted gusto by her successors. This is the outcome of trickle-down economics and the systematic destruction of public services. This is the reality despite all the ‘skiver Vs scrounger’ rhetoric and demonisation of the poorbfor the actions of government.

There’s a horrible irony, in that many of the people who voted for the UK to leave the EU this week will he the worst hit by the economic and social consequences of Brexit, with the Chancellor already touting more austerity and tax increases.

A large section of the working class have been manipulated by the far-sighted, and they will sadly pay for it.  Not only them, but members of other marginalised groups have been suffering racist attacks post-referendum. This is what happens when half of the country legitimises racism and xenophobia.

Did we learn nothing from the last century? It doesn’t seem like it.