Photo-message hysteria is all the rage

SOME of the best ads around lately have been for mobile phones that take and send pictures.Whenever that much money and skill is put into advertising anything, you know they're trying to sell you something you don't need.

SOME of the best ads around lately have been for mobile phones that take and send pictures.

Whenever that much money and skill is put into advertising anything, you know they're trying to sell you something you don't need.

It's yet another case of technology coming first, then someone having to create a supposed need for it.

Invention as the mother of necessity.

The slogan "Go on, muck around" pretty well admits that no one actually needs the damned things.

But are these expensive toys really the threat that some folk would have you believe?

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Is it really necessary to ban mobile phones from gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools because somebody might secretly take pictures of children and email them to internet users?

Should we ban boots because someone might kick you with them?

The wave of worry about picture-messaging devices is another symptom of two often linked popular lunacies.

One is a general paranoia about new technology, which is perhaps understandable but seldom useful.

The other – more widespread and potentially much more dangerous – is a hysteria about paedophilia.

Yes, paedophilia is unpleasant. Very unpleasant.

The very idea of considering children as sex objects is utterly repugnant and incomprehensible.

But those who fret publicly about things like picture-phones, who ramp up fears about internet porn, or whip up "name and shame" hysteria are the very ones spreading that nasty idea.

No doubt there are paedophiles out there. No doubt a few of them get up to some loathsome things and need to be stopped, probably by locking them away.

Most are undoubtedly just saddoes who would do nobody any harm if left alone.

And there surely can't be many of them anyway. Far fewer, I'm sure, than all the publicity they now get would suggest.

In the 17th century it was supposed witches who were hounded and vilified. It was a very public terror that bore no relation to the facts.

Paedophilia is today's witch-craze.

And if we haven't had an actual burning yet, I wouldn't bet against it ever happening.


ROBIN Cook has not always been a hero. Some of his behaviour in government – like that of most of his former cabinet colleagues – had former supporters squirming.

He has now, however, proved himself that supposedly rare thing, a politician who stands by his principles.

Nothing in his career became him like the leaving of it.

Almost the opposite applies to Clare Short. How can a woman who last week took a principled stand against war with Iraq remain in a gung-ho, war-mongering government?

Shame on you, Clare.

Cook was once reckoned a possible leader for the Labour party and the nation. It's perhaps a pity that he was generally reckoned to be too ugly for the job.

And what a damning indictment that is of our whole political system – a system which becomes more like a branch of the advertising industry with every spin.

A system in which a man's appearance is apparently more important than his decency, intelligence and integrity.


HAVE you been following the arguments running on the Evening Star's online forum?

If not, I commend it to you for the quality of some of the comments - and the engaging daftness of others.

One regular contributor over a matter of years now is someone who calls himself King Bob.

I have no idea who he is, and I don't always agree with what he says, or the way he says it.

One of his comments this week, however, deserves quoting here, because it tells the straightforward truth with unusual clarity.

He wrote: "What we are doing in Iraq is very wrong. It will achieve nothing. In fact I believe it will make things worse, not just in the middle East but globally.

"We (UK/US/Spain) have split the European and international community and will no doubt reap the consequences.

"We have taken the role as prosecutor, judge and jury without ever being offered it.

"We should remember that the 'weapons of mass destruction' that killed over 3,000 people in 2001 were two Boeing jets hijacked from US airports, not outdated Scud missiles with a 90-mile range."

Anyone who has been following this column in recent weeks knows where I stand on the war.

The volume of both abuse and support I have received has been staggering, and I thank you all, whichever side of the argument you have expressed.

There is much, much more to be said, but at this sad moment it seems almost pointless to say it.

Those of us who prefer peace to war have lost the battle, as was probably inevitable.

I will now leave the subject – pausing only for a prayer that the terror exported by Bush and does not rebound upon their innocent citizens. Innocents such as you, me and our loved ones.