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Voice From The Back

Child's play
It sums up the madness of capitalism's market system that at a time of falling stock exchange prices and the dismal results of fund market experts, we can learn of the following in the Observer, Business Section (25 May). “Despite falling equity prices, a group of schoolchildren from Oxfordshire put the professionals to shame by reaping a 140 percent profit from shares over seven months. The competition, sponsored by ProShare, shows you don't have to pay through the nose for advice from experts earning six-figure salaries.” It also shows that we live in a mad house society.

Keep taking the tablets
The government's medical advisers have agreed to hold an independent inquiry into the risks associated with the antidepressants known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. This is the result of reports of suicides among patients taking the medication, as well as users describing nightmares, tremors and feelings of violence. These drugs have been widely prescribed for 10 years, so how come nothing has been done about it? “The Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority, which oversees drug safety, has been criticised for not holding a proper investigation into SSRIs. An earlier expert group had to be disbanded last year after it emerged that some members were shareholders in the companies involved.” The Observer (25 May) Perhaps the following sales figures would tend to colour the shareholders' findings. The manufacturer Glaxo-Smith Kline has more than £100 million sales a year in the UK alone. What's a few suicides to shareholders compared to those figures? Truly, capitalism is a sick society.

Band aids for poverty
Almost 20 years ago Bob Geldorf organised “Band Aid” concerts in London and Philadelphia to help the starving millions in Ethiopia. So what is happening in that country today? Local musicians are organising similar concerts to aid the starving. “Aid agencies estimate 14 million Ethiopians are at risk of starvation after the worst drought in nearly two decades. The United Nations said Ethiopia needs 1.5 million tonnes of food aid this year.” Herald (26 May) In 1984 Ethiopia was devastated by a famine which killed one million people. In 2003 we have 14 million at risk of starvation. So much for charity, so much for well-intentioned reformers. What we need is a complete transformation of society not an elastoplast on a gaping wound.

Body parts for sale
Inside capitalism even items that are not produced for sale take on the form of commodities. Thus a man's honour or a woman's body are bought and sold. Perhaps the nadir of this commodification is the sale of human body parts. “Organ harvesting for the black market is most prevalent in India, Turkey and Central and Eastern Europe. Kidneys, lungs, pieces of liver, even corneas, bones, tendons, heart valves and skin are all available for purchase. A donor will be paid about £1,500 for a kidney, but a “broker” can expect to make £150,000 for the same organ. An auction of a human kidney on eBay in February 2000 drew a bid of $100,000 before the company put a stop to it.” Times (27 May) CONTRASTS The following two quotations illustrate the strange values of capitalism. “6,ooo children a day die from unsafe water and sanitation – equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day - according to the UN.” Observer (1 June) Contrast that with the fashion writer Lucia Van Post in The Times (6 June) prattling on about designer handbags. “One I lust after is the Asprey “race companion” - and have done so ever since I first saw a prototype some two years ago. It is a slim pochette, made of lizard skin, with a clasp that makes a nice, crisp, closing sort of noise. It holds not only a purse and mirror, but also a tiny notebook and a pen - perfect. ... Not cheap at £1,250, but delicious.” Does the “nice, crisp closing sound” drown out the sound of those 20 jumbo jet loads of childish death whimpers?

Gongs for the gormless
The fiftieth anniversary of the Coronation was marked by the usual nauseating sycophantic brown-noseing of the press and TV. There is one exception in the Independent (5 June) by John Walsh that we think is worth recording here, if only to assure future generations that the world was not completely insane in 2003. “Then Her Madge decided to give knighthoods to Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Along with being a Duke and an Earl, they're now Knight Commanders of the Royal Victorian Order. Don't ask what feats of intrepid public service justified these glamorous rewards (getting the wife pregnant? Womanising on yachts? Playing a lot of golf? Going bald?), because answer is there none.”