Hate, Actually...

Why is it that the British only seem able to solve a crisis through the emotion of hate?

Last year the MPs expenses scandal meant politicians were the hate figures of choice. Today it is the turn of Rebekah Brooks. But wait a minute --surely we should also hate the police officers and the nurses who have sold information to News of the World, presumably as a result of their hatred of celebrities who have more money than them?

We should definitely hate David Cameron; first for not holding an inquiry and then when he does for not holding the kind of inquiry we wanted in the first place.

Of course we all hate Rupert Murdoch, and have hated any arse-licking politician who has ever spoken to him like Brown or Blair or Cameron --although we hated Kinnock and Brown when Murdoch's empire told us to.

Yes, hate works. Let's not forget, either, that for years it was hate that made the News of the World go round.

Every week you can buy a copy of said newspaper which provides you with detailed instructions on who to hate and why and how much. Hate is the very essence upon which a publication such as the News of the World thrives: how to hate MPs because they are only in it for the money, how to hate celebrities because they are successful, how to hate your neighbours because they probably have more sex than you.

The News of the World has taught us to be creatures in its own image.

But shouldn't we resist this barrage of hate?

How about compassion instead? We should feel compassion for those 7/7 victims whose phones were hacked; compassion for the Dowler family who have been through so much. Admiration and compassion for the family of Joanna Yeates and her boyfriend who, in their moment of tragedy, squared up to the tabloid media and stopped the hate campaign against wrongly accused Christopher Jeffries. Their compassion in a moment of anguish should be our model.

We should feel admiration for Hugh Grant, whose eloquent arguments in debate with Paul McMullan, former features editor at News of the World, on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday are a shining example to those of us who care about the future of media.

We should feel admiration, too, for the Guardian journalists who broke the story in the first place.

Of course, there are no excuses for the behaviour of the News of the World and other tabloids in the past. But surely we should pause for thought before simply replicating the same sort of feeding frenzy in reverse. Certainly, the truth must be outed -- but let's do it calmy, and show due consideration and respect to those victims who have been trampled underfoot and who might not wish to have the whole painful mess dragged up again.

Jonathan Powell writes in the New Machiavelli that governments tend to quickly launch inquiries in order to sate a public outcry, only to find that such inquiries eat up resource and rarely pleases anyone at the end -- the Bloody Sunday inquiry being a rare exception.

So let's show the media how it should be done: cool, calm, factual. But not hate -- definitely not hate. Hate will turn us into a nation that reads drivel like the News of the World and believes that this dreadful mess can be solved with a quick inquiry.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear