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Conversation 28 March 2018

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Italian man cleared of aubergine theft after nine-year legal battle

An Italian man has finally been acquitted of stealing an aubergine nine years after being charged, ending a legal wrangle that cost taxpayers thousands.

The man, then 49, had the aubergine in his bucket when police caught him trying to escape through a privately owned field near Lecce, in the southern region of Puglia, in 2009.

While being taken away, he pleaded with the police that he had tried to steal it because he was unemployed and desperate to feed his child.

However, the courts initially showed no mercy, sentencing him to five months in prison and ordering him to pay a €500 (£440) fine. That punishment was reduced on appeal to two months in jail and €120.

The man’s legal counsel was still not satisfied and took the case to the court of cassation in Rome, Italy’s highest appeals court, where the defendant was acquitted nearly a decade after he was arrested.

The court criticised the lower courts in Lecce for not taking into account the extreme weakness of the prosecution’s case given the man’s financial situation.

La Repubblica newspaper quoted the ruling as saying that the man “was definitely acting to satisfy the hunger of his family … there are grounds for justification”.

The court also lamented the amount of public money spent on the case, with €7,000-€8,000 going towards legal fees as the man was too poor to pay for his own defence, La Repubblica reported.

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The naturopath whistleblower: ‘It is surprisingly easy to sell snake oil’

Britt Maria Hermes was a committed practitioner in America’s multi-billion-dollar complementary medicine industry. Then she found her clinic’s herbal treatment for cancer was potentially illegal – and overnight became a highly vocal sceptic

Sometimes disillusionment creeps in one small letdown at a time. But for Britt Marie Hermes, the transition from alternative medicine practitioner to sceptic occurred over the course of a weekend.

After an unsettling discovery at the Arizona clinic where she worked four years ago, Hermes turned her back on everything she had believed in and set out to expose what she describes as the dubious and unethical underbelly of her former profession. Hermes’ blog, Naturopathic Diaries, has gained a huge following in the sceptic community. But it has also angered some proponents of alternative medicine: Hermes is being sued for defamation by an American naturopath called Colleen Huber, in a case that is due to be heard in a German court later this year. So enthusiastic is the sceptic community that within nine days an international fundraising campaign had raised $50,000 (£36,000) to cover Hermes’ legal fees.

So how did a former proponent of natural therapies come to take on America’s powerful alternative medicine establishment?

Naturopathy, Hermes explains, encompasses a wide variety of complementary therapies – homeopathy, herbal supplements, dietary restrictions, acupuncture and faith healing would all be included – and promotes an overarching philosophy of “nature knows best”.

After obtaining her undergraduate degree in psychology from San Diego State University in 2006, Hermes applied to a four-year post graduate programme in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University, near Seattle. “It’s set up to look as much like medical school as possible. The school claims they teach basic science courses at a medical level for the first two years,” she says. “Except there’s no entrance exams required.”

Shortly after leaving the clinic, Hermes started a blog, publishing take-downs of alternative remedies. Photograph: Seksak Kerdkanno / EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm

While in the UK alternative therapies have only a narrow intersection with conventional medicine, in the US the boundary is sometimes blurred. Twenty-three states and US territories have licensing systems that permit the use of the title “naturopathic doctor”. The roughly 6,000 registered practitioners are allowed to perform some medical tests, make diagnoses and prescribe certain medicines, as well as offer complementary cures and dietary advice. Some health insurers also cover naturopathic care.

So, Hermes recalls, it did not seem exceptional that the clinic where she was working in 2014 was treating cancer patients with a herbal compound called Ukrain. Shipments of the drug, stored in glass ampules that were broken open and sucked up into syringes, regularly arrived at the clinic. Cancer patients would pay for treatment in cash. One Friday, however, the Ukrain shipment had failed to materialise. When patients began to get agitated, Hermes brought the matter to the attention of her boss. “He mentioned that he suspected the FDA [US Food and Drugs Administration] had confiscated the shipment,” she says. “I found that statement really bizarre and it prompted me to read up more about it.

“I discovered immediately that [Ukrain] was not FDA-approved,” she says, adding that the meaning of this was not immediately obvious, as most naturopathic cures are not FDA-approved. But then she realised that it was potentially a federal crime to administer such a drug to cancer patients. “Once I realised that, everything changed virtually overnight,” she says. She spent much of the weekend on the internet reading critiques of her own profession. “By Monday morning I had hired a lawyer and I quit the practice.”

Shortly after leaving, Hermes started a blog, detailing her own journey of re-evaluation and increasingly publishing take-downs of alternative remedies. However, she says she did not initially find kindred spirits among the sceptic community. “My impression was that it was a group of old, white, grumpy men,” she said. She recalls reading words like “quack” and “fraudster” and finding these descriptions hard to reconcile with the people she had known in the sector.

In Britt’s experience, people typically turn to alternative therapies after a negative experience with a doctor or when conventional treatments have little to offer. As a teenager, she herself had encountered an unsympathetic doctor (“a jerk”) while seeking treatment for psoriasis. “I started taking dietary supplements in addition to the steroid cream,” she says. “I really felt that it was the supplements that were making my skin better and developed this narrative that natural is better.”

The complementary medicine market will expand to a revenue of nearly $200bn (£143bn), according to one analysis. Photograph: Martin Norris/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

Later, naturopathy seemed a logical career choice. “It was definitely the emotional experience with alternative practitioners that really spoke to me,” she says. “I really wanted to offer that hope and kindness and empathy to patients of my own.” Her PhD project, at Kiel University’s department for evolutionary genomics, focuses on the skin microbiome in the context of inflammatory skin diseases.

Providing emotional support, she argues, is the one aspect in which mainstream medicine might learn something from alternative therapists. “They spend a lot of time with patients. They talk about emotional wellness and the details of how you’re sleeping and the quality of your sleep, so you form these close connections,” she says. “That can be really therapeutic.”

Hermes says the potential shortcomings of conventional medicine are seldom acknowledged as a motivation for people to seek out alternatives. And sceptics and the scientific community often focus only on debunking quack remedies rather than trying to understand why people seek alternatives in the first place.

Hermes thinks her poacher-turned-gamekeeper perspective explains the popularity of her writing, among both sceptics and people interested or working in naturopathy. “A lot of people like me – or like who I used to be – can look at my profile and sympathise,” she says. Her blog offers a mixture of personal insights (“It is surprisingly easy to sell snake-oil. I know, because I’ve done it.”) and warnings about the potential dangers of alternative therapies. “Don’t let a naturopath near your vagina,” warns a recent post about the dangers of a herb-based paste called “black salve” that has been promoted as a treatment for HPV infections.

The post that prompted Colleen Huber’s legal action focused on her clinic’s claims about its alternative treatments for cancer. Its website states: “85% of patients who completed our treatments and followed our food plan went into remission”. Huber is suing over comments on Hermes’ blog suggesting that she was misleading “vulnerable” cancer patients, and that her treatment was “fraudulent”.

In an email, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) states that for serious illnesses such as cancer, naturopathy can play a complementary role but should not replace conventional treatments. “Like all licensed medical providers, naturopathic doctors do not treat everything and are also trained to know when to refer,” a spokeswoman tells me. “They often work in collaboration with conventional healthcare providers or other specialists as determined by the patient’s condition and specific needs.”

There is evidence that alternative medicine is on the rise. According to the AANP, 38% of adults in the US are using some form of complementary or alternative medicine and last year three more states – Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – introduced licensing systems for naturopathic practitioners. In the UK, surveys have found that around 40% of adults have used alternative therapies in the past year, with herbal medicine tending to be the most popular, followed by homeopathy, aromatherapy, massage and reflexology. Alternative cures are popularised by wellness and “clean eating” bloggers and celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow.

Globally, one market analysis last year projected that the complementary medicine market would expand to have a revenue of nearly $200bn (£143bn) by 2025. “The alternative medicine industry in general seems to be on the rise in North America and I think in the UK as well,” says Hermes. “The political environment is ripe for that. There’s a feeling that experts aren’t necessarily the best people to trust, whether they are experts in medicine or in another field. When you have figureheads doubting the credibility of mainstream medicine, it creates a ripe breeding ground for the rise of pseudoscience.”

Most people who use alternative treatments, though, are capable of distinguishing between minor ailments and serious physical illness, which requires a doctor. If someone takes an arnica pill, is there really any harm in that?

“I’ve personally experienced the slippery slope,” says Hermes. “I went from cleaning out my diet, taking fairly harmless supplements, fish oils, to – over the course of 10 years – becoming totally immersed in naturopathy to the point where, had I been diagnosed with a serious illness I might have pursued natural therapies. So I take a pretty firm stance and say ‘no’ to all of it.”

What’s the best diet for losing all the weight you put on over Christmas?

Losing weight is a common new year’s resolution. Even when dressed up as a pledge to eat more healthily, it can be tinged with self-loathing. Those pigs in blankets, mince pies and Baileys. Why, oh why? But at least anyone who wants to improve their diet has a fantastic resource to help them. With perfect timing, a US panel of experts in diet, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and food psychology has scrutinised and ranked 40 diets. Its listings, which are produced annually, show which diets are best for short- and long-term weight loss, which are easiest to follow, which you are most likely to stick with – and which are unsafe because they don’t supply enough nutrients.

The solution

In the category of best diets overall, the Ketogenic diet, which increases fat intake and reduces carbohydrates and is reportedly followed by Kim Kardashian and Mick Jagger, comes in second to bottom. Experts were concerned at the health risks of such high levels of fat, especially for people with liver or kidney problems.

The winning slot is shared between two understated diets – the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. While you might be familiar with the Mediterranean diet, the former is less well known but has been topping the experts’ annual best diets leaderboard for eight years. But both – as well as some of the other top 10-ranked diets – have evidence that supports their effectiveness: people who follow them lose weight and reduce their risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and probably other conditions, too.

DASH was invented by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and promotes six to eight servings of grains, four to five of vegetables or fruits, six of lean meat (chicken or fish), nuts or seeds, and two to three servings of fats. Each serving is small; for example, 1oz (28gm) of meat or 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Sodium is capped at around half a teaspoon. Studies show that the diet, particularly when accompanied by exercise, reduces weight and blood pressure. The experts say it is easy to follow and you will feel full on it.

The Mediterranean diet, full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts, poultry, eggs, and cheese and yogurt in moderation, is similar to DASH, but without the specific serving restrictions. Some studies show weight reduction while others are equivocal, but a Mediterranean diet is also thought to protect against diabetes and heart disease. It is also easy and even joyful to follow. Overall, the best-ranked diets are not too restrictive. So the Flexitarian diet – vegetarianism with the occasional addition of meat – scores more highly than a vegan diet. The WHOLE30 diet is ranked with the raw food diet as the least healthy – both are too restrictive to be the “best diet” for anyone.

Woman ‘who emptied her SHOE’ on the street ‘followed by litter warden who tried to fine her £75’ – Mirror Online


A woman was allegedly followed by a litter warden for 10 minutes demanding that she accept a £75 fine after she had ’emptied her shoe in the street’.

In an undercover investigation earlier this month, a reporter from ITV Wales’ current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar patrolled Anglesey for a week with officers from Kingdom Services Group.

The enforcement firm are contracted by local councils to crackdown on littering – but the reporter has described a particular incident she says she witnessed that made her feel uncomfortable.

A Kingdom officer allegedly followed a woman with two young children, claiming that a piece of her insole had dropped onto the floor after she was seen taking her shoe off in the street.

The woman was reportedly forced to take sanctuary in a friend’s house, and in the end no fine was issued.

According to Y Byd ar Bedwar’s undercover reporter, who wore covert filming equipment: “The lady just took her shoe off and emptied it. It could have been anything, a stone a leaf – I didn’t see it as being fair.

“We were in a car following her, watching her and she didn’t know we were doing that- I didn’t feel comfortable with that, I wasn’t comfortable at all.”

The woman was reportedly seen emptying her shoe (Image: YBydarBedwar/Twitter)

The officer is alleged to have followed the woman for 10 minutes (Image: YBydarBedwar/Twitter)

The company’s enforcement officers can hand anyone caught littering, breaking parking regulations or allowing their dog to foul in a public area a £75 fine.

But Kingdom Services Group has had criticism for its alleged heavy handed tactics in the four north Wales counties it covers- although the company insists it only issues fines proportionately and where appropriate.

The company has also been accused of pressuring staff to give out fines in order to increase profit margins, although they deny this.

But the undercover journalist said she was told more than once that she should issue “at least four fines a day”.

The woman was told it was a littering offence (Image: YBydarBedwar/Twitter)

The officer told the woman she could face a fine (Image: YBydarBedwar/Twitter)

In response to the programme, privately owned company Kingdom told ITV that they provide excellent value to taxpayers through the return of substantial funds to the local authority.

They said that to make sure there is a direct benefit to the taxpayer, it is right that there is an expectation that an amount of fines needs to be issued so that the project is viable.

According to ITV, Anglesey County Council said last week that they would scrap Kingdom’s Services once their trial period with the company is complete in May, although a council spokesperson still called the trial a success.

A council spokesperson said the agreement was reached mutually and Kingdom Services Group added that they ended the deal for ‘commercial reasons’.

Mirror Online has contacted Kingdom Services Group and Anglesey County Council for further comment.

Women are going off sex because the modern man has lost that raw, masculine edge in this #MeToo world of ours…which doesn’t make for much fun in the bedroom, writes SARAH VINE

As of yesterday, it is now possible to buy Viagra over the counter without the need for a prescription. Cue swinging from the chandeliers!

Or perhaps not. Because while men may now be able to perform at the popping of a pill, women are not quite on the same page.

As revealed in yesterday’s Mail, the female of the species is more lukewarm about sex than the male. Around a third of pre-menopausal women and half of older women report sexual problems.

And a recent British Medical Journal study found more than a third of 5,000 women questioned had lost interest altogether.

No surprise, then, that the race is on to develop the female equivalent of that little blue pill, a magic wand that will transform us all into willing participants in the bedroom.

Men are so hamstrung by complex notions of equality, so confused about what is and is not acceptable, that they have begun to lose that raw, masculine edge. And that is a big part of what turns women on

Enticing as this idea may seem, Viagra simply provides a mechanical solution to an age-related problem. In other words, men still want to have sex, it’s simply that their bodies can’t.

With women, it’s different. We can almost always manage the physical side of things. It’s re-igniting lost desire that is so much harder.

There are many theories as to what causes sex to fall so far down the list of a woman’s priorities that it eventually plunges into the abyss.

Stress, antidepressants, young children, teenagers, caring for older parents, perimenopause, menopause, vitamin deficiency —you name it, someone will have come up with it.

But if you ask me, the answer is very simple: men.

Specifically, modern man and his increasing emasculation. Men are so hamstrung by complex notions of equality, so confused about what is and is not acceptable, that they have begun to lose that raw, masculine edge. And that is a big part of what turns women on.

It’s one thing to demand equality in the boardroom; things are very different in the bedroom.

Sex is a fundamentally feral activity, a product of flesh and hormones engineered by nature in order to encourage the reproduction of the species. And nature is clever. Our bodies are designed to want things our feminist minds don’t necessarily feel comfortable with. Such as men who look like they might be able to protect our children from passing predators; or men who can split logs; or, men who, you know, just exude a certain amount of old-fashioned male confidence.

Such men are becoming increasingly unacceptable in this #MeToo world of ours. So vehement is the backlash against anything resembling traditional masculinity, it’s hard to see a future for them.

While this may make for a more egalitarian society, it doesn’t make for much fun in the bedroom.

That is not to say that No does not mean No. There are no excuses for sexual assault. But we are creating a generation of downtrodden men who can’t even tell a woman she looks nice without risking being branded a pervert.

I was stuck by something the writer Annabel Cole said in yesterday’s Mail about how it felt to become invisible with age.

Recalling her youthful powers of attraction, she wrote: ‘One of the most thrilling things I can remember happening to me was as a 21-year-old at the University Library in Cambridge, studying for my finals. I got up to fetch a book and returned to my place to find an anonymous note, which simply said: ‘You look fantastic.’ ‘

Ultimately, that’s what turns women on. The excitement of being thought irresistible. Not a quivering wimp in a Time’s Up badge.

Adult entertainment star Stormy Daniels has given an interview to U.S. TV show 60 Minutes about her alleged liaison with Donald Trump.

Surely it doesn’t take a whole hour to describe something that must have lasted only a couple of minutes.

My message to M&S 

Marks & Spencer launches its umpteenth clothing revamp, promising to prioritise ‘style over fashion’ and reach out to ‘Mrs Marks and Sparks’. Aka middle-class women over 50. Aka me.

So, let me tell you, dear M&S, where I buy my clothes. First: H&M, whose premium range has brilliant silks at very reasonable prices, which last wash after wash. Next is John Lewis for its Modern Rarity brand (smart) and its And/Or label (casual).

They both encompass the basic requirements of the over-50s woman who wants to dress well: nice fabrics, a generous cut, value for money and designs you can dress up or down, according to need. It’s really not rocket science.

Make a child happy: unplug their iPad 

Reading the long list of health and safety measures imposed by Newcastle City Council in order for an outdoor play scheme to go ahead (six-page forms, hi-vis jackets for supervisors, written agreement from all neighbours), you can see how the organisers might just shrug their shoulders and give up. Too. Much. Hassle.

And there is an element of truth in that: while kids are confined to their bedrooms, playing computer games instead of in real life, they are a lot less trouble, both for the local authority and for parents.

But the long-term repercussions are devastating, already evident in the soaring levels of childhood obesity.

For the next two weeks, during the Easter holidays, countless kids will spend their days glued to screens in their pyjamas, pausing only to order a McDonald’s online

For the next two weeks, during the Easter holidays, countless kids will spend their days glued to screens in their pyjamas, pausing only to order a McDonald’s online.

It’s time for positive action. If every parent unplugged every console, our streets and parks would once again be filled with the sounds of children playing: cheeks rosy, noses dripping, knees dirty.

Yes, they might break a few windows and bones along the way, but it would be a small price to pay for something that increasingly seems to elude today’s youngsters: happiness.

Sainsbury’s is having to install CCTV and mirrors at its self-service tills to stop people stealing food. Apparently, millions of pounds have been lost since the machines were introduced in 2009.

I wonder, have they ever thought of getting an actual person to scan individual items? This employee could be called — oh, I don’t know — a ‘checkout clerk’.

Don’t you just love it? Internet giants such as Facebook will happily flog personal data to any old despot.

But if I die tomorrow and my children want to unlock my phone, they’re going to have to cut off my thumb while my body is still warm and use it to make the fingerprint recognition access work — or face a lengthy legal battle with Apple.

Don’t you just love it? Internet giants such as Facebook will happily flog personal data to any old despot

A French waiter fired after being accused of ‘aggressive’ conduct has told a Canadian court he was not being rude, but was merely behaving as French waiters do.

This is encouraging. It means the next time I go to France and am ignored by haughty restaurant staff, I can legitimately smash up the place, singing England football songs.

French satirical magazine publishes polemical cartoon about Islam: jihadis storm their offices, killing 12.

Anti-Semitic mural is painted on a wall in East London: some Jewish people protest politely. Which causes more fury among Corbynistas? (Clue: it’s not the men with the guns).

Forget the Conservatives being the Nasty Party — under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour seems to be turning into the Nazi Party.

Pass the sick bucket 

If you want to know how bonkers the life of a politician is these days, witness David Davis being forced to conduct an interview on The Andrew Marr Show with a bucket by his chair.

The Brexit Secretary was so ill, he vomited before going on air and the receptacle was put there as a precaution. Under normal circumstances, the poor man would have given his apologies and stayed home.

But such is the hysterical world we live in, this would no doubt have resulted in some unhinged conspiracy theory.

Result: the poor man would rather throw up live on air.

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