Stop press!

PERHAPS in response to the bad PR they've been getting over the Christmas period (see last week's diary, or just try going somewhere by rail this winter) Virgin Trains have moved into crowd-pleasing mode and decided to generate some good feeling amongst right-minded commuters – by effectively banning the Daily Mail.

The company has made the decision not to stock the paper for sale on its trains after concerns raised by staff about the Mail's stance on issues such as immigration, unemployment and LGBTQ+ rights.

“We've decided that this paper is not compatible with the VT brand and our beliefs,” said an internal staff memo. “This won't suit all of our customers or all of our people – it's certain to draw some criticism. But we've listened to many colleagues over the last few months, and we feel that this is the right move to take.”

Not everyone agrees and, it's fair to say, there has been some criticism. Mostly from, or generated by, the Daily Mail, which took time out from publishing positive portraits of migrants and job-seekers, and praising diversity of all sorts (no, not really) to send columnist and consultant editor Andrew Pierce into battle on BBC Radio 4's PM programme. Ranged against him was journalist and former Labour Party communications director Lance Price, while puckish presenter Eddie Mair took the role of referee.

It was quite a spat. Price called out the Mail for failing to uphold the “British” values of decency, equality and fairness and said that if he worked for Virgin Trains he would be one of those saying he found it to be often racist and homophobic. Pierce, who is gay and in a civil partnership though opposed to gay marriage, said he wouldn't work for a newspaper that didn't share his values, and soon brought the argument round to Brexit. The Mail ban, he said, was payback of sorts for the paper's support for leaving the EU. Richard Branson was a Remainer.

“Are you always happy with what you read in your own paper?” Mair asked Pierce.

“Yes I am,” he replied.

“Always happy?” You could hear the scepticism in the presenter's voice.

For his part, Price tweeted afterwards: “Kept my cool I think.”

In a further intervention which was probably more hindrance than help under the circumstances, Boris Johnson also leapt to the Mail's defence. He called Virgin's move “absurd” and “pompous”, but as they're two words more commonly hung round his neck I'm going to disregard his comments. As I'm sure everyone else will.

Where there's a bill ...

THERE'S a great deal about American politics which is, frankly, appalling, and few American politicians who seem anything other than self-serving. But I'm starting to like the cut of Brendan Boyle's jib. Or should that be jibe?

The Pennsylvania Democrat has used Donald Trump's now infamous “stable genius” tweet to good effect and is now proposing that the House of Representatives introduces what he is calling the Stable Genius Act. This would require all presidential candidates to prove their mental credentials (try saying that with a mouthful of cheeseburger) by filing a Federal Election Commission report “certifying that he or she has undergone medical examination by the medical office under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy”. A very good idea. Way to go, Bren.

Most of all, though, I love the idea that you can give a legislative bill or act a name that isn't boring. Wouldn't British politics be so much more interesting if, say, the Protection Of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act had instead been called the Hands Off That Fox, Torquil! Act? Or if the upcoming European Union (Withdrawal) Bill had a snappier title, like the OMG! What Have We Done? Bill or (because it's all his fault) the David Cameron Ruined My Children's Lives Bill? If you want to engage young people, this is the way forward. It would make all that pesky legislation a lot easier to understand and, if a shortlist of naming suggestions was put to a public vote every time a new act was mooted, be far more democratic too. It's win-win.

Shock and raw

WANT to make a fortune this year? Forget bitcoin, buy yourself a spring instead. Not the sort you find poking up through the sofa bed in Airbnb lets, but the sort that brings fresh, unadulterated, unfiltered water bubbling up into the middle of a sylvan glade somewhere. And if the bubbling stuff is potable – that's the posh word for safe to drink – then congratulations, you could be onto a winner thanks to the growing craze for what's known as “raw water”.

Naturally enough the trend seems to have started in California, where at San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery store you can buy a 2.5 gallon glass jug of “raw water” for a mere $36.99 (£27). Other sources are available, of course, but this one comes from Oregon and is supplied by a company called Live Water which talks up the “probiotics” present in its product and promotes the benefits of water which has “no Industrial Age contamination”.

The founder of Live Water is Mukhande Singh (real name Christopher Sanborn). He lives in Hawaii, from which sun-kissed redoubt he recently extolled the virtues of “raw water” to a sceptical reporter from The New York Times. Tap water, he dismissed as “toilet water with birth control drugs in”. Normal filtered water he described as “dead water”. Real water, on the other hand, will expire after a few months and “stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery … If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realise that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.”

Wait, there's more. Here is he is talking about fluoride, which is routinely added to American drinking water. “Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health”. He's referring to what many conspiracy theorists (or “truthers” as they're known) believe to be a massive and ongoing public control experiment to make Americans stupid, docile and biddable. All total nonsense, of course – though it might explain the presence in the White House of that, like, really smart and stable genius, Donald J Trump.

On the ho-hum run

IN what could be seen as a metaphor for Russia's approach to diplomacy and international bridge-building, a man in the country's Arctic Murmansk region was arrested last week after stealing a vehicle, flattening another car with it and then driving it through the window of a supermarket because, as he admitted when the cops finally had him in cuffs, he was bored. Oh, and the vehicle was actually an armoured personnel carrier complete with caterpillar tracks – there's a driving school nearby, apparently, where you can learn to drive them – and after smashing into the shop the man also stole a bottle of wine. Probably a Merlot or a Pinot Noir, I imagine, though the police haven't said which. According to local media reports, the police are also “considering” criminal charges.

Only considering? Seriously?