Monthly Archives: May 2012

BBC News’ Rose-Tinted Glasses

BBC News website has run a hauntingly saccharine look at what life was like in 1952, the year the Queen was crowned. It’s called You in ’52. It covers thing like how you may have dressed (if you were rich), the music you might listen to (were you able to afford a wireless), and the food you would eat (assuming you had the wealth or connections to avoid the still-in-place wartime rations).

Aah, you may say, a return to the life of those days would be nice. Don’t you wish for the family values? The happy children playing in the street? The gay men imprisoned and chemically castrated for their “perversion”? The black people racially abused and still treated as second-class citizens? The women treated as unpaid house-staff, unable to work for themselves with any measure of economic freedom once married? Or the unmarried women, derided as unlovable spinsters? No? Okay, then.


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Filed under Journalism

Examiners ask Stupid Question in GCSEs

But politicians fail to understand why.

The Telegraph article Pupils asked ‘why do some people hate Jews?’ in GCSE exam highlights a huge mistake on the part of AQA. Asking such a politically, racially and religulously charged question of a fair few thousand 16 year olds is clearly in poor taste. It’s in poor taste for many reasons, not least of which at least a few of the kids answering the question will already hate Jews themselves and might unsurprisingly give some pretty hateful answers.

An answer along the lines of “Because they run a secret cabal which rules the Earth on behalf of their shape-changing alien lizard overlords” is not especially enlightened, but is pretty damned enlightening for anyone who might read it. Additionally, there is a fair amount of scope for people who would feel pretty offended to have to explain, however briefly why some people hate one another for no good reason. For some, it’s okay, and for others not so much.

So the really dumb part is not necessarily the question (which I’ll get to later), but the fact that 16 year olds are being essentially forced to answer it. If you’re going to require participation in an exam, probably the best thing to do is to leave questions which remain highly charged in the world of today out of it.

But, predictably, Michael Gove and I don’t see eye-to-eye:

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, branded the move “insensitive”.
He told The Jewish Chronicle: “To suggest that anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.”
“Insensitive” is indeed the word that describes the actions of AQA, but our agreement stops there. In fact Michael Gove’s second paragraph is kind of inexplicable. The only way I can make any sense of it is to assume that he can’t tell the difference between the words “explain” and “justify”. For example, the text of the exam question is:

Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.

When what I think Michael Gove read was:

Justify, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.

Now, the difference between these two is crucial. The former is asking for the real reasons why people think something which is very very bad to think. The second is asking people to support the prejudice itself. Michael Gove’s statement applies well to the latter question, but not so much to the former. Both questions, as I’ve already said, are not really appropriate for an exam question, but his statement is not just wrong when it comes to this discussion among adults, it’s blatantly counter-productive.
For example, were I a world-reknowned social and political scientist (I am not), and I wrote a paper with the following abstract (I have not), I would be perfectly justified in suggesting that anti-Semitism can be explained: 
An explanation into the motivations of anti-Semitic belief. The following paper, using interviews and polling data from the US population, investigates the fundamental vehicles for the inheritance of anti-Semitic beliefs. In modern society, open anti-Semitism justifiably has pariah status, and yet many continue to openly profess such beliefs. This paper concludes that a combinations of religious belief and political motivaton of group leaders often act as catalysts for such beliefs, and that other group members undergo conformative biases in order to fit in with their group. Once such a belief is expressed openly, the very nature of the belief encourages its holders to retreat to enclaves of anti-Semitic communities, causing groups to become even more closely knit and exacerbating the in-group/out-group hostilities which often arise.
The paper further concludes that greater integration, particularly during primary and secondary levels of schooling would act as a powerful factor in reducing the incidence of such beliefs as they cross such in-group/out-group lines and allow children the capability to see people from different backgrounds.
The point is that explaining a belief is a good thing, even if the belief itself is unjustifiable – understanding why people become anti-Semitic would help us learn how to improve things. We can hope people with stupid beliefs change, but the only thing each of us truly have the power to control is our own actions, and searching for explanations for why other people behave abominably informs us on the best steps we can personally take to reduce such behaviour.
Compare and contrast, for example, the reactions to the London riots last year. Gove, and the rest of the Tories, were quick to dismiss all who took part as part of a feral criminal underclass who can’t be saved. Anyone who suggested that we investigate why they did it was met with scorn: “How dare you suggest it is our fault?” they would scoff.
Of course it’s not our fault, responsibility for criminal behaviour lies with the criminal behaver. But once again: we are not trying to justify the actions of the rioters, only explain them. The riots began for a reason, and all governments have the power to do is change the way the government itself behaves. So the only questions we can ask following the riots is what the government can do differently to prevent more riots, and we can only do that by understanding why it happened in the first place.

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Filed under Ethics, Journalism, Politics, Racism

Moron Criticises UKUncut for not being Labour Shill

In yet another example of keyboard warriors on the left criticising people who actually act, Sunny Hundal is criticising UKUncut’s street party protest on Saturday. I’m aware of the irony of me, a man who doesn’t go to anywhere near enough protests or actions, writing a blog post criticising a Labour activist for criticising UKUncut. I’m aware of that. But I have the good graces not to criticise the people who are actually fucking doing shit.

Sunny’s taken time out of his Labour “activism” – stuff like making Cameron memes out of silly photos – to criticise a group of people who are exploring the Coalition’s broad sense of agreement on the necessity of the cuts.

Liberal Conspiracy as a blog pisses me off already. It refactors left-of-centre politics as Labour politics, when in reality, left-of-centre politics almost by definition needs to be non-partisan. After all what mainstream party can legitimately claim to support the real liberal left wing? Not Labour, they spent the last 13 years finishing off what Thatcher started. Not the LibDems, they’re worse than the fucking Tories right now. The Greens? Maybe, but they remain a single issue party who happen to be in the right on the majority of issues, so I guess that for now they fail to meet the “mainstream” bit of the criteria.

And Sunny epitomises this. It’s important to Labour to attack the Tories, as they know the LibDem’s support has evaporated, and their support will mostly switch to Labour. What they now need is to hit the Tories hard to ensure they have a shot at regaining power in 2015. So, were UKUncut a Labour Party movement, then criticism like

I think the street party was nevertheless counter-productive in its tactics.
By that I’m not referring to the claim it brought out sympathy for Nick Clegg. I just think it makes more sense to target Conservatives than Libdems on this issue.

Did it? The LibDems are just as culpable as the Tories. Again, Labour have been trying to act like the Tories are the Agents of Evil Incarnate (imagine that in the voice of the Mysterons), while the LibDems are the unwitting dupes pootling along without realising what the Evil Tories are doing. But it just isn’t true – while the LibDems are socially liberal, they remain fiscally conservative, and the Coalition agreement was built on the common ground the two parties shared over the needs for a smaller government.

Does that mean we shouldn’t attack the LibDems? An argument could plausibly be made that since the LibDem voter base already support the cuts, we should instead be going after the big kahunas. In fact, Sunny attempts to do so:

But the main problem is that the Libdems are fairly supportive of the welfare cuts. Broadly their constituency doesn’t rate welfare as a key priority and there are other issues Libdem voters find more pressing. Nick Clegg will focus on social issues such as gay marriage, financial benefits such as raising the tax threshold, civil liberties and the environment to rally his base.
Welfare cuts won’t come into the Libdem equation, mostly because a majority of voters believe that some benefits cuts are needed. The leadership is too cowardly to pick a fight there and saving its political capital for other fights.

But what are the UKUncut protests trying to achieve? Is it to convince people who want cuts that they are wrong? Well, partly. But mostly it’s to do what all protests attempt to do: to show that there are a large group of people in opposition to the policy. It’s meant to showcase how many people are being harmed by these swingeing cuts which hurt the voiceless the most. It’s meant to demonstrate to the political class the mass public support that already exists for a change in Coalition welfare policy.

Does Sunny criticise the Syrian protestors because Assad’s base won’t change their minds and it’s not in Assad’s interest to do so? I have no idea, but I’m sure most people certainly wouldn’t. Instead, we see it as indicative of how the Syrian people feel about their leader: fucking angry and expecting change.

And, quite frankly, the LibDems are more likely to realize that message than the Tories. The LibDems are okay with the cuts. The Tories are positively salivating over the idea of the poor starving to death.

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Filed under Journalism, Politics

The Conservative Party’s Double Standards

So, JH is in trouble. First off, no one’s quite sure whether JH stands for Jeremy Hunt or Adam Smith. But second, and more importantly, he’s had a bit of a problem keeping his thoughts to himself rather than, say, putting them into a text-based and easily recordable format, and then sending them to the Prime Minister. In case you live on the plant Zarg (read: outside of the UK) and haven’t seen the text, it reads as follows:

He doesn’t think he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because News Corp are very litigious and we could end up in the wrong place in terms of media policy. Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad.
Isn’t this what all media companies have to do ultimately? And if so we must be very careful that any attempt to block it is done on genuine plurality grounds and not as a result of lobbying by competitors.
The UK has the chance to lead the way… but if we block it our media sector will suffer for years. In the end I am sure sensible controls can be put into any merger to ensure there is plurality but I think it would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway.

So, very pro-Murdoch. The problem is that ol’ JH is supposed to be an impartial arbiter on the issue of Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB. Which, clearly, he isn’t.

To be honest, I don’t really care that he made up his mind about Murdoch before the takeover process began. I urge you to name one person who DOESN’T have a strong opinion on the liver-spotted media mogul who looks about 10 minutes away from having the skin on his face fall off and reveal the alien bone structure underneath.

But where I have a problem is in the Tories’ reaction to the whole shebang. In particular, when I compare and contrast with the reaction to Vince Cable’s “war with Murdoch” statement:

  1. Man reveals he is anti-Murdoch. “How dare such a biased person be in charge of a massive takeover aimed at wiping out media diversity in this nation!” Etc, etc.
  2. Man reveal he is pro-Murdoch. “Jeremy has followed all processes to the letter and listened fully to independent advice as per the process he has beeen told to follow.”

Did VC follow all process? I don’t know, the Tories certainly didn’t give a damn whether he did or didn’t. The real reason they were up in arms was that a business man with lots of money might not get what he wants. And the real reason they’re more pragmatic about bias this time is that they now know he will.

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Filed under Journalism, Politics

IDS’s Twisted Priorities

Ian “Dunkin'” Smith has made page 40 of today’s Evening Standard with the news that he is trying desperately to save a greyhound racing track which is going to be shut down to make way for flats. In fact, not just any flats: a housing scheme on behalf of the council. True social housing it ain’t, but it’s much needed homes in the London area. Why, you might ask, is he supporting this?

He has written to Boris Johnson urging him to use mayoral powers to throw out a housing scheme on the grounds that the stadium and its famous neon sign are a vital part of the nation’s cultural fabric.“The track is listed not only due to the nature of its architecture but also due to its use and the importance of this both locally and more widely,” argued the MP and former Conservative leader. “Perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of my constituents and local residents are passionately opposed to the scheme and want to see the return of greyhound racing.”

Oh, okay, that seems pretty well thought out and reasonable. Wait, WHAT? This is the man who said people in Merthyr should catch a bus to Cardiff to find work, when there were already 9 unemployed for every job in Cardiff at the time. The man who more recently pledged to take £10billion of people’s disability benefits.

It’s nice to see what Irritable Bowel Syndrome thinks are important in today’s society: disabled people being able to afford the cost of living? Fuck ’em. Overbred, exploited greyhounds being forced to run around a track for a baying crowd of bloodthirsty idiots hoping desperately for a return to the days of bear-baiting? Priceless national treasure.

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Filed under Animals, Ethics, Politics

Youth Unemployment and the Bloody Media

I’ve been planning a post for while concerning how irritating much of the mainstream media is on the subject of Youth Unemployment (imagine there’s a lot of reverb when I say those words, Mysterons-style). The condescending tone and vague sound of surprise from puffed-up journalists, a large portion of whom will have been privately educated (the successful ones, at least, as I am reliably informed by Owen Jones).

However, I haven’t managed to find a suitably pithy and witty response to such arse-water, and the topic is swiftly forgotten as my mind becomes enraged by some other piece of absolute bull within a few minutes.

But I need try no longer! For the awesome and far-funnier-than-me-by-half Vagenda have beaten me to it. And as a person who didn’t fall into unemployment following graduation, all I can offer is solidarity as opposed to the Vagenda’s genuine empathy.

I was one of the lucky ones, and I’m not so arrogant as to think it was my genius which got me my graduate position, and that anyone who failed to graduate into a job must by definition be an overindulged moron who’s long-term suffering is merely the price we must pay in a society where intellectual superhumans like myself can reign supreme. I definitely don’t think that.

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Filed under Economy, Feminism, Journalism

The Olympics Think I am Unemployed

Or so rich that I have my own butler. Actually, on second thought, that’s more likely. Since the roads are only going to be used by ‘VIPs’ anyway during the Olympics, and mostly the only people who actually got tickets are the ones who avoided the lottery altogether and instead got the London Olympic Committee to simply give them all the tickets they want via the company they happen to be a director of.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Olympics. Obviously I oppose the Sound Cannons, the Surface to Air missiles, the freebies for the rich, the special roads that the poor aren’t allowed to use, and the fact that we (read: the Coalition) are spending ridiculous sums of money on a two week long party for Visa directors while simulaneously fucking the poor, the old, women, workers, the disabled, anybody earning less than £45,000 a year, families, young children, small business owners, the sick and anyone who wants to make life better for others.

At the same time, I know I’m just going to enjoy every moment of the sport. I’m fully prepared – holiday booked for the entire period, all important engagements cancelled, cupboard stocked with Doritos, and all my comfortable tracksuit bottoms washed and ready to go.

I fully expect to be well-versed, by the end of it all, in the ins and outs of Algerian judo, in Usain Bolt’s favourite pair of shoes, and in the environmental ramifications of competitive skeet shooting. I expect at least once to burst into tears seeing a plucky underdog, from some tiny country, wearing a burlap sack, win a gold medal against all the odds in his/her nation’s home sport (I don’t know what yet, maybe Klondike, we’ll see).

So after all the cognitive dissonance, detailed above, which was necessary to get me actually fucking excited about this Olympics; and after all the elation I felt at winning some tickets (2 tickets to see two games of the qualifying rounds for the basketball, thanks for asking), it somewhat irked me to receive the following email from London Ticketing:

Dear Tim,

Your London 2012 tickets

The Olympic Games are just around the corner, and soon you will be holding your Olympic tickets in your hand.
Tickets will start to be delivered from late May with deliveries continuing into July. This email tells you everything you need to know about how to make sure you get your tickets safely.
Your tickets will be sent using Royal Mail‘s Tracked® delivery service. You will receive a notification by email and/or SMS (if you have provided your mobile number) from Royal Mail on the day your tickets are due to be delivered.
Someone will need to be there to sign for your tickets. If nobody is there, Royal Mail will leave a ‘Something for you’ card. You will also be notified of the delivery attempt by email and/or SMS. Your ticket package will be returned to your local Royal Mail delivery office and held securely for 18 days.
You can visit the office to collect your package, or contact Royal Mail to arrange a redelivery to the same address. In the event you don’t collect your package, Royal Mail will send you a reminder notification by email and/or SMS before it is returned to London 2012.
If you have changed address since 6 February 2012 or have any further queries regarding ticket delivery, please visit the FAQ section on the London 2012 ticketing website.

[Emphasis mine]. Note the three sections I felt important enough to highlight.

Tickets will start to be delivered from late May with deliveries continuing into July

Okay, not so bad, essentially a 2 month window for my tickets to arrive in. There’s a lot of tickets to send out, and it’s a big logistical challenge.

You will receive a notification by email… from Royal Mail on the day your tickets are due to be delivered.

Again, how very nice of them to tell me, at least that way when I get home from work I’ll know to expect them – I wouldn’t want them to go missing, after all.

Someone will need to be there to sign for your tickets.

Wait, WHAT? So someone needs to be at home on the day my tickets arrive, a day which I won’t know about until ON THAT DAY ITSELF. So I may need to spend a day at home waiting for a delivery on any day between late May and “into July”, but have absolutely no idea which one. What to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games think I am? Rich enough to afford a dogsbody?

Bloody Nora, I thought the crackdown of freedom of speech through suppression of protests was bad, but this really takes the biscuit.


Addendum to above post:

I apologise to all unemployed people for the title, now that I think about it. We all have much better things to do than sit around waiting for tickets for two months, and given the number of hoops people who are unemployed have to go through to receive even the pittance that prevents them from starving while searching for work, it’s kinda thoughtless to assume they have it easier than I do.

So, sorry to you all.

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Filed under Economy, Sport

Good Marketing, Weird Product

When I got home this morning, it turned out the steps to my flat had all clubbed together and bought me a gift. At least, that’s my understanding, as I can’t imagine someone delivering this door to door:

Normally, I ignore these circulars. They’re annoying, they’re intrusive, and I live in a block so we always get 4 of each one that arrives. This one, however, piqued my interest. First, a quick look at the back tells me this is a company called Shaftesbury’s.
Nope. I’ve never heard of them either.
Also, it’s very very pretty. A quick check of the Dulux paint range tells me the colour on the graphic is called Lindi’s Pass, and very nice it is too. These guys didn’t just grab some two-bit takeaway menu designer to do this, no sir.
But it’s also wonderfully enigmatic. I “know I want them…”, do I? What are “them”? There are plenty of things on this earth which I know desperately that I want, and am a mere 30% offer away from purchasing. I’m ultimately as suggestible to advertising as the next person, despite my wishes otherwise, and there are plenty of things that I believe I could buy to make me smarter, more attractive, or to get rid of the shooting pains in spine every time I try to turn my head.
And maybe Shaftesbury’s has the answer to at least one of these problems. So I open the leaflet (printed on very nice 400gsm card, btw), to be greeted with the following:
Ah, wrapped inside my enigma is a mystery! Like Russian politics in the 80’s. What are they selling? Bedroom sets? Red throws? Sunlight? And in a further nod to quality, this leaflet is a concertina. Real pages! In a leaflet.
Important: I’m going to rip into this a little bit, but I much prefer this to fucking takeaway menus. I’m not the target group for this circular, and this marketing is good enough that Shaftesbury’s will probably see more business as a result, and all power to them.
Shutters! The thing which has been missing from my life? Presumably (given that they sell shutter), Shaftesbury’s is full of people who really really love shutters. Maybe their view of how the world works has been distorted by being around blinds for so long. They’re looking at the world through rose-tinted shutters, if you like.
But I really don’t give a fuck about blinds or shutters. I already have some on my windows and I still look like Quasimodo’s evil twin so they haven’t made me any more attractive. I suppose there are people out there who are waiting for their opportunity to by some beautiful, practical, interior shutters, but I’m not one of them.
My favourite section is near the end, where they feel it’s important to remind that the offer is indeed “genuine”, as if anyone outside of politics or supermarket marketing departments would spend this much money on lying to their base. 
Also a favourite, not easy to read on this picture is the sentence: “Shutters have spread virally.” Have they now? Because I thought the word virally had two meanings: passing through the internet as an essentially memetic version of a real virus, or a REAL VIRUS. And I don’t recall any videos called “Cute baby shutter! Falling asleep!!!!” on Youtube with 8,325,673 hits and hundreds of racist comments. Nor am I sitting in fear of the latest shutter outbreak and the zombie apocalypse which will inevitably follow.

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Filed under Advertising