Monday, 29 November 2010

I'm in exile in my home country

I was meeting a friend in Preston City Centre, just after the EDL/UAF demonstrations ended.  I managed by accident to be swept along in a mass of EDL supporters, as I tried to walk up Church Street to meet a friend.  The abhorrent racist shouting, the all-surrounding threatening behaviour, the sea of balaclavas and the abject hooliganism can't be described in enough realism to anyone who hasn't witnessed it first-hand.

At first, I was a little scared - they were your typical football hooligan look-a-likes, some wearing hoodies proudly describing them members of a "division"; which was interesting as surely a movement with such belief in "English Defence" shouldn't need to be divided?  There was a massive Lancashire Constabulary presence and my fears, once I got out of the thick of it were abated.  Then I wanted to feel angry, wanted to vent and rage and make them see they were wrong.  But that didn't arrive; sadness did. I felt deflated.

In that moment I started to feel ashamed that I was born in the same country as these people.  The Britain I grew up believing in was fair, just and welcoming.  The England I grew up in was tolerant, liberal and secular.  These people weren't from my Britain, my England.  They singled out a large portion of English society for hatred under the guise that they were protecting English Christian values.  Moreover, it was thinly veiled under a wash of political demands for protection of the Justice System, but hatred was there all the same - I saw two men have chanted at them "Fuck off Pakis" and "Burn a Mosque".

That's the key here, the right wing groups like the English Defence League and British National Party have a knack, no matter how "fair" they wish to appear, to attract those in society who wish hatred on others.  In essence, these parties raise a patriotic emblem and ask that the traditional way of life is adhered to; which I'm sure Americans, with their Constitution, would have no problem with.  However, there are those in these parties who use their banner - borrowed from the nation - to spout abuse, hatred and violence on others; which isn't very patriotic at all.

Given the example I witnessed in Preston on Saturday, I'm not English.  I'm not British.  I'm in exile in my home country.  That's why I felt so sad.

Monday, 15 November 2010

taking the piss out of public sector employees' job titles

I watched the Channel Four documentary, Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story, this morning via 4OD.  It's made by the same chap (Martin Durkin) who made the similarly polemic The Great Global Warming Swindle, which ended up with criticism from OfCom.  It's sill available for a while if you fancy watching it and it's one of the first things on 4OD I've watched - I was impressed by the service, although split by adverts at an arbitrary point.

Our intrepid reporter asks inumerate people to
identify a large number for our amusement
In short, I found it rather dubiously one sided, making repeated reference to a figure of '£4.8 trillion' as the national debt, while not stating precisely where this figure was measured from - whereas the Office for National Statistics measures it as £1000.4 billion.  Agreed, it did show some of the other things that made up the discrepency, but not clear enough to warrant this figure to be totally beleivable.  The general theme throughout the show was that in the United Kingdom economy, most regions are 'overly' reliant on the public sector, which is something we all know of course.  In one segment, hand picked inumerate volunteers are asked to identify the figure of £4,800,000,000,000 on the side of an articulated lorry parked acorss a busy road.  This is of course to illustrate we can't comprehend the figure, but actually serves to show us that his real plan is to round up thick people in his lorry to sell on eBay.

[The following few paragraphs discuss the economics involved, skip ahead if you like to stay awake]

There was some good explanations of theory, albeit only shown from the perspective of the neoclassical camp, without any reference to the fact all theories in economics are assumptions based on very simple models - so while I'd encourage you to watch some of the 'science bits', I'd advise you to avoid them until there's a good source to counter argue the way they're portrayed here.  For instance, in one demonstration, a tax man visits a restauranteur and demands fifty pounds, which is then given as wages to the staff member who administers the tax return for the restaurant, who subsequently returns to the restaurant to buy lunch, spending fifty pounds.  Essentially, the point being made is that while the restauranteur has earned his money back, he's lost out because he's paid for the raw materials in the food and chef's time, for example.  However, this totally misses the point as taxation isn't taken as a one-off, it's measured against profits and while companies employ various techniques to reduce their tax burden, they pay it based on an annual figure.

Clearly only mechanics exist in the
private sector nowadays
The film at various points makes references to the public sector as akin to leeches, that they don't serve any purpose.  They're embodied in the graphics as faceless bowler hat wearing smartly dressed people, while front line staff - like nurses, doctors and police - are shown in different uniforms, albeit sexist as nurses always appear to be female or transvestites.  These faceless leeches are then shown to take money and spend in local services, like hairdressers, garages or electricians; which we are reminded are services impossible to export and should be considered as stealth employed by the public sector as they'd not have any custom if the public sector didn't employ as many people.  We are taken then to Newcastle, where our presenter informs us has a very high dependency on the public sector for employment: we are not informed why this is so and instead we're shown around Beamish Open Air Museum to show how it all used to be in the good old days of the Industrial Revolution.

That was when I lost all respect for the programme; the north-east of England is so dependent on public sector jobs because the Thatcher government closed the nationalised industries like coal mining.  So, a few years later when looking to expand your facilities, do you choose a relatively expensive to hire supply of labour where jobs are plentiful such as London or site your new offices where there's a lot of spare labour who you can pay less?  That's right, you'd site them in areas where lots of labour exists - it's two fold in effect, wages are lower reducing labour cost and also people in work would be on the dole otherwise.  It went on to say how terrible this situation is and then succintly offered no solution to a way out for these areas other than "it'll be hard for a bit, painful, but has to be done".

floating turd
Daily Mail readers will be in heaven
OK, so yes, it is useful as an opinion piece to get you thinking - but there's a turd in the water.  That turd is in the form of Kelvin MacKenzie in a triumvirate alongside Lionel Blair and Vanessa Feltz taking the piss out of public sector employees' job titles.  This is almost as Daily Mail television as you can get unless they themselves were to launch a channel streaming live deportations, police brutality of youths wearing hoodies and a regular update of the BBC Television Centre burning to the ground.  These people are employed, they're not on the dole and they probably didn't invent their jobs in the first place.  What exactly are the trio doing for lowering taxes?

Overall, I wish I hadn't watched it, but you can make your own mind up.  I did plan to write about the nasty horrible things they said about the NHS - but I fear that the inclusion of Mr. MacKenzie stopped me dead.  His face shows up throughout as a sort of modern day oracle, spoon feeding us his vast knowledge of economic theory via the medium of shouting at the camera about how there's no money.  If this show were a contestant on ITV's XFactor, its singing voice would start like a distant high-pitched alarm, then grow louder and louder while Simon Cowell told us how marvellous it was and rigged the result so it stayed in until we all killed each other.

touching a pig is immoral

A post under the guise of "Political Correctness Gone Mad".

Recently, a facespace post caught my eye: it was regarding the disbelief that the Early Learning Centre (ELC) didn't include a pig in a child's toy farm set on the NetMums website.
The offending toy set, without a 'piggy'.
"[I] noticed that there was a pig noise on the top of Goosefeather Farm but I couldnt find a pig ... I went through all the paper and boxes again, but alas coudn't find piggy. Checked the box and discovered that there isnt a piggy. Went online, nope no piggy. So I emailed ELC and the response that I had makes my blood boil. [Emoticons]

'However previously the pig was part of the Goose feather farm however due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm'

Now, let me make this perfectly clear. This has absolutely nothing to do with race, so nobody can accuse me of being 'racist'.

This is POLITICAL CORRECTNESS gone loopy. On what basis did they remove it???
This is as bad as no more 'baa baa black sheep' or other such things. Stuff like this is just insipid, it worms its way into every aspect of our lives and we just let it happen. Surely if someone has issue with a toy that they don't agree with, then don't buy it!
NetMums contributor Caroline

Sidestepping the foaming-at-the-mouth posting style, the missing apostrophes and the spelling mistakes for a moment; does Caroline have a point?

In short, I think, no.

For a start, the ELC aren't being overly PC - if they find their customers report they'd prefer not to have said animal in their toys, that's good for their business.  While I disagree with people who'd think touching a pig is immoral or against some foolishly held belief, it's their right to it being protected.  Just like they don't present your child with a cow clearly missing limbs or a farmer who has an unorthodox method of interlocking with a sheep: they'd loose business by including it.  So, Caroline, it isn't insipid it is just business sense.

The fact the toy farm building still makes a piggy noise means that the child may grow up to be mocked for thinking another animal oinks, but they're hardly going to develop into future serial killers because of it.  If you thought there should be a pig, fine, but it wasn't listed and perhaps the ELC should have made this a little more clear.  This smacks of the head scarf should be banned argument, who will immediately back track when they realise that banning of head scarves will mean a ban on all religious dress - including crucifixes.

In short, swallow some of your own medicine, Caroline; "Surely if someone has issue with a toy that they don't agree with, then don't buy it!".

Friday, 5 November 2010

Open letter to Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats

On the 6th May 2010, I voted Liberal Democrat as I have in every election prior – local or national – since I have held a vote, strongly believing that no vote is a wasted vote. I was filled with optimism on that day – your party, as ever, was the progressive party of choice, with views mostly allied to my own and in areas of disagreement your party argued their case to an extent I sympathised. I was brought up by my parents to believe that a right to vote should be cherished, to be something to never lose.

To this end, I travelled to the other end of the country to help a family member standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate for a local government position canvass, leaflet and advertise the party before the general election. I was a member of the party when I was younger and I hoped to be proud enough after 6th May to join again.

After the coalition was formed, I carefully listened to what the party were saying – given how distasteful I found the concept. Attempting to accept that the economic situation of the country was so dire that we would indeed have to be more realistic with planned items on the Liberal Democrat manifesto, I trusted that the party would ensure that a progressive theme was maintained and cut backs and revenues would fall on the richest first.

I believed in a progressive party, who would temper the Conservative ideology of reducing government back to a minimum. I thought my vote would protect thousands of people on low wages, look out for public sector workers and protect the economy from the banking crisis happening again and punish those who took risks. After all, it is the tax payer now footing the bill for a great proportion of the banking sector, it should not be the tax payer losing out. Your party, and you personally, stood on a promise to reduce, prevent or abolish tuition fees in higher education. Above all, your party was the party that I thought would not lie to me; with all the promises of changing politics for the better and making the electorate believe in politics again.

Now that you understand the reason I voted Liberal Democrat, I have a confession. I am now ashamed I voted Liberal Democrat on 6th May 2010. Since then, every announcement from the coalition has been wholly against why I voted the way I did. Your party has outright lied to the electorate over tuition fees, your party has been complicit in countless job losses in the public sector and you were sat there on the front bench as George Osborne MP announced cuts to hoorays and cheers by your new bed fellows.

While these feelings left me ashamed, they were nothing compared to an incident I now feel physically nauseous over. I voted in support of a party of xenophobes. Watching Question Time last night on BBC1, Jeremy Browne MP failed to illustrate any point of view without raising his voice and shouting another panel member down. While I concede Jack Straw MP was nearing the same style of debate, he now looks a rather more palatable option after what was said later on the subject of the treaty with France. I was disgusted to see the representative of the party I voted for stringing along a tirade of small-minded remarks about the French people. I sincerely felt at any mention of Germany, he would be goose-stepping around the studio complete with finger posed moustache.

I not only feel ashamed, I feel wholeheartedly sorry for the British people my vote was for your party on 6th May 2010 – my only comfort being the Liberal Democrat candidate in my constituency of Ribble Valley came a distant third and so I made a marginal difference to the outcome.

Please be aware that my cross will never again land alongside a Liberal Democrat candidate, and thank you and your party for ensuring that I have little interest in voting again.

I welcome any response, but do not expect one.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

somewhere in Nigella Lawson's straining brassiere

A review of Vampire Diaries (ITV2), based on a response originally posted to a friend's enquiry about said show's merits.

Apparently, vampires and related occult creations are full of the sexy.  We can determine this from the utter truck loads of it on the silver screen, your local Waterstone's and ancillary channels of terrestrial broadcasters' television listings.  The reasons for this are hard to pin down, but it is fair to assume it conditioning for the imminent arrival of Beelzebub.  Vote for that, Middle America.

So, on to Vampire Diaries.  From the little I was forced to watch the other day after I misplaced the remote during Celebrity Juice, and frantically threw around furniture to discover its location before my mind decided to labotomise itself in order to avoid further damage, I can conclude that it is a mixture of True Blood and The OC.  You probably may swap mentions of The OC with mentions of Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls or Hollyoaks - in short, we're talking most of E4's scheduling. For those not in the know about these inexplicably popular televisual experiences, I'll help by introducing an abridged description of each:
  • True Blood is based on a popular series of novels and well acted, well written and for the most part entertaining - just ignore all the hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo stuff and you'll get along with it fine, I did and I hate this kind of rubbish normally.
  • The OC [Gilmore Girls, Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill..] is an American teen drama set in a warped reality bubble surrounding a script writer's internal frustration that he is horrifically ugly, unpopular and still lives with his mum; I say all this by assumption: I have never had the misfortune to accidentally watch the actual show, just trailers for it when I have had no V+ gold banked while watching something else on Channel 4.
So the ingredients are there for a deliciously well prepared, wholesome dumpling perfectly spiced by sexually liberated naked nymphettes living somewhere in Nigella Lawson's straining brassiere. Unfortunately, some snotty YTS kid made the stew it floats in; consisting of foetid road kill chunks, a ladle full of Sweet and Low sweetners, pooh flakes derived from a recent toilet visit and a dash of jizz produced when looking at the aforementioned sexually liberated naked nymphettes preparing dumplings.

Basically, you will find eye candy to perve over (but not enough nudity to really titilate), there's plenty of pointless camera spaffery to prove they're making an arty, edgy, teen-centric drama and a soundtrack of a whiney, nauseating middle of the road din. I didn't watch it long, but enough to ascertain that it probably has plot lines that are smugly surprising, omnipresent cliff hangers (OMG will they, won't they?!?!?) and the regular nonsensical twist.  All this and if anything appears impossible they have the comfort blanket that while The OC is based in a bubble of hyper-reality floating in a normal reality world, Vampire Diaries is that same bubble of hyper-reality surrounded by an atmosphere of complete bollocks.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

missing a fridge is a bit weird

A discussion of sentimentality

A strange thing happened today; I learned of the demise of a piece of equipment and it made me sad.  Me, a born cynic who doesn't really sign-up to the realms of sentimental attachment to inanimate objects.

Until it happened, I outwardly displayed I thought it wrong, while secretly jealous of those who did.  I suppose if you think of the secretly held shame of a Tory politician feels when reading the coroner's report into an erotic asphyxiation death, you're near the mark of my feelings this morning.  My aloof logical side told me I want to show nothing, but deep down I knew I was conflicted and wanted to mourn the loss of a Philips filter coffee machine.  I suppose I need to explain to myself and therefore others why such an attachment to a small electrical item exists.

It was nearly seven years ago, at a tender age of 21 that I stepped up the stairs to my first real job - at the offices of  With bright eyes and a satchel-full of naivety I was introduced by Andrew and Colin onto the programming team by drinking black, strong, caffeine-rich filtered goodness that beforehand I wouldn't have touched.  However, mug after mug guzzled kept me sharp in order to get code finished before deadline.  I remember the regular trips to the supermarket buying the raw materials for such a high level of consumption; indeed I'm still benefiting from those Nectar points now, after finding my card in an old box.  There was the time someone purchased French-blend by mistake - the nasty horrible stuff made us go dry for a day, until productivity dropped to a point where we decided to nip out to buy some real stuff.

That little little device was a wonderful thing.  Perhaps I am too quick to dismiss sentimentality, or perhaps my sentimentality is more worthy than that of others.  I mean missing a fridge is a bit weird, as is an old pen.  However, for some reason that Philips Comfort Plus filter machine caught me this morning.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

flip-mental and go happy-stabbing

 A post regarding British media

I've just been asked the following question by someone via my FaceSpace Feed:
who here thinks the BBC is biased?
My reply would almost certainly be split two ways: the emotional response, and that of the cynical response.

My emotional reponse is that my BBC can't be wrong.  I own it and I don't ask for bias and that's why I love it so.  It's a poor reason, it's a raw reason and I'll leave my love of the BBC to one side so that we can look at bias as a concept.

The cynical response is that anyone or anything purported to be unbiased is essentially wrong; nothing with a logical grasp on reality can be wholly unbiased, imagining an unbiased world would see Hitler being "just some guy, you know?".  We need bias, it helps us direct our thoughts and compare viewpoints.  Something that I've learned in my first year studying history is that no-one can be assumed unbiased: every person has a specific enlightened interest or some dark involvement to drive them to write what they do.  Perhaps they're a German, perhaps they're Hispanic, perhaps they're male, perhaps they bloody love the colour blue.  We're humans and we all carry a multitude of seemingly miniscule baggage.  We use bias to judge things; judging isn't bad, it is in our nature to protect ourselves by considering an action. Based on prior learning we judge whether that isolated suburban alleyway is filled with danger as we walk home at 3am, or the guy on the train platform dressed in a tracksuit and baseball cap acting all edgy is about to flip-mental and go happy-stabbing everyone.  Of course, this is all very well when we're basing it on our own judgement, but when someone else is the witness we rely on their judgement to tell us how it was.

This is the centre of the horrible side of bias: when it is allowed to replace fact.  The Daily Mail is pretty much the master at this; they play on deep-rooted biases in middle-England's psyche about various things; be it the travelling community, alternative sexualaties, religions or climate change.  All of these biases rely on a lack of knowledge of the true unhindered facts - and being a newspaper, they're expected by the readership to tell them in tasty easy to chew word-pellets what the fuck is going on in the world.  They therefore exploit the lack of true knowledge of the subject in question and rely on the wording to instill worry in the least, or fear mixed with anger if the topic is considered controversial by the Mail.  It is worth noting the Mail's support of fascism in the early part of last century here.   If media like those of News International support a political party, they have a lot of influence; in the UK that's Sky News on TV, The Sun, The News of The World, The Times and now through part-ownership, ITV.  So Mr. Murdoch has a massive opportunity with the UK population and replace fact with his beliefs, opinions and bias.

Arguably, statistics are cold, clear and concise - they aren't flouncy words with double-meanings or ambiguity to carry us along - but the interpretation of those numbers can lead to bias. As soon as figures are described, two things to look for: the figures claimed and the organisation publishing them.  If the public support for something is 51%, we might see reports of "Most People Support X" however, clearly, there's only a marginal difference in opinion.  Yes it's true, most people do support X, but it is at best misleading.  That's bias right there.  It happens all the time and it's one reason I love reading the small print on the bottom of product advertising that features statistics for this reason.  It's another tool in the box for reporting bias, than fact if used incorrectly.  Moreover, if a research company has been employed, who employed them?

So, this in mind, is the BBC biased?  On the whole, I feel it isn't.  It is certainly an organisation constantly accused of it by other media outlets, as they want a finger in the BBC's pie.  They dislike that the BBC is government funded; they say it is unfair, monopolistic and hurts their trade.  However, which media company wouldn't want to be in the BBC's shoes and not having to worry about subscribers?  The BBC covers all walks of life on its news output and I've watched the BBC's reporting of the major stories at 1pm today, reporting what is happening, not giving opinion or casting any judgement.

I'd suggest that one reason the BBC gives some an impression of bias is that it covers, or gives airtime to alternative positions or minority interest stories.  Like offering a smörgåsbord of news and programming, I suppose, and if you don't think something is terribly worthy of airtime, you may consider it being biased towards it.  The BBC doesn't promote anything, so due to other broadcasters, you may feel that the BBC is promoting the stories it broadcasts.  Failing these reasons, I fear the only reason you'd see the BBC as biased is that you disagree with facts.

Reporting the truth isn't biased.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

pure graphics ejaculate

Computer games used to be so much better

A friend drew my attention to an article poking fun at old cover art for old games on the Atari.  Being an ex-owner of a 2-600, I must point out that even as a child, I realised the graphics were an artist's interpretation of the imaginary world of the game.  The graphics were shit from our lofty position now of real-time generated multi-million polygons: but remember, at the time, they were cutting edge for the price.

I remember playing a game [name of such escapes me] that involved controlling a chunk-tastic pixel representation of a bomber down a unrealistic valley, avoiding squares that represented shells emitted from bigger squares.  Each mission's objective was to release an equally chunky block of pixel magic on what can only be cursorily described as rectangles of differing sizes. And you know what?  I fucking loved that game.  I was there in the cockpit of that bomber.  I was the bravest war hero of all time, apparently without fear of the enemy's anti-aircraft defences.  In reality, I was scared; my chums back at the base were being shot down every day and our nation was at the brink of defeat.  My character had no name, no back story imposed on them.

Today's games are woefully dull in comparison.  In order to really surprise, entertain or enamour, they have to have a gimmick.  Think of Grand Theft Auto - a brilliant game way back when it was top-down and low definition pixel-riffic - the first forays of the franchise into 3D meant a requirement for cinematic cut-scenes to progress the story.  Now the entire city "lives", featuring fantastically detailed streets and characters with an entire CV and realistic criminal record.  I'm informed there's paedophiles, politicians and even fast-food restaurant workers in there. Yes it's progress and yes it is bloody impressive, but is it interesting?

Consider against Lucas Arts games and the like, which were 2D, linear and full of jokes.  They were digital equivalents of those adventure books where you choose the destiny of your character; you had few options but in that lay a spark of a requirement for imagination: you were the character and you decide the outcome.  There was little scope to explore off the main game's 'plot' but that added mystery.  Similarly, the characters had little in the way of back story - but like reading a good novel, it left it for you based on the semiotics of the situation what their story was.  Games which capture the imagination are few now.  The last which impressed me with its simplicity and pure addictive playability was Pikmin on the N64; you didn't exactly care about the character itself, but those little cute plant-creatures were like your children, whatever the fuck they were.

A little while back, I guffawed at seeing an Nokia N-gage in a second-hand store: I mused openly about how much of a flop it was.  Who would sit and play a game on a tiny screen on a phone turned sideways when they have a game system with 1080P of pixel-mendous action pumped direct from HD TV to Super HD eyeball?  Then a few weeks ago, I downloaded a game on my Android phone.  I found it fascinatingly addictive.  Simple, pure and fun.  I was sat there until literally the battery ran out, playing it again and again attempting to beat my previous high score.  The graphics aren't amazing, the game has limited scope and there are no characters. Then it dawned on me: I did this when I was 10.  In 1992, I was sat staring in awe at the black and white telly in our front room as myself and my co-pilot brother bombed the shit out of Nazis, or Gooks, or whoever it was we were bombing.  It didn't matter; we were heroes.

That's why the Wii has been such a run-away success despite its appalling graphics for today; it's simple and while infected by a multitude of leisure software, I'd not knock anyone for having one on their Christmas list.  PlayStation and Xbox owners might sit there aloof as billions of pixels of pure graphics ejaculate forth from their 3D LED screen.  Secretly though, if they're honest, they'd love to have a day playing on an old NES, or a Master System.  The graphics were laughable, the games were abysmally simple to the point of idiocy but they were really fucking fun.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}

Thursday, 15 July 2010

push the levels this time to get the best sound

A post regarding the merits of rolling news channels, in the wake of the death of Raul Moat

I'm a self-confessed news junkie. I love watching the rolling news channel, especially when something exciting is happening, but even without the disgraceful voyeurism of live events unfolding in front of your eye balls via a satellite link to some provincial location - I can watch the headlines be repeated for longer than I expect a reasonable human should.

Jon Sople talking to Paula's Mum

Therefore it isn't a shock that I happened to be watching News 24 and with giddy glee the Moat circus unfolded minute by minute - a horrific unscripted human tragedy, with night-vision enhanced pictures and Paula Mason's personal calls being intruded on by the BBC's Jon Sople. It was beautifully awful, it was gorgeously hideous and handsomely grotesque. It was to the nation's premier news journalists what discovering a whole load of gear down the back of a sofa is to a strung-out junkie. They'd hung out around a middle-of-nowhere town, without their favourite franchised coffee shops and sandwich bars for nearly a week with pretty much nothing live to show other than police cars whizzing about and armed officers raid abandoned farm houses. And then just before their weekend off, it all happens. At prime time.

If this had happened just five years ago, I'd venture they wouldn't have had the amount of buy-in from witnesses eMailling and MMSing pictures of the stand-off. I'd also reckon the number of viewers would have been much lower, pre-digital switch over. Suddenly this time around, in 2010, regular non-IT people can transmit live images of an event happening to Sky News. They can twitter the current happenings of the world on their doorstep to BBC News. It isn't any new technology, it is simply that technology is now in the hands of the bloke next door: the bloke next door is an armchair journalist. You see, everyone has access to the basic tools of a journalist: a dictaphone, camera and transmission system (their mobile). Everyone can become freelance, albeit unpaid, reporters for news channels. It doesn't work as well for traditional news media - newspapers - as they report what has happened. TV News reports what is happening now, or more to the point; what might be happening now.

Jon Sople et al haven't got time to check with experts what is actually happening, they're reporting what they think they've seen, making some finger in the air assertion about which way the wind is blowing and voilà, it is news. They can't leave dead air while some researcher back at the Television Centre is thumbing through guidelines, ruminating wikipedia or seeking other sources; Jon has to talk to the personnel around him - chat to Danny Savage, recount the events as they unfolded to him, then show some video as they try and get some fresh angle. You can only ramble on about what isn't happening for so long before even they get baffled by the amount of clichés, stupid phrases and techno-babble they are able to spout on national television.

It has been said before, but it does have relevance here; say something with enough of a sound of authority and the listener will believe you know what you're talking about. I bet the only police stand-off most of us have witnessed are those in US TV cop dramas, the same goes for journalists: yet they're waffling on about what process is taking place like they're running the show. That is if they're not having emotional local residents thrust towards them, such as Paula Mason. That was the lowest point on News TV I've ever seen. Jon Sople was that junkie shoving his hand down the sofa.

Paula had contact to someone inside the police cordon. He felt the familiar feel of the cling film wrapper. His finger could just about get a touch of purchase on the wrap, but not enough to dislodge it. He pushed further, grazing his forearm in the process. Had Paula's Mam seen Moat? He had to know. As Paula tried ringing a half-dozen times, eventually it got through. Jon eventually convinced her to speak to Mam. He's got two fingers on the wrap now; it's moving, so soon he'll get his fix. Paula's Mam hasn't seen him. He stops being so rough with the wrap - it might burst and then it'll be over. But Paula's Mam's neighbour has! With a final push, junkie has almost dislocated his wrist and has another finger on the wrap. Jon Sople then asks this 'witness' what he's seen - remembering to get a name - but the witness is vague whether or not it is Mr. Moat, not sure about what type of gun it was; so Sople puts the words "sawn-off" into a resume statement, ensuring he says it is Moat and the witness agrees that it is accurate, before stating that he's no expert. Junkie removes his hand and in his fingers is a tiny wrap, just enough to get him through.
Sky News' Nightvision

When the weather turned, there were various mentions of there being an ending sooner than later as the reporters are getting wet, nothing is happening and the police are thinking of moving everyone away. Aside from the fact Moat had lived rough for a few days and reports he'd been moving about using storm culverts and drains, this was pure wishful thinking by the reporters. Interest for most is now waning after all, no one will be watching solidly to a broadcast into the early hours. Sure enough, the news channels switch to studio broadcasts, with the regular anchors. This story has been downgraded to a dip-in story, not a permanent as-it-happens outside broadcast - because nothing is happening. Then, in the early hours a gun shot, shouting and for the family and friends of Mr. Moat, they hear his suicide on live television. Kate Burley was on Sky News, once again being insensitive as ever, promising they'd "push the levels this time to get the best sound". Nice.

So the new age of viewer interaction has finally come to the fore; we can be part of the news. However, the reason why we don't rely permanently on the viewer collected content is that they don't work to guidelines and it is dangerous reporting someone's submission as fact. When Jon Sople, Kay Burley and the like are acting the same way, how can we be expected to value news broadcasts any more?

The only true medium for accurate reporting remains the newspaper, with online written word somewhere close by. Writing takes time, it is both personal and open in equal measure. There's time for it to be checked before publication. You can detect subtle nuances in writing, more so than voice, which enables you to have an unbiased stand point from the author. I won't stop watching news channels, but they're not my preferred source of fact. News International have begun charging for their online news stories on The Times and while a shame, they've every right to. I'd prefer they charged for the content rather than pulling it all together.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}

Monday, 5 July 2010

ban kids because paedophiles exist

A post regarding speed on Britain's roads

Everyone who knows me will know I drive slow. Not just at the limit, I drive under it: I tootle on the motorway mostly at 55mph, with big trucks over taking me. I like it, it's legal, it is good for the environment, it good for my personal economy and I get to enjoy more time enjoying a drive. It also annoys wankers on single-lane roads, which is a bonus.

I maintain a constant speed - say 40 on a 50 limit road, so that there's no unexpected slowing, so dangerous it is not. If you're approaching me from behind at the road-legal speed you've got adequate braking time and you will be able to choose a suitable time to overtake. If you choose to drive faster, that is no more important than my choice in driving slower.

That's why this view point on the Government's ideas-generating site amuses and scares me: 
Do you ever get fed up by that pensioner with his flat cap on in a small car driving along at less than 50 mph on the motorway? Its time this is stopped - introduce a minimum speed limit on motorways to forces people to drive at a set speed when the traffic is moving, thus promoting quicker journeys and less queues on motorways as people wont get stuck behind them and slow other lanes down when overtaking. 

It will save the economy billions in allowing people to get to work quicker and so be more productive. It may reduce the number of cars on the road leading to less carbon emissions to help the environment. Lastly it will reduce the number of accidents caused by these dangerous drivers and cause less road rage incidents, which has the knock on effect of not needing as many police and saving the economy more money.

For a start, it won't save the economy a penny, it will cost more. Empirical evidence proves higher speed increases the risk of a fatality in an accident. Increasing costs via healthcare, benefits and judiciary.

Second, the slower cars move, the higher the throughput on a given junction; they can travel closer together: both side-on and fore and aft. Have you ever had the misfortune to be stuck on the motorway behind an accident? When you get out you'll realise how wide the lanes are: they're massive - almost twice a car's width. Try that on a local road, allowing for cars being parked at the side, you'll find you don't get much space. I got told once by a driving instructor that a good way of looking at it is imagining the edge of the lane are brick walls; therefore drive as though loss of control - no matter how minor - would cause you to scrape into a wall and it's more than a little unnerving at high speed.

How exactly would it remove cars from the road? From my understanding it wouldn't remove any: as if the argument raised that slow drivers cause delays, removing them would mean more people encouraged to use the roads.

Also if it causes road-rage incidents, then surely it's the road-rage driver that's at fault? That argument is the same as saying we should ban kids because paedophiles exist.

{Originally posted to my facepace notes}

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Friday Night on BBC One: Hull

My reaction to the news of 6Music's closure

I read with deep sadness today that the BBC is considering - or even decided already - to axe 6Music and Asian Network. Story on BBC - BBC 6 Music and Asian Network face axe in shake-up.

I am a regular listener to 6Music, and I understand that the BBC has to remain value for money, but as a public broadcaster, surely there are many other services that should be cut back instead.

like purgatory for journalists

Firstly, I watch very little television on BBC One. My reasons are very simple; almost all the output on this channel would be served, or is served presently, by the commercial sector. There are exceptions, but at a cursory glance at Friday evening's (5th March) television listings:
7.00pm: The One Show (Light News)
7.30pm: Masterchef (Reality TV/Special Interest)
8.00pm: EastEnders (Soap)
8.30pm: QI (Entertainment)
9:00pm: 5 Days (Drama)
10:00pm: News Programming (News)
10:45pm: Friday Night with Jonathon Ross (Entertainment)
11:35pm: National Lottery Draw (News)
11:45pm: The Hot Chick (Film)

Where not to start? Substituting QI for a suitably loathsome Patrick Keilty related vehicle, along with 5 Days for Strictly 'not entertaining due to lack of celebrity extracted gore' Come 'Fuck Me - Bruce Forsythe Isn't Dead, He Is On Telly' Dancing and it's my idea of the beginning of the Apocalypse. In fact I was briefly tempted to use a portmanteau or something to better share my hate, such as "The Lobotalypse" or "Lorraine Kelly". However, both have a softer edge to them than I require. So I'll just go with Hull. It's almost Hell, but Hell would strictly have to be more fun - at least you'd be able to see Hitler being tortured and await with a baseball bat the imminent arrival of Maggie Thatcher.

QI, for example, I watch almost exclusively at my own leisure via iPlayer, same goes for anything David Mtichell related like The Bubble on BBC Two. Similarly, I'll watch re-runs of BBC stuff on Dave. So there are gems of quality television out there - especially the wonderful documentaries they squeeze out and most people ignore, like a weak fart. This brings me to something that the BBC does very, very well. Live TV. No, not that cable channel with Janet Street Porter and Tiffany Bannister's Big City Tips; actual real, live television! News broadcasting on the BBC is awesome - just listen to its opening theme and you pay attention like they're filling time before announcing the Queen's been mutilated by an over sexed gorilla. ITN used to have it, but they don't - and Sky News? Oh, please - Dermot Murnaghan ended up there - it must be like purgatory for journalists, walking around with ID badges reading "I used to have my own opinion but Mr. Murdoch and News International told me otherwise". So yeah, the News can stay on "The One".

MasterChef, well that's a joke. I'm sure it used to be cool before food programmes were thought as cool. Now it is quite frankly gauche and cliche and the other popular shows in the genre both on the Beeb and other broadcasters are hideous too. Incidentally, there's a lot of cool things that used to be on TV in the early nineties, but they need to stay there before ITV brings them back with Ben Shephard as the presenter - a la Krypton Factor. Friday Night with Jonathon Ross. Need I actually comment? It's more craptaculous than an evening in with Timmy Mallet, who now just wants to forget about his children's television work and discuss his art. Ross used to be funny, indeed his radio work still is. However, on Friday Night.. he just brown-noses celebrities and makes us suffer those god-awful wankers around the piano every ten minutes. I'm sorry, but that kind of shit has a home, it's not BBC One at 11pm - it is on Sky One at 3pm on a weekday afternoon.


small pixies dressed like Elvis

Second, get rid of the absolute shit that is on Radio One, then I'll happily let you pull the plug on my little island paradise. For a kick off, Chris Moyles. Get that personality void, dubious excuse of a human being off the radio. Honestly, I think the perfect opportunity to make my life better would be to invite Chris Moyles and team, Steve Wright and team and Sarah Kennedy to a small room, fill it slowly with tepid water and watch them all drown. Yes, they disgust me that much. The worst presenter on 6Music is probably Steve Lamacq, but I don't hate him. That level of contempt is reserved specifically for Moyles, Wright and Kennedy - like it seeps from a gland I've evolved from my appendix.

My argument here centres around the two main stations both being carried primarily on FM band, meaning most car stereos, cheap radios and mobiles with radio function can pick them up. 6Music on the other hand is carried bit by digital bit by the equivalent of small pixies dressed like Elvis*. Most people don't have that available to them in the places we listen to radio most - you know, the car, kitchen and while walking to the pub. Yes, the enlightened thinkers amongst us have invested down the cul de sac of technology of DAB, finding that while there are more channels and better content - the quality difference as heard in the aforementioned locations is neglible; exacerbated further by total loss of signal while walking under tall buildings, driving through valleys or switching the microwave on. However, are the likes of the general public going to invest similarly?

Maybe it isn't a question of needing more listeners. Absolute Radio apparently are interested in taking over 6Music, saying they'd run it more efficiently. But hold on, I'm a regular listener and the biggest draw for me is that it sounds unlike any other station. It sounds edgy. It doesn't have commercials. It doesn't have a corporate** paymaster jangling keys to the funding vault to keep them playing the music they wish to sell and image they wish to project. It does sometimes sound quite unprofessional, something a-kin to a hideously over funded 6th form radio station - but fuck me that's why I love it. I'm not perfect, and neither is it. It's symbiotic: I complete it as it completes me. Absolute, or whoever, taking over the station would alienate most listeners, I'd venture. And, more the point, Chris Addison is quoted in the guardian here with a brilliantly apt two-fingered salute.
6 Music serves a minority interest, does it? Then it's heartland BBC. Leave it a-fucking-lone. All those commercial stations like 6 Music that are competing for the audience. There's.. oh, that's right – there aren't any.
Right on the money, for me: It's a minority radio station for a minority interest. Like Asian Network, Match Of The Day or Bring On The Fucking Wall - hands off my 6Music and I'll accept entire tranches of Summer programming being given up to sporting snooze-fests like Wimbledon.

*May not be true
**As in commercial

{Originally posted to my my facespace notes}