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There was a great documentary by Kirsty Wark on the BBC last week called "Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes". (Still on iPlayer if you want to watch it.) The title is from the hugely popular online video last year, with teh naked ladies dancing. (I point this out because I'm so clued up I hadn't even heard (of) it when it came up in last year's Christmas Quiz. Finger on the pulse, me.)

The focus of the programme was the culture of abuse, insults, sexual threats and misogynistic remarks commonly faced by women online, including high profile recipients like Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez. [EDIT : Perez has just posted examples of the abusive tweets.] Coincidentally my wife was just telling me the other day about the constant unwelcome 'approaches' she faces when online gaming as a female character ("Are you really a girl?" "How old are you?" etc.) and there are examples of precisely that behaviour in the documentary too. Equally there are some in the programme who deny that this is a female-specific problem, and say that rape jokes and abuse faced by women are just one facet of the jokes and abuse targeting men, and that the only difference is women's (hyper)sensitivity. I don't buy that. Sure, abuse is faced by everyone. Men get online death threats, and that's reprehensible too. But to say that women should simply "man up", as one commentator puts it, is to ignore the wider society in which we live, and the sheer amount and extremely misogynistic overtones of the abuse against women versus the generic nature of the trolling against men. The playing field is not level.

I look at society and it seems staggeringly obvious that women are the subject of systematic objectification, exclusion and lack of respect. I know it’s not all women, and not all the time. I know it’s better in our society than in some parts of the world. I know it’s talked about more openly than it used to be. But it's in the way TV shows and films are written and cast. In the age, looks and number of female vs male presenters. In comics. In music. In who gets book deals and recording contracts. In who wins awards. In the fact that the Best Actor Oscar gets announced after the Best Actress one (because, why exactly?) In advertising. In magazines. In who gets to participate in debates. In business. In politics. In the lack of respect for older women, or any women who don’t pander to male ideals of beauty. In dismissive attitudes to rape and domestic violence. In David Cameron 'joking' "Calm down dear" to diminish a female MP's opinion. Even in which members of the crowd the TV camera lingers on. In a thousand thoughtless moments of chauvinism by men who should know better. Including me, quite probably. You get the idea. I’m not going to brainstorm the world’s first comprehensive list of all sexism ever.

This may all sound a bit born-again feminist. I know it’s a bit rich, me saying women are oppressed like it's a revelation. I'm not trying to come off as more-feminist-than-thou. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that, commonly and insidiously, many women face much more of an uphill struggle than many men. In ways so ingrained that often people don’t see them at all, or choose not to. Sometimes it takes real effort for men in particular to step back from the blithe assumptions they’ve benefitted from all their lives.

It’s why it drives me mad when blowhard sideshow-acts like Jeremy Clarkson or Godfrey Bloom poo poo the very idea that sexism still exists. Or, God forbid, claim that men are the disadvantaged ones. These are the high profile crackpots. Almost reassuringly barmy. Obligingly self-satirising. The high profile UKIP donor who says he doesn’t think women should wear trousers. But for every crackpot there's an army of men who've never been near the 'Have I Got News For You' studio but who'll nod along. Why should women even *want* to wear trousers when men prefer to see women in skirts? (Yeah, women. Explain THAT.)

In employment law, the classic feature of unfair discrimination is that you only see the stereotype, not the individual. Someone will decide that women can't work in construction because they’re physically weak. Never mind that some women could beat me in a fair fight. (Okay, most women). Or they’re too emotionally fragile, or it’s improper, or it’s too dangerous. Leave that nasty stuff to The Mens. Recognising and challenging those preconceptions, treating people as individuals, recognising all the ways in which society is constructed to favour and pander to the desires of (straight, white) men, should not be controversial things.

At the risk of making this all about me, I sometimes feel paralysed in talking about feminism online because, although it’s a subject that I feel a passionate affinity with, it seems presumptuous of me to imagine that I can really understand. I worry that I’ll simplify, offend or patronise. I fear that even though I may imagine I’m a feminist, I’m wearing my own unchallenged sexist assumptions on my sleeve. (Memo to self: donate sexist arm-band to charity shop). I read powerful, illuminating articles on sexism like this or this and I feel that I have nothing to add. So I tend not to say anything at all.

But it's worth saying something, no? I try to be aware of my stupid assumptions, sexist and otherwise. I try to be conscious that the playing field is not level. At least it's a start.

("Join us tomorrow, when our topic will be: Religion, which is the one true faith" - Kent Brockman)
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I just posted on Twitter the perhaps depressing truth that “At this stage I assume that any party with the word "English" or "UK" in the title is racist until proven otherwise.” And received from a random human being the, I hope you’ll agree, amazing reply: “So you are not pro England or Britain, but favour the rest of the world? That makes you the racist.” Even more amazingly, their twitter profile unironically includes the words “I’m not racist but...” Marvellous.

I know such sentiments are not new. But it feels as if the prevailing political narrative has now shifted pretty far to the right when it comes to immigration. It’s the normalisation of such transparently xenophobic, if not outright racist, sentiments that leaves me feeling frustrated, exasperated, powerless. The major political parties are queuing up, not to argue the value of diversity, not to remind us that we have nothing to fear from change, but to compete for how tough they can look on ‘controlling our borders’.

The UK is not alone in this by any means, with parts of Europe and Australia cheerfully demonising anyone who has the gall to think their country is lovely. It starts of course with ‘dastardly foreigners’ but then, even more perplexingly, travels back along the family tree to second or third generation immigrants like a racist genealogy show: “Who Do You Think You Are and Why Don’t You Go Back Where You Came From?”

It would be instructional to trawl back through the political debates of the last decade(s) to see how we got here. How worries about immigration came to be blandly accepted rather than challenged. I feel like I can glimpse a vicious circle where someone lands a punch with some statistically rare horror story about a sponging terrorist asylum seeker, that gets picked up by the right-wing media, that connects with the public, that the other parties have to respond to. (I say ‘have to’ on the unspoken assumption that they’re spineless and desperate enough for power to compromise their principles, just to lay my biases out there on the table.) And that begets further scare stories of the made-up or cherry-picked variety. And then mainstream news outlets like the BBC decide that the ‘public’ are worried about immigration. Immigration is an issue. It’s going to decide elections. So they start reporting the cherry-picked the stories too, which leaves those picking the cherries in the driving seat (...of their cherry-picking vehicle. Bear with me here.) And then a party like UKIP, that trades in ... racist cherries... has a small victory, and that seems important because now the public are worried enough about immigration to vote for complete twats. So it must be bad. And naturally you need to report the complete twats, because in some sense they’ve come to represent the whole issue. And that party winds up looking like a serious contender, one of the Big Four, and somehow you’ve made the extremists look electable. And cherries look bigoted.

All of which still leaves me sitting here in my cosy little liberal democracy looking in blank incomprehension at the popular rise of the far right.
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Haz voted.

We're in an ultra-safe seat and I voted against the majority party. D'oh. My wife went on this website that calculates that votes in this constituency are worth the equivalent of 0.059 votes (based on the probability of the seat changing hands and its size.) But I still feel it's worth voting - important, even to vote. If nothing else I'll have kept down the depressingly non-zero proportion of the vote here that goes to the BNP.

We took Anna along so that she could watch us vote. At 9 months I don't think it made a big impression, but by the next general election she'll be nearly 6. How scary is that.

My gut says that despite all the polls showing the conservatives with a narrow lead, they'll actually end up with a straightforward majority, just because a) I'm feeling pessimistic, b) I suspect human nature means that when it comes to the crunch most protest votes against Labour are going to go to the traditional opposition party not a perceived wildcard like the Lib Dems.

Most polls don't seem to take into account things like marginal seats but bafflingly assume we live in a proportional representation utopia. I'd be extremely interested to see what a hung parliament looked like, though. It's tough to see how it could be worse than the status quo, which amounts to the usual suspects being decisively, dynamically, excitingly... self-serving and short-sighted.

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And so it begins. The Election that feels like it's been upon us for months is finally upon us. Almost finally.

Now the parties can stop pretending to campaign and start really campaigning. Yes, apparently it can get worse. Since no-one was campaigning previously, all those increasingly intolerant poster campaigns that have blighted my trip to work for the last few weeks must only have existed in my imagination. (Which, given that two of them involved David Cameron's head photoshopped onto Gene Hunt's body, I can easily believe.)

Like everything in politics these days, even the Election announcement was leaked and reported in advance. Yesterday BBC News told me that the election would be announced today. And today it was, amazingly, announced. At this rate the next four weeks could last a lifetime.

The BBC seem to be at pains to talk up this election (which to be fair is probably a much needed shot in the arm for the electorate). To accomplish this they've been going out of their way to emphasise the allegedly massive differences between Labour and Conservative policies. Or rather, the differences in their rhetoric: 'cuts now' or 'cuts later', 'this is no time for change' or 'this is time for change'. The trouble is, when you get right down to it the slogans belie the essential similarity of the underlying policies.

In fact I'll go further -- I don't really believe that the parties mean what they say. I'm sure this comes down to my alarmingly detached view of the news, but my strong feeling is that the only reason Labour are talking about 'cuts later' is not because they necessarily think it makes sound fiscal sense but because it sounds slightly different from the Tory position. And vice versa. When everyone wants cuts, it's all about product differentiation. It's possible to argue that it does make sound fiscal sense, just as it's possible to argue that announcing an NI increase months ahead of time isn't like trying to have your cake and eat it, but when I listen to politicians at election time I find myself beset by an inability to believe a single word that comes out of their mouths.

I don't mean to sound like one of these disenfranchised apathetic stay-at-home voters the news is always telling me about. I'm not that. I do vote, and I feel strongly that it's our responsibility to vote (if only to stop the BNP increasing their market share). What I'm realising, other than that my cynicism may be at the stage where it has a clinical name, is that I don't really vote based on individual policies. Because I don't believe that the parties are sincere about their policies. More often than not they appear to be an arbitrary means to an end, an idea dreamed up in a campaign HQ as a way to sound good to the electorate.

Instead, I think my vote is driven by ideology. I vote for a party because I believe that what they stand for, in totality, is in line with my moral or social values. I don't even think I judge this mainly by aggregating all their policies together, I think it's about big statements: freedom, equality, social justice. That kind of thing. The broad political sweep of left, middle and right.

Where individual policies probably do influence me is that I may vote against the ones that offend me. In a world where the two main parties are hardly different in many of their policies, only one intends to overturn the ban on fox-hunting, and that party will definitely not get my vote. Both of the main parties are almost equally repressive, emotive and hypocritical on the subject of immigration so neither will probably get my vote. (This is because I'm a bleeding heart liberal).

All of which means that the less the parties have to say over the next four weeks, the greater chance they stand of getting my vote.

I have a dream.

Round up

Jan. 25th, 2009 09:58 pm
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Not had time to post much recently what with working late, going to hospital appointments, shopping, attempting to decorate, going to leaving dos and trying to at least pretend to have a social life.

So far this week I've been impressed by President Obama, specifically his inauguration speech and immediate action to overturn any number of idiotic, bigoted or downright fascist Bush policies. Kudos to that man. I do remain suitably sceptical that this huge rush of political euphoria can last; no doubt there's a New Labour style post-election crash due soon (although I'm by no means as cynical as Tom McRae on the subject). There are a few nay-sayers in our office who think he's all cliches and speeches and, to quote Luke Skywalker, it's all such a long way from here. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel that this is an important moment in world politics. Obama is the right man at the right time telling the right story - and it is a story even if not in a pejorative sense - about regrouping, rebuilding and reaffirming fundamental values.

TV-wise, CSI: original flavour is back on C5 and as good as ever. I've been mildly spoiled for future cast changes, but otherwise it's nice to watch a consistently high quality series do its stuff and not have a clue what's coming next. We're still catching up on various US imports including House (still great), Sarah Connor (mostly great) and Galactica (I just need closure). We also have the Dexter S1 box set to watch, and we found the entire Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes going cheap in HMV so we've started that too. Incredibly I don't think I'd ever seen the first episode before (A Scandal in Bohemia).

We're also trying to get back in the swing of going to the cinema. Today we saw Frost/Nixon which is both a predictable underdog story and an extremely solid, occasionally outstanding character study of two men. Both lead performances are exemplary, and the film settles out as a surprisingly melancholy portrait of Nixon in a way that reminded me very much of George Reeves in Hollywoodland.

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Barack Obama will meet Spider-man in an issue of the regular comic. Spidey will apparently save Obama's inauguration from a supervillain. Apparently Obama admitted to having been a Spidey fan as a kid, Marvel got wind of this, and one thing lead to another, yadda yadda yadda. Look, I'm not making this up, okay? Although looking at some of the panels they're previewing, I kind of wish I were. Edit: also their Obama likeness is *terrible*.

These caricatured Doctor Who figures are *so* cute. Many more here. Not that I understand the point of collectibles. I still get occasional catalogues through the door from Forbidden Planet, and the entire catalogue from start to finish is pretty much composed of TV and movie characters done as figures, figurines, busts, miniatures, plates, T-shirts, scarves... Does anyone actually need 17 different figurines of Buffy in every outfit she ever wore? Or a tastefully sculpted tableau reproducing a scene from Ghostbusters? I mean, where do you put this stuff?

Meanwhile Outpost Gallifrey reports on the quite excessive lengths the BBC went to in order to prevent word of the new Doctor Who leaking out ahead of their announcement. (Can't seem to link to the article directly, but it's dated Jan 6th on that page).

And finally, it looks like Watchmen will get released as planned, probably after Warner Bros agrees to pay Fox huge sums of money. I would normally have no strong feelings about which company profits from a given franchise, but it's hard to read this open letter from the Watchmen Producers without concluding that Fox are a creatively bankrupt bunch of money-grubbers.

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There's a very thoughtful opinion piece on the BBC website entitled "Is Barack Obama black?". It's a response to comments about Obama that frankly I hadn't even been aware of. I think the article makes some very wise points about artificially absolute definitions of race, and also the societal nature of the labels we apply to people. And indeed even if Obama is regarded as mixed-race that makes his accomplishment no less great, albeit less symbolic.

Rumours continue to circle around Paterson Joseph as a contender for the next Doctor Who, and he certainly seems interested. I know I was cheerleading for him earlier on the basis of his role in Neverwhere, but I've been reminded that he can be a little broad in his performances so I'd be interested to see a recent performance to make up my mind. He's in the BBC's new remake of Survivors, along with the increasingly ubiquitous Freema Agyeman and Julie "Bonekickers" Graham. It looks potentially okay, potentially terrible. I may summon up the energy to find out. Or not.

On a related note I'd seen others refer to the recently released BBC Archive material relating to the genesis of Doctor Who. What I hadn't realised is that the first two documents released, and particularly the first, are essentially internal BBC briefing papers trying to work out 'what is this thing called Science Fiction?' with a view to determining whether it could be adapted for TV. They propose to use Arthur C Clarke and John Wyndham as consultants, and even met with Brian Aldiss. As such these documents represent brief but fascinating "as others see us" thoughts about written SF in the early 1960s; at once insightful, pragmatic and patronising.

The remaining documents are more about Doctor Who itself: 'concept notes for new SF drama' and 'background notes for Doctor Who' are fascinating glimpses into the origins of the TV show, with the latter representing a recognisable yet strangely different vision of the series. It goes some way to explaining just how unlikeable Hartnell's Doctor would occasionally be in the early episodes.

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What? Seriously, what?

A number of local councils in Britain have banned their staff from using Latin words, because they say they might confuse people. Several local authorities have ruled that phrases like "vice versa", "pro rata", and even "via" should not be used, in speech or in writing...Other local councils have banned "QED" and "ad hoc"...
Assuming this is real and not a Daily Mail scare story dressed up as journalism (which it manifestly sounds like, except that it's on the BBC website) this is crazy. Surely no-one seriously believes that "vice versa" is an obscure latin phrase. It's an English phrase; who cares about its etymology? Next someone will suggest banning "cul de sac" because it'll confuse non-French speakers. Or "margarine". Half our language is appropriated from elsewhere, and it seems meaningless to tag a few key phrases and mutter darkly "those are foreign".

Even leaving aside their derivation, are these phrases really obscure and elitist? I don't speak a word of latin, but I know perfectly well what all these examples mean, yet according to the Plain English Campaign "the ban might stop people confusing the Latin abbreviation e.g. with the word 'egg'." Because, you know, that one always confuses people. Why not just go the whole hog and ban words of more than two syllables?

I find this all very surreal because this kind of "PC gone mad" story is normally anathema to me. Usually the journalist has ridiculously mischaracterised a fairly sensible decision, and it's the press facing my ire not the bewildered subject of the story. In this case the councils are not imposing an outright ban, merely "discouragement", but on the face of it I still can't understand what they could be thinking.

Okay, I'm taking a few deep breaths and disengaging rant mode. On a tangentially related note, the godlike Stephen Fry talks lengthily, wisely and poetically about the beauty of language and the insanity of trying to freeze it in place on his new improved blog. An oasis of common sense.


Nov. 2nd, 2008 12:11 pm
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Interesting juxtaposition in the US Presidential Election of Sarah Palin's derogatory statements about science vs. Obama getting the endorsement of high profile scientists.

Palin, in that 'loveable' folksy way of hers (see also: George W Bush), decided to ridicule 'wasteful' scientific research on things like fruit flies: "You've heard about some of these pet projects - they really don't make a whole lot of sense - and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit-fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." Since my own wife's degree project focused on drosophila melanogaster, I'm well-versed in how incredibly useful these little insects are to science, but here's a fairly scathing rebuttal to Palin.

Meanwhile 76 Nobel prize winners have written a letter endorsing Obama as "a visionary leader" and condemning Bush's policies.

Also, as if Obama could become any more like Jed Bartlet, here's a really fascinating speech of his about the role of religion in modern America. I hadn't previously been aware of this speech but it looks like it was made back in 2006. I can't help but be reminded of President Bartlet's rant from The West Wing episode The Midterms (itself gacked from the interwebs) about selective adherence to the Bible to support bigotry. Obama's speech (in selectively edited form) been seized on to argue that Obama 'hates' God, but it's actually a very even-handed and astonishingly brave thing for a US politician to do. Brave even though he's not claiming to be an atheist, merely arguing very cogently for separation of Church and State; a fairy uncontroversial view, you'd think1.

Speaking of YouTube, this video of Palin set to piano improv is deeply unfair, but very funny.
1 Bartlet is of course portrayed as a devout Catholic and his rant is not seen as coming into conflict with his beliefs, and there's no reason Obama could not be a Christian and still make this speech.

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We've been intermittently pummelled by hailstones this afternoon. What the weather forecasters euphemistically refer to as "wintry showers", but in practice are more like the immediate aftermath of making a prank phone call to Odin. I've been known to enjoy some proper snow and ice in my time, but driving sheets of hailstones that quickly melt into icy puddles can't be on anyone's list of favourite weather. I was thinking this even before our cat Charcoal entered through the cat flap at Mach 3, drenched from head to toe, freezing cold and squeaking indignantly. She's much happier (and warmer) now.

Meanwhile the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross1 story climbs to new depths with "emergency crisis talks" at the BBC, and journalists charging after BBC executives in the street shouting "Do we know who's to blame yet?" (Those were the exact words). News 24 have belatedly starting asking whether this mob-mentality is all a bit much, but as far as I can tell this has only recently occurred to them and they're mainly using it as a bonus talking point in interviews. In any case I'm going to have to join the mob now, because otherwise I'll find myself calling Noel Gallagher rightheaded, and then the world will end.

I also caught a bit of Obama speechifying on the campaign trail on News 24. That man may or may not be from Krypton, but he certainly knows how to make speeches. Sometimes I do wonder whether (assuming he wins the election) the weight of expectations on his shoulders is so impossibly huge that we're in for a New Labour-style backlash when he doesn't fix EVERYthing. I also hope there's some real substance behind the fervour. Mainly I hope we get to find out.

Lastly, and on behalf of my wife, I would just like to say ZOMGSharpe!!!111.

1 In the "you can't make it up" category, Jonathan Ross currently has a book out entitled Why Do I Say These Things?.

EDIT: Now the controller of Radio 2 has resigned.

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I don't normally embed videos, but I was emailed this today by Avaaz.org, and I'm sure this will be doing the rounds.

It's a quite nice, positive video underlining America's place in the world (rather than apart from it). The email claims "The ad doesn't tell people who to vote for" (I assume they had difficulty saying this with a straight face since it's explicitly anti-Bush) "but its overriding message of tolerance, diplomacy, human rights and equality is unmistakable". And that part is tough to disagree with. It's pro- things that, to me at least, sound like common sense. So I guess that makes it a pro-Obama advert. :-)

Of course I don't live in the US and can't vote in the US election for quite sensible reasons relating to electoral fraud, but as the BBC like to remind us the election will affect the rest of the world. That's clearly the point of this campaign.

The official blurb:

In just over a week, America will head to the polls. So much depends on this election -- the fight against climate change, the war in Iraq, global efforts on human rights and many other issues.

But right now, US conservatives are employing the most divisive and deceptive tactics in the US election, portraying those who call for change as "anti-American" and even terrorist sympathizers. Check out this new response ad from the global online organisation Avaaz.org, calling for hope, unity, and change as Americans head to the polls.

If enough people watch the ad and sign its message to the American people and presidential candidates, it will be picked up by the US talk shows -- who are looking for what is hot online. You can watch the ad and sign on here.
Hey, you never know...

EDIT: While I'm at it, here's Joss Whedon praising a number of things including The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Hard Day's Night, but Obama makes it into the list.

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I'm not about to defend whatever bad taste prank Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross inflicted on Andrew Sachs, but really this whole thing is snowballing quite ridiculously. Apparently Ross has apologised and Sachs is happy with that, but the number of complaints by people outraged on his behalf is still going up -- about a radio show that aired nearly a fortnight ago, and which most people complaining have not even heard. Suddenly, eleven days later, there are calls for the two 'stars' to resign. Or even for the DG of the BBC to resign. And now we have Gordon Brown and David Cameron weighing in; no doubt in a desperate attempt from both to appear relevant and in touch with the common folk.

My mob-mentality sense is tingling. We're in one of those horrendous, self-righteous tabloid feedback loops where public opinion and media coverage escalate in lock-step. That's not to say I like Russell Brand or approve of making offensive phone calls, but seriously folks.

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This atheist bus advert is funny, sensible and positive. Really the mildest, nicest of messages. Amusing, then, to see how divisive it's proving on the very Guardian comments section that inspired it.

Warning: Contains Atheism )

The campaign has reached £73,000 and climbing, far in excess of its stated goals. Which is nice. It all seems pretty harmless, and indeed pretty rare -- which is attested to by the level of slightly boggled media coverage.


1 Genuinely sorry if all this offends anyone, by the way. I really do have a pathological conviction that even mentioning atheism in polite company is offensive, which is probably why I find this ad campaign so refreshing.


Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:45 am
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The moment I started my holidays last Saturday I started coming down with the lurgy. Funny how often that happens. So even though I'm on holiday this week I'm also bunged up and feeling like the back of my throat has been sandpapered (or, occasionally, chiselled). Since I'm not up to much therefore, here are a few things that, in my delirium, I mentally logged as worth telling someone. You be the judge.

The saga of Tom McRae's website continues. It's now in Australia. No really.

This story about the MMR vaccine scare on Bad Science is actually an excerpt from Ben Goldacre's new book. It's also a fantastically rational account of how irrational the media can be in their quest to sensationalise a story.

Frost/Nixon is a movie that wasn't on my radar. What were the chances that anyone, let alone Ron Howard, would make a Hollywood movie out of David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon? It's hard to know what to make of it. The trailer paints the film as a mixture of political drama and David vs Goliath feel-good story, in the general neighbourhood of Charlie Wilson's War. Michael Sheen looks great as Frost, and Frank Langella seems okayish as Nixon. Other eclectic cast members include Oliver Platt (White House Counsel Oliver Babish on The West Wing) and Matthew "Tom from Spooks" McFadyen. (Plus it has Kevin Bacon in it, so given how ubiquitous Michael Sheen is this should blow the Kevin Bacon game wide open.)

No Heroics is a new sitcom centred around off-duty UK Superheroes. The trailer looks surprisingly okay, albeit sex-obsessed, particularly given that this is airing on that great sitcom purgatory, ITV.

Lastly, what is up with those camera zooms that punctuate Evan Davis's every sentence at the start of Dragon's Den? It's like the camera operator just ate an entire keg of Smarties and can't calm down.

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1,800-year-old Roman stone sarcophagi found in Newcastle. That's not far from us! I learn from this story that they're apparently building a Great North Museum in Newcastle including antiquities, a planetarium, an interactive model of Hadrian's Wall, a life-size T-Rex dinosaur skeleton, and special exhibitions from London. This could be very nice for us as it's not always convenient for us to get down to the British Museum. I'm only amazed that my wife's normally excellent Archaeology Radar hasn't tipped us off to this sooner. The website banner appears to feature Egyptians on chariots hunting Dinosaurs, but I'll assume there's some artistic licence involved...

Of course if that recent bonkers think tank report was listened to there'd be no point in doing any of this because everyone in the North should just give up on their cities, which are beyond all hope of revival, and move south. This is so patently absurd that it probably isn't worth getting upset about, but Exhibit A would surely be the fact that any number of Northern cities have already succeeded in transforming themselves and their fortunes into thriving centres of business and culture. Like Newcastle & Gateshead, for example. Sunderland is one of those named by the think tank as "beyond revival" yet -- although it's hardly the largest or most cosmopolitan of cities -- in the relatively short time I've known it Sunderland has transformed itself from a shipbuilding town to one with a beautiful riverside and coastal area and a strong service industry base (including the University), not to mention the famous Nissan plant. The fact that anyone could seriously suggest otherwise reflects blinkered attitudes to the 'North' of England (i.e. anywhere north of the M25) that are quite surreal. It's the equivalent of saying that the London Dockland area was beyond revival prior to Canary Wharf being built.

And finally...

A sensible, evidence-based story about the British Summer. Will wonders never cease.
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This is a fantastic dissection of a particularly odious anti-Muslim story in the generally extremely odious Daily Express.

What perhaps shouldn't surprise me quite as much as it does is that the story has only the slightest resemblance to the truth. The headline ("Sniffer dogs offend Muslims so now bomb search police face restrictions") is in fact not just a distortion but literally untrue and is disproven by the fine print later in the story.

This stuff really annoys me. Most days I wander past the news stand and see the headlines on the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and feel vaguely amused at how biased they seem to be. All tabloids pander mercilessly to their perceived demographic, after all, whether left wing or right wing.

Sometimes though I do get disheartened by how relentlessly the more right wing publications are brazenly trying to stir up xenophobia and make their reader (some hypothetical middle class, middle aged white person) feel that their way of life is under attack from all sides. For example, during the recent petrol strike (that only minimally disrupted the country) the Express chose big headlines stating "Government says not to panic but FUEL COULD RUN OUT!" To be fair, most of the media became obsessed with seeking out areas where there had been at least some disruption. Most didn't actively set out to cause panic, however. The Express is particularly fond of headlines that sound like they've been screamed by someone experiencing a nervous breakdown. Starting the headline with the word "NOW..." is their preferred means of indicating that this latest indignity is the final straw.

The website linked to above notes some of the more extreme comments to this story, which appear to be made by people who only read the headline. Okay, even the BBC website tends to have comments threads filled with slighty deranged people ranting from their chosen soapbox, but I still find this a little depressing.

I know the Daily Express is an easy target. I know they pander to a readership who already believes these things. I just find them particularly shameless and manipulative, and the one thing that really does aggravate me in journalism is Making Stuff Up.

(Link courtesy of the ever entertaining badscience).

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Interesting and scary story about dispossessed Polish immigrants forced to live homeless in London or being returned home. Bet this one doesn't make the front cover of The Daily Mail.

Janet drew my attention to this because she found the picture painted of London disturbingly reminiscent of the Victorian age, full of gin palaces with no safety net other than the workhouse for those who fell on hard time -- except of course that there's no workhouse so the alcoholics live on the street.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Brigadier: "Well naturally enough the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain."
The Doctor: "Well, naturally. I mean, the rest were all foreigners."
Doctor Who - "Robot"

Depressingly but unsurprisingly, "Britons believe too many people, especially immigrants and asylum seekers, take advantage of the Human Rights Act (HRA), a poll has suggested".

Ranty )

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Halloween)
It's begun. We've had six trick-or-treaters already. Four of the uninspiring '12-year-old boys in tracksuits with Scream masks' variety, and two of the 'painfully cute little girls in witches' costume' variety. One was a man selling double-glazing, but we won't talk about him.

As always our porch is bedecked with Halloween decorations in a way which would make any self-respecting house-holder cry with shame, and us glow with pride. Janet took the pumpkin carving one step further this year with a fantastic spider-web design she found online. I'm so impressed. I played it safe.

I realise that huge numbers of people lock the doors, hide behind the sofa, go out, or otherwise take out restraining orders on anyone under 20. Others say it's tantamount to begging, or extortion. Some grumble it's American culture subsuming our own. Even the police are talking tough. Frankly we have no complaints. We get all treats, no tricks. The worst I can say is that some of the kids don't put much effort in, but many do, and many are accompanied by responsible parents. A significant portion are so sweet and so sincere you could die from cuteness on the spot. Especially when they squee with excitement as they leave with the bag of treats. Above all, and despite the recent commercialisation, it's about kids being kids and having fun, not about anything antisocial. It's cool.

EDIT: Sample grumpy news story.

EDIT2: All went very well, although we got through less bags of sweets than usual. I think some of the kids have grown out of it (we had a large group of older teenagers dressed as office zombies last year who said it was their final trick-or-treat). Plus we always get fewer when Halloween is mid week.

To cap it off I've managed to crack my head off the door post while taking down the decorations. Hard. Right on the outside edge of my eye socket. Ouch. There's a tiny gash and some swelling, but despite Janet trying to cajole me into a trip to Casualty there are no signs of concussion. Just soreness!


May. 20th, 2007 07:48 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Extremely wise words from Joss Whedon about the stoning of one woman, the oppression of many. Well worth a read.

(If it comes up with a database error just refresh a few times).

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Anyone else think the Ministry of Justice sounds vaguely sinister?

(Not as sinister as my misreading of another BBC news headline: The PM sets post-coup vote date. It turns out it actually read "Thai PM", but it did give me pause.)

EDIT: Vote to save Veronica Mars in E-Online's Save One Show poll.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Saturn and rings)
It's a blizzard outside! Sadly none of it is settling on the ground. As far as I'm concerned this defeats the whole purpose of snow, which is to make the world look pretty and fresh and strange. Not just soggy.

While I'm here: Steve Jobs meets US Foreign Policy in this surprisingly amusing skit about Iraq. I say "surprisingly" because it's about as subtle as a brick, but that's part of the charm.

Lastly, I don't know why this is cool but it is: an image of Jupiter taken from the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn (1.1 billion miles away). Now that's a zoom lens.

EDIT: Some actual snow on the ground this morning! Plenty of signs of it melting rapidly as it lands, but for the moment it's actually quite white in places.
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Saturn and rings)
Courtesy of www.badscience.net: I knew C4's recent "polemic" The Great Global Warming Swindle had been roundly criticised for scientific inaccuracies, but I'm still flabbergasted by the extent to which the film-maker distorted the evidence - take a look at these graphs.

Of course, some scientists are now warning that some claims about the impact of Global Warming exceed what can be purely justified by the evidence. This is perfectly reasonable and indeed the basis on which the scientific community ought to operate, and the online story is fine. However it's a bit of a shame that BBC News 24's soundbite approach to the story left the impression that they were casting doubt on global warming itself, not merely the extent of it. (In fact one of the scientists explicitly says in the online version: "I've no doubt that global warming is occurring".) So a story in which scientists warn against confusing the public ends up being itself a cause of confusion. Typical.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Janet has pointed me towards Science Horizons, the website for "a national series of conversations about new technologies, the future and society... ...set up by the UK government".

It looks like a series of national discussions about the public's views on science and technology and where they're heading in the future. As well as the pre-organised discussions, you can even set up your own small group discussion about the future:
"The pack contains some information and images about what life might be like in 2025 based on the views of experts. But these are not predictions of what will happen – just some possibilities to get people talking. We have included some information about the science behind these possibilities, and some links to where you can find more information if you want it, but you don’t have to have a special interest in the subject to take part."
You then enter the group's views online before 25th June 2007. Nifty.

As Janet said this morning, wouldn't it be great if people with an active interest in science, who are actually intelligent and rightheaded1, were to do a few of these. You know: SF fans. Make a nice change from the luddites who make up the bulk of the UK population. Put power back in the hands of the elitist SF snobs, that's what I say!

1 Sort of.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Saddam Hussein has been hanged.

I don't really feel intellectually qualified to enter into a debate on all the arguments for and against capital punishment in a modern society, but I do know that I oppose it. Part of me actually feels naive for holding this viewpoint, but there it is. It seems to me morally reprehensible and hypocritical to murder one man as a punishment for the murder of others. It's the revenge of the mob, not justice; it's about satisfying people's instinctive uncivilised need for a merciless and final act of retribution, not about holding onto moral certainties. I realise that this practice is legal in some US states, and I also realise that Iraq is a different culture with its own values and laws, but that doesn't stop me from finding it abhorrent.

What really brought this home to me was watching footage of Saddam Hussein on the news yesterday evening and realising that this man who was at that second alive and well would soon be murdered in a planned, state sanctioned killing. Worse still, he would not be killed in a humane fashion but be hanged by the neck until dead. For the actions this dictator took and those he sanctioned he deserved punishment1 - to never see daylight again - but I don't believe that he deserved to die, or that anyone had the right to kill him, or that his killing should be celebrated.

Rant over. I didn't intend to post about this at all, but I found it more shocking than I expected and I want to record that fact.

1 He was, as Eddie Izzard would say, a mass-murdering fuckhead

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
The world seems a particularly depressing place at the moment.

My opinion of George Bush could hardly get any lower, but I found this BBC News story fascinating and troubling: George W Bush refusing to enforce laws that he disagrees with. It's a very high level summary but Bush's note that he "would not necessarily enforce a ban on torture - the McCain amendment - or a ban on the censoring of government scientists' findings" boggles the mind if accurate.

Likewise this is hardly encouraging for the cause of freedom: US court backs gay marriage ban. History will hardly look kindly on this aspect of US society, one which President Bush, naturally, supports.

Nor is this very heartening: UN body criticises US on rights, which includes the somewhat stunning statement that "earlier this month, the Bush administration announced that all detainees held by the US military, including those at Guantanamo, were to be treated in line with the minimum standards of the Geneva Conventions." As if there should have been any question.

And if I can do so without coming across in any way as anti-Israeli (which I'm not) I'd like to state the obvious - that the current military action is resulting in many, many civilian deaths on both sides and it's therefore only common moral decency - not a political statement - to condemn the conflict and call for a cease fire. There must be other, more proportionate, more targeted and ultimately more successful means of securing your long terms aims than bombing civilians, or bombing people whom you know are surrounded by civilians. That goes for both sides, and I can say without hesitation that I'd condemn anyone, including the UK, engaging in this kind of activity. In the past I've defended Tony Blair's motives (if not his methods) over Iraq, but I'm hard pressed in this situation to see his stance as anything other than cynical and morally reprehensible, despite whatever gentle pressure towards the UN he may be exerting on Bush. Naive rant over.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
US Senate blocks gay marriage ban. Thank god for that. Leaving aside the fact that it's a cynical political manoeuvre designed to appeal to right wing bigots, as my wife so rightly put it: does Bush really have nothing else to concentrate on right now?

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (TV)
I think I'm starting to watch the news on a worryingly meta level, because while I think the government is wholly in the wrong in failing to consider deportation for convicted murderers and rapists from overseas, I still get bothered by the sensationalist and misleading way in which the story is reported. For example this BBC story entirely fails to mention that the prisoners had served their sentences in full, thereby giving the impression that convicted murderers and rapists had somehow been let out onto the streets without punishment. I assume this is because it sounds cooler and more exciting. I do worry that this kind of reporting, with the buzz-words "foreign criminals" all over the place, can only fuel the general anti-immigrant sentiments that seem to be on the rise. This close to a local election it's potentially incendiary, and can only further the BNP's 'cause'.

The BBC do redeem themselves with this Q&A, which is a great deal clearer. For example, while all 1023 prisoners should have been considered for deportation, 'only' 160 were specifically ordered to be deported. Still a large number, but far from clear on the TV news.

As for the meat of the story, it clearly merits headline reporting, and is clearly a monumental cock-up on the part of the government - or at least an administrative and managerial cock-up on the part of the various departments. As to how serious it is beyond the political ramifications, it depends where you stand on criminals who have served their sentence. If a murderer has served their time, is it jeopardising the public safety to let them out onto the streets? In some cases yes, in some no, and it doesn't really matter if they are a UK national or not. Someone who is not a citizen of the UK and abuses the country's laws should probably be sent home on the principle of abuse of trust and hospitality, but they're still no more or less of a threat than any other ex-offender.

I feel more strongly about cases where reoffending is more likely such as rape or paedophilia. Thankfully this is one of the factors considered as part of deportations. While I don't feel that deportation is an automatic answer (otherwise: Hey! Let's deport all criminals!), it's common sense that any measures should be at least as stringent as those which would apply to a UK national. Releasing a sex offender without any attempt to monitor them is therefore rather stupid by any standards. (Although I'm unclear whether this is, in fact, what happened. Which is another problem with the reporting.)

There are of course other factors. Some of the criminals had not committed serious crimes (41 were burglars). Some may have family here. Some may face a threat to life and limb if returned to their home country. All this must be weighed against their having committed a crime in the UK, and deportation is not automatic for very sensible reasons.

Ultimately this is a serious issue which deserves serious, informed reporting - reporting which studiously avoids the implication that these dirty forriners just want to murder us in our beds. And they could be living among you right now.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Hey, I'm part of a distrusted minority. Finally! It may even give other minority groups something to be pleased about, relatively speaking, since: 'From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society."'

Perhaps it's hardly surprising that strongly religious people distrust atheists. At some fundamental level you'd almost expect it, though it needn't necessarily be the case. To be honest I'm perfectly happy with the notion that people with equally strong - if opposing - religious beliefs have more in common with each other than with atheists. It's all about the way you view the world and your place within it, and religions do indeed have a great deal in common on that level.

I do wonder, though, whether this result isn't influenced by other factors. Atheism is also one of those forgotten minority groups (and how sad that it's a minority!) in that there's no sense that denigrating atheists is discriminatory in any way; no sense of guilt at having transgressed a cultural boundary. People will tend to be honest about their feelings towards atheists where perhaps they would not towards Muslims.

But still - to distrust atheists on principle - as if they were a homogenous group defined solely by their scepticism about the Almighty - indicates some fundamental assumptions which go hand in hand with distrust of science. It's that feeling that scepticism is the same as believing in nothing or having no moral values. The feeling that to demand scientific evidence for belief is to be contrary and closed-minded. That's more worrying to me.

I'm also struck by those minority groups mentioned in the quote; particularly their incredible diversity. They are all regarded as "other" by some kind of majority definition, but they share almost nothing else in common. That implictly says a lot about the very limited definition of social normality used by the people participating in the poll (or possibly by those conducting it, depending on how the quotations were phrased.) It's sad that there's any question of whether minority groups share a vision of society in common with other people: after all, any group is composed of individuals with their own beliefs, people who are not solely or even mainly defined by some arbitrary notion of "minority". And if there is any sense that those groups don't agree with the mainstream vision of society, it's almost certainly because that society treats them with suspicion and intolerance and seeks to disenfranchise them. So standing up for your rights leads you to be seen as a threatening outsider: talk about a vicious circle.

All of which is just the tip of the iceberg of a very complex issue, but there's nothing like a ridiculous poll to get your brain working.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Serenity)
Oh my god. I'm older than Nathan Fillion. I'm not sure why this upsets me, but it does.

In other news, I'm not Tony Blair's biggest fan but surely this is a complete non-story. It's been all over News 24 today. It seems to me like a classic example of the press arbitrarily deciding that something trivial is 'news' simply because it's pure pundit fodder.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Third Man)
A couple of weeks ago we saw Good Night, and Good Luck, the title taken from journalist Edward Murrow's sign-off to his weekly current affairs programme. It's a lovely little film, shot in gorgeous black and white, and focussed to the point of insularity on its subject matter. Murrow (David Strathairn) was a journalist who spoke out against Senator Joe McCarthy's infamous communist 'witch-hunt' hearings in the 1950s. The film is a very simple, very straightforward telling of a few short weeks at the peak of that period when Murrow and his colleagues chose to speak out, risking great personal consequences, against Joe McCarthy's methods and what they saw as a violation of the most fundamental human rights.

So simple is the film that it borders on docudrama, like a big screen edition of Days That Shook the World. Only the sardonic use of radio jazz songs to punctuate the film lends it a sense of artifice. The film's main failing is its inability to set this intimate story in the larger context of the era. Unless you already understand the scope of what Senator McCarthy had set in motion, you can only make broad inferences about the persecution which Murrow was attempting to counter. Nonetheless the film makes some powerful points by quietly allowing us to watch key moments of injustice, including genuine film footage of the hearings and McCarthy himself. Particularly powerful, and never overplayed, is the gut-wrenching fear which grips the main characters as they make their play. It's this palpable tension which hits home as we observe journalists who otherwise appear to be going about their jobs with a degree of calm professionalism. The performances, including Strathairn's commanding lead and unshowy support from co-writer George Clooney, are excellent. The dialogue, especially Murrow's solemn monologues, is literate and compelling; moreso than anything you're likely to hear emerge from the mouth of a modern TV journalist.

Clearly and deliberately this is a film with great relevance to the current political climate in the US. The film's lack of context makes generalising its message all the easier: that in a time when anyone who speaks out against government wrongs is labelled unpatriotic, it is the duty of any patriot to speak out. The film believes passionately in freedom of speech, and in the immutability of human rights no matter the political climate or the justifications for violating them. Although it remains a small film, it succeeds in both personalising and generalising a very dark, very modern time in American history.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
For the last couple of nights BBC News has been covering the new licensing laws, and I'm very conflicted.

I have nothing of great import to say about the laws themselves: 24 hour opening is strange and unnecessary. The far more common 'extra few hours' aren't going to destroy civilisation as we know it. It'll probably mean slightly more of the same: the people whose sole motivation is to drink continuously while screaming the odd monosyllable into their friend's ear will continue to do so, only for longer. They may get more smashed and do more damage to their bodies, which is sad but ultimately their own decision. More importantly there may be a bit more violence, or there may be the same rate of violence going on for longer, or the pressure point of chucking out time may be alleviated, reducing conflict overall. Who knows? Not me. And certainly not the Government or most of the commentators.

However, since Thursday night reporters have been staking out every major drinking spot in the UK, positively desperate for trouble to break out. When trouble didn't break out on Thursday, they blamed the cold weather and turned their attention to the weekend. Their reports are full of images of the police arresting people - perfectly fine in a general article about drinking problems, but all-but-irrelevant in an article about the problems of extended drinking hours, since these arrests were all before the normal chucking-out time. They have no bearing on the story and only serve, vaguely, to reinforce the "sexy" reason for the journalist being there, which is that extended drinking hours are bad. Maybe.

The news commentators also seem fixated on a couple of ideas that baffle me. One is that normal chucking out time is 11 p.m., when in fact many revelers in my experience simply move on to nightclubs which don't spill out onto the streets until 2 a.m. or thereabouts. The other is that underage access to alcohol is somehow the same story as pubs being open at 3 a.m. It's woolly sensationalist reporting, presented without context, and the pesky lack of evidence is just a minor impediment.

This wasn't limited to the drinking story yesterday. The headline "Rape case collapses as woman admits that she can't remember whether she consented to sex" implies that the stupid woman was wasting police time (especially that word "admits", beloved of journalists as a means of introducing drama while appearing to be impartial.) However the actual substance of the story implies that there are deeply ingrained sexist attitudes about rape in the legal system. The context seems a long way from the headline - a security guard is supposed to escort a paralytic woman home, but instead (at the very least) has sex with a semi-conscious woman and leaves her lying in a corridor. It's deeply ironic therefore that the headline trades off the same sexist attitudes that the story seeks to highlight.

Or how about "a million" calls to Jobcentres going unanswered. Sounds terrible, but... over what period? Out of how many calls? How does that compare to other similar call centres? Without context, what does this tell me except that "a million" is a nice round number?

I know it's a tough job to appear impartial while conveying news in an interesting fashion, but if they must look for the most dramatic angle on their story, they need to be very careful that they're not editorialising instead of reporting.

For the purpose of full disclosure it should be noted that your correspondent is on his third bottle of Leffe...


Aug. 17th, 2005 08:23 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
A couple of things someone left carelessly lying around the internet where anyone could step on them:

A dog ate the just completed Iraqi constitution reveals author Peter David.

[livejournal.com profile] coalescent not asked to do commentary track on Doctor Who box set. Paul Cornell celebrates.

Lastly, Serenity now has a (seemingly unofficial) podcast of interviews and other material, which I haven't sampled.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
From [livejournal.com profile] weyoun_one:

Not content with asserting that the bombers are all scrounging asylum seekers recently, the Daily Express has managed to plumb further depths with their front page assertion that the Human Rights Act should be scrapped in order to remove its unreasonable restriction on hurling prisoners down flights of stairs, or something along those lines.

You can only gaze in awe at a publication which makes Hitler look like a man who never quite decided where he stood on immigration. And devoting the remainder of their front page to a story about Diana pregnancy conspiracy theories displays an almost sublime lack of self awareness.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Seen on a newsstand, today's Daily Express front page headline is:


Although it's somewhat difficult for me to believe that this isn't a spoof, I suppose it's better than what they probably would have liked to print:


Trouble is, of course, that since a few of the bombers *are* asylum seekers, now all asylum seekers will be tarred with the same very large brush. The fact that these particular asylum seekers arrived with their families at the ages of 12 and 14, and that those families have condemned their actions, appears to be neither here nor there as far as the press is concerned. (It's tough to imagine the headline "Murderer was middle-class white man". Because even where it's true, it isn't deemed to be a newsworthy distinction to make.)

In contrast, today's Independent has this reassuringly sober account, in which a strangely small number of bombers appear to be spongeing asylum seekers:

"Three of the 7 July bombers were British-born, of Pakistani origin, and the fourth was a Jamaica-born Briton. None of the killers had committed serious criminal offences, although one had been investigated by MI5 for association with a terror suspect.

Details of the second cell shows they come from Somalia and Eritrea but have lived legally in the UK for more than 10 years. Links are emerging between the two groups, but it is far from certain that they knew of each other."

Meanwhile the BBC summarises what's known about them so far.


Apr. 19th, 2005 07:24 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My jaw actually dropped when I saw this story about Michael Howard warning of race riots. Without blushing.

What he's doing of course is trying to gain implicit acceptance for the idea there are no controls on immigration at present, which is plainly not the case. I'm sure there's room for improvement, but that doesn't mean there are no controls, and it doesn't mean that a PR-friendly cap on numbers is the best way of achieving control. In fact, it's about the bluntest instrument imaginable, since it tackles only the number of immigrants and makes no distinction between them in terms of the economic benefit they bring, their willingenss to contribute to society, or the moral imperative to help people living in fear of their lives.

The idea that race riots are fuelled by having too many immigrants is so simplistic and insulting as to defy belief. Race riots are not caused by having too many immigrants in our country, or indeed by having too many people from different ethnic backgrounds in our country (which is not the same thing). They're caused by intolerance and fear. They're caused by treating groups of people as caricatures instead of individual human beings.

The only way in which controlled immigration (i.e. *more* controlled immigration) can reduce race riots is if you assume that: a) that all immigrants are non white, b) Britain is a white mono-culture and other races are a disruptive outside influence, c) if people have an irrational fear you should pander to it instead of dispelling it, and d) the best way to stop people suffering racism is to keep them out of the racists' country. Surely a case of blaming the victims rather than the criminals?

Reassuring people about strict immigration controls is not the way to tackle race riots or community relations. Implying that we can only take so many of these strange foreigners, you know, without sacrificing our way of life is not the way to tackle race riots. Implying that, by the way, immigrants might be murdering, lazy, lying opportunists who are here to take our jobs and kill us in our sleep is not the way to tackle race riots.

The way to tackle race riots is to encourage people to embrace the simple reality that Britain is multi-cultural. It also coudn't hurt to encourage them to respect one another, to explain that immigration is a tiny issue compared to most that face our country, and to calmly reassure people that things are being done to keep criminals out of the country, but there are just as many criminals who were born here and we have to tackle them too.

I wish Labour and the Lib Dems were doing those things with more conviction, therefore.


Jan. 23rd, 2005 08:25 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (V for Vendetta)
So the Conservatives have managed to put themselves further to the Right on Immigration than New Labour; no mean feat. It's now set to be a central issue of the Tories' election campaign. While they preach reasonableness and practicality, I'm left feeling very uncomfortable about the idealogy that lies behind this. Michael Howard says "we cannot take them all", which seems to me to be the epitome of a straw man argument. Who ever said we were going to "take them all"? But if we're going to decide who to take and who not to take, shouldn't it be on other grounds than an arbitrary quota designed to look appealing in an election manifesto?

Read more... )
...as you can tell, I'm feeling a bit ranty on the subject. ;-)
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Saturn and rings)
Woo! First pictures (and data) back from Titan.

Plenty of animated babble on News 24. I have to give them credit for the time they're devoting to it, even if the presenters don't entirely seem to know what to do with the story, or why it's important. Lots of friendly sound-bytes about how Titan's atmosphere may be a primordial soup "time capsule" resembling ancient Earth, but very little context about what Titan looks like, how big it is, where it is, how it compares to other objects in the solar system.

My main niggle so far is that we're getting endless showings of CGI simulations of the mission, but not a single one of the genuinely beautiful pictures of Saturn and its moons which Cassini has sent back to date. Genuine pictures of other worlds. Yes, they're covering the Titan landing and yes, the lander had some British involvement, but from watching the TV you'd think Cassini's only purpose was as a glorified delivery van for a good old British probe.

Still, the enthusiasm of the scientists comes across well, and it's nice to see some scientific "good news" on the television for a change.

EDIT: Oooh, purdy... Have you ever noticed how artist's concepts of bits of the Solar System are always really spectacular, full of jagged pillars of rock and dramatic canyons... and then the actual pictures look like the beach at Scarborough? First the Moon, then Mars, now Titan. Of course, for me I can't help looking at the pictures in context so I'm still thinking "wow, cool!" because it's, y'know a vastly distant moon orbiting Saturn with its own atmosphere and a distinct shortage of day-trippers and ice-cream vans.


Dec. 31st, 2004 05:08 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Impossible to believe that the death toll from the Tsunami has reached 125,000, and is expected to rise further. I find it tough to comment on the situation without seeming trite or band-wagon jumping; it's difficult to put into words the scale of the tragedy, but I feel like I should record my thoughts, however briefly.

Compared to 9/11, we're looking at something like 50 times as many deaths from this natural disaster. That's an entirely different order of tragedy. I'm still not sure that the difference has been fully appreciated across the globe.

Of course, the impact of 9/11 was tangibly different because of the premeditated nature of the killing, and the resulting feelings of outrage and revenge. In contrast, this is random, cruel, uncaring fate - no one to blame, no comfortingly satanic figure to focus hatred on, no villain to defeat. Here's it's just the huge, almost insurmountable task of getting aid to millions of affected people. That's harder to cope with in some ways; witness the delay before the politicians began speechifying about the current crisis, compared to 9/11, despite its much vaster scale.

Of course, there are clearly things that can be put in place to prevent this from happening again (or reduce the damage), and those steps would have a far greater certainty of success than the idea of destroying a nebulous terrorist network, and would be far less expensive than the international war on terror. Strange that promising that kind of hope should be so much more difficult, and perhaps harder to "sell" politically, than promising revenge.

Ah well, that's enough of that line of thinking. I'm getting cynical and talking about politicians, when I really wanted to just say something brief to acknowledge the human impact of the situation. News 24 has hardly been off our TV since it started, but it's oddly difficult to talk sensibly about.


Jul. 21st, 2004 08:49 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Lest anyone doubt that the UK Independence Party is composed of strange, grumpy old men who want the country to be just like it was when they were growing up, one UKIP MEP has just decided that equal rights for women is bad and makes them unemployable.

Apparently, some small businessmen are so sexist that they won't employ women just in case they get pregnant, and that means that we shouldn't have any employment rights for women at all. Talk about your classic case of conclusions first, rationalisation second...

It's apparently irrelevant that maternity rights have done far, far more good than bad. We don't want any of this crazy sex discrimination law. And while we're at it, let's chuck out all of that downright, well, "european" race discrimination law, equal pay law, disability discrimination law, human rights law, and employment protection. That stuff that's transformed our working lives for the better over the last 30 years. It's all much too Belgian. UKIP said so.

Tim Booth

Jun. 16th, 2004 09:29 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
I always knew George W Bush was only joking about being President...

Well, it amused me anyway. (I found it on author Peter David's weblog.)

In other news, I ordered the new solo album by Tim Booth, former James frontman, today. James somehow passed me by in their heyday, but I've got really into them recently - mainly the classic albums Laid and Seven, which have some outstandingly good tracks on them. Hope his solo stuff is, well, any good.

I'm very bad at buying new albums, and especially at buying artists I haven't tried before. For some reason I have a near pathological fear that I won't like them, and will therefore end up with a crap CD in my collection. No idea why this should be an issue - half my collection is crap already. :-)


iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)

July 2014

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