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Awoken by the political hubbub

In which there has apparently been a lot of fuss over nothing


Well, yes. It’s been quiet round here, hasn’t it. And, as I’ve said before, modern politics makes me want to retreat further into a bunker. There’s a reason why the three sane-and-national parties are so close together in the polls right now: on the surface they’re so close together on everything else. Do you support the ex-public-schoolboy who wants to cut taxes on business and cut public spending, or the ex-public-schoolboy who wants to cut taxes for lower incomes and scythe public spending? Or, of course, the ex-university-firebrand who is also going to cut public spending, but not yet? If you don’t like those, there’s the right-wing fringe: the doddery old chap who leads his party from the House of Lords, who responds to most questions with “I’m not a professional politican, so I don’t know all the details or what’s in our manifesto – can you ask me the questions I wanted you to ask me, please?” If you don’t like his apparent lack of knowledge of most things his party plans to do, there’s always the Cambridge graduate* who thinks that Ireland is part of Britain, and that none of those nasty foreign types should be allowed to settle here unless maybe they’re from a country like France where potential voters might want to retire to.** There’s probably a left-wing fringe, too, but they’ve not popped up on my radar.

Having said all that, I do feel slightly sorry for the former university firebrand, who, I’m told, caused havoc with the administration of my own alma mater back in the 1970s. Because, to be honest, I’m fully aware that politicians aren’t angels. Practically everyone I know, everyone I’ve ever come across, is willing to be polite to someone’s face, then complain about them behind their back. We’re all happy to say things in private, when we think it’s private, and we don’t expect that our enemies are listening in. If there’s one thing you can criticise Gordon Brown for over the events of yesterday, it’s that maybe he was too polite in public, and wasn’t willing to stand up strongly enough for what he presumably believes: that people who ask vague and poorly-stated non-questions that imply they don’t like the free movement of labour in Europe are, bluntly, wrong.

My vote, to be frank, doesn’t exactly make much difference. I live in one of the safest Labour seats in South-West England, one which even Michael Foot didn’t manage to lose in 1983. To move it to either of the other parties would need a monumental local swing: 13% for it to go Liberal, 15% to go Tory. The last local elections did see some movement towards the Liberals in some wards, but not, I think, enough to unseat our MP. Because of that, I don’t have any real expectation that the option I choose next Thursday will make any difference at all to the overall result. I’m fairly sure I promised one of our local councillors, too, that there was no way I was voting Labour whilst he still wanted to build a guided busway through Ashton and Spike Island; he still does, I assume, so I feel duty-bound to uphold my promise. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats also seem to like the idea, so it looks like this may well be the first election in which I end up spoiling my vote. Having said all that, though, the fuss over Gordon Brown and Gillian Duffy*** has had one effect on my voting intentions. For the first time in a couple of years, I’m considering voting for Labour.

* Robert Graves had a lifelong antipathy to Cambridge graduates. I must say, I think his instinctive reaction to them was wrong; but possibly, in this case, it would have been justified.

** Or they know how to build the nuclear power stations that he’s going to fill the country with, of course. I wonder how much uranium we have left.

*** Whose anger at being called a bigot is slightly tempered by the fact that she didn’t really understand what the word meant.

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Topical

In which we are overtaken by events


It’s nice to be topical, even if it is entirely by accident. Earlier, I complained about the rather unbalanced media coverage following the recent hit-and-run deaths of Sam Riddell and Troy Atkinson. Three or four hours after I published that post, the BBC briefly announced that the city magistrates have remanded someone to await trial for Troy’s death.

It’s good news that the hunt for his alleged killer has barely taken a couple of days longer than it took the police to find Hannah Saaf. It was probably a trickier job, too; unlike the Riddell/Saaf case, the chap in question wasn’t the registered keeper of the car. He’s not the man police arrested shortly after the incident, and he’s also been charged with taking the car without permission. It’s quite possible, to be fair, that the police kept the Atkinson/Ahmed case out of the media for investigative reasons; it was presumably thought to be in their interest to broadcast pictures of Hannah Saaf far and wide in the hope that somebody would spot her.*

There’s still something about the relative treatment of the cases in the media, though, which leaves a slightly nasty taste in my mouth. The police might have now brought both cases to the same stage, in roughly the same time; but one of those stories has been all over the media in the past few weeks, and the other has been hardly mentioned. This isn’t any sort of class war: it’s just a comment on the type of people who have easy access to the media. If you want to get your story out there, you need to have either a good publicist or a story that fits the media’s mould.

* which they did, although she hadn’t actually got that far out of Bristol

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Media Friendly

In which we compare and contrast two recent and similar deaths


This is a local news story. Which is to say: local readers will have heard most of the details of it before. Or, rather, it’s two local news stories together. People further afield may well have heard of one of them.

A couple of weeks ago, close together, two young people were killed in the Bristol area, in hit-and-run road accidents.

On April 28th, a 15 year old called Troy Atkinson was hit by a black Mercedes on Penn St, in the city centre. He died the following day, of his injuries. It featured in the local news, the police released the car’s registration and asked for witnesses to come forward; and then the news went quiet.

Three days later, an 11 year old called Sam Riddell was hit by a car in a North Bristol suburb. The driver fled the scene, leaving the car behind. It featured in the local news, and the police asked for witnesses to come forward.

There, though, the story changes. Sam Riddell’s story stayed in the news. The police revealed that the car’s owner matched the description of the driver, and that she had not come forward. More details came out about Sam Riddell’s happy family life, and newspapers started to publish photos of the car’s owner, presumably as her friends* and acquaintances realised there was cash to be made. The story slowly made its way from the local news to the national news, and came to a head when the alleged car-owner and driver was found, apparently hiding in a shed in Pensford. She was promptly charged, and is currently on remand awaiting trial.

I don’t know how far the police are getting in their investigation of Troy Atkinson’s death, because the press has been rather quiet about it. The police got as far as arresting someone, but whether he was charged or not I can’t seem to find out. And, apart from the manhunt aspect of the Sam Riddell case, there’s one rather obvious difference to the two cases. Sam Riddell was from Westbury-on-Trym; Troy Atkinson was from Hartcliffe.

Sam Riddell was brought up in a nice, middle-class suburb by nice, middle-class parents, who have made very sure that the story has stayed in the news. We’ve been given stories about what a nice boy he was, how he had lots of friends, played football, went to church regularly and had a happy life because of his firm faith in Jesus. I have no idea what Troy Atkinson’s upbringing was like, but, well, it was in Hartcliffe. Hartcliffe, if you’re not local, is a large 1950s estate, one of the most deprived areas in the south of England.** It’s a fair bet that Troy Atkinson didn’t go to church very often. It’s also a fair bet that his family isn’t very well off, because his friends organised a memorial march to help pay for his funeral. The Bristol Evening Post‘s response to the march was to print accusations that the mourners had carried out shoplifting attacks en route.

Maybe the news stories about Sam Riddell will disappear too now that the alleged car-driver is imprisoned. I suspect, though, that they will pop back up again as her trial date approaches, and then again in a few years when she’s released. If the driver who killed Troy Atkinson gets imprisoned, will it even rate a mention? This story, as much as any, shows how much your background matters. If you come from the right background, if you have an idea how to work the media and write a good press-release, you can keep your story in the news for almost as long as you like. If you don’t come from the right background, your story will sink without a trace.

* Or, former friends, I assume, given that they’ve now sold photos of her to the press.

** I can’t be bothered to check the statistics because that would involve getting up and going through to the living room; but I do recall that statistically Hartcliffe isn’t quite as bad as neighbouring Knowle West, which comes out as one of the worst places in England on several measures of social deprivation.

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Journalistic accuracy

In which the news needs its facts checking


Long-term readers might remember that, back in the mists of time, I upset some busy bees at the Grimsby Telegraph after describing that newspaper as “rather news-thin”. Which, indeed, it is: they don’t have much news in it, because they don’t have the reporters or the money to research much news. I kept meaning to take a random copy, take it apart, and break down its content into “quality” and “filler” – the latter being things like the letters pages, readers’ photos, TV listings, local sports reports* and so on; but, not living anywhere that I can get hold of a copy easily, it has been put on the back burner.

I was gratified to see, though, that its stablemate the Bristol Evening Post may have similar issues. Certainly, job cuts at both the Grimsby Telegraph and the Evening Post were making the news recently; and I’ve since noticed that the Evening Post no longer seems to pay as much attention to the accuracy of what it prints.

On Monday afternoon, a story appeared on their website, concerning a street fight in Bedminster the night before; your average local news story really. Five people were injured, and police closed the street** to search for evidence. As the Evening Post said:

The street has now reopened

Which it has. Unfortunately for the Evening Post, that story is dated 15:35, Monday. In the real world, at 5pm, everything was still cordoned off, as CSI Bedminster’s finest were still going about their jobs: white suits, facemasks and all. Oops.

Earlier in the day the police had said that they’d probably have tidied everything up by lunch-time. Clearly the Post staffer responsible for that story had heard as much, assumed that “probably” meant “definitely”, and didn’t have chance to check their facts before going to press. Which is understandable, given that it’s a small point, and the Evening Post has to get a paper out every afternoon however few reporters it has left. It makes me wonder though; if they don’t check small details like this, what else gets printed unchecked?

“It’s just like you reviewing things you haven’t seen or read,” said K, when we talked about it later.

“You’ve got a point,” I admitted.

“You should be writing reviews for them, then!” she said. Now there’s an idea.

* Most of which, especially if they appear without a byline, are essentially press-releases from the teams involved.

** Here’s a factoid for trivia fans: the street in question is part of the longest road entirely in England.

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Astroturf

In which we smell a rat


Yesterday’s post clearly touched off a nerve. You can see four disparaging comments on it; there are plenty more in the comment queue that I haven’t approved.

Funny thing is, though, they’re all from a single address. Either one person, or a group of people working in the same office. It’s from the domain nng.co.uk. Which is owned by the company Northcliffe Media Ltd – who are, amongst other things, the publishers of the famously pisspoor Grimsby Telegraph! I don’t think they can have liked what I wrote – I think I’ll send an email to the Telegraph itself and ask if this is deliberate, or just some staff mucking about.

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Pride

In which we note the Grimsby Telegraph’s latest marketing campaign


The rather news-thin Grimsby Telegraph newspaper has decided to jump on a fish-marketing bandwagon and declare today to be Great Grimsby Day. A day to be proud of the Grimsby area! Its scenic mudflats! Its thriving heroin-injecting scene! The active support for boxing and extreme wrestling seen in the town centre every Saturday night! The wide range of chain-based shopping opportunities, and the picturesquely decaying industrial areas. Be proud, people!

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that they didn’t get it confused with National Fetish Day, which – equally arbitrarily – was yesterday. I hate to think what would have happened. There’s not much of a fetish scene in Grimsby, after all; a couple of the regulars in the Lloyds Arms and that’s about it.* I can quite easily imagine the Grimsby Telegraph’s staffers not understanding what the word means.

* I’m exaggerating, slightly. There’s more like four, plus a couple more people who drink elsewhere.

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Recent search requests

In which we wonder what people are searching for


More things, around the interwebs, that people have been looking for…

the deirdres are a rather good band from Derby – see here, and also here.
photo enlargement 99p – it does sound like a bit of a bargain rate. Unless, of course, you want to enlarge a photo of 99p, which is possible too.
unexplained black moods aren’t very nice, but if they’re that unexplained I’m not sure there’s very much you can do.
emo kids handcuffs – I have a lovely picture in my head, now, of emo kids handcuffed to street furniture in all their hang-outs – outside the art gallery in Exchange Square in Glasgow; outside the Corn Exchange* in Leeds, and so on. I wholeheartedly endorse this idea. Come on, people, together we can make it a reality.
triangle sidings are the London Underground sidings in South Kensington, in the basement of the Cromwell Road Sainsburys, where the air terminal used to be. More information, and photos, here.
chocolate coins left at doorstep – I don’t remember ever mentioning this, or anything of the sort. But if anyone does want to leave some chocolate coins on my doorstep, then, please, feel free to!
cara page journalist. Cara Page was, the last I heard, writing for the Daily Record. She’s infamous – at least in certain circles – for writing “exposés” about the sex lives of fairly boring and ordinary people, such as a charity shop worker from Peebles. None of it is “newsworthy” in any conventional sense of the word, but tabloid editors still strongly believe that a bit of Carry On-style tame muckiness sells papers. Sadly, that’s all I know about her. And that, I think, is probably enough search requests for now.

* Now there’s a name that’s always puzzled me a little. “Hello, my dear sir, I’d like to swap this corn, if you may. For … erm … some different corn?”

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Diplomacy

In which people are caught in compromising situations


Diplomat Of The Week award goes to the Israeli Ambassador to El Salvador, who, as you’ve probably heard by now, was found tied up and ball-gagged* by the local police. Note to the Daily Record: it is arguably in the public interest to report on the sex lives of ambassadors and other top diplomats. Charity shop volunteers: not quite the same.

* The Guardian’s sub-editor on that article seems not to understand how a ball gag** works

** NSFW link, if you hadn’t guessed

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Outing

In which we watch the media trying to whip up a storm in a second-hand teacup


You probably won’t have read this nasty story in yesterday’s Daily Record, exposing the sex life of someone who isn’t famous and wasn’t doing any harm to anyone. Not many people will have read it, because out of the population of the country not many do read the Record.* That’s not the point, really.

As I said, it’s a nasty story, about a normal, average member of the public, who enjoys kinky sex. There is nothing to justify publishing her full details in the way the paper did. Moreover, it throws a lot of light on the social conservatism of tabloid papers in general – the faux-shock that a young wife would behave that way, would want to behave that way. The only consolation is that few people ever pay attention to anything journalists say.**

The Daily Record presumably think, though, that this sort of story sells papers, especially local or regional papers. And in an effort to sell papers, they’ve let themselves be used. I don’t know NR myself, but I know several people who do know her, some people who don’t like her very much, and I know there are a few people who don’t like her very much at all. I can’t imagine that anyone I know personally would have exposed her to the press, but clearly someone, who knows her well, has done. And in all probability that person, whoever they are, does exactly the same kind of things that she does, and would be treated in exactly the same way if Cara Page Of The Daily Record had come across them first. I don’t know anything about the sex lives of the Daily Record staff, but whoever initially sent them this “story” is very likely a very nasty hypocrite.

* It seems to be widely available in England now, a lot more than, say, ten years ago.

** and they’re mostly other journalists, at that.

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Greetings from sunny Tipton

In which we think about science and scientists


Lounging around on a sunny Sunday morning, I was planning, plotting, and thinking of things to write here. Planning on writing about the cake K was promising to bake, or W’s upcoming birthday, or yesterday’s trip to Oxford with C and P and various other people. And I started thinking: why do I refer to people by letter like that?

I quickly realised where I might have got it from: the scientist and writer Jeremy Bernstein. I have, somewhere on my shelves, a copy of his book Experiencing Science, a compilation of articles he wrote for the New Yorker. It is mostly a series of pocket biographies of prominent scientists, from Kepler through to Oppenheimer via Lysenko, Franklin, and others; but at the end of the book is a slightly strange, partly fictional essay on the work of Turing and Gödel. In which all the main characters – the fictional ones, at any rate – are referred to by their initial letters. K, W, and so on.

I can’t say I fully understand Gödel’s theorems. My maths isn’t that good. I do love its implications, though. It underwrites and undermines the whole of computer theory; and, as someone who works in IT, I know from experience that computer theory hardly ever matters in real life. Someone once asked me, politely, to shut up, on a train, because I was trying to explain Gödel’s theory rather loudly to Δ. I hadn’t realised we were in the Quiet Coach. I try to reread Bernstein’s book every year or two, and not just for the Gödel chapter; clearly, though, it’s been a bigger influence on my own writing than I’d realised before.

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