Traffic safety or surveillance?

Any road user in the UK will know about the hordes of traffic cameras all over the country. These wonderful things are supposed to be there to prevent people from speeding – basically they are set up to trigger if you go past at a speed that is above the limit for that stretch of road. If you speed past one, it takes your photo and you get fine & penalty points through the post.

I am not going to use this post to complain about how they don’t actually prevent speeding and are little more than income generation for the local council. That is a rant for another day.

This rant is about the nature of the cameras themselves.

The idea as sold to the population is that this is not “surveillance” of the public (Thor knows we have enough CCTV for that) and photographs of vehicles would only be taken if they exceeded a certain speed (generally the speed limit +10%). However, a comical item on the BBC seems to show a difference.

Leaving aside the whining, simpsonesque “wont anybody think of the children” rant, the concern I have is why on Earth did this camera take a picture of a vehicle that wasn’t speeding? Why was a speed camera recording images of a non-speeding vehicle so the police could dream up other charges?

Welcome to 1984… (again)

New Dr Who series

There’s a hallowed Whydontyou tradition that this blog has to get out a quick comment on any new Dr Who series. The first episode was OK, on balance.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Catherine Tate (a UK comedian) and it was a national embarrassment to see Tony Blair mouthing her catchphrases (worse even than his Simpson’s cameo.) Her Dr Who character just seemed like a more sympathetic portrayal of half of her standard comedy characters. All the same, she’s very gifted and wasn’t as irritating as she might have been.

It was telling to realise that I was actually hoping for the return of Billie Piper, although her apperance seems to have just been a two-second teaser. According to the Register, Lily Allen was the top assistant choice in November. I don’t know if that was just a wild Register rumour or if it’s still a possibility. IMHO, the best assistant in the new set of Dr Who series has been Freema Agyeman.

The space ship effects were good. I’m a sucker for well done 3-d graphics and good special effects.

(Except for the hanging bit, which was exactly as silly as almost every other “hanging from the side of a building” scene ever. I mean, just try hanging from anything, even if your life DOESN’T depend on it. If you can manage 15 seconds and you aren’t an experienced mountain climber – total respect. Or try and find a multi-storey building that doesn’t generate its own wind system. )

Cultural refs:

  • A merge of the Supernanny and Anne Robinson stereotypes of bossy female Englishwomen. There aren’t many recognizable examples outside the TV world and some newspaper columns, but, hey, that’s the world now anyway.
  • The supposedly increasingly fat UK population is a really popular topic, of course. Here the idea was that excess lard turned into a life form, which was an entertaining idea.
  • People’s endless desire for any diet pills that will magically trim fat.
  • Office work. Office blocks. Those cages that hold the window cleaners who don’t actually have to abseil down the side of your building.
  • Alien visitor, crop circles and random conspiracy theories. Need I say more. Obviously, they usually turn out to be true in Dr Who.

Don’t try this at home

Phillipino health officials have warned that there are health risks from crucifixion, according to the BBC.

Who’d have thought it?

Journalistic Integrity

I am naive enough to think I remember a time when there was some modicum of journalistic integrity in the media. I am sure I remember a time when the news was reported in an understated, even handed manner. I am not so insane that I think the news has ever been really free of some element of spin and “PR” work, however it strikes me that today it is so endemic no one notices any more.

Two recent examples have highlighted how the use of English can create a massively different news item.

The first came up during a bored spell spend looking over regional news items and regional news papers. The Belfast Telegraph had an article on a man who had survived a horrific attack by the Shankill Butchers and apparently died of a stroke recently. I suspect the lazy journalists at the Belfast Telegraph have over-used Wikipedia as a source, which highlighted my initial concern. Before I go on, I should emphasise I am not disagreeing that they were ruthless, evil sadists and that this person survived after having both wrists slit is amazing.

The Wiki entry on the Shankill Butchers (today at least) reads:

The “Shankill Butchers” were a group of Ulster Volunteer Force members in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who abducted Roman Catholics usually walking home from a night out, tortured and/or savagely beat them, and killed them, usually by cutting their throats.

In the Telegraph it was similar, with the emphasis being on how the sadistic nutters terrorised the Catholic community. Interestingly, they are “credited” with torturing and killing 19 people, of whom 7 were Catholics. Given that, at that time in Northern Ireland, it is unlikely any of the victims would have been described as “atheists” it seems logical to say 12 of the victims were Protestants.

The Shankill Butchers killed 150% more Protestants than Catholics, yet almost all the media reports about them describe them as almost exclusively targeting Catholics.

The point I am trying to make here is not one group suffered more than the other and I am not trying to trivialise the suffering the communities underwent as a result of their insane behaviour. What interests (and worries) me is that by dismissing a whole spectrum of their activities the larger group of victims is marginalised to the point at which they cease to exist. Instead of describing this as a shared community horror, it is sold to the public as a 100% sectarian event, possibly inflaming relatives of the dead.

How can that be good for bringing the two communities together?

The next recent issue is unrelated. Listening to today’s Radio 1 news (yes, sorry) there was a bit in the morning where they talked about domestic abuse. The newsreader read out that the number of reported cases of domestic abuse has tripled over (memory hazy but 3 years seems what they said), however in an alarming manner he also reported “the number of convictions remains the same at 17%.” I cant find the exact numbers used but it was along the lines of 1000 has increased to 3000.

Wow. How terrible. The implication was that more cases were going to court but the “system” had not managed to secure any more convictions, and what a terrible legal system we must have if these people (who are obviously guilty because it has gone to court…) are getting away with it.

However, given ten seconds consideration and you can see the language used by the newsreader was inherently misleading.

The first part of the item gave a number. Hard figures. It might not have been a nicely rounded as 1000 to 3000 but it was something like that. This is something you can hang your hat on. The optimist will see this increase as people feeling able to report more abuse, the pessimist will see it as more abuse happening. (Or vice versa…). That is not the issue.

When the news reader stated the “number” of convictions had remained the same he then went on to give a percentage rather than an actual number. This is a significant issue. If we take round numbers, you can see there is a HUGE difference between 1000 reports and 170 convictions which has increased to 3000 reports with 170 convictions and 1000 reports / 170 convictions becoming 3000 reports and 510 convictions.

In the first example, it would indicate a problem and he would be correct that the “number” of convictions was the same. The second example uses the numbers the newsreader used, but the “number” of convictions has certainly changed.

If you want to spin a news item to make people worry about an ineffective legal system you say “the numbers haven’t changed” (which is, actually, a lie). Was that BBC Radio 1’s intention? One of the reasons this annoyed me, is that on getting into my workplace – filled with supposedly “thoughtful” and “analytical” people, I had several conversations about how the legal system was letting people down and despite more reports, they hadn’t managed to get more convictions…

The world is mad.

White light, white heat

The BBC is running adverts for a series of programmes on white people, specifically white working-class British people. These adverts (and the programmes I will definitely not watch) might score low on my personal exponential scale of media-generated rage, when compared to the ID cards news item, but they still make me really angry.

The television adverts show a homely white male, whose face is gradually overwritten with phrases in other languages, such as Urdu, until his face becomes well nigh invisible. There’s an image on the website. Someone from the BBC was (ineptly) justifying this, on BBC Breakfast, against a reasonable complaint that it was using images designed to promote the idea that allowing non-white people to express themselves was wiping out white British people.

My problems with the way this image is used include:

  • The inherent assumption that the lumpenness of the man’s face identified him as working class. (As opposed to the shiny chiselled, buffed, botoxed – almost all white – features that normally appear in the media.)
  • The flow of images that are supposed to represent whiteness include a politician, Enoch Powell, who presented an almost-socially-acceptable face of 1970s racism. When I say “almost-socially-acceptable” face of racism, he was in fact quite rightly on the far margins even of the Conservative party. He was only regarded as “not a dangerous lunatic” by the extreme far right. Who could formerly count their supporters in tens.
  • The almost-subliminal message is that the white working class is inherently beleaguered. And racist. And stupid.

It seems that the spirit of the execrable Powell is indeed alive and well at the BBC. The web page presents the results of a poll that is supposed to show the “despair and fear among white Britons.”

IMAO, if anything has caused “despair and fear” among the white working class, it is not “immigration” – which seems to be the underlying message of this BBC nonsense – it is a combination of the following circumstances :

  • The destruction of UK manufacturing industry
  • Decades of precarious employment
  • The weakening of traditional working class institutions, such as trade unions
  • The suborning of the traditional working class political voice to the nuLabour project
  • The disintegration of the post-war welfare state
  • And plenty more. Had we but world enough and time, then I’d rant about this for weeks…… Last year, Ian Curtis’ short series The Trap managed to discuss (concisely) some of the social changes that are destroying or damaging our institutions.

Marginalising “whiteness”, my arse.

In pursuit of its dubious sensationalist ends, the BBC ran a blog post on the Whitest Place in Britain. Well, this is apparently the whitest place in Britain because it was destroyed when the British coal industry was destroyed, in the 1980s (under Tony Blair’s apparent role model, Margaret Thatcher.) Nothing took its place. So, unsurprisingly, it didn’t prove a big draw for immigrants or Britsih people of any “race”.

If you want to find out what the English white working classes think, then this area of the country is a pretty good place to start.

Well, no. It isn’t. It might be a good place to look at the social impact of shutting down the industrial capacity of a town. But that’s about it. These people aren’t marginalised because they are white. They are no more white than working people who live in more prosperous parts of the country. Indeed they are about equally as white as the great majority of the people in the House of Commons, for example.

So, discussing them as if they are badly off BECAUSE they are white is nonsense. Seriously irresponsible and dangerous nonsense.

Thinking outside the X-box

No, really. I didn’t make this up. Security Service targets gamers according to the BBC website.

UK GCHQ intends to recruit gamers through adverts for the GCHQ website in X-box 360 games.

GCHQ, which works alongside the UK’s other intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6, employs about 5,000 people and provides monitoring information for the government and protecting its communication and information system (BBC Technology website)

In praise of the BBC

This blog does its fair share of whining about daft things on the BBC, especially its website (“constructive criticism.”) There are disturbing current plans to cut back on everything good about the BBC, with a loss of 2,500 jobs. According to last week’s Guardian, the BBC’s high-profile serious journalists, such as Paxman, have been told not to express their criticisms of this sort of stuff on air.

The director-general has been quoted voicing the sort of Dilbert-speak that bodes ill for any organisation, from the perspective of both staff and customers. For example:

….his plan would deliver “a smaller, but fitter, BBC” in the digital age.
The six-year scheme, called Delivering Creative Future…..

Over the past few years, the BBC has expanded from being a public-service broadcaster – worthy enough in itself, to providing an almost unequalled Internet news resource. In the face of a general dumbing-down of television to a level that the average pet tortoise would find intelligible, the BBC still provides some tv and radio of amazing quality .

Well, it seems this all has to stop. The new plan is for more repeats, cuts to the television news, fewer current affairs programmes, fewer non-commercial kids’ programmes, ads on international stuff..

The editors’ blogs sound like it’s all an exciting new opportunity. Well, wouldn’t you, if you might be facing redundancy and criticism wouldn’t keep you out of that media dole queue?

…standing still is not an option because our audiences are changing and we must change with them….

Changing? More than normal changes then? In what ways? Granted most people have cable or satellite. I admit to watching minimal terrestrial tv, but that’s not because it’s over my head. It’s because most of it is hopelessly poor:

  • Soaps that should be poured down the plughole.
  • Reality shows that would make you want to Columbine the whole human race, if they actually bore any relationship to “reality”
  • Home / clothes / lifestyle makeovers, all aimed at a general transformation of the UK into a giant open-plan Stepford.
  • Programmes about raising children that make B.F. Skinner look laissez-faire
  • Plastic surgery programmes that actually promote it
  • Programmes about celebs and their weight problems
  • 100 greatest/worst adverts for car wax, or similar. With slightly recognisable talking heads discussing the choices
  • “Programmes” with a chirpy talking head and a screen puzzle designed to keep the drunk or mentally ill phoning in to “answer” trick questions at £300 a nanosecond

Basically, tv that would make the choice between watching it and gnawing off your own arm quite a difficult decision.

Is it the changing audience that’s driving this? If the audience is changing to be made up of the bedbound with broken remote controls, then maybe.

The BBC, although not blameless, is the least offender in this crap. It still represents so much of what is worthwhile in British culture. Cuts in its budget, cuts in its real staff….

Argh. That was the crunch of tooth on right arm flesh.

Good and bad ink

I am not an admirer of tattoos. Well, except for the completely obscure or the comically extreme ones. However, the anatomical one shown on the BBC magazine site is spectacular.

Tattoo on the BBC website

(I’m posting the picture from the BBC site here. Think of it as fair comment, OK? Plus there’s a link to the original story.)

Under the paragraph about this truly inspired piece of body art, there is another post on an ex-vicar’s more humdrum tats. He says it’s an expression of his christian beliefs but also says some Christians think he’ll go to hell.

Both these viewpoints seem a little odd.

He has a reversed pentagram between his traps, for instance. I didn’t realise that the reversed pentagram was the new fish. But I suppose it’s a step in a more aesthetically pleasing direction.

At the same time, I was also unaware of any mainstream religious prohibition against having someone impale you with ink to create deeply spurious Celtic-Maori-crossover symbols on your skin. Maybe there is some sense in religion after all.

New Party?

Surprisingly-wealthy parent and school governor sues UK government about whether Al Gore’s video can be shown in schools. Partly wins. (Abstract of previous post. Continued here)

This story might sound familiar to you in Kentucky but it must be a first in a British court. The suing “parent” is “school governor Stewart Dimmock, from Dover, a father of two, who is a member of the New Party” (quoting the BBC) I couldn’t cast aside all thought of the cost. Over £200,000, (ca. $400,000 at the current rate of exchange) according to the BBC.

Odd that a man who apparently sends his offspring to a state school can afford to blow the cost of a bloody expensive education on a court case about a video. Hmm.

(Rich English people don’t send their kids to state schools. If they are in a job where it would be politically inadvisable for their kids to attend private school, they send them to a top “faith school.”)

Hmm. “The New Party?” A New one on me, anyway. Sounds Orwellian. (No, stupid. That’s everything, now. ) Who are in this amazingly rich party?

They have a website. With a manifesto and everything. It appears to be a “real” party in Scotland. At least one of its members is a member of the Scottish parliament.

I look at the pictures and biogs of the National and the Scottish committee. They offer two “celeb” supporters: an ex-businessman tv “expert” and a woman who was a golf coach. (There’s a bit of a golf theme in the resumes) Its committee seems to be made up of small businessmen. Their pictures and mini-cvs cover a range of backgrounds. Most have worked and then taken up self-employment. Others own small/medium-firms. There is an Indian businessman. A young mother. A sportswoman. There is a representative from every broad industrial grouping.

How surprisingly unrandom a distribution of backgrounds. It begins to seem so much like a tokenised marketing exercise that I am getting confused.

There are people with interests in haulage, oil and so on. These don’t look like businesses that are going to be overkeen on any action to impede the rate of climate change. But we aren’t talking Exxon here. These are not multinationals. I doubt that many people have heard of them, even in Scotland, let alone in the UK as a whole.

If I was a cartoon character, several light bulbs would be popping into life above my head by now. But then, if I was a sci-fi computer, I’d be the one that was saying “Does not compute” when faced with two confusing instructions.

Because, the bit of my brain that’s saying “Hang on, these are visibly not billionaires. They must have access to the untold wealth of an anti-Al Gore slush fund.” is crashing up against the bit of my brain that’s saying “No. I suspect they have no more money than a few small businessmen could drum up for a risky gamble. They can’t afford to spend loads on adverts and publicity. They could gamble their £200K on a high profile court case. It won’t even count against election expenses. And, in any case, the state had to pay a good part of their costs, following the court ruling.“.)

Well, they’ve got their money’s worth. Some obscure party is now in the political public domain. Their manifesto and policies are such a disturbing mixture of crowd-pleasing, repellent and vacuous that, even with my overly-free linking capacity, I can’t bring myself to put a link.

Is this going to set a precedent for what will happen when any interest group has a problem with something in the media? In which case, I think I’ll become a “school governor” and sue the government for not banning the Daily Mail, say, from being discussed in schools.

Gore, Nobel Prize and the BBC…

On the BBC editors’ blog, Craig Oliver discussed Al Gore’s Nobel prize, in the context of the BBC’s decision to lead Wednesday’s night’s news with a judge’s ruling that there were 9 errors of fact in “An inconvenient truth.”

Oliver says the Nobel prize is “controversial” as the award raises the question “What does climate change have to do with world peace?”

Well Craig, there’s this little thing called an ecosystem. All our lives depend on it. When it gets too damaged to support life, we are going to have to fight over the dwindling store of global life -supporting goodness.

I’m not a judge or a scientist, so I would have thought that 9 “errors” was about normal for a documentary. It’s a truism that, if you know about any topic, you will always find any media reports about that topic to be full of gaping holes.

I would have thought, in this context, that a more suitable topic for the BBC News to consider would be why would anyone spend the enormous sums required to take such a case to the High Court to stop schools showing a documentary? Hadn’t they thought of contacting the school or the local education committee, if they were that stressed about it?

How much did this little exercise cost “school governor Stewart Dimmock, from Dover, a father of two, who is a member of the New Party.”?

The judge awarded Mr Dimmock two-thirds of his estimated legal costs of more than £200,000, against the government.

Are there many parents/school governors out there who are so rich beyond the dreams of avarice that they will spend a sum that would take about 15 years to earn at a minimum wage rate on telling teachers what documentaries they can show in schools?

The New Party? Who are these legally minded philanthropists? Given the sums of money at their disposal, cosying up to them looks like almost as canny a financial move as a brief marriage to a former Beatle.


Watching over two hours a day of television is damaging to kids, according to the BBC, unselfishly reporting a study that clearly contravenes its own interests. This takes up a theme from past articles about stopping kids watching TV, on the grounds of behavioural problems, obesity or whatever is the current concern about kids and television.

Off the top of my head, I have a few questions about the evidence for all this.

  • Does “watching tv” mean sitting in rapt attention or having it on in the background, as so many of us do?
  • What are the mechanisms supposed to be that connect the square box and all these aspects of young humanity? Radiation? Mental torpidity? Engagement in popular culture? Exposure to advertising?
  • What type of tv? Are toddlers equally affected by watching CBBC or Men and Motors?
    Does the content make a difference? I’m prepared to argue that hours of watching reality tv and soaps would blunt the brain capacity of Einstein, but that’s just my bigotry. What about watching non-stop thought-provoking and educational programmes?
  • What about class effects? Middle-class kids are generally less likely to watch lots of tv. They are also less likely to be judged as having behavioural problems or be obese. Why single out tv as the crucial lifestyle difference, rather than, for example, having a decent family income, better access to other activities, less depression in the parents or any one of a huge range of distinctions?
  • Why two hours? Think of a number…..

My main quibble with the evidence is that it comes from people’s reports. When it comes to characterizing one’s parenting, no one wants to see themselves as being a “bad parent.” So, if they have soaked up any of the current standards in parenting, (i.e if they have any contact with other humans), they will claim to be keeping to them.

Parents who see themselves as bringing up their kids responsibly (who are probably those parents whose kids are least likely to fall on the wrong side of all the behavioural bars) are likely to say their kids watch a moderate apparently-ordered amount of tv. When these people are responding to survey questions, 2 hours sounds about right. They aren’t not exposing their kids willy-nilly to trash culture nor eccentrically cutting them off from the mainstream. This doesn’t mean it’s true.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hours of tv that children of self-identified responsible parents see (according to surveys…) can tell you what are the current social values for responsible tv watching. This is not the same as meaning x hours are healthy and >x hours are bad.

Do you know how much tv you watch? I have no idea. I can’t even define “watching” let alone count the hours.

Pining for a miracle

In an uncharacteristic display of wanton scepticism, the RC Church has rejected a group based around the worship of a pine tree which is claimed to show an image of the Virgin Mary’s face, according to the BBC.

The Family of the Divine Innocence was founded by a jewellery designer from Surbiton after she saw a vision of Mary in a tree. She then started channelling messages from the tree/Mary, such as demand that aborted foetuses be baptised as martyrs. However, the RC Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

was “not convinced” by the “substantial” content of the messages allegedly communicated to Mrs de Menezes.

Blimey, these messages sounded completely legit to me. I mean it’s not as if we don’t know exactly what Mary is supposed to look like, given the wide use of digital photography in the world ca 0 AD. So it would be easy for a holy designer of jewellery to recognise her instantly.

It would naturally be completely unlike the standard Rorschach-style thing every non-holy person does when they look at trees or clouds or bread. (See comment by no more hornets on GI food post here)

All the same the BBC was definitely cheating in the choice of picture on this story. It shows a picture of a Madonna and child icon, with gold leaf and attendant angels or butterflies or somethng. This picture carries the title “The tree is known locally as Our Lady of Surbiton.” Well, no. While I suspect that the tree may be called that beautifully bathetic name, I think you can be pretty confident the tree “image” looks nothing like the picture. You would definitely have to kiss your lifelong atheism goodbye if it turned out that anything looking remotely like a full colour painted medieval icon had magically appeared on a tree.

Anyway, shame on you, RC hierarchy. Once you start setting a lower bar for things to be too ludicrous to accept, who knows where it will end?

This atheist blog will boldly go where your sceptical RC selves fear to tread. Straight to the website of the Divine Innocence of course. You may think the images of El Morya look comically sickly-sweet. I defy anyone to look on this “baby Jesus with lamb” image without retching. You will be begging for the mildly sinister saving grace of the El-Morya Bin Laden visual undertones just for a bit of artistic complexity.

I couldn’t actually read the text right now. There is only so much you can face after a day’s work. So I am reduced to suggesting that if this picture epitomises the artistic flair of the designer, I ‘ll definitely know where not to go if I ever get struck with an uncharacteristic desire for jewellery.

GI food nonsense

Sorry. Move to another post if you expect this to be about absurdities that the US military feeds its troops.

The BBC reports that that “High GI foods are associated with liver disease

Boston-based researchers, writing in the journal Obesity, found mice fed starchy foods developed the disease

With an appropriately slim – nay starved – knowledge of food science, I assume that “starchy” means that carbohydrate-based foods are responsible. But a table on the BBC page shows this list of BAD “starchy” and GOOD, presumably “non-starchy” foods:

High GI foods:
Mashed potato
White bread
Some breakfast cereals (eg Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Coco Pops)
Steamed white rice
Moderate GI foods:
Muesli (non-toasted)
Boiled potatoes
Pitta bread
Basmati rice
Wholemeal bread
Low GI foods:
Roasted salted peanuts
Rye and granary bread
Whole and skimmed milk
Boiled carrots
Baked beans

These foods are nearly all carbs, apart from milk, peanuts and (possibly) beans. So what distinguishes the groupings and how could you tell where other carbs would fit into the groups? After all, if this is all true, and you want to avoid liver disease, especially for your kids, (it posits fatty liver disease as a serious future danger for today’s kids) you need to know the difference.

But “mashed” and “boiled” potatoes are in separate groups? Has the BBC never cooked food? It has enough food programmes and celeb chefs on its staff. Well let me explain.

Mashed potatoes are boiled potatoes. Mashed up. A bit like the effect of chewing up boiled potatoes. I think you could reasonably assume that a chewed portion of mashed potatoes and a chewed portion of boiled potatoes hit your stomach in the exact same condition. Chips (“French fries” to non-Brits) are slightly different, given the addition of fat, but the carb part of a chip is still pretty much what you’d get if you boiled a potato.

Steamed white rice is different from Basmati white rice? Why? Because it’s less tasty? Because it’s cheaper? Does the steaming make a difference?

Wheat breads and spaghetti are made from the same natural product. Unsurprisingly, that’s wheat. Which is mainly starch, whether or not you take the bran out. It’s certainly just the same starch if you shape it into a standard loaf or pitta shape. It even remains wheat if you throw in a few bits of grit from other grains (granary) or add a bit of semolina (spaghetti).

I can accept that the body may respond to wholemeal flour differently than to refined flour. Wholemal flour has more nutrients and roughage. However, it’s not a completely different substance. It may indeed be the case that semolina and bran and wheatgerm or chunks of other grains change the way that the body absorbs starch, possibly by slowing the rate of absorption. Or maybe by making you eat fewer carbs because you feel full with less carbs in your stomach.

So far, this would suggest that avoiding liver disease means eating fewer carbs and/or eating carb foods closer to their natural condition. These suggestions may or may not be true, but they are at least reasonable and don’t depend on a spurious carb classification.

The GI index is an odd way to categorise foods, which seems to be gaining ever more authority. I looked at these groups and could think of several alternative ways to categorise them. E.g.

Social/cultural: Group one is the carbohydrate food of the urban western poor. Group two contains the diet fillers more likely to be eaten by the better-off. (Just ignore the boiled potatoes nonsense.) Hmm, let me think. Does social class have anything to do with health?

Colour: Group one is mainly white or false-coloured (coco pops). Group 2 is generally a bit darker. Group 3 has some brightly coloured foods, if you ignore milk.

Number of vowels in their names: Gave up there, sorry. I was too idle to count them all. Feel free to take up the slack.

In any case, there’s another question hanging around. Group 2 contains muesli (non-toasted) Would toasting muesli push it up or down the food group chain?

Contamination Street

Landfill appears to be the UK equivalent of a US old Indian burial ground (ref to Poltergeist & the Simpsons), when it comes to choosing a spot for a housing estate.

The BBC reported that two children, living in adjoining houses built on an indian burial ground/landfill site had died in 2005 of form of leukemia so rare that it only affects three babies a year in the UK.

Extensive investigation by the Health Protection Agency found no identifiable toxins to blame. I can see that “chance” can’t be ruled out, with a disease so rare.

Rupert Adams, head of environmental health and housing services with Vale Royal Borough Council, said: “I hope that the residents will now feel reassured their homes and gardens are safe.”

Hmm. I can’t imagine many people choosing to live there. Especially not parents of small children.

Their parents, who live back-to-back, claim the illness was caused by benzene, a toxin which has been found to be present on land in the area.
The estate was built on a former landfill site and the HPA said it was possible that is where the chemicals originated.
Cancer charity Cancerbackup said the causes of acute megakaryoblastic leukaemia are mostly unknown but high level exposure to radiation may increase risk, as can some toxic chemicals.

Ministry of Peace

Sorry if you were lulled into a false sense of living in Wallace and Grommit world. Welcome back to Oceania .

Under the title “Big Brother is watching us all” a BBC correspondent, Humphrey Hawkesley, decribes the next generation of surveillance being developed in Maryland University. “Gait DNA” is what they call the unique pattern of personal movements that will allow computers to track people walking through a crowd.

DARPA seemed to be developing a Babelfish style programme. Plus:

“And this idea about a total surveillance society,” I asked. “Is that science fiction?”
“No, that’s not science fiction. We’re developing an unmanned airplane – a UAV – which may be able to stay up five years with cameras on it, constantly being cued to look here and there. This is done today to a limited amount in Baghdad. But it’s the way to go.

“Wow, it’s so safe, there, in Baghdad. It’s obviously working well then. Can we have it here please?”

Unlikely as those sentences may seem to be to issue from the lips of a sentient being, it looks as if the developers of these boon technologies think that we want them.

Interestingly, we, the public, don’t seem to mind. Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance. Some American cities like New York and Chicago are thinking of taking a lead from Britain where our movements are monitored round the clock by four million CCTV cameras.

Or how about these see through walls things they are developing? The Hawaian National Guard will be testing radio monitors that can read your heart rate through walls next year, in Iraq.

“… it will also show whether someone inside a house is looking to harm you, because if they are, their heart rate will be raised. And 10 years from now, the technology will be much smarter. We’ll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they’re actually thinking.”
He glanced at me quizzically, noticing my apprehension.
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “It sounds very Star Trekkish, but that’s what’s ahead.”

(The idea that a raised heart rate implies a will to murder would probably cause some surprise in a Baghdad gym, if any remain. That would certainly be one way to create a nation of inert people. Imagine taking your chances of going on a crosstrainer if there may be a surveillance bot in the street that notes your heart rate is outside the calm range)

Of course, the meaning of (the BBC man’s ) “apprehension” is “fear”, not “incredulity”. There is little doubt that these things are possible. Whether they are desirable is another matter.

Can it really be possible that most people want more of it?

I value peace and security as much as anyone. I would feel my long-term security was very much improved by a greater willingness to discuss issues and solve them.

I don’t feel my physical safety is improved by blanket surveillance. Anyone serious about circumventing this shit does so. The rest of us just seem to accept it passively.

It’s not inevitable. These are political and social choices. Are we really so pathetic that in the so-called liberal democracies we have absolutely NO control over what our societies are becoming?

[tags]Science, Technology, Society, Culture, Fear, 1984, Oceania, Paranoia, Surveillance, Democracy, Rant, Security, Government, Star Trek, UAV, BBC, Bablefish[/tags]