The Wire on the BBC

How impressed am I? BBC2 is showing the Wire on Monday at 23:20.

Enough said.

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.

Self Defence or Self Delusion? (long)

Today’s Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 was almost made to infuriate me. It was almost as if the researchers read my mind and found some topics that would be guaranteed to get on my wick, and better still would be certain to get the amazing collection of people who ring in, to ring in and add to the nonsense being debated. Well, it worked like a treat. It really did. If it wasn’t frowned upon to use work telephones to phone radio shows and call every one idiots, I would have done so today. Really. And I do hate myself for it, because it means I am another one of the brain addled fools who rings in to rant.

Anyway, admissions over with, on to the rant. Today’s “show” began with a call in about the expulsion of four Russian diplomats following the Russian refusal to extradite the man suspected of killing Litvinenko (news). This was reasonably tepid – at the end of the day it is the sort of thing which is done in international politics. It strikes me as reasonable for the UK government to demand his extradition. It is almost reasonable for Russia to resist, and if the UK had a punishment regime which was worse than in Russia (death sentence etc), then I would certainly back their refusal. As it stands, we don’t.

I was only half listening to this, the callers were generally only calling so they could go on air and criticise the UK government over something, logical consistency was nicely ignored. A few messages read out were along the lines of people accusing the UK of “punching above its weight” etc and saying we should just keep quiet and not hassle the Russians over this. Odd standards, but there you go. It didn’t rile me that much.

Next came the best bit. The middle debate was about some “research” which apparently shows 1 in 3 British people sleep with a weapon by their bed. Mostly these are things like baseball bats and hammers. Now, as I don’t know anyone who does this there is implication that entire cities are full of people who go to bed armed to the teeth.

The basic premise was debated initially by the guy who is an ex-burglar and now a BBC1 TV “personality” showing people how to prevent break-ins (cant remember his name), and “Daily Mail Columnist” Peter Hitchens. Instantly you can see this is going to make the blood boil. The Mail describe him as having an “uncompromising blog” when in reality he spouts out pure nonsense. Often it is ill informed nonsense, sometimes it is offensive nonsense, but it is always nonsense.

Anyway, the ex-Burglar chappie made some reasonable comments along the lines of hiding a weapon by your bed will not deter thieves and if you batter the burglar you are likely to face prosecution. He went on to suggest better ways of preventing burglary. FoolHitchens replied to this by saying it was a policy of fear and assumed burglary was always going to happen. He then went on to spout out some fanciful claims about how it was “better 30 – 40 years ago” and that it was all societies fault that people were too frightened to sleep without a hammer next to their bed.

Showing either his mastery of irony, or more likely his lack of any idea of logical conclusion, Hitchens continued to create an argument from despair about declining moral standards and how the law was at fault. Etc. It was pure sound bite designed to cater to his selection of Mail readers, he even went as far as to lament how it is always the middle class (of which he seems proud to include himself 1) who have to suffer, how they are the only law abiding people and so on. If you can get the listen again bit to play (I cant tonight for some reason) it kicks in at about 35 – 45 min point and you can hear him head down the road of quoting imaginary statistics. He really is an annoying *****.

Despite his claims to know about criminology, it seems on this subject as so many others, Hitchen is a poor student. For a start, despite his ideas that there was a golden age x years ago (it changes depending on what he is writing for etc), this really is not the case. Burglary is a poor one for him to try and pin on the social decline because it is one of the few crimes which is easy to track over the years. Looking at both the British Crime Survey and the reports from the ACPO, burglary is on the decline and has been since 1999. Going back more than two decades and it was much higher during the halcyon years he lusts after – in the late seventies and eighties it was significantly greater than today.

Add to this the reality that most people subjected to burglary are poor people who live in poor neighbourhoods and you can see he has built an argument on foundations of quicksand. The incidents of burglars (normally poor people themselves) travelling to “middle class” neighbourhoods to do a spot of pilfering is low to say the least. Despite the Daily Mail’s scare stories, “middle class” areas have a greater police presence, higher incidence of home alarms etc. All of these go towards protecting the property. If you doubt this, try to find some insurance quotes. Try for a poor, run down, inner city area and compare that with the same – or larger – property in a “nice” postcode area. As someone who has lived in both areas, I can tell you the difference is staggering.

Fundamentally, this talk show and especially Hitchens pure nonsense, speaks more of a segment of society which has (for whatever reason) allowed itself to become frightened of ghosts. This middle class who read the mail and listen to idiotHitchens are being tricked into thinking there is much more of a risk than there actually is. Note: I am not downplaying the risk or saying burglary is not a terrible thing to be subjected to. It strikes me this current furore over the subject is a result of Kerry Katona getting held up at knife point in her own home (news). Now her circumstances were terrible. You wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy but they certainly are not indicative of the experiences of “normal” people. Three men sledgehammered their way into her house and held a knife to her neck. They did this because she was very rich (not middle class). It is not a typical event. It is so atypical it made the news headlines.

As this was a “phone in” show, you can imagine the comedy value from the callers. Worryingly, every one I heard said they did, indeed, sleep with a weapon next to their bed. Now, this may be an artefact caused by the researchers selection process but it is still disturbing.

The callers were all saying how they kept baseball bats, hammers (even one had a crossbow, a pilum and a sword to hand …) in case their home was invaded and they needed to fight to defend their property. Blimey. A nation of ninjas. In the past I have ranted about firearms and it may be easy to guess that I am not a big fan of people taking this route towards home defence. There are many issues, but the main one I have problem with, is it is ludicrous to say the least.

Among the callers were a few women and what sounded like an older than middle aged man. Now, without going into too much detail I am fairly confident I have at least an average understanding of what is involved in a claws out fight with weapons to hand(2). I am also 100% confident that if some one attacked me with a hammer, without knowing the best way to wield this particular weapon, I could take it off them and inflict major damage on them. This is the basic thing for people who try to defend themselves like this to realise. As soon as they confront the burglar with the weapon the stakes are raised. Lots of callers were saying that they challenged a burglar with a butter knife (or whatever) and he ran off. What would happen if he hadn’t run off though?

Sticking with the hammer as an example (although the same applies to most “household” weapons), most people attacking a burglar will do the adrenalin inspired thing and swing it at the burglars head. Great if he isn’t looking and doesn’t know you are there – you may hit him. If he is aware of your presence, it really is unlikely you will get a solid blow anywhere it counts. Now, the important bit is if you miss. This can be trouble. Most swinging weapons tend to encourage people to swing them full force – this is especially the case if “frail” people are using them as they seem to want to get their bodyweight behind it. When the weapon fails to connect, the person swinging will often be forced to carry on with the swing until they can either bring it under control, or it hits something (often the floor or wall). While this is going on, most people are largely unable to do anything – other than get beaten or killed by the intruder who now (rightly) fears for his or her own life.

Baseball bats, for example, are often more effective used as a poking weapon rather than swinging, but I doubt any of the people who called in, proud they have one, would use it like this if an intruder was in their house. If that first swing fails to totally disable the attacker, it is unlikely the home-defender will come away from the situation in a “nice way.”

More worryingly, there was the idea that this (weapons by the bed) was a good idea for the elderly and women alone with small children. Blimey. The worst categories. Sadly, illusions aside, most of the middle class homeowners are unlikely to be well versed in the raw aggression and violence a fight like this can produce. If the burglar is the stereotypical 40 – 50 year old “career burglar” then fine, they may well run off. If the intruder is young, a hardened criminal (fighting in prison is a good way to learn close in skills) or a desperate drug addict, the chances are the office-working home owner will be given a sadly firm lesson in self defence.

There really is only one sensible course of action if you are in your house when a burglar breaks in. Lock yourself in a room and call the police. If you try to challenge the intruder you are risking everything. If there is more than one of them, or they don’t flee immediately things are going to get a LOT worse for you. Remember you can replace property. Your nose, bones or even your life are more important.

A weapon by the bed does not make you any safer than a lock on your bedroom door. The weapon, no matter how much it may “reassure” you is actually more likely to ensure you are hurt rather than robbed. It will not act as a deterrent to the thief, as he has to be in your house before he knows it is there.

One last point – if a burglar breaks in while you are home, it is less likely that he is the “career burglar” mentioned above, so really think twice before trying to be the hero. Despite this, the chances of being burgled are low, and the chances of it happening while you are at home is even lower. If you really are that worried, check your insurance policy – it is the best defence to losing things you have.

Sadly, I have spent so long ranting about this nonsense I no longer have the energy to pick up on the last piece of the show which was about Imaginary Friends. What a gift that would have been 🙂 .

[tags]Crime, Society, Peter Hitchens, Philosophy, Self Defence, Middle Class, Burglary, Nonsense, Madness, Woo, Culture, Fear, Imaginary Friend, Belief, Ideas, Media, Daily Mail, BBC, BBC2, Radio, Knives, Weapons[/tags]

1 – It should be noted that the wiki page for his brother has this to say:

Hitchens was educated at The Leys School, Cambridge (his mother arguing that ‘If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it.’) [13], and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. During his years as a student at Oxford, he was tutored by Steven Lukes.

Unless the family were particularly spoiling Christopher rather than Peter, I can only assume both went to Oxford. Not the normal “Middle Class” behaviour.

2 – For my sins, I have spent a period of my life teaching people how to fight like this and also teaching people how to secure their property.