Campaign for Plainer Newspeak

Anyone who sits through meetings ticking off phrases like “leveraging” and “best practice” on a secret bingo card recognises how vile office language can be. All the same, the Local Government Association’s list of words that should be banned on Plain English grounds is a bit crazy.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: “The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases.”

I think there’s a minor Fail, right there. “The public sector” is not exactly Not-Jargon, is it? The BBC even had to help her out a bit by saying “national and local government” in the next sentence, so readers who are unfamiliar with official jargon would know what she meant. And, surely, many people wouldn’t understand the word “impenetrable”

I’m all for the principle of officials explaining what they mean. The actual list of banned words has some stinkers but there are many phrases there that would be hard to replace.

Banning some of these words would make entire branches of knowledge invisible. I have to assume that “downstream”, “lever”, “fulcrum”, “toolkit,” “seedbed”, “mechanism” are banned for metaphorical use only. Otherwise car maintenance, physics, geography and gardening are all in trouble.

Some of the other words seem to have no reasonable alternatives. They would have to be replaced by a couple of explanatory sentences, which surely wouldn’t help to make them clearer:
Ambassador. Welcome. Area based. Capacity. Customer. Client. Agencies. Flex. Vision.

I defy anyone to describe an ambassador without using the forbidden A word itself or some much more complicated and incomprehensible formulation that refers to vice-counsels and international relations. Without referring to “protocol”, because that’s on the list.

Welcome – argh. Depends on the context. I can’t really think of any way to say “Welcome to X Council” that isn’t either longer or less welcoming. If you have to greet an ambassador then you really are in Plain English trouble,.

Area based: Erm, erm…. Set in a place. (Am tying myself in mental knots to avoid saying geographical. “Set” is a rubbishy choice anyway, though, but I can’t say focussed. I think it’s on the list.)

Customer – erm, “person who buys things or gets some sort of service”. (Can’t cheat and say “client”. That’s on the list.)

Outcomes was so bad they named it twice. I’ll assume that was a typo, because it doesn’t seem like a major offender. “Results” is only one letter shorter and I’m sure that most people could guess that they mean roughly the same thing from the context.

And what about “sustainable” and “freedoms”? It usually takes 3,000 word undergraduate essays to start to explain these concepts. Are council workers going to have to precis them.

Making the baby jesus cry, again

What is it with the new “christians” that they have to keep presenting themselves as a persecuted minority? This week’s poor “christians” story supposedly involved a five year-old being told that she couldn’t talk about god in school. (There’s a good summary in the Times.)

The Daily Telgraph headed their version of this tale:

Primary school receptionist ‘facing sack’ after daughter talks about Jesus to classmate
A primary school receptionist, Jennie Cain, whose five-year-old daughter was told off for talking about Jesus in class is now facing the sack for seeking support from her church.

Well, it seems not. The BBC reported that

But the head teacher said Jasmine had told her friend she would ‘go to hell’ if she did not believe in God.

Which isn’t quite the same thing. The teacher- as you might expect – told the child that maybe it wasn’t really a good thing to threaten your classmates with hellfire…..

The mother claimed that her daughter was “upset” and interpreted this as meaning her daughter had been told she couldn’t speak about Jesus again.

It has clearly not occurred to this woman that the other five-year-old might have been rather “upset” on being told by a classmate that she’d go to hell. But, then, her own unfortunate daughter has obviously been exposed to this poisonous nonsense for so long that it’s obviously never occurred to the mother that it might be in any way cruel….

She sent an email, from her home internet account, to members of her church asking them to pray about the situation.

One person in the congregation forwarded it to the head teacher. Now, maybe I’m too hard-nosed, but I’d think that spreading malicious gossip about your employer is not normally considered acceptable. (Granted, making malicious prayer calls is a whole new category of industrial conduct that might not fall under standard employment law.) . So you might think that she could indeed be facing the sack, but it turns out that she isn’t.

The head confirmed that Mrs Cain was being investigated for making “unfair allegations” about the school, but denied she was facing the sack. That’s not enough to satisfy the latest “christian” defence group.

Mike Judge, from the Christian Institute, which is supporting Mrs Cain, said: “A six-year-old girl and her mother have been slammed for nothing more than expressing their Christian faith.
“I am particularly concerned about the way in which Mrs Cain’s private email to her church friends ended up in the hands of the head teacher.
“This is the latest in a series of cases where Christians are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

D’uh? an issue that vaguely involves religion in passing takes place (A five year-old is asked not to scare the shit out of her schoolmates. Her mother blows it up into a church issue.) Yet another spurious “christian” defence organisation gets involved. The Daily Mail and the Telegraph get in on the act…

Is there some sort of template somewhere?

There must also be some sort of template for the graphics. I’m not going to say “Hang your heads in shame, Renaissance masters” because the inspiration photos tend to be more Victorian sentimental saint pictures than Renaissance masterpieces, but there is still a clear line of ancestry. The Telegraph shows this woman looking heavenwards with an expression that signals “suffering terribly but still full of faith” ROTFL.

Who are this Christian Institute anyway? (These fundy organisations seem to be popping up in all directions. Who could keep track?) Their website has the standard stories from a set outrage list that these “christians” are working their way through: the nurse who prayed which was last week’s “christian nonsense, “christian” registrar fired for refusing to do her job, boy scouts being allowed to make an islamic pledge, etc.

The website doesn’t try to milk this story for every drop of outraged “christian” emotionalism at all (;-D):

A five-year-old girl from Devon was left in tears after her teacher reprimanded her for talking about Jesus in class – and her mummy could be facing the sack.

They are still rank amateurs compared to Daily Mail when it comes to emotive language, though. Daily Mail gives this story an even more thoroughgoing emotional makeover:

The child

“was ticked off by a teacher for discussing heaven and hell with a friend, and came home in a flood of tears.”

The sobs intensify as the piece progresses.

After comforting the distraught little girl, her mother sent a private email to ten close Christian friends asking them to offer prayers for the families and the school.

…The case has sparked fresh outrage among the Christian community, which fears its members are becoming the most discriminated against people in society.

And so on, ad nauseam. I’ll spare you more quotes except this one:

Today former minister Ann Widdecombe said: ‘There is now daily evidence of Christianophobia in this country and it is high time that it was tackled.

Jeremy Whines

Radio presenter Jeremy Vine was given space by the Daily Mail to complain about how unfair the UK is to Christians. The headline says:

Why I won’t discuss my Christianity on air, by Radio 2 and Panorama host Jeremy Vine

Let me stop you, right there Jeremy. You host a lunch-time radio show. Your job probably involves introducing records and refereeing phone-in “debates” about nonsense. If you started discussing your religion in that context, people would be as interested as they would be if the local newsagent explained why she followed the Nicene creed. They would switch off. This applies even more to Panorama, which is supposed to be a serious current affairs programme.

Show a bit of humility, Jeremy. A presenter is the linkman or linkwoman. The clue’s in the name. You are supposed to link items. People don’t watch Panorama to find out what religious beliefs the presenter holds. Just as they don’t care what you had for breakfast or how many stairs you have in your hallway.

He admitted that he avoided discussing the subject on air, saying it is now ‘almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God’. (from the Mail)

I would like to think that were true. But I suspect it’s only “socially unacceptable” in the way that traditional etiquette regards talking about religion or politics as unacceptable in polite society. Only true for that specific interpretation of “socially.” And discussing religion or politics is considered bad manners (not that that ever stopped me, but my manners are shite) because people start insulting each other and getting angry and “polite” society stops being “polite.”

If you are presenting a Panorama programme on the economy, it would be more than bad manners to say “… and by the way, I’m a Christian…” It would be like saying “Stop talking about boring things. Talk about ME.” Boosting your own sense of self-importance isn’t supposed to be in the job description.

His remarks follow a claim last month by Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor that Britain has become an ‘unfriendly’ place to the religious. (from the Mail)

Yeah, right. See the chart (Ok, it’s a US chart, admittedly. We are a bit more heathen in the UK and the kinds of non-christians are a bit different, but it’s just a graphic…)

A religion pie chart...

Religion...

“Has become”?… I don’t know whether Britain is any less religion-friendly than it’s ever been. I am pretty confident that shoving your religion in people’s faces, unsolicited, has never brought a friendly response.

The Jeremy Vine piece brought out the reliable harvest of Mail comment-nutters, many of whom seem to be suffering from fatwah-envy. This is one that could have come straight from the twat-o-tron without human intervention.

Mr. Vine’s situation is caused by PC run amok.
The world has a ‘Religion’ that is secular now.
It’s all about: group rights; gray-area standards; adjustable truths; climate change and radical ‘greeness’; and marginalising real faith as anachronistic and childish. (except for Islam ,of course. ) …

*snigger* (If I was playing Bigot-speak Bingo, I think this would give me a full house.)

That’s by someone from Texas, who would never get to suffer the effects if every UK daytime easy-listening radio-show-presenter started using his or her airtime to present his or her philosophy of life.

But 34 other people, who you assume haven’t thought through the consequences, have clicked to vote for this comment. (What am I saying? These are people who, almost by definition, can’t think through the consequences.)

Pretty consistently, the comments that are like that one get lots of pro-votes. The ones with the big-minus votes are the ones like this (minus 17):

I think Jeremy Vine is alone in feeling like this as most of the time it seems like every man and his dog insist on spouting out about their faith. Indeed several BBC radio shows have features dedicated to this.
Religion is reclaiming public ground, not only have the number of faith schools increased in the last few years but creationism is now going to be taught in science lessons!
It is interesting that some people of faith are now finding it uncomfortable to speak about their faith as this is how people of no faith have felt for decades…

Yes, there are well more than enough tv and radio shows that deal with religion. On purpose. People who want to hear about religion can choose to watch or listen to these. How hard is that to accept, Jeremy?

Let me explain. People who watch Top Gear want to watch a show about cars. If Jeremy Clarkson started discussing how to make feather-light shortcrust pastry, the viewers would get pissed off. Even if they really like cooking, they don’t expect cooking in a car show. They would use the remote control or the channel dial or the off switch.

(Ok, even if my radio had a broken off-switch, I wouldn’t listen to the Jeremy Vine show, but I think the point still stands.)

W00t. It seems that you can vote on Daily Mail comments without logging in. I will give it a try. I boost all the big red minus ones. This short and sweet one is still the lowest (at 34 minuses) even after my non-divine intervention :

Good, don’t discuss it as we don’t want to hear it. We hear enough rubbish from your religious leaders.

*smirk*

Wow, I just came up with a new hobby. Anyone can join in. Voting down all the bigotry-central Daily Mail comments and voting up the saner ones. If there were enough people willing to waste ten minutes a day, the Mail might even suspect it had misjudged the zeitgeist and rein in the tone of its more extreme pieces.

Melanie Philips hate-speech

Flattering to the UK population as it might be to see the UK described as “gentle civilised Britain”, I suspect the evidence doesn’t exactly stack up. (You could ask the populations of Majorca or Falaraki or Ibiza if they recognise this as description of a British tourist, for a start.)

This was in the headline of a piece by Melanie Phillips in the Mail Even by the reliably rabid standards of Melanie Phillips, this must represent a new departure. The heading is:

Violent Gaza protests reveal how gentle civilised Britain has changed into something very ugly indeed

I have to assume that Melanie Phillips doesn’t have a history GCSE, so she may never have heard of the many centuries of political violence that constitute British history. I also assume that she is 12 years old so never heard of the political violence of the 1980s. Kudos to the Mail for not being ageist and recruiting children as its columnists.

Hmm, wikipedia confuses me. It turns out she was born in 1951. She studied English at Oxford. (I guess it must have been difficult to get in without History O level…) I have to let her wikipedia give aflavour of her.

The BBC has said that Phillips “is regarded as one of the [U.K.] media’s leading right-wing voices”, although she defines herself as a progressive and a defender of liberal democracy. She began her career on the liberal left with the Guardian newspaper, and her gradual drift to the right of the political spectrum has been mirrored by her journalistic career: she now writes for the right-wing Daily Mail. She has used her Daily Mail columns and her blog to criticise, amongst other issues, progressive teaching methods, scientism, militant Islam, and what she sees as anti-semitism as a means of defending Israeli policy; to oppose equal partnership rights for homosexuals; and to support strict anti-drug policies. She has described President-elect Obama of the USA a “revolutionary Marxist.”

Also, in case you couldn’t have guessed-

Phillips argues that evolution is “merely a theory

Bear in mind that this is a woman who sees Obama as a “revolutionary Marxist” At least this gives some consistency to her characterisation of the UK as in thrall to fundamentalist Islam, backed by a fifth column of revolutionary lefties. A conspiracy into which she pulls the Liberal Democrat’s leader (ffs).

For silence is complicity, as once gentle, decent, civilised Britain changes before our horrified eyes into something very ugly indeed.

The Mail has talked up the demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza to the point that it claimed that 100,000 people attended and that police were knocked unconscious.

Violent clashes occurred between police and around 20,000 protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in London (from the Daily Mail)

In notable numeric contrast, he BBC news site (NB the BBC is itself a minor Daily Mail hate target) says:

The Metropolitan Police says 20,000 people marched but the BBC estimates the figure could be as high as 50,000……
It is estimated there were several hundred police officers dealing with around 200 protesters outside the embassy…
BBC correspondent Robert Hall said given the number of people involved, the protest had been peaceful.
“But as darkness fell a small number of people, several hundred, have begun confronting police and missiles have been thrown,” he said.
“Although these are ugly and unwelcome scenes, they do not represent what has happened for most of the afternoon.”

Note that the BBC’s estimate of fighting protesters is one-hundredth of the Mail’s. Yes that’s one hundredth. How impressive is that for a margin of error. (Hmm, which estimate comes from an internationally respected organisation and which from a right-wing rag?)
The Daily Mail’s implication is that political violence is on a huge scale and is some alien (probably Islamic) import. It must not even have access to its own back catalogue – or else it mistrusts its own words as alarmist propaganda πŸ™‚ – which would pull out hundreds of examples of demonstrations in which an irate minority kicked off.

But no chance. If there’s ever an opportunity to make middle England even more bigoted and scared, you can always rely on the Mail to take it.

Cameron is a consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant

There must be a word for people who turn other people’s tragedies to their own benefit. That is, a word that wouldn’t set publicity-hungry Daily Mail readers into a full-blown “Fury”, if it appeared in an Nintendo version of Scrabble. I stole the phrase above from a TV comedian. (Sorry, I forget who it was. I’ll credit him or her if I remember.) It has the advantage that you can fit quite a few cusswords into the template and still be sure that you’ve made an accurate judgment.

In this case, Cameron is speaking to the Daily Mail readers. (consonant, vowel, consonant, consonants to the power of 1 million or so) The topical prop for his speech is the case of Shannon Matthews. Shannon became Maddie-level famous when she was “abducted.” Her mother made tearful TV pleas for her return, sobbing to camera, while clutching a cuddly toy. Oh, and tried to get the sort of millionaires who stumped up for the Madeleine McCann appeal to give her loads of money. Her use of the people around her and the media was as masterly as you’d expect from a Jeremy Kyle devotee. (Sobs, props, appeals to class and community loyalty, going straight for the emotional jugular every time.)

Only it turned out that the mother had planned the whole scheme. The child was being hidden, drugged, in the mother’s boyfriend’s flat a few streets away from her home. Mother and boyfriend were arrested. The child was reportedly much happier being looked after by the kidnapper than her mother or current father-substitute.

Hell seems to have no fury like a tabloid tricked. Shannon’s mother has now become the archetypal underclass hate figure. And if the right-wing tabloids and their ideological chums in the Conservative Party (and New Labour, sadly) have been made to look like gullible consonant, vowel, consonant, consonants by one poor person, the poor are surely going to have to pay.

Hence Cameron’s bizarre column in the Daily Mail
DAVID CAMERON: There are 5 million people on benefits in Britain. How do we stop them turning into Karen Matthews?

As if that is an ever-present danger…. One in 5 million. That seems like a very very low ratio of “Karen Matthews” to “people on benefits.” Unless she has some strange epidemic condition and isn’t so much going to jail as getting put into quarantine.

As far as I can see that makes 4,999,999 people on benefits who haven’t kidnapped anyone. Who somehow manage to survive almost on air alone and still don’t feel the need to drug their own children to keep them quiet in their kidnap-den.

Why stop at people in benefits? Karen Matthews was female. How do we stop x million women turning into Karen Matthews. Well, they’d have to have children. How do you stop a lower-value-of-x people turning into Karen Matthews? Or Northerners? Or people whose first names start with K?

It turns out that Cameron has strung together a few isolated and horrible incidents involving children, (spread over a couple of years) to say that Britain is b0rked. And the solution is – guess what – not expanding the life opportunities or providing better support for kids on the edge- but

And, yes, we do need tougher punishment, longer sentences and more prison places. But it’s not enough just to treat the symptoms of social breakdown – we need to treat its causes.
The Conservative plan starts with supporting families. ….. ”

By cutting benefits, if you read past the rest of the waffle.

If that’s being supportive, I’d hate to see what constitutes undermining.

The Guardian/Observer website has a report on the Tory benefits plans.

Tories to probe long-term jobless
Out-of-work families face close scrutiny of their children and home life under new opposition proposals

Blimey, it’s almost worth celebrating the massive recession we are apparently entering, if only because lots of Mail-reading people might suddenly find themselves forced to experience what it is really like to survive on benefits. To become “scroungers”, even πŸ™‚

Redirected Mail

Here’s another good reason for not reading the Daily Mail (if one were ever needed.) According to the Register:

Malware authors play Mario on Daily Mail website
Cue the outrage
An advertising network used by the Daily Mail website is being used to serve up malware. (By John Leyden in the Register )

Basically, one of its ad networks serves up redirection scripts, using Mario worm code.

Code injected into an advertising stream is been used to serve up content for a malware-harbouring website located in Russia (which we won’t name in case people are tempted to visit it). This site uses vulnerabilities in browser software to download malicious code onto unpatched Windows PCs, a classic drive-by-download attack.

I would be really laughing at this, were it not for the fact that this intrepid blog often looks at the online Mail, partly for amusement and partly to see what “information” so many people are getting fed. So the mocking laughter (a Nelsonesque “Ha Haa”) has got to be tempered by a self-recriminating “D’oh.” Then again, almost nothing would ever induce me to click on one of its ads, so I reckon it’s OK.

In any case, it’s quite hard to imagine a digital virus that could be anything like as devastating as the impact on British brain function that could be caused by reading the print version.

A survey says

There’s a news item – which seems to appear everywhere from the UK’s Daily Mail and the Telegraph to the Indian Andrha News – which suggests that 54% of British people believe in God, compared to 58% who believe in UFOs*, ghosts and mediums.

Internal Pedant wanted to change that last plural to “media” but that would have been both confusing and blatantly absurd. Surely, even UFOnauts and fundies aren’t stupid enough to place much faith in “the media”.

If only this were true……. Abduction survivors have a mild comedy value. People who consult psychics victimise only themselves. None of them are likely to start pogroms or crusades or jihads or even complain when people are insulting to their beliefs. So what does it matter?

Trying to draw a quick mental Venn diagram of the intersection of sets, I realise that the overlap between believing groups could be almost total. Between 4% and 54% of the respondents must believe in both God and UFOs.

These intersecting set people must have to spend so much of their time and mental energy in believing stuff that they might as well be channelling Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, who managed to cram in believing six impossible things before breakfast

But, all these news stories say something like “according to a survey”. However, I can’t find one report with any references to who carried out this survey, what the questions were, how many people were interviewed or any of those dull facts that Ben Goldacre keeps reminding us to think about when we see survey reports in the media.

Plus,

“The findings, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, have been issued to mark the DVD release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe” (from the Daily Mail)

That’s why I can’t find any links to the actual survey. It’s a publicity stunt.

Silly me. That’s what you get for believing in the media…..

* Normally, this means believing that unidentified flying objects are all secret Grey visitors from the planet zarg who will beam up rednecks and probe their orifices. Still, I have to admit to my own inability to identify more than a handful of flying objects. I confused a jay with a pheasant only last week. I can recognise a Cessna and a Spitfire and a Hurricane (from childhood model-building experiments) but otherwise they are all just planes.