Tag Archives: News

Oh Emm Gee !1!

OMG! Have you heard? The president of AMERICA has an opinion…. ZOMG!!!!!!111

Seriously. It must be the slowest news day ever. Obviously the media has hit saturation point with war, famine, plague and pestilence so now we have a headline news bulletin which revolves around the President of the USA expressing an opinion about someone.

What the fuck has the world come to for this to be news? Even the BBC has shamed itself by covering it. To death.

In a nutshell, Kanye West was a jack ass and interrupted an award winners speech.  Yeah, big deal. I could just about see that being the news item but the reality is people act like self-centred idiots day in, day out. The fact that some one famous is self-centred is hardly news. Following this frankly uninteresting incident, President Obabma was holding a conversation about it off air, but some ABC staff recorded it and felt the need to post twitter messages about it. Following it becoming “news” ABC have apologised to CNBC and the POTUS and have removed the twitter posts. Obviously this has done nothing to reduce the global spread and the wonders of the interweb mean we can all listen to the President of the USA calling Kanye West a “jack ass.”

Is this really how low our society has sunk? Is the President’s personal opinion about someone’s behaviour genuinely newsworthy? What impact does this have on anyone’s life?

If pushed, I am sure you could easily find in excess of 50% of the worlds population who would call Kanye West a “jack ass” even prior to his MTV awards behaviour. Is that news worthy? If not, why not?

The only thing I can think of is that the worlds news agencies are so overwhelmed by the onslaught from Web 2.0 crap applications that anything which has even a passing reference to them becomes news based solely on its perceived ability to appeal to the yoof market. It is shameful, and certainly goes a long way to explaining why “old media” feels it is under threat from the new media…

Shame on every news outlet that carried this story. Even a cat up the tree would have been more newsworthy.

Cleopatra Was Egyptian – Shock News!

Wow, breaking news brought to us by the BBC reveals that Cleopatra was, wait for it, of african descent! It seems that the in-depth research of the 1963 blockbuster Cleopatra was wrong and the queen of Egypt was not actually a white caucasian but was native to Eqgypt. Amazing claims like this needs some fantastic research. Fortunately the headline news on the BBC rewards us:

Cleopatra, the last Egyptian Pharaoh, renowned for her beauty, was part African, says a BBC team which believes it has found her sister’s tomb.

Wow. Knock me down with a feather. It gets better:

But remains of the queen’s sister Princess Arsinoe, found in Ephesus, Turkey, indicate that her mother had an “African” skeleton.
Experts have described the results as “a real sensation.”

Amazing. An African skeleton… How could Liz Taylor have got it so wrong only 45 years ago. Do we need to re-cast and re-film an entire generation of epic movies? Next you will be telling me Jesus wasn’t a tall, blue eyed, blonde haired Caucasian.

Actually, I cant keep it up. This is mind numbingly insane.

First off: Who is actually surprised that Egypt is in Africa? Seriously, anyone? This is a news item that basically says “Egyptian Queen is part African.” Is it really that quiet a news day? (no). This is the Online BBC news that ignored seven hours of riots and petrol bombs in Lurgan, Northern Ireland (despite coverage being in the newspapers). This is the online BBC news that is regularly a day behind unfolding events. It is obviously wasting too much time writing copy for the department of the BLOODY OBVIOUS.

Secondly: No one is disputing Cleopatra’s lineage coming from Alexander’s generals and being predominantly Greek. However, the idea that this remained purely Greek (Macedonian?) after the first generation is simply batshit insane. Yes there was a huge amount of inbreeding, and most royal marriages were with Greek nobles, but over 250 years without allowing locals into the bloodline is unlikely. That would have been news worthy.

Thirdly: In my limited archaological knowledge, WTF does “african bones” mean? Is this 19th century casual racism where its thought that the darkies have a different genetic makeup to us “white people?”  What on Earth is there about the bones that make them “african” rather than Egyptian or Greek? Seriously, WTF!

There has been some reluctance of late for this blog to attack the blinding madness that the BBC is pushing out, mainly because it puts us in the same camp as the Daily Wail, but this is a step too far.

The BBC has seriously lost any sense of what is, or isnt, news. This is thinly veiled advertising for a BBC program of dubious merit. Shame on the BBC and I want them to refund what ever portion of my licence fee went towards this drivel.

BBC site sub-editors in animal house

These are all real headlines from today’s BBC website. (These are pretty horrific news items, which makes the headlines seem even more crass. And my mockery even more so, I guess.)

Ape academic shot dead in Ecuador
(In your face, creationists. This proves that apes are so close to us that they even have their own universities.)
Turkey plane crashes in Holland
(Flightless birds forced to develop aviation skills, to escape from Bernard Matthews clutches before next Christmas.)
Tiger attacks trigger expert plea
(In court today, a ballistics technician’s claim to be “Not guilty” was destroyed by a forceful wildcat prosecutor)
*******
Late amendment, the BBC heading now says “Turkish plane crash in Amsterdam ” thus making an apparent liar of me. But, I will choose to take the credit instead.

Do you trust Google?

Everyone is scared about malware and hacking on the web. There is nothing wrong with this and there really is a genuine threat out there. People need to make sure that their browsing is as safe as possible. For most people, unless you are running a high volume internet banking transaction server this can be simply done by getting a good anti virus (AVG Free is cost effective) and a firewall (windows own, Zone Alarm or one on your router).

Despite this a lot of online organisations feel the need to join in and help out. Most modern browsers have built in “phishing filters” and will try to alert you when you click on what it thinks is an untoward link. This is all well and good and there are only minimal privacy implications.

Equally, search engines are doing the same thing now. When you google a search term, you get links with any potentially harmful ones highlighted. Just in case you ignore google’s advice, they have a blocking page pretty much ensuring you cant click through to malware from google. Again, this may seem all well and good but there are even more issues. For a start, it is down to google to decide what is, or isn’t malware. They may be correct 99% of the time, but what about the other 1%? It becomes the responsibility of the website owner to discover they have been flagged as “malware” by google and then jump through google’s hoops to clear their name. This is wrong.

More importantly, who is responsible when there is a problem with google? A sensible hacker could target google’s servers and create the illusion that certain companies are full of malware. It would take a brave person to ignore the warnings and keep going through to a site that is so heavily flagged on the search page.

Do you think this is unrealistic? Here is the results of a search I did today on www.google.co.uk – imaginatively I searched for “Google”:

Google Search results in Google Chrome
Google Search results in Google Chrome

The whole internet is infected with malware. Every link is flagged with the dire warning it may harm your computer. I am not alone in discovering this… (PCPlus simply suggests using another search engine for the afternoon, Neowin is more informative) Google isn’t hacked (this time), its just broken. The effect is the same though. Any attempt to search meets with this warning and googles intervention means you cant ignore it and click on. Well done Google – you have borked searching… Amazing.

This is (IMHO of course) the problem with allowing web services to have more and more control over our daily lives. It is bad enough that the most popular search engine on the internet suffers a glitch like this, but imagine if you were using Google to host your remote office systems – an outage can be crippling. Cloud computing may be in vogue, but it is fundamentally a bad idea. You can not delagate your responsibilities to unaccountable groups – you are responsible for making sure no malware gets on your PC, so why does google feel the need to intervene?

Live by the sword…

For years now, politicians of all flavours have been busy manipulating public opinion and cherry picking how they present information – all with the aim of convincing the largely apathetic voting public to agree with their crackpot ideas. As you can imagine, however, this has its own share of problems.

As an example, today on the BBC Radio 1 news show (*), there was a terrible indictment of just how mixed up people are. Basically, the Prime Minster Gordon Brown is trying to gain some media-credits with his claims that he is “tackling knife crime.” Obviously the PM and current government are unpopular at the moment so here we see yet another example of how politicians no longer have a political view, but will do what ever they think they can to get support from the barely coherent, rabid, tabloid media.

The knife crime panic is a great example of this. All year, we have been subjected to scare stories in the media about how knife crime is on the increase; if you believe papers such as the Daily Mail there are more stabbings than there are people. I am not for one second trying to imply that knife crime isn’t devastating for the victims and their families – but we need some form of perspective. While there were pockets of increased incidents, the chances of Joe Blogs UK becoming a victim was pretty much the same as it always has been.

However, our media-hungry politicians (on all sides) read the building tabloid-frenzy and jumped in early. For months we had debates about how bad knife crime was, and what were the government going to do about it. This was stoked with the public being drip fed “news” each time a cute, innocent kid got stabbed. Each one was delivered in that wonderful way the tabloids have of making their readers think that the one incident they report is just the tip of the iceberg – in reality, when things are so commonplace, the media loses interest in them… Seeing a great chance, the government (and opposition) built upon the general irrationality of people – isolated incidents were blown out of proportion, personal anecdote was given much greater emphasis etc. So far, so typical. This is all politicians have done for over a decade.

Today, the PM tried to deliver his latest great accomplishment.

The PM announced that the new “crackdowns” implemented by Police in high-risk areas had managed to bring down knife crime. Wonderful. I am sure he expected nothing but fanfare… Sadly, the general public are too depressed and gloom-laden to take good news like this. Also, for years we have been indoctrinated into the idea that out microcosm of life is more representative of society than anything else – which means no matter what the PM claims, people think things are getting worse. From the BBC Pages:

The Prime Minister has spoken to Newsbeat after the government said the latest police crackdown was working.

The government says stabbings are down and fewer teenagers are carrying blades in the 10 parts of England and Wales where there’s been a big effort to tackle the problem.

The figures also show under-18s going to hospital for stabs and cuts are down by a quarter and more serious attacks have dropped by a fifth.

Great news. It doesn’t really say much about the government policies though. Nothing like enough time has passed to know if this is a long term change or a simple “blip”  in the numbers. Equally, there is no way of knowing if the “massive” (**) increase was a statistical blip. The information provided doesn’t tell us if the crime has simply moved elsewhere, or if this is part of a national downturn in knife crime. It really is a non-news item. There isn’t enough information for the viewer to do anything but rely on how the sparse numbers are spun to the public.

Shocking, but this is how the government have wanted us to interact with news for many a year now. If the public were given all the information that drove national policy, half the crazy things we suffer now would never have survived.

Equally comical, is how Gordon Brown reacted to the predictable nonsense questions. According to the BBC, the text messages from their listeners saying things like “I was stabbed 2 years ago, how has knife crime gone down” were a valid counterpoint to the governments figures. A normal, sane, educated person would have laughed and said “shut up crazy fool.” But this is gold to politicians – they want people to think like this so that future crazy laws can be passed. This lead to a very bizarre exchange:

Newsbeat: The statistics on knife crime say one thing. We’re hearing other things from our listeners.
Gordon Brown: That’s why we want to get knives off the street. I’m not complacent at all. A lot of young people are stopping carrying knives but we’ve got a long way to go. And that’s why today you’ve got all these people from all different walks of life; sports people, from the world of entertainment, from radio, from television, all saying, working with the community groups, no to knives. (blah… blah… blah…)

A touch strange. The PM is saying nothing as an actual response. It is certified 100% content free. Isn’t that nice. That was just mildly odd but it was followed by this:

Newsbeat: The stats that you’ve published today seem to show that knife crime is down. A nurse at Bristol Royal Infirmary says stab wound admissions are going up.
Gordon Brown: What I want to know is how we can actually get knife crime down and how we can make sure it stays down. Making sure it stays down is more policing that’s visible on the streets, a presumption to prosecute if you’re seen to be carrying a knife, tougher police and prison sentences when that happens, shops banned from selling knives to young people and schools and community groups doing an educational process whereby young people are discouraged from carrying knives.

What? Listen to it on the radio. Newsbeat phrase their statement as a question. You can hear the question in the reporters voice. She is expecting an answer. Granted she seems unable to actually ask questions, and just makes statements with a rising emphasis at the end to imply a question, but if you speak English you can hear the questioning tone.  However, our glorious PM ignores it. It is really like he has been asked a different question and Newsbeat dubbed their own over the top of it. Nothing he says bares any relation to the question.

Bizarre.

Are we really in such a disconnected world that any of this makes sense? Do politicians think this is acceptable? Do reporters? (He wasn’t challenged on it).

Equally sad, but much more common, is the idea that the experiences of a nurse at the Bristol Royal has such an insight into national trends that their comments outweigh national reports. Even if they are the person who records every admission (and the cause) they have no idea what is going on in Liverpool, Barnsley, Truro, Southampton (etc.). The national statistics are based on reporting from various sources and show the national trend. Knife crime can go down 90% nationally but still show an increase in a region. That an otherwise well educated nurse doesn’t understand this element of statistics gives me concern over how disease surveillance is carried out.

The BBC mentions the “crime hotspots” that were targeted, and show a reduction:

The 10 knife crime hotspots are London, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley.

Unless the Bristol Royal has moved across the River Severn  into Wales, it is not in that list. It could show a trillion percent increase and the governments figures for the crime hotspots would still be down. This nurse’s experiences may be 100%, but they are irrelevant. The only way this person could have had real impact was if the debate was about knife-crime admissions to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. But it wasn’t.

Still, in this day and age of citizen journalism, no one was going to say this. The nurse’s (and others) comments were treated as valid counterpoints to the report and dutifully skipped around by the PM. Are the BBC’s news reporters really so empty that this seemed reasonable?

Sadly the answer seems to be “yes.” Well done Great Britain, I am so proud.

(*) Please note, this is a link to the current newsbeat page – the actual content I am talking about here may have gone by the time you read this. If you can, though, this is worth listening to. Its almost like they re-recorded the PM and asked him different questions…

(**) For an arbitrary value of massive.

Is this Britain?

In the past (“Emailing a myth“, for example) I have commented on how people send out emails which are basic rants by right wing Americans, but they change a few references and try to pass it off as meaning the same over in this green and pleasant land. It seems, however, that there is still a hard core of people who do not realise that the UK and the USA are different countries, and have different histories.

In the online edition of the Mail today (yes, I know, the only reason that you would buy the paper version is if you ran out of toilet paper), there is a comical ranting “news” item about a woman who is upset that the Nintendo version of Scrabble had some rude words in. From what I can see the words she objected to were tits, fuckers and shit. Oh, woe is me. The evil of language. Now, before I go on, I have no real issue with her for being upset. As the parent of a child under the age of majority, she really does get to decide what words her 8 year old is exposed to at home. I may think different words would be better, but I have no say in their house. It is comically likely that her 8 year old son is already fully conversant with all three words from the school playground but that is another conversation.

The only issue I have with this woman getting newspaper space to complain about this is the basic lack of parenting she shows. If she wants her son to learn new words, while still controlling what those words are, she needs to spend time with him. Real time. Talking and playing time. Not buying him a Nintendo and fucking him off to his room time. (mini rant over)

Predictably, the real comic value comes from the comments. I am sure the only reason rags like the mail have comments is so that idiots can stand up and think they are important. Equally predictably, it is the religious right that wade in. Look at this line in baffling idiocy:

No OUP, Britain is not a modern, multicultural and multi-faith country, it is an historic, British and Christian country and publishers like you do not have the right or the place to delete words from our language and replace them with one’s of your choosing!
Nigel, Somerset, 7/12/2008 12:14

Mindbogglingly, this has been rated “up” at over 30 times. Sadly for Nigel, pretty much everything he has said is wrong. It is hard for him to be more wrong. (I suspect this is the mail fucking up its comments and this was in response to a different article)

Britain is a modern, multi-cultural and multi-faith country. No matter how much he may want to cry otherwise. We have mosques. We have Hindu temples and Jewish synagogues. We pretty much cater for every current world religion to at least some degree. You can put your head in the sand and claim otherwise, but reality will prove you wrong every time.

Being “Historic” is not the polar opposite of modern. You can be a modern country with a long and proud history. In fact, Britain pretty much meets that, as do most countries with a “long and proud history.”

Saying Britain is British is comical, so I will ignore that, but saying Britain is a Christian country is interesting. Yes, we do have a state religion but you are not forced to subscribe to it. We are not a “Christian” country in any meaningful sense.

Lastly, this is the Junior Oxford English Dictionary. It is for young people. It has a limited set of words it can hold, so logic screams out that more popular words should be included. I dont agree with the word choices but I am more than capable of teaching my children the missing words. For the record these are the ones removed: (categories made by the Mail not me)

NATURE
Bluebell, budgerigar, cygnet, dandelion, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, kingfisher, magpie, marzipan, minnow, newt, piglet, primrose, starling, willow, wren.
CHRISTIANITY
Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe, abbey, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, monk, nun, pew, saint, sin
HISTORY
Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade

Now I am intrigued why cracker is “Christian” rather than a food, but I suppose PZ Myers has a lot to answer for… At the end of the day, there will always be some words excluded. Get over it. There are more nature ones missing, and I very much doubt evolutionary biology terms get much space.

The next (and last) comic comment I want to poke is:

It is disgrace. This country is based on Christian principles and through these principles this country became prosperous. Why this country started hating itself? Who these modern politicians want to please by fighting Christianity? What is the ultimate aim of multiculturalism? We’ve had enough of this “modern” liberal nonsense.
Alex S, London UK, 7/12/2008 16:37

What blatant nonsense. What christian principles? Does Alex mean the invasion, enslavement and economic warfare that characterised a significan period of our history as Great Britain. Which Christian principles had the Irish subjugated, the Scots slaughtered and Catholics in hiding? What Chrisian principles allowed us to enslave half of Africa? Crucially, this is a country that has been in existence since long before Christ, so how can we be based on his teachings? Does Alex S think we have a pledge of allegiance and watch the superbowl?

I am not sure where Alex has aimed his comment, I can only assume it is also for the dictionary one. Removing some words with Christian connotations from the dictionary is not an attack on Christianity.

Why are Christians so quick to cry oppression and suppression?

Ministers object to normal treatment

You have to feel sorry for members of the government and their allies. I mean, how dare they be treated like mere mortals, when they are so obviously in need of special treatment – like being assumed innocent until proven otherwise.

In an interesting example of double standards, the former home secretary lashed out at the police for their heavy handed tactics: (from the guardian)

David Blunkett, the former home secretary, yesterday led a cross-party attack on the police for what he described as “overkill” in arresting the shadow home office minister, Damian Green, after he published Home Office documents allegedly leaked by a civil servant.

As fresh details emerged of a nine-hour police operation against Green, whose parliamentary computer was seized and whose wife was forced to witness a search of their London home, Blunkett questioned police tactics.

Drawing a parallel with police behaviour in the cash-for-honours affair, in which a former Downing Street aide was arrested in a dawn raid, he spoke of “the danger of overkill, of treating every case as though we are dealing with a suspicious character”.

Woo, cry me a river Mr Blunkett. The irony here is astounding.

Lets look at this: The police were investigating a possible crime and as part of this they seized items of evidence (computer) and conducted a warranted search of the home address. Gosh. I have a suspicion that in London alone this will have happened 100 times that day. Nationally, there will be over a thousand people who have “witnessed a search of their house” – most will turn out to be innocent. Interestingly, despite the claim in the paper, his wife wasn’t forced to watch – she could have left them to it.

In a nutshell, this is routine police work. Thanks to Mr Blunkett’s drive to increase the draconian powers of the police this is happening to people all over the country every day. We are closer and closer to being “guilty until proven innocent” and it is (largely) down to things that happened on Mr Blunkett’s watch. That he can now whine about overkill almost defies belief. That this gibberish has news coverage is equally bizarre.

Equally weird is the subheading that “Brown and Smith were not consulted” – why should they be? Police investigate illegal activity daily. That is their job. If they had to consult the PM before every police investigation it would truly grind to a halt (and the Bill would be a lot less interesting).

The actual case in question here is of so little interest it has hardly generated any news coverage. For example, the only reference to it in this particular article is:

The police inquiry began when the Cabinet Office made a complaint to the Met about the leaking of confidential information from the Home Office.

Yawn. It happens all the time so who cares. Politicians have become so slippery in their urge to court tabloid popularity they think nothing about “Leaking” things on purpose, so should we really get upset when it happens without their explicit approval?

The reality of daily life for normal people is that if the police think you have committed a crime (or are planning to, or thinking about, or know someone who has, or look like someone who has, or live near someone who has) then a dawn raid, followed by a house search and computer seizure is a constant possibility. This is the world Blunkett et al created (and Cameron will only perpetuate), why are they upset to live in it?

Just to update you, Ogum Photography is now online and selling prints at great prices. Order soon to make sure you have your fine art print presents in time for Christmas.

Congratulations America

Well done America. You have put aside my lingering doubts about your national sanity (although looking at the red-blue map of the US, it seems there are an awful lot of nutcases) and the elections are all but over. Phew. A double sigh of relief; not only have you avoided putting a screaming nutter with nothing to offer other than “I was a POW” but the coverage on the UK news must surely soon dwindle. You have no idea how much that cheers me up!

Today however, it is still very much headline news. I can sort of understand this, it is a monumental change and is historic in that the Obama is the first black President. Wonderful. I do find it monumentally racist, however, that lots of commentators have suggested black people were going to vote for Obama because he was black. It carries the implication that black people dont have political viewpoints, the same issue arose around Hillary Clinton and Sarah “Crazy Eyes” Palin. Why would women vote against their political views simply to elect a woman into office?

Anyway, hopefully this will see the end of our 24 hour news coverage of the election campaign visiting places no one in the UK will have ever heard of. Of politics that have no impact on us and a government we have no say over. Maybe we will be able to get back to the days when a soldier dying in Afghanistan can make at least some headlines (maybe he is less news worthy because he was a Gurkha?). Or when a riot in the UK injures police and closes off half a city. Or even rocket attacks in Gaza if you must showcase world news.

Not long now.

Banks Fumble, Taxpayers Punished

The current “banking crisis” has been pretty hard to ignore of late, but here in the WhyDontYou ivory towers, we have tried. Partly this is because both of us are in (largely) economy immune employment sectors and partly (mainly) because neither of us can really fathom the nonsense being thrown about in the news. Given that both of us are required by profession to be mathematically astute (yes, really) it could be taken to imply that the average citizen would be even more lost.

With this in mind, it is entertaining to watch the news about the crisis when it pretty much only shows scared-to-death financial experts going on about weird ways of selling things you dont have (short selling) and how important the banking risk takers are to society. They are so important that the rest of society has to protect them should their risk taking go wrong. Being ignorant of the financial wizardry, this strikes me as being totally insane, let alone unfair. This post (long, sorry) is pretty much a way for me to let off steam about something that is destroying peoples lives and, basically, really annoys me. I would welcome your comments and feedback on my take – if I am wrong, please educate me.

There are two headline examples today (in the UK at least) – The UK Government take ownership of the crap part of Bradford & Bingley, after selling the good bits to a Spanish bank; The American government fails to secure a $700bn line of funding for its banks to keep them safe. (Neither are good news items. Neither are going to reassure people that their future is safe. Do not mistake a light tone here for a lack of concern)

Some Background

UK first. Starting about 20 years ago there was a big rush for building societies to become banks – changing from being basically there for a group of people in one area (eg. Bradford, Halifax) where everyone who paid in was a member to becoming a limited company, where some of the members became shareholders. In the process, especially throughout the 1990s the drive was on for these banks to press hard and return massive profits for the shareholders (often a tiny subset of the Building Societies membership). At the time (and in principle it still does) this seemed a good idea. Most people got a bit of money (sadly for most of the members this was just a bit – around £100) and a few people got lots and lots of money. Everyone was happy.

From this, there was a drive in the finance sector to target more and more high risk trades, where often the winnings were large beyond the avarice of mortal man. City bonuses in the millions ceased to be newsworthy and sales of high end sports cars went through the roof. Being a “risk taker” became the nicest thing you could say about someone. We (the public) were dimly aware that there was a risk it could fall down on the bank (Barings) so we accepted the ostentatious lifestyle of the successful. For some reason we were convinced it was down to skill and intelligence rather than basically throwing dice and hoping for the best. These were people who worked hard predicting the markets and had a rare skill in knowing where the trades were. Or so we thought.

Hidden for most of the time were the downsides to this.

Insane wages in London made the already insane prices there spiral out of control. People began to think that paying £750,000 on a one bedroom apartment was a “good investment.” In turn, this priced even well paid people out of the city, so prices near London went up (often even faster if it was commutable and “nice”). For the last ten years it has been impossible for anyone on less than twice the average wage to even think of buying a house in the south of England, without a hugely fiddling their application – so they did. People overstated their income, understated their expenses, and took insane repayment terms hoping they’d get on the gravy train before they had to pay the capital. Lots of these people had “normal” jobs and were not aware that they were bearing the same risk that the Ferrari driving millionaires living in central London appartments had. The public never benefited from the wins so, rightly you would think, assumed it was safe from the risks.

Wrong. (More on that in a minute)

A similar story in the US (I assume, I have no idea of the background). From my visits, the gulf between rich and poor in America vastly outstrips that in the UK. I have always thought that if you were filthy rich, there is no better place to live than the US, but if you were penniless poor the UK wins. Rich people in America are really rich. I am amazed the poor survive one day to another.

In recent years, the risk loving traders have really had a few field days in the US. Massive windfalls made rich people richer. They took huge risks, which often paid off. People applauded them for having the guts to risk so much, making it hard to condemn them for their salaries and bonuses. As with the UK, most Americans had some fallout from this (house prices going up for example) and people begin to think that property is the best investment, so take some personal risks to buy a house. In turn the bank takes a bit of a risk lending to them, but often at crippling interest rates that will see the bank get its money back in spades.

Eventually, as everyone with hindsight knew it would, the whole system explodes. That is the thing with taking a risk, sometimes you get hurt.

Here is where my understanding and reality part company.

Current events

I have always thought that you took a risk, gambled something for example, sometimes it would pay off and other times it wouldn’t. Some risks are “low risk”: for example, betting that a tossed coin will land on either heads or tails rather than its side is quite a low risk bet – you are a lot more likely to win than lose. Some are “medium risks”: betting on heads in our example. Some are “high risk”: betting the coin will land on its side. They all make sense to us and we live with this sort of understanding on a day to day basis.

The world banks have paid their “High Risk takers” absolute fortunes because they take high risks. This is fair. If I bet £1000 on the coin landing on its side and I won, I would expect to win big, if I bet £1000 on the coin not landing on its side, I would expect to win a tiny amount simply because I wouldn’t expect to lose.

For most of the last two decades, the amazing thing is the risks have (on the whole won). The coin has landed on its side a lot. People have won big.

The problem is people then forgot what a risk it was. If you win something that is high risk enough times, you forget that it is high risk and assume the opposite. The merchant banks have been so successful with high risk ventures, they forgot that “high risk” meant dangerous and plowed more and more money into it. They still throw around the terms, they certainly still paid the bonuses, but everyone assumed it would never happen.

Then the coin came up tails and everyone lost. Everyone who had bet big, lost big.

Oddly, this came as a shock. The great and bold risk takers were mortified. Nothing hits a herd as fast as panic and the trading centres of the west are no different. Contagious fear spread everywhere and a generation of “risk takers” who actually had no idea about risk were the most affected. The less scrupulous traders saw a chance to strip the foundations of fragile structures and asset rich, stable organisations took a massive hit (Bye, bye HBOS). The wonders of a free market allowed short-selling and a few scares to destroy a company with solid resources – can you imagine how scared the rest must have become.

Risk?

So, in the interests of a free market, the government steps in and saves the companies. The government spends billions of the taxpayers money to rescue institutions that have, basically, gambled themselves out into the street.

This is where I am confused.

In the UK, the government has reportedly taken over a £50billion debt on behalf of Bradford and Bingley. That is effectively £1000 per person so that the demutualised, risk taking, company can survive. Although we were not aware of the risk we were taking, nor did we share in the rewards, everyone of us in the UK was involved in the gambles these people were taking.

The US has the same problem. The $700bn bail out (good idea or not) is a phenomenal sum of money. The high flier financial wizz-kids and their high risk lifestyle would cost every one of the 300 million people in the US over $2000. For someone on federal minimum wage, that is 321 hours work – 40 working days – to save the rich from becoming poor (I know it is not quite that simple). Instead, the poor get a little bit poorer. Wonderful.

The US must be the only modern democracy where funding the rich bankers is a more appealing proposition than giving healthcare to the sick. That confuses me.

To confuse me even more, the news today had lots of talking heads on both sides of the Atlantic saying how it might seem strange but it was vital that the taxpayer (poor) bail out the bankers (rich) because. Often simply because. Sometimes there were vague, dire, warnings about the economy, but most of the time it was just a simple statement. We have to do it.

Why?

I don’t doubt that letting one or two banks slip will cause even more panic which will destabilise the economies, but if the US has $700bn and the UK has £20bn going spare, then surely we can weather some rough times. When the average person on the street still has money for shops to take off them, then the economy will still work. In my mind that is where the salvation needs to be pointed.

Equally odd, is this new definition of risk.

If I gamble my house on a high risk deal and lose, I lose my house. Will the government bail me out? (Well, in the UK we have social housing but that is different) It is unlikely. For me, betting on high risk stocks is just that – high risk. I stand to gain but I also stand to lose everything.

If a bank gambles the houses of 20 million people and loses, well they really lose nothing. Poorly paid staff will get laid off but the “risk takers” are immune. The organisation is immune because as long as it cries loudly enough the government helps. For the banks, betting on a high risk is actually risk free. They will either gain a lot, or lose nothing.

Why is this acceptable? Why is this considered normal? Why are we still hearing that it is all down to the taxpayers to save these banks? Why not claw back the multimillion bonuses? Why not fine the fund managers? Why are they allowed to gamble without risk, yet still be thought of as “cool” risk takers?

Crime and Punishment

The most sickening thing about the whole deal is not just that the taxpayer has to suffer.

If, through negligence or design, I caused someone to lose out to the tune of £1000 there are laws that would punish me. If I gambled £1000 of someone else’s money without their knowledge and lost it, I would expect the police to visit me and to end up in jail.

It seems, however, if you do it with enough people then not only does the government step in to cover your debts, but you dont even get punished. In the middle of the credit crunch, UK stockbrokers were still getting massive Christmas bonuses (just not as massive… poor things).

While it often smacks of unscientific voodoo, I accept what the “finance experts” say and that the state has to prop up these failing institutions. However, why should the people who have caused this problem be allowed to walk away? If, for example, the fund managers and directors of each organisation were to be fined in proportion to their participation, the rescue plan’s tax burden would be a sweeter pill.

Alternatively, if this heralds a new era of tightly controlled financial markets, where crazy risks are punished, and these people are not simply able to start ripping the world off again in a few years then, again, it becomes a bit more acceptable.

I think the problem is, this will never happen. The hint that the US bail-out would be followed with government involvement meant that the Republicans stood against the great George Bush and turned down the bill (*). It seems the only way a rescue plan will be approved is if it carries no strings or punishments. Basically, the bankers are free to risk all our money without having to worry…. (Slightly better over here, where we are more accepting of government control and oversight).

What a wonderful world.

(*) This adds an ironic twist. I strongly think that the Republican party expect to lose the next election. McCain/Palin are their idea of a joke. They know the country and the economy is about to tank, and the war in Iraq has gone badly. If they lose the election, Obama will be handed a hospital ball of a presidency. Unless he is truly Odin’s chosen one, come the next elections people will still be smarting from the economic crisis and will be ready to turn to the Republicans once more. Taken in this light, both Bush’s plan to asset strip the country, and the parties refusal to do something that (on the surface) benefits the public makes sense.

Can you be too cynical?

Headline Nonsense

Moving away from Jamie Whyte article and the inevitable Christian wackeroony response, points me towards something that annoys me just as much as the blatant idiocy of the religious.

Once upon a time, the BBC was a bastion of the English language and a resource you could look on as “reliable and trustworthy.” At some point in the recent past, all this changed. Things have been bad for a while and lately they have reached a new low in the erratic, random, headlines they use for articles. On the whole, you wouldn’t care what the headline is, as you can read the article to find out more – however on the Internet the title is the link. It is what you see as a hook to read the article and (sadly) is often all people will read thinking they can get the news one sentence at a time. Sadly, in this task the BBC fails massively.

Take these examples from todays news articles. Have a look and see what you think the article is going to say, then visit the news item and see if it matches:

  • Fewer teachers aim for principals (link)
  • Brown makes justice deadline call (link)
  • England ‘most crowded in Europe’ (link)
  • Boys jailed for tram stop killing (link)
  • Cancer woman stranded by XL (link)
  • Review ordered into cancer move (link)
  • Man tells police of woman’s body (link)
  • Father’s rape quash bid rejected (link)

Now, admittedly, some may be easier to work out than others and for most you can get a good idea after a few moments thinking about what they are trying to say.

But that is my point.

These are headlines so desperate to get keywords in (and possibly do a bit of SEO for the BBC) that they sacrifice readability and legibility.

Why on Earth has the BBC stooped this low? Are people in the UK so ignorant, uneducated and time-short that they need this sort of nonsense?

Newsline

I dont have a huge amount of online time at the moment so I cant do these two news items justice. However, I still think people should read them (both from New Scientist)

The first link is a depressing indictment of a society that has allowed itself to be tricked into thinking there is an even argument betwen Evolution and Creationism. This is madness of the highest order. The concept that “teaching both sides” is a good thing only seems to apply against evolution, but still no one notices the weirdness. Shame on the nation that allows this sort of thing.

The second is worrying. Not so much that Archaeologists seem willing to allow world heritage sites to be hit during an attack but the implicit assumption there will be an attack.

Not a good day.

The BBC Must Not Waive Court Costs!

Sorry, this is a petition that I had meant to publicise a while ago (hat tip: Nullifidian).

Basically a bible bashing crackpot took out a frivolous court case against the BBC for the “Jerry Springer – The Opera” show and lost. In losing he has been saddled with court costs which are really not cheap. Now, the slimebag has decided that it would be the “decent thing” for the BBC to waive the costs and, in effect, all the British licence payers should fund his pointless posturing. This is the message:

I wanted to draw your attention to this important petition that I recently signed:

“BBC and Avalon must NOT Waive Springer Costs”
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bbc_springer_green?e

I really think this is an important cause, and I’d like to encourage you to add your signature, too. It’s free and takes less than a minute of your time.

So, if you are a British licence fee payer, please take a trip and sign the petition.

Internment Returns

Well, sadly, the craven government of the United Kingdom has surrendered to terrorism and taken yet another step in dismantling the fundamental liberties we have enjoyed for centuries. A basic principle enshrined in Medieval law was that the State should not deprive a person of their liberty without a trial. In practice this amounted to about 24 hours between detention and charging. In my lifetime this has increased to four weeks and now looks set to become six weeks.

Well done Terrorists.

If you are able, please try to find a clip of the BBC News 24 interview with Tony Benn. What ever your opinions on the man as a politician may be (for example, mine aren’t great), he pretty much summarises what people should be feeling about this travesty of justice.

Sadly, people don’t seem to be feeling this. If the statistics are to be believed 65% of the UK population supports 42 days detention of innocent people (which means the pop-survey I carried out at work this morning massively fails to reflect the UK population). I can only assume they all think the detainees will be some one else so the thought of suffering is alien to them. Even more worryingly, listening to the BBC Radio 1 street interviews in the run up to the vote showed me that 65% of the population do support it – but that is because they are beyond stupid.

One person who called in said 42 wasn’t enough and people should be detained “until they can prove they are not guilty.” Oh sweet Thor. Another said “there is no smoke without fire.” Lots of it was about putting the needs of the many over the needs of the few. Yes, I did just want to cry but I was driving at the time.

It seems we are reaping the rewards of a generation of bad teaching, dishonest politicians, media dominance and uncontrolled spin. People are no longer equipped to see when they are being led down the garden path and a total lack of civic understanding means that when they do suspect it, they no longer care.

If I could find a suitable country, I’d emigrate.

Cultic transformations.

Disturbing news story that qualifies for today’s new “You couldn’t make this stuff up and I don’t mean that in a good way” award. No prizes.

This week there have been more than enough horrors, such as the Burmese cyclone, that numb your responses with the numbers of dead and injured. As well as the more chilling and incomprehensible stories like the Austrian who kept his daughter locked in cellar for a quarter century and a German couple whose grown children found they had three dead babies in their freezer.

This latest mad “heart of darkness” tale brings in religion as well.

The BBC report says:

A Czech woman charged with deceiving a children’s home into thinking she was a 13-year-old girl has been found not guilty by a court in the city of Brno.
The court said Barbora Skrlova, who along with five others is believed to belong to a secretive cult, meant no ill-will towards the children’s home.
But Ms Skrlova, aged 33, was immediately re-arrested to face more serious charges of child abuse.
Ms Skrlova went on the run after the child abuse case erupted.
She re-appeared months later in Norway, where she posed as a 13-year-old boy.

Blimey. Hypnotised like a hen on a chalk line, I must find out more.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I’ve looked at the development of this story in Czech.
25/05/07 A boy was taken into care after mind-numbingly horrific levels of abuse. So was his 13-year-old “sister” who the mother was trying to adopt. But she turned out to be a 34-year-old woman. (Well, the Czech paper says 34. Ages seem very fluid in this story. )

14/01/07 Woman posing as child may have fallen victim to strange sect

The mysterious case of the Czech woman charged with identity fraud after posing as a 12-year old girl in the Czech Republic and a 13-year old boy in Norway has shocked and baffled the nation. Czech investigators are slowly piecing together the picture of her life and there are serious indications that she was a victim of a sect whose members made a profit from child-abuse films.
Barbora Škrlová as a 13-year old boy,
The strange case first surfaced when Barbora Škrlová was found living with a woman who tortured her two young boys. Škrlová, then living in the family under the guise of their 12-year-old sister Ani?ka, was put in a children’s home where she duped social workers into believing they were dealing with a stricken, abused child. Ani?ka fled the home and disappeared for many months surfacing unexpectedly in Norway last week where she had been living and attending school under the guise of a 13-year-old boy.
Is this strange figure – at the centre of a frightening child-abuse case – a criminal or a victim? Teachers and social workers who knew her in the Czech Republic and Norway say she appeared withdrawn, unbalanced and may herself have a history of abuse. Marie Vodi?ková head of the Czech Fund for Children in Need says it seems that she was most likely abused as a child and then turned into an obedient puppet by a sect which may have made a profit from making and selling child-abuse films. There is at least one direct piece of evidence to support this theory – the torture of one of her alleged brothers was documented day and night by a professional camera system. Both boys showed signs of abuse – cigarette burns in their genital regions and numerous welts and bruises. The children said they had been tortured by several members and “friends” of the family.

She appeared “unbalanced”? Oh the beauty of understatement.

Škrlová’s teacher in Norway says she decided to contact the Norwegian police after the alleged 13-year-old boy painted a picture showing seven children all bruised and bleeding and each with a number.

Her biological father

“who is believed to be the head of this strange sect once led a religious group called The Ants which splintered off from the Holy Grail Movement centred in Europe. Czech experts on religious sects say that whatever is going on in this terrifying community, it is unchartered territory because there is no known sect in Europe involved in child identity fraud. What is particularly worrisome is that this strange case came to light by pure accident when a neighbour of one of the abused boys got a glimpse of him bound and naked in a closet – on his own baby monitoring device.

(I have to drop any pretence of having read this in the original language. It’s all from the English version)

According to the July 2007 Independent

The Grail Movement follows the teachings of Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, a German also known as Abd-ru-shin, who from 1923-38 wrote the Grail Message, which depicts man as a being whose spirit can return to its source in heaven by performing good deeds on Earth. It claims to have at least 10,000 followers worldwide, including several hundred in Britain.
“We broke with the people involved in this 11 years ago, after they added to the Grail Message with their own imaginings and fantasies,” said Artur Zaplukal, spokesman of the Grail Movement in the Czech Republic, where it has about 1,500 followers. “I sent them a letter telling them they were no longer part of the Grail Movement.”

So these weird people are a a break-away movement considered too eccentric even by an apparently off-the-wall cult.

Just when you think you can understand a bit of this, the Independent threw in a few more odd facts, such as the fact that Barbora – of indeterminate age and gender and apparently parentage – is the second cult member to have masqueraded as “Anna” the “girl” that the woman who tortured her own sons wanted to adopt.

Arrgh. My head hurts…… How many dangerously more insane cults are there?