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March 29, 2007

Bush and the Bloggers

Writing about web page http://uk.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idUKN2822743820070328?feedType=RSS

George W. BushReuters reported this morning that George Bush quoted two Iraqi bloggers in a speech he made “to try to bolster his case that his troop buildup in Iraq is making progress”.

But lest anyone starts to think that he is genuinely aware of the lives that so-called ‘average’ Iraqis are leading, let me just emphasise a couple of things that Reuters’ impartiality prevents them from underlining.

They are a pair of Iraqi dentists who write an English-language blog, IraqTheModel.com, and who met Bush in the Oval Office in December 2004

Wha? They met Bush??? In the White House?!?!?!?!

Ey? What kind of non-diplomatic foreigners end up meeting Bush in the White House? I suppose the kind of non-diplomatic foreigners who can prove their love for America, with perhaps the greatest understatement about the state of Iraq, during a war teeming with contenders for that title.

The Bush Administration needs to revise the way it’s been handling and planning for this critical war.


March 28, 2007

Child Poverty D:Ream Still On or Moral Disgrace?

For the first time since 1999, child poverty rates in the UK rose last year by 200,000. Labelled a ‘moral disgrace’ by children’s charity Barnardo’s, Labour might be on the other end of soundbite politics for once.

Since Labour set a target to eradicate child poverty by 2020, the number of children in poverty has gone down by roughly 500,000. Alone, this sounds pretty reasonable. Half a million lives improved for the better seems pretty good going.

But consider the fact that the government missed its own target by more than the same 500,000 and you have a rather more gloomy outlook. Still, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the government. Say what you want about Brownite technocracy, his tax credits are holding huge numbers of families above the poverty line.

Nor can the right criticise policies of handouts. Loathed to use their slogans as I am, Labour’s ‘welfare-to-work’ policies have helped to encourage many parents back into work. In fact, one of the key reasons that the goal was missed is a dramatic rise in in-work poverty.

Another mitigating factor comes from the way poverty is measured in this country. Incomes of below 60% of the national median are classed as impoverished. Incomes at the top end of the scale are growing very rapidly and this pushes up the poverty line, without life at the lower end of society necessarily deteriorating. As Guy Palmer from the New Policy Institute puts it, “the immediate reasons why the child poverty target was missed was because the number of children needing help to escape poverty has gone up too”.

Although no-one can escape the fact that the target was missed, to even set it was hugely ambitious and I would love to see all opposition parties agree to a similar one. The reasons for the failure will become clearer with the annual Institute for Fiscal Studies ‘Poverty and Inequality in Britain’ publication. Assuming last year’s rise was just a one off, the government deserves more credit for the overall improvements it has made. Still, the set back is enormously disappointing.

Clearly much more needs to be done, whether the targets are reachable or not. The Department of Work and Pensions has already announced new measures, including a ‘refocusing’ of £150m of resources and a commitment to the extension of the New Deal programmes. But the government needs to recognise the extent of ‘in-work’ poverty and if it stands by its target, it will have to further extend its beloved system of tax credits.

There is no reason why they cannot do so, but there is a danger if they do not. The decision to change the way the child poverty target is measure has already been taken and we need to be careful that Labour does not revert to spinning the stats. We need progress for hard-working families, not another Treasury trick. That really would be a moral disgrace.


March 26, 2007

Do I really look like…?

Writing about web page http://www.myheritage.com/FP/Company/face-recognition.php

Me and several people that do not look like me

I don’t know whether I’m a little slow on the uptake with this website, or if I’m an online trend setter (oh how I wish to be one of those).

Either way, I just stumbled across a website that’s does some highly complex analysis (it uses algorithims I’m told!) to work out which ‘celebrities’ you look like. Register, upload a photo of yourself and you’re away.

So I did. I sat there twiddling my thumbs waiting for a photo of Brad Pitt to pop up, but then…

Surely some mistake?

70%? I’ve got to admit it’s probably better than the last person I was compared to on a Warwick Blog, at least he isn’t a cartoon (see here). The worrying thing is I tried it with two more photos. He came up again with the first one and his Dad came up the second time!

The only thing that makes me feel better is that in my third photo, I supposedly look like Brazilian footballing legend Romario. No, he ain’t exactly a looker, but at least it shows how much crap the whole thing is anyway!


March 21, 2007

It's in all of us and I hate it

Writing about web page https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/uk/measureyourattitudes.html

My housemate isn’t a beacon of enlightened thought. He is, however, a very nice chap at heart and I know he believes that we should treat people equally regardless of their background. But he just took an online test that reveals he has bq. a moderate automatic preference for White British over Asian British.

This is not just any old online testing website. No Love Calculator to be found here. It forms part of Project Implicit, an academic project linked to some of the top institutions in the US. They admit the online test isn't perfect, but reading their FAQs reveals the perhaps obvious fact that although it only takes 5 minutes and is pretty simple, it is rather well thought through.

This test is not the only evidence of such bias either. The French charity SOS Racisme sent CVs identical in all but name to companies across France. Those sent out with typically French names had a much higher rate of positive responses than those without and I’m sure similar tests here would yield the same results. Yet, I don’t think this is indicative of conscious racism.

As Project Implicit is designed to demonstrate, this prejudice is so ingrained that it probably has a hold on the most ardent supporters of equality without them even knowing. Racism is about so much more than ill-thinking yobs shouting abuse at innocents. It’s about the preconceptions that we all have of other people.

Clearly, we can’t just kick these off, no matter how much we might want to. They pervade all parts of our society, from job interviews to Top Gear. What do we do then? Long term – I’m not sure. I hope they just slowly fade away, but at present, the opposite may well be happening. In the meantime, an awareness that the problem exists is a start. So that even if we have these prejudices against our will, we can very much consciously try to do our utmost to prevent it clouding our vision.

Go on, take the tests yourself.


March 19, 2007

5 Dead Useful Little Websites

Everyone knows Google, bbc.co.uk and Wikipedia are bluddy useful, but here’s a list of 5 similarly useful little ones that you may or may not have heard of.

  • Hype Machine
    Collates music blogs and the MP3s they host. In short: new music, freely downloadable (just watch out you don’t copyright thieve.)
  • TempInbox
    Need to put in your email address to sign up for something but wanna avoid spam? TempInbox does exactly what it says on the URL
  • Bug Me Not
    Helps you sample the subscribers-only parts of all sorts of websites.
  • TinyUrl.com
    Natty little website that turns a long web address into something far more manageable
  • Student Free Stuff
    I genuinely got a free Wilkinson Sword razor just 6 months after giving them my address. And my friend got some cat food. I perhaps should have stuck with “4 Dead Useful…”

February 23, 2007

Warwick Debates on RaW: Our Students' Union

Writing about web page http://www.radio.warwick.ac.uk/listen

If anyone’s interested, I chaired a debate on RaW this evening in our series Warwick Debates. Tonight we discussed our Students’ Union. Union President Brian Duggan was there, as well as Nic Warrington the Commercial Development and Communications Officer. Debating with them were Kendall Atcliffe, Chris Rossdale and Matthew Wyatt as representatives of ‘average’ Warwick students.

The topics we covered were
  • Whether the Union should take stances on external issues
  • The “failure” of Union democracy UWSU
  • The Union South rebuild
  • The Union’s commercial outlets
  • Should there be a Subway on campus?


February 20, 2007

Turin Brakes Interview

This is an interview of Olly from Turin Brakes that two of my fellow RaW chums and I did a few months ago. Just thought I’d put it up here on the off chance anyone missed it when we played it out on the Alex and Dave show last term. ;)


February 19, 2007

Put the brakes on Top Gear's prejudice…

I’m not complaining about the money that they spend on ridiculous stunts (quite good telly sometimes). I don’t even mind that the footage of one of the presenters nearly killing himself was watched by millions. My beef is that Top Gear reinforces our prejudices and stereotypes.

During tonight’s installment, criticism of Kia cars was based on the notion that

The Koreans eat dogs.

There’s also ill-informed nationalism

We are Britain; we are the inventors of everything.

And I don’t think either of these came from the worst culprit, Jeremy Clarkson. I’m sure I could find countless examples of blatant sexism and there were hundreds of complaints about the presenters’ mocking of post-recovery Richard Hammond.

I enjoy the sarcastic banter. I thought the idea of trying to send a Robin Reliant into space was brilliant. I just don’t think it’s a good message for the BBC to be putting out. Clearly, these aren’t the worst things anyone’s ever said and perhaps for tolerant Warwick students it’s all just a bit of misguided fun. My worry is that the audience is a lot wider than that and unquestioning young people can’t help but see this way of speaking as acceptable and maybe even intelligent.

I don’t want to see the programme end. I’m sure the presenters are bright enough to keep producing such otherwise quality output, without resorting to such narrow-mindedness.


I'm a big fan of the BBC but…

Now, I’m a big fan of the BBC. It’s one of roughly three things about which I feel a slight tinge of national pride.
But I’ve just found a feature of bbc.co.uk that is the most ridiculous waste of time and probably money.

Live text commentary during football matches is superb, a great alternative when the game’s not on the radio or TV. But I’ve just discovered the BBC is now offering pathetic animated footballers enacting the latest text update. It doesn’t tell you any more about the action than the text does and the pictures are worse than a game of World Soccer on a SEGA Master System. Please, somebody tell me they have found some use for it.

I’m slightly concerned that the BBC’s next article on the government’s latest anti-crime policy might be accompanied by a cartoon of Tony Blair making ever so reassuring hand gestures.

Animated Football

January 28, 2007

For 4 weeks only – RaW 87.7FM

Writing about web page http://www.radio.warwick.ac.uk

5 reasons to listen to RaW on 87.7FMRaW - Radio Warwick

  1. Support your fellow students
  2. RaW DJs will play your requests because, unlike Radio 1, we honestly don’t get all that many.
  3. These 4 weeks are the time of year into which most of ours efforts are put – so it should be good!
  4. RaW DJs are students, you are (more than likely) students, so hopefully yours ears should enjoy what we have to say.
  5. We play a wide-range of music, we bring you student news first and there are loads of great speech-based shows too (debates, comedy, sport)

Just for four weeks – please listen and support RaW. Seriously, the more people listen, the more our DJs are encouraged to make better and better radio. You can listen online too!


January 25, 2007

The 'biggest band in the world' to headline Glasto

Glastonbury FestivalMichael Eavis has started to reveal the acts that will headline this year’s Glastonbury festival. Unsurprisingly, the Arctic Monkeys will take to the Pyramid Stage over the weekend of the 23rd and 24th of June. The same goes for Bjork who’s already treated the Somerset countryside to her unique brand of Icelandic of alternative-pop-electronica several times.

Interestingly, Eavis has announced that ‘the biggest band in the world’ have been in contact and want to play. But, he has denied that this means U2 or Coldplay, which leaves me wondering…

Now, unless he’s talking about some aged rockers, eg the Rolling Stones, then I’m stuck as to who it could be. I suppose I’d be revealing the bias of my own musical taste by suggesting Radiohead or Muse. Oasis maybe? Unless I’ve forgotten someone really obvious, I can’t see who else he could be talking about. Anyone?


This post's for you Axl

Axl Rose

Last weekend’s Observer Music Monthly cited rumours that

[Axl Rose] sleeps all day and stays up all night, combing the internet for mentions of his name.

So here you go Axl…another new mention to get riled up by.

Nothing much to say about you if I’m honest…except no matter how good November Rain was…after 10 years spent writing this new album, it’d better be bluddy, bluddy amazing.

March 6th is the big day


January 22, 2007

A healthy football obsession

Thierry Henry heads winning goal!Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester United.
What a day!
17:44 Despair as it seems United have wrapped up the title by beating my beloved Gunners.
17:53 Total elation. Thierry Henry heads us to victory! Adrenalin surges through my body and 60,000 others.

It’s not always like today though. Last year I followed my team to Paris to watch the Champions League final. I swapped a good three days revision and time spent with my girlfriend, for three nights sharing a bed with my snoring father. I know another guy that forked out over £600 of his student loan after travelling there with no guarantee of a ticket. Reaching the front of the queue at half-time in the Gents, I found myself stood, flies open, in front a sink commandeered for the day by desperate fans. I did not wash my hands. What’s more, we lost 2-1. The journey home was hellish. It turned out not to be a good few days and all because my team didn’t manage to kick a ball in a net as many times as the opposition.

I vividly remember crying myself to sleep as a boy, after a former Spurs player struck the most unbelievably shot to beat us in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup. When the team loses it can put a dampener on my entire weekend. It’s sad, but the first thing I do when I wake up is check Arseblog.com, newsnow.co.uk, the BBC and Skysports for any updates, just in case the others have missed something.

But it’s all worth it; even just for one day like today. It may not be logical, but who cares? It’s pretty difficult to explain to somebody who’s never supported a team; not least my girlfriend who doesn’t get it, despite my attempted analogies to her watching her favourite ballet. Perhaps the closest someone who doesn’t understand can get to such ‘enlightenment’ is by watching or reading Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby’s masterpiece about a life inextricably tied to football.

I’m aware that I’m an incredibly lucky fan. The person that got me into football, my Dad, is an Arsenal fan and a season-ticket holder at that. I get days like today more often than most. A friend of mine travels up from Oxford to see Burnley, the team that his Dad happens to support. Heaven knows the last time they beat Manchester United with a goal in the last minute. That said, he, like me and millions of others across the world, has a highly-illogical, but healthy obsession with watching that ball go in the net.


January 18, 2007

Less–than–super–ASBOs

This morning the government will reveal its latest law and order crackdown. The target this time is what the Guardian calls ‘top criminals’. The solution is seemingly an extension of existing New Labour policy towards crime, to remove the right to a fair trial as it’s been defined for centuries. So-called ‘super-ASBOs’ will limit the individuals a person can see, where they can go and even whether they can own a mobile phone; all without the need for a case that proves their guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”.

I can’t admit to having been overly offended by ASBOs when they were first introduced. I could see the need to tackle anti-social behaviour in our communities, even if I’d have preferred the main thrust of policy to be one of education and opportunity for all. Limits to liberty didn’t seem to matter so much when it was a question of whether a gaggle of troubled teens could loiter where they chose. Yet with this expanded version and the growth of its non-super equivalent, it’s beginning to hit me how dangerous both these policies are. Never mind the fact that the original ASBOs seem to have failed, we should not tolerate this erosion of our liberty. It’s just too dangerous. Today sees the widening of a policy framework that indisputably points us in the direction of authoritarianism. Unless we have the evidence to charge people in a criminal court, we do not have the right to take their liberty from them in this way. The quotes on Channel 4 News from junior Home Office minister, Vernon Coaker, were genuinely frightening.

You could argue that I was blind not to see all this before and if I’m honest, I think you’d be right if you did.

http://www.asboconcern.org.uk/


January 11, 2007

Ban Private Schools

Writing about web page /crossdale/entry/kelly_sends_son/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

In recent days, everyone from David Cameron to Chris Rossdale have weighed in with their view on Ruth Kelly sending her child to a private school. I’ll save you from mine, but I’d like to recommend a book for anyone interested in the debate: How not to be a hypocrite by Adam Swift. It’s recently been one of the most important references for an extended essay I’ve written for one of my politics modules, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested. It’s written for parents, rather than so-called poltiical scientists.

That essay argues for the outright banning of private education. I’d love to put the whole thing up here for anyone that’s interested, but probably shouldn’t, given it’s taken hours and is worth 15 CATS. Nevertheless, seeing as I can tell you’re dying to hear it, I can give you a quick run down of what I believe is the strongest argument for their banning.

Given that our social circumstances are a matter of pure luck, we cannot deserve anything that follows from them. We should therefore seek to remove their influence. In other words, we should strive towards equality of opportunity. Of course, this is never going to be perfect, it is right that we allow parents to read to their children, because of the importance of the family, even though this gives them an unfair advantage. Let’s assume that private schools do provide a better academic schooling. If we take, for example, two children of equal ability, who would otherwise be level on the ladder for jobs and university places etc and that only one attends a private school. His (assumed) superior education pushes the state school pupil down the queue. The resources of his parents allow him to ‘jump the queue’. It is often said that we have the liberty to do what we want provided it does not impinge on others’ lives. My argument is that in jumping the queue, the affect one has on the lives of others is too great and should therefore be outlawed, just as is physical interference with others.

That’s the essence of my 5000 word essay cut-down to 120. Let’s hear the criticisms!

UPDATE: Seeing as I appear to have a fairly high Google rating for ‘Ban Private Schools’, I thought somebody out there might want to read the whole thing, now the degree is long gone!

Ban Private Schools.doc


December 25, 2006

The X–Factor freak show…

Dennis X-Factor AuditioneeAlong with the victory of the frankly brilliant Leona Lewis, those of us that tuned in to last week’s X-Factor final were treated to a performance from ‘The Auditionees’. In other words, they brought back the very worst candidates from the auditions and combined them to make Michael Jackson’s Earth Song yet more ear-grating.

The contrast between the odd raw talents and some of the most laughable failures in the early stages of the show is the best bit about the series and I am a fan. But some of these people are seemingly sufferring from mental health problems that go further than a hugely misguided belief that they have what the judges are looking for. I’d be a hypocrite if I criticised the format itself, most of them, of course, are simply tone-deaf and deserve their moment in the limelight. My question is whether we can tell the difference between the two groups and if it is right to laugh at the former?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_JIfSo5tQM


December 16, 2006

A boring rant about water…

Before embarking on this post, I want to emphasise that I do realise I have unusually strong feelings about the subject of water provision!

Last week, I bought a sandwich for nearly a fiver from Subway in Oxford Street and casually asked for a cup of tap water to go with it. But I was shocked to be told that I couldn’t have it free. Until I went home and looked it up, I was under the impression that anywhere food was sold, water had to be offered for free alongside it. I was wrong. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/consumer/your_rights/food.shtml) That didn’t stop me demanding to speak to the manager who seemed to be under the same impression, but informed me that they charged for the cups!

Now, this may sound like the sad ranting of someone with way too much time and that may very well be the case. Nevertheless, the fact that most people don’t drink enough is well documented and I hardly need to explain the importance of water to proper human functioning. I will mention that according to water.org.uk: “The thirst mechanism is so weak in most people that they mistake thirst for hunger…One glass of water shut down midnight hunger pangs in almost 100% of dieters in a Washington study” because I’ve just tried it and it seems to have worked!

Yet despite all of this, on and off campus, it is not as easy as I believe it should be to access water without charge. Yes they’ve started putting jugs of water out in the Union, but every time I pour myself a cup, the girl who is always behind the bar in Cholo scowls at me as if I’m some cheap bastard who is just saving his money by having some water, rather than buying a Coke or a beer. In Café Library, I have to (and I do this) take a cup out to the water fountain out by the male toilets under the library stairs and fill up there to wash down my chilli and rice. It’s worse out in the wider world. It costs roughly £1 per 10,000 litres in the UK. I resent having to pay for something as vital to my existence as air.

This requires a change of mindset as well as policy. You need to stop laughing at the fact I take this so seriously and bar-staff should stop looking so hassled when I ask them for a tap water. It’s not as if they’re paid per drink they sell. Policy-wise, why can’t we bring back public water fountains in the streets? I’d happily stick my head under a well-maintained public tap, but for those of you that wouldn’t, you could always pop into the nearest Subway and buy a cup.