All entries for April 2010

April 25, 2010

A few thoughts on the second debate: the long shot

I’ve only just caught up on this, having been away for a few days. It was certainly interesting, there’s a whole host of things I could pick up on but one thing jumped out at me.

This story has been going around about how a Lib Dem win could cause major problems for Rupert Murdoch and his ilk. It’s a fascinating and exciting read. Couple that with the mostly blunt knives the press have had out on Clegg over the last few days and they’re clearly panicking. Now the second debate was show live on Sky News, which is of course part of the Murdoch empire. However, the debate rules are so detailed that’d be impossible for the broadcaster to influence it, wouldn’t it?

Let’s put aside Adam Boulton’s rather rude attempt to bring up the recent newspaper stories about Clegg, despite them having nothing to do with the question asked. We’ll do that as Clegg swept him aside brilliantly. Instead, lets look at the long shot. I’m not talking about Clegg. I’m talking about the camera angle used when they wanted to show all three leaders in one shot.

First note that the positioning of each leader in the debate was arranged between the parties beforehand. Presumably to make it fair. You have three people, so someone has to stand in the middle. That has it’s advantages and disadvantages (makes you look better, makes it easier for the other two to gang up on you) but overall it gives the person in the centre greater prominence.

Now in the first debate, the general shot used when they wanted to do that was this one:

Debate 1 Long

A straight on view that shows all three leaders from a distance.

If they wanted to punch in close you got something like this:

Debate 1 Close

An angled shot that was still clearly in front of the leaders but balanced the prominence a little between the closest and centre leader.

Now, lets take a look at Murdoch’s debate. It’s worth saying that these screencaps say a lot more, as the camera was very dynamic in the ITV debate, panning around the speakers and cutting to close-ups more often. The Sky debate use static cameras almost exclusively other than when showing the audience. As such, these particular angles were used a lot more. As far as I could tell, the favourite shot of the Sky production team was this one:

Debate 2 Long

A distant shot over Brown’s shoulder that emphasises him and places the other two leaders in the background. There was a similar shot from the other direction, but that was rarely used. Also for some reason Sky kept showing shots from this entirely pointless camera:
Debate 2 Pointless

I’d argue that we only really needed that shot once just to establish that all the leaders were in fact wearing trousers.

Also of note is the colour scheme. The ITV debate gave equal weighting to the red, blue and yellow colours of each party. Sky only used red and blue, but cleverly did it in the style of the UK flag, hence heading off any arguments that they had no reason to exclude yellow. Rather, they had no good reason.

I’d point out that if you look carefully you can probably find examples of these angles being used in the other debate and vice-versa, I’m not claiming that they were used this way exclusively. Just that the ones I present here were used much more often in comparison.

April 17, 2010

Why you shouldn't vote for the BNP

I know most (hopefully all) of my readers won’t need convincing not to vote for the BNP. But if you have the misfortune of having friends that are thinking of doing so, well here’s something for them to think about.

Let’s get this out the way. The BNP have continually expressed racist views. Most of us abhor them. But it’s no surprise that there are racists in this country. Quite a lot actually. And they’ll vote for the BNP. As we saw in the 2009 European Parliament elections, when the North-East of the UK had enough BNP voters to get them two MEPs. Two representatives in the European Parliament. It sucks. But that’s how democracy works, we have to live with it. A sizeable minority of people are racist, and their racism is the major factor in their political opinion. As such, they are entitled to representation as a minority. Their voice gets heard in Parliament, just not very often and it’s generally ignored. At the end of the day, that’s fair. That’s democracy.

Now, the elections for the European Parliament are done on a sort of split proportional representation system. It’s different to the UK General Election, and in many ways fairer. But what it does mean is that you’re mostly electing a party rather than a person. Each party produced a numbered list, and if they get enough votes for 5 MEPs, then the top five candidates on the list get the spot. Nick Griffin decided that he wanted the MEP job. So he got himself put at the top of the list. The BNP got the votes. Congrats Nick, you won, now you get to be the voice of your voters in the European Parliament for the next five years. We might not like it, but you won it fair and square. People saw your name at the top of that BNP list and went “Yeah, that’s the guy I want representing me in Europe.”

Except it’s now less than a year later, and: hmm. Nick Griffin appears to be standing for election as an MP in Barking at the general election. Now understand, there’s a rule on dual mandates for MEPs that was introduced before the last European election. Simply: they’re not allowed. You can’t be an MP and an MEP at the same time, your job is split too much and so it’s expressly forbidden. So should Griffin win in Barking, and he’s putting up a hell of a fight, he’ll have to resign as an MEP. After serving less than a year of the five years he was elected for. Now, he’s not the only one doing this, UKIP’s Nigel Farage is doing the exact thing. I’m fairly sure there will be some candidates from the major parties doing the same thing too. They’re basically using the European elections as a stepping stone. I personally find it hugely distasteful.

But it’s worse with Griffin. Because this is the man that wants to bring back national service. The guy that will go on and on about how it’s important that each us of serves our country and our responsibility to Britain and all that guff. But when the people of North East England tell him that they want him to be their representative in Europe, he shirks that responsibility after a year in search of fame and a higher wage.

Griffin has no connection with Barking. That constituency’s BNP support was built up by a man no-one’s ever heard of called Mark Tolman. When he started making gains they dropped in BNP high-up Richard Barnbrook in 2005. When he did well enough that it turned Barking in to the BNP’s best shot at winning a constituency in 2010 then guess what? Yep, Nick is there to take the glory. “Fuck Europe, we might win something, I’m in.”

See, whatever you might think of the BNP, even if you agree with their policies, Griffin is a self-publicist first and foremost. It’s interesting after the Question Time debacle that Griffin complained and said he wanted to be invited back to go on again and talk about the issues of the day, rather than having half the programme be devoted to him. He didn’t once suggest that they get on another member of the BNP. Since Question Time prefers variety and a less well known face might make it easier to not get distracted by just talking about the BNP.

The BNP is just all about Nick. He becomes party leader. Sees a chance to get a BNP MEP in with the North East vote, so puts himself top of the list for that election. Then sees a chance to get a BNP MP in parliament in Barking, so forgets about the MEP thing and stands for that instead. And if the BNP don’t get that seat, but end up making bigger gains in a constituency that isn’t Barking… well, you can guess where he’ll be standing in the next election.

The frustrating thing is the rules on dual mandates mean that Griffin can be an MEP, stand for the MP position, and only has to step down as an MEP if he wins. There’s no risk. It’d be much more interesting, and I think much fairer on us all, if you had to stand down as an MEP the moment you ran for an alternative office. If you lose, bad luck. You’re out of a job. Perhaps you shouldn’t have stood for the MEP position in the first place if you weren’t serious about it.

Alas, it doesn’t work that way.

April 15, 2010

Music review: Chris T–T – Love Is Not Rescue

I write about the awesome new Christ T-T Album here and say stuff like:

With Love Is Not Rescue we’re treated to something that’s both a departure from what we might expect, but at the same time perhaps more traditional than any of Chris’ previous work. It’s an album of beautiful, quiet, introspective songs about love, loss and life.

April 03, 2010

On the side–benefits of World of Warcraft and the travesty of 'background' TV

I spent four hours on World of Warcraft today. Note that I specifically don’t say “playing” World of Warcraft. See, what I actually spent that time in-game doing was killing a few hundred ogres and looting beads of their dead corpses. Except in game terms these ogres were very much beneath my attention. Way back when the first expansion pack had just come out, they were a challenge. An interesting fight. Now, 15 levels and some years later they’re a joke. They die in two hits, and even if I just stand there and ignore them they’ll take about half an hour to kill me. All I’d do was run up to one, hit the 3 key on the keyboard twice, then right click them to loot the beads. Then move on to the next. By the time I’d killed the last one, the first one had been replaced. I then repeated this for around four hours.

Contrary to what some may claim, this mindless ‘grinding’ is not all World of Warcraft is. Generally, fighting in the game involves picking the right moves at the right time – it’s an interesting balance of planning, adaptation and reaction. Played properly, it’s a very interesting and compelling game. Thing is, there was no reason for me to be killing these weakling ogres at all. In story-terms, handing the beads over to a certain organisation would make them like me more, and so I’d then get to buy one of their elephants to ride about on, and could add “the Diplomat” to the end of my name when it appears for others to see on screen. But the elephants are just like any other horse/tiger/ram that you can ride about on. And the title merely tells everyone else how much spare time you have. All this time spent didn’t actually advance my character or make her anymore powerful or skilled.

But you see, if you asked me what I did in those four hours, I wouldn’t have said “played World of Warcraft”. What I actually did in that time was catch up on a few podcasts and listen to some albums I have to review. Understand: I’m easily distracted. Typically my only podcast and music listening time is the half hour to-and-from work every day. Don’t get me wrong, I have music on a lot, I’m just not always really listening to it. It’s pleasant background noise, not the focus of my attention. And while that works with an album you know well, it doesn’t if you’re trying to pick up on specifics so you can write about it.

I can’t just sit down and listen. If I sit at the computer I to listen I’ll end up feeling compelled to check my e-mail and Facebook and Twitter. And once something catches my eye that’ll have my attention and I won’t be able to tell you a thing about what I’m meant to be listening to. Likewise if I sit on the sofa I’ll just get restless and my mind will wonder. If I lie down, I’ll probably fall asleep. I very much struggle to just sit and listen.

To digress a little, I’m aware that’s not entirely normal. Or at least, I seem to be lacking the ability to properly listen and do something else at the same time. I think for this reason I’ve never understood people who want to put the TV on ‘in the background’. Either there’s something worth watching on, in which case you sit down and watch it, or there isn’t, in which case the TV can stay off. For the same reason I get remarkably wound up by people that insist on talking over TV shows. Just, no. We’re watching it, and unless your comment on it is utterly hilarious or hugely incisive then wait until the adverts or the end. Watch now, discuss later. The fact that TV has reduced itself to making shows designed to be watched ‘in the background’ is a fucking travesty. People like me think the X-Factor is shit because when we ‘give it a go’ we actually watch it. The millions of fans that love it some much all get a bunch of friends around, order in food and enjoy each others company while keeping it on ‘in the background,’ only stopping to pay attention at the ‘important’ bits and just talking over the boring stuff. They might be talking about the programme, but they’re still not paying attention to most of it. Under those circumstances, I can see it might be fun, but it’s not the TV show that’s doing the heavy lifting here.

As an adjunct to this, I imagine that people actually watching a show properly are a lot more likely to be attentive during the advert breaks. We basically need to replace TV ratings boxes with mind-scanners that also measure a person’s attention level. Suddenly those 800,000 people entirely engrossed in something like The Wire become a lot more attractive to advertisers than the 8 million half paying attention to X-Factor. The BBC also need to start taking this in to account and not use ratings as the sole arbiter of what is deemed ‘popular’. Again, just because more people have been sat in a room while Any Dream Will Do was on than have been during The Thick Of It, I’d argue that we should be counting the latter group as 2-3 times more important as they’re actually engaged with the show.

But to bring things back around to my point, while I’ll sit and watch a TV show as otherwise I just can’t enjoy it, I fail when attempting to do that with music. The lack of a visual component just throws me – I’ll happily sit focused on a concert DVD without issue. What doing something mindless on World of Warcraft does, is occupy my mind just enough that I can focus on the music or podcast. My hands, eyes and brain have something to do, but it’s not something distracting enough that it pulls any attention away from my primary activity: listening. And of course, at the end of it all there’s a small sense of achievement that I’ve done something, even if it’s utterly pointless.

It’s an odd reflection on my generation that multi-tasking is so hard-wired in to our brains that many of us now require some sort of outlet for excess brain-power if we want to accomplish simpler tasks.

April 2010

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