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!


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