SHOCK: Not everyone cares about the New York Times

Apparently Ira Glass isn’t aware of who Jill Abramson is, in addition to the fact that she has recently been given the opportunity to spend more time with her boxing gloves away from the New York Times. Apparently people who know about Abramson’s ousting are fuuurious that he missed this nugget of information. This serves to illuminate two points:

1. People like discretely crowing about the knowledge caught in their heads, however insignificant it may be to the outside world. They forget that the reason they know about it is because the topic interests them and may be sandpaper-lickingly dull to another.

2. As people are intrinsically self-centred and precious about knowledge that they have worked so hard to obtain, they seem to think that it is crucial to the functioning of the social-juridical-political order that everyone knows about it (the raison d’etre behind blogs and twitter). In this instance, a large news organisation firing an executive editor is big media news, but inspecting the gamut of injustice, disasters and political dicksmanship in the world, it is quite irrelevant.

So, do not worry Ira Glass, feel free to continue in your ignorance, you are definitely not alone and are most probably are worrying about bigger things.

Of Protests and the Media

With Ukraine, Thailand and now late entrant, Venezuela competing for the title of World’s Shoutiest Nation, the manner with which their anger is disseminated to the wider public has come under scrutiny. Framing and bias are all words that are thrown about with abandon in blogs and the media but usually only to describe the other side’s media logic. The hypocrisy goes unreported.

Happy Protestor

To look at Venezuela, la protestation de la jour (pardon my French), it seems as though the majority of media coverage so far consists of commentary than actual reporting. Facts, like international organisations, seem to be scarce on the ground but that will not stop the news machine whirring into action. In a sharply local dispute, the anger from both sides is being directed toward the Western media. The ‘opposition’ decry the mainstream media organisations for ignoring their demonstrations and subsequent government crackdowns; of course, as the protestors need the oxygen of publicity, they would never argue against more coverage. However, I have a hard time understanding their argument, especially considering the US favours and supports the opposition movement. Why would American media resist the opportunity to show the Venezuelan government as corrupt and stopping democratic protests with truncheons? And yet the government say the media coverage is biased and influenced by right-wing propaganda. Both can’t be right.

For those not on the ground, the question is of who to trust. Even in the past few days alone there have been mountains of reports: news coverage of the protests; commentary bemoaning the lack of international media attention in the face of beatings and killing of demonstrators; and further words about how the many reports filed are all supporting the rich, anti-democratic opposition (though this seemed almost the dictionary definition of ‘apologist’).

What should we do: placard up and join the protestors against the elected dictator, shake our heads at the anti-democratic action as after al, it was an election; or sit idly by and watch as the death toll rises. Once again, international spectators are left in a morality play with no clean resolution and a heck of a lot of misinformation to guide us.

Gag Reflex

Billed as the ‘fastest gameshow in the known universe’, Reflex’s running time of 45 minutes is therefore a perpetual disappointment and from watching it, a slap in the face to literalism. Failing in only the way that BBC gameshows can, it strikes an uneasy and unwise balance between the futuristic severity of The Cube and raucous family fun of The Generation Game; a dystopian hellscape with Radio 2 on in the background *shudder*.

Reflex

The show hangs it’s hat on the use of slow motion cameras to capture the super quick tasks the teams are set. Sadly, it is in this that the problems lie, as there is about 1 minute of actual action stretched beyond breaking point with replays replaying ad infinitum. One task involved the contestants lying on a large balloon which is then popped and upon landing on a crash mat they have to hit out a light; in real time, that would last 2 seconds but with Reflex it was:

Slow motion balloon popping *cut* slow motion balloon popping *cut* slow motion balloon popping *cut* slow motion balloon popping *cut*  person falling *cut*  person falling *cut*  person falling *cut*  person falling and on for three more minutes.

I was trying so hard to stop myself from screaming that I burst a blood vessel in my eye, so desperate was I to be rescued from the tyranny of slow motion (those who have walked behind tourists on London streets will know exactly the problem). Effects like these are meant to accentuate the details of the games rather than provide the context of it; viewers need to get a sense of how quickly these games are over to appreciate the use of the slow motion cameras as opposed to be given blunt force trauma by them.

Then there is Shane Richie, who doesn’t need to have a ‘slo-mo’ camera to make time feel like it is standing still. His jokes are older than the tired polo shirts they make the teams wear and all delivered with the cheeky insouciance of that person in the pub who you wish would choke on a pork scratching.

In all, Reflex is like a man on a rack being slowly pulled apart. And when it happens, I’d love to see it in slow-motion.

Replicating Bad

With about two-thirds of the world population in a post-Breaking Bad slump, I have come up with some ideas (all tenuous, all horrible, all will be on Channel 5 within a year) to postpone the realisation that it has finished, just that little bit longer.

  • A former hitman (Nicholas Lyndhurst) who, on his last job was shot by his own ricocheting bullet re-evaluates his life and turns to teaching Biology at a local high school. He uses his intimate knowledge of the human body and the natural world to become a ‘hit’ in the classroom and in society, but can his past stay away?: Breaking Good
  • Alan Titchmarsh looks at poor soil management and how that may have affected farmers in the past: Raking Bad
  • The history of inefficient limestone chemical reactions is examined by Professor Brian Cox: Slaking Bad
  • People with a host of dermatological diseases talk to Dr Christian Jessen: Flaking Bad
  • Robert Peston sets out the ways in which trends come and go and whether the internet age has increased the speed of the cycle: Making Fads
  • To raise awareness of testicular cancer Mary Berry tries to break the world record for making the most genital shaped cakes in a 24 hour period: Baking Nads
  • Tommy Walsh smashes central heating units: Breaking Rads
  • A new drama starring James Corden who plays a man pretending to be a father so as to gain the affections of his next door neighbour: Faking Dad

Of course the list can go on, but I will spare you from the deepest pun-generating recesses of my mind.

Review: Tiny Furniture

I love Girls. The versions with both a big and little G get a thumbs up from me. The HBO show is a faithful depiction of how terrifying it is to be young and in a city, what with all the drinking, sex and emotions that can be bought/had/caught. Thankfully I skipped that and at the age of 25 I am now cocooned safely in middle-age, with my slippers and my favourite mug, it just looks like so much effort to be considered ‘cool’. Girls is a statement of intent from it’s writer-director-producer-dictator Lena Dunham; it provided hope that if things do go wrong, as they inevitably will, your ambition will remain untarnished and unbroken by this cruel world.

Tiny Furniture

So, settling in to watch her pre-Girls feature film, Tiny Furniture, I was readying myself for a treat but it turns out that you can have too much of a good thing. Much like the new series of Arrested Development, spending longer than you need to in the presence of a narcissistic arsehole can be emotionally tiring. Half an hour bites of self-obsession can be easily cleansed from the system with a shower of puppies and a shift in a soup kitchen;there aren’t enough Meals on Wheels that I can deliver to remove 100 minutes of Tiny Furniture from my system.

Aura (Lena Dunham) has returned home (if such a sterile, clinical place can be considered as such) after graduating from university and is wondering what to do with her life and with whom to do it with. The problem is that Aura and the other characters are not endearing, in fact they makes me a bit sad for the human race. Aura is consumed with tending the path of her life at the exclusion of anything else yet she still yearns to be seen as selfless and a ‘good person’. It bears some similarity to Hannah in Girls and both would be exhausting to know; simultaneously using you, and telling you how little they are using you.

Whereas Girls was written with humour and warmth, Tiny Furniture seemed borne out of a superficial need to show someone that a film can be made with no emotional depth. Or in some post-modern madness maybe that was the point? Maybe it is a riff on how in modernity we all care about the shallows and real depth has to be sought away from cinema (consider the Nietzschean Cowboy)?

Or maybe it was just a mediocre film that we can read more into than is justified?

Your thoughts as ever are most welcome.

Jay Rayner and Great Food Miles Simplification

Jay Rayner, the Observer food critic, a cross between a well-fed D’Artagnan and Marco Pierre White, is one of the go-to people for foodie opinions, and usually he is bang on. The extract of his new book published in the Observer yesterday, was for the most part a fascinating and at times dispiriting read (especially the grim truths of the abattoir). Yet the section about the over-simplification of the concept of food miles seemed too defeatist and happy for us to wallow in indecision.

Through research, it now appears that the idea that the farther food travels the more environmentally destructive they become, is far too simplistic. Whodathunk? What emerges is the need for a more holistic approach, one provided by Life Cycle Analysis (which takes into account the amount of petrochemicals to run the machinery, the materials for the farm buildings, nutrients for the soil amongst others); this then throws spanners in all forms of works as it shows that local doesn’t not necessarily equal more environmentally friendly. Though, as is pointed out, there are far more benefits buying locally than just the perceived environmental factor, but it does drive a (well-hung) stake through the argument somewhat.

But it is here that Rayner’s argument disappears and the resigned nihilism comes through, as it ends with a verbal exasperated arm flail instead of pointing to a real solution. I can imagine him in the corner of his kitchen sobbing into the research shouting’nothing matters anymore’. Whilst the simplicity of food miles is inadequate, surely we can found a new system on the LCA, one which gives the consumers the facts and the power to vote with our feet.

Maybe this is too simplistic again? Maybe the effort that it would take to compile all this data isn’t worth the effort? Possibly, but it would a boon for statistics nerds.

The Leveson Report – Reading between the criticisms

With the publishing of the Leveson Report on Thursday, after seemingly 237 years in the making, those instantly critical or dubious of the conclusions have come out of the woodwork faster than Gary Barlow on a slip-n-slide.

1. With the earnestness of a nun at the Vatican, all of the leading newspaper and TV organisations have dutifully focused on the importance of the report and its wide ranging implications for the future of the press, but no one has really taken a step back and questioned the place of newspapers in our society. With circulation diminishing year on year, it feels like regulating on a new type of stable door after the horse has bolted. There is seemingly little forethought as to how newspapers will operate in a world full of iPads and the Mail Online; if more newspapers reduce their publishing frequency or become a digital only entity, like Newsweek, then the difference between a regulated media outlet and one that is not, will be rather stark and absurd.

Lord Leveson

Lord Leveson with his magic report

2. The new Ofcom style regulatory body that will be established (Ofpap anyone?) will herald the first press law since the 17th Century, and the Conservatives don’t like it. Their main reason for ‘hating on’ Leveson is the ‘mission creep’ fear that politicians today have about their counterparts in the future. Apparently they are creating a vehicle for the future government control of the press, which in turn raises many interlinked points:

  • A ‘vehicle’ that can alter the future sounds like a time machine – is that where George Osborne has been hiding whilst it is being built?
  • When is this expected government takeover of the press likely to take place, as we can keep a look out for it?
  • Do politicians really distrust the future iterations of themselves that much? Though saying that, I suppose they know the wants and desires of politicians better than us mere mortals. Maybe we should take their warning with a greater seriousness than we have so far.

3. The reaction of most of the newspapers is of collective shock at how their industry has been slandered by Leveson. But lest we forget the ‘last chance saloon’ of the 1990s, and to be able to drink in such a salubrious establishment there must have been one or two other bars they were thrown out of because of raucous behaviour. Newspapers are a public entity with a moral duty to upload to society, and that was destroyed with phone hacking, profit maximising, politician entrancing behaviour.

4. People bought the papers out of their own free will. So surely we, the people should accept some share of the blame

There isn’t a magic elixir to solve the ills of press behaviour whilst maintaining the ideal amount of freedom, and I think it is time that that fact was acknowledged a bit more by those in power. Much like a teenager that has misbehaved once too often, the press will have to be grounded until it has learnt it’s lesson and only then will it be allowed to go out by itself again, but hopefully with more wisdom and greater responsibility.

Downing Street Fighter

The newly installed leader of the Labour Party has issued an ultimatum ahead of the next General Election: that their politicians will be more ‘human’. Gone are ‘the living embodiments of dull. The Minster-Bot 3000s. The grey, soulless, vacant and examples of Parliamentarians that have been inflicted upon the country for too long.’

‘Re-selection for a seat will now be based on a Hit Point system,’ said Tom Jenkins, who sprung from nowhere to take over as Leader of the Opposition after Ed Miliband stood aside due to being stuck in a state of permanent incredulity one day at Prime Minister’s Questions. Jenkins, who studied Computer Games Design, said that MPs were rewarded for good deeds within their constituency, well thought out verbal displays (in interviews, local council or Parliament) and advancing general Labour Party aims.

A bunch of..

Conversely, any evidence of the type of behaviour that would have been permitted under the ‘Old Regime’ causes a deduction in the ‘life’ of an MP. Mr Jenkins says that this can include a deduction per evasive answer (one point for every piece of business speak), or petty politicking.

‘We want to return to a more representative politics, one where MPs actually appear to be in touch with the people they are meant to be elected by. This is rewarding solid, hard-working politicians, those that are standing up for their community’s interests, whilst punishing those who only seek to slither their way through Westminster like the Basilisk through Hogwarts. No longer do we want to see the kind of Punch and Judy debates that have blighted Parliament. We aren’t seven any more; they’re not fun.’

Jeremy Paxman, foil of so many aspiring politicians had mixed feelings about the move, ‘whilst this is obviously beneficial to the link between the electorate and the elected, it makes my job nearly redundant. Ever since the much recognised nadir in 2013, politicians have fought hard to regain the trust of the public; an effort that died before it was even born as they continued to stand around saying how much they were listening to the public.’

Of course, this was best shown during the Night of the Long Whines when Transport Secretary, Justine Greening (‘barely a human’ said Paxman) made one of her campaign staff change his name from Ed to George in order to ‘refocus the message’.

‘That would have been a knock out blow in this new system’, said Jenkins, ‘and quite rightly too. We want a new type of politician, ones that are unfamiliar with the language of the past.’

A Conservative Party spokesperson that ‘this is another gimmicky Labour proposal that misses the point. The public don’t want accountability; they want strong figures, ones that are willing to make tough decisions in these precarious economic times. In wasting time over this, it highlights Labour aren’t up to the job.’

‘Sigh’, said Mr Jenkins.

Santorum Suffers Suspension In Campaign – Will Be Out Indefinitely

Now Rick Santorum has left the Republican Primary race, slowly backing away from the mess he has made, Mitt Romney can march on into obsolescence, trumpeting his own patented brand of mediocrity. For what seems like a lifetime, Mitt has been the presumptive nominee, and Rick was the perpetual thorn in the side, chasing some imaginary showdown at the RNC. But now he seems to have understood the basic logic that overturning a 400 delegate lead is impossible, save for an Act of God (though I have some core doubts about the likelihood of that…).

The Man With The World's Most Forgettable Face

Santorum was the outsider’s candidate: outside politically, morally and psychotically, but he proved a necessary counter-foil to the straight-edged Romney. He was the threat dangled in front of the GOP membership: ‘Vote Romney or you get him‘. Granted for some people that was a boon! ‘A candidate as deeply conservative and offensively prejudiced as me’ they gloat mawkishly, obscured to the realities of reality. A true sceptic could be led to believe that Mitt asked Santorum to stay in the race as long as possible to keep the Republican agenda in the news and by dint of that, make Romney look palatable by comparison (an idea made doubtful by the lack of mention Romney received in the concession speech. Genuine animosity or superb petulance?). Sadly, for most voters ‘palatable’ is just about the best adjective Mitt can be associated with. In reality, it may have just taken him that long to tot up the results on his fingers, so distrustful is he of anything resembling education.

It surely now must be time for the other two candidates to turn their backs on aspirations for the nomination, as neither Newt nor Ron have made an ant jumping into a pond’s worth of an impression. Ron Paul, can do what he likes as for the most part, he is motoring under his own steam, but Newt must be proving a point to Mitt, possibly angling for a cabinet position.

With Romney coasting home, and the interminable Primary fight nearly over, it will be interesting to see how the Republican team can still grab the media’s attention between now and August. For everyone’s sanity, hope that they can’t.

Cash for Crapsticks

I found Peter Cruddas outside the Palace of Westminster two weeks ago in a withlong trench coat. We made eye contact and he knew what I wanted: ‘Get your access, buy your Cameron here. Two dinners for £300,000’. Sadly, I only had my Oyster Card and £2.70 in my wallet so had to pass, but with such brazen tactics, it was only a matter of time before he was rumbled.

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Cruddy Cruddas

Thanks to a Sunday Times investigation, Cruddas is now out on his ear and the Tory Party has run from him quicker than Georgie O from a poor person. The former Party Treasurer was recorded selling access to the Prime Minister in a rather unConservative manner: using a football analogy. A £250,000 donation was said to be in the ‘Premier League’ thus guaranteeing access to DC & GO.

Now Number 10 have slowly but ever so surely realised the level of public (or media) dissatisfaction with this and issued a carousel of u-turns culminating in the publishing of a list of all of Cameron’s meetings with Party donors. Alongside this, is an assertion that no donor was given exclusive access to policy chiefs, which if I had just given a man promising just that, a large bundle of cash, I would be wondering who to speak to regarding a refund.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Labour have gone on the attack, rounding on this practice. But whilst trade unions offer a more democratic voice than single donors, they must realise a full blown attack on ‘cash for Cameron’ leaves them open to cries of hypocrisy. A meeting with a donor is a meeting with a donor regardless of whether it is a rich man or a trade union. That is why Labour should focus less on the act of meeting with the donors and start placing the individual donors on the proverbial (alas) racks, asking why they are donating. Even a monk taking a vow of silence could make the case for supporting a body with the intention of protecting the individual rights of workers to a man who probably owns half a county. And to beat the punch, Labour should have shown their transparency by publishing their meetings before this issue turns to taint them. The Lib Dems could do the same if they had donors to begin with.

This corrupt practice is awful but are people too naive to think that people will donate huge sums of money just because they like the Conservative Party logo. We shouldn’t be focusing on these knucklehead issues, but instead take a few steps back and see that lobbyists are embroiled in the same mess (in fact it was a Labour lobbyist that helped to start this). As are newspaper proprietors…isn’t that correct Sunday Times owner Rupert Murdoch? There has to be a greater concerted effort to exclude money from the echelons of power. Or alternatively, you can give it to me. I can give you all the access you want.