Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Ban The Freecycles?

by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

I know who I’m voting for in the general elections. There’s never been any doubt. On the surface that may appear to be an admission of political blindness. In actual fact it couldn’t be any further from the truth. No no, I am deeply, painfully aware of every nuance and manoeuvre in what can only be described as a modern day war dance. Every article and news report evokes a near on catatonic response whilst I attempt to play out every twist and connotation of the possible consequences in the wider context. It normally ends in a puddle of dribble and paralysis.

The all out attacks on Darling’s budget sends me into a state of doomed surety that it’s all over. Ah but wait, Sam Cam’s being cut down to size for daring to suggest she will continue to work after having the baby, regardless of whether her man becomes our main man… be quiet my feminist soul, we’re back in the game!

Amidst all of this, there is one constant and aggravating thorn in my side. It’s there lurking as I make my way work. I may think I’ve managed to dodge its grip but no, there it is again on my way home, just in a different guise. That’s right, fiend of fiends, the freecycles. Current king of the fiends? The Evening Standard.

Then again, perhaps freecycles are in fact just harmlessly digestible sources of news that save you from having to reread the same Well Woman advert all the way home? You can probably tell that my vote’s with the former option but I am prone to exaggerate.

There was one particular edition of the Standard that evoked such fury that I saved it, planning to furiously quote every source of irritation in this ponder. Unfortunately by a twist of fate it ended up in the rabbits’ litter tray – a fitting demise if you ask me. Anyway, in the absence of any evidence to back up my cries to ban the freecycle, I turned to the only true source of information about what fuels a newspaper: how they describe themselves to prospective advertisers. Here are just three quotes from their website…

  • “The ability of the Evening Standard to influence political community should not be underestimated.

  • 1.3 million daily readers.

  • Highest circulating quality newspaper in the UK

It would be easy to dismiss all of the above. To think it doesn’t matter. That we’re all grown up enough to decide our own opinion on what we read. You’d be wrong. It does matter.

We’ve long since passed the point where newspapers concern themselves with the simple and objective reporting of fact. We now actively choose publications whose editorial bias is most closely aligned with our own opinions. The Sun’s latest advertising campaign isn’t based on their ability to report the news; it’s based on who their columnists are. And if there’s one thing that you can say about the Sun, they understand what their readership wants.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that. Editorial bias doesn’t mean that you spin or amend a story to fit a specific political view. Clearly some do, but that’s what the PCC is there for. No, what it means is that the type and quantity of a particular kind of story will be published above another, depending on the bias. And that’s exactly where the freecycle becomes dangerous.

If you are one of the “60% of Evening Standard readers who don’t read any other quality newspaper”, you would be forgiven for believing that the entire country is opposed to the Labour party, that rabid dogs are roaming the streets of London attacking grannies, and of course, the staple of all right leaning publications, that immigrants are taking over. Now if you were a Daily Mail reader you’d be comfortable with viewing the world through that lens. But then again, the Mail isn’t feeding you a hateful life view, it’s merely reinforcing the one that you currently hold which is why it’s your paper of choice. If on the other hand you’re innocently being handed a copy of the Evening Standard to “leaf through” on your way home, you will perhaps be less aware of the level of bias in the way that the world is being presented to you. The Standard isn’t doing anything “wrong”. It’s simply reporting in line with its clear and open editorial bias… that doesn’t make it any less manipulative or dangerous.

With a general election on our doorstep, there has surely been no better time to ban the freecycles, or at the very least regulate them to impotency. The problem is, with the general election on our doorstep, there’s probably never been a worse time to attempt to ban them. Maybe I’ve got it wrong though, maybe it is all harmless?

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Are Americans better at English?

By Sarah Kingston

As an American doing a reverse immigration back to the English Motherland there are many dangers to consider at any one time.

I’ve had to learn not to end any and all arguments with triumphant references to the Revolutionary War (that’s The American War Of Independence to y’all). I face death daily whilst trying to cross the street and finding that the oncoming traffic is oncoming from the wrong direction… or is it the left direction? But by far the most perilous thing I have encountered is American English vs British English – pronunciation, spelling, word meanings… and all.

The consequences of this difficulty range from embarrassing references to needing to change my “pants” meaning, of course my trousers, to remembering to add unnecessary extra letters to words such as coloUr and humoUr. The most frustrating of all? Not being understood at 2am in the kebab shop when asking for chilli sauce but no “to-ma-do-s”. There may be other factors at play there.

I have, on the whole, accepted my inferior speaking ability with good grace until a few weeks ago when a friend of mine told me that American English is actually closer to English in its earlier, purer forms. And that my good friends, is called vindication. Now before you scroll down to the “post a comment” section, I feel it necessary to add that the aforementioned friend is not only English but also an amateur linguist. You can imagine my surprise, my glee, and it got me thinking.

The British tend to believe that because they started the language and deliver it in a much more pleasing way (this I really can’t deny), that their form of the language must be correct, but I wonder, is it really?

Browsing the internet, which as we all know is the only foolproof source of information, I saw several references offering further validation to my friend’s, and now my own, statements. One site claimed that the dialect of the Ozarks is very close to Elizabethan English.

While the last American Head of State was a complete embarrassment to any form of the English language , or any form of communication whatsoever while we’re at it, he doesn’t represent the speaking capabilities of the rest of us. Some Americans can even string whole sentences together , shocking, I know.

And while the Brits remain confident in their speaking abilities I must say that there are several dialects that are barely intelligible and certainly don’t follow the laws of “the English language.” In fact there is a whole film dedicated to this concept with Henry Higgins asking “Why can’t the English learn to speak?

Readers, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not another puffed up American patriot who thinks that we created the universe and do everything right. There is a reason I’m living in England and the sound of my own American voice often makes me cringe. But accents aside, I do have to wonder – are Americans better at English?

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Sins Of Our Fathers

By Euclides Montes @Gatulino

It's been a bad couple of weeks for the Catholic Church. Defending itself from accusations of cover ups of child abuse – involving in some cases some of its highest dignitaries – the Church has taken some powerful knocks and not for the first time it has been called upon to explain itself.

Some in the atheist camp would have probably followed this news with more than a tinge of schadenfraude. But I imagine that most would have also shared my discomfort and sadness at each new development in the knowledge that each new crisis will almost inevitably mean another set of lives that will have been changed forever.

This had led me to ponder about religion and its place in society. Should we be pushing our society to a state of complete secularism where religion is simply a personal interest and its institutions regulated as any other public institution? Or would curtailing religious freedom perhaps lead us to miss out on the benefits generally associated with religion?

It’s a tricky argument and I’ve found myself at times getting angry and ready to take up some metaphorical weapons and fight against religion and what I perceive as all its evils; whilst at other times I find myself thinking about the good things religion has to offer and how sad a place the world would be for so many – some very close to me– without religion. It’s at this juncture where you join me and will hopefully be able and willing to help me ponder a bit more about this.

It is undeniable that religion can be, and by large is, a positive influence in people’s lives. Although it would be impossible to analyse religion as a whole in just a few lines, the significance of its role in helping people to deal with a variety of situations, from grief to imprisonment, is clear.

However, we only need to look to the scandals mentioned above, or the influence of the profitable right-wing Christian communities in America, or the extremist elements in Islam to see that it is also clear that religion brings into the social forum a large amount of negative baggage. And this is where my ponder lies. How can we find a balance between the religious and the social spheres?

So, should we be pushing our societies to a stage of overt and complete secularism? Where religion is reserved for the privacy of our own homes? In this scenario, religious institutions would be accountable to secular society and religious rites and customs would be informed by the accompanying secular values, rather than the other way around.

Alternatively, should we feel that the secularisation of our society is undermining some of the religious values that many have come to identify with Western civilisation?

It’s a tricky argument indeed but one that I feel can only be beneficial if everyone thought about it at some point in their lives. After all, whether it is faith schools or extremism, religion has been a regular feature in the arguments that have shaped the news over the last decade.

So, I open the floor and ask you, where should the balance lie between religion and society? Should we be pushing for an official inquiry into paedophilia in the Catholic priesthood in Ireland for instance, and expecting priests to be judged and held accountable just as any other person in a position of trust like a doctor or a lawyer would be judged? Or should we be giving the Church certain concessions and trust that there are enough internal systems of accountability to act as safeguards for everyone?

I invite you to think about this whilst we celebrate St Patrick’s Day and hopefully you’ll let me know what you think in the comments below.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Question For The Executioner


Am I alone in feeling a little concerned about the level of moral panic gripping the nation at the news that Jon Venables has returned to prison? It's not so much that the media are speculating with sensationalist reporting, but an unease that this moral panic is steadily evolving into a public trial by a terrified and vengeful British people. Jubilantly manipulated by the media. Speculation is serving as evidence and the government is being forced to defend its silence.

Should I be surprised? Venables, along with Robert Thompson committed one of the most horrifying crimes in British history when they kidnapped, tortured and murdered two-year old James Bulger. It shocked the nation, not just because of its violence but also by the age of the perpetrators. At ten-years old Venables and Thompson became the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history. Just as Myra Hindley had violated the purity of womanhood, Venables and Thompson obliterated innocence by proving that children are capable of cold-blooded murder. It signified the commencement of society's decay. Or at least that's what we thought.

So as new fears refresh old wounds, I'm pondering....Is Venables guilty for life? Are some crimes simply unforgivable? Can we justify punishment without rehabilitation?

Of course, the value of rehabilitation in society has enormous consequences for the criminal justice system. What if the will of the people is simply to punish, should the criminal justice process be adapted? Media trials; indefinite life sentences and capital punishment? That may allay our fears but does it keep us safe? I'm sure that incarcerating Venables for life would not have stopped the Edlington brothers from torturing two young boys. I suspect that these motivations can be found in their experience of relationships, family, education....

So I guess my final question is: If it is not our desire then should it be our responsibility to understand the will of the killer?

Friday, 5 March 2010

If The Day Was An Hour Shorter...

by @PonderBoxes

Last week’s earthquake in Chile was quite simply devastating. So much so that words can’t suffice. It goes without saying that a tragedy on such a scale will have a profound and lasting impact on the Earth’s inhabitants. But perhaps more surprising was that it has also had a profound and lasting impact on the Earth itself. So forceful was the earthquake that some scientists believe the earth was knocked off its axis brining about shorter days. In reality we’re talking about microseconds, but, nevertheless it got us thinking. If the day was an hour shorter…

If the day was an hour shorter… it would be a great excuse to start completely disregarding my personal hygiene. I could tell concerned friends and co-workers that I had to cut out the hour where I shower, clean my teeth and wipe crumbs out of my beard.

If the day was an hour shorter...there'd be more opportunity to lurk under cover of darkness and trip any passing dwarves.

Sarah Kingston
If the day was an hour shorter… the office workers of London, already on the brink of a sunless existence during the winter months, would be certain never to see daylight. Now the close kin of the walking dead, they would flock to the falsely lit pubs for solace, and beer sales would rise - nothing much, it seems, would change.

If the day was an hour shorter… I would be far more productive because I would have less time to procrastinate.

M. Foot
If the day was an hour shorter… George Osborne would still be a cunt.

Alan Scott
If the day was an hour shorter… there would be approximately 14,709 less people born each day. So we'd loose 14,709 people who might one day have ended poverty or cured a disease. Tackled prejudice and discrimination, promoted equality or helped someone who wasn’t themselves.

If the day was an hour shorter… I’d sleep less, eat less but work the same. Making me a slightly sleepy version of my old self.

If the day was an hour shorter... we'd still find the time to build walls around each other.

Rachel Surtees
If the day was an hour shorter… Cinderella would have remained a princess and I would forever mourn the loss of midnight’s chime.


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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Etiquette Of Riding A Bus

by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

Etiquette isn’t really a word that you hear bandied about much anymore. It’s become a relic of the past like corn beef, or petticoats. But enough is enough Britain (or do I just mean London?); surely it’s time to reinstate some etiquette on the buses? Reaffirm a code of honour? Reinstate a mode of practice?

So today, you’re not going to get a traditional ponder. You’re going to get ten micro ponders - all for the price of one.

Try to answer a couple of them. However, if like me you fail to find any reasonable explanations for any or all of the below maybe it’ll spur you to take a bus down to City Hall and have a little chat with Boris. Here goes…

The Boardee

1. You’ve been waiting for over 20 minutes, during which time three buses have driven past without stopping. I know because you told me. You told all of us in fact… at volume. I understand that you were very busy with all of that waiting that you had to contend with, but surely, surely you could have found the time to unzip you bag, stick your little hand in it, rummage around a bit and pull out your oyster before boarding the bus?

2. Do you genuinely think that stepping onto a packed bus and shouting “can you move down please” is actually going to create more space? Believe me when I say I don’t enjoy journeying with my head wedged into a fat man’s armpit so if you see it, don’t ask me to move down. I would if I could.

3. When you see a pack of school kids running at the bus like donkeys in a derby do you really think that your perfectly rehearsed look of disdain is having any impact? Do you really think they care? I tell you, it’s far more fun to just do like Rome and get stuck in. Run faster, get your elbows out, tread on their little toes, push ‘em over to get to the seat first.*

The Boarded

4. Why did you open the window? It’s mid winter and there are 50 other people on this bus.

5. When did we stop standing up for the elderly and pregnant? Seriously, we’re known internationally for having debilitatingly good manners and yet all that we currently seem to have is a debilitatingly sophisticated system of selective blindness.

6. Do you not think it’s time to buy better headphones?

The Driver

7. You saw me running, right?

The Others

8. Dear Car Driver,

Can you see that pulling out into a queue of traffic and blocking the four oncoming buses carrying over 200 people to work is a deeply, deeply selfish thing to do?


An Angry Bus Rider

9. Dear School Run Driver,

Can you see that stopping in the middle of a one lane road to drop little Timmy and Josie off, thereby blocking the buses carrying 200 people to work is a deeply, deeply selfish thing to do?


A now late Angry Bus Rider

10. Dear Pigeon,

Can you see why flying directly into a bus might be fairly disturbing for those inside the bus?



So? Any answers?

* Calm down. I’m kidding.