Saturday, 3 December 2016

We don’t need the BBC...

...but not everyone knows it yet. Newspapers are struggling too. The Guardian is reduced to waving the begging bowl.

We want to make the world a better, fairer place. We want to keep the powerful honest. And we believe that doing so means keeping society informed by producing quality, independent journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth.

It’s essential for the functioning of democracy. And our unique ownership structure means no one can tell us to censor or drop a story.

But it’s difficult and expensive work. While more people are reading the Guardian than ever before, far fewer are paying for it. And advertising revenues across the media are falling fast.

So if you read us, if you like us, if you value our perspective – then become a Supporter and help make our future more secure.

Oh dear what a pity never mind moving on. 

Online life has been fascinating for a few years now. We are witnessing a huge change in the way ordinary people get their information about the outside world. Not so long ago here in the UK it was.


All were controlled by a few big players with the BBC leading the pack. Broadsheets told us what was what and did not tell what they thought we should not know. That was the situation for most of my life. If I hungered after deeper knowledge or a contrarian point of view I had to hunt it down and that was time-consuming and often difficult and unsatisfactory.

As we know, this cosy arrangement has now changed dramatically and the change has still to work itself out. Or not - governments still seem to prefer the old ways and appear keen to bring them back.

However, in 2016 two events in particular have given us signs of a new future, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It may be a simplification to say so, but both events were neither desired nor supported by mainstream media. Yet they happened and that must be significant. Mainstream media support was not essential which presumably means it is destined to become even less essential.

To my mind the tabloids are adapting to the loss of status more effectively than the old broadsheets. The Telegraph, Guardian and Independent are not worth reading and the BBC is a joke, but the Mail, Mirror and Sun can be surprisingly punchy and relevant when they stop obsessing about tits, bums and celebrities for a moment.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Kellogg's woes

After reading about the spat with Breitbart I wondered - do people still eat Kellogg's breakfast garbage?  After all that healthy eating propaganda I'm faintly surprised but no doubt I shouldn't be.

Let us also recall the issue they had recently with a video which appeared to show an employee pissing on the production line. Yet people still buy the stuff.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Nudge Unit

Nick Chater is co-founder of the research consultancy Decision Technology; and is on the advisory board of what was the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), popularly known as the 'Nudge Unit'.

Whatever one thinks of the Nudge Unit, he is an interesting guy.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Mince Pies

As most of us must know, mince pies are the point of Christmas. Admittedly Christmas has become tangled up with manic shopping and sentimental twaddle about a guy in a red suit, but that is merely fluff and nonsense. Mince pies are what Christmas is all about. Years ago there was some religious stuff too, but that seems to have given way to the powerful rationality of the mince pie.

Unfortunately our finest mince pie experience came via my late mother-in-law so now we have to make do with second best, but that does not invalidate the pie's primary role at this time of year. So far we have sampled the produce of Sainsbury, Tesco, Granddaughter's play centre and a Matlock cafe.

Obviously it is early in the mince pie season and we intend many more samplings but at this stage it is worth mentioning that Tesco Finest were not particularly fine. Too sweet and not enough spiciness.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference were not bad. Good texture, not too sweet and moderately spicy. They were still supermarket pies though. 

Granddaughter's play centre pies were probably Mr Kipling with all that this implies. At least the coffee rinsed the gunk off my teeth.

The Matlock cafe pies looked as if they came from a local bakery and were pretty good. Good texture, not too sweet and quite spicy. They didn't look as perfect as machine-made pies which ought to be a good sign. 

So all in all not a bad early kick-off for the mince pie season, but it's a pity neither of us is an expert baker. Maybe we'll try Lidl next.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Could you cope?

It is not necessary to know anything about chess here, but the game is unusual in that even a strong international player can end up playing a very talented youngster. The embarrassment possibilities are obvious.

The video is an impromptu blitz game between Samuel Sevian and International Master Greg Shahade played about six years ago when Samuel was a ten year old chess prodigy. He went on to become the youngest ever United States Grandmaster.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Prisons and prisons

As we all know Jeremy Corbyn has triggered a controversy over his comments on the death of Fidel Castro. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry found it necessary to defend him.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said it is "quite difficult" to get past allegations of brutality made against Fidel Castro after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the revolutionary leader for his "heroism".

Nine days of national mourning have been declared in Cuba after Castro's death at the age of 90.

Mr Corbyn said that "for all his flaws" Castro would be remembered as a "champion of social justice".

Human Rights Watch gives us an outline summary of Castro's "flaws". We are spared the details.

During his nearly five decades of rule in Cuba, Fidel Castro built a repressive system that punished virtually all forms of dissent, a dark legacy that lives on even after his death.

During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. Cuba made improvements in health and education, though many of these gains were undermined by extended periods of economic hardship and by repressive policies.

Whatever one thinks of Jeremy Corbyn, his response to Castro's death is remarkably naive for such a senior politician. Naive to the point of weird because it is not far removed from the kind of response a callow sixth former might make.  

One could simply pour scorn on his hopeless inability to react in a way which acknowledges the lessons of recent history but there is something deeper. Corbyn has his flaws too and cannot escape them. We have learned about dictators but apparently he hasn't and it isn't rocket science - it is not difficult to see why Castro was a monster.

Yet Corbyn cannot quite escape the silliness of his radical past, his decades-old political raison d'ĂȘtre. The world has moved on, the old time Stalinist dictators are almost all gone and their appalling crimes are part of our history, but Corbyn doesn't appear to see it like that. He seems to be imprisoned by his own past to a weird degree. He can't adapt and doesn't even see the need to. What the Labour party will do with him I don't know, but it needs to do something.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Pink horse tale

The other day found me watching a kids’ TV show with Granddaughter. Not an uncommon activity. On the whole kids’ TV is politically correct but not aggressively so. It usually washes over me but one particular episode caught my attention for some reason.

The show was a typical CGI confection with two little girls drawing a picture of a horse. One drew a bog standard brown horse and the other a pink horse. I’ll call those girls Brownie and Pinkie. The third little girl was the heroine of the series – I’ll call her Goody.

When the drawings were finished Brownie pointed out to Pinkie that horses aren’t pink. She didn’t do this aggressively but in a fairly mild "my horse is better than yours" sense. Well Brownie's horse was better but unfortunately this upset Pinkie so Goody intervened to point out that Brownie’s criticism had made Pinkie sad. This is a bad thing to do was the suggestion. In fact it was the point of the whole episode.

One was left with the notion that pointing out factual mistakes could make a person sad and that won’t do - it is tantamount to abuse. Brownie should have suggested that pink horses don’t quite exist but they jolly well ought to because they are such a vibrant improvement on the boring brown variety.

One might say that this tiny fragment of modern life teaches kids the virtue of kindness which it does, but why did Brownie have to be factually correct? One is left with the assumption that factual accuracy is not a mitigating factor when a person adopts a superior position. To display knowledge is to adopt a superior position and that's bad. Unless it is superior political knowledge presumably.

Kindness is good and promoting it is good but somehow the modern world has become adept at tacking on ulterior messages. The message here is that facts are liable to get you into all sorts of trouble and must be imparted with kindness or not imparted at all. A world beyond facts is okay too – that’s the other ulterior message.