28 December 2010

Luckily, he saw the funny side

I don't like Ricky (Jim Royle) Tomlinson. Never really known why, but at last I've a kind of reason. For Christmas a well-meaning relative has given me Tomlinson's book Football My Arse! a collection of football-related anecdotes that declares itself "The Funniest Football Book You'll Ever Read". Hmm.
Footballers' wives are notoriously protective of their husbands when watching them play, and there are many instances of them getting involved in slanging matches with spectators having a go at their man. Judith Hurst was infamous for standing up for her World Cup hero Geoff, and it was rumoured she had whacked a loud-mouthed critic with her handbag. I wonder if she hit him three times for a hat-trick?
A lot of the stories are like this, pointless and dull. Even the once-good, once-fresh stories ("Oh jaysus and begorrah, Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?") lie like corpses on the page. Scattered Jim Royle-isms can't hide the fact this is a cut'n'paste job of cynical opportunism (originally published @ £10 for the Christmas 2005 market).

In his introduction, Tomlinson indignantly has a go at the way football's run:
Fans need to make the point that they are being ripped off.
Quite so. Fortunately, my relative - and I am grateful, honestly! - bought the book from a charity shop. I imagine the shelves were full of copies of it. Actually, the banality of some of the anti-anecdotes is quite addictive. Here's another one to be getting on with:
Former Newcastle manager and club captain Joe Harvey was a fanatical gardener. One night he came home to find a burglar in his house. Joe chased the intruder out of the back door, and as he pursued him across the garden shouted, 'Whatever you do, don't tread on my roses.'
When he gave a player a trial after a strong recommendation from the club scout, Harvey wrote dismissively on his report card: 'Can't trap a medicine ball.'

22 December 2010

Did the earth move as much for you as for me?

Another example of things you thought you knew not always being true. According to the Guardian today a minor earthquake in Cumbria measured 3.5 on the Richter scale. Except it probably didn't.

The Telegraph got it right. In one of those annoying things scientists do, they've begun classifying earthquakes according to the Moment magnitude scale, which is better because it measures the actual movement of land (I think). Apparently this has been the preferred scale since the 80s.

The Daily Mail (no link - you know you want to thank me), the Sun (ditto), even the Independent also got it wrong.  How come I (and the Guardian and Independent) have never heard of it?

There are two big mistakes in the MMS. First, it was calibrated so that it pretty nearly matches the Richter scale. So the Cumbria quake probably would measure about 3.5 on the Richter scale, if anyone measured it that way. You can understand why they'd calibrate it that way, but it does allow for a certain confusion. Media can continue to refer to the Richter scale, without getting the figure seriously wrong. They get the official statement from Her Majesty's Earthquake Inspectorate (Offshake) read the figure of 3.5 and see something about magnitude, so assume it's the number of Richters.

The bigger mistake is that it hasn't got a memorable name. Even Sirlordsugar's hapless nitwits could come up with something better than "moment magnitude scale". It was devised by scientists called Hanks and Kanamori. Scientists estimate that up to 95% of all earthquakes happen in Japan, so why not just call it the Kanamori scale? Sorry, Prof Hanks, but we don't want confusion with light hollywood comedies to blur the picture.

16 December 2010

100 per cent at best. Sometimes. That's all. You hear me?

I'm sure I'm not the first person to say that The Apprentice has crossed the line into self-parody, but I can precisely identify the moment when it collapsed under the weight of its own post-ironic knowingness.

Last night Margaret Mountford was brought back for the interviews. Maybe because she's no longer in business she now doesn't have time for meaningless biz-speak. So, when one of the candidates claimed to be a major cog, she pointed out that it doesn't mean anything. The programme would be so much shorter if there were someone around all the time, pinging like a microwave every time someone says something meaningless.
"I'll never give less than 110% (ping!)"

"I'm passionate (ping!) about driving this business (ping!) forward (ping! ping!)."

"Perhaps she looks a little ... corporate (ping!)" (It's odd how "corporate" has become a Bad Thing this year. When you consider that the candidates still all dress like the most unimaginative office drones you've ever seen throwing up at Liverpool St on a Friday night...)
"I've got a field full of ponies (PING PING PING!)"
 Perhaps it would have taken Sirlordalan less than 10 weeks to discover that Stuart Baggs was indeed "full of shit".

Anyway, good for Margaret but here's where it all went wrong. In the interview with Jamie, he mentoined his exam grades and she predictably raised that left eyebrow. Fair enough, but even archer than the brow was the music that accompanied it, a syncopated staccato string passage that climaxed with a fast plink of percussion at that point. (You can see this around 20'30" on iplayer). It's the musical equivalent of an elbow in the ribs, some tedious git going "look, look, there goes the eyebrow", the money shot that invites us all to agree Margaret's left eyebrow is the funniest, most watercooler-moment worthy feature of our Wednesday night. Finally, the editing and the music have closed out the prospect that we can form our own opinions. We will think what they want us to.

Ugh. Fortunately watercoolers have no part in my life (hence this blog) but this, my first post on The Apprentice, may well be the last.

13 December 2010

Making his debut in this blog ... it's the Dalai Lama!

Once again I'm bottom-feeding off the scraps of twitter, but it's a cold foggy day, so why not? Here's what the Dalai Lama has said, which more than a hundred people have re-tweeted:

I don't think human affection and compassion are just religious concerns; they're indispensable factors in our day-to-day lives.
Who on earth does think that human affection and compassion are just religious concerns? This comment is too trite to make Thought for the Day.

Charlton 0 Walsall 1

Some things are best forgotten. After intensive therapy, I now believe that I spent Sunday afternoon in my nice warm living room watching a particularly bitchy Come Dine With Me marathon.

09 December 2010

Stephen Neary, political correctness and petitions

The story
Stephen (or Steven) Neary is a 20 year old autistic young man. Last year he went into respite care for a few days while his father was unwell. His behaviour while in respite led the Council (Hillingdon) to keep him in for assessment. The care workers had logged several "assaults" - which Stephen's father says were harmless attempts to gain attention. Stephen is still detained under a procedure called DOLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards). This is intended to protect someone who may be a danger to himself (not to other people). Because it's not covered by the Mental Health Act (because autism is not a mental illness) there is no right of appeal to a tribunal. The Council is currently proposing to send Stephen to an assessment centre in Wales.

Political correctness
The term 'politically correct' has never meant much, apart from being a general label of dislike. In the blog article on this, "Anna Raccoon" says:
Now the Positive Behaviour Unit is a mighty politically correct place. Tap someone on the shoulder to attract their attention, and they don’t think ‘that is how Stephen has always attracted my attention since he was a child’ – they say – ‘he touched me, that is an assault’ and promptly record it in their daily log…..
And I think it's at that point that the term has finally lost all meaning. There may be all sorts of reasons to criticise the Unit's actions, but if we recall that 'politically correct' was originally about actively protecting and promoting the rights of minorities and the powerless, the behaviour of the Unit as described here is as far as you can get from that.

Nevertheless, I've signed the petition calling on Hillingdon to let Stephen return to his father, and posted a link on Facebook suggesting my friends there do so too. But I have reservations.

First, I know that councils don't keep people in any form of residential care for fun. It is incredibly expensive for one thing, and by and large council staff aren't ogres. Councils generally can't and don't give their reasons for this sort of decision because they have a duty to keep the client's confidence.

Second, who am I to give an opinion? All I know about this case I've read from a partisan blog. It feels wrong, certainly, but I'm in no sense qualified to say that Stephen would be better off at home.

Maybe I'm still too contaminated by my old job, but here's my more considered view.

There is apparently no tribunal that can review DOLS decisions. That seems wrong and the system should be amended. In the meantime, councils ought to establish their own independent review system, probably containing representatives of health services and voluntary agencies, who can consider each case in full and in private. If there were a petition to ask for that, I'd sign it, but for now, I have to sign the petition that assumes I and anyone who's read about Stephen knows enough about him to say what's right.

So, readers, whether you sign the petition or not is up to you. But please don't say this is "pc gone mad". It really isn't.

08 December 2010

As bad as it looks

Some minor furore on Twitter yesterday about this tweet from @UKHomeOffice:
Contribute your views to our consultation into how we can best reduce the number of students who come to the UK. 
There was a link to the Home Office website, where this consultation is taking place. 

There's no doubt that the twitter message is openly xenophobic, not to say racist. It is clearly based on the presumption that foreign students are a bad thing. Numerous twitter replies have pointed out that overseas students make a positive contribution to the UK economy, and that their fees can subsidise those of other students. On a less tangible level they push up the standards in universities, and ought to be a major part in spreading a good image of this country around the world.

The Government, I'm sure, would say that it's not how it looks. Its proposal is targeted at non-degree students, because such students have a record of overstaying their visas. So the easiest way to stop them overstaying is to stop them getting here in the first place (rather than, say, enforcing visas better - but that would require an efficient and effective Home Office, and we haven't had one of those for decades.)

Whatever. The twitter message and the only slightly different message on the Home Office website sends out a nasty message about this country. At the very best it's careless, but as so often carelessness reveals the true intentions, the underlying prejudice. So if you're tempted to say it's not as bad as it looks, I'd say how it looks is how it is. Someone at the Home Office is happy to spread the message that forriners is bad.

07 December 2010

Ur Bubles

Surprisingly, these people appear to have tiresome crooner Michael Buble and his family coming to dinner. I don't think they'll go a second time if a ready meal is all they get.

And on the subject of spelling here's a flyer that came through my door recently. I'm currently reading Dostoevsky's Бесы, translated by Pevear and Volohkonsky as Demons. When Constance Garnett translated it, she called it The Possessed. Critics have always questioned that decision, but it could have been worse.