Friday, 2 January 2009

Lies, damned lies and...

The white working class was THE ethnic group of 2008 in media circles, with the BBC even presenting a White Season in a rather lazy attempt to shock.

Little surprise then, that when some government research came out today bemoaning the supposed alienation of poor whites, it was picked up across the media spectrum, typically featuring the poisonous, pixie-ish Hazel Blears, who along with Phil Woolas, has started making ominous and disturbing noises about the "indigenous population".

Turns out this 'research' was the product of interviews with a total 43 people living on housing estates in carefully chosen parts of the country, making any results utterly worthless. It's hardly surprising that the government got the soundbite research they needed after spending enough time finding people to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Presenting the thoughts of a hand-picked selection of residents of Runcorn, Thetford and Widnes as research borders on fraud. It is precisely this sort of manipulation of information that feeds cynical and dismissive attitudes - as happens when each party seems to have its own set of crime statistics. All too often, the press response is unquestioning - a perfect example of what Nick Davies terms "churnalism".

Interestingly, the aptly-named Sir Michael Scholar, head of the UK Statistics Authority, today called for ministers' early sneak briefings on official statistics to end. Unsurprisingly, it turns out some naughty politicians have a habit of leaking favourable data. While the 'research' out today wasn't the UKSA's fault (they deal with the dreary but worthy stuff like the census), it makes sense to make the organisation more of a public service. Plus, it will make the whole topic much more fun, as the various parties enter a speed-reading race to get their statements out first.

Finally, here is some doggerel that really shouldn't be anywhere near the pages of a quality newspaper. Katyusha rockets are scarier with their mysterious Russian name - one way to fight them, at least psychologically, would be to translate it into English. Maybe militants would get embarassed about setting off a barrage of 'Little Katies'?

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Busily paving my road to hell

As a (perhaps overly optimistic) new year's resolution, I have promised myself that I will make this blog much more active. This starts here with the first of what will be regular selections of not necessarily the most relevant, but hopefully interesting pieces from around the web.

First up is a great piece by The Guardian's Marina Hyde suggesting some new year's resolutions for the Premier League, placed here because of this superb little aside on the subject of "the rampaging armies of middle-class thrift bores currently laying waste to features sections."

A seasonal article by The Times' Ben McIntyre on "the bard for hard times", Robert Burns.

Carole Seymour-Jones writes in The Telegraph on Pinter's human rights record, while Liberty are concerned about the police abusing public order powers when dealing with football supporters. An excellent reason to recommend watching Chris Atkins' excellent documentary Taking Liberties, which is still available on 4od, as far as I am aware.

On a lighter note, and in a rather contrived way to coincide with the start of the English transfer window, Rob Marrs of Left Back in the Changing Room has put up the answers for a brilliantly diverting quiz he posted last month.

Finally, Flight of the Conchords is back for a second series on Funny or Die. Enjoy!

Parlour Games

With 2009 just beginning, it's the perfect time to play a parlour game - fun for all the family guaranteed even if, like almost everyone, you don't actually have a parlour. Yes, it's...

Recession Roulette - "Casino Capitalism" for all the family

Experts have predicted that 10 to 15 retailers will shut in January - can YOU guess which ones?

The game can be played with any number of people, hopefully with drinks, and the rules are simple: Just think of a shop, like Woolworths, Adams or The Officers Club, that sells nothing anyone would ever want to buy and no-one you know goes to, and is thus ideal to follow in the despondent footsteps of Whittards and MFI. Try to aim for one that, like The Officers Club, is so bland and pointless that you'll never really notice it was ever there until they start selling the fixtures and fittings.

Here are a few suggestions to set you off:

Julian Graves - seems to exist solely so gullible people can buy prunes by the kilo. Will be desiccated if they ever come to their senses.

GAME - annoying purveyor of computer games. The kids buy theirs off the internet anyway, while their parents get them in the supermarket. The next Zavvi.

Any and all places that offer £25 haircuts for babies.

Once you have thought of a suitable chain, announce it to the assembled company and drink to its demise. You could make plans to meet up with your friends in a months time and give a small prize to whoever selected the company to go most spectacularly up the spout. However, such long-term planning is probably inadvisable in the current climate.