Sunday, October 31, 2010

What babies think

The Express has finally lost the plot. Its idiotic CRUSADE FOR CHANGE campaign to stop the clocks going back has been well covered by Atomic Spin and Tabloid Watch, doubtless among others, but I wanted to focus on one particular aspect of the coverage - namely, the brazen misuse of mathematics.

"29 MILLION SUPPORT" screams the headline. What a lot of people. This Crusade certainly has captured the  public's eye - a number of people many, many times higher than the Daily Express readership supports it. But of course, that's not actually the true number of people who responded positively to the poll. No, what they've done is take the 'yes' percentage - 58% - and multiply it by 50,000,000 - roughly the population of England.

Why England? Well, the Scottish Express isn't so enamoured with the campaign. And Welsh people don't count. Regardless of this, is it reasonable to assume that support for the Crusade really runs at 29 million people?

No, of course not. Here's a few reasons why:

  • The article itself admits that 58% of respondents said the government should 'look at the system', which falls some way short of the unequivocal support hinted at in the headline.
  • The survey was of Daily Express readers. In general, if the Daily Express runs a poll asking readers 'would you like a large man to stamp on your testicles until you vomit?' then the 'yes' vote would be in the upper 80s at least, provided it was linked in with an article headlined NOW SPONGING EU MIGRANT BRIGADE SAY NO TO BRITISH BOLLOCK STAMPING. In context, a meagre 58% is something of a snub.
  • You simply cannot extrapolate a poll about political opinions to the whole population like that. Look at that picture, for example. What do you see? That's right - babies. Babies don't care about politics. They don't care about immigration, the NHS or the deficit. Things might affect them, but they don't care about the issues as long as the milk keeps flowing. They certainly don't care about the clocks going back. (Well, the one on the left might, because he lives in Scotland, but he doesn't count.) And yet the Express included them in its data, because they multiplied 58% by the WHOLE population of England, not just the non-baby population*. The fallacy involved here becomes more obvious when the next Express poll comes back with a 97% 'yes' result - such a figure would account for everyone in England over the age of nine.
I simply do not buy the idea that this mathematical incompetence was an honest mistake. When they get a 90%+ poll result, they don't multiply that by 50 million because the answer would look ridiculous. Just because the 29 million figure isn't actually impossible, doesn't mean that the methods used to obtain it weren't a complete crock of shit.

Add this to the usual cherry-picking of data, bold assertions and the odd truly mystifying claim (including that 'a third of us will oversleep' when the clocks go back - think about it), this whole campaign is a masterclass in pointless newspaper rubbish.

* 2009 figures here. If you're anything like me, that's you done for the day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What most sensible people do

Ah, bobbing for apples. Nothing says 'by gum, it's Hallowe'en' more than sticking your head in a bucket of water and trying to grab an apple with your teeth. As the Mail puts it:
Most sensible people consider it a jolly Halloween tradition that poses a danger no graver than getting a squirt of water up your nose.
See how the tone of the 'news' article is set by the intro - if you disagree with the Mail, you disagree with sensible, jolly, traditional folk.
And now - boo, hiss - enter the baddy in the second paragraph:
But now apple bobbing has fallen foul of the health and safety police – with participants advised to wear goggles, remove stalks and use bottled water.
Playing the villain is opthalmologist Parwez Hossain. Pfft. Opthalmologists, eh? What do they know about eye injuries?
Mr Hossain said three people were admitted to the hospital with apple bobbing injuries last year. He added: ‘Casualty staff have seen children and adults turning up on Halloween with scratches on the cornea and eye injuries from impacts caused by apple bobbing.'
 Oh, OK, he knows a fair bit. But don't listen to him, kids, he's the health and safety police. Like the police, only without any authority, and speaking in a purely advisory capacity, partly because we asked him to. Listen instead to 'Hallowe'en enthusiast' Ben Richards:
‘I’ve done apple bobbing for years and never had any problems’
 Ben has clearly got his wires crossed, and thinks that Mr Hossain (boo, hiss) was saying that absolutely everyone who bobs for apples will be injured.
Less enthusiastic about Hallowe'en, but probably more so about apples, is Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples and Pears, who said:
'I have never heard of anybody suffering an injury as a result of apple bobbing.'
Speak to Mr Hossain, he saw three last year.
The punchline of the article is a crescendo of further Hallowe'en health and safety 'horrors', culminating in:
[The hospital trust] advised care when using glow sticks because the contents can cause irritation if splashed in the eye.
Yeah, you know what? I think I'll probably actually take that one seriously.

And it's two for the price of one. Accompanying this article is a short piece about champion swimmer Alex Crossland-Robins, 10, who has been 'banned from wearing goggles in the pool under health and safety rules'.
Turns out it's policy to let children get used to the feel of water in their eyes - so they are less likely to panic if they find themselves in deep water without goggles, presumably. Oh, and it only applies in Alex's school swimming lessons - he can wear goggles whenever he likes on his own time.
He's pictured with about a dozen medals and trophies and is obviously dead good at swimming and that. I doubt he won those competitions in school time, so it's completely incongruous to link his 'champion' status with his school's rules about goggles.

Never mind though, the die has been cast and the narrative established. By next week, Littlejohn will be riffing on apple bobbing being banned by Muslim lesbian PC do-gooders - and the facts will be nothing but a distant memory.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Name shame

The Office of National Statistics has released its annual list of the most popular baby names. And the big news is that, after 14 years at the top, Jack is no longer the most common boy's name! Isn't it?

No, it's not. The big news is that Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry. Kind of, if you combine all the different spellings of Mohammed but fail to combine all the different spellings of, say, Oliver. This bullshit comes back every year. The Daily Mail (among others) wants to tell the story of SCARY MUSLIMS COMING OVER HERE TAKING OUR JOBS AND OUR WOMEN AND NOW THEY'RE NAMING OUR BABIES TOO!!!!!!!!

It's beautifully summarised by Jonathan at No Sleep 'Til Brooklands here... no, hang on a minute, here. The Mail, Express and Telegraph are cherry-picking their data and twisting it to fit their narrative. We're all used to that.

But the BBC... surely you can rely on good old Auntie. Far from the liberal-biased monster some would have you believe, the Beeb is the closest thing we have to a neutral media organisation. And how has the Beeb reported the baby names report? With a flashy graph and the headline Oliver and Olivia top names' list. Not sure about that apostrophe (actually, I am sure - it shouldn't be there) but at least it sticks to the facts.

But what's this... after mentioning the clean sweep for olive-based names, and Jack's slide to second spot, and the lack of new entries in the top 10, the story reads:
Mohammed was at number 16 nationally...
What sort of chart rundown is that? 1, 2, 16. No wonder Top Of The Pops got axed. At least the BBC didn't mash the figures to make it number one... but in a way, that makes it even odder that they've mentioned it at all. Without wishing to sound crude, it doesn't mention where Hardeep charted, or Stavros or Sergio or Vladimir, or any other foreign names for no reason other than that they're... you know... foreign.

What's happened is that the Mail et al have won. Their narrative - invading armies of super-virile Muslims colonising our white and pleasant land - has poisoned even the most innocuous of stories. So much so that even the BBC, which doesn't even attempt to gerrymander the results so Mohammed is top, feels it has to mention it. Simply because, if it didn't, it would be accused of being part of the conspiracy.


'BRITAIN'S FOREIGN AID BILL SCANDAL' screamed the Express on Tuesday.

Scandal (n): 1. A publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society: a drug scandal that forced the mayor's resignation.
2. A person, thing, or circumstance that causes or ought to cause disgrace or outrage: a politician whose dishonesty is a scandal; considered the housing shortage a scandal.
3. Damage to reputation or character caused by public disclosure of immoral or grossly improper behavior; disgrace.
4. Talk that is damaging to one's character; malicious gossip.

Hmm. Definitions 3 and 4 certainly don't fit... so what the Express is saying is that Britain's foreign aid bill either 'offends the moral sensibilities of society' or 'ought to cause disgrace or outrage'. And what is so offensive, immoral, disgraceful and outrageous about Britain's foreign aid bill?

It's the largest in the EU.

Good on us, you might think. There's a recession on, sure, but at least in this country there's not a famine on, or an AIDS epidemic on, or a civil war on. That's the kind of namby-pamby liberal-lefty thinking which the Express simply will not tolerate.

How scandalous.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Newspapers report on TV shows as though they are news. It's OK, I've got over that. Hence pages 4 and 5 of the Sun on Monday being devoted entirely to X-Factor stories such as Woman wears striped tights and Viewing public treated like idiots and are idiots.

But the page lead was headlined MENTORS... IT'S WAR. It was written by Lucy Connolly, and in the print edition it was tagged as 'EXCLUSIVE'.

That's right, EXCLUSIVE. In the context of newspapers, EXCLUSIVE has a very specific meaning. It means a story that only one newspaper has. Marking a story as EXCLUSIVE tells your readers that your reporter has sniffed around, ruffled a few feathers, dug a little deeper and mixed their metaphors until they've come up with something nobody else knew about.

Or, like Lucy Connolly, they might have just joined several million other people and sat on the sofa watching Saturday night TV. She begins:
TENSIONS between the X Factor judges have turned into open warfare - with them tearing into each other over how they mentor acts.
OK, so I understand that the Sun wants us to buy into this myth of 'tensions' between the judges. It's the show's USP, after all. So we are asked, in the name of trashy entertainment, to suspend our disbelief. Fine. 'Open warfare'... well, call that journalistic licence. What she means is, these tensions have become more... tense. And with this being an EXCLUSIVE report, she must have some behind-the-scenes scoop, right?

Wrong. There follows 16 paragraphs of story. Eleven of them simply report things that happened on the weekend's two X Factor shows. Things like:
[Louis Walsh] reckons [girl band Belle Amie] could be major stars - but are being cheated of the help they need because Simon, 51, is interested only in boy band One Direction. He told the singers: "You've got a problem because you're on your own in this competition."
Later on ITV2's Xtra Factor, the pair continued the spat when Simon declared: "The difference between me and Louis is that I listen."
Yes, we know. We actually WATCH this shit, OK? And anybody who doesn't watch it will have skipped straight to the next page, surely.

The rest of the story is either baseless speculation:
Things are now so poisonous finalists fear they are being criticised for their mentors, instead of for their performances.
Or made-up anonymous quotes:
A source said: "It was obvious that it was a sideways swipe at Cheryl. She was grimacing trying to bite her tongue but her expression said it all."
Rubbish. And people wonder why newspapers are struggling.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Journalism's ruined. I think I might become a homeopath. Surely, all I will need is some water, a big book of pseudoscientific buzzwords and a Conscience Blocker 3000.

Ooh, but I'd best join The Society first, otherwise people won't take me seriously. I won't be alone - according to The Society, all kinds of people take the plunge. Why? Well...
You may have been inspired by the qualities and expertise of your own homeopath. You may have had homeopathic treatment which has changed your life, or know of someone else for whom homeopathy has made an enormous difference. You may be a parent who has prescribed first aid remedies for your own children, or a professional in another field interested in changing direction in your work life or extending your present career.
Hey, I'm a parent! I've prescribed first aid remedies for my children! Not homeopathic ones, mind. If my daughter cuts her finger, I put a plaster on it. I don't put a drop of her blood into some water, then dilute it until none remains, then rinse the cut. That would take ages. But maybe there's a quicker way.

Sadly, I have neither the time nor the will to actually shell out for a course in homeopathy. But I can take the 'individual route to registration'. Which is to say, you don't need to take a course to be a homeopath. You need a certificate.  So once you've printed off the certificate, filled out a couple of forms, fabricated a couple of 'patients' - you're in. Once you've paid The Society between £250 and £500 for the privilege, that is.

Don't worry, you'll get it back. Once qualified, you can charge in the region of £85 for an hour of your time. And that's to say nothing of the cost of the 'remedies'.

Fair enough, you might say. If people want to spend a lot of money on not much water, why not let them? Fools and their money, so on and so forth. But sadly, it's not just individuals who pay for this rubbish. The state does as well.

That's right, despite the complete lack of evidence that homeopathy works, an overwhelming body of evidence that it cannot work, a whacking great recession and a Tory government cutting funding for such expendable luxuries as wheelchairs for disabled people, the NHS still funds homeopathy. The last government commissioned a report which advised that this should stop. The last government ignored this report in the name of 'choice'.

To be honest, the cost of homeopathy to the NHS is a drop in the ocean (like the remedies themselves). NHS Choices estimates it at £3-4m a year, which wouldn't make much difference to the deficit, or the state of the NHS. But its survival as a state-approved system of medicine is testament to its special status. It's just water, it really is.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Odious little man

Full Fact is currently ploughing through Gurning Gideon's Big Tory Cutathon. First up are his claims about welfare and employment. And of four statements of fact analysed, one was true. One. Out of four. That's about 25%, George.

"In the last three months alone," he smugged, "the economy created 178,000 jobs." For a given value of 'the economy created' (25,000 of those were people registering as unpaid family workers, while a further 43,000 registered as self-employed), that number is accurate. So, well done. Pats on the back and cheers all round. Oh, you already did that.

The other three statements were about benefits. My word, these Tories hate people having benefits, don't they? Full Fact is rather charitable on these, giving Gideon the benefit of the doubt - doubt which he created with his imprecise use of language. For example...

"The benefit bill of a single out-of-work family," he snorted, "has amounted to the tax bills of 16 working families put together." How precise. And at the same time, how imprecise. Is it 16 average families? Or 16 high-earning families? Or 16 low-earning families? Let's assume he means the average. Full Fact does the math(s): On average, each taxpayer contributed £12,180 in taxation in 2009/10 - about £5,000 in income tax and the rest in VAT, fuel duty and the like. Multiply that by 16 and you get £194,880. 

Then remember that the current political buzzword is WORKING FAMILIES, and that working families have two adults earning. So double that figure and the grand total for the average tax bill of 16 families is.......

...... £389,760.

So a single out-of-work family gets the best part of £400,000 in benefits a year.

Bollocks they do. 

Full Fact highlights a story in the Telegraph about a family getting £147,000 in housing benefit for a seven-bedroom home. Shock horror. Presumably they had quite a few kids. But even this kind of sneering story doesn't come close to £389,760. Even if they were claiming all the other benefits to which they were entitled, this family's 'benefits bill' would have been £155,639.

Gideon, I'll give you a hint here: £155,639 is less than £389,760. A lot less.

"Benefit bills," he puked, "have soared by 45% under the previous government." Depends how you look at it - you can manipulate the figures to give you 45%, but you have to ignore such things as the meaning of the word 'benefits'. Factor in the pesky English language and you get less than 20%. Again, imprecise language (catch-all terms like 'benefit bills' can mean a number of things) is Gideon's saviour.

But when he jizzed: "Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated... We estimate that £5bn is being lost this way each year," he messed up. £5.2bn is lost to the welfare system each year, but most of that (£3.7bn) is down to error on the part of the Government or the claimants. And that is a gross figure - the estimated underpayments (according to, erm, the Government) in 2009-10 amounted to £1.3bn. So the amount lost to benefit fraud is £1.5bn, but the Government almost makes up for that by underpaying people £1.3bn.

"Full Fact will write to the Chancellor to highlight this mistake and request that the record is amended to reflect this," says a rather naive fact-checking website. It wasn't a mistake, it was a lie - part of the Big Lie that anyone who claims benefit is either a scrounger or a fraud. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

The circle of dispair goes on!

I wouldn't chop my bollocks off for £200. But then, I'm not a heroin addict. John is, and he really wanted £200. Can't imagine what for. An American charity called Project Prevention gave him £200, and he surrendered his reproductive system.

It's tabloid gold, this story. Complex social problem + uneducated working class scum + alarming, inhumane 'solution' = THE PERFECT SHITSTORM. Cue the Mail and its readers.
A good idea,But lets extend it to the jobless,Immigrants,Then most importantly the section of society which causes the most damage and costs taxpayers the most.POLATICIANS! who cost a fortune to look after even more after public life with there pensions,let alone there expenses in office,Then there is there poor kids who have little idea about life than go to public school and into government,and so the circle of dispair goes on!
Robb in Stoke-on-Trent there, speaking up for the state-schooled masses. Let's not be pedantic about the odd typo here and there. And everywhere. I like his idea about sterilising the jobless, though. We can always stitch their bits back in when they get another job.
Eugenics, plain and simple. 
Sam in Bristol gives no indication of whether he thinks this is a bad thing or not.

To be fair, a lot of people do point out that dangling cash in front of desperate addicts maybe isn't a great long-term solution to their problems. But Polly in London has no such concerns, because...
It's not like £200 go a very long way in the world of drugs.
Great point. They'll probably not even bother to spend it on drugs, as it won't go very far. But you still have the problem that some people may become parents before they are drug addicts, or before the Castration Squad can catch up with them. Fear not. Phil in Maidstone has the answer:
Everyone should be reversibly steriised before puberty, Reversal only after passing citizenship and parental testing.

The insufferable Melanie Phillips

Thanks, through gritted teeth, to The 21st Floor via Daily Mail Watch for introducing me to the latest rant from the desk of Melanie Phillips.

For a start, the headline. Not the work of Phillips herself, but cribbed from her copy. 'Druids as an official religion?' it begins, in that toe-curling rhetorical question style so beloved of the Mail titles. 'Stones Of Praise here we come,' it concludes. Ha! LOLZ. Stones Of Praise, geddit? Cos Christians have SONGS Of Praise, and Druids love STONES, and STONES begins with the same letter as SONGS!!!!!! 

It doesn't get any better after you've negotiated the headline. Phillips is not happy. Not happy at all. Because:
[Druids] according to the Charity Commission, are to be recognised as a religion and, as a result, afforded charitable status, with the tax exemptions and other advantages that follow.
Ah, tax exemptions. Nothing is important unless it affects people financially. Welcome to PhillipsWorld. But other than the piffling cost to the taxpayer of extending tax exemptions to a faith practised by a tiny, tiny minority, surely it doesn't matter? Au con-fucking-traire:
Well, it actually matters rather a lot. Elevating them to the same status as Christianity is but the latest example of how the bedrock creed of this country is being undermined. More than that, it is an attack upon the very concept of religion itself.
The sneering tone of this article is truly distasteful. Phillips' incredulity that Druids should be 'elevated' to the same status as Christians is revealing - some supernatural beliefs are simply better than others, she is saying, and the powers that be should recognise this. 
If the Druids qualify as a religion, can other cults such as the Scientologists be far behind? Can it be long, indeed, before the wise and learned theologians of the Charity Commission similarly grant charitable status to sorcery, witchcraft or even the Jedi.
Yeah, and then after the Jedi, who'll be next? The paedo terrorist wheelie bin brigade, that's who - then the PC liberal left mission will be complete. And it gets worse - public sector workers are getting in on the act as well. Not content with growing fat off the sweat of the wealth-creating private sector, before relaxing in their dotage with their gold-plated pensions, now they've been...
... given the right to take days off to perform rituals, such as leaving food out for the dead, dressing up as ghosts and casting spells, or celebrating the sun god with ‘unabashed sexuality and promiscuity’. 
You could break down any religious rituals and make them sound ridiculous. What will those wacky Pagans come up with next - eating crackers and sipping wine and pretending it's the body and blood of a man born to  a virgin who was executed and then rose from the dead because he was the son of their deity? And this business of 'days off to perform rituals' - traditionally, the whole country has Sunday off for precisely this reason.

She goes on to link Paganism with communism and fascism and to say that without Judeo-Christian religions 'there would be no human rights'. She even uses the phrase 'political correctness gone mad' in a non-ironic way, which I didn't think anybody did any more. In fact, I'm almost calling Poe on this article, were it not for the fact that she comes out with this shit all the time.

Maybe the Mail's sub-editors agree. The words they've chosen to pick out as crossheads seem to sum up Melanie Phillips perfectly - CULT, EXTRAORDINARY and BARKING. Shame about the typo in the first one, though...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Football fans, bloody hell

Went to the football on Saturday, as did thousands of others across the land. Now, stereotyping is lazy, but it's also easy. And in some cases, it's right on the money. Witness the behaviour of some of my fellow fans.

Let's get the partisan stuff out of the way - I was at Oakwell, Barnsley, to watch my Forest, my only Forest, who make me happy when skies are grey. Although on this occasion they made me frustrated when skies were unseasonably blue. But the game, sporadically exciting as it was, isn't what this is about.

Oakwell, surrounded as it is by Barnsley, isn't the kind of place you associate with the glitz and glamour of American-style cheerleading. It's typical of a lot of grounds in the middle tiers of English football - squeezed between narrow terraced streets, shiny, soulless flatpack stands clashing horribly with the odd relic of a gentler age. Barnsley's one-season stand with the Premiership in the 1990s is a distant memory now, but some of the prestige remains - namely, the Tykettes, Barnsley FC's cheerleaders.

Glee's Cheerios they aint, but from what I could see they held their formation and made the right moves a lot more that Forest managed. Then they walked round in front of the away stand and... sigh.

"Get your tits out, get your tits out, get your tits out for the lads," yelled men old enough to be their fathers. One guy actually ran down a few rows and bellowed it at the top of his voice, apparently in the genuine hope that they hadn't heard the rest of the fans, and that his bellowing would make them stop, do a double-take, realise what was being asked of them and... well, oblige.

But, of course, they did not oblige. And this didn't go down well. First came the booing - again, were these people genuinely disappointed? Did they really expect that, on being instructed to do so by 'the lads', these girls would get their tits out?

Then came the really deplorable bit. "SLAGS, SLAGS, SLAGS," chanted my fellow fans. Yeah, because if they weren't slags, they'd have shown their tits to a football crowd on demand. That's the kind of thing girls do if they're not slags.

Saturday was a flag day for the Kick Racism Out Of Football initiative, a noble aim anywhere but especially so in places like Barnsley and the rest of Yorkshire, where the biggest ethnic minority population, subcontinental Asians, are glaringly unrepresented both in the stands and on the pitch. The tannoy man reiterated this several times over the course of the afternoon, warning fans of the criminal status of racist abuse and chanting.

Bloody right, too. The terrace racism of the 1980s did not disappear with the terraces. I only really started going to football in the Premiership era and I've heard monkey chants and similar abuse on several occasions. So anything that reduces that kind of behaviour is to be commended.

Similarly, homophobia is still rife at football grounds but recent high-profile incidents brought the issue to the fore and fans have been told that homophobic chants - at least those directed at players - will not be accepted. Again, bloody right.

But what about sexism? What about hundreds of men chanting 'slags' - an insult which can only apply to women, and therefore a sexist one - at a dozen or so young women? It's not a perfect analogy, but imagine they'd been shouting 'poof' at Barnsley midfielder Hugo Colace. He's not gay, as far as I know, but he has long hair and was running rings round us - in the 80s, he would have been unceremoniously 'outed'.

Or imagine if, as Ryan Bertrand demonstrated his complete lack of ability or willingness to even consider touching the ball with his unfavoured right foot, or as Dexter Blackstock showed off his full range of weary shrugs when another flick-on went astray, or as Guy Moussi ran around being Guy Moussi, imagine if even one Forest fan had inserted the word 'black' between 'useless' and 'tosser'. It happens - the target of the monkey noises I mentioned earlier was Jason Lee, in a Forest shirt, from a Forest fan - but it would be met with a chorus of disapproving tuts at the very least.

But when these women were subjected to sexist abuse, no-one tutted. Even, I'm ashamed to say, me. You have to have some cojones to tut alone at several hundred beered-up idiots. Individual tutting won't kick sexism out of football - only the collective tutting of an organised campaign or the institutionalised tutting of criminal sanctions can do that. Still, I should have tutted, but my cojones were lacking.

I'm sure it's not just Forest fans, though 'we' do have a vile song about Nottingham being 'full of tits, fanny and Forest', which makes me cringe every time it strikes up. The Barnsley fans (both of them) let the Tykettes do their thing unmolested - but home crowds are always more genteel than away followings. No, this kind of thing is endemic among football fans.

Nick Hornby bemoaned the strange relief he feels when he hears a man call another man a cunt but not a black cunt - to me, it seems similarly strange that a game which is taking giant steps to eliminate the persecution of minorities can at the same time tolerate such treatment of 50% of the population.