Wednesday 23 December 2009

Christ you're bored

If you've come here looking for entertainment over the festive season, you must be having a really shitty Christmas. So you might appreciate this:

and you'll definitely appreciate this:

Friday 18 December 2009

Class War II: XFactor Boogaloo

Once upon a time, the middle class screwed over the working class with a bit of panache. Corn Laws, child labour in t'mill, trench warfare, "the service economy" - it all had a certain zip and sting. Nowadays, we persecute the lower-orders in ways that make up in lazy contempt what they lack in aggression. Specifically, we're getting in a pissing match over the Christmas No. 1.

In the red corner, people buying music they actually like. In the blue corner, people buying music to piss on the chips of the people in the red corner. And RATM's newfound fans are signing up to the facebook group in droves, let's not forget, as part of a protest about songs being sold on the merits of marketing campaigns rather than musicality. Sweet suffering Christ, have we no decency?

I mean seriously, buying a song whose sole attribute is the refrain "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me" just because you were told to on Facebook? This is the counterculture now?

Monday 7 December 2009

Class War, Huh, What Is It Good For?

Good God y'all.

Looks like the battlelines are being drawn. If you're not sure which side of the barricades you belong on, a short fill-in-the-blanks quiz based on the latest Mel Philips piece should help you decide. Simply replace the blank with one of the following: A - Working; B - Upper; C - Middle:

It is the ________ class whose children are discriminated against by the rigging of university admissions against candidates from high-achieving schools.

It is _______-class aspirations for their children which have been attacked by the war of attrition waged against grammar and independent schools.

It is the _______ class whose ethic of professionalism - whether in medicine, education, the law or other disciplines - has been under sustained attack by government interference in order to snuff out the independence of mind and spirit which is one of the principal sources of ________-class robustness.

How you scored:
Mostly As - don't take the piss.

Mostly Bs - well done, comrade. You gut the last banker, I'll hang the last Master of Fox Hounds.

Mostly Cs - Bad luck. If you can't already smoke a cigarette blindfold, I'd start getting some practice in.

That anyone, even Melanie Philips, can suggest with a straight face that doctors and lawyers who can afford either to pay the fees for or live in the cachement area of a high performing school are somehow "middle" class is a joke. Here's the bottom-line: if your personal income is over £50K, you are not only one of the top 10% of earners in the UK, but you are quite comfortably one of the richest tenth of one percent of people who have ever been born.* Anywhere, ever. If your response to being in this situation is to get resentful that people worse off than you are getting government support for e.g. childcare while you miss out on tax-breaks on your second home, then you are whining in a rather unattractive fashion. If you think that you or your financial situation are in any way a priority for government, you're either phenomenally ignorant about your good fortune, or you're pathetic. Good news! You're well-off, and you're going to stay well-off. Even if you have put your child into a state school, or only pay half the deposit on his first home, you're still going to be sitting pretty damn pretty. So don't keep sticking your hand out.

The language of priorities isn't just for politicians. All of us need to start wondering whether "policies that will see me right" are really the same as the policies needed to help the country.

*Probably. Don't be fooled into thinking I'm making that statement on the basis of rigorous economic and demographic analysis.

Thursday 3 December 2009

"I just want to hear the son of a bitch deny it"

As has been well-publicised just now, the HSE website includes a section on Health and Safety myths, debunking various outrageous anecdotes - including, by happy chance, those used by Cameron in yesterday's speech. A certain juvenile type of mind would find that terribly amusing, but the fact that this site is clearly struggling to make headway is symptomatic of the way we process information. Basically, we can't handle negatives.

A couple of years ago, the US's Center for Disease Control issued a leaflet which listed various "common knowledge" facts about the vaccine and labelled them as "True" or "False". Can't get much clearer than that, right?

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

These findings have been replicated in various other experiments: we just don't seem to attach negative markers to memories. You may have experienced this yourself: telling someone a story about how you e.g. went out and thought you'd left the iron on (but hadn't), and finding out later that they no longer trust you around home appliances because they remember the story but haven't filed it under "fiction". Or, for a more fun version, start introducing your friends to people they fancy with the words, "This is Geoff, who's never had chlamydia."*

The implications for this are fairly massive. For one, it goes some way to explaining why the HSE can't get a break. More seriously, it shows how easy it is to spread falsehoods even when you're trying to fight them. The more you talk about, for example, how MMR doesn't cause autism, and there are no good studies that link MMR to autism, and that studies that do link MMR to autism are flawed then the more you're linking MMR to autism in people's minds. Denying false allegations is such a natural response as to be almost reflex, but if that's all you do then you're just going cement the falsehood in some people's minds.

Instead, if you've got a point to make, make that point. Don't say "MMR doesn't cause autism," say, "MMR is safe". Instead of "Immigrants don't steal your job" try "Immigration makes us better off". As LBJ pointed out, there's no weaker position to be in than denying something that's not true.

*NB, this works better if your friend is actually called Geoff.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Placebo politics

With the emergency budget safely pencilled in for after the election, there's clearly no need for the Tories to discuss economic policy any more. Moving down the list of key priorities, the next giant to slay is, naturally enough, Health and Safety legislation. Cameron's speech comes as a timely reminder of how tired we all are of a government that's obsessed with cheap, populist initiatives rather than addressing the big issues facing Britain today.

And they don't come much bigger than this: bureaucracy is killing the village fete. I'm going to repeat that so the full horror can sink in: bureaucracy is killing the village fete. Or in other words, the people in charge of organising village fetes are such gullible, lazy, pigshit-thick inbreds that not only do they believe they'll have to fill in reams of forms to get a tombola permit, but they are so scared by the prospect of reading, understanding and completing said mythical forms that, like the selfish bastards they are, they'd rather see the whole village go without the much-anticipated, long-remembered once-a-year thrill of winning a bottle of Tizer at a coconut shy than crease their illiterate brows in thought, or sweat over a row of tick-boxes.

It hasn't occured to them that the popular conception of Health & Safety as bureacracy's war on common sense is outrage porn peddled by right-wing tabloids who are still institutionally aghast at the Factory Act. It might have occured to Cameron, but if it has he's doing his best to hide it. For example, if you're going to kick off your speech with dramatic anecdotes about kids being forced to wear goggles to play conkers, you could have the decency to point out that this nonsense has been debunked by the HSE:

This is one of the oldest chestnuts around, a truly classic myth. A well-meaning head teacher decided children should wear safety goggles to play conkers. Subsequently some schools appear to have banned conkers on ‘health & safety’ grounds or made children wear goggles, or even padded gloves!

Realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low and just not worth bothering about. If kids deliberately hit each other over the head with conkers, that’s a discipline issue, not health and safety.

Cameron does, eventually, admit that the problem lies not with the HSE, but with employers and councils who are a) wilfully ignorant of the regulations and b) terrified of being sued. In fact, he's even prepared to admit that maybe we're all a bit to blame for being so keen to sue over accidents. But that doesn't mean he won't blame the HSE, or commission a report on how quickly workplace safety regulations can be overturned. As Boots recently admitted in a different context, just because what you're selling doesn't work doesn't mean people won't queue up to buy it.