May 2006

Quote of the Day: Beneficial testing

We live longer and healthier lives than ever before. Animal research has improved the treatment of infections, helped with immunisation, improved cancer treatment and had a big impact on managing heart disease, brain disorders, arthritis and transplantation

- Robert Winston

Tabloid TV and political posturing

I was back in the UK this weekend and, for the first time in a long time, found myself watching the early evening news on TV. I should be wary of drawing too many conclusions - or over generalising - on the basis of a single broadcast, but I was struck by how sensationalist the reporting has become.

TV has always been a tabloid medium when it comes to news and - as far as the headline news was concerned - there really wasnt much to object to. But the in depth reporting was appaling.

In a segment on knife crime, we were treated to a series of anecdotes strung together with a complete absence of information. The report blatantly set out to exploit public concern about crime while making no effort to quantify whether crime is rising or by how much. There was no effort to examine why crime might be rising, what is being done about it or what could be done.

Sensationalist reporting such as this serves only to encourage a vague and open-ended concern about crime which can be - and is - exploited by knee jerk politicians looking for easy headlines. And, in the absence if any real information, this headline grabbing quickly deteriorates into a competition to see who can sound the most reactionary.

I was, therefore, more disappointed than surprised to see that Menzies Campbell has joined the bidding.

Apart from anything else, this sort of political chest-beating lets the government off the hook of having to explain why they have failed as badly as this Observer report indicates.

The numbers quoted do indicate that crime rates are rising and that convictions are falling. But what is interesting is why more people are being aquitted:

The blunt truth is that over the entire period 1992-2006, most not-guilty verdicts recorded in the Crown Courts where all serious cases are tried have not been reached by juries at all, but by judges. In fact, where juries do reach a verdict, acquittals have steadily declined from 45 per cent of contested cases in 1992-3 to 38 per cent in 2005-6. Judges acquittals, on the other hand, have risen. They fall into two categories: ordered decisions, entered when a trial is due to start because the prosecution says it cannot proceed, or the much less common directed ones, when the judge stops the trial because of a legal problem.

In other words, all of this macho posturing over who can be tough on crime or rebalancing the criminal justice system is not only dangerously illiberal but also fundamentally dishonest. The problem is not a lack of laws or that defendants have too many rights, but that the Crown Prosecution Service simply not bringing people to trial.

Progress is possible, and the Observer article cites a couple of changes - such as prosecutors working more closely with the police and greater support for witnesses - that do improve the likelihood of cases going to trial. But while politicians seek headlines rather than solutions and while the government is able to hype itself off the hook, any improvements will be few and far between.

10 Things I Hate About Commandments

Ive linked to a few spoof trailers in the past, but if you dont laugh out loud when Samuel L. Jackson makes his appearance, then you have no sense of humour.

Go and watch 10 Things I Hate About Commandments

(via FilmRot)

The Red Road to a surveillance society

Andrea Arnold, the director of Red Road - a film about a Glasgow council official who monitors the citys CCTV network - has called for a debate about the future of 24-hour surveillance of society.

In light of the trivialisation of CCTV for entertainment purposes, I would say that this debate is long overdue.

New Zealand. Now is you chance to save the world from stupid convenience foods.

This is too bizarre for words. Heinz are planning to launch a beans on toast product to be heated up in the toaster. Clearly they feel that there are enough people incapable of warming up a tin of beans and tipping it over a bit of toast and, worryingly, they might be right.

But there is hope:

The new beans on toast concept will initially be rolled out in New Zealand, with a view to going global if the test run is a success.

If there are any New Zealanders out there, please do not buy this product. Tell your friends not to buy into this sheer idiocy masqurading as convenience. Please, kill this monstrosity before it reaches the rest of the world.

(via Different Day)

The 32%

Peace Takes Courage is a project by Ava Lowrey - a 15 year old student and peace activist from Alabama. In Mid-March 2005, she created her first animation. Since then she has made over 70 animations, many of them about the war in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, her efforts have attracted the illiterate wrath of some of her fellow countrymen. So she put them to music.

(via lunartalks)

The smack of firm leadership

The Pope has thrown his authority behind a new and uncompromising approach to sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church. Now, when a priest is caught buggering young boys he will be ordered to start drawing his pension.

Maybe its just me, but this does seem to be a bit of a weak response.

Stars of CCTV

A group of Eastenders have become the first in Britain to get their very own CCTV channed.

Shoreditch TV is an experiment in beaming live footage from the street into peoples homes and promises to be every bit as fascinating as the courtship rituals of Celebrity Big Brother contestants Chantelle and Preston.

Viewers can watch the dog walkers on the street below, monitor the appearance of new graffiti and keep an eye on the local pub.

This summer 22,000 Londoners will be tuning in and homes across Britain are getting their own version next year. But despite being a curtain-twitchers paradise

Curtain-twitchers paradise. You can say that again.

the channel is about fighting crime from the sofa, not entertainment.

I assume that they will also be able to watch all of the flying pigs. Of course this is being used as entertainment, which is demonstrated if you read a little further and discover that Jan Ashby has watched it everyday since I have had it.

Of course its entertainment. CCTV TV is cheap, voyeuristic entertainment which invades the privacy on anyone and everyone who might have reason to walk through the area.

Its also likely to encourage - at best - people wating police time by ringing up to complain about groups of kids who arent atually doing anything wrong and - at worst - vigilantism.

Spy TV really is the worst idea since the last really stupid idea.

(via The Melon Farmers)

Secular Liberalism

Its rare that I find myself agreeing with Theo Hobson, but this time hes right on the button:

I think theres a huge area that is totally untapped by conventional politics. It is generally considered to be off-limits. Religion. The Liberal Democrats ought to re-fashion themselves as the party that is committed to the removal of religion from political life, that believes in an explicitly secular state.

It would press for the disestablishment of the Church of England (which is already one of its lesser-discussed policies), and, of course, the ejection of the bishops from the Lords. It would be the only really convincing party of constitutional reform.

Perhaps these issues are thought to be too minor, too special-interest. But there are two very mainstream issues related to this agenda. One is education: a party that was committed to curtailing the distinctiveness of faith-schools, by opening them to all, would win huge respect. Many Labour loyalists would instantly reconsider their loyalty. For Labours love of faith-schools seriously damages its claim to be the party of social equality and social cohesion, and makes it instead the friend of the pushy and hypocritical parent.

The other mainstream issue is the meaning of Britishness, which is I suppose a sort of code for the problem of Islamic extremism. An explicitly secular-liberal party would be the only one with anything really important to say about the renewal of British identity. What do we have in common as a nation? Not a religion, but a secular faith: secular liberalism. A party that dares to say this, and so to provoke the wrath of various clerics and Charles Moore, will instantly win the respect of all good liberals everywhere.

The European Parliament should be located in Brussels

It costs European taxpayers approximately 200 million euros a year to move the Parliament between Brussels/Belgium and Strasbourg/France. As a citizen of the European Union, I want the European Parliament to be located only in Brussels.

Sign the petition

(via Baron Howells of teh Internets)