Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Journalism and fishing

Many readers will remember a product review, posted earlier this week, and will be astonished that that piece qualifies as journalism. You may think to yourself 'If that's journalism, then that particular profession is in deep trouble'. And indeed it is. And many practices and elements of journalism that have landed it in deep trouble are shared with fishing. And like fishing, or more accurately fishermen (I'm sorry I cannot use the CBC approved phrase 'fisher' as this is a small mammmal) most of the trouble that the profession is is is its own fault.

Take incredibly dubious work practices, for example. These are, as we all know, rife within journalism - recent scandals of phone tapping, email stealing and graft dont need repeating here. But what strikes me, is that when a British newspaper recently closed because of the dubious practices of some of its staff, there was sympathy (in other newspapers) expressed for the 'hundreds of other good journalists who have lost their job'. I am unsure how familiar readers are with English tabloid newspapers, but 'good journalism' is not something one expects to find therewithin: pictures of ladies breasts - yes, breathless gossip about a reality tv star - yes, blatant stereotyping and marginalisation of any groups considered 'out' by the target demographic - yes, but good journalism???? SO who was writing this crap? I presume it was not the 'good journalists'. I pictured the "News of the World" newsroom divided in half with a bunch of sleazy creeps on one side writing about boobs and stars, and a group of hard-bitten 'real' journos on the other, working on the next Watergate.

The answer I recieved from a friend was that in reality the guys who wrote about the titties and the celebrities actually were 'really good journalists' (he knew some of them). The sleazy creeps and the good journalists were one and the same people but, hey, you know, work is hard to find these days, so the good journalists were only pretending to be sleazy creeps while they were working at these tabloids until a proper job came along.

I dont know if anyone knows about over-fishing, or has lived in a fishing community. There are probably a few good fishermen, who dont over-fish, dont land their catches at different quays under the cover of darkness and who dont engage in really bad practices, and to them I apologise. But they are the minority. And, I am aware of the factory ships that many inshore fishermen say are responsible for the demise of fish stocks. But the simple fact is that inshore fisheries - local communities, local fishermen, the small independent operators have been as terrible at protecting the oceans as the big conglomerates. From net fishing tuna to the point of extinction in the Meditteranean to poisoning seals in the Scottish Highlands. From illegal codfishing in Nova Scotia and the Grand Banks to Alaskan communities that insist on whaling because its 'traditional'. From shark's fin soup to caviar, from dynamiting lagoons to drag netting, inshore fishermen have been, and continue to be just as bad as the big multi-national conglomerates.

Journalism and fishing are in deep trouble. Fishermen have attacked the oceans in search of profit but now continually point the finger at others (big business, the consumer, other fishermen) as wrong doers. Journalists have scoured the limits of ethical behaviour to unearth salacious details about the sex lifes of celebrities, and yet claim that this is 'news' .

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Product Review: The Oral 'Toothmaster Plus' Electric Toothbrush

The implement works very well. In use, teeth feel extremely clean, and while lacking a spectroscope to assess claims that my teeth were several shades whiter after a week, I certainly didnt have that gacky feeling that you might get if using a less technologically sophisticated device, such as a stick.

There are, however, a few issues. The first of these is battery changing. The machine is powered by two 'AA' batteries, renewal of which is achieved by removal of the base section of the sculpted plastic handle. Due to the fact that water is frequently involved in toothbrushing, this base section is a very tight fit. Once the new ones are installed, replacing the base requires firm pressure against a rubber sealing ring separating the removable base from the remainder of the sculpted handle. The first design flaw I discovered is that if you get frustrated trying to get the base to fit securely, smashing the base of the whole object against a doorframe, or using a hammer (even a lightweight tack hammer) to ensure the base docks permanently in the handle results in fissures (or cracks) in the base. These fissures allow water entrance into the battery compartment, causing shorting of the batteries. Once this problem has occurred, then even repeated wraps of electrical tape, Saran wrap and duct tape do not provide permanent solutions as watertightness can never be re-established. Additionally, as water attacks the glue of the tape you have applied, brushing rapidly becomes a messy business, and a pool of assorted goo agglomerates in the basin.

A second technical problem with this toothbrush is its utility as piece of bicycle cleaning equipment. In standard useage, a non-electrical toothbrush is a controllable, yet effective, (essential) part of your bike cleaning kit. The only trick is to have the correct cleaning solution at hand for the toothbrush head after use on the bike as any degreaser left on the head leaves an unpleasant aftertaste (when later combined with toothpaste). However, this electrical device has no frequency or amplitude control (of vibration). Thus, if you have applied cleaning fluid to your rims, even the gentlest application of the tool results in uncontrollable spatter across a considerable diameter. In tests, the newly painted wall I tried this against required repainting across a vertical diameter of about 1.5 metres and horizontally, the carpet has been ruined from between 1 to 1.34metres.

All in all though, an excellent product, and if these minor defects are adjusted in the new versions, I'm sure we will be giving it five stars. Rating: ***

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Ride of Hope - Mountainbiking Version

C2C (this is the name of the progressive rock project that various Cheek to Cheek members are involved in ) are apparently disgusted with the tension currently racking the band. C2C member 'N'tram (C2C members all have names based on an imagined alien race who have dispensed with many unnecssary jobs) said :

"Those guys are doing my head in. They should just do it, you know. C2C believe in action and we are launching our own Ride of Hope. It will be like the mountain biking you can see here "

Friday, 22 July 2011

Ride of Hope - Update

A split has been reported in the ranks of Cheek to Cheek, as secret emails 'obtained' by this reporter show. The announcement that this year's ride of Hope would be in support of Freeway - THe Dublin One, was premature, with at least one member of the duo rejecting this as a worthy cause, as the following email exchange between Skarra and Mazzer illustrates.

Mazzer to P:

Hi P,

See you about lunch time (1.00pm???) .

In the meantime, I have found a cause for our Ride of Hope . The cause is "Save Little Freeway (The Dublin 1)" and it will be a campaign to save Freeway from her terrible ordeal - arrested by the vicious Irish police and evicted form her home and now kept in detention.

Skarra in reply to Mazzer:

Yep, 1 pm is fine. See you then.

As for that kitten, it’s disgraceful that animals can be that lazy – further evidence of the sedentary lifestyles that humans and animals are adopting these days. Another example is that lazy rabbit we nearly ran over the other night. I don’t mind animals lying down, but to do so on a public highway is dangerous and stupid.

I’m afraid I’m in full support of the brave police officers who risked their lives to apprehend that selfish layabout.

Mazzer to Skarra:

Well that opinion of animals leave our Ride Of Hope in tatters, a shattered dream, as far as I'm concerned. Not because I love animals (just some animals, and only a few of them human) but because we now have no cause. We risk the same debacle as last year, where we rode our message of hope across Cumbria and Northumberland, but forgot to arrange what that message was.

I blame you for this, as you obviously read the newspapers, whereas I dont. I would suggest as an alternative theme that we ride for the Neanderthal Rights - the right to marry, the right to get a job, the right to good housing and an education, but I'm afraid you will poo-poo this idea as well, despite the desperate plight of said species.

If this is not acceptable, then you'll have to come up with a cause.

Sources within the band say this rift could jedopardize the imminent album release and first shows by the influential combo. This could be expensive for their record label, who have constructed a lavish stage set, rumoured to cost twenty-six pound fifty three pence. A spokesperson for Cheek-by-Jowl, the bands record label said :

"Hopefully we can get the tax back form the purchase of the two plastic chairs, although at present we havent found the receipt".

The Ride of Hope 201 - Announcement

Cheek to Cheek, the seminal folk-punk-elecro band have issued the following Press Release:

'This years Ride of Hope from Chester to Bristol will be in aid of Freeway - The Dublin One. This week, the Irish Police cruelly evicted Freeway (The Dublin One) from her home and are now holding her in detention. We will campaign for the immediate release of Freeway and full compensation in the form of a lifetime's supply of 'Yummys'.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


As a successful undergraduate, I have issued this guide which is intended to pass on what I have learned, and help others become as brainy as what I did become.
Throughout remember grammes and punctuality are important, as spell check most of it, even the bits that are copy and pasted. The most important part of essay writing though is that it flows logically and presents a coherent argument.

1. Intro:
This is the bit where lay down what you are going to say in the whole essay. It is usually written five minutes before you hand it in.

WHy has it been so long between blog posts? Well, mostly because things have been going very well and there's no news in happiness. Also, Yorkshire remains anthropologically fascinsating, but is no longer new, although some dialectical concerns will be addressed hereinforthto. And thirdly, I've been building a wall. And fourthly, this entry will finally answer why the questions "Is toadpole a word?" and "Why are flamingos pink?" will never be answered.

2. First coupla paragraqphs:

This bit can be descriptive, a bit, on account of how you might have to describe and expand upon some basi concepts and definitions that you wrote in the intro. This is the easiest part of the essay although its still not fun.

Plans for the PHD have developed and plans are now firmly in place for the work to be done in a Languages department at a major University. Having met my supervisors, I am very excited about the next three years. However, prior to applying to, and being accepted by the Languages Department, I had discussions with a few other University departments in the region about doing a PHD with mixed results. Most, I am happily surprised to report, were very interested in my ideas. But some of the interviews were a bit strange. THe basic idea for the PhD is to study the complex world of adult second language learning. Initially thought the Education departments of three local Universities would be the natural home for my proposed research. "Where?" I thought to myself " Would be better placed to study language learning classes than a local Education department?". However, a typical interview with most of these Education Departments went a bit like this:

Professor: We love your proposal.

Mazzer: Oh Great! When do we start?

Professor: Well, there are a few problems, though............

Mazzer: Oh, yes. I realise that as an undergrauate, I am not fully formed, and that my proposal will be modified somewhat if I am what do I need to do to modify it????

Gets pen and paper, looks up eagerly, ready to make notes....

Professor: Well, as I said, the proposal is great.........M writes 'Proposal great' ......but this thing about languages ? we dont really do languages here....Mazzer writes 'Languages problem - see interdisciplinary- possibly consult languages department where necessary ?' ......and this emphasis on adult learning? well we dont really do that here either .....Mazzer begins to write 'Dont do adult learning?' then stops

Mazzer: I'm sorry to interrupt, but what part of adult learning dont you do? You are an Education department arent you?

Professor: Well, yes, but the whole bit about learning, really, its a bit passe. We dont do that, particulalry not reductionist approaches to finding out how people actually learn. THis stuff about social policy though, we DO love that. And that's what we think the PhD shoud be about...

Mazzer: What the social policy of adult second language learning? That is really just one small part of my proposal.

Professor: Yes, and thats the bit we loved. Apart from the focus on adults and learning. What we like is the politics of social policy generally.

Mazzer: But would'nt that be a politics PhD?

Professor: Exactly !!! You could still refer to adult learning in the footnotes if you like, I suppose.....but essentially, I see this PhD as a critique of Government policy..its very exciting.........

3. The central argument.

This is the bit where you are at your most creative. You assemble an argument, supporting it with evidence. It is important to maintain continuity with the rest of the essay and that it not be disjointed.

As mentioned, not much has happened. I have worked on the house, specifically our garden, have taught a lot of classes, and have done quite a bit of advance research for the PhD. I have also watched a lot of soccer, and played music more than I have done for years. I also have attempted to sign on for 'Job Seekers Allowance' but that situation became so ridiculous that writing about it risks accusations of exagerration.

Firstly the football. I have watched Liverpool's pre-season tour of the Far East with interest. Expect an unedited (from the original) re-posting (for the fourth year running) of the now traditional post 'A faint whiff of optimism'. I am going to the local football stadium on Saturday to watch the Mighty reds play Hull in a pre-season friendly.

Secondly the wall. Those familiar with my plastering exploits will be aware (from 'The Calumny of Plastering') of my complete inability in, but continuing addiction to, the stone based arts. To the left of our small garden, there has been an unattractive wooden fence for many years. I was facd with two problems : firstly I hated said fence with a passion, and secondly I had a largish pile of bricks left from our renovations. THe answer seemed obvious. So I tore the fence down, and with the same amount of experience in building brick walls that various Education departments seem to have in studying adults, I set to building a wall. Eschewing convention on account of impatience, I decided to forego traditional tools for establishing essential ingredients of a wall such as of 'plumb', 'true' and 'straight' and deecided my eye was accurate enough. I soon discovered the error of my ways, and as the wall began to emerge it curved (in the horizontal dimension), wavered (in the vertical dimension) and skewed (across all three, or possibly four dimensions) so the next three weeks were a daily battle of carefully placing bricks to tyr to return it to the straight and narrow, like an enormous game of Jenga. The result is aesthetcally pleasing in that the wall looks as if it is a hundred years old and just about to fall down. I now pretends that the effect is deliberate, based on the organic architecture of Gaudi.

4. Conclusion.

This is where you sum up your arguments, not forgetting to include everything you have previously mentioned.

I have run out of space. One of the ridiculous elements of this summer is that for the first time in years, have a whole summer unoccupied. Yet I fnd myself daily short of time. This is good though. There are things I want to do outside, and very soon I will be immersed in three years of hard study, tied to a desk. One thing I did not mention earlier is that Cheek to Cheek are planning our second 'Ride of Hope', this time through the Welsh borders - from Chester, to Shrewsbury to Bristol. Also, not mentioned is that younger brother, a victm of the recession is in Euroe for three months, travelling with his family and camping. He has been to Frnace, Italy, Croata, Slovena, Hungary, Romania and is heading back through Austra, Germany and France. One of the great things is though, we talk on Skype a coule of times per week. Via con Dios.

Monday, 4 July 2011


As proof that life is indeed circular (which feels, on occasion like a downward spiral), this blogger returned last week to the very reason this blog was started in the first place, namely namely the dole office, or more accurately the acute misery, accompanied by absurdities so extravagent that Jean Genet himself would blanche.

As you may know, the occupier of these words has currently completed his degree, with a degree of success that was nearly surprising. I say nearly, because frankly, I expected to pass. The cumulative marks up to Christmas meant that one would have had to do something absurd, such as fall over a large pinkish cat while attempting to use the bathroom late one night without turning on a light or applying one's spectacles, smashing one's head against the windowsill resulting in a fractured spinal bone and severe concussion a few brief days before completion of one's final assignments, thus making the task of completion impossible, for one not to have passed. Fortunately, there was not, as has been recently confirmed by X-ray, sufficient spinal damage to prevent one finishing the essays. The extent of my passing was somewhat unexpected, as not only did I obtain a First class degree but have also been awarded a prize for academic achievement. In the tradition of English people, I shall describe these results as 'quite satisfying', and that I was 'somewhat pleased' with the way things turned out.

None the less, graduate or not, after my degree, the question obviously arises, what next??? That question is a little way of having a definite answer, but for now, lets just focus on how I attempted to take care of immediate necessity by "signing on" for dole, as I am now officially unemployed. To be completely accurate, I wasnt really seeking, or expecting a payment of any kind, due to a chequered work history and RHB's wages (the UK system is a bit odd, but both are deciding factors in whether EI is granted or not). My main reason for making a claim was associated with something called National Insurance Contributions. If working, these contributions are taken from wages. If a student, they are credited to you. If unemployed, they are granted when you sign for dole. It is important to realise that no actual money changes hands concerning NI contributions when you are unemployed, your National Insurance record is just credited, but a complete National Insurance Record is a vital for all sorts of reasons to do with health care, old age pensions etc etc. So, I decided to claim.

I was initially delighted to find that three years after making some earlier observations on the subject in this very forum, a new, more efficient system has been introduced. These days, you can, claim online. 'Great' I thought ' In cases like mine, where no money is involved, and I am not in financial distress this is a great way of saving everyone time and tax-payer money - money we are told that is in such short supply in the UK these days'. Then I thought further 'Seriously, this is a really good, and proper, use of computing power. I will simply fill in an online form, the computer will very quickly link to the records from the tax office, see that I have not made enough contributions for earnings based EI and that will be the end of that. I will just be told to sign for National Insurance credits, and everyone will be spared the lengthy, frustrating and expensive assessment procedure that accompanied my last, similar effort'.

How wrong it is possible to be. Actually what happened was:

STAGE 1: Fill in the form online. About one hour. This time, fortunately, there were no stupid questions about whether I was an escaped prisoner or survivor of Monserrat volcanoes. AT the end of the process, I recieved a message saying I would get a phone call from a human in the next few days.

STAGE 2: Phone call from human. We go through the form again. All of it. One notable difference between this time and last is that person on the phone is a lot nicer. At the end of the call, I am told I will now have to attend for interview at the local office, and a date is arranged.

AT this juncture, I should point out that I have been attempting to tell the computer, and then the caller that I wont get any money.

STAGE 3: I attend for interview a few days later. I am on time. Twenty five minute late, my name is called and I meet 'Richard'. We go through the form again. Then I sign it. 'Richard' invites me to re-take a seat, and an 'advisor' will be with me shortly.

STAGE 4: Another fifteen minutes pass. The office is packed, arguments are breaking out, mostly young excitable men. I should have also mentioned that the venue is the same miserable office that was the sight of my last contact three years ago. Then my name is called. My advisor is about twelve. He barley glances at me, mumbles something and shoves a form in front of me. At this point, all my earlier public spiritedness, especially the desire not to cost any more money that is absolutely necessary, has gone out the window, particularly because it seems that my new partners - the Government, are as determined as ever to waste as much of it as they possibly can. In processing dole claims, they obviously dont mess around with this concept - so far they have splurged three hours of taxpayer's money on my file, and it look like there's no let up. I ask my 'advisor' if he could repeat what he has just said. He again rushes through a series of mumbled, semi-words that dont seem to belong together. When he stops 'speaking', I lean in close:

"A bit of advice" I say as patronisingly as I possibly can (which is 'quite') "Try to pretend you even give a flying f*** about what you are doing. The day will go quicker, you will get a less antagonistic response of people, and probably most important for you, you wont get old geezers like me asking you to repeat yourself".

He glances up, and I think I see a light of realisation dawning in his eyes, as it must have done over Olduvai Gorge all those thousands of years ago when fire was first invented. He gently, and quite vaguely waves his pen at me, friendly like.

"I should inform you that swearing at me can be considered assault in this office and we have a zero tolerance policy for such aggressive acts. I will have to ask you to sop immediately or I will call a security guard."

I am astonished, because this is said with perfect clarity. But I decide discretion is the better part of valour, and concede "Point taken. Please carry on".

My advisor shakes his 24 or 25 year old head, mumbles some more and shoves the forms at me again. I sign about eight of them, possibly they represent a commitment to invade Franz Josef Land, and leave.

The system has been re-vamped, I have been told since I last signed. The Government claims it is now more efficient. That word 'efficiency' is, like the horrible word 'bespoke', an incredibly abused word. It certainly doesnt mean what it is supposed to mean. I can only wonder which website designers, efficiency consultants, political advisors and private companies profited form that revamp. I have come to realise that in Government circles "efficiency' actually means "profits for our mates'.