Thursday, 22 January 2015

Boob selfie

Earlier this week Alex Spence, who glories in the job title of "media editor" at Britain's ever-authoritative newspaper of record, had a scoop about one of its less aspirational sister publications:
The Sun will no longer feature topless models on page 3 after quietly dropping one of the most controversial traditions in British journalism.

The Times understands that Friday’s edition of the paper was the last that will carry an image of a glamour model with bare breasts on that page, ending a convention that began in 1970, shortly after Rupert Murdoch bought the newspaper and turned it into Britain’s bestselling daily tabloid. 
(Full text behind the Cheap-At-Any-Price Great Paywall of Murdoch)

You'd expect a media editor, who's presumably quite high up the journalistic food chain, to know what's going on in the media* (especially in the media group that pays his salary - by the way, top marks for the grovelling reference to your boss making the Sun into 'Britain’s bestselling daily tabloid', Alex). But, if you expected that, you'd have been quickly disappointed:
The Sun has published a picture of a topless woman on Page Three and mocked media outlets that said the long-running feature had been dropped.

On Tuesday, the Sun's sister paper the Times said the tabloid would no longer feature Page Three girls - but one appears in the Sun's latest edition. 

Several possibilities spring to mind:
  • Alex Spence didn't have a bloody clue what he was talking about, but never mind, they'll still keep paying him to churn out this drivel because he knows how to suck up to the boss.
  • The people at the Sun were spreading disinformation in an attempt to troll the rest of the media/blogosphere/Twittersphere into prematurely crowing about/analysing the Death of Page 3, before blasting 'em with both barrels and shouting "gotcha!" In their attempt to keep the prank on a top-secret need-to-know basis they didn't let the people at the Times in on the joke, leaving Alex Spence with egg all over his brown-nosed face.
  • The people at the Sun were spreading disinformation, as above, but Alex Spence was in on the joke and deliberately lied, in order to help his colleagues to troll the rest of us.
I don't know what you'd call these various sorts of tomfoolery, but the word "journalism" doesn't really apply to any of the possible explanations. It's more like noise, and self-referential noise at that.

It's almost as if some highly-paid journalists have given up any notion of reporting facts about things that have actually happened in the real world and are now tasked with dragging eyeballs back from the Inyourface24/7book bubble of drippy inspirational quotes and marginally amusing cat pictures, to the even less relevant bubble of journalists talking about journalists talking about tits, or something equally clickbaity.

All they have to do now is "start a conversation" on Twitter and the self-absorbed circle of  derp will be complete. May I suggest the hashtag #WeAreARightPairOfCharlies to Alex Spence and the unknown troll at the Sun who came up with this *hilarious* prank?

If you're desperate to signal your status as Serious Person with inside knowledge of breaking stories denied to the plebs outside the Great Paywall of Murdoch, you're welcome to give creepy Uncle Rupert a few of your hard-earned pounds so that he can save them towards getting himself buried alongside his private jet, or whatever the hell it is that the stupidly rich do with all the money they've made from a lifetime of being complete and utter shits to everybody else.

But if you just want to know what's going on, you might as well save your money, stop clogging up your mind with this sort of self-referential crud and be no worse off. Come to think of it, I'd have been better off not having heard about any of this in the first place. It's not as if I didn't already know about the sump of pathological narcissism festering away in the Murdochbunker.

Maybe - if that's not too self-referential - I should start listening to my own advice.

*Although a quick glance at Spence's recent output, which seems to consist largely of Murdoch-friendly BBC-bashing opinion pieces, suggests that he's become more of a self-interested purveyor of in-house informercials than a journalist. Not that the BBC are always innocent of similar levels of self-important self-obsession, as witnessed by the endless hagiographic retrospectives about how everybody loved their past output. These occasionally descended into dark, unintended hilarity, as when the BBC celebrated the life and times of its former golden boy Sir Jimmy Savile with its 'affectionate tribute' (for some reason 'This programme is currently unavailable on iPlayer'). And no - I'm more than half a century old and never, in all my born puff, have I ever heard anybody - except a BBC presenter - affectionately refer to the BBC as "Auntie."

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The private banking sector has been secured

There was an interesting exchange between Artur Fischer, of the Berlin Stock Exchange, and Greek economist Elena Panartis on the Today programme this morning. John Humphrys asked how Germany might react to a Greek default or exit:
Artur Fischer: ... The consequence would not be as bad as it used to be because, in the meantime we have secured our banking system, there wouldn't be any chain effect. I would say three quarters of the Greek debt is now held by government agencies, not any more by private banks. The private banking sector has been secured, so there wouldn't be any effects on the European economy.

Elena Panartis: So the bailout was for the banks. That's exactly what Syriza said...
...Well, it sounds like they were prepared to see us go AFTER they had paid their bills in their private banks.

So there you have it. Profits privatised, losses nationalised, the little guy gets screwed again, the new standard operating procedure for the big banks.

While it's still up on the Today website, you can hear the whole interview here (it starts about 51 minutes into the programme).

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The glorious loyalty oaf's Crusade

David Cameron has said it was right for Eric Pickles to write a letter to Muslim leaders in which he asked them to “explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”...
 ....“Everyone needs to help with dealing with this problem of radicalisation and anyone frankly reading this letter and who has a problem with it, I think really has a problem. I think it is the most reasonable, sensible, moderate letter that Eric could possibly have written."
Quite so. Freedom of speech was so the week-before-last. This week, no reasonable person could possibly object to true patriots being required to prove their loyalty by signing all the loyalty oaths they're damn well told to sign. Get with the program:
They're taking over everything,' he declared rebelliously. 'Well, you fellows can stand around and let them if you want to, but I'm not going to. I'm going to do something about it. From now on I'm going to make every son of a bitch who comes to my intelligence tent sign a loyalty oath...'

...Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks... To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses.

Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.

...When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to. And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that 'The Star-Spangled Banner' was the greatest piece of music ever composed. The more loyalty oaths a person signed, the more loyal he was; to Captain Black it was as simple as that, and he had Corporal Kolodny sign hundreds with his name each day so that he could always prove he was more loyal than anyone else.
'The important thing is to keep them pledging,' he explained to his cohorts. 'It doesn't matter whether they mean it or not. That's why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what "pledge" and "allegiance" mean.' 
Catch-22, chapter 11

Devil's brood, Devil's dictionary

I learnt about an intriguing piece of trivia from a radio panel game the other week. Apparently, Henry III signed a law decreeing the death penalty for anyone found killing, wounding or maiming fairies.

One of the few things I knew about Henry III was his reputation for immense piety which, at first glance, sits rather oddly with this rather heathen-sounding belief in fairy folk. But then again, maybe the pious are more susceptible to tales of the supernatural from outside their formal belief systems as well as inside them. King James I/VI was almost as famous for his credulous fascination with witchcraft as he was for the eponymous Bible he commissioned and it's now mainly obsessive Christians who literally believe in the spiritual threats posed by ouija boards, "Satanic" rock n' pop, energy drinks, Harry Potter and yoga.

Alternatively, could Henry's legendary piety have been a cover for a supernatural skeleton in the family cupboard?
According to Gerald of Wales, the counts of Anjou were descendants of the devil. In some distant time a count of Anjou married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Melusine. Many years later, after realising that his wife never attended mass, he forced her to remain in church during the eucharist. As she could not bear the holy ceremony she flew screaming out of the window, revealing her demonic origin. Notorious for their violent disputes - often among themselves - the legend was an explanation for this 'unnatural' behaviour. The story also inspired Alfred Duggan to call his - not particularly good - book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and their offspring Devil's Brood.

Superstitious nonsense, of course, but I was briefly fascinated by the possibility that the Henry might have believed in his faery/diabolical ancestry. Weird, but not completely unbelievable for a medieval monarch, schooled to accept weird shit like the Divine Right of Kings, and even closer to plausibility when you consider that Japanese Emperors have claimed descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu right up to modern times.

Just when I was getting to enjoy this Game of Thrones-style mashup of Plantagenet history and supernatural fantasy, some doubts began to creep in. According to Melanie J Firth:
Did you also know that there is actually an ancient law stating that it was a capital offence to kill a faery? King Henry III passed this law in 1153. It stated that even just causing injury to a faery was punishable by the death penalty. 
... Just for the record, Henry’s law above has never been repealed.
In a country archaic enough to possess a House of Lords, with seating for the Lords Spiritual on the bench of bishops, it's almost possible to believe that you could still be tried for GBH to Tinkerbell. Sadly, Henry III would have had some difficulty in passing such a law in 1153, given that he wasn't born until 1207. A bit more light Googling of this suspiciously-dated statute failed to pin it down, then revealed that this "fact" was propagated because the radio researchers didn't recognise a joke, rather like those journalists who occasionally get caught out recycling unchecked headlines from The Onion as real news:
On occasion I'll find an interesting fact on my nerd calendar, "Jeff Kacirk's Forgotten English", and Wednesday, June 19th was just such a day. The entry on that date discussed statutes for odd crimes in England, the weirdest being the "one signed by Henry III specifying death for maiming a fairy". I got all excited and wondered why they didn't include the statute number or a date, at least. A little investigation only frustrated my attempts. Was it such an archaic law that no one had heard about it? Where could I find more information?

Twitter. Obviously. But don't get your hopes up, people because THE CALENDAR IS A LIIIIIIIIIIIIIE. According to @WolfeSelma (who I think might be my common law Twitter-wife), the story about Henry III was just a joke written by Ambrose Bierce, an American satirist, in his 1906 book Devil's Dictionary--and the calendar had tried to pass this off as fact. That makes me so angry that if I ever meet Jeff Kacirk, I'm going to throw boiling coffee at him. I'll scald out the calumnies.

Bierce's entry for "Fairy" comically defines the mythical creature and then says: "In the time of Henry III, of England, a law was made which prescribed the death penalty for "Kyllynge, wowndynge, or mamynge" ["killing, wounding, or maiming" in pseudo-Middle English] a fairy, and it was universally respected".

So much for expecting properly checked facts from The Unbelievable Truth. It's back to More or Less for me...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Unpaid producers and paid slackers

Where there is no tension between supply and demand, there can be no market and no capital accumulation. What peer producers are doing, for now mostly producing intangible entities such as knowledge, software and design, is to create an abundance of easily reproduced information and actionable knowledge.
...wrote Michel Bauwens, back in 2012. He wrote an optimistic follow-up, in which he proposed the Occupy Wall Street movement as a model for a new economic paradigm that would replace the old, broken one:
Occupy Wall Street set up working groups to find solutions to their physical needs. The economy was considered as a provisioning system (as explained in Marvin Brown's wonderful book, Civilising the Economy), and it was the "citizens", organised in these working groups, who decided which provisioning system was appropriate given their ethical values.
We're still waiting for that new paradigm and, if the success of Occupy is supposed to be the prototype, we might be in for disappointment, or at the least, a very long wait. Meanwhile, the old-fashioned "real" economy, where capital "efficiently" extracts the maximum surplus value from the employment of labour, blunders on in all its gloriously dysfunctional absurdity, as Roland Paulsen of Lund University in Sweden has been finding out:
Paulsen focused on the most extreme shirkers. He interviewed 43 Swedish workers who claimed to spend less than half of their work hours actually working. He tracked down these hardcore non-performers through friends of friends, web ads and the Swedish website, where people share slacking stories and tips. Most were white-collar workers, but a construction worker, a security guard and several house cleaners also participated. Paulsen's interviews were designed to answer two basic questions: How do you get away with this? and Why do you do it?

....Paulsen concludes that rampant slacking isn't hurting capitalism all that much. Nor is he convinced that slacking off at work is an effective form of psychological resistance, given that many subjects saw their idleness as involuntary or unenjoyable.

In the end, the most Paulsen can say about empty labor is that it underscores the absurdities of an economy where people are paid for their time rather than their output. Huge numbers of people are working significantly fewer hours than they're getting paid for, and the system grinds on just the same.

This is the shoddy reward that workers get for dramatically increased productivity: The work of an 8-hour day now fits comfortably into a 6-hour day. Corporate profits are skyrocketing, but the average worker is still obliged to sit around for 8 hours, on call for the boss. So, who's stealing time from whom?
In these times

Bauwens' new paradigm thingy may look like wishful thinking, but so does the idea that current way of carrying on is a good use of anybody's time. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cut the crap

At last, a silver lining to the dark cloud of permanent austerity hanging over the UK and the rest of Europe:
Twenty years ago the government backed a major expansion of the CCTV network - now funds are being cut and cameras shut off...
...The UK has one of the largest CCTV networks in the world. But as cash-strapped councils look for cost-saving measures, the effectiveness of public CCTV is under scrutiny.

For once, they're thinking about cutting back on a white elephant that's grown out of all proprtion, rather than just on services that make people's lives better:
Britain has an out-of-control surveillance culture that is doing little to improve public safety but has made our cities the most watched in the world. Figures suggest that Britain is home to 20% of the world’s population of CCTV cameras, despite being home to just 1% of the world’s population. One study suggested the average Londoner is caught on camera more than 300 times every day [although, even in the most heavily-monitored parts of the capital, CCTV records can turn out be mysteriously patchy at the most inconvenient moments].
Big Brother Watch