Racism in Britain

I just watched the My Tram video. Quite frankly, I’m not in any way surprised.

For those that don’t know what it is, or would prefer not to watch, it’s two minutes and 26 seconds of a woman’s tirade against foreigners in my Britain, on “my tram”. (Likely most of the targets were as British as the woman, albeit a much greater asset to the country.) The footage is made up of wall-to-wall expletives and racist abuse, throughout which a small child sits on her lap. The child doesn’t flinch at the tirade, suggesting that perhaps he’s used to both the tone and the content of the woman’s rant. (That, to me, is the most troubling aspect of the video.)

Racism is rife in the UK. Whether or not John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand on 23 October remains to be seen. (For what it’s worth having seen the footage, my view is that he didn’t.) But the subsequent chants of hordes of Chelsea fans were undoubtedly filled with racial hatred.

Some time ago, a colleague of my dad’s, while I joined them for a beer, was less vociferous yet similarly derogatory about Korean people in Croydon. I gave my apologies and left; my dad followed suit.

Usually the racism is confined to situations in which there are no people of ethnic background to offend. After all, racism amongst a bunch of white people can cause no offence, right? But on occasions, likely more frequent than many would like to admit, overt racial abuse is aimed at the targets themselves, as was the case in the video.

With a mixed-race daughter, I am probably more conscious than the average person about racial prejudice. I will always be making sure that she is aware of and proud of her heritage. And I will always strive to pick up on prejudice and either avoid it or stop it.

She will suffer racism in her life, without a doubt. But my role is to ensure that she knows that any such behaviour, abusive, active or passive, is not a reflection on her, but a reflection on the person dishing it out. She needs to be fully aware of racism, while at the same time I need to strive to protect her from it. That is my job.

The woman on the tram has merely served to increase further my awareness of just how close we are to such vociferous and toxic views.

Twitter: the abusive minority

I love Twitter. It’s fun, it’s informative and on occasions it’s useful. (That said, the advice I received today upon asking what questions I should ask a second-hand car salesman was woeful.)

But Twitter is also filled with hate. There are people on there who direct their anger and hatred towards people, usually famous people, whose views are at odds with their own; or whose talent or basis for fame is considered questionable.

And this I can’t stand. It’s easy in 140 characters to disparage. It’s much more difficult to put forth reasoned argument. And that has made people lazy.

Don’t get me wrong: opinion is fine. (I’m all for it and even have one or two myself.) And I have no qualms with people expressing these opinions. (Although Gary Barlow’s cheap dig at Carol Decker this evening was wholly unnecessary.) But when those digs become sweary rants aimed at the people themselves (for that is what they are) as opposed to their actions or views, that’s a step too far.

Earlier in the week, Steve Coogan appeared at the Leveson enquiry, saying: “I have never wanted to be famous, as such – fame is a by-product.”

Irrespective of whether the targets of abuse sought fame, they are people, people who should not have to suffer such tirades.

If the press laid into people in the same way as some do on Twitter, most of the Twitterati would be up in arms, as they rightly are with respect to the hacking scandal. Yet because Twitter users generally have many fewer readers than do newspapers (although the gap is closing), the behaviour goes unquestioned.

Ironically, it’s often the left-most Twitter users – those that take offence at the venomous actions of the press – that are the most vociferous when it comes to berating others.

Perhaps self-regulation is fine: those who swearily rant will lose followers, right? Thus diluting the power of their message. But I’m not sure it’s as simple as that. Some people thrive on such hatred. Hatred at the expense of others. So follower numbers will remain high.

I’m not sure I have a solution. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t. Twitter is too big for centralised regulation. Yet something must be done to bring to account those who use freedom of speech as an opportunity to spout angry rhetoric.

The Leveson Inquiry: why Steve Coogan should be applauded

Today Steve Coogan gave evidence in the Leveson enquiry into the ethics of the media. Little of what he said will come as a surprise to most. But what he did was paint a graphic picture of what is one of the most embarrassing aspects of Britain.

Some of the highlights, for want of a better term, are listed below.

He claimed that a personal friend called him from a News of the World office in an attempt to get him to admit to details of their intimate relations. The conversation would be recorded without his knowledge. He was allegedly alerted to the circumstances shortly by a third party before the conversation was due to take place.

He claimed that photographers sat outside his house over a period of about ten years, then following him in his car.

He claimed to see people rummaging through his bins looking for information about his life.

Others added to the putrid reality of tabloid journalism.

Garry Flitcroft said he believed media coverage of his extra-marital affairs contributed to his father’s suicide

Margaret Watson from Glasgow spoke of her son who killed himself after reading derogatory articles about his dead sister

Mary-Ellen Field, a business adviser to Elle Macpherson, said she was fired for leaking secrets that were actually obtained by journalists hacking into the Australian star’s phone.

Self-regulation does not work. Over the years, tabloid journalism has become more and more eager for news, fuelled in part by the public’s demand for such news. (Argument will abound as to the cause and effect in this spiral. I guess that each acts as both a cause and an effect.)

Press freedom is important. But its intrusion into people’s personal lives must only be legally, and is only justifiable when there is a genuine public interest at stake. The sex lives of Steve Coogan and Gary Flitcroft do not constitute public interest. All of the above scenarios are embarrassing and grave.

The press has stepped way beyond the realms of the law. And even when their scurrilous tactics don’t yield the truth, the measures are inadequate. Their ability to print a three-inch apology on page 37 for mistruths in a four-page spread advertised on the front page the previous week makes a mockery of the need for truth and ethics in journalism.

The consequences for breaking the law must be enforced rigorously. And lazy journalism that throws out half-baked, unresearched stories must be quashed by introducing highly stringent penalties for such behaviour.

Between them, these measures should cut out a lot of the bumf that fills our newsagents of a Sunday. And by reducing the supply, the demand will fall similarly.

Former Blackburn Rovers captain Garry Flitcroft, who said he believed media coverage of his extra-marital affairs contributed to his father’s suicideMargaret Watson, from Glasgow, whose son killed himself after reading derogatory articles about his dead sister; andMary-Ellen Field, a business adviser to supermodel Elle Macpherson, who says she was fired for leaking secrets which were actually obtained by journalists hacking into the Australian star’s phone

A short analysis of £48.8bn of government contracts

My friend Alan today pointed me to this page on data.gov.uk. It gives an estimated pipeline of the big tenders that are expected to take place within this Parliament, including those over £5m in value. (There are actually 12 tenders included valued under that amount.)

Of the 208 initiatives, 203 have a maximal contract value, the average being £240m. This is heavily skewed by DWP’s facilities management contract (a maximal value of a cool £9.542bn) and HMRC’s Aspire contract for ICT provision (a mere £8.5bn). Both of these are being let in 2017. Yikes! (The next largest is the provision by the Home Office of Tetra radio services to police forces across the country,at £3.8bn.) From this albeit top-heavy sample, the top 0.5% of projects (one) make up 20% of the revenue.

The lowest value tender on the list is for DH’s website services: £1.4m. Although you can pick up courier services for the Government Procurement Service itself for £2m.

If you take the three biggest projects out of the mix, then we have the following headlines:

I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Do not buy a domain from Mr. Site

My friend Steve has a website. It’s nothing grand, but once in a while someone will happen upon it and employ him for his proofreading services. And they could do a lot worse. He is one of the best proofreaders in the land.

He bought the domain from Mr. Site a couple of years ago. However instead of them notifying him when his domain was about to expire, they chose not to. Instead, they took over the domain themselves. And while the title of the website stayed the same, its content was replaced with pseudo-medical content, with links off to medicines promising men the ability to satisfy women in the bedroom more than and for longer than they ever dreamed would be possible.

The reason for this is that Mr. Site are a bunch of cunts. (Apologies for the language, but I feel it’s justified.) Yes they provided a service at the outset. But they were more interested in fleecing my mate and whoring his brand.

Their activities were completely above board legally as I understand things. But their actions were wholly morally reprehensible.

He is now in email correspondence with the company to see whether there’s anything that he can do to retrieve his domain without paying a small fortune for the privilege. I expect this will come to nothing, and that his domain – part of which is his name – will evermore be filled with the shit that gives the internet a bad reputation.

Fucking Hobnobs

Earlier today, my friend Paul Clarke tweeted thus:

There are few challenges that cannot be surmounted with the aid of a dark chocolate Hob Nob.

I corrected him, suggesting that HobNob was one word, camel case. My source: Wikipedia. (Topical.) Discussion ensued, and I think it was settled that that the current standard is actually Hobnob—one word, no camel-casing.

The reason for the confusion was that the McVitie’s branding is inconsistent. It seems that it’s changed over the years, switching from HobNob to Hobnob. The current standard is certainly Hobnob.

As such, I’ve spent part of my Friday evening updating the Hobnob Wikipedia page to reflect the revised branding.

FML.

The proof is in the pudding. Or some such

Among other things, I am a proofreader. And it’s a profession for which many elements might have been commoditised by the internet.

If you’re unsure whether to use affect or effect (or indeed effect), then it’s easy to find out on the internet. Is it yours or your’s? (Ouch, that hurt.) Again, the internet is your friend. Google will tell you.

But the issue is twofold. People don’t know what needs checking. And even if they did, many wouldn’t have the wherewithal to check it.

One day, proofreading will become a true commodity. Upload a document and download it in perfect English. (If the document itself is a crock of shit, this attribute will remain.) In the meantime, you know where I am.

Rock of ages

On 7 March 2000, I embarked on the W trek to see the Torres Del Paine in Argentina. On 8 March, I reached the Torres. It was a grey day, but the sight was astonishing. I took this picture, which does little to convey the scale of the peaks.

Torres Del Paine

In early November 2011, my friend Jimmy embarked on the same trek. Day 2 blessed him with better weather than I experienced. And here is the photo he took.

Torres Del Paine

All very lovely. What amazes me is something that probably shouldn’t be overly amazing. Take a look immediately to my left in the photo. There is a big rock, with a chamfered top, with a smooth plane on the top right, a dark area to its left, possibly because of shadow, possibly because of different colouring of the rock.

Now look at Jimmy’s picture. You can see that very same rock close to the left edge of his photo. Every aspect of that rock is identical.

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s me with the rock, followed by Jimmy’s rock.

Jimmy's rock

 

 

First of all, it’s important that you get past my devastatingly handsome, windswept look. While my crude copy of Jimmy’s picture is grainy, the detail behind the comparison astounds me. Every aspect of the rock is identical, down to the vein traversing the front, right plane.

I expect that the rock weighs a tonne and more. That the rock has stood there for eleven years, untouched and hardly weathered shouldn’t be a surprise. (The same is true of the stones and marble that make up the facade of the Bank of England, for example.) Yet surprise me it does. Since my photo was taken, I’ve lived over a quarter of my life. Our daughter has lived her entire life to date.

I guess its seeming lack of order, seemingly randomly strewn in a bed of similar rocks on a gradient, suggests that it is subject to movement. Yet move it hasn’t. It remains firmly in place, defiant against gravity and the harsh weather. (There’s a similarly distinctive rock with a right-angled shadow towards the fore of the photo, with four spots of colour, all of which also remain in place.)

I wonder how long it’s been there. And I wonder how long it will be before it topples. Maybe I’ll take my daughter to visit it when she’s older, another eleven years from now. Just to see how it’s getting on.

 

Eighty-seven

This morning I turned up for my optician’s appointment only to find that it had been booked for next Friday. Somewhat at a loss as to what to do, I popped home to pick up my golf clubs, and headed to Wandsworth to play a couple of rounds of the Central London Golf Centre’s nine-hole course.

Its par is a meagre 31 (five par threes; four par fours), but it’s good to get out there and if you walk directly from tee to flag, it constitutes a 4,3km walk. I suspect I always walk somewhat further than the advertised yardage.

And I’m glad I chose that course of action for the day. The ground was beautifully damp, and despite it being mid-November, it was somewhere between t-shirt and jumper weather. The air was loaded with moisture but not a drop fell.

The first round started in unspectacular fashion. A bogey on the par three opener, followed by two double bogeys and two triples on the four par fours. But I crowned the first half off with three bogeys and a solitary par on the four consecutive par threes.

So out in 45. Fine indeed.

Back to the first and off we go again. Another bogey on one followed by a triple bogey. But then things improved. The four par fours were made up of a five, two sixes and a seven. But again, the closing par threes were my saviour. This time, two pars and two bogeys. Home in a miraculous 42.

Eighty-seven for the round. And although par is only 62, this is from a player that has never cracked 100.

Based on a handicap of 28, it constituted a heady Stableford score of 39.

Happy days indeed.

The poppy debate: why Fifa was right

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty since the outbreak of World War I.

Since it was established, the men’s England football team has only played one game on the day itself. On 11 November 1987, we beat Yugoslavia 4–1 away from home. But almost every year in recent memory, England has played a match somewhere close to the date. In 2005, we beat Argentina in Switzerland the day after Armistice Day. In 2001, we drew with Sweden at Old Trafford the day before.

Yet for some reason, this year there is a big row over Fifa’s original decision not to allow the England team (and indeed the Welsh team) to sport a poppy on their jerseys. Apparently today, they have changed their stance slightly, allowing poppies before the game as well as one on the black armbands that the team will wear during the friendly against Spain on Saturday 12 November.

David Cameron confronted the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions today.

I think [the questioner] not only speaks for the whole House, but in fact the whole country, [in] being completely baffled and frankly angry [at] the decision made by Fifa.

Quite frankly David, he doesn’t.

Fifa’s original stance was, in my view, correct. While I expect that the majority of people across the globe would support the principles behind the allied forces’ stance against Nazi Germany, I doubt that more recent wars in which Commonwealth countries have engaged would attract similarly unanimous support.

Sport is divorced from politics and agendas. And this is one of its beauties. The furthest it has historically gone in commemorating the past has been the wearing of black armbands as a mark of respect for a recently passed sporting hero, or a minute’s silence before a match for similar reasons.

Should Germany be allowed to wear an emblem on their jerseys to commemorate those lost in their wars? Or Afghanistan and Iraq? Or is the Commonwealth – or more to the point England – seen as a force of good, the founder of football, a country elevated above other nations’ causes?

The furore has been fatuous. And the cynic in me thinks that maybe it’s been raised this time around to divert attention away from the racist allegations against the England captain.

Instead of wearing a poppy, maybe Mr. Terry should commemorate the Commonwealth’s contribution to the war efforts by embracing fellow players that have emanated from the Commonwealth.

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