Tag Archives: News

Win it for the Daily Mail, Slovenia


Slovenian flag

Feeling just a bit odd today, as had it not been for commitments in London, I would be at the England-Slovenia  match, having won a five-day trip to SA and a ticket to the match in a competition.

I hope Slovenia win, and that’s not out of any anti-English sentiment, it’s because I want them to teach the Daily Mail and their readers a lesson (see previous rant ‘A Geography Lesson for Mail Readers).  Since the Mail first published that ridiculous article (which began ‘Healthcare in England is so poor that women live longer in the former Communist state of Slovenia’), there have been 261 corrective comments (mostly by Slovenians in perfect English)  which are food for the soul.  So if you want to blame anyone for my lack of support for England today, don’t blame me, blame the Mail.

It’s probably wrong to punish the readers, though – it would be hard for them to be as vacuous as the journalists that write that stuff, or who make TV ‘news’ reports.  A friend told me a story about her nephew and his friend who went to a West Ham match and were approached by a TV crew, hoping to get some footage of ‘stupid’ English football fans. The presenters handed the boys a map of Europe, and asked them to point out Slovenia. Since they were both pretty bright anyway,  and one had a Slovenian grandmother , that wasn’t difficult. They then proceeded to answer all the questions about Slovenia correctly, at which point the TV crew asked if the boys would mind retaking the interview, but faking wrong answers so they could get the story they wanted.

And for this you think we deserve to live longer?

Ha! I was right: singletasking IS the new multi-tasking


You may remember that I posted about the natty little program called Freedom that turns off your internet access for a time designated by you, so you can get on with your work? And you may remember that I have a thing about multi-tasking: I think it’s a myth, and a rather dangerous and antisocial one at that.

Well now all those themes come together in a nice article from the Monitor column of The Economist called Stay on Target. It’s about programs like Freedom that help you to ‘clear your screen and clear your mind’, and concentrate on singletasking. That of course is tautologous, because concentrating means just that – focusing on a single task. It is central to  Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow (that being in a ‘flow’ state is by definition one in which you are ‘lost’ in the thing you’re doing).  So how ever did we come to think that multi-tasking was cool, socially acceptable, or even safe?

I have to confess that I got the link to the article via the Guardian’s tech-feed on Twitter which linked to this technology blog. But now I’ve read it, I’ll be turning on Freedom. Goodbye.

Save the RACS building (and Dadus and the Kastoori)


The RACS building at the corner of Hebdon Road and Upper Tooting Road

Those of you who know and love Tooting as much as I do, will be appalled to know that there is a planning application to demolish the RACS building at the corner of Hebdon Road & Upper Tooting Road.

This wonderful art deco building is currently home to the Sivayogam Temple, the focus of some of the most visible and wonderful aspects of Tooting’s community life. Remember the August Bank Holiday chariot festivals? They start here. At a meeting held recently to Save the RACS  buidling, we were taken upstairs to the third floor  to look at the temple, which was quite the most wonderful thing I have seen in Tooting. It’s not just the temple itself, it’s the unique views over the local area that you can see from it.

The plan is to demolish this, and the whole block that it’s in – which would include Dadus and the Kastoori. To me, Dadus symbolises everything that is wonderful about this part of Tooting – freedom from big chain supermarkets, opportunity to buy an enormous variety of things  from independent retailers, and shops which are a service to the community.  And Tooting without the Kastoori just wouldn’t be Tooting.

Local MP Sadiq Khan is supporting the campaign to save the RACS building. If you’re a local resident and you want to object, follow the advice here about writing/emailing Wandsworth Planning department. But do it QUICK, as the meeting to discuss the plans is imminent.

Multi-tasking again (that old chestnut)


Delighted to read somewhat belatedly in The Independent that Humans cannot multitask – (even women) . I’ve suspected this for a long time – multitasking is a myth, and that the notion that women are better at multi-tasking than men, even more of a myth. I know men who are empathetic, and women who aren’t; women who fly helicopters, and men who are scared of the dark.

As someone has pointed out elsewhere, the term ‘multitasking’ is borrowed from computing – why should we believe in the existence of an attribute that is the result of a metaphor? As soon as you think of multitasking as ‘divided attention’, it’s suddenly not so cute.

So you think that’s funny, Mr Clarkson?


Middle class thuggery in print, an advert for Clarkson’s latest drivel

I guess it’s only cyclists that understand just how idiotic and dangerous most drivers are. The reason I’m not dead yet after years of cycling in London is only because I assume that everyone in a car is applying make-up, looking the other way when they turn into a main road, texting, phoning, getting something off the back seat, drunk or drugged, racing to get their kids to school, or racing to get to work after the school run. That’s just the normal ones.

But then there’s a class of driver who actually hate cyclists. They don’t think they deserve to have space on the road. Rather like the person who  said travelling by bus was a sign of failure, cyclist-haters are usually those who are inexplicably proud of owning an expensive car, as if that changed anything about them as a person. They beep at you, overtake you with no room to spare, and act like bullies. They endanger you for no other reason than they don’t think you should be there in the first place.

Cyclist haters are largely made, cultivated by the media. You can almost tell when some drive-time radio talkshow host is having a go at cyclists, because you seem to meet more unforgiving, reckless and aggressive drivers on your way to work. I wish I had complained about the presenter I heard inciting hatred of cyclists. If cyclists were an ethnic group, he would have been jailed.

On that occasion, I didn’t do anything about it. But this advert for Clarkson’s latest book infuriates me. There is absolutely nothing funny about developing a dislike of any group of people, particularly when this dislike might lead them to be treated even more recklessly than they are now. I am going to complain to Penguin about this advert, and if you’re a cyclist, I urge you to do the same.  It’s only because Clarkson is middle class that he gets away with it – listen to what he says as if he had an Estuary accent, and he’s just another thug.

Update: I’ve just complained to Penguin, Boris Johnson & the Advertising Standards Authority about it. I mentioned to Boris that it’s a bit odd that TfL should be advertising a dislike of cyclists below the ground, while the mayor is trying to develop cycle routes above it.

Update on May 21st 2013: My local MP Sadiq Khan was the only person who took my complaint as seriously as I did back in 2010 and referred it immediately to the Mayor of London. Responses from the others could be summarized as ‘lighten up, it was only a joke’. Now a driver has admitted on Twitter to knocking over a cyclist, adding #bloodycyclists as a hashtag. Not so funny now, eh? 

More on musical policing


I thought I might have been alone in applauding the actions of a NI police officer who played music through the tannoy of their vehicle to defuse an attack by 15 kids throwing bottles (see earlier post, Phronesis and musical policing). But I’m delighted to report that Basil McCrea from the NI Policing Board (the independent scrutiny body for the PSNI) praised the approach much in the same way as I did:

If police are to engage with the community they need to find appropriate ways to do it and need to be creative, thoughtful and resourceful,” said the Ulster Unionist Stormont Assembly representative. This officer I think demonstrated those qualities with considerable aplomb. While this isn’t likely to become standard practice, this officer showed initiative and should be commended. [source]

Interesting that in nearly every report I’ve seen of this incident, McCrea’s more considered response is left til last – the ‘story’, as the media tells it, appears to be ‘stupid police officer, embarrassment to force, told off by bosses’.  I think this story and the telling of it reveals that we have not yet shaken free of the idea that music is silly, weak, feminine and feminizing, and an unsuitable activity for a man, or a woman in a ‘masculine’ profession like policing. The fact that it was effective in this case is exactly why it must be ridiculed and eradicated, for one day, the same music might soften the rocks in the heart of the harshest authoritarian, and such loss of control would be, for them, unconscionable.

The Urwärme of Ohrwürme


Via Metafilter, the top 25 ‘earworms’ in France, with audio examples.   ‘Earworm’ is a direct translation of the German word Ohrwurm, meaning a tune that you can’t get out of your head. The more euphonic French term musique obsédante is perhaps the reason why Paris is better known as the city of romance than Berlin or Gelsenkirchen.

Phronesis and musical policing


An extraordinary story from the BBC: Police ‘cool’ Belfast trouble with ice-cream van music. Fifteen  youths start throwing bottles at a police Land Rover in Lisburn. One of the officers  inside has an idea: to play ‘ice-cream van music’ through the vehicle’s tannoy system to try and defuse the situation with a bit of humour. Guess what – “The youths stopped throwing the bottles.”

“However,” continues the spokesperson, “police accept that this was not an appropriate action.”

Now, call me stupid, but in what way is this not appropriate action? You’re surrounded by 15 kids throwing bottles at your car, and you use whatever resources you can to defuse and end the situation. You do that without even raising your voice, let alone using any physical aggression. Surely to achieve that peacefully shows imagination, resourcefulness, calmness under pressure and intelligence.

So what would the Belfast Police Service consider appropriate action’? To get out of the car and start acting like they’re in The Bill? Would have been better if the officer had used music as an instrument of torture instead? Perhaps there’s a whole bit of this story missing, but on the surface, it looks to me as if the officer’s only ‘inappropriate’ action was undermine the macho aura of traditional policing by showing that music – ice cream van music no less  – does indeed have ‘charms to sooth the savage breast‘.

That’s how it seems when you listen to Sinn Fein councillor Angela Nelson, who told a local newspaper that she thought the officer’s actions “beggared belief…The PSNI are put on the streets to do a serious job and that is to keep order on the streets and face down anti-social elements. This is like a sick joke.” Don’t look to Angela for the traditionally feminine approach: she wants her policing the good old bad old way: serious, authoritarian, combative, punitive, humorless – oh, and unmusical.

In Aristotelian terms, the officer’s action was surely an example of phronesis, and if anyone in this life should be capable of phronesis, of acting appropriately according to your knowledge and experience but guided by ethical considerations, it’s a police officer. And if in the 21st century, your average police officer has evolved far enough to understand that music has a role to play, as it always has done, in reducing tensions and defusing difficult situations, and can apply that understanding effectively under threat, then surely that is a matter for celebration?

Take the Slovenia / Slovakia quiz



I thought I was maybe being a bit rude about people who don’t know where Slovenia is in my recent Slovenia post (A Geography Lesson for Mail-Readers), but I feel happier now that I know that even the Slovene tourist board are offering a free trip to the World Cup if you can answer a few basic questions about the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia in their fun-to-do online quiz.

A geography lesson for Mail-readers


Have you ever been to Slovenia? I have, four or five times. It’s a beautiful country. Ljubjlana is one of the quaintest, cleanest cities I know. My impression of Slovenians is of a self-assured, intelligent, well-educated, design-conscious nation, benefiting from a strong economy, an almost perfect location in Central Europe (beautiful, temperate, convenient), and a rich, honourable history.  Even when it was part of  Yugoslavia, it was the richest and most lightly-attached of all the republics, so much like Austria that you couldn’t really tell the difference, apart from the language.  It gained independence in 1991, and is one of the strongest economies of the new EU member states (of all of those, it has the highest GDP per capita, and 91% of the EU average, according to the wikipedia entry on Slovenia’s economy).

So what on earth did the Mail mean by its headline news today “England, the sick woman of Europe: Our poor cancer detection and bad diet mean Slovenian women live longer“? I’m not even going to go into the bad or rather meaningless science,  what really troubles me is that papers like the Mail still rely on its readers’ ignorance and arrogance to stoke up pointless disgust and disregard for nations just because they are not within commuting distance of Sevenoaks, or don’t have nuclear weapons. I really wonder if the Mail have any idea what or where Slovenia is? Mark Wallace certainly doesn’t:

Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said last night: ‘It is shocking that England is falling behind other European countries – and even more that we are falling behind a country like Slovenia. We spend a vast amount on healthcare but we don’t get the results that we should.

What does he mean, ‘a country like Slovenia’, given that there is every reason why Slovenians should enjoy a long and healthy life.  On what grounds should we always be ahead of Slovenia? The picture of Slovenians, all (unusually, by the way) in national costume  is compared to a fat (presumably English) woman eating KFC-like chicken from a box on a roadside bench. I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to make of this: that the fat woman and her love of chicken is letting the side down, giving those Commie folk-dancers a head start? If it weren’t for her chicken-problem, she’d be running the country and writing books about  Slavoj Žižek?

And if we were to suddenly beat Slovenia into 13th place, by ensuring their women died 2 months earlier than ours, would that be a cause for celebration? Do they deserve to die because they used to have a socialist government, or because they have funny accents over their letters? I’d like to suggest that the Mail reporters and Mr Wallace pay a trip to Slovenia to see how much further we have yet to go before we look even half as civilized. But it’s the absence of such pricks in that lovely country that makes it so pleasant to be in. So on second thoughts, just stay here, please.