I saw a story today about the horsemeat scandal investigation maybe being canned (and then sold as ‘meatballs’ in Aldi) and it reminded me that I never got round to blogging my crossword themed around the same incident. So here it is.
This is a letter sent from the boss of King Edward VII Hospital to the boss of 2Day FM. I’m sure you all know the context.
I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about the hoax call made from your radio station, 2Day FM, to this hospital last Tuesday.
King Edward VII’s Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call.
Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station’s management, was truly appalling.
The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients.
The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words.
I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.
My understanding of this story is that a DJ rang up a hospital, said she was the Queen of England, and asked for confidential patient information and the hospital provided it. By any reasonable standard, the party at fault here is the hospital — the only possible excuse for failing to check that the caller really was the Queen is that the Queen, being merely Kate’s mother in law, is not actually entitled to information about her condition. This attempt to shift the blame to the DJs is pathetic, and astonishingly unhelpful.
If the call had been made by a Guardian journalist investigating data protection standards in high-profile hospitals, nobody would accept even for a second that it was “extremely foolish”, “truly appalling” or “ill-considered”, or that any steps should be taken “to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated” by anyone except the hospital management and the Information Commissioner. I don’t see why it should make any difference that it was made by DJs for a light-hearted chat program. Arguably, it makes it more newsworthy, because the serious journalist would probably have perpetrated a more convincing fraud.
And even if we accept that the DJs fucked up, have we not learned not to hound people with a solid week of international newspaper coverage every time they make a mistake? If one of these DJs is found dead tomorrow then Lord Glenarthur, who wrote this ridiculous letter, must shoulder his share of the blame. Then he should be fired. And if they’re not then he should be fired anyway because of the shameful flouting of data protection laws displayed under his watch and his subsequent failure to accept any responsibility, fix anything or apologise. But so far, there has been no suggestion from anyone in a position of power that the hospital has done anything improper.
The mob, instructed by the print media, has decided who it wants to blame, and now the people who actually should have prevented all of this are using that to get away with it. That is the long-term issue here: tabloid newspapers are apparently in charge of regulating our healthcare system.
Today, the Guardian helpfully informed me that a unicorn lair had been discovered in North Korea. Apparently the journalist in question didn’t entirely believe this news, since “discovered” was in quotation marks. If it were me, I might have chosen “unicorn” as the word to call into question, but apparently we’re assuming unicorns are plausible but discovery is suspect. Okay, whatever. Readers of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Sun will be familiar with the story.
I don’t know who broke this inane non-story, but it’s probably safe to assume the others copied it, since three of them refer to the unrelated Chinese report that Kim Jong-Un had been voted the world’s sexiest man but turned out to be based on an Onion spoof, and two included — verbatim — the sentence “satisfied with his performance, he reportedly immediately declared his retirement from the sport.” They’re all very keen to point and laugh at the zany North Koreans, aren’t they wacky, look, they think they’ve found unicorns, and while Korea has its share of silly beliefs and absurd propaganda I think it’s safe to assume their main news network doesn’t actually believe in unicorns and maybe give them the benefit of the doubt until you’ve done just a dash of research, hm?
Attached to each article is a stock picture of a unicorn, literally all of which have a shitty lens-flare effect Paint Shop Pro’d onto them, which is not really a good start because Eastern “unicorns”, actually called Qilin or Kirin, have nothing whatsoever to do with them, look more like lion-ox-dragon chimeras, and often don’t have the Narwhal-style horn at all. But then, maybe these were added by a subeditor later.
On the other hand, if we look outside the British print media, where loads of other people have reproduced this garbage, Time Magazine have inexplicably gone with “Unicorns’ Existence Proven” according to “North Korean scientists”. Go on, blame your editor for that.
The unicorn’s grave was rediscovered near a temple in the capital Pyongyang, with a rectangular rock engraved with the words ‘Unicorn Lair’ at its entrance, according to the report. The report did not elaborate on what further evidence of the royal unicorn’s existence was discovered.
The Guardian, and only the Guardian, helpfully provided a link to the original story, so we can have a look and figure out whether or not the zany Koreans actually think their ancient king rode around on an actual unicorn in actual real life. I think it’s useful to bear in mind while we do this that our patron saint is principally famous for killing a dragon.
io9 and Archaeopop have good articles debunking it (although io9 also have the stupid version) and basically what it seems to boil down to is: the Korean equivalent of King Arthur had Kirin instead of a wizard and a magic sword and periodically North Korea likes to make a big show of rediscovering the site Kiringul (where they lived) in North Korea, and not South Korea, which makes their country the most important therefore hooray. Nobody is suggesting the Kirin actually existed any more than the existence of Jerusalem proves that God exists (which by the way is at least arguably less plausible than unicorns so maybe we should be a bit less cocky about mocking other cultures for their apparently silly beliefs.)
I appreciate there can be precious little motivation for a journalist to do research that can only destroy his story, but the willingness of just about everyone to assume Koreans believe that unicorns either exist or would be a good thing to pretend to have without apparently wondering if something might have been mistranslated is a little sad.
It’s never a good thing when you’re forced to come out in support of creeps, but such is the way of things at the moment.
It is, obviously, creepy and perverted (or cynical and mercenary) to point a high-magnification lens through a gap in a fence and take blurry pictures of women with their tops off. It is, obviously, unethical to sell topless photos of unconsenting women in a society where breasts are sexualised. And it is, obviously, pretty shady to buy those pictures and sell them on in your magazine.
But if, as the BBC reports, the Royal Family are pursuing criminal charges against the photographer, then side with him I must, because I’m not at all comfortable making the publication of any photograph taken in a public space a criminal offence. Maybe you’d like the right to mow the lawn naked, safe in the knowledge that it is illegal for anyone to take a picture, but before we start limiting ‘free’ expression to just the bits we approve of, ask yourself this:
Are your tits more important than my right to photograph landmarks without fear of harassment? Are your tits more important than protecting teenagers from being prosecuted as child pornographers for taking pictures of themselves? Are your tits more important than the reporting of Parliamentary proceedings about illegal toxic waste dumping? Are your tits more important than protecting frustrated travellers from being branded as criminals for venting on Twitter? Are your tits more important than protecting legitimate pornographers from moralistic prosecution? Are your tits more important than protecting drunk idiots from prosecution for making homophobic remarks about a horse? Are your tits more important than allowing people to hand in evidence of child rape? Are your tits more important than the right to express any hatred of the police you may have without them arresting you for it? Are your tits more important than fighting the promotion of dangerous and expensive bullshit to, and the disgusting but profitable emotional manipulation of, vulnerable people? Are your tits more important than protecting insensitive pacifists from being convicted for swearily suggesting that the death of six soldiers in an IED explosion is less important than the many people soldiers on the same side have pointlessly killed? Are your tits more important than my right to safely criticise barbarous religious practices? Are your tits more important than the right to non-violent protest? Are your tits more important than exposing the horrors, and precipitating the end, of a war?
Then put a fucking shirt on.
It’s rare for two people to say things that are obvious, true and contradictory, but that’s what’s happened here:
Scots will no longer be British if their country votes to leave the United Kingdom, Labour leader Ed Miliband has warned in a keynote speech on national identity.
Miliband insisted that leaving the union would mean that Scottish people would lose their British identity – challenging the argument put forward by the Scottish Nationalists, who have insisted that Scottish people would continue to be British in a geographical sense.
Look, the geography gets a bit complicated, so let’s break it down:
- “Great Britain” is the name of the big island that England, Scotland and Wales are on.
- The country that occupies this island and a few nearby bits (most notably Northern Ireland) is called “The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland” and is long enough already without adding “Except Scotland”.
- The “British Islands”, apparently, is the UK plus some other, distinct states that the Queen is also head of.
- The “British Isles” is every damn rock between Iceland and France.
So yes, Scotland will remain British, because it’s part of Britain. But it won’t be part of Britain any more so it won’t be British, really.
I would dearly love to know what Ed Miliband thinks will happen if we vote to “leave Europe”. I’m picturing an army of tugboats, or drills to perforate the tectonic plate along the Channel.
It has come to my attention that some people do not think about how things will look. I mean, what would we think of this behaviour from, say, the host nation of Eurovision?
A group of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.
I think it’s a bit despotic. An absurdly rich woman who is head of state simply because her dad was has been thrown a £3 billion party at the citizens’ expense, spent the afternoon heading a £12 million flotilla, while on the banks, the pageant was helped along by poor citizens working in shitty conditions for no money and against their will.
I realise it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound, but it’s very nearly that bad. Like when Amazon deleted 1984 from everyone’s Kindle. Seems like it’d be quite easy to forsee how this shit might look when it inevitably gets out, and maybe think, you know what, just this once maybe we’ll pretend to be mature adults. You know — purely in the interests of avoiding bad press.
The tedious and ridiculous “Supermoon” is back.
The Guardian call it “one of the natural world’s most spectacular light shows”. In fact, the moon is at the closest point to the Earth in its orbit, and it also happens to be a full moon. According to both the Guardian and the BBC,
The phenomenon, known as a perigee full moon, means the Moon appears up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than when it is furthest from the planet.
Robert Massey, of the Royal Astronomical Society, told the BBC that although the phenomenon makes the moon appear 30% brighter, it is the apparent 14% increase in size … that is most striking. “The eye is so good at compensating for changes in brightness that you simply don’t notice so much,”
No, the reason we don’t notice the moon appearing 30% brighter is that it doesn’t.
The amount of light that hits the moon depends on the distance from the sun. Light leaves the sun equally in all directions, and if you imagine a load of photons leaving it at the same moment, you get a sphere, and as they fly through space they get more and more spread out. If you move the moon further away, more of them will miss it. The difference in light hitting the moon, between its closest and furthest points, is roughly 0.03%. That only accounts for a .05% change in brightness (and in fact, it’s dwarfed by variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun) so where does the other 29.95% come from?
Ah, but the distance to the Earth changes by more, right? Yes — by 14% if you go by the newspapers’ figures. Wolfram|Alpha puts it at nearer 12%. It’s not important. The important point is that once again the nearer the moon is to the Earth, the more light we get — but the more of the sky it takes up. And because both the amount of light and the area of moon in the sky increase at the same rate (the square of the distance) the actual brightness of the moon remains exactly constant. The brightness of the night, on the other hand, increases by a factor of (114%)² = 129.96%. I think it’s pretty clear what’s happened here.
It’s a coincidence that those numbers work out so neatly, obviously, but it does mean we can quantify the accuracy of the “30% brighter” claim: it is 0.17% truth and 99.83% misunderstanding of basic physics. Here’s that data as a graph:
Ah, but look! They have photos! How can I pooh-pooh it when they have photos? Here’s the Guardian’s shot:
That’s a pretty big moon, but not because of the “supermoon”. That’s because of perspective. We all know the moon is larger than a jogger. It shouldn’t be impressive if it seems that way in a photo.
If you doubt me, here is that information presented as a graph:
I mean, I think this is a pretty epic moon:
That was taken on 21 October 2005, when the moon was a little further away than normal. All you have to do to get this effect is to walk backwards and zoom in. Think about it: you can walk backwards for ages and the distance between you and the moon will basically stay the same. The distance between you and the jogger or the building in front of the moon will change a lot. So you can control the relative size of moon and jogger really easily, just like you can take a photo of your giant kid holding up a tiny Tower of Pisa if you really feel you must. And if you make the jogger small, then crop the image around the moon, the moon looks massive.
Because it is. Of course it is, it’s the sodding moon.
I suppose what annoys me about this story is that the ‘supermoon’ is too pathetic to be of interest to photographers, too banal to be of interest to astronomers, and arbitrarily not of interest to astrologers. So who cares? Nobody. Nobody cares. And yet it’s been in every newspaper going, two years on the trot. And it’s one thing when a newspaper does it, because it’s cheaper than doing journalism. But the BBC should be above it.
It’s strange to me, given the general vitriol aimed at “tax dodgers” lately, that when Greggs the Bakers exploit a legal loophole to avoid paying VAT, everyone in the world springs to their defence.
Here is everything you need to know to understand this story: Fully one sixth of the price of almost anything you buy is passed on to the government as “value added tax” or VAT. Because this is clearly absurd, anything considered essential — books, foods and children’s clothes, for example — is exempt. The exemption for food, though, only applies to food shopping. Eating out or getting a takeaway is considered a luxury and therefore you have to pay VAT on it. In Subway, for example, you can buy a sandwich and take it home and that counts as shopping and is exempt. If you eat it in-store that’s eating out and if you get it toasted then it’s a takeaway so in those cases you have to pay a higher price to cover VAT. Until now, Greggs have avoided this tax by claiming that their food isn’t heated as such; that’s just the temperature food is when it comes out of the oven. The Conservatives want to close this loophole.
According to the Guardian, this is “prompting fears there will be panic buying”. This is stupid: in order to stockpile Cornish pasties, you would have to refrigerate them, and that’s shopping and therefore still exempt from VAT.
Here is how Ed Miliband described the plan:
There is a serious point here which is that the government is hitting people’s living standards in every way they can. Not just fuel duty going up, child benefit taken away, tax credits being cut, now even putting 20% on the cost of pasties, sausage rolls – and the chancellor’s excuse? Well, he says you can buy them cold and you can avoid the tax.
It’s pathetic. I fully expect tabloid newspapers to report this as some kind of “pie duty” the evil toffs in government have levied on the down-trodden, hard-working masses while subsidising caviar and pâté de fois gras — but anyone who wants to be Prime Minister should have the maturity not to. This is not the first time Miliband has attacked an utterly reasonable coalition policy for some superficial reason like this, and every time he does it I lose a little respect for him: aside from the fact that he’s essentially misleading the public to score points, there are enough genuinely evil coalition policies to attack that indulging in this sort of stupid bullshit is actively dangerous: his bickering about pasties could cost us the NHS.
And “the chancellor’s excuse” Miliband speaks of is not really the chancellor’s excuse at all — it’s Greggs’ excuse. Their claim is that pasties should be VAT exempt because they’re not designed to be eaten hot. If that were true, nobody would care if they were sold cold from now on. The fact that people are so upset that heat is going to cost extra proves that it should. (Obviously I’m setting aside concerns about the appropriateness of VAT itself here.)
The latest non-development in this non-story is that Cameron said his last pasty was from the shop in Leeds train station — but that closed two years ago! Look at it! It thinks it’s investigative journalism!
Greggs are threatening to sue, although not for anything in particular that I can make out.
It’s being treated like some kind of nasty swipe at working people who get a pasty every lunchtime — the Sun are even comparing it to Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” proclamation (because both involve snack foods) — but even without VAT that’s an absurdly expensive way to eat. Get yourself a pack of bagels and a tub of cheese on Monday and you can eat all week for the price of a pasty. Getting a hot takeaway every day is a luxury; is it really cause for outrage that it’s being taxed alongside cake instead of a loaf of bread?
Every so often, David Cameron walks around a building, followed by news crews. Nobody ever punches him in the face. Some people might call this “admirable restraint”. I call it a shameful dereliction of their moral duty.
I don’t just mean because he deserves a smack in the mouth, although obviously he does. Eric Joyce was arrested recently for punching some Tory MPs in the Commons bar, and I remember thinking I would find it very difficult, if I worked in a building full of Tory MPs, not to punch a few (although I see why Labour took the whip away from him: clearly he can’t be trusted with it).
I can’t imagine why Cameron would want to stroll through my office followed by news crews, but if he did, I would not feel comfortable not shouting at him — aside from the lost opportunity to improve the world, it would make it seem like I support his policies. So before the visit, I’d spend ages trying to figure out what I should say to him. This would make me despondent and angry, until the alternative — simply punching him in the face — seemed more attractive.
The thing is, though, that punching him in the face is the better option. I could rant at Cameron until blue in the face — a perfectly constructed stream of vitriol and rage, full of clear, accessible and well-argued points — but probably nobody would hear it except for him, and he’d ignore it. But if I lamped him, right in the middle of the stupid, smug playdoh lump that passes for his face, then I think I’d get to write a long article in at least one major newspaper explaining exactly why I did it. I’d get to speak directly to the public in a way ranting at him couldn’t accomplish.
This is my point: you — each and every one of you — has a clear and immutable moral obligation to punch David Cameron right in the chops, the next time you see him.
Do not let us down on this.