Category Archives: Random

BBC bias and repetition and repetition and repetition

I don’t think the BBC is deliberately biased. I think it’s often daft, over-cautious, suckered, pressured, or naïve. Some of this is a result of the Hutton Inquiry, which resulted in several high-ranking BBC defenestrations and a collective case of the jitters which has yet to fully dissipate. Some is the infinite badgering of the Murdochs and Desmonds and Dacres and their broods, the right-wing tabloids.

I’m a huge fan of the BBC. Look, here’s me saying so in a piece I recorded for the BBC Newswatch programme on 3rd February (full programme, might not be visible in your country, or mine if it evaporates due to expiry, policy change or acts of Trump). Or here’s the full piece I recorded:

 

Where I struggle is with things like this image. I first saw it last night and it’s just been replaced as I’ve been writing this post, which means it was the main image on the BBC News front page for around twelve hours.

This image repeats the Tory’s election slogan three times.

Is this proof of bias? No.

Is it stupid/naïve? Yes. Oh, so very much yes.

I have to assume that some editorial process took place to select this image from the semi-infinite number available. I have to assume it wasn’t simply dropped in by a passing Tory. I have faith that the editorial process is designed to take the independence and impartiality of the BBC into account, because I believe most if not all BBC employees feel strongly about those factors.

I suppose I should explain why I think it’s inappropriate. It’s because of the repetition. It’s because of the repetition. It’s because of the repetition.

Here’s a quote from the US Office of Strategic Services, describing the profile of a certain moustachioed wartime loon:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it (source)

I’m not saying ZOMG TORIES ARE HITLER!!1! VOTE THERESA FOR A STRONG AND STABLE REICH or anything like that. I’ll leave it up to you to compare Hitler’s primary rules to how modern politics is conducted. But look at that last point. “If you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

Ooh, look, I’ve repeated it. No, that doesn’t make it a lie, that’s wonky logic. It means it reinforces the idea in your mind.

The principle of repetition can’t make us believe things we know to be false. No amount of repetition of “CATS ARE JUST SARCASTIC DOGS” convinces us. But “strong and stable” isn’t provable and it’s talking about the unknowable future anyway, so this caveat doesn’t apply here.

Here’s a better exploration of the ideas from – ahem – the BBC.

Why was this image selected and used for so long? Perhaps someone thought they were using it ironically to mock the constant repetition. Perhaps someone didn’t see the repetition. Perhaps someone didn’t care. Perhaps someone didn’t know about the underlying psychology at work.

But the psychology is at work, whether anyone knew it or not.

And it’s important to recognise that most of the population are barely aware of politics even now, in the most politically bonkers period in my life. Some people are not even aware there’s a general election on (most likely including the current resident of the White House).

These people see newspaper front pages and headlines about politics: and often no more than that, as they skip to another story. They might see BBC News website front pages, as they scroll down to the weather or the sport or the twelve surprising facts about earthquakes. And before they turn or scroll the page they see the repetition in the image: strong, stable, strong, stable, strong, stable.

It reinforces the idea in their minds.

The Tory party knows this. This is why Tories repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. They don’t care if they’re mocked by people on Twitter, or if the HIGNFY audience laughs at it, or if a random builder shouts out “Oi oi, I’ll give you strong and stable” at a passing candidate (well, it might happen). That shows their plan is working. Their long-term economic plan – oh, no, that was used at the last election two years ago. You still remember it? Well, fancy that.

How’s that plan working out for you?

(In 2010, the Tory plan was to balance the budget by 2015. In 2017, the Tory plan is to balance the budget by 2025.)

Repeating a political party slogan helps that party, whether you intend it as mockery or satire or not. (I’ve thought about removing the S-words from this post for exactly this reason.)

It is not the job of the BBC, or any reputable media organisation, to help a political party of any hue by repeating their slogans for them: especially not on the front page of their news website, multiple times in a single photo.

I don’t believe the BBC is deliberately biased. Here, I think someone’s been stupid or naïve. However, it is surely not possible that nobody in the BBC understands the psychology of repetition. Where are they? What are they doing? Why aren’t they trying to counter it?

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Avaragado’s 2017 predictions

I very nearly didn’t bother this year. All my usual flim-flammery aside, like many I’m genuinely pessimistic about the future, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. Oddly, and happily, when I decided to conjure up some predictions from somewhere and got on with it, I found my mood lifting a notch or two.

Dunkirk spirit. Keep buggering on. Listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once. You’ve gotta laugh, haven’t you? World’s gone mad.

Here we are, then: predictions for 2017. I’m trying to be optimistic.

News

  1. Civilisation does not end in a nuclear fireball or similar Trump-triggered catastrophe.
  2. 2017 is not the warmest year globally on record, causing morons to assert that climate change isn’t happening, etc.
  3. Mike Pence becomes Acting President after invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution with the help of his chums in Congress. (Pedants: under this clause, Trump would remain president but have no powers.)
  4. Trump resigns as president. (Pedants: see above as to why this is not the same prediction as that.)
  5. Self-inflated gaffe balloon Boris Johnson loses his job as foreign secretary.
  6. Marine Le Pen wins the French presidency and oh god will this never end.

Sport

  1. Olympics! Los Angeles is awarded the 2024 summer games.
  2. Formula One! Lewis Hamilton wins the World Drivers’ Championship.
  3. Cricket! India win the ICC Champions Trophy.
  4. Ladygolf! Europe win the Solheim Cup.
  5. Soggy oars! Cambridge win the women’s university boat race.
  6. Sandy balls! Portugal win the men’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Yes it’s a real thing.

Science and technology

  1. Samsung drops the 3.5mm headphone jack from at least some of its phones.
  2. The Nobel prize for physics is awarded for the confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves.
  3. A self-driving Uber kills someone. (Pedants: when the software is in charge, whether or not there is a person “supervising” in the driver’s seat.)
  4. Google buys Slack.
  5. Apple’s next major release of the iPad (probably called iPad Pro 2) includes both 3D Touch and a haptic engine that tries to make typing on a screen feel more like typing on a keyboard.
  6. A major ISP is hacked and the internet browsing habits of its users are published online.

Entertainment

  1. Oscar for Best Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences.
  2. Oscar for Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie.
  3. Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Arrival.
  4. Oscar for Best Picture: Fences.
  5. Channel 4 announces that the Great British Bake Off will be hosted by Jo Brand.
  6. In the second Fantastic Beasts film, the role of Dumbledore will be played by Hugh Laurie.

Celebrity somethingwatch

This year I’m predicting different things for different people.

  1. living: Betty White, still going strong at the end of 2017.
  2. out of the closet: Cristiano Ronaldo, probably via accidental Instagram.
  3. hired: Brooklyn Beckham, as a magazine photographer or similar.
  4. fired: Jack Dorsey, as CEO of Twitter and/or Stripe.
  5. retired: John Humphrys, as presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
  6. expired: Henry Kissinger, please and thank you.

Guest submissions

Attendees of the ceremonial lunch that heralds these predictions were invited to suggest their own. By this stage, some drink had been taken.

  1. Andy H – Celebrity deathwatch: David Attenborough.
  2. Andy C –  the UK does not invoke Article 50.
  3. Andy C – Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister.
  4. Andy C – Celebrity deathwatch: Harry Styles.
  5. Andrew M – Scotland votes to leave the UK.
  6. Andrew M – Celebrity deathwatch: Princess Anne.
  7. Chris W – Some chunk of wall of some kind is built between Mexico and the US.
  8. Chris W – Celebrity deathwatch: Nicholas Lyndhurst.

Join us this time next year, as we fend off mutant humans and chimps on horseback from the shattered remains of the internet, to learn how pessimistic we should’ve been instead.

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Avaragado’s 2016 predictions – results

Well.

That was a year.

Six hours from 2017 in glorious GMT, and we’re all still refreshing our browsers to see which of the dwindling band of celebs are extraordinarily keen to avoid the Hootenanny. As the fireworks tick west, it’s time to review my predictions for 2016.

The well-lubricated Chris Walsh adjudicated, as ever, and his comments are in square brackets.

News

  1. In the thrilling Euro referendum that I hope to god happens in 2016 so we don’t have to suffer another whole year of it, the tedious British public votes 53% to 47% (±1%) to remain in the EU. [51.9% to 48.1% to LEAVE – 0pt]
  2. Bacon-worrier David Cameron resigns as prime minister. [1pt]
  3. Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election. [Optimism – I remember that! 0pt]
  4. 2016 is the warmest year globally on record. [“2016 will very likely be the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row, according to the UN” – 1pt]
  5. The Bank of England leaves interest rates at 0.5% all year. [Down to 0.25% – 0pt]
  6. The price of oil doesn’t go above $50 a barrel all year. [The current price of WTI crude oil as of December 19, 2016 is $51.72 per barrel. – 0pt]

Sport

  1. In the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Team GB win 20±2 gold medals in total. [27 – 0pt]
  2. In the Euro 2016 football championships, England finish in the top 4. [Didn’t make it to quarter finals – 0pt]
  3. Oxford win the men’s University Boat Race. [Cambridge! – 0pt]
  4. HRH Prince Ali Al Hussein is elected the next president of FIFA. [Gianni Infantino – 0pt]
  5. Wales win the Rugby Union Six Nations. [England – 0pt]
  6. Europe retain the Ryder Cup. [USA – 0pt]

Science and technology

  1. The iPhone 7 (pedants: or whatever Apple calls the next major iPhone revision) has no 3.5mm headphone jack. [True! – 1pt]
  2. Apple releases a Mac with an A-branded (ARM, not Intel) processor. [Not yet – 0pt]
  3. Google buys Signal. [Don’t think so… – 0pt]
  4. A major security breach at the NHS leaks hundreds of thousands of patient details. [“An NHS trust has been fined £180,000 after a sexual health facility in central London accidentally leaked the personal details of 780 HIV clinic attendees by email.” … out by several factors of 10 – 0pt]
  5. Physicists confirm the first evidence for gravitational waves. [1pt]
  6. An out-of-control drone causes a major incident (eg a collision with an aircraft). [“Drone hits British Airways plane as it prepares to land at Heathrow” – 18th April 2016. Not sure that counts as a major incident, but the point is yours – 1pt]

Entertainment

  1. To save money, the BBC decides to close BBC Four. [Still there – 0pt]
  2. Peter Capaldi announces he is to leave Doctor Who. [Still there – 0pt]
  3. Oscar for Best Picture: The Revenant. [1pt]
  4. Oscar for Best Director: Ridley Scott, The Martian. [Alejandro González Iñárritu, Revenant – 0pt]
  5. Oscar for Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl. [Leonardo Di Caprio, Revenant – 0pt]
  6. Oscar for Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room. [1pt]

You’re celebrity fired

  1. Piers Morgan leaves Good Morning Britain. [Still there – 0pt]
  2. Marissa Meyer leaves Yahoo. [Still there – 0pt]
  3. Louis van Gaal leaves Manchester United. [1pt]
  4. Chris Evans (not that one) leaves the role of Editor of the Daily Telegraph. [Still there – 0pt]
  5. Philip Hammond leaves the role of Foreign Secretary. [Now Chancellor … 1pt]
  6. Sir Lord Alan Sugar leaves The Apprentice. [Still there – 0pt]

[2016 … a turbulent year for sure, and now confirmed as utterly unpredictable. What a year to abandon the “Celebrity Deathwatch” round though!  9 out of a possible 30, which gives a meagre (if nicely round) 30%.]

Coming soon: oh god, what next?

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Idiocy and expertise

I have – once or twice – been known to refer to Michael Gove as a “dangerous idiot”. In my opinion he is Dunning-Kruger in living, breathing, frightening action in one of the highest offices of state. He inserted his 1950s oar to screw up education and is now Lord Chancellor. He has somehow not yet screwed this up, probably because most of his changes seem to have been reversals of the chum-brained policies of his colleague Chris Grayling. Those two, plus Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, make up the Four Horsemen of the Brexocalypse: I’ll leave it up to you to parcel out all the roles, but Grayling’s definitely Gummo.

Gove was interviewed last night about the EU referendum, and made this statement: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.”

gove-cartoon

What Gove means, of course, is that he has had enough of experts. Specifically, experts who disagree with him. Atop his Dunning-Kruger pinnacle Gove is unaware of how unaware he is and, by the thundering power of his own ego wrapped in his child-catcher ice-cream politeness and seduced by his own connections, he has decided he knows more than they do. He believes he is more expert than the experts.

Oh, but this kind of expert is fine by Gove, I expect.

Specialists with years, decades of training and experience, who live and breathe their subject: nope, but for one exception. The only knowledge he respects is political knowledge. To read a brief, to answer questions, to spin, to dodge, to answer without answering, to make small talk, to win elections.

This explains how he screwed up education, and how he will likely go on to screw up justice – or worse. Empirical understanding valued less than ideology and self-belief. He won, therefore he is correct.

Gove and his ilk are no different than Icke and his, bar a few lizards. It is dangerous idiocy let loose in power, a toddler diving into a ball pit of people’s lives.

2016. What a year. A year that might end with the four horsemen in charge here, and Biff Tannen over there. God help us all. No wonder everyone’s dying.

Time to rewatch Being There.

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Avaragado’s 2016 predictions

Hello again. Pull up a pixel. Dismantle that podcast. Relax your weary mince pie repository. Pay heed, oh gentle reader, for Avaragado has rattled his brain to wiggle out the earwax of foretelling and is pleased to interpret the oily runes ambiguously below.

Those of you familiar with this annual nonsense will spot a new category. I’ve retired Celebrity Deathwatch as the predictions started to come true and, quite frankly, The Medusa Touch still gives me the shivers (WHIP PAN to polystyrene rubble falling onto gurning worshippers). In its place, You’re Celebrity Fired.

Here they all are. Perhaps the rain will have stopped by this time next year. Perhaps.

News

  1. In the thrilling Euro referendum that I hope to god happens in 2016 so we don’t have to suffer another whole year of it, the tedious British public votes 53% to 47% (±1%) to remain in the EU.
  2. Bacon-worrier David Cameron resigns as prime minister.
  3. Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election.
  4. 2016 is the warmest year globally on record.
  5. The Bank of England leaves interest rates at 0.5% all year.
  6. The price of oil doesn’t go above $50 a barrel all year.

Sport

  1. In the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Team GB win 20±2 gold medals in total.
  2. In the Euro 2016 football championships, England finish in the top 4.
  3. Oxford win the men’s University Boat Race.
  4. HRH Prince Ali Al Hussein is elected the next president of FIFA.
  5. Wales win the Rugby Union Six Nations.
  6. Europe retain the Ryder Cup.

Science and technology

  1. The iPhone 7 (pedants: or whatever Apple calls the next major iPhone revision) has no 3.5mm headphone jack.
  2. Apple releases a Mac with an A-branded (ARM, not Intel) processor.
  3. Google buys Signal.
  4. A major security breach at the NHS leaks hundreds of thousands of patient details.
  5. Physicists confirm the first evidence for gravitational waves.
  6. An out-of-control drone causes a major incident (eg a collision with an aircraft).

Entertainment

  1. To save money, the BBC decides to close BBC Four.
  2. Peter Capaldi announces he is to leave Doctor Who.
  3. Oscar for Best Picture: The Revenant.
  4. Oscar for Best Director: Ridley Scott, The Martian.
  5. Oscar for Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl.
  6. Oscar for Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room.

You’re celebrity fired

  1. Piers Morgan leaves Good Morning Britain.
  2. Marissa Meyer leaves Yahoo.
  3. Louis van Gaal leaves Manchester United.
  4. Chris Evans (not that one) leaves the role of Editor of the Daily Telegraph.
  5. Philip Hammond leaves the role of Foreign Secretary.
  6. Sir Lord Alan Sugar leaves The Apprentice.

And that, my friends, is that. I wonder if I’ll post anything else on this blog before next year’s results?

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Avaragado’s 2015 predictions – results

A small but perfectly formed cadre of New Year’s Eve lunchers attended B Bar, AKA Baroosh, today to hear the results of my predictions for the year now blowing damply into the North Sea.

As ever, the tall but perfectly drunk Chris Walsh adjudicated. A double-check showed he gave me a point more than I deserved, which I’ve corrected. Commentary etc in square brackets.

News

  • ✗ There is more than one UK general election.
  • ✗ After one of the general elections, speaker John Bercow is deposed.
  • ✗ The royal child-beast is of the girl persuasion, and called Elizabeth. [Charlotte Elizabeth Diana]
  • ✓ Hillary Clinton confirms she will run for US President.
  • ✗ Kim Jong Un is deposed as leader of North Korea.
  • ✗ The record for the highest temperature in the UK is broken.

[Score: 1/6]

Sport

  • ✗ Sepp Blatter is not re-elected as president of FIFA. [Re-elected, but then suspended]
  • ✓ Chelsea win the English Premier League.
  • ✗ Australia retain the Ashes. [Chris marked this one right, but it wasn’t]
  • ✗ Germany win the women’s football World Cup in Canada. [USA]
  • ✓ Oxford wins the University Boat Race, again.
  • ✗ Cyprus comes top of the medal table in the keenly anticipated Games of the Small States of Europe in Reykjavik. [Iceland]

[Score: 2/6]

Science and technology

  • ✗ Apple releases a MacBook Air with a retina display.
  • ✗ The Dawn spacecraft discovers ice volcanoes on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.
  • ✓ The probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P emerges from hibernation sufficiently to send useful scientific data.
  • ✗ Microsoft buys Fitbit. [IPO]
  • ✓ Dick Costolo leaves his position as CEO of Twitter.
  • ✗ YouTube users upload over 500 hours of video per minute on average. [Who knows?]

[Score: 2/6]

Entertainment

  • ✗ Best Actor Oscar: Michael Keaton, Birdman. [Eddie Redmayne]
  • ✓ Best Actress Oscar: Julianne Moore, Still Alice.
  • ✓ Best Picture Oscar: Birdman.
  • ✗ Best Director Oscar: Richard Linklater, Boyhood. [Birdman]
  • ✓ Best Visual Effects Oscar: Interstellar.
  • ✗ The BBC says BBC 4 will follow BBC 3 and move online.

[Score: 3/6]

Celebrity deathwatch

  • ✗ Dodgy FIFA boss before the other dodgy FIFA boss, João Havelange (98)
  • ✓ Avenger before the other Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee (92)
  • ✓ Dracula, Scaramanga, Saruman, Dooku, actor Christopher Lee (92)
  • ✗ I’ve met him you know, comics elder Stan Lee (92)
  • ✗ President Bush before the other President Bush, George HW Bush (90)
  • ✓ Spock before the other Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy (82)
  • ✗ Run out, umpire Dickie Bird (81)
  • ✗ War criminal, ex-veep Dick Cheney (73)
  • ✗ Floating like an ex-butterfly, stinging like an ex-bee, boxer Muhammad Ali (72)

[Score: 3/9]

[Total score: 11/33 = 33% – up on last years 22%, but some way short of 2013’s 50%!]

Stay tuned to this bat-channel for Avaragado’s predictions for 2016.

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Over by Christmas

And so, war beckons once more. As Chilcot prepares at last to lay down his quill and rest, the telephone rings again.

Cameron will win his majority this time: he’ll make sure of that, with Osborne yapping at his heels. The vote will be called and counted, the tellers will step forward and nod, and the government benches will bay and roar, waving their order papers in bloodlust and surrender.

“My first priority is to keep the country safe,” Cameron will keep saying, as the cameras never cut to the food banks, to the homeless huddling under winter bridges, to hospitals struggling. He will tell us the only way to be free is to give up our freedoms, and the media will nod along.

The war will be over by Christmas, the papers will say.

_86814734_express

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Such a cliche. Such a coincidence that as the sharpest memories of the ghettoes, the concentration camps, the pink triangles blur into history, those thoughts rise again. France slides right. The UK slides right. The US chases its own bullets toward the edge.

Never again, just another phrase to deploy alongside the armies. No more lament but battle cry.

The magical money tree that bears no fruit for public services will produce a bountiful harvest for bombs and missiles, as it did for banks. The cover of war will blow smoke over Osborne’s incompetence. We must destroy his roof while the sun is shining.

And the cycle continues: terrorist attack begets mighty response begets the death of the innocents begets the grief of the survivors begets the thirst of revenge begets recruitment begets terrorist attack.

And the telephone rings again.

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