Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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1 November 2012

Interesting – I am no expert on EU relations but is Labour’s daft move to join Tory backbenchers to try to cut EU spending merely crude troublemaking or a sign (as the BBC Analysis radio programme this week suggested) that Labour may be rethinking the Europhilia that has characterised its last few decades?

24 June 2012
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK),journalism at2:14 pm

I was listening to a BBC podcast – Newspod for 22 June which covered as its lead story Ed Milliband’s recent speech about immigration. Listen to how it was introduced by Andrew Peach – I’ve highlighted the key words. “It’s rare for politicians to admit they’ve got it wrong but today the Labour leader Ed Milliband, himself the son of immigrants, has done precisely that. He’s made a speech in which he acknowledges that millions of people have legitimate concerns and more needs to be done to address them.” The BBC is of course entitled to say that Labour’s immigration policy compared to that of the conservatives cost them votes but in this introduction using those words Peach is clearly stating that that policy was wrong and that anti-immigrant sentiment is legitimate and must be addressed. In my view this is a clear (if inadvertent) breach of the BBC’s duty of impartiality and provides a good example of how careful journalists must be in choosing their words (assuming no ill intent). Here’s the link if you wish to make a complaint to the BBC.

23 August 2011

It is certain that not enough children are reading books if by that you mean that children aren’t reading as many books as adults and particularly their parents would like but a BBC report of a new National Literacy Trust survey rather exaggerates and distorts the evidence.

The main problem is that it is a survey of 8-17 year olds but the statistics quoted aren’t broken down by age. Naturally eight year olds (who may not even know how to read adequately) are going to be significantly behind and will make the figures look worse. Also, the headline for the story given on the BBC News front page is “Pupils ‘prefer emails to books'” – a quotation that appears nowhere in the report. In the news piece and executive summary of the report it says “text messages, magazines, emails and websites were the top leisure reading choices of young people” which implies that’s what they like to read most but in fact the survey just shows that it’s what they read most often.

Lastly, I noted that the journalist said, “more girls admit they read text messages, magazines, emails, fiction, song lyrics and social networking message boards and poems than boys” – why “admit”?!

6 July 2011

It’ll be interesting to see whether the great British public falls in love with this in the same way that Americans seem to have done with the HuffPo on its home turf. I suspect that since we already have a vibrant “opinion sphere” in our National press and (perhaps as a result?) the blogosphere here is rather less influential, it may struggle. I would have hoped that they could produce and highlight a few exciting exclusives for their first day but the page I saw this morning was reliant on the Press Association for several of the top stories, and aesthetically I found the layout much too garish and busy. That said, Tom Zeller’s feature piece on air quality in London was admirably thorough, the article about how you can print your own newspaper was interesting, and the story about the council who paid £100,000 to help schoolchildren get to McDonald’s was entertainingly quirky.

It’s early days–I look forward to seeing what the site comes up with and how its competitors react.

27 August 2010

I have long known one of the UN’s key prerequisites to help reach the target Millennium Development Goals is that developed countries should donate a paltry .7% of their GNP to aid projects (at present nearly all fall well short of this). I just found out (via the Economist) that there’s another even more ambitious but contrasting target. It seems that poor old NATO is suffering because most of its member nations are not spending up to the 2% of GDP target it has set for military expenditure. Would it be too much to ask that countries reach the .7% aid target first?

16 March 2009

Thanks to BBC iPlayer and the increasing number of podcasts available my ability to download interesting stuff is finally outpacing the time available to consume it. My iPod now contains about 48 hours of audio and video material – a mix of (free classic) audiobooks, current affairs and history programs and a number of academic-related feeds, notably Thinking Allowed, Radio Berkman and of course the LSE’s own podcast of its lectures. Unfortunately, in attempting to update the podcasts blogroll on the right I seem to have broken it instead. You can see all of the individual podcasts I subscribe to as they broadcast in reverse chronological order here.

2 February 2009
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK),London,Personal at8:53 am

I know SE England is not great at handling snow but this is a new level of uselessness. All London buses cancelled? No taxis available? And it’s not as if it arrived without warning – forecasters have been warning about it for days…

From London discoveries
19 June 2008

This article on “5 reasons to love $4 gas” (hey, try living with our $8.70ish petrol!) reminded me that I have for a while been meaning to post indignantly that the press needs to stop whining about things.

First and most obviously, the best way to combat global warming is for gas/petrol prices to stay high – high enough that the environmental impact of using the stuff is roughly proportional to its price.

Second, there is a lot of manufactured concern about house price falls here in the UK but the only people who benefit from super-inflated house prices are retirees who sell up or speculators, while the rest of the country has had to set aside a steadily increasing portion of their incomes to afford to get on or stay on the property ladder. If we weren’t spending so much on our homes we could afford more genuinely productive or stimulating spending.

Third, people are expressing concern that the credit crunch, petrol “crisis” and other factors might lead to (gasp) an economic slowdown – that is, that the economy will not grow as fast as it has for the last decade or so. Does nobody remember recessions? Those are what’s worth worrying about – when the economy actually shrinks (and by the by maybe a little shrinking in the economy would be good for the environment anyway). We’ve had more than a decade of steady growth and (for most) rising incomes. UK inflation between 3% and 4%?

On the left, there is concern that inequality and (relative) poverty have not budged much since Labour came to power, but that’s only a reflection of the speed with which the rich have gotten richer (a global trend). Labour could have done more, true, but according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

Taking the period 1996–97 to 2006–07 as a whole, incomes have grown fastest
at the very top of the income distribution, as they did in the period of Conservative
government that preceded it. However, income growth as a whole has been more
equal under Labour than under the Conservatives, with income growth around
the 15th percentile of the distribution stronger than growth in the bulk of the
distribution higher up (though still slower than income growth at the very top of
the distribution).

As for income redistribution, over the period of the Labour government:

the income distribution became more equal between around the 20th and 90th percentiles, but it has grown more unequal at the very top and the very bottom.

And might I just add to this Panglossian picture that there have not been any terrorist “spectaculars” in Europe or North America in the last three years (knock wood!), and that Western casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iraqi civilian casualties have been steadily declining (though Afghan civilian casualties may be rising).

30 May 2008

Compare and contrast this revelation from the archives of British government in the 50s:

Health minister: We should “constantly inform the public of the facts” of the link between smoking and lung cancer.

Macmillan: “Expectation of life 73 for smoker and 74 for non-smoker. Treasury think revenue interest outweighs this. Negligible compared with risk of crossing a street”

With this from Yes Prime Minister:

Jim Hacker: “Humphrey, we are talking about 100,000 deaths a year.”
Sir Humphrey: “Yes, but cigarette taxes pay for a third of the cost of the National Health Service. We are saving many more lives than we otherwise could because of those smokers who voluntary lay down their lives for their friends. Smokers are national benefactors.”

23 May 2008

This artwork/prank/pr stunt is fascinating. We take the fantastically complex technology involved in webcam chat for granted, but connect two points by fibre optic cable (I’m assuming that’s how this works!) and then let people look down the “telectroscope” using the naked eye and suddenly the experience becomes magical again…

Update: I just found that CNN has de-mystified the device – it’s actually a ‘conventional’ pair of very high definition webcams.

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