Month: September 2012

Lies, damn lies and the Mail on Sunday

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The other weekend, that paragon of middle class values the Mail on Sunday decided to continue its sister daily’s campaign to divide every substance and contrivance in the world into a cause of or cure for cancer.

That day’s target: wind turbines. The Mail hates them and the middle classes fear having one in view of the stately home they dream they will one day own. The MoS got that useless idiot James Delingpole to quickly run off a factual-sounding piece of crap straight from the top of his own head, announcing the dangers to life and limb that living really near a wind turbine are bound to cause, despite the total lack of evidence (that’s never stopped Delingpole before, of course).

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What the story needed to really terrify the suburban masses over their lattes was a nice big picture of a huge wind turbine blotting the landscape. Here the MoS hit a snag: there aren’t any. But just like the Mail never lets the facts get in the way of a good scare story, they also don’t let the lack of a picture get in the way of printing a picture.

Some poor lowly art editor was drafted in to take an innocuous agency photo of a turbine and make it dark and broody and scary and cancerous. And then, for the online version, badly comp in a second turbine, presumably to double the fear and loathing and make readers clutch their pearls/BMWs/ponies all the more tightly as they fear the War of the Worlds-style march of the turbines over the horizon and into their very front gardens.

The problem with this is that the UK newspaper industry’s own code of practice says that it’s wrong. It must not be done. It is lying to readers and faking news. Do not do it, the code directs. Long story short: that’s why we’ve just had the big Leveson inquiry and why we might now be getting some real regulation in future (although I suspect that we won’t). So I complained to the Press Complaints Commission.

The last time this happened was a few years ago, when the Daily Mail wanted to bash the BBC but for once couldn’t find a target. They settled on the old “Question Time is biased” crap, proving their point by printing the QT’s audience handout… badly photoshopped to change the whole tone and direction. I complained to the PCC and the Mail removed the image but left the story in place (thus making the story make no sense) online, although the damage was mostly done in print. The PCC, in those pre-Leveson days, saw itself as a defender of newspapers against their readers and turned down my complaint out of hand: the Mail, they said, had printed the image in error so the case was closed. As I pointed out in my reply, the Mail took a document, paid somebody to crudely alter it, paid someone else to write a false story based on the forgery, then printed both together. All. By. Mistake. Yeah.

This time, post-Leveson, the PCC have been a bit more on my side than the Mail’s. But only just. They have actually investigated the matter, the Mail have denied the charge but apologised weakly for using the image, and the PCC would now like me to accept the non-apology apology and move on. The other choice, they darkly hint, is for it to be stalemate and for the useless ‘clarification’ not to appear at all. Heads the Mail wins, tails I lose. Nice.

So, the next time you pick up a newspaper and see them making a big point, as they’re all doing, that regulation as it stands works and anything else is just censorship, remember that they’re lying to you. Also, the next time you pick up a newspaper, please don’t let it be the Mail.

With thanks to Jude Gibbons and David Trussler.

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Send her victorias

Mike, as so often happens, is right. The “British” national anthem is a terrible durge. It’s not quite the unsingable song of explosions and defeat that the Americans have to live with, but really: for patriotism-stoking, it fails hard.

But the English (yes, this a ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ type of post, feel free to move on) middle classes do have a soft spot for it, which is why it remains the divisive tune they seek to impose on everybody. See also Piers Moron, the story-faking, insider-dealing, phone-hacking shit who used to edit the Mirror (with safety scissors) demanding, loudly, that victorious athletes in the Olympics should hurriedly get their breath back and belt out this meaningless piss lest they be declared “unpatriotic”.

Last Friday, I went to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall for the first concert of the new season. As is tradition, they played ‘God Save the Queen’ at the start, in a stylised way. The occassion and the pace of the piece was clearly incompatible with singing along (we had a choir for that), let alone standing up for it. The programme for the concert noted that standing up, and by implication singing along, was inappropriate.

The woman in the row in front of me started it. As soon as she recognised the piece – and it’s sufficiently bad that the slightest reorchestration renders it a mystery – catapulted to her feat in the middle of the first verse. Her neighbours followed suit. Others around soon joined in, until about a third were standing, the ignorant fools. This third were a mixture of people who hadn’t read the programme and people who had but were easily intimidated by peer pressure. The latter are worth watching; they’re the ones who will be informing on you to any Gestapo, Stasi, Securitate or Community Support Officer who asks if they’ve seen anything “doubtful” in their neighbours.

I stayed sat down. The song means nothing to me. I couldn’t give a flying corgi about Mrs Mountbatten and look on in horror and disgust at the idea of her aging offspring taking over from her with his anti-science right-wing views. We could, of course, skip him and have his untested, young and possibly traumatised son, or his ex-wife’s other child, take over. But if you’re going to do that, why not have a poll and ask the people? And if you do have a poll, why not open it up to other candidates? And while we’re there, set a term limit of 5 years or so?

Oh look, we’re a republic.

But, people say pensively, what would we do with God Save the Queen, our national anthem? Well, here’s a thing: why not retire it and its baggage? The original song, I believe, was written for nuns to sing in the hope that the then King would recover form his bleeding piles. Much better if we replace it with Jerusalem for England and Land of Hope and Glory for Great Britain. After all, Jerusalem actually mentions England, while Land of Hope and Glory really is a patriotic rouser of a song.

With a quick couple of acts of parliament, we could have something for everyone to rally round: a democratically elected head of state, a separate anthem for England and a song with new, consistent rules that don’t require exhausted athletes to sing along for the benefit of discredited tabloid editors and don’t confuse middle class people as to whether or not to stand after the person next to them sprang to their feet.

It’s win-win.

Your arse is mesmerising

A month or so ago I gave up smoking after a long and happy relationship with cigarettes. Gosh do I love cigarettes. The taste, the smell, the happy feeling on sparking one, the satisfaction on stubbing one, the fact that I look particularly cool holding one… there’s no downside. Well, more cancer. But otherwise: I [heart] cigarettes.

But now I’ve stopped. And now I’m going to the gym five or six times a week, because there’s no point being an ex-smoker and *also* being the size of a house. I’ve never been a member of a gym before, not a lift-weights-run-on-a-machine-do-sit-ups one, anyway.

This means I have only just discovered that there is a hidden sub-class of human being: people who go to gyms.

I was fully expecting a certain type of gym-goer. I would meet, I thought, and be sneered at by great big muscly men with tiny willies who spend hours in Holland & Barrett of a Saturday deciding on which huge tub of whey protein looks the most masculine and butch. And the gym does have a couple of them, but they’re harmless because they’re too busy hating the other men like them to notice the men who aren’t “competing” with them for the title of World’s Most Masculine Man With Added Masculinity And Some More Manness Added Just In Case Anyone Doubts You’re A Man award. (BTW, these men are also sexually agressive toward women. The rest of this sentence writes itself, doesn’t it, ducky?)

What I actually found was fascinating. The following mainly concerns men, as I mainly notice men. Give me time and I’ll get just as judgmental about the women too.

It’s a council gym, rather than an expensive and intimidating private facility, by the way. This skews the following list and influences the first option particularly.

  • Category One: dying people. The hour each day I spend there is spent in the company of one man who has recently had a stroke and is trying to strengthen his left arm. If Labour hadn’t’ve made physiotherapy hard to get, he’d have help in his goal. Fortuneately, the Tory-LibDems have made sure that if he has another one, he’ll die through neglect and being economically inefficient. There’s also a man whose granddaughter brought him round to see the place and has never been seen since; he mainly wanders about bewildered and scared. Finally there’s a woman who occasionally appears, but each time has worse track marks on her arms; the gym is someone’s do-good idea of helping her rather than just prescribing her heroin and solving the problem at both ends.
  • Category Two: men (always) who have had a cardiac incident or have been warned about one coming. They either do lots and look exhausted all the time or do the bare minimum and look exhausted all the time. Again: more support than a gym membership is needed.
  • Category Three: women en masse. You do get boys (defined as males younger than me) en masse (testosterone makes them display like chimps). Never men (too homoerotic). You don’t get girls en masse (too bitchy). Women en masse: lots. And they do everything en masse. Five of them, all on the stationary bikes. Five of them, all on the steppers. Five of them, all on the treadmills. Five of them, all on the machines. All on the lowest setting, all mainly chatting, all taking lots of breaks. Always en masse. Total wattage outputted: fuck all. They’re there to socialise.
  • Category Four: stick insects. These people run to a particular machine and spend upwards of an hour adjusting every element of it – weights, seat height, reach, speed – until it’s perfect for them. Then they do two, maybe three reps on it, wipe the sweat off, swig their Harrogate Spa water and go weight themselves. There are about a dozen men at my gym who do this, and one woman. All need help.
  • Category Five: I Am Better At This Than You. Oh, spare me from this person. You can spot them quite easily. They get on the machine next to you, rather than the next-but-one, ignoring the Urinal Rule. Then they set their machine to the same as yours, plus 1 – 1km/h faster, 1% more gradient, 1 point more resistance, 1 weight more. And match your reps. This way, no matter what happens THEY CAN BEAT YOU. These people are either of the same age and sex as you (depressing but I can kinda see the ‘logic’) or are (a) boys in their teens or early twenties; in which case, just pee around my machine, it’s quicker, and anyway I usually do longer on it than you can manage, Mr Acne, so NER; or (b) women made entirely of muscle who, I think, need to show a man a thing or two; fair enough, but please don’t pick this particular short, dumpy unfit poof in future, because you’re only proving things to yourself.
  • Category Six: the spot reducer. Like my entire family on both sides (bless genetics) I have concentrated most of my excess weight directly into my belly region. Ideally, the gym will help me tighten that area and let me see my willy again. I will never have a six-pack, nor will I ever be describable as “thin”. But I might be able to get back into those sex schoolboy shorts I bought 6 years ago, so that’s all I care about. And I’ll do best at that by having an all-round workout that touches everywhere; if I just did abdominal crunches, I’d end up with great big muscles with a happy layer of fat over them. So I pity the spot reducers. One guy in particular. He’s pretty enough, and younger than me. He has great hair, although the bleach job doesn’t suit him. The ear piercings are very sexy, the nose barbell less so. He’s lythe and tall and I wouldn’t kick him out of bed. But he has an amazing, disproportionately large arse. And all his workouts are aimed at it. He’s failing badly at reducing his arse, because all he’s doing is building muscle behind where genetics have decided to put his body fat. Between exercises, he looks carefully at his huge arse in the mirrors, perhaps hoping to see the signs of reduction kicking in. He wears tight lycra to facilitate the day when his arse stops looking like he’s shoplifting pillows and starts looking like his ideal arse (by this point, his ideal arse will be one you could fit in a thimble – ugh). Of all the people at the gym every day, he is the one who will remain least happy with himself.

As to which category I fit into, well, I can’t judge myself. Perhaps Category Seven: unfit bloke surprised to find himself at the gym and enjoying it. Of course – of course – I’m far more selfish and narcissistic than that and I fit in a different Category Seven, devoted to people who are judgmental pieces of shit. But I’m happy doing what I do and don’t fit easily into any of the categories above. So I’ll keep staring at Category Six’s arse and hoping, for his sanity, that it does shrink eventually.