Jul 09

Avoiding The Archers

I cannot begin to tell you how much I value listening to Radio 4.

I know that everyone likes to think their preferred news source is devoid of any bias, political or other, and those with ‘higher class’ sources of news usually criticise the shortsightedness of such a view:

Star reader: “Can you flippin’ believe what Jade said on Big Bruvva”…
Daily Mail reader: “How common – read some proper news.” [grumble grumble] “political correctness gone MAD” [blah blah] “I call a spade a spade” etc.
Times reader
: “Oh, please, you can’t believe a single thing that rag says”
Guardian reader: “Broadsheets just have a more intelligent way of manipulating their readers…”
FT reader: [displays air of disinterested superiority]

Anyway, Radio 4. Gladly it’s not a newspaper, and doesn’t have adverts. That already puts it in the league of “news sources I can tolerate”, but it’s so much more than this.

Like all sources of news, I suppose there is a bias, but I honestly don’t know what it is. And if there’s ever a bias, it’s never consistent across programmes.

I’m intimately aware of the interview styles of all of the station’s main presenters – Eddie Mair, John Humphreys, Caroline Quinn, Sarah Montague, Jenni Murray, Jim Naughtie, Steady Eddie Stourton, Lustig, Kearney, Buerk – and I’m aware of their general leanings, how they may over-question certain viewpoints and give other viewpoints too much slack. But they seem to do so because of their distinct personalities, not their politics. In fact I couldn’t tell you what the political leanings of any of the above really are. I have my inklings, but they are never confirmed.

For the American readers, think of Radio 4 as the British version of NPR, without the annoying ‘funding’ advertisements and without the incessant need to link pieces with elevator music.

Radio 4, how did I ever manage without you? Every single programme leaves me more educated or enlightened.

Every programme, except one. The Archers.

Is there a SINGLE person who likes The Archers? Do I have anything in common with them? I thought I knew the Radio 4 audience. Those who love that heady mixture of intelligent arts review and pithy news, the comedy, the drama, the geek programmes, the literary reviews…


When that music comes on, the world turns to slow motion, I reach my hand towards the nearest radio or software player, coffee flying everywhere, but it’s too late. The hideous ‘tune’ is with me for the rest of the day. I just need the first two notes, and I’m infected.

Every day you are tempted with the delights of Front Row with Mark Lawson in that pre-Archers teaser. Oh, how lovely – a special piece on Gormley’s new public exhibit in Trafalgar Square, a super piece about the art of manuscript editing, a discussion between leading actors on the meaning of a playwrite’s latest work. How exciting! But no, we are going to subject you to 15 minutes of westcountry accents spouting banal rubbish about the state of farming in the UK! And we’ll infect you with that terrible music!

For about 13 years now, I’ve never known the official times and lengths of episodes of The Archers.

Why? Because I am too scared to switch back to Radio 4 for fear of hearing just half a second of weirdy Archer World. Not that I don’t love catching the end of an aria on Radio 3 in the meantime, but I thought to myself, “perhaps I should look further into this”.

So for anyone in the same position as me, who never really knew when The Archers started or finished, here is the weekly schedule.

You won’t find weekly Archer avoidance times on The Archers official website, so I present them for you here, collated from the Radio 4 weekly schedule. I doubt it will ever change, unless the sky fell in.

Monday to Friday: it’s not safe to turn the radio on any time between 2.02pm and 2.15pm, and 7.02pm and 7.15pm.

Sunday: (this has caught me out so many times) leave it off between 10am and 11.15am (SO unfair) and then 7.02pm until 7.15pm.

Saturday, the coast is clear all day.

Jun 09

BT vs BBC: an exercise in confusing service providers' responsibilities with those of content providers

So much for the democratisation of the internet.

So BT (British Telecom) in their infinite rational wisdom have admitted to throttling bandwidth of connections to the BBC iPlayer.

Fine. The customer purchases a service from a company with insufficient infrastructure to cope with the normal web use of today, and the service provider limits the customer’s usage of their service in this respect. Customers are free to take their business elsewhere: free market and all. I mean, it’s obviously wrong that BT have not been upfront to their customers about limiting the service they provide, but I am presuming they haven’t broken the terms of their contracts with customers.

But they didn’t stop there. A spokesperson for BT added that BBC should shoulder the cost for access to their iPlayer service.

Excuse me?

It’s kind of like BT are blaming the BBC for providing content to their customers. Sure, the BBC iPlayer creates traffic on their network, in the same way that any kind of web usage does. But that’s why the customer is purchasing a service. Paying money. For a service.

The logical conclusion to this would be for every ISP to charge every single company who owns a website that is used by a member of the public with internet. Which is clearly ridiculous.

It’s one thing to secretly limit the service without telling customers, it’s another thing to somehow claim that the companies who provide this content are somehow to blame!

What is that about? Is it a marketing exercise to somehow deflect from the fact BT’s infrastructure cannot cope with the usage levels of their customers? What has that got to do with the BBC?

More to the point, though, BT also admit to prioritising the service levels pertaining to usage of BBC iPlayer to customers who pay more.

This further underlines how wrong they are to claim BBC should fit the bill. If a customer pays more, they can have a less-restricted service. If the level of service they can provide to their customers is proportional to how much the customer pays and has no bearing on whether content providers like BBC pay money to BT, surely this further proves the issue is one of service level agreements between customer and ISP?

I’ve yet to read if spokespersons for other major UK ISPs have jumped on the bandwagon, but my guess is that most other ISPs would sensibly assume they cannot pull the wool over their customers’ eyes in that way.

If anyone has a good analogy that adequately sums-up how amusing and ridiculous this is, I would love to hear it.

Apr 09

When is a deep-seated problem in society not a deep-seated problem in society?

Is racism inherent to humanity? A societal construct? A belief we are taught? Is it possible to be untaught? Are some people genuinely completely devoid of racism, or are we all complicit in the racism that is a part of our society whether we own that belief ourselves or not?

Needless to say, I know exactly what I think the answers to the above are.

I rarely rise to the bait.

Especially on issues as emotive as racism, debated as publicly as online, at someone’s blog.

But I posted somewhere about the fact that I don’t see colour, and someone responded by linking me to a blog post about how so-called “colour-blindness” can be detrimental to the progress of racial equality.

With great interest, and a very open mind on this matter, I followed this link to a blog entitled Uppity Brown Woman, and read the article. I didn’t think too hard about the title of the blog.

I read it, and I agreed with its central tenet: that perhaps “colour-blindness” is not the process by which equality can be realised, but rather the end-point.

Thought I: “A little arbitrary, perhaps a little dogmatic, but I guess it’s important to get these things perfectly straight if we can, after all, we are talking about ideals and progress”. Clearly if I had been subjected to racism in some form, I may be far less flippant with this last sentiment, and so I didn’t write this thought out. But I would still hope to think it deep down. Let’s take the example of white-on-white crime; for the sake of argument I’ve been beaten up and mugged, I would be very upset but I wouldn’t necessarily become too worried about the chicken-egg argument of whether it was a problem with parenting in society or a problem with humanity itself. I’d tell myself “beating up is immoral, it’s wrong, and nobody should be subjected to it”, and I’d leave it at that.

The first blog response I read, however, I found difficult. So I posted a response. Bad idea.

It was the wee, wee hours:

Someone on the internet is wrong

Nota bene, there wasn’t actually anyone shouting “are you coming to bed” from another room; that would sound spookily like there was someone in my life who actually did that kind of thing.

I don’t know what else to say here really. Please take a quick look at the comments on that blog. If you are without time, skip the blog entry itself and go straight to the first comment, as I have summarised the bit I’m talking about above.

I’m the enigmatically titled “Mr Smith”.

After a little more reading of the blog, I discovered there are, in my opinion, a few chips on a few shoulders – and it was this I was railing against. Now I kind of regret going there.

Can someone tell me I am not being completely unreasonable here?

I get really angry when people tell me “everyone is a rittle bit lacist”. (Ref: Avenue Q.)

Jan 09

Do you know why Polish men are taking your jobs?


(I didn’t take the above photo, it’s kindly released under the Creative Commons licence by secretlondon. Let it be known I couldn’t get close enough to take a picture of a newspaper like the one shown above without doing some terribly bad things to anyone in the vicinity.)

Do you know why Polish men are taking your jobs?

It’s a reputation thing.

You are lewd, crude, you go home early, your work is sometimes shoddy, you have no regard for the environment around you. You are often highly dangerous and don’t conform to basic safety standards, and this sometimes puts the general public at risk.

I feel the stereotype is so strong and so true, it warrants generalisations like this. If it were just a few making a bad name for the many then I would hold back.

To say that you are unprofessional doesn’t come close to describing your work ethic.

For example, anyone who walked outside my house this morning may have been hit in the head by one of about 200 heavy metal clamps, thrown from the top of a three storey building, and most probably killed. Anyone who tried to park in an empty parking space between two parked cars would have been unable to, due to clamps littering the pavement and the road. Anyone who drove along the stretch of the road involved may have unwittingly hit a clamp with their tyre.

I don’t mind that you never show up until minimum two weeks after you were supposed to. The Polish workforce can be equally unreliable. It’s a supply / demand thing. I don’t fully understand it: builders are perpetually late, why not just build some management of expectation into the system and add two weeks onto the proposed time… oh I see, it’s because you don’t want to lose the work. No, I don’t fully understand, but it doesn’t rile me too much. After all I can just build that 2 weeks delay into my project expectations. (I speak like I do building projects, I’ve never hired a builder in my life.) In fact I can understand why Polish builders have to adopt that same attitude of saying “yes” and lying about the start date: they have to be competetive in the marketplace and actually get the work in the first place. The difference that gets me is what happens once they do turn up.

And if there are any contract managers out there who feel this is grossly unfair to the population of British builders who do take their work seriously, may I suggest you use your power and influence in the sector to change the systemic attitude whereby it’s okay for a contract manager to recruit 18 year olds with no qualifications or training, and put their lives at risk, and pay them very little, just as long as the job gets done, and the manager gets paid.

Oct 08

Boom / bust

I don’t have an issue getting my head around the fact that the global economy appears to be collapsing around us; it seems logical that the economy is choking in proportion to the product of the frequency of the boom-bust cycle and the extent to which the previous boom ‘boomed’.

Visualise a graph of boom and bust, let’s call (a) the boom period, i.e. the length of time between the last bust and the current bust. And let’s call (b) the amplitude of the boom.

If that time is longer, the economy is going to fall a lot harder. Multiply that by the fact that, after a certain amount of boom-time, Stupid Banker People’s memories start fading, and they can no longer remember the bust, therefore throwing caution to the wind and increasing the risk of their investments – thus making the boom (b) far greater. When the boom is greater, and the boom period is greater, the resultant combination can cause exponential consequences. I say “exponential”, but it’s not true is it? The global economy will mend.

It’s really obvious if you think about it that way. Bottoms ALWAYS fall out of things. (Obviously I have a PhD in hindsight – like everyone else in the world – which is why I feel okay about framing it like this.)

I’m not sure why everyone wants an explanation.

Scarily ignorant prole on the street interviewed by BBC News 24 #1: “why should we pick up the bill for those banker people, they got themselves into the mess, why should OUR money bail them out? it’s got nothing to do with us.”

Scarily ignorant prole on the street interviewed by BBC News 24 #2: “I think it’s a disgrace, this money should go to the national health service, or something that really needs it”.

Scarily disingenuous bastard of an opposition political leader interviewed by BBC News 24 #1: “the current Prime Minister is responsible, this will be known as the “Brown Bust Era”” (true story).

How depressing.

One thing in common though: nobody wants to blame themselves.

I personally find it strangely reassuring that the economy has taken an enormous battering, and major corporations are dropping like flies. I do genuinely hope any readers don’t misunderstand my point here: I’ve no desire to see anyone suffer, be they disgustingly rich or pathetically poor, or the punters in between. Nor do I take pleasure in seeing fine upstanding historic financial institutions going under – I find it sad. Nor do I take pleasure in capitalism itself failing, per se.

The reason I find it reassuring is that, well, humanity is so greedy and destitute that I’m surprised we haven’t seen much worse to date. I’m thinking Gotham City here: widespread corruption and the rule of crime. Or an Orwellian state.

It’s just that it brings me back to what I know, what I learnt at primary school, the lessons of those GCSE readings of Lord of the Flies, the words of responsible adults who taught sensible things to me when I was young, generic sayings such as “it never pays to be greedy”. It’s the order of things that I was brought up knowing. Capitalism works, when people are relentlessly called to account.

I’m sure this is all no good to those who have to go into work for 20 hours per day, or who have no work to go into, or whose small enterprise – their lifelong dream – had to declare bankruptcy because their bank was Icelandic. Or whose American fixed rate mortgage is up for renewal. Or whose job is on the line because a decision they made 5 years ago to invest their local council’s funds in a folded bank has come back to haunt them.

I’m sure it’s no good to them what I am saying, some glib remarkster on the internet spouting righteous pap.

Honestly, I’m not like that. I’m not a righteous judgemental type. But frankly, you’ll all burn in hell.


No, I’m sure none of this comment is of use. But it should be.

Why? Because you watch Big Brother, the television show, without shuddering. You should be shuddering at the echoes of what is implied by that book. You shouldn’t find Big Brother a funny television programme to watch. That’s like wearing a poppy on November 11 and finding the whole thing a bit quaint.

And you shouldn’t go along with the media and laugh at the heroics of David Davis when he puts his job on the line for fundamental human freedoms.

I agree, it made no difference. But what the hell is the world coming to, when we simply refuse to accept a politician is doing a job because he believes in it? We whinge about how we are increasingly disaffected by politics, because politicians keep lying to us, yet when one stands up for something he truly believes in and makes an exceptionally eloquent case for his cause, we laugh him down?

I sit in my little room sometimes wondering if people have lost their minds. Are you serious you don’t mind living in a surveillance state? Are you serious you wouldn’t mind being locked up for 42 days without knowing why, how, what, who? Where your family is, what they are thinking? What you’ll do when you get out, if you get out, will you ever be able to work again? What happened to your job? If your life insurance has been invalidated?

Of course not – because it doesn’t affect you. Because you didn’t do anything wrong and it wouldn’t happen. Of course.

Just like it didn’t affect you that our financial markets weren’t regulated quite heavily enough.

It will.

And sadly the anti-terror laws have already been used against innocent people. And they wreck lives.

The frustrating thing for me is that there is a lesson to be learnt in everything, but people don’t want to learn it. Again, reader, perhaps you think this comes across as a little moralistic, but if the sudden unprecedented collapse of the global economy with no apparent warning can’t teach you something about allowing the manmade institution of government to go unchecked – that is, government who have much more power over us than corporations – then what can?

It should be very obvious that humans, when left to their own devices, when not called to account, become greedier for power and money. Given power and money are fundamental necessities in society, at least the way we do it now, it makes sense that we continue towards a goal of increasing regulation. This can be seen as working towards the epitome of societal sophistication.

I guess what I’m coming to, albeit in a meandering and somewhat streams-of-consciousness kind of way, is that I am a fan of regulation. Regarding our financial system, I think we Brits had it almost right, actually. Perhaps a little tightening of existing financial law, and a whole lot more power to the executive regulatory bodies, and we’d be pretty good. Wait, did I mention using our combined non-transatlantic relations to put an immense amount of pressure on the American government to reform political financial policy across the water? Yes – that would be the only other thing we could do.


(Note, this little diatribe started off as a rant against American people, it went something like this:

“Wow. There seems to have galvanised an enormous amount of hatred for Sen. Barack Obama within the last week. It’s incredible how gullible people* can be with a little negative political marketing.”

* I had to stop myself saying “The Americans”, because sadly it’s true of the stupid Brits as well.)