Thursday, 10 March 2011

2011 UK Census Controversy

You've seen the television campaigns, you've seen the posters, and you've seen the large purple envelope land through your door. Every ten years since 1801, except during the Second World War, we have had a census in the UK. This year's census will be taking place on the 27th March and includes more questions then ever before, relating to what kind of dwelling you live in, what the names and D.O.Bs are for overnight visitors, which languages you speak, how many bedrooms you have, what your occupation is, if you have been looking for work, how good you consider your health to be, your ethnic group and there's also the question of religion, the only "optional" question. Due to the full profile the detailed questions form of a person, there has been some understandable doubts and questions regarding the point of a census, and the motives behind requiring the information.

Supporters state that the £480m census is vital for the government to assign funding to services in the UK that need it the most. Critics would argue that the government have all the information they could want already and by the time the census information is collated the information would be out of date, which would render the operation a waste of time and money.

It also has been revealed that Lockheed Martin, a US arms and nuclear weapons company, have won the contract to implement the census system from the Office of National Statistics - a startling fact that has instilled doubt in many. Given it's reputation as an arms company that has supplied weapons for illegal wars and interrogation in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, census opposers have expressed that its highly inappropriate that the private company should be holding sensitive data of millions of households in the UK.

Considering Lockheed Martin are an American company who are registered in the USA, the Patriot Act 2001 could automatically apply to the collated data. The act compels any personal data held by any company on the US systems to be made available for the use of government intelligence without needing to inform those who provided the data... i.e. you!!

Therefore, the claim that the data will only be used to gain information on where spending and funding should be focused seems skewed. Is it worth spending an alleged £480m to carry out a census with the intention to figure out where the target public spending or is it just better to save that mammoth £480m and spend it on the things we need most, which everyone knows are health, education, care, transport and housing. It doesn't take a census costing £480m to figure that one out. And is it really acceptable to willingly submit your computerised personal information to such company?

Then comes the main objection that many have of the census, and that's the threatening yet wishy-washy tone of the government. "You could face a fine if you don't participate or if you supply false information." Could? "Your census response is required by law". Which law exactly? It all echoes of fascism and forced cooperation. There are many families and households that could do without the threat of imprisonment or a "hefty fine" looming over their heads.

The Wright Stuff (a morning show in the UK) is shown on Youtube to have dismissed the claims of the Lockheed Martin company being connected to the implementation of the UK census.

What's going on? The urgency as to which the caller was cut off near the end of the clip speaks volumes as to the sheer amount of deception and uncertainty surrounding the government's affiliation with a large private arms corporation. However, the affiliation is clearly stated on Lockheed Martin's website.

Make of it what you will.

Is it better to "stand up and be counted" or do you really "have the right to remain silent"?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Childhood Reads

Having been a bookworm and in possession of a library card, I was always at the library. I went after school and on weekends. It probably explains why I went on to study literature at degree level and also why I find it hard to pass a second hand bookshop without having a bit of a snoop round. Even my gradual knowledge of development and adolescence was heavily based on what I read in the "Young Adults" section; books on growing up, physical change, becoming a teenager... all the things that were shrouded in playground rumours and whispers. The information was something that I relished and wanted to absorb more of. For this reason I have an attachment to books and libraries as they introduced me to aspects of life that I would have probably found daunting and scary, and allowed me to discover them at my own pace in the comfort of a big old chair with the sounds of whirring photocopiers and passing buses in the background.There are a few books that particularly fuelled my love of reading and I still look back on them with much adoration. Here they are...

Goosebumps  always left you hanging for more. Goosebumps were as unavailable and coveted as golden nuggets. It all started when my mother reluctantly bought me a copy of "It Came From Beneath the Sink" from a pushy saleswoman. She was unaware that this book would spark an obsession with the Goosebumps series. For a few years I worked my way through the collection, gasping at the end of every chapter cliff hanger, frantically searching for the first word on the next page before the page turn had completed, visiting the library to check for recent Goosebumps returns every day and reserving copies to be snapped up as soon as they hit the librarian's desk. That's what you call love and dedication.

Enid Blyton's Malory Towers was a fantastic set of stories set in all girls' boarding school somewhere in Cornwall. I reckon the reason I didn't become interested in Harry Potter and his magical escapades was because, in my mind, Malory Towers was the boarding school of my childhood dreams. Tales of condensed milk, cold meats, midnight feasts, brisk walks, bitchy slapping, girly gossip, brown and orange pinafore uniforms and pound notes hidden under knicker elastic made the school seem a million miles away from my inner-city London state-run mixed-gender non-denominational comprehensive secondary school.

Married with Nick Sharratt's expressive and colourful illustrations, the Mandy's story really became real. Mandy meets Tanya; a boisterous and troubled older girl who shows her the ropes of shoplifting. As the only child of 60 year old parents and a victim of bullying, Mandy sees this as an opportunity to rebel against cardigans, restrictions and pigtails, which ends in consequences. Wilson presents situations to young readers that they may have or have not experienced or seen before, such as adoption, bed & breakfast housing, broken families, foster and care homes, bullying, and poverty - some of the malaises of society that make growing up difficult. However, the bright illustrations make them accessible and attractive to read for young girls, whilst also educating them that sometimes there is no such thing as a "perfect" family or upbringing - and that it is okay. 

I loved The Twits, and still do. Under the appreciation for girly books and boarding schools, I was a bit of a twisted child. I loved books that were weird, fantastical and a bit disgusting. The Twits is a tale about The Twits (obviously) who are social hermits as they are ugly, smelly and horrible to people and animals. They also hate children, which is a theme that runs throughout most of Dahl's stories in order for young readers to feel even more repulsed. However, The Twits are also very stupid and fall for tricks that they play on each other and that other's play on them in return for their torrents of abuse. It's a funny book and the parts where Mr Twit picks out food from his beard to eat and Mrs Twit takes out her glass eye to scare her husband made it a hilariously revolting read.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

If Aliens Built the Pyramids...

Alien vs Predator was on telly the other night. And I watched the whole thing, which is surprising considering I find films with monsters, aliens and goblins a bit boring, especially after enduring the major fail that goes by the name of Jeepers Creepers. The whole premise of the film is that the Predators (the ones with dreadlocks) guard underground Aztec pyramid temples from pesky archaeologists and aliens as a right of passage, and the humans become trapped in a war between the battling species. There's also lots of freaky squelchy eggs that spawn baby aliens that attach themselves to people's faces, just to make the film a little bit more uncomfortable to watch! The plot reminded me of a well-known theory that aliens helped build the Ancient Egyptian's pyramids. The sheer size of them, their perfect angles and the fact that the Great Pyramid sits in the middle of the Earth's land mass have sparked thoughts that the could have only been designed by extra-terrestrial beings.

I like a good conspiracy to get stuck into but this one doesn't really sit right with me. Wouldn't you think that the aliens would have built something a little more... high tech? Judging by their swish blinking flying saucers it's permissible to think that maybe the pyramids should have been built out of metal and glass instead of dusty stone. With a few escalators and automatic doors? A few LED lights inside would be quite nice too. Even in 2500BC the aliens would be lightyears ahead of us in terms of technology and design.

Instead of this:

You'd think they would built something like this:

Or this!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Perils of Telemarketing

When answering the phone at work, eight times out of ten the call will be a sales call. I can literally write a book on the consequences of telemarketing and telesales as there's no way better to damage the reputation of your company or business than a really bad and awkward telephone pitch. When it's done well, it's an effective market research and sales tool, but if done bad it can really make your business look rotten.

Here's the top five most annoying things telesales people do:

1.  Call, wait for me to pick up the phone but not ending up saying anything before hanging up. I know this is because you would connect three calls at once and as the first person picks up, the others are disconnected. These are technically illegal as they're classed as "silent calls", and are very very annoying, especially if I was in the middle of telling an extremely funny joke.

2. If you want to talk to my boss/manager, don't say that you know them personally or have spoken to them before just to be put through. A conniving strategy... until my boss/manager looks confused and asks me to take a message as they've never heard of you before in their life. Your name and company will probably be blacklisted for next time you call (by blacklisted I mean having your details scrawled  on an eye-catching heart shaped Post-It note and sticking it on my Mac).

3. Do not pretend to work on behalf of, or with, a well known organisation to gain credibility. No, no, no and no! Once we had a man call the office claiming, with what he thought was a bossy "authoritative" voice, that he was calling from the Metropolitan Police. However he was very vague as to what he wanted to speak to my boss about and would never leave a message or number. It's well known that the police always leave a message if there is a genuine reason or a case they need to discuss. Turns out this guy was working on behalf of a company who sold advertising space on police wall calendars. So not really the crime-busting police force then. Fail.

4. Forcibly set up a sales pitch meeting over the phone. Please don't do this. It's awkward and irritating to have to explain why I don't want to take time out of my busy schedule to sit through a sales pitch for a product we neither need or want. And don't send me iCal invitations for meetings that I have refused over the phone... I'll only end up deleting them.

5. After I have told you that we do not require your services/products, please don't keep calling even though I have told you to take our company's number off our database. That is illegal too. And don't try to disguise your voice by holding your nose, I know who you are!

Friday, 4 February 2011

New York Smoking Ban

Since 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has embarked on a project to make New York a safer and cleaner city. It's worked to some extent, with the crackdown on crime and ban of smoking in public buildings such as restaurants and bars. However, his latest endeavour is taking it one step further. He wanted to pass a law banning smoking in parks and public places such as the nearby beaches, the city's parks and Times Square, even though they're outside and in the open air. This new law has been passed by 36 votes to 12 and will see to enforce perpetrators to pay $50 (around £30) if they light up in the banned areas.

It's clear to see that Mayor Bloomberg has good intentions in cleaning up the city's atmosphere but more can be said about the absolute ludicrousness in his logic. For one, the public open air is free to the public to do what they wish with it, whether it's to breathe it in or waste it. Secondly, how many of NYC cops will be bothered to enforce it as surely they have bigger fish to fry (and doughnuts to buy)? Thirdly, will the ban actually make a difference to the atmosphere with the thousands of taxi cabs, cars and motor vehicles chugging out carbon monoxide and other nasty exhausts on a daily basis?

And do the ones who flout the new law get a fine discount if it is a particularly windy day and there are influxes of newer, fresher air? How long is it until city dwellers can't smoke in their own homes?

The new law will come into affect 90 days from the date Mayor Bloomberg signs it through this month.

Source: The Guardian
Photographs: Google & L Sabin

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Review of Mr. Nice

Released in selected cinemas on 8th October 2010

Enveloped in a thick white blanket of smoke trails, Rhys Ifans stars as the infamous hashish baron Howard Marks in the new cinema adaption of the autobiography
Mr Nice (pronounced like the French city Nice), directed by Bernard Rose. The film title is derived from Howard's pseudonym, a name he overhears in a pub and uses it to forge a new identity. He then goes on to scheme, plot, and blatantly disregard laws under the guises of the IRA, CIA and the MI6 to import hashish to make enough cash to make bankers blush.

Despite protests from his loyal and understanding girlfriend/wife Judy, played by Chloe Sevigny, Howard goes on to try crack America by concealing hash blocks in a band's speakers. One speaker is mistakenly left behind and after an inspection by vigilant US cops, it is traced back to him and results in a seven year spell in prison in 1988, although he was sentenced to twenty-five. This passing of time is marked by the eventual loss of his youth, his maddening loneliness, the loss of his teeth and his children growing up into adulthood - one that he momentarily mistakes for Judy during a prison visit.

The attention to detail is this film is on point. Visually, it is a gourmet feast for the eyes for anyone who appreciates stunning cinematography and photographic shots. The cars, clothes, props, hairstyles and settings looked like they were straight out of the 70s and 80s, not copies or outrageous exaggerations, but the real deal. Vintage footage of traffic-lodged and bustling Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street have been successfully married with the present day actors to create a time-travelling sensation. Howard, an Oxford graduate, experiments with LSD at the beginning of the film whilst he was still at university. Hallucinations were presented through close up shots of enormous cartoon-like bubbles in the toilet and hazy dream-like states of mind.

The film is essentially about the legalisation of marijuana. Howard obviously disagrees with the fact that is illegal and asks, I paraphrase, that how can a plant that inspires and heals someone be illegal? However, marijuana being illegal is the reason why he becomes infamous and rich. It is also the reason why he was locked up. This demonstrates that drug barons have the best and worst of both worlds - luxury, whilst living on a knife's edge of fear.

He was released from prison the same day as Mike Tyson. "I had," he was quoted to say, "been continuously in prison for the last six-and-a-half years for transporting beneficial herbs from one place to another, while he had done three years for rape." 

"Fellow dopeheads and fans of terrorism may cheer him on, but this struck me as an empty-headed movie with a very obviously broken moral compass" -  Daily Mail article by Christopher Tookey

If one does not wish to see a film that has a "broken moral compass" then surely a film about a drug baron's life is not ideal. It's on par with stating that a film based around Jack the Ripper is too gory and disturbing - what is expected otherwise?