Saturday, 21 November 2009

Joss Stone drops the Bomb

The Smoke Fairies have the best low budget video I have come across- Shot in their flat with a prop budget of £60 for tealights, it's hauntingly beautiful.

An example of what not to do comes this week from Joss Stone, whose brother directed a video that has leaked to the internet after a failed attempt to supress it by the EMI label. Amazing for how much it must have cost, all those badly placed lights with professional gels on them, huge cast, HD cameras- but no one thought to switch them to shoot progressive frames, hire a competent cameraman and editor, or even get anybody who has ever been near a film set to give the plan a brief once-over, leaving the whole thing looking like a shitty soap opera. See for yourself-

I doubt many here have watched this to the end, but try to last as far as 3:22, where a special last fuck-you to the viewer is vomited up over the screen.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Postmodern narrative-driven thinking

Vaccination is a tricky subject. Lots of people don't like needles, don't like doctors and are ignorant enough about the subject that they can make it part of whatever emotionally satisfying narrative suits them best, viz. the Daily mail's Irish Edition supporting the cervical cancer jab while the British edition opposed it.
Incidentally someone (I haven't the time) needs to go back and see if any of these conflicting stories were on front covers at the same time, leaving newsagents around the UK/Eire border with very confusing displays.

This example from a blog called Gender Agenda, also about the gardasil cervical cancer vaccine, isn't typical, but gives an example of the faults in this kind of thinking:

"...women everywhere, including in the west, are used as tools to uphold the current world order, which includes the enrichment of the super-wealthy corporations concentrated in the U.S. and Europe, and other such exploitative entities. Honestly, I can’t even forsee an end to the use of women’s bodies towards this end."

The post links to two articles which make two criticisms of the vaccine. Firstly, that because Merck is an evil corporation that has lobbied for the jab to be introduced in schools, the jab must be innefective, and secondly that not very many women die of cervical cancer, so why spend the money giving it to all of them when it's just a ploy to exploit them anyway?

I left the following comment on the post, but it seems to have been blocked, so I'll shout into the darkness here:

While Merck have obviosly engaged in some fairly shady astroturfing to gain momentum for their approval process, that (ad hominem) argument is irrelevant to the value of the vaccine. The only question here should be: does it work for the money spent? The data seems to suggest
that it is medically effective. But is it cost efective?

Sociologically speaking, this vaccine should be targeted only at sexually active teenagers whose inexperience might lead them to take risks with regard to STDs. Clearly this would be the best use of the vaccine and have a cost benefit ratio that very few would oppose. The problem with doing this is that risky sexual behaviours are highest among socially conservative famillies who would never get the vaccine if it wasn’t part of a national program.

Is it still worth doing on a national scale? Making heavy work of the relatively low number of deaths for cervical cancer ignores that three times as many women are diagnosed with the disease as die from it, and they have to undergo pretty horrid and expensive treatment in order to survive. Their suffering and medical costs should be taken into account in a financial analysis.

There are good political arguments for resisting the vaccine- the success of Mercks rather sticky tactics might inspire more drug companies to follow their example and manufacture demand for their products which would leave us worse off in future crises. Is this political victory worth the cost in lives?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Nearly Naked Soul

On Friday night, I was sitting in the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh watching a man embarrass himself in front of a packed house.

The show was called ‘The Nearly Naked Chef’ and its only cast member, Hardeep Singh Kohli, former Newsnight Review presenter and ‘star’ of The One Show, was stalking the stage behind a giant oven, shouting out meandering arrogant anecdotes while cooking a dinner. He was overweight and sweating with nerves and the heat from the range, which must have been fitted with castors, plumbed in and installed at great expense simply to give the struggling presenter something to hide behind when one of his three punchlines failed.

Wearing a Britney style cheek microphone in what he must have felt was a nod towards his status, he tried to come off as relaxed and jovial, a kind of cheery Clive James style renaissance man. Sadly the mic picked up every nervous gulp and pant, making the weak jokes come across more like desperate pleas for attention. Sitting in the front row must have felt like being in the final scene of Sunset Boulevard.

In terms of the content, there wasn’t much. There were only two topics, both were what David Cross calls ‘my ethnic mom talks funny’ bits: his being Scottish and his being Indian. After watching him jump between them every time he crossed the stage, my companion suspected a crib sheet was taped to the oven door, but that degree of forethought seemed very unlikely.

If he were an ordinary bloke trying a new career I’d applaud him. Standing up in front of a crowd and trying to be entertaining is very hard, more so if you’re a known name and can’t experiment in obscurity to find your voice, but when this man gurns at you for an hour whilst proudly sharing his observations about Edinburgh being hilly and how he’s noticed that the Scots can be frugal, he’s hard to like.

He did manage to tell a handful of ‘jokes’ during the course of the evening which he clearly feels justifies adding the word ‘comedian’ to his website, but they were all very old and frequently circulated. The socially isolated audience who make up the Kohli fanbase might not have heard them though, so he might find an audience when the show begins touring the country this Autumn.

I suppose Hardeep views the run as an audition for some kind of daytime tv slot, and while the material was embarrassingly weak and unstructured compared to nearly everything else at the Fringe, it might have stood up alongside the inanity of Loose Women or the Jeremy Kyle Show, so there’s hope for Hardeep yet. Or rather, there would be, as I discovered after a bit of googling, if he hadn’t in July been suspended from the BBC for 6 months following a complaint from a researcher.

In the last two years, Hardeep’s wife has left him, he has been forced of air for the researcher letching, and his highly leveraged property ‘empire’, which lost 30% of its value in the recession, has come under scrutiny from Glasgow Council over the carbon monoxide poisoning of tenants. Given all that it’s hard to put the knife in and I suppose he's due a bit of luck, but sadly I think ‘The Nearly Naked Chef will have about the same rate of success as his business, personal and television ventures.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Jon Ronson at the School of life

Last month I was able to merge my two main interests, documentary film and rational skepticism, when I went to see Jon Ronson talk about his new film on the Alpha course. It was hosted at the School of Life by Neil and Padraig, recording for Little Atoms. The venue, a kind of secular church at which sermons are given in subjects close to my heart. It's somewhere I've been interested in but never actually got to before, so that in itself was worth the 4 hour drive up from Cardiff. Jon was fascinating as always, so I got out the camera and recorded a taste of the evening.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Simon Singh

You can read my last post for the story on Simon Singh. Last night he addressed a meeting of supporters and I went along to document it- It was dark, noisy, I only had a shitty handycam and no clear line of sight to the speakers. None the less, I think the resultant video gives a sense of the night's events.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Simon Singh at the Law Courts

Busy day yesterday, up to the Royal Courts of Justice to show some support for Simon Singh.

Sadly, things didn't go well. Here's the quote that got him into trouble.

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

The surprising outcome hinged on Justice Eady's (famous for the Mosley spanking case) interpretation of one word which appears in the quote above.

First a bit of background- There are two options for the defense, one being that the statement was not defamatory but merely opinion or comment, the other that the statement was defamatory but that it was justifiable.

The judge's first finding, that the statement was defamatory, does not in itself mean that Simon's case is lost, only that he would have to show that his remarks were true. This is what he had expected to happen, and prepared a case based on backing up his written claims that chiropracty lacks evidence.

What was surprising was that the judge interpreted Simon's use of the word bogus to mean that he was saying that not only did chiropracty not work, but that the BCA knew it didn't work and were knowingly relieving people of their money for little in return. This means that in order to use the 'truthfulness' defense he would have to bring evidence to prove that the BCA are complicit in a scheme to defraud people rather than simply ignorant.

This would be impossible to prove and Simon is surprised that his article was interpreted by the judge in this way as he has never alleged that the BCA were crooks, he's written elsewhere that most ALt Med practitioners are deluded, rather than criminal, and is frankly surprised at the way the scentence was read.

He will now be appealing on the grounds that Justice Eady misinterpreted that one crucial word. If this appeal succeeds, then he will be back on scientific grounds, and will go to trial with the burden only of proving that chiropracty cannot treat asthma. Let's hope he gets it.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Bradford bullshit

A few weeks ago the Local Government Association published a list of words which hinder communication among council staff and deplete the dignity of anyone using them. This quickly became known as the bullshit list, and was the subject of a great deal of web comment, even spawning the brilliant Bullshit detector. Arising from chat on the B3TA boards, it analyses government websites and gives a score based on the frequency of appearance of the misleading words to create a table of the worst offenders. Leading the pack at the moment is the audit commission, with a score of 476. You can view their site with the offending phrases highlighted here.

The reason so many people find these euphemisms unpleasant is that they become a convenient way to create lots of steam for government and others to hide behind. Putting up a poster with “community engagement” and “citizen empowerment” slogans on it is no substitute for actually talking to the public; neither is “Thinking outside the box” a substitute for doing some real work.

I saw an excellent example of this on my recent visit to the national media museum in Bradford, which was hosting an exhibition of baby photography in collaboration with a project called Born in Bradford. Various panels adorned the exhibition justifying the concept, full of the phrases we’ve come to recognise. If you visit the exhibition’s website you will read:

The Born in Bradford research project will follow the lives of 10,000 Bradford babies over the next 20 years. Bradford-born photographer Ian Beesley has been working with parents to help explain the research, encourage participation and establish ownership by the local community.

It’s interesting that there is someone in whose job remit it falls to ‘establish ownership’ by the people of Bradford and make the research clear to them, because nowhere in the exhibition or the museum website will you see any explanation of what the born in Bradford project is for. The general sense is that it's some kind of health survey, but details are thin on a ground strewn with meaningless buzzwords and covered with pictures of proud participating parents and their closely monitored offspring.

If you go to the BiB website however, there is an explanation that many of the city’s residents might not have heard about from their community facilitator.

Bradford's infant mortality rate is amongst the highest in the country. This is why from October 2006, all babies born in Bradford are being recruited into the Born in Bradford research project.

So the idea is to do a cohort study of children likely to die at a young age and try to identify what the risk factors are. That explanation is considerably clearer, but put like that, the council and health authority fear, you might not get so many people signing up.

You can see why they played it safe and hid this very worthwhile project beneath a layer of bollocks, but had they been more honest might they have found that treating people as adults and allowing hem to decide whether or not this projects deserves their support (and it absolutely does) might have resulted in a genuine bit of community-building?