Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Eleven Reasons Why I Want To Quit Facebook (And One Reason Why I Can't)

 I have had a Facebook account since the summer of 2007. I've set all my privacy settings to Friends or better and always take care not to post too much personal information on there. I almost never take and upload photos of my friends at social gatherings without permission so that they can be tagged. In the past it has been very useful for keeping in contact with my friends and finding out about their personalities. However, since 2010 onwards, I have become increasingly more disillusioned with Facebook, a process which was accelerated by countless privacy scandals, badly-conceived redesigns and the creation of my Twitter account that April. In recent weeks, Facebook has gotten especially bad and earlier today, I wrote up and published a note explaining why I was seriously considering deleting my Facebook account. It seemed to get a good response, so I've decided to reproduce my twelve points below so that it can be shared with a wider audience.

  1. Facebook is a major distraction to my life, particularly since I have some very important exams at the end of this year (I'll admit Twitter is even worse, but I'd rather have one major distraction than two).
  2. I have no interest in sharing every single aspect of my personal life, either online or offline, with you, let alone a major company that wants all your personal data. Whereas on Twitter what you say is more important than who you are, Facebook only cares about your identity so that it can target relevant advertising at you and make money (I use AdBlock Plus, LOL)
  3. Hardly anyone communicates with me on here (apart from a select few to whom I remain grateful). For the majority of my friends, my interaction with you is almost entirely one-way, which me casting an eye over your boring posts like some Internet overlord.
  4. Very little information I obtain from here is of relevance, importance or interest to me compared to Twitter (where you only follow people who interest you, not people you once knew at some point in your life). The news feed is an endless parade of pointless polls, friend notifications, random images and trivial status updates, and of most the stuff which is interesting, I've already found via Twitter.
  5. I resent the direction Facebook is taking in recent months, such as the idea of 'frictionless sharing' through pointless applications (i.e. The Guardian app) which share everything you read by default, no matter whether you actually wanted to share a particular article or not. A brilliant explanation of why this is a terrible idea can be found here.
  6. The privacy settings are overcomplicated and poorly thought out, integrated as an afterthought in recent years in order to copy other superior websites; on Twitter, all your tweets are either publicly viewable or not. Google+ and Diaspora were both fundamentally designed around the concept of sorting your friends into different circles.
  7. I remain angered by Facebook's use of tracking cookies to record your browsing activity through websites with the Like button embedded into its pages, even if you're not logged in. Fortunately, I use Ghostery, ShareMeNot and NoScript, so this isn't a problem (for me, at least).
  8. I still do not like the current layout, which is a complete mess compared to Google+ and Twitter. For example, your news feed now prioritises randomly picked "Top Stories" over the actual semi-chronological news feed, which incidentally also hides posts from people you don't talk to often enough by default (if you're reading this, you've probably disabled this).
  9. I still do not like the sidebar and ticker, which acts as an unfiltered news feed of blabble and cannot be disabled or adjusted.
  10. I am not looking forward to the forthcoming Timeline feature, which appears to make everyone's entire history on Facebook, such as previous status updates and when you first became friends with whom on Facebook, easily accessible to friends. A critique of the Timeline from someone who recently quit Facebook can be found here.
  11. Facebook is not an ethical company and I do not trust Mark "They Trust Me, Dumb Fucks" Zuckerberg and his cronies with my personal data. The terms of service effectively claim ownership of everything you post on here. They deliberately make having a decent level of privacy as difficult as possible. They find new ways of tricking you into accidentally sharing your data with everyone and anyone. They completely redesign the website to suit their own business interests without notice and every time they do so, the quality of this place depreciates. (Does anyone else remember when groups used to be supported and not abandoned by the developers?) We are not Facebook's customers; we're the product.
  12. I no longer enjoy using Facebook, yet am required to continue having an account as it remains the only effective way of contacting and keeping tabs on my friends. People always say, "Well, you're not paying for it, if you don't like it, just leave." But this will result in becoming disconnected from almost everyone I know and becoming even more of a social pariah. This remains the only reason why I'm still on here.
As of this blogpost, I still have a Facebook account, but am planning to re-evaluate the situation at the end of this year. I think I might wait until they roll out this Timeline feature so I can see if it's going to be as bad as I think it's going to be. If so, than rather than go through more than 4 years worth of status updates to make sure I haven't previously post anything embarrassing, I might simply and finally delete my account and force everyone to communicate with me via email, tweets, text or in person.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The A-Z of Delingpole Being a Twat

On 15th May 2011, James Delingpole spoke out against political correctness in a desperate attempt to fill space in the Sunday Telegraph and become the next Richard Littlejohn. In the spirit of free speech, I will now research all of Delboy's claims, provide citation for each one and analyse whether any of them are actually a clear example of "political correctness gone mad".

A is for 'A-Levels'
Having taken my A-Levels a few years ago, I can confirm that they're still a challenge for most students. There are several reasons behind the increasing pass rate (97.6% of entries receive an E or better as of 2010), such as adjustments to the papers by the exam boards, improved teaching standards, the use of Internet and revision guides as a resource, and the fact many students who would be incapable of passing A-Levels had already left school after taking their GCSEs, leaving those with the motivation to revise for the exams. However, it is worth remembering that only 27% gained an A or better last year, and just 8% gained an A*. These are the grades you need to be aiming at to get into your first-choice university where you can study for a meaningful degree in the fields of science or humanities (or even English Literature).

B is for 'Bumper Cars'
At the end of last April, it was claimed that Butlins had introduced a new policy restricting customers from bumping into each other in the dodgems. This isn't anything new as you'll find that most owners of bumper cars discourage customers from collisions and make them go round in a circle in one direction. This also makes perfect sense as customers could suffer whiplash or other injuries (which could result in ligation), or at least cause excessive damage to the equipment (which would be expensive and inconvenient to fix). Of course, you'll also find that most customers will ignore this advice and bump into anything that moves.

C is for 'Climate Change'
As a Libertarian Conservative, Delingpole sees the possible solutions to climate change (such as energy conservation, investment in alternative sources of energy or the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions by the industry) as a threat to his ideological beliefs in the free market and complete, individualistic freedom from the state. However, rather than criticise the proposed actions which the Government might take to prevent and/or deal with runaway global warming, he instead denies the science, rejecting all the evidence he doesn't like without any consideration and accusing anyone who accepts the reality of climate change of either being part of a conspiracy, an eco-fascist and/or a libtard. His stance on the matter is ideological, not scientific, as his conclusions are formed on existing prejudices instead of the evidence.

D is for 'Drowning'
In September 2007, 10 year old Jordan Lyon drowned in a pond, despite the fact he allegedly could have been rescued by two Police Community Support Officers. From reading the story, it becomes apparent that neither PCSOs were trained to deal with an incident of this nature, although they did radio trained officers for help. As tragic and preventable as this death was, it has little to do with political correctness or health and safety, nor is it a reason to attack “race and diversity” and “health, safety and welfare” included in PCSO training, which is irrelevant to the incident.

E is for 'Edinburgh, Duke of'
It speaks volumes that the man who Delingpole thinks is "the greatest bastion of political incorrectness" is a bigoted old man born into a privileged lifestyle who completely lacks the social etiquette and considerate nature required to interact with people from different cultures. LOL WOT A LEGURND.

F is for 'Feminists, and Their Famous Sense of Humour'
Here, Delingpole tells us an incredibly sexist and offensive "joke" about how women belong in the kitchen, which not only perpetuates outdated gender stereotypes, but also isn't actually funny.

G is for 'Golliwogs'
Last March, two prospective Conservative councillors, Bill and Star Etheridge, posed for pictures holding golliwog dolls, which they then uploaded to Facebook "to promote a healthy debate about the toy" (Personally, I think they were just shit stirring.They were subsequently suspended by the Conservative disciplinary committee after a complaint, before resigning and joining UKIP. But this wasn't political correctness gone mad; the reason why they were suspended was because they risked "bring[ing] the party into disrepute and/or that you may be guilty of conduct not compatible with membership of the Conservative Party". When you're working in politics, it's very important for you to present a good image of yourself to the public, and it's your responsibility not to put yourself in any compromising positions which could be used against you by enemies. If these pictures were discovered and distributed by their opponents, it would be hugely embarrassing for the individuals involved and the party as a whole.

H is for 'Health and Safety'
Which is not the same as political correctness.

I is for 'Islamism'
For a multicultural society to function, it is necessary for us to be tolerant of those who come from different cultures and have different backgrounds, and to be respectful to their traditions and beliefs where there is no need to oppose them. This applies to all religions, not just Islam, as well as to atheism. Delboy refers to Tafazal Mohammad, a man with alleged links to the 7/7 bombers, who received £80,000 to teach officers how to combat terrorism. I can understand the police's logic here; despite the risks associated and concerns raised by this partnership, through the cooperation of a man who has previously been on the inside, they can understand the jihadist mindset and to thus engage with Muslim communities. In any case, I fail to see what this method of counter-terrorism has got to do with political correctness, especially since Delboy could have easily have moaned about any of the Islamophobic stories reported by the Daily Express and Star.

J is for 'Jon Snow'
The first Jon Snow is the Channel 4 newsreader who refuses to wear a Remembrance poppy on air during October/November on the basis that, as a newsreader, he believes he shouldn't wear any symbols which express his own personal views, nor does he believe he should be forced to wear a poppy for the sake of wearing one. You'd think Delingpole would be supportive of Snow's attempt to uphold the libertarian principle of being able to wear whatever you want - a man who rebels against the fascist PC brigade who forces everyone on TV to wear poppies. But alas, he's a "pinko liberal" and Delingpole's a big fan of war and soldiers, so he's wrong. The other Jon Snow is the Soho pub who threw a gay couple out for kissing. Delingpole complains about the outrage generated by "the Twitter Taliban". So I guess that means if you have ever spoken out against homophobia in your life, you're as bad as a terrorist and should be locked up. Or perhaps be paid thousands of pounds to teach police officers how to engage with homosexuals.

K is for 'KFC'
I never quite understood the fuss surrounding halal meat. I mean, if you really cared about the way million of animals every year are slaughtered at the end of their miserable lives, you'd go vegetarian. Delboy refers to KFC's policy of serving halal meat in some restaurant and some branches of Domino Pizza no longer serving pizzas topped with pepperoni, sausage or ham. There's a great page on KFC's website which explains the reasons behind the halal trials held in 2010. Simply put, there was a demand for halal foods in parts of the UK and, being a corporate entity, KFC recognised that there was therefore a new market they could reach out to. Most importantly, all poultry is stunned before being mechanically and ritually slaughtered, so the animal should experience no pain. This makes the method of halal-meat no different to the preparation of non-halal meat (apart from the bleeding and the recitation of a verse from the Koran). As for Domino's Pizza, the 2009 trial was only ever held in three branches in the UK and was overturned the following year due to a lack of demand.

L is for 'Llantrisant, South Wales'
In 2009, three bridges for dormice were built across the road linking Talbot Green and Pontypridd at a cost of £190,000, thus providing the mice a safe passage through one side to the other. Cue outrage from the Daily Mail and Taxpayer's Alliance. However, the humble dormouse is one of Britain's most endangered mammals and are protected by EU habitat regulations. What Delboy (as well as the Daily Mail and Taxpayer's Alliance) fail to realise that the council and contractors were legally required to provide wildlife protection before the bypass was approved. Were it not for these bridges, the road would not have been allowed to have been built.

M is for 'Motor Insurance'
Now Delingpole complains that insurance companies have to treat women and men equally after a ruling by the European Court of Justice, despite the fact young men are more likely to have a car accident than young women. Not only that, but male pensioners will have their income reduced, despite the fact men generally die younger than women. On one hand, this is bad because insurance companies work through risk analysis; the more likely a demographic is to have an accident or die, the higher their insurance premiums will be because the company is more likely to pay out. On the other, this policy was positive discrimination based on age and gender, and it also lumps individuals into the same categories, such as all young men of being reckless, dangerous drivers. Unfortunately, it also means women's premiums will increase next year to match men's.

N is for 'N*****'
You can't use a racial slur anymore unless you're a black rapper? It's political correctness gone mad!
Here, Delboy complains about The N Word being censored from TV broadcast of the 1955 film The Dam Busters and the literacy classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The former is understandable due to Ofcom regulations regarding offensive language. As The N Word is very offensive and carries a lot of cultural and historical significance, if it was broadcast before the watershed, the channel would receive a number of complaints and the newspapers would give them a pillorying. Of course, if this bothers Delingpole so much, I'm sure they've left the word in on The Dambusters DVD, which he probably owns.
In 2011, a new edition of Huckleberry Finn was released by NewSouth Books, which replaced The N Word with the word "slave". The justification behind this decision was the fact that many classrooms refuse to study this historical classic on the sole basis that it contains an unpleasant word which many people feel uncomfortable reading, let alone saying out loud. Some scholars criticised the changes because the use of The N Word here is justifiable in its historical context. But for the common newspaper churnalist, is this really worth making a storm in a teacup about? You can still buy thousands of copies of the book containing the original text. It's not like they've taken the original manuscript and crossed out all instances of The N Word from there, subsequently changing all other copies of the book retrospectively.

O is for 'Offence-Taking'
Now Delingpole complains people are too easily offended, which is odd considering his apparent support for the landlady of the Jon Snow pub who was offended at the sight of two men kissing. He also claims that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” which is why I gave this blogpost the title it has.

P is for 'Peppa Pig'
In January 2010, after concerns from parents, Astley Baker Davies announced they would not only show Peppa Pig wearing a seat-belt from now on but they would also retrospectively go back and reanimate previous episodes to reflect the changes. Delingpole calls this political correctness, I call this setting a good example to viewers. And besides, this isn't anything new; the original Batman TV series from the '60s nearly always showed a shot of Batman and Robin fastening their seatbelts every time they set off in the Batmobile.

Q is for 'Quangos'
I fail to see how the Equality and Human Rights Commission, established to help eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, promote and protect human rights and to build relations within communities is a Bad Thing, but then again, it promotes "political correctness" and enforces equality legislation, which is unlibertarian, so it must be a Bad Thing after all.

R is for 'Rover'
Last week, Oxford Theology Faculty Fellow Dr Andrew Linzey wrote in The Journal of Animal Ethics that instead of calling animals 'pets', we should call them 'companion animals'. This is just one man's opinion; there's no obligation to do what he says. Seriously.

S is for 'Sooty'
Now Delingpole complains that the popular glove puppet bear isn't allowed to make sexually provocative remarks about Soo! It's political correctness gone mad! Just kidding, this refers to Kuldip Singh Dhillon, a Punjabi-born British property developer and polo-playing friend of Prince Charles, who goes by the nickname of 'Sooty'. There was discussion of this in the media in January 2009 over whether this was just a teeny-weeny bit racist, but Dhillon himself has said that he doesn't mind being called 'Sooty' and that his friends use it as a "term of affection". So while I, as a politically correct, bleeding-heart libtard wouldn't feel comfortable using this nickname for him, I can't really comment on this. Eventually, the media lost interest and Dhillion's friends presumably continue to call him 'Sooty' - so this isn't an example of political correctness suppressing free speech.

T is for 'Twitter'
Ah yes, the nasty, liberal, left-wing Twitterati bullies who descend on anyone who dares oppose its "enforced codes of aching political correctness". Or writes stupid, poorly-written and offensive pieces for a national newspaper, for that matter. Considering how much Delboy seems to hate the website, it's odd that he continues to have an account. Delingpole also neglects to mention the number of right-wing/libertarian users of the website who can be just as outspoken, not to mention the fact he's willing to block anyone who doesn't sycophantically agree with everything he says (or contains the words "sustainability" in their bio).

U is for 'Unreliablity'

In January 2010, a Hertfordshire recruitment agency was told by their local Jobcentre Plus that they couldn’t advertise for “reliable and hard-working” applicants on the basis that it could "discriminate against the unreliable". This sounds like the perfect example of PC gone mad - even the Equality and Human Rights Commission which Delingpole wants to eliminate says that the way the advert was worded was not a breach of any discrimination law. But it's worth remembering that many potential employees may have a disability which prevents them from being reliable (i.e. being able to work every single day or on demand) so this advert could be seen as being unintentionally discriminatory towards the disabled. Nevertheless, it seems that there was a mistake by one individual at one Jobcentre Plus branch which has since been resolved. To use this as evidence of how "political correctness has extended its tentacles into every aspect of our existence" is laughable.

V is for 'Vegetarianism'
Amazingly, Delingpole actually believes that those who insist on not eating meat for ethical reasons or have gluten intolerance, a recognised medical condition, are imposing "very irritating food fads" on society. Of course, I would be very surprised if Delboy would want to invite any of those eco-fascist hippies with their genetic, autoimmune disorders to his dinner parties.

W is for 'Winterval'
Bullshit. Winterval was a series of events organised by Birmingham City Council in the winters of 1997 and 1998 to encourage citizens to spend more money in the town centre. No council anywhere has ever banned Christmas and replaced it with Winterval. A full report on the Winterval myth can be read here.

X is for 'The Cross'
Passing over the fact that 'The Cross' begins with a T or C, here we have another story from April about the nasty PC Brigade picking on the innocent god-fearing, hard-working Briton for having a small crucifix in the window of the van he drives. As Zelo Street points out, the company has a policy of no personal symbols inside their vans, but Colin
can, however, wear a religious symbol on his person if he so wishes. Eventually, they came to an agreement allowing him to stick a palm leaf cross to the front of the glove compartment rather than the dashboard. Delingpole also refers to some companies' policy of allowing Muslim employees to not sell alcohol if they really don't want to, but this is a strawman argument.

Y is for 'Yoofs [sic]'
Obviously, Delingpole hates teenagers and young adults like me, what with our nasty, outspoken liberal views. They even want to go to university for free so they can do sod all except shag and take drugs for three years - a complete contrast to the days when Delingpole and his friends, David Cameron and George Osborne, were at Oxford, of course. He even has a go at their parents, accusing them of being "too caring to say “no”". With views like this, it's no wonder he gets repeatedly ridiculed and insulted on Twitter. But then again, in the old days, we had a saying, didn't we, Delingpole? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, right? 

Z is for 'Zoo'
Here, Delboy complains that zoos aren't allowed to keep exotic animals such as elephants in restricted environments anymore and that London Zoo declares humans to be the World’s Most Dangerous Animal. I actually remember finding that mirror several years ago so this isn't a new feature to the zoo.
 While the mosquito comes pretty close, I'd struggle to think of another species which causes as much widespread and irreversible damage to the environment, that actively commits genocide against its own species and writes up highly-inaccurate, xenophobic and badly-researched articles for a major newspaper.

And so, after going through Delingpole's article in detail, it becomes apparent that nearly every story he mentions either has nothing to do with political correctness whatsoever or was a single, independent incident which has since been resolved and has no relevance to the rest of the country as a whole. Instead, the A to Z is simply a pointless, self-indulgent whinge by an immature man afraid of the world around him, written to appeal to the Daily Telegraph's main demographic of Middle-Englanders. It is also a rip-off of a similar article which Delingpole wrote for the Daily Mail in 2007 entitled "An A-Z guide to the PC madness blighting modern Britain" (which I am not going to debunk because I can't face the prospect of doing this all over again). It seems that Delingpole has mistaken the term "political correctness" for "not being a dick".

To close this blogpost, I give you Stewart Lee, the Not An Observational Comic which Delingpole mentions at the start of this farcical article, on the type of people who confuse political correctness with health and safety, singling out Delingpole's poster boy, Richard Littlejohn, in the process.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Quite Incorrect - The Dogs vs. SUVs Meme

For over a year now, I’ve had to put up with this. From the moment I first read about it, I knew this couldn’t have been true. I’ve tried to ignore it, hoping that everyone will forget about this untruth and that it would ultimately disappear into the history of churnalism and piffle. But after last Friday’s episode of QI, I have no option but to vent the frustration that’s been brewing inside me for the last twelve months here on my own blog.

The QI episode “House and Home” from series H was first broadcast on BBC One on Friday 12th November 2010. The first topic up for discussion is “How could an environmentally concerned family legally reduce their ecological footprint the most?” Danny Baker suggests they stop driving and, predictably, gets klaxoned. Nope, it turns out they should eat the dog, or at least get rid of it. Apparently, “a dog is the equivalent to two Toyota Land Cruisers”, “a cat is equivalent to a Volkswagen Golf” and "two hamsters are equivalent to a plasma television". Justifiably, nobody believes Stephen Fry, so he goes on to claim that this is due to the amount of meat it eats. It takes 43 square metres of land to grow 1kg of chicken but only 13 to grow 1kg of cereal, so “someone” used these figures to find the footprint of various animals and this is what that "someone" found. By making such a counter-intuitive claim, it's no wonder it ultimately ended up on QI.

Ah yes, THAT argument that owning a dog does more damage to the environment than owning a large automobile. This is my most hated example of churnalism and I will get into long, heated arguments if anyone ever brings it up in my presence. On the plus side, I can now just direct them to this post! The Dogs vs. SUV meme originates from around November last year when two people published a book on environmentalism entitled “Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living”. The authors, Professor Brenda Vale and Doctor Robert Vale, are professors of architecture at Victoria University, New Zealand, who specialise in sustainability in buildings (rather than in lifestyle choices). The book’s main sensationalist argument was widely reported in the media at the time of its release, no doubt thanks to a PR release, and gained extra credibility when it received significant coverage in New Scientist, which not only repeated the books claims on several pages but also devoted the editorial to the matter (Issue 2731, 24 October 2009).

New Scientist is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is an international magazine covering recent developments in science and technology, as well as commentary and speculative features on a wide range of specialist areas. When it comes to reporting scientific news, New Scientist provides much greater depth and understanding compared to mainstream media outlets. Nevertheless, the publication is aimed mainly at the average layman with an interest in science, rather than those who actually have a professional scientific career. Like most publications, it is quite willing to “sex up” mundane stories in order to help sell the magazine, often by using a sensationalist front cover to get your attention. When I used to have a subscription, I often joked with my teachers that they’d probably publish a headline along the lines of “DARWIN WAS WRONG” just to sell more copies. And then, in January 2009, they actually did this. (Upon reading the article inside, it turned out that Darwin wasn’t actually “wrong”, but rather his “Tree of Life” theory was oversimplified and doesn’t take into account of recent evidence such as “horizontal” gene transfer between organisms – which Darwin couldn’t have possibly have known about at the time) Needless to say, evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers were not pleased. This wasn’t the first time New Scientist has been criticised by a prominent figure: back in 2006, science fiction writer Greg Egan complained about the amount of uncritical coverage it gave to Roger Shawyer's "electromagnetic drive" (which violates the conservation of momentum). Anyway, the point here is that, like QI, you shouldn’t automatically believe that New Scientist will be right about everything, or anything will be, for that matter.

Where was I? Oh yes, here is some extracts from the New Scientist article in question:
"a medium-sized dog would consume 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450 grams of fresh meat and 260 grams of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, Fido wolfs down about 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals.
It takes 43.3 square metres of land to generate 1 kilogram of chicken per year - far more for beef and lamb - and 13.4 square metres to generate a kilogram of cereals. So that gives him a footprint of 0.84 hectares. For a big dog such as a German shepherd, the figure is 1.1 hectares.
Meanwhile, an SUV - the Vales used a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser in their comparison - driven a modest 10,000 kilometres a year, uses 55.1 gigajoules, which includes the energy required both to fuel and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser's eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares - less than half that of a medium-sized dog."
"Doing similar calculations for a variety of pets and their foods, the Vales found that cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares (slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf), hamsters come in at 0.014 hectares apiece (buy two, and you might as well have bought a plasma TV) ..."

Have you got déjà vu yet? That right, these figures are identical to those Stephen Fry read out on QI. They even compare each animal’s carbon footprint to the same items and vehicles. Presumably, one of the “QI Elves” stumbled across this precise article (quite possibly via fark.com) and they decided it was perfect trivia to put into the next series. So now we know where they got the stats from, we have to decide whether they actually stand up to scrutiny.

This was the only article which I could find online which (rubbish dog puns aside) actually analyses the claims made in the book, rather than simply repeating the PR release that was obviously sent out to all the news websites. I strongly suggest reading this article as it goes into great detail pointing out all the flaws in the calculations and data used in the New Scientist article, and debunks this unlikely meme once and for all (I once tried to get one of my friends to read this article to convince him the story was bogus, but he refused to do so, claiming that he had never heard of grist.org before and that it therefore “wasn’t as reliable” as New Scientist. Because obviously, you’re supposed to dismiss arguments by judging the website it’s hosted on, rather than whether the arguments themselves stand up to scrutiny.)

The main problem here is the authors have assumed that dogs eat the same “meat and cereals” that us humans eat. Unless you’re a rich, posh twit who only feeds his hounds sirloin steaks every dinner time, this assumption is completely incorrect and actually undermines their entire argument. We do NOT grow crops and raise livestock exclusively for canine consumption. Instead, dog food consists mostly of animal by-products – that is, all the internal organs, bones, feet, skulls and crap which can’t be eaten by humans anyway. In fact, dogs are performing a useful service here because otherwise, all this waste would go straight to landfill, where they will decompose and release methane into the atmosphere. I dare say that pet food is just a by-product of production of human food, which minimises its environmental impact to just the energy used to process, pack and transport the containers. And of course, humans eat a lot more meat than dogs anyway, so I don’t see why we should throw stones at our pets from inside our glass houses.

Furthermore, the authors have completely ignored the advantages of owning a dog compared to a large car. The health benefits of pet ownership have been well documented over the years; you get more exercise from walking it compared to driving and spend less time staying indoors watching the TV. You’ll also feel happier and less stressed or lonely from having a loving companion to look after. Some researchers have even claimed that owning a dog can reduce the likelihood of allergies and illnesses.

The reason why I find this all so frustrating because it distracts us from the more serious driving forces behind global warming and environmental degradation: overpopulation and the non-renewable infrastructure our entire civilisation is built on. There’s just too many people on this planet who all want to live in luxury, consuming resources and food faster than we can produce them and at great cost to the planet. Almost every action we take is powered by finite fossiI fuels and humanity releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere non-stop. If you want to make a real difference to the world, just don’t reproduce; don’t have children and make sure you use contraception every time you have sex. If you must have children, either stick to having one or two, or consider adoption instead. You might also want to consider going vegetarian, even if it’s just once a week. At the very least, you’ll be a bit healthier and might even live a little longer. Finally, put pressure on the Government to switch the country to a low-carbon economy powered by renewable sources of electricity. They probably won’t listen to you because most politicians are in the pocket of the industry/oil companies and don’t care about the environment, but someone will have to do this eventually once the fossil fuels start running out and prices start shooting up.

But thanks to QI, the Dog/Suv myth has now officially become what Nick Davies calls in his book of the same name, “Flat Earth News” - that is, “a story which appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is now true – even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda.” This might appear to be an overreaction to you, but I’m genuinely frustrated and disappointed by one of my favourite TV programmes. Millions of people watch QI every week, not to mention the repeats on Dave, automatically assuming that whatever Stephen Fry says is true (even though all he does is read whatever’s on the autocue and laugh at Alan Davies’ silly comments). With the amount of truth and respect the QI brand commands, you’d think “the QI Elves” would put more effort into tracking down the source of unusual claims and would know better.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Cosmo on Campus - An Analysis in Tedium

If you, like me, are currently at University and happen to live in college accommodation, you might have had a free copy of this publication shoved in your pidgeonhole/letter box/whatever:

Cosmos on Campus is a new 56-page magazine aimed at female university students in order to sell them crap they don't really need. Call me cynical if you wish, but when you consider that more than a third of these 56 pages consists for adverts targeted at 18 to 21 year old women, there's really no other reason why this publication was created in the first place. Why else would they have spammed 250,000 students in the country with it? And if the word "Cosmos" sounds familiar, that's because it's a spin-off to its major sister publication, Cosmopolitian.

Cosmopolitian is one of those faux-post feminist magazines produced in the belief that the only things their demographic is interested in are clothes, looking perfectly flawlessly beautiful in every way and shagging men every night (the concept of homosexuality does not exist at Hearst Magazines). To me, it appears to be a graphic novel based on Sex and the City. Each issue is stuffed to the brim with adverts for dresses, make-up, fragrances and hair products, as well as numerous articles giving tips and advice health, fitness, fashion and sex. I'd be particularly wary of obtaining information from a cheap publication when, for example, in 1988 one of its article claimed that it was impossible to contract HIV in the missonary position. There's also "real-life stories", ancedotes laughing at men and tedious gossip about celebrities you've probably never heard of. But anyway, this blog post isn't about Cosmopolitian, it's about its sister publication which I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of a few weeks ago.

As I have a Y chromosome in every single nucleus in every cell in my body (edit: excluding sperm cells), I have never read nor bought a copy of Cosmopolitian before, and neither has anyone else in my family. Normally, I'd avoid such trash and would rather read something more interesting/useful like The Guardian or New Scientist. Nevertheless, considering that some poor underpaid paperboy took the time to fill every single pidgeonhole at my college with a free copy of this publication, I will return the favour by posting the following page-by-page review of all 56 pages of Autumn Term 2010's Cosmo on Campus from a male perspective below, expressing my thoughts and opinions about Every. Single. Page. If you still have your copy with you, feel free to read and laugh along as we make our way from cover to cover for no real reason in particular:

Front cover: Some woman apparently called "Pixie" grins awkwardly out in a pink dress, surrounded by FASHION DISCOUNTS! and a bloody big yellow banner telling you something which I've already told you. Plus there's "REAL LIFE CELEBRITY SEX CONFIDENCE BEAUTY" which is a perfect example of a basic search engine optimization technique if I ever saw one.

p2: Something which vaguely resembles an editorial in which they threaten to land a new copy "at campuses across the land at the start of every term." Please don't tell me I'm going to have to do this all over again in January. There's also a section asking for you think up advice for their next issue so they don't have to and a plug for their blog competition which I am not planning to enter. Finally, they suggest following the Cosmo team on Twitter except they forgot to print the entire URL so we just have a link to the Twitter homepage. Tee hee.

p3: All the contents illustrated by tiny thumbnails of all the remaining pages except the adverts. If you wanted to, you could cut out and stick all the pages together to make a miniature copy of Compus on Campus for your pet hamster.

(Dull advert for clothes shop student discount.)

p5-6: "Happy List", offering "5 Best Ways To Be A Sorted Student". In summary, these 5 ways are 1. Buy an ugly laptop case. 2. Drink a "shandy" (I'm teetotal) 3. Download some apps (I don't own an iPhone) 4. Buy a cheap ring (I'm not Jimmy Saville) 5. Go to Radio 1's Student Tour and see 30 Seconds To Mars (I'm not a 14 year old Emo). I therefore have concluded that I am an "unsorted" student and am prepared to suffer the concequences of being "unsorted". Also, page 6 claims that blogging is "a perfect way for wannabe writers to make their name". To be realistic, you will always remain niche unless you somehow get hired to spew out your uninformed opinions and kneejerkery on a local radio station as well as the web. Still, I'm hoping this post will result in me winning big at next year's Cosmo Blog Awards.

(Lotion advert telling you how brilliant you'll look if you buy these 3 skin care products. Of course they'll help create great skin, our "guiding dermatologists" say so!)

(Another lotion advert, this time it's called "Cinderella in a tube" [surely Fairy Godmother?]. Obviously, it'll only work until the stroke of midnight and then your face falls off.)

p9: Freshers' Week Confessions, where you can read about women being caught having sex or kissing their boyfriend's twin or pissing themselves. No clue as to whether this behaviour is supposed to be encouraged or not here.

(Moisturiser advert using lady's big fat face which takes up half the page.)

p11: “AMAZING FASHION & BEAUTY DISCOUNTS & FREEBIES!” And by freebies, I mean “competition promotions”. Ergo, they are not freebies. Lies, damned lies.

p12-13: The main feature: a double-spread interview with “Pixie Lott”. I have no idea who she is so I’ll assume she was in Girls Aloud. Here, “Pixie” gives relationship advice, most of which seems rather sensible so I can’t make fun of this and will instead move onto...

(Skipping over clothes advert)

p14-15: ...The Sex Pages, possibly the most depressing part of the entire magazine if you’re single. In these sexually-liberated times, the reader is encouraged to experiment and practise achieving “mind-blowing” orgasms on their own before moving onto teaching men how to do the same. It also recommends to “start thinking erotically at odd times – while sitting in the library, say” to get in the mood. I have done this and have found it incredibly distracting and inconvenient when there’s a deadline the following morning that needs meeting. There are three sexual positions described in text (no illustrations, you’ll have to use the full-page adverts and your imagination for that) written in such a way that those who aren’t sexually active feel left out. (For those interested, these three are “The X-Rated”, “The Retrograde Wanton Wheelbarrow” and one which just seems to involve sitting naked on a table and letting him drool over your body). Finally, there’s four quotes from men aged 19-22 about their “fav sex scenarios”, reminding me why I avoid “Lad” culture. It is worth pointing out that there is no mention of using contraception in any form on these two pages about sex.

(Accessories advert featuring two women with faces seemingly moulded from plastic)

p18-19: A quiz promising to help you discover your "true confidence" based entirely on what you wear and whether you enjoy social gatherings. Apparently, I’m a “confidence faker” and that I should “change your passwords to something positive. ‘I-am-ace’ should do the trick!” Um, no, thanks, I like not having my accounts hacked.

p20-21: SHOCK! HORROR! A lengthy monologue from a woman whose landlord didn’t fit a fire alarm and nearly KILLED HER! Complete with images and detailed descriptions of horrific burns, these two pages are probably the most serious, albeit still unbearable, section of the entire publication.

p22-23: Normal service resumes with an article about “The Curse of the First-Term Friends”. This article explains that all the friends you will find during Freshers’ Week will turn out to be annoying weirdos and you won’t to hang around with them the following week. Charming. Most of the friends I made during first-term were weirdos and I’m still friends with them today, mainly because I’m one of them. One part of the page has the heading “Wear a friendship condom”. As this is a metaphor, it does not count as proper contraceptive advice.

p24: It’s a debate! What important issue will be discussed? Should tuition fees go up? Is alcohol a major cause of society’s ills? Of course not, it’s whether long-distance love can survive uni. Laura undermines her case against the proposition by revealing that she dumped her boyfriend by text. What an immature bitch.

(And it is at this point where we come to the real reason why this publication exists. Here we have coupons for discounts on the next three month’s issues of Cosmopolitan. It’s obvious what they’re doing here; they get their customers hooked on the light stuff, given away as free samples, before tempting them with the hard stuff in exchange for their cash. They even throw in some nail polish to drink.)

p26-27: The Inevitable Agony Aunt section. Apart from sensible advice, this section also contains the only proper mention of using contraception in the entire publication. I would also like to point out that because this is the first ever issue of Cosmo on Campus, all six letters on this page are likely to be fake, unless a request for content was posted on the Cosmopolitan website.

p28: Half-way there! Bored yet? We now come to a questionnaire, where the reader is asked what she thinks of Cosmo on Campus. Oh, I’ll tell you what I think of Cosmo on Campus!

Also worth noting: section 9 is devoted entirely to feedback regarding the effectiveness of all this advertising and contains the same question asked three times in slightly different ways.

p29-34 (+ promotional pullout): Lots and lots and lots of pages with clothes, shoes and accessories shown on them. Basically, the Peter Jackson Extended Edition of the adverts seen earlier. Yawn. Some pages are illustrated with z-list celebrities I've never heard of...

p35: ...whereas this page contains a timeline of how those two gits from Twilight who can’t act have changed over the years. Also, “R-Patz” is the stupidest nickname I have ever heard.

(Double page advert for an aviator jacket, as worn by someone who looks like, has the same dirty expression and in a similar reclining position to a porn star. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she moonlights as one. No, I will not upload a scan.)

(Advert for magic water which makes your skin clearer. It’s not a homeopathic remedy but I bet it’s no different. Wouldn’t tap water do the same thing?)

p39: Entire page devoted to 3 “tricks” to combat “hangover skin”, illustrated by an airbrushed photo of a woman with perfect skin and stupid hair. These “tricks” are 1. Sleep on an extra pillow to keep your head higher as this will “help drain away excess fluid and stop puffiness taking hold while you sleep”. (I’m not buying this.) 2. Drink two pints of water as soon as you wake up and then stick ice cubes in your eyes. (Personally, I would drink the two pints of water during the night before so that I wouldn’t get “hangover skin” in the first place.) 3. Buy this specific branded light-reflecting product for £4.49 and then draw on your face with a white pencil. (Alternatively, don’t drink so much and you won’t get hung-over in the first place.)

(Garnier advert for a magic brush to clean your face with instead of a sponge or flannel. The big fat face from page 10 makes a return appearance. Ok, her eyes are a different colour but I'm trying to derive some sarcastic humour here.)

p41: When will it all end?! Now we have more beauty products flogging so you can look just like these z-list nobodies. Who the hell is “Kim Kardashian” anyway?!

(Shampoo promotion, one for three different hair colours. Do women need to buy a specific product for their hair colour? Why can’t they just use one that works on any colour?)

(Advert for three perfumes named after times of the day beginning with D. Apparently, these insignificant perfumes are being sold under Dannii Minogue’s name, with a not-so-subliminal use of the phrase “The X Factor” in the “beauty assistant’s” quote.)

(Double page promotion to 3 products which will make your skin “happy”. The left page consists of a huge photo of a women’s face which most definitely does not look happy. I’d say her skin would look “vacant” or “braindead”. Anyway, this advert claims that “the 3-step routine is cheaper than a bottle of water a day!” Yeah, but I get my water from the sink and that costs me nothing. I assume you’re offering to pay me to rub three different liquids into my face every day.)

p46: Competition time! Make all your debt-worries disappear, or at least, buy a ridiculous amount of beauty products you don’t really need, by winning some “serious money” (as opposed to “light-hearted money” or “humorous money”). All you have to do is text in, lose a few pounds and hand over your personal details to a third party to spam you with. How could I lose?

p47: Oh God, it’s the Man Manual, possibly the worst thing I have read so far in here. First, they provide “3 things all guys are thinking about this term”. These are 1. “Denim shorts” (it’s nearly Winter, don’t be stupid) 2. “Cutting back on daytime TV” (Most of us don’t even get time to watch primetime TV. Also, it’s Come Dine With Me and Deal or No Deal, not Coach Trip and Countdown) 3. “How to get the parents to fork out for a MacBook” (Most students will already have done this by the time they arrive). And yes, there’s a photo of a topless man with a perfect torso and his belt undone on his denim shorts on this page, as well as the next two...

p48-49: “These comments could seriously damage your view of men.” Oh terrific. Here we have an interview with four alpha-male twats from Glasgow bragging about how they fantasise having sex with virtually everyone they see and that you can’t be “just friends” with any women and that they would give bad relationship advice to someone they fancy to keep them single and that they don’t see anything wrong about everything they just said. I don’t understand why they put this misandric attack on men in the same publication as one which 32 pages earlier described sexual positions you and “your man” would love. So I can only assume this publication hates women too and wants to keep them underneath, both figuratively and literally, male domination and exploitation.

p50: Ugh. An incredibly ugly, hairy, naked man takes up entire page, modesty covered by crumpled sheet. Just ugh. Apparently, he once woke up in a hay bale after a party. From the looks of him, I’d say this happened the morning the photo was taken. God, I feel nauseous just looking at him. (No, I will not upload a scan!)

p51: Long, rambling piece about how men recover from break-up, written by a sensible bloke for a change. Almost comes close to balancing out some of the claptrap on the last few pages. Häagen-Dazs is mentioned a few times.

p52: Nearly done now. This page has a colourful chart depicting “student man-tribes”, as if university will be like living in a real-life chic-flick or Bully. Of course, a description of these clichés is not enough, so there is a comparison to some celebrities who are nothing like the students in the clichés, of course. These “tribes” are The Urban Nerd (obsessed with music), The Hot Geek (probably the closest match to me here), The Dropout, The Posh Pony (more commonly known as a “rah”) and The Lovely Lothario (I actually know someone who fits this category like a glove). Apparently, my “celeb guru” is Mark Ronson, who I think is that guy who puts childish trumpets all over his cover songs which he doesn’t even sing on.

p53: Astrology bullshit, most of which is basically “don’t spend all your money”. Apparently, I will meet a special person next term or have a total change in direction with my boyfriend at home. And, I assume, so will the tens of thousands of other students who were born within 15 days of my birthday. Still, I can always find out more by calling a premium rate phoneline. Sorry, what was that about "money habits" again?

p54: “10 rules of communal living”, most of which appear to be applications of Sod’s Law. I can’t think of anything else to type here, partly because I can’t take any more of this but also because they haven’t really any real content here (“Pot Noodle cartons in her bed! Hee hee!”)

(And, once again, we have an advert for Cosmopolitan, this time offering a student discount on their subscription. I’ve already made the drug-dealing analogy and it won’t be any wittier a second time.)

Back cover: Perfume advert with a woman in a nightie holding a ridiculously oversized bottle of fragrance and another woman who the incompetent designer has half cropped out

Ahhh, it’s finally over. 56 pages of content aimed at young female students, about 20 of which (~36%) consists of full-page adverts (and this doesn't even take into account of the endless name-dropping of other products in the actual articles). So what have we learnt from Comos on Campus today? Well, it seems that women should only be interested in clothes, accessories, beauty products and sleeping with men, despite the fact they’re all sex-obsessed, unfaithful rats. Inside these pages, it depicts a vacuous, shallow world in which everyone looks fabulously gorgeous and has a great time and have amazing sex with each other every night and complete fulfilment in life can be achieved by merely purchasing a pair of shoes and a dress and men will fall at your feet if you spray yourself with this perfume and washing your hair with this shampoo and rub this liquid in your face every day.

This is not a world in which I want to live in and do not wish to associate myself with anyone who does.

Right, time to put this publication where it belongs.