Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Ramblings Relocates

Took a notion to shift over to Wordpress, another blogging platform. Don't really desire to keep two up to date, so I'll likely just be posting over there unless I find out it's rubbish and sheepishly return

http://ulsterrambler.wordpress.com/

Monday, 27 April 2009

Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (2005). "Decency, Morals, God"

Last night I watched Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, and would encourage you to watch at least part of the film, this fascinating clip below.

Sophie Scholl and her brother have been arrested for their involvement in the White Rose movement, distributing leaflets criticising the Nazi regime and Hitler. After thorough interrogation their guilt is proven, and here (2mins 3os in) we see a conversation between Scholl and Investigator Mohr, who treats her in this as intellectual equal, dealing with issues of morality, conscience and God.

The White Rose movement holds high significance, showing clearly that there was opposition to the Nazis from within Germany, thought painfully highlighting its infrequency and lack of strength.

I was in Cologne a few years ago where the actions of the White Rose movement are now celebrated annually.

Article on Sophie Scholl from the Catholic Herald can be found here

Scrap the Scrap money

£2,000 for a 1965 Morris Minor which hasn't been roadworthy for decades? Scrap it

The decision by Alistair Darling to introduce a car scrappage scheme whereby you can trade in your old car for £2,000 off a new one is a ludicrous one.

As an article in today's Times shows, loopholes are rife. The scheme would allow me to trade in the Renault 9 GT Turbo I bought on Ebay for £42*, providing I had a SORN (statutory off road notification) and receive £2,000 off a brand new car. I'm interested to see what this will do to the second hand car market, as opportunistic sellers realise they can finally get rid of the disused cars sitting about their yard to equally opportunistic buyers for a decent price. Even if you overpaid and bought my Renault 9 off me for £200, you'd still be on course to save £1,800, providing you were planning on buying a new car in the first place.

The scheme undoubtedly benefits the car industry, sure, but why prop up an industry that is fuelling (see what I did there) increased carbon levels? Why not follow Obama - a leader who recognises that renewable energy, and the manufacturing of hybrid cars will create jobs and boost a flailing economy - and promote 'green' cars, and use this scheme in accordance with this?

It's Economy over Environment once more, and ignorant of the huge potential for both to compliment each other


*Incidentally, I don't have this car anymore, having sold it - ironically - for scrap, netting £90

Gerry the Prod?

An article in today's BT (quoted here at the Indy) attributes some interesting quotes to Gerry Adams talking about faith with Gay Byrne as part of a series on the spiritual beliefs of public figures.

"I have formed an opinion," he says to Byrne, "and it's probably a Protestant thing, that the notions of having some sort of middle-man isn't altogether necessary." He admits he hasn't gone to confession "in years," preferring to speak directly with God.

When asked on the matter of Transubstantiation and whether the elements are the real body of Jesus Christ, he replied unconvincingly "Who knows?"

With these comments perhaps alienating some ardent Catholics, and McGuinness seen by many nationalists to be 'in bed' with the DUPers, just how are SF perceived amongst their traditional base? I'd love to see some poll data...

R we getn thikker?

Eugh...even my own title repulses me

I'm glad to see the media are providing coverage on the ever-decreasing value of language, vocabulary, spelling, grammar.

In today's Indy (and BT) Robert Fisk writes an opinion piece lambasting society's reluctance to read books, and the knock on effects this has on grammar
Meanwhile in The Times, a leading report by Alexandra Frean on the shrinking range of language in children (especially amongst disadvantaged children) coins the phrase 'word poverty', and makes an interesting observation - "If a child hits or pushes another child, it is usually because they don't have the language of conflict resolution."

Other pieces worth looking at are the appalling comments made here by a 'leading academic' calling for spelling within English language to be re-drafted along phonetic lines.

Another interesting report can be found here, at First Things, A self-titled journal of Religion, Culture and Public life which makes the point that the Internet has not increased our learning, but rather increased our social network at the expense of our social skills. I found this particularly true: "The genuine significance of the Web to a seventeen-year-old mind is not the universe of knowledge brought to their fingertips, but an instrument of non-stop peer contact”
Below is my favourite mis-spelling, taken at London protests against Israeli strikes in Gaza

Friday, 24 April 2009

Match Fixing - justifying the original scepticism of Professionalism?

The Independent reports today on the betting scam surrounding a match between Accrington Stanley and Bury at the end of last season, which saw home side Accrington lose 2-0. Meanwhile at home, the Irish League is once more embroiled in the now annual farce of supposed match fixing where teams with nothing to play for are suddenly backed either to win or to lose by huge sums of money. Gareth Fullerton broke the story on the front page of the Belfast Newsletter, reporting that Paddy Power are only taking bets on the IPL matches involving Linfield and Glentoran this weekend.

These problems were foresaw at the very inception of professional sport in the late 19th Century, and the prospect of match fixing was one of the major reasons why Gentlemen Amateurs were desperately against the introduction of payment for playing. Neal Garnham reports that "In England the most influential arguments against professionalism had been based on ‘the social antipathy of men who considered professional sport ethically unacceptable’". There was a genuine fear that if a man was being paid to win, he could be bought to lose.


Reference - Garnham, Neal; Association Football and Society in Pre-Partition Ireland; (Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast, 2004).

"Why we can't go to war with North Korea" according to one American

This simplistic article highlights numerous reasons why the US shouldn't go to war with North Korea. However whilst he illustrates why a war isn't a good idea (and it isn't) he implies that any interference in the goings on of NK is none of the USA's business, even if they do bomb Japan.

Fascinatingly enough, he quotes Santanya's well known phrase, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" to illustrate his point about the mistakes of the Korean War. However, he should also imply that phrase to the Isolationist policy the US had in the 30s and early 40s which allowed a dictator far too much room to manoeuvre and almost brought about a restructuring of world order. With the new totalitarian regime possessing nuclear weapons, this is no time for America to be isolationist, and thankfully Obama seems to recognise this

Ronnie Biggs Press Reaction. A Case study to highlight critical consumption of the Media

Ronnie Biggs, who turns 80 later this year, is currently being recommended for release from prison. Infamous for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, he escaped prison after only 15 months of his 30 year sentence to Brazil where he gained celebrity status for his bold taunting of the British justice system, including recording a single with the Sex Pistols. He returned to Britain in 2001 where he was subsequently re-arrested and sent back to prison.

Today's papers presented the same story, told in a different manner, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so.

The Times offers a sympathetic view to Biggs, even allowing the story space within their Editorial comment. It calls for "Mercy" and "Clemency" and twice asserts that the decision to exercise such acts of kindness lie with Jack Straw.

In its article by Richard Ford and Adam Fresco, a hugely sympathetic view is taken, with the onus on justice secretary Straw to cede to compassion. We are told that he hopes to move to a nursing home near his son, that he has suffered strokes which have left him unable to speak, and furthermore he is reduced to pointing and spelling out words with letters of the alphabet. His physical condition is described in that he is fed through a tube and can only walk a few steps unaided. After this factual information presented in a manner to create an image of a helpless creature, we are told that the parole board is expected to release him in time for his 80th birthday. So not only does the innocent reader feel sorry for the physical state of this man, but we are also invited to show sentimentality and a display a sense of occasion.

After such a picture is painted, the scene is set for Ford and Fresco to inform us "The final decision on whether Biggs will spend his last years in freedom rests with Jack Straw". Look at the language. It places huge pressure on Straw to be populist, and invites the reader to condemn the Justice Secretary should he deny this frail creature his "last years in freedom".

As a Times devotee, I'm somewhat dismayed by the lack of objective reporting which is contrasted with the Independent's story (objective mainly due to length) and the BBC's dull version of events (objective because it prides itself in such).

Meanwhile The Sun seems to tilt to the other side of the argument. In a much shorter article than in The Times, it uses language such as "villain father" and reminds us that Biggs has served [only] "a third of his sentence". The information on his condition is presented matter-of-factly, not inviting "mercy" or "clemency"

The Daily Mail predictably goes even further, offering two full pages on Biggs (p.10-11), considerably more than the other papers. Twice we are told in Stephen Wright's (Crime Editor) article that the care received by Biggs if released would be "provided at the taxpayers expense" as well as the question being asked of which authority will have to "pick up the bill for caring for Biggs". Here we are not presented with a frail old man, but rather an undeserving drain on the public purse.

The opinion piece which goes alongside the article by Geoffrey Wansell is unsubtly titled "He put two fingers up to justice for 36 years. So should he just be freed because he's a sad, broken old man?" Wansell presents the previously unmentioned view that "There are those who are convinced that Biggs has failed to 'serve his debt to society' - not least because he has never demonstrated the slightest remorse for his crime." Wansell refers to Biggs' "unrepentant delight" and the paradox of his "fame as a fugitive". He refers to Biggs as "cocky", "a convicted criminal", "a ruthless chancer" and tells us how much he earned from the Robbery - £146,000.

While The Times refers to "Mercy", Wansell refers to "Compassion" but uses it in such a way as to question whether we should have any compassion on "a conman with little or no compassion for anyone but himself."

Facts are facts. Yet which facts are chosen and how they are presented affect a story hugely. The Daily Mail emphasises that the Taxpayer will have to foot the bill for Biggs' healthcare, not mentioning that of course the Taxpayer is already paying for his imprisonment. It glosses over Biggs' physical condition, mentioning it briefly three quarters way down the article when many readers have stopped reading or skipped straight to the end. Conversely, The Times places great emphasis on the frail condition of Biggs mentioning it near the beginning of the article, and in great detail.

Compare too that The Times tells us that Biggs married in 2002, while Wansell in The Mail informs us that "He abandoned his wife and three sons in Australia when he was close to being captured by the British police in 1969". Both facts. Both true. Yet both inviting incredibly different conclusions to be drawn.

We are slaves to the information the media decides to inform us of, yet as clever consumers we can read a variety of sources, and question the language being used, the positioning of information and the conclusions that the writer is urging us to draw.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

North Korea - We know

Further to the National Geographic piece on Refugees from North Korea which I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'd like to highlight just one practical way in which you can make your voice heard.

Open Doors are running a campaign to speak out against China's forced repatriation of N.K. refugees. It is a great tragedy that China forcibly return refugees to a country where leaving is a capital offence. As a result, not only are many refugees returned to face potential execution, but the stance of the Chinese Government means that female refugees who aren't caught, unable to declare their status, are often forced into the sex slave trade. Open Doors claims that 70% of N.K. women refugees are forced into brothels or sold as sex slaves or wives (source)

Just as we condemn the Allies for knowing about Auschwitz and doing nothing about it so will our children condemn us for knowing something of the terror that goes on in North Korea and refusing to engage with it, instead ignoring the information and living selfishly in denial.

When you kids ask what you did to liberate the people of North Korea, what will you say?

Start here - not to ease your conscience but rather to take action - by sending a letter to the Chinese Ambassador asking her to urge the Chinese Government to change its policy of forced repatriation.

Click for change

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Fees ... Where's the justice?

Where does £3,125 of tuition fees per year go, if you study at the University of Ulster?

Extra lecturers, or even pay rises to attract the top ones?
- No, staff face pay reductions of up to £5000 per year, as the Vice Chancellor received a 25% pay increase to take him up to £212,000 per year (that's slightly more than the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and nearly 20 grand more than Gordon Brown gets) (source)

Free printing?
- No, students pay 5p per sheet which is the same as, for example, Bennett's 1 hour photo charge. A service, or profiteering?

No, apparently the money that students pay to the University, is not reinvested back into them. Rather it pays for extortionate and rarely used equipment such as the 'Bod Pod'.
And surveys which reveal the jaw dropping results released today, that "Sisters make people happy"

Wow. If that's not value, I don't know what is

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Dissertation

If you're interested, you can read my Dissertation here

Entitled 'Fiercely Loyal or Indifferent?' it attempts to use Association Football as a gauge of how involved Northern Ireland was in the Second World War by looking at wartime football in both Northern Ireland and England