01 July, 2007

The fall of the BBC News Empire

I have a bit of a beef with the standards of BBC News, in its current guise. It seems to my better half and me that they are starting to appeal to the lowest common denominator so beloved of the gutter press. The most recent example I would like to cite goes as follows. I spent ten minutes on Friday morning watching a story about the birthday concert for Diana, Princess of Wales. Now, OK, that is a news story and one that many people want to hear about.

However, just as I was leaving the house, I heard "now back to our breaking news about a failed bomb attempt in Central London". So, let me get this straight. A bomb which has the capacity to kill many, many people in a British city is second place to a dead Princess? Who, exactly, feels that they are going to get a knighthood for this sycophancy? Doesn't the BBC feel that it is slightly important for us to be informed that terrorism is up and running in the UK? You know, it would be nice to know that the risk of being bombed is higher than it was the day before.

In and of itself it isn't reason to stop watching the BBC news. However, we have both noticed an increasing mawkishness in the news. We were subjected to a story about yet another bombing in Iraq. What made this one different was the need to show bits of blood everywhere.

Then we move on to the recent floods in this country. A woman was shown, having seen her house for the first time since a whole load of damage had been wreaked. She was then asked, "how do you feel"? Ooh, I wonder how she would feel. Hmmm, let me think.

I was also really disgusted by the coverage of the search for the missing three year old, Madeleine Mc Cann, in Portugal. So much of the coverage was interrogation- lite, with the clear implication that the Portuguese Police weren't doing their job. Richard Bilton demanded of one officer why he didn't search a locked out-house. The officer explained the nature of Portuguese law, which is the same as here. The Police can't just kick down any door they want. Mr Bilton, the next time there is an abduction in your neighbourhood, I vote for the Police to be allowed to kick down your door with no grounds at all.

Picking a new sports team

I recently decided to start watching College American Football. Why, you may ask, would I do that? Well, as you will see from the previous blog entry, I enjoyed the draft. So, I thought I should invest time and yet more money in following the potential draftees.
I chose the Pennsylviana State University Nittany Lions (or Penn State, as they are more commonly known).
My choice was influenced in large part by Joe Paterno, the 80 year old coach of the team, who takes no crap from his wannabe stars:
I feel, like so many others, that there are plenty of sports people out there who would have benefitted greatly from this kind of treatment as young people.

29 April, 2007

The rocket science that is the American Football draft

Apologies for the time between this entry and the last one, for anyone who reads this stuff! I thought I should do a post on one of the vagaries of American Football, the draft.

Unlike other sports, young American players go to University, where they play for 3-4 years. This serves as a kind of apprenticeship. When I say "go to University", some of them are barely literate, so let's not dwell on that too much....

Teams hire scouts, who spend their lives watching videos, attending games, talking to coaches, team-mates and measuring people. So, guys who are 5'11 are too small, whereas guys who are 6'1 are OK. Right, take a ruler and measure out two inches. Yeah, exactly.

They then compile a list of players, who they think are good enough for the NFL, with notes like, "small town guy , but has a girlfriend who isn't his sister" I made up part of that quotation. Can you guess which bit?

It is one of the more exciting times of the year; you get a bunch of new players and get to see how they fit in the team. Will they make it through the cull that is training camp? Will they claim that the team is "disrespecting" them by only giving them a gazillion dollar contract? Will they mouth off in camp and get brought down by the veterans? Will they stare blankly at the play book, whilst the Coach realises that he should update his CV?

The team with the worst record gets first choice over whom they want to pick. They say, "we want him" and the have first rights over that guy. Refusing to play for team X is not the done thing, but it does happen from time to time.

Anyway, this process goes on for 7 rounds of 32 (as there are 32 teams in the NFL), with the worst team picking first in every round.

There is a selection meeting every April. It takes place over two days, is televised and fans are present.Today is the second day for this year. As it takes place in New York, they tend to be the shy, retiring types, who clap politely.Pundits who have never earned a dollar from an NFL team tell the world how crap the NFL is at its job. Some are right, but most know as much as I do, seemingly. They are joined by ex-players, who have at least played the game.

Then there's the horse trading. Team A picks at 15. They take Player A, but they also like Player B. Player B is still available at pick 28. So, they phone up team B and say:

A; "Hello, how are you today?"
b:" Hey, I'm fine thanks. How are you?"
A:"Yeah, I'm cool. The weather's a bit hot for this time of year"
B:"Liberal bull crap about global warming. It's nothing to worry about"
A:"(coughs) Can we have your pick?"
B: "No"
A: "Ah, go on, I'll be your best friend"
B:" If you give me a chocolate bar, then you can"
A: "How about our First next year and a third this year?"
B: "I'll call you back. Did you see Law and Order last night?"
A: "Nah, I prefer the Shield".
B:"OK, I'll speak to you later".

Bear in mind that they are on the clock for 15 minutes, so they have 15 minutes to make pick 28. Chats about the weather and Law and Order are, therefore, not a great idea...

Coach B speaks to his scouts. They tell him that "um paleface with six horses has just gone through the pass and will be here in five minutes". I am quoting from outdated Westerns, rather than giving my own perspective on the indigenous American cultures. Please don't put a tomahawk in my head. Ooops, I did it again....

He then speaks to his NFL scouts. They say, "we like next year's lot better. Take those picks, cos Player B is soooo overrated and looks crap in Blue. He's a tosser, he gets into fights, beats up his girlfriend and made a Llama pregnant."

B:"(Trying to conceal howls of laughter). Well, as good as the players are at 28, we'll take your offer"
A: (Whoops of joy and high fives) "Hey, cool. Ciao".

Coach B has the better end of the deal. He's also picking at 28, with three Superbowls to his name and a history of picking good players. I know who I would trust.

The other thing about the draft is the hyped "can't miss" prospect. Bet your house on that, would you? No, and you bloody well shouldn't.

Tony Mandarich was a can't miss prospect. The Green Bay Packers took him with the second pick ages ago. I can't be arsed looking up the exact year.He missed all of the people that he was meant to be fending off his poor Quarterback and the next three picks were some of the best players of all time. Can't miss, my arse. Tony Mandarich missed his arse all the way out of the NFL with a very mediocre career behind him.

Then there's the "Who's the best top pick?" debate. In 1998, some liked a guy called Peyton Manning, a Quarterback. Others liked a guy called Ryan Leaf, also a Quarterback. It is the essential position on the team to get right.

They have to have chiselled features, look great in your colours, speak in words of more than one syllable and be able to sell stuff on telly. Oh, and they have to do American Football stuff, like throw a Rugby shaped ball 60 yards (for the scouts, although they don't do this much in the NFL), lead the team, memorise a huge playbook and get everyone else to do their jobs.

Ryan Leaf had "character issues". Oh yes. He took the fat pay cheque for being picked second, a lot of which was a signing bonus. This is standard practice but potentially bloody stupid. He took that signing bonus, which is his regardless, played crap for a bit, p*ssed off all and sundry along the way and left the NFL very quickly.

Peyton Manning was picked one place ahead of him, has since gone on to win a Superbowl and will go down as one of the best in history.

Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated wrote, when comparing who was the better of the two:
"A paired entry, since they'll go one-two in the draft. Manning, poised, professional, heady, offers the quick fix for now. Leaf, with the bigger stature and bigger gun, shows greater untapped potential -- which, as we know, doesn't always pan out."

Of all the quirks of the draft, there is the player that all the teams miss. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was picked in the SIXTH round of the 2000 draft. 198 players went ahead of him. He has been the Quarterback for a team that has won the Superbowl three times.

It's all just a crap shoot, really.

18 March, 2007

Kafka would be proud...

When, as a society, did style become more important than substance? In the social care sector, this is most certainly the case. The government body, Supporting People, which oversees the commissioning and monitoring of services has become obsessed with "performance indicators", "outcomes", "support plans", "reviews" and so on. Ostensibly, of course, this creates accountability, which ostensibly leads to better services.

The theory goes something like this:
Workers provide support services to people with mental health problems, older people, homeless people and so on. For years, services have been commissioned based on the need. Our government has seen little evidence that these services are doing a good job.

What is the job? Well, on an average day, it means helping a person to fill out a form, go to pay their rent, phoning up the Jobcentre to find out what has happened to their benefits, or just sharing a joke with them. It might mean something as mundane as booking an early visit so they get out of bed in time for a job interview or it might mean something more drastic, like getting them to see a solicitor before they make themselves homeless.

That's all well and good, say Supporting People, but we need to show that the services are doing a good job. We need to measure it. Ok, yep, I'm all for accountability. Why don't you phone up or visit my clients and find out? They'll tell you, especially if you phone or visit them at random.

They don't do that, though. Instead, they look at files, check everything is up to date and score according to policies in place, quality of paperwork, regularity of said paperwork etc etc.
So, the paperwork becomes the thing. If you want to win the next contract, cut costs (also known as employing monkeys and paying them peanuts), train them to churn out the paperwork and... bingo! You've,er, won the contract. Well done. The fact that your monkeys may spend about 25% of their time doing paperwork for its own sake doesn't matter, because the paperwork is
the thing. Are people not being seen?

Are they lonely and frustrated because they haven't seen their worker? Would they like them to visit and just help them with a couple of forms? Well, I'm sorry, the reviews need doing. What's the priority, applying for charity money, getting you on to a course or making sure the paperwork looks right? Well, one means I keep my job and the other means you'll get your forms done more quickly. Great, isn't it?

07 March, 2007

The nuttiness of the big eating squirrel

Dear blog,

You will have noticed that there is little rhyme or reason to the topics, or indeed to the mood in which I write. Today's blog comes to you with some inspiration from the great Mr Ozzy Osbourne, to whose music I am currently listening.

Anyway, squirrels (or squizzers, as they are known in the Gomezcat household). In the nice, suburban part of London which I call home, are some of the world's most pampered. They are the sort who would demand appearance fees if there were a documentary called, "When Squirrels Attack".
"Dahling, you were so vicious"
"Mwa, so were you dahling. Mwa"
"Oh, sooper dahling. YOU! NUTS! NOW, GODDAMIT!"
"Dahling, one can't get the humans these days".

I digress. The Kelsey Park squirrels are more demanding than the Royal Family or Janet Jackson (allegedly). They eat nuts, but not common or garden cheap supermarket own brand. For Their Squizzernesses, only Hazelnuts (organic, thank you) or Walnuts ("tsssk, I suppose") will do. It is with some trepidation that Miss Gomezcat and I enter their domain. It is as if we had asked for an audience with His Holiness.

"And you are?"
"A servant wishing to serve you, o cute one"
"I see. May I inspect the merchandise? Receipt, please"
"And these are from Sainsbury's... I see"
"Any chance of a photo, Your Squizzerness?"
"Erm, not with those dastardly pigeons in shot. SHOO!"

And on. And on....
Some of the critters are here. I include a picture of zombie squirrel. You approach evil-eyed zombie squirrel at your own peril. His comrades can be found here.

More nonsense to follow later in the week.

04 March, 2007

On politeness and punishment.

My first foray into the blogosphere will be something of a rant. If successful, I will rant again... and again.

I have two current beefs. One is the lack of politeness in society. Is it asking too much of one's fellow human beings that they say "please" and "thank you" to shop assistants, bus drivers, waiters, people who hold doors open and people who let others out into traffic? Have we really become a nation of such self-important, time-poor, narcissists that we consider "please" and "thank you" to be beneath us?

I have lost count of the number of people who would rather push past others, than say "excuse me". Have we become so paranoid that we believe that "excuse me" will bring out "manner rage" in others? Will they pull out their Uzis, flick knives, dirty bombs or weapons that they are hiding on behalf of the Iranian regime to blow us away?

"You infidel motherf***er! How dare you say 'excuse me' to me? Do you know who I am? Huh? Well, eat weapons grade plutonium, you over mannered ****".

On a more positive note, nice people really make my day. I always remember those people who hold doors open or say, "after you" when it comes to getting on the train. It makes my day a little more bearable.

The other beef I have is violence and aggression. Why do we as a society put up with it and then spend far too much money on jailing aggressive people, whilst the rest of us work until February (or something) to pay for them? I'm not advocating the death penalty, as one innocent person is one too many. However, what about placing the long-term, persisently violent offenders on a large island somewhere? We drop basic resources into them, let them receive letters and do what they want to each other on the island. They can become lords of their fiefdom and get out their latent anger on one another. Perhaps we could call it Celebrity Death Island and get a weapons manufacturer to sponsor it.

Just for the record, I would add persistent tailgaters and rude people to the island. Why just keep it for the mainly underclass criminals when we can throw in all the aggressive sales people, bullying managers and other assorted arseholes?