Join Another Club, Bridge (pun intended)

This morning they broadcast one of those news stories that made me unsure whether to laugh or to fling my porridge at the stereo like a belligerent 95-year-old. It wasn’t about the refugee crisis or Donald Trump, which was a nice change – it was about a debate that’s raging about whether Bridge should be considered a sport by Sport England.

Bridge as in, cards.

Someone interviewed argued, quite rightly, that bridge is exercise for the mind. It keeps the human brain fit and healthy, and I should probably learn it so I can actually make it to 95. Thing is, though, it requires virtually no physical movement. So when I heard the bulletin, I thought ‘writing a book is brain exercise and it’s fucking hard, no one’s giving away Olympic medals for that’. I’ve given it some thought and here are things that do count as physical exercise:

  • Looking after a small child who has recently learnt to move independently
  • Looking after animals of various sizes who move about independently
  • Working in industries that require one to carry, move and/or shelve items, and to engage in physical exercise after which one is out of breath
  • Sex (assuming afterwards you’re out of breath, haha)
  • Actual Olympic sports

Here are physical activities that  count less as strenuous exercise and more as general movement, the engagement of which is of course important for your health:

  • Standing at one’s desk or a counter for a long time
  • Walking down the shops
  • Getting the door when it goes
  • Visiting the fridge
  • Dealing packs of cards and/or holding them

I mean, I could count typing and having a standing desk as my daily exercise, but it sure as shit isn’t going to make me as fit as professional gymnastics (bet the funding’s about the same though).  Plenty of people sit down for a length of time and use their muscles to hold pieces of paper. Writers, artists, teachers, admin assistants… no one’s campaigning for us to get into Sport England. But bridge is a big part of the lives of a lot of people and should be recognised as a healthy past time. So here is my suggestion:

Make a new Sport England and call it Thought England. Activities could include bridge, chess, battleships, noughts and crosses, origami, writing, puzzle assembling, watercolours, the crossword… all the cool stuff people start when they’re retired and should have started earlier to ward off dementia. That way the best thinkers in the country get to compete and show off their talents and the best athletes get to compete and show off their talents. Separately, because they’re two separate disciplines that just happen to both require discipline.

We could have world record holders for the first people to hold gold medals in long distance running and poker, or 10m diving and crochet. Think about it. I’m going to go read up on how to play bridge.

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When Smart People Make a Boo Boo (#DistractinglySexy & Tim Hunt)

Generally speaking I think it’s a good rule of life to never engage with online debates, mostly because ‘debate’ usually means ‘people SHOUTING THEIR OPINION with NO INTENTION of EVER listening to OR learning from the other side(s).’

But  I must say I’ve enjoyed the #distractinglysexy hashtag.

For those of you who try not to listen to news about people being sexist: Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel Prize-winning science professor at University College London, recently told a conference that when one is working with female scientists, ‘three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.’ I’ve never worked in a lab, but apparently it’s just one of those things.

I suspect someone has had a few fleeting/wonderful/awkward workplace romances in his time. Which is okay. When you’re attracted to someone, they are incredibly distracting. If I did work in a lab and liked a colleague, I would have to transfer workspaces until they moved or it blew over, just in case I accidentally spill polonium on my shoes when they take their coat off. (That sentence in itself may be why I’ve never worked in a lab.)

So it’s okay, Tim Hunt. We get it. What we don’t get is a) why you are distracted by all the girls, b) why they cry why you criticise them (the best teachers do not criticise, they merely point out what we can improve), and c) whether or not your views have ever genuinely impacted someone’s career.

I’m really not that bothered about a 72-year-old thinking a certain way about a certain type of person, and he’s perfectly within his rights to say it – although he might not be all that smart if he thought it would be a good idea to be sexist in front of a room full of women. The only really worrying thing is that people with ignorant views, whether they’re sexist of racist or homophobic or whatever, are often in positions of power and responsibility – and not everyone can separate their personal views from their jobs. I’ve no idea if Tim Hunt was ever involved in allocating grants or awarding places, but some people are and it makes me want to petition a law preventing CVs from showing anything but skills.

Still, at least the people on Twitter are making light of it all.

Let’s Talk About the Weather (and Eurovision and some guy I read about on the news)

Before I forget, because I might, there’s a giveaway running on my shop at the moment. Everyone who buys my Eurovision game is automatically entered to a draw to win one of my mirrors (your choice which one, of course). Yay!

Right, important stuff: is it really windy where you are at the moment? Because a lot of supplies that are being used to fix my house’s roof have fallen down outside the front door so I may well be trapped inside by timber, which wouldn’t be annoying if Donnie didn’t freak out every single time a leaf rustles.

But he does.

So I hope we can both leave someday.

Speaking of business ventures – sort of – this bloke has made me feel highly inadequate. I have very little understanding of what his company actually does, but the fact he just sold it for £40 million, having started it aged 16, tells me all I need to know…

… and that’s that I should have misbehaved at school a lot more.

Takin’ Liberties

I was considering a break from the news after the election, but then the new government went and announced new laws I’m not sure about and since I didn’t vote for them I feel like I’ve got a civic responsibility to moan talk about it…

These laws are aimed at reducing and/or preventing radicalisation by banning groups and individuals who use or promote hate speech. My first thought was ‘does this mean we can ban Katie Hopkins?’ because if there’s ever been an individual in this country with a penchant for stirring shit, it’s her. And on the surface, banning ‘poisonous’ extremism sounds like a great idea. Nobody likes listening to extremists stand on a soap box, whether they’re radicalised Muslims or the Westboro Baptists… Extremists prey on the vulnerable, stoking people’s fears and encouraging them to take violent action instead of peaceful protesting or legal change, and everyone with sense understands that extremism exists in all religions, ideals and lifestyles (case in point: Hitler was a vegetarian atheist).

Thing is, not everyone has sense. Some people will use the laws to try to ban anything they deem hate speech and some people may try to use it to stop civil rights advances – kind of like how in Russia the anti-gay propaganda law was marketed at protecting children. But who’s qualified to decide what counts as hate speech? Is it violent and graphic, like calls to exterminate cockroaches, which was the rhetoric that preceded the Rwandan genocide? Or is it an expression of anything that’s different to your own point of view? Because there is not a person in this country who shares a point of view completely with another person and the moment we’re told we can’t express ourselves we’re risking 1984 territory. Like what if homophobic groups tried to ban the discussion of homosexuality, or what if an atheist group wanted to ban public sermons?

The other problem with the proposals is that by banning extremism one is both admitting it’s a problem we can’t solve and is not actually helping to solve it. People don’t wake up one day and say ‘I think I’ll go fight for ISIS’ or ‘I think I’ll bomb an underground train’. Their beliefs and fears were stoked over years by other people who sensed them as a target. Similarly, the Suffragettes didn’t start out throwing bricks through windows or stepping in front of horses – they resorted to drastic measures when the peaceful options were exhausted.

I’m not suggesting we sit with the leaders of al Qaeda, link hands and discuss our hopes and dreams, but just banning extremism will not make it go away. We have to stop it starting in the first place, and I don’t think there’s a law that can do that yet.

Which means we as citizens should probably try to do that ourselves, by teaching our children tolerance and empathy, and attempting to learn those traits ourselves.

But that’s going to be way too easy, isn’t it?

Colour Codes

I think I might have been insulting people for ages. I mean, I know I’ve been insulting people for ages, but it turns out I might have been accidentally insulting people who I actually wish to do the opposite of insult.

That’s getting tautological so I’ll get on with it: yesterday Benedict Cumberbatch (I’d forgotten how hard his name is to type quickly) apologised because he accidentally used the term ‘coloured’ instead of ‘black’. I did a quick Internet search, aka poked about on Twitter and Tumblr, and there was surprisingly (refreshingly) little bullshit about… or maybe I didn’t look hard enough, haha.

My point is, I was under the impression that it’s completely okay to use the term ‘people of colour’ to describe non-white people? I mean, it’s pretty standard usage on Tumblr, and if anywhere is going to eat you alive for using the wrong terminology, it’s those snowflakes. Where I come from people say ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ interchangeably, and not usually in a racist way (if you want to insult someone’s race, there’s a way more varied list). Apparently Martin Luther King used the term ‘citizens of colour’, and if we should follow anyone’s example my gut feeling is that MLK is a good dude for the job. So should Benedict have said ‘actors of colour’ instead of ‘coloured actors’? Or ‘black actors’? What if he meant anyone who isn’t white but isn’t necessarily black? Should anyone care when he was actually making the point that the acting industry isn’t as diverse in the UK as it is in Hollywood?

Have I just insulted more people in my ignorance?

Help.

The Six O’Clock News: Quickfire Commentary

Audioblog time! I decided to commentate on each of these stories (don’t worry there are things to look at while you listen):

Taken 29th August 2014 at 4:45pm-ish
Taken 29th August 2014 at 4:45pm-ish

Too bad I talked about things in the wrong order and forgot how to talk and read simultaneously.

Story One, in which we should perhaps panic.

Story Two, in which I haven’t heard of an actor

Story Three, in which a judge tells a lawyer that he looks like something out of Harry Potter

Story Four, where an MP got egged by passionate (or stupid) pro-independence campaigners

Story Five (which I actually thought was six) about rich philanthropists who are going all vigilante since someone has to

From stunningpicture.tumblr
From stunningpicture.tumblr

Story Six (which I thought was five), in which people crash cars

Story Seven (totally lost now) when some people set the precedent for the London riots

Story Eight in which parents are well-meaning but misguided

Story Nine, where cats are even more popular when they’re dead

Story Ten, in which I am bitter about the Bake Off, although so are several other people

This may have taken longer than in-depth analysis.

The Six O’Clock News: Keeping Up With Current Events

With the ever-changing nature of ‘current events’ and the complications of understanding it anyway, I thought the Israel-Palestine conflict (war? See, defining this shit is tough) would be a good topic to use to discuss ways to keep up with the news. All the cool kids are doing it, so listen up!

The Traditional Way: Newspapers and Magazines

Aw, print media. A declining medium and usually so full of editorially-biased bullshit that often it’s not worth going near anyway. We all know that tabloids aren’t worth even opening (I discovered a Daily Mail parody on Twitter the other day. It’s beautiful) but what about the broadsheets?

Well darlings, there are some good choices. The Guardian and Telegraph, traditionally a bit leftie and rightie respectively, have pretty decent articles which give a detailed explanation of a story, usually with some photos or maybe an infographic. I don’t usually get the Financial Times but I’ve heard it’s good too, as is The Times, if buying something owned by Rupert Murdoch doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies. Then there’s the Independent and its sister publication the i, which I loved to read at school because it’s really short and has super-duper-easy-to-digest articles. It’s also only 30p and available from Starbucks, so you can look smart while sipping a skinny mocha polkadot frappe. All the papers have websites too so you can read an article as many times as it takes for your blood pressure to return to normal!

That’s pretty much the extent of my paper knowledge and I encourage you to utilise your local library and have a read of whatever you can get your hands on – you’ll find your favourite style of writing pretty soon. One word of warning: even the news articles will contain bias. Not as much as a column – not as obviously much as a column, anyway – but differentiating between reported fact, the writer’s opinion and a senior management-based reference (like a journalist highly rating a film released on a company owned by the newspaper’s owner) is a fun and useful skill. One that Daily Mail readers are lacking above all others.

In terms of magazines, there is only one I read, though I read it more thoroughly than I do all papers: Private Eye. Edited by the dude who sits on the left in Have I Got News for You, it’s predominately satire but also has some serious reporting and its Street of Shame section calls out other newspapers’ crap. If I remember correctly, it was one of the few publications that picked up on Cyril Smith being a paedophile about 20 years before the Jimmy Savile scandal – I think they got sued over the allegations. They get sued a lot. The Economist is also useful if you want to get really intellectual – and the ads in the back are brilliant if you want to pretend you have a PhD.

The Family Debate Way: Television

Ah, the real Six O’Clock News. I love it. If you’re anything like me, couch-surfing wise, you start your channel-flicking marathons around the entertainment channels (Virgin Media 121) and go up to music (Kerrang! TV is 342) and maybe into films (avoid the porn channels just past them).

This is stupid.

Go straight to the good stuff: the plethora of news channels. BBC News 24 HD is 604 for me and it’s on all the time. So if you’re out at ten o’clock or eating at six you can keep in the loop! I’m assuming your family bought a huge massive mega TV broadband phone package deal, in which case you probably have access to CNN, Al Jazeera English, Euro News, BBC Parliament and if you’re unlucky FOX.

The good thing about TV news is that because they’re broadcasting to everybody, they have to explain everything. Hence why reporters go to whacky places or walk through green screened graphics – the information needs to be understandable to the average viewer. You’re not the average viewer because you’re a) reading this and b) you know that you can access CNN.

A downside to the TV is that because most non-24-hour slots are short, detail can be missed from a story, and some stories aren’t told at all. Syria is big news when there’s been a huge bombing or war crime, for example, but gets overtaken by the next big thing. The same thing happened in all areas of the mainstream media to #BringBackOurGirls and Flight MH370. Both are still missing, by the way.

 The Hands-Free Way: Radio

You know, the way they kept up with business in World War II. Radio is cool because you aren’t rendered immobile and you can listen while you’re in the car or doing boring stuff, like chores. BBC Radio 4 has a good broadcast in the morning, which I discovered completely accidentally when I was searching for a radio station without jingles or adverts for my morning alarm. I’ve also heard good things about the BBC World Service, which apparently has a worldwide following because it’s an alternative to propaganda-ridden state media.

The Hipster Way: Websites and Social Media

I should probably point out that I’m not entirely sure what a hipster is, although many of the people I’ve known who have declared themselves to be one have actually been twats. I’m not sure if that’s the point. Anyway, social media basically sparked the Arab Spring, because for the first time people had ways to communicate meet-ups and ideas quickly. So instead of using Twitter to hashtag how great your favourite band is to promote a crappy MTV contest, use it to keep up with a conflict or political situation as-it-happens. There was a Russian soldier who posted a picture of himself with Russian weapons inside Ukranian borders on Instagram, and Osama bin Laden’s house’s siege was posted about on Twitter as it occurred, which says it all. The people inside war zones are exactly the same as everyone else so you can see the actual stuff that’s going on. You don’t have to follow accounts if it bums you out, but searching a tag here and there makes you like well intelligent.

Word of warning: social media is the least moderated of all broadcasting platforms and there are just as many idiots posting political things as there are idiots posting pictures of themselves in their underwear or bitching about their boss. Take with a bucketful of salt and always use two sources to corroborate information, especially if it’s for a school thing. I once stumbled upon a Hammas-supporting website which bitched a lot about Israel and the stats I collected were totally the opposite to the ones we learnt in school. For quick info, use the BBC News app and for research, the CIA World Factbook has great profiles on each country – well, they would – and lists states numerically by how great their literacy rate or GDP is, amongst other things. The BBC also has great country profiles for getting a simple explanation and timeline of a country. This explains Kosovo perfectly, for example.

The Fun Way: Entertainment

Not going to lie, Tim Minchin taught me the background to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Then there’s Have I Got News for You, Russell Howard’s Good News, The Daily Show… the list  of programmes is endless. If you’re prepared to put up with some Hollywood gloss, films and books are useful. Some, like Shooting Dogs or books by Khaled Hosseini, don’t have gloss. They may make you cry noisy tears and expand your cynicism. But they’re actually really important because you’re more likely to empathise and understand the nuances of a situation through fiction than you are just by watching the news.

Documentaries are also excellent because it’s their job to make sense, tell the truth (again: apply salt) but keep hold of your attention. Plus your teachers will support the concept of watching them instead of doing a timed essay. Probably. Possibly.

Okay, I’m off to watch the diving at the Commonwealth Games and keep a tally of my parents’ homophobic comments regarding Tom Daley. Let me know if I’ve forgotten a supercool way to follow the news!

The Six O’Clock News: Pizza on Flights, Unless You’re Prevented from Flying by a Faulty iPod, etc.

Presuming that I don’t have my electronics/right to fly removed, when you read this I will be either asleep or eating, which isn’t a huge difference to normal, although it will be a) eight o’clock where I am, and b) I won’t have a clue if it goes wrong because my one holiday rule is that I ignore the Internet. But I’m not ignoring you, right? I’ve rigged up some magic so you can read this!

Here is a fun travel story about a pilot who bought his passengers pizza when they were stuck on the plane for hours. Pretty sure there’s a Cabin Pressure joke to be made somewhere…

This isn’t news, and it’s too big to upload as a picture, but I think everybody needs to see Aeroplane Sleep Positions and contemplate the best way to keep comfy on a flight.

(There isn’t one.)