Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Sun at its best

People can be sniffy about the Sun. The combination of Page 3 and a heavy dose of celebrity news make lazy dismissals of its contribution easy. However, those who write it off should think again for a couple of reasons.

First, The Sun is unequalled in its ability to convey sometimes complex ideas in very few words and language that anyone can understand. I've had first hand evidence of this since I've started writing reports for national media attention. The Sun's ability to get to the heart of the matter quickly and effectively is deeply impressive. This makes the paper absolutely invaluable as it is a very efficient way of ensuring that people with a limited amount of time for politics, who fit it in between Page 3 and Big Brother, can remain far better informed than they would if the Sun weren't around.

Second, their editorials often brilliant. Sometimes the balance goes wrong as it clearly did at times during the paedophile hysteria. However, more often than not they'll get it right as in this editorial about the murder of Rhys Jones:

"BRITAIN is in mourning today.

For the appalling murder of Rhys Jones. For the society we have created and for the new depth to which it has sunk.

That little boy’s killing is a defining moment for our country, perhaps even more so than those of poor Damilola Taylor and James Bulger.

For if there is one shred of hope from it, it is that it may force us to consider how we have gone so badly wrong and how we can put things right.

It is time for the Government and the judiciary to radically rethink the derisory sentences handed down to young criminals. It is time for police to go back on the beat and for the Home Office to sanction a huge increase in their numbers.

Most crucially, it is time for blighted communities to rise up against the gangs that terrorise them. Not through vigilantism but through group action, a new spirit of co-operation with police and a zero-tolerance approach to crime.

In every home it is time for parents to look at how they are raising their children, the values they instil in them, the freedoms they allow them."

It's worth reading the piece in its entirety.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Shooting in Letchworth Garden City

I've been following the updates on this story through the day, the last update was just a minute ago:

By Corporate Communication Dept

POLICE can now confirm there have been a total of six arrests in connection with a shooting incident which happened at Boscombe Court, Letchworth Garden City at 11.40am today.

Five men, four who are in their 20’s and one who is in his mid 30’s, have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. A woman in her 30’s has also been arrested in connection with the incident.

Two men remain in hospital at this time.

Although police are seeking witnesses and information about the incident, officers are confident at this stage that there is no-one outstanding in relation to what is an isolated dispute.

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Kitching said: “This is obviously a very serious situation but we are confident that we know who was involved and what caused the incident.

“This is an isolated dispute but we are very mindful how residents in Letchworth Garden City will be feeling at this time and want to reassure them at this stage.”

Anyone with information should call Hertfordshire Constabulary on 0845 3300 222. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111. You do not have to give your name and you could be entitled to a cash reward."

Letchworth is the town I grew up in and where my family still live.

The town has a population of 33,600. Its main claim to fame is as the world’s first Garden City (it was built shortly before the First World War and has lots of green spaces and all the houses have gardens). It is largely a commuter town (to London, Cambridge or Stevenage) with a disproportionate number of young families. It has the UK's only population of black squirrels. Here is a picture:

I know this blog has some US readers and it would be quite understandable for them to think this isn't quite as big a deal as I'm making it out to be. So, to make things clear: Gun crime is an entirely different animal in the UK.

Gun control is so tight (our sport shooting teams have trouble practicing) that gun crime in an area tends to suggest a massive law and order breakdown. We know that is happening in some areas of London and the Midlands and Northern cities but for it to be starting to spread, even tentatively, to peaceful Home Counties Towns is truly alarming.

I could be wrong. This could just be a freak incident with a shooting by a group of crazies but the fact six people, rather than a lone gunman, have been arrested certainly suggests it is a gang issue. If gun crime has spread to Letchworth David Cameron's description of ‘anarchy in the UK’ is in no way hyperbole.

Update: This is sounding more and more gruesome. While the victims are apparently only wounded they were shot in the face.

Again, while this could turn out to be a freak incident I do think it is significant if the law and order breakdown is spreading to places like Letchworth. It suggests that the problem is not just a breakdown in certain communities but a genuine national crisis.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Public opinion and the environment

Last Thursday Blair Gibbs posted the following graph to the TPA blog, taken from a DEFRA poll conducted every five years:

It shows that the number of people who rate the environment as an issue that they think the Government should be dealing with is actually in decline. This suggests that, while people will say they'd like to deal with climate change if asked directly, it is not a priority and not really on their minds. This suggests that they will not be willing to pay the kind of price Monbiot et. al. want them to.

However, the numbers citing the environment as a priority could be misleadingly high. Those rating the "environment" as an important issue quite likely do not mean the environment in the Gaia, global warming, sense. This AEI poll (PDF) shows that in the US global warming is only the 8th most important environmental issue to most Americans. Opinion may be different in the UK but a similar issue, "the environment" doesn't mean "global warming" to most people, probably exists.

While I'm on the subject of the DEFRA poll, this graph is depressing:

It concerns the number of people who have heard of and are willing to buy 'environmentally-friendly' products. Given that Fair Trade implies subsidising people producing over-produced crops it is inherently wasteful and even if it has some kind of dubious environmental provision that is highly unlikely to outweigh the environmental cost of unnecessary food production. That DEFRA lumps fair trade in as an environmentally-friendly product suggests it has a rather wooly understanding of these things.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Free Lite!"

London's street newspaper distributors frustrate me. From sellers of the Evening Standard, the oldest London newspaper distributed through street vendors, you are lucky to get a "Standard!" or a "West End Final!" It's unimaginative, uninformative and dull.

The London Paper and the London Lite are even worse. "Free Lite!" is a particularly despiriting example. It doesn't communicate anything at all. I'm pretty certain that every person in London knew, within days of the free papers launching, that they are free. It is noise for the sake of noise.

Why don't they say anything interesting? I'm pretty certain that a lot of people are like me. They buy the Standard or take a free paper when they see an interesting story on the cover. If they shouted out what the headline story is they might spark people's curiosity and get a customer. It would also make the whole process so much more interesting and characterful.