Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sharing on Google Reader

If anyone else is on Google Reader, and is using or thinking about using the sharing options, here is my (as yet empty) shared items page.  Feel free to follow.

Phil's Shared Items

[Edit: Oh, and you can follow my shared items through any other RSS reader, if you're into that sort of thing.]

Friday, October 30, 2009


This is one of the best Internet spoofs I've seen in some time.  The graphs on the donation page, and the hairspray tweets from the blog are particularly special.

International Network Enabling Poverty Development

via AidThoughts

Friday, October 23, 2009

One Night At The BBC (Or: Mindless Protests At Television Centre) #BNP #bbcqt

Last night I was at BBC Television Centre.

Not to protest.  Not to see Question Time.  I was there to see Harry Hill.  And he was excellent.  Between takes his Nick Griffin jokes were much more scathing than anything that went on in the other studio, or outside.  I highly recommend watching TV Burp on Saturday.

This is covered elsewhere, so I'm going to just briefly (as I can) say what annoyed me.

LinkDump: Girls' Education In Africa

On Wednesday evening I went to a careers event based around getting work in International Development.  It made me want to be more focused, and also think about the issues I saw in Tanzania that I'd like to know a little bit more about, and hopefully help solve.

The one particular issue is of the quality of education.  Tanzania has universal primary education - it ticks that lovely UNICEF box.  Which means that since 2002, when it was introduced, they've struggled to get enough teachers to cope with the vastly increased number of pupils.

Primary school leavers were trained to become primary school teachers to boost numbers, for example.  The policy means that while all children get a start, it's arguably the worst possible kind of start.  Worse, all their lessons are in Swahili.  Which is fine.  Until you consider that all secondary school lessons are in English.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong With Democracy As Long As We All Accept That There's Something Fundamentally Wrong With Democracy

It's always a bit demoralising to be told that the world's turned to shit and we might as well all give up, especially when it's one of my idols doing the telling.  If I hadn't been David Mitchell's reassuringly defeatist tones I was hearing in my head whilst reading, I might even have given up half way through.

It's an article that prompted a number of commenters to declare they always suspected that Mitchell was a fascist.  A suspicion based, presumably, largely on the fact that he has a posh voice and a side parting, and that the favourite film of the character he plays in Channel 4's Peep Show is Das Boot.

The mistake they make is to read Mitchell's interpretation of politics and to think this is the same thing as Mitchell's political opinion.  That, and to misunderstand what fascism actually is.  Yes, Mitchell is blunt and defeatist in tone, but I think you'll find that's his public persona, or maybe even his actual personality - not fascism.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Abortion Trends: Why It's Wrong To Say The "Floodgates" Have Ever Opened

The Guttmacher Institute have released their reports on worldwide abortions this month, comparing the years 1995 and 2003.

The most immediate trend you see (as shown on this graph in the Economist) is that the number of abortions appears to have decreased.  The second is that the number of safe abortions has decreased at a much faster rate than unsafe abortions, which have hardly decreased at all.

If you look closely, you'll see that most regions fall broadly into the same range - about 15-30 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 - and that in 2003, the rates of abortions tended to be slightly lower where it was legal and safe.

It seems fairly clear that the legality of abortion doesn't make a significant difference to the number of abortions (assuming the counting of unsafe abortions is reasonably accurate), but does make a huge difference to the safety of the women who feel they must, for whatever reason, make this difficult choice.

I couldn't help but immediately think of the UK, where the media are frequently outraged at how high teenage pregnancy and abortion rates are.  Headlines such as 'Abortion rates rocket to record high as Britain set to overtake US as world termination capital' are to be expected from the likes of the Daily Mail, and it is true that abortion rates in England and Wales continue to increase year on year.

England and Wales statistics are given on the Department for Health website and, handily, they're counted in the same way as their worldwide counterparts.  Between 1995 and 2003, the number of abortions here rose from 14.5 to 17.5 per 1000 women aged 15-44.  Shock!  Horror!  etc etc.

Of course, these numbers and the continuing upward trend are worrying, but "world termination capital" we are not.  A few quotes from the Guttmacher Institute's report:
"The most dramatic decline in abortion incidence occurred in Eastern Europe, a region where abortion is, for the most part, legal and safe: the rate fell from 90 to 44. The decrease coincided with substantial increases in contraceptive use in the region.

"The lowest abortion rate in the world is in Western Europe (12 per 1,000 women aged 15–44). The rate is 17 in Northern Europe and 21 in Northern America (Canada and the United States of America)."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let's All Complain To The Press Complaints Commission about Jan Moir's Attack On The Late Stephen Gately

I just complained to the Press Complaints Commission about Jan Moir for this horrifically homophobic article on Stephen Gately.  I found out about it at Enemies of Reason.

If you want to take part, it couldn't be simpler.  Simply fill out this online form.

[Edit: Apparently the PCC doesn't generally accept third party complaints:

In regard to complaints about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – where there are no obvious first parties cited in the article, who might complain – the Commission can, and regularly does, investigate complaints from any concerned reader.

In addition the PCC has an absolute discretion about whether or not to investigate any complaint. If, therefore, there appeared to be an exceptional public interest in accepting a complaint from a third party concerning a named individual, then it would do so – but the arguments set out above mean that it is a high threshold to cross and in practice it happens very rarely."

So do include Clause 1 in your complaint.  Which I, er, didn't.  And if you are gay, or in a civil partnership, or anything else relevant, then point it out if you've been directly offended."]

This is what I put - feel free to copy, paste and edit as much as you like:
Jan Moir has broken clauses 5 and 12 in the Code of Practice.  She has attacked the late Stephen Gately and made unwarranted and unfounded accusations of hedonism or foul play, based solely on the fact that he is young and gay.  She has used this as an excuse to attack civil partnerships.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Frown With Dating

Yesterday was faintly depressing.

It started with numerous visits to the toilet and faltered from there on in.

I spent most of the morning amused by the Trafigura scandal, whilst trying to interpret my stomach's confused messages of whether it wanted food or not.

At 2pm an application pack landed on my doorstep for an informal interview with a teaching agency at 4pm.  Which helpfully gave me about an hour to sort it all out and leave the flat.  By the time I got to Southgate I was tired and inevitably depressed from having had to travel on the most depressing section of the Piccadilly Line.  Hence I think I was both quite negative and honest, not a combination you really want in any form of interview, informal or otherwise.

And then in the evening I went speed hating.

I'd been speed hating before and really loved it.  Before you go they ask you to draw a picture of yourself.  Not one to resist the opportunity to show off, this is the self-portrait I drew this time (on the previous occasion I think I drew myself as a lion tamer).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

#Trafigura: What The Guardian Aren't Allowed To Tell You

I have something else to blog about later today, but first you may or may not have heard that the Guardian have been gagged from reporting on Parliament.  I just this minute heard about it on Twitter.

Curious, because the original question posed, which the Guardian is not allowed to report on, is freely available and it was never going to be any shortage of bloggers willing to take the time to find it.

The Third Estate was one of an early few to find it was about Trafigura dumping toxic waste off the coast of Sierra Leone.

Hopefully this ridiculous use of the libel laws will backfire horribly on them.

Edit: Carter-Ruck have now backed down, as it did indeed backfire quite spectacularly.

This has also made me think of an excellent programme on Radio 4 yesterday (unemployment has its perks) about how politics has changed since the Brighton bomb.  Towards the end of the programme discussion turned to the increased security around Parliament, and how most MPs don't like it because it discourages people from participating in the political process.

Brighton: The Bomb That Changed Politics

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blame the Prime Minister's Wife

Today I bought the Observer, which is not something I've done in a while - these days I get most of my news from the Internet and radio.  I've just been reading a piece by Catherine Bennet, attacking Sarah Brown for not campaigning on behalf of women's rights.

Oh, I don't know, perhaps it's because it's not her job.  Perhaps it's because it's her husband's job.  He is the Prime Minister, after all.   Or maybe it's Harriet Harman's job as Minister for Women and Equality, or Alan Johnson's job as the Home Secretary.

I'd have a lot more respect for Sarah Brown if she did campaign on behalf of brutalised women, but I don't think any less of her just because she doesn't.  Catherine Bennett seems to subscribe to the view that every famous woman who doesn't campaign on women's rights is somehow a traitor to the cause, and wastes the first 15 column inches telling us so.

To her credit, she does eventually make valid points criticising Harriet Harman for something that is her job, but it's relegated almost to a footnote.

Can we please all establish that women's rights are really important and that it's a collective responsibility of Government, of the media, and of everyone else?  Not just women.  Not just famous women.  And not just the Prime Minister's wife.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Premier League Predictions - The September Table...

At the start of the football season I challenged you to make predictions about the Premier League this season, in aid of the Hoja Project.

Well this is how it would stand if the Premier League were to end this season.  And despite getting her excuses in quickly, Katie is making an early push to win some piece of Tanzanian football tat.

1. Katie (48pts)
2. Martin (54pts)
3. Abad (55pts)
=4. Phil H/Phil C (58pts)
6. Sean (60pts)
7. Anthony (62pts)
8. Hysen (74pts)

Monthly standings so far for those who want to geek out on the stats.

I should also point out that I shall be naming and shaming those who haven't paid up yet...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Links: Hoja Project on eBay, Cervical Cancer Vaccine, and the BNP's Freephone Number

A very quick post from me, highlighting three very different causes.

First, the Hoja Project is now registered on eBay, so if you support Hoja (the charity I helped set up in Tanzania and have just spent three months volunteering for), then you can donate a portion of your eBay sales to them.

Second, Malcolm Coles has pointed out that because of all the alarmist and irresponsible reporting in the tabloid newspapers this week, actual facts about the cervical cancer vaccine are not faring very well on Google's search engine.  People who are worried are actually finding lots of pages full of lies and misinformation.  So you can help websites like the NHS appear higher on the search results by linking to them like this - cervical cancer jab - if you have your own blog or website.

Third, the ever excellent Conform, Consume, Obey is the second site I've seen point out that the BNP have a freephone number, which they have to pay for everytime someone rings them.  The worry is that people might call them from payphones and then leave the phone off the hook, thus racking up a huge bill for them.  Disgraceful behaviour, and obviously I wouldn't encourage anyone to do anything of the sort...

[Edit: I've heard a vicious rumour that the BNP freephone line is "no longer accepting anonymous calls".  And it apparently originated from Popbitch.]

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Invasive Virginity Tests for Girls

A post by London Muslim today links to a story in the Copenhagen Post about an "increasing number of young Muslim women being sent to doctors to prove that they are virgins".

Sadly a quick Google search reveals that it's not just a problem amongst Muslims in Europe, and nor is it only a matter of male hypocrisy or "feudal thinking".

In July 150 Indian brides were reportedly forced to undergo virginity tests before participating in a state-run mass wedding (Link 1, Link 2), and it exists in some African communities, both inside and outside the continent, driven by fear of HIV, and controlling religious parents.  And that's without turning to page 2 of the search results.

That last link is particularly frightening.  Contrary to what "Dad" might think, his "hometown back in West Africa" certainly did not "have a reliable way of knowing a daughter's virginity was in tact". Because virginity tests are not only a demeaning invasion of a young girl's body and completely unnecessary, they are not reliable.

I can't imagine that this has been publicly discredited to the same extent as female genital mutilation, but it really should be.