Facebook vs Twitter

So Big Brother 10 started recently, allowing fuckwits to vote for other fuckwits, which does seem like a theme recently, but thankfully there is a reality entertainment experiment that stars normal people and is actually entertaining.

When I was younger I remember a show, I forget what it was called, but it was basically a national scavenger hunt where the contestants would be hunted the length and breadth of the country whilst having to perform simple tasks. One team of bounty hunters would recieve help from the public to track down the other team, who in turn recieved help completing their tasks and staying one step ahead of the hunters.

Finally someone has picked up the mantle for the internet generation, in the form of Facebook vs Twitter. Each team is set a daily task in a different city in the UK, and require the help of their friends and followers to complete them.

http://current.com/e/90145694/en_US

Yesterday the two teams had to perform a stand-up comedy routine using only jokes provided by their friends or followers. Today a set of photos need to be found. Choose a side and get involved…

Team Twitter

Team Facebook

M.I.A. vs the world

Timely news for some, but it makes a nice change for up and coming ‘popstars’ to give a damn about things that aren’t Jimmy Choos or Kompressors, let alone use their influence to bring attention to things people like to ignore, but that’s just what M.I.A. has been upto drawing praise and criticism alike.

M.I.A. is the daughter of a ‘Tamil Tiger’, although she has never lived with him and hasn’t seen him since 1995, and has been using her music to try to draw attention to the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka. Although she never openly gives her support to the ‘Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’ she has been attacked by many, most notably Sri Lankan hip-hop artist DeLon for using the image of a tiger in her videos.

The conflict is an extremely complex issue and one that’s summed up definitively here but in a nutshell the minority Tamil Hindus are fighting for an independant state in the North and East of the island and have been labelled a terrorist organisation by many world governments.

In a recent blog she questions why she is also labelled a terorist because she wants the conflict to end. Clearly it will take more than this but hopefully it will open a lot of eyes to the bloodshed going on in Sri Lanka.

Dumb and Coke…

Facepalm
Facepalm

Turns out we won the war against drugs this year, and the international cocaine market, like the Darkness’ fanbase, is “in retreat.”

This is based on the news that wholseale prices have increased by about £6,000 per Kilo to £45,000, recession be damned. The Serious Organised Crime Agency believe this is an idication that the supply is diminishing under the pressure of their “strategy of working in South America, the Caribbean, across the Atlantic and with European partners.”

These increases in cost have not been passed onto the punters though, the ‘street’ price has remained relatively stable, take that capitalism… Instead those plucky street entrepreneurs are just cutting the blow with ever increasing amounts of cockroach insecticide, pet worming tablets and the cancer causing drug phenacetin. Figures from the Forensic Science Service show a third of the cocaine seized is less than 9% pure, the lowest it has ever been.

With more spin than the crucible this is being portrayed as a success.  THIS IS BAD NEWS YOU FUCKING IDIOTS… Great, there is less cocaine knocking around, this is not going to put off the people that create, cut or even use coke. It’s standard suplly and demand economics, the less coke there is available, the more the price rises meaning the manufacturer has a premium product. To offset the hike in prices the dealer will try to maximise his product and cut the quality of the wraps being sold. The habitual user wants more coke regardless of the danger. The mortality rate amongst coke users rises.

It’s ok though, SOCA have a plan… People that import any of the cutting agents will be ‘targetted’. Quite what will happen when they change the cutting agent to something else remains to be seen.

There will always be people that want to do dangerous, illicit drugs, that is a fact of life. Furthermore it is hard to imagine a situation where drug manufacture is completely removed. It strikes me as obvious that the only surefire way to remove the dangerous criminals that perpetuate the drug industry is to remove their customers by allowing the state to control the industry, generating income for the government and giving a safe outlet for the users, a view previously discussed on the SC.

Los Campesinos! We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

This album slipped by me since it was released in November, just eight months after the release of their Debut ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ but I’m glad I stumbled across it. Right from the opening lyrics (I think it’s fair to say that I chose hopelessness and inflicted it on the rest of us) it’s clear that tweexcore has grown up; out the window are the songs where the cherryade flows, replaced by bitterness, resentment and jealousy.

The sentiment in the title track, ‘We are beautiful, we are doomed’ shows a much bleaker, darker Los Campesinos! punctuated by the trademark glockenspiel – “I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love is to like the other slightly less than you get in return” – the guitars building to the anthemic outpourings about heart failures.

A major criticism of ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ may once again put off listners, as the new album is anything but an easy listen, but in my opinion this doesn’t detract from the quality of the songs; I’ll never grow tired of cheerful sounding tunes coupled with self-destructive lyrics like ‘It’s as if I walked into a room to see my ex girlfriend, who by the wasy I’m still in love with, sucking the face of some pretty boy with my favourite bands most popular song in he background’ all tempered by soft female vocals.

The stand out tracks for me are ‘You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing‘ and ‘It’s Never That Easy Though. Is It?

The coming aporkalypse, or why we don’t need to worry about the swine flu epigdemic

Ok, so the media is firing on all scare-mongering cylinders over this whole swine flu snoutbreak. The threat level was raised today to 5 out of 6, which seems to mean that you might not want to travel unless it’s really urgent, say a holiday or business trip. Presumably 6 means only go to the airport if you really have to see of a loved one or need a tie and the airport is closer than town.

Let’s get this into context, this is definitely more hamdemic than pandemic, there have been 20 cases across Europe(1), of which no-one has died. In Mexico itself only 99 cases(2) have been confirmed as H1N1, and the swine flu has claimed just eight lives in Mexico, whose health spending per capita was recently rated 25th out of 25(3). 50 people in China have died of hand-foot-mouth disease(4), presumably from over exposure to this(5), and yet there is no cobra meeting to decide when we should change the threat number.

Tamiflu, of course, probably does nothing against hand-foot-mouth, whereas those extra supplies manufactured for bird flu are probably getting close to their expiry and what better market than a public scared of an over-exaggerated threat.

Besides, swine flu’s been in Sheffield for years(6)…

 

*Can’t get the links to work properly so here are the old school sources:

  1. http://www.euronews.net/2009/04/30/europe-prepares-for-swine-flu-pandemic/
  2. http://breakingnews.iol.ie/news/world/eyauididmhau/
  3. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_hea_car_fun_tot_per_cap-care-funding-total-per-capita
  4. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/12/content_11174256.htm
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmHClIHgnRI
  6. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2205108364#/photo.php?pid=30379508&op=1&o=all&view=all&subj=2205108364&aid=-1&oid=2205108364&id=1019065705

Intrinsic racism and the strength of our subconscious associations

The Collins English Dictionary defines racism as:

1 the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
2 abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief
In a civilised world most people would like to think that they are not racist, and outwardly act with respect towards people of different races. Would America have elected their first black president if this was not the case? Research at Harvard university is showing that subconsciously there is a different story whether we like it or not.
Science has tended to confirm that race is a cultural construct, and there are no scientific criteria to determine race. Despite our obvious differences we are all extremely similar biologically, and to think of one race as superior to another, such as the argument that white people have intrinsically superior intelligence made by Charles Murray in ‘The Bell Curve‘, is clearly misguided. In fact in many circumstances use of the word race is being replaced with the equally ambiguous term ethnicity, as an indicator of the ancestry of a given individual.
Whether we like it or not our subconscious controls our intrinsic attitudes towards others.  Without conscious influence we make snap decisions, especially about other people, using a combination of learned responses, non-verbal cues and body language. Interviews and speed dating are perfect examples of how we form an impression of people within moments of meeting them.
These behaviours are the subject of a lot of research, and an interesting tool has been developed by Anthony Greenwald, Mahzarin Banajai and Brian Nosek that shows the links our minds make. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) determines the connections and mental associations that we have made between pairs of ideas. The test works by putting two words or ideas together with words synonymous with good or bad, and registering the time taken to place an image or word into one of the two categories. Try it out for yourself here but be prepared for some uncomfortable results.
Full disclosure, I have a moderate automatic preference for Caucasians, which surprised me somewhat. I don’t consider myself to be racist, and although I don’t know many people of different ethnicities, I don’t think of the friends I have of other ethnicities any differently than the white friends I have. Intrinsically, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Even as I completed the test I felt a sense of shame at the ‘wrong’ answers I gave.
The prodominantly white media may have to take some of the blame for this, for reinforcing negative stereotypes about different races, with sensationalist stories, however the good news is that with more exposure to positive examples of other races or cultures this bias can be overcome. President Obama has recieved almost unilateral support with a message of hope and change, showing that the potential of any race for good is there, we just need more examples to help break free of these associations.

Gone to pot?

A report by a group of leading academics will controversially push for changes in cannabis laws, allowing the state to prepare and distribute marijuana for recreational use. Amanda Fielding, the founder of the Beckley Foundation,  “a charitable trust set up to promote the investigation of consciousness
and its modulation, and the science of drug use, from a
multidisciplinary perspective” will present the findings of their report to the UN Commision on Narcotic Drugs, who will in turn report to the UN general assembly at a meeting that will decide the international drug control policies for the next decade.

The findings of the Beckley report show that cannabis damages the health of heavy users as is to be expected, including increased risk of psychosis, lung and heart problems. Around 40% of Americans admit to having tried the drug and 3.9% of teenagers worldwide use marijuana regularly, compared with just a single per cent of the world population that uses other illegal drugs. Teenagers have an increased likelihood of dropping out of school early, and being in traffic accidents.

The potency of cannabis is also getting higher (pun definitely intended :p) as levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical that gives the user a high, are treble the levels that were present 10 years ago. Similarly the levels of cannabidiol, believed to help prevent psychosis, are falling, and are absent in certain strains.

Comparison of the dangers of different drugs - Hennigfield & Benowitz
Comparison of the dangers of different drugs - Hennigfield & Benowitz

There are obviously dangers associated with the drug, however the Beckley commision concludes that “the damage done by prohibition is worse than from the substance itself.” The drug is thougt to be less harmful to users and society than other illicit drugs, and far less damaging than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Each year 2.5 million deaths are attributed to alcohol and 5 million to smoking. To date there have been just two documented deaths from marijuana overdoses.

Many of the harmful consequences stem from the fact that cannabis is illegal, the Beckley commision claims. University of Maryland Criminologist Peter Reuter, a co-author of the report said “If you don’t think being arrested is a harm, you’re unpersuadable, in the US, 750,000 people were arrested in 2006, and I think that’s a substantial harm.”

A study by the National Drug Research Institute in Perth, Western Australia, in 2000, came to the same conclusion. Cannabis possession here attracts a criminal conviction, although in South Australia this is not the case. It was found that 32% of those ‘criminalised’ had severe employment consequences, compared with just 2% of those ‘infringments’ in Southern Australia.

The Beckley report is recommending that cannabis should be subject to strict standars to ensure that it is not strong enough to cause psychological problems and sold through government outlets. This will ensure that children are unable to buy the drug and that the criminal element that currently profit from drugs are slowly pushed out.

Fielding accepts that it is a controversial proposal, but I for one think it seems well thought out and potentially beneficial. The key seems to be moderation, for me, as with all things in life. People will always take drugs, if we can help make this safer for the user then, that can only be a good thing. It would obviously need to be proven that the weaker strains discussed are genuinely safer, and a large-scale information campaign would be required, but it has to be better than the alternative.