Posts Tagged Express

An Express Crusade that’s even more pointless than usual

DAVID Cameron was last night challenged to make May 5 the day that Britain decides whether to quit the European Union.

The Daily Express stepped up its crusade for the UK to cut ties with Brussels by calling for the planned referendum on electoral reform to be turned into a historic vote on EU membership.

Leading MPs and campaigners backed the move. Tory MP Peter Bone, of the Better Off Out group, said: “This is a splendid idea by the Daily Express. It makes absolute sense.”

“A splendid idea that makes absolute sense”, except that it is impossible. The wording of the referendum question is set out in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which received Royal Assent on the 16th of February. There has to be a minimum of 10 weeks between the bill passing and the day of the referendum, so the Electoral Commission can decide which groups officially represent each side of the debate; if the question was changed or a new question was added, you’d need an amendment or a new bill to change the questions on the paper and that would reset the clock – especially since in this case, the Electoral Commission would suddenly be tasked with not only registering all pro-AV and anti-AV groups, but also pro-EU and anti-EU groups as well.

We’re now way closer to May 5th than 10 weeks; even if Parliament could somehow draft, debate and pass a European Referendum Bill in one night (and it would have to be Parliament – David Cameron doesn’t have any magical amendment powers here), the new question would need another 10 week waiting period. It simply could not be done any sooner.

Conservative MPs Peter Bone and Philip Davies, Labour MP Kate Hoey and UKIP MEP Nigel Farage all put their weight behind this idea even though all of them must know it wouldn’t be possible;* after all, the media made so much of the 10 week deadline that it would be impossible to be oblivious. Still, I’m sure they must have had important reasons to support something that would be illegal (trying to change a referendum question less than 10 weeks beforehand), unconstitutional (David Cameron pushing the amendment without support from either House) and impractical (writing, reading, debating, reporting on and passing a bill on an issue as critically important and controversial as the European Union in a matter of weeks) besides an excuse to get their names in the paper next to a burning European flag…

Right?

* Incidentally, at the time when it was possible – though still massively impractical – to put this question into the bill, none of the MPs proposed putting a question like this into the referendum. Funny, that.

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Different refugees, same scare story

A few weeks ago, the Daily Star ran a fairly shameful piece which claimed that “Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain, the leader of Nato has warned” even though the Nato Secretary-General had been talking about what may happen to the whole of the EU (not Britain in particular) if unrest in North Africa damaged the Middle East peace process. Tabloid Watch has a very good takedown of that story.

Anyway, today its stablemate the Daily Express has a very similar piece, this time about the situation in Libya: UN tells Britain to open its doors to refugees.

BRITAIN faces a wave of migrants from Libya after a demand from the UN yesterday that Europe opens its borders to refugees.

The article appears to be based to be based on an interview with Baroness Amos, who leads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on the Today programme yesterday. As quoted by the Express, she said:

“In asking for the borders of neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Egypt to stay open, it is important that EU borders also stay open.

“I know the EU countries are going through a difficult financial time but they are still much better off than people who are fleeing a violent and difficult situation in Libya.

“We will continue to ask the EU and neighbouring countries to keep their borders open.”

This is a less a “demand” and a more a very politely worded “If you wouldn’t mind…“; the European Union’s borders are already open to refugees fleeing Libya, and have been since the start. More importantly, she doesn’t mention Britain once. Nothing here supports the Express‘s claim that a “wave” of Libyan migrants is heading that way – it would after all be very difficult for anyone displaced by the fighting (almost certainly without access to much money) to, at short notice in a country with virtually no infrastructure, travel all the way from Libya to Britain, when there are other countries much nearer – not just Tunisia and Egypt but Italy and Spain as well.

Indeed, the question she was answering makes it clear that this isn’t about Britain at all, it’s about Mediterranean countries who actually would expect to receive some refugees from the conflict:

What about the role of the European Union, both in the short and in the longer term? If there’s going to be a large number of people who are displaced and who are very close to the European Union’s southern border, it does sort of raise a whole set of new questions, doesn’t it, over the way in which the EU deals with people who are often very desperate and trying to get into the EU?

Unless the UK has suddenly become part of Europe’s southern border, none of this has anything to do with migration to Britain. The Daily Express has co-opted an ongoing human rights crisis and turned it into yet another immigration scare story. Even the Daily Mail, not normally known for its balanced coverage of stories about refugees and asylum, has managed to be reasonable about the situation in Libya.

Sure enough, while the Mail has a mixture of comments both sympathetic and unsympathetic to the refugees, only one comment on the Express‘s article doesn’t demand that we “SEND EM ALL BACK”* – and that comment is just pointing out that the UN asked, it didn’t demand. The other comments look like this:

I’d like to tell the UN where they can stick this proposal – and it wouldn’t be anywhere pleasant. Libya & its people are not our problem; we have a shortage of decent jobs & affordable housing for our own people, so letting in yet more foreigners is preposterous. These people need to stay in Libya & weather the storm.

If this does happen,people we must act not just chat on paper sites.This country is dieing and cameron is no doctor.More mouths more human rights to pander to and more death on our streets.The world can go stuff itself my england has had a running sore since labour got into power,IMMIGRANTS.Increase foreign aid dave,well his big society must refer to the big foreign society that darkens our shores.Their will be blood,I really hope the bnp in power sends them all packing,I’ll be there waving them a good british clear off.Two fingers optional.

NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THESE MIGRANT WORKERS TO GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. WE IN THE UK ARE FED UP OF BEING DUMPED ON BY THE REST OF THE WORLD AND ESPECIALLY THE EU.
THE ROMANS HAD A GREAT IDEA A CENSUS MAKING ALL IT’S PEOPLE GO BACK TO THEIR PLACE OF BIRTH SOMETHING THAT LEADING POLITCIANS SHOULD THINK ABOUT FOR TODAYS SOCIETY.

Oh joy. Why is it always us that get told what to do regarding refugees? We already have 1.5 million from labors criminal actions plus a further 1 million illegals. The vast majority of these are Muslim and the chances are that Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian are Muslim as well. We can no longer support the huge number of migrants that want to come here and seriously put the religious balance at risk. I have a suggestion for the UN. Get Russia to take them. I would think that if the immigrants were not going to Western Europe but to some place out on the Steppes they might prefer to stay where they are and rebuild their country.

I’m sure that has nothing to do with the misleading headline, which seems carefully calculated to rile people up, right?

* There’s one other comment that’s sort of sympathetic, but, err…

However, refugees are refugees – not ‘asylum seekers, potential residents, parasites on society or disruptive elements’; they should be treated as guests and behave as such.

Moreover, while guests in a country they should be looking to return home as soon as possible – and if the international community deems that their home country is run by an ‘oppressive regime’ then these refugees sould be armed, trained and sent back to their home countries as the spearhead of a UN force to liberate their kinsmen.

That would definitely prevent the situation escalating into civil war, right? Right?

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Yet another Five plug in the Express

From last week, the BBC’s iPlayer service has been linked to various other online video services, so it acts as a catalogue of all the British TV programmes available online, regardless of whether or not they were broadcast on the BBC. All the terrestrial channels have joined, as well as MSN Video and Seesaw, so there are loads of content providers involved. All in all, this isn’t really very exciting. The shows are still hosted on the websites of the channels in question – 4od, ITV Player, Demand5 and so on – the BBC just offers links to them.

How does the Express cover this; an almost total non-story, involving all the TV channels?

CHANNEL 5 AVAILABLE ON IPLAYER of course!

At time of writing, this was higher on the Express website than “4,000 women are victims of rogue cancer causing gene”, “David Cameron under pressure to defy Europe on human rights” and “Bahrain protesters shot as ‘day of rage’ sweeps region”.

More on blatant plugs for Channel 5 in Richard Desmond’s papers from Minority Thought here and here, from Tabloid Watch here, here, here and here and from Zelo Street here. That’s a lot of heres.

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News of the World shows us how not to use statistics

Thank god for churnalism. The News of the World yesterday published an article claiming to have found the most “workshy” neighbourhood in Britain, but of course that ended up locked behind its paywall. Luckily, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail have both churned out articles based on NotW‘s, so I don’t have to pay Murdoch to read it.

The community that they claim is most “workshy” is a small area called Cottsmeadow Estate in Birmingham. Before I even go into the statistics of this, I’d like to point out that having a lot of people on benefits does not mean an area is “workshy”. Perhaps it’s an area where a major employer recently went bust. Perhaps it’s an area with a lot of affordable, accessible housing perfect for disabled people. Or perhaps, as seems to be the case here, it’s an especially deprived area, which has been very hard hit by the recession. After all, the majority of people in the area receiving benefits are getting Jobseekers Allowance (and quite a few more people are receiving income support, which means they work part-time).

Anyway, the newspapers claim that 106 people of working age live on the estate, of whom 105 are on benefits. Population statistics for individual “census output areas” are only available by request, annoyingly, so I’ll have to take that on faith for now. However, the population data is just an estimate, not a robust census, and when you’re dealing with areas as small as 100 people (out of a population of 60 million), you’re bound to have quite a bit of error in there.

The newspapers claim to have tracked down the lone worker – the mind boggles over how they could possibly have gone about this (did they go from door to door asking people “do you have a job?”), especially since the data in question dates from June of last year – in employment terms, that’s rather stale. Now, if they had found the only person on the estate who wasn’t receiving some sort of benefit, they’d almost certainly have breached the Data Protection Act – giving the name of the only person who does not receive benefits is, in effect, exactly the same as revealing everyone else does. This is precisely why the DWP anonymises their data – they randomly round each figure up or down to a multiple of 5, so you can’t work out who is or isn’t on benefits by taking advantage of small numbers.

In this case, it looks like they’ve probably underestimated the population of the area. After all, according to the statistics, three months earlier there were 110 people receiving benefits in the area (code 00CNGP0059) – more than the estimated population! This seems to be the only reason to focus on such ridiculously small areas. The data is divided into “census output areas” – the smallest division that the Office for National Statistics uses, and therefore most error prone too. Looking at the ward Cottsmeadow Estate is in, Washwood Heath, there appears to be about 4,950 people receiving benefits out of a working age population of around 15,000. This is a sample almost 150 times larger than just Cottsmeadow Estate and a much fairer way to gauge the number of people receiving benefits in the area.

These articles, had they been written properly, could have carried an important message – some areas are more deprived than others, and we need to make sure that everyone has access to work. The way the Mail and the Express (and presumably NotW, but alas I don’t have a copy of the article) cover it however completely destroys any attempt at nuance, tarring whole neighbourhoods as being full of “workshy” “scroungers”, regardless of what the statistics and basic common sense say.

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Is dodgy neuroscience in journalists’ nature or their nurture?

(Hat-tip to This Wicked Day for the link, and for pointing out that I can’t spell)

Another story exclusive to all papers: The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Daily Express have all churned out a story based on this morning’s Today (two parts, sound only).* The show was guest edited by Colin Firth, who decided to use this as an opportunity to commission some research into whether political views are visible in brain structure.

The results are fairly interesting – though the only place they’ve so far been published is on the Today show’s blog, which means I can’t really comment on them in any detail. As far as I can tell, this is what they found: people who self-identified as left-wing or liberal were found to generally have a thicker anterior cingulate – the part of the brain believed to deal with empathy and decision making – while people who described themselves as right-wing conservative had a larger right-hand amygdala – the structure which seems to be do with anxiety and higher emotion processing. There seems to be some confusion on the Today show blog about whether it’s a “strong correlation” or “a weak but statistically significant correlation”.

The problem is that, just as with the so-called “liberal gene“, there’s nothing here which proves that these structures actually cause people to be left or right wing. For one thing, we don’t know which way the correlation runs; in other words, whether having a larger amygdala causes people to be right wing, or whether being right wing just makes the amygdala grow – or whether there’s something else hidden in the body which affects political views and brain structure.

Secondly, again, just like with the liberal gene, it’s possible that political views are only indirectly linked to brain structure – the fact that the correlation between the two was weak would seem to back this up. For example, if people with a thick anterior cingulate are generally better at empathy, and more empathic people are generally more liberal, then there might be a small correlation between cingulate size and left wing leanings. This would not mean that one causes the other however! It would be perfectly possible for someone with a thin cingulate to be empathic, and for someone with a thick cingulate to be self-centred. Our brain structure isn’t the only thing that affects our personality – nor are our political views driven entirely by our empathy and our anxiety.

* Interestingly, the reliably right wing Mail goes for the self-deprecating headline “Tory voters found to have larger ‘primitive’ lobe in brain” while the similarly leaning Express runs with the exact opposite: “Lefty? Blame the shape of your brain“.

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Conflicts of interest

The Daily Mail and the Daily Express both have rather similiar articles today, under the headlines “Want the secret to a happy marriage? Don’t have sex before the wedding” and “The secret of a happy marriage? Save the sex for the honeymoon” respectively.

COUPLES who marry the old-fashioned way – shunning sex until after the wedding – enjoy happier marriages, a study has found.

Researchers say delaying the joy of the wedding night not only results in better relationships but also improves sex itself.

Odd, since most other studies either find no connection between sex and later relationship satisfaction or a non-causal connection (i.e. the sort of person who has sex while not married is also the sort of person who would prefer to get a divorce rather than remain in a loveless relationship, but the two are not directly related); it’s interesting that The Express and The Mail never publish articles about these studies.

The paper itself has not yet been published, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the science, apart from that by only asking married people about their sex lives – as opposed to people who cohabit or people who don’t want a long term relationship – it would seem to be impossible to tell whether there is legitimately a cause-and-effect connection between premarital sex and happiness, or whether couples who are happy and unmarried are simply more likely to remain unmarried than couples who are unhappy and looking to recapture their “spark”.*

More interesting though is the background. The research was carried out at Brigham Young University, a Latter Day Saints university with notoriously strict rules regarding the sex lives of its students, and was led by Professor Dean Busby, co-founder of the RELATE Institute specialising in marital advice, and author of a book called “Pathways to Marriage”. There are quite a few conflicts of interest of there.

Busby is, and should be, free to carry out research as he sees fit (within ethical limits, of course), just as any academic can – I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone banned from performing research because of their religious or personal views – but it would have been nice to see an acknowledgement from either paper that a university which places an absolute ban on extramarital sex and all same-sex relationships is going have a vested interest in proving that marriage is the “best” state for a relationship.

* Presumably the researchers did not ask same-sex couples at all – Brigham Young University is in Utah, where same sex marriage and civil partnerships are not just unrecognised, but specifically banned in their constitution. While this doesn’t disprove their research, it does limit its validity somewhat.

Edit: It turns out that Brigham Young University can prohibit staff from making any statement thatcontradicts or opposes, rather than analyzes or discusses, fundamental Church doctrine or policy” , as well anything deemed “unchaste” – and has used this power to dismiss staff who’ve come out in favour of same sex marriage – which puts validity of this research under more strain.

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More PR survey junk from npower

So WordPress managed to lose the text of this post. I don’t have time to rewrite it, so here’s the jist:

This is a pointless npower press release about how everyone supposedly wastes a whole every day worrying, plugging boiler repair. Of course, this is basically meaningless – no-one could remember or quantify exactly how long they spend worrying each day, so they’ll just give random numbers.

This didn’t stop the Daily Express uncritically repeating this interesting claim.

Because today was just so slow news wise.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time The Express have printed an npower press release as news.

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It doesn’t snow in the summer

RAIL bosses made the farcical decision to take two de-icing trains out of service at the height of the big freeze, it emerged yesterday.

Hmm, you’re right, Express, that is a bit farc…

The locomotives were away for their annual service when the Arctic weather swept in.

Oh, you mean they were already being serviced before the big freeze started? Still, as the Express says, they should have serviced them in the summer, not the wint…

Network Rail said the two trains were 55 years old and were sent away at the end of the summer to be upgraded.

The process took longer than expected and “extra resources” were brought in from unaffected parts of the network. The company has 30 trains across the country responsible for keeping the railways free of ice.

Oh. In short, here’s a more accurate first paragraph:

RAIL bosses made the decision to take two de-icing trains out of service at the end of summer.

Shocking.

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Another unwinnable Crusade from the Express

This is the Platonic Ideal of a Daily Express front page.

The idea that the Daily Express would somehow be able to change Britain’s timezone was stupid. The idea that the Daily Express can single-handedly tear Britain out of the EU however is just plain cute. It’s a bit like watching a puppy try to take part in an Olympic marathon. You know it hasn’t a hope in hell of succeeding, but simply the idea that it thinks it can win makes you go “Aww” against your better judgement.

Just as last time, they claimed that 29 million people supported them based on a survey of a few thousand, the Express is once again overstating support for its crusade – which I remind you only started today – by quoting a few Eurosceptics and claiming that they represent a huge groundswell of support … gathering behind the Daily Express Crusade“, and that the Daily Express running a front page piece about how it doesn’t like Europe is “a turning point in the battle to win back Britain’s independence“.

Edit: Now they’re claiming that “99 per cent of people agree we should quit the European Union“, when of course what they actually mean is that 99% of Express readers with a strong enough opinion to ring a premium rate number buried somewhere in the newspaper agree. Via Primly Stable and Enemies of Reason.

Anyway, as you might expect, the Express gets maybe a wee bit overenthusiastic, claiming that unemployment is high in EU because politicians are for some reason deliberately sabotaging recovery with “new job-destroying regulations” and running with a “what have the Romans ever done for us?” argument that “Almost nothing the EU has proposed or enacted has benefited Britain“.

Perhaps the ‘best’ part of the article though is when they move past mangled memories of Black Wednesday and the claims that the only difference between us and Switzerland is EU membership, and move onto history. Now, the Daily Express is always complaining that schools aren’t teaching history properly, but instead twist it to their own ideological ends. Well, I’m sure the Express won’t stoop to that lev…

The creation of the EU is explained by the perfectly understandable desire to avoid further conflict on a continent that had been the scene of two world wars.

But Britain is a land apart: A precious stone set in the silver sea, as Shakespeare so evocatively put it; a realm with a glorious island story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

You know, completely unlike a France, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Or Spain, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Or Portugal, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Or the Netherlands, a realm with a glorious story stretching back a thousand years, with links to every continent and a language taken up throughout the world.

Anyway, I’m surprised the Express, usually rather big on the whole remembrance thing, forgets which country suffered massive economic damage as a result of those two world wars, and therefore may have a bit of an interest in preventing another one happening. Here’s a hint, it was us.

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The Express and The Mail step into the ring! Only one can leave! FIGHT!

For a while now, the Express has been running it’s “Time for Change Crusade“, in favour of Britain changing to Single-Double Summer Time (SDST) so we are 2 hours ahead of GMT in summer and one hour ahead in winter – equivalent to moving time zone by one hour from Western European Time to Central European Time (CET) (previous posts on the subject here) . A few weeks ago, The Sun too declared that it too wanted to “save Britain from Daylight Robbery“. Well, now a rival has stepped up to the plate;* via the medium of Peter Hitchens, the Mail has begun its “British Time Campaign” to stop the UK moving to CET (or “Berlin Time”, as they call it in flagrant violation of Godwin’s law).

Both sides are sadly up to their usual tricks in favour of their position to ludicrous extents – the Daily Express claims they have the backing of 29 million people based on a survey of a few thousand while the Daily Mail claims that people who support the change are useful idiots to some sort of evil “Bratwurst-eating” Frankfurt conspiracy.

So, in the interests of fair debate, here are the facts, laid out in as neutral a way as I can:**

Read the rest of this entry »

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