That Biased Cover

The Big Issue isn’t a magazine that I read very often. Our political standpoints are far from aligned and while I’m obviously aware of the good work that they do in assisting the homeless, I’m rarely interested in the content and politics of their articles.

This month was different, however.  This month featured opposing columns on fracking in the Karoo (see 6000 miles… passim) from rationalist Ivo Vegter and greenie Andreas Spath. Probably nothing they haven’t already shared in tens of thousands of words on the subject online, but you never know. And so I bought, and I made a Big Issue seller smile. Which was nice.

But oh dear. The progressive stance of allowing a pro-fracking column within their esteemed pages was tempered almost completely by the fact that they chose  put it behind this cover:

Described by Editor Melany Bendix on their website thus:

The illustrated cover features a gas mask-wearing meerkat and his sheepish friends in an imagined post-fracking Karoo setting. “Although this is, of course, a very serious topic, we decided to go with an illustrated and rather ‘cute’ cover to lighten the topic somewhat”

Some of you who may be inactive on the internet over weekends may have missed the fact that I disagreed, and that I tweeted so over the weekend:

But apparently, I was wrong as I got a reply to my tweet from @BigIssue SA:

Ah – the old “making light of the fracking ‘hysteria'” defence, beautifully employed there. And while I agree that people reading the articles will have the chance to make up their own minds, there will be literally millions of others passing through intersections all over the country who will merely see the word “FRACKING” in glorious red graffiti, together with a meerkat in a gas mask, all set against a “post-fracking Karoo” backdrop, for the next four weeks. It’s pretty impressive propaganda, as far as I’m concerned.

And so, dear readers, I have assembled some of the greatest minds worldwide and I am asking them to apply themselves to this issue (NPI). Those minds are yours, my friends. Is this cover biased or is it merely “making light of the fracking ‘hysteria’?

I’d love to hear your opinions.

5 Comments | Tagged , , , , | Posted in annoying people, in the news, politics, this is south africa

“If nobody’s listening, you can say whatever you want”

There was an interesting article in the Grauniad this weekend entitled: “Jarvis Cocker: the secrets of Pulp’s songs” and featuring an except from his new book “Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics”, which is out later this week.

Pulp were/are a Sheffield band and during their commercial height in the early to mid 90s had 5 Top 10 hits including Disco 2000 and Common People. The music was good – great, even – but the narrative style of the lyrics was superb and was what I think a lot of fans identified with. And that’s why it came as such a shock to read Cocker’s feelings on writing such gems as:

Well we were born within one hour of each other.
Our mothers said we could be sister and brother.
Your name is Deborah. Deborah. It never suited ya.


I took her to a supermarket
I don’t know why, but I had to start it somewhere, so it started… there.
I said pretend you’ve got no money, she just laughed and said oh you’re so funny.
I said yeah? Well I can’t see anyone else smiling in here.

So what did he have to say?

Because it was my group and I was the singer, I ended up having to write the words. Hence I found myself in the position that a lot of songwriters start off in: you don’t particularly want to do the job but because a song isn’t really a song until it’s got some lyrics, it’s down to you to write them. And this kind of “Aw, mum, do I really have to do my homework?” attitude stays with you.
Many of my lyrics were hastily written the night before a recording session because I’d been putting off writing them until the very last minute. It’s strange that the most intelligible part of a song – the words – should be seen as the most boring and chore-like aspect of the songwriting process by musicians themselves.

And perhaps that’s an understandable attitude: after all, musicians, by definition, do music not words. Can you imagine a poet trying to put a tune to some of his work? Exactly.

Fortunately, there’s also an upside to this approach:

But once you’ve realised that the words are not so important, then the real fun of lyric-writing can begin. If nobody’s listening, you can say whatever you want.

And while Cocker seems to underestimate the power of his lyrics, all’s well that ends well. He writes the tunes and imagines no-one cares about what he has to say over the top of them and we get some amazing social commentary on the difficulties and awkwardness of growing up in Sheffield the 70s and 80s.

The rest of the article is definitely worth a read as he repeatedly proves and disproves his theory on the importance of lyrics in pop music and I think that the book will be an excellent buy.

Leave a comment | Tagged , , | Posted in music, sheffield, uk

Project B.R.A. – mission completed (almost)

In a weird fit of organisation, I have organised – almost single-handedly – the kids’ Christmas presents way ahead of time in what became (for reasons best left unshared) Project B.R.A..

The gifts in question are available in SA, but as so many of these things do, they come with a hefty mark-up on the foreign price tag. In fact, the UK price is exactly 20% lower than here and the US price is an incredible 33% lower. All for something made in China, who – lest we forget – are supposed to be our best friends.
If I had the option then, why would I not purchase elsewhere and get them brought in?
Of course, I have links to the UK, but – just this once – I also have contact in the US and so we got them sent to her via This was my first experience with – having had mixed results with their counterparts.

My contact in NYC said that the US is a nation of online orderers, so there was nothing big or special about getting a parcel sent to her. But that was before “Sophie” signed for it and it went missing for 48hrs. However, while I was on a quick call from South Africa to India to discuss a parcel going missing in New York, the delivery was found and all is now well with the world.

Now all that needs to happen is the handover in NYC next week and then the courier flying them back to the Mother City.

So – to recap: Goods made in China, and for South African use, were bought in the USA, following examination of the price in the UK and were delivered after a call to an American call-centre in India.

5 Comments | Tagged , | Posted in economic issues, that's a bit mad, this is south africa

RIM, you’re dead to me now

Reblogging this post from Jim Kerstetter, a senior executive editor at CNET News on the recent Blackberry problems.

I can’t believe you did this, RIM.

I’ve stuck up for you for years.
When the iPhone came out, I said, “Looks great, but what kind of security does it have?”
When Google and its posse of handset makers started selling quite lovely smart phones, I said, “OK, sure, but what about network reliability?”
And when Microsoft came out with its new Windows Phone stuff, I said, OK, I didn’t really say anything at all.

I’ve endured taunting by my wife, as she caressed her precious iPhone. I’ve tried to explain to my daughter when she asked why my phone doesn’t have cool games like her mother’s phone, that my BlackBerry is a work tool, you see, and I have no time for such things. I’ve even endured the giggles of coworkers who can’t believe I’m such a fuddy duddy, sticking with you. “For God’s sakes,” they say, “embrace the future.” And when things got rough with the other families, I even sent you to Vegas to learn the casino business.

But this gaffe, this is too much. I woke up yesterday and did the first thing I always do: I went to my BlackBerry to check my e-mail. This simple act is, mind you, very important to me. Has a big story broken overnight? Is there a crisis I need to deal with? I’m sure I’m not the only person who does this every morning.

And you know what I saw? That’s right, nada, nothing since about 5:30 PT (I’m sure other people experienced slightly different outages). I waited. I saw your apologies on Twitter and on your site. And on TV. I appreciated that you care. Really, I did. I’d have appreciated it a lot more if you didn’t go down for more than a half a day, of course.
Here’s the thing about BlackBerry users: We’re people who, at least when it comes to our phones, appreciate function over form. We’ve stuck with our little, not terribly stylish bricks because they worked. They didn’t drop calls at bad moments. The e-mail came in and was easy to access. The point was simplicity, lack of worry. It just worked.

Can I really say that now?

Last night, before I went to bed, I saw my e-mail reappearing on my phone and hoped, really hoped, that even more new e-mails would be there in the morning. They were. Thank you for that. And I’m sure a few million government employees, along with President Obama (I think), were happy to walk into the office this morning a little better informed about what their day was going to bring.
But this may have put me over the edge. You broke my heart, RIM. You made me look all kinds of foolish. Saturday morning, I’ll be looking for a new phone. I won’t be visiting the BlackBerry section.

(Emphasis by me)

Just the right amount of humour and personality in there to make us understand that this has affected him personally, rather than it being just another tirade over the server problems which took the BB network down for a couple of days earlier this week.

But Jim hits the nail on the head with his observations on Blackberry users. It’s function over form. The function? Well, it’s BBM (for the young guys), it’s the “free” internet for the older ones. The form? Well, it’s non-existant:

A lack of new products, a lack of innovation, a particularly pathetic tablet offering, a lack of decent apps and some strong competition from Android and Apple that RIM seem to have no answer to and it really looks like they could be headed the same way as Nokia.

As Jim says:

The point was simplicity, lack of worry. It just worked.

Now that one advantage has been lost as well.

And when you add in the disrespectful lack of information given to their customers during the crash, the cross-platform loveliness of Whatsapp (iMessage – yeah, whatever) and the ever-decreasing costs of data, it’s suddenly looking very ropey for RIM.

So, BB users: Are you happy to stick with BB? If so, why?
Or are you, like Jim, ready to move on? Now or at the end of your contract?

7 Comments | Tagged , , , , , | Posted in this is south africa

1-year-old thinks a magazine is a broken iPad

We were ahead of the curve on the Red Hartebees vs Evan van der Spuy video – posting it here when it had just 300 views, way before it had the 74 billion (is this right? – Ed.) it has now.

And I think this one has the potential to go viral too. It’s a one year old girl (the daughter of the CEO of the French Telecoms company Orange-Vallee, as it happens) who can’t understand why she can’t pinch-zoom and scroll on a magazine.

 You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

As her Dad says:

Technology codes our minds, changes our OS. Apple products have done this extensively. The video shows how magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives. It shows real life clip of a 1-year old, growing among touch screens and print. And how the latter becomes irrelevant. Medium is message.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Things move on, we advance, we progress. Yes, books are great to hold and touch and smell (for weird people), but those are simply emotional responses. And while it’s fine to have emotional responses, we shouldn’t let them hold us back. We have to realise and we have to accept that in the future, books as we know them almost certainly won’t exist. Just as if I handed my kids a cassette tape or a rotary-dial telephone, they wouldn’t know what to do with it, so this one year old doesn’t understand why she doesn’t get any response from the magazines.

One thing it does make me realise is how important introducing as much new technology as possible into my kids’ lives is. Because being able to utilise touchscreens and the internet is every bit as important to them as being able to read a book was to us “back in the old days”.

2 Comments | Tagged , , , , , | Posted in learning curve, the parenting bunny