links for 2008-11-05

5 November 2008
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links for 2008-11-04

4 November 2008

The Importance of Empathy

3 November 2008

Over the last week the crazy story around Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross’s [rather inappropriate] prank calls to Andrew Sachs has been raging. I won’t link to all the articles but you can see more here and here for latest.

Now I’m not here to defend them, and I’m not here to slate them. There has been much written about the history of how this came to be top of the headlines when the Congo’s falling into chaos, the global economic system continues to disintegrate and America could be about to elect it’s first black president (Cosmodaddy appears to have the whole history in the middle of his post), but in summary: two complaints when broadcast, Daily Mail picks up the story leading to thousands of complaints, reporting in less biased media leads to comments even from the Prime Minister…

But it did get me thinking…

Last week I went to see Now or Later at the Royal Court Theatre. Essentially a story about how to spin a story it revolves around the son of the soon-to-be President Elect of the United States and an out-of-context internet-rumour about him with a photograph to boot. The debates are fascinating and raise points on whether freedom of speech would be constrained by apologising for something which, to some people, would appear to be highly insulting.

I started to contemplate the obvious connections between the two. The play was esentially based around an out of context, hyped up internet-fuelled press-spun story of an how an inappropriate action could have offended, or been seen to offend, people who do not have the same fundamental beliefs. And there are undoubtedly similarities to the recent BBC debacle (despite the Brand/Ross debate being far less considerate/intellectual and, most damagingly, bullying of a person).

This led me to a conclusion – that actually what is needed is empathy (sadly after all of this thinking the Guardian beat me to posting a similar view on the issue) and there’s a fundamental lesson for us all:

In a fast-paced world based on an [some may say ‘Thatcher-capitalism’]  ‘every man for himself’ attitude it’s easy to be blinkered to how your actions may be seen (especially in a world where free speech can be so easily taken out of context). What we all (myself included) need to do is contemplate how other people may see our actions (out of context or not), and how it will make other people feel. In a fast-paced world where we communicate through keyboards, microphones, telephones, text and computer screens it is easy to be blinkered to the emotional implications of what we say or do. It harder – but important – not to.


Vote rigging

2 November 2008

Watching Recount tonight on Channel 4 reminded me of the almost forgotten craziness of the 2000 Presidential election in the US. The to-ing and fro-int and how a handful (hundreds) of votes left the election not just hanging in the balance, but determined by the courts, not the people. Then I re-read a post I’d linked to earlier this week which said electronic voting machines that will be used in the 4 November election are not reliable and accurate – that they are prone to malfunction and may not record the actual vote winner.

Will the chads be hanging once more, or is it potentially even more serious this time?

Most election ballots next week will be tallied or scanned by four private companies… Three of the four companies have close ties to the Republican Party… Is it right and proper for partisan pro-Republican companies to count the votes? It is certainly not objective and impartial.


The blandness of unreality

1 November 2008

So it’s been a while since I posted anything other then my Delicious links, and I’m posting now with no experience of, but a judgment on, Westfield Shopping Centre in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. So, what’s the big deal? The centre opened to the public on 30th October 2008: 150,000m² (1.615m ft²) of space to shop in 255 stores, the third largest shopping centre in the UK, sold as a “new retail experience”. And it received some good press: a covered indoor mall combining the top and middle of the market – booming in its first few days even in a credit crunch.

But it hasn’t pleased everyone:

“It’s more Gatwick village than Liberty, all airport ambience and airlessness, an everywhere and nowhere place, everytown and no town, every familiar shop in every high street, the same, same, same. Eclectic, bold, extraordinary? Only if you have never seen a Tie Rack, Gap or New Look.”

But, let’s not forget it’s a shopping centre. This is the disneyland of retail – show and gloss, nothing real. Some people have suggested that it “is a unique and democratic way of shopping, where highstreet brands sit cheek by jowl with designer labels as well as supermarket shopping”. But the truth is it’s the most undemoctratic shopping experience that can exist – a fully privatised space where the company that runs it (who earned $5.58 billion profit in 2005/6) can control what happens. This is not a place. It’s a non-place. It’s not a city: a city is democratic – a city where you can demonstrate on the street, busk, shop or saunter.

And, this ‘democtratic’, privatised future of consumerist excess on cheap credit does nothing to help the very deprived area it’s landed, alien-like, in. It’s a closed-off traffic-jam generating privatised space with no connection to the place around it and very little benefit for it too. In the words of one resident:

“If you don’t turn off towards Europe’s newest, largest shopping mall but head into the grey autumn of Shepherd’s Bush Green, where the local residents walk their pitbulls and the 99p stores will sell you a handbag and an umbrella, but no real, authentic Prada or Chanel. The rest of the “Bush” looks terrible now up against all that is shiny and new. Squalid isn’t the word.”

And yet this is the place not built on billions of dollars of profit – it’s the city, where we live, which is maintained by our money, and which is democratic. So if we want to build something democrtatic let’s think about how places really work – not with closed off walls and revolving doors, but linked into the fabric of the city, where people can be without the approval of corporations or security guards.


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