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Martin Robbins
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Ten nerdy Valentine's Day poems wot I wroted on Twitter earlier!

Roses are red / Violets are blue / But I can't love you if / You confuse 'whom' and 'who' #englishlove

Roses are Red / We are the Borg / Resistance is Futile / We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. #borglove

Roses are red / Lilies are orange / I'm making you this poem / But wtf rhymes with 'orange'?! #lovepoemfail

Roses are red / Daffodils are Yellow / "I Love you" in binary / annoyingly doesn't end in 'zero' #robotlovepoemfail

Seven is red / Fourteen is blue / Synaesthesia's beautiful / And so are you #biologylovepoems

Deoxyribo- / -nucleic acid / your genome's impressive / but your face makes me flaccid #biologyantilovepoems

You have two Xs / And I have XY / If only you weren't / Drosophilidae #biologylovepoems

ROSES RED / ROCKS GRAY / HULK GET TURNED GREEN / BY THIS DAMNED GAMMA RAY #hulkvdaypoems

Volcanoes are red / oceans are blue / geology rocks / did the Earth move for you? #romanticsciencepoetry

Neptune is blue / Jupiter's beige / I lost my cock / to an anthropophage #romanticpoetry
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I love this!! This is absolutely adorable! :3
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The Daily Mail's "Murderers" headline was still wrong

Most civilized nations have the presumption of innocence enshrined in their legal system; you are innocent until proven guilty. It's a concept at least as old as the Romans, and I imagine most of the people I follow on Twitter believe it's a pretty solid foundation for our justice system today. Why then have so many taken to praising the Daily Mail for supposedly 'getting it right' over Stephen Lawrence? (see e.g. https://twitter.com/#!/TomChivers/status/154217723210117121 or https://twitter.com/#!/fleetstreetfox/status/154213076072267777)

To say the Mail 'got it right' is beyond generous for a start. The famous "Murderers" headline named five men, of whom two have now been found guilty. Three remain innocent in the eyes of the law. You might think they did it, maybe they did, maybe some time in the future a further trial with new evidence will confirm it, but for now they remain innocent.

The assertion of people like FleetStreetFox (e.;g. https://twitter.com/#!/fleetstreetfox/status/154257844399648769) is that the Mail should be vindicated because their campaign led to a good result - the reopening of the case and the eventual conviction of two men. It's a superficially pleasing argument, but falls apart when you realize that what it's essentially saying is a combination of "the stopped clock was right once today, so we should be happy to trust the stopped clock" and "hey, if the justice system fails the tabloids can do the job." No, and no.

Firstly, Dacre acted as judge, jury and executioner, declared five men guilty, and merrily risked ruining their lives (not to mention their prospects of a fair trial) on what he concedes was a "gamble". He demanded that they pay large sums of money fighting a powerful media company in the libel courts in order to prove their innocence. That to me is a pretty perverse and unfair form of justice system to fall back on, even if it does produce the odd hit.

Secondly, you can't just point at the wins while studiously ignoring the failures. Two of the five people named by Dacre have been convicted, but it remains possible that three others have been wrongly smeared. And that's just if you count this case. Rebecca Leighton, a nurse, was cleared of involvement in the deaths of patients, but smeared as an 'angel of death' by tabloids who raked through her Facebook profile obsessed with finding anything that might look incriminating (http://politicisedcorrectly.blogspot.com/2011/09/angel-of-death-but-only-for-tabloid.html). Chris Jefferies won six-figure libel damages after taking eight newspapers to court - The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Scotsman and Daily Express - for their demonization of him after the murder of Joanna Yeates (www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2011/jul/29/joanna-yeates-national-newspapers).

This isn't to say that journalists shouldn't pursue these cases - far from it! There was some excellent investigative journalism in the case of Stephen Lawrence, some of it in the Mail, and it's fair to point out that the paper's campaign did much to keep the case alive. Part of good journalism though should be responsibility to the facts and to the basic principles of justice. It was right to campaign, it was right to highlight serious questions about the case and the evidence, but it was not right to declare five people to be murderers without a fair trial.

Like a lynch mob, the tabloids may well spot the occasional Gary Dobson or David Norris, but they are also likely to smear the Chris Jefferies and Rebecca Leighton's of this world. That's precisely why we hold onto idea like the presumption of innocence and fair trials, rather than letting Paul Dacre - or the mob - decide. The legal system is not perfect. Justice will fail from time-to-time, and journalists should challenge and fight to expose those failures, but I don't want to live in a world where tabloid newspapers are allowed to act as a kangeroo court. Cherry-picked positive data points are not going to change my mind.
Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted after a 15-year campaign by the Mail, which publicly branded the pair murderers in February 1997 front page, pictured.
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I agree with Anindya. This case was quite different from the shameful demonising of more recent suspects. As an inquiry into the murder clearly showed, a half-hearted police probe had allowed Stephen Lawrence's smirking killers to avoid justice. The Daily Mail had the guts to challenge this by making a clear and direct allegation of murder, knowing full well that the men they accused would be able to seek redress in the civil courts and gain hefty libel payouts if they were wrong.
I cannot remember another case like this one. Newspapers rarely go out on such a limb and I recall that I found it almost ironic that it should have been a right-wing paper like the Mail that fought so hard for a black family. But I am glad they did because otherwise I don't think the Lawrence family would ever have seen justice for the evil murder of their son.
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Depressing 'view-from-nowhere' fail from the BBC this. I'm really hoping people put a lot more complaints in to them.
Martin Robbins: Professionals attack the BBC for putting teachers at risk after its decision to broadcast a clip during Sunday Morning Live that compared sex education teachers to paedophiles
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I missed the start of the programme on Sunday, but had heard a few murmurings about it - thanks for explaining what it was all about. Atrocious.
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The Yakawow Times - Captain Chaos and the News of Tomorrow

In the opening hours of the battle for Tripoli, many comments were made comparing the quality of the coverage from Britain’s two major news channels, Sky and the BBC. The consensus among many was that Sky out-performed the BBC in almost every department, particularly when it came to keeping pace with events and getting live images right from the heart of the action.

But did it really? Did Sky actually, objectively do a better job of gathering the news, or did they merely give the impression of news? Was the battle for Tripoli’s news a won by content, or style?

The core of Sky’s reporting that night centred on Sky reporter Alex Crawford’s coverage from the rebel convoy entering the Libyan capital. She was courageous and brilliant, and the pictures she brought back were important. In contrast, the BBC struggled for live footage and relied heavily on studio analysis. It’s no surprise that Sky took the plaudits, while the BBC seemed slow and ponderous in comparison.

But I found myself a little alienated by the excitement over Crawford’s coverage. She was impressive, and what she sent back was valuable, but how much did we learn from the massive amount of time devoted to blanket coverage of the same celebrating crowd? The BBC’s grey-haired pundits may not have been as visually exciting to watch, but they seemed to provide a great deal more background and context.

As I was contemplating this, a link appeared in my Twitter feed to a video essay about the state of film-making in the 21st century. This may seem like a tangent, but it’s worth watching in full. The author’s thesis is that action films are in decline because of what he calls ‘chaos cinema’, a new breed of films that increasingly rely on an editing style called ‘intensified continuity’ - “rapid editing, close framings, bipolar lens lengths and promiscuous camera movement.” The nonsensical, headache-inducing action sequences in the Transformer movies, for example. In his words:

“Chaos cinema apes the illiteracy of the modern movie trailer. It consists of a barrage of high-voltage scenes. Every single frame runs on adrenaline. Every shot feels like the hysterical climax of a scene which an earlier movie might have spent several minutes building toward.

Chaos cinema is a never-ending crescendo of flair and spectacle. It’s a shotgun aesthetic, firing a wide swath of sensationalistic technique that tears the old classical filmmaking style to bits.

Directors who work in this mode aren’t interested in spatial clarity. It doesn’t matter where you are, and it barely matters if you know what’s happening onscreen. The new action films are fast, florid, volatile audiovisual war zones.”

It doesn’t matter if the audience knows what’s going on. They don’t have any real grasp of the things that are happening in front of them, they just need to be given the impression of things happening to keep them excited. If you think about it, the same thing is true of a lot of 24 hour news coverage – not a lot happens, but teams of producers and reporters and editors work around the clock to deliver the impression of things happening.

What did we see in Tripoli? Did we see things happening, or did we see the impression of things happening? Is content king, or are the public increasingly demanding the sort of stylized ‘war porn’ they see in the movies?

I honestly don’t know, I haven’t got a clue, but it worries me. It worries me because big events now are often reported wrongly, with news channels jumping over each other to deliver ‘news’ first to the extent that important, boring things like fact checking and proper context are overlooked. We saw this with the killings in Norway, where links were immediately made to Islamic terror , and we saw this in Tripoli with false reports of the arrest of Gaddafi’s son.

I’m not sure I like this brave new world – there’s something quite appealing now about slow, long-form, detailed, contextualized reporting. Something created to tell adults what’s going on, rather than keep youngsters glued to their screens. Clarity, over war porn.

But I may be talking complete nonsense – I don’t have enough evidence to pin this down. What I’d love to see is some clever academic types record and evening of rolling coverage of a major breaking story, and figure out what the actual information content provided by each channel is, how much repetition there is, and how much of it later turns out to be wrong.

I don’t know what the results would be, but I bet they would be interesting.
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+Craig Lucas Re: primary evidence, we didn't see much of that from Sky either. The footage was impressive, but it was just one reporter in one crowd, and in fact quite misleading - people assumed from the celebrating crowd that Tripoli had fallen, but other parts of the city still under Gaddafi's control were ignored by all channels. I also think you're hugely downplaying the work of the reporter in the hotel. It was journalists in that hotel who were communicating with Gaddafi's staff, who disproved the false news that his son had been arrested, and who were taken hostage for a time. They were in the fighting, the Sky reporter wasn't.

The points about the need for live reporting I agree with.I disagree though that the time for detailed reporting is in writing - news is useless without explanation.

+Frank Norman That's an interesting question that I hadn't thought of. The Guardian are of course major users (and sometimes abusers!) of the live blog format. It's not perfect, but it provides a coherent narrative of unfolding events without repetition and with links to further context, data and analysis. Of course it's not always either/or - the BBC live blog embeds their news coverage, for example - but live blogs generate a lot of traffic, and clearly they're fulfilling some sort of need (even if its just for office-bound workers who can't watch the telly).

+Bob Rayner The consumer? Pah! They should be forced to consume what's good for them! Seriously though, there's a tension I think between how news ought to be covered, and what people will actually watch and listen to. Part of the criticism of 'chaos cinema' is that it's lazy - directors use it because it's a safe and easy option to take rather than innovating. In practical terms, this is where I think the BBC has value. As a publicly funded broadcaster free of commercial pressures, they should take the lead in trying innovative approaches that keep people interested while maintaining high quality.
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Martin Robbins

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The Mystery of the Haunted Taxi Radio

Last night I took a taxi home from the station.

"What the fuck is this on the radio?" asked the taxi driver.

"I don't know", I replied.

"I didn't put this on!" raged the taxi driver, "it keeps changing station of its own accord!"

I opened my mouth to offer an explanation, but before I could get a word out he continued, telling me that he had the same problem with his TV at home.

"It keeps changing channel", he told me. "It's the mother-in-law what does it."

I was midway into a forced polite chuckle - my usual response to cab drivers ranting in a politically-incorrect way about women or Arabs or whatever - when he added "we've got her ashes by the fireplace. Anything on the telly she don't like, off it goes."

Erk.. I aborted my chuckle into a mild coughing fit. "Oh, I see," I said, cringing.

Cue five minutes of awkward silence, while I tried to work out if it would be polite or not to point out that the coiled cord of his CB radio mouthpiece was wrapped around the frequency dial of the radio...
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Burzynski Clinic Backs Stephens and Will Pursue Bloggers

Just got this follow up for the Burzynski lawyer. As I thought, he was straight with me, but the situation behind the scenes seems very confused. In any case, the below seems pretty clear now... I've not seen the press release, and I'm out of the country s will just post this as is...

"The clinic issued a press release on the blogosphere issue which was sent to your paper.  It covers the relationship between it and Marc Stephens It turns out some of the issues are more complicated that I had first thought. But the bottom line is that the clinic did hire Marc Stephens and one of his main tasks was to stop the dissemination of false and misleading information, and he initiated contact with at least some of these web sites with the knowledge of the clinic. As stated in the press release, the clinic is still going to pursue having these web sites remove misstatements or misleading omissions of fact. For the time being, these bloggers have managed to make this about threats by the Burzynski clinic rather than whether the information on these sites is truthful, accurate and fair. We're hoping that somewhere down the line, the media will focus of these issues."
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Burzynski Lawyer Distances Clinic From Threats to Bloggers

I've just received a response from Rick Jaffe, the real attorney for the Burzynski clinic. Here's a part of it relating to Marc Stephens, the person claiming to represent the clinic who has threatened Rhys Morgan and Andy Lewis, among others:

"On the Marc Stephens thing, that's what I need to look into and see what happened. What I can tell you now is that I believe that he is not a clinic employee but is an independent contractor doing web marketing, the exact scope of which I'm not sure of right now." [...] "I can also tell you that based on my limited current information, no one at the clinic approved of or had advance knowledge that he would be sending a google map picture of a high school kid's house to him."

This is a bit of a late response, but of course it was Thanksgiving weekend in the US. First impression is that it stacks up quite well with what else we know so far, but others with more time will comment I'm sure!

He's promised to find out more and get back to me. I'll blog more on this when I can...
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There is little doubt Rhys emailed the clinic, here is a quote from Rhys' blog:

"Seeing as he’d not bothered to reply to me, I considered reposting the blog as well as an earlier version of this one. First though, I sent an email to the Burzynski Clinic’s corporate email address with a copy of the email thread between Marc Stephens and me, a copy of the original blog and an earlier version of this post. I wanted to know if they considered anything factually incorrect or not.

Dear Sir,

I attach an email (titled Email Thread.pdf) I have received from one Marc Stephens, who claims to represent you. As you can see from the attachment, he states that he represents you, and furthermore threatens me with libel proceedings in respect of material I posted on my blog.

I have carried out some internet research, and I have not been able to establish whether or not Mr. Stephens is a lawyer; certainly he does not appear to be a member of the California Bar nor the Texas Bar in the light of my visit to the California Bar Association’s and the State Bar of Texas’s websites. Please could you confirm for me whether he does in fact represent you and, if he does, on what basis he does represent you.

In the light of Mr. Stephen’s email I attach a copy of an article (titled Burzynski Blog Final.pdf) I propose to post on my blog as well as the original blog post (titled The Burzynski Clinic.pdf) which is currently offline. Please could you tell me within 7 days what, if any, of the blogs you object to, and, in particular, whether you believe any of the blogs to be factually untrue.

Yours faithfully,

Rhys Morgan

This seems to have been then forwarded on to Marc Stephens. He seemed rather irate and replied with this:"

Source: http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/11/threats-from-the-burzynski-clinic
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How the BBC's dark forces of political correctness threaten the Christian era

The BBC haven't banned AD/BC, but outraged Christians seem perplexed and annoyed by the idea of personal choice.
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1. The Daily Mail is, of course, bonkers.

2. The drift towards the use of the CE/BCE terminology is, in fact, a rare example of pure political correctness.

2a. It does nothing to combat religious discrimination.

2b. It has no substantive practical benefit---cf imperial-to-metric changes---indeed, it confuses people not familiar with it.

2c. And it's a change of name without a change of referent---cf the use of words like "challenged" or "person of colour", both of which do the opposite of what they are supposed to do by implying that there is something, literally, unspeakable about being disabled or black, just as CE/BCE implies that there is something unspeakable about the underlying Christian basis of an otherwise arbitrary convention.

(If my dad called me and my sister "people of colour"---as a white poet did of the children he had with his black wife in the Guardian a while back, we'd tell him where to stick it.)

3. Apropos of 2c, the Guardian is also, of course, bonkers.

The back catalogue of anti-Semitic, anti-scientific, tinfoil-hat wearing views expressed by its invited commentators, cartoonists, and readers is well-documented, widely and rightly criticized, and actually sinister. I'm a liberal democratic rationalist socialist who grew up with the paper. Even compared with its infamous previous employment of an agent of an enemy power, I'm disgusted by what it has become.

About the same time as your article appeared on its Website, Martin, another one, suprisingly for the Guardian, advancing the well-founded claim that Gilad Atzmon is an anti-Semite, also popped up. Yesterday evening, the most recommended comments (that hadn't been removed for breaching the site guidelines) were claiming that critics of Israeli foreign policy were being silenced by a media conspiracy.

4. Contrary to the implication of the comment above, it is indeed both true and worth noting that what has happened with the BC/AD convention---yes, I realise there is no ban, merely a wider acceptance of a modish academic shift---would never happen to any corresponding Islamic convention. This isn't just a question of religious sensitivity; it's because a minority of self-described Muslims would use such a change as an excuse to threaten and perpetrate actual violence against civilians.

Perhaps less foul stuff would be written about Jews and Catholics---the Guardian 's treatment of Ruth Kelly when she was a Cabinet Minister, for example, was a disgrace---if some of those faiths' adherents responded in a similar way to public criticism.


I don't have a dog in this fight---I'm an atheist, secularist, and ex-scientist---I just hate sneers aimed at lazy tribalists that are as lazy and tribal as the targets of the sneers.
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- The Nadine Dorries Insult Cavalcade

I thought it would be fun to collect some of Dorries' views on other people from her blog.. feel free to add more in the comments.

I once called Dorries and David Tredinnick 'Dumb and Dumber', so I'm not getting up on my high horse here; but some people try to paint Dorries as a passive victim of personal abuse, and I think it's important to show why that's more than a little bit disingenuous.

- "the incredibly toffy nosed, not of the real world Alice Thompson "

- "You can divide journalists into two groups - those who are attempting to make a name for themselves by being nasty and bitchy about others, women and Peter Oborne do this best..."

- " Alice (Thompson), darling, there comes an age where it's just not ok to wear your hair long and in the style of a sixteen year old and you sweetie, passed it some time ago"

- "...more menacing even than Evan Harris ."

- " Evan Harris, abortion and assisted death zealot"

- "It appears that Camilla Long, Sunday Times journalist, must have a few bats in her own tiny little belfry."

- “I do not regard someone (Sue Cullen) who can strut around, use a keyboard with such dexterity and had displayed both stamina and an excellent attention span to be ‘disabled’."

- "Enter the Barclay brothers .... They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament"

" (Damian) McBride, a self confessed fantasist and liar with standards that could hardly stagger from a gutter to speak at a conference"

- "You (Tim Ireland) have been warned. I will not tolerate anyone else being subjected to your intense, inappropriate, abusive behaviour"

- " Suzanne Moore and Camilla Long both have something in common.. they are far more concerned with promoting their own brand of nasty journalism on the back of and at the cost of something which aims to benefit those much worse off than they are, for the purpose of furthering their own careers."

- " Suzanne Moore Is a Fantasist"

- "if I were to describe him (Frank Branston) as overweight, sweaty, unpleasant, shrill and politically opportune, I would be entirely correct"

- _"once again Kerry (McCarthy), mouth wideopen before brain engaged"

- "should John Bercow become Speaker, I will do my best to make sure that it is the one of the shortest served appointments in the grand, and glorious history of that coveted chair."

- ‘He [Jim Devine] told me I had been present in his dreams the previous night. Quick to blush, I made a very hasty retreat, only to have him follow me,saying exactly what I had been up to in his dreams, in graphic detail.’"

- "I am not happy that, in anger, I stooped to Kerry (McCarthy's) level" - 'apologizing' for the previous allegation against Devine.

Stay classy!
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FYI Hansard version of the Dorries debate for future reference: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtoday/cmdebate/c_03.htm#d2e1654 more pages will appear in time....
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Staying up late ranting about stuff on the interwebs. Shouting at trains. Writing. Speaking. Coding. Problem-solving.
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Writer and talker for The Guardian, Strange Quarks and other places.
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Writer and talker for The Guardian, Strange Quarks and other places. Babble on about pseudoscience, science and politics, that sort of thing.
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Maidenhead