Archive for April, 2010

Because you can never have enough dirty dark D&B…


When thinking of the music genre Drum & Bass, one of the last things that springs to mind is Marilyn Manson. But then it has also been said that the proverbial and ubiquitous ‘you’ can find anything on YouTube…

I found this in the list of suggestions while watching the Jason Nevins FFVII-AC remix of N.E.R.D.’s Rock Star. The original tune is Marilyn Manson’s theme tune for the Resident Evil films. The Drum N’ Bass remixer is sadly unnamed, but the video can be found on this channel. I think this video may have been the reason I ended up watching the films.

And because you can never have enough dirty dark music of any genre, here’s the N.E.R.D. Rock Star remix too :):-

Have a nice day :):-

Does language make humans different from other animals? [short version]


Up for consideration this time is the extent to which language makes the human species distinct from other species of animal.  It is worth noting that animal communication is most frequently referred to as such: communication. Most research has used the terms animal communication and human language, which suggests from the outset of researching this question a previously established difference between species’ modes of communicative interaction. But are our forms of communication actually all that different from those of other animals? The main difference seems to be regarding the use in language of speech and ‘conventional symbols,’ which surely, albeit perhaps under different guises, is necessary for the exchanges in any communication.

Aitchison (1983) specified that four [of ten] criteria were particular to the human species: displacement, semanticity, structure dependence and creativity. These four criteria, in summary, indicate that humans are capable of talking about things, people and instances, true or false, outside of the here-and-now spatial and temporal environment by using a formalized, abstract set of words, symbols and intonations each of which can have many different meanings when used within different contexts and between different individuals.

As our closest relations, a lot of research into animal language has been using apes. One of the more noted of these studies was conducted by Savage-Rumbaugh who taught a Bonobo chimpanzee, ‘Kanzi’, to use a form of sign language.

The aspect that is arguably the defining feature of human communication is the quality of its semanticity/meaning, but perhaps it is the plethora of social contexts within which we use language that truly distinguishes human and animal communication,  for example, ‘what shall I wear to my interview?’ This sentence alone contains sociological features that would not occur in animal worlds i.e. clothing and employment.

So human language’s complexity does seem to be the distinguishing factor between human and non-human animals. However it is worth bearing mind that the precursor to this distinguisher was and is in fact perhaps routed not in the cognitive capacities of our species, but in the anatomical speech restrictions, as selected [or not] for through the course of evolution, of other species and therefore it is not just language, per se, that is the crux of this distinction. If amount of communication material available to different species were measured against their communicative levels and all results standardized, perhaps the actual distinction between human and non-human animals would be less apparently extreme.

The full version of this post can be found here.

Who to vote for in the UK 2010 election


With both the main parties becoming ever more centrist and populist, it’s understandably quite hard to choose who to vote for, particularly if you’ve never voted before or, like me, never paid politics much attention because you find it boring and regard voting as a waste of time because it makes little difference anyway (in other words, no matter who you vote for, the lower & working classes get screwed. This is certainly not relevant to everyone or even everyone I know, but it is relevant to me).

Or so I though until recently. But think: if everyone who thought that their vote makes no difference) or that we are powerless in the face of governmental control) voted, then it is likely that a difference could in fact be made. Just as if all the people who would vote Liberal Democrat if they stood a fart’s chance in hell actually voted Liberal, they may actually get in.

So what to do if you have no clue who to vote for because you think they’re all scheming corrupt bastards out for their own gain, but do want the right to be able to bitch about them for the next four years? The answer is this…

Take the survey on voteforpolicy.org.uk. This website presents you with the six policies of the six major parties (Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UK Independence Party, British National Party) that relate to nine areas (crime, democracy, economy, education, environment, Europe, immigration, health/NHS, welfare) without telling you which party you are actually selecting.

In theory this is great because it removes the temptation to:

  • not vote for Gordon Brown/Labour because of his negative press and because the ‘workers’ party’ hasn’t done much for us workers lately or because they are an ‘anti-intellectual’ party.
  • not vote for David Cameron/Conservatives because the Tories are an “old [rich] boys’ club” whose main position besides being pro- the middle and upper classes is opposing Labour regardless of their stance. Incidentally, ‘conserving’ is the opposite of ‘change’ and change is inevitable.
  • not know whether to vote for New Labour or New Conservatives because their policies are designed to be popular and win votes, not to fulfill the political ideology that a lot of people feel we should be voting for (and that were apparent in Old Labour and Old Conservative).
  • not vote for Nick Clegg/LibDems because they never get in anyway
  • not to vote for the Green Party because they’d save the country/planet at the cost of everything else, e.g. the economy.

The results of this survey can be very surprising, even if you think you know what your allegiances are.[Mine came up as 11.11% each for three parties and 22.22% each for the other three, leaving me to fall back on inexpert theories such as: I can’t vote Tory because they’re too backward, I can’t vote Labour because they made a pig’s ear of it this time etc…

Anyway, voteforpolicy.org has a running total of the votes on its home page, the results of which are below, if you’re interested. At the time of writing there were 128,302 completed surveys yielding the following results:

Parties
  1. Green Party     27.62%
  2. Lib Dems     18.01%
  3. Labour     17.42%
  4. Conservatives     16.45%
  5. UKIP     10.82%
  6. BNP     9.69%

Parties & Policies [top 3 of the current leaders only]

Crime: Green Party 31.89%, Conservatives 21.21%, BNP 16.73%

Democracy Lib Dems 28.21%, Green Party 27.78%, Labour 25.40%

Economy: Lib Dems 28.80%, Green Party 23.00%, Labour 16.52%

Education: Green Party 35.68%, Conservatives 24.53%, Lib Dems 17.63%

Environment: Green Party 33.91%, Lib Dems 18.27%, UKIP 14.44%

Europe: Labour 24.80%, Green Party 23.59%, Lib Dems 17.52%

Health / NHS: Green Party 27.12%, Labour 19.43%, BNP17.76%

Immigration: Labour 20.09%, Green Party 19.92%, Conservatives 18.74%

Welfare: Green Party 23.48%, Labour 19.78%, UKIP 16.17%

* The text is coloured here to enable at-a-glance summaries.

Power ≠ exemption: arrest the Pope (& the corrupt politicians)


Power should ≠ (not equal) exemption, but overall it appears it does. I read an interesting article on the Huffington Post yesterday which lead with this:

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, two of the world’s most prominent atheist intellectuals, are seeking means to try the pope for crimes against humanity.

Sounds appealing and ‘just’, right? After all, the pontiff has been reported as heavily involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. In lay terms that would be aiding and abetting, a serious offence. The Pope, however, seems immune on the grounds that he is a head of state. Heads of state cannot be tried for crimes? Call me sceptical/uninformed, but that seems a bit bent.

Intellectuals Dawkins and Hitchens, both ardent atheists, evidently feel the same and are attempting to do something about it. Hitchens is quoted as saying:

“This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.”

But as a fellow student, Craig Spence, noted:

[It’s] never going to happen, can you imagine the uproar it would cause in mainland Europe? particularly Italy, not to mention all the so called “Irish Catholics” in the states. What the UK should do is ban him from entering the country, make it clear that we don’t agree with his conduct.

Now, I like that idea, but I am holding out hope that he gets arrested — it might give my faith in ‘justice’ a much needed pep. In truth, however, I seriously doubt either action will be taken. There’s too much pressure on the government as it is and in the run up to elections I very much doubt that the government is going to alienate all the Catholic voters. Convenient timing really.

The point is this: conduct such as his (and that of other priests) should not remain unpunished and he should not be exempt just because he’s the Pope, just as politicians should not be exempt from fraud charges over the expense scandal. In any other business, theft on such a scale would have had serious repercussions.

People in positions of power should be as culpable as anyone else.

Does accent matter? [short version]


Martha’s Vineyard

The question [does accent matter?] can be taken in a number of different ways:

  • Who does it matter to; the listener or the speaker?
  • Does it have an impact on the intelligibility of the message?
  • Does it have an impact on the perceived credence or status of the speaker?

This essay, citing an international study from New Zealand and inter-regional studies from America and Italy, will conclude that across the world, accent —or the sociolinguistic cues imbued in them—does matter.

First then, does accent matter to the listener only or also to the speaker? Labov [1963] and more recently Cavanaugh [2003] have clearly demonstrated that it matters a great deal to both.

Cavanaugh’s study enlarging on Goffman [1974], conceived of accents ‘as the phonological representations of sociogeographical characterological figures’ [p.127] According to Cavanaugh, for all Italians, accent is very important because they perceive it as representing not only geography, socio-economic status and education, but also such things as friendliness, trustworthiness and authoritativeness [Galli de’ Paratesi, 1997, 1985, cited in Cavanaugh, p.133].

Vornik, Sharman and Garry did an experiment in New Zealand to see if the accent of people supplying post event information [PEI] would have an impact on the misinformation effect. The results showed that while accent does not per se affect the misinformation effect, it operates as ‘a vehicle for information about the power and social attractiveness of the speaker’ and this information was strong enough to influence the misinformation effect. [Vornik, Sharman and Garry, 2003, p.106].

In conclusion, does accent matter?  It has been shown on numerous occasions in the local, national and international arenas that it has a bearing on how we perceive not only others around us but also how we perceive ourselves. It is and can be used as a reflection and a projection of who we are, where we come from and of our social status —and what, should we be linguistically adept to do so, we want others to think about us— and can even infer details about our geographical landscapes as well as our sociogeographical, socio-economic cultures. We can use accents to influence the way others see and remember events and the confidence with which they make judgments when supported by the social attractiveness, power and authoritativeness of certain accents.

In short, yes, accent does matter.

The full version of this essay can be found here.

EDIT May 6th 2013: For examples of how accent if used in the media to convey different characteristics, backgrounds and classes, see the following article on Game of Thrones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video: ‘Resident Evil – Afterlife’ trailer


As zombie films go, it would be fair to say that the blood & guts count in the RE films is low to nonexistent. Though certainly worth the time spent watching them, the first film (2002, written and directed by Paul Anderson) was more slick than scary and Apocalypse (2004, w: Paul Anderson, dir: Alexander Witt) was more than a little cheesy. However,  Extinction (2007, w: Paul Anderson, dir: Russell Mulcahy) went quite some way to redeeming the film endeavours and was the largest grossing of the three films, reaping $147,717,833.

Resident Evil – Afterlife is again written and directed by Paul Anderson, but this film has something more to offer than just zombies, ass-kicking and killer scenery. This film will be doing it in 3D. The plot follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she attempts to free a group of people trapped in an LA prison that is  surrounded by zombies. Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) is one of the potential rescuees. Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) also returns to aid Alice in her fight against the Umbrella Corporation.

From the sneaks, peeks and leaks so far, it looks like it’s going to be awesome, but what remains to be seen in September when it hits cinemas (in the States at least) is whether they’ve produced a great movie or just a great 3D movie. The trailer for the fourth installment was premiered in San Francisco on April 2nd 2010 and looked (albeit here only in 2D) like this:

The “worthless” demographic: beggars, buskers, Big Issue sellers and students


I recently read an Independent article regarding the homelessness problem in Bournemouth. The article itself is dated 1994, but the issues raised in it are ever current and, according to the Council’s reports, on the rise. The article, however, is written in a biased and inflammatory manner and carefully omits certain things. For example, when describing the increased incidence of hotels having to take in people receiving social security and housing benefits, the article doesn’t elaborate on the two such hotel guests who didn’t live like pigs or become violent,

Former guesthouse landlady Janet: ‘I was facing having the place repossessed. I took in four, just to tide me over. Two of them lived like pigs, not like people. The place was filthy, windows and furniture were broken. They were always drunk. Then they stopped paying regularly. I went in to get my money and one of them just hit me across the face. I had to call the police to get them out.’

Yet the article does include the vitriolic bile of people who choose to throw university students in with smack addicts as a demographic.

‘We don’t want any of them,’ said one tight-lipped elderly resident. ‘Not the scroungers, and not the students – they’ll only go on the dole themselves when they finish their courses. Bournemouth is marvellous – but it needs to be saved from all these layabouts.’

Not all students are lazy, nor are all homeless people scroungers. This particular tight-lipped elderly resident may speak for many, but certainly not for everyone. By the same token it could be said that all elderly people are crabby, pessimistic, resistant to change, hating of young people and ensnared in the haze of bygone ‘golden years’. Also not true.

Golden years are those in the past that people prefer to see through rose-tinted glasses, not that were particularly any better as a matter of fact, e.g. Jack the Ripper was murdering people when the streets were still lit by gas lamps and the first half of the 20th century was riddled with wars. Yet these eras were no doubt viewed by many nostalgics as ‘golden days’.

It’s a mater of perception. Mine is that there were/are no golden days, only recollections with the gristle and grime omitted or the viewpoints of sheltered, cotton wool-wrapped individuals who haven’t seen enough of the real world to be able to offer a balanced view.

But I digress…

The point is: do the exceptions prove the rule when it comes to lazy students and drug-taking homeless people?

The following is a truncated version of a feature article I wrote for my degree concerning homelessness [‘lazy’ students is another issue].

###

Thirteen years ago I held a steak-knife to a man’s throat. I told him to leave me alone to sleep. Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed, but neither was I. He had somewhere to stay. It was nearly October, it was cold and I was about to sleep on the beach. I had a car blanket, he’d had other ideas. He left issuing threats, but fortunately I didn’t see him again.

There are many myths and assumptions regarding homeless people, some of which possess an element of truth and others that do not. I spoke to Jo, Dave and Pepsi about their experiences of homelessness and it is their words with which I hope to elucidate some of the notions surrounding what is becoming an ever more prevalent aspect of life in ‘sunny’ Bournemouth.

Myth 1: Homeless people will disappear if you ignore them

People avoid the homeless for several reasons, such as them being ‘dirty’ or wariness of ‘catching something ‘. It is possible to be clean when homeless, but it’s a catch-22 situation. The public expects a certain appearance of homeless people, otherwise they question or disbelieve that they are homeless at all. Being unwashed, unshaven and wearing stereotypically travelleresque garb is part of this expected image. Clean shirts and white trainers are a no-no. The worse I dressed, the more (Big) Issues I sold and I know others, including Jo, Dave and Pepsi, have found the same. The public wants scruff, but when it gets it, it recoils.

Myth 2: All homeless people are junkies, crack addicts or alcoholics

Some of the homeless who are addicted to hard drugs such as heroin, crack and alcohol often seem ‘out of it’, are ruder, pushier and sometimes abusive when asking for money. It is this kind of behaviour that gets noticed, not the quiet, polite people just trying to scrape their next meal together. This behaviour doesn’t just extend to the public either. There’s a rule on the street: Don’t beg off a beggar. It’s etiquette. The few people that breach it tend to be the ones who are quite far along the path of addiction. It’s important to point out that —though there are an awful lot of addicts who are homeless— many homeless people do not even use drugs. moreover, stereotyping to the contrary leads to a lot of negative and abusive behaviour towards them.

Myth 3: It’s their own fault homeless people are on the street

This blanket assumption is what psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error, which, put simply, means that we attribute our own errors to external factors others’ errors to internal factors. It’s never our fault, but it is theirs.

Granted, with some people it is; for Jo her relationship with her parents became irreconcilable as a result of “teenage stupidity and stubbornness” and there are people who get into drugs and lose their homes for not paying the rent, but since the recession —and before that when industrial and unskilled work started being outsourced abroad—  jobs have been evaporating. [Not to mention the people whose home life is abusive and they have no where left to turn]. This leads to a vicious circle: no job = no address, no address = no job. It’s worth remembering that next time you hear someone shout ‘get a job’ at busker, beggar or Big Issue seller.

This is another point of contention. Selling the Big Issue is not begging. A product, bought at wholesale price, is being retailed. There is an exchange. Indeed, standing on the high street prey to people’s contemptuous, pitying looks and occasional abuse is not an easy job. Being a Big Issue seller can make you a sitting duck. They know where to find you and they know that no one is going to come looking for you. The murder of Westbourne vendor Ralph Millward last year is testament to that.

Some people, however, choose homelessness. Pepsi and her boyfriend have been vending the Issue for a couple of years in Bournemouth centre. She said, “I did get a flat a while ago, but I felt trapped in, so I left. I like the open air and I earn my own way selling this so I don’t see the problem.” Life on the street is different for everyone, it can be both unbearable and enjoyable and often alternates between the two.

Myth 4: Homeless people are lost causes

Sometimes this is true. A man on the street at the same time as me, Zeb, had collapsed most of the veins in his body through injecting heroin into them and had resorted to his jugular, which is, in the long-term, fatal. Zeb hasn’t been seen for years, but his companion has. Thirteen years later he is still begging, still lying and still hooked.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way, not for everyone. I was on the street for eight months, Jo for six. I built a career in retail before going to university, Jo has been a happy employee of the post office depot for nine years. A man I knew, Mac, was on the street for years selling the Issue between Bournemouth and Ebbw Vale (in Wales) and is now the manager of a fishing shop. There are success stories from the street.

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