Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Meaning Of 'Words Should Carry Meaning'

A final thought for 2011.

I mulled over why I used this as a title in my recent blog-post about my on-going complaint to the BBC about that programme they aired back in October. I had heard some version of it before elsewhere and I know exactly what it meant. Some googling reveals it is used in high-brow topics on sceptical, science and watchdog blogs, usually the topic being intellectual dishonesty.

Intellectual dishonesty as far as I can define it is when someone is trying to win, dispute or avoid an argument no matter the cost. This is not to be confused with the philosophical dilemma of Truth VS The Greater Good where to avoid harm facts must be withheld. Pictures of prisoners being abused in Abu Ghraib prison by US military personnel were in fairly wide circulation among those in the US media industry months before the story was finally broken to the public. Even the anti-war film-maker Michael Moore admitted he had seen them but didn't seize the opportunity. The reason was simple: this would have inflamed the insurgency and put soldiers not at all involved in the scandal in greater danger.

So in a nutshell: intellectual dishonesty is when that paradigm is taken and 'The Greater Good' means what ever agenda the person trusted to be honest is pursuing instead. The one problem with this is that anyone can accuse anyone of doing this. The BBC is frequently accused of it- too 'Left-wing' apparently, even though the revolutionary but (mostly)law-abiding activist Jodie McIntyre who had been tipped out of his wheelchair by an untrained policeman and dragged across the street with his legs trailing behind was given an interview far more interrogative and hostile than most of the Cabinet Ministers ever have. I don't see that as typically 'Left-wing', I couldn't even say it could be called neutral or non-partisan.

A different definition is given by the blogs I've read, one which doesn't simply describe what intellectual dishonesty looks like but what it actually does. There is it seems a consensus: intellectual dishonesty is ultimately when words have no inherent meaning.

When I first made a complaint about that programme I couldn't accuse the makers of intellectual dishonesty because in all irony; that term itself has been subjected to so much of its own active ingredient that it has become merely an opinion on which people can agree to disagree- the inherent meaning is lost and the accusation would instead be interpreted as bias. What stands out is how callous and careless the makers were with words, which goes for virtually all mainstream media reporting on social security recently and for their eventual response to my complaint. Their primary tool is meaninglessness itself, the reduction of everything into mundane and neutral modes, cliches and 'sides' in a debate. It seems rational that a platform for informing the public would allow them to come to their own conclusions but only after rigorously collecting the facts and arranging them into a clarifying rather than misleading or confusing context. But this is not what many outlets seem to do and unfortunately the BBC has recently been guilty of this: we instead are invited to come to our own conclusions after being bombarded with opinions supported with facts selected to support those opinions. That would be very difficult for news and current affairs outlets to do if words were understood beforehand to have inherent meaning that isn't subject to wider interpretation than that: they would have to choose words that correspond directly with the full evidence available to them or else they are outright lying.

From that programme, I used this claim by John Humphrys as one of my examples:
"So your local doctor no longer has the final say. More stringent tests have been brought in to flush out people claiming on health grounds when they shouldn't be."
I then specifically identified that Humphrys is making a claim that excludes anything other than the present tense in regard to GPs not having 'final say' on IB-ESA awards. He excludes very strongly that doctors did not actually have the final say in the past neither. He has outright claimed that doctors used to simply sign people off and they could then claim Incapacity Benefit. I did not mention it at the time, but for some reason he links this with the 'more stringent tests'. The response of the makers of the programme was a breath-taking assault on the idea that words have meaning, the first part:

"Claims for Incapacity Benefit were ultimately approved or not approved by the DWP..."
Which means therefore that John Humphrys statement was categorically wrong and misled the audience, no 'ifs' or 'buts'. They still try with a 'but':
"...but the weight afforded to a GP's opinion of a patient's state of health and suitability for work was much greater than it now is under ESA."
It might have been, but as usual no source for this new claim is given and it doesn't matter anyway because no explanation is given for why John Humphrys' "your local doctor no longer has the final say" and "claims for Incapacity Benefit were ultimately approved or not approved by the DWP" can both be truthful: they each exclude the other if their words have meaning.

The ideas that are prevalent about welfare reform and benefit claimants survive because intellectual dishonesty has corrupted almost everything. They make a mockery of those investigative heroes who do have to make serious Truth VS The Greater Good decisions, those choices which are genuinely difficult and are made with an expectation that the truth will eventually out anyway and it must be weighed up how much harm can be avoided with the choice to be made in the present.

The decision to make words meaningless is not difficult; cowardice never is.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Case #3: My Complaint Is Elevated To Stage 2

I've just received this e-mail from the BBC complaints department, clarifying for the first time that my complaint is now at stage 2 where it is a concern of the Editorial Complaints Unit.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Case #3: Words Should Carry Meaning

The BBC website has changed recently, including the complaints section. Whilst re-submitting my complaint about the BBC2 programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys for what I think is the fourth time now, I was prompted for my complaint reference number. This generated a pre-written response I guess which was associated with that reference number: for some reason my complaint appears to be classed as 'new homepage is rubbish' because that is what the BBC's database associates my reference number with.

I have submitted yet another complaint and made an e-mail to the Editorial Complaints Unit at the BBC, they are as follows-

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Case #4: The Rationale Of Maria Miller

This can't wait until I've had a few hours sleep.

Today our most magnificent Minister for Disabled People has this letter printed in the Independent in response to an article from yesterday which accidentally reported 95% accurate facts but speculated on the relevant date. She goes:

"The figures you quoted about 200,000 disabled children missing out on DLA top-ups from next April are incorrect (report, 12 December). There are no changes to DLA in April which would cause this to happen.At present the system of disability support is a tangled mess of elements, premiums and add-ons which fail to target support to those most in need, is highly prone to error and baffling for disabled people themselves.Our reforms will create a simpler and fairer system. More importantly there will be no cash losers at the point of transition to Universal Credit, and disabled adults in greatest need and some disabled children will actually receive more support than now.
Maria Miller
Minister for Disabled People, Department for Work and Pensions"
The figures are correct. Their reporting of the matter is accurate. Maria Miller thinks that just because they speculate about these changes coming in April (which may even turn out to be accurate) then that means she can claim the figures are wrong. She then kicks up the usual dust with the 'targeting most in need' canard where those most in need can mean anything. Miller certainly never specifies who that is and it's the major reason why many disabled people are filled with dread; we just don't know who will win the Coalition's deserving poor lottery. Miller knows exactly what she's doing, so she isn't a bullshitter but an outright liar, again. She's stopped being careful now because it's almost impossible to stop the Welfare Reform Bill at this point.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Case #3: Interns Should Not Argue With Autistics

The BBC finally sent me the following response to my complaint, which given the length of time it has taken them to 'research' and get back to me compared to how long it took me to research and get back to them, makes me wonder why I am jobless and people like this are not. Unless this is an unpaid and untrained clueless intern.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Case #1: I'd Be A Conservative If I Ever Met One

There are many different estimates for how much unpaid carers save the country each year; some include those receiving benefits, some exclude them and some only count them. A report this year produced the figure of £119 billion.

This is relevant because Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit have always been cost-saving: they enable individuals to live either on their own or with their families and carers rather than residential care, which was and is extremely expensive. Many of the people with fairly serious illnesses and disabilities do not even have carers and are saving even more money by being their own carers, enabled by DLA and IB/ESA. Take those benefits away and those people will find it much harder to look after themselves or be looked after by friends and family(it is a fact-free, insidious myth that people depend on the state as a substitute for family when the truth is that their resources are squeezed and they need support).

There will either be a humanitarian crisis, or the budgets for social and NHS care would have to be vastly expanded beyond what the DWP saves in order to pick up the pieces. You can not cut budgets for basic human needs, only shift the balance from one budget to another; someone must pay. The only question is who can afford what and how much?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Case #1: The BBC Whitewashes The Record

I made my first complaint about the BBC2 programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys the day after it was broadcast, as did many others- Friday the 28th of October. I think the majority of complaints for this programme were made that weekend. Unusually, it has taken an excessive amount of time for the BBC to publish their report of all complaints made for that month; usually they publish these reports for each month quite quickly. You can see that the report for January was published in February and the report for September was published in October. The whole schedule follows that pattern except for the report for October...which has just been published, on December 7th.

It is possible that the majority of complaints for TFSOWWJH were processed just at the start of November and therefore it will be subject to the November report, which could take also take an unusual span of time to come out. But the fact that the report for October was delayed by so much and makes absolutely no acknowledgement of the complaints received about John Humphrys' programme, combined with the BBC complaints unit continuing to stall in a proper response to my complaint about the lack of factual rigour in the programme, they are trying to bury the issue.

I keep reading through the transcript I made and each time I'm made more certain that no effort was made for factual accuracy, the programme lacks merit as a 'factual' programme and warrants an unprecedented full-retraction. I will pursue my complaint as far as it can go. In the meantime I'll be breaking my rebuttal of the programme into chunks as blog-posts. This will keep the block active whilst I plough on with this project. There's lots of other stuff I want to write about but this issue right now takes priority because a public service broadcaster should not behave like this, one of Britain's most respected and foremost critical TV journalists should not behave like this and those responsible for handling complaints should most certainly not behave like this.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Fluff: Keep An Eye On The Price Of Oreos

When Kraft bought Cadburys a while back, three things were obvious.

1. UK jobs would be lost.
2. Kraft would make promises not to make redundancies and close factories.
3. They would break every single one of those promises five minutes later, which they did.

It continues with Kraft just announcing they're cutting 200 jobs, which is bad news. But it is bad news in a 'good news sandwich' where the bad is announced in between two items of good news. The good news being that they are investing more money in improving stuff like productivity, energy efficiency, reduce waste and some other corporate-speak gibberish to convince us they are aliens. I'm not sure how productivity is increased by cutting staff numbers, unless they make the remaining payroll work more or they change the Cadburys recipes and methods and make them naff.

But the other bit of good news is this: Oreos will be made in Britain for the first time. The ones you've seen so far have been imported from somewhere, adding an extra cost. A packet cost 89p before the recession but now range from 99p to 119p. I expect that without the import costs, the price should come down once shops start stocking UK-made Oreos. But what are the chances? Will Kraft gobble up the savings for themselves or pass them on to Oreo munchers?

I'm going to make a prediction: yes. The price of Oreos will not go down at all and may even go up. Oreos will demonstrate why 'trickle down' economics do not work.