Voluntary Problems…

9 12 2010

I’ve been blogging less and less frequently recently, largely due to work, but also due to an increase in general apathy with the news. It isn’t that I’m not interested, it’s more that I see no need to write about it, especially when an old friend of mine is writing things much more eloquently over on the Paperback Rioter.

However, I do finally wish to end my blogging hiatus by writing about a growing problem for aspiring professionals such as myself. The problem is simple: volunteers.

Now I volunteer once a week at my local archives with the goal of gaining valuable experience which will benefit me in the long term. I have been doing this for 18 months or so and have picked up lots about how archives are run and what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. I have contributed to various projects during my time there and am being given larger projects to contribute to. Which is good for me.

However, the very large, and very frustrating catch-22 which has been created is that The Society of Archivists actively encourage volunteers. Of course, the advantage that this gives individual archives is that they have an unpaid work-source doing jobs which ought to be done by those employed within the profession. Volunteers sustain the archives. As a consequence therefore, the archives are then not going to employ somebody if they can have (such as in my case) at least four volunteers coming in and regularly completing tasks. The role of the volunteer is a huge, and still growing, one.

Volunteers pick up the slack somewhat, willingly completing the mind-numbingly boring tasks which the archivists and assistant archivists do not do. We do this because we think that this is giving us ‘valuable’ experience. I’m no longer sure. Do employers really want someone who can simply transcribe names from a census into a digital spreadsheet, for instance? It isn’t exactly hard, even allowing for some of the writing. It tells prospective employers nothing about my ability to do anything more than mundane tasks, which, lets be honest, monkeys with typewriters could do.

By actively encouraging volunteers though, the Society of Archivists is narrowing down an already small market into something almost impossibly hard to get into. There is a list on their website with various archiving institutions nationwide on. Last year this list included information about which institutions would take on trainees, apprentices and the like, in paid roles. This year the list has shrunk, and, by and large, details places which accept volunteers. The number of apprentice or trainee opportunities has fallen dramatically, a consequence, perhaps of the recession; but more likely, of the realisation that volunteers can maintain the industry whilst archives can get away with employing only a skeleton staff.

Tightening the belt, yes, I get, but pretty much blocking access to the sector? Really? For an industry concerned with maintenance for the future, this approach seems to have very obvious, and very negative consequences. This problem came to a head recently as I was invited to apply for a post with the local council by my archives on the back of my volunteering. When I asked for more information about the post, I was then told that I could not apply because I had a degree and was already employed. I do have a degree. It is in history, not archiving. I am employed, although officially not full-time, and in a minimum wage retail job, taken out of necessity. This meant I could not apply for the post, which sounded like a great practical opportunity.

So, I have to continue volunteering because my applications for jobs tend to get met with the response “lacks experience”. Through volunteering I am able to gain some experience, but I am also a free labour source for the archives, and therefore am providing them with no real incentive to create opportunities for young people to get into the sector. And those opportunities they do create I am not allowed to apply for because I already have a job. In something completely not related to archiving.

The system is broken by volunteers, but it is also sustained. The authorities need to work out a happier balance to this problem, or face being short of staff because it is simply too hard to get into the profession in future years. Of course they won’t solve this problem, and there will be consequences. It’ll be ok though, because volunteers will shoulder the burden of sustaining an incredibly detailed and complex profession.


Tackling the Issue…

8 10 2010

Now that I have some free time on my hands again, I am hoping to resume blogging more frequently. Anyway, there is an ongoing issue which I wish to pass comment on.

The issue is tackling in football. The problem has been highlighted by two offenders in the past week, Nigel De Jong and Karl Henry. Everyone seems to be having their say on the issue, from Danny Murphy to FIFA. This, of course, isn’t the first time the problem has been raised, Arsene Wenger is constantly moaning about the tackles on his players (Eduardo and Ramsey for instance).

There are various issues to consider though, and the condemnation of certain individuals is, in some instances, completely deserved, but in others, completely wrong. Let me explain. Karl Henry, the Wolves captain, has, in his career, received two red cards. The second was last weekend following a bad lunge on Jordi Gomez. Of course, this has come quickly on the back of a rough match against Newcastle (of which more will be said shortly) and breaking Bobby Zamora’s leg in an innocuous tackle. It has become convenient in the media to portray Wolves as a ‘dirty’ team, with Henry chief amongst their offenders. However, lets look at the case for Henry. Ok, so there can be little argument about the red card last weekend. It was a bad, unnecessary tackle which fully deserved a red card. However, the ‘rough’ tactics dished out on Joey Barton and Newcastle? Please. The statistics will tell you that Newcastle actually committed more fouls than Wolves did in the match, and the media circus will tell you that the criticism was generated by an Alan Shearer (formerly of Newcastle) piece on Match of the Day. Is it any surprise to see that Mr Shearer picked up on tackles against his Newcastle team? I think not. Indeed, I remember Shearer as many things, but I cannot, however hard I try, remember him as a ‘squeaky-clean’ player. He liked to rough things up as much as anyone. He was just clever enough to get away with it.

With regard the Bobby Zamora incident, there is little to be said about it, and it should not reflect upon Karl Henry at all. It was a completely innocuous challenge, and indeed, a perfectly fair one, which unfortunately happened to break Zamora’s leg. Indeed, if we compare this tackle with Steve Sidwell’s on Adlene Guedioura, which broke the Wolves midfielder’s leg and received no media attention at all, then we see that Henry and Wolves have been victimised to some degree.

For me, Karl Henry, whilst deserving to get sent off last weekend, has had a tough rap in the opening months of this season. Nigel De Jong however, hasn’t. He wasn’t even booked for his lunge on Hatem Ben Arfa last weekend. He was only booked for his chest high assault on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final. Both warranted red cards. Neither got them. Apparently, Nigel De Jong has never been sent off in his career. Which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. De Jong has a reputation within football, Bert Van Marwijk has spotted this and quickly dropped him from the Dutch national team. He is a much dirtier player than his rap sheet suggests.

Herein lies the crux of the problem. Referees have a tough time ascertaining ‘tackles’ from ‘bad tackles’ from ‘violent conduct’ from ‘simulation’. Sometimes in football, accidents genuinely do happen. Witness Ryan Shawcross’ response to the sight of Aaron Ramsey crumpled in a heap with his leg in tatters for proof that things can happen which are part and parcel of football. Similarly, the Zamora incident was a complete accident, in which two committed professionals were fighting for the ball.

I have read various things about this problem with tackling, and, for me, Danny Murphy’s assessment is the worst. His accusation that the players are extensions of their managers is non-sensical. He claims that “If you have a manager like Roy Hodgson in charge you don’t get discipline problems”, with the implication being that more sedate managers are the ones who have fewer discipline problems, conveniently forgetting that it was the same Roy Hodgson who saw Joe Cole sent off early into his competitive Liverpool debut. Wolves, along with Stoke and Blackburn, represent the no-nonsense approach of their respective managers. Murphy therefore has the misfortune of implying that Messrs McCarthy, Pulis and Alladyce actually have some sort of innate desire to see their players flying recklessly into tackles and injuring other professionals. Which is of course rubbish. Murphy also suggests that the players get too pumped up before the match, and let off this enthusiasm on the pitch. I’d like to meet a professional footballer who isn’t pumped up before playing a match, and then I’d like to ask him why he isn’t pumped up. As a fan, using the notion of ‘being pumped up’ as a criticism seems odd, indeed, I want my team to be pumped up and prepared for the match, because in any form of football, you know that if you aren’t pumped up then your opponent will be.

Another argument I have seen in the comments to this damning piece on Henry, suggests that the English game is full of players who are competitive and committed, rather than being skilful and technically able. There is, I feel, a degree of truth in this argument, but I see no reason why this should be the case. Steven Gerrard, as with so many things, is a case in point. He is as skilful and able as any other player in the world, but also knows how to tackle, and also should have been dismissed for an errant elbow last weekend. He is an all round player who can do the ‘dirty’ stuff too. Tackling, let us not forget, is part and parcel of football. Indeed, even the wonderful Spain team know how to tackle, with the likes of Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta all capable of mixing it up. You cannot, after all, become world and European champions simply by playing pretty football.

We cannot outlaw tackling, and indeed, we should not outlaw tackling. Every professional knows that there is an element of risk involved in playing football. Injuries occur, whether via another player or otherwise. Everybody knows this. The trouble is that as long as there are bad tackles made there is always going to be a call for change. The hypocrisy is that those leading the calls for change are the ones who also insist that it is a physical game and that tackling is part and parcel of what the viewing public pay to see. There is not much which really needs to change. Yes, the referees could use more help, especially for the cases they miss, but this is a wider, technological issue. What really needs to change is the media’s response to the issue. This is the one thing that football authorities cannot change. This is the one thing which perhaps needs to the most.

Double Faced issues…

25 09 2010

When The Dark Knight was released, some two years ago now, I had a problem with it after my first viewing.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good film, and is now one of the more watched DVD’s in my admittedly small collection. However, I still have a problem with it. Not so much the entire film as the last quarter of an hour or so tagged onto the end. I blogged briefly about this back at the end of 2008. It was a small gripe, but one which, for me, spoils the film.

Two-face is a complex and under-appreciated Batman villain. He is one of the more complex Batman villains conflicted by various factors to the point where making a simple judgement is left up to fate. He was deserving of a film to himself. And yet they tagged his story onto the end of the fabulous Joker one.

Of course, past experience probably counted for a lot, and Tommy Lee Jones’ turn as the epitome of a split persona in Batman Forever perhaps convinced the writers of the ‘new’ Batman movies that Two-face was not a character who warranted development. They were wrong. The origins of Two-face in The Dark Knight are to be applauded. We are given a monster who is driven by absolute anguish to avenge the death of the woman he loved. This character not only looks the part, his story is one which tells of a fall from grace into the world he tried to destroy. All for the love of a woman who didn’t love him. The potential for Two-face was huge. And yet the writers killed him in a story which seemed to be tagged onto the end of The Dark Knight, ruining, for me, what was, otherwise a great movie.

My preference for the story of Two-face would have seen him developed in the next movie. A man blinded by rage but restricted by chance is one which I would have looked forward to receiving. The more interesting point is that Two-face, unlike the Joker, and other villains, is not motivated by unveiling Batman. If we run with the story begun in The Dark Knight, Two-face is motivated by revenge, he doesn’t want to see Batman unmasked, he actually wants him dead. A plot based around this, supported by another villain (although I would be reluctant to pair it with the rumoured appearance of the Riddler again as it would draw unnecessary comparisons with the aforementioned Batman Forever).

The long and short of it is that there was something of a contrived ending which wound up explaining to the audience why the movie was called The Dark Knight. This was, I thought, pretty self explanatory from the movie, without the ending spelling it out for me (“Why’s he running dad?”…). We didn’t need the piece with Two-face and his ultimate demise. It was, I felt, something of a cop-out, and spoiled the end of the film for me.

I am, however, still looking forward to the next movie, which if Christopher Nolan is to be believed, is to be the last under his stewardship. This is a pity, and I hope they do not spend the entire movie being preachy about right and wrong, good and evil etc etc etc. The pity is that Two-face will not be a part of the ending.

Original Sin…

12 09 2010

I feel I should mourn. It is, after all, the end of an era. A moments silence would suffice.

Despite this, I am not in the mood for misery. I am, instead, celebrating. It is, after all, the end of an era.

In case you missed it, Big Brother finished on Friday. The ten-year televisual travesty has finally come to an end, thus freeing up hours of programming time for something, nay, anything else. I don’t know how long it took for my hatred of this programme to develop, I do remember being slightly interested when the first series launched as a social experiment.  I remember being less interested the second time round. By series four I was lost, I had no interest in the increasingly freakish bunch who had been thrown into a confined space in the name of entertainment.

It was not just Big Brother though. It was what it did to television and, by extension, society. It became representative of an increasingly dumbed-down society, one which immersed itself in the culture of celebrity, embraced the world of It-girls, talent shows, z-list stars, cheap magazines filled with gossip columns written by people with little talent for researching and writing any other form of story. Big Brother, in my mind, epitomised everything that was wrong with British society.

There’s more than that though. It effectively spawned reality television as a genre. It paved the way for Pop Idol, X Factor, I’m a Celebrity…, Strictly Come Dancing, Hole in the Wall et al. It suddenly gave television producers a way out. They didn’t need to think about their programmes, or their programming. They could suddenly block out entire hours of television with no-brainer programmes. They didn’t need to pour money into intellectual programmes, into new dramas, into home-grown talents. The schedules became clogged up with ‘reality’-this, or ‘celebrity’-that. Alongside this, of course, Big Brother rolled on. If it wasn’t on in the summer, it was in the winter with a celebrity version.

It ‘launched’ the careers of nobodies, it gave people about whom we would otherwise not care, exposure beyond their wildest dreams, and their wildest abilities. There is no reason why we should care about what eccentricities people come up with whilst stuck in a house. Yet people did care, and kept tuning in. Why? What was so enthralling about odd people in an entirely odd situation acting odd? I still don’t know. In my mind, it’s the same as watching a bunch of prisoners in jail, and I have no compunction to do that.

In a similar way, why should I then want to read about these people once they have stopped fouling up my television set? The amount of tabloid inches, webpage columns, and radio interviews which occurred with the departed cretin was quite frankly ridiculous. People shouldn’t care about what a nobody thrust into the public concious think about their time stuck with other nobodies. Yet they did. And I’m still struggling to explain it.

Of course, what we are now left with is hope. Now that the original sin has gone there is hope that some others may follow suit. We can but hope that the likes of X-Factor, Come Dine With Me, Strictly et al will go the way of the Brother. We can but hope.


5 09 2010

I don’t know how old I was when I stopped believing in a god. I’m not even sure it was any form of concious decision on my part not to believe, more of a sub-concious overtaking founded by an almost innate desire for rationality. Try as I might, I cannot marry together the two notions of science and religion, I just can’t. At this point, it is perhaps best to admit that I really don’t know what I’m going to write. The debate, fuelled spectacularly by Stephen Hawking’s apparent rejection of the notion of a god, is one to which there is obviously no right or wrong answer. There cannot ever be. No-one will successfully prove or disprove the existence of a deity, thus for a large part the argument is trivial to the extreme.

I just don’t believe. I have nothing against people who do, but I simply don’t. I do have various views on some elements of religion however, such as the long-held belief that religion causes more problems than it solves (the Middle east is the classic example of age-old religious problems, but throughout history nearly every conflict has been, to some extent or other fuelled by religious intolerance). I also cannot shake the nagging thought that religion was initially conceived as a tool of the rich to control the poor (again, for me the Bible is prime evidence of this, written as it was by educated people for rich people). If we couple these thoughts with the notion that somewhere beyond time and space there is a deity sitting/standing/lying/existing somewhere then it becomes clearer to me why I do not believe in a god.

There is a more fundamental problem too. What does this ‘god’ look like? Most stereotypical images have an elderly man in a white robe with white beard. Yet it is a typically human trait to imagine things in our form. Take the idea of aliens for example, practically all film/television aliens have easily identifiable human features, eyes, mouth, legs or arms. They are there to provide familiarity to the viewer. The same applies to a ‘god’. God created us in his own image is the line that is spewed forth by religious folk, but this seems somewhat egocentric to me. Why must this all powerful deity have a face, or a body at all? It may be something completely unrecognisable to us humans. Something beyond our limited imaginations.

There are a number of other practicalities which do not add up in my mind. Why must the god in question have a book to pass on his word? I feel that this ‘god’ cannot have it both ways, it cannot sit back and watch our world objectively, far removed from any input; whilst simultaneously expecting us to surrender our lives to it based upon the ‘teachings’ written in a book of whichever god we are going to choose to believe in. If there is to be objectivity, do not have a book with your lore in it, there cannot be removal from the subject if there remains interference.

Which moves me back to the problem with the book. Any religious text had a starting point. Of course it did. Most were written by people who were literate, born out of stories designed to inspire fear, and generate control. As with any story, the drama of it made the tale worth telling. All the stories had a moral. All had a point to make. And most finish with some version of the apocalypse raining down upon us. Of course this was another storytelling feature, there had to be a consequence to the tales, something to keep the people in line. Some form of warning about the dire outcomes of not heeding the teachings of the book. Of course, scientifically, this is not far wrong. We all know that eventually our sun will explode, swallowing the Earth and destroying whatever, if any, forms of life that may be left. Truly apocalyptic, and yet known fact too.

Which moves me neatly onto the problem of science. I am no scientist, I do not appreciate the intricacies of physics or biology or chemistry. I do, however, appreciate that they are there. I appreciate that there are fundamental rules which dictate to us how the world works, and why it continues to do so. There is a rationality to science which appeals to me. Cold, hard logic dictates to me that there cannot be any god. It is the oft-quoted Sherlock Holmes which sums up the world best, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. This is how science seems to work in my mind. Scientific fact continues to press home my own understanding of the world. Science, which can do so many things, cannot do the one thing it really needs to however. It needs to disprove a god. As demonstrated this week, that cannot be done.

Plain Stupid…

21 08 2010

Right, so I’m in a bit of a bad mood. Just a warning before I launch into what I’m expecting will be quite a short tirade against stupidity. The reason for my bad mood? Well, I’m struggling with my dissertation, finding myself lacking enthusiasm, passion and motivation for my chosen subject. The fact that I chose this subject myself and I still don’t really care about it only adds to my ill-temper. If we add to this that at the current moment England are being outplayed by Pakistan at the Oval, and it becomes clear to see why my mood isn’t great.

Anyway, that’s just a little warning. The real thing which has tipped me over the edge is this. Which follows my discovery of this. Which comes months after this.

Right. Let’s get one thing straight very quickly. Animals cannot ‘predict’ anything. They almost certainly do not understand the notion of ‘sport’, let alone have any distinguishable ability to predict results. They are animals for crying out loud. Now, I don’t wish to seem a Scrooge about this, and it was a bit of fun during the World Cup, which took away from the abject performances of our own national team. However, with more and more people trying to jump on the prediction bandwagon, the joke got tired quickly. So can we please stop it?

The dog on SkySports does nothing more than simply run up to a bowl of food, and commence eating it. This isn’t clever, it isn’t anything more than a dog eating food. No skill, prediction or talent involved. How can we, as intellectual creatures, think that there is anything more to it than that is completely beyond me. The dog predicts nothing. The octopus predicted nothing. They have no concept of prediction. They are just living their lives. So can we please, please stop thinking that animals can predict things? They can’t. It isn’t even entertaining, it’s just odd. The moment has been and gone. Lets stop jumping on animal bandwagons and find something intelligent to use as entertainment. Please.

Light the Match and You’ll Have Fire…

14 08 2010

You know how it is, when you are searching around for days looking for something to blog about, and then a prominent news agency goes and drops something right in your lap. Such as this story from the Beeb.

It’s really quite an interesting conundrum. On the one hand we must agree that all religions have the right to practise and worship freely. But on the other, we must also respect the sensitivities of certain locations based on what has happened before. My own personal view is that the mosque should not be built, and I’ll explain why.

Yes, the proposed site is two blocks from Ground Zero. Yes, I’m in favour of advocating religious freedom. Yes, logically, these things should add up to me accepting the plans for the mosque, and, like Obama, preaching the necessity of religious tolerance. However, this case is different. This case is American, and involves the religion many still associate with the cause of the September 11th attack. Of course, this association is born out of naivity and foolishness (suddenly I remember the West Wing’s analogy – Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity), but nonetheless it is still prevalent. The disaster happened eight years ago. The wounds, I feel, are still raw, and the passion still runs high. The consequences of the attack are still being felt in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is still being spilt due to the attack on America. The situation, despite promises from politicians shows no sign of ending any time soon. If we add all this together we have a potentially hostile situation developing in New York, at a site which, in my opinion should be used as some form of war memorial.

And herein lies my biggest concern about the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. The users of the building will not be safe. The plans are already encountering difficulties and objections from the people who can object to it, politicians and press alike. Can you really imagine what it will be like in a few years time when the building is actually opened? Can you imagine the numbers of people who will be abusive towards the builders as they are erecting the mosque into the sky? Can you imagine the continued police presence around the site most of the time just to ensure that the project gets completed? I can, and whilst I acknowledge that there may be a great deal of speculation in what I’m imagining, I still maintain that the results will be problematic. The building is going to bring out the elements of American society which are conveniently swept under the rug. They are going to be vociferous, angry, and most likely, violent. The Muslims who come to use this mosque are going to be subjected to a barrage of abuse because of where the mosque is situated, and the connotations of the site. They will be users of the highest profile mosque in the world, and they will be acutely aware of this.

There is a comparison to be made, albeit a local one. The plans for a new mosque in Dudley have been met with a chorus of widespread disapproval, which culminated in a violent protest march earlier on in the year. This has raised tensions in Dudley, and is likely to continue to do so. I fear that this could be repeated in America, but on a larger scale, and with many more problems.

The simple solution, as I see it, is not to create such a problem in the first place. I’d suggest a relocation of the mosque to somewhere less controversial. I’d suggest not doing anything to antagonise a potentially hostile situation. I’d suggest leaving the Ground Zero site free of religious connotations. There is a bigger issue though, that of education and religious intolerance. The solution to this problem will take many more years to find I fear.