Archive for the ‘Birmingham’ Category

To Clap or not to Clap

February 6th, 2011
I started writing this for Eye on Moseley but after planning it in my mind (yes, there is some planning, it isn’t just a stream of consciousness) I realised it isn’t really relevant to Moseley as such.

Mostly this week I’ve been surprised by the indignation directed towards Cllr Salma Yaqoob after the most recent meeting of the City Council. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point going into the detail of what happened as it’s quite clear in the press but a quick summary is that a winner of the George Cross attended the meeting and Cllr Yaqoob and Cllr Ishtiaq decided not to give the man a standing ovation.

This decision has resulted in Cllr Yaqoob being branded a supporter of terrorism and, according to press reports Cllr Ishtiaq being cuffed round the head by another Councillor.

Both Councillors represent the Respect party which was born from the Stop the War Coalition. As such you might not be surprised to hear that they didn’t burst into spontaneous applause.  Since this happened I’ve been trying to figure out what I would have done in the same situation. I’m deeply sceptical of the colonialist military adventures that Tony Blair sent us on but I like to think I can separate the individual from the policy.

I’m also quite aware, from the War Logs made available through Wikileaks, that heinous acts have been perpetrated in our names in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it would appear that the George Cross is only given for more altruistic bravery. I only found that out when I just looked it up.

In the case of Birmingham it was a man called Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher who carried out an act of supreme bravery in throwing himself onto a hand grenade and consequently saving the lives of those round him. Based on what I’ve read it sounds like he is a man that deserves both a standing ovation and a medal. The thing with this is that I can say this because I’ve got the benefit of hindsight and Google. I’ve had the time to put this into context and make my decision.

Both Councillors involved were given no prior notification of his arrival and, I assume, no in depth outline of either his career or the specifics that lead to his act of outstanding bravery.

It is reasonable that both Councillors would be extremely circumspect in what they publically support. The reality of life in Birmingham is that we have communities in Birmingham that are absolutely entwined in the war in Pakistan/Afghanistan. People who live here have relatives that have been victims of both sides of the conflict. As such, their elected representatives need to be excessively cautious in what they say and do, however well intentioned it might be.

The wider issue in this is how we have come to the point where a mob can dictate our reaction in any given situation. A persons decision to not clap is surely one of the freedoms that we purport to be protecting in our attempt to impose a model of western democracy on Afghanistan.

To add a little more context to this story we should realise that the chief cheerleader in this debacle is Cllr Martin Mullaney.  As Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture you might expect a degree of responsibility in comments launched into the public arena. The following quote dispels that myth.

“I can only assume that if one of the failed 21/7 London suicide bombers had been in the council chamber, Cllr Yaqoob would have been demanding the council applaud the failed suicide bomber for their past heroic actions.”

Yes, that’s the level of debate we are dealing with.

Mullaney has a long history of sniping at Cllr Yaqoob. One of the most notable incidents being when he accused her of negligently endangering life by organising a public march in protest at the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Ironically some months later he organised a public event to switch on our Christmas lights and due to negligence in planning people did end up in hospital.

There is a history there.

Whilst you might laugh at his infantile logic please give some consideration to those of us represented by him. Whilst he can find the time to go on the radio flirting with libel and outlandish accusations he doesn’t seem to be able to find the time to reply to my concern about the  imminent closure of the Citizens Advice Bureaux in Birmingham.

The crux of this issue seems to be that we have a reached a point where reasoned dissent from a set point of view is not tolerated. Not clapping an individual is seen as a snub to him and consequently a lack of support to all that we have put in harms way.

The reality is that if Birmingham City Council really wants to dabble in national policy around the safety of serving personnel they could start with the travesty of how cuts will result in many lives being lost. In this week the coalition announced it could be cutting its order for Chinook helicopters. You remember the exact same helicopters that Gordon Brown forgot to buy us and as a result was pilloried by the Conservatives? A decision has been taken to cancel an order for helicopters in order to maintain our fleet of Tornado jets. Tornado jets that have had no practical military value since their vulnerability was exposed in the first Gulf War twenty years ago.

These helicopters keep people alive through keeping troops off roads and getting medical support to where it is needed. Unfortunately they’ve now been sacrificed, like the troops they would carry, to Dave’s great economic experiment. Though it does add credence to the claim we’re all in it together. We are all quite literally not in helicopters even though some of us need to be.

Closer to home the Council could give consideration to how budget cuts are withdrawing access to mental health and substance misuse services. Both of these are used disproportionately by returning military personnel. As a direct result of the things that we make them do on our behalf.

I hope we can do everything to avoid the situation that developed in the US where people returning from Vietnam were blamed for the failure of the state. Equally I hope we can get to a point where those who purport to represent us can take the welfare of those that fight wars for us more seriously than just whether or not someone clapped or not.

Posted in Birmingham, Politics | Comments (3)

Living in a city

March 10th, 2009

barcelonaI went to Barcelona the other day. It’s very nice. I know it is ridiculous to compare one of the premier cities of Europe with Birmingham but I have a feeling I’m going to do it anyway.

The most immediate difference I noticed is the fantastic use of public space. This is public space in the true sense of the word. Areas that have been put aside for people to congregate in and do things together. This is most obviously emphasised by the large amount of Children’s play areas. They are everywhere and seem to be really well used.

These play areas seem to be complemented by similar areas for table tennis and that crazy European version of bowls obviously aimed at adults. The odd thing about these areas is that people were using them. People of all ages were coming together outside and doing things.

This community activity is something that I couldn’t really conceive of happening in Birmingham. When we create a public space we seem to have some strange fear of putting stuff in it that people might find useful.

The vast majority of development is entirely focussed on retail rather than improving the quality of life. In Birmingham, we have had a debate about a park in the City Centre but that has rambled on for many years now with little evidence of anything tangible appearing.

My theory on why there is a different attitude to space comes down to the British obsession with houses. The status attached to owning your house and having a garden is different to other countries. In the UK there has previously been a perception of living in a flat as being associated with poverty. The stigma of tower blocks has seemingly removed the voice of flat dwellers from urban planning.

In countries where living in an apartment (posh flat) is the norm the expectation is that public space will fulfil the absence of a garden. This attitude is possibly changing with the development of city centre living but such change seems slow. City Centre developments in the UK are solely focussed on the ideal of young professionals rather than fostering community.

Another striking difference about Barcelona is the massive amount of graffiti. It is absolutely everywhere. The odd thing about it is that it doesn’t seem to have brought about the breakdown of society or even really made the place look untidy. Though I’m sure that if you ask people who live there about it they probably get quite pissed off about it.

I think it underlines that small minded politics of urban decay that we are fed in this country. Rather than politicians focussing on the more macro drivers of change that affect all of a community they obsess on the micro affects. If a phone box has a graffiti tag on it makes very little difference to people if they have little in the way of recreation facilities or all their local shops are shutting down.

I’d say my criticisms of Birmingham are not specific to this city. I’m sure they are applicable to all urban environments in the UK. That turned into more of rant than the description of what I did on my holiday that I’d planned.


Posted in Birmingham, Politics | Comments (1)

Second Go at Second Life

November 30th, 2008

Just glancing through the Register I noticed they have a story about Reuters giving up on their dedicated Second Life reporter. I remember that there was quite a fanfare when Reuters began their coverage.

I think it is interesting to note that it took a month for anyone to notice that coverage had stopped.

It made me think, what’s going on in Birmingham’s Second Life island at the moment?

I popped in to have a look and I’d have to say that absolutely nothing was going on. 

I’d be intersted to see if anyone has any usage stats given that it’s been up and running for a month now.


Posted in Birmingham, Media | Comments (0)

Hold the Front Page

November 21st, 2008

I’ve suddenly become massively concerned with the future of printed journalism. It is clear that as a business model print journalism is facing competitive pressure from sources that you just wouldn’t have comprehended 15 years ago. Unfortunately as a reaction traditional media appears to be throwing away that extra value that I think gives it value.

In my day to day life I have dealings with three traditional forms of printed media (4 if you count TV Quick), The Guardian, The Birmingham Post and The Erinsborough News. Essentially I believe The Guardian is alright. They just understand the modern world and seem to have done a pretty good job of shaping it around them rather than the other way. The other two are obviously in crisis. Not a conventional business crisis with plummeting share prices and board room massacres (though there has been a bit of that). No, more of an identity crisis that has made them buy a Porsche and pinch young girls arses in a pub.

The Internet is always cited as the great motivator for change within media. This is true. The Internet has fundamentally changed the way that we look at news. We have become used to news always being current and always being free. I don’t think that this is really a reason to try and recreate the Internet within the printed media.

The great value I see with printed media is two fold. There is a front page and there is a professional narrative. The front page screams NEWS at me when I see it and makes me want to read it. The narrative comes from years of experience creating a linear experience of news. When I look at a paper I know someone has used their professionalism to decide that the news on page 2 is more important to me as a reader than the news on page 15. The Internet cannot fully achieve either of these. No site will devote their front page to one massive story. Really they don’t need to do so in order to drag people in.

Equally reading a web site is not a linear experience. There are many points of entry and the reader themselves chooses the route through to other stories. Clearly clever prominence of links facilitates this to an extent but not in the same way that the editor of a printed paper holds your hand on a daily journey of news.

Both the Birmingham Post and the Erinsborough News have recently lost their understanding of printed journalism. The Erinsborough News removed the last vestige of professionalism by allowing local hotel owner and murderer Paul Robinson to not only buy the paper but appoint himself as editor. Interestingly his stint as editor began by demonstrating some characteristics that were useful. He understood the front page. He obviously understood what his readers wanted (some of them at least). In the few weeks that he has controlled the paper I think it is fair to say that everyone he knows has obviously bought one and read it.

The decline in the Erinsborough News is obviously linked with Paul’s parochial nature. The paper’s obsession with the sex life of the school girl that lives over the road from him is going to have limited wider appeal. Unfortunately early plaudits appear to have conned him into believing that even more microscopic localism is needed. Thus hiring Susan Kennedy Kinski Kennedy as a journalist symbolises the foolish belief that a qualification in journalism now counts for absolutely nothing these days. The front page story about the wheelchair basketball team being banned from the community centre is a new low. Alright they were probably acting against disability legislation but really, do we care? No we don’t and nobody else does either.

The Birmingham Post have followed a similar path. Actually they haven’t, they’ve taken much more crazy steps than put a murderer in charge. In a move that could well wrong foot the entire industry The Birmingham Post have decided to not only reduce the amount of news but also hide it. The Birmingham Post was always a traditional broadsheet with pretensions towards something it wasn’t but still very much a focus on the news and local events. It was out of it’s time but I liked it for it.

I can’t argue with the fact that very few people ever bought it and it probably needed change. The change they settled on was to remove news from the front page. Think about that for a second. It is a newspaper but does not have news on the front page. Obviously there was a meeting to discuss this and I’m pretty sure there is a certain logic that underpins it. The main readers of the Birmingham Post have always historically been dentists, local businesses and council workers. Of these three groups local businesses are probably the only ones that are sufficient in number to be deemed to have economic power (they’re also the only ones that advertise). Businesses send out press releases every day about new things that have happened to them. This is easy journalism. Copy and paste and you have news. All of this news was previously hidden away in the middle section that everyone threw away.

Unfortunately the easy news was being thrown away and the advertisers probably knew this. So in a stroke of genius that Post decided to focus the front page on business news. Essentially press releases.

Now visitors to Birmingham who arrive at New Street Station are greeted with a front page yelling LOCAL SOLICITOR BUYS NEW HAT. It doesn’t tell the world we are a city of business. It tells the world that nothing much happened yesterday (and a certain someone now has a warm head). It is obviously not going to encourage the impulse purchase and those businesses that are featured probably would have bought it anyway.

So all in all I’m scared for the future.

At the end of the day it is probably important to bear in mind that I don’t ever buy either the Birmingham Post or the Erinsborough News. I get one given to me free and the other one doesn’t exist. 


Posted in Birmingham, Media | Comments (0)

Money for nothing

October 23rd, 2008


I’ve had a Second Life account for bloody ages now. It must be two years at least. In total I’ve probably spent around 3 hours wallowing in the frustration that it has a habit of generating.

Second Life has always had a bit of a problem in that it wants to be Social Networking but it also wants to be a game. In the end it has managed to achieve neither.

The essential problems with it are that it looks rubbish and navigation is a nightmare. I don’t know if it is a result of how long it has been about or if it is an attempt to give anyone access to it. Overall I reckon the graphics are on a par with Duke Nukem which I suppose isn’t in itself a bad thing. Duke Nukem was ground breaking when it came out. Unfortunately it came out in 1996. Second Life was launched in 2003 so it was hopelessly dated when it was released. Charitably Second Life is trying to achieve something different to Duke Nukem. It is trying to create an immersive world where people can interact much like a Massive Mutiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). Unfortunately Everquest started doing this four years before the launch of Second Life and it looked and worked much much better.

At the end of the day we can all ignore shockingly poor graphics if the experience itself is immersive. Second Life is by no means immersive. I have never come across anything that makes me more angry than trying to bumble around Second Life. Everything is an obstacle. You bounce off the tiniest of objects. You can’t get over the smallest of bumps. When creating an environment surely control is the most basic thing to get right? I have played some very poor games in my time but Second Life has by far the worst control system.

It may not be a fair comparison but I’m going to make it anyway. Why have Linden Lab not looked at Warcraft? When Warcraft first arrived, three years ago, one of the claims they made was that to play the game you would not need to read a manual. This turned out to be very true. Walking about in Azeroth is just simple. Watch any of the numerous Youtube videos to see just how flexible the control system is. It takes minutes of playing to just forget how you are controlling your avatar.

If you compare the minimum spec for Warcraft and that of Second Life  you can see that they are roughly equivalent. In fact you’d probably get away with lower spec graphics card with WOW. Warcraft also obviously deals with substantially greater traffic than Second Life but does it seamlessly.

I accept that this isn’t a fair comparison as Blizzard invested over $100 million in getting WOW right but it should be noted that the effort has paid off by creating an income stream that dwarfs many of the worlds real life economies.

Obviously I’m not banging on about Second Life because I suddenly think that it needs a good kicking after being about for four years. No, I’ve got a reason.

Today saw the launch of Birmingham’s very own Second Life Island

Why? I have no idea.

Digital Birmingham do ask the question “Is Second Life the ultimate digital experience?”. I could have answered that for them fairly easily.

No it isn’t.

It certainly isn’t Half Life 2, It’s not even close to Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots. Admittedly the concept of Birmingham whoring itself in Metal Gear Solid would have been great.

This is one of those plans that clearly seemed good at the time but the practical application of it holds little value to the people of Birmingham who’ve ended up paying for it.

I’ve just logged onto virtual Birmingham. At the moment there are 68,000 people in the entire world logged into Second Life. Of those 68,000 there are 5 visiting the Birmingham island. I’m one of those 5. 

Having had a bit of a walk round the island I’ve noticed that essentially it is a bit of grass with a canal cut through it. Do you get it? A canal? we have lots of canals in Birmingham. No landmarks have been recreated and actually nothing that you would really think sums up Birmingham.

Overall 2/10. Two for…… having a go?

[edit]Since I wrote this last night I’ve come across a few things written by other people that I think I’d like to address.

Jon Bounds wrote this  before I started writing, if I’d bothered to read it I’d probably have realised he made most of my points only slightly better, and with more fact.

Dave Harte has posted a response to Jon’s post which makes some points but I don’t really agree with them. I do accept the point that a 3D representation of Birmingham itself wouldn’t be that useful but a tiny Rotunda would be nice. Something that instantly says BIRMINGHAM when you arrive.

There is a practical value to exploring the representation of Birmingham in virtual worlds. I think that Second Life is a poor vehicle to use to this end. It is flawed software with a frighteningly small user base.

I would have liked to see Digital Birmingham explore the opportunity of Playstation Home.

Alright I’m talking about a virtual world that doesn’t exist yet but that means it is an untapped opportunity. Sony are frantic to promote the PS3 as more than a games console. To do that they need to work with partners to add that extra element. You can probably see where I’m going with this. If Birmingham had approached Sony at an early stage they could well have got all of this done for free and demonstrated an innovative approach.

This raises the issue of access to a Virtual Birmingham based in Home. It is true that market penetration of the PS3 is small. It is also true that with worldwide sales of around 14 million, all of which will have Home installed for free in the next few months, you will suddenly see the largest Virtual World developing. There have been 1.4 million PS3s sold in UK to date. On an even spread across the country that would give an estimated sale of 2000 units in Birmingham. That is surely far greater than the number of active Second Life users in Birmingham. There were 5 last night.

Well, that’s what I think.[/edit]



Posted in Birmingham, Games | Comments (5)