Category: The news said so.

Schrödinger’s immigrants: Brexit and the blatant xenophobia in the Leave camp’s immigration argument

Brexit rages in the minds and the mouths of this country, and the whole debate has pretty much boiled down to the question of immigration control. That’s understandable, as it’s the most emotionally charged aspect of the referendum, and the easiest target for the Leave campaign’s very cleverly calculated rhetoric.

We’re being flooded by immigrants. They come here taking your jobs and your children’s jobs. They come here without jobs and take your benefits and your children’s benefits.

So goes the Leave campaign’s prime argument.

Schrödinger’s immigrants

When challenged on this xenophobic stance, Brexiters are quick to point out that, of course, they’re not against all immigrants. Just, you know, the bad ones.

Taking last night’s Question Time as an example, the anti-immigration comments from the Leave camp (panel and audience alike) can be summed up as this:

“Oh we’re not against immigration as such. We do like immigrants. We just don’t want the ones that come here taking our jobs, and the ones that come here and don’t work and take our benefits.”

So tell me again, who are these immigrants that you do like, then? Because if you don’t want the ones that come here to work, and you don’t want the ones that come here without a job, that adds up to 100% of foreigners coming to this country.

And that makes you exactly one thing: a xenophobe.

Heart vs mind

I’m worried about Brexit. As a German, European and adopted Brit who has lived, worked and paid taxes in the UK for the past eight years, I’m very worried indeed about a potential exit from the EU. But what worries me most is the blatant xenophobia driving the Leave campaign.

As Eddie Izzard kept saying on the Question Time panel, this stance is hugely damaging to our efforts to improve the state of humanity globally. What we need is not more withdrawal into our own little national bubbles, shutting our borders and throwing out people whose nationality we don’t like. History should have taught us enough of the consequences this approach tends to create. What we need is to reach out to each other and work together on the real threats facing us and our children: Climate change. Resources running out. Spreading political instability. War. Hunger. Good luck to any nation trying to make a difference to those issues on their own.

I’m worried about the referendum because when it comes to immigration, the Leave camp has a very emotionally charged argument that is being driven right into people’s hearts, while the Remain campaign is trying to appeal to economic considerations, humanity and plain old common sense.

I can only hope that when the people of this country vote on the 23rd, they will read their minds as well as their hearts and not let the scaremongering rhetoric cloud their human judgement.

The next mass extinction is already happening and we’ve got a seat in the front row

I learned a new word this week: Defaunation – the loss of animal populations as a consequence of human activity. Kind of like deforestation, you know, but with animals. The term was coined by Professor Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University, who – together with other scientists – published some pretty freaking scary research findings yesterday.

According to these scientists we’re right in the middle of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. These used to be caused by asteroid strikes and such – think dinosaurs – but if you look around at what’s been happening on our planet it probably comes as no surprise to hear that we – as in humanity – is responsible for the next extinction. And it will hit us, too. We’ve basically signed our own execution order.

Professor Dirzo has spent years studying the consequences of defaunation – what happens to an ecosystem if one species of plant or animal goes extinct, and how far-reaching the consequences can be.

Well, the answer is: pretty damn far-reaching. The effects can be global. They can kill us.

Here’s an example that shows how: These researchers have been conducting experiments in Kenya, studying areas that have been isolated from large mammals – elephants, zebras, giraffes – to find out how the ecosystem responds to the removal of these species. They found that pretty soon rodent populations will grow massively, because they find food and shelter in the seeds and shrubs that are now not being eaten or trampled by the big guys. We know rodents carry all sorts of diseases – the rodents in Kenya, for instance, carried the plague, among others. More rodents means more pathogens and a much higher risk of diseases spreading among human populations. And the more densely populated an area, the more defaunation happens, the more rodents you’ll get… Well, you get the picture. Mass epidemic of plague. Cheery prospects.


So, what needs to happen is this: We need to protect the animals – the elephants and giraffes, the rhinos, the tigers, the whole lot. And not just because they’re cute and majestic. But because they are part of a very, very fragile ecosystem that keeps a fine balance between all the species, making sure each of us has a chance to survive.

Of course this means stopping deforestation and other exploitation of the land that these animals need as their natural habitat. And it means stopping the hunting and poaching and illegal trade in wild animals and animal products. It means a whole load of people deciding to be more responsible in how they treat the environment.

Hopefully these researchers can shout loud enough and raise enough awareness. Because maybe, if the ultimate goal is not ‘save the tigers’ but ‘save humanity from extinction’, it will just change people’s minds enough for us to realise that this is serious.

Fore more news about the future, read our website and magazine Factor. It’s not all doom and gloom. We also look at happy and exciting stuff – space travel, floating cities, flying cars…everything that the future could bring.

How to take all the pleasure out of reading in just 90 minutes

The reading game is set to change forever, ladies and gentlemen. Well, at least according to this dude here who (along with the rest of the media this week) is getting all over-excited about an ‘insane’ app that supposedly lets you read a novel in 90 minutes.

Spritz it’s called, and it is out to ruin your reading pleasure forever.

Well. The speed reading thing may have its uses if you’re reading for work or for study. (I was certainly wishing I had this skill back when I was going through a combined British and American history and literature degree!) But when reading for pleasure – arguably the main reason behind most everyday novel-reading – why on earth would you want to take all the enjoyment out of the experience just for the sake of being able to boast that you read, like, four books in an afternoon?

I don’t speed read, but a lifelong obsession with books has turned me into a fast reader. Often too fast for my own good. Yes, maybe I get through more books in a year than the average reader, but the downside is I don’t always take them in as much as I would like. So I allow myself to speed through a book if it’s a bit rubbish, but I force myself to slow down on the books I enjoy, often going back a page or even a chapter to read it again, more slowly, and pay attention to the details.

Because really, all the pleasure of a novel lies in the detail and in the language – each sentence carefully crafted by the author, who generally takes a hell of a lot of time to create it all. (So take the time to bloody appreciate it.) If you’re speeding through, you just won’t take these things in. You probably won’t even notice what a beautiful thing language can be, or feel the joy of discovering a particular author’s unique way with words. All that will stay with you is essentially a plot summary; and you can get that in less time from Goodreads or Wikipedia.

Besides, it’s just incredibly sad to think that our attention span has shrunk so much that we now need an app to convert a novel into a bite-sized portion of entertainment that our overloaded brains can handle in between playing Candy Crush Saga and watching X Factor.

No. I refuse to believe that this is true. We don’t need a speed reading app for novels. What we need is to sit down and take a breath, set aside some time and throw ourselves into a book with all our brains and all our hearts. Because that’s the only way to really experience the magic of getting completely lost in a good novel for hours at a time. If it takes a week, let it take a week. If it takes a month, whatever! It will be worth it.

Let’s not allow today’s obsession with technology to ruin this ancient, timeless and absolutely essential pleasure for us.

In a nutshell, as the brilliant Emma Donoghue said on Twitter this week:

No, what’s ‘insane’ is thinking you’ll enjoy books more by giving them less of your brain and time!


My bookshelf – well, part of it anyway. The result of years of reading, not minutes.

Death and the Penguin*?

So Pearson and Bertelsmann have merged Penguin with Random House, and the best name they could come up with for the venture is Penguin Random House.

Which strikes me as the most lamentable missed opportunity for awesome branding. I mean, why oh why didn’t they call it Random Penguin?!!!

On a more serious note, I do hope that this means good things for the future of books. With all this digital reading stuff and more and more independent bookshops disappearing, I can’t help but worry that my generation will be the one that might see the death of the printed book.


* …by the way, is still one of the gaztrillion books on my to-read list.

WTF Headlines of the Day

I have to admit, I’m one of those annoying people who are always peering in your paper on the train. I’m not doing it on purpose or anything, I just never seem to get round to grabbing my own paper on the way into the station. (Okay, that’s a lie. I’m a bit OCD about getting newspaper ink all over my hands and not bothered enough about actually reading Metro or Evening Standard to tackle the ink issue.)

The one good thing about being a train newspaper parasite is that you mostly just pick up the headlines (which in the case of the free dailies is usually all you need to know) but not necessarily enough of the stories to make much sense out of them. And every now and then a headline comes along that’s so full of WTF that it totally makes your day. This little editorial gem, for example:

A ninja slug which fires love darts (Metro)

I was nearly tempted to grab a Metro on the way to the Tube to find out all about the love-dart firing ninja slug. But that would only have ruined the awesomeness.

A close runner-up then in the Evening Standard on the train back home:

Your Tube train has been cancelled due to burning toast at the station

…probably caused by a ninja commuter firing some breakfast of mass destruction in frustration over another delay on the Circle Line.

Every time you buy a Pet Shop Boys CD, a rescue shelter puppy dies. (Seriously. Ask Peta.)

The word “absurd” has reached a new dimension of meaning today. Also forever changed have the words “ridiculous” and “ludicrous”.

Animal rights organisation Peta has asked the Pet Shop Boys to change their name. For the sake of shelter dogs. Or pet shop dogs. Or pets generally – I can’t exactly remember which as my mind was too busy jumping back and forth between variations of LOL and WTF while I was reading the Times article.

(Yes, I’m reading Times Online again after a temporary boycot following the Michelle Obama fake lashes investigation.)

So, Peta thinks the Pet Shop Boys should change their name, which they chose for themselves more than 20 years ago, and which has pretty much become a household name in the music scene. Apparently, that rather random band name does not comply with political correctness. In the universe of pets, that is. And maybe also in the universe of complete numpties.

The politically correct name suggested for the Pet Shop Boys by Peta is – and you might want to hold on to your desk for this one – the Rescue Shelter Boys.

And here we pause for a moment to let you finish ROFLing, catch your breath and climb back on your chair.

Yes, they’re serious.

Peta reckons that listening to the Rescue Shelter Boys instead of the Pet Shop Boys will make people stop buying bred pets in shops and get their puppies and kittens from – you guessed it – rescue shelters instead.

Now. Nothing wrong with Peta’s good intentions here. We all know the devastating consequences of breeding on the health and general well-being of all sorts of dog breeds. And birds don’t belong into cages. And so on. In short, pet shops are bad. I’d go with that any time. I got my dog from a rescue shelter in Greece. The poor pup had been through five years of neglect, abuse and disease, and yet she’s the loveliest, cuddliest, most loyal dog you could possibly imagine. My money, and my pets, will never cross the counter of a pet shop.

But I seriously doubt that a pop band’s name will in any way influence anyone’s pet buying habits. People who like bred cats or dogs will buy ridiculously overpriced bred cats or dogs no matter what the Pet Shop Boys call themselves. I even doubt that name has ever led anyone to think of actual pets. Anyone but Peta, that is.

Well, Peta got me to think about it now. But their suggestion has made me think more along the lines of “are you guys fucking kidding?” than of anything relating to animals.

They’re not kidding, by the way. And neither are they kidding with their campaign to turn fish into Sea Kittens to make them more likeable (and less appetizing). I can’t quite shake off the impression, though, that Peta’s Sea Kittens might fail to appeal to anyone above nursery age.

Just to round up. Peta = good. I’m all for ethical treatment of animals. I mean, I gave up sushi and chicken fajitas for squirrel’s sake (and I’m sticking with it). And I still can’t read about the slaughter of baby seals in Canada without bursting into tears. Well, you get the picture. That said, I really don’t think Peta is doing itself a favour, in terms of being taken seriously or getting people to support it, with petitions à la Rescue Shop Boys (or Sea Kittens, for that matter).

Although I have to admit I’m a little curious what name change they would suggest for Fury In The Slaughterhouse.

Bliss On The Free Range Farm, anyone?

Who the F cares why Michelle Obama is wearing fake lashes and what The Times has to say about it?

In an utterly amazing instance of investigative journalism, Times Online has dedicated an article to the question why Michelle Obama is wearing false eyelashes.

I only made it halfway through their analysis, because my heart was sinking rapidly along with my respect and passion for journalism – the profession to which I have dedicated my future, pretty much all my money, and endless months of hard training.

I’m by no means an expert, but let me humbly offer my own answer to this internationally significant question: Why is Michelle Obama wearing false eyelashes?


Because just like some people wear make-up, and some wear mascara, so some people sometimes, or always, or occasionally, wear fake lashes. Big deal. Let’s investigate. Let’s dedicate a news story to it. And let’s throw a sack of random scandal-scented phrases like “D-list celebrities”, “drag-act divas” and “unapologetically fake” at it, too, to make the whole affair sound a little more tacky and report-worthy.

And let’s not forget to stir in a handful of subtle promotional references (read: stuff half of the article with unapologetically blatant product placement, plus online shopping links for your convenience).

Okay, I’ve read the whole article now. Not so much for its, uhm, “news value” as for the sake of a proper rant.

And now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to catch up on the news.

And would you keep your hands off your kids, too, thank you.

I had just more or less recovered fromt he sqirrel slaughter shock when I stumbled across the following bit of news: A man from Plymouth got himself in a bit of trouble with the police when he spanked his son on the bum for running off in the park. Now he demands an apology from the police for arresting him and examining the seven-year-old boy. Or, as you will, for doing their job after somebody who had seen him hit the kid filed a complaint.

Pretty outrageous thing for the police to do. How dare they.

Also, quite bold of the bystander to observe what may well have been an indicator of child abuse and not have the decency to turn away and keep their nose out of family matters, and leave the father to use the (however questionable) disciplinary measures of his choice in the privacy of a public park.

You may think a bit of spanking won’t do any harm to a kid. But even if the father only went for a mild(ish) punishment, how is a worried observer supposed to know? How can we be sure of the child’s safety after seeing such a scene if nobody intervenes? In this case, the boy was not injured and the bystander was said to have misinterpreted the situation. But if you see someone hit their child, where do you draw the line? A smack in the face? A bruised arm? A broken spine?

When Baby P died the nation all but cried “gallows” for those who should have seen the danger and failed to intervene. And now some concerned citizen and a bunch of officers with a sense of duty check a suspicious situation to make sure the kid is alright, and they have to apologize.

Dear father, if you don’t want to be treated like a child abuse suspect, you might want to consider not hitting your son in public.

Or, on a more general note – how about just keeping your hands off your kids anyway?

Keep your bloody forks off the squirrels!

Okay, so the Sunday Times told me yesterday that celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal will be cooking squirrel on TV.

No way, I thought. This can’t be true.

But it’s in the Times, so I’m sort of inclined to believe it.

And then there are Simon and Caroline Spiller, who landed a hit with a squirrel barbecue dish at their restaurant and, riding the wave of squirrel slaughter success, founded a company called Squirrel Direct that sells, well, squirrel meat. Oh, and a few weeks ago they introduced their new squirrel kebab, which could also be called quite a hit, selling 40 times in the first 90 minutes.

Still not entirely convinced of the truth of this story, I made the mistake to consult my old friend Google. And within seconds I stumbled across more squirrel delicacy and some pretty disturbing pictures.

How sick is that?!

But then, I shouldn’t really be that surprised, considering that I have a dad who likes to treat himself with a kangaroo or crocodile steak every now and then. Which always results in the same discussion.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter what animal you eat, does it?”

But! Kangaroo!

“Well, it’s not really any different from eating a chicken, is it?”

But! Squirrel?

In fact, he’s right. I’m a vegetarian now.