16 Jan 2013

Obesity...and horses

Have you ever heard of the term food poverty? What images spring to mind? Starving children in Africa, for a guess. Homeless people, slum children, picking food out of bins. Well, you're not wrong. Food poverty means having insufficient money to buy the food necessary for good health. However, there is a swathe of people that you probably don't consider as particularly food impoverished, and that's people on a very low income, for example on benefits or only doing very low paid work.
This means people eating something on toast for tea, every day. People being unable to afford fruit and vegetables because they are more expensive, per calorie, than processed food and because they don't necessarily have access to them. My local shop sells a bit of manky fruit and veg, usually on the very edge of mouldy, at a very inflated price. I am lucky: I live within walking distance of a Morrisons and have the internet so get my shopping delivered. If I was dependent on what was available at the Nisa, I'd almost never eat fruit or veg. A diet of processed food, because is cheap and definitely going to be eaten. If you cannot afford to have extra food in the house and a meal is uneaten because nobody likes it, that's a waste of money with nobody being fed.
And what is the upshot of this unhealthy lifestyle? It means eating more sugar, salt and saturated fat than a higher income family. It means an increased likelihood of heart disease, cancer, infant and child malnutrition, increased risk of osteoporosis in the elderly, lowered birthweight (which is linked to higher mortality in general). It means obesity.
So, what are our benevolent leaders planning to do to combat the problem of food poverty? Well, they're planning to cut the benefits of obese people who refuse to exercise. Obesity, and it's attendant health problems, costs the NHS millions. However, unlike cigarettes, you cannot merely tax people for being fat, so instead they must be punished in the only way this government knows how - by cutting yet more benefits. This fails to take into account WHY people are obese - the health, cultural and emotional factors involved. Well over half the population are overweight or obese, yet only the poor are being punished for it.
I can think of several different ways to combat food poverty. Make fruit and vegetables part of a community growing initiative. People on income support can get vouchers for fruit and vegetables, why not extend that to all on a low income? Children are no longer being taught to cook at school, and may be raised by parents who also have no idea to cook, so put food back on the curriculum and hold cooking classes - not "How To Bake Artisan Bread' style ones - in community centres. Only by moving away from dependance on processed food can food poverty and linked obesity start to change.

Speaking of processed food, SHOCK and it's sister OUTRAGE have been expressed about horse DNA being found in bargain burgers at various national supermarkets. The false advertising element of this case is pretty shocking, but not exactly unique. Unless stated otherwise, you can guarantee that the meat you buy has led a shit, factory-farmed life. This is especially true in processed food. Those chicken nuggets? Unless it says otherwise, the meat was jetwashed off the battery-farmed carcass and then reformed. Battery farming means your chicken was raised in an area the size of a sheet of A4 paper, standing in it's own shit, being pumped full of hormones and water for three months. There's a reason we don't get chickens with the lower legs and feet left on, like on the continent - the ammonia burns would seriously put people off buying them.
Your bacon is full of water. Your sausages are full of cereal and gawd only knows where the meat originated. Your pork is similar to the poor chicken. And your beefburgers may, apparently, be full of horse.
What I don't understand is why the idea of eating horse shocks people so badly. A cow is no less an animal than a horse. You could probably ride a cow, if it'd let you, but we don't. Cows are, in British culture, meat. Horses are pretty things we ride around on. But when, as a nation, we are unwilling to treat the animals destined for our table with anything like the respect we treat our pets, we can't be overly surprised if we get what we pay for.

14 Jan 2013

Attack of the feminist journalists...on women

Feminism:the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. You'd think this would equate to some form of solidarity. Not according to the national press it doesn't. 

In the RED corner, self professed militant feminist Julie Burchill aggressively attacked transsexual women, apparently in defence of her friend Suzanne Moore. Moore's crime was to say that one of the idealised body images for women was that of a Brazillian transsexual. The twitter community got cross (they do that) and Moore left twitter. Now, rather than commenting on how twitterstorms can reduce us to a baying mob, or elevate us in unity over a subject, Burchill decided to attack female transsexuals as an aberration. According to Burchill's article (which you can read in full over here), transsexuals PLAGUE her friends. Not only this, but they label 'born women' as CIS, which sounds like CYST or SYPH.Cis is derived from Latin meaning 'on the same side', rather than cyst, which means bag or syph which is merely a short form of syphillis and of no etymological note. Being cisgendered or cissexual means that your genitals match up to your self-perception It's not a perjorative term. However, she liked this as akin to calling transsexuals 'shims', which most definitely IS perjorative. After insulting transsexual women (women only, whether Burchill's never heard of female to male transsexuality or if she simply thinks they don't count, who can tell?) she goes on to say, and for this I think we need the full quote
Shims, shemales, whatever you're calling yourselves these days – don't threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we've experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. 
That's right. All women - all of us - are menopausal and terrified of transsexuals. One would think that Burchill, as a bisexual feminist with a torrid personal life, would show a little more empathy.

In the BLUE corner sits another self-proclaimed feminist, the poisonous Liz Jones of the Daily Fail. Last year, Liz Jones attracted some ire after ripping into Holly Willoughby for daring to post a makeup-free picture. The bitter spiel (which you can read here, but be warned, it's the Daily Mail) claimed that Holly, at the time aged 31, could not possibly be a real woman because Jones - a rather older 52 - looked shit when she got out of bed in the morning. She went on to say that women who don't wear makeup are not *real* women. As a woman who has never worn makeup and has amazing skin, I can say that maybe if Jones had worn less, she wouldn't look quite as rough as she does now. Anyway, that aside, this week Jones has decided to attack Clare Balding. Ostensibly, this is because Balding, whose father is a racehorse trainer, likes horse racing. Jones thinks horse racing is barbaric. However, instead of just saying "I don't like Clare Balding because horseracing is vile.", which would be a fair statement, she tells us that her dislike of Balding has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to with her CHEAP OUTFITS and LESBIANISM. On further reading (again, be warned, it's the DM), it becomes clear that the real reason Liz Jones (who identifies with some mythical reading public of women who can afford facelifts and Prada) hates Clare Balding is because Clare Balding refused to be interviewed by her. Otherwise, I daresay it would have been an article of gushing praise. Liz Jones has essentially made a living by saying "Oooh, I'm such a mess me! I hate men, but I need them, even though I am RICH and I can afford a FACELIFT so I can be beautiful, unlike you PLEBS" under the thin guise of speaking up for WIMMINZ EVERYWHERE. Vile woman.

There are not enough female journalists in the mainstream media. Maybe, in trying to make a point, those that have achieved a column in a national feel they have to be as outrageous as possible to keep a hold of their place - especially for Liz Jones, who manages to score a massive hit rate from the Ms Angrys of Twitter. All they do is spew hatred and bile for women all over the press, in the name of feminism. It is they who give feminists a bad name. Feminism simply means that women want the same opportunities as men, rather than being treated as inferior. However, in Burchill's case, this means finding transsexual women inferior because they aren't 'born women', and in Jones' case it means finding ANYONE WHO ISN'T LIZ JONES inferior, because she is apparently a paragon of womanhood.

5 Jan 2013

Coursebooks vs Online-Only Study

Following recent online conversations considering the future of printed course materials in a digital age, we wanted to clarify The Open University’s position.

Our core business is to deliver a high quality, cost effective and flexible learning experience. Technology plays an increasingly important role in learning, and we will continue to design, develop and deliver the most engaging experience to meet the changing needs of our students. Course/module teams consider the most appropriate media for the subject area (including interactivity), and provide the support needed to enable students to benefit from technology enhanced learning – this means some courses may be wholly online, but many others still have a print element.

Our commitment to student satisfaction meant that we came top in the National Student Survey last year, with a 93 per cent satisfaction rating. The OU has been in the top three universities every year since the survey began in 2005. 
- The Open University, Facebook, 3rd January 2013
There are increasing rumours that The Open University plans to make all it's courses online only. Some modules are already online only (largely in mathematics and science) and increasing amounts of course materials are now only available online. For my last module, EVERYTHING was printed and sent to me. There were multiple online support forums, but that aside, the only thing I needed the internet for was information about exams and submission of assignments. On my current module, my study calendar is online (not a problem) , exam guidance (not yet a problem) and the assignment guide (very much a problem). 
The OU already provide module materials in many different formats, automatically. All the coursebooks (five on this module, plus two resource books) are available as PDF files. This is invaluable when writing assignments, as you can use the search function to find things faster. The transcripts of audio and video materials are also available. 
Part of the reason I never went to a brick university (aside from apathy/lack of A levels/lack of money) was that I do not learn well from listening. If I have audio/visual material to work through, I just tune out. If I read the transcript along with it, I can pick it up and absorb it. Otherwise, they may as well mumble off. Coursebooks, for me, are like written lectures. 
I don't learn well from simply reading either: I don't think anybody does. I read, I highlight, I make notes, I link back to stuff I've read before and at the end of the unit, I write all my notes up and then forget about them. You simply cannot do that as well through a computer alone. I've been using computers since I was a child, type far more than I handwrite and browse hundreds of webpages a week, but I do not retain the information. If my modules went online only, I'd have to print off the coursebooks. And that would cost a fortune.
In my current module, which is being replaced by an up to date one in the next academic year, much physical material  is wasted. I have four audio CDs, with a total of about 90 minutes audio on them. There is a DVD with about 45 minutes of film on it. Why hasn't this been amalgamated onto one disc before? There are two resource books with loads of empty pages reading *This offprint is no longer in use*. Fine. Remove the page then? If cost is the reason that the OU are looking to reduce physical materials, they would do well to first check the materials in use are not wasteful.
If the coursebooks went online-only, I would hope more online activities would be provided to engage the learner. I also would expect a reduction in module cost. However, I don't want my modules to go online. When you study at home, especially if you're mainly in the house all day, it can be struggle to remember that you are a student. You don't go anywhere else to study, you may be lucky enough to have a special place to learn, but it's more likely you study where there is space (all mine's done at the dining room table). One thing that helps to psychologically separate study time from normal activity is the books. It sets the tone, reminds you that you ARE learning, turns the dinner table into a desk. They serve to remind those around you that you're not just browsing the web. 
Technology should be utilised to improve the learning experience, but part of the joy of learning is having something tangible to look at, and look back on. Books will never be obsolete.
There is a petition to this end here.