Saturday, 27 October 2007

Deskilling society

There will be many legacies of this Labour government in the UK and around the world whether that is a legacy of peace in Northern Ireland or war in the near and the middle east. On a more local level I would argue that there is a legacy of deskilling or deprofessionalising of key public service roles for what can only be economic reasons.

Deskilling is usually associated with the introduction of technology into a profession that usurps many of the skilled tasks rendering jobs simple tasks that can be performed by an unskilled or semi-skilled workforce. Deprofessionalisation works in a similar way in which skilled tasks are passed to semi-skilled workers because they cost far less and can be employed in greater numbers. In the UK the instances of deprofessionalisation have grown greatly under Labour. In schools we see the growing use of teaching assistants which by 2005 had grown in number to 95,460, twice the number as there were when Labour came to power, whereas the numbers of teachers has fallen. Teaching assistants are not trained teachers, they are paid considerably less and yet they cover teachers in periods of absence and have powers of discipline over students; they are teachers on the cheap, teachers lite if you will.

In the police we have 'community supports officers', that is to say members of the public working in uniformed roles. They don't have any powers of arrest over that which any member of the public has but they do have statutory powers of stop and search, to seize property, issue fixed penalty notices for traffic or public order offences. Once again they have a fraction of the training and receive far less money for their work. In healthcare we have the growth in the powers of nurses including their movement into the field of diagnosis. With the NHS direct phone service and the new NHS walk-in centres you see or speak to a nurse alone for a diagnostic session, there is the possibility to speak to a doctor further down the line and only if you get a referral from the nurse but most people are dealt with by someone who has had yet again a fraction of the training or medical knowledge, and of course receives a fraction of the pay of a fully qualified doctor.

This weekend has seen the story hit the news that nurses will be given the power to decide whether or not a patient should receive a resuscitation attempt. In a typical media way the story has been blown totally out of proportion and people are scared and confused which is what the news does best. That particular story is probably more of a power play between some doctors who would like to have complete medical control and NHS managers who are trying to bring down the costs of a debt-ridden health system but what is the bigger story is that it is endemic of a growing trend. I simply don't trust a nurse to properly diagnose me, a teaching assistant to properly educate a child or a community support officer to police a street and these are just examples because there are many more in the social services and pharmacology for instance. We are heading towards an age of profound mediocrity in which we are not willing to pay to have skilled public services.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

No news is no news.

I don't watch much television these days, my time away from work is too precious but in my time I've seen a lot of news programmes and I'm always struck by the redundancy exhibited, especially on rolling news station. Charlie Brooker can probably better tell you about the problems of rolling news including the paradox of live reporting in which the journalist on the scene knows less about what they're reporting on than the people in the studio:

Redundancy, that is something that gets up my nose and you see it all over the news. As an arbitrary example whenever a child of school age dies in a tragic circumstance we are told that they were very popular and that always struck me as odd and it's not because it's not true because it might be but it's said because that's what is said in these circumstances - it's lazy journalism and it adds nothing to our understanding of what has happened, it is verbal diarrhoea. This, I must admit, is a minor complaint when compared to pointlessness and news do that in spades. News about the royal family, about the lives of celebrities, pathetic "awww" stories like the skateboarding poodle who rescues a family of four from a house fire by smashing down the door with the help of a co-operative movement of farmyard animals -- okay I might have made that one up but you get the idea.

Things could be worse and Fox news shows why. In England at least the news shies away from opinionated and overtly politicised presentation of news but what agencies like Fox do is blend the lines between reporting and politics. Seeing the O'Reilly Factor is the most spine-chilling experience I've ever had and the thought that anyone would turn to him to inform them on what happens in the world is a scary thought. When news attempted to enter the sphere of entertainment it went wrong as there is the pressure to fill every hour with drama, gossip and scandal to keep people watching.

On Good Friday in 1930 something incredible happened -- nothing. In a BBC news bulletin it was announced that nothing newsworthy had happened that day so they played ten minutes of classical music instead. I want that, I want a news organisation unafraid to say that there really isn't anything worth talking about, who hire journalists capable of thinking and presenting the news in a balanced way -- would it be entertaining? I bloody well hope not.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Razors and detergents

I think I've entered a stage of profound nihilism. I didn't begin that way, I mean who does? There aren't many newborns out there questioning whether they really are, as their parents (well, anyone remotely genetically linked to the thing) will undoubtedly put it, 'the prettiest child on the planet' ignoring the fact that they look like either Winston Churchill or Paul Daniels, or even worse some perverse hybrid of the two). No, life does this to you, it starts as malingering doubts, you hear that santa stuff isn't true, the bible stuff doesn't hold much water and you find yourself being manipulated from day one. Manipulated? 'Stories' on how to share toys with your friends, how to eat all your greens, all that arse gravy that is fed to children in the name of a bedtime story, if that's not a cynical ploy to manipulate behaviour through the medium of entertainment then I don't know what is.

Anywho, I digress, as tautologous as it sounds life lead to cynicism and that is the surest path to nihilism where all 'knowledge' seems unfathomable because nothing is ever as it seems. Now to the subject in hand, razors and detergents. I dislike shaving, show me someone who doesn't (okay, other than a xyrophiliac -- smart arse) but there is a holy grail in the razor world which is the 'close shave' in which after shaving it appears as if the continuity of your skin has yet to be breached by the merest nanometre of hair. For a number of years I used the Gillette 'Sensor Excel' which when it came out was 'the closest shave a man can get'. Since this product hit the market there has been the 'Mach 3', the 'Mach 3 Turbo', the 'Mach 3 Power', the 'Fusion', the 'Fusion Power' and most recently the 'Fusion Power Stealth' which still claims to give the closest shave a man can get -- why on earth should we believe them? Compare:


With soap powder it is the same, the key message is that they shall get your clothes the whitest white. Well if that is true why would there ever be the need for any other product? If the pinnacle in dirt removal has been achieved where else can you go? I do not deny that products get better but in claiming that whatever they sell at any given point as being the closest thing there is to perfection they make any future product seem redundant or make any future claim of a similar kind seem untrue. Also compare:


Language is a strange beast, 26 characters, hundreds of thousands of possible words, frillions of new and conceivable ideas and yet we see the same ridiculous verbal detritus rehashed in some new form with every new product selling an idea they know is false and we know is false. We live a life of mutual bullshit -- this is why I am a nihilist, or am I?