Signs of the times – a horseshit medley


Occasionally we notice fascinating things in the media – news out-weirds satire, or sociological details hint at bigger things/trends unrecognised by most media commentators. The snippets presented below aren't direct examples of media horseshit – they are pointers to what is conspicuously absent from the usual smug, know-it-all mainstream media worldview...

• Rising stress at work is causing increasing numbers of young professionals to grind their teeth while they sleep, according to the British Dental Health Foundation (27/1/2000).

• According to a survey published by London's biggest organisation for the homeless, 1 in 10 homeless people has a college degree, and 1 in 5 is educated to 'A' Level standard. (St Mungo Association)

Tatler, the upmarket glossy magazine, has announced that servants and butlers (ie personal slaves) are back in fashion as the ultimate lifestyle accessory for the rich. (Tatler, August 2001).

• An angry bank customer in Thailand covered himself in human excrement and walked into his branch to close his account. Mr Kotchasit said the stench would be more bearable than "the stink of mismanagement" at the bank. He had invested his life savings of around £9,000 in a mutual fund, but its value fell to around £3,000 in the following years. (Bangkok Post, August 2001)

• The BBC is publicly funded (via the compulsory TV licence fee). In 2001, £800,000 of BBC funds was spent on bonuses for a small group of senior BBC executives, including director-general Greg Dyke.

• Turning the tables on telemarketers, the US humorist, Dave Barry, printed the phone number of the American Teleservices Association in his newspaper column, with the suggestion that readers call. After being overwhelmed with calls, the ATA accused Barry of "malicious intent". Barry commented: "I feel just terrible, especially if they were eating or anything". (Independent 15/9/03)

• A pregnant woman has earned $400 by selling her "bump" as an advertising billboard for the day. The woman, eight months pregnant, received the money for walking around London with an advertisement painted on her stomach. (Ananova, 11/9/03)

• Nicholas van Hoogstraten, a property millionaire, was fined £1,500 for contempt of court after calling a barrister "a dirty bastard". He commented "there is one law for the rich and one for the poor... if I was not a multimillionaire I would not have been fined at all". Previously Hoogstraten has described ramblers wishing to use a footpath across his estate as "perverts". (Guardian 19/5/2000)

• "BROWN HIRES HIT SQUADS TO CUT JOBLESS" (front page headline of the Daily Mail on 28/2/2000, referring to UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's plans for "special hit squads to be sent into job blackspots in a tough crackdown on hardcore unemployment"). Wow, send in the army – seek out and destroy the idle! What does the language of "hit squads", etc, say about attitudes to the unemployed?

• Jesus was a regular cannabis user according to an article in High Times, quoted by the Guardian (6/1/03): "The anointing oil used by Jesus and his disciples contained an ingredient called kaneh-bosem which has since been identified as cannabis extract".

Bank of America Corp. Chairman and Chief executive Hugh McColl took home $76 million last year, making him the highest paid US bank head. The bank fired 15,069 employees last year. (Arizona Republic 21/3/2000)

• New York City is so anxious to place welfare recipients in jobs, that it was sending some of them to work at a psychic hotline. The recruitment blurb for this job made no mention of clairvoyance being a requirement, but it did cite a need for a caring and compassionate personality. (NY Times 6/2/2000)

• A few large corporations publish most of the magazines on display at your local newsagent. For example, IPC publishes 25 of the most popular women's mags – read by more than half the UK's female population each week.

• (As of June 2001) 5.8 million working-age males were missing in the US. That's to say they exist in the US census statistics but not in labor statistics. They have no obvious means of economic support. They show up in neither employment nor unemployment statistics. Many, presumably, are homeless; the others... who knows? One for the X-Files, perhaps. (Reported by Lester Thurow in The American Prospect).

• In Summer 2001, the media revealed that many of the Queen of England's 600 staff were living below the poverty level. The lowest-paid of the royal staff were then offered a 16% pay increase (presumably as a rushed attempt to quell the bad publicity).

• (From The Observer, July 2001) 'World leaders and senior politicians should be tested regularly for signs of madness, a leading brain scientist warned. Dr James Toole, president of the World Federation of Neurology, believes it is now critical that presidents and prime ministers be scrutinized for signs of mental instability: "Pilots of airliners are in charge of a few hundred passengers, and we monitor their mental health in the most detailed way... by contrast, politicians control the lives of millions, but we let them run around without any form of psychological profiling".'

• MI5 once planned to use gerbils to catch secret agents and subversives. Gerbils can scent increased adrenaline from sweat. The idea goes back to the 70s when Canadian scientists planned to use gerbils at airport immigration desks to sniff out "suspicious" persons entering the country. Unfortunately, when the Israeli internal security service installed gerbils at Tel Aviv airport, it was found that the "suspicious" people identified by the gerbils were merely terrified of flying (Guardian 30/6/01).

• "IBM has been asked by the US government to build a supercomputer to help them find the ultimate environmentally-friendly car engine. The computer, capable of 3.8 trillion calculations a second, will also be used in global climate modelling and research into fusion energy, proteins, the environment and biology. But this won't be the world's most powerful computer. That accolade will remain with another US government-owned IBM machine - one engaged in classified work modelling nuclear weapons explosions." (News article from Netscape website, July 2001)

• Seven of the biggest US corporations paid less than zero in federal income taxes in 1998 (because they received rebates that exceeded the amount of taxes they paid). These included: Texaco, PepsiCo and General Motors. Companies use a variety of means to lower their federal income taxes, including tax credits for activities like research and accelerated depreciation write-offs. (Source: The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, ITEP).

• A German electricity company has been sued after slashing its prices by a third. A customer successfully sued the firm after claiming it must have overcharged him in the past to be able to afford such generosity. German laws state electricity should be sold as cheaply as possible. A Berlin court decided that the company had previously overcharged, and ordered the company to refund the customer. (, 12/8/2001)

• The game, Monopoly, originated as "The Landlord's Game", created by Quaker Lizzie Magie to promote the ideas of "alternative" economist Henry George – to demonstrate the extortion and wealth-monopolisation inherent in the landlord system. Ghettopoly, a new game (roll a six, collect $50 "for services your hoe provided") has attracted legal action from Hasbro, owner of rights to Monopoly. But Ghettopoly's UK promoter claims Hasbro stole Monopoly from the Quakers.,1587,1127547,00.html

• One of the big polling companies, ICM, claimed that the UK Conservative Party wanted them to ask "leading questions" in commissioned polls, with the effect of showing Conservative policies in a favourable light. (BBC2 Newsnight, 27/4/04)

• August 2001 – The Chief Executive of IBM has been awarded an honorary Knighthood, despite allegations of tax underpayment by IBM – allegedly over £300 million in the UK and more than $5 billion worldwide.

• The mayor of a Siberian oil town has ordered his bureaucrats to stop using expressions such as "I don't know", "I can't", "It's not my job", "It's impossible", "I'm having lunch", "There is no money", "I was away/sick/on vacation", etc. (Associated Press, 4/9/07)

More to be added soon...