Organic food and pesticides

There’s a fairly interesting article in today’s Guardian about the benefits or otherwise of organic food. It would have been a very good article, but for two pieces of lazy journalism.

The first is the ‘spurious confession’ spin – common in political writing – where a perfectly ordinary statement is spun as a shocking inconsistency. In this article the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (an independent Government group) admits that he eats organic food sometimes. Admits? One can see Leo Hickman (the writer) battering the helpless professor with question after question till, unable to hold up against the onslaught, he finally whimpers for mercy and confesses that … yes … he … he … eats … organic food. But then, why shouldn’t he? Just because he is something to do with pesticides doesn’t mean that he has to eat nothing that hasn’t been dipped in Weedol. He doesn’t say he ONLY eats organic, just that he does sometimes if it’s not too expensive. But by portraying him as a hypocrite or in some way unfaithful to ‘his cause’, Mr Hickman can do some double spin – himself as valiant investigative journalist, and Prof. Ayres as the slightly shady scientist who doesn’t believe the lies that the industry pay him to spout.

The second bit of lazy journalism is the modern-day “things will never be the same again”:

Well I’m baffled that the onus seems to be on us, the receiving public, to beg our public-health agencies to find out whether pesticide residues could be unhealthy, as opposed to the manufacturers being made to go through more hoops to dispel, once and for all, the public’s evident anxieties – especially as there seems to be a genuine danger of those unable to afford organic moving away from fresh fruit and veg as a result of these concerns.

Or, in summary, “if some people are uncertain, there must be more research”. It’s a popular approach with three types of people – first, the tobacco companies and oil lobbies excoriated earlier in the article; second, creationists who pressure people to “teach the (artificial) controversy”; and third, journalists who are too lazy to reach a conclusion for themselves.

But I can’t hang around, I’ve got to go and check whether the Earth goes round the sun. Apparently, some people still aren’t sure.

Slip-sliding away

Reporting that Windows Vista (the new version) has slipped again, Andrew Orlowski at the Register comes up with this gem of an image:

Bill Gates liked to compare Longhorn to the Apollo space program, but it’s become less of a Moonshot and more of a Moonwalk as successive targets have tip-toed backwards

The curse of relevance

In the cultural or academic worlds, ‘relevance’ is surely the most horrendous concept ever invented. Whether it’s people wondering “what’s the point” of studying Anglo-Saxon, or directors sticking cack-handed references to Iraq war into Monteverdi, it’s based on the fundamental principle that there are no eternal verities, and nothing can be interesting or engaging unless it’s about ME ME ME and NOW NOW NOW. Well, bollocks to that.

There are eternal truths in old art and knowledge, as much as there are in modern life, that’s why we still study them. Maybe it involves a bit of thought to get at, and maybe it’s boring for some, but getting at those philosophical truths is how we work out our picture of the world. The end of the cult of relevance is a collection of individual pods, with dribbling morons being read Macbeth but with all the characters speaking modern English, named after the listener and her friends, and with the action taking place in her house.

The cause of this rant is not so much the new production of the hip-hop Così fan Tutte at Glyndebourne, reported here, but the BBC’s reporting of how boring Così is, and how down wit da kidz this new production is. One singer says:

I’ve been in traditional productions of this where the audience frankly was bored stiff. Sometimes I was too. It can be a hard show to enjoy. So why not keep what works and build around it?”

Why not? Boring old Mozart. Keep bits of the music, maybe a couple of the characters, and let’s build something NEW and RELEVANT and BETTER on that tired old classic. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Mozart.

Civic Minded blog

Stephen Coleman, Steven Clift and a couple of people I don’t know have launched a new group blog on Corante called Civic Minded. It’s about politics and participation in the age of the Internet. (RSS feed not working at present)