Monthly Archives: May 2008

Wogan’s an idiot: Eurovision

Once again Terry Wogan is claiming that ‘political’ and ‘bloc’ voting stopped the UK from getting points in the Eurovision song contest. This may have been the case in the past, but now each country’s votes are decided by a phone poll, this seems unlikely.

I watched it with friends, and yes most of the music was terrible and not my cup of tea. But when we discussed who and how people vote, we remembered that one of us actually voted last time, for a song they liked. Who exactly is going to sit and watch and then vote for country X, because it’s an ally. As though this was going to have any impact on politics at all.

Of course there are voting blocs (countries that often vote for each other) and you can see how they measure up here. However, there’s a non-political, non-controversial explanation for these. Culture (including language, ethnicity, musical traditions) is what makes us like one song and not another. So the Ukrainians will vote for a Russian song because it’s in their language, sounds like their recent pop chart, and so on. If Westlife represented Ireland, the UK would give them 12 points too. In an ideal world, the votes available would be evenly balanced across the spread of European culture. If all the songs were equally good countries would still vote for their neighbours, but they’d all tot up the same. Any slightly better song would pick up some extra votes and then win.

Unfortunately for the UK, however, the break up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union means there are now two blocs of countries, each with a lot of members. This has meant a lot more points to go round to the Eastern bloc and Balkan nations. This is the main reason the UK find it difficult to get points.

But… we could do well if we tried harder too. A UK song would appeal in the former USSR if it was good enough. Whereas the UK song was by a runner up in the X Factor who has since got to 18 in the singles chart, the Russian entry was an all-star affair. Dima Bilan’s done a few albums and been number one across the ex-USSR nations. He was accompanied by Evgeni Plushenko, a figure skater who won gold at the last winter olympics. The song was produced by Jim Beanz (one of Timbaland’s people, and producer of Nelly, Britney, and Whitney Houston). I wouldn’t buy it, but I can see why it would be very, very popular, especially in the countries around Russia. If Coldplay or Kylie represented the UK, we’d pick up votes everywhere.

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Girls and crime: media and statistics again

All day I’ve heard and seen headlines stating ‘crimes by girls rise by a quarter’. And all day they’ve been wrong.

The BBC said ‘The number of crimes committed by girls in England and Wales has gone up by 25% in three years, according to figures’. What they should have said is the ‘number of offences committed and resulting in a disposal by young females rose by 25%’ (the Youth Justice Board’s report). That’s not the number of crimes committed, but those detected by police, with enough evidence and a known suspect, and so a official caution or conviction in a court. Definitely not the same thing.

It might be because girls are committing more crime. Or it could be because the police are getting better at catching girls, or previously let them off with a ticking off (because they were female), or because the nature of their offending is changing, or because policing is changing, and so on. Indeed, it’s even possible that changes in the law mean that some things young women were more likely to do are now crimes, whereas ten years ago they weren’t: if you were to make playing football where there are ‘no ball games’ signs a criminal offence, the number of boys committing crime would increase.

Funnily the report begins the relevant section with:

‘It is important to note that apart from this table, all figures in this section represent the number of offences resulting in a disposal and not the number of young people offending.’

This was to point out that number of offences isn’t the same as offenders (as some offenders get caught more than once), but it also reminds us that many people offend without ‘resulting in a disposal’.

This reminds me of all the problems with police statistics and fear of crime. The more effective policing is, the worse crime seems. Even in a situation where crime is stable, or even falling, more effective policing means more crime detected and prosecuted. It’s only detected crime that makes the statistics or the news: if you’re robbed and don’t bother with reporting it to the police it won’t make the news. Furthermore, it’s prosecutions that make most headlines: there’s stuff to report when the story is being discussed in the courtroom. So the more criminals the police catch, the more crime there is on the telly and in the papers. And so improving the police increases fear of crime…

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