By George!

The Guardian newspaper has a section called ‘Comment is free‘, but when I tried to post my comment to a piece published there by Nooruddean Choudry I found that the option to do so had closed – oh the irony! – possibly because there were already over 1,300 comments there.

Therefore I decided to rewrite it and extend it into a full-size blog post.

Note: While I find the article so poorly written that I suspect it may be a hoax – online research into its author appears to return various attempts at ‘humour’ – based on the fact that it was published in a ‘serious’ newspaper I will address it as genuine.

Choudry’s piece is titled ‘Euro 2012: I want to be an England fan and a Muslim. Why’s that so hard?‘ and subtitled ‘England football fans dressing up as Christian knights from the Crusades doesn’t endear Muslims to the cause‘. Click here to read the article (mirror image here).

Now, aside from the grammatical wonkiness of that subtitle, the statement he makes in that sentence (which he elaborates on in his piece) is, well, erm, shoddy – to say the least.

First of all, in his choice of wording he seems to suggest to represent the sentiments of all (English) Muslims, and I know that’s just not true. The English Muslims I know have stocked up on England flags, red and white bunting, and replica football shirts; they have never mentioned crusades or any offence taken at knight fancy dress costumes. Whether Nooruddean Choudry represents even a majority of (English) Muslims? I don’t know, but based on the aforementioned personal experience I personally doubt it. And if his sentiments indeed represent widely-held beliefs, does that make them justified?

Secondly, if the picture accompanying Choudry’s piece is anything to go by, the phenomenon of England fans dressing up in knight costumes isn’t particularly common.

Thirdly,  I am pretty sure England fans don’t dress up to represent ‘Christian knights from the Crusades’ as Choudry suggests. As far as I am aware sports fan in a knight costume does so in reflection of England’s patron saint, Saint George, who, as the legend goes, slayed a dragon. And yes, the crusaders apparently revered that story, too, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the legend of Saint George and the Dragon has Eastern origins and that George himself was believed to have been of Turkish descent.

Heraldry Of The World (ngw.nl)
Crest of Amersfoort (Source: ngw.nl)

How I know? Because Saint George isn’t merely revered by the English. In the 90s I worked as a tourist guide, explaining to tourists the legend of St George in a town in the Netherlands where St George is proudly held as its patron saint – offensive? If Nooruddean Choudry considers himself a football fan he might have spotted the cross of St George in FC Barcelona’s crest as well – offensive? There’s a Dutch theme park ride dedicated to George and an annual reenactmentof George’s battle with the dragon (involving knight costumes and swords) in Belgium – offensive? And here’s a piece of trivia: had yours truly been born a boy, my name would have been Joris (Dutch for George) – HOW OFFENSIVE IS THAT, EH?!

But I suspect Nooruddean Choudry hasn’t spent an awful lot of research into history (or trivia) beyond the realms of his agenda . I doubt most fans of England’s national football team have, either; they merely support and celebrate their country – nothing more or deeper – in an event that is about exactly that.

While I cannot escape the thought that Choudry’s piece was written as a hoax – have any anti-unionists expressed outrage at the Netherlands’ football fans’ choice of attire yet? – if it isn’t, and he seriously feels as offended as he claims to be, personally I find that to his problem and not anyone else’s.

Yet pieces like these could just make people who are as ill-informed as Choudry but taking the opposite viewpoint to him think that every immigrant like myself and every (English) Muslim will be offended by flags being waved or by football fans in fancy dress… That’s a fallacy that was bad enough when it was held within the territory of the tabloids and if mainstream ‘serious’ newspapers like the Guardian wish to adopt it too, then good grief, we’ve really dumbed down as a society.

In that case I may as well add a dumbed-down response, as the above may go over some people’s heads – so here’s me blowing a proverbial raspberry:

Offended by that? Get over it!

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Preposterous-Posterous-Postposterous?

Since 2007 I have come to love Posterous as a platform for a number of blogs (some of which look more like proper websites than blogs thanks to Posterous’s functionality, without me having to really know what I am doing in technical terms because Posterous does that thinking for me).

Posterous’s announcement that they have now been acquired by Twitter gives me mixed feelings. I love Twitter, but for entirely its own reasons and not as a ‘replacement of’ or ‘alternative to’ any other site or social network – it adds to my life in both online/virtual and real-life terms. I am delighted for everyone at Posterous that their years of hard work are now being converted to them into cold hard cash – they deserve every dollar of that! But I also have to say… I’m worried… worried what the future may bring to Posterous users.

You see, I was thrilled when Twitter bought TweetDeck… until they launched their post-takeover version of TweetDeck, which lacked most of the functionality of its predecessor, specifically the features that made it the best desktop application for Twitter and all the other sites, media and tools it integrated (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, FourSquare, MobyPicture and so on). It was almost as if Twitter tried to kill it off by buying it.

While I’ve been able to revert to the pre-takeover version of TweetDeck, I do realise that if I bump in to any bugs or issues with it, there won’t be any support, and I doubt that under Twitter’s umbrella there will ever be a version of TweetDeck that is going to be anywhere near to what it used to be.

With Posterous there is no going back to previous versions, and I can’t seem to work out whether Twitter acquired Posterous for Posterous, or for the talented people behind Posterous… could users be set for a disappointment similar to post-Twitter-era TweetDeck?

So as pleased I am for all the people involved behind the scenes, as an end user I can’t help but be worried. And I hope that expressing that concern as publicly as this may catch the attention of the ‘powers that be’ involved and ideally tempt them away from any temptation to diminish or even kill off Posterous.

Just in case, I guess I’ll have to start studying possible alternatives. Blogger? Lacking sophistication. WordPress? Something I’ve been trying to put off while there was Posterous, as Posterous is so much easier for Not-Very-Techie types like me, especially with the help from fabulous theme developers like Cory Watilo. Tumblr? Love it, but not for the kind of thing I currently do on Posterous.

The thought of migrating my Posterous spaces elsewhere gives me nightmares, so I hope I won’t ever have to. But none of Posterous’s or Twitter’s statements on this acquisition assure me to that effect. “We’ll give you ample notice”, to me, sounds like “you better start getting ready for change”… and that worries the hell out of me.

While I realise that all these fabulous tech solutions are free to use by its end users, and that as a non-paying user I am merely an asset and not a customer, I do wish tech entrepreneurs would consider their users’ (business) continuity a bit more… that they haven’t paid in any money doesn’t mean they haven’t invested.

Without (non-paying) users, would all the money and work founders/entrepreneurs/investors/developers put in pay off in the same way and/or to the same extent like, say, Facebook’s IPO? Or like tech start-ups’ buy-outs such as Twitter’s acquisition of TweetDeck and now Posterous?

So where is the users’ return on investment?

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Faking it? (2)

READ THE PREVIOUS BLOG POST ON THIS TOPIC HERE

In response to my blog post outlining why I don’t believe in the authenticity of the sexily-clad cyclist story, I received a tweet from @StreetsblogNYC saying that although there were “no direct witnesses” there was “compelling corroboration” of events with a link to their blog post A Long Explanation of Why the Biking-While-Sexy Story Is No Hoax;

“George Bliss and Marlo Medrano of Hudson Urban Bicycles, a West Village bike shop, confirmed that Rijcken described an encounter with NYPD when she saw them later the same day. … Bliss’s recap of Rijcken’s account more or less matched what Rijcken told Streetsblog last Friday.”

Is this meant to be the “compelling corroboration” referred to? Well, I’m sorry, but to me that’s just too flimsy.

“Medrano confirmed that she was wearing the skirt shown in the widely-circulated photograph of Rijcken on her bike.”

Errr… hold on now, doesn’t that contradict her story?

“Rijcken told the Daily News that she was ‘on [her] way back to the hotel when [the police stop] happened and I changed into pants.'”

Yup, I definitely spot an anomaly there.

If she went to the meeting first, why didn’t she tell the Daily News she was on her way to a meeting rather than on her way back to her hotel? Or did she get pulled over after the meeting but before getting pulled over (in which case Medrana would have seen her in her skirt but she couldn’t have told him about her supposed encounter with the cop as it hadn’t happened yet)? (While on the subject of conflicting stories, note that in my first blog post on this subject I already pointed out that some sources say it happened on April 30 and others on May 3.)

So far, StreetsBlog’s attempt to dispel the rumours only provides me with even more reasons to believe the sexy cyclist story to be a hoax, and it doesn’t stop there:

“Rijcken touts her expertise in “guerrilla marketing” on her LinkedIn profile

Hm, interesting, I didn’t know that before, but it adds to my belief her story is not genuine.

“[Rijcken] emailed Joanna Virello and Stephanie Musso, her American acquaintances who organized the New Amsterdam Bike Show, asking if the New York Press would be interested in the story. (The Bike Show is co-produced by Manhattan Media, publisher of New York Press and other local NYC outlets.)”

Now that compellingly corroborates a possible hoax, as it directly contradicts a statement Rijcken made on Twitter, claiming she “never went to the press or mentioned a bikename” and “just posted it on [Facebook]” (the Facebook page for VanMoof, that was, with a lovely picture of Rijcken – who also claims she is a former model – posing with a VanMoof bicycle).

Faking It? (2)Streetsblog.org close their blog post stating “the hoax rumors have made her plot even more successful”.  

Successful? 

Hm. Successful in getting herself and the bicycle brand she represents a lot of attention, indeed, but also successful in creating plenty of doubt on her own and her company’s credibility and integrity, as it could be perceived that VanMoof might be willing to lie to people (dissatisfied customers included?) and that Jasmijn Rijcken herself is perhaps not as good at guerilla marketing as she thinks she is (as the whole point about guerrilla marketing is that you don’t make it obvious it’s a marketing stunt!).

All that at the expense of the NYPD; no matter how much you do so on the back of other bad press, that’s just inexcusable and shows a ruthlessness that would frighten me off if I were a (potential) customer, business partner or even mere acquaintance of Jasmijn Rijcken and/or VanMoof.

On the off chance that Rijcken’s story is genuine and not a hoax, she simply lacked the foundation to publicise it in the way she did. However genuine an accusation, you just can’t take it to the press or even merely post it publicly on your (company’s) social media profile without anything more than just your own word for it. (This is where serious, commercial press/media outlets should hang their heads in shame as well, as many of them relayed the story without sufficiently checking its factuality and credibility.)

I feel sincerely sorry for Jasmijn if she indeed really got harassed by a New York City cop, but I am having a hard time believing a person who on the one hand claims to be a well-travelled world citizen with work experience in the US, Europe and India, and on the other hand tries to present herself as a naïve, almost frightened tourist who could and would feel (easily) intimidated by a man in uniform.

Also, if she did get harassed by the unnamed NYPD cop and then decide to take advantage from it by publicising (marketing?) it in the way that she has done, I hope she understands what damage that may do to how other women (and men!) who suffered harassment may be perceived by the public.

And if she really is as “overwhelmed” as she claims to be right now by what “one Facebook post” (and an email to the press?) could bring about, that, again, may only show she’s not quite the marketing expert and hype heroine she claims to be.

Personally, I am more inclined to believe this was all a deliberate hoax, and I would suggest that Jasmijn Rijcken and VanMoof issue a shared statement or press release in which they come clean about this marketing stunt and announce they will do something that might help them save face as well as make up for the bad press they gave the NYPD. Perhaps they could make a donation to the NYC Police Foundation, the NYPD Emerald Society or one of the other charitable organisations supported by the NYPD. And perhaps those media outlets stupid enough to fall for the hoax could make donations as well.

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Faking it?

A small part of this post was previously submitted as a comment to an article on Jezebel.com

Last month featured (less than) fifteen minutes of fame for Botox Mom. So far this month, we’ve had the Gay Girl in Damascus that turned out to be a married heterosexual man in Edinburgh. Then it turned out that the lesbian news site editor (s)he had been flirting with online wasn’t a lesbian female either, but in fact a straight, married construction worker in Ohio. Next up, I suspect, may be the revelation that Barbie buying her seven-year-old daughter a boob job voucher was nothing but a publicity stunt by human Barbie Sarah Burge to promote her plastic surgery company.

Great! If I wasn’t already critical enough towards everything that pops up in my news feed, now I find myself taking a rather cynical approach to all of it, as well. And that’s not a good time to see tweets linking to news stories of a woman claiming to have been stopped by police for cycling in a short skirt.

Faking It (Source)I’m not having this. Seriously, you can NOT expect me to believe this to be true. In fact, I’m pretty confident in thinking this was either a throw-away comment on Facebook that got out of hand, or a deliberate hoax conceived in a bad attempt at (guerilla) marketing. From the NY Daily News article:

“NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said: ‘Whether this story bears even a modest semblance of what actually occurred is impossible to establish without being provided the purported officer’s name and getting his side of the story.'”

There are no witnesses either, there’s just her story, and a picture of her posing, smiling, on a shiny brand new designer bicycle that isn’t commonly on sale in New York; did she bring it with her on her short visit to the city? Oh wait, there’s another clue in the Daily News article:

“As general manager of a Dutch bicycle company, [Jasmijn] Rijcken was in New York to attend the New Amsterdam Bike Show and hopped on her wheels that sunny day to experience biking in New York City first hand.”

Sure. And she thought it would make for some nice (free?) publicity to pose for a picture, post that picture to her company’s Facebook page with a story wicked enough to appeal to tabloid editors’ imagination? And I am supposed to believe this actually happened?! Well I’m sorry, but I don’t. But hey, it makes for a good story and there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? And while Jasmijn Rijcken has no proof for her version of events, I have no way of proving it never happened, either; I can, however, offer plenty of reasons to be sceptical in respect of the authenticity of the story.

As a blogger I have the privilege to self-righteously spout my views – and I don’t claim to do anything else here but exactly that, albeit with due care and attention. However, I expect serious press outlets like the ones linked in this post to do a bit more than that; to do some fact-checking, ask difficult questions, assess something’s actual news value, you know, those things that in my opinion may be expected from paid, professional journalists (as opposed to amateur bloggers). (And no, the word allegedly should not be put about ubiquitously as some Get Out Of Jail Free card.)

This sexily clad cyclist story hit various serious (albeit, in some cases, tabloid-type) news outlets in recent days, and we’re in June. The lady’s Facebook update reporting of this story with the accompanying picture is dated May 23, 2011; that’s nearly three weeks ago already, so this isn’t exactly current, is it? In fact, the story probably wasn’t even current at the time of said Facebook update, as this year’s New Amsterdam Bicycle Show in New York took place on April 30, and the incident with the police officer is said to have taken place around this date (some articles state it happened on April 30, others say it was May 3). This makes this week’s reporting on alleged events rather outdated and harder to check for factuality. Aside from that, the weather in New York around April 30 may not even have been particularly suitable for a bike ride in a short skirt with temperatures in the area apparently no higher than 67°F/19°C (average weather conditions around that time of year would certainly not entice me to pack a short skirt for a trip to NYC).

Furthermore, if Miss Rijcken felt indeed as offended and discriminated against as she claims to have felt, it makes no sense to me that she waited three-or-so weeks to make that Facebook post expressing how upset she supposedly was. Also, why didn’t she obtain proof (such as the police officer’s name and/or badge number) and seek people to corroborate her story (particularly considering her claim that she’s not the only one this has happened to)?

What I am trying to make clear is this: Serious, commercial news outlets currently face a lot of competition from bloggers. If they want to stay ahead of bloggers, perhaps they should distinguish themselves through quality and reliability, rather than resort to publishing opinion pieces and outdated (non-)stories or lower their level to badly checked (or perhaps even unchecked) expressions of (mis)information. Moreover, they have a duty of care towards their (paying) readership, as well as to society as a whole; people unfamiliar with the press and media industry, may be insufficiently aware of how press coverage may affect their own integrity, that of their business and that of other people or organisations involved (in this particular case the NYPD).

Secondly, I want people to realise the possible consequences of posting what they might think is an innocuous accusation on their social media profile; you never know who may pick up on your story and take it beyond your control.

Overall, I just want professional (i.e. paid) journalists and editors to stop treating their (potential) audiences as idiots and do the decent job of offering value for money by engaging in proper journalism. I am sick and tired of whiny mantras of how the internet is killing newspapers when perhaps a lot of the decline of the newspaper industry could be blamed on bad journalism.

In the meantime, I hope that non-journos reading this blog post will understand the importance of maintaining a critical approach to everything they read in the papers.

READ THE FOLLOW-UP TO THIS BLOG POST HERE

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The Emperor’s New Clothes

(Part of this post was previously submitted to Vogue.co.uk as a comment to their article ‘Shock, Horror’)

Viva Model Management have opened a London office, and to celebrate this asked photographer Scott Trindle to photograph some of the models represented by the agency. Trindle decided to invite each model to the studio in his London home, where he supposedly photographed them “without any make-up, hair or styling” and produced the resulting photographs “untouched” — well, according to Vogue’s editorial about it, anyway.

Posterous

“You could definitely learn something about the model’s real character from the pictures,” says Viva’s director Natalie Hand. Oh really? Like what — that they’re sad, unhappy and/or depressed? ‘Cause I’m afraid that’s the only impression I get from these supposedly ‘natural’ pictures: dark, dull and depressing.

None of the models look in the slightest bit comfortable with themselves in these images. God forbid any of them would dare laugh or smile to the camera: think of all the wrinkles and other human characteristics that might show! In a world where characterless flat-chested boy bodies are mistaken for women, that’s just not done.

Had these pictures been produced in colour and made using plenty of natural (day)light, taken in a relaxed atmosphere where the models might have felt totally at ease and comfortable in themselves, their real beauty might have actually shone through.

Posterous

To me these photographs just look… erm… awkward… But I guess because it’s a tad different from the usual overstyling, cosmetics and Photoshop fest, fashion industry insiders, hangers-on and wannabes will drool and cry how “artistic” and “refreshing” this project is and how these photographs “expose the models’ vulnerability” and so on.
Or am I perhaps just too ‘common’ to spot the awesomeness of the emperor’s new clothes?

How I wish this industry would grow up and step into the real world, and give women their real beauty and femininity back, because this is definitely not it.

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