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A good day ending in an ethical dilemma - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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September 26th, 2002

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02:48 am - A good day ending in an ethical dilemma
The Dickson family visited the nearby town of Seaham today. It's a former mining community which doesn't have very much left going for it any more, but it does seem to be trying to reinvent itself with a number of new industrial parks, leisure facilities and call centres. The church of St. Mary the Virgin there is claimed to date from the 7th or 8th century, making it apparently "the oldest church still standing in Europe". Surely a highly debatable title, but I wouldn't be surprised if some bits of one of the walls somewhere really did date from that long ago.

We also briefly visited Seaham Hall, largely because we weren't exactly sure what it was. It turns out to be an upmarket country hotel and conference centre with a classy restaurant. It is packed with art and has a fantastic, attractive water feature at the front - a glass-bordered well with a swirling vortex of water inside. The water level rises and falls gently, the patterns of the vortex within also changing. (At "high tide", the water even overflows the well's sides slightly.) At the end of the year, an oriental spa will be opening next door at which a variety of cleansing treatments will be performed. The claim is that it is set to be the finest such spa in Western Europe. Treatments on offer include Rasul - the Seaham Hall version of Rasul has couples caking each other with mud, having it baked on hard and then washed off before comprehensive massage. Presumably the Tu-Na Chinese Therapy for men has nothing to do with fish.

The interesting part is that it turns out that Dad's cousin's wife works as PA to the MD of the hotel. (We were probably told this at one point, but we had forgotten.) She was surprised to see us arrive at her hotel. With her boss away, she was able to sit us down for complimentary teas and biscuits (both home-made choc-chip cookie and arrowroot) and then give us the grand tour of the facility. I must say, it was very impressive. "The most expensive hotel in town" is not always "the best hotel in town", but this looked really pretty decent value to me based on what little I know about four-star-plus hotels. Room rates vary from GBP 135 to GBP 300 per night.

The star attraction of the trip was a tour of the penthouse suite. For your money, you get a beautifully furnished five-room apartment; it has its own business-enabled study and a miniature bathroom at one end, while the front of the suite consists of a wonderful bedroom with a huge king-sized bed, an imperial bathroom with a walk-in (read: "massive") shower and a bath for two, plus an exquisite sitting room as large as our lounge. That's what GBP 500 per night gets you up here. About the only thing I can fault it on is that the bed isn't a four-poster, but I think it's a stylistic decision rather than an economic one. There is a real issue in "who could afford GBP 500 per night", but a little bird suggested that Hartlepool United Football Club manager Chris Turner and his wife stayed there to celebrate an anniversary. Chris Turner is about as big a celebrity as you get in nearby Hartlepool, excepting of course Stuart Drummond who used to be H'Angus The Monkey, the club's mascot, before being elected to town mayor. That's Hartlepool for you!

On the way home, we travelled over the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, the local architectural landmark and the largest bridge of this type still remaining in the world. It's slightly out of the way compared to most of the journeys we want to take these days, so it's about a once-a-year treat. What was unusual about this journey was that the transporting gondola was delayed by the dredger Heortnesse. This was the first time I had seen a boat going up the Tees at the time when we had wanted to cross it, so a good vindication (and in my experience, a thrilling and unique vindication!) behind the reasons for building the bridge and for choosing to build the type of bridge that they did.

An extremely successful and entertaining trip, with a fascinating glimpse into how the other half live and an excellent day. Until...

In the evening, I saw something which I consider disturbingly violent presented as prime time entertainment. I am convinced it breaches the relevant part (section 1.7a) of the ITC Programme Code. (No, I'm not saying what, not even Friends-only. Don't bother guessing.) Accordingly, I'm considering making an official complaint to the ITC.

Unfortunately - but, I suppose, not unreasonably - the ITC "...will accept complaints (but not comments or critiques) about programmes which you have seen, but not those which you have simply read about or heard about...". However - again, I hope, not unreasonably - I decided that the violent part of the show would be too distressing for me to watch and turned the TV off rather than watching it. Ethical dilemma: do I have enough information to make a complaint in good faith given that I turned off before seeing the incident itself?

Yes, I am quite serious here. I haven't spoken a word for the last (reasonably considerable time period) since I saw the show in question, simply because I am astounded by what I saw. On the other hand, I suspect that the vast majority of the public would disagree with my opinion - heck, I know people who I greatly respect who disagree with my opinion. My taste may be well out of line with public opinion on this regard. However, if I don't register my view then it goes unsaid.

I'm not going to give you any more specifics now and I probably never will, but I would appreciate any advice you could offer on the matter all the same. :-)

This goes back to what I was saying in paragraph one about Seaham developing call centres, but I couldn't find a more suitable place for it than this footnote. I am not convinced that the UK call centre industry is well-positioned to survive in the longer term. A number of major English-language employers (famously, American Express and British Airways) are relocating their call centres to India, where there are very many intelligent people who speak English extremely well and who are prepared to work at a call centre at a much lower cost than would be the case in this country. The theory is so economically convincing and the practice so practicable that I can see the western world's call centre industry not having much of a future. The skills and local knowledge required are so few that there are few reasons why a sufficiently large company in the UK, the US or Canada shouldn't outsource their call centre operations to India. This can't be good for the economies of the western world relative to that of India; a crash in the sector would be a reasonably sizeable economic blow (say, 50,000-100,000 jobs?) to the UK.
Current Mood: pretty p.o. after a good start
Current Music: Burning Heat (Bemani 3-65 tune c/o brakusjs)

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:September 26th, 2002 01:03 am (UTC)

No ethical dilemma, as far as I can see...

What's your motivation for complaining? If it's to get action taken, your individual complaint almost certainly won't make a difference - if it's a significant proportion of the total then two or three complaints probably won't trigger action. If it's one of a sufficiently large block, then the block would assuredly be sufficiently large without yours. The probability of your putative complaint being the one that ensures the action threshold is reached is pretty negligible.

If it's simply to get your views heard, then without a doubt complain. More specifically, complain about *what you saw*, which clearly contained sufficient implications of what was to come as to be as bad as showing the actual whatever-it-was.
Date:September 26th, 2002 01:38 am (UTC)

Re: No ethical dilemma, as far as I can see...

Hmm. Inaction on the grounds that the likely marginal impact of one letter is zero disturbs me. It's an argument against voting in elections and I'd like to able to refute it. But all I can do is make a vague appeal to the 'tragedy of the commons'.

Date:September 26th, 2002 02:20 am (UTC)

Re: No ethical dilemma, as far as I can see...

That's a fair point. Individually, there's probably negative expected utility in voting at General Elections - after all, no one individual's vote has affected a choice of MP in my lifetime, and rarely has a single choice of MP affected the choice of government. On the other hand, the physical act of voting takes time, even if there are people for whom I suspect the choice of candidate does not.

However, if you remove the group of people who can work that out from the voting pool, then elections become a slogan contest. There is good reason to surmise that this has already happened.

As to whether jiggery_pokery should lodge his complaint - well, I'm swinging towards the idea that he should. It's reasonable to say that he was distressed by what he saw, the amount of utility he will get from the feeling of having done something is significant... yea, I'm definitely falling that way up.
Date:September 26th, 2002 03:05 am (UTC)

Re: No ethical dilemma, as far as I can see...

If one person had voted Conservative instead of Liberal Democrat in Winchester in 1997, there would have been a draw instead of a Lib Dem win. To answer the obvious corollary, either the returning officer casts a casting vote or the tied candidates draw lots. This is my morning for pedantry -- sorry!

The problem I have with evaluating my utility function to help me make decisions is that I've often already assigned high utility to 'taking the course of action I secretly prefer' (-:

[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2002 03:56 am (UTC)

Marginal Impacts etc.

Not quite IMO: it's an argument against believing that voting in elections is sufficient. Doesn't mean it's not a good thing.

For example: I'm very much in favour of reducing energy use and recycling things. However, I won't go to great lengths to unilaterally reduce my energy use or recycle my things. This is because doing so is often a waste of my effort so long as so few other people are doing it. However, this doesn't mean that doing nothing is the indicated option. Instead, what is required it to look for realistic ways to get everyone to save energy and recycle. Such methods can be authoritarian (legislate to require it) or not (make it easier for people to recycle than to produce trash). As an individual, my moral responsibility is to push for one of these solutions, not to waste hours of my time pointlessly recycling and effectively subsidising everyone else's lifestyles.

In the case of jiggery_pokery's ethical dilemma, I would say the right answer is pretty clear. He should write in and (as ericlendl says) express his unhappiness with what he did see. In doing so, he provides information to the programme makers and schedulers. Providing information is almost always a Good Thing IMO. Lying and claiming he'd seen the whole thing wouldn't really add weight to what is already a valid reason for complaint.
Date:September 26th, 2002 02:13 am (UTC)

Half as old as time

The oldest church still standing in Europe? This sounds like one of those cases where a small qualifier makes all the difference.

I thought Canterbury Cathedral was the obvious champ; a quick Google suggests not, but that St Martin's, Canterbury does date from the 6th century. Incidentally, a smart technique I learned recently for this kind of problem is to search for a sentence fragment like "is the oldest parish church in England": see http://www.freepint.com/issues/080802.htm#feature (http://www.freepint.com/issues/080802.htm#feature).

Extending the question to Europe (however defined), there's the problem of the Pantheon in Rome. The building that stands today dates from 110 but it wasn't consecrated as a Christian church until 609.

[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2002 08:55 am (UTC)

Re: Half as old as time

That's true. I should have made it clearer that I wouldn't be surprised if parts of the wall(s) still standing dated back to the 7th/8th century, not that I wouldn't be surprised if parts of the walls were the oldest church etc. etc.

I did a Google search on a similar sentence fragment ("sentence fragment" needs a portmanteau word - a sentment?) and discovered that the oldest church in Europe is, according to one claim, St. Peter's in Sunderland, about ten miles further north. I wouldn't be surprised if similar contenders to the throne were dotted ten miles apart throughout Europe.

Not impressed. :-/
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2002 05:16 am (UTC)

Complaints procedure


You should clearly be making a complaint in these circumstances. What's more, it would be inappropriate not to do so. If you saw enough to find the material disturbing, there is no need to have sat ghoulishly watching the rest in order to bolster your complaint. In fact, if you had done so, I would want to know why. If others disagree with you, they are at liberty to register their compliments regarding the show.

The choice you have is registering a formal or an informal complaint. If you want a response, you would be best advised to register a formal complaint, which would demand a response.

The BBC at least has an informal procedure which might be better suited to your requirements.

Relevant phone numbers can be found on this page.

Complaints procedures are there to be used, because the organisations concerned need to be accountable to the public and to be seen to be accountable to the public. Please do use them.


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