On Representation in Media


Or how I never properly realized how important it is until I felt it myself.

What follows is more a blog post than anything else. Largely unedited.

I’ve always been aware of the issues around representation in media. I think most of us are — the lack of strong or positive female characters, in gaming especially. Tokenism and the overwhelming majority that is the straight, white, cisgendered male character. And I’ve always been aware of how important proper representation is — I’ve been able to recognise the equality and fairness points (what’s right is right, after all) and to some extent I’ve been able to recognise the fact that people need to be able to see themselves in media, particularly those at risk. A teen struggling with issues around sexuality and gender, for example, is going to find positive representation in a character that mirrors what they’re going through a massive help.

That was me tonight and the past few days.

I’m a firm believer in turning to things like TV, books, films, games and the like as a form of escapism, a way to relax. When things are bad, I can sit in bed with an episode of my favourite show running in the background and feel much better almost instantly. It’s a comfort thing.

But over the past few days, the regular sort of shows simply didn’t help. I’ve been dealing with a lot of gender dysphoria, and I felt like I needed to watch something that would affirm that struggle, recognise it — something that I could watch that would make me feel like I wasn’t alone. This is rationalisation after the fact (well, to some extent — it’s still happening). When I’m in the midst of that need it’s less rational, more akin to an intense craving — something you know you simply need but can’t for the life of you figure out why.

Usually when this happens I go play a game with a female protagonist or the like. Something like Mass Effect works best. The control over the way your character looks, the ability to make decisions. It’s living vicariously, and it’s one of the best cures for dysphoria I’ve come across. But mitigating factors over the past few days have made that less appealing, so for what was surprisingly for the first time, I went and specifically looked for something to watch with a trans* character — or, failing that, anything with a LGBTQ storyline or character that wasn’t as condescending as all hell.

It’s pretty bleak out there.

Let me digress for a minute here before I forget. I started something similar last week, researching for a radio show featuring queer musicians. This was a bit better, in no small way due to the fact that music is a rather easier medium to self-produce than film or television is. I trawled through Bandcamp and found some great stuff there. I asked around and got linked to some great stuff (through that coming across the wonderful story of Laura Jane Grace). After a couple of days’ worth of work I had enough for the show, but was stuck with the niggling feeling that I shouldn’t have to be working this hard simply to find representation.

Looking for something to watch was a hundred times worse. Orange Is the New Black was the only thing I could think of with a not-utterly-horrid trans* character (a WOC, no less), but I wasn’t particularly in the mood to watch through all of it again, no matter how good it is. I started looking for documentaries and came across Crossover Kids, which was okay but twinged slightly of condescension, of looking in from the outside, looking in at this weird thing that was happening to the nation’s children — and what an outrage! I found A Self-Made Man, which seemed promising, but without the cash to spare I had to bookmark it for another time. I found another documentary on the “taboo transgender” and got thirty seconds into it before closing the tab, it smacking of transphobia and binarism.

It was around then that it all started to hit home — that this was one of the reasons representation was really important. Because when you need it, you really need it. There are times when you really really need to be able to recognise that you’re not alone, times when talking to people just isn’t going to cut it. Times when your favourite things just aren’t able to comfort you, when they aren’t able to recognise you. I’m still astonished at how privileged I’ve been to have come this far without having this realisation.

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Published author and/or writer, blogger, musician, artist (sorta), producer at @95bfm.

Alternate Universes and Cigarettes


Islanded in a stream of consciousness

There’s an alternate universe where I started smoking cigarettes in high school, and there’s this universe—the one where my lungs are tobacco-free. Smoking cigarettes, at least among the people I know, is a faux paus. “How could anybody willingly do that to themselves? You have to be an idiot to smoke cigarettes,” a friend of mine always asks when he sees a smoker. When he was eight his father died of lung cancer.

Anti-smoking sentiment isn’t unique to him though; our generation grew up with it. Anti-Smoking PSAs littered after school programming.

“Smoking is for losers.”

“Say no to drugs. Stay in school.”

The police officer who taught P.R.I.D.E. (my school’s dollar-store version of D.A.R.E.), who told us not to smoke cigarettes, smoked cigarettes. There was a “Smoker’s Corner” in my high school—a corner across the street from the school where all the smokers hung out before and after school to light up. These kids were the “cool” kids. But they were also the “bad” kids, bad because they decided to relieve stress with burning tar and nicotine.

Back then I was, what they call in professional wrestling slang, a mark. I believed whatever I was told. Smoking was bad. Only bad people smoked. Do your homework. Listen to teachers.

In tenth grade, I realized it was all bullshit. I became a Bart Simpson-esque character—I was a class clown but not popular per se. People still bullied me from time to time and I had no chance with any girls because I was such a loser, as clever as my antics were. Maybe taking the long walk to the smoker’s corner would’ve alleviated that problem? Maybe all I needed to become popular was a pack of cigarettes? We like to say that high school doesn’t matter but it does. Most of us are destined for a shitty life. At least the popular kids in high schools got to be living gods for four years. Perhaps cigarettes had a small part in that.

I didn’t let the lessons learned here stick though, because I became a mark for college once I graduated high school. I went there thinking it was worth something, that your GPA actually mattered, that what you learned mattered—the whole works.

After I graduated, I realized how much of a fool I had been. College is worthless. Literature and history are worthless unless ordered off Amazon at discount prices. Degrees are for suckers. Hard work is for suckers too, because I worked my ass off to achieve every goal I ever had, and fell short at every single one.

I know quite a few people who smoke, are younger than me or the same age, and have more success than I ever will. If I smoked cigarettes, could I have been them? Smoking cigarettes didn’t make them bad, just like not smoking cigarettes didn’t make me good. Each cigarette I don’t smoke doesn’t help me in any conceivable way. Not smoking only helps me avert a death I’m not dreading too much anyway.

When confronted with my failures, I say to myself, “I should’ve been smoking the whole time.”

I don’t have my health (long story; permanent health issues related to past injuries). And I don’t have a personal life, or a career. So what detriment would cigarettes have been to me?

Obviously, smoking isn’t a panacea and there are legitimate health risks. And I’m not saying that cigarettes make people successful. Cigarettes, to me, represent everything that society tells you not to do. I didn’t smoke cigarettes, which meant I listened to conventional wisdom—the same conventional wisdom that lead our generation, and me, astray.

“Smoking is for winners,” the PSAs should’ve said.

“Say yes to drugs. Don’t stay in school.”

When I say I should’ve been smoking cigarettes, what I mean is I should’ve done the opposite of everything I did. I should’ve smoked. I should’ve been disrespectful and outspoken. I shouldn’t have gone to college. Most importantly, I shouldn’t have written on the Internet, because writing is unhealthier than inhaling cancer.

Writing is cigarettes. Each rejection is a tumor in your lungs. After so many, you’ll be pathetically gasping for air, but still addicted to expression and exposure. “Just one more and I’ll quit.”

Writing is a drug. It’s addictive, destructive, and each day it puts you through the highs of mania and the lows of dementia. When you first write, the high of simply getting published lasts weeks. Then it lasts days, then you become numb to it. It becomes so banal it offers nothing. “So what? Lots of people get published. I want to get paid. I want a career.”

You need something new to find euphoria, so you pitch to bigger sites and create more ambitious projects.

If these succeed, you’ll get your fix but then keep looking for more; a writer’s ego is never satiated. If these fail, you’ll become a junkie. You’ll do anything to recapture just a fraction of what you felt when you first got published—that feeling of “I’m a writer. I’m a real writer.”

I spent most of my adolescence on Internet forums. I had no friends, and my parents took no interest in me. My father wrote me off as a lost cause since I had no aptitude for athletics, and my mother was oblivious to anything and everything. Forums were my salvation, and stayed that way for some time. Thus, I was elated when my favorite MMA website opened a forum in 2008. A few months after the forum launched, the site offered the most prolific, well-spoken poster there (who was a restaurant manager in real life), a staff job. He has since become one of MMA’s most prominent journalists.

One poster doubted this decision.

“I’d much rather be a manager of a big, successful restaurant over a writer,” he wrote in the thread announcing the restaurant manager’s ascent into writer-dom.

Back then, I couldn’t understand how anybody could think that. Nearly six years later, I can.

To make another reference to professional wrestling (I make these references because pro wrestling was a tremendously important part of my life as a kid, before the Internet): There’s an infamous moment in pro wrestling history where WWF (now WWE) champion Shawn Michaels “lost his smile.” Basically, he claimed he had a career ending injury and couldn’t wrestle anymore. His injury forced him to vacate the title and “lose his smile” because his future was so bleak. This was all bullshit, but not because it was part of the storyline. Michaels wasn’t hurt. He faked the injury so that he didn’t have to drop the belt to his hated rival, which he was scheduled to do.

But I lost my smile for real in 2013; winter came for me, and it’s still snowing. That’s why I can now understand why someone wouldn’t want to be a writer.

Maybe my smile is in another universe though. A universe where carcinogenic love has infected my lungs, throat and gums. Where my smile is yellow, my teeth are stained with tar and ammonia. Where cigarettes have propelled me into the success I worked for in this universe but couldn’t have.

I want to smoke a cigarette and have the universe split in two. Maybe this time I’ll wind up on the right side.

If you like what you just read, please hit the green ‘recommend’ button below so that others might stumble upon this essay. For more essays like this, scroll down and follow the Human Parts collection.

Photo via Abdullah Najeeb.

Written by

I write articles. Wikipedia cited me. I wrote an eBook that college kids might plagiarize from. @mattsaccaro

Christmas holidays delivered stunning results – Facebook ad campaign.


While many advertisers were on holiday a Facebook campaign we’re running for a client has completely stunned us over the last few weeks.

We started the campaign in early December achieving reasonable results. We’re measuring success by Click throughs to the website and finally website form registrations.

However on December 23rd the switch was flicked. CTR tripled and registrations increased 10x. All of a sudden we realised our target audience was home, on holiday and probably board, mucking around on Facebook.

Christmas eve was stella, Christmas day was busy too, Boxing day was manic. This was not expected at all.

We tripled the ad budget, added in a handful of fresh variations which stimulated the campaign even more.

It’s now Jan 6th and the campaign continues to perform consistently well.

The lesson?

Don’t under estimate the holiday period for B2B or software marketing because your target audience is likely off-work, thinking about the year ahead and has the time to consider new opportunities.

Written by

Digital marketing strategist. Ideas guy. Doer. Bruschetta critic. Wife and dog wrangler. Juggler. JustinFlitter.com

Asian shares falter to near 4-month low, dollar regains strength


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A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange January 6, 2014. REUTERS-Brendan McDermid
People walk past an electronic information board at the London Stock Exchange in the City of London October 11, 2013. REUTERS-Stefan Wermuth
A pedestrian holding an umbrella walks past an electronic board displaying graphs of the recenent movement of Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo December 19, 2013. REUTERS-Yuya Shino

1 of 7. A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange January 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) – Asian shares fell to a near four-month low on Tuesday, though the dollar rebounded after overnight weakness on disappointing U.S. services sector data that raised concerns about stuttering growth in the world’s largest economy.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS eased 0.3 percent, heading for a fifth straight day of losses.

Japan’s Nikkei index .N225 shed 0.6 percent, adding to a 2.4 percent slide on Monday, its first trading day of 2014.

U.S. stocks slipped on Monday after a mixed batch of economic reports, resulting in the Standard & Poor’s 500 .SPX losing in the first three trading sessions of 2014 after ramping up 30 percent last year.

S&P 500 E-mini futures gained 0.2 percent in Asian trade on Tuesday, indicating a firmer open on Wall Street later in the day, however.

Financial bookmakers also expected UK, German and French equities to open steady to modestly higher on Tuesday.

Data from the Institute for Supply Management showed the pace of growth in the U.S. services sector slowed for a second straight month in December with business activity expanding at a slower rate and new orders contracting.

A separate report from financial information firm Markit said its services sector purchasing managers index eased slightly in December from the prior month, but data from the U.S. Commerce Department showed new orders for factory goods rebounded in November, as expected.

All eyes in the market will be on Friday’s nonfarm payrolls data, which will provide new clues on how well the U.S. economy is recovering and how fast the Federal Reserve might unwind its stimulus program, which it began to taper last month, and how long it will keep its interest rates low.

“No more than 20 percent of investors think that there is a serious chance that the Fed will hike before the middle of 2015,” Steven Englander, global head of G10 FX strategy at Citigroup, wrote in a note.

“A nonfarm payroll print of 250,000 or more would raise alarm among investors that the recovery was getting out of hand and that the Fed would be behind the curve.”

He said commodity and emerging currencies would be sold off in such a scenario, while the euro and the Swiss franc could be a safe haven.

The Indonesian rupiah lost 0.7 percent to 12,255 per dollar, edging closer to a five-year trough of 12,278 set on December 27.

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

Against a basket of major currencies, the dollar .DXY added 0.1 percent, recouping some of the softness after the U.S. services data.

“We expect to see good interest to buy USD on dips heading into the jobs release,” analysts at BNP Paribas wrote in a note.

The euro was a tad softer at $1.36215, having come off a four-week low of $1.35715 set in the previous session, while the greenback was up 0.3 percent at 104.53 yen, covering some of Monday’s 0.6 percent decline.

According to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, currency speculators pared bets in favor of the dollar in the week ended December 31 to the lowest in about six weeks. <IMM/FX>

Before Friday’s jobs report, investors will focus on the minutes of the Fed’s December policy meeting, due out on Jan 8, and the European Central Bank’s policy gathering on Thursday.

Late on Monday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Janet Yellen, a key force behind the Fed’s unprecedented and controversial efforts to boost the U.S. economy, as the next Fed chair to succeed Ben Bernanke, whose second four-year term expires on January 31.

Among commodities, U.S. crude futures put on 0.2 percent to $93.62 a barrel after having fallen 0.6 percent overnight to a one-month low.

Gold advanced 0.4 percent to $1,242.04 an ounce, heading for a sixth straight day of gains and sitting not far from a three-week high of $1,248.30 set on Monday.

“We have been rather surprised by gold’s resilience over the course of the last week, but suspect that it’s upside staying power will be limited,” INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir said.

(Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Singapore; Editing by Eric Meijer)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/07/us-markets-global-idUSBRE96S00E20140107

5 Steps for Building a World Class Contact Center in 2014 – Webinar Q&A


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business hand writing question about 2014 on graphDuring our recent Genesys Best Practices webinar on 5 Steps for Building a World-Class Contact Center in 2014 we discussed the new customer experience model companies can adopt to address the changes in customer behavior and expectations coming in 2014. We also discussed the key capabilities to look for in a modern contact center solution to help you get there.

If you have yet to view the webinar, click the link above. Below is a recap of the question and answer session, providing some additional insight beyond what’s included in the initial webinar.

Does the concept of customer journey apply to B2C business only or also B2B?

The concept of a customer journey applies to any situation with a supplier of goods or services and a recipient of those goods or services. In fact, given the numerous parties potentially involved in a B2B situation, the journey concept might prove more valuable in such instances. For example, gaining a deep understanding of the journey through a customer’s purchasing approval process might provide a B2B supplier with the tools needed to anticipate all the support needs during that purchasing process. Such proactive outreach makes the supplier a more trusted partner while also making the purchasing process smoother.

Do customer experience metrics change when you take a customer journey-centric approach?

They absolutely do! McKinsey & Co. studied this very question and came up with some astounding results. For example, McKinsey found that journey-centric approaches are 36% more correlated to customer satisfaction than a focus on touchpoints alone. Conversely, focusing on customer journeys show a 33% greater reduction in churn than concentrating on optimizing touchpoints. Clearly these are the kinds of results that drive not just customer experience, but also companies’ bottom lines.

What is customer effort and how is it measured?

The Customer Effort Score is a metric based on research done by the Corporate Executive Board. The score is derived from the answer to the question, “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” Many companies find it more effective to word the question differently, focusing instead on how easy it was to do business with the brand. Additionally, many companies add further questions to their surveying to focus on what type of effort customers had to put in to get their request handled. This could include the mental energy needed to read documentation, or the time required to wait in queue, or even the emotional effort to stifle frustration from unhelpful customer service representatives.

How would the service levels be managed in contact centers if the handle time metric is taken out of the equation?

First, a clarification: We don’t envision a world in which contact centers completely ignore handle time. Handle time will always be measured. We believe, however, that in many cases it reduces the customer experience to reward or punish agents based on handle time metrics alone.

For companies that have decided to remove handle time from their agent performance evaluations, there are other metrics that encourage the types of hands-on connection that drive excellent experiences. Online retailer Zappos measures total call time and not time per call. The idea is that Zappos wants to forge an emotional connection with the customer and quickly getting the customer off the phone hampers efforts to achieve that goal.

So, rather than measure the length of a specific call takes to handle, the company can measure the percentage of total working time that an agent spends on the phone with customers. Agents are expected to spend at least 80% of their time actually interacting with customers, but it doesn’t matter if that time comes from 10 calls or 100 calls.

In what common direction (if any) do you think routing strategies are moving? Skills-based, schedule-based, cost-based?

There is no one right answer to this issue. Even within a specific company there may be several different routing strategies that can be harmonized to provide the best experiences for customers. That said, among our customer base we are seeing increased interest in using schedule-based routing to drive better adherence. This strategy, however, rarely stands alone. For example, schedule-based routing can take into account skills in making the best routing decisions.

Seems to be a no-brainer, but the first point-of-contact, and perhaps the most important, is the company website. More a comment than a question, curious of your thoughts about this – the re-definition of the word “Contact”.

Yes, for many customers the Web would be the first port of call.  Being able to track a consumer’s actions on a website and then marrying that information with whatever context the company has about that customer can supply all of the data needed to proactively serve that customer. Genesys Proactive Engagement  provides exactly that type of tracking and decision-making functionality, check it out!

What’s the best plan to modernize the integration of mobile apps with the contact center?

Conceptually, we believe the most important factor for providing customer service via mobile apps is to get your customers to actually download and use the apps. Companies have already invested a lot of time, effort and money on both creating their mobile apps and marketing them to consumers. From there, the best way to reach the greatest number of consumers is to ‘customer service-enable’ existing apps rather than create bespoke service-focused apps. This approach allows mobile channels to be integrated into the existing cross-channel customer service strategy, and provides your mobile app user with a fast and seamless connection to customer service.

Our leading-edge customers have seamlessly integrated mobile customer care applications with ‘live’ support by adding a ‘Contact Us’ button inside their mobile apps to connect directly to an agent, who receives session information, customer history, preferences, location, and other contextual information for quick resolution. This button could also provide numerous options such as “Speak to an Agent,” “Chat with an Agent,” or “Schedule a Callback.” Companies can even provide actual wait-times from their queues to allow customers to choose the experience that best works with their schedules. Check out Genesys Mobile Engagement.

In case you missed it, here is the link to access the on demand webinar 5 Steps for Building a World-Class Contact Center in 2014.

Thanks for reading!

http://blog.genesyslab.com/blog/2013/12/16/5-steps-for-building-a-world-class-contact-center-in-2014-webinar-qa/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GenesysBlogs+%28Genesys+Blog%29

5 tips for handling holiday stress in the workplace


by Team Ceridian on December 20, 2013

stressIt’s always challenging to maintain employee retention and productivity, but that pursuit can be especially difficult as the holiday season approaches. Christmas can be stressful for everyone – people are often consumed by shopping and other holiday responsibilities, not to mention arranging family get-togethers, and at the same time, they also have to handle their usual workloads around the office.

This can make for a difficult December at many workplaces. It’s tough for workers to keep making it through their daily grinds, and it’s not easy on managers, either. They want to keep the labor force chugging along at a good pace, but they also don’t want to push their employees too hard, causing burnout or office conflicts.

 

According to Inc. Magazine, the end of the year is stressful enough without throwing in additional concerns because of the holidays. Every time you close the book on December and enter a new year, there’s a massive pile of administrative tasks to deal with first. Rene Shimada Siegel, founder and president of tech consulting firm High Tech Connect, notes that the holidays only make it worse.

“Planning budgets,” Siegel stated. “Conducting employee reviews. Thanking customers. Scrutinizing expenses. Renewing and canceling contracts. Preparing for taxes. Setting annual goals. All of that, plus the regular hustle and bustle of gifts, festivities, and family commitments. The end of the year is stressful for everyone. It’s downright nutty for business owners.”

How will your company deal with the nuttiness? It’s not easy, but these five tips should certainly help.

Embrace the chaos
Let’s face it – the holiday season is never going to be easy around the office. Responsibilities are going to pile up, and there’s no way around it. The best approach is just to embrace your predicament. Be ready for the hectic climate and the long hours.

Gifts go a long way
The holidays may be stressful, but even minor gestures can go a long way toward helping people cope. Something small like a glass of eggnog or a free gift card can raise employee morale and help the workforce get through the December grind.

Tag-team responsibilities
It’s important to delegate tasks effectively among team members so that no individual begins feeling overworked. The best approach is to tag-team jobs. If one employee is busy with holiday shopping or hosting relatives, a co-worker can help out today in exchange for some help tomorrow. Workers should have each other’s backs.

Show some restraint
People need to have limits to the number of holiday stressors they pile up. Remember, you don’t have to say yes to every Christmas party invitation. Time is a valuable resource, and you can’t let too much of it slip away during a busy holiday season.

Make it easy on yourself
The holiday season is a time for good cheer, not massive amounts of stress. Sometimes, it’s OK to go a little bit easy on yourself, if only for a couple of days. Set the email inbox aside for a bit and give yourself a break. After the holiday fervor has subsided, you can return to work.

http://ceridianblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/5-tips-for-handling-holiday-stress-in-the-workplace/

Betting-shop machines sucking cash out of communities … this is what predatory capitalism looks like


While giving councils greater powers to block new gambling shops, it would be better to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals
Roulette machines in Ladbrokes Bookmakers, England, UK

In a spin … virtual roulette is among a number of hi-tech games available in betting shops. Photograph: Alamy

Midway through our chat, Abbas Marasli rolls off the sofa, yanks up his shirt and shows me a six-inch scar running up his chest. It is seven months old; a permanent reminder of a double heart bypass. Abbas is only 46, but could easily be mistaken as 10 years older. The father of three has lost two businesses, racked up tens of thousands in additional debts, been shunned by brothers and sisters, and gone through a divorce. The root cause of all this stress and misery, he says, is a machine that’s spreading across high streets.

Until last spring, Abbas was addicted to betting terminals. That phrase used to mean fruit machines: clunky things with a lever and a coin slot and loud music. Not any more. Games terminals are now highly sophisticated devices for sucking up customers’ cash. Walk into a bookie today and you’ll be offered virtual roulette or blackjack, the chance to bet £100 every 20 seconds and easy payment by credit card.

It was virtual roulette that Abbas discovered about eight years ago. It soon swallowed up his life. On his way to work, he’d duck into a bookies. Any breaks would be spent running into a William Hill or a Ladbroke’s; likewise on the way home. By the end of one day, he could have spent his week’s wages, then borrowed from friends and family. He once lost £2,000 in 10 minutes; burned through £10,000 of savings in two days. After a bad streak, he’d attack the terminals or bash his head against a wall. At night, “these machines would be in my dreams”.

He describes all this sat under a photo of a daughter’s wedding. How did his family manage? “No holidays, no social life.” They’d borrow cash from relatives just to buy groceries. Abbas’s wife divorced him, only taking him back after he’d undergone therapy for addiction. After she smilingly hands out cups of tea, I’m told she’s still on pills for depression.

Who should bear the blame for the destruction of one man and his family? Abbas, surely, but not only him. After all, when he first arrived from Turkey, he was the archetypal good boy: no booze, no fags and only the occasional go on a slot machine. Things changed when he was introduced to what the industry calls fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT), and what nearly everyone else refers to as the “crack cocaine of gambling”. These hi-tech machines have been shown to be four times more addictive than anything else available in a bookmakers. “We’ve taken the most dangerous form of gambling there is and placed it in the most accessible place possible – no other country in the world has done that,” says Adrian Parkinson. He should know; a former manager at a betting company, he helped bring FOBTs to Britain.

In effect, Abbas has been preyed upon by a multibillion-pound gambling industry, which was let loose upon him and hundreds of thousands of others by a Labour government. It was Tony Blair and Tessa Jowell who pushed through the Gambling Act in 2005, which took nearly all the caps off the betting industry. At the time, the big worry was of an imminent wave of super-casinos. The fear was completely misplaced. What happened instead was a tsunami of FOBTs: 33,000 of them across the country now, earning £1.5bn profit each year for the bookmakers.

Forget those cosy images of putting a tenner on a nag at Cheltenham or guessing when Walcott will score his second goal: the modern face of betting is FOBTs. The games that ensnared Abbas are one of the big growth areas for the industry: walk into a bookies and you’ll see men – usually young, often from an ethnic minority – staring at an electronic roulette wheel. Because the act perversely limited the number of terminals per shop, but allowed betting companies almost total freedom to set up wherever they wanted, Coral, Betfred and all the rest now set up within yards of each other. Just before Christmas, Shevket Gul, a therapist who works with problem gamblers, drove me along his local high street in a suburb of north London. In a five-minute drive, we counted eight betting shops: multiples of William Hill and Ladbroke’s and others in a recessionary mirror image of the way coffee chains used to sprout up.

This is what predatory capitalism looks like: betting shops with machines designed to suck cash out of communities, run by FTSE firms employing staff on miserly wages, while doing their best to avoid paying tax. Sick of seeing their high streets destroyed, anxious about the spikes in theft and violence, local councils, such as Liverpool and Brighton and Newham in east London, try their best to resist the spread of FOBTs – but are too weak and poor to take on the gambling companies.

This Wednesday, Ed Miliband will call a debate aimed at giving councils greater powers to block new gambling shops. Not a bad start, but it will do nothing about the ones that are already there. Better would be simply to cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to the norm for gaming machines, which is £2.

The big bookmakers claim to offer normal entertainment. “We’re no different to Gregg’s,” an industry spokesman claimed on ITV last autumn. If that’s the case, why don’t the bookies allow independent researchers to assess the evidence on FOBTs? Instead, most of the research is sponsored – or, rather, neutered – by the industry.

In my talk with Abbas, his son Yusuf has been translating some of the trickier bits. At the end, I ask how the 14-year-old feels about what his father has said. Sat next to his bear of a dad, he looks very small. “How do I explain? Sad and angry. All that money is my family’s future gone. My parents divorced, and why? Because of a machine.”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/06/betting-shop-machines-predatory-capitalism?CMP=twt_gu