Archive for the ‘world’ Category

Every so often, online, someone will ask a specific question, a deceptively simple question. ‘Deceptively’ because the honest intention is that people should become comfortable with admitting having being wrong about something.

And that’s not a bad thing to do. Neither the asking of the question, nor the intended consequence.

Though I’ll admit to a prejudice against people who claim they’ve never made a mistake, never fucked up, never come to a wrong conclusion… (with their deliberate implication being ‘I’ve never made a mistake, so I’ll never make one going forward.’) I don’t like it in bosses I’ve worked for, I don’t like it with people I know, and I loathe it in politicians.

Note that when I say “wrong”, or “mistake”, I’m not talking about someone who uses the weasel words of “I reached the best conclusion I had with the information available”. No, I mean “I was wrong about something.”

The question I refer to is:

“Name one thing about which you had your mind changed by a single argument? (Whether that argument was made to you in person, online or through an article or video.)”

After all, a single argument isn’t additional information; it’s a deliberate attempt to change someone’s mind possibly via additional information but certainly by an argument… that the person hadn’t previously encountered.

I mean, I like to think of myself as a not entirely unintelligent person; I’m sure most people like to think of themselves in the same way.

OK, I’m fairly well read (on many things, but certainly not on everything) and it’s rare for me to, these days, encounter an argument, certainly online, that I haven’t come across before. It happens, sometimes, and happened a lot, earlier in life.

But yeah, it still happens occasionally.

Here’s one I’ve mentioned before: the death penalty.

While I spent much of my life… uncomfortable with the practice of the death penalty, I’d not come across ‘a single argument’ against which I had no defence. I’d seen plenty of arguments that made a moral argument against it, but they were always an argument against the death penalty in principle, and I never really had an issue with it in principle, merely in practice. But I was never quite sure why I was so uncomfortable with it in practice.

I’ll get to that argument that convinced me otherwise in a moment, but what I want to stress is that when the argument came, it wasn’t directed at me, specifically. It was made on a CompuServe politics forum a couple of decades ago and the moment, the very moment I read it, my mind was changed.

Again, it wasn’t aimed at me, but it could have been. My closest friends would immediately recognise why it worked with me; indeed, as with most friends – you’ve got friends who would do the same – they know that some arguments just won’t work with me (you) whereas others are so perfect, they’re almost calculated to work on me (again, you.)

Here’s the argument that worked on me for the death penalty. I’ll say it as it was addressed, so the ‘you’ in here is ‘me’, ok?

“If you acknowledge that no justice system is perfect, then, inevitably, there will be miscarriages of justice. Which, equally inevitably, means that someone entirely innocent of the crime will be executed.”

That’s all it took. (I’ve seen it argued that it’s similar to the ‘better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be jailed’ but I don’t think that’s true at all. The ‘better ten’ is an argument for making the system as perfect as you can but not punishing unless you’re very, very sure. The ‘there will be miscarriages’ is an argument against making The Most Serious irrevocable mistake that can be made.)

Now, it took me a bit longer (and I’m not entirely, wholly and completely, there) to acknowledge the wrongness of any state execution in theory, in principle.

But in practice? That single argument forever and irrevocably convinced me of the wrongness of ever executing someone, no matter how convinced a court might be that he or she committed the crime. Because for every time you’re convinced the court reached the right decision, there’s a chance, albeit possibly a small chance… that the court got it wrong.

And that small chance is enough, for me, to wholly invalidate that most serious of penalties.

I’m about to ostensibly change the subject, but I’ll bring it back to some relevance to the above, I promise. Just bear with me, ok?

What’s the matter? Don’t you trust me? No, don’t answer that.

A few years ago, when my marriage ended, when Laura and I split up, I moved into a two-bedroom flat in Barnet; the second room was reserved mostly for my lad Phil when he slept over, but there was a decent-sized living room area, and a similarly decent sized main bedroom.

The flat was exactly the right size for me. (The kitchen was entirely too big for my needs, as any kitchen bigger than a rabbit hutch would be, but other than that, I mean.) Big enough to feel comfortable in, small enough for me to look after, without much effort. But for whatever reason, the light sometimes bugged me. Not the size of the bulbs themselves, but the quality of the light in the place.

I tried brighter bulbs and they helped but not enough. Then I picked up some ‘daylight’ bulbs.

Sidebar: I have to digress slightly here and say that when I asked my usual ‘photo reference library’ – Unsplash – for ‘daylight bulb’, they offered me lots of photos… of plant bulbs in daylight. Lots of daffodils and vegetables and the like. I found, and find, that more amusing than I probably should.

Anyway, as I say, I picked up some ‘daylight’ bulbs. They happened to be the most ‘energy efficient’ available but that wasn’t why I bought them; they just were the best I could find for what I wanted.

And, not quite instantly but pretty soon, I enjoyed the light in the flat. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) but I definitely enjoyed living at the flat more with the white light bulbs than I’d ever done so previously.

Thing was I happened to mention to a friend of mine who is heavily into environmental campaigns what I’d done. He and his partner, who was similarly hugely into the environment, were delighted. They good-naturedly teased me a bit about ‘going green’, and when I protested, he got very serious for a moment: I don’t care why you’re doing it, beyond me liking my friends to be happy, but whatever the reason, I’m happy you’re being energy efficient.

And then he said something that resonated, that brings me back to the above death penalty thing: if I’d have known that daylight bulbs would make you more energy efficient, I’d have suggested it ages ago.

It’s always stuck with me, that additional observation:

If I’d have known that daylight bulbs would make you more energy efficient, I’d have suggested it ages ago.

Is that the answer? Is that the answer to persuading people to campaigns, important or not, global or not, urgent or not, less to do with the ostensible subject of the campaign, and more about targeting your message. And not to a group — political campaigns have known it for ages, targeting everyone of a specific demography – but finding a way of tailoring your argument to an individual.

(And yes, I’m very aware that Cambridge Analytica targeted political ads to individuals, and very small groups, but given they did it via – together with Facebook – effectively conning millions of people, I’m not entirely convinced they’re the pattern anyone should follow.)

Because, I tell ytou something without fear of contradiction, we’re going to need to find a way of convincing people, one-by-one, of something. We need to find that way now.

Because of the covid vaccine. (Yes, I know there’s more than one vaccine, but I’m sticking to the singular for this, ok?)

Almost (I nearly typed everyone without the qualifier, but of course it’s not everyone) everyone who wants the vaccine, or has been persuaded by a) the government, b) the health department, or c) the scientific community campaigns has either i) already received their first vaccination, or ii) already had an appointment for their first shot.

(Not for nothing, but I’m truly interested in the number of people who received their first shot and chose not to get their second…)

But the vaccination numbers (not the vaccinated numbers) are dropping, and we’re getting to the areas of population, both here and across the Atlantic, where people don’t want the vaccine. (Again, I’m of course excluding those who have been advised by reputable and competent medical professionals not to have it; those people are why it’s so bloody important that everyone else gets it.)

And we know that those people won’t respond favourably (as in ‘yes, now I’ll have the vaccine’) as a group to campaigns and arguments and debates and threats and pleas. Because if they would… they already would have.

So, the governments are forced to either mandate them with the thread of going to jail or losing their jobs, or find some other way of persuading them.

I don’t know the answer. I suspect some computer modelling might be required, and a lot of analysis, in order to find an argument that persuades a very small number, who go on to persuade more.

But we need an answer. Before we go through the alphabet and end up withan Omega Variant that, though the chosen-to-remain-unvaccinated’s selfishness and antipathy, starts killing millions more.


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

One of the mainstays of US comedy for the past couple of decades has been The Daily Show. Originally helmed by Craig Kilborn, it only really took off under his successor Jon Stewart. When Stewart retired from the show after 16 years, his successor Trevor Noah- after a fairly ropey start – managed to make the show his own.

It took me a good two years to ‘get’ Noah’s version of the show, though it wasn’t like I watched every episode. I wasn’t waiting for the show to work for me or anything. But I watched every so often, and after about two years, it hit me that the show was clever enough, professional enough, and funny enough for me to think ‘ok, now I want to see what the show does about this and what it says about that.’

Every so often, there’s an attempt to answer the calls and try to make a UK equivalent of The Daily Show.

And it has even been tried a couple of times; arguably. the most successfully (or least unsuccessfully with Trevor McDonald and Marcus Brigstocke. Others might point at 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Carr.

Or, being cruel, maybe that should have been “Others might point at 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne… but Jimmy Carr.”

UK versions fail for a variety of reasons, but they always fail.

There are lots of reasons why, each specific to the individual show, but there’s one ever-present reason why all of them fail: UK comedy shows aren’t allowed to use clips from parliament for the purposes of satire, comedy or mockery.

Yeah, I know. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver even makes a thing of it; whenever they show something from Parliament, the UK broadcast has to replace the clips of parliament with something else; Oliver chooses to make it something entirely irrelevant and silly, like Gilbert Gotfried reading TripAdvisor reviews.

But comedy shows aren’t the only time permission or rights refusals have stopped an adaptation of a foreign show working in the UK.

A few years ago, there was a tv panel show called The Bubble; it was a success overseas but never really rose above mediocre when tried in the UK.

And mainly, thought not solely, that was because the main news media refused permission for the programme to mock up news items purporting to be real.

Why would that be needed? Well, the simple but superbly clever concept was this:

The Bubble asks three celebrity contestants to separate true news stories from fakes after spending four days locked away in a country house with no phone, TV or internet access.

The host will present them with a mix of news reports, headlines and images from TV, newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines.

And “all” the contestants have to do is say which stories are true and which have been made up.

The obvious thought is: “ok, some stories are obviously going to be true and some are obviously going to be false, it’s going to be the one that could be true that will be the tough ones…”

But I always think in response “No, it won’t. It’ll be the utterly ludicrous ones…”

Suppose instead of four days, the contestants had been locked away since 31st December 2020.. I’ll exclude celebrity deaths because every year has people die unexpectedly. And I’ll similarly exclude anything to do with the existence of Covid, since we’d had almost a year of it already by the end of last year.

But suppose when exiting, after six months, the contestants are given the following: 

  • An insurrection at the US Capitol with a genuine, armed, attempt to prevent Joe Biden becoming President
  • Elected representatives actively helping said insurrection, and letting rioters in to state legislatures
  • Elected representatives who downplayed the seriousness of the insurrection being proposed to sit on the committee investigating it
  • England reaching the final of Euros 2020… in 2021
  • A Canadian MP was first caught naked in a zoom call with colleagues, then was caught urinating on camera — and he’s NOT related to Doug Ford.
  • The Olympics, a year delayed, going ahead in a country with increasing covid infections, with only 1 in 5 fully vaccinated
  • All Nippon Airways, selling tickets for airline dinners on the runway, never leaving the ground
  • Matt Hancock has to resign after being caught on his own department’s CCTV in an amorous hug with an aide
  • John Bishop crashed his car to avoid “a big chicken”
  • Bibi Netanyahu no longer Israeli PM
  • Someone pays $2.9m so they could say they own a 15 year old tweet
  • Tussaud’s has to put Trump’s waxwork into storage because people kept punching it
  • Scientists officially investigate whether sightings of the Loch Ness Monster could be whale penises.
  • 1500 bottles of vodka made from radioactive apples grown near Chernobyl is prevented at the last minute from being exported to the UK
  • Australian researchers claim short sighted people have worse sleep than those with normal vision
  • In New York, a Catholic priest claims demons have been contacting people by text.

I think more than a few contestants would be repeat-pushing the “Made Up Story” button, don’t you?

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

As I write this, it’s the afternoon of 1st December. This means we’re now a few hours short of exactly one month to 2017… just short of one month until we can say farewell to this arsewipe of a year, just short of one month until we all can say farewell to “2017 minus…” blogs. And let’s be fair: that is the most important things, after all. 

But not yet, folks. Not quite yet.


Of the hundreds of fast fictions I’ve written, there are few I remember writing the opening line of, stopping, rereading it, and then going “oh yes”. 

One of them, written almost exactly ten years ago, though… well, the opening line always stuck with me:

Ever since armies had been embedded with news organisation rather than the reverse, the reporters had been waiting for the first attempted coup.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

There’s not much I’ve found ‘interesting’ about US politics during the past three weeks. There’s been lots that’s scared me, plenty that’s worried me, some stuff that’s concerned me, but very little that I’ve found merely ‘interesting’. 

One of the few things that I guess would have to be included in that category would be the historical precedents. No, that’s not exactly right because there have been precious few precedents for anything that’s happened since November 8th. What I’ve found interesting has been the contrasts to precedents, and because of those precedents, I’ve been relearning and rediscovering a lot of history; the history of how things are usually done.

I’ve learned more about ‘transition’ and how it normally operates. I knew quite a bit, to be honest; US politics and Presidential politics has been a hobby horse of mine ever since my sixth form lecturer John ramm introduced me to the subject. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of much, and learned even more. I’ve learned what the traditional methods, ways of doing things, are… and have discovered how they have been tweaked previously for specific presidential transitions. 

As I say, much of it I knew before, kind of, but I’m not sure I realised how this bit connects to that bit, how the fact that this thing occurred meant that that thing happened next time. From the huge to the middling. I relearned how and why the inauguration was changed from March to January, and how and why Ronald Reagan was the first to have the inauguration on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building, rather than the East).

I’ve learned how and when security briefings started for a President-elect. I’ve learned about post-election press conferences. I’ve learned about the creation of the National Security Council, and that of the position of National Security Advisor. 

I’ve learned about the negotiations that take place when appointing a cabinet, and how traditionally, people don’t publicly lobby for a specific job. I’ve learned and discovered and relearned and rediscovered the traditional way of doing things.

All of this because pundits and commentators have fallen over themselves to stress that the traditional way of doing things is most definitely not what President-elect Trump is interested in.

Doing something merely ‘because that’s the way things are done’ is never a good reason for doing it. Doing it because it’s a time tested, sensible, rational way of doing things and that doing it another way causes problems all around? Yeah, that’s a better reason. 

In some ways, Trump is of course entirely traditional. He lied to his base in order to get elected for a start. That’s hardly groundbreaking in US politics. OK, the way he lied, the brazen nature and astonishing frequency of his lies may have been, but that he lied is not that unusual, let’s be fair. He’s appointed people to his team, either senior White House aides or cabinet nominees people

  • he owes favours to, or 
  • he thinks – for whatever reason – can do the job, or 
  • entirely traditional right wing

What’s struck me – and others – is how many of the appointees/nominees are or have been correspondents or pundits or have presented shows on Fox News. At least two nominees for cabinet secretaries, his pick for deputy national Security Advisor and others. It’s the Fox Newsification of the Executive Branch.

My friend Mitch Benn years ago said that instead of Fox News being the public arm of the republican Party (as had been the case for years),the Republican Party slowly became the political arm of Fox News.

And now you see the relevance of the quite at the start of this piece:

Ever since armies had been embedded with news organisation rather than the reverse, the reporters had been waiting for the first attempted coup.

Fox News has been embedded within the Republican Party for more than two decades; a little over ten year ago, the Republicans in Congress became actually, if not formally, embedded within Fox News. And now it looks like so is the Presidency.

I wonder when the first coup will occur.

See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 51: The Bubble

Posted: 11 November 2016 in 2017 minus, media, politics, world
Tags: ,

A few years ago, there was a tv ‘panel show’ called The Bubble; it was a success overseas but never really rose above mediocre when put on in the uk. Partly it was because the main news media refused permission for the programme to mock up news items purporting to be real. Why would that be needed? Well, the simple but very good concept was this:

The Bubble asks three celebrity contestants to separate true news stories from fakes after spending four days locked away in a country house with no phone, TV or internet access.

The host will present them with a mix of news reports, headlines and images from TV, newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines.

And “all” the contestants have to do is say which stories are true and which have been made up.

The obvious thought is: “ok, some stories are obviously going to be true and some are obviously going to be false, it’s going to be the one that could be true that will be the tough ones…”

But I always think in response “No, it won’t. It’ll be the utterly ludicrous ones…”

Suppose instead of four days, the contestants had been locked away for the best part of a year. I’ll exclude deaths because every year has people die unexpectedly. And I’ll similarly exclude health scares like Zika and terrorist attacks – sadly, they happen every year. But suppose when exiting, the contestants are given the following: 

  • Leaks of tax avoidance and evasion name top politicans around the world
  • Russia boasts about interfering in the US Presidential election
  • In a movie about Captain America fighting Iron Man, the universally acknowledged star was Spider-Man
  • Britain votes for Brexit
  • The FBI interferes in, but most definitely doesn’t boast about doing so, the US Presidential election
  • Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary
  • The final videocassette recorder is manufactured
  • David Cameron leaves The House of Commons
  • The KKK formally endorse a major party nominee in the US Presidential election
  • Liam Fox is back in the Cabinet
  • Michael Gove isn’t
  • Shami Chakribarti is in the Shadow Cabinet, as was – briefly – Paul Flynn
  • London elects its first Muslim mayor
  • China ratifies a global climate agreement
  • A British MP is murdered
  • Americans know who Nigel Farage is
  • British people know who Tim Farron is
  • Great Britian does better in the 2016 Summer Olympics than they did in 2012
  • Sepp Blatter quits as FIFA President under a cloud of corruption allegations
  • David Davis is back in the Cabinet
  • The British Leader of the Opposition loses a confidence vote of his MPs 4:1, then stays on, faces a leadership challenge, wins and is stronger than ever, even though most of his MPs still think he’s crap
  • Samsung phones blow up, as do their washing machines
  • Donald Trump wins the US Presidential Election.

I think a few people would be repeat-pushing the “Made Up Story” button, don’t you?

One of the things I love about London, though I’m not by birth a Londoner, is that if you walk down the street, not only will you hear a dozen different UK accents, but you’ll hear half a dozen different languages being spoken.

Let’s unpick that paragraph a bit because there may be a bit of confusion, particularly from the American readers, but I’ll get to them in a bit.

For a start, I’m not a Londoner by birth. That in itself shouldn’t be surprising; I don’t know what the research is but I’d suggest a huge proportion of the people who live and work in London aren’t from London originally. Like any capital city, it attracts folks from all over the country and indeed from other countries as well, as I’ve worked with people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as from farther climes. But no, I was born in Luton, about thirty-five miles north west of London. I don’t have that fond memories of my home town and not for nothing does the old gag exist that the best thing to come out of Luton is the M1 motorway. But it was an OK place in which to grow up in the 1970s. I was born in 1964, so don’t remember the 1960s that much. Unlike Warren Ellis, I don’t remember staying up to watch the moon landing, though I remember the fuss about it. In the same way, I don’t remember the Beatles breaking up, but I remember the fuss about it, as my older brother (the one who died in 1998) was a huge fan and was devastated.

My father though; he was a cockney, good and proper. Born without the sound of Bow Bells and all that. Occasionally – very occasionally – his speech patterns come out in me. My ex-wife Laura used to say when I got irritated or exasperated, she could hear his words and phrases coming out of my mouth, with his accent. Which always amused me because I don’t think I sounded anything like him. If I sounded like anyone, it was my brother, which was highly amusing at times (we once spent twenty minutes swapping a telephone between us, his girlfriend on the other end, while we were playing monopoly) and led to me discovering that I did actually ‘have an accent’.

I never really thought of myself as having an accent. No, really. This wasn’t the time it is now with contacts all over the place from a young age. Almost everyone I knew as a child was from Luton or London. Almost all my school friends (well the kids I went to school with, anyway) were from Luton and with the exception of some American television, most of the announcers and actors on tv were from the south. I was aware everyone else had an accent, but mine was just… mine.

At 18, I went to Manchester Polytechnic (regarded as, unfairly, a kind of a second rate university; it’s now called Manchester Metropolitan University), and although I was housed with people from all over, again, it was they who had the accents, not me. There was a Northern Irish lad, a girl from Swansea, anotehr from Derby, a lad from Rotherham I think?, another lad from Leeds. And me. About half way through my first year, Michael (the aforementioned brother) came to stay. And it hearing him chat to them, followed by the inevitable ‘you sound so much like your brother’ comments that brought home to me that yes, I had an accent. This was merely solidified years later when an American friend said I sounded like “Michael Caine on an off day”. (Which reminds me that Mitch Benn was right when he said that every impressionist of Caine does an accent and speech pattern that Caine has never done but everyone knows it’s Caine.)  

So, no Londoner I.

And yes, there are many, many British accents, despite American movies seeming to regard the UK as having only three:

– Michael Caine’s accent (or Jason Statham’s) or that abuse of the word Dick Va Dyke’s ‘accent’.
– Hugh Grant’s accent
– Sean Connery’s accent

This is a good guide, here: pay attention for less than two minutes and learn… 

But back to my love of London. So, yeah, there are a lot of British accents you’ll encounter in London. And a lot of ‘foreign’ accents and foreign tongues as well. And I love that. Seriously. 

Three of my grandparents weren’t born in the UK, but immigrated here as children with their parents. leaving aside the bullshit about Cromwell and the Jews, to which I referred in a recent post, I’m only third generation British via one grandparent (whose family had been here for several generations.) Not only am I still grateful to this country for taking them in – else I wouldn’t be here – I’m not that hypocritical to suggest that ‘this country is full’ or ‘we shouldn’t let in refugees and immigrants’. Though you’d have to be delusional to suggest that every country should have open borders, it’s equally inane to propose the controls on immigration that some want. 

Should British people be treated better than incoming people? I see no sensible reason why this should be so.

(Huh. Someone suggested to me tonight that I had an ideology. I didn’t think I had one, so that surprised me but ‘being fair to people’ probably sums it up if I have one at all.)  

Should people learn English? Yes of course they should; it’s the main language of the U.K. so yeah, but to assist them in every day life. I don’t need to understand what people are saying when I pass them in the street, and it’s none of my business anyway.

And this blog entry got away from me a bit. Something less confusered tomorrow.

I doubt anyone reading this is unaware of the horrific events that took place in the last 24 hours in Paris. I wrote on Twitter a couple of hours ago that I didn’t have a fucking clue what I could possibly write today in the shadow of those events that wasn’t trite nor unnecessary, and as I write these words, I’m still not sure.

Oh, I could state my loathing both for those who committed the atrocieties we’re still learning about, and those who defend, justify or excuse those who carried them out. Or those who protest that they’re merely ‘explaining’ the motivations, when what they’re actually doing is defending, justifying or excusing. There is a time for serious people to seriously consider what happened, and such horrors can attempt to be prevented from reoccurring. But that time is in the future, not while bodies are still being identified and removed. Yes, I could state my abhorrence of such horrors, but anyone reading this would already know I abhor them.

There’s something to be said I suppose for my entire lack of surprise at how these events have shown once again that people are amazing; not those who carried out the attacks, but the people who opened their homes to those who needed shelter, the people who understood that to blame a religion (rather than its perversion) for the attacks is as ludicrous as blaming the concept of writing for an obscene piece of graffitti, the people – in short – who as Alistair Cooke once said were a credit to their race… the human race.

So let me instead comment on just three facets of the evening that entirely surprised me at the time and continue to do so; two are to do with social media, one on the news reporting; one surprised me in its cleverness and rightness, one depressed me, and one utterly disgusted me.

Facebook did something that only tech could do, that was in hindsight obvious, but at the time genuinely pleasing. If the functionality was available previously, it’s something of which I was entirely unaware, but it’s something that I sadly suspect will become more and more important as time goes on. I’m not on Facebook; lots of reasons for it, but I’ve not regretted not being on it. I may change my mind after this. A couple of hours after the attacks commenced, I first became aware that Facebook had activated a function that informed people that their ‘friends’ (i.e. contacts on Facebook) were ok, that they were safe, that they had checked in. Of course, one might think that someone on Facebook saying “I’m ok, everyone” would be enough, but I’m presuming (I don’t know, as I say, I’m not on Facebook) that this algorithm scanned your friends’ list, checked who lived in or was in Paris that night, and then if Facebook detected that their phone was moving, being used to make calls, tweet, post, etc. it automatically marked them as ‘safe’ in the function. Astonishingly clever automagical use of a social media network and one that could have been useful on too many similar occasions in the past.

Twitter meanwhile lived up/down to the comment made some years back that Twitter is at its best in the twelve minutes after any major event and at its worse in the following twelve hours. Genuinely well-motivated tweets were tweeted as accurate then deleted – or worse not deleted – as new information superceded the previous inaccurate data. Idiots made mischief, and good ideas, such as a hashtag for people to use to find somewhere safe, were drowned out as amended tweets drowned out the possibility of anyone being able to find a genuinely useful example of the hashtag. As for the developing situation on the ground, incorrect information was tweeted by too many (some well meaning, some not) without any consideration as to its accuracy. It was the most recent ‘news’ so get it out there for your followers to see… And a perfect example of this was the alleged fire at a Calais refugee camp. Too many examples last night of tweets from people stating outright that the camp was on fire, and that it was probably a ‘revenge’ attack. It took a couple of hours to sort out what had happened. Some racists online – entirely missing the point that the refugees weren’t responsible for the atacks, but were refugees precisely vecause they had fled such attacks – had tweeted that they hoped the refugee camp would be set aflame. One of them grabbed an old photo of a camp on fire (a gas cannister had exploded, accident). That pic then did the rounds, and people started tweeting that the camp was on fire. The possibility/probability/certainty/doubt/debunking process took far longer than it should have. (Edit to add: almost 24 hours later, it appears there was a fire last night, but the pictures tweeted were from an old incident, and there have been no official reasons given for the fire, nor details of the size or seriousness of it.)

And that brings me to the news reporting. Much of it was excellent; I was channel flipping between BBC News, Sky News and France 24. All had their advantages and all their disadvantages. But around midnight, BBC News was the one that shocked me, and not for a good reason. That Calais refugee camp? Look, BBC News, I can understand your irritation at being accused of always being behind everyone else and the desire to be first with ‘new’ news, but for the love of Reith, is it asking too much to withhold even a suggestion as potentially dangerous as a refugee camp being on fire until you check the bloody story out? I appreciate that being on air during a developing story is when a news presenter is tested. Well, sorry, by reporting that even as a possibility and then saying “but treat that with caution; we’re not sure it’s accurate”, you failed.

One final thing. It’s petty and trivial and shouldn’t upset me as much as it did. When you tweet something, you shouldn’t have to check the last hour of your feed to confirm ‘nothing’s happened in the world’. But more and more, it appears as if some think you should. 

The events last night started mid evening. Many were entirely unaware of the events for some time as they’d been travelling or at a party, or in the cinema or… just not on Twitter. Their tweets – about such trivialities as what they’d had for dinner, or what they’d just seen in the movie theatre, or anything at all that didn’t relate to the horrible events in Twitter – were not only perfectly understandable but on any other occasion wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, let alone the ire of others. And yet, time after time last night, I saw someone tweet a completely harmless tweet of the sort we’ve all done, only for people to fall upon them because they’d dared tweet something that wasn’t about Paris. This isn’t not bothering to cancel scheduled tweets promoting something or other – I had three ready to go and very fortunately remembered to cancel them –   but having a pop at people because they weren’t aware what had happened in Paris. As I say, seeing the tweets discomforted me; I can’t lie, but it was that discomfort that occurs when someone you haven’t seen in years ethusiastically asks after your parents and you have to explain they died. What upset me was the knowledge that by having a go at someone, the accuser was assuming that the person tweeting knew about Paris and chose not to care. And some of these people being berated were my friends. 

Be safe today, people. Please.

I’m pretty sure no-one reading this can be unaware of what’s been going on in Israel and Gaza the past few weeks, or – to be fair – the past few years.

And something I’ve noticed, even more so than ever before is the astonishing levels of mendacity and venom in discussions; the passionate fury and nastiness has leaped out and smacked everyone around the face and relatively few seem to notice.

I’ve said before that criticism of Israel isn’t inherently anti-Semitic. Of course it isn’t, any more than criticism of how the UK behaves is inherently anti-British.

Indeed, there’s a wonderful, simply wonderful, post that’s been doing the rounds recently entitled How to Criticise Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic.

Read the piece; it’s superb. I’m not going to repeat its contents here except to make one point that comes up regularly, usually – funnily enough – from anti-Semites. “But Arabs are Semites too!” Don’t deny it, but “Anti-Semitic” has exclusively meant ‘Jew hatred’ for well over a century now. Let’s stick to anti-Semitism, rather than anti-Semanticism, eh?

So, yeah, criticism of an individual Israeli government, an individual Israeli government policy, an individual military action, hell, even a specific Israeli minister, soldier, or person isn’t inherently anti-Semitic. But sometimes, some would argue often, such criticism is a cover for pure, naked, unfettered anti-Semitism. And those that allow the latter to go by without comment because it’s criticism of Israel have no right to complain when they’re viewed by Jewish people as enabling anti-Semitism. (As a friend of mine said, attacking something Israel does is fine, but when they talk about the abolition or destruction of Israel, he smells ovens warming up. I couldn’t agree more.)

A few cartoons did the rounds this week. Let’s see whether they’re anti-Israel or just possibly anti-Semitic.

OK, now I think they’re fair comment; hard but absolutely attacking Israel (and the US), and not in any way anti-Semitic.

What about these?

Anti-Israel? Anti-Netanyahu? Yes. Anti-Semitic? Yes, of course they are; they rely upon classic anti-Semitic tropes, and the Netanyahu one plays upon the blood libel. Oh, and by the way, sticking “zionism” on an anti-Semitic image – say, the octopus with tentacles covering the earth, or a puppet master wearing a Star of David – doesn’t stop it being an anti-Semitic image. At all.

Now all the above cartoons are from outside the UK. As is the following banner carried at a ‘pro-Palestinian’ march in Paris:

By the way, I don’t doubt that many people marching and protesting, the vast overwhelming majority in fact, are doing so out of a genuine heartfelt empathy and sickened well-meaning motive; they’re not anti-Semitic in the least. But don’t try and tell me that such marches and protests don’t contain some unrepentant anti-Semites. Just don’t. Because they do.

In the UK? I’ve got a Star of David necklace; it was a 21st birthday present from my late grandparents. Self-designed, it’s something I like a lot, and the following pic is a fairly common sight.

Well, I say “is”; it’s more accurate to say “was”, since for the past few weeks, I’ve been ensuring that it’s kept hidden under my shirt. Not because I’m scared per se, more that it’s to avoid a shout-out to idiots wanting to have a pop at someone who identifies themselves as Jewish.

I did wonder whether I was just being daft and over-careful… until earlier this week when it slipped into view and I had to deal with some… aforementioned idiots, an unpleasant experience to put it mildly.

In Brighton? Well, this was what happened to Brighton synagogue:

And when it was publicised, the following two tweets appeared:

Perhaps even more horrible was what appeared on the door at Kingston synagogue, half a dozen miles from where I live:

“CHILD MURDERERS”. Bloody hell. Shades of the blood libel, indeed, especially when you consider that on Arab television, the libel is alive and kicking, with audiences being told that Israeli forces have been instructed by rabbis to harvest childrens’ blood.

Moving to the BBC and the Jeremy Bowen conspiracy that doesn’t exist. After a long time as a Middle East correspondent, the accusation that either he or the BBC was pro-Israeli would surprise many Israelis and indeed many Jewish people. However, Bowen’s last tweet from Gaza (after he’d written a piece for the New Statesman casting doubt on the Hamas use Human Shields’ story) was 22nd July. When asked about how come he wasn’t tweeting from Gaza, Bowen himself replied “Because I am on holiday.”

Didn’t take long for the conspiracy nuts to start spreading the following graphic on social media:

Fairly quickly the BBC denied the allegation, as did Lyce Doucet, one of Bowen’s colleagues. Didn’t matter, the story spread and two weeks’ later, despite lots of places, including The Independent, and even The Hollywood Reporter debunking it, the story continues.

Lots of people believe it, lots of people defend it by saying “prove he wasn’t”, the classic ‘prove a negative’. I felt like replying “he’s been abducted by aliens” and then challenging those who rebutted it with “well, prove he hasn’t been!”

It struck me – I suspect it struck anyone with experience in this – quickly that this was the classic “Jews control the media”; so I stuck up the following:

I didn’t think that was a particularly difficult thing to understand. But apparently not, whether it was the responses from someone who refers to Jews as “puppet masters”, someone else who called me – as well as everyone Jewish or in political office – a “Rothschild Zionist” or the following messages:

The same “gentleman” went for another trope when Ed Miliband came up…

I linked to the following yesterday; I’m doing it again here.

The Guardian’s editorial: On Gaza and the rise of anti-semitism

Owen Jones’ superb piece: Anti-Jewish hatred is rising; we must see it for what it is

And – behind the Times Paywall – Hugo Rifkind’s masterly piece: Suddenly, it feels uncomfortable to be a Jew

So, when Jewish people you know say they’re feeling uncomfortable in the UK for the first time in their life, when they suspect that some attacks on Israel are anti-Semitic in motive, when people start calling anti-Semitism to a comment or an article or a response, maybe, just maybe, for once… they’re right.

It’s tempting to generalise about things. It’s comforting, even. Also, dangerous as hell.

All MPs are on the take. All benefits claimants are scroungers. Furthermore, all MPs who wrongly claimed expenses were doing so fraudulently, and all mistakes on benefits claims are made by those favourite scapegoats of the right wing press: the benefit cheat.

Or: MPs followed the law, in most cases, and those that weren’t charged with criminal offences made honest mistakes, paid back any money mistakenly claimed and are paragons of virtue. Similarly, it’s perfectly understandable that with the confusing and inefficient benefits system, claimants sometimes make errors, so there’s never ever anyone cheating on their benefits.

All of the above is pure, unfettered, unmitigated crap.

And yet, depending upon the political view held by an observer (hardly an unbiased observer in most cases) one of more of the above generalisations, at least one of the above extreme positions, is actually believed.

Let’s have some more. All Tories are scum, not a caring one among the bastards. And all Lib Dems are spineless immoral toerags who wouldn’t know a principle if it jumped up and bit them. And all socialists want control of your lives, 99% tax rates and can’t be trusted to manage a shop, let alone an economy. Oh, and all UKIP supporters are racists, while all Green party supporters are naiveté personified .

Again, all pure unfettered, unmitigated crap.

Oh, but let’s not limit it to domestic politics. By no means; all American right wingers are misogynistic racist thugs, and all Democrats can’t be trusted with the nation’s security. Oh, and every Christian is either a nonce or is covering up for them, you can’t trust Jews because of course they support Israel unquestionably and all Moslems want you dead.

Once again, pure unfettered, unmitigated crap.

It’s truly astonishing to me how many otherwise sensible people take an example, often take more than one example to be fair, and extrapolate those to the entire population under discussion.

I’d love to be able to say that it’s only the extreme cases that rely upon generalisations, but it’s not; it’s prevalent in discussion to the point that it’s rare to engage in conversation where at least one of the arguments doesn’t rest upon a generalisation. I can’t think how many debates I’ve had with people over the past couple of years where the extreme position has been the fundamental basis of their position. And it’s been even worse the past couple of weeks, what with Israel’s military attack on Gaza, after and during which anyone who doesn’t call for the destruction of Israel apparently supports baby killing, and those who don’t agree with the military action are apparently ok with all the Jews being killed. (c.f. unmitigated crap, above.)

(Yes, I know, I know – I’ve said there may well be a full post on that, and there still may be. I’ve drafted, redrafted, written and rewritten the post a half dozen times and I’m still unsure whether or not I’ll post it.)

The extreme positions taken by some, by many online it sometimes seems, bothers me. And it worries me. Because… and this is where I tread carefully, you end up with the “not ALL men” responses.

“Not ALL men” is a comment that gets thrown back at anyone who tries to explain why women feel afraid of men; I’ve felt the impulse to respond that way myself and it’s only really because I have intelligent – and understanding – women friends who’ve explained to me in detail why such a comment is not only inappropriate but wildly so.

But yeah, I sometimes want to respond “not ALL Tories” are unfeeling, uncaring loathesome specimens, “not ALL Lib Dems” are craven cowards, “not ALL American right wingers” decry equal marriage. It’s hard not to, especially when you’re one of the people (none of the above in this paragraph, to be fair) who’s being unfairly traduced.

Whatever happened to nuance? Have we taken the twenty-four hour news cycle to which we demand politicians answer and appropriated it to ourselves? OK, I accept that in the most part, people want simple yes/no solutions to complicated problems. In short, people want to know who’s the goodie and who’s the baddie.

Well, people are neither the one nor the other.

In that wonderful TV programme, The West Wing, at one point, the President says:

Every once in a while, every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts.

Thing is, even then, even when body counts are involved, it’s usually too simple to say there’s an absolute right or an absolute wrong.

And for the rest of the time, why the hell not accept that you just might not know enough to talk knowledgeably about a subject? In fact, if you’re sure there is an absolute right, or an equally absolute wrong, and that your generalising merely emphasises that fact, you’ve just proved to me that you don’t know enough.

So either learn some more about it or sit in the corner and let the grown ups talk for a while.

I’ve been reading and listening to (digression: how come you listen to something, but you read [about] something, you don’t read to something?)…

Sorry, let me start again. So I’ve been reading and listening to various pieces about what Prime Ministers are like; how they act “behind closed doors”, how he (or she in one notable exampe) behaves as an employer and as Prime Minister towards other ministers and staff.

In this, I have the invaluable aid of Nick Robinson’s two radio 4 series entitled, sensibly enough, The Prime Ministers. Definitely worth listening to if you have some time. Leaving aside your personal preferences as to someone’s politics, does “it” matter? It, of course, being what someone’s like as opposed to what they achieve.

I’ve never signed up to, say, the belief that if a minister cheats on his missus, then he’s likely to cheat on his taxes, or if he does that, that indicates he’ll be a traitor to his country. But this has been something that’s, on and off, occurred to me to ponder for years ever since I heard the unproved allegation (let me stress that, unproved) that Errol Flynn was, well, let us say that the allegation was that he wouldn’t have exactly thrown Nick Griffin out of his house.

But even were that to be proved, would that change my enjoyment of The Adventures of Robin Hood? Should it? Should my appreciation of the mastery of that role change depending upon my view of the person performing it?

If a public figure (and I include writers and other creatives in this) has political, sexual or other behavioural attributes with which I disagree, should it affect how I view their work?

If someone acts in business in a way which I believe is reprehensible, should that affect my enjoyment or otherwise of his or her actual work?

Turning it around, merely because someone shares my own views, be they political, religious or whatever, should I view their works with more sympathy? If I admire someone as a person, should I similarly admire their work?

My gut reaction to the last question is “of course not!” Just because someone’s Jewish, for example, doesn’t mean that I should like their work or otherwise. Merely because I like a writer as a person, and am friends with them, it doesn’t follow that mean I automatically like what they write.

The corollary of that, surely, is that if someone doesn’t like Jews, that might prejudice me against them (although prejudice implies unthinking pre-judging, and I’m not pre-judging, I’m judging) but it shouldn’t mean that I’m prejudiced against their work

Well, yes, in one way. No in another.

Let’s say there’s a creator called “Ethelred Graystone” (I checked, there’s not.) But young Mr Graystone has political views which I find abhorrent. It could be that he’s extreme left wing, while I’m a right winger, or that he’s somewhere to the right of Rush Limbaugh and I’m somewhere to the left of Tony Benn. Doesn’t matter – we disagree, fully and vehemently.

So by buying his work, no matter whether it’s good or not, he benefits. My purchase of his product enriches him. He benefits from my purchase (whether directly or indirectly). In the case of someone with whose business practices I disagree, my buying his product allows him to continue his lousy business practices. (“Lousy” in my opinion, of course, not necessarily an objective view.)

Of course, this came to the fore a couple of years ago with the Enders Game movie and the author of the novels upon which the movie was based, one Orson Scott Card. Card’s views on homosexuality are repulsive and he actively funded organisations seeking to make it illegal. Now, neither the books nor the movie interested me; I don’t, as the phrase has it, have a dog in this fight. Me not buying the books or saying I’m going to boycott the movie has no force because I wasn’t going to anyway. But many of my friends chose not to go to the movie because of his views. That’s their choice; it’s a free market. I was less sure about the torrent of abuse that fell upon DC Comics when they announced that Card was to write a Superman adventure for their digital comics line. Isn’t the idea that he gets to say what he wants and we get to protest? I’m uncomfortable with economic boycotts simply because of the collateral damage. However, I’m not about to criticise those who through honest motives feel differently. It’s something I still need to think about, I suspect.

This obviously has less of an impact if the person is no longer with us; has died, popped his cloggs, or however else you want to phrase it. Wagner is the poster child for 'horrible views' vs 'glorious music', at least according to some. I've never been a huge fan of his work, but not because of Wagner, because I don't like the work. I think the quandary only really comes into play if you believe that by singing the praises of his work, some will come to admire his views. I would say that's a ridiculous thing, that only cretins could admire his views, but sadly, as Twitter has been proving to me a lot lately, there are a lot of cretins around.

Back to people who haven't joined the choir invisible.

If I disagree with a politician's policies, there's not many reasons to vote for them (other, of course, than being the lesser of two evils. I'd vote for anyone in the main parties, though I might dislike their parties' policies in a heartbeat if it stopped Nick Griffin or one of his cronies from the BNP from getting in…) But if I agree with the policies but dislike the person intensely, should I still vote for them?

Well, as a general rule (there are always exceptions, of course) yes, I think I should.

And once again, reiterating the point, because it’s often thrown up: if a candidate has screwed around on his (or her) partner, what relevance has that to whether or not they’d be a good MP? He’s not elected (as far as I’m concerned) to stay faithful to his partner, but to put (or attempt to put) the policies upon which his manifesto was based, into law.

Moreover, if a creator is unpleasant to me or my beliefs, what relevance has that to whether or not I enjoy their work? (If I regard the work as unpleasant, then it doesn’t matter who produced it, and whether or not I agree with them or disagree with them about anything, I won’t buy it.)

I know people who are so anti-smoking, it’s almost a religious belief of theirs. Does that mean they shouldn’t buy a work from a creator who smokes?

Where do you draw the line? Or should the line not even be drawn?

I’m still thinking about this – I suspect I will be for some time – but a masterpiece on ‘the person’ vs ‘their art’ was written by Andrew Wheeler about Roman Polanski. Read it, now.

About two and a half years ago – at the end of 2011, there was a public sector strike – a big one. At the time, I wrote:

No-one in the UK could have been unaware yesterday that there was a public sector strike. Or to be precise, there was a day of action called by several trade unions, and about two million people (give or take, according to which source you favour) took action, refused to work, marched, protested and otherwise signified their displeasure with the policies of the current coalition government, specifically about pensions.

At the time, some people – mainly tory politicians – argued that since the union strike votes received low turnouts in some cases, they were somehow less valid. And again, the same case is being made this week, by David Cameron among others. It’s utter nonsense, of course.

Utter, total, complete, nonsense.

But not for the reasons many suppose.

The main case against the “low vote” argument seems to be “well, how many people voted for the coalition?”

This, in my view, fundamentally misunderstands two, completely different, votes. An election and a resolution couldn’t be more different, either in process, organisation, or result.

How someone is elected and how resolutions are voted for are never the same.

You don’t tend to get alternative voting in resolutions, simply because it’s usually a choice between yes and no, between aye and nay.

A much better and more appropriate analogy would be something else that is a choice between yes and no, between aye and nay, say… how they pass laws in parliament. 

So if Tory MPs want to say that unions should have a minimum turnout for votes for resolutions, then they would presumably accept the same in Parliament.

And, to my astonishment, they do.

There is a quorum for divisions in the chamber of the House of Commons. There is – I checked.

You want to know what this quorum is, how many MPs are required in the Chamber for national legislation to be passed? Given the Tory MPs anger and passion about this, you’d expect it to be a sizeable number or percentage, yes?

It’s 40.

40 MPs in the chamber, and a vote can take place.


Out of 650.

I’ll save you the maths. It’s a little over 6%.

So, with 6% of MPs in favour of a law, it can pass, yes?

Well, no, that would be stupid, wouldn’t it? That would mean that all 40 voted in favour.

No, the number in favour only needs to be 50% plus 1 of those attending, i.e. 21

Or a little over 3%. To pass national legislation. And in the House of Lords, the number is smaller still: 30 peers need to be in attendance.

30. Out of a House of Peers of 779 currently able to vote.

Conservative MPs are lucky that trades unions don’t say “you know, you’re right; we’ll accept minimum strike ballot turnouts… at the same percentage you lot have in parliament.”

Tory MPs? Shut the fuck up about trade unions requiring minimum votes for strike votes, eh?

There’s not much from my schooling that I look back at and positively enjoy.

I’m reminded of the old saw about how someone enjoyed going to school, and enjoyed coming home; it’s just the bits inbetween they didn’t enjoy.

Can’t really say that: I used to usually get dropped off at the end of the road in which my school was by my dad, on his way to work. And sure, I walked home, sometimes with my younger brother in the years where we shared a school, sometimes with a friend.

But the time inbetween, I enjoyed some of it, didn’t enjoy much of it. I was a small child for my age; I didn’t sprout in height until I was 15, putting on six inches in height in a single school year. And unlike my older brother, I was neither popular nor – I suspect – that memorable. At least not in a good way.

And I was bullied. Sometimes for being Jewish, yes it did occur, but mostly for being… well, for being me. And some of the anti-Semitic bullying I faced wasn’t really anti-Semitic in intent. If I’d have been spotty, I’d have been bullied for having spots; had I been fat, they’d have picked on me for that. I was Jewish, so the bullies picked that as an effective tool. It was what upset me that counted to the bullies, not what form the particular bullying took or at what target the bullies successfully aimed.

But the teachers? Ah, I remember the teachers. The good, the bad, the bullying, the kind, the enouraging, the discouraging. I seemed to have the whole roster back then. For every teacher who was horrible and nasty, I had another who was niceness personified. And, probably as a consequence, some years ago I realised that there’s a flip side to the whole “a good teacher can inspire you for life.” It’s that a bad teacher can scar you for life, and can forever (if you’re unlucky) make you regard their particular subject with apathy at best and contempt at worst.

I’m fairly sure that my dislike of history as a subject for most of my life comes from a particular teacher who displayed a dislike of pupils. I honestly can’t recall him praising a single child under his… ‘care’. Moreover, I’m quite prepared to admit that my complete and utter disregard for geography as a school subject arose from another teacher who would punish children who got an answer wrong by making them stand on the desk and recite nursery rhymes.

On the other hand, my love for the English language owes much to teachers who encouraged me to let my imagination fly, who only offered constructive criticism, and were… there’s no other word for it… kind when dealing with what is now called a ‘sensitive’ child, and back then was called a ‘cry-baby’.

There’s no accounting for my enjoyment of mathematics; I had good teachers and bad in that subject. It was just a subject that I always found easy. Lots of reasons for that, but I suspect the main one being that there was, at least at that level, a definitive right answer to each question set.

Over the years since childhood, I’ve had a number of friends who’ve entered the teaching profession, and although of course I’ve never seen them teach, and I’m well aware that someone’s work persona can be very different from their personal demeanor, every single bloody one of them sinks their hearts and souls into the job. Every one of them wants the children in their care to prosper, to be educated, to thrive.

That may be in part why I’m so damned irritated, upset and just plain angry when their jobs, their careers, their very ethos is questioned, criticised and demeaned.

A couple of years ago, a survey suggested that many parents wanted the return of corporal punishment to schools. I’m sure they did. I’d also bet that it was every other parent’s child they wanted belted, as their little darlings would never ever deserve the punishment. They also, I suspect, wanted [other people’s] children never to play truant, never to be rude, and never run in the corridors.

The survey was reported on the BBC and the piece ended by reporting that the survey asked which celebrity would make a good teacher in the opinion of the respondents.

Several names were suggested, including the obvious ones, people in the public eye, and those who the parents would like to have been taught by had they still been at school

The real answer? The real answer to which celebrity would make a good teacher? Not a one of them without decent training, and several years of it.

Teaching’s not something you can ‘stroll into’ and succeed at merely because you’re a celebrity or even because you’re very good at your chosen [non-teaching] job. You’re trained for teaching, and to suggest that just because you’ve written a book, shagged a footballer or appeared on TV, you can walk into a classroom and control a class or create a lesson plan or mark work properly is a lie.

And it’s an insult to the thousands of teachers, teaching assistants and others who work in schools day after day, week after week, term after term, pouring their guts, their souls and their lives into teaching our children.

So, you can imagine my disquiet at the idea that free schools can, and should, employ non-qualified teachers. (And let’s leave the concept itself of free schools for another time; that’s a whole other issue.) Disquiet? No, it would probably qualify as disquiet if it was a policy suggested by a backbench MP, or a leaked policy document from within the department for education.

(That’s always puzzled me: how do government departments decide which is a department, and which a ministry? And who decides which gets the ‘of’, as in ministry of defence, and which gets a ‘for’, as in department for transport?)

No, this policy, this decision, this recommendation is from the bloody Secretary of State for education, one Michael Gove, a man who shares with George Osborne and Philip Hammond the distinction of being the only three people in the Cabinet I actually think would be dangerous, in terms of national survival, were they to become Prime Minister.

Others (step forward Maria Miller) might be incompetent, or (Therese May) horrible, but I don’t think they’d actually destroy the country. Gove, Osborne and Hammond? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, sorry, I’m drifting.

This non-qualified teacher nonsense. It’s ludicrous. I’ve been privileged to know many intelligent brilliant-at-their-jobs people in my life, both in my former professional life and in my personal encounters.

Could any of them become worthy, good, qualified teachers? Of course, with training and experience. Of course.

Could any of them walk into a classroom and gain the respect of their pupils? Again, of course some of them could.

But in the same way as I could teach anyone to maintain a set of books, but that wouldn’t make them an accountant, and in the same way that my brother could undoubtedly teach anyone to cut a head of hair, but that wouldn’t make them a hairdresser, being able to teach one lesson to one class of starstruck or deeply impressed children does not a teacher make.

And it’s insulting and contemptuous of teachers to pretend otherwise.

Well, to be fair, it’s always the month of MRD Syndrome, but I’ve noticed over the past few years that for whatever reason, it’s particularly prevalent in the penultimate month of the year.

Now it’s also fair to say that barely anyone reading this has a clue what MRD Syndrome is. Some might, but very very few. And that’s a pity.

So, what is it? What is MRD Syndrome?

Well, some years ago, I helped run a UK Politics Forum on CompuServe. There may be some people reading this who remember CompuServe, and even one or two who remember that they encountered me first there…

And, despite the Forum being a large part of my online activities at the time, I’m sorry to say that I no longer recall when, or who said it, someone first responded to a comment with “MRD.”

For anyone British, while the initials didn’t immediately mean anything, the explanation was simple: Mandy Rice-Davies, who uttered one of the most recognisable political quotes of the mid-twentieth century.

A figure in the Profumo affair, while giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, (charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Rice-Davies), the latter made a famous riposte. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or even having met her, Mandy Rice-Davies replied, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

That became thereafter, on the forum, a standard response not only to politicians’ statements of the bleedin’ obvious but for when anyone made one.

But taking a look at the news recently, MRD Syndrome does appear to be particularly contagious at the moment. The following are just from the BBC, this week:

Prime Minister attacks Labour’s NHS record in Wales

Npower boss dismisses forfeiting bonus as ‘gimmick’

Tories defend EU referendum plan amid Labour blocking efforts

Murder ‘must not besmirch Royal Marines’, Cameron says

Iran blames Western powers for nuclear talks failure

Tell me, honestly – don’t they all make you think “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

From the late Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America, a few days after 11th September 2001.

“Last Monday I woke up and as usual on Monday mornings I began to ponder what I might talk about this time.

I was, you might say, out of touch with what they now call “the real world” after two weeks’ absorption in the fantasy world of the United States Open Tennis Championships.

But first, as the anchormen say, the weather. I like to know if it’s cool enough for me to venture around the block.

So first then I turned on the weather channel and within 10 seconds I knew, all too well, what this talk would be about.”

Yep, Cooke knew precisely what he was going to talk about: Hurricane Erin…

That was Monday.

You can hear what he did talk about in the days following 9/11 here.

For some years, on the anniversary of 9/11, I posted on my old blog what I wrote in the days following, particularly about trying to get hold of my oldest and closest friend Ian, who was at work in his office in Wall Street when it happened… Some years ago, I figured I’d posted it often enough. But, as I’ve done sometimes on this new blog, I thought I’d put it up one more time here on this year’s anniversary.

Many things have changed in the twelve years since I wrote it, mainly as a natural consequence of the vicissitudes of life; I’m no longer working for the company I worked for, our children are much older, and Ian and I have known each other for over four decades now, rather than the thirty-odd years back then. If you’ve not read my blog before, the “Laura” referred to below is my ex-wife. We were still together back then, but as then, she’s still one of my closest friends and one of my favourite people on the planet.

Some people will have read some of the following before; some, not all, however.

11th September 2001, I was at work. In the UK.

I work for a company that’s owned by the same guys on the other side of the pond that own the Weather Channel. So, I’m walking to the bank. I’ve got a float to pick up for one of my people who is off to Cyprus to do a film shoot. It’s about five past two in the afternoon, British time. I’m just approaching the bank when my mobile rings. It rings with the Mickey Mouse Club theme tune, so I know it’s Laura calling.

I answer it. “Hey, sweetheart.”

“Don’t say anything,” comes the response. “Two planes have just crashed into the World Trade Centre. They think it’s terrorist. PHONE IAN **NOW**!

I think I’ve misheard. “What?” I ask.

She repeats it. I stand still in utter shock. I tell her I’ll call back. And then I stand there.


I notice that people are still walking around in London, chatting, smiling. I figure I’m one of the few people in the London streets who know.

Then, with trembling fingers, I start punching out the numbers of the direct office number of my best friend in the world.

I’ve known Ian since we were two years old. We grew up as much in each other’s houses as we did in our own. We were each other’s Best Men and each of us was the only person on the planet who knew that we were about to propose to our respective girlfriends before they did. We’ve shared confidences, experiences, overdrafts, our lives.

He’s the one person on the planet that I’m not related to by blood that if he phoned me at three in the morning and said “I need you here this afternoon” I’d drop everything and go running, no matter what else I had on.

And he works one block over from the World Trade Centre.

A lifetime’s worth of memories flow through my mind as I punch out the numbers. Laura’s advice was to phone now, since she knew that in short order the international lines would be solid. And then cut.

The phone rings once. It rings twice.

He picks it up.

“It’s me.” I say. That’s all I have to say.

“Hi,” he says. That’s all he says. That tells me more than I want to know. For Ian to answer with one word means there’s trouble.

He tells me the situation. (Remember, so far, only the two planes have hit. Nothing else. No Pentagon. The WTC is still standing…)

When the first one hit, he was meeting with a colleague. They’re on the 18th Floor of their building, three minutes walk from the WTC. They went up to the roof to see what had happened, what had caused that almighty BANG. As they got to the roof, they felt the heat blast and heard the second collision.

“I turned to him and said calmly and clearly, ‘let’s get the fuck out of here’,” Ian said. So we did. “Look, Lee, I’ve got to let people know I’m OK. I’ll call you later, but we’re all fine.”

I relaxed a bit. My friend was safe. At this time, of course, I hadn’t seen the television pictures….

I went to the bank, collected the cash and went back to the office… as I walked in, I found out about the Pentagon.

A short while later, just as I was telling my boss about Ian, the first WTC collapsed, and my heart sank through my backside.


Then the second one collapsed.

I tried to call Ian’s mobile. The phone lines were busy…

It got worse… A report of the plane crash in Pittsburgh (it was first reported here as being in Pittsburgh, not outside it) and the senior management turned to look at the CEO, whose mother lives there.

My boss just said quietly, “everybody out of the room, now,” as the CEO started dialling.

The rest of the day is now a blur. I remember phone calls to Laura and to various friends of mine, with mutual friends in America. I remember checking in on Warren Ellis’s DELPHI Forum where all the New York lot were checking in and letting people know they were ok.

I remember getting the train home in utter silence. You could have heard a pin drop on the train. I’ve never seen so many people reading the evening newspapers. Even the Diana death didn’t have this effect of sheer unadulterated hammer-to-the-guts shock. I can’t get my thoughts off of Ian. Yes, I know that the building’s collapsed inwards, but Ian’s one block over…

I got home and as I walk in, there’s a call on the answerphone just concluding. Laura had gone to bed. Philip was already in bed.

It’s Ian! I call him straight back but it’s an hour before I can get through the busy lines.

He’s safe… Forgive me, but in that moment, I was more relieved that he was safe than I was for any other person.

As he was walking down the 18 flights of stairs, he heard this huge whirring and rumbling sound. He didn’t know what it was… it was the collapse of the tower.

They got to the bottom of the building and found that they couldn’t get out. Rubble blocked the entrance. They managed to get into the next building, a hairdressers, and out of their back exit.

He and his staff made it to a friend of Ian’s on 40th Street. The friend, a few years back, was maitre’d of the Windows On The World restaurant.

After a while, Ian set out for home. The subways were stopped, so he walked…

Six hours later, he reached Forest Hills and his apartment.

That’s when I spoke to him. After his parents and his in-laws, I was the next call he made.

He sounded shaken, but relatively sane. A damned sight more sane that I think he had any reason to be.

We talked trivialities. We both had CNN on and I remember it being weird that we were watching the same programme, the same images appearing on each of our tv screens, 3,000 miles apart.

Both of us not saying what was in our minds. That if the buildings had collapsed like trees, not inwards, I wouldn’t have my best friend around any more.

The last 30 seconds of the phone call was the worst… both of us choking up. “Phone me tomorrow,” I said.

“Lee,” he said, “I’m thirty seven years old, we’ve been friends for 35 years, and I’m safe.”

“It’s because we’ve been friends for 35 years that you’re going to do it, OK?” I asked, a lot harder than I intended it.

There was a brief silence before he said “I hear you.”

“Ian,” I said.


A pause. “I’m used to having you around. Watch your back.”

“I love you too,” he said.

We’ve spoken twice a day since Tuesday. The last 30 seconds of each call leaves me almost tearful.

I want to be with him. I want to hug my best friend. I want to raise a glass with him in memory of those who didn’t make it, to the families who are now suffering.

To ask when the world stopped making sense? Well, that one I know. Around 8:45 am Eastern Time.

11th September 2001.

Some weeks later, I flew to New York to be with him and his family. The hammer-blow-to-the-guts feeling was still there, full force, the moment you crossed into American airspace and intensified once you left the airport.

Most of the trip has faded, as such things will, but there are three strong memories, one of which is mildly humorous if you’ll forgive it, and one further recollection that is among the most solid and strong of my life.

1. Whether you were or are a supporter of Tony Blair or not, his actions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 had consequences for everyone in the United States who had a ‘British’ accent. I put ‘British’ in quotes because, as I’ve said before, for many Americans, there appear to be only three British accents: Dick Van Dyke’s ‘cockney’, Sean’s Connery’s Scottish, and Hugh Grant’s ‘English’. That there are hundreds of British accents seems to pass most Americans by. (Yes, I’m more than aware that the reverse is often true.)

But the moment I opened my mouth and my accent was heard by any New Yorker, blimey, they couldn’t do enough for me. Crossing the road first, getting a cab, even asking for a newspaper. Everyone couldn’t wait to thank me personally for Blair’s support, and to tell me how much they loved him, me and the whole of the United Kingdom. Returning to Ian’s apartment, we bumped into a neighbour who was walking his dog. Best part of an hour later, we left the conversation, but only after I’d been told the foregoing multiple, multiple times.

2. That love for the accent didn’t extend, however, to getting into public buildings. Everywhere we went, the moment my accent was heard, ID was required. (Ian’s kept his accent, and he also got used to fishing out ID regularly.) This is the amusing memory, since the first few times, even my passport was examined forensically by every security guard, and doorman.

On one occasion, I was pulling out some ID and my old BBC identification card, long out of date, but kept in the wallet for sentimental reasons, fell to the ground. It had a recognisable photo on it, but had expired six years earlier, in July 1995. The reaction from the guard was astonishing. That I had once been sufficiently ‘important’ to have a BBC ID card was enough. From then on, I never needed my passport – any time I needed to get into a public building, I flashed the BBC card. It got me instant access, and on another occasion, the following day, I was pulled out of line and rushed to the front of the queue, just because I held that in my hand. Truly astonishing.

3. The Tuesday I was there, Ian and I turned up at Central Park at seven in the morning… and started walking. We walked, and talked, and walked some more and talked some more. A few weeks after the events of 9/11, he needed to talk it through with his oldest friend and I needed to listen. I remember that we started talking about entirely irrelevant, trivial stuff (girlfriends we’d had prior to us both settling down, teachers we’d liked, getting drunk together) and then, somewhere about two in the afternoon, Ian started talking about that horrible, terrible day. When it got dark, we headed out of the park. We’d both needed the day. And that’s all that needs to be said about that.

And then there was my visit to Ground Zero. I don’t know what I can say to convey the experience. But maybe some mental snapshots of the visit will do it.

The smell of burning paper was everywhere. Look, I choose to think it was paper, so that’s what it was, OK? It smelled like someone had let off caps. Remember that cordite taste/smell? Imagine that everywhere from before you even leave the subway station. My throat was closing up as I approached the site. What I could see above/through the hoardings… well, my eyes wouldn’t focus properly on anything. I remember looking at a building that appeared to be just a black monolith, straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There were layers to the black, windows burned out, different levels, but my eyes couldn’t hold to them to see the anomalies. It was just blackness.

Standing opposite the memorial boardings, another thing struck me – there was a dome of silence at the site. You’d see people approaching, deep in conversation, and as they got closer, they’d fall silent… walk past, some heads raised, some lowered… pass by, some with a nod, some not… and then as they crossed the road away from the site, conversation would resume.

Very little crying; lots of holding back tears, yes, but far more anger, upset and determination. Lot of [silent] hugging.

Flags everywhere. On people, on things, on walls; stencilled, chalked, drawn, painted.

I was glad I’d gone, but was glad to leave.

Twelve years later, I can’t honestly say I think of 9/11 every day, every week, or even regularly. But on the anniversary of another day that, in Roosevelt’s words about Pearl Harbor, “will live in Infamy”, the memories are still there.

To those who lost loved ones, friends, colleagues or even mere acquaintances on that day, to the firefighters, police and emergency services who lost colleagues and fellow officers, and to everyone reading, I wish you a peaceful day, and a life free from worry, fear and concern.

New York, 2001

Us, a few years later, at a happier time, Phil’s bar mitzvah, November 2008.

With apologies to the songwriting team of Ray Evans and Jay Livingstone, who wrote Mona Lisa, as most excellently performed by Nat King Cole,

Manifesto, manifesto, MPs adore you…

Something’s been bugging me since 2010’s general election, and the formation of the coalition government.

Now, fair enough, many things have bothered many people, including the arguable destruction of the NHS, the abandonment by both government parties of various pledges, the callous attempt to dismantle the welfare state, an austerity programme that isn’t working and an ever-growing social division that has been created and deepened either by incompetence, apathy or cruelty.

Further, the apparent wilful unwillingness of the government to acknowledge the harm of its policies and the austerity programme in its current form goes beyond normal lack of decency and well into the realm of negligence.

But yes, while all of those are important… They’re for discussion on another day. That’s not what’s been bugging me, at a low level admittedly, for almost three years. Before I get to that though, let’s address some myths that seem to have arisen since May 2010, myths that say – for the main part – far more about ignorance than incompetence.

And it’s specifically ignorance (or possibly naiveté, I’ll grant you) about the constitutional arrangements for government in the UK I’m talking about.

1. No-one elected this government. To be precise, no-one elects any government in the United Kingdom. I haven’t had any part in electing any government in my lifetime. And nor have you. What you’ve done is helped elect an MP. What we do, individually, in constituencies all over the country (or up to four countries, if you want to argue the point) is elect members of Parliament, who may – not will – then go on to form a government. But the voters do not get to decide who’s in the government. The Prime Minister does that by selecting ministers. A backbench MP of the governing party is no more a member of the government than a backbencher of the main opposition party. Hell, the voters don’t even get to decide which is the governing party, which brings me on to myth 2.

2. The leader of the party with the biggest mandate gets to form the government Well, yes… and no. It’s only since the rise of the whips who can keep control of backbenchers’ votes (by threat and by favours granted, withheld and called in) that this even starts to apply. What’s needed to form a government is the ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. That’s it. The Monarch will ask whoever can do that to form a government. Usually, fair enough, it’s the leader of the Party with the greatest number of MPs, but it doesn’t have to be.

3. Governments are morally obliged to implement their manifestos once elected. Really? Does anyone believe this? Seriously? It’s impossible, literally impossible, for a government to bring into policy every one of their manifesto pledges. Even if the government had a landslide majority, there isn’t nearly enough parliamentary time to pass the legislation necessary, if – that is – the legislation is to be subjected to the right and proper scrutiny that all legislation should undergo on its way to the statute book.

And no matter how important the legislation is, I’d be wary of anyone who wanted to circumvent the usual processes of scrutiny, debate, amendment and the rest.

We’re getting closer to my concerns now, by the way…

4. The Lib Dems broke their promises! Well, yes, they did, and no they didn’t. They broke some but not one very big one, one stonking HUGE one.

Many friends, and some pundits, made the following comment after the 2010 election:

“I don’t know what was in people’s minds when they voted for the Lib Dems, but I bet it wasn’t to put the Tories into power!”

This astonished me then, and it astonishes me now. Surely only the very stupid, the very naive or the very ignorant weren’t aware that the Lib Dems had repeatedly said what they’d do in the event of a parliament in which no one party had a majority. They’d said on several occasions, in interview after interview, that they’d first seek to enter government – in the event of a hung parliament – with whichever other party had the biggest mandate.

Now, fair enough, the Lib Dems left themselves a tiny bit of wiggle room, as they didn’t say how they were measuring “mandate”: by total number of votes cast, or by number of MPs elected. It didn’t matter: in the event, the answer was the same in both cases – the Tories had the biggest mandate, by some way.

Not only that, it was very, very likely before the election that the Conservatives were going to be in that position: all the polls pointed to a hung parliament with the Tories having the most MPs. You don’t like that the Tories had the biggest mandate? Sorry, feel free to blame who you like for that, but please don’t be stupid enough to deny it.

5. The Lib Dems had no mandate to do what they’ve done Yes, the Lib Dems voted for (and did) things in government that they said they wouldn’t before election. You know what? They had every right to do so – the coalition agreement gave them that right. See above, but just for the record – there’s no obligation for a government to implement their manifesto. In fact, looking back over my lifetime, I can’t remember a single government that’s even managed to legislate for a majority of their manifesto, let alone all, or nearly all, of it.

6. The Lib Dems gave up everything and the Conservatives got everything they wanted. How can I put this? Ah yes, bollocks! I can think of at least half a dozen things the majority party of the government junked as a cost of going into government with the Lib Dems. Take a look at the 2010 Conservative Party manifesto and see how much of it made its way into the coalition agreement. Just for a start, the increase in the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million (which had been trailed as a central part of the Tory taxation plans) went the way of all things, as did various pledges regarding VAT, capital gains tax, no referendum on voting reform and a plan against the zombie apocalypse. (I may have made that last one up.)

7. The Lib Dems have no justification for doing what they did. Yeah, they do. They have the best one of all, and what’s more it has the advantage (strange for British political excuses) of being true. You ask Nick Clegg why he didn’t block Tory plans for this or that, even though it’s in direct contravention of the previously expressed policy of his party, and he’ll say one thing:

We didn’t win the election.

Often, he’ll clarify that by saying

We’ve got one in six MPs in the coalition; if we’d had more, we’d have had more power within the coalition, but we didn’t. And we don’t.

And you know what? He’s absolutely correct.

Now, one can certainly argue (and to my mind, quite convincingly) that what he did get for his party wasn’t worth it, that he prioritised the wrong things; that he should have sacrificed a vote on AV and fought for a guarantee about welfare; that he shouldn’t have bothered trying in vain for House of Lords reform, but devoted time and energy to preventing devastating NHS reform.

(I think you can argue against that, by the way, but I think you’d lose the argument. Convincingly.)

However, again, that’s an argument for another day.

But we’re now at the crux of what’s been bugging me, and it follows directly on from the above, from all of the above.

What is the purpose of a manifesto?

No, seriously.

A paper, written for Essex University after the 2010 election, went into huge details about the purposes of manifestos and how much they mean to the parties before an election.

“Manifestos are important. They reflect the parties’ enduring values and policy programmes…

Utter nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. Let’s strip away the polite fiction maintained with an air of complacency and look at how they’re regarded today, by pundits, by politicians and by the public.

Manifestos might, just might, have been the basis for policy once upon a time, in the long ago. Now, however, they’re more like a personal statement that a candidate writes on a job application, hoping that he won’t be asked too much about it, and praying he can remember why he put this bit in, or why he wrote that bit that way.

So, again, I ask… what’s their purpose: what’s the point of election manifestos?

When a government knows in advance that it won’t be able to translate all of their party pledges into government policy, their assurances into statute, what’s their point?

When a government can blatantly lie, using its “mandate” to justify policy because it was in the manifesto, even though it was the universally acknowledged least popular item in there… what’s their point?

When a party can abandon almost every pledge in their election manifesto and can excuse such abandonment with a simple “we didn’t win”, what’s their point?

The answer is obvious: they have no point.

Not in their current format.

Read that again – not in their current format.

The biggest problem with manifestos is not that we have no idea what will be dropped upon entering office, it’s that we don’t know what won’t be…

I’m far less concerned by what a government doesn’t do than by what it does.

So, taking the very neat idea that a couple of the parties used in recent elections, that of the pledges on a card, let’s take it further… Let’s propose the following:

The manifesto of a party seeking election to office in the UK is from now on split into three parts:

(I) The dealbreakers: these policies (limited to six items) WILL be in any government policy document/coalition agreement; these are the items that will be translated into statute. If another party has a contradictory item in their list of dealbreakers, those parties cannot form a coalition without a further election, at which point different dealbreakers can be put to the public vote.

(II) The aspirations: the intellectual backbone of the party’s agenda, limited to twenty separate points. These are the policies that the vast majority of the party’s supporters (and potential voters) would like enacted in a world where the party has a secure working majority and “events, dear boy, events” don’t get in the way. They’re the policies that a government should get through: a Tory party might have a reduction in regulation in here, a Labour party an increase in progressive taxation, the Lib Dems, another crack at reforming the voting system. But – and it’s an important but – everyone understands that if a coalition is formed, these are the things that may have to go by the wayside. These are the negotiable points for a coalition agreement.

(III) The wishlist: the policies that, with a fair wind, a strong working majority, a weak opposition, a lessening of international tension thus allowing concentration on domestic issues, a party (and its supporters) would like to have on the statute books at some point. They’re not urgent, though, and they play no part whatsoever in any coaltion agreement negotiations; they’re simply not on the table. The list is unlimited in length, since no-one genuinely expects more than a handful – if that – to make it into debate in the House of Commons, let alone into legislation.

So now the voters know where the parties stand, as do the pundits, as do other parties, as do the rank and file of the parties.

The battleground for hearts and minds is concentrated, first to the dealbreakers, then to the aspirations. Everyone knows on what grounds the election is fought and – crucially – what’s up for grabs in a coalition. Voters make their mark knowing that some policies are sacrosanct, while others may have to be postponed this time. Fewer secret deals, greater transparency.

The only people who could possibly object, with what they’d say were perfectly valid arguments against this, are the politicians themselves who’d undoubtedly hate to have their freedom curtailed; freedom, that is, to continue to abandon policies with no fanfare, to lie to their voters, supporters and the general public.

We’re in the twenty-first century. We’re told by government that no public institution should escape escape modernisation and reform, yet Parliament and the formation of governments is accomplished in a manner that a 19th Century politician would recognise with nary a raised eyebrow.

We’ve already changed how they behave in office (with amendments to ministerial codes, reform of expenses), but in doing so ignored how they got there.

It’s long beyond time that we looked at changing how governments are formed in the United Kingdom and what we expect them to do once in office.

This idiot

Posted: 22 August 2012 in quotes, world, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Let’s start with his actual words, the words spoken by George Galloway MP, the member of parliament for Bradford West in his video supporting Julian Assange:

Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him. Claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know.

I mean not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.

It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, “do you mind if I do it again?”. It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.


Well, having given this sincere and thoughtful consideration, the following sprung from brain to screen.

With apologies to Shakespeare’s THIS ENGLAND speech from Richard II, scene 2

This royal pain in arse, this stupid man,
This preening, pompous fool, this head of dick,
This woeful shit, untrustworthy prick,
This ego reinforced by much bullshit,
Against veracity and word of truth,
So immature, this well of pus,
This piece of crap set against the world,
Who views rape as bad sexual etiquette,
Like sneezing or farting or not saying thanks,
Attracting scorn of more sensible folks,
This bullshit pol, this prick, this shit.
This Galloway.

It’s been a while since I’ve been personally attacked for something I’ve written. No, I’ve not missed it, so please, don’t feel obliged to do so in response to this piece.

But if you do, in the comments box below, I can’t really say I haven’t asked for it here, can I?

Criticism of creative works, whether they are writings, cartoons, comedy, music, or any creative endeavour, comes with the package. If you’re not prepared to be criticised for your opinions and works, then don’t offer them to the world. There will always be those who agree with what you’ve created (no matter how good or bad the work) and always be those who dislike “it”, whatever “it” is.

I’ve written previously about the personal and misogynistic attacks Laurie Penny has faced over some of her pieces, and I’ve been sickened at those and other attacks at friends whose sole offence seems to be to provoke a reaction of “we don’t like you.”

However, notwithstanding my earlier comment that all creators invite criticism (good and bad) of their works, there’s a current unpleasant practice on Twitter that I think is worthy of comment.

Now if you write a column, or a blog, there is usually an opportunity at the venue of publication to comment upon that piece of writing. The very fact that opportunity exists invites people to do so. And, while the advice of “never read the comments” is always given, it’s a fact that precious few creators have the ability and willpower not to at least glance at them.

“Never read the comments” is perhaps the best advice for the Internet, apart from Wil Wheaton’s advice of “Don’t be a dick.” Sadly, it’s equally ignored by many.

But, if I can use an analogy, many people complain about a television programme offending them. The usual response is “don’t watch it then”, and it’s a fair response at that. Despite the oft-quoted counter of “I didn’t ask for this to be in my living room’, I’m sorry, but you did precisely that, by selecting that television programme to watch.

In the same way, if you go looking for criticism of your work, in some (but not all) ways, you forfeit the moral right to complain at what’s been written about the work. You don’t, however, ever forfeit the right to complain about personal attacks.

However – back to the tv example for a moment – so far, at least, my television has never switched channel mid-way through an episode of House MD to show, say, Keith Olbermann attacking me in full “rampaging bull elephant on heat” mode.

Neither, to take another example, has my internet browser suddenly alerted me with a pop up window showing me details of an Internet commenter ripping me, or something I’ve written, apart.

And then we have Twitter. Twitter is almost unique (Facebook has tags, but they’re somewhat different) in that anyone on Twitter, anyone at all, can attach an ‘@’ to your Twitter ID in a tweet and it will be brought to your attention. You can’t avoid it. It’s the way Twitter works.

So, let’s say Joe Oik from Cityville, Nebraska doesn’t like something I’ve written.

Fair enough, it happens.

He tweets the following:

Just read the latest column by Lee Barnett. God, the guy’s a dick. He should give up foisting this crap on the world. He’s fucking useless.

Fair enough, it’s unpleasant, and I would – I’d imagine – disagree with the broad sentiments of his views. And yes, if I or friends saw it, I or they might respond. We’d be idiots to, but hey, we’re entitled to be idiots just as much as anyone else online.

But I am, and they are, unlikely to see the tweet unless I or they undertake a vanity search on Twitter, or on Google, since Google have started showing tweets in their search results.

Contrast that with the following tweet:

Just read the latest column by @budgie. God, the guy’s a dick. He should give up foisting this crap on the world. He’s fucking useless.

Now, I’m going to see that tweet. I’m definitely going to see that tweet.

It’s going to be notified to me next time I go on Twitter. Depending upon how I access Twitter, I might even get a little icon lighting up highlighting the fact that someone has mentioned me. And, since I’m like everyone else, I’m kind of curious when someone mentions me.

So I’ll read the tweet.

Make no mistake, this doesn’t fall within “don’t read the comments.” This is the actual “I didn’t want this in my living room” as opposed to the falsity of that being applied to television.

Of course I’m going to read it. Because that was what was intended by the tweeter when he or she wrote it.

I was trying to think of any “innocent” reasons for including someone’s Twitter name, suitably @’d, in a nasty, criticising, tweet, and, with a couple of friends, I think I’ve identified two:

(1) the tweeter is new to Twitter, and doesn’t realise that every ‘@’ is notified to the subject.
(2) the tweeter is a fucking idiot.

(1) is possible. It is. People new to any form of communication make errors in etiquette, format, etc. Just think of how many people over the years have had to be told that writing in capitals denotes shouting. Or just who has has to be informed that “LOL” doesn’t mean “Lots of Love”.

So, (1) is possible. But I think it’s difficult to argue ignorance or naïveté when you’ve got 500+ tweets under your belt.

And (2) is more than possible. Paraphrasing the words of an old Labour MP when accused of being a stupid cunt, there are lot of stupid cunts around and they deserve some representation. And there are even more online.

But I’d venture to suggest that of all the offending tweets with which this piece is concerned, i.e. nasty tweets with an ‘@’ in them, maybe, maybe, 1% fall into this ‘innocent’ category.

Now, there are various ways of dealing with these tweets once they’re in your view, in your view I repeat through no effort of your own, in your view because they’ve been put there quite deliberately by someone whose only motive is to offend or, if you’re both cynical and forgiving, to bolster follower count by offending someone.

There’s what I call The Cathartic Response: Retweet the offending tweet without comment. Get it out of your system and just slap it out there for the world to see. It can’t ‘hurt’ you any more and it has the side-effect of letting your followers and fans know that someone’s been nasty to you. Who knows? Someone may… remonstrate with the tweeter and let them know that their’s is a minority view.

(I’m reminded of the tale of George Bernard Shaw, upon taking his bows at a first night to thunderous applause, and detecting one person booing. GBS is reputed to have responded “Personally, sir, I agree, but what are we two against the multitudes?” I don’t believe it. I think Shaw probably told him to fuck off.)

Then there’s the “I’ll show him” Response, where the creator point blank tells his followers to take on the tweeter. Though I have little sympathy for the tweeter, this is just plain stupid.

As is the Hit Back Just As Nastily Response, as exemplified by Giles Coren yesterday. Yes, it’s tempting, but it ends up with neither ‘side’ smelling of roses. I suspect that Coren’s tweet will become the new example of “tweet in haste, repent in leisure.”

The only sensible thing to do is… to do nothing. And that’s about as likely as no-one ever reading the comments on the Internet.

So you’re left with the not very sensible things to do.

Which is also unsatisfactory.

I don’t know the solution – I really don’t.

But here’s an idea. It’s novel, I know, and terribly old fashioned, but then in many ways, I’m a terribly old-fashioned bloke.

How about… just not doing it, people of Twitter? How about having the common courtesy not to ‘@’ someone if you’re taking a pop at them? How about just thinking a moment before hitting that “Send” button?

How about… just behaving like you’re not a dick?

There are local elections today in the UK, and a vote in London to decide who’ll be Mayor for the next four years.

And there are referenda in several cities about whether or not to have an elected Mayor, as opposed to just a council leader, the head of the party with the most councillors.

Here’s what Matthew Parris had to say in 2005. It was about the general election that month, but the arguments are essentially the same for every election, general or local. This was originally published in The Times, and yes, it’s now behind a pay wall. But it wasn’t then, and I think it’s important enough to reproduce in full.

Seven bad, lazy reasons to vote on May 5

There is one and only one supreme and luminous reason for exercising your right to vote. But the rotten ones are numerous. Here are seven bad reasons for voting on May 5:

It’s your civic duty.
Our ancestors fought and died for the right to vote.
Governments need a mandate from voters.
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.
If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.
Unless you vote you are lazy/apathetic/feeble/dim.
Voting is easy these days. You can do it by post.

It’s your duty
No it isn’t. How preposterous to use the language of civic responsibility like this. To make voting sound like picking up litter or taking a pooper scooper when you walk your dog, misrepresents the act of casting a vote. Voting is a solemn, considered and voluntary thing to do: you can choose; there should be no pressure. That you don’t have to dignifies the action.

Your grandfather fought for your democratic liberties
Well thanks, granddad, but we should not be blackmailed like this. Lost causes as well as good ones have their heroes and martyrs. Earlier generations fought and died for the Empire but when the time came to quit our colonies, we quit.

A government needs your mandate
But you can turn that on its head: “Don’t vote: it only encourages them.” Unless you, the voter, are personally persuaded that government action is needed and you can identify a party or candidate that you trust to take it, why swell the turnout in the vague belief that a big turnout in itself is somehow “good for democracy”? We vote for MPs, for parties, for manifestos and for governments; we do not vote for democracy.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing
Lord Acton was right, but a British general election is not a fight against evil. It is a choice between different ideas for the betterment of society.

I know few men or women in politics whom I would call evil and it is silly to characterise our democratic process in these terms.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain
Why not? Some might retort that those who did vote a party into government are the ones who cannot complain later. The truth is that we are each of us free to find fault with our political masters, whether or not we voted for them, or voted at all. It is our right.

It’s lazy, feeble, apathetic or stupid not to use your vote
It might be. But until politicians consider the other possibility, they will miss what makes politics tick.

There are millions in Britain who do have the time, the energy, the intelligence, the interest, the sense of responsibility. They want to vote. But they are unconvinced or unattracted by any of the parties or people on offer. They take a conscious decision to abstain.

It is time that our political class respected that decision and asked itself whether it might be the problem, rather than the voters.

Some MPs talk as though it were the electorate which needs chivvying up, not them.

It’s no sweat to vote by post
This is an insulting argument. That something takes no effort is the worst reason for doing it.

Politicians cut the ground from under their own feet when they try to make it effortless to vote, slashing the price, as it were, of stock that they are finding hard to shift. They devalue their calling and underestimate their electorate if they think special give-away offers – postal voting, text message voting, voting from your own sofa by pressing the red interactive button on your television set – are the way to stir us. You stir people by showing them something worthwhile, not by showing them something easy.

Our politicians need to take care that campaigns to increase turnout amount to more than a sneaky attempt to validate themselves, to boost their own sense of self-worth.

So much for the bad reasons for voting on May 5. Am I, you may ask, in danger of arguing myself out of my own opening statement: that democracy matters? By no means. There is only one good reason to vote but it is the best reason on earth.

Voting changes things.

Elections matter. For better or for worse, your life and mine in Britain have been shaped by the general elections since the Second World War. The changes in national mood and direction — huge changes in the country that we see around us — have been dictated by forces, some of which are beyond our control; but the ideological temper of the government of the day has been at the forefront of these forces, and this is within our control.

People sometimes talk as though social and economic change were like the weather; as though change happens to us. It does not. We, the electorate, choose change. There really are forks in history’s road.

And just as choosing a new road does not bring any immediate change in the countryside, so choosing a government seldom makes a sharp difference at first. Change is gradual, halting and slow, but in the end a new journey brings you to a new place.

Look at some of those key elections since the end of the Second World War. If, in 1945, Winston Churchill and another Conservative Government had been returned, we would not have had the National Health Service. Sooner or later, some sort of medical help for the poorest would have been brought in by any government, but not the NHS as we know it.

That was what the British people were voting for in 1945, and we got it. We got – we chose – the nationalisation of British industry too. If the Tories had not been elected in 1951, that nationalisation would have continued towards a full-blooded socialism which, in the event, Britain never tried. We changed our mind.

If Edward Heath had not been elected in 1970 it is unlikely that Britain would have entered the Common Market when we did, and uncertain that we would have ever done so. Entry did not just happen: it was brought about by the absolute determination of one man. We the voters put him there.

Does anybody – friend or foe of Thatcherism – really think that Britain in 2005 would be or feel anything like the country we recognise today if the general election of 1979 had not brought Margaret Thatcher to power? The sale of council houses, the privatisation of state industry, the Falklands conflict, the shackling of the trades unions — the list is formidable.

That election presented a brutal but simple choice, as the voters recognised. A quarter of a century later, the choice is more subtle but I think that voters on May 5 will understand it well enough. It is not really about bringing in a Conservative government, although that is what the Tories must pretend. It is about the raising up or the humbling of a Labour Prime Minister.

The country is being asked to give the thumbs up, or the thumbs down, to the most presidential PM we have had. If you think that whether Tony Blair walks out of May 6 and into May 7 with a limp or with a swagger, will make no difference to the years ahead, you will live to revise that opinion.

Elections swing things. There are some who recognise this, who have views on which way things should be swung – and who still stay home on polling day. “What difference is my vote alone likely to make?” they ask.

The honest answer in most constituencies is “probably none”. But most – almost all – collective human effort is the same. In how much that we do is our own effort the critical, the make-or-break contribution? Does this stop us singing in a choir, contributing to a charity, joining a demonstration or supporting a football club? A desert dune moves so slowly that motion is almost imperceptible at first. It moves by the windborne propulsion of a billion individual particles of sand, separately and one by one, flying from the windward to the leeward. No individual particle makes a discernible difference. Yet the movement of the whole can bury pyramids.

In a vast democracy like ours, each of us is no more than a single piece of grit. But when we move together, history moves. So if you feel the wind, fly. It’s called voting.

Matthew Parris is a Times writer and columnist of the year

I’ve been thinking today about technology and how it’s made the world both bigger and smaller.

One of the phrases I dislike intensely is “the world’s so much closer now” because of the Internet, and satellite television, smart phones that can show you what’s happening in Times Square right now, despite you being in a coffee shop in Whetstone, North London.

It’s really not, you know. The world is still out there, hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of miles away and it’s bonito coming to get you. If you want it, you still have to go find it. There are no Star Trek transporters and sure – if I want to travel to Times Square, I could (subject to flight availability) get there in about ten hours from now.

But I could have got there in ten hours ten years ago.

I know that I can dial on my phone (and how many of you automatically realised I meant my mobile phone rather than a land line?) and speak in seconds to a friend who’s 10,000 miles away. But I couldn’t be in his presence for well over twelve hours if I left right now.

The world isn’t at my fingertips. It’s at my device’s (whether that’s a tv, a smart phone, a PC) reach. My fingers aren’t that long.

And you know what? That’s ok for me.

But for thousands of people, whose relatives died in wars around the globe, and are buried in foreign parts, they’ve every right to ask, misquoting Warren Ellis

it’s the twenty-first century, where’s my fucking transporter?

And today, of all days, we should be ashamed for not being able to answer them.

Fascinating evening last night, spent in the company of friends, and also people whose combined brain-power could probably supply small cities if they put their minds to it.

It’s Internet Week Europe this week. Did you know that? That was just one, and one of the less important at that, facts I learned last night at Tomorrow’s World, an event put on in London by BERG, a small company, again staffed by very intelligent, very nice people.

As they put it on their site,

BERG is a design consultancy, working hands-on with companies to research and develop their technologies and strategy, primarily by finding opportunities in networks and physical things.

Thing is, to sum them up like that is a bit like summing up the current financial problems in Europe as “not exactly ideal”. True as far as it goes, but there’s far, far more to it (and them) than that. Take a stroll around their website – you’ll find something to reward you.

Last night’s event was a series of ten minute talks (well, ok, they were supposed to be ten minute talks, they turned out to be more like fifteen, not a minute wasted though) on the simple – deviously simple – topic of “The near-future of…”

There was a truly fascinating talk on “The near-future of toy design” by Alice Taylor of MakieLab, a presentation on “The near future of design” by Karsten Schmidt, a mind-changing (at least for me) talk by Fiona Romero of the National Maritime Museum on “the near future of citizen science” and a brief but superb lecture (and this was the only one where I felt like a student, listening to a master of the field) on “The Near-Future New Aesthetic” by James Bridle.

And that was just the first half.


During the break, managed to catch up properly with some friends, and others I haven’t seen for way too long, including Laurie Penny, of whom I wrote last week.

Now, if I was a member of parliament (heaven forbid) making a speech in the House of Commons, at this point, I’d have to to declare an ‘interest’, since the first two speakers after the break are both close friends.

Warren Ellis is a man I’ve known since just before our respective children (both now sixteen) were born. If I were to sum up just what this man’s done for me in terms of advice, help, kicks-up-the-arse when required and just generally being there when needed, I’d not finish writing for some days. But funnily enough, I’d never seen him deliver a talk, so was looking forward to his talk on “The near future of pop culture” enormously. He didn’t disappoint, though I don’t know how many others in the room even came close to appreciating his comments about his daughter’s views on pop and how not only are they different to his, not only should they be different from his, but how they barely speak the same ‘language’ about it. And yeah – Phil’s views on culture are so different from my own that they might be coming from two different species, not merely two different people of some 30 years’ difference in age.

Jamais Cascio is best described as a futurist – and his book, Hacking The Earth remains the only climate change book that’s hooked me from the first page until the last. He delivered a ten minute summary of his view on why geo-engineering matters, and how, if we are the gods of our planet, we’re of the Greek gods variety, complete with all the weaknesses thereof. He ended his comments with

“We’d better sort this out in the twenty-first century… or we’ll not be around for the twenty-second.

The final speaker, Russell Davies rounded up the evening with a talk about the near future of personal/public tech (or at least how it ended up) and the tack was truly interesting.

All around, an incredibly fascinating evening that’s had me thinking all bloody day about the subjects, the implications and the potential just waiting for all us out there if only we’re prepared to look for it.

I suspect I’ll return to this again soon… sometime in, if you’ll forgive me, the near future.

One of my favourite guilty pleasures recently has come on a Monday evening on BBC FOUR, a quiz hosted by Victoria Coren, entitled Only Connect, in which, as the Wikipedia page has it,

In the series, teams compete in a tournament of finding connections between seemingly unrelated clues.

Here’s a small taster of it:

Now that only covers the first half of the show, and neither the “connecting wall” nor the “missing vowels” round (although the biggest puzzle about that final round is why it’s in the show; entertaining it is, but not really linked to “connections”).

I was delighted to discover the Only Connect app (click link to be taken to iTunes app store), but Only Connect is far from the first quiz on radio or Television to deal with connections.

For a start, there’s the wonderful television entitled Connections, more about soon, I promise. There’s a reason I’ll be talking about James Burke, but I’ll write more about that in a few days…

And then there’s Round Britain Quiz, where horribly convoluted questions are linked by something that might seem obscure but is, of course, immediately obvious once explained/realised.

On the BBC, in the UK, (and, I guess, probably on World Service and iPlayer as well) Round Britain Quiz has been running for several decades. As I say, it takes minor celebrities who represent various areas around the UK and gives them the most convoluted and contrived questions in order to get several answers, all linked by a theme.

Two examples follow here.

OK here’s one of them, one of the easier variety:

Three have vanished, one remains and three are gone, but still with us in a manner of speaking.

OK, I’ll pause while you think about that…


OK, got it?

The three that have “vanished” are The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Temple of Artemis and The Statue of Zeus.

The one that remains is The Great Pyramid at Giza.

The three that are gone but remain with us “in a manner of speaking” are…

  • The Tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus, which gave us the word MAUSOLEUM
  • The Colossus of Rhodes, which gave us the word COLOSSUS, and
  • The Lighthouse of Alexandria which gave us the word PHAROS, used to describe a lighthouse.

They are, of course, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Clever, huh?

Here’s another one that you probably won’t know, since it deals with UK politics, but it’s a better example of how tricky the questions can be and how every word in the question is important.

The first was a Scot who founded the party. The second was a Scot who split the party 31 years later. The third is a Scot noted for his prudence. Who are they and what’s the nominal connection that isn’t obvious, but is there all the same?

The three men are obvious, to anyone who knows their UK political history. It’s the “nominal connection that’s not obvious, but is there all the same” that’s the kicker.

The connection the question is looking for is that the men all have the same first name (nominal, remember), but didn’t use it in public life.

The party is the Labour Party.

(James) Keir Hardy (1856-1915) was one of those who formed the Labour Party.

31 years later, in August 1931, (James) Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) split the party, when he formed a coalition government that was chiefly supported by Conservatives and Liberals.

And (James) Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was, of course, noted for his obsession with “prudence”.

All of them had the first name James, and none of them used it in public life…

As with many such things, the listener sometimes thinks, “well, I could do that…”

So I did – I sent in a question ad it was used in the following series.

Here’s the question:

Why would the reduction of what we can see of the moon and what Eskimos wear be signalled large in Canterbury, and be reported in a humorous volume?

OK, so what’s the answer?

No idea? Oh, good. That’s the plan.

You want to know the answer?

Naah – think a bit… now think a bit more…

Ok then, since you insist:


  • the reduction of what we can see of the moon is wane, yes?
  • and that coat the Eskimos wear, that’s called a parka
  • now “signalled large”… well, a large sign could be a banner, couldn’t it?
  • and, of course, Canterbury, is in Kent.

Hmm: Wane, Parka, Banner, Kent.

Hmm even more: (Bruce) WAYNE, (Peter) PARKER, (Bruce) BANNER, and (Clark) KENT.

And by now, you’ll have realised the reason they’d have been in a humorous volume, or a COMIC BOOK.

I thangew.

More tomorrow.

Hold the inside page!

Posted: 31 October 2011 in internet, media, world
Tags: , ,

Muammar Gaddafi is dead. So is Phillip Tataglia. Moe Green. Stracci. Cuneo. All the heads of the five families.

Ok, forgive me the misquote from The Godfather, but the fuss/outrage over the choice of newspapers to put pictures of the beaten and bloodied corpse of the first of those listed above on their front pages continues to roll on, and everyone seems to have their opinions.

So I might as well give mine, in a slightly longer format than that allowed by the 140 characters of Twitter.

Everyone has their opinions, and like backsides, although everyone has them, not all are of equal weight, and airing them in public doesn’t necessarily benefit hugely these who own them.

I was about to suggest that it’s become one of those matters where people reach an instant opinion, and then it becomes almost embarrassing to say “you know what? Time and the strength of argument has changed my mind”, but today, I saw the Guardian’s readers editor has indeed changed his opinion. In Roy Greenslade’s column, he reports Chris Elliot as saying:

“On reflection – and having read the complaints – I feel less convinced about the way we used these photographs, although I still feel strongly that they are an important part of this story and should have been used.

The scale of the photo on the newspaper front page of 21 October and prominent picture use on the website took us too close to appearing to revel in the killing rather than reporting it.

And that is something that should feature in our deliberations the next time – and there will be a next time – such a situation arises.”

Greenslade, I have to say, hasn’t changed his mind at all. He says

“I didn’t see it that way then, and I don’t now. I remain convinced that it was a valid journalistic response to this most extraordinary of news stories to publish the picture and to publish it big on the front page.

I take on board the worries about revelling in the death (as in The Sun). But it would have been astonishing for newspapers to have failed to carry such a crucial news image.”

And then today, Matt Lucas waded into the argument, posting a blog entry – his first, and I give him full credit for choosing such a topic for his first entry – in which he argues that, simply, news media should not, as a matter of principle, revel in death. If death has occurred, then report it certainly, but not with horrific images repeated again and again on television, not with gruesome images on the front page where people have no choice but to see they as they pass newsagents, or in a supermarket.

Now, while I have some sympathy with the opinion aired, I’m afraid that Lucas, like many of those commentators who have shown disdain to newspapers recently, has entirely missed the central point.

He’s posted a whinge, a oh why isn’t the world like I want it to be? I’ll forgive him his resort to Godwin’s Law in his response to being queried, simply because I can’t believe he could possibly have known about it. However, that central point?

Newspapers are not in the business of not offending. They’re not in the business of being nice. They’re not in the business of caring whether nor caring if someone thinks their front page distasteful.

Newspapers are in the business of making money.

Simple as that. The only reason they stuck that photo on the front page was because they thought they’d make money doing so. Or, given that everyone else was doing it, they thought that their own circulation would go down if they didn’t do it.

I’m not aware of any advertisers pulling their adverts because of that front page. I’d be very surprised if any had. I’m not aware of any successful boycott campaign because of those pictures.

(On that specific area, a friend made the very sensible point that it’s unlikely that where some tabloids were concerned, it’s unlikely either of us would know that many people who bought the paper anyway. To which the only response can’t be, well then, the newspapers concerned wouldn’t give a shit about us anyway, would they?)

To the other argument, that’s it’s amusing that one half of Little Britain and Come Fly With Me is complaining about being offended by something a media organisation has done, I would argue that he would suggest that at least people have the choice whether or not to watch his television programmes; by putting those photos on the front page, the newspapers effectively removed the choice from the public as to whether or not they saw them.

Ok, defence over – I’m sure Lucas wouldn’t give a damn what I thought (it was to me that he said, after all, that my argument was comparable to saying that the Nazis were right because people voted for them.)

However, nowhere have I said that the newspapers were right. As a matter of fact, I think they were morally bankrupt, using those photos on the front page, or at all. Apart from anything else, they’ve left themselves wide open to a charge of hypocrisy the next time they say that seeing violent images causes the young to become more violent. They should be ashamed of themselves. And I’m sure they would be, had they a shred of understanding.

However, they don’t.

Newspapers are, as I said above, solely in the business of selling newspapers, of making revenue.

I would be astonished if for that week, or indeed the weeks following, there was a drop in newspaper revenues (materially beyond that decline affecting all newspapers as the Internet continues to bite into their market).

It’s been said before that a society gets the media that it deserves, and to a point, that’s true.

What’s certainly true is that as long as enough people choose to continue to buy a newspaper, and as long as enough advertisers choose to continue to advertise in that newspaper, the newspaper will receive no message other than “we like what you’re doing – more please!”

The demise of the News Of The World proved that as soon as enough people stop buying the newspaper, as soon as enough advertisers pull their advertising, the newspaper receives another message.

But for as long as the newspapers receive that first message, we’ll continue to see more images like that of Gaddafi on the front page, and that of a dead Michael Jackson on the front page, and horrifically detailed pictures of celebrities in the midst of tragedy on the front page, simply because there’s no financial reason for the newspapers not to put them there.

Everyone has their stock of favourite phrases; like Pavlov’s canines, all it takes is the right circumstances, in most cases an appropriate feed line, and you’ll once again trot out the expected response.

I once worked with a man who, whenever he heard the word ‘assumption’, would respond with “assumption is the mother of all fuckups.” It might be true, but the 874th repetition tended to take the gloss off its importance.

I’m as guilty as anyone, and I know I’m guilty of it, which reduces my culpability not one iota.

All anyone has to say about comics is that a company doesn’t care about the quality of their comics, or that they’ve treated a creator badly, and I’ll respond once again with the reminder that comic book companies aren’t in business to make comic books, they’re in business to make money.

Yes, I know – trite. But true.

Anyone who’s worked for me over the years will have heard the following often enough:

The one thing I hate above all other things is people thinking we’re stupid. Either as a company, a department, or as individuals. The only thing worse than that… is us justifying that belief.

That one applies in life as well.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s what i call a stupid comic or stupid movie (one where the makers of either have assumed the reader/watcher is stupid) or a stupid argument, comprised of lazy thinking.

I was once called a “corporate whore”.


I was at a party, and someone was banging on about how any executive of a company was, by virtue of helping to run the company, inevitably selling themselves purely for the rewards offered, and was prepared to do anything to retain those rewards, inevitably unfairly exploiting those who worked (the implication being the staff were the only people who did honest work) for the company along the way.

And, driving over to friends last night, I found myself getting angry at this kind of lazy thinking again while listening to a talk radio station.

Now I know that there are numbered rules of the Internet, but I’ve come to think there are only two that really matter: (1) Wil Wheaton’s “Don’t be a dick.” and (2) “Never read the comments.”

I should apply the same to talk radio, but I find it fascinating and when it comes to serious issues, as a general rule LBC is better than most radio stations for screening out the idiots and letting intelligent debate occur.

Last night, the presenter was discussing the Occupy movement. I’m genuinely unsure where I stand on the issue. Many of the central arguments I sympathise with, but some of the solutions proposed are irritating, non-practical and, frankly, ignorant. On both sides, I hasten to add.

It’s as ignorant, in my opinion, to suggest that everyone attending and camping out at the various Occupy protests worldwide is a professional protester (thank you, Alan Sugar) or just there because it’s fun as it is to suggest that everyone working for a bank or financial institution is equally (or at all) responsible for the financial crisis.

However, what really upset me was the statement made by two callers, suggesting that if you didn’t agree with their viewpoint, it was because you’d been “brainwashed”.

To think this, or even worse, actually believe it, is lazy thinking at its worst.

It’s insulting to others and to yourself, as the inevitable consequence is that you can cheerfully abdicate the responsibility for arguing your case, and while it may – you think – provide a conclusive point, all their correspondent ends up believing is that you’ve run out of arguments.

Patriotism may be the last refuge of the scoundrel, as Samuel Johnson is reputed to have said. But an accusation of “you don’t agree with me because you’ve been brainwashed” isn’t the last resort of the brainless, just the lazy.

And it assumes that I’m too stupid to argue against it.

As I said earlier, I hate it when people believe I’m stupid.

I just hope I don’t justify the belief too often.

Saturday smiles

Posted: 22 October 2011 in internet, saturday smiles, world
Tags: , , ,

I have been serious the past few days, haven’t I?

But it’s Saturday today, a day for – hopefully – a bit of relaxation, calming down, and a smile or two.

Building on the previous entry about typos or, as I propose, the language of Tyop, I was delighted some time ago to discover a wonderful website entitled I’m ignorant as to the origin of the name for the site, but it’s hitrate is astonishing. It “reprints” genuine snippets of newspaper reports, much like the ‘cuttings’ section of The News Quiz.

Here are some of my favourite examples:

And, finally, the glorious, the wonderful…

The plan was that you smiled. I hope you did.

Reading Amanda Palmer’s latest blog entry set my brain a-running in various directions, always a dangerous consequence, but not necessarily an unpleasant one.

In the entry, Amanda makes the point that

often blogging is just mind-shitting. sometimes tweeting is just soul-puking.

but when it’s not?

art-making, writing and music-making have never been so DEMOCRATIC.

I can’t disagree, with either statement.

And that started me thinking about the plethora of instructions handed out or made available to users of that new-fangled invention: the telephone.

A good summary of phone etiquette through the years is here, courtesy of ars technica.

Included within the above link is the glorious image you can see to your right, an advert from 1910.

Now I started blogging in 2002, long after some people reading this, and long before many others. Nine years. And I joined Twitter in January 2007, although I didn’t start regularly tweeting for about eighteen months.

Thing is – no-one told me there were any rules.

Because, to a large extent, there aren’t. If any instruction manual was given to me, showing what the etiquette was for online communication, I threw it away years ago, relying upon my own common sense to judge what was (I felt) appropriate and inappropriate.

Now if only everyone agreed with me as to what was appropriate and inappropriate, there wouldn’t be any problems. But people will insist on having their own ideas, morals and ethics.

And immediately after they threw their own instruction manuals away, they started showing those differences.

There are consequences to posting either on a blog, or on Twitter, sure. And they’re the same rules, by and large, that apply to any form of communication. You’re still liable to defamation of character law-suits if you do, indeed defame someone. You’re still open to attacks in response to your words if you offend, as Ricky Gervais is discovering this week.

I’m not about to debate the rights and wrongs of his position here, just to reassure you, although feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll answer direct questions.

However, on the subject of offence, Jerry Sadowitz’s line

Being offended is a tax you pay so you can laugh at jokes that offend other people

is being bandied around as if that’s the be-all and end-all of discussion. Leaving aside that Sadowitz was specifically discussing humour, taking his position to its logical conclusion would imply that it’s quite ok to use, say, the ‘n’ word any time you want to, as if you offend someone, so what? They get the right to offend you in return. No further consequences should follow.

Life doesn’t work that way, and nor should it. You don’t make gags about child murder to the parents of murdered children; you don’t don’t (factually correctly though it might be) call me “Jew-boy”, and you don’t use words that are generally acknowledged to be offensive words deliberately to inflame those who find it offensive.

This isn’t legislation-requiring. This is common courtesy and decent humanity.

But then, of course, we come to offence, and the taking of it, itself.

Is there a meaningful difference between when it’s intended, and when it’s not?

Does offence occur only when offence is intended? Suppose offence is intended, but then that intention is denied?

A says something. B is offended. A denies any intention to offend. C – It’s always that bastard C that causes problems, you note – C says that he can’t see how anyone could take offence at A’s comment.

Who’s right?

And, if your answer is, “it depends”, then who makes that judgement as to whether an item has ‘crossed the line’?

This entire subject does have a history for me, going back some years. On an online message board, someone asked whether the Blood Libel could actually have happened? The person concerned had a history of posting anti-Israel, rather than anti-Jewish messages. (Note, not anti-Israeli Government, but anti-Israel, suggesting that the country had no right to exist, and should be destroyed.)

I, along with other Jewish members of the message board took offence at the question (“Can we even be sure that these supposed murders didn’t occur, in some bizarre sectlet of Judaism”) since, as far as we were concerned, it gave credence to a base canard. However, the person who asked the question defended it as merely asking a question and ostensibly, at least, believed that the question itself was neutral, since all that was required was a “no” in reply.

So where does the middle path lay? Or should a middle path ever exist?

And that’s ignoring (we’re back here again, folks) the whole area of humour: if A cracks a gag that I find offensive, does that mean the gag’s not inherently funny? Of course not, any more that it means that a gag I find funny is inherently funny. After all, you might not find it humorous. Indeed, you might find it offensive.

Does it all come down to courtesy? I don’t tell gags that you find offensive in your hearing, and you don’t tell gags that I find offensive in mine? What if you find the very notion of the joke offensive (say you consider it racist). Do you try to stop me telling the joke, even if you’re not around to hear it?

But even leaving aside the humour element, in a democracy isn’t it everyone’s right to be offended? Does that give people the right to offend? And if so, shouldn’t the work be criticised rather than the person producing the work? (A bit like the difference between me doing or saying something stupid… and me being stupid?)

And if so… is there a point where what I do or say denotes a trend (personal or wider ranging) and if so, who gets the right to decide when that occurs?

Damn, this could get complicated…

I need an instruction manual, I think.

If only I hadn’t thrown it away.

Or to look at it another way…

Posted: 17 October 2011 in world

Maps are wonderful things, you know. At their simplest, they’re an easily understood geographical representation of a location or land mass, showing in various levels of [hopefully accurate] detail, what you want or need to know about that place.

At their simplest.

And then there’s WorldMapper. shows you maps of the world, but rather than sizing countries by land mass, it…

Well, say, have you ever wondered what the world would look like mapped by something other than land mass? Say by…


Alcohol Consumption

Mortality of children aged 1 – 4

Deaths from war in 2002

Toy Imports

Total Elderly

Aircraft Departures

HIV Prevalence

Child Labour

HIV Prevalence

Rabies Deaths 1995-2004

Road Traffic Deaths

War Deaths 1945-2000


Long Term Unemployed

And now some… different ones:

Christians 2002

Jews 2002

Muslims 2002

More maps available at