Friday, July 31, 2015

The First Stone

Cecil The Lion Killed By IdiocySocial media has always been vaunted as the means to connect us all. To turn the whole world into one vast social network where we can all revel in the unalloyed joys of immediate interconnectedness. Barriers will come down. Boundaries and borders will come to be meaningless, etc.

And I’m sure that’s true in part and I’m all for it but there’s another side to social media that is making me extremely uncomfortable of late. The global kangaroo court culture that seems to be springing up. Nearly always fired up and stoked by traditional media outlets – newspapers and magazine articles – and usually targetted at sad individuals who have not merely broken some social taboo but – worst crime of all – have been caught and publically identified as doing so.

The killer of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion is a case in point.

Now let me make it clear that I abhore “sport” or “trophy” hunting. Of any kind. I don’t care whether you’re some Southern red neck who feels shooting bears is a tradional part of your culture / your right as an American to bear arms (or arm bears or shoot bears with arms) or if you’re a South African poacher whose sole earning potential relies on you supplying misguided Chinese doctors with rhino horn and tiger bone. Killing animals for no good reason at all is worse than criminal. Killing them at the behest of market forces is deplorable. Killing them for “the thrill” or for a misguided sense of “sporting achievement” is completely despicable. I don’t buy all this BS about the beauty and the skill of the hunt, etc. The thrill is sexual at some base level; some ego stroking catharsis that sees the testosterone driven huntsman masturbate live rounds into the flesh of some exquisite beast that he cannot otherwise tame, own or match.

I don’t much care for the apology that Cecil’s killer has offered to the world either; “he was sorry that he killed that particular lion”. As if all the other animals he and his kind have killed were somehow more morally palatable because they were not named or had not been adopted as some nationalist symbol. He is very sorry, I’m sure, that that particular lion’s death came endowed with so much media exposure and so many, many column inches. He killed a lion but has wounded himself. Badly.

But do we want the wound to be fatal?

See, I’m uncomfortable with the howling of the mob. The digital stoning that the hunter dentist is receiving. The screams of outrage. The death threats that have seen this man have to go into hiding, have to close down his business. While many people I am sure feel he does not deserve pity or mercy I, however, do not want to be party to a global culture that drops the equivalent of an atomic bomb of vitriol onto one single individual – as if we are, all of us, unimpeachable in our moral rectitude, as if we are all so righteous in our social standing that we have the right to dispense condemnation and judgement and to recommend lethal injection to those who offend us.

All from the comfort of our armchairs, inbetween surfing for pictures of Lady Ga-Ga / Justin Bieber and sharing the lastest meme about funny kittens on Facebook.

I felt the same when that poor science dude got publically excoriated for appearing on TV for wearing a shirt whose pattern design was made up of bikini-clad women. Sure, that does not compare to shooting a lion with a crossbow and letting it bleed to death for 40 hours but the howls of public outrage and indignation were much the same. The world spoke with one voice – one vast unthinking, rage-filled, knee-jerk propelled voice – and that voice was without mercy or consideration or humanity.

Lord knows we all have days when we feel like the entire world is against us… but social media can now make that proposition a very grim reality.

We all mess up now and again. Sometimes we spend vast tracts of our lives believing the wrong thing entirely until life or the universe or the deity of your choice sets us back onto the right track.

But imagine if we were condemned for it via social media, the newspapers, neon flashing lights, petitions, protest marches, movies, fatwas, campaigns, death threats, the mob outside our homes hefting huge rocks and baying for blood…

How can it be that social media makes a demand of us that we are all morally and irreproachably perfect on the one hand, but so easily turns us all into a blood-thirsty, vengeful mob on the other?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Tories Want To Kill Us All (And Make Us Pay For The Funeral)

George Osborne, a pasty, weak version of Joseph StalinHistory will record that George Osborne’s main career aspiration was to become a fifth-rate, Walter-the-Softie version of Joseph Stalin.

In the geographical absence of gulags and salt mines and being too media savvy to machine gun en masse an entire social class of dissenters (just imagine the Twitter-hate he’d get for that), George’s solution is turn the rights of the modern working man against him; to subvert the last gasping vestiges of the Welfare State and choke the last breath of life out of any human rights declaration of the last 200 years in order to return us all to the dark glories of the workhouse and a more bizarre rule of lassaiz-fare... where people are encouraged to fend for themselves without government assistance but with the government still wanting to take a good cut of the profit.

Not satisfied with pushing the retirement age back a couple of years (and undoubtedly it will get pushed back even further until aged 98 I will have to resort to selling my own body on street corners just to be able to afford a cheap moussaka from Lidl), there are now plans afoot to dispense with the old system of employers providing sick pay for their employees.

The idea being floated by George "Uncle Joe" Osborne (the Chancellor Palpatine of the Exchequer) is that worker's themselves should provide provision for their own sick pay out of the wages they earn.

Speaking as someone who at the moment can't even afford to pay pension contributions towards financing my old age ("don't worry," says George, "you've got at least another 80 years working life ahead of you - plenty of time to save for a retirement you'll never reach") I can tell you now that if deductions were forcibly being made out of my earnings in lieu of potential future sick pay awards I would simply not be able to afford to live and therefore going to work in the first place would become a pointless endeavour. Going to work would only remain viable were I never ever to become sick. Or to be exact, were I never ever to take a sick day even though I might genuinely be exploding with typhoid or - in the dystopian Victorianesque future that George is undoubtedly masturbating over - smallpox.

Essentially, my simple theory posits that the Tories are trying to kill us all. By "us" I do, of course, mean just the non-wealthy workers who don't have enough money in their Government bailed-out bank accounts to successfully lobby their favourite political party to adequately represent their own singularly selfish viewpoint over those of the moral majority.

The modus operandi of our murder is simple. Worked to death with longer hours 7 days a week, taxed to the hilt to pay for the privileges of the rich, sick pay only if you can afford to make the contributions, no sick pay at all if you can't, work work work until you drop or until you get your "congratulations on your first centenary" letter from HM The Queen (whichever comes first). Thus huge saving are made - no sick pay and no pensions payments made because I guarantee that should anyone actually make it to a pensionable age they'll be so worn out and exhausted by 80 years' hard labour they'll be dead before the first e-payment is made into their bank account. The 7 ages of man will be truncated to: baby, child, man, workhorse and fertilizer.

And who will benefit from all these savings?

The poor? The repressed?

According to the Tory worldview they do not exist. Instead the country is full of fat, lazy, ne'er-do-wells who are only in dire straits because an over-indulgent government hasn't done enough to encourage them to stand up on their own two feet and make their own way in the world.

In other words, we're back to the old "spare the rod, spoil the child" guff which has always been used in ages past to justify naked callousness and simple cold-heartedness.

Which when you are trying to hold down three jobs to put food on the table for children whose whereabouts and welfare you can't monitor anymore because you're always at work trying to pay for the sick pay you daren't take is not what you want to hear from some over-privileged buffoon in a suit whose idea of poverty a few years back was having to include the mortgage for his paddock on his taxpayer funded expenses...

Murder is going to be done, my friends. Murder is going to be done.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sucking Face

Russell Brand, my alter egoI’ve come to the conclusion that I am slowly turning into Russell Brand.

By this bold statement I mean that I have become hyper-suspicious of traditional news outlets and information that can in any way, shape of form be traced back to the Establishment (as opposed to sleeping my way around half of England, marrying Katy Perry and then divorcing her because my own incapacity for fidelity means I am unable to trust anyone ever to forswear all others in my favour).

To be honest, this healthy paranoid belief that we’re constantly being steered and lied to began decades ago. I haven’t bought a newspaper since the early 90’s. Well not to read anyway. Occasionally I have purchased a tabloid to get my hands on a free Lego set promotion but, model acquired, the paper is then dumped straight into the recycling bin without a single headline ever touching the sensitive ears of my conscious mind.

But of late I have even begun to doubt the veracity and the agenda of fly-on-the-wall documentaries and travelogues. Even those on the BBC in whose bosom I was once glad to place my trust without a second thought. I find myself asking: who has commissioned this programme? Why did they commission it? Why spend money on it? Just for my entertainment and to openhandedly inform my mind? I don’t think so.

Lord knows big global corporations, bankers and politicians have been playing commercial tonsil tennis for years but it really feels like the “free press” has become a fourth bedfellow. Information is just another currency to do dirty deals with whilst truth itself is a rare intoxicant who purity is besmirched the closer it gets to street level; something that can he withheld, diced, cut with talcum powder or cleaning fluid and then distributed according to the preferences of those in power, it's potency and power diluted and irrevocably lost.

Which leaves precious few outlets for the little man on the street to acquire credible information about what goes on in the world. Left, right and centre we’re being sold opinion – being told what opinion to have – but most of the column inches and sound-bites are nothing more than the conjectures and bigotry of a few mega-rich old duffers who seek to stroke the world into shape the same way they stroke themselves off in the shower. 

It’s got to the point where my main news source at the moment is Facebook. Or rather various third parties who use Facebook to disseminate information, satire and political criticism. As underground information networks go it’s hardly MI5. And it could be argued that pictures of kittens, half naked celebrities and fake Mensa IQ tests hardly constitute the modus operandi of an all-seeing, completely unbiased oracle. In an age of information overload I’m finding the modern world curiously information-lite.

And that scares me.

In fact there’s too much going on at the moment that scares me: the dangerous dehumanizing rhetoric applied to immigrants and Muslims that is like something out of 1930’s Germany; the war against the poor and the under-privileged that the Tory’s are currently waging under the self-righteous, self-justifying banner of austerity; and the banking crisis that has never gone away but has not ever been adequately looked into… that has instead been allowed to roll on and on over all of our toes if not our legs. Breaking us all with our own money. And then beating us some more with our own money under the guise of fixing the damage.

Who is pulling the strings and pocketing the cash?

Generally speaking it’s not the people posting pictures of kittens on Facebook.

And for that reason alone they’ll get my trust ahead of some faceless corporate mogul running a newspaper empire or a television news channel.

But that paranoid little voice inside my head keeps telling me that even unscrupulous mega-rich media moguls can post pictures of moggies on Facebook…

And they can even write blogs.

Like I said, I’m slowly turning into Russell Brand…

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Schrödinger's Cough

Freddie and Stuart: ViciousThey say that absence makes the heart grow fonder so I have no doubt that over the last three months, although you have all been preoccupied with steering your loved ones away from the evils of extremism, trying to combat the attritional effects of ever-increasing austerity and washing your smalls with the cheapest but most eco-friendly washing powder to be found at Lidl you are now - upon discovering a new blog post from yours truly after a break of a quarter of a year - overcome with emotion so deep and so raw that you can barely read these words in front of you as the realization of how much you have missed me finally hits home.

Well, let it wash over you in great waves. Don't try and fight it. Let the deluge fill your teacup to the brim and then slowly but surely raise sea levels the world over.

For my part I am trying to think of a suitable celebrity couple with which to best represent my odd relationship with you all. Thelma & Louise? Not quite. Batman & Robin? Sorry, you don't have the legs for it. Closest I can find is Freddy and Stuart from Vicious. Of course I am Freddy, ever demanding and not really able to express the slight fondness I feel for you all though perfectly able to articulate my sneering contempt for any effort on your part to please me whilst you potter about the house (paid for by me) catering to my every whim and trying to kid yourself that you are utterly indispensable.

Yes. We are all entangled in a slightly clichéd gay relationship that exists only on the television.

But on the bright side, we can now get married.

"What have I been doing?" You clamour. "Where have I been?" Unlike the pussycat from childhood rhyme going to London and visiting the Queen has not featured on my itinerary at all.

Unfortunately, my father dying, trying to sort out stuff from Karen's mum's will, and trying to keep heart, body and soul together have featured large. And none of it has reached a stage that anybody could term "resolved".

As an aside - and thankfully it is only an aside - I had my own health scare last week when a persistent cough drove me to the doctors. Given my father's demise through lung cancer my doctor thought it best that I go for a chest X-ray immediately - to make sure there was "nothing nasty" causing me grief. Up until then I had gone for 8 weeks, coughing away without a second thought. As soon as the X-ray was booked in (and I realised my doctor was taking it all rather seriously) my mind kind of imploded with all of the unwelcome possibilities that exist in the world of disease and medicine. I had to wait a week for my results with my former casual cough now being the harbinger of chemotherapy at worst and the inaugurator of the iron lung at best.

It's appalling how one's mind can torment you and torture you. And it is totally self-defeating. Especially when you consider how some theorists posit the idea that thought and observation inform and create reality. As I waited for the 7 days to elapse before I could ring in for my results I found myself thinking of Schrödinger's cat quite often and realized that, in this uncertain interim, according to the laws of the Quantum universe, I both had and didn't have cancer at the same time. The answer lay in a closed box and would not settle into one of the two states until I opened it up and had a good look at it. Until then, to some degree, my behaviour in the universe would determine my fate.

Some believe that to get what we want from life we have to behave as if we already have it... and then the universe furnishes it to us accordingly. If we fill our hearts with yearning and desires that seem hopeless then the universe merely gifts us more of the same. The key is to live your life as if your desires are already met.

I have no idea whether that is true or not. I do not have empirical evidence that it works.

All I know is my results were clear and the doctor has put my cough down to either the onset of asthma or hay fever and since I have dispensed with subconscious fears about the Big C my cough seems to be getting better on its own.

And I am back. Back amongst you all.

So all is well that hasn't ended. See? Life can still be good.

Now put the kettle on and stop your embarrassingly high-pitched whimpering.



Monday, March 30, 2015

Trolls

Internet trollsIt’s finally happened. The trolls have got my goat. Got my goat and burned down the bridge.

I’ve written about this subject before but over the past week there have been some explicit examples making the headlines. The trolls are everywhere like an epidemic and (unless something is done to neutralize them) as their contagion spreads we will all find ourselves under permanent curfew.

Everybody will be (over)familiar with the Jeremy Clarkson debacle. As I’ve said elsewhere it proves the old adage true: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give him a steak and you won’t get your nose punched and end up in A&E. Everyone has had an opinion on this. And everybody has voiced it. But, really, did any of us have a right? We weren’t there. We weren’t involved. For a long time nobody knew the facts and yet everybody was spouting forth about what they thought ought to happen, what punitive measures ought to be taken. 

But it had eff all to do with us. Why did it impinge on our lives so much?

But that’s a side issue. My main issue with it all is the amount of online abuse the hapless producer received since the incident became public “knowledge”. Not enough that he got whalloped by a workmate, no, now every Top Gear fan in the world is giving him excoriating grief for being so inconsiderate as to have been the victim of workplace violence in the first place. Even Jeremy Clarkson himself has had to explicitly ask people to lay off the poor producer as he has DONE NOTHING WRONG!

But it gets worse.

Now BBC bigwig, Tony Hall, who headed the enquiry that decided not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract is under police protection because he has subsequently received death threats online.

Really? It’s a car show! Grow up, people!

I am becoming increasingly sickened with the amount of snide, cowardly trolling that exists and proliferates online. Give someone anonymity and they suddenly find endless seams of courage to proclaim the most bigoted, hate-filled, misinformed, kneejerk rubbish seen this side of Hitler’s private diary. Of course, ask them to put their name to it and it all goes quiet. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They want people to think they’re decent and reasonable, you see. They like to hide their hate under a bushel.

Not all, of course. There’s always identifiable trolls like Katie Hopkins who this weekend decided she had the perfect right to trash someone else’s happiness and spread yet more bile. Yesterday, Danny Dyer (I admit, I’m not a fan but fair-dos) announced to the world that he was getting engaged to be married. When Hopkins learned that it was Danny’s girlfriend who had done the proposing she spouted forth an unrelenting barrage of insults and innuendo, accusing him of being emasculated and not man enough to say no. Really? Really?

What possible right did this self-publicising monster think she had to offer any kind of opinion at all on Dyer’s announcement? Oh he announced it on Twitter so that makes it fair game? No. No, I don’t think it does. This is not open season, folks. Making an announcement online is no different than doing it in person down the pub, supermarket or bingo hall. As other commentators have remarked: if you wouldn’t say it in real life, don’t say it online. Don’t try and justify it by saying online announcements are public property.

At the end of the day we are each responsible for what comes out of our mouths and keyboards. If it is vile, bilious and vitriolic then the responsibility for that lies with us, not with the target. The fault lies within not without.

To cause grief seems to have become some kind of internet badge that people feel they have to earn. Seems to me you have to sell any kind of  basic human decency to achieve it. Those that applaud the trolls and are entertained by it are as bad as the trolls themselves.

What worries me is the effect all this will have on our freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression; the very free nature of the internet itself.

The thought police are already closing in. They’re already listening. The list of watchwords grows each week. The list of targets too. They’re tracing us, bugging us, like something out of The Matrix. And the worst thing is, although I want us all to retain our freedoms, I also want all these anonymous (and not so anonymous) trolls to have their refuges exposed. To have their shields ripped away so we can all see who and what they are – small, soft white maggots squirming in the harsh light of day. I want them to be made accountable for every word and utterance.

Because freedom of speech only works when we exercise freedom of thought and realize the right to say something does not always mean it should be said. If it causes harm for no good reason (and deflecting ennui is no good reason at all) then you really ought to keep silent. But it seems we cannot police ourselves. There are too many idiots letting their tongues and thoughts run amuck because stupidtroll@48 thinks they won’t ever be winkled out or because @KTHopkins knows she will be paid very well by advertisers and sponsors when her latest verbal vomit hits the tabloids.

The world is all wrong. It is starting to stink of a fast spreading rot. And this malaise will be fuel to those who want to place tighter controls on the internet, on what we say and what information we are able to access. It is a small step on the journey to somewhere very bad indeed. Very bad. And worst of all, this disease is all around us. We are all mired in it. Our society is built on it.

You have to understand, you see, it’s not bridges that trolls choose to live under; it’s stones.


Addendum


Block The Trolls


So how do we remedy this situation without imposing on other people’s entitlement to free speech?

One idea I’ve had is to exercise the right not to listen. I’d like everyone to join me in blocking the trolls. It’s easy enough to block people on Twitter (using their Twitter tags) and Facebook so let’s be more proactive about doing so. I’d like to see a mass blocking of all anonymous trolls and self-aggrandising attention seekers like Katie Hopkins. Don’t listen to these people, don’t engage with them, don’t let yourself be polluted by entering into a discourse with them. Just block them and then pass the word. Pass onto others the IDs of trolls and encourage an act of global blocking. Obviously use your own powers of discernment – take a look at the profiles pages of people first before you block them; it will give you a clear idea of the type of things they post. Don’t block people blindly or the very act of blocking becomes another way to troll. On Twitter please use the hashtag #blockthetrolls. If we starve these people of media oxgyen maybe, just maybe, they’ll either grow up or go away…