Friday, January 30, 2015

Who Is The Lord Of The Trolls?

I feel it in the air. I feel it in the earth. I feel it in my water.

The internet is much changed for nothing is as it once was.

It began with the forging of the great chat media platforms.

MySpace for the aesthetically challenged cyber-dwarves. LinkedIn and Facebook for the middle-to-upper class aspiring elves who wished to share photos of their kittens and their children and what bottled wine they’d drunk the previous evening. And Twitter… Twitter was created for all those who wished to leave snarky, anonymous comments in 140 characters or less.

But in this they were much deceived, for in secret an umbrella term was forged – social networking – and into this was poured all hatred, malice and the will to denigrate all life on virtual Earth…

And I could go on and on but you get the picture.

The internet is not a nice place. I know it has always had dark corners; cyber attics and damp basements where the virtual world kept its various madnesses and psychoses locked up. In fact, not even locked up – the correct URL would take you there in an instant. But at least the internet used to have a happier, lighter side; it used to have a tangible nod to the ethos of freedom and free information. Something unfettered (largely) by legal constraints, authoritarianism and the bigoted fears of the few. Something fun, frivolous and nicely rebellious.

Sadly I fear the Internet’s Woodstock years are over.

The bigots and haters have taken over the playground.

Cyberbullying is rife – anything from common-or-garden peer pressure to the kind of nastiness that drives people to suicide. Trolling is commonplace – anyone or anything is subject to cowardly attack but if you are a celebrity who dares to have a Twitter account you can consider yourself easy meat for the armchair reactionaries. If someone steps out of line or is seen to be out of step the mob sets upon them in a manner that is as disgusting as it is unforgiving and unreasonable – think of that poor scientist bloke who was virtually destroyed last year for wearing a shirt that featured pictures of bikini-clad women on it; the punishment most certainly did not fit the crime. And who are these self-righteous gnomes who feel they have the right not only to judge but also to condemn?

Stealing information and photos is seen as the fault of those who stored the photos online in the first place (kind of like blaming a victim of burglary for only having a shop bought lock on their front door whilst daring to own stuff). And various groups can now shutdown whole web servers with seeming ease for a major cause or a minor gripe or just because they are so pathetically maladjusted they just want to create havoc for the sense of transient joy it inevitably brings them in-between bouts of Warframe or whatever other massively multiplayer online game is currently distracting them from thoughts of incessant masturbation.

I’m not feeling the love anymore, people, and I don’t like it.

I’m not sure I feel comfortable being a part of the internet; a part of the media monster that social networking has become.

Lord knows I’ve taken a pop at the odd celeb over the years on this blog. But in my defence I hope I’ve presented a balanced (or at least an entertaining) argument, have been able to admit if I’ve been wrong or missed a redeeming point and always, always I am identifiable and accountable. I don’t operate an anonymous blog and I can be easily contacted and given a spanking if I’ve been a naughty boy.

I don’t make death threats or rape threats or threaten to harm other people’s family or property just because they voice an opinion that is at variance with my own. I don’t call down holy war on individuals who I disagree with or who present an ethos that is the opposite of the one I choose to adhere to. I don’t even wish dead those few souls who I utterly despise. And there are a few, believe me.

Because their divergent views, in my opinion, do not mean they should be exterminated from the face of the earth at my say so. I recognize that other people have the right to their views, no matter how ill-informed I think they may be, and have a right to live unmaligned even with those views up to but not including the point where they start directly affecting others adversely.

There has much been made of the ideal of the freedom of speech in recent weeks. The murders in Paris have placed it in the forefront of everyone’s mind. And regardless of whether Charlie Hebdo was a platform for healthy political satire or just an outlet to knock already beaten down minority groups I would argue the point that people have a right to express even offensive views. The freedom of speech must be freedom for all without any caveats or it is not freedom at all.

And yet I despair at the nastiness that proliferates the internet now and wish it could be stopped. And I think it bothers me because too many people are voicing their bile in a most cowardly fashion. Using nom de plumes or alternative accounts. Obfuscating their identity. Claiming and utilizing a personal freedom in order to destroy the personal well-being of others without the risk of any come-back or fall-out.

And that is wrong. That is my problem with it.

If you want to join in the latest witch-hunt then do so without a mask on your face. Let the world see who you are if you have such strong opinions that they must be expressed in aggressive and violent language. If you want to verbally threaten someone then let them and the rest of us see you coming. Take responsibility for what you are saying / spouting.

Don’t stab someone in the dark and then run away back into hiding and imagine you are a hero or have somehow done the world a great service. Because you haven’t. You’ve lost all moral high ground and placed yourself lower than a snake’s arse.

At the end of the day I don’t want the authorities or the powers that be to police the internet. I believe it would be disastrous. But until enough people make a stand we can’t, alas, police ourselves.

So it is up to the owners of all these social media networking platforms to do something. To close down the trolls and the snipers. To make users somehow as accountable for their digital outpourings as they would be if they’d shouted a hate filled slogan out on the street in the real world.

Am I wrong to want this?

Tell me and I will reply. Engage with me and we can talk.

I’m happy for you to have a different opinion.

Please express it with respect.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where’s Lenny McLean When You Need Him?

This post has been inspired by an article on the BBC News web site this week about a mother who, having arranged a birthday party for her young son, is now threatening legal action against another parent for his son’s failure to attend said party (and failure to advise he was otherwise engaged), thus leaving her out of pocket.


I don’t want to worry my old school chums but… actually, in reality, I really do. I want to put the frighteners on all of you. I want to get Ronnie and Reggie Kray on yo’ ass. Two Smoking Barrels and all that shit.

‘Cos it turns out you all owe me money. Loads of it.

Yeah. You heard me. You’re all into me for… ooh, taking inflation into consideration, at least £300 each.

And don’t all sit there with that nonplussed innocent look on your faces. You all know exactly what for.

All those birthday parties I had.

That you never came to.

Oh, you’re all crying and bewailing those RSVPs now, aren’t you? I don’t care if your gran / pet had died or your folks were taking you on holiday to Cornwall or you were double booked or even – cheap shot – it was your own birthday.

The point is, I had a birthday party and you didn’t come. So basically my family had catered for you, exerted a financial outlay – balloon animal, crisps, chocolate, Vimto and party bag – and you never showed up. We spent that money – money which we could ill afford, I might add – and you basically came round and threw it straight down the drain by not actually coming round and eating the food and popping the balloon animal we’d set aside for you. If we’d known you weren’t coming we wouldn’t have booked the clown and the money could have been spent on another present for me.

Yeah. That’s right. You denied me a present at my own birthday party. Two in fact. The one you didn’t bring me (because you didn’t come) and the one I could have had bought for me if we hadn’t wasted all that money instead hiring Kiddy Fiddler The Clown purely for your ungrateful and unexercised entertainment.

What a horrible bunch of friends you are. Utterly dispicable. It’s only because I’m a decent friend that I’m not suing you for emotional cruelty.

And you wonder why I’ve never stayed in contact over the years or indeed can hardly recall any of your names?

Well, stick your apologies.

Just pay up. The invoice is in the post.

Birthday card optional.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quality Street

I’m partial, it has to be said, to the odd choccy. So much so I have developed an internal radar system (biological as opposed to implanted cyborg technology) that can locate a concealed soft centre through irradiated lead lined walls. So uncannily accurate is my cocoa-bean-product detection that had Osama Bin Laden been encouraged to take up a Mars Bar addiction I could have located his whereabouts in Pakistan within a matter of days rather than months and the American intelligence service (ahem) could have spent their days happily playing Call Of Duty on their Xboxes without ever having to countenance leaving their beloved homeland for the backwards, insurgent filled wasteland that comprises the rest of the world.

So when I go into a shop and there is an open tub of Quality Street on the counter you can bet your granny’s eye-teeth that I’m going to “lock on target”.

But to engage or not to engage? That is the question.

At home or the work office, an open tin of sweets is, in my opinion, fair game. It’s like a gazelle slathering its rump in barbecue sauce and draping itself Page 3 style over some hot coals. It’s there for the taking. Full consummation of the relationship is the normal expectation and inevitable.

But in a shop situation a curious short-circuiting etiquette kicks in. A conflict of finer feelings and good manners. Am I allowed to just (to quote Billy Idol) “…make a dip / Into someone else's pocket then make a slip / Steal a car and go to Las Vegas oh, the gigolo pool”? Or do I need moral consent from a higher authority?

Because if I’m honest I feel like I need the shop keeper’s permission before I can make a grab for her green triangle. It seems very forward to just finger her coffee cream without a by-your-leave or thank you and then head on my way with a sticky mouth. But I can’t quite bring myself to ask either. It feels a bit… I don’t know… desperate and pathetic to say, “can I have a chocolate please?” Even though I’m 99% sure they are there for the customer’s enjoyment. I don’t want to make the assumption that they are free, gratis and without charge nor have her assume that I’m so hard-up and desperate I’ve taken to raiding the chocolate charity tins of the local high street just to get a sugar fix.

So I do nothing. I just stare at the tin like the drug smuggler in Midnight Express staring at his girlfriend through the security screen (though without the lipstick smudges on the glass) and the moment passes. The opportunity slips by. I make my legitimate purchase, pay, leave and try and kid myself that I didn’t really want a chocolate anyway.

But I did.

Goddamit, I really did.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

There Is No Debate

The beautiful game.

People, usually those blinded by their unquestioning Pavlovian devotion, still refer to football by this moniker. Perhaps 80 odd years ago when players still had full time jobs and played solely for the love of the contest the nametag was possibly true. I doubt it can be said to be so anymore.

I’ll admit I’m biased. I loathe football. Well, that’s what I say but it’s a kind of a misleading shorthand. The game itself is fine. No better or worse than tennis or cricket or hockey. What I loathe in reality is the culture of football. When I’ve dared to voice this opinion on various social networking platforms I am invariably shotdown by football stalwarts who take considerable time and energy to tell me, via lots of swearing and insults, of the marvellous community aspect of football, of how it makes people feel they belong, looks after and nurtures local talent, gives people a leg up and does a shedload of great charity work to boot. Oh and some footballers even have degrees thus disproving my cliched theory that all footballers are thickos who were only ever good at sport at school.

But all this changes nothing. I loathe the culture of football. The disproportionately large wages. The fast cars and the drivers who feel they have a right to drive them at 120mph and go hang the safety of other drivers. The attitude that they are God’s gift and their football stardom entitles them to behave like some rockstar behemoth – buying what and who they want, acquiring trophy girlfriends and trophy houses and extolling the chauvenistic ideals of sleeping around with whoever the hell they like. Nightclubs the country over are full of cocky young men who are earning far too much money for their own good and whose chat-up lines revolve solely around the fact that they are a “famous footballer”. All those around them are put there solely for their own entertainment and pleasure. Far too many of them see themselves as old world kings who own all that their eyes happen to fall upon.

Out of this culture we inevitably get people like Ched Evans.

I find it hard to countenance that there is even a debate about whether he should be allowed to return to a football career after he has been convicted of raping a 19 year old woman who was far too intoxicated to ever consciously consent to what was happening to her. The fact he has shown no remorse and refuses to apologize – indeed he refuses to accept that he did anything wrong – is testament to all that is wrong with footballing culture. The facts behind the case highlight the tawdriness and dehuminazing aspects of football social culture. Another player, Clayton McDonald, apparently sent Ched a text to say he had a “bird” lined up. Ched went round to McDonald’s hotel room and watched him bed the poor girl. Ched then decided he’d like a go too. CCTV footage reportedly shows not only how drunk the girl was but also various team mates of Ched watching from the sidelines as if they were at a spectator sport. No doubt braying and shouting slogans as if they were on the terraces; egging Ched on.

Let’s make it clear; there is no debate about the facts. Sleeping with someone who is too drunk to consent to the act is a crime. It is statuatory rape. End of. The fact that not only Ched and McDonald were a party to this but also others is a disgrace. Not one of them stopped to think how they would feel if this poor woman was their sister or daughter or other family member. So little empathy or respect for another human being – all burnt up in their unailienable rights to sate their own voracious desires. Because plainly their status means they own the world and can do whatever the hell they like.

To make it worse supporters of Ched – how can such a man have any? – have subesquently harrassed the poor woman so much so that she has had  to move house 5 times and go into hiding. She now cannot see her own family in case it blows her cover.

Again, this highlights all that is wrong with footballing culture. That a mere game is placed above not only the law but also all human decency. Defenders of Ched say he was punished with imprisonment not unemployment so should be allowed to return to professional football. It sounds a logical argument until you consider that the culture that has grown up around football and footballers created the circumstances that led to the rape in the first place. Acknowledge that and Ched’s return to football is impossible. Acknowledge that and you have to accept that it is not only Ched that needs to be punished, corrected and reeducated but a huge proportion of the profession itself. Plus those fans that still can see nothing wrong with Ched’s behaviour on that night.

Football – the players, the managers, the club owners and even the fans – need to take a long hard look at themselves. I’m sure there is plenty to celebrate about football but there is too much that needs to change. I’m sure many of the fans and players are decent people with good morals but as Ched and his team mates clearly show, there are too many with a highly inflated sense of entitlement that leads them to treat others as nothing more than pieces of meat, there to be used and then forgotten about. They and those fans that condone this kind of behaviour need to be educated to the contrary. A strong message needs to be sent out that this kind of behaviour is morally wrong and repugnant. It is a blight and a cancer and those on Twitter and elsewhere that think it Ok to harrass a victim of rape are as guilty as Ched. They all need to be eradicated from football completely. Expunged and exiled.

Maybe then, when footballers are proper role models that showcase respect and decency and even, dare I say it, chivalry for all, both on and off the pitch, then maybe, just maybe, football will truly be the beautiful game that so many of its fans desperately want it to be.

Thursday, January 01, 2015


I’m not saying my youngest boy has Teutonic tendencies but playing Minecraft with him – as I recently have made a point of doing as part of my ongoing fatherly duties – has uncovered a hitherto hidden seam of authoritarianism which is really very alarming.

I make a point of playing at least an hour with him on a weekend or holiday days to hopefully instil in him the finer qualities of fair play, altruism and good gamesmanship. I have never considered myself an optimist but in this endeavour I am beginning to understand the sheer cloud-cuckooness and refusal to accept grim reality required for such an undertaking.

I am also beginning to see that my boy has a fine appreciation for all forms of digital Schadenfreude. Although in gaming parlance this is commonly referred to as “trolling” or “griefing”.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of Minecraft, basically it is a computer game which allows you to both mine for resources and then build with them – build houses, palaces, cave systems; you name it, it can be built. Plus there are various autonomous characters (“mobs”) – some benign, some malignant – who you can interact with, everything from bartering with to being killed by.

Recently we (or rather I, as my son has yet to embrace the heady world of savings, stocks, bonds and shares) have invested in a Minecraft Realm. What this means is that we can inhabit and play the same Minecraft virtual world together, simultaneously in real time. The scope for cooperative play is increased a hundredfold.

Or so I thought.

In reality I find my son takes great delight in engineering the most elaborate traps and ruses with which to visit upon me the many woes of Job. He has enticed me with “treasure” only to poison me, lured me into unseen holes in the ground which, if I am lucky, deposit me into lava, if I am not then I find myself literally falling through the entire digital geology of the realm and beyond until I literally “fall out of the world”. This leads inevitably to death and the loss of all the hard won resources that I had previously amassed in my gaming inventory. Most of the time this amounts to nothing more than a diamond pickaxe, a sword and a couple of pork chops but, honestly, it is a labour of Hercules to acquire these objects within the game. Or, as is his favourite wont, he has beguiled me to enter some dark corner of the world only to spawn in hundreds of malignant mobs directly behind my back so that, yet again, death is the inevitable conclusion to my gaming foray.

Apparently in-game “experience points” are of tangible value in Minecraft and he insists that he is helping me to acquire as many of them as possible by these remarkably well-orchestrated set-pieces. He plainly has an answer for everything.

Hence all my noble intentions of steering him onto the path of gaming righteousness and adopting a set of virtual Queensbury rules have gone out of the window. In all honesty all I am successfully teaching him at the moment is how to conduct non-violent protests and how to complain in a semi-reasonable but insistently demanding voice.

I am considering trying to wean him off virtual gameplay and teach him (real) chess instead but, given recent experiences, the thought of having an actual tactile object in my hands is probably not a good idea.

I think it was Bruce Lee who posited the theory that absolutely anything can be used as a weapon… Sadly intelligence does not seem to be working for me.