Bitter Tweet Symphony – an attempt to explain the phenomenon of the “Twitter-Storm”

Twitter is not a thing, a place or even a collective (although it is often described by the media in those terms). It is perhaps easier to think of it as a virtual soapbox: it is a far-reaching communication tool which can spread opinions and information around the world. One finds one’s audience (or, perhaps more to the point, they find you) and one chooses one’s feeds of information and opinions, much as in real life. The attraction is that people who might never encounter each other in the real world can find kindred spirits and explore ideas together.

Many of the occupants of the Twitterverse are affable and thoughtful souls; others may not even be sane. Think of them as friends and family. Now, naturally, any debate held in an open forum may attract its fair share of halfwits, bigots, racists, conspiracy theorists and even Tories, but they also have their place and are entitled to their voices. As I said, think of them as friends and family. [There are also lunatics, of course, but they can be blocked, muted or simply ignored. Think of that as locking them in the loft or cellar…]

Naturally, if one is to hold and express an opinion in this public forum – on politics, society or any other topic – then one really ought to be prepared to explain the rationale behind that position and even be ready to defend it to a potentially hostile audience. This is simple debating and it is the foundation of intellectual discourse and, indeed, democracy.

The problem with social media – well, one of the problems – is that it can occasionally whip good people into a frenzy over the merest perceived sleight. Online life seems to somehow encourage individuals to react with emotion over intelligence at times (and thus often without making the effort to understand the deeper story behind an event, let alone check sources…) but that is entirely a human failing and one which has very often been quite deliberately fostered – our tabloid media has been especially guilty in this regard.

The web is the new frontier, an unexplored environment of pure (and not-so-pure) mind, and social media is a territory upon which many people have set out on a voyage of self-discovery, often seeking to fulfil their need for “validation”. In the same way that the new frontier of America, back in the days of the Wild West, could not be held to blame for the rise of outlaws and gunslingers, nor can social media be held responsible for an occasional tide of outrage among those who populate it. A “Twitter-storm” is but a symptom, for social media merely hosts opinions; the puerile nonsense, alas, stems from humanity itself.

Posted in Internet, Social Media | Tagged | 1 Comment

Filibustering Farce

The NHS Reinstatement Bill was deliberately blocked on Friday by Tory MPs who spoke on another topic at great length in order to use up parliamentary time – and this is not the first occasion that we have seen this tactic employed. Filibustering may be considered by some of our political representatives to simply be a normal part of parliamentary procedure but the fact is that it makes a mockery of democracy and is an insult to each and every member of the electorate. The House of Commons is not some sixth form debating society; reducing the discussion of the future of our nation to the level of a college sport trivialises the issues which members of the public live and experience every day.

The future of our NHS and of other public services is important to British citizens; these institutions are held dear and if ministers are not prepared to do their duty by taking the trouble to consider the interests of the people whom they are elected to represent then they should be expelled from the House, for they have no place in a modern democracy.

Some politicians seem to think that the Commons is a venue for party political games to be played out but that isn’t the perspective of anyone outside of their tiny clique. We keep being told that the public are disengaged, disenchanted and disenfranchised from the political process but that actually couldn’t be further from the truth – most people care deeply about politics but their over-riding feelings on politicians tend towards cold anger and despair at being treated with such naked contempt by our supposed representatives.

It is evident that many of our political class see themselves as being set apart from the masses but they should take care; such shameful behaviour will not be tolerated by the people of the UK.

Sign the petition to stop this behaviour.

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Moderate Political Positions

Perhaps I’m being obtuse but I really don’t understand the basis for the constant stream of allegations I see in the media that Jeremy Corbyn is “extreme left-wing”; he’s a socialist – that’s kinda the point, surely – so he wants libraries and hospitals and social housing and a more equal society, but I’m not seeing anything extreme in what he’s talking about. Nonetheless, a great many political pundits are discounting him, insisting in print and online that the public will only elect “moderates” – and yet the only recently re-elected Tories (with a “majority” of 37% – not much of a mandate there) are selling off all our national assets and presiding over the greatest increase in levels of inequality seen in this country since Dickensian times. Perhaps it’s just me but I fail to see how that behaviour might be considered to be even remotely moderate.

Forcing the sick and disabled back into work only killed a moderate number of them, I suppose – despite all David Cameron’s claims about the faith of this country, the only concession to Christianity that his party has made was Iain Duncan Smith demanding that the lame should throw down their sticks and walk – but forcing people into deeper and deeper debt because of dogma-driven cuts also strikes me as being rather extreme. Can somebody – anybody! – please explain to me precisely what it is about the Labour party leader’s political position that is more offensive or outrageous than stripping our country of its services and infrastructure, selling its assets off to overseas (and often tax-exempt) concerns, outsourcing public services to known tax-avoiders and driving the poor into utter destitution?

Meanwhile, recent actions taken by Cameron’s government include cutting the armed forces, cutting the police force and now cutting the fire brigade – one imagines in order to get them all to sizes where they can be more easily managed by either G4S or Capita. These smaller units will presumably allow only moderate conflicts, moderate crime waves and moderate infernos to follow the moderate flooding which has engulfed Britain of late, causing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of quite immoderate damage.

Whatever criticisms one might wish to make of him, the thing that does appear to set Corbyn apart is that he only takes positions that he genuinely believes in: every statement that he issues is consistent with his behaviour ever since he first came into politics; unlike, for example, David Cameron, who persistently takes positions which are utterly at odds with those that he stated just prior to the two elections in which he has stood: no cuts to front-line services, no top-down NHS reorganisations, no plans to raise VAT, no means-testing of child benefit, no plans to scrap Education Maintenance Allowances, no plans to scrap Sure Start, no cuts to child benefit, no cuts to welfare… Please, tell me again which party it is that is in disarray and has now become unelectable.

Posted in Austerity, Capitalism, Equality, Government, Politics, Privatisation, Tax-Avoidance, Welfare | Tagged , | Leave a comment

London Weighting? Nope, London (and the rest of the UK) left waiting

Many people of late have expressed the opinion that homes in London ought to be made affordable for those in essential occupations but not so much for other ‘wannabe Londoners’ because “London is a great place to live but… if you can’t afford it find an alternative.” Well, here’s the thing: London is a great place in large part because of all the life, the vibrancy and the amenities that it has, but if you want to be able to enjoy the bars, sandwich shops, malls, cafés, gyms, cinemas and offices then they will all need to be staffed and cleaned and those are jobs which pay neither megabucks nor, very often, a commuting salary. Homes need to be made available for all and affordable to all.

And besides, who truly wants to live in a fiscally-segregated society anyway? People is people – being in a different salary bracket doesn’t make any of us any better than or even any different to one another; just more fortunate, perhaps. Inequality is the enemy of social cohesion and it is certainly not a state to be encouraged or pursued. The alternative to an integrated society is a disintegrated society, with all of the fragmentation and division which that term implies. We should be aiming to become a more whole nation, working together to make not just London but Britain a place we can all be proud to be a part of and proud to call our home, and that is why greater provision of so-called social housing is something which we all ought to be demanding.

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Civilian Surveillance

I think it’s a real shame that government cuts have led to the closure of so many of our libraries, otherwise the authorities would easily have been able to monitor what we read. As it is, to save the security services from having to pore over my internet usage too closely, I’ll gladly give them a list of all the sites worth visiting – they’ll soon understand how Abu Hamza was able to get along so well despite only having one hand…

Incidentally, if any of the security services do take the trouble to trawl through the retained data of my internet browsing history, they will find that I did indeed visit one extremist website in the last twelve months – but they needn’t worry, all of the speeches I was searching for had long since been deleted from the Conservative Home website.

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The Politics of Smears and Accusations

There’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t give good sound-bites. He may be a great many things but he’s certainly not a PR man. Nonetheless, I was most surprised that our Prime Minister recently described Corbyn as “the Britain-hater” when it is David Cameron himself who has presided over the decimation of our armed forces, our police force and our emergency services; who has overseen the most sustained fall in living standards for fifty years (according to the Office for National Statistics); who has authorised the intentional deprivation of funding to the NHS; who has allowed the dismantling of the Welfare State (which, let us not forget, exists as a cushion for every one of us in times of hardship); and who only at the last minute, and under intense public pressure, abandoned a plan to cut tax credits which would have had a drastic impact upon the lives of the working-poor.

One of Corbyn’s recent so-called failings was when he said that he was “not happy” for the police or military to implement a “shoot to kill” policy on British streets. To be frank, I’m not entirely sure why this is even an issue: of course there are occasions when shoot-to-kill may be the only course of action but it should never be policy. The way to deal with armed criminals and terrorists is to disable them, arrest them and put them on trial – that way nobody gets to be made a martyr. The US likes to shoot first and ask questions later, but that’s because they like to think of themselves as gung-ho action heroes. Rather tellingly, that’s not how the rest of the world sees them.

As for accusations that Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser: I can’t help but notice that we as a nation are still supporting and arming Saudi Arabia, the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East, even as we wring our hands over how to cope with the human tragedy that is unfolding before us. Cameron actually negotiated the Saudi election onto the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 – rather odd behaviour for someone who purports to love British values such as democracy and free speech…

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A Sense of Proportion

The temperature of the Earth is rising, sea levels are rising, thousands are fleeing war in the Middle East, terrorism is on the rise, human rights-abusing countries are buying up properties and businesses in the UK, corporate tax avoidance is endemic, the NHS is in crisis, our industrial base is crumbling, a great many people in the UK are being forced below the poverty line by cuts and zero-hour contracts, increasing numbers of people are homeless and out of work, the rise of antibiotic resistance in micro-organisms threatens the future of humanity and fracking poses a very real risk to our water supply… but never mind all that, what I’m really gripped by is that, when you went shopping – which you knew you were going to do – you had to pay five bloody pence for a plastic carrier bag. Please, pull up a chair and tell me all about it.

Posted in Austerity, Capitalism, Environment | Tagged | 1 Comment

Friendships in an Expanded Real World

The other day, I was very interested to read an article by Rosie Millard It’s difficult to admit, but some friends see you as an acquaintance – and vice versa in which she wrote about the value of friendships and how she felt that real-world relationships were more worthy than digital encounters. Initially I found myself agreeing with her but then I got to thinking: surely all of our relationships are based, to some extent or another, upon illusions: those which we present to others and those which are presented to us. We each of us wear different masks in different areas of our lives and so there is no reason to suppose that an online friendship is necessarily any less valid than a real-world one. Indeed, a great many of my own real-world relationships have been based upon little more than coincidence of location and impulse (which can be an agonisingly painful lesson to learn, I can tell you).

On the other hand, there are a number of people who I know online-only who I would most certainly class as being real friends because we have formed a solid bond of pure intellect – which actually makes for quite a strong relationship, in my opinion. I also have a number of disabled friends online for whom the web provides not only a portal to genuine friendships but also a vital link to the outside world. This is another of the many ways that the internet gives us windows into lives that we might otherwise never encounter. I certainly feel a fuller and more rounded person for it, although perhaps that’s just my age…

It is, I believe, crucial that we do not dismiss relationships founded in cyberspace as being of no worth just because they have no physical aspect; in truth, they may be deeper simply because it can often be easier to be intimate with people who you will never encounter in the physical world, precisely because of that very fact. (Quite apart from which, in the realm of romantic endeavours – which I am not discussing here – it may very well also serve to remove the near-certainty of disappointment. Catfishing has its own value too, you see; at least so long as it doesn’t spill into an extravagant real-world deceit à la Gayle Newland). The web, where we effectively unleash our naked thoughts into the ether, might even be considered to be a parallel existence of pure mind and emotion, almost akin to a vision of the after-life: a kind of a virtual heaven, if you will, where we are free to express ourselves without pretence or corporeal limitation.

As an aside, online is also a great way to re-establish friendships with people who we’ve lost track of over the years. I actually have more friends now from when I was at school than I had when I was at school.

Of course, online friendships are very much subject to a degree of interpretation, insofar as that you can never be entirely sure how much of what you like or dislike about someone lies in the expanse between the intent behind their words and your interpretation of them. Further, this artificial distance makes it all too easy to end up arguing with someone with whom you actually agree or vice versa. You might think drunken cross-purposed conversations in a pub are difficult but that’s small-fry compared to hammered conversations on a keyboard.

In truth, our perceptions of our internet friends may very likely be contrived out of our own fears and our hopes for what other people are. Analogue mates can be more inconvenient and less mistakable but that doesn’t make digital pals any less vital. An online friend should be seen not as an instead-of but as an as-well-as. Sure, it’s true that a great many of our online friendships may be little more than acquaintances, but I think we are entering into a new age which will require our various forms of relationships with others to take new definitions and adopt whole new frames of reference.

Posted in Friendships, Internet, Social Media | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Labour of Love

Caught up in an internal power squabble, most of the Labour Party appears to have completely forgotten what being in Opposition is all about. Somehow convinced that they lost the last election because of what they stood for, the party now seems to be afraid to stand for anything – as illustrated by their abject failure to cohesively oppose Osborne’s swingeing cuts (sorry, “reforms”) to welfare this week. In truth, Labour’s great failing last May was in not giving people something that they could believe in; they were a party with no purpose, no solid idea worth getting behind.

It is no secret and surely no surprise that the British public are utterly disenfranchised with Westminster; in the last few years we have had more than our fill of smoke-and-mirrors government driven by sound-bites and focus groups. What we are looking for now is principles, passion and beliefs – all ideals that the Opposition has the luxury of being able to indulge to their heart’s content.

Right now, it appears that only Jeremy Corbyn can save the party from becoming an irrelevance. Far from leading Labour into the political wilderness (or splitting them asunder, as some commentators would have us believe that he might), Corbyn may be the only candidate with sufficient belief and charisma to draw the party together and lead them back into the fray. His spirit and commitment has stirred a renewed interest in politics from all quarters of the electorate (quite some achievement in this era of apathy and indifference) and will hopefully invigorate political discourse – just look at the column inches devoted to discussing his influence now, even if they do seem to be mostly disparaging voices.

If Labour don’t want to be dismissed as a spent political force – and, despite appearances, we must presume that they don’t – then they need to get on with defending the values and the people that their party was established to represent; only then will they be seen once more as a force to be reckoned with. To achieve this, they need a leader of substance with a voice that is unafraid to speak out for fairness and to possibly offend corporate interests. A more equal society must remain the goal: neither history nor the British public will forgive them if they abandon those who cannot defend themselves. The choice now is clear.

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What’s in a (Brand) Name?

As I’m sure everybody has noticed, there is a long-running trend for people to wear the waistband of their underwear above their jeans, displaying a brand label. Mention this exposure to them and they’ll tell you “it’s fashion.” It’s not, you’ve been duped: it’s advertising. Twenty years ago, I’d have to buy somebody a drink and slip them a mickey to get the sort of close-up and intimate views that are now thrust upon me unbidden. Buy a belt, please.

It’s part of an ongoing trend, though. Many years ago, men used to be paid to walk around the streets wearing sandwich boards plugging shops and products; today, people pay through the nose to wear exposed brand names: Super Dry, G-Star, Nike and their ilk. This seems incongruous – why would folk be so eager to show off their allegiance to a particular chain of sweatshops? Stranger yet, though, replica football shirts are emblazoned with the names of electronics giants, telecoms companies, airlines, beers, banks, confectioners and loan sharks, and people shell out small fortunes for the privilege of walking around wearing billboards that no-one but their fellow supporters would recognise as being affiliated with their club.

Then there’s a more recent and utterly inexplicable phenomenon: band t-shirts have some point because they at least say something about the taste of the individual wearing them, but of late I’ve seen people wearing Google, Facebook and Call of Duty tees – because, presumably, nothing says more about you as a person than your choice of search engine, your use of social media or your on-line gaming habit.

Of course, as we have become an ever-more materialistic society, people genuinely do feel an allegiance to brand names – Apple, Amazon and Starbucks all seem to have very loyal customers. In the past, hospital wings used to be named after wealthy notables who had contributed a great deal to society but, since these names pretty much avoid paying taxes or making any contributions – thus leading to hospital closures rather than openings – perhaps they’ll get their names posted above the graves of those children whose lives were curtailed thanks to the efforts of their accountants.

I don’t really have a point to make here, other than to express my exasperation with the world and my disappointment at the path that civilisation has taken, but I will add this: many small children enjoy dressing-up as their favourite superheroes: Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and so forth. In their minds, they can pretend to be them and they can bask in the glory of their adventures. I know of fully-grown adult men who have complete replica football strips…

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