FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

As with the two Peters, Hitchens and Oborne, Paul Joseph Watson is not a media figure whose every pronouncement provokes a nod of the head, yet as with those aforementioned grumpy grandees of Fleet Street, he often nails the ludicrousness of the world we live in simply by daring to challenge it. An unapologetic ambassador of the so-called ‘Alt Right’, Watson is the face of the UK branch of ‘Info Wars’, the US conspiracy theorist site fronted by the ranting human foghorn Alex Jones. Watson doesn’t adopt the breathless bluster of his American sponsor; adopting that approach for a British audience would reduce him to the level of Jeremy Clarkson. Instead, he sometimes comes across as Owen Jones through the looking-glass, the flipside mirror image of the pocket Northern Socialist.

Watson has posted a series of regular videos on YouTube over the past couple of years, both highlighting and ridiculing the increasingly fatuous fanaticism of the extreme left’s PC storm-troopers, especially on the other side of the Atlantic; as a result, he’s made as many enemies as fans, and while one may not always concur with his conclusions, there’s no doubt he’s highlighted a lot of things that needed highlighting. Until now, that is.

Watson has temporarily drawn the blinds on his YouTube window due to the fact that he can no longer make a living from it thanks to a new Star Chamber of YouTube judges, installed by parent company Google to police the medium and crack down on any questioning of the consensus. Many may be unaware that ‘monetising’ one’s uploads to YT can bring in a little revenue depending on the number of views the videos receive; Watson’s videos received astronomical views and no doubt brought in a nice little profit on a monthly basis. However, the crackdown on anyone saying anything that could be perceived as ‘offensive’ means all of Watson’s videos have now been deemed ‘not advertiser-friendly’, thus meaning he can’t make a penny from them anymore.

I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past of the transformation of YouTube in recent years. What was initially an invaluable platform for, amongst others, lovers of archive footage unavailable on DVD and rarely screened on TV – often uploaded from decrepit off-air VHS recordings or sourced from actual television vaults by insiders – has slowly seen passionate promoters of the rare and obscure edged to one side by The Man and his corporate bullyboys. Copyright laws have been tightened to the point whereby every piece of film not actually shot on one’s own camera is subjected to a ‘third party infringement’ order, regardless of how minimal its use may be. I once had a video stamped with copyright claims simply because I used the BBC4 ident for a handful of seconds as the intro to it.

This OTT enforcement of copyright has made navigating such rules something of an art-form for veteran uploaders, but perhaps responding to criticisms of alleged lax attitudes to ‘hate’ videos, YouTube has now embarked upon a censorious crusade in which any video that doesn’t promote the Coca-Cola ideal of a harmonious multicultural/LGBT/Islam-with-a-smiley-face society is penalised; anyone who takes the piss out of or merely questions this bland make-believe Utopia is denied an income as a consequence. People regularly air their grievances with the BBC as pandering to a left-leaning notion of ‘Right-On’ politics – often justified, viz. the hardly unbiased four-person panel of prominent Muslims discussing the latest Pakistani grooming network on ‘Newsnight’ this week; but YouTube has suddenly usurped Auntie Beeb as an intolerant home for one view and one view only.

Infuriatingly vacuous American airheads who call themselves ‘vloggers’ – usually squeaky-voiced teenage Disney Princess types who exude the air of hyperactive six-year-olds albeit bereft of infantile charm – make millions from their vapid videos that appeal to a generation whose heads have already been ground to slurry by being force-fed media sedatives; and these are the future of YouTube, not anybody with anything to say. My own personal speciality area tends to be satire, but satire is now as welcome on YouTube as a copy of Charlie Hebdo would be in a Parisian mosque.

A couple of days ago, the new YouTube constabulary provided me with a long list of my videos their panel has decided I can no longer make any money from. To be honest, I don’t make much, anyway – around £120 a year; I have a loyal following who will view my output whatever I upload and I also pick up casual viewers en route, but I’m a cult presence and probably always will be. I accept that some of my output is coarse in the Derek & Clive tradition, but YT already had an age-restriction system in place where rude words were concerned, so anybody stumbling upon them knew what to expect beforehand.

None of the previous rules in place to protect a ‘family audience’ were apparently sufficient, however, for the strict new boundaries have narrowed the range of opinions on offer even further. Many of my own videos parody the politically-incorrect 1970s and therefore need to be viewed with that in mind, yet the humourless martinets Google has recruited to clean-up YouTube’s lingering vestiges of its original freewheeling spirit can’t even tolerate that. One particular video of mine was a spoof 70s BBC trailer previewing a night of programmes marking ‘National Smoking Day’; it’s so obviously a piss-take, yet it’s been labelled ‘not advertiser friendly’. Despite infringing no copyright, I can’t earn anything from it anymore.

I attach another innocuous video in this style to the post and ask you to watch it in order that you can decide whether or not it’s remotely ‘offensive’. The video in question being ‘banned’ as a source of income was something I challenged; when I did so, I was informed the team won’t review the status of a video subjected to this treatment unless it receives over a thousand views in 28 days; some of my videos can take months to reach that amount of views, so I haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of reversing the judgement. It’s a rip-off and it’s an outrage. But it’s 2017. Sign up to the consensus or be cast out into the online free-speech wilderness.

 

© The Editor

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GROWING-UP IN PUBLIC

One of the many dreaded factors in introducing one’s boy/girlfriend to one’s mother has always been ‘the potty picture’. The best tea-set being dusted down and mum bizarrely transforming into an air hostess when serving it is an uncomfortable enough experience; but if the new other half passes muster, chances are the childhood photo album will then be excavated. And, naturally, every childhood photo album opens with a baby sat on a potty. Why do mothers feel the need to a) capture a crap on camera and b) show it to one’s partner decades later? It remains a perplexing aspect of parenting that non-parents like me will always be mystified by. Perhaps it’s a symbolic surrender of emotional ownership and an acknowledgement that the other half will at some point in the relationship see said partner on the loo too. As a portrait of man and woman’s mutual vulnerability, sitting on the loo is probably a greater leveller than death.

As horrific as this handover ceremony has been for generations, the one saving grace of it has been that the ritual takes place behind closed doors, only endured by those present in the room. Not for the first time, be thankful the visual documentation of your formative years was restricted to the Kodak Brownie or (at a push) the Super-8 cine-camera. Imagine you’d been born on the cusp of the millennium or immediately thereafter. The potty picture would be the opening image in your online gallery of embarrassment, shared with, if not necessarily the world, then your mother’s circle of family and friends and – as a consequence – their offspring and their family and friends.

Eight out of ten mothers (probably) think their little angel is inherently superior to any other child on the planet, so are instinctively compelled to broadcast this information to anyone within earshot; backstage at the Miss World contest must seem like a veritable picture of communal harmony compared to the level of competitiveness at the school-gates. The Yummy Mummy movement, bolstered by the celebrity mother industry, daytime TV, dozens of websites, and a plethora of ‘How To…’ guidebooks, has turned this traditional rivalry between mums into a deadly game of one-upmanship that now has an additional dimension that takes it above and beyond the parochial battlefield – social media.

Twenty-first century boys and girls are the first generation to have their entire lives so far uploaded to a worldwide database, using the lead character in ‘The Truman Show’ as a blueprint for growing-up. It’s not a pleasant thought, especially when one considers they’ve had no say in the matter. From the initial ‘aaah’ shot to appear on Facebook barely days (or in some cases, hours) after the sprog’s arrival all the way to the ‘first day at school’ shot, the internet has been utilised as cyber apron-strings by mothers too blinded by their perfect child to appreciate the future ramifications of their actions.

Another element of crass Americanisation to pollute British culture, the aforementioned ‘first day at school’ shot takes its place alongside even greater demands on the parental coffers such as the insidious establishing of ‘the prom’ as an end-of-term beauty contest; not only does the latter introduce a new financial burden previously reserved for Catholic parents and their communion dresses, it also places pressure upon the children themselves. It was bad enough when this alien tradition infiltrated high schools; the fact it has now seeped into the primary school social calendar means mothers now have yet more opportunities to earn online bragging points whilst bankrupting themselves in the process.

The generation who welcomed the internet into their lives from adolescence onwards have already become accustomed to documenting every aspect of their existence online, but the generation coming up behind them, who will have never known a time without it, have had it thrust upon them as a normal state of affairs. It’s too early to say how this will shape their self-perception in years to come, but the threat of these images remaining accessible for eternity was something as worrying as Facebook’s refusal to allow the accounts of the deceased to be deleted – until, it would appear, now.

Yesterday it was announced by Matt Hancock, Digital Minister (yes, that’s a real job title), that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation laws are to be transferred onto the UK statute book in an overhaul of Britain’s own data protection laws. The most encouraging upshot of the proposals is that it should not only be easier for people to withdraw their consent for personal data to be shared online, but it should enable people to request the removal of childhood photographs uploaded by parents years before. In theory, this could spell the end of the potty photo’s online life.

Anyone well-versed enough in cyber practices will of course be aware that it’s hardly rocket-science to copy and paste an image from the internet, so the chances are some images can be uploaded over and over again in perpetuity; but at least the proposals in this new bill might provide the unfortunate cyber star with some legal clout to get his or her own back on Mommie Dearest. The right of the individual in question to upload childhood photos of their own choice is something those of us who grew up in private already have – as the image illustrating this post demonstrates. And I will always defend that seven-year-old’s right to have worn those trousers.

© The Editor

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RUDDY HELL!

I’m sure we all recall the unique interpretation of the Joint Enterprise law as practiced by teachers back in the day. One pupil has broken one of the school rules, but won’t confess to it, despite Sir or Miss’s entreaties for him or her to come forward. The teacher’s solution is to keep the entire class entombed in the classroom until the guilty pupil speaks up; the knowledge that others are aware of the criminal’s identity is paramount, but the teacher expecting these others to break the code against grassing is futile. Nobody will admit anything, so every child is punished for one child’s misdemeanours because there’s always somebody spoiling it for everyone else.

If we take this collective memory from ‘the happiest days of our lives’ and use it as a metaphor for the Government’s attitude towards online security, then Amber Rudd is the teacher and we – an estimated 4 billion global users – are the class. A few of us have been very naughty indeed, posting terrorist propaganda and Hate Speech (surely that’s for the Wiltshire Constabulary to deal with?); and Mrs Rudd’s solution is to apply the tried and tested school version of Joint Enterprise as a means of dealing with it. According to the Home Secretary, ‘Real People’ don’t want secure encryption on their messaging mediums. As she declared in the Telegraph – ‘Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?’

On the eve of her visit to Silicon Valley, the Home Secretary has been making it clear her predecessor in the post taught her well when it comes to the subject of cyber civil liberties. In her Telegraph piece, she referred more than once to that exalted demographic, ‘Real People’, a new twist perhaps on David Cameron’s more favoured ‘Hard-Working People’. One presumes these are the same Real People who reside in Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain; and in Alarm Clock Britain as perceived by Amber Rudd, those of us who don’t mind those nice chaps at GCHQ acting as internet traffic cops are Real People; those of us who do are obviously hate-fuelled ISIS sympathisers who have something to hide.

Rudd intends to challenge the most popular online services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Microsoft and Google, to up their game in ‘removing extremist content’. However, one man’s extremist content is another man’s democratic expression of freedom. Outside of gruesome ritual beheadings, the definition of extremist content can vary depending on our individual perspective. Naked breasts are viewed by some as a feminist statement; to others, they’re just a pair of knockers to drool over; and to others, they’re virtually pornographic and should never be seen in public. Context is vital, of course, but tits are tits. You either have a problem with them being exposed or you don’t. Twitter and Facebook often do and censure the mammary offenders whilst being a little more lenient on things most of us would regard as not quite so benign.

Rudd evidently doesn’t have the same kind of problem with the business practices of Google and Facebook as she does with some of their content. Were her justification of the nosey parker principle to be applied to some of the internet’s multi-billion dollar corporations, we’d all be able to see how they masterfully evade the paying of taxes and maybe we could have a crack at it too once we’re shown the way it works. The Government she’ll be representing in San Francisco at the inaugural gathering of ‘The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’ also doesn’t have a problem with selling arms to the very country from which the current nihilistic strand of Islam originated as it bombs Yemen into bloody submission. That some of those Great British Weapons occasionally find their way into the hands of those same nasty people (not Real ones) who are prone to aiming them back at us is quite ‘extremist’, isn’t it?

A preview of Rudd’s expected lecture…sorry, speech reads ‘Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages’ (unlike the Tory press recycling Jeremy Corbyn’s past ‘association’ with the IRA, then?). She will then go on to say ‘This Forum is a crucial way to start turning the tide. The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry…we have a shared interest: we want to protect our citizens and keep the free and open internet we all love.’ In her Telegraph piece, she claimed ‘This is not about asking the companies to break encryption…Real People often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security.’ Perfect and unbreakable to all but governments and their snooping secret services, lest we forget.

The Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, Renate Samson, reacted to Rudd’s self-justifying waffle by calling it ‘at best naive, at worst dangerous’. He added ‘Suggesting that people don’t really want security from their online services is frankly insulting….once again, the Government are attempting to undermine the security of all in response to the actions of the few. We are all digital citizens; we all deserve security in the digital space.’

As part of the Home Secretary’s showy bragging about how the Government is dealing with this problem, she’s also expected to highlight how one police unit in Blightly has removed 28,000 examples of ‘terrorist content’ along with securing the closure of millions of online accounts over the past seven years. Rudd may well believe dredging up facts and figures of this nature supports her argument, but imagining any government can play at being a cyber Sgt Dixon giving mischievous Jihadists a clip round the ear-hole without stooping to snooping on everyone is pure Cloud Cuckoo Land. The only way any government can curb the antisocial tendencies of the badly-behaved internet is to apply the Joint Enterprise rule to all of us who use it. If we want to be ‘safe’, we have to sacrifice our privacy. Just be honest, Amber – or let us have a read of your emails.

© The Editor

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QUIET NEWS DAYS

One of those characteristically simplistic questions children often pose to their parents emanated from my mouth as a child when I remember asking my dad what the TV news bulletins would do if one day there was no news. I can’t recall his reply, unfortunately, but I didn’t realise then that, in the event of such a freak occurrence, that itself would be the news story. Forty years on, the instant availability of news through far more mediums than were present when I posed my question means there’s never any danger of there being a day free from it. Today the news is a billion-dollar industry. TV channels entirely devoted to it have 24 hours to fill, and many stories that would hardly have been classed as such before the current industry existed make it to headline status as a consequence.

The kind of banal filler that editors of local newspapers traditionally had to cram their regional rags with simply to use up the page count now seems to have become the blueprint for rolling news channels and online news sources. Finding enough stories to fill a local paper if the locality happens to be a sleepy backwater naturally means the columns will consist of parochial obscurities, but when it comes to TV or internet channels covering international events, one would imagine there’d be no such problems with content. When hours and pages require a seemingly unlimited supply of stories, however, it does have the curious effect – especially on quiet news days – of reducing international news to the level of local news.

The number of times the comments section on some online news outlets bemoan the ‘story’ they’ve just spent half-a-minute reading and rightly dismiss it as a non-story could be applied to so much of the output that constitutes the medium, yet the perceived demand for news leads to this state of affairs. I’ve no idea what the quota of stories required for the likes of Yahoo News or Google News is on a daily basis, but there don’t seem to be enough to satisfy the demand presumably from anxious proprietors with one eye permanently fixed on the competition. I suppose there’s the argument – where cyberspace is concerned – that the short attention spans of those who scan online headlines want to see constant updates and want them in bite-sizes rather than the lengthy articles associated with newspapers, let alone what they regard as ‘news’ – North Korea or Love Island?

For newspapers, the situation is compounded by falling sales, forcing them into alternatives that deviate from actual news even further. One example is the eternally fawning aspect to coverage of the Royal Family – or at least those members of it that Fleet Street has declared to be its darlings, which is an unusual diversion from news in that I don’t really believe anyone under, say, 60 is really that bothered about William or Kate or their kids. Both broadsheets and tabloids have an unhealthy obsession with the Windsor’s that isn’t really reflective of the country as a whole, yet they continue to plaster their front covers with images of them, labouring under the misapprehension that someone gives a shit. There’s an added bonus this year, with the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death imminent, something that the Daily Express in particular must have been counting down the days to since roundabout…oh…1997. Outside of this royal brown-nosing, the papers have more recently found other ways of filling their pages.

The Sun regularly has a ‘wraparound’ on its cover, plugging some other Murdoch enterprise, whereas its film and TV reviewers tend to reserve their greatest enthusiasm for produce emanating from yet another company owned by the Digger. Similarly, broadsheets are paid handsome amounts to publish gushing PR for various nations with dubious human rights records like China or Turkey, but clumsily attempt to pass this PR off as an actual news story. When it comes to their online incarnations, papers such as the Mail tend to receive enviable amounts of visitors, even if most are drawn to the crass ‘sidebar of shame’ and its relentless slavering over scantily-clad starlets rather than the genuine headlines.

The cliché of there being a thousand-and-one TV channels in the post-deregulation age and yet there’s still nothing worth watching on any of them could also often be applied to the dazzling array of news outlets. Indeed, the sole reason for writing this post was due to my scouring these various outlets over the last couple of days and finding nothing of interest to write about. Sure, there are bona-fide news stories on offer, though most are variations upon themes I’ve covered on here many times before; the alternative is to write about the desperately sad Charlie Gard story, but I’ve a feeling that anger over doctors playing God would impair objectivity. There’s also the depressing conclusion that parents are merely the custodians of children and it’s the State that really has the final say over us from cradle to grave

Naturally, we shouldn’t forget we are in the middle of the so-called silly season as well, so there’s bound to be an upsurge of guff posing as news. Parliament is now in recess and all the political intrigues that spanned a good couple of months after Theresa May called the snap General Election have also gone into hibernation until September. No doubt something will catch my eye shortly, but for now writing about having nothing to write about is what I’m writing about.

© The Editor

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REMAKE/REMODEL (RETRIAL)

I think I can probably say with a degree of shameful confidence that I was not the only man – or woman, come to that – whose first response upon hearing the bizarre case of Gayle Newland was ‘Why didn’t she video it?’ Okay, so it’s not something most would be especially proud of, but as sexual fantasies go it was certainly an original one and would have been a good deal more entertaining than the majority of those that stretch the nation’s broadband connections to breaking point in the wee small hours. Beyond the admirable dedication to deception by both parties (lest we forget), this particularly strange incident highlights the muddied moral and legal waters physical intimacy has become bogged down in.

For those not in the know, 27-year-old Gayle Newland seduced an allegedly unknowing female friend by entering into a post-‘Fifty Shades’ fantasy whereby the online (male) identity she had cultivated since the age of 13 arranged to meet with said friend. However, to maintain the mystery that ‘Miss X’ willingly entered into, somewhat kinky rules were laid down that the lady accepted from the off. We are told ‘Miss X’ had no idea who the man was that demanded she wear a blindfold even before the pair of them got down and dirty. A woman who only knows someone from (presumably) fruity online chinwags and then crosses the cyber boundary by meeting up with them in person agrees to never actually look the fellow in the eye? A complete stranger she voluntarily puts herself in the hands of with no regards for her personal safety whatsoever? Miss X is either the thickest woman on the planet or her claims of being deceived should’ve been thrown out of court on day one of the original trial.

Firstly, Gayle Newland must be a remarkable mimic. Some women are gifted with irresistibly sexy husky voices, but even the vocal talents of Joan Greenwood, Tara Fitzgerald or Fenella Fielding at their 40-a-day huskiest could hardly be confused with those of Barry White. There’s a world of tonal difference between the two that could only ever fool someone who either wants to be fooled or chooses to ignore the aural evidence. Even if she employed the technical tricks used by the likes of ‘Anonymous’ in disguising her voice, surely that should have set alarm bells ringing?

Secondly, Miss Newland’s elaborate tactics once her ‘victim’ acquiesced with her mystery man’s desire to get his leg over – binding her breasts and donning a strap-on dildo – would have brought Miss X’s other senses to the fore. Even if she couldn’t see the deception with her own eyes, she must be incredibly inexperienced in carnal matters if she cannot tell the difference between a facsimile penis and the real thing. And despite Newland’s best efforts, a woman’s body undoubtedly feels and smells different to a man’s – not quite as hairy, for one thing, especially at a time when anything pubic is verboten where the young female form is concerned.

So, we have a scenario wherein a woman embarks upon a sexual relationship with an anonymous stranger she initially met online and yet never lays eyes upon him, a sexual relationship that spanned at least ten different rounds of bedroom gymnastics, and yet all the time Miss X unswervingly believed she was being given one by a member of the opposite sex? Do me a favour! The whole assignation was wrapped in knowing fantasy from the moment the inaugural exchanges took place on the internet. This was implicit before the two even met in person, let alone when they did meet, and Miss X was never once allowed to see her seducer. Yet Gayle Newland received an eight–year prison sentence in 2015 and has just received a six-and-a-half year one after a retrial following an appeal.

There was an infamous case around twenty years back when a bunch of sadomasochistic gay guys were done for deliberately inflicting pain upon one another during a private gang-bang – something involving hammers, nails and other DIY tools that Black & Decker didn’t specifically design for such an occasion – and the general public’s response to the intervention of the police and the judiciary was largely that neither had any business interfering in something the participants entered into with full knowledge of what it would entail.

The Sexual Offences Act of 2003 states that a person agrees to sexual activity ‘if she/he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice’. Miss X agreed to sexual activity with Gayle Newland in her male alter-ego; granted, she didn’t realise she was being rogered by a woman she regarded as a platonic pal; but surely the thrill of the unknown was a key element of the gamble she decided to take when complying with the unconventional circumstances in the first place? After all, the mystery man could’ve been her father, for all she knew.

Gayle Newland was hardly alone in adopting a persona for online correspondence. Every contributor to this here blog, author and commentator, uses a pseudonym when posting, for example; and there are various long-established sites that take this one step further as nom-de-plumes are expanded into fictitious personas that enter into fantasy affairs with their fellow fantasists. One could argue both are harmless fun in which awareness on both sides invalidates accusations of deception. By transferring this kind of interaction from mobile or monitor to the bedroom, the two participants have to be conscious of what they’re doing; and by Miss X acquiescing with Newland’s admittedly odd demands, she was preparing to take a risk she ultimately took.

Had Gayle Newland killed Miss X in a hit-and-run accident, the sentence she received could well have been half the length of the original sentence she received in 2015 (as well as the one she received today) for having sex with her; had she inadvertently strangled her during one of their sex sessions, the sentence probably wouldn’t have been much longer than eight years. So, one has to ask the question why a consensual act of sexual intercourse – remember, Miss X didn’t object – has resulted in a mentally confused young woman addicted to the make-believe realm of cyberspace (hardly unique in 2017) being twice condemned to years behind bars. Is she being punished for what she did or the times in which she did it?

© The Editor

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THE HUMAN TOUCH

A couple of days ago I walked into my local bank and saw a sign on the counter informing customers this particular branch would be closing in November. It’s been my ‘local’ for about fifteen years, and whilst I don’t use it as much as I once did (online banking, what can I say?), the fact it’s disappearing from a provincial high-street that, like most, would at one time have boasted perhaps half-a-dozen different banks says a good deal about…well…the here and now. The provincial high-street in question used to contain a variety of businesses that are now becoming increasingly rare sights – banks, post offices, gas showrooms, pubs, newsagents etc; but, as befitting a nation of fat bastards, there’s no shortage of places to eat there today. Every other shop seems to cater for the appetite.

Not so long ago, every financial transaction required interaction with another human being. If one needed to pay a bill or withdraw cash or receive some form of benefit, one had to visit a building and queue-up to enter into said transaction. There was no choice; everyone had to do it because that’s the way it was done. There wasn’t the generational divide that now exists – the one between those who are internet-literate and those over a certain age, who aren’t online and who are finding the transformation of every service into a virtual one a minefield of misunderstanding. Often, the latter are also reliant on public transport; the news that the closing branch of my local bank means any in-person dealings with it will now require a journey of several miles to the next nearest branch is symbolic of a change that arrogantly assumes everyone has one foot in cyberspace, when they don’t.

As far as banks go in the rapidly changing high-street landscape, the status of the branch’s top dog has been severely diminished. The bank manager, as with the GP or publican, was once a prominent figure within communities; he was the regular butt of jokes and a familiar presence on sitcoms, whereby characters would visit him in the hope of a loan, usually to be rebuffed. He was portrayed as pompous, somewhat self-important and authoritarian in a headmasterly manner. Lest we forget, Captain Mainwaring’s day-job was a bank manager. These days, the bank manager as a symbol of a certain kind of old-school British seniority has all-but vanished from the culture, along with the physical incarnation of the institution he represented.

When I started school at five, I recall every pupil being given a bank account and a little bankbook to go with it. This curious system wasn’t extended to any other school I attended, and there probably wasn’t much more than 50p in our respective accounts; but I remembered this quaint story the other day and realised the humble bankbook now seems poised to go the same way as the black & white TV set. I pay my rent at the bank and have my bankbook updated in the process, though ever since I started banking online I tend to check what’s gone in and what’s gone out that way rather than checking my bankbook. Yes, I’m as guilty as the next man.

The cash-machine has been with us far longer than we tend to imagine, with the first UK model appearing in 1967; ‘On the Buses’ star Reg Varney famously earned his place in history as the first person in this country to withdraw money from an ATM (at the Enfield branch of Barclays). But while this now commonplace sight may be fifty years old, it’s fair to say it didn’t acquire the omnipotence it possesses today until perhaps the 1990s, when it became far more abundant outside supermarkets as well as banks themselves; most still visited the bank to get their hands on their money. But the proliferation of cash-machines was the first pre-internet step in detaching customers from human contact.

There’s a mid-60s episode of ‘The Avengers’ in which a mad scientist played by Michael Gough is determined to make all businesses fully automated; the novelty of entering business premises in which human beings are absent and a card is required to open doors and access goods is evident in Steed’s reaction. But while Gough’s character may have been ahead of his time, the downside to his vision is that he has also created a race of robotic humanoids he calls Cybernauts to do the manual labour his business needs; this being ‘The Avengers’, these Cybernauts naturally do a good deal more than merely lifting boxes. However, when one bears in mind the episode aired at a time when the production lines of the nation’s motor industry were still dependent on men putting the hours in, it now looks extremely prescient.

The writing team on ‘The Avengers’ probably didn’t anticipate that automated industry would eventually stretch to so many areas of our future lives, but the onset of the internet has accelerated the transformation of society from the manual to the automated far more than even they could have guessed. Don’t get me wrong; cyber-shopping has made life a hell of a lot easier for me personally. I now buy the likes of CDs and DVDs more or less exclusively online, which is a Godsend because I hate shopping. When I think about it, though, it’s not so much shopping I detest as the places I’d have to do it in if I couldn’t do it online, such as ghastly malls. My aversion to crowds is a deterrent too; I now no longer have to enter that arena thanks to cyberspace, for which I am grateful.

For some transactions, however, the human touch remains something strangely reassuring, and the closure of a local bank branch is not dissimilar to another depressingly contemporary development, i.e. the closure of a local pub. The retirement of one’s GP, necessitating relocation to a ‘medical centre’ where one is shoved before a different doctor on each visit, thus preventing the development of a long-term relationship between GP and patient, is also characteristic of this trend. But, hey, that’s progress; we have to take the rough with the smooth. At the same time though, I can’t help but feel every replacement of a human with an anonymous internet transaction is reducing our contact with people even more and making us more isolated from each other in the process.

© The Editor

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KORAN ABOUT THE HOUSE

I’ve never been in a mosque, but I’ve never been in a synagogue either. Although I was raised in a secular household, I am familiar with one branch of the House of God on account of having to attend endless childhood weddings and christenings; these were churches of the austere Protestant variety, however, rather than the camp Catholic model. I’ve no idea if the ambience is as chilly and, frankly, boring in the showrooms of other denominations, but with all my C-of-E education coming via the dullest lessons at school, I think my agnostic outlook was sealed from an early age. Drawing a picture of Pinky and Perky at the Crucifixion in the infants was probably a telling indication that I recognised a fairy tale when I heard one.

On last night’s edition of ‘Question Time’, a member of the audience brandished a leaflet he swore blind he’d been handed at an open day at Didsbury Mosque, at which the father of Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was once a regular. What he read from the leaflet sounded like classic Radical Islamic propaganda, denouncing western immorality in a language that implied such immorality was deserving of severe punishment. A veteran of the same mosque sitting a few rows down denied he could have received such literature at Didsbury, but the man was adamant.

The general impression given is that there does seem to be something of an ‘It weren’t me, guv; I weren’t even there’ culture prevailing through many of the mosques that have harboured the hate preachers and fundamentalist shit-stirrers in the UK over recent years. Either nobody saw or heard anything or their eyes turned blind through choice; however, not knowing the interior structure of mosques, I’ve no idea if the guilty parties retreat into special recruitment rooms. But the climate of fear when it comes to informing in many Muslim communities seems almost reminiscent of Sicily or even Belfast during the Troubles; events in Rotherham and Rochdale appear to back up this Mafia-like control the worst offenders have over the populace and why the police steer clear.

Then again, it has emerged that Salman Ramadan Abedi’s extremist views and support for ISIS had aroused enough suspicion within his own community that he had been reported to an anti-terrorism hotline, something I imagine would put those who reported him at considerable risk should they be identified. As a result of these calls, Abedi was known to the security services; but police manpower being deployed to keep an eye on potential Jihadists would severely stretch the police manpower required for historic fishing parties into the sex lives of dead celebrities and politicians, so it’s no wonder the likes of Salman Ramadan Abedi could further his ambitions free from surveillance. Many police officers may have been laid off in the wake of Government cuts to the country’s forces, but deciding the priorities for those that remain is something the police themselves have to answer for.

The internet has also resurfaced in the blame game this week. Online outlets such as Facebook and Twitter certainly operate on curious moral grounds. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had her FB account suspended after posting a photo of herself holding a Supertramp LP over her chest; the sleeve of said album featured nothing but a pair of tits on it. Similarly, the entertaining Twitter ‘Whores of Yore’ account initially had a profile pic which was a portrait of Nell Gwyn showing a nipple; the painting hangs in the National Gallery for all age-groups to see, but was evidently too outrageous for cyberspace, and the offending nipple had to be removed for the account to continue. On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter don’t appear to have similar problems with inflammatory language or violent videos promoting opinions that somewhat contradict the Utopian New Age worldview shared by Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow visionaries.

So, yes, mosques and websites have been under the spotlight yet again this week, though few have mentioned HM prisons, which seem to be the real recruitment centres when it comes to home-grown terrorists. The escalating convictions for those planning terrorist attacks since 7/7 means many prisons have a far higher Muslim population today than has been the case in the past, and the brutally alienating regime behind bars means birds of a feather naturally flock together.

A young Muslim prisoner who may be serving a sentence that has no Radical Islamic element to it is befriended by another Muslim prisoner who recommends one way to stay safe from the psychos, the druggies and those who take a shine to a pretty face is to spend his time exclusively with other Muslim prisoners. Segregation and indoctrination ensue, and said prisoner is released with a head pumped full of Paradise and those oh-so alluring virgins.

Armed police and even bloody soldiers – both of whom have had their numbers severely depleted by the same Government that now requires their services to enhance ‘Project Fear’ for the public – are currently highly visible on the streets of Britain; but they’re guarding the stable door when the proverbial horse has already bolted. No wannabe Jihadist would contemplate an ‘incident’ when there’s such a show of force; better to strike when nobody is looking. No matter how heavy an armed presence Bobby and Tommy present this weekend, the only strike I expect to see at Wembley tomorrow will emanate from the foot of Diego Costa.

© The Editor

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COMPUTER SAYS NO

The original 1975 BBC version of Terry Nation’s ‘Survivors’ dealt with the aftermath of an unnamed virus that swept across the civilised world and severely depleted the human population of the planet. The focus in the programme was, unsurprisingly, on England as we followed several disparate characters coming together to form a pre-Industrial community amidst the ruins. In the memorable opening episode, much is made of mankind’s risky dependency on modern technology, though this dependency is minimal in comparison to the dependency on today’s version; the kind of virus required to bugger everything up for the human race in 2017 doesn’t even need to be an organic one.

There’s a plethora of old sayings that could be evoked when reading of belated responses to the viral pandemic that infected 200,000 computers in 150 countries last week and rendered info inaccessible unless submitting to a ransom demand – despite warnings issued months ago that went unheeded. I’m thinking stuff about locking the stable door after the horse has bolted and so on. But I think the one concerning all the eggs being contained in a solitary basket seems most applicable. When every relevant document and file only exists in the cyber ether, without any other format serving as back-up in the likelihood of an online meltdown, the over-reliance on such a vulnerable storage system as digital technology is symptomatic of a mindset where the easiest option is taken when it’s not necessarily the safest.

This has certainly been a long time coming. What the NHS computers experienced here at the weekend was an A&E waiting to happen ever since the majority of paper documentation used by the sector was transferred to the PC. Most of us will probably remember attending our local GP’s surgeries for decades and seeing the shelves behind the reception desk crammed with cards in which each individual patient’s records were contained. Yes, they obviously took up a great deal of room, but with the exception of a fire breaking out, they were immune to the kind of damage their storage successor has proven susceptible to.

Some may recall news footage of the ‘Ripper department’ of the West Yorkshire Police Force in Leeds during the time Peter Sutcliffe was on the loose; the floor housing the collected material on the potential suspects became so weighed down with the crates stuffed full of paper information that it had to be reinforced to cope with the structural strain. Today, all of that info could, of course, be stored on one memory stick so small that a toddler could swallow it; but who’s to say some mischievous hacker wouldn’t tap into it and essentially be a cyber incarnation of notorious hoaxer ‘Wearside Jack’ in the process?

Few people today – certainly those whose only experience of a phone means a mobile rather than a landline – could recite the telephone numbers of their nearest and dearest because they’ve never had to dial them; add the numbers to the mobile’s memory banks upon purchasing it and they’re all stored away without the need to memorise them; a solitary button is pressed to access the desired number. All very convenient, but what happens if something goes wrong with the phone and the list is lost? Suddenly, the user is made aware he or she has no idea what any of the numbers they call the most actually are. Chances are they never thought to jot these numbers down in an extremely old-fashioned object known as an address book.

The digital network that is the repository for so many of the files that western civilisation deems necessary to keep the wheels of society turning has the potential to be a modern-day clerical equivalent of the Library of Alexandria. The destruction of Ancient Egypt’s most celebrated temple of collected knowledge via fire (whether deliberate or accidental) resulted in the loss of thousands of exclusive scrolls and volumes that were irretrievable on account of Alexandria being their sole home. Its vulnerability to attack was evident, just as IT systems are today. Cyber criminals – hackers and virus-producers alike – are engaged in a permanent battle with the traffic cops of the information superhighway, and the ramifications of these battles can be found in the disruption across doctors’ surgeries and hospitals this week as dependence on the systems they target has left the digitised structure of the sector in sore need of repair.

The Government insists the NHS received fair warning about the threat to its IT soft-wear, passing the buck to the NHS Trusts, yet a contract to upgrade the NHS’s IT system wasn’t renewed two years ago in a wave of Government cuts. Only yesterday, the Department of Health’s National Data Guardian additionally criticised the NHS for a deal it cut with the Google ‘patient app’ DeepMind, which enables the NHS to share 1.6 million patient records with third parties for direct patient care – a deal cut without the consent of patients. In response, Google said ‘The data used to provide the app has been strictly controlled by the Royal Free Hospital and has never been used for commercial purposes or combined with Google services, products or ads’, but after events over the weekend, one cannot help being sceptical.

Apparently, this particular cyber attack emanated from flaws in Windows identified by the US National Security Agency, a discovery it would seem the NSA failed to disclose to Microsoft before it fell into the hands of hackers. However, despite Microsoft making a free ‘fix’ available two months ago, the sloth-like response to upgrading IT security by many institutions meant the systems earmarked as open goals were attacked.

Whoever is ultimately at fault for this incident, the fact remains that it’s something that will never go away; like the painting of the Forth Bridge, upgrading security and antivirus soft-wear is a permanent exercise. If industry and individuals insist on hoarding their most valuable data on a solitary form of preservation, they’d best ensure it’s pretty secure. Pen and paper, anyone?

© The Editor

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DEATH BY FACEBOOK

Anyone reading this who happens to have a Facebook account will be familiar with the fact that some members of one’s ‘friends’ list are prone to issuing an endless stream of posts on a daily basis that clog-up the newsfeed section of the medium; indeed, some are so relentless that it often requires several minutes of scrolling down before other posts can be sighted. In many cases, I’ve been forced to ‘un-follow’ a few FB friends in order that I can see what those who don’t post dozens of items a day are up to. For a small minority, it seems Facebook is an addiction they can’t refrain from. At one time, in my early FB days, I used to comment a lot because I wasn’t on any other social media forum; today, I tend to reserve it for posting links to my own work, whether from here or YouTube, though there is something of an unspoken conservatism on Facebook that confronts any challenge to the preconceived norm with silence and an absence of ‘likes’, so I am consciously selective.

A lot of my FB friends are what I suppose the Sun would refer to as ‘old-school lefties’, which is perfectly fine; there’s room for all of us online. I’m therefore exposed to an abundance of shots from the constant post-Brexit marches protesting against this or that, certain PC pieces characteristic of the worst humourless aspects of the left, links to Billy Bragg tweets or ‘I’m backing Jezza’-type declarations and so forth. It’s everyone’s right to post whatever the hell they like on their own Facebook wall, so even if I don’t agree wholeheartedly with every post of this nature, there are nevertheless valid critiques of Government policies re the homeless or welfare reform that I access and do indeed find myself agreeing with.

Depending how varied one’s FB friends list is, however, there can be an echo-chamber aspect to it that occasionally provokes the mischief-maker in me; the temptation to post something along the lines of ‘I think Theresa May is doing a really good job’ merely to shit-stir can be irresistible, though I tend not to bother. Life’s too short for a shower of vitriol and a mass ‘un-friending’ assault. However, the glut of celebratory posts when Margaret Thatcher died, for example – whilst demonstrating that socialist elephants never forget – invited anyone daring not to enter into the party spirit to risk becoming a social media pariah.

Not that, say, Twitter is any different; express an opinion that contradicts the consensus of the right (which appears to dominate Twitter) and the reaction is equally hostile. Anyone looking for a balanced middle-ground along the lines of the Independent at its print version best should generally avoid cyberspace.

The ‘anything goes’ partisan elements of social media have received a severe test today, though. Mark Sands, a 51-year-old anxiety-sufferer and prescribed anti-depressant user from Eastbourne, has been gaoled for four months for the crime of making alleged death threats against his local MP, Tory backbencher Caroline Ansell. Responding to Government cuts on disability benefits – a relevant complaint considering Mr Sands himself stood to lose out as a result – he posted the following on Facebook: ‘If you vote to take £30 off my money, I will personally come round to your house…and stab you to death.’

Mr Sands added to this outburst with such catchy slogans as ‘End poverty, kill a Tory now’ and ‘Kill your local MP.’ It’s not exactly a seditionist manifesto guaranteed to provoke a revolution, and to be honest it’s not really that different from some of the things I’ve seen on social media, particularly Facebook; but did it really warrant a prison sentence, let alone a trial in a court of law? Way back at the peak of his early 80s pop star status, Gary Numan once received a live bullet through the post. That’s what I’d regard as a pretty serious death-threat; but anti-Tory sentiments – even if admittedly crude ones – on Facebook?

Not everyone is gifted with an eloquent means of articulating their anger at a particular Government policy that either personally affects them or their social demographic, and many resort to basic insults to get their point across. Was Mark Sands’ outburst worse than your average ‘Evil Tory f**kers’ rant familiar to many on FB? Brighton Magistrates’ Court obviously believed so, as did the target of his ire, Caroline Ansell.

Not that Mr Sands was especially subtle in his anger; posting a photo of Jo Cox alongside the words ‘sawn-off 2.2’ won’t win you many recruits to your cause in the current climate. The police charged him with a crime they said was a ‘credible threat’, though whenever a policeman uses the word ‘credible’, I find it hard not to cynically add the suffix ‘…and true’ to it.

When Tony Blair was at the peak of his powers, social media was still effectively in its infancy, with the first visible backlash from those who had supported him in 1997 coming via the NME’s famous front cover recycling Johnny Rotten’s ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ quote around a year after the first New Labour Election victory. Had Facebook or Twitter existed back then, one imagines the level of fury on social media would have been comparable to what the current administration receives today.

Caroline Ansell may have been unnerved by what she perceived as a genuine threat to her life, but if she was well-versed enough in social media she would have known those who reserve their incandescence for Facebook tend to exhaust it on Facebook.

© The Editor

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THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

Liverpool bans The Sun. Victory! Milo whatisname’s book is withdrawn before publication. Victory! Katie Hopkins’ wings are clipped by legal action. Victory! Of course, there’s an easier way to express one’s distaste with all of these ‘offensive’ individuals and institutions that thrive on attention without trying to ban them – ignore ‘em. Loathe as I am to reference Sir Alex Ferguson in the positive, one nugget of wisdom nevertheless emerged from the former Don of Old Trafford when he looked back on the rough ride he was receiving from the media during his difficult early tenure at the helm; his most illustrious predecessor Sir Matt Busby rang to see how things were going; when Ferguson replied the press were on his back, Busby responded with simple logic – ‘Why read ‘em?’ Pity so few today can react the same way.

Following in the footsteps of Lily Allen, Owen Jones is the latest name to flounce off social media in a huff; granted, receiving online abuse is especially unpleasant, but it’s worth remembering that one is not legally obliged to maintain a permanent presence in cyberspace. Back in the day when household names could be inundated with traditional Hate Mail, i.e. coming in the form of a letter delivered by the postman, there was little one could do; having a fixed abode means anyone can reach you via these methods. Unless one decides to seal up the letterbox, that toxic message is going to get to you, however vile. The same doesn’t apply online.

Of course, a man with a media profile, both mainstream and social, cannot just switch off his mobile or avoid the internet when on his laptop; nor can he spurn the invites to ‘Newsnight’ or ‘Question Time’; the publicity drug is too embedded by then. There has to be a grand announcement akin to the one DLT made when he jumped the Radio 1 ship before being pushed; it’s virtually written into the contract that slipping away from social media can’t be undertaken without a press statement. Lest we forget, however, being on Twitter or Facebook isn’t a job; it’s supposed to be a pastime. Somebody whose weekends might consist of going fishing doesn’t need to contact the Daily Mail or the BBC should they decide not to bother anymore.

Social media has a habit of making people feel important in a way that previous pastimes didn’t; in theory, it provides a platform giving a voice to those whose voices had an extremely limited range in the past. It also enables those who already have a prominent voice in more established arenas to extend their reach whilst simultaneously bringing them into contact with audiences whose only point of contact before would have been the radio phone-in or the humble letter; in the latter case, the likelihood of a reply was a rarity, as anyone who has written to a famous name they admire will know only too well.

When said famous names take to Twitter in particular, the guaranteed millions of followers or thousands of ‘likes’ and re-tweets in a matter of days of joining can bolster the ego immeasurably, increasing the recipient’s sense of self-importance and becoming a useful cyber CV when seeking evidence of their significance. Remedying the age-old insecurities of those desperate to be loved is something that can be enhanced by the ‘virtual friends’ they collect online, and it is an undoubtedly effective illusion.

As an example, an absence of comments on one of these here blogs can easily lead one to feel it ain’t worth bothering with anymore; utterly ridiculous, I know, but if one has received a glut of comments on the previous post, it’s unavoidable wondering what one has done wrong this time round. Why is nobody responding to this post when they responded so enthusiastically to the last one? Why don’t they love me anymore?! Such thoughts say more about the author than the reader, but the satisfaction of a dozen positive responses can be cancelled by a solitary negative; like the actor who can only remember his bad reviews, social media in its numerous forms is a dangerous addiction for anyone who masks their fragile ego in the thick skin of the online identity. The level of one’s dependence on it (not to mention the size of the audience) is reflected in how one reacts when it turns sour.

Therefore, I can to an extent understand how those whose followers and re-tweeters far outnumber my own little cult coterie react with such theatrical histrionics when they find a sweet-scented bouquet of relentless praise sometimes contains the odd viper. The shock of someone not only disagreeing with them, but spewing limitless vitriol whilst doing so, can shatter the false premise of the ‘all girls together’ echo chamber that social media generates when everyone tells you how great you are. But, again, it’s not compulsory; you can actually not go online if you want.

I only took a few days off from here because I’d posted for five straight days and I do also have other things to attend to that are not dependent on cyberspace. Unlike the more well-known users of the medium, I am not wired to a mobile, programmed to respond to every tweet every few seconds, incapable of making a move without first checking what’s happening on that little screen. It can be quite liberating not bothering for a few days, and what one can be doing in the meantime – if involving real people – reminds the user that there’s more to life than this. Don’t get me wrong – I do like this or I simply wouldn’t bother; but it helps to have something else as well.

© The Editor

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