Daily Fail

So the Daily Mail’s reaction to the Mick Philpott verdict was to run this as its front page headline.


You can’t even access the page at the moment. I would like to hope they’re having a serious rethink after the earbashing they’re getting, but I very much doubt it. Nothing surprises me about the Mail and the sickening, grossly homophobic, anti-immigrant anti-welfare culture they promote. Jan Moir is a vile piece of work, and the despicable Richard Littlejohn could be a poster boy for the National Front. ‘Cancer cause of the week’ stories appear with every homepage refresh. The right hand columns are full of paparazzi shots of Katie Holmes and her daughter, or Matt Smith exiting a club at three in the morning – disturbingly addictive gutterpress gossip dished out in spades. We say that we despise it and yet we cannot tear ourselves away. And I include myself in that number, reluctantly but ultimately without hesitation.

Of course, you do get things like this.




Which I found on Facebook today. Oh, and this.


But these are drops in a very murky ocean, and the oil tanker that is the Mail  is laughing at the publicity. The paper’s editor, Paul Dacre, has strong links with the PCC, and they have an army of lawyers to rival the Scientologists. This is a battle we can win only by refusing to read the disgusting rag, or lobbying the advertisers to withdraw their support, which could theoretically destroy it in the same way that pulling the plug brought down the News of the World. But I suspect it’s too far gone for that. The Mail is too established and powerful to be destroyed, and perhaps it’s best that way. Because I shudder to think what would come in its place. Sometimes it’s a question of the devil you know.

No, perhaps the best way to wage this war is quietly, by continuing to expose the lies and hypocrisy that lie therein, and hoping to convert one person at a time. I don’t have the hours to do that. But I can offer this, which I produced back in 2011.


And this, which I did a year ago, but which I occasionally drag out on days like this, because it sort of sums up my feelings towards the writers of the despicable rag and the absolute fuckwits who believe what they’re reading. You see, at some point we need to stop blaming the press and start taking some responsibility for the way we think. We could bring down the paper if we really had the gall to abandon it, but keeping it alive gives us a sense of moral superiority. We can talk about the responsibilities of the free press and the amorality of the Mercedes-chasing bastards all we want, but the inconvenient truth is that most of us are  either addicted to tabloid scandal or the abhorrence thereof. At some point we need to grow up.

You may happily substitute Express for Mail, of course, or even Sun if you want, but the Mail is the worst of the lot, and the most powerful, and it is towards them that my abject hatred is targeted.

Dear Daily Mail Reader,

So it’s in the paper and therefore it’s granted automatic integrity. Nice use of irony. Wait, you’re serious? Oh well, congratulations, you’ve just been played by a press who have you believing exactly what they want you to. How clever do you feel now?

I propose that you don’t know shit about the criminal justice system. You think indeterminate length sentences are lenient merely because they contain the possibility of parole? You have no idea of the workings of the courts. No, neither do I, but I’m not the one pretending that a Kavanagh QC box set and the ability to Google has made me an expert.

If Britain’s really being Islamified I have yet to see it round here. Maybe I live in the wrong part of the country. Or maybe you see what you want to see.

You want the death penalty back? Fine. Pull the trigger. I know I couldn’t. You say you could, but odds on you’re lying. Can I watch?

The ability to write a couple of poorly-constructed blog entries does not make you a journalist, and the ability to look up falsified statistics on the web does not make you a medical expert. Stop pretending you know this shit. You don’t.

If the established Christian Church is being victimised, maybe it’s about time. It’s a corrupt, bureaucratic mess and it needs a decent kick up the arse. We survive this, we can cut away some of the driftwood. Deal with it.

You don’t care, you’re not interested and you can’t see what all the fuss is about. And here you are not only reading a news article about it, but also commenting on it. Why?

No, you don’t pay your license fee to fund this rubbish. You pay your license fee to fund the shows you like, and if you can’t find anything on the BBC worth watching you’re not using it properly. There are millions of people in this country and the BBC has the impossible job of catering for all of them at once, including morons like you. Your council tax funds the upkeep of the play areas in the public parks, but do the childless amongst you whine about that? Fuck off.

There was no plan for a mosque at Ground Zero. There never was. This stuff gets made up because they know it’ll scare you and make you angry, and that sells more papers. And it works. Look at you, quivering with metaphorical rage. I have Jeremy Vine’s Twitter details if you want them.

You think you could do better than most of the politicians out there? Fine. Get out of the sodding armchair. Otherwise, keep your trap shut.

There is nothing wrong with having a Facebook account if you don’t allow it to take over your existence. Stop being so smug and self-righteous about how much more enriched your life is now. If that were true, you wouldn’t be wasting it bitching on an internet forum.

Yes, I know the Guardian bloggers aren’t much better. They sneer, while you fear, and they’re equally manipulative (with similarly poor research). Extremes to the left or right are never going to be practical. Tell me something I don’t know.

If you use the words Nanny State, PC Gone Mad or Loony Liberal ONE MORE TIME I will rip your goddamned head off.

You don’t like it in this country? You can’t wait to leave? Why are you still here? I’ll book you a plane ticket. I’ll even help you pack. If I’m feeling particularly silly, I’ll say the word ‘bomb’ at the airport.

My decision as to whether or not I wear a poppy is frankly none of your fucking business.


A good day to bury bad news


Yesterday, CBeebies dropped a clanger.

It was a little after half past eight, and the boys were watching The Tweenies – a decade-old show about the exploits of four small children all gifted with oversized animatronic heads and annoying voices. They spend their days with a childminder called Judy, who is assisted by an elderly gentleman called Max who may or may not be Judy’s father (yes, I made that up). Max is always keen to join in with the fun and games and he and Judy both tell a mean story, and know a myriad songs, most of which are performed with inappropriately poppy, high-powered arrangements and flashing backgrounds.

Indeed, singing is a big part of The Tweenies, and that’s where the trouble started, although I was out of the room when this bit came on.

Debate has raged as to the specifics of his impression, but there can be little doubt that this is supposed to be a parody of Jimmy Savile, deceased and now disgraced TV presenter, whose rather seedy past has only recently come to light. During his lifetime Savile’s crimes were known only by an inner circle who saw it as their duty to keep things quiet because of his considerable philanthropic efforts – support he allegedly threatened to withdraw if his backstage shenanigans were in any way exposed. Thus the victims spent years shouting at a public who refused to listen until Savile was dead, and the truth – although it is still yet to be fully formed – emerged from the darkness.

The episode you can see above dates from 2002 or thereabouts, and a time when Savile was still alive, and still a public hero. Since the revelations following his death, the BBC have been very careful to avoid showing any of the archive footage that contains him. Repeats of Top of the Pops are edited. Jim’ll Fix It, a Saturday tea-time family show in which the tracksuited Savile granted wishes, is not to be touched with the lengthiest of barge poles. Instead, Savile has become the subject of numerous documentaries and quite a lot of media hullabaloo, when details of a catalogue of bad PR mistakes at the BBC were leaked. The whole thing is a mess, and what’s worse is that we may never know what he actually did, and how many of the allegations are true.

None of this mattered to my children, of course. In fact I’d find it hard to think of a single child watching yesterday’s episode of The Tweenies who might have been affected by Max’s impression. This rationalisation was not enough, however, to halt the (brief and contained) storm of protest that erupted on the CBeebies Facebook page as well as on Twitter. There were calls for Kay Benbow to be sacked. There were howls of “bad taste” and “inappropriate”. It was picked up by several national newspapers (the Daily Mail, who will make the most of any opportunity to trash the Beeb, must have been rubbing their hands in glee).

Several things about this bothered me. There was the gross overreaction, for one thing. Then there was the rash of bad spelling and poor (or entirely absent) punctuation. Then there was the misdiagnosis of Savile as a pedeophile peedofile paedofile paedophile (you see what I mean), the definition of which is someone who is sexually attracted towards children, when in fact Savile appeared, for the most part, to tend towards ephebophilia – sexual attraction towards mid to late adolescents. We can nitpick the terminology, but even that misses the point, because being a paedophile is quite different from being a child molester, which is someone who acts upon their impulses. If paedophilia is an innate biological condition it should be treated, but the presence of the condition itself cannot be morally wrong. It is the physical expression of these urges that distinguishes a paedophile from a child abuser, and while both need our help, it is only the abuser who is guilty of any crime.

But I’m getting off the point. By half past nine the comments on Facebook were flowing thick and fast (although not as much as was reported, which we’ll get to later). I stepped into the discussion to try and stem the tide a bit, pointing out that it’s the sort of thing that could happen quite easily. There are over three hundred episodes of The Tweenies and children’s programmes aren’t really the sort of thing you vet for indecent material, as a rule. I can already picture the sequence of events that led up to the mistake, which was that the programme was sequenced and scheduled by someone with relatively little knowledge of the show, being perhaps a younger person, and who thus didn’t bother to screen it for inappropriate material. That’s jumping to conclusions, of course, but they’re at least a little more constructive than the sorts of conclusions that were formed the mindset of the bulk of the complaining viewers, many of whom seemed to think that it was a deliberate ploy to brainwash our children.

I sometimes think that the Internet was more fun before they made it easier for the moronic and stupid to use it. I nostalgically remember a past that probably never existed, but which – in my head, at least – was populated by people who weren’t always very nice, but who could at least use a computer properly and construct a reasoned argument. They understood that things went wrong and that administrative cock-ups happened. They didn’t complain about schedule changes or the fact that “CBeebies ain’t learning our kids enuff” (seriously, I’m not making that up, it was an actual complaint a few weeks ago). Some of the people I speak to on the Facebook page are lovely, but others are thick as shit, and don’t even realise. I’m not even talking about a lack of formalised education, which I wouldn’t have a problem with, but a stunning lack of insight, and a presumption that everything in the world must be tailored to your own learning experience, when in fact that BBC has the all-but impossible job of trying to please everyone at once.

There was, eventually, an apology and a reassurance that it wouldn’t happen again. That was enough for most people, but the protests continued, as did the media storm, the hacks of what used to be Fleet Street determined to turn a non-story into front page news for at least six or seven hours. There were more calls for Kay Benbow’s head. But these were few and far between and typically lambasted by the community, who seemed by and large to have accepted the BBC’s consumption of humble pie. It reminded me of the last time they broke in a new presenter – one-handed Cerrie Burnell, who briefly made the front pages of the Guardian with a story detailing the thousands of parents who were complaining about her missing appendage, how it was “freaking out the children”.

This was completely untrue, because I checked. What actually happened was this: a group of people started a conversation thread about how Alex and Cerrie – who’d recently started hosting the bedtime hour – really weren’t very good. It was uncharitable, but it was true. Uncharitable because it was their first week and even seasoned presenters tend to balk early on – few would doubt the abilities of Pui Fan Lee, Teletubbies veteran who now presents Show Me Show Me with Chris Jarvis, but in those early continuity announcements she really isn’t very good.

Similarly, Alex and Cerrie have blossomed under the careful tutelage of the more experienced hands, and they’re now much better than they were – Cerrie, in particular, is gentle and reassuring. Still, it took them a while to warm up, as it always does, and that’s what the online conversation was about. Into the mix came one particular fellow who decided to talk about the hand and how it made him uncomfortable, and it was from this that the Guardian (who really should have known better) extracted the root of their story.

So I saw first-hand the ugliness that may erupt on these occasions when the Facebook page was bombarded yesterday morning, but it was nowhere near as widespread as has been reported. Most people seem to have recognised what I (and others) pointed out: it was a poor impersonation of an alleged serial sex offender who committed crimes that none of the intended audience would have known about. The bottom line is that no children were affected by this; only their parents. We may complain about poor taste and inappropriate content, but no harm was done. And thus we must view these things in perspective, and calm down, and – as difficult as it may be for some of us – think about what we’re going to post before actually putting it online.

It’s a shame, really, because it detracted somewhat from the other big news of the day, which was the arrival of a new presenter, pictured below.


Cat Carey (formerly of Hi5)  joins the CBeebies house in order to replace Sidney Sloane, who has been there more or less since the beginning and who everyone likes. It was therefore nice to see her working with him in her first clip yesterday morning, right after the unfortunate Tweenies episode. It was predictably dreadful, although she warmed up noticeably over the course of the day as we saw more and more of the pre-recorded clips interspersed between programmes – the rabbit-in-headlights panic gradually giving way to frequent, anxious stares into the camera, as if searching for reassurance. She’ll be fine, of course. They always are, eventually. I said that the lack of commentary was a shame, but I suppose if nothing else our preoccupation with The Tweenies meant that no one was queuing up to give her unwanted grief.

You could almost, in fact, accuse the powers that be of arranging the whole Jimmy Savile thing on purpose specifically to avoid that happening.

But of course, the BBC wouldn’t do that.

Would they…?

Starting again

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

(Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight)

I have a colleague who grew up not knowing her father. Some months ago he found her via Facebook, and got in touch, and they attempted to get to know each other again. There were visits, meetings, and lengthy phone calls. This lasted for some time before it fell apart.

“There were various reasons,” she told me. “But one of the contributing factors is that he’s such a narrow-minded bigot. I know he’s my father, but his views and attitudes are appalling, as is the language he uses. He’s not someone I really want my children to be spending time with.”
“You don’t think they might have the capacity to change that?”
“No. I don’t think so. I think he’s too far gone, his views are too entrenched. I’ve tried. Really I have.”

I viewed yesterday’s marginal defeat at the Anglican Synod with a mixture of disgust, disillusionment and resignation. The cynic in me knew this was coming; the optimist hoped that it could somehow be avoided. The views of the many are irrelevant here; it’s the ones in charge who hold all the clout. People are saying that liberals love democracy until it works against them, but from what I gather here this wasn’t about democracy at all. And I’m assuming that if you were to ask any of the ‘no’ voters why they refuse to sanction this change, they’ll throw the epistles at you.

But I no longer live my life according to Biblical doctrine, because to adhere strictly to the policies and codes therein “because they’re there”, as the fundamentalists do, is to ignore thousands of years of sociological context and history. To fail to view the Bible within its historical context is to view it superficially: it may (or may not) have been God-inspired, but it was written by men, and to take it literally (however much you claim to have read around the subject) is to deny this. To say “X says this, so it’s written in stone and it must never be changed” is to fail to follow Jesus’ example, for one thing. (There are those who suggest that Jesus didn’t change a single commandment, and there are Biblical quotes that back this up, but what he did was give a re-appraisal of the context and interpretation, which we must surely do with the words of Paul.)

The truth is that everyone puts their own spin on the Bible, even those who say they don’t. At least I admit it. When reading its commands and instructions I’ll ask myself “Within the context of our current society, is this morally sound behaviour? Is this something that I should or should not be doing?”. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to my gut, because to rely exclusively on Biblical content for its own sake is to suppress your own conscience, and you do that at your peril. Deny your conscience, and what it is telling you in spite of what you’ve read, and you are incomplete.

I have yet to find anyone who can conjure up a suitable moral explanation for why there shouldn’t be women bishops; the only answer I ever get is “Paul said we shouldn’t”. Never mind the fact that I think we listen to Paul far too much; it doesn’t answer the question. And I’ve learned over the years that not answering the question is the one thing that Church leaders (much like the politicians they supposedly hold in contempt) actually do really well. And after yesterday, I’m starting to wonder whether trying to rebuild this argument again – which, I read this morning, will take another five years – is actually worth the effort.

Because here’s the bottom line: the women bishops thing was an attempt to drag the Church of England kicking and screaming into the 20th / 21st century, and I can’t help thinking that it’s too far gone, too archaic for that. The Church is rotten to the core: bloated, bureaucratic, and more about the survival of the institution than the gospel of Christ. It’s become more about how we do church than what we’re supposed to be teaching. Power corrupts, or at best encourages complacency and the desire to cling to that power at the cost of what is important.

There are a lot of armchair politicians and couch theologians online this morning, and I am one of them. But it strikes me that if this is truly as important to people as they say it is, they will eventually vote with their feet, and the Church will implode and collapse and we can start over. A friend of mine has suggested that the disaffected conservatives who oppose the ordination of women should go and form their own splinter group – much as Anglican clergy who opposed homosexuality were invited to become Catholic priests – but why should the same not apply to us? Any organised religion will, given the opportunity, survive long enough to see itself become the villain, and I think it’s beyond hope. So perhaps this isn’t about trying to prolong the life of a terminally sick institution. Perhaps this is about killing it, and starting over. It’s been said that a disagreement of this nature, if not resolved amicably, will fracture the Church. Maybe it’s time.

The Linney House factor

Here’s the thing.

OK, he burned a poppy. Yes, it is a freedom of speech issue. Yes, there is a growing intolerance towards offensive material on social media. Yes, this fixation on being offended is unhealthy. Yes, an arrest probably was a little over the top.

He’s still a twat, though. Partly because of what he did, partly because he used his real name to make a protest that was always going to cause trouble. I know that Facebook is Facebook and that your profile is only seen by a select number of people (unless you’ve just not bothered with the security settings), but that doesn’t matter one bit – unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years it’s impossible not to be aware of all the horror stories of the private posts that went public.

 “No, look,” I was saying to Emily last night. “The rule I have is ‘never put anything on social media that you wouldn’t want theoretically plastered over the front page of a tabloid’.”
Emily said “I shall take some photos of your arse and put them on.”
“I don’t think they’d last very long. Don’t they have a filter? Some sort of arse recognition software? I know they block anything that looks like a tit.”
“Surprising you ever managed to post any photos of yourself.”
“Oh, you can fold your own sheets.”
This is what happens when you air your clean laundry in public…

Double standards

Apparently the head of the Catholic Church in England has asked the Vatican to strip Jimmy Saville of his papal knighthood.
Meanwhile, in a Dorset ironmonger’s, a pot has become embroiled in a racist row with a kettle.

‘Zombies’ in children’s play centre

This, apparently, is what happens when Stephen Green runs out of things to write about. The funniest thing I’ve read all week.

‘Zombies’ in children’s play centre.

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth


Here’s what the Daily Fail have as their headline story, at time of going to press:

The full article, if you really want to read it, is here.

Let’s leave aside the sneering undertones of the article and the hypocrites who choose to comment (Mail commenters, by and large, really are the scum of the earth, even worse than the idiots who post on YouTube videos). Let’s ignore all the morons who tell the iPhone addicts to “get out into the real world” within the confines of an online newspaper’s comment box. You can’t stop these people: they simply don’t listen. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before they run the next Facebook article and that’ll give the whingers something else to complain about.

Let’s instead look at that headline. As someone points out, “real nerds wouldn’t choose Apple products anyway”. But that’s not the thing here – instead it’s that ‘nerd’. I take issue with ‘nerd’. I always have. It’s Douglas Coupland’s fault; back in the mid-1990s he chose to differentiate between ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ and the difference between the two. It may be a small point, but it’s an important one, and everyone ought to know how you tell the two apart. And ever since Microserfs, I’ve made it my duty to see that this happens.

I’m a remorseless pedant – I always have been – and this is the second time this week I’ve taken umbrage at the Mail’s use of what might be deemed inappropriate language, if you like. But people in positions of journalistic responsibility (i.e. a highly influential newspaper that’s read by millions, as opposed to a humble blog that hardly anyone reads at all) really ought to get their facts straight, as the Mail should have done a few weeks ago when they said that the bad weather threatened racing at Cheltenham the weekend the racecourse was due to hold a festival. To expand on the geek / nerd thing, I am copy-and-pasting an old blog entry from several years ago, and it goes like this. Cue swirly flashback effects…

June 2008

Picture the scene. It’s about nine thirty on a warm, early summer’s morning, and I’m in a Mercedes bound for Heathrow. Jenny and Glyn are my travelling companions, which is nice, although I have to keep twisting around in my seat to talk to them, and the belt is cutting into my ribcage.

I can’t remember how we got onto the subject, but in the absence of any plausible explanation let’s come up with something. Let’s say, in fact, that I’ve given the two of them some sort of obscure fact about nothing that’s particularly relevant, as I am wont to do in production meetings, manager’s meetings, lunches out and the little impromptu gatherings we sometimes have in Matt’s office. The two of them nod and smile, apparently impressed, but I can tell what’s going on under the surface, so I get it out in the open by voicing it aloud.

“I know,” I say. “I’m such a geek. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“No?” says Jenny.
“No! I’m proud of my geekdom. At least I’m not a nerd.”
“Is there a difference, then?” asks Glyn, and that’s how it starts.

I’m making this up, but it’s quite feasible that the conversation could have gone that way, because The Difference Between Geeks And Nerds is something that I like talking about. Working in publishing – particularly in an area like ours that involves copious proofreading – makes you awfully pedantic about things. I have taken to carrying around a red pen, for example, so that I can make corrections to spelling errors and misplaced apostrophes on posters and signs and restaurant menus. (This works fine unless they’re laminated, in which case you tend to wind up with a big smeary mess that looks like you had a nosebleed while you were sitting at your table.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m proud of being a pedant. Terminology is one area in particular in which I’m notoriously fussy, and if there’s one thing that I won’t abide it’s having the word ‘geek’ used in a derogatory manner. The fact that it’s now an acceptable way in which to describe a person first came to my attention a little over ten years ago, when I was reading Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, which remains one of my favourite books and which is well worth a look if you ever feel your life is lacking direction. There’s a scene in which the narrator – a former programmer for Microsoft – is describing his team leader as a ‘true techie geek’, before countering his mother’s disapproving look with “You can say geeks now, Mom.”

Let’s back up a little, and define our terms. A geek is defined in Merriam-Webster as “a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, gaming etc.” That’s the contemporary translation: it may surprise you to learn that it formerly referred to “a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken, bat, snake or bugs”. I know of no freak-shows round here (unless you go to Newbury) so we will stick, for the sake of the argument, with the modern definition.

So what (or rather, who) is a geek? Broadly speaking, it’s someone who has an enormous love for one thing or another, to the point where they obsess over it. A geek will spend a disproportionate amount of their lives working on / enjoying said thing. However, being a geek is not the same as being a fanatic. Look for the details – because the geek will know stuff. You can be football-obsessed, for example, and follow the teams and have the posters and screensavers go to the matches and presumably beat up the opposition’s fans on your way home from the local derby. You can live, breathe and sleep football, but that doesn’t make you a geek. However, if you know that one of West Ham’s highest away Premiership defeats was their six-nil thrashing at Reading in January 2007, then that makes you a geek. This is stuff that you’re not expected to know, but you know it anyway, simply because you want to.

Everybody following me? Liking Bill Murray doesn’t make you a film geek, even if you’ve seen Groundhog Day twenty-seven times (on the same day, endlessly repeated…). Knowing that his part in Ghostbusters was originally written for John Belushi (and that Eddie Murphy was originally slated to get the Ernie Hudson role) probably does. Liking ‘Hey Jude’ doesn’t make you a music geek, but knowing that McCartney hired a 36-piece orchestra and then asked them to sing along and clap their hands in the final coda – only to have one of the players decline on principle – probably does. The devil’s in the details.

Geekdom shares a delicate, occasionally strained courtship with science fiction. Don’t ask me why, but a lot of people who follow Star Wars, Star Trek and other such space sagas won’t stop with collecting the box sets and listening to the occasional commentary. It’s got to be all or nothing, and so out come the comic books, the role playing games, the radio dramas – and, of course, the die cast John-Pertwee’s-Doctor-and-Bessie set. The conventions are fantastic, but never, ever go to an advance Star Wars screening, because the people who camp out there are just plain weird. This was referenced in a wonderful Conan O’Brien clip where Triumph the Insult Dog attended one such screening for Attack of the Clones, and proceeded to harass the costumed audience (”So this button controls your breathing….and which one is to call your mother to come pick you up?”).

The terminology has shifted somewhat over the last couple of decades, because as recent as twenty years ago the word meant something quite different. I remember spending an evening watching Flight of the Navigator with my other half (a film that is actually very, very funny after half a bottle of gin) and as the purple-haired 1980s punks roar away in their convertible, understandably freaked out by the sight of a huge silver alien spacecraft which had stopped to ask for directions, the animatronic head turns to Joey Cramer and says “Were those geeks, David?” – to which David nods and replies “Yes, Max. Those were geeks.” I’ll concede that this may have been true at the time, but not anymore.

Let’s leave the geek in their parents’ basement for a moment so that we can concentrate momentarily on the nerd. At first glance, the nerd is similar to the geek in that both of them hold a similar obsession with the details. However – and here’s the crunch point, folks – the geek is able to hold a normal conversation with people who are not geeks. The nerd finds it singularly difficult, if not impossible, to do this. Both geeks and nerds are able to relate particularly well with people who hold similar interests to their own, and share and swap information. However, the geek could also put the obsessive parts of their personality on the back burner long enough to have conversations and even relationships with people who don’t share their interests, and to chat to them about the weather, instead of the socio-political implications of the seating arrangements on Friends.

By this rationale, the two are theoretically interchangeable. A nerd who suddenly finds himself in a situation where he is forced to regularly hang out with and communicate with non-geeky people could possibly learn to function normally and thus become a geek. Conversely, a geek who suddenly finds himself bereft of non-geeky people may lose some of his social skills and become more nerd-like. That said, while this may be true on paper I’ve seldom seen it in practice, because the differences between geeks and nerds are generally rooted deep within their personality, rather than a result of any sociological conditioning. Old habits die hard – if you’re a natural-born nerd, you’re probably always going to find it difficult to relate to people.

Most of my friends are geeks. It goes with the territory: when you meet your other half on a bulletin board you find out that the friends you inherit from each other have suitably techy interests. However, most of them can hold sensible conversations with my parents, who are about as far away from being geeks as New Labour was from being socialism. If I’d chosen to hang out with nerds instead then my mother and father would stay away from our parties, because they wouldn’t be able to cope. It would be wall to wall prime numbers and Doctor Who. But with geeks it’s different, because when there’s a gathering of geeks (as opposed to a gethering of nerds) the dynamic is different. They still talk about whether Kirk was a better captain than Picard, but there’s a greater sense of inclusivity, and a non-geek could feasibly walk in without necessarily finding themselves out of their depth. Later in Microserfs, one of Coupland’s other characters goes on to say “People who don’t have lives hang out with other people who don’t have lives. Thus, they form lives.” There’s a common bond, but if you want to come and play there’s plenty of room in the sandpit.

So you see, I’m proud of being a geek, because with that label comes the unspoken addendum that I do, at least, possess some social skills. And I refuse to accept that the useless bank of trivia that I’ve accumulated over the years (often at the expense of stuff that I really ought to be able to remember, which gets pushed out of my brain, Homer Simpson style) is always going to be fundamentally useless. It’s great at parties when you can make an obscure reference to 24 that makes everyone laugh, because while they’ve all seen the show, only you can remember that particular line that turns out to be so relevant to the conversation you’re having – but which everyone remembers as soon as it rolls off your tongue. And I’m also convinced that holding onto extraneous information will one day be worth its weight in gold. This is why I love Galaxy Quest (if you’ve not seen it, think The Three Amigos in space), because while Tim Allen does discover his inner hero, it’s ultimately the specialist knowledge of the geeks that saves the day.

I’m also quite pleased, in a way, that my children seem to be following in their father’s footsteps: Joshua (who is not yet three) stared at the skeleton of an elephant boy at a chamber of horrors last week, gazing at the long, trunk-like protrusion that sat where the nose should have been, before declaring in a loud voice “It looks like an Ood!”. A few days later he was examining a Woolworths display of toys from a programme that we don’t let him watch, and then a few seconds later he was tugging at my trouser leg and saying “Look, Daddy! It’s Dalek Sec”. I swear he only saw those fridge magnets for a few seconds, but he seems to have inherited my ability to memorise useless information more or less on sight. And that’s a good thing, because the importance of said information – even if it doesn’t one day save the world – is not to be underestimated. It demonstrates a passion, a desire to better yourself and learn stuff and actually fill up your brain instead of just letting it rot under the cultural cesspit that forms much of the superficial, celebrity-obsessed so-called entertainment we have to put up with in this country. Collecting Battlestar Galactica bubblegum cards isn’t going to stop global warming, but it does mean that you are prepared to invest your time in something rather than just sitting and waiting to be entertained, and at least it shows you care about something besides the saga of Ashley and Cheryl.

Anyway, I must go. I’m working on a new way to catalogue my CD collection: alphabetically, but by cover artist. Stanley Donwood’s Radiohead stuff goes in the ‘D’ section, while Storm Thorgerson’s work for Pink Floyd goes near the back. My wife has barely spoken to me for a week and a half, but it’s going to look sooooo hot when it’s done – particularly when I’ve finished working on the Klingon version.

Terms of endearment

The Daily Mail have run a story this morning about a Facebook page set up in tribute to Dale Cregan, who is currently under arrest for the murder of a couple of policewomen.

Idolatory like this is sickening – I’m in no doubt about that – but this is what stuck out for me.

And, later on –

To which I’d reply No, no, no, no.

This is not trolling. Trolling is – if we’re going with the Wikipedia definition – “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion”.

You see? Chucking random abuse at people online isn’t trolling. Trolling is where you go into a discussion and deliberately post stuff you don’t really mean for the sole purpose of winding people up. You go into a holocaust discussion, for example, and post a lot of stuff about exaggeration theories or Zionist conspiracy. You know such arguments aren’t exactly airtight, but if anyone points that out you’ll just ignore them and post the same responses over and over again, purely to watch them steam. Or you enter a Doctor Who chat and say how much the show sucks and you can’t believe that people enjoy this garbage, offering no expansion to support your opinion. These people are annoying, but such trolling is rarely done out of genuine hatred, and is instead a timewasting activity by those who want to purport malicious mischief. Still, that’s all it is.

Therefore, sending abusive messages like this isn’t trolling. It’s hating. If the originator of this page had gone into an online discussion and started making random comments like this, that might arguably be interpreted as trolling. But that’s not the point – the point here seems to be to say horrible things simply because you can. As it stands – and I do wish the Mail would stop with this inappropriate terminology – this person isn’t a troll. Simply a twat.

I’ll eat you up, ROTFLMAO

The other day, I was looking at obituaries and tributes for Maurice Sendak. Sendak’s death – seemingly untimely, even at the age of 83 – sent shockwaves rolling around the world. He was still writing, he was still working, and while he seldom did interviews, the ones he did seemingly went viral. He resonated with my own childhood in that he wrote books which frightened me but which I loved. Analogously, our family holidays meld into a pleasant haze but I can still recall with vivid clarity the nightmare I had at the age of eleven that gave me, seemingly overnight, a phobia of tarantulas that I carry with me to this day. You always remember the scary stuff.

I’ve already done my own little nod to Sendak on one of my other blogs, so we won’t get into that here, but what I wanted to talk about today was a particular form of inappropriate online behaviour that is prevalent particularly when someone dies. Typically there are plenty of tribute pages: the national news will run an official obituary and then a side column which is open for commenting, usually asking broad questions about how the death of X affected you, or whether you met them. Most people haven’t. And for most people this is a good excuse to twist catchphrases or lyrics into tributes or wry commentary (which is why, when Charlton Heston went, there were a lot of ‘cold, dead hands’ jokes). Elsewhere there is much wailing and sadness. It’s easy to be sceptical about public outpourings of grief for people you don’t know, so perhaps ‘grief’ is the wrong word. Perhaps a better term is ‘melancholy gratitude’, as mentioned in an interesting article Tom Chivers wrote for the Telegraph this week.

But never mind that now. Have a look at this page. This is the BBC’s tribute. And they clearly aren’t moderating their user-generated content at the moment, at least not beyond the minimum. You can tell this because of comments 5, 33, 46, 64 and 68, which may be conveniently displayed in a group by clicking on ‘All Comments’ and then ‘Lowest Rated’. Read them. You’ll see what I mean. Do it now, and then come back. I’m going to get a coffee.

Back now? Great. Now, I’m not anti-censorship, or anti-first amendment. I respect the right of people to say whatever they want, up to a reasonable point. My beef here is that they’re simply being stupid and officious. I mean, come on. Seriously. What on earth is the point of visiting a web tribute for someone you don’t know and make a point of saying that you don’t know them? It would be unfair to single out the Beeb for this, because it’s the sort of thing I see all over the place, but more so on their pages than anywhere else. Perhaps it’s their position as a publicly funded body, which seemingly gives people more of an axe to grind about what they see as a waste of their money – a spectacularly dismal argument that completely fails to take into account the fact that this is a fucking democracy.

When I mentioned all this to Emily, she said “I suppose it’s the sort of thing you’d say if someone came up to you in the street and told you about it,” she said. “You’d just say ‘Well, I’ve never heard of them’.”
“That’s true,” I admitted. “But I think it’s a different kettle of fish. This isn’t like someone who’s being spammed. This is someone who has purposely clicked on a headline and read – or at least skimmed – through an article in order to say at the bottom that they weren’t interested in the content. Why would you bother doing that?”
“It’s an encroachment on your own personal surfing time,” she said, with a satirical gleam in her eye. “It’s like this ridiculous assumption that everything on the web should be tailored to you.”
“I see that so often. Why do people insist on going on about it? What do they think it does? Don’t they see it just makes them look stupid?”
“When some people are connected,” Emily replied, “I think their thought process gets messed up. There’s this assumption that everything in your head has to come out on the screen.”

She’s basically right: it would explain ninety-five per cent of what I see on Facebook. Perhaps the only thing you could say to stuff like this is “What were you thinking?”, which is an empty and pointless question because the logical answer is “Well, I wasn’t”.

They say that everyone has one great novel in them. I have three or four substandard ones. A while back I had the idea for the fourth, and it is this: a massive electrical jolt, surge, nanovirus, some sort of anomaly passes through the internet’s fibre optic cables one night, with the net result that everyone in the world who is online at the time suddenly starts to behave as if they’re always online, even when they’re not. The simplest analogy to this would be the ‘Facebook in the real world’ videos that are quite popular (look them up). So in a nutshell:

  • People interrupt funerals to shout “This is stupid! Why are you remembering this dead person? I’m not interested”
  • You’ll open your front door and find a Nigerian offering you money in exchange fpr your bank details
  • People stand outside cinemas before the premieres of new films shouting “This film is rubbish! I’ve not seen it but it must be!”
  • Semi-naked photos pasted on front doors
  • You get housecalls from old school friends you’ve not seen for years, and who never liked you anyway
  • People walk out of shops carrying DVDs and CDs, saying “Why should I pay for them, when the record company bastards make so much?”
  • Conversations in pubs are interrupted by complete strangers offering cheap medication or links to porn
  • People pay people to back them up in arguments, or rubbish them badly so they’ll be defended
  • As above, only with literal sock puppets
  • Old men dress up as teenage girls and hang around outside pubs
  • Someone will tell you a joke and you’ll roll around on the floor, laughing hysterically, until their backside literally drops off
  • Speed dating: fat, balding men sit down in front of young blondes and say “Yes, I’m twenty-six and I’m a model…”
  • Leaving speeches would be peppered with inaccuracies
  • There would be thousands of ‘crazies’ standing on street corners rambling about their lives
  • A whole bunch of people buying farms
  • You’ll be in a library when someone shouts “THIS BOOK IS RUBBISH! NO ONE SHOULD READ IT!”
  • People will come up to you in the street and say “I’ve just had a fried egg”
  • You’ll buy something in a shop and then have to go home for three days until it’s delivered

Toss in a world leader who had been afflicted by this phenomenon and who began acting irrationally, and add an ambiguous conspiracy theory, and you’ve got yourself a bestseller. The point, of course, is that behaviour that is seen as acceptable (or at least par for the course) online would never pass for normal in the real world. There are plenty of rambling crazies in Philadelphia, and I know of at least several dozen old men dressed up as teenage girls in the South Oxfordshire district, but these are anomalies. For the most part, the real world isn’t like this, and more to the point the people who behave like this online are perfectly normal, sensible people if you meet them on the street. You probably know a few yourself. I know I do.

The simple fact is that there’s all this talk about a digital age, and we’d like to view ourselves as connected and part of a group, but the relative lack of online accountability means that people will behave exactly how they really want to behave, simply because they can. You’d be surprised at the behaviour of the average human being if lawlessness suddenly prevails – last summer’s riots are surely proof of that – and while a free and open and self-policing web community is essential in order to avoid the mass corporate sanitisation and censorship of the online world that we all dread, the price we pay is general anarchy, or at best ordered chaos. There are bigger problems in the world, but we are not the sophisticated, forward thinking people we’d like to believe we are, at least not online, because we online we don’t need to be – and as long as this remains the case, the internet will never really be a community, no matter how much we tell ourselves that it is.

God hates bags

Well, that more or less sums it up.

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