Tuesday, September 22

Pretty sure alcohol was involved.

"Hi, Omar."
"Yo, Bruno! Bruno, my man!"
"Have you been drinking, Omar?"
"No, no, no, no, hardly at all very much. A couple. Look, come see this."
"I really should get back to my work...."
"But this is work! You have to see this. This is so cool."
"Hmm. OK, then."
"Mauricio! José! Rodrigo! I found Bruno. Bring it over here, guys!"
"Er, why is Mauricio holding a chicken?"
"All will become clear, my friend, all will become clear. You know dinosaurs, right?"
"We're evolutionary biologists, Omar."
"I'll take that as a yes."
"What's the... has someone stuck fake fangs on that chicken's beak?"
"No, no. Maybe a bit. Doesn't matter. Look —"
"I think I have a meeting at ..."
"No, wait, look. We take a wooden spoon — Rodrigo, get the spoon!"
"Really, Omar, I —"
"And we attach it like so... and..."
[long pause]
"Et voila! T-Rex, am I right?"
"I can't be a party to this."
"Oh, come on, Bruno! We'll let you be lead author! Bruno! Come back!"

From this year's Ig Nobels:

BIOLOGY PRIZE — Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez [CHILE], José Iriarte-Díaz [CHILE, USA], for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.

Why, yes, there is a video.

Thursday, September 17

Wood, trees.

Singing God Save The Queen has nothing to do with God, the Queen, or wanting the latter to be saved by the former or by anyone else. (Saved from what, anyway? She's fine.) It's the fucking National Anthem.

Refusing to sing the National Anthem because you're a republican is like refusing to wear the Poppy because you don't like gardening.

Wednesday, September 16

What the fuck?

In one of the most preposterous cases to make it before the courts in recent years, Gayle Newland has been found guilty. Newland was accused by a woman of pretending to be a man in order to have sex with her.

Well, OK, I'm sure that happens sometimes. People are dishonest and horny.

But Newland didn't wear a disguise. She simply insisted that the woman wear a blindfold during sex.

OK, well, that could be doable, I suppose. People are into some weird stuff — not that wearing a blindfold during sex is particularly weird, but never seeing your sexual partner when you're not having sex is fucking strange. But, you know, maybe during a one-night stand, arranged via some Web service....

But no, this wasn't a one-off. Newland is accused of keeping this up for two years. Two years. Her "victim" claims to have maintained a two-year-long sexual relationship with a person she had never ever seen.

So we're now well into the territory of the "victim" being stupid by the standards of stupid, but, to be fair, that shouldn't and doesn't disqualify her from the protection of the law. As I said, people are dishonest and horny. Maybe an unscrupulous predator could take advantage of a woman who wanted a regular long-term partner for anonymous blindfolded sex. I'm sure there are some people who do want exactly that, even if I never managed to find any of them.

But it's not that either. It wasn't just sex; it was also companionship, like in a proper relationship. They were engaged. We're now talking about a woman who got engaged to be married to a person she had never ever seen, but had had sex with. And she also knew Newland socially, as a woman — with the blindfold off, they were friends. So she knew Newland's voice. Yet claims that, for two years, she never noticed that her fiance had the same voice as her friend. She claims that Newland disguised her voice. A stranger could get away with that, certainly; a woman could do a deep masculine voice and convincingly pretend to be a man. But a friend? If a female friend of yours — someone you'd known for a couple of years — did a male voice at you, would you actually not recognise her? Not just once, but again and again, in person and on the phone and during sex, for years?

And we haven't even reached the insane bit yet.

They watched TV together.

The "victim" sat and watched TV. WITH A FUCKING BLINDFOLD ON.

Nigel Power QC, representing Ms Newland, said to the other woman: "... it is not normal to spend hours in your flat with your boyfriend watching television when you cannot see what it is on the screen."

She replied: "For us, that was what was normal. In hindsight I wish I had ripped that mask off sooner."


Newland reacted to the accusations, quite rightly, with sheer incredulity:

[Mr Corbett-Jones, prosecuting,] said: "She believed you were a man."

Ms Newland said: "Why would she believe that? She is an intelligent young woman, very very intelligent."

Mr Corbett-Jones replied: "Because you told her. You told her repeatedly over a period of two years."

Ms Newland said: "So she wore a blindfold the complete time. Really? Really? Is that what people do because I have not heard of that?

"And don't get me wrong, I'm not the most normal of people but I have never heard of that."

Aside from the say-so of her "victim", the real corroborable evidence against Miss Newland is, firstly, that she maintained a fake man's Facebook page in the not-at-all-fictitious-sounding name of Kye Fortune. Newland claims that she used the page in order to meet women in the first place, but would then, upon meeting them in real life, reveal that she was a woman. Since even the prosecution don't claim that she ever wore a disguise, and since she, you know, looks like an actual woman because she is one, this just does not sound all that unlikely. Certainly not when compared to the prosecution's story.

Secondly, after the couple's break-up — which the "victim" claims happened when she whipped off her blindfold during sex and discovered that Kye Fortune was actually Gayle Newland — Newland sent this text message:

I am sorry I said lies to hide lies but I did not lie about everything. It was me and still is.

That message would fit in with the prosecution's story, admittedly. But it would also fit perfectly well with dozens of other stories. It doesn't say what the lies are about. It's the sort of think people say to each other after break-ups. It's hardly damning.

Nigel Power QC, defending, ... said: "The deception as described is incredible, incapable of belief. It is impossible to believe."

Mr Power told the jury that it was being asked to believe that a bright young woman spent more than 100 hours in her company but never suspected it was her friend.

... Mr Power added: "We suggest that gut instinct, human experience, common sense and careful analysis all lead to the same conclusion - of course she knew."

Well, quite. But the jury at Chester Crown Court — a jury presumably devoid of gut instinct, human experience, and common sense, and incapable of careful analysis — a jury, one can only conclude, composed entirely of tongue-dragging, counting-to-three-on-their-thumbs fuckwits — somehow found Newland guilty.

It could have happened. The case, as presented by the prosecution, is possible. But it's vanishingly unlikely. I'm not one of those extremists who insists that witness testimony isn't evidence. It is. But it should be convincing. It should be combined with other evidence — at the very least, with the testimony of another witness. We're not supposed to convict people as criminals on the basis of one person's frankly fantastic say-so.

I support the jury system. But there is always a risk of stupid or gullible juries. It happens. But, to be fair to this jury, stupid though they do seem to have been, they should never have seen this case. The Crown Prosecution Service, currently congratulating themselves on a job well done, should be hanging their heads in shame over this. They're supposed to be exercising some judgement over which cases to take to court. And this case should have been filed with the complaints about nuclear alien mind-control lizards.

Newland shouted: "How can you send me down for something I have not done?"

She broke down in tears and repeatedly said "I don't understand, I don't understand", after the verdict was returned.

British justice.

Friday, September 11

Abusive compliments.

I have a company ID card. It has my photo on it. The photo is a bit crap. So is almost everyone else's, even the good-looking people's. And the photos are on the company intranet too, so we can all look at each other's. Occasionally, some lucky bastard joins the firm on a day when there's really good lighting or something, and actually manages to end up with a decent photo. It is normal, when coming across such a rare artifact, to compliment it. You know, "Wow, that's a really good photo," or something along those lines. It's not a big deal.

Is it?

Well, actually, according to Charlotte Proudman, it's a huge fucking great deal. It's such a big deal, anyone who does it should have their name dragged through the muddiest parts of the Internet and be lambasted in the national press.

Miss Proudman appears to be holding up OK, despite being on the receiving end of this filth from one Alexander Carter-Silk:

Charlotte, delighted to connect, I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!! ... You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen

I can only imagine the trauma she must have experienced upon seeing those multiple exclamation marks. Oh, hang on, no, apparently that's not what bothered her. It's the compliment. Apparently, telling someone that their photograph — that they've spent money on having done professionally prior to putting it on the Web to make themselves look as good as possible — is brilliant is sexist. Miss Proudman repeats a claim I've heard a lot of late: that it is only ever women who are on the receiving end of this sort of disgusting trouser-rubbing lechery, never men. Men don't have to put up with comments about their personal appearance.

Now, I'm pretty sure that's true when it comes to comments like "Phwwooooaarrr! Nice arse, darlin'!" shouted in the street by total strangers. But that is really not what Miss Proudman is on about here. She just got told, by someone she already knew, that her photograph was excellent. And the idea that men never receive such comments is the purest undiluted bollocks.

I went out wearing my deadman's hat last night. I got quite a lot of compliments, including a couple from beautiful young ladies. (I'm not all that, but it really is a great hat.) I don't think I was being objectified on the basis of my physical appearance. I didn't find any of those compliments offensive. Possibly because THEY WERE COMPLIMENTS.

After recovering from the shock, Miss Proudman responded to these appalling slurs by demanding an apology, refusing to accept the apology, and then posting the message — without anonymising it — into evidence in the planet's court of public decency, a.k.a. Twitter. Unsurprisingly, she has faced a bit of a backlash.

In response to the backlash, she has said several things.

Firstly, she says that she has a thick skin. No, really. Speaking as someone who has performed live music in Glasgow, allow me to respond thusly: Pfffffffffffft.

Secondly, she says she made the message public

in order to see how many other women receive these types of messages ... on professional networking sites, as well as in the workplace

But, of course, she could have done that without saying who her message was from. She was very obviously trying to publicly shame Mr Carter-Silk. And, thanks to the sainted Jon Ronson, that's going out of vogue now.

Finally, she says she's been told she's going to lose work over this:

The human rights lawyer told the Daily Mail: ‘I have received messages saying: “You have ruined your career. You have bitten the hand that feeds you. There go your instructions from solicitors.”

... [Franklin Sinclair, a partner in one of the UK’s largest criminal law firms] suggested Miss Proudman would be ‘blacklisted’ by solicitors.

... When she responded saying she would not want to work for ‘sexist solicitors’, he replied: ‘I should think you’ve blacklisted yourself from more than just sexist ones!’

She really needed to take a step back from her obsession with seeing sexism everywhere and look at the big picture here. She's a barrister. Her job involves treating private communications in the strictest confidence at all times. Her job also involves representing people to the best of her ability no matter what she thinks of them, even if she thinks they're awful people. So does she really not understand how putting the details of a private conversation on Twitter just because she doesn't like it might be bad for business? I mean, if you needed a barrister, would you hire her? Would you talk to this woman in confidence? After this?

Thing is, I'm perfectly willing to believe Miss Proudman's broader point: that there are lots of men sending completely inappropriate come-ons to strangers and near-strangers on LinkedIn — because the Net is full of men being clueless sexist inappropriate fuckwits. (Seriously, who are these guys who are convinced that what a woman really really wants is to see a photograph of their penis? What has to happen in your life for you to be that wrong about anything?) She says there are men treating LinkedIn as if it's Tinder, and frankly I'd be amazed if that weren't true. But the one example Proudman has used doesn't illustrate that. At all. To anyone who's ever had a conversation with real humans, Mr Carter-Silk's comment was very obviously not any sort of come-on.

That raises two possibilities.

Firstly, if this example is the best she can come up with, that shows that she is not, contrary to her claims, receiving come-ons on LinkedIn.

Or secondly, if she is receiving come-ons on LinkedIn, and yet, of all the lewd messages she's received, this is the one she chose to make Exhibit A, she's a shit barrister.

Wednesday, July 29

Producers versus consumers.

Here's an experiment.

Call your bank and arrange an appointment with your local branch's manager to discuss a business loan. Try to make the appointment for eight o'clock on a Sunday evening.

Here's another.

Go to your local Post Office to post a parcel at two in the morning.

These are thought experiments, really, because the results are so bleeding obvious that real experiments are not necessary.

The thing is, I can absolutely assure you that your bank have lots of staff working away at eight on a Sunday evening. Banks are twenty-four-seven operations. Their overnight and weekend work is vital. For a large bank, there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands of staff at work at that time. So why can't you get an appointment with your local branch manager?

The Royal Mail, similarly, is... well, I don't think it's a twenty-four-seven operation, but it is twenty-four-six, or maybe -five-and-a-half. Correct me if I'm wrong. But the point is that at two in the morning on, say, a Wednesday, hundreds of Royal Mail staff are at work, beavering away — and yet your local Post Office is shut. What the hell is going on?

In reality, this is a huge mystery to no-one at all. We are perfectly capable of understanding the utter lack of paradox involved in an organisation doing some things while not doing other things. We are not baffled by the way Marks & Spencer employ staff even when their shops are shut.

Except, of course, when it comes to the Glorious NHS.

Apparently, British doctors, nurses, and a large chunk of the public are incapable of distinguishing between whether the NHS has any staff at work right now and whether a service is available to the NHS's patients right now.

'I'm in work Jeremy... are you?': Angry doctors take to Twitter to post pictures of themselves on duty after Jeremy Hunt claimed medics weren’t doing enough weekend shifts

NHS staff turned to Twitter to condemn Jeremy Hunt today after he lashed out at the health service for the standard of its weekend care.

Dozens of medical staff posted pictures of themselves in uniform with the hashtag #ImInWorkJeremy in a bid to show the Health Secretary their commitment.

It comes after Mr Hunt suggested senior staff were not working enough weekend shifts and said top doctors should ‘get real’ about the importance of a seven-day service during a radio interview on Thursday.

Bravo. You're at work. Well fucking done. I've done a lot of shift work in my time, so am not that impressed when others go on about it. Yes, working antisocial hours is tough. It's tough for warehouse workers and supermarket shelf-stackers and lorry-drivers and IT support staff and the police and farm labourers and call centre workers, so I'm sure it's tough for doctors and nurses too.

But does the fact that these crowing staff are at work mean that the NHS's services are available to those who need them? Well, no, obviously not. And we all know it, and so, if they're honest, do they.

I have rather a lot of anecdotes about the ways in which the NHS's weekend service is inadequate. Here are two.

As it happens, I need some treatment at the moment. I live in Northern Ireland but work in London. I am registered with the Northern Irish NHS. I'm available in NI at weekends and on bank holidays and every other Friday. Speaking to the NHS staff on the phone about this, it was made clear to me that not only are they not available at weekends, not only would they never work on a bank holiday (as I myself have done for most of my working life and as many millions of people in Britain do for shit wages), but that they won't even be able to see me on a Friday, ever. Friday is apparently a bit too close to the weekend.

Eight years ago, as long-term readers may remember, my wife Vic was in hospital, too damn near death. It was a tough time, made tougher and far more dangerous by a variety of fuck-ups. One weekend, a nurse was insisting on giving her a dose of a drug which her doctors had told us would be dangerous, possibly lethal. (The instructions were fucked up: instead of saying "Vary dose X based on reading Y", they said "Take reading Y and give dose X regardless".) The nurse of course wouldn't change the instructions without the consent of a doctor, so I set off to find one. It took me literally the whole day: hour after hour of searching the hospital, informing staff of how important this was, making phonecalls, being fobbed off. This was, remember, for a matter of what the consultants themselves had assured us would be a dangerous, possibly even a lethal, dose of the drug. Because it was the weekend, there was one doctor on duty to do the rounds of every ward in the entire hospital. This, we were assured, was normal. That doctor eventually made it to Vic that evening, after having been informed of her case and giving it absolutely no priority whatsoever. That's an entire day to get a basic but life-or-death decision made by the only doctor available. In a hospital.

Does making this point mean that I have contempt for all the staff who were working that day or that I think they were doing a shit job? Obviously not. I am grateful to the nurse who listened to us and agreed to delay administering the dangerous dose until a doctor deigned to check it. There are nurses in the NHS (and I've seen it happen) who simply insist on following the chart no matter what. That day, my wife had a sensible nurse, not a jobsworth. Thank God for that.

But that is not the point. This was in the days before social media, but any one of the skeleton staff in the hospital that day could have taken a selfie and bunged it on the Web to prove they were at work. So could the one lone doctor who covered every single ward that day.

So here's my question. What fucking use would those selfies be to any of their damn patients?

Thursday, July 16

A complaint to Transport For London.

Just submitted this complaint to their website:

This complaint regards the driver of train number [xxxxx], Central Line, which left Mile End at [xx:xx].

I was on this train from Liverpool Street to Mile End. During that short time, the driver made two announcements to tell passengers to stop leaning on the doors. The first announcement started "I don't know how many times I have to tell you." The second started "Cars three and seven have passengers who can't understand the PA announcements." His tone of voice was what you'd expect for that sort of phrasing: annoyed, hectoring, condescending, borderline sarcastic.

Firstly, I hope you agree that, regardless of the purpose of the announcements, this is a completely inappropriate way to talk to customers.

Secondly, although I was not in car three or car seven so don't know how crowded they were, I am sure you are aware that the Central Line in rush hour is often so crowded that it is literally impossible not to put pressure on the doors. Telling passengers to stay away from the doors doesn't make it possible for them to do so. Telling them rudely is no less ineffective than telling them politely.

Finally, London is a popular destination for tourists and migrants. There were almost certainly people on the train who could not understand the announcements, as there are all across the Tube network every hour of every day. Since tourism is a major source of the funds that pay TFL drivers' salaries, it would make sense for said drivers not to be rude or abusive to non-English-speakers.

Please do raise these matters with the driver in question.

Thank you for your time.

Joseph Kynaston Reeves

I don't expect the Tube to be nice, and it would never even occur to me to complain about, say, overcrowding or dirtiness, but getting on a train and hearing the driver say "I don't know how many times I have to tell you" over the PA like Ray Winstone teaching kindergarten really takes the fucking biscuit.

I'll let you know if they reply.


Well, they did reply. It's not an interesting reply, but it's only fair for me to put it up here.

Dear Mr Kynaston Reeves

Thank you for your email of 16 July 2015 about the poor customer service you experienced from one of our Tube drivers on the Central line on this day. We appreciate you taking the time to get in touch.

I’m sorry you experienced such poor customer service from one of our Tube drivers on the Central line. The behaviour you describe falls well short of the standards we expect from our staff.

Good customer service is a priority, and we invest a lot of time making sure our staffs are trained to the highest standards possible. It’s always disappointing when these standards aren’t met.

We take all complaints very seriously, so I have informed the Service Manager responsible for the Central line about your experience. As a priority, they will identify and then interview the Tube driver you described. They will take appropriate action to make sure such behaviour isn’t repeated.

Thank you for contacting us and, once again, I’m sorry you experienced poor customer service. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email. Alternatively, you can speak to one of our Customer Service Advisers on 0343 222 1234 who will be happy to help you.

Kind regards

Wednesday, July 1

Sex for toddlers.

On one hand, in a world of politicians obsessed with power and influence, it makes a pleasant change to see that Norman Lamb is so uncorrupted by such desires that he's in the running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats. On the other hand, this shit:

So for example, should they should have gay characters in Peppa Pig, or is there a limit?

If you impose arbitrary limits, you’re saying that actually at heart, it’s not equatable. It should absolutely not be out of bounds, which it appears to be at the moment.

It is inconsistent with the philosophy that has led to the legislation. That’s the principle point. So, we have to be clear and consistent.

Clear and consistent, eh? Consistent with what? Well:

We must have compulsory sex and relationships education in all state schools, including faith schools, in a way that makes no assumptions as to whom those learning will choose as their future partner.

So Lamb's position is that the force of law must be used by the state to force people to teach that homosexuality is good even if they believe it is bad — his reference to faith schools makes that clear. And he believes that the same approach — a consistent approach — should be used to force television producers to put homosexuality into childrens' programs whether they want to or not. Even programs for children as young as one, which is what Peppa Pig is.

I have two objections to this.

Firstly, I don't actually care whether they put a same-sex couple into Peppa Pig. Maybe the geniuses at Astley Baker Davies will do so one day; maybe they're already planning to. And maybe they won't. But they're extremely good at this stuff, so I am confident that, if they did, they'd do it well.

But it's up to them. It's not up to a bloody politician to dictate the content of TV shows. Really, this is Soviet stuff. Just no.

A true liberal — one who knew what the word "liberal" means — would have answered a question about putting gay characters into Peppa Pig with "Why are you asking me? I don't make the show. Talk to its producers." But no, Lamb is an authoritarian meddler. He wants control of everything. He's Home Secretary material. No, that's not a compliment.

Secondly, if a gay character were to be in Peppa Pig, it's not as if they'd be having sex on screen, is it? None of the heterosexual characters do. It's a show for small children. And there are already plenty of unmarried adult characters in Peppa. So how does Lamb know none of them are gay? I don't, and I know the show inside-out. He doesn't actually mean he wants gay characters in the show; he means he wants obviously gay characters in the show — a show with no sex or mention of sex or vague allusions to sex in it, ever. Really, he can only mean that he wants a character obsessed with musicals who makes bitchy comments about everyone's shoes and flounces around like a turkey on a trampoline.

And isn't that a tad ... you know ... prejudiced on his part?

Wednesday, June 10

Nodding and smiling.

In 1992, pollsters got the General Election wrong because they had no idea (even though it's, you know, their job to know these things) about the Shy Tory Effect. Afterwards, studying what went wrong, they discovered the Shy Tory Effect. Since then, they have expent considerable effort on adjusting their methodologies to take account of the Shy Tory Effect. Until finally, this year, they got completely caught off guard (even though it's, you know, their job to know these things) by the Shy Tory Effect. Twice. After all these years of effort, they've progressed from being flummoxed by the unknown to being befuddled by the known. Progress.

So what should the pollsters be looking at, that they aren't? Well, I reckon they could do a lot worse than watching Facebook.

I like Facebook. It enables me to keep in touch with friends (something I am otherwise quite bad at, partly because my friends are scattered around the globe and partly because I just am quite bad at it). We swap silly stories and jokes and have some quite fun and interesting conversations. I know very few people whose updates consist entirely of "Spaghetti for dinner! Woohoo!" (though, to be fair, all my friends know at least one person who goes on and on about his bloody lunch). Facebook is the Web's version of a living room. Or it is when it's at its best, anyway.

Lately, it has not been at its best.

Come round to my living room, and we might converse about many things: kids, work, music, holidays we're looking forward to, just how bloody great Peppa Pig is (really fucking great being the answer to that one), and, yes, quite possibly a bit of politics. That last is tricky, though. Some of my friends agree with me about lots of things, and we can have a good old eye-roll together about how people genuinely thought Ed Miliband was Prime Minister material. (No, really, they did.) Some of them agree with me about almost nothing but are perfectly happy to have a good-natured argument with no hurt feelings. And some live in the Lefty Echo Chamber, in which case I do the sensible thing and don't talk about politics, because disagreement confuses and upsets them, and — and this is the crucial bit — they're my friends. I don't particularly want to confuse and upset my friends. As the old proverb says, better to offer another slice of cake than to laugh about Ed Balls. (Though I understand Yvette does both.)

This used to be a fundamental and well observed rule of social interaction: "Don't mention politics." You didn't do it down the pub, certainly. It wasn't an absolute law: everyone understood there were exceptions, and it was fine when you knew you were surrounded by the like-minded. But, in a mixed group of people, gathered together because of their shared enthusiasm for drinking or Renoir or Abba or (hey, who hasn't?) all three at once, you just didn't do it, because doing so would almost certainly turn a perfectly nice time into a heated argument. And what is Facebook, if it isn't a disparate bunch of people with a lot more setting them apart than they have in common? That's what friends are.

On the Right, the rule is still observed, mostly. On the Left, it's been kicked to death.

Now, I've mentioned before Brian Micklethwait's dictum that it's important, when people espouse political beliefs you disagree with, to let them know that you disagree with them. Not to have a big fight, perhaps not even to have a polite debate, but just to let them know that you disagree. That way, they are informed that people they know, people moving in their own circles, normal people disagree with them. People who are never reminded of that fact can all too easily make a terrible mistake. Every time they mention their politics, no-one ever disagrees with them. Everyone nods and smiles. They can come to believe that their politics are completely unremarkable. They can come to believe that the people they hear about or see on TV who hold opposing views are just some crazy weird statistical outliers.

It never occurs to them that half the people nodding and smiling are doing so not because they agree, but because they don't. They're waiting for the conversation to move onto something less contentious. They're being polite.

I agree with Brian, so, although I very very rarely start a political conversation on Facebook, if someone else does, I join in. I let them know there's another side. But I'm odd that way. Most right-wingers are not doing that. They're nodding and smiling.

And not just out of politeness. It used to be just politeness, but the whole thing has been exacerbated by the Left's new zeal for ideological enforcement via outrage. Over the last ten years or so, a significant faction of the Left have moved from disagreeing with views they dislike to banning them. Sometimes they manage to get the law on their side, as with the recent Northern Irish case where it has been ruled that it is actually illegal to refuse to write a slogan supporting a political cause you disagree with. (That's going to be a fun legal precedent when someone demands a cake with a swastika on it, isn't it? Or perhaps someone could commission a Muslim artist to draw Mohammed?) But, when they can't get the law's help, no matter: they just gather thousands of people together and make their target's life hell anyway.

Brendan Eich: sacked for holding the completely unremarkable belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Not just disagreed with, not just shouted at. His employer was hassled and harassed until continuing to employ him was getting in the way of everyday business, so they backed down to the ideological enforcers and sacked him. And how did the enforcers know what his views were on marriage? Because left-wing agents of the IRS leaked confidential details of people's private political donations to their comrades. Illegal, immoral, and corrupt, but good luck finding a left-winger who gives a fuck. All in a good cause, right?

That PlayHaven developer: sacked for making a pun to a friend in a private conversation. Justine Sacco: sacked and issued with death threats and hounded into hiding, not even for disagreeing with left-wing orthodoxy, but for agreeing with it but using irony to make her point. Irony! Eek!

I know some people on the Web were suggesting that my employers should be hounded into sacking me for the thought-crime of pricking a third-rate comedian's ego. I'm glad that campaign didn't take off. I've got into flame wars online for supporting gay marriage but disagreeing with the idea that it's marriage "equality" and pointing out that the oft-cited "right to marry the person you're in love with" supposedly enjoyed by straight people is entirely fictitious. As I've said before, this is insane: flying off the handle at people who support your cause but don't agree with every single opinion you hold is just bad politics. If your local Labour candidate turns up on your doorstep and you tell them you intend to vote Labour, they don't start screaming at you because you disagree with them about trade union block votes. They're happy to accept the votes of people with a wide range of views. All successful democratic political movements are coalitions — they have to be. That's not to say that non-coalitions can't be successful. They can succeed. By being undemocratic. Or, worse, antidemocratic. Which is exactly what you're being when you stir up an online mob to punish someone for having the wrong thoughts.

Into this toxic new environment, the modern lefty places onto Facebook a link to the latest hateful frothing from The Guardian: "SO TRUE!" What are their friends going to do? Express support for Israel's right to self-defence? Point out that a four-year study by the EPA has failed to find one iota of evidence that fracking pollutes water supplies? Say "Actually, I work for banks, and I'd appreciate it if you, who claim to be my friend, would stop publicly advocating for my salary to be confiscated and my family to lose their home"? Knowing that the public release of our opinions could lead to a flame war, the loss of friends, death threats, and the harassment of our employer until they sack us? Sure, it probably won't, but who wants to take on that sort of risk when they can just scroll down and their next friend has posted a really good cat video? Especially when the reason most of us are even on Facebook is for fun.

No, mostly, you nod and smile.

And thus was constructed the Lefty Echo Chamber. We've ended up with the political equivalent of those morbidly fascinating early-rounds X Factor contestants: people who aren't just offended by criticism but have trouble getting their heads around the idea that people who might criticise them even exist. It's totally outside their experience. I mean, for God's sake, The Guardian actually published this:

Why it’s OK to cry about this election

And it's somehow not a parody.

I finally broke down properly at around 6pm on Friday, when I allowed myself, finally, to think about my little brother, who is severely disabled, and what might happen to him. Whether I should grab him and run for the hills so that we could camp down together under warm, soft blankets and not come down again until the bad people have gone.


The nodding and smiling is getting wearing, though. It's tiring, watching people you like slag you off in public, in front of you, and turning the other cheek. Especially if you're just there for fun. It's like throwing a dinner party to which a bunch of the guests turn up carrying placards saying "FUCK YOU". And there's no middle-ground allowed in your reaction: you can cut them off forever or you can put up with it. A friend of mine told me recently (offline) how angry it made him, being put in the constant position of detesting people he knows he likes. On the subject of one particular friend: "She's lovely, and I want to keep in touch for the sake of old times, but oh my God could she just shut the fuck up?" He's sick of having his friends' politics thrown at him constantly whilst knowing how appallingly those same friends would react if he were to express his own views online. He's sick of being harangued.

So's Tom Conti:

A frequent visitor to my house in London regularly used the expression ‘Tory sh*tes’ – often in front of my in-laws who were Tory but far from sh*tes. Educated, civilised people, they bore it in silence. Conversely, I have never heard Tory friends express hatred for anyone.

I mentioned earlier that I do, very occasionally, start conversations about politics on Facebook. I have two criteria. Firstly, the thing I'm linking to has to be interesting above and beyond its mere political content. So, for instance, I recently mentioned this policy advice from the Adam Smith Institute to the Labour Party, not because I agree with all of it but because it was interesting how these policies from a right-wing think-talk would actually not be out of place in a left-wing party — some of them I first saw coming from the Left, in fact.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have to be up for a fight.

For I was raised on the Left, and the idea of talking about politics without arguing is bizarre to me. But then that was the Old Left. Brian Micklethwait (yes, him again) said to me the other day how he's finding the Communists to be quite reasonable and civilised these days — because Communists (at least as long as you don't let them have an actual country) have always been all about the debate. Endless, endless debate about every bloody thing, sure — but that's infinitely better than this modern penchant for refusing to believe that there even is a debate.

The denizens of the Lefty Echo Chamber don't talk about politics in order to have a debate. They talk about politics in order to declare an allegiance. "Here's a thing I agree with," they say, and their Facebook wall starts to fill up with friends saying, "Damn straight," "Well said," "Couldn't agree more," "Such a good point." What's the fucking point of that? I struggle to imagine anything more tedious.

Not everyone on the New Left lives permanently in the Lefty Echo Chamber, thank fuck. Some of my friends are up for an argument — which is just as well, since they have me in their lives. But sometimes they get exasperated and wish I'd shut up. In which case, I think, "Well, if you don't want to talk about politics, don't talk about politics."

But a handful of now ex friends have been quite firmly ensconced in the Lefty Echo Chamber, and have simply cut me off for not toeing the line. One man — a man I once defended from bastards on the Internet, ironically — unfriended me and, I think, will never be in contact again because I pointed out that Mitt Romney is quite a nice guy. One very old friend turned his Facebook wall into a constant barrage of ranting abuse against bankers, laced with a profound ignorance of finance dressed up as expertise, and hasn't been in touch on- or offline for years because I, though polite, didn't just sit there and take it. And one friend, whose Facebook wall was basically just the US Democratic Party's Twitter feed, was so abusive towards me for disagreeing that I had to unfriend her. Her only purpose in mentioning politics was to collect sycophancy. Disagreement was not allowed. Well, fuck that. Why would I sign up to a service where I get harangued and am not allowed to answer back? Because that service is offered by a friend? That makes it worse, not better.

But even most of my friends who are willing to have an argument still have one foot in the Lefty Echo Chamber. What else could explain their reaction to the election result? Not just disappointment or upset but sheer uncomprehending bafflement. They have almost no experience of the existence of Tories, yet it turns out loads of people voted for them. Who are these people?

These people are the ones nodding and smiling. You know lots of them — statistically, unless you're in Scotland, it is highly likely that around half your friends voted Tory. Hey, some of your friends probably voted UKIP. Yes, even though you've been calling them "evil stupid Nazis" for years, to their faces. They still did it. They just didn't tell you. Because they knew, with absolute certainty, that you'd be an arsehole about it.

Like Rebecca Roache, for instance, who is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of London and was a research fellow in philosophy at Oxford, and who became briefly famous for writing this drivel:

If you’re a Conservative, I’m not your friend

One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.

This makes me profoundly glad to have studied philosophy at the country's leading philosophy department. I mean, I hear Oxford is considered quite prestigious, and yet they're still producing philosophers this laughably stupid?

Firstly, let's not get confused by Roache's deliberate conflation of the Facebook Like button with an actual literal liking. (I say "deliberate" because I'm assuming she's not a total fuckwit.) The Like button simply defines what you get in your news feed. I'm pretty sure every political journalist in the country Likes the Conservatives' and UKIP's pages — and Labour's, and the SNP's, and probably the British Communist Party's. Frankly, a philosophy lecturer with a declared interest in the study of ethics should be doing the same. I mean, come on: you want to teach ethics but you don't want to be exposed to various ethical systems? The message here is clear as a bell: Don't study philosophy at Oxford or London, kids.

But now look at what Roache had to do in order to unfriend her right-wing ex friends: she had to check their Likes. Why? Because they didn't fill their Facebook feeds with their politics — if they had, she wouldn't have had to check. Did Roache do the same? No, obviously not: there's not much in her public feed, but enough to leave little doubt about her politics. And we are talking about someone who told the world that she can't even bear to have right-wing friends here. She's not exactly shy about expressing her opinion.

So here's the glaringly obvious thing that appears not to have even occurred to Roache: All those people she cut off because she couldn't bear the thought of even knowing them were people who kept seeing her proclaim her views, who disagreed with those views, who no doubt found some of what she said outright offensive, and yet they remained her friends anyway. How self-absorbed do you need to be not to realise that this is something to be valued, not thrown away?

As I said above, that is what friends are.

All that being said, diss Peppa Pig and you're dead to me. Some things are just... I can't even... Just no.

Sunday, March 15

He aten't dead.

Fear is strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.

When people recount their favourite Terry Pratchett quotes, they tend to concentrate on the hilarious and sarcastic and silly. And, you know, he was good at that. But if he'd merely been one of the funniest writers on the planet, he wouldn't've been half as successful. What made him truly great — the reason he got accused of literature — was stuff like the above, from Small Gods.

I miss Terry Pratchett.

Thursday, February 19

Great moments in middle age.

It is the thirteenth of February. I am purchasing a card in WH Smith. I take my purchase to the till. The till woman looks at me and says, in borderline incredulous tones, "You do know this is a Valentine's card you're buying, yeah?"

Pretty sure that never happens to Russell Brand.