Download festival

Yes, it’s the year of the sex Olympics, with the United Kingdom dripping wet and sweaty and smelling just a tiny bit of yeast. On one side is the Puritanical Corps., awash with purity and virtue and clean knickers fresh from M&S, and on the other is a looser union of people holding up their hairy palms and placards which read “Keep off my  X-Hamster” and such like.

Not for many moons has the UK seemed so unable to accept that S-E-X exists, and certainly for the first time since the 1990s does it appear the massed ranks of the Establishment has finally decided to take on the Internet, with all its swearing and ‘Breaking Bad’ spoilers and nipples all over the place. Every person who wants “Porn blocks” and the like have consistently failed, doubtlessly deliberately, to understand the distinction between the different kinds of pornography available on the Internet and the relative dangers of watching ‘too much’ of each kind.

As I have blogged before the ‘Porn block’ brigade tend not to appreciate how boring a lot of on-line sex actually is, and have conflated too many different complaints and issues into one damp tissue of negativity. It’s neither constructive nor productive to consider the term ‘extreme porn’ to cover everything from XTube’s amateur hour to a multi-million dollar production Californian production company churning out the glossy tits and teeth.

This week’s target for outpouring of outrage is your everyday public wifi, which has been highlighted as potentially opening up the gates of pure hell and evil to everybody’s smartphones.

This is another overblown reaction from folk who don’t seem to quite get it. (The technology, I mean, not “it” as in “whoopie”. Although sometimes I wouldn’t like to say…)

Here’s a task for you. Go into Starbucks (then leave again because THEIR COFFEE IS RUBBISH). Go into a pub instead, one where you’ll see this sign, or something like it. Now get a pint of something light, maybe a packet of Scampi Fries, sit down with the i and load up your phone. With “The Cloud” you may have to sign in with a password, but that’s fine, it’s free, and reliable (and thanks to some wags at a Greggs near me, available through the wall of the next-door pub which doesn’t have wifi otherwise).  Now that you’ve got free wifi through “The Cloud” and it’s not taking anything from your monthly allowance, search for something adult or naughty or just plain rude.

Found anything? Probably not. And that’s normal. Not completely trouble free, but nothing like the SCANDAL AND SHOCK which you’d assume from the Guardian article linked to above and others like it.

The fact is that “Porn blocks”, content controls and other general settings already shut down a lot of search terms, including links to sites which have nothing to do with pornography. “The Cloud” and other wifi favourite BT are infamous for being very tight with their content controls, particularly as their services are used so extensively in cafes, pubs and public venues. That searching for “horny girls xxx” in my local Dog & Duck brings up nothing at all doesn’t shock or surprise me, I actually support the fact that public wifi makes it harder for people to, well, get hard.

There is no way to ensure each and every potential harmful website is restricted in each and every public building. We shouldn’t be run by politicians who think that the aim for them is to do such a thing, even if it sounds like great logic to their frazzled brains. It may be shocking to politicos and Professionally Outraged Daily Mail Writers that knives can be bought on-line whilst supping a mocha, but what do they want to happen? That all shopping sites be restricted or closed down by “The Cloud” and others? For knives on-line to be only sold if used for buttering toast or at most cutting into a brioche? Where exactly is the “end point”?

Wifi in public places is a great and valuable service. It may need fixing here and there, sorting out this and that, only the mood music of 2013 makes me feel that such tinkering is not what people want. If it’s scary that porn is available at your local library because they’ve not sorted out the restrictions, then talk to the library management or local council. Don’t create a national scandal. Don’t presume everything can be fixed by thinking in terms of cotton-wool and  bubblewrap.

(Is there a fetish site dedicated to cotton-wool and bubblewrap? Back in five minutes……)

joke in search of a punchline

The internet likes its memes and tropes – giving kittens the language of human toddlers, putting ‘first’ at the bottom of newspaper comment columns, adapting kanji into emoticons (they’re so HIPSTER o(^-^)o)

As anyone who has analysed humour will testify, jokes are fragile creatures. Kenneth Williams would implore the importance of the punchline (“taaag, it’s all in the taaaag”); Danny Baker, Stephen Fry and Dave Gorman have all investigated how much like a fragile plant is the humble one-liner (“Dig it up to examine its roots the plant will die..”). Throw a penny into that particular pond and you’d never hear the splash – the ‘net will merrily permit its users to duplicate, replicate and murder every quip at the moment of birth. Such is humour – the joke you heard at the comedy club is the one you’ve just told at your office canteen, out into the world like so many butterflies. The important thing is the hit, the pay-off, the freshness and unexpected nature of which ensures the impact is never lost: the internet tends to dip the butterfly wings in varnish before setting them free. Up, up and… over by a mobility scooter.

“So Gazza turned up with a roast chicken and a fishing rod!” is one such pay-off which is deeper in the red than most Greek bank accounts. It may spew out from mainstream panel shows like baby sick, on-line communities have long since ruled (in that weird group-think Wikipedia excels in) that there’s more chance of getting a giggle from saying “Your mum!” and running off down the road. There was inherent surrealism, and thus humour, from the tragi-comic image at the time; it’s long since gone the way of most fads. Look out “#winning”, they’re coming for you next.

Like millions of people around the world, I watched the film Downfall in stunned silence – never knowing such an emotional film was to be hijacked by the Internet’s Culture and Humour Committee for a constant series of parodies which would define the phrase ‘diminishing return’. The infamous bunker scene, in which the ailing Hitler begins to realise the figures on his map have more life than the troops they represent, is the thousand-and-then-some duplicated subtitled meme sensation. Want Hitler to comment on your team’s latest signing, the latest film flop or a political scandal? Use Downfall, and watch Hitler garble your own subtitled outrage for much lulz and re-tweets.

Except, in reality, this doesn’t happen. Or it should not happen, at least as much, so successfully, because the Bunker parody is tired and old and unfunny. It has been misused, failing the basic test of humour. The tag, that vital element of a joke, has been flattened and squashed, with all the flavour of supermarket tortelloni. 

The Labour MP Tom Harris has been shunted out of his “Twitter tsar” role (whatever the heck that was) for posting a Downfall parody video related to the ongoing Scottish independence saga. Teh Grauniad calls him a “Twitter expert” which over eggs the pudding somewhat, though he is one of the few Labour MPs (or indeed any MP) who seems to naturally understand the microblogging service. Labour poster boy Chuka Umunna is one of the most high profile users who gives the impression of only typing what he’s told, not once engaging in discussions with people outside an acceptable check-list of contacts. Harris broke through the central party’s behaviour bubble to act like ordinary members of the public expected him to; insofar as ordinary people use Twitter, Harris behaved like one of them. To say he was “expert” is a bit much, to give him a formal role obviously too much as his colleagues continually failed to do more than type out press released. To sack him over a Downfall parody? No, I see no logic either.

The video he posted, as with so many of their kind, was dull, not the funniest, not particularly harmful to anyone’s cause. It was a bit of silly, Internet based japery. The sensitivity police have claimed another victim. However, even with that said, Harris probably could have said as much as he wanted to do with a blog, a series of tweets or even an interview – the video he posted was one of far, far too many polluting memes which damage the message and remove credibility. His sacking is an over reaction from a knee-jerk leadership. His video was a flinch from a dying corpse.

On-line humour has killed off old jokes harmlessly before (“I can see Russia from my…..Oh…”). It should see to the Downfall parodies as soon as it can – couple of gunshots and set it on fire. 

From 140 characters to infinity…

21 years ago, the first Gulf War changed television and radio reporting for ever. CNN – not exactly storming ahead in its field – grew in stature and reputation with its one groundbreaking concept. Suddenly their raison d’etre made sense. Newspapers had the content, but did they have the reaction speeds, depth of commentary and instant replay? CNN defined and justified television news, something we now take for granted. Twenty-one years is a lifetime in broadcasting, and from CNN all those years ago, May 2011 has witnessed the next great revolution in news reporting. It has come not from the “mainstream” media (of which, arguably, CNN is now firmly part), or even the “first generation” Internet names. For this month saw Twitter justify its reputation and support amongst thousands of loyal users, in addition to getting grudging respect from the news organisations it has ultimately usurped.

This tweet is the iconic symbol of Twitter’s “maturity moment”. The one man – Sohaib Athar – inadvertently became the poster boy for all that the live-tweeting, micro-blogging site could offer the world. Real time, uncensored, un-monitored reporting of events, often innocent and natural, more often than not trivial, all of which could be the snowballs to roll down and create headlines. Twitter was always a curiosity, and in many ways it has become much more one now, though it has also given the Internet the shine of respectability it needed in the field of news. Just as CNN did in the 90s, now Twitter has shown the credible side of its quirky selling point.

Twitter began to buzz with news that President Obama would be making a very serious announcement at 2145 Eastern Time (about 0230/0300 GMT). Thirty minutes later, Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff for Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted his exclusive .

“So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”

Between 2145 and 2215, Twitter was alive with rumours, jokes, repeated jokes, claims, and counter-claims. The Twitter organisation itself reported that by the time President Obama was confirming the news – over an hour and twenty minutes later – 6,000 messages a second were being written with his name. That totals countless millions sent in the period from the initial rumour to the rolling MSM analysis.

Twitter has been the place to go for so-called “live tweeting” or “dual screening” for some time now. In the UK, episodes of The Apprentice, Match of the Day, or even Great British Menu, can be enjoyed by watching thousands of viewers giving thumbs up or down whilst the show is on air. Writer Mark Gatiss has said watching programmes he has written (such as Doctor Who) with Twitter on his phone “would drive him mad”. Soon-enough feedback (the notices and reviews in next day’s papers) has now become
instant, running parallel to the programme itself. The “Osama day” on Twitter went one step further – effectively running ahead of the news agenda and laughing when traditional television journalists jogged towards them sweating and panting.

The Mumbai bombings was the first real event which suggested Twitter’s potential. CNN, ironically enough, commented on how the programme was “ahead” of them, with the news-gatherer having to be careful with every detail and source it received. With little filtering (and no checking for repeated jokes), Twitter can forge ahead where broadcasters rarely can tread. Whilst this is an issue, it’s also a bonus. No filtering, no censuring – the most gruesome of videos and the most belly-hurting jokes, all streaming down the news-feed in a collection of views, news and opinions. During the anti-cuts marches in London, protesters used Twitter and Suki to plan sites to gather and police hotspots to avoid. Whilst watching the UK’s first ever leaders debates, the “Iagreewithnick” meme blossomed into a T-shirt slogan and backhanded compliment.

Internet historians like to mark exactly when new phenomena or language became popular. Who wanted their kittens to speak in Creole first? When did someone first notice the bloke who couldn’t carry all his limes? When did emos start taking photographs at funny angles, and where did they go before tumblr? 2 May 2011 is the cyber-historians newest milestone. It’s the day newsgathering and reporting became something new – deeper whilst still giddy, stronger though unpredictable. Years after having its existence questioned by critics and sceptics, the newest darling of the 2.0 generation has grown into a very lucrative (and beautiful) swan. From the alternative to status updates, to the latest version of ticker tape…And I still find the time to update people on how crowded the 1647 Leyland service back home is every workday.

Norwich North by-election

There is to be a by-election for Norwich North following the resignation of Ian Gibson. The candidates for the vote, to take place on the 29 July, are:

(Updated 10 July)

Peter BAGGS [Independent]
Thomas BURRIDGE [Libertarian]
Bill HOLDEN [Independent]
Howling LAUD [Official Monster Raving Loony Party]
Craig MURRAY [Put an Honest Man into Parliament]
Chris OSTROWSKI [Labour]
April POND [Liberal Democrats]
Rupert READ [Green]
Chloe SMITH [Conservative]
Robert WEST [BNP]

I can find no on-line presence for Peter Baggs, any info welcome.
Thomas Burridge can be found at the his party’s blog, the first (and youngest, indeed) candidature from the UK Libertarian Party with his own blog too
NOTA” has a website stands for “None of the Above”, a phrase which in full is barred by the Registration of Political Parties (Prohibited Words and Expressions) (Amendment) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/147) [but I guess you may have already known this…]
Bill Holden cannot be found on-line as far as I can see…but did very well as it happens with a very good URL purchase
The Loonies have a website of veritable sanity…
Craig Murray has a controversial but always compelling blog. He was once “our man in Uzbekistan”
Chris Ostrowski is not this tweeter, but via LabourList I discover he beat ffinlo Costain, a man who wrote to Private Eye ages ago about his name being spelled with a small-case double-f
I declare an interest in hoping April Pond does well for the Liberal Democrats. She will continue to fight part of Norwich North when she stands for us in the newly created Broadland constituency next time round, you can support her here
Rupert Read is a local councillor, and he has a blog. The Greens technically won Norwich at last month’s Euro elections, so watch out for them here…
Chloe Smith is the bright, young, Tory hope
Glenn Tingle has his website here, he wants to “tear up the Human Rights Act
I have no issue or problem with the BNP standing, democracy being as it is, but I am sure you will agree that direct links to the British National Party website spells disaster for all concerned.

I am notoriously bad at making predictions – for this one, the only result I can say with some justification is the loss for Labour. Truely deserved.