Love it. It neatly captures the Catholic Church’s schizophrenic morality. Insinuating itself into public and private life, offering its creeplove salvation.
The “Sindo” by the way is the Sunday Independent newspaper. They like to run polls. I seem to have voted in one just now by clicking on a link in fact. At least it thanked me for voting – I still don’t know what the question was. So I wouldn’t give too much weight to the results, I don’t think 22% of people today would really prefer a woman to die than have an abortion.
Another story that almost sneaked past me, though good news this time: The appeal judgement in what became known as the Twitter Joke Trial was reached, and Paul Chambers, victim of one of the stupidest miscarriages of justice in years, has had his name cleared. To recap, he made a joke on Twitter and was convicted under laws against issuing threats – even though the judge admitted that it was clearly not meant as a threat.
What made me incandescent with rage (an older form of anger, more intense than modern fluorescent rage) was his bizarre logic that the existence of real terrorist threats meant that things clearly not terrorist threats must be treated as terrorists threats. I quote here what I wrote in the newspaper two years ago:
At what point can we just declare that the terrorists have won and let them get on with running things? Almost every day brings them new victories. I’m not talking about murders and bombings, those are merely weapons. To defeat a democratic society you make it turn on itself. And so a stunning victory was achieved this week in the courts of England, when a man was criminalized for making a joke on Twitter.
Perhaps I should begin by explaining what Twitter is, as many – including it seems the judge in this case – still have no idea. Twitter is confusing to some because it doesn’t easily fit into the categories of public medium or private communication. On one hand it’s very public, in that anyone who joins can post remarks on it. In another sense it is quite private; your posts are (normally) only seen by people who choose to see them, and therefore know who you are.
Paul Chambers was planning a trip to Belfast to see a friend when he heard that his (oddly named) local airport had been shut down by last winter’s bad weather. “Crap!” he wrote, “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” Now that wasn’t a very funny joke, but it is quite obvious that it was meant in jest, as a way to vent his frustration. And yet he now has a criminal record – which in turn has destroyed his career as an accountant – for “sending, by a public communications network, a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.
Clearly ‘menacing’ is the word at issue here. And clearly it was not menacing, because (a) it was patently not intended to be, (b) menaces are generally sent to the person or persons you are trying to menace, not to your friends, and (c) terrorists never preface their threats with the word “Crap”.
It is also clear that this law was not intended to criminalize casual speech. Judge Jonathan Bennett acknowledged this. Yet using his years of carefully honed stupidity, he managed to reach the conclusion that though not meant as a threat by the sender, the fact that it might be misunderstood to be menacing (by whom?) makes it a criminal act. He was satisfied – and these are his exact words – that the message was of a “menacing nature in the context of the time we live in”.
He may as well have said “I must deliberately misconstrue all jokes as serious expressions of intent, because that is what the terrorists have instructed me to do.” He is doing their bidding. By cooperating with their aim of destroying a free society, this judge may as well be a terrorist himself.
I’m not joking here.
I was pretty pissed off, wasn’t I?
Thankfully more thought was put into the judgement of this final appeal. (Two earlier appeals were – incredibly – rejected.) You can read the whole thing here. A lot of it is spent on legal rumination over which exact points they need to reach a judgement on. Shakespeare is referenced, needlessly. But when they finally get to the meat of it, they just spell out the commonsensical in terms even a district court judge can understand:
The language and punctuation are inconsistent with the writer intending it to be or to be taken as a serious warning. Moreover, as Mr Armson noted, it is unusual for a threat of a terrorist nature to invite the person making it to ready identified, as this message did. Finally, although we are accustomed to very brief messages by terrorists to indicate that a bomb or explosive device has been put in place and will detonate shortly, it is difficult to image a serious threat in which warning of it is given to a large number of tweet “followers” in ample time for the threat to be reported and extinguished.
An interesting point arising; the judgement also states of Twitter:
Effectively it may communicate any information at all that the user wishes to send, and for some users, at any rate, it represents no more and no less than conversation without speech.
As a friend pointed out (*waves to friend*), if Twitter is accepted to be conversation, then you can’t libel someone on it. Hmm… I might get a little more legal advice though before I start tweeting my allegations about Sean Quinn, the entire board of Anglo Irish Bank, and all those poor, poor gerbils.
Did you see how TV3’s amazingly awful “Psychic Readings Live” reached the attention of leading cultural curiousity curator, Boing Boing? Not because the TV psychics are a bunch of lying charlatans taking advantage of the weak and ignorant – nothing new there – but because they aren’t even good at taking advantage of the weak and ignorant.
I think this show replaces the one where the woman pretends to be sexually aroused by drunk men on the phone. Maybe they got too many complaints about that. Superstition driving out sex – says a lot about this country really. Not that one is worse or better to my mind. It’s about the same level of sadness. Both consist of people willing to lie for money.
And of course it’s all OK, because it’s just entertainment. It says so clearly up there in the corner, just in case anyone should try to sue them for only pretending to have godlike supernatural powers.
Is it wrong? I’m not sure. But I wish I lived in a world where you couldn’t make a living by lying to people. Even – no, especially – when they want you to lie to them.
Oh, I’m liking this one. Pixlr-o-matic, unlike the Instagram and Hipster I discussed earlier, is not about applying pre-set combinations of effects. Instead you can choose the combination, from three different categories called Overlay, Filter and Frame. Plenty come with it, and you can quickly download many more – even seeing them applied in preview before you download, which is pretty amazing.
This is a really well thought-out app in the way that it manages to combine speed with flexibility. Obviously it takes longer to use than one of the others, simply because you have so many more options, but it means you can apply your own tastes rather than be restricted to the aesthetic ideas of an app’s creator. And to speed things up you can remove effects from the interface, getting ones you don’t like out of the way or even reducing it to just a few favourites. The rest remain accessible, but are a few taps away. For me, that flexibility easily outweighs the extra complication. There’s room for both types of app on a phone of course, but I see myself using this one far more often.
A couple of other great features:
A button to apply a random combination of filters that you can keep hitting until you’re pleasantly surprised. It abandons all control, but adds fun.
Single-click cropping to square. It just cuts off the sides, unfortunately there’s no zooming or panning, but it’s quick and it’s great to have the choice.
Best of all though, Pixlr-o-matic allows you to save your pictures. Are you surprised that that’s a bonus? Too many of these apps are so “social” that there is no option to save an image to your phone! You can only upload it.
This is the one Facebook should’ve bought. Maybe they just couldn’t pronounce it. Far, far better than Instagram or anything else I’ve found so far. And it costs exactly one billion dollars less.
Lomography – the use of a uniquely crappy camera to take charmingly distorted pictures – was perhaps the last cry of film photography as a fashionable medium. It was soon overtaken by apps that could achieve similar effects and more, such as Hipstamatic for the iPhone. Developers quickly realised that with its ability to run software, a smartphone could be much more than an ordinary digital camera. Now, a photo is hardly a photo without an extreme colour cast and dark corners.
Then social networking got involved. Some may think the combination limited; after all, uploading images is just a subset of what Facebook or Google+ can do, and Flickr has had similar facilities for ages now without ever setting the world on fire. But on the other hand Pinterest – sharing other people’s pictures yet – has become the biggest social network after Facebook and Twitter, so it’s perhaps in the light of this that Instagram, one of the most successful free social/photography apps, was snapped up by Facebook on almost the same day that it became available for Android. For one billion dollars.
Oops, you blinked.
Networking is not so important to me, but I would like a good Lomo-style app to take fashionably bad photographs. I am impressed by how affecting these effects can be. The one above uses Hipster, an established Instagram-like app for Android. It’s OK, it has some interesting effects. But not many, and the tools seem a little limited. Very comparable to Instagram really, but with one big difference: The results are… unsquare. It leaves the images in widescreen ratio, not the cute square format that’s so key to the retro feel, and so far I’ve found no way to change that.
I don’t think this will be the one for me then. Look out for more trials to come.
In my rush to find nice effects I completely overlooked the actual intention of Hipster. Though it’s similar to Instagram in most respects, its intention is to create postcard-like images automatically bearing the location they were taken, which I assume they scrape off Google Maps. Hence the wide format. I hadn’t realised this at first because the picture I took above was a long way from any landmark. If I had been, its name would’ve appeared in the black area on the left up there.
There’s a different font to suit each effect, and I suppose it achieves its goal; they do look like postcards. Unfortunately to me they mostly look like tastelessly effects-laden postcards from the 80s. Which is either insufficiently retro, or excessively ironic.
You did know the Titanic was a real ship, didn’t you? Laughing Squid did a Twitter-trawl to find people for whom this came as news. Amusing as it is, it’s not so surprising that there are now adults who have no memory of the Titanic from before James Cameron’s film. Those who were five when it came out are twenty now. They’ve grown up in a world where Titanic is, and has always been, the most successful film ever.
And the opposite misconception – that it was the worst tragedy in maritime history – is far more widespread, and every bit as wrong. Believe it or not, it doesn’t come close. Even if you restrict the definition of disaster to accidental losses, it doesn’t appear in the five worst on record. If we include deliberate sinkings such as acts of war and piracy, it’s hardly on the radar.
So why is this the sinking everyone remembers? To be blunt, because it’s a great story. The key factor is that the Titanic had just become the largest ship ever afloat. At once you have a story of hubris; overambitious humans tempting fate is one of the great templates of drama. And to stoke the irony, the owners had unguardedly described it as “virtually unsinkable”. Then there’s the needlessness of the deaths caused by the under-provision of lifeboats. That gives the story a terrible pathos. And her passengers included some of the richest people in the world, so you have the vital celebrity angle. The rich surviving at the expense of the poor makes it a story about injustice too.
No wonder so many people think it was invented for the cinema. It’s ideal. The first film about it was made within a month! And even before that it was entering folklore as story and song – hundreds and hundreds of songs, including one I remember my grandfather singing. The Titanic was an instant legend.
The actual greatest tragedy at sea? For a single ship, almost certainly the Wilhelm Gustloff, on which at least six times as many lives were lost as aboard the Titanic. Six times. Why is this not the subject of a wildly successful film?
Because we sank it.
Well, “we” if you identify with the Allied side in World War II. Though it was packed to the gunwales – literally – with civilian refugees, it was also carrying Nazi officers and troops retreating from the Russian advance in 1945. No icebergs, no Edwardian frocks. Germans sunk by Soviets as part of a bitter and ruthless war. Tragic, yes. But not in the least romantic. So no multi-Oscar film for the Wilhelm Gustloff and her nine thousand dead.
I guess it tells you a lot about the world some people live in, that this idea wasn’t shot down on the grounds that the iPads would be stolen by children from other, less well-equipped schools. We assume all these kids are being delivered to the gates by car. It’s even more charming to realise that the kids themselves are being trusted not to break, lose, or ‘lose’ such valuable devices. Of course there’s one advantage – right now, most children who had the cash price of an iPad would probably use it to buy an iPad.
What I find either more touching still, or just hopelessly naïve, is the idea that kids will be able to use iPads, in class or for study, without becoming terminally distracted. They’re being encouraged to do their homework in an amusement arcade. Schools say the tablets will be blocked from things like Facebook and Twitter, but it doesn’t take a child to figure out that there are about a billion other available distractions on the Web, and it’s quite impossible to block them on an individual basis. And remember, this is in school – the only place in the world where it’s legal to enforce hours of brain-crushing inaction on innocent children. I spent thirteen of my most impressionable years being bored to tears, I would have killed for such distraction.
On the other hand, I am distracted every day by the fact that I work on devices I can use to access the Internet. Raised from the very start with the temptation, maybe these kids will develop the iron discipline necessary to keep their concentration in this all-singing, all-dancing world.
One thing that isn’t a problem though – you may be wondering how the hell it makes economic sense to give such expensive tools to every child in a school. To understand, you just need to know about the cost of schoolbooks in Ireland. School teaching is free here, yes. But school books are basically a massive scheme to ream hapless parents until their eyes pop. Compared to that, the cost of an iPad over a few years is almost trivial.
Let’s start the week with a recap of the last one – a momentary break from the nausea helps one better appreciate the carousel, I find.
All hell broke loose in England, with the young indulging in a strange mixture of wanton violence and want-one theft. The more repulsive commentators, in Ireland especially it seemed, were keen to blame it on the feminist-socialist conspiracy to raise children without fathers, completely unconscious it seemed of the fact that this made them sound disturbingly like Anders Breivik. Those who wanted to blame black people had to make do in the end with blaming white people who just talk like black people.
On a related note, surprise hit of the week was an article on the decline of the meme. What I’d thought of as a throwaway remark was later bandied about Twitter as “Chapman’s Law”: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.
I also discovered that I can say what I like about gay Presidents and right-wing politicians, but if I really want to get an argument going here, the thing I need to do is criticise Apple.
Back home then, and off our coasts new dives were being made on the wreck of the Lusitania. What seemed like the last nail was knocked into David Norris’s Presidential campaign when it was revealed that, in an unguarded moment in 1975, he admitted that his adolescent fantasies had been homosexual in nature. This was taken up by some in the press to mean that he represented a paedophile threat to himself.
Attention switched to veteran TV personality Gay Byrne, and he was even approached with an offer of support by the once-great Fianna Fáil party, who until now have only lost one Presidential election in the whole history of the State. But fortunately everyone suddenly realised that this was a completely mad idea.
And at home home, my mother received a call from a phone scammer. My rage was not a nice thing to behold, but the lesson I took away was that if I stayed calm when talking to the scammer next time, I’d be able to scare even more shit out of them.
Still closer to home, I was bitten by a mosquito and had a bad allergic reaction. Having tried about everything available in the pharmacy and found it wanting, if not utterly useless, I discovered an instant, effective cure: Water.
I hasten to point out that that doesn’t make it homoeopathy.
I didn’t speak too soon anyway. The Dow just fell off. Well, had its worst plunge since the crash of 2008. Double-dip recession then? I think that’s far too complacent – why the hell should it stop at two? All we’ve seen since 2008 is an economic system trying to get up off the canvas. It’s not getting up.
But sorry, back to Google+. It’s a bit unfair of me to call it a bug, but “An Aspect Of Google+ Which Users Coming From Facebook May Find Misleading” just doesn’t cut it as a headline. Blame the sub-editors. This isn’t entirely Google’s fault, but I think they need to do something about it.
A lot of people coming to Google+ have prior experience of social networking on Facebook. And when I say “a lot”, I mean “all of them, basically”. So there is a natural tendency to think of someone adding you to their circles as analogous to a friend request. If you have reason to think they’re kosher, you’ll probably add them back. But what if you don’t immediately recognise the name? Speaking for myself it could still easily be someone whose name I’ve forgotten, someone I know by an online name, a friend of a friend. So what I do is see what friends they have in common with me; that almost always makes the relationship obvious.
When someone adds you on Google+ you can see the “People in common” they have with you. If there are a lot, your automatic assumption might be that you should know this person. But unlike FB where relationships are agreed by both parties, being in a circle in G+ is of course only one-way, much like being followed on Twitter. So when someone has a lot of “People in common” with you, all it could mean is that they first added one person you know, and then added all their friends.
It happened yesterday among my peer group – people started asking each other “Does anyone actually know X?” We eventually figured out that X was a fake friend. (Oh and Google? He had a perfectly realistic name and profile.) I would guess people are doing this exactly so that they might be mistaken for friends and added – whereupon they can find out more about you, spam you perhaps, misrepresent themselves even. It’s a new type of insidious social network penetration – we could call it “encircling”.
How can Google make this less likely to succeed? I think “People in common” is a misleading label – indeed, a misleading categorisation. It’s really only “People X has in circles who are in your circles”. There should also be a category “People in your circles who have X in circles.” If the latter group is far smaller than the former, you’ll know immediately that something is up.