Fighting on the Internet – is there anything we can do?

When all is said and done, some debates will be acrimonious regardless of the medium in which they are conducted. What asynchronous public discussion boards or forums are liable to do is vastly aggravate any tendencies in this direction. And of course, some people find fighting on the Internet very life-affirming. This is fine if they can hook up with other recreational belligerents, but otherwise they take some handling.

One way or another people who attempt to carry out asynchronous textual debates online are prone to dish out and/or experience angry and insulting messages. Even if you’re careful yourself, your readers can explode in response. It’s not surprising really – the social cues of tone, expression, stance etc are missing and the medium encourages rapid unpolished responses. Moreover in these democratised times, everybody is encouraged to consider their contribution valid and deserving of a platform, so it’s not as if the right to respond is restricted only to accomplished writers and thinkers.

So be it – is there anything we can do? Well, effective as this may be:

we’re not going to stop having these debates at a distance. Assuming you are not in fact attempting to provoke your correspondent, one way to avoid web rage is to give ample benefit of the doubt, take pains with language, and argumentation, and slow down. Unless you do this, people will take you for a thug or an e-social inept.

There are also some technical ways to replace social cues. MyChingo is an audio comment tool which at least injects some tone and non-verbal emotion into the words. Video comments like Seesmic give you the whole shabang minus the pheromones (and maybe that’s to everybody’s advantage).

Thing is, I’d say all discussion board conversation have some educational function – this is why they’re both public and available in posterity. People are supposed to be able to encounter that debate once it’s gone cold and actually be able to follow the thought processes of the participants.

If you value this, then text becomes not just a default due to a lack of anything better – it becomes important because of its unique texty properties: you can read it at your own pace; you can scan it rapidly for keywords or gist; and you can copy and paste it. Audio comments aren’t at all self-paced and relying on them exclusively would box up and hide all the contributions, making it impossible to scan the conversation as a whole or follow a particular dialogue within it.

So I’d argue that all multimedia comments require a textual form in addition. In fact I’d say that the transcript should take centre-stage, with the video available as a supplement, and the comments should be viewable in different ways, including threaded and flat (i.e. by scrolling).

Starting to sound a little less spontaneous now? Well, why not – maybe spontaneity is dispensible on comments boards.

Pedantry +/- ignorance

Even I would draw the line at dropping the ‘h’ in ‘historian’. It’s just plain going out of your way to get it wrong. It’s pedantry combined with ignorance and it makes you look pompous.

Here’s some informed pedantry – I heard somebody today talking about administering their Virtual Learning Environment. ‘Administer’ being a transitive verb, he almost certainly doesn’t. I think the word he was looking for was ‘administrate’.

Why bother commenting on this? Dunno really. It’s not a biggy. Just a niggle.

Manchester, it’s physical

The morning after ET and BT’s wedding I left early to meet a friend M and see My Bloody Valentine at the Manchester Apollo. We had a hairy moment changing at at Sheffield where the platform signs had been replaced by mercurial dot matrix displays which meant that 2C wasn’t anywhere like the other side of 2B… 2C, which was anchored in place by a legacy hard sign, was far, far the other side of 2A. “Will the station manager please make his way to Platform 2C for his tribunal.” Anyway, we made it with literally 2 seconds to spare. The train was a diesel bus thing which took us across The Peaks. There was a school outing – we saw about 10 little girls get off and reunite with their families. M and I were friends when we were school children (different schools) and we went to Manchester University at the same time. Neither of us had ever been to The Peaks – M said she never really left the B5117 (Oxford Road turning into Wilmslow Rd) except for a broad lolly-pop-shaped shopping circuit at the top. I used to get as far as Prestwich (family) and I seem to remember going to Cream in Liverpool.

I think Manchester on a Saturday night in summer is best expressed by the lyrics to Forget Myself by Elbow.

I’d got us a double room at the very top of the Britannia on Portland Street. We had a huge room-width, waist-to-ceiling sloping window looking up and back at The Peaks.

There were Canal St queens everywhere – absolutely everywhere. On every landing somebody was adjusting a garter or putting on lipstick. It was very cheering.

We ate at a buffet in China Town whose name I forget, but they did me tofu in black bean sauce for free. For dessert I had watermelon and lychees. M had the same but with some kind of whipped product on top.

My Bloody Valentine were extremely good. Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher were small, still figures pulsing with light and sound. They’re all still too deaf to realise that the sound’s so bad you can hardly even pick out the tunes. You don’t recover from that kind of aural damage I suppose. Kevin Shields spent the whole evening in front of his amp. And for the finale for their last song, ‘You Made Me Realise‘, they tried to deafen us with a 25 minute marathon of shapeless noise widely referred to as ‘the holocaust at the end’. I’d been warned in advance from several quarters to accept earplugs so for 25 minutes I enjoyed the pleasantly evocative sensation of being underwater in the bath with the taps on and a wheezing boiler. Memories of my third year house in Rusholme washed through me and I passed the time reminiscing and surreptitiously looking at photos of ET and BT’s wedding. Meanwhile the occasional glance back showed the faces of the fans gradually taking on expressions of hurt, their fingers creeping to their ears. I imagined My Bloody Valentine sitting around backstage laughing at us – “Those fawning twats, they even stick around when we make their ears bleed”. Or, with the bitterness of the past-it rocker, “We’ll see to it that they never hear another fucking band after us”. Every piece of my flesh which wasn’t taut undulated with sound. My chest was quivering and my trouser legs fluttered. They broke in and pummelled my organs. By the end some of the people without earplugs were shifting from foot to foot in paroxysms of discomfort. I was uplifted. Here’s something similar to what my camera mic picked up:

Actually, what you hear is the scratchy ear-wrecking stuff my earplugs stripped out, but it gives quite a faithful impression. Anyway, this is what all MBV live recordings sound like. By the end we must have looked like kicked puppies. Everybody was so relieved when they eventually got tired and stopped that we gave them generous appreciation, but we could hardly hear ourselves clapping. Still, My Bloody Valentine are a brilliant band, nothing like them in the world and they make you feel like nothing else in the world. I got a t-shirt, for old time’s sake.

We walked back feeling massaged and happy. We wanted to walk for a bit so I went to the toilet in our hotel. There was a wedding reception and in the toilet two women were looking after a third. They’d propped her against the wall and were trying to persuade her to put her shoes back on. Then we went to the Spar for provisions and I was indecently groped by a revolting drunk. This took me right back to another time I was pawed on Oxford Rd and I bravely chased the man into Platt Fields threatening to knock his teeth down his throat. This time I didn’t do anything because I value my own teeth. We went back to the Britannia – women on Portland St were dressed like nothing I’ve seen in my life. Such bottoms. Such upper arms. Such decolletage. I like it when big women, ignoring Keira Knightly, dress tight. A man in jeans and white t-shirt with a boyish crop bent and removed a pair of black 4 inch stilettos and sprinted through broken glass for his coach. A car pulled level so a man could show us his naked behind out of the back window. The other men in the car were singing to us – the chorus of something suggestive – and pointing. There were queens of all shapes and sizes adorning the street, the hotel steps, the stairs and the landings. I walked up the stairs to feel the carpet on my feet and see the sparkle of the gilt and chandeliers. The Britannia is a great and colossal hotel.

Looking up from the lobby

M and I sat and talked, then got into bed and talked. We could hear (C)anal (S)treet a below, the comforting noise of a party downstairs. M was talking in a very loud voice because she was still deafened. Men in the next room had sex rampantly – their first of at least four orgasms, at a rate of roughly one every half hour, happened as we were talking about pies. During the next one we were trying to work out what colour the sky was. I slept with my ear plugs in.

The next morning I went out for a walk. I said good morning to a rotund man on the landing who was dressed as a ballerina. “It’s still night for me, love”, he replied. While I was waiting for the lift to deliver M to the lobby, a man saw me see him nearly knock another guest to the floor with his enormous shoulder bag. He explained that it was lucky it hadn’t been his handbag because that was twice the size. I responded politely, “That’s some handbag!” and he said “Yes, it’s good for putting dead bodies in.” And then he left.

We had an early lunch at the Manchester Art Gallery, then we had a look at the Pre-Raphaelites. Then, during a break in the rain, we went to pick up our bags, and then to Piccadilly Station, into seats with a table on a Virgin Pendolino and back to Euston without event.

Chadwell Heath by-election next week – stop the BNP

UPDATE: When you see the Conservatives win something and you get a rush of relief it feels a little strange. Labour came second. The BNP got 564 votes and came third.


Chadwell Heath votes for a Borough Councillor on Thursday 3rd July. I’m not going to name the person running for the BNP (you can find him via the link above) but in 2006 he only lost by 15 votes.

If you’re around this week and interested in a small act to frustrate the BNP’s campaign, call 07742749614, tell Bob you’d like to help with leafleting, collect the leaflets (probably a good idea to where a disguise and adopt an alias – I hear the BNP are thugs) recycle them and go home. I wouldn’t do this with just any party I didn’t like but it seems the correct thing to do to a bunch of people who divide the population into native and non-native Britons and make that the centre of their policy, who spread hate, and who would make our lives hell if they ever got any real power.

Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate says:

The Chadwell Heath ward in Barking & Dagenham goes to the polls in just over a week’s time. With a very close result likely it is vital that we make one last push to stop the BNP from winning.

Last Saturday over 30 people delivered 4000 leaflets across the ward. A PDF of the leaflet can be found here .

We are now asking London Hope not Hate supporters to turn out one more time to deliver a letter to voters which has been endorsed by key local people. This is the sort of community campaigning that is absolutely vital if we are to defeat the BNP.

We will be meeting at Chadwell Heath station at 6pm on Tuesday 1 July. This station is on the overground line, just 15 minutes from Liverpool Street. Click here for a map.

The BNP currently has 12 councillors on Barking & Dagenham council but they have never really broken into the Dagenham side of the borough. This is their chance, however, together we can stop them.

I hope to see you on Tuesday.

Nick Lowles |

House of Commons debate on Israel and the Occupied Territories

I miss all of these – found this one because my MP said something.

The atmosphere was of concern, which made a positive contrast with the sinister apoplexy or ostentatious one-sided empathising you get with Socialist Worker Party members, Stoppers, The Guardian, The Independent &tc. Kim Howells said:

I should like to think that my hon. Friend had inferred that our actions were having some effect, but I do not think they are having a great effect. The latest announcements-within the last few weeks-of 1,000 new dwellings on occupied territories are doing no good whatever to the Annapolis process.

When I met Prime Minister Fayad in Berlin last night, he repeatedly referred to the issue of illegal settlements as one of the greatest impediments to progress on Annapolis. My hon. Friend is right: we must keep plugging away, and trying to convince the Israelis that this is one of the most important steps forward that they could take.

Too right. I wrote what I knew about the settlements a while back, revealing that I have little clue about how a resumption of building post-Annapolis could have been permitted to happen. My question is, doesn’t any system which allows the fringe pro-settlement parties like Shas to bully coalitions and break peace agreements need to change?

Why is Jay Rayner threatened by vegans? (asks Matt)

Further to my earlier post on Jay Rayner’s studied ignorance about vegans, here is a guest post from my other half Matt. Why is Matt suddenly blogging? He tells me it’s because he has “something to say”. So I’m giving him a home here until he finds his feet on the rolling blog-o-barrel.

Why is Jay Rayner so worried about vegans?

In today’s Observer we had more stuff about being a vegan and whether meat is still a viable foodstuff. The big news was that carnivores’ pin up (and vegan hate figure – although not in this household) Jay Rayner has spent a week as a vegan.

Now it will not come as a surprise to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of JR’s work (can reviewing restaurants – mainly in London – be classed as work?) that such a committed carnivore found a week without meat somewhat difficult.

As the half of the household that is vegetarian and not vegan, I do have first hand experience of the difficulties of catering for a non-animal diet. But I do mostly manage to see this as a challenge rather than a terrible burden – the fact is, at home it doesn’t really impact on our diet very much. Certainly one thing we do mange is to consume nuts that are free from animal products – interesting that a sophisticated palette such as JR’s is eating something that sounds quite so manky.

Now, I must get to the point (if only so I can go to bed) and rather than continue to be rude about JR, which I know he enjoys from veggies and vegans, there is a particular aspect of his argument that I find annoying. Aside from the rather tedious references to whether animal-free diets lead to a lack of energy and inability to get out of bed (which given that Flesh has been on 3,150 mile walking holidays in the last 3 years seems unlikely), JR is consistently worried about the following things:

  1. The fact that vegans are denying themselves the pleasures of the flesh. Why does he care? I am assuming this leaves more dead stuff for him.
  2. The fact that being a vegan is hard (and not helped by strange additives to nuts like milk powder). As JR admits he doesn’t invite vegans over for dinner, this seems a strange thing to trouble him.
  3. Given that we agree being a vegan is hard, abusing them for using a bit of junk food seems unduly harsh (especially from a consumer of lemon and coriander cashew and macadamia nuts), no the burgers and sausages aren’t the real thing, but if I wanted a gourmet meal I would be cooking from scratch (as we try to do, work/social life allowing). As JR listed at least one world cuisine that can do without animal products, I will save time by not producing a long list of great dishes that happen to be vegan.
  4. On a similar theme, he sees vegans as picky eaters. Given that for the most part, this is an ethical choice which as he admits requires quite a large measure of self-denial, to lump them together with the fussy and faddy seems unfair
  5. I won’t even bother to list the non-cheese options you could put in your sandwiches, and as he then moaned about carbs later, probably best to go for a salad anyway.

So at the end of this, what conclusions might we draw? Perhaps JR is worried about the poor vegans denying themselves carnivorous pleasure. Seems unlikely from the man who admits he denies himself the carbs he craves. Perhaps he thinks that we should be more considerate of the poor chefs who clearly find it difficult to cope without meat, let alone eggs and dairy. All I can say is read his article, or refer to point 3 above.

In the end I am left thinking he is just annoyed by people who have made different choices to him and perhaps a little bit worried that the glory that he takes in the killing of animals for him to eat may not be entirely necessary. Rather than fall for his rather transparent baiting perhaps the vegan community needs to try and help poor JR.

Eskdale to London on a Sunday? The Lakes you can’t leave.

We’re walking in the Lakes from Penrith to Boot, arriving on a Saturday night after a week cross country. Did I mention that Cumbria is in a complete stupor public-transport-wise? I’m vexed nearly to tears because I’ve just spent about an hour and a half trying to find a route from Boot to London on a Sunday. That we have to do this is not my fault (it’s Matt’s).

The service at Tourist Information Whitehaven left a little to be desired – Boot is not Bootle, madam. This mistake took a long time to even identify let alone resolve.

Cumbria public transport is really badly integrated. For example the Dalegarth to Ravenglass steam railway arrives two minutes after the X6 bus has departed for Barrow. There’s no excuse for this.

I never liked the country anyway. It’s all Matt’s idea. He likes endurance holidays and I just follow him around for a fortnight every summer.

After this holiday, me and the country are through.

Hamas members kill own citizens in bomb-making accident. Hamas admission shows it doesn’t care.

A Hamas bomb-making accident caused an explosion which killed seven and wounded 51. Retaliations, though, were swiftly made against Israel in the form of 50 missiles fired into the southern Negev. Later, though, Hamas stopped calling the accident an ‘attack’ and started referring to it as the explosion it was subsequently discovered to be.

David T makes some important comments. What we should take from this is that Hamas government members:

  1. Make bombs for jihad against Israelis
  2. Site these works in civilian areas, endangering civilians
  3. Scapegoat Israel, complete with spurious eyewitnesses

I was interested in whether Hamas often officially admits it was wrong to blame Israel. I couldn’t think of an occasion. If it doesn’t usually, was this admission significant, then? Did it mean that Hamas is an organisation which is beginning to own up to mistakes? Did it reveal a tension between, say, bomb-makers and non bomb-makers? Was this late admission of responsibility, after wrongly blaming Israel, a sign of foment under the surface of Hamas – one faction which holds its citizens lives at nothing and delights in any opportunity to bomb Israel, the other wanting to scale down the war and own up to its mistakes?

A Ynet report:

“On Thursday, Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said that as a result of the IDF denying it’s involvement, the military wing will conduct an investigation into the blast and make its results public immediately.

Hamas’ announcement confirmed Ynet reports saying that Ahmed Randur, commander of the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades in north Gaza was present at the time of the explosion and lightly injured as a result.”

The investigation showed that Hamas members were the culprits. The Ynet article reports that senior Hamas people were at the scene, suggesting their complicity in the bombmaking. Then we got a statement from Hamas’ military wing which referred to “martyrs” who died noble deaths preparing for “holy war”. And that is the significant thing, I think. This is how we know that Hamas is rotten – instead of condemning bombmaking in the thick of civilians, it just says hey-ho, all in the good cause of jihad.

Those give-away words in the admission (or the fragment that is reported) suggests that Hamas is an organisation in such a bubble of self-regard that its Qassam Brigade thinks it is perfectly fine for government members to construct bombs in the homes of civilians and, when this results in fatal accidents, to tell the world that the dead were martyrs.

So you can praise the officials who made the admission that the 7 deaths and 51 injuries in Beit Lahiya were Hamas militants’ fault – an admission which reflects badly on Hamas and gives political capital to Israel and supporters of Israel. You can take it as evidence that Hamas is a slightly more responsible organisation than it is painted to be. Or you can look at the substance of the admission and deduce that Hamas is slightly more pathologically deluded and disregarding of its citizens than it is painted to be, without sufficient awareness to even begin to realise how damning these self-deaths are. I started off at the former position, but that optimism gave way to the latter. It is good that Hamas investigates these things and, having investigated them, publishes the truth. It’s just that you get the distinct impression that Hamas only publishes the truth because Hamas is in so much of a bubble that it doesn’t realise how badly the truth makes Hamas look.

In the end, why expect more of Hamas? Hamas’ constitution talks murderously of Jews, not Israelis. Its curent attacks on Sderot and Ashkelon easily fit into a pattern of, and seem continuous with, attacks on Jews since the early 1900s, before Israel or World War 2. Hamas has been exascerbating the blockade by commandeering fuel and attacking supply delivery trucks. Now it has blown up 7 of its citizens and wounded 51. This brings the Palestinian self-death count for 2008 to approaching 100.

How to corrupt your survey data (1)

The Guardian’s Polly Curtis on the National Student Survey.

“The latest controversy over the NSS follows reports that a lecturer at Kingston University told students: “If Kingston comes bottom [in the NSS], the bottom line is that no one is going to want to employ you because they’ll think your degree is shit.” His remarks to a class were recorded and made available on the internet.”

Clearly what we need now is a national student survey to ascertain how many students have come under this kind of pressure.