Why I miss the written, posted letter

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Why I miss the written, posted letter

I have grown up throughout my adult life with the online world. I was a teenager in the 1990’s when the web started; throughout my twenties I was creating websites and using messageboards, and in my thirties I was hoovered up into the social media revolution, defined by sites like Facebook and Twitter. But its only now, a few weeks before my 37th birthday, that I’m starting to imagine the unimaginable. Because I believe the online world may not necessarily be the best thing for human society.

I can imagine the gasps of horror of people for saying such a provocative thing. How can we reverse the juggernaut like march of technology? Do we really want to go back to snail mail and a world without twitter? Well, this might sound strange, but in some ways that is exactly what I would like – and for good reasons.

The first point to make about online communication is to note how fraught it is with legal and moral difficulty. Twitter escaped by the skin of its teeth in 2012 when Lord McAlpine threatened to sue 20,000 tweeters for mentioning his name in relation to a child abuse scandal. And even 20 years on from its inception trolling remains a huge problem online, the most recent example being that of the attacks against academic Mary Beard.

For a good couple of years I was a fervent proponent of twitter, blogs and email. But now I’m not so sure. My doubts were first raised when I read a legal website that examined the difference between email and posted letters. Emails are not secure, go through public servers, can be intercepted and faked. Letters, if marked ‘Strictly Private and Confidential’, can be sent from one person to another with a good guarantee of complete privacy. Which is why you can’t libel or slander a person in a private, posted letter – the opposite is true of an email, which even if sent from a sole sender to a sole recipient can still be slanderous or libellous if it passed through a third party server. Should you really be trusting such a legally hazardous medium for the bulk of your communication?

I think instant communication is a lot like instant food, or instant celebrity – it is a little meaningless and devoid of value. Communication that has time and effort invested into it is much more rewarding. Letters have been understood throughout human history and there is a legal clarity to communicating via written posted letter that you cannot get via email. I cannot shake the suspicion that if you are writing lots of letters you are investing in your social life in a much realer and concrete sense than if you are sending lot of diaphanous emails.

So am I a Luddite, then? Do I want to smash the servers? No, not really. I think the current system could be immeasurably improved if everyone used encryption. There are several free options available, including PGP which can offer military grade encryption to everything you do online, completely free of charge. Until something like that happens though I’m going to remain a little wary of the legal grey zone that is email and Twitter. Give me a tangible letter from a friend anyday, one where I can read about his world on paper rather than see it on a computer monitor.

What I watch on TV

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This a blog post about TV.

Its been a couple of years since I really did any proper TV watching, apart from Saturday nights watching X Factor with my wife. I recently bought a 23″ TV for my bedroom with a built in DVD player. After Christmas I’d like to get a couple of box sets, like Game of Thrones, a TV series I heard was highly regarded but which I missed when it was on air.

The programme I most regularly watch is BBC Breakfast. I usually watch it on a Wednesday or Saturday when I’m off work. I think its a cool programme, and I think the atmosphere of the programme is really warm and friendly. In a strange way, even though you’re sitting there in your pyjamas with a cup of tea and a cigarette hanging out of your mouth, entirely unready for the world, the programme seems to make you feel relaxed and comfortable. It a great way to start the day, and has all the elements to fortify you after you have just woken up.

Apart from BBC Breakfast the two channels I watch all the time are Food Network and Travel Channel. I’m addicted to Food Network. A lot of the programmes on it are from the US, which has a certain sort of cuisine involving trans fats, but it still makes for tasty television. I like Man Vs. Food, although I do worry about the cholesterol levels of the presenter, given that he has wolfed down massive greasy meals for years now. Another cool programme on Food network is Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen. Nadia G is from the Bronx and has a cool accent. Its a very funny cooking programme, with skits and sketches from various of her comedy character cohorts, all of which involve interesting information about food. Travel Channel is fun to watch because it makes your TV a windows to different cultures and climates. I like seeing pictures of idyllic Pacific beach islands when I’m lying in bed with a hot water bottle in a damp wintry Birmingham.

I tend to skip Jeremy Kyle on a Wednesday morning, although I do like This Morning. I watch This Morning if I don’t need to go out or have any errands to do. I don’t think I’m in the audience demographic, which is probably stay-at-home mums, but its still an enjoyable enough show to watch.

Once in a while you come across a gem on the weird channels nobody watches. One gem I discovered was Dog The Bounty Hunter, about a Hawaiian bounty hunter who finds people who have jumped bail and takes them back to prison. Dog is a very big man and he looks like he could throw a hefty punch. He is ably assisted by his tough looking brother and son, and his buxom wife. Whilst he might have been in trouble as a young man, Dog is now a model member of society, and can often be seen offering moral instruction to the various down and outs that he is charged with taking back into detention. His bluster when he has to bring in a particularly nasty piece of work is fun to watch.

If I’ve got nothing else to watch and need to vegetate in front of the goggle box I switch on Sky News. I don’t know why we have 24 hour news channels, because there is never 24 hours worth of news. If you watch Sky News, or BBC news for that matter, for longer than 50 minutes you see them start repeating the stories. It is fun getting involved in the programme though, and I often tweet in my opinion or reaction to news events, which makes for a nice conversational atmosphere.

That’s all for now.

:-)

The Voyage of the Demeter

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Its been a while since I updated this blog. I have been busy experiencing lots of new life in Birmingham.

Below is the script of a play I wrote in 2005. Based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is a horror play for male actors lasting approximately 50 minutes.

I hope you enjoy reading it. I would be enormously pleased if anyone wanted to stage this play.

:-)

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My Birthday

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It was my birthday on Boxing day. I am a few years shy of 40.

I share a Boxing Day birthday with a number of interesting people, including poet Thomas Gray, Jared Leto, and Dermot Murnaghan. I was born on the same day as Czech porn actress Lea de Mae, who died in 2004.

It was a day spent taking stock of my life. I feel I have found a nice plateau, and I am happy with what I have. I think I have reached a point in life which most people reach when they get into their fifties, whereby I don’t really want to do much at all, but want the rhythm of life simple pleasures to remain uninterrupted. I am happy with my career and my home life. I have plenty of hobbies and friends. I’ve been in lots of relationships and have made some money. I have a busy social life which involves doing lots of interesting things and attending interesting events. I have plenty of entertainnment and and allowed to talk to whoever I like. I was the youngest of four children by quite a gap, and have lived most of my life being doted on by people. When I look inside my brain I don’t see any pressures or drivers that make me want to change into anything else.

The big Four-Oh is fast approaching for me. I don’t feel particularly old, in fact I still look like I’m about 26 years old other than for the few grey hairs on the sides of my head. I think in a couple of years I will be a very young 40 year old. Turning 40 is traditionally the point when people have a long think about where they have been and where they are going. I’m happy to say that I’ve done almost all of the things I wanted to do in life. There are dimensions of my life that don’t really fit into the overreaching narrative quite just yet, and in some of these dimensions I’ve done completely incredible things and had incredible successes.

There is a motorway one hundred feet behind the back garden of my wife’s house. It is raised on pillars to about sixty feet above street level, and runs through most of North Birmingham in this way. You might think that such a thing would be a tremendous eye sore, and that it would be a horrible place to live. But to illuminated people like me, the motorway is a wonderful spiritual thing, and a beatiful poem in my soul. A road is a narrative, taking people from one place to another. I often thing about the people travelling on the motorway. I only really know them by the sound of their car engines, but in my minds eye I think of their dreams and ambitions, their hopes and desires. It is like having spiritual river running past your house, that you can look to for inspiration and as a balm for the soul. I think motorways are sort of beautiful things and I think I am lucky to live by one.

I suppose that now I am in my late thirties I am reaching the halfway point in my journey down Life’s road. I have very good health and many friends. I’d love to be very rich indeed but I’m sort of already bored of buying expensive things – I know money can’t buy you much at all in life. Just enough to keep buying Fly London shoes and Ed Hardy T-shirts is working out very nicely for me at the moment.

:-)

Majid Salim

Roger Scruton in today’s Guardian (20/12/2012)

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I was surprised by Roger Scruton’s article in the Guardian today. Like a lot of philosophy it was a difficult read; it was not really geared for the intelligent general reader, and I am speaking as someone with an undergraduate degree in Philosophy.

Scruton’s main thesis in this article is that ‘real’ culture is being eroded by a culture of intellectual fakes. I think there is a degree of sophistry about his article because Scruton does not evidence his thesis with concrete examples of what he is saying, but rather appeals to his reader to share his generalised sense that this is true.

In fact, in the whole article, Scruton only gives on example of how high culture has been eroded by fakery, and this it kitsch. A lot of people believed kitsch art was a threat to culture and a sort of false consciousness that distracted people from their own species alienation. Scruton does mention that he believes Althusser and Lacan are fakes, but a couple of paragraphs earlier he described Rorty as a genuine scholar and intelligent writer who believed we are entitled to dismiss the opponent of our academic belief because truth is negotiable. Then could not Althuser and Lacan apply Rorty to Scruton in order to defend themselves from the accusation of being fakes, according to the logic of Scruton’s own article?

It is obvious that Scruton is mainly talking about people as fakes in this article, and he gives no examples of any theorists or critics who he believes are fakes that are debasing high culture, that hold water according to the internal logic of the article. As such his article relies in the whole on the evidence of kitsch as an example of fakery, and as such the intellectual presentation of his argument mixes apples and oranges. This article is not so much the presentation of an intellectual argument as fallacious appeal to a sense of tradition amongst readers he might perceive as sharing his values, with a view to defending their culture against some alien phenomenon or other.

He repeats several times his belief that high culture has been ‘eroded’ or ‘corrupted’ by fakery, but crucially he does not define what a ‘fake’ in his theory is. How can we tell if an academic, theorist of philosopher is a fake, other than by asking Scruton? If they have had papers published and so have contributed to the body of literature for their field, does that not mean they are the real thing?

And what does Scruton have to say about his own false positives, people who he would only too enthusiastically include in his retinue of high culture practitioners, but who have never had anything published and so have never contributed to culture in any real or concrete sense? Surely culture can only be objectively defined as the work of published arts professionals? Or does Scruton oppose any objective definition of culture, preferring instead a subjective definition that he defines in tandem with people who share his values? If that is true, how isn’t Scruton just as guilty as anyone else of an academic Newspeak whereby his argument refers to itself alone as a defence against critical assault?

I said earlier that Scruton does not give any specific examples of people who are fakes, despite the whole article being an attack on the psychology and mindset of fakery. Perhaps we are supposed to read between the lines and work out who the fakes he is talking about are.

He does state that ‘the fake intellectual invites you to conspire in his own self-deception.’ It does strike me that the burden on proof is in this article is on the reader to prove that Scruton is wrong and there are no fakes – rather than documenting and evidencing his thesis, he simply states it and then if we challenge it the assumption is we must belong to the culture of fakery he is so vociferously attacking. I do have a problem with Scruton’s reasoning in this article. There is a sense that he is creating a false dilemma, similar to Tony Blair’s ‘Forces of Conservatism,’ that might not be considered valid in many other arenas. There is a sense that spite is being presented as evidence in this article (‘He is the teacher of genius, you the brilliant pupil…’).

Scruton believes that fakes earn their academic careers by ‘combining [ideas] in the impenetrable syntax that hoodwinks the person who composes it as much as the person who reads it’. He believes fakes are deceiving themselves as much as anyone else. I think Scruton is labouring under some real and serious misconception about the nature of work, academic achievement and language. People are allowed to recombine old ideas or take other people idea’s one logical step further in order to produce original research – this is perfectly acceptable so long as all referenced works are properly cited and the work presented is sterilised of any potential plagiarism. In fact in a very real sense I believe the only intellectual fakery which matters is plagiarism. Scruton might see original pieces of work as describe them as fakes because they are written by people who do not share his value system, but I believe that so long as such works are plagiarism free and the original work of the author they are valid and should be welcomed into whatever intellectual arena they were presented to.

It could be that if Scruton ever sees this critique of his article he might not deign to respond. Perhaps the only reason he wrote his essay was because he wanted to address some subtext or other, and as such he might not be interested in defending his article against critiques of what it is ostensibly saying. I would be interested in seeing what third parties think of my response to Scruton’s article. If they believe I have effected a competent dismantling of Scruton’s thesis then perhaps they at least won’t call me an intellectual fake myself.

 

Majid Salim

Another weekend in London

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This weekend was an amazing weekend. It was spent in London with various people in the media. I was worried that the December weather in London would be below freezing as we had been promised -15C temperatures all week. But luckily the sun shone for most of the weekend, and the weather was balmy by winter standards.

I got into London at midday on Friday, and took a taxi from outside Euston straight to BBC Broadcasting House on Portland Place. The staff in there were friendly and welcoming – one of the receptionists expressed admiration for my blog and twitter feed. I was there to attend the recording of the BBC Radio 4 Front Row quiz, hosted by Mark Lawson, and with contenstants including Julian Fellowes and Maureen Lipman.

Mark Lawson was a very interesting person to watch. He is a consumate and respected broadcasting professional, and watching him chair the quiz was a masterclass in radio technique. The audience were warmed up and laughing at his jokes and asides. At several points he made eye contact and smiled, suggesting to me we may have met before although I can’t remember having done so. During the recording he was polite and funny, making jokes about new young celebrities in the media. Julian Fellowes made jokes about budget hotels. I don’t think he would be impressed if he had seen the budget hotel I was staying in with his own eyes, although I’d like to think I could convice him my choice of hotel was clean, comfortable and fun. The other audience members were fun to talk to, and during the recording we discussed matters such as what the BBC think of me and the strangely private way I seem to know absolutely everybody.

After Front Row I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went to the cafe in Russell Square near my hotel and had lunch. After lunch I got ready to go to Union Chapel in Islington to attend the Save The Children Christmas Tree Sessions. They were being complered by Lauren Laverne, a broadcaster and DJ who I greatly admire and consider very cool and talented. Also turning up there was Caitlin Moran, Stuart Maconie and Myleene Klass.

On my way to Union Chapel I walked through Islington. London strikes me as city where young people have lost their way a little. There was plenty of them sitting in coffee shops on their laptops, not talking to anyone. Maybe they are all young professionals who have moved to the city but not made any good friends yet. It must be a depressing life being a singleton in London.

Union Chapel is a beautiful buiding, and I was sat on a pew right at the back of the church, with my glasses on so I could see everyone on stage. It was nice seeing Lauren and we exchanged a smile. Caitlin was hilarious and a lot of fun to witness in the flesh, she is a like an oversexed ball of fun. Stuart Maconie looked a little nervous about being in the same room as me but his reading was very enjoyable. I got retweeted by Save The Children and had two weeks worths of hits on my blog in one night. Myleene was a pleasure to watch playing piano. At the end of the evening I was going to say hello to Lauren but the brooding look I got from her entourage whilst I considered interrupting her DJing made me change my mind. So instead I called it a night and walked back to my hotel.

Saturday morning was spent on a long walk to Tate Britain. On the way I tweeted a picture of the Shard and a picture of Brian Haw’s peace memorial outside the Houses of Parliament. Then I went up Oxford Street to the posher parts of London where I talked to some old friends. Saturday was a day spent with members of the public in London, rather than the media.  I struck up a short but enjoyable friendship with a woman who was either Italian or Spanish. I took an afternoon nap and spent the evening in Camden, which was a bit somnolent. I spent Saturday night talking to a very old friend of mine from a private part of my life.

Sunday morning was spent enjoying a large and delicious breakfast and checking out of my hotel at 10. I hung around in Kings Cross for a couple of hours. I telephoned the Guardian from outside Kings Cross station and asked if I could visit the office. They told me that even though I had been awarded press passes to their events and been published in the newspaper, I still couldn’t visit the office of a national newspaper without something like that being arranged beforehand.

‘We’re only a sketeon crew here today,’ she explained apologetically, ‘so I doubt you woud meet anyone you know anyway.’

I thanked her and ended the call. It was a shame as I would like to have visited Kings Place, it is a beautiful building with a lot of interesting artworks in it. I have heard the coffee is great in the cafe and the washrooms are deluxe.  Outside Kings Cross I met a couple of Guardian staffers coming out of the station. I chatted with them whilst smoking a cigarette and made friends with them pretty much instantly, something I knew I would do with a lot of people once I met them face to face. The man I spoke to from the Guardian said he had heard of me and congratulated me on making it into the media. He said he thought I was a very cool guy and that I had a design for life which was  inspirational to lots of people. I didn’t catch his name but he was wearing a checked shirt and jeans.

My last couple of hours in London were spent Euston Square drinking coffee, eating amaretto biscuits and luxuriously creamy chocolates in Cafe Nero. I think Cafe Nero is easily the best coffee shop, and a quick chat with several journalists on Twitter seemed to confirm this as established media opinion. I think they were looking dfor a replacement for Starbucks anyway, which seems to be in the media’s bad books for not paying tax.

Then it was the train home. I chatted to people on the train about life as we hurtled up the track to Birmingham. Overall it was a very enjoyable weekend and I’d like to thank London for being an amazing city.

:-)

Majid

Leveson (Emily Bell in the Guardian, 28/11/12)

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I found Emily Bell’s article in the Guardian on 28/11/12 excellent. The Guardian is a high quality and important newspaper and the article was well written and informative.

In her first paragraph, Emily says Lord McAlpine is suing half of Twitter. This is not true; he is only suing 20 tweeters. There was some suggestion that he would pursue thousands of tweeters but by and large the threat of mass legal action against tweeters has faded. No doubt sooner or later the twittersphere will recover it courage and no doubt in a years’ time Twitter will be back to its vociferous, boisterous self.

Emily Bell references Leveson calling the Internet ‘The elephant in the room’. I think this is a political statement which colours the perception of the Internet in an unfair way. The Internet is a largely unregulated public zone where the public can disseminate information. But it is also used by people in the media, and by the wider establishment, to debate and inform. Perhaps it is only the elephant in the room when it is being used effectively by undesirable members of the public. However, is it not a legitimate and necessary platform when used by organs of the establishment? Just because it is a public platform does not mean that it is anti-establishment. If individuals who own the capital in a society use the internet, does it not follow that the internet is an organ of state?

The internet is a revolutionary tool used just as widely by the establishment as by the public. It will never go away and it has changed our society. People have to get used to the fact that the sorts of debates which happened in newspaper offices only can now happen with exactly the same level of legitimacy when such debates are competently chaired on the internet. Society will never get back to a state whereby editorial lines are influenced by written, posted letters. The ‘debate’ is happening partly in public now because people have been enfranchised by the internet.

Characterising the internet as strictly the domain of ‘lone tweeters’ and ‘drone journalists’ ignores the fact the when the owners of the capital in society use the internet, it becomes the platform for private constitutional debate which cannot be dismissed, even if some would wish these kinds of debates did not happen in this public an informational space.

In her sixth paragraph Emily states that Britain already has no jurisdiction over platforms for news dissemination. She goes on to state that twitter is not an extension of the media, and cannot ever be described as an extension of the media. However she has contradicted herself, as earlier in this paragraph she described twitter as one of the “most powerful platforms for news (and gossip) dissemination in the world”. Let me be completely clear on this matter. Twitter is most assuredly in the media. Debates and arguments happening on twitter are in fact happening in the media. I refer Emily to the point in my previous paragraph. The internet has enfranchised people, and the media now plays with as much authority and legitimacy on twitter as it does on the (now considered anachronistic) printed news page.

I agree with Emily when she described the internet as a leveller in terms of barriers to entry, and agree when she says the existence of the internet requires a change of culture at every level. Claire Enders is quotes in Emily’s article as stating that important journalism need to be done by established organisations, as the internet has produced nothing in terms of scale and projection of legacy organisations. I’m a bit ambivalent about this statement. There may be legacy organisations on the internet with great scale and projection that we do not know exist, and there may be incredibly important people who are validated and authorised concurrently by both ancient and contemporary political power, who are objectively known to be powerful and fully worthy of veneration and entitlement, on the internet. Perhaps the trick is to take these people when they are found and bind them tightly to the pre-existing apparatus of state, something Rupert Murdoch is an established genius at doing. There is a very good argument that if you are a player in Rupert Murdoch’s system then you are by definition an establishment figure, as it is Rupert’s system we all live in, and it is Rupert system that in effect shores up the power of the Royals in this country.

I think Emily find the right conclusion in the article, as in her second from last paragraph she says “What it cannot deal with is the regulation of the press in the 21st century.” It is difficult to regulate the press, and the internet has created a free market in information which I like and welcome into our society. This seems to me to be a struggle between two forms of political power with near equal validity. One is the old traditional form of statecraft where the four ‘estates’ retain control over all information disseminated. The other is a more collaborative informal society run in the information economy of the online world where individual achievement, when intellectually presented in an acceptable way, is understood as valid and rewarded. Society has ‘opened up’ on the internet, which has changed society. The world of work sort of changed in the 80’s when dress down Fridays and open plan offices became fashionable. In much the same way, the internet has softened and made more informal our society. The information economy is run by the media, which has its own from of right wing thinking – but which nonetheless recognises and rewards power, because it is intelligent enough to see when individuals are representing the needs of the organisation. And as an organisation, the media has swallowed up everything else – including the Royals, the Government, the police and the legislature. The de facto head of state of our country is Rupert Murdoch, although you would have to traverse quite a large network of nodes in order for the web of signification to become apparent.

What we need is a legal system that is enforceable, and someone the requisite level of authority who can enforce a system. Such a person, especially if they were privately and very deeply embedded in the existing system would be ideal. Perhaps the only question is simply how to switch from one system to another for some people.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Emily for a sentence in her final paragraph. She states that it is a murky world where the principal guarantor of privacy is wealth. I do understand wealth, can think inside it, and understand it is not a closed system, nor does it want to remain a closed system. However it was a real eye-opener for me to read this sentence, as it was an education of how the world works for me. I learned more about the world in this article by Emily than I have in six months on twitter (which I may leave someday), and I thank her for writing it.