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.

:-)

voyage_of_the_demeter

My life at the moment.

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This is just a short blog post about my life at the moment.

 

I work on an IT helpdesk for a large retail company. My Head Office is in Wythall, Worcestarshire, which involves a three mile walk every morning from the suburbs of Birmingham into the leafy Worcestershire countryside. It is a great tonic for the constitution, going for a country walk every morning. You can breathe deep the smells of countryside, which some people don’t like, but which I think is healthy. I walk past farms with cows and sheep, and small country shops. There is a farm shop near where I work which sells a wide variety of delicious food. Our office is a very modern office, which has gourmet coffee machines and free Wi Fi.

 

I work four days a week, but get paid for five. I have every Wednesday off, which is pretty cool. I spend my Wednesdays listening to Lauren Laverne on Radio 6Music and watching This Morning. Some afternoons I watch Loose Women as well. Sometime I go for lunch at various restaurants in Birmingham. I like Nandos, and Handmade Burger Company. A restaurant I’m especially fond of is Yo! Sushi, in Selfridges. It is a very cool restaurant with a conveyor belt of small plates of sushi, which you help yourself to. I love the funky chopsticks in Yo! Sushi  and the especially delicious soy sauce. On Wednesdays I also like shopping for clothes. I do a lot of my clothes shopping online, where I think you can find a wider range, but you get some good deals in shops in Birmingham. My favourite brands are Firetrap, All Saints Spitalfields, Bjorn Borg and Fly London.

 

Weekends are spent playing with my kids. I also like lying in. I have a Samsung tablet which is very important to me as it has all my apps and data on it. One app I especially like is TuneIn radio. Some weekend mornings I stand in my back garden listening to 88.2 Rude FM with a rollup hanging out of my mouth. Rude FM is a London based drum and bass station, and listening to it gets me to a certain place. Another good station for zoning out is the Moscow based DNB FM, which is dance and techno. It’s easy to forget the strictures of the 9 to 5 world when you are listening to a radio station from the other side of the world and feeling the compartments of your brain dissolve in the early morning sun. 

 

On Saturdays I sometimes go to the Custard Factory. The Custard Factory is an arts and creative quarter in Birmingham, which is the home to many switched on companies. The exterior decor of the centre is pretty cool, as they have sculptures and cool wall art, as well as many funky shops. I like a cafe there called Yumm cafe, who do an especially delicious salmon, cream cheese and cucumber bagel. I often tweet the cafe after I’ve been to thank them for the yummy food, and get a friendly tweet back.

 

I think the media often viewed me as a solitary figure in my several campaigns against them in the mid Noughties. This isn’t really true. I have quite a wide network of people that I meet and talk to in Birmingham. I volunteered for BE festival and the MAC last year, and met a lot of cool people that way, like Nina at BE Festival and Dorothy at the MAC. I’m also active in the poetry scene in Birmingham, and meet a lot of clued up people that way. I’m friends with a poet called Laura Yates, who used to write for the Birmingham Mail. I’ve also met Charlie Jordan, a former Radio 1 DJ who is now a poet in Birmingham, I’m friends with her on Facebook, as well as friends with Gary Longden, a former punk poet who used to feature on Ian Drury albums. I have met various other people too; I have friends in Selly Oak and also talk to work colleagues outside of work too. On top of that is the support network that is my wider family. I socialise with my nephew, who is 21 now, and my in laws regularly.

 

On Saturday nights I’m usually having a tipple watching Saturday night TV, and listening to the sounds of the motorway near my wife’s house. I imagine I can see the people travelling along it, and spend a few moments in a reverie sharing their lives, like little fireflys buzzing past my window.

 

I don’t tweet the media as often as I used to, and don’t update my blog as often now. The media doesn’t seem that important to me anymore. It used to seem like a very glamourous place to me, but one man’s glamour is another man’s 9 to 5. In the past few months I have had tweets from Miranda Sawyer and Lauren Laverne, which is cool. I also write letters to other public figures sometimes, and get letters back from them, which is cool.

 

That’ all I have to say for now – thank you for reading.

Countries I have visited.

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This is a blog post about countries I have visited around the world.

I have been to a couple of countries, but not as many as other people. Luckily I live in a big city in the UK, so am in daily contact with people of a wide variety of ethnicities and cultures, so I get an injection of foreign influence at home in Birmingham, which I enjoy. What follows is a description of what I was doing in each of the countries I have visited, and what I thought of it.

1) USA – I visted the US when I was 18. My first image of the USA is looking at Manhattan’s skyline outside JFK airport, seeing the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and the Empire State Building towering about the cityscape in the sunset as I climbed into a taxi. I spent five weeks travelling around New England helping my cousin sell POS systems for flower shops. My cousin, Tariq Farid, is a self made millionaire who is regularly on US television. I was great seeing Massachussets, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. In Massachusets I shopped in bookshops in little English style colonial villages. In Maine I ate crab and walked along beaches during my lunch breaks. In Connecticut, where my cousin lived, I enjoyed a lot of natural beauty in the State Parks and by the Quinnipac River, which is also where the Sikorsky helicopter plant is. My cousin and I also spent a week in Florida, where we visited Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. I have fond memories of Fort Lauderdale to this day. I wish we had time to go down to Key West, Miami or up to Cape Canaveral, but we never had a chance. I also got to spend a little time in New York City, and went up the World Trade Centre with my cousin, which was cool. But most of my time in NYC was spent at a trade fair at the Javitts Centre. All in all the USA was a lot of fun though.

2) France – I visited Paris for a week in 2000 for IT training when I was working for a tech company based in Thames Valley area. One of the cool things I remember about Paris is the underground system. I thought it was miles better than the Tube as it had more stations and more regular service, and was cheaper. We were based in a three star hotel near the Bastille, but ate out at restaurants almost every night, so got a good grip of Parisian cusine whilst we were there. I got to do a few touristy things, even though I was in high intensity training in an office in La Defense most of the day. We got to go around La Louvre and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We went shopping on the Champs Elysses and saw the Are de Triomphe, as well as Arc de La Defense.  I ate delicious seafood in a restaurant dans le septieme aronidissement and bought red wine from wine merchants near Notre Dame.  It was a great week and I would love to visit again.

3) Greece – I spent 48 hours in Athens once. I flew there on a whim in 2004 when I was bored one afternoon. The entire trip was financed by my credit card as I wasn’t working at the time. In retrospect I should have chosen a package holiday to a Greek island, but I wanted to see the Collisseum and experience a little Athens culture. It was October when I went and Athens was boiling hot. I shopped in bazaars selling beads and cheap sunglasses and walked around the foot of the Collisseum, which at the time was covered with scaffolding. I ate Southern European food in a cafe and spent a lot of time in my non-air-conditioned room, on the bed, enjoying the hot weather. I would definitely visit Greece again, but perhaps not Athens as I would like to be by a beach.

4) Spain – My honeymoon was spent in Gran Canaria. We went in the week between Christmas and New Years Eve in 2007, and whilst it wasn’t roasting hot it was still warm enough to sunbathe quite a lot. We didn’t get to see much of Gran Canaria other than the Yumba Centre, a big shopping Centre in Playa Des Ingles. A lot of time that week was spent on the sunbeds by the hotel pool, rather than the beach. We did have a trip out to sea on a yacht to see dolphins and turtles but I was violently sick the whole time I was aboard ship, and there weren’t any dolphins that day. I think this is one of my favourite foreign trips, as it was my honeymoon and I enjoyed being a newlywed for a week with my wife.

5) Iceland – Iceland is a cool country, I was in Reykjavik for 2 weeks working for a phone company and an ISP. I went in November, and it was very, very cold. I only really got to see the city on the weekend between the two weeks, and I did a lot of shopping in Reykjavik. I didn’t really get a chance to leave the city, but I saw the Northern Lights, which is one of the reasons lots of people go to Iceland. I also ate Hardfisk, which was cool. I have a photo of me standing by a statue of Leif Errikseen by a church in Reykjavik, the church being one of the city’s tallest buildings. I loved the hot water in bathrooms in Iceland, it was slimy and smelled of sulphur. They also have nice coffee everywhere in Iceland.

6) Eire – I was in Eire for three months working for a phone company in Dublin. Dublin doesn’t really count as a foriegn country as it is so similar to the UK. I did drink in Temple Bar and visit a couple of museums. I remember a statue near the port of a starving family during the Potato Famine boarding a ship to America. Other than that I just ate in Pizza Hut and went to the Odeon, just like in a normal UK city.

7) Pakistan – I went to Pakistan when I was 25. I had a great time, although the extremes of poverty and wealth were marked. Its definitely the most ‘different’ country I have visited as everyone carried an assault rifle and the rats and ants scurrying along the streets were huge. It was also the hottest country I visited, one day it was 45 degrees. One of my favourite memories is driving up Murree, a hill near Islamabad that is 12,000 feet high (which would make it a mountain anywhere except the Himlayas!). On the way up we bought roasted corn from a man selling it by the side of the road. I also enjoyed plaing cricket with local kids and giving money to homeless people. I enjoyed Lahore more than Islamabad as it is a more distinctly Asian city, with all the chaos that entails. Another amazing memory is the salt mine you go through driving south of Islamabad, it is like something from a Wiley Coyote cartoon. Would definitely visit again but you need a lot of money to hand if you want a really special time.

8) Scotland – I drove from Manchester to Edinburgh in 1995 whilst I was at University, to visit my friend Ben who was at Edinburgh studying Spanish and Law. I went with Rashid and Chris, computer scientists, and Bryn, a philosopher. Also with us were Dolly and Neelam, ligusistics students from Taiwan who were friends with me and Rashid. It was December and Edinburgh was cold, wet and windy. We went to the Scott Monument and shopped on the Royal Mile. We stood at the top of Arthur’s Seat and stood in the carpark of Edinburgh Castle. We got there Friday night and left Sunday night. I spend Saturday night getting drunk with Ben in Teviot Bar on Pernod and blackcurrant. I really wanted to see the bricked up bubonic plague street from the Middle Ages under the Library, but it wasn’t open to the public at that time. We spent some time in a tartan shop which was cool. I didn’t eat a deep fried Mars Bar, but mean to next time I visit Scotland.

 

:-)

 

Majid Salim

My Political Beliefs

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I have decided to write a blog post about my political beliefs.

Some people in the media believe I am some kind of agent of the Right, and that I am a deeply Conservative man. This isn’t historically true, as when I was in my twenties I was very clearly a Leftist of some conviction. I argued stridently against the War on Terror and the 2003 Iraq War. I spend nearly two years debating politics on USENET, mainly opposing US foreign policy and Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. The main part of these posts can be found elsewhere on this blog, in the book USENET Posts. But recently people have suggested all manner of strange things, such as that I am a poster boy for the Right, what with my deeply entrenched conservative views that (apparently) are demonstrable all the time. 

So am I really a Machurian candidate for the Right? Am I a really a Neocon, just as Tony Blair was labelled Tory Plan B? I decided to head over to www.politicalcompass.org to find out.

Political Compass is an online test that measures your political opinions according to the scales of Social Authoritarian/Liberatrian and Economic Left/Right. Some of the questions seemed pretty obvious to me, such as “What happens between two consenting adults in a private bedroom is of no interest to the State”. Other questions were less obvious, such as “Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade”. But I answreed all questions as honestly as I could, even if this meant giving sometimes contradictory answers when several questions on a theme appeared. I did the test in front of a couple of friends so I can vouch that I am not fixing the results, and they are a genuine reflection of my political opinion.

Winston Churchill once said “If you are not a Socialist at 20, you have no heart. And if you are not a Conservative at 40, you have no brain”. Its been a good 10 years since I was last really an activist of any description, so I was interested to see how much I had changed. Am I really a true-blue Tory now, believing in state protectionism and wars that defy international law? Or was I still a idealistic Respect Colatition voter at heart?

The results were interesting. I had an Economic Left/Right score of -1.25, and a Social Libertarian/Authoritarian score of 1.90. My place on the chart is indicated by a black and yellow square. Interestingly, I have more in common with Francoise Hollande, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela that Mitt Romney or George W Bush. Or indeed Rupert Murdoch, for that matter!

So what does this mean? Do I still feel like a Leftist, just as I did when I was in my twenties? Its a strange one. I sometimes feel a bit firmer on some social issues than I used to, but maybe that is because I am a husband and a Dad now, so perhaps family men are more naturally conservative than freewheeling young singletons. I still believe in the Progressive debate in politics though, and feel that I can be often found saying quite Progressive things. Some of the questions in the political test were about whether corporations should be allowed to do what they want, socially and environmentally, to maximise profit. I answered those questions with a definite No, because I believe a balance has to be struck between human economic activity and the holism of the ecosystem. On other issues, such as the need to instill discipline in children and use the education system to prepare young people for the world of work, I answered a bit more conservatively, agreeing that this should be the case.

It would be interesting for me to take the test in another 10 years, to see if I have changed yet further still. In the meantime, I will sign off – not quite as a Leftist firebrand, but as a liberal minded 30 something believes in a fair society.

:-)

Majid Salim

Haters

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This is a blog post about people in the media who don’t like me.

There aren’t that many now, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Most people seem to have a slowly adopted a benevolent neutrality towards me. The notable ones are at the Guardian, a newspaper which has given me press passes to its events and which has published my articles, but which I once had a stormy relationship with. Around 2006 I tried suing the Guardian because I belived they had made money by associating with me in absentia without paying me a penny, which I believed constituted fraud.

It was a strange life, taking on the whole of the Establishment. I was young and single with no dependents so perhaps I had a sort of bravery that older men wouldn’t have. I was under no misconceptions about what risks I was taking though, you would have to be stupid or ignorant not to realise what a murky world it is, and how many people end up being found dead in the woods with a sucide not in not quite their own writing next to them. I’m not important enough to die in a tunnel in Paris but knew if I ruffled too many feathers something unpleasant might happen to me.

Until I was 27 I had no interest in the media whatsoever, and never applied to go on Big Brother or Come Dine With Me or anything else. I happily enjoyed a young man’s life in Birmingham, talking to my friends, going to work and playing on my PlayStation. It all changed in the summer of 2004 when I noticed things weren’t quite right with the world around me. The only real reason I started publicly accusing the media of wrongdoing was because I felt myself to be in a deeply ineviable position at the time thanks to the mechanics of the situation I found myself in. I was on survival instincts and did not expect to live if I did not take very clear action against the specific dynamics of the threat I felt I was faced with. At the time I really did think the people I was accusing in the media of defrauding me were amongst the most depraved and satanic monsters in the whole world, but everytime I tried to document the evidence for this, all that would come out in writing was a load of slightly unbalanced sounding nonsense, so in effect I was a bit stuck in a very deep well not of my own making, with no ladder. Perhaps I would have broken the phone hacking story if only. I. Had. Known. How. To Do. It.

Did the media actually defraud me? I’ll leave that to your subjective judgement whilst you enjoy your horse burger and do a Google search for all the nice things they used to say about Cyril Smith.

Its strange that eight years on, well after I have met, phoned and made friends with dozens of media types, that some people still nuture a rancour towards me. It doesn’t bother me, its about a real a threat to my everyday life as someone running with scissors on Alpha Centauri. I wonder about the psychology of such people though. It takes determination to keep sniping at someone years after they stopped giving a shit about you. Maybe its a little infantile, but having said that nobody ever accused journalists of being amongst the most emotionally mature amongst us. It could be that perhaps the essence of their media schtik is to keep talking about me. But in order to make that assertion I would have to first posit that I am some kind of media black gold, a private agenda item in the media, a secret show put on for invitees only. Perhaps stories about me traverse private trust relationships in the media like a drug dealers phone number, and whilst my name isn’t quite mentioned alongside Tom Cruise’s, I am nonethless a very lucrative form of media anti-matter.

The miniature salvoes do get a little tiresome though. Like, can’t we all get along?