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.

Covent Garden, 24/11/12

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I was in London on Saturday 24th November 2012 to hand out 250 business cards with a short philosophical message on them, in Covent Garden. London was cold and wet, and it rained all the time I was there. It did not yet feel Christmassy, although the market are was very crowded with what was presumably Christmas shoppers.

I got to London for 11:30 and walked from Euston to Covent Garden, which took 40 minutes. I stood outside the Kurt Geiger store, under cover from the rain, and handed out my cards. With a brief break to get lunch, I was there for four hours.

What struck me about this day was how positive and lovely everyone was to me, regardless of whether they took a card or not. People seemed to be enthusiastic and interested in my message. I think I spotted a couple of people from several broadsheets, who I talked to afterwards. My message, about the ownership of human experience, was probably better understood by the media than the wider general public. But nonetheless as a ‘meet and greet’ experience it was well worth it. The experience put me in a good mood on my walk back to Euston, where I chatted to people outside the station, and exchanged banter with a couple of journalists waiting for a train, who kept cracking jokes about suing me.

🙂

Majid Salim

A weekend in London

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This blog post is to announce that I will be in London on Saturday 24th November.

I’ve had some pretty surreal experiences in my life, so much so that in the end I became somewhat of a Situationist. Situationists believe that reality is compromised by hyperrreal spectacles, which exist above reality and replace it as the epitome of reality. Situationists often do bizarre things like leave dead sheep outside the BRIT awards or walk into Notre Dame Cathedral dressed as priests and announce to the congregation that God is dead. It is a revolutionary, avant-garde movement that believe constructing situations like these helps people defamiliarise and critically analyse their everyday lives. It is a theory that fits quite well with the media as the media is innately used to constructing reality, sometimes ersatz realities. Sometimes the media creates reality ex nihilo, a phenomenon that was satirised in the film Wag the Dog.

Jean Baudrillard was a French philosopher who suggested that in the postmodern world we are surrounded by simulacra of reality, things, events and experiences that cannot quite be defined as real because of some semantic ambiguity that has contaminated the postmodern world. Oftentimes I have had experiences that are irreal, or remember experiences of my own which seem to me to be footage of another person.

How do we live in the modern world, then? Should we surrender, accept we are some form of posthuman, and give up on any having a singular narrative in our lives that gives us a sense of belonging to the world? Should I accept, when I look at my wedding photographs, that the person smiling there isn’t quite me, but a dimension of mine that I don’t quite ‘own’? Should we give in to the fact that there are dimensions of ourselves which we can’t claim agency for? Or should humanity fight against these theories and ideas that radically redefine our humanities? Or would that be contrary to how the universe wants to run itself?

Perhaps I am just young, or a novice, or too philosophical. But for some of us the key to understanding our lives is to ask philosophical questions.

I hope to raise awareness on Saturday of this debate. See you there!

🙂

Majid Salim

Skyfall

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I was lucky enough to watch the new Bond film, Skyfall, in a rainy Birmingham  city centre last Saturday afternoon. I didn’t take any popcorn in as I ate a  delicious Bratwurst hotdog from the city’s Frankfurt Christmas market before  going in, and I had a bottle of Diet Coke in my bag. Once in the theatre I  toyed with the idea of sitting in the ultra-plush Premier seats, with their  high backs and luxurious armrests, despite paying for a standard ticket. But I  decided in the end that a mini-swindle of Odeon cinema, whilst not  megacorporate global larceny, was not my stock in trade.

What can I say about the film? The action sequences are breathtaking, and  Daniel Craig’s Bond is a realist vision of a muscular, tough, unsentimental  British agent. The film has a stripped down feel with none of the kitsch of  previous Bond eras, and seems to have a very contemporary subtext.

The first thing I want to talk about is Javier Bardem’s character, the former  MI6 agent turned rouge. The character may or may not be based on a real  person, who may or may not have a political relationship with this sceptered  isle. However the character stuck me as parodic and hyperbolic. Whilst certain  aspects of the character’s behaviour seemed spooky (his ‘think on your sins’  computer messages), taken as a whole the character seemed to me to be tailored  to fit some kind of specification; a Bond villain that raised spectres in  normal British minds about loss of empire, dwindling economic power, and a  sense that the once mighty Britain is slowly being encroached into and  bettered by foreign economic and political influence. Coupled with this is the  fact that Bond is an agent who is not up to operational standards; a man who  has private doubts about his ability to combat this talented enemy with all  his multiple achievements.

I locate the debate about Skyfall into a context which also includes debates  about the Shard in London. There seems to be a prevalent fear in the zeitgeist  that Britain is being beaten at its own game from the inside, that British  institutions are being gainfully used against the country by foreigners. At  points I feel that the film echoes a subdued sense of loss which might be a  meditation upon this kind of foreign activity. The eponymous Skyfall, Bond’s  family estate in Scotland, is a grim, moody building. The final fight secene  that happens there seems also to be a fight between some private reserve of  British identity against this ultra-talented, capable, confident and  experienced enemy. The film posits questions about really slow, structural,  almost glacial shifts in Britain’s position on the world stage. To some extent  the ending, in which Bond defats the villain, does not scan given the subtext,  which suggests Britain’s days at top table are actually over, we are a country  afflicted with a strange psychic moribundity, sort of like TS Eliot’s Hollow  Men, living in the limbo of death’s dream kingdom and never quite acheiving  anything great again.

It does strike me as a film which launches a debate very sepcifically for  native Britons, about their lives. I did not feel the same sense of gloom that  the film invites us to share about life in the modern world. To some extent I  can’t comment in what the film means or what its significance is, as I sense  this might be a private debate of some sort amongst English people. I’m not  going to lie to my readers and tell them that Britain will be a superpower  again, it probably won’t. I see plenty of potential for Britain to be a  country with great political and ecomonic influence in the future, which might  not necessarily translate into a supermassive GDP. As to why English people  are feeling depressed … I don’t know. Perhaps it is simply down to how their  formulate their sense of identity. Perhaps younger and more metrosexual Brits  feel none of this sense of gloom. Perhaps there is a sense in this film that  one idea of Britain is disappearing, and someday won’t be remembered. But does  that mean that the cosmopolitan and 21st century Britain that replaces it is  any worse a place?

Overall it was a very enjoyable film. I wasn’t ceratin about the way Bond’s  love interest was depicted, I don’t think it sent a message that did Bond’s  sense of Britain any favours. She, in all her feline Oriental seductiveness,   appeared in the film for all of 15 minutes and was dispatched halfway through  with a bullet. I sort of wished that Bond had played a bit fairer here, and  this kind of depiction is to some extent jarring, as I wonder what female  English viewers would make of that peremptory a harsh judgement for a  character with some plot significance. It did worry me a little as I don’t  feel it was great PR for Bond’s vision of Britain. You can’t argue you are  struggling in a just struggle if you are that injudicious to your own friends.

🙂

Majid Salim

Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian (15/11/2012)

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I greatly enjoyed Martin Kettle’s article in the Guardian today, in which he posited that austerity is here to stay. In his article, Martin states that China and India will outstrip the Eurozone and US economies in the next 24 months, and that the sorts of draconian fiscal tightening we have seen in the recent past will become the norm – there will be no return to a time of plenty for UK and European governments as we will soon be playing second fiddle to the indomitable Chinese and Indians.

I do agree with his analysis but at the same time I feel it does not tell the whole picture. An interesting question to ask is this: will Europe become Sino-centric, in the same way it is US-centric in regards to its tastes in films, music, games and books? In twenty years will we all be watching Chinese blockbusters instead of Hollywood ones? Will we favour Chinese luxury fashion brands over American and European ones? Or is there (to use a publishing term) a ‘gutter’ between the Chinese and European civilisation which means that whilst the Chinese might have dollar supremacy, they will never have cultural or memetic control over our zeitgeist?

We have to remember how many things in our daily lives are Euro-centric. Maps of the world put Europe at the centre to this day. Many ideas that define modernity, like the rule of law, democracy, industrialisation, art and literature are deeply liked to European civilisation and European values. It is possible that the lingua franca of world power and world influence is the European value system. There is a narrative of global consolidation that starts in Ancient Greece at the Coliseum, and with Plato and Aristotle, and which spread through Europe via the Roman Empire, and then through the world via Christianity in 13-17th centuries and the British Empire after that. It would be interesting to view the national narratives of other countries in Latin America and Asia to see if they began understanding the game of constitutional world power when they were introduced to it by Europeans.

It is quite possible that in one hundred years Britain will be a much poorer country, and places like China and India will look like ultramodern, cash rich 22nd century megacities. But are these examples of world power already phenomenologically under Western influence? Is it possible that Western political and legal thought, starting with Plato and moving forward throughout the civilisation, will retain a ‘legal’ authority that can and will never be toppled? Is it possible that Western political thought will be a legacy system used for understanding the world, which we never quite lose control of? Certainly until there are a generation of children using Chinese slang and thinking in terms of Chinese films, books, games and music, it is possible that the Chinese will have the appearance of dollar supremacy on Earth, but will never quite capture that chimera: the notion in our interlinked heads that we retain political control? I’m sure once in a while the media get their heads in a muddle and have to call Rupert Murdoch to get him to explain to us what we should be looking at. In the same way, is it possible that Western political thought will always frame the debate, and that we will always be asked (whether we realise it or not) to ‘define’ the world for other people to see?

It is possible with the application of media philosophy to see how this would be possible. It does happen sometimes that young UK performers make it in the media, but the media do not tell them. In this way the media retains control of the debate, because it retains the ability to frame and define reality. Unless China invests in a mass culture industry for global export that successfully germinates Chinese cultural thought in our heads, it is possible they will never quite be able to steal the crown from Europeans.

There is a lot of debate in the media about how China and India’s dominance will change Britain, sliding down the league table until it is no longer a world force. I think there is plenty of evidence of UK global competitiveness, not least our impressive medal tally in the Olympics. Things like this matter. The UK establishment should work out what reality *is*, and distinguish that from straw man arguments coming from all quarters about what reality is. It is quite possible that dollar supremacy, whilst wielding great influence, is not the definition of world political power.

About me

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Hello. I have decided to write about myself on my blog today. I have a lot of factual, biographical information about myself on this blog, but not much about me as a person, who I am and the things that I think about life.

I have had an interesting but difficult life. It has sometimes felt that I have had to work twice as hard as other people to get to the same place. At my grammar school, one of the best schools in the country, I was taught to work hard to achieve academic excellence, something I continued doing at University and in my career. I suppose I have hard work drilled into me. I’m the kind of person who will sit down with individuals others dismiss as completely lost causes and try my hardest to get them doing something productive. I am comfortable talking to any level of organisations, whether it’s the still green newly appointed graduates on the bottom rung, or the board level senior management who have been running society for decades. My ideas work on both these levels and all the levels in between. I have a sort of moral and political authority.

I think it’s fun being in the media. I think other people view media types with a little envy, as if we have slightly sexier or more interesting lives. Typically of how hard things have to be for me, I juggle being in the media with a full time career in IT. My IT career also has its rewards – there is prestige in working in IT, and the money is very good. I am accustomed to a certain lifestyle that my career in IT purchases me, and I would not give that up easily. My employers consider me as something of a mercurial hothouse kid, and I have an enjoyable time in the office. There are a couple of people in the office who are quite clued up, and they are the ones I usually talk to during the day.

I take a lot of pride in my intellectual achievements. Writing on USENET, writing on my blog, getting an academic paper published, getting published in the Guardian, writing books; all these things are a great source of intellectual pride for me. One thing I know about life though is that you can’t just fall of the boat and be a great writer from day one. I have put a lot of hard work into everything that I have done. There is no underestimating the improving, redeeming, rewarding qualities of hard work. The first thing I say to teenagers who complain to me that they feel worthless because they haven’t done anything with their lives yet is that I tell them they haven’t worked hard enough for it.

I suppose the other main thing I want to talk about is the relationships I have had in my life. I am lucky in that I am a pretty worldly kind of guy, and I have been in lots of relationships. I think women are strange creatures, and I would find life very grey and dull if I did not know any – I suppose if I was in that position I would go and find some to hang out with. I can’t talk about everything I have done, as some of it would almost certainly get me gotcha’d in a red top. I have had some very notable relationships though, and very intense ones too. Women have been like floral garlands that have bedecked the narrative of my life. They have thought me into a person, and I have though them into people too. I suppose in some respects my life can be viewed as a long conversation with women. They know my vulnerabilities and strengths; they know my jokes and my irritabilities. I see a spark of the divine in women, which keeps me coming back to them. When I’m in a relationship I sometimes feel more complete than when I am on my own. I talk to women because I feel that in doing so I am working out something profound with them. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it.

Some people in the media have called me a genius. I think that is a very nice thing to call me, and probably accurate. I wouldn’t be any other way, and wouldn’t not swap my intelligence for anything else. I associate my intelligence with a certain quality of life that my intelligence gets me to. It’s nice to think that I might be famous someday, or famous after I am dead.

That’s all I can think of to say. I hope you found it interested reading.

Majid Salim

TreeCube.

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I thought it was time to talk about a little media product I was responsible for in Birmingham, which was very favourably received. It was a hyperlocal news platform called TreeCube, and it can be found here:

http://www.treecube.co.uk

TreeCube is designed as a easy to maintain news platform for the Birmingham region. It is not strictly speaking a social media platform, as there is editorial input into TreeCube just as there is with newspapers and broadcast journalism. TreeCube has not been updated for a couple of months, but the last edition is still available on the website to view.

Every two weeks from March 2012 onwards, I would scour twitter and various local newswires I was subscribed to in order to find between 10 – 15 news articles of interest to intelligent Birmingham citizens. The important feature of TreeCube is that is uses a Google Maps map to display its news, so all the news has to be geocontextualised. I programmed it myself using the Google Maps API and Javascript.

TreeCube worked quite well, and I had some favourable feedback from lots of people in Birmingham. People were quite smitten by the ‘map view’ of life in general and news in particular. The ‘map level’ of our metropolitan, media consciousnesses was a popular place in Birmingham.

I got to talk to many of the city’s most notable residents, and TreeCube was generally understood as a high-end, high-quality media product in Birmingham. Its magazine feel and local relevance meant it was widely considered a successful project. Other demands on my time mean that I have not been able to curate TreeCube on an ongoing basis, and the website has not been updated since July. However I am hoping to employ some of the time management skills I have picked up professionally as well as during my research degree, and hope to be able to pick up the trail of TreeCube and start editorial input and regular publication again.

I had high hopes for my TreeCube project, and hoped that it would proved commercially viable enough for me to start a company and work on it full time. I had dreams of an office in the Custard Factory and regular business lunches with the most intelligent people in Birmingham. Unfortunately this was not to be, and I am still stuck in my boring (but admittedly very lucrative) IT career.

However TreeCube is still there, and I will continue working on it. Here’s to hoping something interesting comes of it soon.

🙂

Majid Salim