Category Archives: Media

Tucson, Arizona

Here in the UK, the dreadful shooting in Tucson, though powerfully tragic, is a distant atrocity, far away in cultural as well as geographical terms. We look on horrified through that odd hue all American TV footage shares and in particular, however sad we feel, I think sometimes the distance wrongly allows us to accept our lack of understanding. Even the accents on local reporters accentuates that gap. It has similar resonance to the murder of Salmaan Taseer in Pakistan – although rendered bigger news by the dramatic dominance of the USA over our culture (and by how awfully commonplace ideological murder is in Pakistan).

Reeling today, like everyone, I’m convinced it is far too easy for us to sigh and dismiss Tucson, Arizona as some near-alien place of hate-fuelled violence, to fall once again into the heartbreaking pajorative British trap of believing this is ‘normalcy’, that “Americans are stupid and/or dangerous”. You can smell hints of it in even the most sympathetic or liberal of UK newscasting today. Especially when even America itself, hurt and trying to gather perspective, is describing Arizona in such generalised, very negative terms.

This is so damn wrong. Today I need to write this: I’m a middle-class lefty Brit and (at least until the Coalition this year was catalyst for a protest rennaissance) I have long found far more opportunity to talk politics, ideology and social issues in measured terms in the USA than here in the UK, especially with younger people. Whatever their background (though I accept I come into contact with more white, privileged people than other kinds), in my experience it is a complete fallacy to write off yanks – including those away from the two coasts – as dumb or disinterested or isolationist. It is a sceptical (and stupid) mis-reading of sincerity, ambition and indeed cultural language.

And I need to write this: Tucson, Arizona is one of the most beautiful, welcoming cities I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been a lot, just passed through all-too-briefly, in the usual way as touring musician type. Yet for me it is the city of the Airplane Graveyard; beautiful little underground collective-run party shows; of Calexico; being driven up into incredible local desert by publisher Dan; of servers in Mexican cafés who hug spirit into you like a big sister when you leave their diner (in an Amma sort of way, not a Milf sort of way). In San Francisco I gigged with lush, clever prog-folk band Seashell Radio from Tucson – who immediately, unhesitatingly offered strangers a place to stay the second they found out we were coming to town. Albeit in a remote Internet-nurtured way, these are people and places I love and miss.

But I won’t also forget one aftershow conversation in Tucson with three young punk guys, last year – especially vivid and uncomfortable reflected in the light of this tragedy. They were atheist, anti-war, anti-racist and at their core socially progressive. Not trots/commies as we’d understand it – not so tax friendly, much closer to a Libertarian viewpoint – but they had no time for (no interest in) the GOP, religious extremism, FoxNews, big business or any of the reactionary mush. Yet at the same time, a key issue of liberty for them was the Second Amendment: the entire crew each owned guns, could use them comfortably and passionately believed in their right to carry one for self defence. This wasn’t boasting to the Limey – just one part of a broader conversation – what did make them boast excitedly was the bands they’d seen and roadtrips they’d done. The gun stuff was matter-of-fact, an attempt to explain. It was the single clearest social difference I saw between these Tucson guys and, say, southern Californian stoner kids of similar attitude and taste, who’ve (dickheads aside) never seen a gun in real life except on the belt of a cop or school guard.

I don’t claim any generalised presumptions about this, it was just one conversation at one gathering. And I remember being shocked and even, to a certain extent at the time, persuaded – if not of the rightness of it then at least of their sincerity and belief in the ‘right’ without ill intent.

But, no.

Tucson is not ‘to blame’. Deep down I know Palin, Beck, Limbaugh and O’Reilly aren’t ‘to blame’ either, although the cumulative effect of FoxNews’ relentless rabble-rousing rhetoric and persistent repetition of violent metaphor while encouraging direct action needs urgently addressing. No, it is the availability of, love for and culturally endemic pervasiveness of guns that is ‘to blame’, in as much as it is the major fulcrum that turns anger and murderous intent in disturbed and alienated people into actual murder.


World Book Night needs a fringe

The World Book Night project is getting some hefty plugging from the BBC and the broadsheets, after an initial push on the Culture Show at the end of last year. It was conceived in 2009 by James Byng of Canongate at a talking shop to find new ideas for publishers. It is supported by the BBC along with a range of leading lights in publishing and run (intriguingly) as a ‘charitable company’.

The project asks people to apply to become ‘book givers’, picking a book that they wish to give out to lots of people. Recruits will each get 48 free copies of their chosen book and on one night – Sat 5th March 2011 – amid a co-ordinated wave of excitement and media interest, distribute them to the masses. On the same night, the organisation itself will give away books to places where they’re hard to get (they mention prisons and hospitals). Sounds ace.

I went to apply. I knew immediately what book I’d like to give out: Geoff Dyer‘s Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It. Not because it’s brilliant (though it is) but because of its lost potential as a popular classic. I know Dyer does OK but this book should’ve been huge, should’ve lined the supermarkets. I cannot imagine anyone not loving its heady brew of travel, drug-taking and intellectual detachment. In a post-Seinfeld Bruce Chatwin kind of way, it does precisely what World Book Night says on the tin.

But here’s the rub: there is (of course, how could I not have guessed?) a shortlist of 25 books from which you make your pick. Each of the 20,000 ‘book givers’ is actually giving out copies of one of these books. Now this is all thoroughly above board – the list of 25 was chosen by an esteemed panel, led by Radio 4’s Jim Naughtie. However they are all – without exception – already successful books from the major publishing houses (and written by authors who are already a high priority for those publishing houses). They are a mix of modern classics, recent bestsellers and prizewinners. Not trash by any means; it is a list of real quality, yet they are the big names.

On a personal level, I simply can’t find one I yearn to share. No, not even the Carol Ann Duffy. I’d pick Pullman’s beautiful Northern Lights but it’s the first of a trilogy, which is an appalling thing to give out free, like a first hit of smack. Suddenly World Book Night bothers me. Yet again, someone has a idea about sharing, then proceeds to lock out anyone not within a specific clique or mindset. It looks reductive instead of open-armed. Sharing a book isn’t simply a one-way patronising thing about encouraging people to read more, it’s an inspiration spreading process. Why, damn it, can’t I get 48 free copies of Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It and throw them around instead of the Heaney poetry collection I studied at Sixth Form? All the prizes and marketing games work this way: the ‘threefer’ discount arrangements work this way. The post-Richard and Judy Book Club things work this way.

Nevertheless I propose not an alternative but a complement:

Let’s have a World Book Night Fringe. Let’s not start from a top-down ‘selection’ but start from a bottom-up process where ‘book giver’ applicants pick a book they’d truly love to share. Then the author/publisher is approached with the request; decides how many ‘book givers’ they can afford to supply. Doesn’t need to be 48 copies each time, why not just 10 copies for each ‘book giver’ of the World Book Night Fringe books? Your core 25 authors and their publishers still get the lion’s share of PR, still get lauded on telly for giving some free books out and “promoting literacy” but at least some of those around the edges get to join in and taste a piece of the action. More importantly, the whole shebang becomes a two-way game, genuinely edifying for authors, publishers, ‘book givers’ and recipients alike – instead of just the illusion of a blanket (‘charitable’) initiative disguising simple commercial intention.

Perhaps I’m naive about how many books can be spared for free distribution but I suspect not. And as usual, I propose something I don’t have the wherewithal to put into action. But it would be simple to arrange if someone did – and it would make my own experience of World Book Night vastly better.

Screw the admin, next week I’m writing to Geoff Dyer to ask if he’s got any free copies lying around of that wonderful old book he wrote.

arts review of 2010

Here’s a list of cultural things I loved this year. Please feel free to stick yours in the comments (or a link to wherever you’ve published yours).

Although it was an OK year for culture generally, I think it was weak for music. So much over-complex, expensively echoing indie stuff – and glitchier R&B things with similar indulgence issues – that was hyped up through the year, left me cold. Several acts I love forgot to bring the songs. Also I suppose I inevitably feel detached – antagonistic even – because I had Love Is Not Rescue out there and because I didn’t travel overseas as much as usual, so got a less international feel for the year’s music. That said, looking back through previous years, this year’s Top 10 albums is as strong as any. Also, great telly and books. These moved me more, especially after I had my phone stolen, because I rediscovered reading.


1. Gill Sandell – Tarry Awhile
2. Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses
3. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
4. The Xcerts – Scatterbrain
5. Thirty Pounds Of Bone – Method
6. Lianne Hall – Crossing Wires
7. Grasscut – 1 Inch ½ Mile
8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
9. Bellowhead – Hedonism
10. Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Honorary mentions (this would be my 11-20): Far, Seashell Radio, Napoleon IIIrd, Frightened Rabbit, Corinne Bailey Rae, Grinderman, Lissie, James Yuill, Gil Scott-Heron, Gypo Buggane, plus Springsteen’s remastered Darkness boxset and the private one-copy-only compilation album Songs In The Jim Of Bob that everyone made for Jim Bob’s birthday, which was incredible.

Songs (not on albums listed above)

1. Tom Williams & The Boat – ‘In Love’
2. Caribou – ‘Odessa’
3. Isy Suttie – ‘Pearl and Dave’
4. Kate Nash – ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt’
5. Kanye West ft. Pusha T – ‘Runaway’
6. Frank Turner – ‘I Still Believe’
7. Robyn – ‘Hang With Me’
8. Tinie Tempah – ‘Pass Out’
9. New Pornographers – ‘Your Hands (Together)’
10. Eminem/Rihanna – ‘Love The Way You Lie’

Also nods to: I Am Arrows, Mavis Staples, Anna Madeleine, Robyn again for ‘Dancing On My Own’, LCD Soundsystem, Tim Minchin, Emily Barker, The Fall, The Hold Steady, Warpaint and She Makes War.

Special props here to Jon Boden’s Folk Song A Day project, where he’s released a new recording of a traditional song every single day since June. Without picking one out, the average standard is phenomenal. He’s basically on a one-man crusade to broaden people’s understanding of ‘folk’, which is important.

Books (not necessarily first published this year)

1. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
2. Jim Bob – Storage Stories
3. Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn – The Walking Dead books 1-8
4. Various – Dark Mountain volume #1
5. Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate
6. Paul Auster – Invisible
7. going back through the collected works of Geoff Dyer
8. Stephen Fry – Fry Chronicle
9. China Miéville – Iron Council
10. Malcolm Gladwell – What The Dog Saw and other adventures


My favourite film by far was Inception which I saw twice at the cinema (which I almost never do). I also got a lot from American: The Bill Hicks Story and Four Lions. But I simply didn’t see enough of the big films out this year to make a list. After even just those three, I’m struggling to name anything.


1. The Walking Dead
2. Tremé
3. The Trip
4. Miranda
5. Daily Show
6. How Earth Made Us
7. Sherlock (episode 1)
8. Wonders Of The Solar System
9. Caprica
10. Have I Got News For You

Gigs (watched)

My lamest year of gig-going for a decade; not for quality but for the few shows I actually attended. Properly gutted about this looking back – a wasted year. I have 10+ potentially great shows still listed in my diary from the past 12 months, where I just stayed home, or had something else to do that wasn’t worth the effort. 2011 will be about showing up… Meanwhile 2010’s best were:

1. Midwinter Picnic 2 at Brighton West Hill Hall (Dry The River, Singing Adams’ debut, Thirty Pounds, Tom White, Ben Marwood, Lianne Hall, many others)
2. Fonda 500, David Ford and Ingie with a live samba band at Mannifest 2010
3. Kathryn Williams at Queen Elizabeth Hall
4. Jim Bob + Isy Suttie at The Garage
5. Ultrasound at The Lexington
6. nine-hour ‘gong pooja’ at Florence House, Seaford, apart from the post-gong silence spoiled by snoring hippies
7. 65DaysOfStatic at Two Thousand Trees festival
8. Robyn Hitchcock at Brighton Komedia
9. Motel and others at Andrew Rayner’s 40th birthday party
10. Fever Fever, Something Beginning With L, Local Girls, Lily Rae at Brixton Windmill

Gigs (played) – rated according to my experience, not (particularly) whether I was any good (though of course that does have an effect). I don’t think my ‘best’ performance is in this list. So hard to tell, anyway.

1. Dartington College – playing an immense Steinway
2. Two Thousand Trees Festival
3. Several gigs on the Love Is Not Rescue tour, especially Newcastle, Bristol, Winchester, Glasgow, Cotherstone, Brighton, London. Memorable in the best way.
4. Hoodrats at SXSC Festival in Winchester
5. Marcus Brigstocke’s Greens benefit at Brighton Theatre Royal
6. Dublin with Frank Turner (Belfast was pretty class too)
7. Hoodrats at Lexapalooza where the music rescued an awful day*
8. Spoonhenge in Mr Spoons’ back garden with Mick Thomas
9. Uncivilisation Festival – for head-fuck conversations as much as anything
10. Bury Fringe Festival with Jim Bob
* sorry, clumsy phrasing: not Lexapalooza itself, which is always lush. I meant I had a stressful day elsewhere and missed 95% of the festival.

Visual Art

1. my Henry Moore walk
2. Brian Eno – 77 Million Paintings at Fabrica / Speaker Sound Flower Installation at Marlborough House
3. David Nash at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
4. Surreal Friends at Pallant House, Chichester
5. Decode at the V&A

Words, not music

1. Fiona Shaw  – ‘The Waste Land’ at Wilton’s Music Hall
2. Neil MacGregor – A History Of The World In 100 Objects (Radio 4)
3. Collings & Herrin Podcast
4. Just A Minute (Radio 4)
5. Private Eye
6. Johann Hari’s columns
7. Pecha Kucha on ‘The Nature Of Reality’ at Fabrica, Brighton Festival
8. Chimene Suleyman at War In The Park
9. Now Show into Any Questions on Saturday (Radio 4)
10. Vinay Gupta and Dougald Hine across social media

Why I wear a white poppy.

I wear a white poppy for Remembrance Week for this reason: I want to use this time to remember and think about all those whose lives have been blighted by war, just like others do. But I do not support the Royal British Legion. Instead I prefer a sister symbol that is equally as meaningful and as historically and ideologically valid, with the same underlying intention.

The white poppy has been around since 1933 and grew as a symbol of remembrance alongside – rather than later than – the red poppy. Crucially, the white poppy is an alternative to – not in opposition to – the red poppy. It is not a political symbol, certainly not a combative symbol of ‘the left’ but a quiet, traditional pacifist one. Pacifism is a non-threatening minority belief, often faith-led (such as with the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers – from whom I learnt the history and significance of the white poppy).

That the red poppy has become so culturally ubiquitous makes no difference: I’m not being grandstanding or oppositional. I accept it is a non-conformist choice but I do not accept that anyone has an inalienable right to take offence at my different choice of symbol. And most importantly I do not want to just ignore this important week and wear nothing at all.

By the way, I don’t ‘oppose’ the RBL and I’m not making any criticism of that charitable organisation in this blog, however it is perfectly reasonable to choose not to support one particular charity. Most prefer the red poppy. That’s of course fine – and I agree that I too prefer to see people wearing a red poppy than nothing at all this week (although I’d never actually attack someone for not wearing a symbol, that would be ludicrous). But please do not be fooled by the current immense dominance of the RBL’s red poppy, into thinking that the other is somehow a lesser response, or that somehow one charity has ownership of the very concept of honouring those affected by war: it is simply not true. In truth, they grew together as they grow together in the ground and white and red poppies are different slants on the same desire to honour the fallen.

I honestly didn’t want to soapbox and I’m also aware that I’m the wrong person to write about it really, since I have such strident, politicised shouty opinions about other subjects; it ought to be someone else. I wish this was Judi Dench’s blog! Obviously, like most, I had family members who fought in the World Wars, though I shouldn’t have to mention this, to make it personal.

But this year I’ve read and experienced more aggressive opposition to the white poppy than in several years wearing one. And today I feel I must write something: the unpleasant straw that broke the camel’s back was this ignorant – non-explanatory yet idiotically, almost psychotically bullying – blog entry by The Telegraph‘s Damian Thompson, who asks that people actually make rude gestures towards those of us who’ve opted for the white poppy – or worse! I do think The Telegraph should be ashamed of such a malignant stance: to encourage assaulting someone for wearing a symbol of their belief is not only an act of cowardice but it’s an attack on exactly what previous generations fought to preserve. Mr Thompson, my experience of white poppy wearers is not of young, ranty or political hippie/lefty types at all: it is primarily of elderly (often with direct experience of war) Quakers. These are quietly some of the bravest, most stalwart and humble people we have in Britain. Furthermore their collective non-conformist, progressive thoughtfulness through our history has made great strides for our stumbling civilisation. If you doubt this, ask a descendent of slaves, or the grandchild of someone from the Friends Ambulance Unit, pacifist Quakers who went unarmed across the front lines of World War One to rescue the injured and reclaim the bodies.

If you truly can’t get over the appearance of the (occasional) white poppy in amongst the sea of red then, at least before sticking two fingers up at an ageing conscientious objector, or debasing your public forum with rude nonsense, please ask yourself this: what would you have us do? Would you prefer we wear no symbol of remembrance at all?

Brighton Council uses public money to bully councillor

I was about to blog about something fun when this came up.

A few weeks ago a local councillor down here in Brighton was suspended from Brighton & Hove Council. What he’d ‘done wrong’ was this: the council runs a live video feed of council meetings online, so you can watch what’s going on; see who is throwing the biscuits. Green Party councillor Jason Kitcat had gone back through the previously aired footage and put up on YouTube a couple of short bits that were relevent to something he was writing about.

Tory councillor Ted Kemble made a complaint about this and Clr. Kitcat was suspended. I didn’t even know that was possible – since he’s an elected councillor – but it is.

Anyway I knew Clr. Kitcat had got suspended but I’d assumed that because it was a while ago, he’d gone back by now, maybe resumed his seat with a slap on the wrist or something. But it turns out the opposite is true: Conservative councillors are taking legal action against him. And they are using public money to fund a private legal counsel INSTEAD of using the freely available Council Solicitor.  Quite apart from how trivial the supposed offence was, as well as how it stinks of at the least politicking and at worst bullying of Clr. Kitcat, this is OUR MONEY. And there ISN’T MUCH TO GO AROUND right now.

Here’s the email I just wrote them. If you’re in Brighton or Hove, maybe write one of your own, or phone them or go see them? The details you need are:

Ted Kemble (Con)
phone: 01273 291166
surgery: Fourth Saturday of each month 9.30am
Hove and Portslade Conservative Association, 66A Boundary Road, Hove

Mary Mears (Con, leader of the council)
phone: 01273 294370
surgery: Third Tuesday of each month 6pm
Round Room, Whiteway Centre, Whiteway Lane, Rottingdean

Clr. Kemble, I hope you are well.

Why are you using public money to fund your legal pursuit of Clr. Kitcat?
Is it true that you are spending our money on a private counsel when you could use a Council solicitor?
If so, why?
This is a despicable waste of our money at a time when we can ill afford it. Regardless of whether your pursuit of Mr Kitcat has any basis or not, it is an utterly trivial issue that should have been sorted out with one polite conversation. It is both childish and irresponsible to be behaving this way – you do not deserve to represent us.
Mr Kemble and Ms Mears, are you politicking bullies, or honourable stewards? Because right now our city – like everywhere in the UK – needs the latter and the former should GET OUT of public office. You are here to serve us, not spend our money on schoolboy vendettas.
Learn to disagree responsibly.
I look forward to your response and possibly meeting in the future to discuss this matter further.

A proposal for community ownership of Twitter

I think Twitter is very important; the most important web-based communication tool yet developed. I don’t need to tell you (whether you use it or not) that it has had a profound effect around the world, created an accessible, robust new route for contact and real-time search. We’re only beginning to learn the benefits it could bring.

I just realised we should somehow liberate the Twitter team from the profit-motive. They’re embedded in a world that their innovation deserves to be allowed to transcend. And I think we could do this by looking at the idea of community ownership… yeah I know, no chance. But dudes! Let’s ‘buy’ Twitter for ourselves and thus protect it from profit-oriented future developments that will otherwise – I’m certain – ruin this beautiful innovation. Here’s the idea:

1. Why?

Because it is too important not to. Twitter as it is now is damn near perfect. It’s a beautifully constructed, elegant yet powerful process for communication. It has already – and can further – change the world. It is also futureproof – so simple and universal, it can continue to work with whatever devices and protocols we will develop in the next few years. According to leaked documents the Twitter team expect to have a billion users by 2013. That seems quite possible, given its rate of growth compared to other social networks. But also, regardless of speed of growth, Twitter provides massive access and a unique new way to speak out and be heard when needed.

Here are some accounts of Twitter usage beyond the trivial. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of tweets are still trivial: it is the tool itself that is game-changing, not current bulk usage of it.

The problem is that, already and from now on, each new alteration or development added to Twitter is actually negative for us users. This is because they (fairly urgently) need to make it pay. It’s no big secret, in fact it has become quite a famous dilemma for the team behind Twitter, that they’re working hard to monetize their invention. According to Wikipedia (using the top end of their estimates) to date the team has received approximately $62million from venture capitalists in three rounds of funding – and of course venture capitalists only ever give out money with the expectation of making money back. Examples of negative developments are already with us: the useless ‘Who to follow’ box and irritating ‘promoted’ trending topics are the sort of trick we will increasingly see. I’m not a web stick-in-the-mud but it’s clear that any future development with money-making in mind can only be detrimental to the system. And it is crucial that Twitter doesn’t follow the curve of so many web-based innovations ankle-chained to profit. When was the last time you checked your Myspace? Worse, if they don’t figure out a clever solution they’ll be forced to charge us all rent that locks out the poorest, turns a wondrous free service into a minority paid-for service and generally seals the slow death of the system.

Perhaps there is still room for innovation but the best innovation for Twitter was always crowd-sourced anyway. If you’re a recent user of Twitter, you may not know that the RT (retweet) protocol wasn’t developed by the team, it was an organic invention by users, eventually becoming so popular that Twitter created the ‘RT button’ in response. If ‘we’ own Twitter, then any decision to alter the system, even in small ways, will go through this organic succeed-or-fail development process. Or, if proposed from source, we could democratise decision making.

So to me the benefits seem extraordinary and, even though achieving community ownership is an enormous challenge, Jack, Biz and Evan have created something that deserves to be shared with everyone. This is why we should look at ‘the world’ buying it from the developers and preserving Twitter in the near-perfect state it is now. Remove the profit-motive and give the whole world a perfect tool.

2. How?

Quite apart from the thousands of communes, co-operatives and land-rights victories around the world, there are some ace precedents for community-oriented or altruistic behaviour in tech. Early in the 20th century sci-fi giant Arthur C. Clarke postulated geo-stationary orbits for satellites before anyone else and he gave it away, which stopped any individual nation or corporation gaining from this extraordinarily powerful ‘secret’.* We all know Tim Berners Lee was similarly altruistic when he came up with the World Wide Web. Even the US military deserves thanks when we use SatNav, as they effectively donate GPS to the world. So.

Option 1 is users collaborate as individuals to buy Twitter, build a global online tool to fundraise and propagate the project, use persuasion and publicity to get the team to abandon profit and sell to ‘the world’. They pay back the venture capital suits, take probably very large personal pay-offs and get to decide whether they want to stay on as stewards, or just wander into the sunset with our money and gratitude driving them forwards to their next big idea.

Option 2 is we get a huge organisation that represents the interests of billions of people around the world to buy it for us and hold it in trust, yet not interfere in the running of it in any way. They do this because they realise Twitter’s immense empowering and connecting qualities. They do this because they should’ve done it decades ago with mobile phone technology but didn’t because they didn’t have the guts. The UN maybe.

Option 3  is a bunch of nice governments who believe in freedom and democracy and all things chewy get together and set up a collaborative organisation to buy Twitter for the world, chipping in what they feel they should. Like space exploration projects or something. Slightly worrying on the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘complete independence’ fronts but still, a worthwhile option 3.

Option 4 is a combo of options 1, 2 and 3. My favourite version would be; we buy it, then the UN out of the kindness of its heart chips in enough to guarantee running costs forever. They can make exponential predictions about growth in the mid-term and provide the capacity for potentially every single person in the world to be hooked up.

How much should Twitter ‘cost’? The problem with profit-oriented tools is they’re valued using estimations of their future profitability rather than what they’ve cost so far. Obviously, if we’re buying something for the world, we’re not going to pay astronomical imagined profits, we should just pay back the venture stakes and then pay the original developers a big chunk of money to thank them. After that we have plain running costs. So this is a big stumbling block and it’s a totally imagined one, resting on the greed of the owners – yet they can get more money than they’ll ever need without being greedy. Perhaps the sale should be forced, or at least ton of moral pressure could be brought in. Access to Twitter and maintaining it as it is now – is it more important than the ‘rights’ of the ‘owners’? Too much? Certainly if they’d owned the last cottage on a new railway line route, or they’d lived on the Chagos Islands when the Brits decided to lease them to the US for an airbase, they would’ve got short shrift for their ‘rights’ as owners…

(by the way, arguments that collectivising like that kills innovation are gibberish: they get lifelong global reputation, a retirement fund in the millions and the world’s gratitude for incredible altruism. And to move onto something else. Who wouldn’t want that?)

Even rounding up costs (venture capital) so far to $100million, which is a lot more than the team has received so far in funding, well, there are currently well over 100 million users, posting over 65 million tweets every single day. So we somehow organise and get the owners to sell at cost (plus the very generous individual payoffs and agreements whereby they could still remain in place as caretakers as long as they wished) tomorrow morning and it costs us each a one-off payment of less than $1. Aiming to keep this separate from the idea of ‘charging for use’, we set up an online donation model around the bid, so that richer users can ‘fund’ the rest of us if they so chose, taking the Wikipedia route. Many other community-oriented systems run successfully on donations.

Alternatively, accept a one-off price at first sign-up and then a very, very low annual subscription. I’m not even talking about the kind of subscription someone would need to make a profit, purely something that covers strict running costs. And because it’s low, people could pay a decade in advance. This sort of figure would be far closer to web domain name prices than, say, television licences. Would you pay £20 a month for Twitter? Fuck off. But would you pay £1 per year – or £10 for guaranteed use for the next 15 years? Of course you would.

Anyway, that’s the idea. Twitter themselves know they need to own the best innovation around themselves. They looked around at the apps independent developers were releasing to run Twitter on iPhones and when they found the best one, they bought it and made it the ‘official’ Twitter app. This is what the world should do to them.

* bit of a distraction but there’s another wondrous Arthur C. Clarke innovation out there in the PD waiting for science to catch up as well, which one day our great great grandchildren may be hugely grateful nobody can copyright: the concept of an elevator running from ground level to orbit using microfibres. His idea works and it could revolutionise transport of people and goods into space. It’s just waiting for tech to catch up.

Unexpectedly, I’ve written to the PM. Ah well.

Mr Cameron,

Where do you get off lecturing people about feelings of sympathy, towards a murderer or not? Poorly expressed or not? Where on earth did you dig up the moral right as Prime Minister to condemn instinctive human kindness towards anyone? Worse, what gives you the right to use a human tragedy, such as these brutal shootings and then the suicide of Raoul Moat, to further your own political leanings by attacking a social networking site while ignoring the far greater sins of the mainstream press reporting of the same incident? You perpetuate a moral myth that is in fact itself deeply immoral?

Party politics aside, this outburst is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard from someone in a position of responsibility in our country. Now you are ‘contacting Facebook’ because you’re ‘concerned’ about online groups people have set up. Yet you have made absolutely no parallel comment on the way the mainstream media handled the coverage of Moat, when those few corporations were in a position of hugely greater privilege and power when commenting on events. Those few corporations whose owners you consort with, giving preferential treatment and access that no normal people could ever hope for.

The media both aggrandised and mythologised Moat to the public, while at the same time aggravating him personally behind the scenes and contributing to his state of mind at the point where he decided to kill himself. The same British press gave almost no comparable space or human dimension in their coverage to the victims.

No, none of that – especially none of the appalling voyeuristic, bullying, community invading coverage from Sky or The Sun, for example, owned by a man you’re still desperate to keep on-side – was worthy of a word of criticism. If any body encouraged normal British people to feel empathy for Moat and disdain for the Police, or the victims, or the local community who bore the brunt of this tragedy, it was that very media.

Nor was it worth your opprobrium when one paper decided to use an image of Moat in drag after his death, to make him seem more ‘alien’ or ‘twisted’. The homophobic undertones were clear; despite many thuggish or bullish looking photos of him available, the one chosen for the front cover involved eye-shadow.

While I don’t condone for a second those who’ve overlooked the tragedy of the victims in their expressions of sympathy for Moat, you know full well that in fact they were a tiny minority compared to millions of good people who expressed sympathy and empathy for everyone involved. You also know full well that people joining those groups were only responding to the story as it had been presented to them.

Of course the victims deserve attention and sympathy first and foremost. But I repeat, it was your chums in the mainstream media who locked them out of the public’s mind, who created the sense of empathy with Moat himself. Facebook did not do this. And even those online groups you’re pretending to be so offended by would never have gone beyond the social networking site without the intervention of the mainstream media: by its very nature a Facebook group only spreads by word-of-mouth organically and will only be joined by people who want to – nobody is paying for advertising.

Mr Cameron, your comments in the House of Commons (our House of Commons) this week were reprehensible for two reasons:

First, you used this tragedy to perpetuate an agenda, with a pretense of outrage.

Secondly, you made an argument against human sympathy that nobody should ever make. And this is the most important point of all. Because yes Mr Cameron, Raoul Moat DOES deserve sympathy, from all with spare to give. Sympathy is not only for the innocent, you fool. Sympathy is for all. You claim him to be entirely callous, yet he took his own life at the end. Nobody commits suicide from a position of cold callousness. Further, audio recordings from when he was in prison make it clear that Moat himself was concerned while in prison about how he might behave when released and requested professional counselling.

To make such an appalling, regressive statement in the House of Commons was utterly shameful. It was an shoddy way to treat all the people involved.


Chris T-T, Brighton