Peak Podcast and the Purpose of Online Publishing

Quiet Mics Live On Air
‘On air’ lamp in a studio at BBC New Broadcasting House

Much hilarity on social media about this New York Times article about an aspiring writer who set up a lacklustre podcast.

Each week, the friends, neither of whom had professional experience dispensing advice, met in a free room at the local library and recorded themselves chatting with an iPhone 5.  “We assumed we’d be huge, have affiliate marketing deals and advertisements,” Ms. Mandriota said.

We’ve hit ‘peak podcast,’ apparently and everyone is getting in on the podcasting game – especially anyone who wants to be considered an ‘expert’ in some field or other. Continue reading “Peak Podcast and the Purpose of Online Publishing”

Online Harms: A Few Times When The Algorithms Chilled Freedom of Expression

'Lot and his Daughters' by Oeter Paul Rubens

The consultation to the British government’s Online Harms White Paper closed this week. English PEN and Scottish PEN made a submission, arguing that the government rethink its approach.

The government proposal is that a new ‘duty of care’ is placed upon online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to protect their users. If they expose users to harmful content—ranging from terrorist propaganda and child porn, to hazily defined problems like ‘trolling’ — then a new regulator could sanction them.

This sounds sensible, but it presents a problem for freedom of expression. If the online platforms are threatened with large fines, and their senior management are held personally responsible for the ‘duty of care’ then it’s likely that the online platforms will take a precautionary approach to content moderation. Whenever in doubt, whenever it’s borderline, whenever there is a grey area… the platforms will find it expeditious to remove whatever has been posted. When that happens, it is unlikely that the platforms will offer much of an appeals process, and certainly not one that abides by international free speech standards. A situation will arise where perfectly legal content cannot be posted online. A two tier system for speech. Continue reading “Online Harms: A Few Times When The Algorithms Chilled Freedom of Expression”

On Milkshaking

The recent EU parliamentary election campaign saw the birth of a particular form of political expression: milkshaking.

The practice began when a man in Leeds, irate at having to talk to UKIP candidate and race-baiter Tommy Robinson, threw milkshake over him.

Other people started throwing milkshakes at other right wing candidates. Nigel Farage refused to disembark his campaign bus in one location, having been ‘milkshaked’ at a previous stop.

The phenomenon prompted a wave of political discussion, hot-takes ans hang-wringing. Was it akin to ‘punching a Nazi’ or other types of political violence? Or was it in the tradition of that time-honoured tradition of throwing eggs at politicians? Continue reading “On Milkshaking”

Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea

Why don’t monkeys evolve into humans any more?

Because: they never did. We primates all had a common ancestor. And that species evolved into Homo sapiens and others of that genus, as well as, separately, into Pongo pygmaeus and the other great apes.

Monkeys do not become humans because the leap across the branches of the tree of life are too great. Their chance to be something different to what they are came and went a long time ago. Circumstance and geography made monkeys, monkeys and humans, humans.

Why can’t the U.K. be like Switzerland? Or Norway? Or New Zealand? Or Singapore? Or any other country that flourishes outside the European Union?

Because: each of these countries evolved into their current state, just as the U.K. evolved into ours. Continue reading “Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea”

Citizens of Nowhere: A revisionist history

Yesterday, while blogging about the resignation of Theresa May, I mentioned her infamous ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2016.

At the time, those words were seen as a clear attack on the pro-European, pro-EU, ‘Remain’ cosmopolitanism that many people were expressing after the referendum shock. Mrs May, it was judged, had taken a side in the culture war, and allying herself with a narrow nationalism.

Three years later, that phrase has become a damning shorthand for Theresa May’s hostility to migrants.

While writing my earlier blog post, I read the speech. And actually, the context of her ‘citizens of nowhere’ line is the culmination of an attack on… millionaire tax dodgers. Continue reading “Citizens of Nowhere: A revisionist history”

Too Little Empathy, Way Too Late

Not much on the blog recently. I disappoint myself. When I started this site nearly fifteen years ago, the narcissist in me expected it would become a chronicle of my times, and any given historical event would have a corresponding blog post in the archives. In reality it’s far more hodge-podge, and I find I’ve written very little about the most turbulent political era of British politics that I can remember.

There were EU elections yesterday, yet I posted not a word about the campaigns or who I would be voting for. I suppose that’s a symptom of the political mess that we are in: that so many people are baffled and dismayed by the state of politics that they become demotivated. I could have been out there campaigning for someone, but instead these past weeks have been a retreat into exercise and Game of Thrones.

I suppose I should make a few notes on the resignation of Theresa May. It just happened, and I have a few thoughts I might as well publish. Continue reading “Too Little Empathy, Way Too Late”

Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery

Oh dear. The Saachti Gallery has covered up some paintings after complaints that they are blasphemous.

The gallery, founded by the advertising magnate Charles Saatchi, rejected calls from some visitors to remove the paintings, arguing it was up to visitors to come to their own conclusions on the meaning of the art. However, in response to the complaints, SKU suggested as a compromise the works should remain on the gallery wall but be covered up with sheets.

“It seemed a respectful solution that enables a debate about freedom of expression versus the perceived right not to be offended,” he said in a statement to the Sunday Times.

I’ll tell you what’s offensive — capitulating to censorious complaints, and then trying to dampen the impact of your decision by saying that it ‘enables a debate about freedom of expression.’ Continue reading “Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery”

‘People’s Vote’ and ‘Revoke Article 50’ have no place in Parliament’s Indicative Vote Process

Yesterday, the British Parliament once again ‘took back control’ of the Brexit process from our hapless government. MPs held another round of indicative votes on what Brexit policy might possibly secure a majority in the House of Commons. Once again a set of motions were tabled, and once again our representatives set about voting Aye or No to those selected.

Yet again, no motion secured a majority.

Other people have commented on how a series of binary votes is probably not the best method for weighing up many competing options. It prompts people to abstain or stick to only their preferred option, in the hopes of hanging-in-there, becoming the last idea standing. A ‘single transferable vote’ option, where MPs rank the proposals in order of preference, would be better.

But I’m not here for that. Instead, I want to say this: The ‘People’s Vote’ proposal (put forward by Peter Kyle MP) and the ‘Revoke Article 50’ proposal (tabled by Joanna Cherry MP) should have had no place in the ‘indicative vote’ process.

Why? Well, for two reasons. First, MPs are still considering how we might leave. What they need to show (to the European Union, to the government, to their colleagues, and to us) is what could plausibly be written into the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, setting out what we hope the end state relationship with the EU will be.

Neither #PeoplesVote or #Revoke are about leaving the EU.

Instead, they are about process. The People’s Vote idea is compatible with any of the proposals for leaving the EU. It could be a requirement of Theresa May’s thrice rejected deal, Ken Clarke’s Customs Union, Nick Boles’ Commons Market 2.0, or George Eustice’s EFTA/EEA (which wasn’t voted on again last night).

Meanwhile, Joanna Cherry’s proposal is nothing at all to do with the Political Declaration. It is a sensible insurance policy against No Deal Brexit, saying that if we are in danger of crashing out of the EU then we either approve No Deal, or Revoke Article 50.

So while I think a People’s Vote and the Insurance Policy are both desirable, it makes no sense to consider them as options alongside proposals about markets, customs and trade. I actually think that the prospects for both proposals have been damaged by being mis-categorised in this way.

Beyond Beginners Rubik’s Cube Tutorials

I think I’ve mentioned before that I recently taught myself to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I often take my cube onto the bus or train and solve it, as an alternative to messing about on my phone.

The beginners’ method of solving the cube is quite inefficient. It teaches seven algorithms, which sometimes have to be repeated until the right pattern emerges.

There are loads of internet resources for people who want to get into speed-cubing. But I have found very little for people like me who just want to be slightly more efficient at solving the cube.

It is for this incredibly specific niche that I have launched a series of YouTube video tutorials entitled Beyond Beginners. They’re a bit cheesy but I had fun making them. Continue reading “Beyond Beginners Rubik’s Cube Tutorials”