Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for August, 2009


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The internet is such a staggeringly useful tool that it’s sometimes easy to forget those dark corners of the web that act as forces for hatred, misinformation, fear and rank stupidity.

These corners even exist on middle-of-the-road, popular websites like Facebook, Twitter and especially Youtube. Presumably somewhere there’s an Idiotic Guide to Social Media.

Love the NHS

Youtube is perhaps the most frustrating, as it’s been the most readily-adopted public platform for disseminating lies and propaganda in a form that’s easy to share and most suitable for manipulating viewers.

This brings me to the current healthcare legislation Barack Obama is trying to get through Congress, and the US right’s take on it. Predictably there’s a depressingly lunatic reaction the Obama’s maniacal plans to ensure Americans have improved access to healthcare and preventative medicine.

Whether it’s Palin accusing Obama over his death panels; the claim that Edward Kennedy would have been left to die under Obama’s plans; the muddles claim that the British Stephen Hawking would have been left to die in a gutter if he’d been dependent on the NHS; or the hysteria over the idea that the NHS places a value of around £14,000 on human life, the US has reacted rabidly to the idea of ‘socialised health care’.

This is the sort of deliberately misleading stuff that keeps so many Americans in a state of perpetual fear and ignorance, which in itself is behind such unreasoning hatred.

It’s so utterly barmy it doesn’t really deserve a proper rebuttal, but the anger of UK Twitterers has spilled over into a show of solidarity under the hashtag #welovethenhs, briefly hitting the top of the trending tree.

Where the UK diplomatic corps has adopted a softly-softly approach to tackling the nonsense coming out of US insurance company lobby groups and lunatic right-wingers, UK Twitter users have come out fighting in a reasonable but firm set of rebuttals that have often touched on the personal experiences of the Twitterati.

And the press has come to the party too, even the right-wing press are intent on countering the mistruths with some cool-headed analysis, though the Mail and its readers seem confused about whether they’d rather defend the British Isles or attack the great bastion of the great unwashed.

So bravo the media, and bravo social media, Twitter in particular. Will it shed any light in the darkness? I doubt it, but sometimes it’s nice, indeed vital, to be reminded that sometimes the better elements of the web win out.

• You can NHS-ise your Twitter avatar at Twibbon

• EDIT: And now Gord has joined in.

Written by Robin Brown

August 12th, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Media,The web,Twitter

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Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

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For anyone unaware, Radiohead have released a new single called Harry Patch (In Memory Of). Patch, the last remaining British soldier from WWI, died recently at the age of 111.

Rather uniquely for a new single, and for Radio 4, the new song received its first public airing on the BBC radio station this week on the Today programme.

It’s a remarkable, melancholy, eerie and oddly redemptive listen, but the radio interview with Patch – Thom Yorke’s inspiration for the lyrics – are important to hear too.

Delivered in a wheezing whisper, Patch’s distaste for the Great War, and the concept of war itself, are evident.

Having survived Passchendaele, where so many of his friends died, for 80 years Patch did not talk about his experiences, nor did he watch war films.

Only when he realised that the number of Tommies was declining did he speak of his experiences, and he was withering of any notions of glory.

Like some sort of mage from the distant past, Patch’s hoarse prediction of the next war is chilling and affecting.

His is the voice of a man who has seen history play itself out twice before, and grimly, wearily, expects it to happen again.

“They never learn,” he whispers. “The Third World War will be chemical. I don’t want to see it.”

It’s easy to see why Yorke was so affected by the interview. He uses portions of the text from the 2005 segment with Patch verbatim in the music. And it’s easy to see why Yorke thought Patch’s passing worthy of note.

Harry Patch’s words on the utter futility and horror of war are a warning from the past, the like of which we will never hear again. The words of a man recalling one of the most monumental and devastating events in human history – from almost 100 years ago.

It seems impossible, and possibly wrong, to even try to critique the music in light of its subject matter, and wider significance. Fittingly it’s understated, soft and subtle. Patch’s words speak for themselves and Johnny Greenwood’s orchestral score elegiac.

I can’t really explain how affected I’ve been by the music, and by the interview with Patch. I only hope they make other people feel the same way, or I fear Patch’s words will be lost amid the ceremony and noise of a state funeral and accompanying bluster.

“People…the younger generation, can’t image what it’s like. You can’t describe it.”

• All proceeds from the Radiohead track go to the British Legion. It’s a quid well spent. Download here.

Written by Robin Brown

August 6th, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Music,People

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Who is behind Twitter denial-of-service attack?

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With Twitter down, and the world wondering what the fuck to do now, attention has turned to who is behind the denial-of-service attack that has put Twitter out for the count.

Malware companies and irritated governments such as China and Iran were immediately fingered.

China is believed to have form with digital espionage, being a committed opponent of the interweb and its various nodes, while Iran has recently been the focus of tens of thousands of Twitterers putting the government under serious pressure by turning their avatars green.

Various Russian crime gangs will no doubt come under scrutiny, as will various media pantomime figures such as Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Fred Goodwin, Rupert Murdoch, Preston from the Ordinary Boys and a 67-year-old woman planning to have her first child.

But few are pointing to the real likely culprit – a spotty 15-year-old in Bulgaria.

ITV must be kicking itself on the day it sold its hopelessly outmoded Friends Reunited site for a fraction of what it paid. With Twitter down, the other social network sites probably experienced a minor resurgence as social media evangelists hit the web to, er, report that Twitter was down.

Anyway, The Register quotes an expert, Graham Cluley, a security consultant at Sophos.

“All those Twitter addicts will be doing something more useful instead,” Cluley quipped.

Some hope, they’re all searching the internet for more news or writing blogs about it.

• A genuine point. Any widgets on blogs that display a feed from Twitter are liable to break your site completely while it’s down. Best to check, and deactivate that widget if so.

Written by Robin Brown

August 6th, 2009 at 3:36 pm