It’s not F**king phone hacking!

Terry, being the self-respecting geek that he is, has a slew of black t-shirts with amusing and/or controversial slogans on them. One of my favourites is one which reads “It’s not F**king phone hacking!” Speedily produced after the ‘phone hacking’ scandal really hit the consciousness of the general public, this t-shirt seeks to highlight an important point in a humorous way. When most people think of the term ‘phone hacking’ what they are generally remembering is the scandal relating to the hacking of voicemails, belonging to celebrities, crime victims and their relatives, and a few notable others. From a technical point of view this was not phone hacking. Phone hacking would refer to hacking the hardware or software of the actual phone, not hacking into the network which provided the voicemail service.

From the perspective of someone directly affected this may seem like a trivial distinction, and I can understand someone finding this slogan quite offensive. After all, upon discovering that your privacy has been systematically violated, not going into the myriad other consequences of this most repugnant of journalism practices, seeing someone latch onto such a technical detail may well feel like a slap in the face. You have been victimised, but some smart-arse thinks that pedantically harping on about whether the terminology is correct is more important. If this is the case then you truly have my sympathies.

So someone suffering from the direct effects of the hacking may justifiably be unconcerned about what they see as trivialities, at least in the short term. And getting the general population to understand the intricacies of anything can be an exercise in frustration. So what’s the harm if the majority of people are labouring under such a misconception? As I see it the problem is that misconceptions can be rather pernicious. Your Average Joanne might not understand the distinction between hacking hardware and hacking networks, and if you were to explain her mistake she may well not care. But what Average Joanne thinks seems to inform what a lot of politicians think, and then you can get real problems.

In their desperation not to be seen as ‘out of touch’, politicians will frequently refer to popular opinion & public understanding. (Any power-hungry politico worth their salt knows that telling the populous that they are stupid, ill-informed and wrong tends not to win you any friends, or votes.) But what if the politician in question doesn’t have the time, ability or inclination to inform themselves properly on a particular subject? Then those half-formed, over-simplified & under-researched opinions swilling about public conversations (and in the media; promulgated by journalists equally incapable of proper fact-checking – see Churnalism) can easily transfer themselves to the lips of the people who are empowered to do something about it. It becomes sheer luck as to whether the MP standing up in the House of Commons, or in front of the Select Committee or Inquiry, actually understands what she or he is actually saying, and whether that bears any resemblance to reality.

A couple of weeks ago Terry posted about the MP Helen Goodman whose woeful inability to understand really quite basic stuff about the internet should really make everyone quake with fear. Some of the comments he received suggested this was unduly harsh. I disagree. I appreciate not everyone can be an expert about everything, and yes in an ideal world a team of policy wonks with all the relevant information (and good communication skills) would be there to stop hapless MPs destroying the internet due to a technical misunderstanding. But none the less I felt Ms Goodman’s response indicated a fundamental lack of respect for her position, the power she holds, and the duty she has to ensure she is appropriately informed.

People are stupid parts 3 & 4

The following 2 gripes with humanity actually stem from things I’ve seen on Terry’s blog.

The first is the phenomenon of the following reasoning: If I can’t see it, it doesn’t happen.

There are people who, despite appearing to acknowledge the depth and breadth of human experience, are nonetheless happy to declare that a certain phenomenon doesn’t exist unless they’ve encountered it first-hand. I think Terry can relate to this as he spends a lot of internet hours battling with people who insists that no-one scans QR codes. As a matter of fact, lots of people do scan QR codes, and Terry has got a load of statistics on it, but he still gets boorish types insisting that because they, nor any of their friends have ever scanned QR codes, then no one does.

I have my own example. A while ago I went on a truly awful Women’s Career Progression course, which included a woman who was a very active feminist in the 70s speaking about how younger women weren’t politically minded any more. “We used to go on marches and sit in cafés and talk about women’s rights” she said. “No one does that now.” I was already feeling pretty pugnacious at this stage, and so I stuck up my hand and asked “Excuse me, have you not heard of the internet?” She conceded the point with more grace than I’d made it, so credit to her for that, but I was still rather baffled as to how an intelligent educated woman had managed to make the mental leap from ‘I can’t see this happening with my own eyes’ to ‘This doesn’t happen.’

The other thing I have seen recently is that if a group of people fight for a range of issues the easiest to understand and/or most controversial element will be the only thing some people will acknowledge.

Again this is a gripe borrowed from reading Terry’s blog and ensuing comments. Terry is a member of the Open Rights Group, and an outspoken advocate of digital freedom. He writes about the issues surrounding digital control quite a lot. Issues. Plural. As in more than one. Yet someone always seems to make a comment reducing everything ORG does to fighting for the right to illegally download content off the internet.

I don’t know if this is because piracy is somehow easier to grasp, or because it seems like a more contentious topic, but there are plenty of people who hear ‘Digital Rights’ and immediately think this is just about teenagers sharing music over the web.

It must be nice to live in such a simple world. Perhaps everything looks like it is drawn in crayon.

Being a wuss

I’m scared of rollercoasters. I hate the idea of deliberately simulating the sensation of falling/speeding/going upside down. In real life any of these sensations would likely be a sign that something really quite bad was happening, and I have no wish to engender this feeling for fun. Theme parks always look so rickety. And without wishing to cast aspersions on his character, Terry used to work for Thorpe Park and he’s pretty irresponsible at times (I’m sure he wasn’t while he was working, but still.) Plus I saw Final Destination 3.

I’m scared of canteens. They are a veritable minefield of potential social embarrassment. Standing in the wrong queue, not having enough money when you get to the till, and then the high-school nightmare of dropping your tray while the jocks and cheerleaders crowd round you in a circle jeering. I don’t think that has ever happened to me (it may not have ever actually happened to anyone outside American teen movies circa 1992) but the thought that it might brings me out in a cold sweat.

Spiders are a tricky one. I swear I used to be ok with them but after a decade living with Terry I appear to have caught arachnophobia. Although I’m still markedly braver than him, on the occasions when we get uninvited house guests with 8 legs there will be much shrieking and probably a stiff drink afterwards.

But the fear that I think has affected me the most in life is the fear of being told off. I was such a good kid that I was rarely in any real trouble. In fact I was rarely in any kind of trouble. As a child I had praise lavished on me by adults, for being polite, for being dutiful, for being clever or helpful or punctual. It became the norm, so much so that even a mild rebuke was so infrequent that it felt like the worst thing in world. Perhaps if I’d been naughty more often I would have got more used to getting a good old-fashioned bollocking and it wouldn’t feel like my world was ending when it happened. But a large part of me still craves approval and freaks out slightly at any suggestion that I am being censured.

And it is this fear which drives the cowardice to which I have previously alluded. But at least I recognise it now. And with every NaBloPoMo post I’m getting a little bit braver.

Women Bishops

The Church of England has recently voted against allowing females to become bishops, falling just short of the 2/3rd majority needed to overturn the status quo.

As an atheist I’m not overly concerned by this. While I agree with the point made by a friend of mine – that as long as Bishops are invited to sit in the House of Lords and moralise on issues of the day this vote means that voice will be exclusively male – my general inclination is to ignore the internal politicking of an organisation for which I have zero respect anyway. (The issue of this internal politicking affecting the wider society is a separate one.)

But I wasn’t always an atheist. I was bought up CofE, I went to a CofE primary school and continued to attend Sunday Mass when I went to my very non-religious secondary school. This was up until I was about 16 when the church voted against the ordination of gay priests. At least I think that’s what is was. It may have been about one of the other homophobic policies of the Anglican church. I can’t remember and I’m actually very grateful that it’s all fading into the distant past. Anyway, I remember clearly that whatever decision had been made it disgusted me. I had been a very pious child, and had taken religion seriously, but I had also been raised not to be prejudiced against someone because of their sexuality.

I recognised this as a crunch point. I could either abandon the principles of tolerance and fairness, or I could turn my back on the church. I chose the latter with no difficulty whatsoever.

What followed was a 2 year period of transition where I still identified as a Christian but separated from the Church, through a stage of saying I believed in a deity but without the confines of theism, and then rejecting the concept in its entirety. By the time I went to University I was calling myself an atheist. It took a while to sort my ideas out, but once I stopped attending church services it was suddenly a lot easier to think for myself. All the critical faculties which I had deliberately kept away from my faith were free to engage and eventually I concluded that this was all nonsense.

Had things not turned out this way I may have remained a Christian, and would be more qualified to speak to the current issue of the ordination of female bishops. As it is I only have what scraps of church dogma remain in my memory with which to try to fathom this decision. It’s not much to go on, but there is one pertinent piece of scripture I can recall: If your hand or eye or any other part of you causes you to sin, cut it off.

Now the bible has unarguably got some messed-up shit in it. Gang rape, genital mutilation, murder – fun for the whole family. So the above words are perhaps to be taken literally. Perhaps we really are supposed to slice off parts of our bodies if they cause us to sin. Of course this doesn’t pay a whole heap of respect to the idea that the brain is pretty much in control of everything, and human limbs are not usually given to acting of their own accord. But then the bible isn’t known for its compatibility with modern science.

So perhaps this is better understood figuratively for groups of people. If you have an organisation, and an element within that organisation goes off-message and starts doing stuff which is antithetical to the aims of the whole, you should expel that element.

But if that’s the case, how the hell can the cause of ‘Unity’ be cited as a justification for this result? If the church has modernised, as it so often professes to have done, but there are factions within it which want to hang on to the misogynistic values of old – get rid of them. If you truly find what they are saying and doing to be abhorrent, cut them loose and good riddance.

When I was a kid, sometimes I had friends who wanted me to do Bad Things. The advice given from all the grown-ups I knew, quite specifically the religious leaders, was “You don’t need friends like that! If they really are your friends they wouldn’t ask you to do something wrong.”

So to the people who claim to personally be in favour of female bishops but have voted no because the consensus isn’t yet there: who exactly are you friends? You would go against what you believe to retain their approval? Or are you using this as a cover for your own prejudices?

People are stupid part 2

On the occasions I take the bus into work rather than walking, which as the weather gets colder becomes more frequent, I am frustrated by the number of people who will not sit in a vacant seat when the bus is crowded. I assume this stems from the terror that if you take a seat you will be judged if there is anyone who might have had more need of that seat than you. Fair enough, the polite thing to do is to look around and see if there is anyone currently standing who might want the seat more. But if no one claims it, and/or any ‘worthier’ candidates refuse the offer then the sensible and altruistic thing to do is to sit in it yourself. You take up less space sitting in a seat which is empty than standing by it and contributing to the crush of bodies. This includes going upstairs to sit down. On several occasions I have been forced to stand at the front of a bus, unable to move back as far as the stairs for a couple of stops, until I finally squeeze past the stairwell to find the top deck was empty.

Actually this also reminds me of a psychological test done on monkeys. 4 monkeys are out in a cage with a button which delivers food when pressed. They get used to pushing the button and food comes out. After a while the food button is disconnected from the feeder, and connected to a jet of water. The monkeys push the button and get squirted. So they stop pressing the button. Then one monkey gets replaced by a monkey from a different cage, who has learned to associate the button with food. New Monkey goes to push the button, and gets jumped on by the 3 Old Monkeys, preventing him from pressing it. Another monkey gets substituted, the 2nd New Monkey tries the same thing. The 2 Old Monkeys and the 1st New monkey jump on the 2nd New Monkey to stop him from pressing the button. After 2 more substitutions there are no original monkeys left. Then another substitution is made, and another new hungry monkey tries to get food. In the test the other 3 monkeys in the cage, none of whom at this point have experienced the jet of water for themselves, will still prevent the newest monkey from pressing the button. They have no idea what will happen if the button is pressed, they have just learned the behaviour that anyone attempting to press the button is to be stopped.

So each time I manage to get past a crowd of irate Londoners to find that the top deck of the bus has seats I think of the monkeys. I suppose I should be grateful that the typical commuter hasn’t yet resorted to flinging around their own faeces.

Organic Vegtables

I’ve never really been on-board with the whole Organic thing. My understanding was that herbicides, pesticides & fungicides are quite useful for ensuring food reached the retailer without having been eaten or otherwise consumed by another life form, preservatives are handy for stopping food from rotting before it’s eaten, and other additives are good at ensuring the texture and appearance and flavour of food remains as intended. I’ve heard people saying that these additions are terribly bad for you, but I always thought that between them the liver and kidneys of a healthy person are pretty good at filtering out the stuff the human body can’t or isn’t meant to absorb. So I had a little moment of smug satisfaction when a report was published at the start of September claiming there wasn’t actually much evidence that organic food was better for you than non organic.

However I feel a bit hypocritical saying that, since Terry and I recently took another step down the path of becoming an utter parody of the liberal middle-class. We started getting an organic vegetable box delivered.

We were at a local summer fete, which amongst its stalls had a local-ish company who did vegetable boxes. Terry was wildly excited by this, and happily signed up on a 3 for the price of 2 basis to try it out. I was a bit more skeptical, but I had to admit the convenience of having fresh fruit and veg delivered on a weekly basis was quite appealing.

As there are just 2 of us we’d got into the habit of doing an online shop every 3 weeks or so, and the vegetables we bought tended to be chosen on the basis of whether they were on special offer or appeared in our frequently bought list. Even though Terry is a vegetarian, and I am a fairly adventurous cook, we were in a bit of a vegetable rut. It was quite nice to suddenly have different things to cook with.

But after getting a Romanesco Cauliflower for the 3rd time I’ve started remembering how much I disliked Mark Twain’s ‘Cabbage with a college education’ as a kid. I hate wasting food, so I try to find something different to do with it to make it more palatable. But my heart isn’t really in it. For the first time since I was living with my parents I feel I’m being coerced into eating my greens, except that I’m now paying £21.45 a month for the privilege. Since I went to boarding school age 11 I’ve had some measure of autonomy over what I eat almost constantly. I’ve not had a meal I didn’t choose myself, even if from a reasonably limited selection, in nearly 20 years. (Excepting of course going to someone else’s home where my upbringing kicks in and eat what’s put in front of me out of politeness – unless I think it might actually kill me.)

There’s something very grown-up about having a box of Organic Fruit and Vegetables delivered every week. So it feel quite odd that this more than anything else I’ve experienced before makes me feel like an 8 year old again.


A Christian who was demoted in his job for a comment he wrote on Facebook about gay marriage has won a breach of contract action against his employers.

Whilst I personally abhor the sentiments I’m inclined to agree with the ruling in that a person should be able to express their own opinion to their own social circle, and that you shouldn’t be able to demote someone from their job for doing so. As I discussed in one of my very first posts earlier this year, the tension between wanting freedom of speech, and wanting to stop people from saying offensive stuff is complex and perhaps inherently un-resolvable.

But in his statement following the ruling the individual in question asked the following question:

“Does the Prime Minister want to create a society where people like me, people who believe in traditional marriage, are treated as outcasts?”

So that would be as opposed to the society where people are treated as outcasts because they are gay and want to get married? You’re ok with that are you?

One of the things by which I am constantly confounded is the naked hypocrisy of this kind of position. How can someone seriously expect to say that they want to right to infringe the rights of others?

I made this point briefly in a post a couple of weeks ago.

I remember how at primary school when someone had done something bad to someone else the teacher would normally employ the “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” line of questioning, and it was broadly effective. Occasionally you would get a stubborn little twerp who would defiantly say “I’d be ok with it!” as if this was somehow a clever answer and the teacher would say “Oh. Right then. Carry on spitting in Jonny’s hair.” But for the most part this would result in a contrite 7 year old mumbling “I wouldn’t like it Miss” and then whispering their apology without making eye-contact. Granted they probably didn’t mean it, but then my recollection of social dynamics at that age was that if you were a boy you’d be back playing football together in the playground by lunchtime, and if you were a girl you would have changed who your best friend was 19 times by lunchtime and have forgotten who you were meant to hate anyway.

Clearly the chap whose won his case recognises that being an outcast is a Bad Thing, and is aghast at the notion of being outcast from society himself. So does he think that preventing 2 people who love each other, who happen to be of the same sex, from getting married doesn’t constitute being treated as outcasts? Or is he happy that it does constitute being treated as an outcast, but that doesn’t matter because their feelings aren’t worthy of being considered.

Interestingly the comment he’d made on Facebook which sparked the issue in the first place was that marriage between 2 people of the same sex was “an equality too far.” So you can include Gay people a bit, but they have to stay Outcast to some extent. Otherwise I suppose they would be like normal people, and you can’t have that!

I think my husband is an awesome actor

It’s Terry’s birthday today and to celebrate it he’s written a rather personal and painful blog post. When he was a teenager he had a small role in a televised BBC production of Macbeth. His post today recounts how he felt when he saw one of the director’s notes suggesting that Terry’s performance needed work.

I’ve never seen this performance myself so I can’t judge whether this was fair criticism from an industry professional or the half arsed scribbling of a jaded individual who was bored with producing drama destined for the artistic graveyard which is GCSE Bitesize.

However I have seen Terry act a fair amount. We met through the UEA Drama Society and hooked up after Terry persuaded me to audition for the production of Royal Hunt of the Sun, in which he already had a part. The majority of the cast was in place when they had some drop outs. And so they did another round of auditions to get the requisite number of players, during which I and a couple of others were accepted into the cast.

They had been workshopping bits of the play for nearly a month, but without the roles having been cast. So they were a close knit group. They knew the material, they knew each other but they didn’t yet know who would be the star and who would be 4th spear carrier from the left, so there were no egos at play. It was an inspired approach which would contribute to the success of one of the most awesome productions I would ever get to be in.

I was terrified. I was new to the play, new to everyone else, and at this point still in my 1st term of university so pretty new to all that as well. But I needn’t have worried. They were the loveliest most welcoming group you could imagine. And boy could they act! Drama was one of my great passions at school, and I felt that I wasn’t bad as an actress myself. Not fabulous, but I enjoyed inhabiting another character, exploring vocal and physical ways of expression, and as had been most important at school, I learned lines fast and could be relied upon to show up to rehearsal on time. But some of these guys ran rings round me. They had such presence, such commitment to what they were portraying. Chief amongst them – a tall, skinny, long-haired chap called Terry.

When we had first met at a DramaSoc mixer event in my first few weeks at uni I was actually seeing someone else. That relationship was ill-fated from the start, but meant that I was not looking for a boyfriend the first time Terry and I set eyes on each other. By the time I got into the Royal Hunt cast that previous relationship had fizzled out, but I was then going through a spiky phase thinking relationships were dumb and I was going to stay single for a while. So as Terry and I got to know each other during rehersals I wasn’t hoping it would turn into something more. I was just happy I had made a new friend and got to see him regularly as rehearsals went on. This would have been around early December 2000.

I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I wasn’t looking to fall in love and love happily ever after. I wasn’t even thinking about men that way. But Terry was just so admirable, and I think a large portion of that was due to his acting ability. His command of speech and poise on stage was beyond anything I had seen up close before. He breathed the character from his very bones, utterly convincing and defying anyone to look at anyone or anything else.

We hung out a bit after rehearsals and it didn’t take me long to realise that here was someone I could relate to. He was intelligent, kind, funny and he seemed to like me too. By the end of January 2001 Terry and I had become a couple, and have been together ever since. But as anyone who knows me is aware – I don’t belive in soul mates or fate or destiny. Relationships fail or succeed on a number of different factors including blind luck. If Terry hadn’t been such an awesome actor, I might not have been attracted to him right at the start, when the biochemicals of the brain so capriciously latch on to a particular characteristic. So nearly 12 years later and counting I am very happy that he was.

The role of an MP

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m pretty left wing. I have difficulty imagining any scenario where I would vote Tory. I’d be prepared to have an informed debate on issues of political and economic small-c conservatism, such as limits on government oversight and taxation. But the modern day right wing seem inextricably linked to social conservatism: whose allowed to sleep with whom, what women should be allowed to do with their own bodies etc. And I can’t see myself voluntarily endorsing a bid for power from anyone who genuinely doesn’t see a problem with that.

But maybe I’m doing voting wrong. I have a friend who happily voted for his Conservative MP because she had been so useful to him regarding the errant behaviour of a utility company. He had asked for help from the person duly elected to represent him and his fellow constituents, who was tasked with championing their causes and facilitating their engagement in society, and she had come through. Fair enough I thought. My friend had found someone he felt he could trust and faced with a list of names come the next election he decided to put his faith in the safe pair of hands that he already knew.

I don’t see a list of names. I just see the political parties and make my choice based on their national manifestos. I’ve always seen MPs as representatives of their party, not their constituency. I’ve always though that the majority of the time they are told how to vote by the whips. At this point I will freely admit that everything I know about the whip system is from the first series of House of Cards and The Project. So I’m happy to be corrected on this point. But whether or not my grasp of parliamentary democracy is correct the point still stands that I’ve always cast my vote according to the general principles for which the party stands, and how well they have stuck to said principles whilst in either government or opposition. I’ve never really looked at the individuals standing in an election.

But then I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never faced a situation where I felt asking my MP for help was necessary. So I feel sympathetic towards the abandoned souls of Mid Bedfordshire who have been saddled with Nadine Dorries as an MP. And I rather enjoyed listening to her hapless parliamentary assistant getting ripped to shreds on the JVC programme a few days ago. I’d feel sorry for him, but he did sound like a bit of a smarmy git.

Sodding off to spend a month playing silly-buggers in an Australian Jungle on ITV (sorry, raising the profile of issues you really care about – like what other women can do with their own bodies – see above re social conservatism) whilst parliment is in session shows a callous disregard for the responsibilities of being an MP, however you define it. So I’m not complaining that she has been suspended. However I could do with a bit of clarification as to the exact reason behind it. Has she been suspended because she isn’t helping her constituents in Mid-Bedfordshire, or is it because she’s not helping the Conservative’s win votes in the House of Commons?

Over half way!

It’s the 16th of November. No it isn’t, it’s the 12th of November, but I’m writing this in advance and queuing it up to publish on 16th November. So from your point of view, it’s the 16th November. Which means I am over half-way through NaBloPoMo.

So the challenge of NaBloPoMo is to write a blog a day. But I can’t always do that, and WordPress has this handy tool whereby I can write stuff and set it to publish later. That’s not cheating right? That’s acceptable smart time management. I thrash out a few posts when I have time and then go back to real life for a few days. When I started this I had 2 posts pretty much ready to go. It turned out Terry had 16, and a few more half written and abandoned ones from years ago. Was he cheating? Or just way savvier than me?

He seems quite insistent that I am cheating by not tweeting or facebooking each time I post. If I tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? Well, yes, as is obvious to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of physics. But I think his argument is that if I blog without telling anyone, and that blog goes unread by anyone except me, (and him if I asked him to proof it) then this is not in the spirit of NaBloPoMo. So for the latter part of this challenge the training wheels are coming off. I will not only blog, but I will tell people I am doing so. People with eyes and brains and terrifying opinions.

Doing this has been really hard as it is, and I’m still pretty freaked out by the notion of putting my ideas ‘out there’. In the digital world everything is forever. I’ve written some reasonably controversial stuff over the past 2 weeks. What if years down the line my views on personal finance or being pro-choice come back to haunt me? Of course if I had a scrap of integrity and courage I’d stand by them anyway, but I am amongst other things a first-rate coward.

But then again, maybe someone will read what I’ve written and take comfort, inspiration or just entertainment from it, and feel better knowing that someone else has fictional conversations with their non-existent progeny, or thinks making savoury ice cream is perfectly acceptable behaviour.