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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Banksy on Advertising

I saw this earlier today...

People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

- Banksy



Hat-tip Maria Wolters.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Thoughts on the present discontents.

Every so often the balance of power within a polity changes.

In the United Kingdom the ultimate power supposedly lies with the Crown-in-Parliament.

But in history, the strongest power has shifted: at times it has been the established church, or the landed gentry, or the trade unions.

More recently it has been the popular media.


What appears to be happening now is that those entities which were cowered by or checked by the mainstream media are reasserting themselves.

Parliament and a judicial inquiry are both showing the advantage of absolute privilege: the ability to allow things to be said which otherwise may not be said because of fear of what the media will do.

The police are now enforcing the law rather than being inhibited by or being over-familiar with the tabloid press.

In addition, social media means that no longer can established titles and well-positioned editors and journalists dominate the channels of communication.


Electronic flows of information, coupled with the above assertions of power beyond the mainstream media's control, are creating a new polity. There are new power relationships. Old media may never be able to return to their old tricks; and they may never have that untouchable quality again.

The idea of a mere media professional - an editor or reporter - being a wielder of genuine political power may soon seem as quaint as Thomas Becket or Red Robbo being the most powerful commoner in the land.

Some new elite will dominate, and they no doubt will in turn abuse their power and will eventually be checked. Such is the true nature of political change.

And then some will be nostalgic for the days when the tabloids held political sway in the land, and they will pine for a golden age that never was.


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Sunday, 12 February 2012

The "TwitterJokeTrial" - guest post by Fiona Hanley

This is a guest post by my Dublin-based friend, the art director and graphic designer Fiona Hanley.


If it were not for the post 9/11 security climate then Paul Chambers may never have tweeted what he did.

Frustrated at not being able to travel, his was perhaps a minor light-hearted act of rebellion at the expense of a necessarily paranoid security system which assumes travellers are guilty until proven innocent.

We must decant cosmetics and hand over belts, coats and shoes. If told to stand aside, we hold out our arms, part our legs and consent to getting patted down by a stranger in front of strangers or consent to the same for our children until security is satisfied that we pose no threat.

Not much fun really, but the general consensus is that in this exceptional instance public good trumps individual civil liberty.


Paul Chambers’ tweet was a direct riff on this.

Of course it was a joke.

Who knew? Everybody.

The police knew it was a joke, the airport knew it was a joke, the courts knew and Twitter knew.

Yet he and his counsel are placed in the ludicrous position of trying to convince the courts that it was a joke which posed no threat to anyone while the courts are in the ludicrous position of forensically examining said joke to measure out the exact nature and potential for misinterpretation.

Never in the two years of this well-documented case has anybody said that they didn’t know it was a joke.

In my opinion, only someone with a condition like Autism Spectrum Disorder would be threatened by that tweet. A difficulty interpreting words any way other than literally, without regard to tone, context or sarcasm is a classic and debilitating trait of ASD.


But somebody decided Chambers broke the law and so the logic of the tweet has been forensically examined: how does threatening to blow up a closed airport make it open any quicker?

Why would a genuine terrorist send an open tweet from his non-anonymous account?

But really, there should be no need for any of that.

There should be no need to ‘prove’ it was a joke.

Everyone just instinctively, instantly, intuitively knew. How? We just did.


How do we know Beethoven’s Seventh is beautiful? We just do.

How do we know The Cure’s Lovecats is pretty catchy? We just do.

These are subjective value judgements which are so commonplace, so easily and universally understood that they require no explanation or justification.

Imagine in some bizarre alternate universe having to stand before a judge and explain exactly why the Seventh Symphony is beautiful.

Imagine if this masterpiece was legally deemed to be not beautiful if one was unable to sufficiently convince the courts of its quality.

It is the stuff of metaphysics.

Of course Beethoven or The Cure mightn’t be everyone’s thing and that’s fine, it’s all subjective, but you can see what other people are on about.

You mightn’t find Chambers’ joke particularly funny, it was no comic masterpiece, but you knew nonetheless it was a joke.

Following the progress of the Twitter Joke trial on Wednesday was frustrating because it felt like the intrinsic human capacity for subjectivity itself was being put on trial by a legal system which is apparently only equipped to deal in the objective.


In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence the narrator Phaedrus becomes preoccupied with the philosophical examination of the nature of quality.

Throughout a motorcycle journey with his young son he muses obsessively on an examination of how and why people make subjective value judgements. It is a fantastic read, profound and powerful, but throughout the novel I kept rooting for the tormented hero to just relax and accept that sometimes we just know stuff without needing to know how we know. I’m sure Paul, David and the rest of the legal team could sympathise with unlucky Phaedrus whose analytical reflections eventually drive him insane.


Carl Gardner wrote an excellent blog post following the hearing.

It seems the mens rea argument, ie that for a crime to take place there needs to be intention to commit the crime, didn’t gain traction with the judges.

I’m confused as to why it wouldn’t be taken as a given that there was no mens rea.

Personally I’m even confused about the actus reus aspect of the case, ie that a crime took place at all.

Did a crime take place if no one took it seriously, if no one felt menaced by the tweet, if no neurotypical person could reasonably not know it was a joke.

I tweeted something about being confused by the prosecution’s logic.

Actually hands up, I wasn’t really confused, just sarcastic because hey, let’s make hay.

We may only have a week and a bit left to be sarcastic on Twitter before Justice blows sarcasm sky high.

Oh hang on wait, that’s sarcasm again.

Better scratch that last bit.

We can’t be too careful these days.


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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Lord Carey's "Terrifying Prospect"

The Guardian is carrying some quotes from Lord Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury, about the recent High Court ruling that councils do not have the power to formally impose prayers as part of official business.

Carey says the ruling will have "incredibly far-reaching consequences" and he gives the example: "Will the next step be scrapping the prayers which mark the start of each day in parliament?"

I am not sure what counts as a "far-reaching consequence" - let alone an "incredibly far-reaching consequence" - but it is difficult to see prayers in parliament (used often by MPs just to reserve seats) as a consequence worthy of even an adjective or an adverb, let alone the ones he chooses.


The former archbishop goes on.

"These legal rulings may also mean army chaplains could no longer serve, and that the coronation oath, in which the King or Queen pledges to maintain the laws of God and the lessons contained in the gospels, would need to be abolished. This is a truly terrifying prospect."

Well, this is a rather heady interpretation of a judgment on the scope of the Local Government Act.

It is, of course, legal nonsense.

There is no such prospect from this ruling, still less a "terrifying" - indeed, "truly terrifying" - one.

The former archbishop is simply using words which he cannot mean or does not understand.


"It is clear that these sensitive matters can no longer be left in the hands of judges."

So that's a former archbishop coming out against the Rule of Law then.


This is all hysterical silliness from someone who - worryingly - remains one of this country's legislators.

Prayers should have no part in official civic business, just as religious oaths should have no part in the practice of law.

Law and public policy should be free from the formal trappings of religion.

Perhaps one day soon they will be.



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No coroner's inquest for Dr David Kelly

The High Court has recently rejected an attempt for there to be a coroner's inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly in July 2003.

I think this is unfortunate.

Whilst one can have no serious doubt - on the evidence that is available - that Dr Kelly's death was suicide, there does remain dissatisfaction as to the the conduct and outcome of the Hutton Inquiry.

In particular, in those innocent pre-Leveson days, Lord Hutton and his team did not have the benefit of an understanding of the methods of the press which may perhaps have assisted in building up a more complete picture of how Dr Kelly was outed and the immediate events leading up to his death. (We now know what the mainstream media were capable of doing from the death of Milly Dowler the previous year - 2002.)

Given this, the lack of a coroner's inquest does rather seem a lost opportunity for a more detailed picture to emerge with witnesses under oath or affirmation.


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