I have new respect for Mary Beard

I don’t often watch Mary Beard’s documentaries, because I’ve always thought of her style as rather eccentric. In reality, she’s proved her metal on the web in the way she dealt with her so-called ‘troller’- Oliver Rawlings.

Now a lot of the media has focused on the fact that he’s a private school boy. I’m not sure why that’s relevant. And the way The Daily Mail dug up details on his life and home is quite disturbing, and makes me think that however bad the tweets he tweeted, nothing compares to the public disgrace the boy must be facing.

It was clear just from reading the Daily Mail online article that they’d sent someone to snoop around his house and bother all his neighbours. At one point they talked about a housemaid who refused to come to the door. I wonder why.

But the tweets he tweeted were vile, and the way Mary Beard dealt with him was admirable. She forwarded his comments to her 42,000 followers, and one of them offered to send her his mother’s postal address. I find this hilarious, especially because he immediately broke down and apologised in the most grovelling terms:

I was wrong and very rude.

Thanks 4 showing me the error of my ways.

She went on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2, and when asked if she’d like to meet Oliver Rawlings, she said:

Yes, I’d take him out for a drink and smack his bottom. I just hope he never does it again.

This was especially inspiring. She talked about how public figures were advised not to reply to hate speech online, but that she wasn’t about to be bullied by anyone.

But apart from Mary Beard’s spectacular performance, there are also the cases of Caroline Criado Perez, whose battle to get Jane Austen on the ten pound note sparked some hatred from misogynists, and Stella Creasy the Labour MP for Walthamstow. Both received terrifying rape and murder threats, which no-one should have to endure.

Nobody deserves to have those things said about them online, and we must do whatever we can to diminish the number of these incidents. Inevitably, a few will always occur, such is the risk of putting yourself in the public eye. But the sheer number, concentration and ferocity of these recent attacks have left us all reeling, and wondering about what to do.

Twitter has announced it plans to make a ‘report abuse’ button, although it seems to me that such a button should already be in place, seeing for how long Twitter has been up and running. (July 2006.)

According to Wikipedia, 340 million tweets are generated every day. Such a massive network needs to be properly maintained and regulated, but how much? I don’t have the usual complaints about freedom of the press, and tend to think of myself as a pragmatist where these things are concerned. Perhaps because I’ve never lived in a dictatorship? Hopefully we shall never know.

But I think that allowing twitter users to report tweets is the easiest way of ensuring that this type of thing never happens again.


Sources/ Further Reading:

Fracking is dangerous, harmful and above all irrelevant

Fracking is an issue hotly contested in the UK. Since its introduction in the US, many environmental concerns have been raised about its use.

Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. It involves great quantities of water being forced at high pressure into shale-rock, causing the rock to fracture, split open and release natural gases which can then be used as fuel.

One of the major concerns is that the underground water supply will become contaminated by carcinogenic chemicals which escape the site of fracturing and leak into underground wells. Industry experts claim that this is due to mal-practice rather than a fundamentally flawed system.

Another issue is the huge quantity of water required for the process. When drinking water is already in such short supply around the globe (and only likely to become scarcer due to climate change) is seems wasteful to be using it in such a bashful way. The water does of course need to be taken great distances, and this will have its environmental impact in the form of transport emissions.

But above all the practical issues, it seems fundamentally wrong to be finding new ways to violate and exploit our natural environment when we know and we have known for such a very long time that renewables must be developed soon. To me, this is a step in completely the wrong direction that only climate change deniers could give any credence to.

It not simply oil & coal vs gas. We need to talk about our consumption levels. If every human being consumed as much as the average US citizen, we would need five earths. We needn’t even look at this as a constraint, rather as an oppurtunity for a different, more equal and less wasteful society.

If we don’t invest heavily in renewable sources of energy production, we will only have ourselves to blame when fossil fuels run out and anarchy reigns. According to some, that will not be so very long:

Proponents of the introduction of Fracking to the UK tend to rely on the argument that it will drive prices down, and that it will give the UK energy security for the forseeable future.

They are frightened of renewables. They think of them as the pet project of hippies, vastly inefficient, costly and against market principles. They think that introducing fracking will drop prices due to market mechanisms, creating a better country for all.

To them I say this: energy production and consumption will always be problems until the government nationalises the industry, and when it does, it should spend its time investing in our future, and not wasting valuable years on fracking.


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The Unions should use their power to merge the left

This week there’s been a large row between the leader of the Labour Party and one of his largest financial backers, Unite.

Unite is the largest worker’s union in Britain and Ireland, and describes itself like this:

Unite is dedicated to serving the best interests of its members and will seek to improve their standard of living and the quality of their lives though effective relationships with employers and government.

Strongly industrially based, our structure means we can represent your interests effectively in your workplace, no matter whether you work in the country or what industrial sector you work in. 

The worker’s unions are the largest financial backers of the Labour Party, and have been since its founding. The labour movement is irrevocably tied in with the unions, because the Labour Party was seen as the only champion of working people, and because the unions are sworn to that cause.

Len McCluskey is the current leader of Unite, and has said that the focus of the recent row with Miliband is to “shift the balance in the party away from middle-class academics and
professionals towards people who’ve actually represented workers and fought the

This is symptomatic of a longstanding tension within the Labour movement between Trade Union members and members of the liberal intelligentsia. The trade unions are usually seen as championing pragmatism and a better deal for working people, whilst the intellectuals as being only concerned with the furthering of their left-wing principals at any cost.

At any rate, the Unions have been a vehicle for getting working class people into parliament for a long time, which must be remembered.

The unions hold the Labour Party’s balls in its grip, and this is no time to be escalating arguments. For Miliband this is a political point that he wants to make, to demonstrate that he will not be so weak in office as Cameron is. That he will not be pushed around. In a way that’s admirable, from another perspective its childish.

I would urge the Unions to use their immense position of power to make a real change. They have backed the dead fish that is the Labour Party for far too long, simply because they have never known anything else.

They should promise equal funding to the Labour Party, to the Lib Dems and to the Greens as long as they merge. The unions must use coercion, bribery or whatever it takes to get these three left-wing parties to join together.

What we need at this time is one charismatic movement which sweeps into power, makes real change and is remembered for generations. Only be merging these three parties will we achieve that. And only the Unions have the power to deliver it.


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Gay marriage, why everyone should calm down

Unlike other famous intellectuals, I’ve never before addressed the issue of gay marriage. That is because, like on the EU, my opinions are still evolving.
On the face of it, gay marriage is a very simple issue. Equality for all, no matter their orientation or preference. On the face of the matter, opposition to gay marriage can only be founded on prejudice, not reason or fact.

Many people of that persuasion tend to lean on the assumption that gay couples are less suited to raising children. Or that allowing marriage (in their opinion a sacred covenant) will taint heterosexual marriages.

I would sometimes agree on the first point if I was in a bad mood, although since we’re looking at 0.2% of American children, I’m also inclined to urge people to calm down. A far higher percentage of children will be affected by unstable households and other such things than they will by gay parents. But, however, I simply can’t allow the second point to fly. I don’t believe in god, in fact, most people don’t, so the idea that marriage is sacred is no just reason for stopping gay marriage.

Opponents also argue that marriage has always between a man and a woman, to which I say that marriage has changed fundamentally in the past, why can’t it change again? Then they usually tell me that it’s a non-negotiable aspect. Who says? Who determines what marriage should be? What gives you the right to enforce your vision of what marriage is on other people, even people who potentially could make it work better than you could?

At present gay couples use civil ceremonies, and I see no problem with this at all, I frankly don’t see why they are so set on getting the full-blown religious deal. Civil ceremonies are practically as good as a marriage, the only reason I could see for wanting a marriage instead, is that you might be religious. In which case, why do you want to get married by people who won’t accept an intrinsic part of your person?

There should certainly be no government ban on religious institutions performing marriages, but I don’t think any church should be forced to. Churches that want to, can, and those that don’t should not be forced. That seems obvious to me.

I’m also getting a bit tired of liberal middle class hipsters who only join in the debate because its fashionable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That fashion is dangerous. A fashion of simply letting people do whatever they want no matter the consequences. I have no problem with gay marriage, but there are other, far worse consequences of such a fashion that I won’t go into here.

I certainly have no time for those who become violent in this, and turn to hatred of right-wingers. When dealing with opponents to gay – marriage, what we’re mainly looking at are tired old farts who think the world is changing too fast. And they’re right.

You must know that in the end, the left will win this debate. Society simply no longer has the patience for pet-prejudices, and so we certainly needn’t feel insecure enough to resort to play ground tactics.


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