This Week with Brian
Including on the ropes, X and Y, shared conversations, tapeworms, lobbying, personal responsibility, recurring dreams, a legal failure, a hole in my week, down from a peak, a not-so-unusual incident, a new low, a hundred days, advisory groups, sunshine tendering, pangolins, a genesis, a unique achievement, all the vowels and glad to be gay.
Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).
If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at [email protected].
• Twitter seems to be somewhat on the ropes at present. Elon Musk has (possibly) a vision for the company but it’s not clear to all what this is. He’s re-branded it, of course, “X” being to my mind a foolish choice as it could also be read as “Ex”, which no organisation wants to be thought of as. He’s thus achieved the seemingly impossible – that of giving a company a new one-letter name which is possible to mis-spell.
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• X and Y
The other eye-catching thing the new owner immediately did was sack four out of every five members of staff, claiming that when he – rather unwillingly – bought Twitter last year it had about “four months to live.” The staff that remain have had to commit to being “hardcore“: which appears to mean that they are expected more or less to live in the office. Those sacked do not include the people responsible for monetising the revenue from the API feeds. We were quoted a sum almost higher than the human ear can hear to continue this service; which we declined.
This page on Social Shepherd has a number of stats about the organisation. For example, nearly half users turn to Twitter to get the latest news; the UK has nearly 20 million users; and there are nearly 400m users globally. Perhaps the most eye-catching one is that 10% of users in the USA are responsible for 92% of tweets. This means that , aside from the fact that “most people are visiting Twitter to consume, rather than create”, there is a “particularly active group of users publishing a large chunk of content.” Musk might call them the “hard core.”
Then, a couple of months ago, Mark Zuckerberg launched Threads, with its logo that looked – perhaps appropriately – like a tapeworm. There was a rush of enthusiasm with an estimated 100m people signing up. Enthusiasm has since cooled: but the fact is that it happened and so could be back. The daily update from The New Yorker on 16 August suggests that “The problem is the model itself. Forcing millions of people into the same shared conversation is unnatural,” he writes, “requiring aggressive curation that in turn leads to the type of supercharged engagement that seems to leave everyone upset and exhausted.”
This last phrase certainly describes my reaction to the platform, though I would describe it more like being caught up in several unrelated arguments in a pub car park at kicking-out time, each of which is simmering on the edge of violence and with every participant insisting on having the final word. Were I to get involved (and I’m not tempted) I would find the last aspect particularly dangerous. More worrying is the immediacy of it. People need to react immediately, despite not perhaps knowing enough about the subject. Few of us know enough about anything to be able to share our real-time thoughts with up to 400m people. Mind you, the number of followers and re-tweets are more of a buzz than accuracy. What does it matter if what you’ve said is batshit if it generates engagement?
I’m less sure, though, that having the “same shared conversation” is now seen as unnatural, as The New Yorker claims. For good or for ill, most humans seem to respond well to participating in, or at least observing, a shared national or international debate. It’s also been a godsend for people who previously were cut off from others who shared their concerns, afflictions or interests but now know that there’s a “community” of people with whom they can identify (this can be both good and bad, of course). In general, we’re a sociable and garrulous species so something like Twitter seems likely to remain. What we might be seeing is a changing of the guard. It also does no harm to ask ourselves what are reasons are for continuing to use any platform: Y, in other words, should we still use X; should we become an ex-X?
Yes, this again.
The Conversation recently published what I thought was an excellent article entitled “Don’t just wait for the water firms – three things we can do right now to clean up Britain’s rivers.” It’s not just me who thought it was excellent: so too did Action for the River Kennet to whom I sent the link. “This piece makes some really good points,” a spokesperson told me. “Yes, we want to see water companies improve and invest but the three points in the article highlight that a holistic approach is what is required to care for our rivers in the long term.”
The three suggestions were, perhaps deliberately, arranged in reverse order of how easy they are for individuals to influence.
The first is less concrete, more soil. We need, the writer claims, “to develop a water-conscious construction industry: new developments need to do everything they can to reduce the amount of rainwater entering standard drains” and using Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDs).
The problems here – as I’ve pointed out many times in other contexts – are (i) that developers are private companies that exist to make a profit and can and do lobby to prevent any changes to regulations which will make this harder; (ii) that such features have long-term benefits and purchasers may not be willing to pay extra for a house just because it has these; and (iii) that planning authorities are, as well as generally being on the back foot with regard to developers, notoriously under-staffed and thus find it hard to enforce any decisions about drainage which might have been imposed.
The second is to develop the UK’s “kidneys”: which here means enhancing “the natural functioning of different habitats that can help protect rivers and coasts. This approach is often referred to in the latest ecological jargon as using nature-based solutions.” Blue-green is another term.
This is something that’s open to local landowners, councils and charities to implement and so exists on a decision-making scale that we can influence. We’re all familiar with the concept of re-wilding gardens, meadows or verges. This is doing the same thing, though on a more complex scale. As the article points out, the UK has lost three-quarters of its wetlands since 1700. These act as remarkable natural filters, attenuation tanks and reservoirs. They’re perhaps needed now more than ever. To pick but one example of the many schemes that are currently being undertaken in this area, it’s worth singling out the Kennet Valley Wetland Reserve that’s being re-created by the Town and Manor of Hungerford charity.
The third suggestion is the question of individual responsibility. “It’s easy for us to think,” the article tells us. “that individual actions don’t matter, but they do”: particularly if enough of us do them.
If there were two things that all of us could do that would make, respectively, an immediate and a longer-term difference to the state of our waterways they would, in my view, be (i) only put poo, pee and paper into toilets; and (ii) do all we can to make water companies and regulators realise that they’ve been asleep at the wheel and need to wake up. Expressing your concerns to them, your MP, your local council/s and the increasing number of pressure groups that have appeared in the last few years will all help.
Of the three, the last is perhaps the most important. Lobbying Whitehall or creating a local wetland is beyond most people’s capacity. Not putting wet wipes down the loo or writing to your MP is not. In this and so many other aspects of life, the organisations that for decades we have believed would keep all the various wolves from our doors have proved to be less successful guardians than we might have wished. That doesn’t mean that we’ve lost the struggle: it just means that we might have to take the wolves on ourselves.
I regard myself as being a law-abiding person but have a recurring dream in which I’ve committed a serious crime (I’m never sure what) and know that retribution is on its way. I’m sure I’m going to get caught but always wake up before the final knock on the door. This doesn’t worry me too much, though. I like to think it’s the work of an over-active conscience. After all, if I commit no crime then I can’t be convicted of one, can I?
Wrong. There have been plenty of high-profile cases of wrongful conviction – many involving alleged IRA bombers – but the one that’s been in the headlines is the story of Andrew Malkinson, who as we all know was recently released after spending 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. What has recently emerged is the fact that “the key agencies” knew about exonerating DNA evidence as long ago as 2009 but did not act on it. The reasons for this shocking oversight still seem unclear.
It’s hard to think of any dream or nightmare that could be worse than the reality that he experienced. There must be many more like him still inside. The British justice system is predicated on the idea that the decision of a jury is pretty much the final word. I get it that we can’t be re-examining every case just because someone suddenly comes up with a new idea for a defence. However, this doesn’t assume that evidence has been suppressed.
One body that exists to deal with such matters is (thanks to Julie Carlisle for pointing this out to me the last time I mentioned this) is the Criminal Cases Review Commission which claims that in the last three years “more than a hundred cases have been quashed” following CCRC referrals.
That’s great: but Malkinson seemed to have slipped through this net. If the police and the judicial system are anything like local councils, about which I know more, then the big problem is that of recognising wrongs and redressing them. Apologising is the problem. To do so is seen as a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of considerable courage. Surely, as a state, we need to accept that these things can happen and find a better way of checking that they don’t and fessing up if they do. It’s not as if we have a shortage of lawyers here.
• 3-1 and 100
The football World Cup semi-final and the continued more local excitement of the cricket Hundred have knocked a bit of a hole in my working week. I’m only glad we don’t also have a subscription to be able to watch live Premier League football.
I never really doubted that the Lionesses would beat the Australian Matildas as I’m pretty sure that our women’s football team is the best in the world: something that I’ve not been able to say about the men’s side. With Sam Kerr in the opposition, though, you can never be sure, as her magnificent goal proved. We should be able to beat Spain on Sunday (but might not, of course).
As for the cricket, the sport’s administrators have sine the 1960s been racking their brains about how to make this more popular and profitable, five-day test cricket operating on a level which doesn’t accord with the increasing desire for fast action. The Hundred, which takes place in a concentrated burst in August, seems to have satisfied this ambition. Better still, by having complete equality of coverage in the men’s and women’s games, the organisers have effectively doubled the appeal. Took a bit of time, but they got there.
There have been few more wonderful inventions – OK, except for fire, the wheel, Apple Macs and the electric guitar – than football and cricket. To see women compete in these sports to a level of skill, professionalism and popular recognition which comes ever closer to matching that of the men is wonderful. Apart from anything else, it doubles the number of matches. Wait a week or so and another tournament will have started. Works for me…
• And finally
• 17 August was A-level results day. Inevitably, some will have done less well than they’d hoped or feel they deserved. There’ll be more of these than in past years, with the number of A* and A grades accounting for just over 27% of the results this year compared to a Covid peak of nearly 45%. This BBC article has a number of encouraging stories for those who might feel that bad grades are a disaster.
• Reuters reports that The British Museum said on Wednesday a member of staff had been dismissed after items from its collection, including gold jewellery and gems, had been found to be missing, stolen or damaged. The Director of the Museum described it as “a highly unusual incident.” Well, not that unusual: how does he think many of the treasures, including the Elgin Marbles, came to be in the Museum in the first place?
• Each day seems to bring a new low in the USA and its ex-PotUS Donald Trump. The more crimes he he charged with the greater his popularity seems to get, which is alarming enough on its own. This week, a Texas woman has been charged with threatening to kill the judge who is hearing one of the criminal cases that he faces. With almost endearing dumbness, she made the threatening call from her own phone so enabling the gendarmes to nail her. In that country, threats of this kind have to be taken seriously. This is the latest in an ever-mounting invective traded between the two sides. The judge herself warned at a court hearing that both sides should avoid any “inflammatory statements.” Sadly, I think that ship sailed some time ago…