On Ne Passe Pas

I just read several new posts on Facebook telling of incredible incidents…and I realised that I have been a Facebook criminal for many years.

The posts were from someone repeating posts from a third person, and were so vague as to be untraceable. That didn’t stop them from being sensational reading, mind – they spoke of stirring world events and social mores and the call to virtue and vice. All the good stuff.

The trouble was, they were very likely apocryphal. Legendary. Those are intellectual words for lies. Good lies, entertaining lies, educational lies – lies repeated by a person who is a very good person in other respects…but lies nevertheless. I’ve been seeing these lies for years – as long as I have subscribed to the main Facebook feed – and I’ve been complicit all that time.

Complicit? Why? Because I have just let them pass – pass along to the next person. Pass along to someone who might believe them and then pass them further. Some of the lies won’t do much harm or much good, but the constant stream of them must wear away any support for truth on the internet and eventually for truth in general society.

I repent of my crime. I shall reform. I will adopt the motto of Robert Nivelle. In the future the lies shall not pass.

Heading Image: A fine painted model French Poilu from the 2017 plastic model exhibition.


A Rest Is As Good As A Change

I have been embracing change as fast as I can recently – I found out all the shops and events in Melbourne over the Australia Day weekend that had gone bust or had decided to sit out the dance. It was a little like embracing a cactus. But as it was all external to me, and nearly always replaced by something just as good, I could view it with equanimity.

I’m also embracing the changes in my circle of friendship and acquaintance as I get older. Some people vanish into other spheres of activity – some remain fixed while I vanish. In any case it is all legitimate human interaction and not really a cause for regret.

The picture alters a little when I look at some of the things that flow through social media. I am the first to admit to being poor at judging truth or falsehood – the fake news and alternative truth pundits are just that good. I do tend to default to cynicism, and I think this has helped me out somewhat in the past. I’ve not fallen foul of scammers in the internet world as yet…though there have been a couple of credit card skims a few years ago. And I rarely fall for photoshopping that is too good to be true or apocryphal stories tricked up in new words. I do not believe in the Model A Ford carburetor that does 200 miles per gallon…

I noted as well that some people do change over time, but not in a good way. Oh, no-one in my acquaintance has become a bank robber, but some have become activists for a variety of political views that have started to make me nervous. Of course they are entitled to keep whatever ideas they wish in their heads, and there is a tradition of free speech in our country that lets them air some of them…but there are a few who I think go perilously close to the legal line in their posts.

No telling how many of these things are picked up by the patrol mechanisms of the internet before they get a chance to be broadcast…and no telling how many of them are canned through complaint by other readers. I noted recently that Facebook thought one of my WordPress columns was spam…but changed their mind when I explained that it wasn’t. Perhaps it was just a brush with a bot.

I do applaud the mechanism in Facebook that allows one to “rest” a contact for a month. It gives time for cooling of temper, and when you see their posts again in 30 days you may find that whatever caused the distress was just a passing mental gas bubble.

The Virtual Infernal Device – Part Two

A note at the start of this column – never resort to laying virtual minefields by the criminal and deplorable act of making computer viruses or hacks or scams – whatever the current term for this sort of nuisance. It is illegal, immoral, and low. It may bring you to the attention of the law…or worse…other hackers and smart-arse teenagers.

No, the virtual mines that you need to lay are honest and decent objects. The best of them are bright, clean, shining examples of good fellowship and sound thinking. Given the proper target and an accurate fuse, these can detonate  wonderfully well.

Case 1.  You are a subscriber to the social media page ” F—book ” – and seem to have some hundreds of friends thereon. You might be scrapping to remember those faces if you meet in the street, but there they are every day at tea break on the computer screen.

In reality, you are connected to far more people by these contacts than you might think – for they all have further lines of communication that go out and connect to others – and what is written may be borne away or brought back from uncountable distances.

Not every contact on that great net is a smart one – nor are they all necessarily kind, polite, sane, honourable, and good-humoured. Your 200 contacts might be the salt of the earth but further out you find that they have mutated into salts of arsenic…

You may not want to mine your friends, but you can certainly reach further out to mine those marginal contacts. You can blow them up at a distance. The best way is to agree with them.

Now, everyone likes to be agreed with. If it can be accompanied by praise, so much the better. It feeds the ego and soothes the soul, even if the ego is swollen and the soul really needs a good scrub with a wire brush. If you are clever with your praise you can encourage the swelling so much that the victim explodes with hubris and rains down in social pieces.

Equally good is disagreement. If you make it just civil enough to stand up in front of a magistrate you need not resile – but every mild scorn you might show for the greatness of the not-quite-great ( or of the pretended virtue of the marginally virtuous…) is equivalent to a declaration of total war. They can be relied upon to detonate with rage and commit the most ghastly spelling and syntactical errors. And all in the plain view of their net of contacts.

Case 2.  Do you remember the great days of the sticker on the back of the car?  When the bumpers were chrome, I mean. They were a wonderful way for the occupant of the car to make fools of themselves at 60-80 Km per hour. Then the internet came and people could go onto the forums and ” F—book ” and be unpleasant or foolish without leaving home. It’s saved a lot of petrol, mind, but I rather miss the old days of seeing the hippie vans pour out of Fremantle coated in politics and faerie dust.

Well, those days need not be gone forever. If you have a computer connected to a cheap printer and you can get Avery sticky labels  from your local newsagent or office supply warehouse…you can travel back in time.

Whether you elect to travel back in your own car or via those of others is your choice. The idea is to make up a series of sticky labels with stirring slogans and display them on the rear of a vehicle. They can be political, derived from the current presidents, prime ministers, state premiers, etc or they can be religious, moral, or pop-cultural. It doesn’t take long to print up an ” Elect Hillary, Michelle, Oprah, and Pauline ” sticker in basic red, white, and blue and have it ready to clap on the back of a parked Mercedes. If you do it low down, it can be seen on the road by the following motorists but not readily by the driver. You won’t be there to see the rear-ender but then that’s the whole idea of minefields – you don’t want to be there when they go up.

Don’t be nasty with your stickers – there are enough nasty posters on the net trying to push their agendas. Be nice. Praise someone, even if it is only George Wallace or Idi Amin.




Le Coup – Troisième Colonne

This column should really be subtitled ” Le Coup Numerique ” as it deals with the social cut on digital media. This was not an option in the 19th century, but I’ll bet they would have had a ball with it…

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al – seems to be an electric slate onto which nearly anything can be written. Better still – anything can be drawn, cut, or pasted. The sources of the postings can be as truthful as mathematics or as false as marketing. It is all grist for the mill and the mill is speeding up.

If you wish to cut someone publicly on Facebook, you can. The vilest insults and coldest sneers can be typed out and sent with one press of a button. The fact that you may get a reputation as a troll is neither here nor there – you might live under a bridge and welcome any notice taken of you…

But this is not the most sophisticated use of the medium for the coupeur…the best tool is found in the settings that decide who remains within your electronic circle of friends. It has always been possible to de-friend people on your list – and to block approaches from others. It’s now possible to ” snooze ” contacts for 30 days, though this is more a cooling-off mechanism for you than for them.

Perhaps the best analogy for the social media site is that of a cocktail party. You would do best to be bright and cheerful whilst attending – not to cut people dead when there – and not to start awkward discussions about sex, politics, or religion. That makes you a welcome guest, and one who gets more invitations.

If you wish to be a curmudgeon, backstabber, or villain, get yourself a WordPress page and start writing a regular column…

Note: I have used the Facebook de-friend option five times myself. To some extent it was an over-reaction and a misunderstanding of the mechanism. In the future, I think I’ll just use the ” block ” option for this social platform. It will do the business more politely.


The Etiquette Of The Anonymous Note

Nearly everyone I know has, at one time or another, received an anonymous note or letter*. Frequently these have been disturbing or distressing and have led to serious social and family consequences. Divorces, dismissals, disgraces…the list is nearly endless. It has long seemed to be the bane of civilisation.

And it is not just the badly worded sheet of cheap paper in the letter box or under the door, either – these days the internet brings this sort of thing in through the screen all day. If it is not your email that receives it, it is your Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Some days all you can do is to open the thing and look at the cartoon strips.

We’ve been asked here at the Guild how this sort of thing can be dealt with – a good question, an innocent question, and a wrong question. We cannot advise you how it can be dealt with…we can advise you how to deal it out.

As with all Guild activities, there is an etiquette that must needs be followed. We are not savages..though we do employ them at fair union rates for certain jobs…and we insist that members follow the  rules of civil incivility.

a. Only use anonymity if you send a note that accuses without offering proof. If you can actually prove miscreancies or worse, attend the Blackmail Office and ask for a consultation with one of our operatives. Everything you say will be kept in strict confidence until it can be published widely.

b. Anonymity need not be wretched or small. The practice of using cheap note paper from Woolworths and a builder’s crayon to hint that a Duchess carries a loathsome disease is not only dated but ineffective. The terror of discovery is much worse if the stationery is of extremely good quality and the note seems to have been written with a Montblanc Meisterstück fountain pen in a precise copperplate hand.

If you can obtain letterhead paper from a doctor’s office for this purpose, so much the better. A nice touch is to get it from an ophthalmic specialist.

c. If you feel you must use a pseudonym, either make it extremely crude or extremely elegant. ” Your Friend ” is neither of these: ” yor frend ” serves and ” One who Loves you ” even better if you can get a delicate purple ink.

” The Black Hand ” is comic-book stuff and unless you are writing anonymously as a former President of the United States, will serve no purpose.

d. Sometimes anonymity can be used repeatedly. If you purport to be ” Anonymous ” as the writer, it can be paired with ” To Whom It May Concern ” ( remember to use those capitals…) to give even more of an air of mystery and menace. If you then go on to hint at What You Know, but never specify who knows what, it can get very diffuse…

e. ” We know what you did ” is an excellent start, but you have to be able to add at least one other fact to start the powder train alight. ” We know what you did when you went into the shed ” is good, and ” We know what you did when you went into the shed with Doreen ” better still. You needn’t know, of course, but then they needn’t know that you needn’t know. You know?

f. In some cases the addressee should be specified very accurately. In others the ” To Whom ” is quite sufficient. In especial cases this vagueness of aim should be combined with a very precise authorship – the note should be signed in the name of a real person with a real address. It need not be your real name, nor your address, of course. Suffice it to say some form of communication will ensue…

g. Some have advocated never threatening things that cannot be performed – but we say, where’s the fun in that? Where would Oriental dictators and Indian telephone callers be if that were the case? So use your imagination, and dig into your own psyche to see what would frighten or distress others.

Are you worried about crayfish? Horrified by water pumps? Depressed by the thought of Johnny Young going to the dentist? Incorporate these into the implied threat of the note. You never know when you’ll strike a chord, or, for that matter, when Young will…

h. Likewise use your own sins and peccadilloes as a stepping stone to imagine those of others. But make ’em worse. It  may be difficult, on this basis, for the Dalai Lama to send a nasty note accusing someone of anything – I mean, what is he going to write? ” You are slightly unsettling…”? It just wouldn’t have all that much impact.

Or maybe it would…if he signed his name in blood.

*  I’m absolutely certain of this, trust me…




When I’m Culling You-Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo…

You’ll be really screw – hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoooed…

It’s the theme song for Facebook Spring Cleaning – that time of year when you turn your social media friends over and look at the stains underneath them…and decide whether to wipe it up or wipe them out.

Not that you are a cruel or callous tyrant – far from it – you are a sensitive flower of the universe  – open to goodness and kindness and righteousness wherever it appears. But when it appears under a pile of political, financial, or moral horse shit it is not worth the shovelling.

So it’s time to assess the ineffable. And the F—able as well. Especially them. When the Swear Jar starts to look like the International Monetary Fund it is time to consider whether someone is a good cultural influence or not. We are, for the most part, what we eat, but sometimes we are also what we are fed. And if we are fed a diet of bad language, bad ideas, and bad manners, it is time to find another place to eat.

Like any social media enthusiast, I want people to like me. I want to like them. But if the cost of this is agreement and adherence to the unlikeable…and sometimes to the unbearable…it is time to bring the social contract to an end.

Shall we regard it as a no-blame, no-guilt divorce? You can have custody of the Candy Crush and the sidebar. I’ll keep the hot rod pictures and the YouTube of people making ugly furniture. We’ll split the kitten videos down the middle.


Broadcast Live From Your House

When you watch the news about the US president Donald Trump – or click the Facebook side panel – or listen to your friends deride him based upon what they have read on the internet…have you ever stopped to consider what YOU might look like if you were subject to the minute scrutiny that attends him?

I ask this as I remember being afflicted with similar scrutiny when a child in school – I was the fat, new, frightened kid…and was fair game for all the bullies and smart arses in every school I attended. As my detractors wanted to belittle me, they watched every single thing I did and found fault. The simplest action was cause for howls of contempt. Nothing was private, sacred, or approved. President Trump seems to be in the same position vis-a-vis the people who supported the other side of politics – and lost – and who now want their revenge.

So let’s imagine you – if you’re a Trump detractor – going about your daily routine. Let’s see if the treatment works on you.

You get out of bed in time for breakfast: ” Lazy swine lolls in bed while others slave to prepare feast. ” Not sounding too good.

So you get up earlier next day : ” Can’t sleep. Guilty conscience. Snoops on cooks behind the scenes. ” Still not good publicity. And who is feeding these stories to the press?

Okay, this time you’ll please someone…you’ll do without breakfast: ” Too good to eat like a normal person. No pleasing some people. ” Well, what the actual…

And we haven’t even started on your bathroom routine, your clothes for the day, or whatever it is you’re going to be doing for a living – never mind your religion, family, or politics. These topics will be covered by your enemies and will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are evil incarnate, totally incompetent, and in collusion with the Russians, the French, the Tongans, and the firm that makes Cheezils. Every single action that you undertake, all day, all week, all year, will be wrong. The press and your detractors will be free to lie about you, to you, and because of you. No-one will hold them accountable.

Feeling the love yet? Feeling the burn yet? Feeling the bigotry and pettiness yet? Want to do something about it? Here’s what you do.

Nothing. Not a damn thing. Do not take the slightest notice of your detractors. Do not reward them with anger, or distress, or recognition. Take note of the fashionable meme that started up a few years ago: ” Keep calm and carry on. “. By all means use social media but do not use it to vent frustrations or angst. Be benign, vague, and cheerful. Send kitten videos. And do what you were going to do regardless.

Don’t be too sanguine about the results. You won’t reap any better opinion of yourself from the people who are determined to hate you; they have invested to much of their time in speech and writing to resile their position. Many of them hope for benefit from your opponents*. The best you can hope for is a better judgement of history.

* And if, in a few years, they present their intellectual bill to the other side of politics – and it is not paid – they have a ready-made supply of protest that they can direct to them.