Thursday, 23 April 2015

No more Activity or Discover: Twitter's self-destructive user-unfriendly update

On 20 April, Twitter rolled out changes to its interface which it states it hopes to "help you connect more easily – and directly – on Twitter with the people, causes and businesses you care about most." The problem is that they have achieved the complete opposite.

Twitter only refers to this update as a quaint and practical change: a simple, streamlined redesign that makes direct messaging between users easier. It doesn't mention that this update has completely got rid of the 'Activity' and 'Discover' tabs, a bewildering so-called advancement that actually makes Twitter a less interesting and convenient platform to engage on.

Whenever I logged onto Twitter, I would check the 'Activity' and 'Discover' tabs to see content I might have otherwise missed, tweets favourited and retweeted by my followers and those I follow, as well as tweets from accounts that I didn't already follow which were popular among my network. As I follow over 2,300 accounts, this automated curation system was very useful for me to engage with my network and find new content and accounts of interest, as the 'Activity' and 'Discover' names imply. Now all I have is my timeline and a searchbox: I have no immediate means of finding out what interests my network or what it being discussed by them. And this inherently undermines the ease with which I can use and interact with Twitter as a platform. I'm on my own in these respects.

I find it staggering that such decisions are okayed as good ideas by tech higher-ups, and even more staggering that people are paid substantial sums of money to make them. I am ultimately insignificant to Twitter as one user, but I can definitely state that this pointless and counterproductive alteration makes me a lot less interested in using Twitter at all. I assume that there are many thousands of others who feel the same. What harm would restoring these completely useful utilities do? For what purpose were they even done away with?

Friday, 17 April 2015

Katie Hopkins, scapegoats and the rhetoric of genocide

In October 1943, Adolf Hitler's deputy Heinrich Himmler was recorded speaking to senior Nazi generals in the Polish city of Posen about the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question": the ongoing Holocaust, the Nazi Party's mission to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Himmler justified the Holocaust on the basis of the Jewish people being a "bacillus", comparing them to a viral infection which needed to be eradicated. This mentality was indoctrinated into the national consciousness of Nazi Germany by Hitler's chief propagandist Joesph Goebbels, directly leading to the social and institutional conditions in which the Holocaust could be carried out. Fifty years after the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide was perpetrated. The mass murder of the Tutsi minority population, by gangs of Hutu slaughterers, was encouraged and coordinated by shortwave radio propagandists who referred to them as "cockroaches". In both cases, the scapegoated minorities were blamed for economic struggles and the diminishing of national prowess, and the systematic annihilation of the pests was promoted as the solution to these ills.

Seventy and twenty years passing since these atrocities has been a cause for remembrance, which evidently has not affected the popular UK media commentator Katie Hopkins, who used her column in Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper to refer to refugees from North Africa precariously travelling to Europe via the Mediterranean by boat, with hundreds dying in the process, as a "norovirus" and "cockroaches". Shades of Nazism and a direct appropriation of Rwandan Genocide rhetoric. Hopkins advocates the use of gunboats to sink the refugees' boats and - in admiration of the Abbot government's treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, which has been considered for UN investigation on the basis of international human rights law violations - she amuses herself by suggesting that they be killed through a pelting of Fosters beer cans. A Nazi-like fetishism and enthusiasm for the ruthless destruction of dehumanized human beings' lives runs through her piece. She notes that she no sympathy for images of "skinny people looking sad", similarly as apathetic as Himmler when confronted by starved victims of the extermination camps he toured. And of course, she cites migrants as a parasitic burden on public services and the welfare state; a convenient detraction from inequality and austerity resulting from and justified by the financial crisis.

Hopkins has an establishment reputation as a professional controversialist. But she is not a random internet troll: her hate speech is featured in the UK's second bestselling newspaper and she regularly appears on national television and radio shows. Ruthless politicians (see above) will undoubtedly aim to garner support by appealing to her fans with their policies. Human rights abuses against refugees in the UK, as seen in institutions like the Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, exemplify xenophobia and hate-mongering put into political practice. We may be keen to dismiss Hopkins' motives as publicity and financially driven, and refrain from contributing to it with our outrage. But lest we forget that the genesis of the worst crimes in human history have always begun with the dehumanization and scapegoating of a minority group in the collective psyche.

Incitement to racial hatred is illegal under criminal law for good reason.


Seemingly like anyone who disagrees with him, I am blocked by George Galloway on Twitter, presumably leaving him with a comfortable insular cadre of Galloway personality cultists with V for Vendetta masks in their avatars.

When I learned that Galloway had threatened legal action against those who apparently accused him of antisemitism, I noted his long-standing affiliation to Press TV, an Iranian government-controlled media network with a history of promoting antisemitism: including through its publication of an opinion piece in May 2011 that portrayed the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as legitimate and advocated the cliched antisemitic trope of Jews controlling the media.

Galloway blocked me when I publicly challenged his unapologetic allegiance to antisemitic propagandists. He is not necessarily an antisemite, but definitely a friend of them when it politically and financially convenient to be one. So why not sue me for pointing it out?

Shoah business: Holocaust-washing of Israeli racism and atrocities

For the record, there is no such thing as a Holocaust denier. Nobody, not even a neo-Nazi, can be literally idiotic enough to actually disbelieve the reality of the Final Solution despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. An undeniably crude and disgusting trope popular among its deniers is "There's no business like Shoah business". In this case it refers to their insinuation that the historical event of the Holocaust was fabricated by elite Jews as a brand for financial gain. But "Shoah business" can be used in the context of those who manipulate the reality of the Holocaust as a propaganda tool to perpetuate their political and military agendas: by which I am referring to the State of Israel and its supporters.

Pinkwashing is the term the status of LGBT people in Israel being used to portray the country as a bastion for human rights and democracy. There can be no doubt that LGBT rights are vastly better in Israel than in other Arab countries. But this is no excuse for the covering up and trivialization of Israel's military slaughters and state-sponsored racism.

As I previously wrote, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre promotes apologism for Israeli war crimes in the name of the memory of and historical research into the Shoah, despite the fact the innumerable Jews worldwide - including Holocaust survivors - oppose and condemn these atrocities. Even the Auschwitz Memorial Museum is up to it.

Here the blood-soaked flag, under which the fiery annihilation and evisceration of Palestinians is perpetrated by, is brandished where the gassings and cremations took place. The names of the mass murdered under the Swastika are used as a Star of David seal of approval for the new mass murder. (The latter is increasingly a symbol of death for this reason, like the former which has stood for peace and enlightenment for millenia). You can argue, if you wish, that it is distasteful of me to appropriate a Holocaust denial phrase of "Shoah business" to refer to this phenomena. The use of the word Holocaust to reference the extermination of two-thirds of Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany seventy years has only been the popular terminology for it since the 1970s. The targeted bombings deemed to be war crimes by the United Nations, resulting in Israeli's obstruction of Palestine's secession to the International Criminal Court, can be referred to as a Holocaust in its own right. There is nothing more distasteful than the legacy of the worst crime of the 20th century being denigrated and expropriated as a commodified propaganda tool to justify the worst of the 21st.

Monday, 6 April 2015

The iconography of Kurt Cobain

The approximate lapse of time since Kurt Cobain committed suicide is now as old as I am. Though I was only an infant when he died, the strength of his songwriting and Nirvana's music was powerful enough to affect my generation as much as it did his own. There is good reason why Nevermind became one of the best-selling albums of all time after it was predicted by record company bosses to be modestly profitable by merely catering to indie niche like Sonic Youth did. Like punk, and actually unlike most contemporary grunge bands, Nirvana's songs were catchy in adherence to pop sensibilities with a guitar heaviness complimenting this, and with empathic lyrics addressing everyday romance and childhood insecurities appealing in contrast to the turgidity of mainstream 80s and early 90s rock.

Growing up, as my serious interest in music became intense, I was frequently made a mockery of by my peers for being such a voracious Nirvana fan. It seemed that there was a particular stigma associated to Cobain's demise and the emotionally and personally honest songwriting that preceded it. Nirvana was labelled as an "emo" band (more like Weezer, you plebeian dweebs), the fashion sense that reached its apex in the mid 2000s and was banned by authorities in Russia for apparently promoting self-injury. Over the years, including during his heyday, some have even accused Nirvana of promoting and glorying depressive and suicidal tendencies. One Christian fundamentalist on YouTube claims to have had a vision of Cobain burning in hell for encouraging people to "give up on life" in his songs.

When he took his own life, Cobain sadly accomplished the self-fulfilling prophecy imposed upon him by the mass media, in which he was portrayed in the most one-dimensional terms as a celebratory and self-destructive drug addict and depressive whose music was a confirmation of these tendencies, not an artistic expression of his suffering; and not a reaction to the very presumptions and stereotypes imposed upon his public identity. It was this very pressurization that self-evidently contributed to his death. On the contrary to the accusation of his nihilism, he was keen to express in interviews the value of life and the waste of it that drug abuse results in. Like most of us, he was a frail, flawed mammal, who suffered significant trauma in his childhood. And he suffered from mental illness. To a media with a vessel with which to project the anxieties and cruelties of the public consciousness onto their self-engineered spectacle centered on the idol of Kurt Cobain, that was unforgivable. As if, to appropriate the crankery of our bible-bashing friend, he was already condemned to a torment of his own making. As homosexuality was known as the love that dare not speak its name, mental illness appears to be the suffering that dare not speak its name

Cobain was a visual artist who designed the cover art of Nirvana's albums. Biographies describe his intricate and obsessive design of Nirvana's last studio album, In Utero, the front cover of which features an anatomically detailed skinless human figure with angel wings in a pose indicating divinity. The song "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" references the actress who was subjected to brutal psychiatric institutionalization and torturous "therapies" which by all accounts mentally destroyed her; no doubt he would have related to the blaming of the fragile victim by the horde.

The legend of Kurt Cobain portrays him as a bearded Christ-like savior of rock music, a messenger of his generation. In his own time he wryly resented such labels, rejecting the very pedestal he was placed upon. Ironically he can be compared to Christ on the cross: the spears plunged into his body by the public eye, torn open for dissection like his In Utero angel, while being forced to don a crown of thorns ridiculing his distinction.

Like Frances Farmer we should remember Kurt Cobain in awareness of how mental health patients are treated in our societies. In 21 years, stigma still exists, but awareness has increased substantially. Cobain through his transparent empathy and compassion, as expressed in his music, will have undoubtedly contributed to that. We should celebrate him for this, along with his ingenious talent.