Photo credit: Whoever was standing in front of Tim Berners-Lee
Dealing with people in real life is beyond the remit of this advice column. With any luck you won’t meet many, as live human beings are notoriously difficult to hammer into shape. We shall concern ourselves with replying to those in the splendid human construct known as social media.
You see a contrary opinion online. An itch starts in your brain, impossible to ignore. It must be scratched! But how do you get to it?
Through your keyboard. (Real warriors use keyboards, not touch screens.)
1. Take a deep breath, it will oxygenate your blood. Maybe have a nice cup of tea before getting down to work, if tea’s your cup of tea.
2. The time-honoured practice of cracking your knuckles is an over-used trope, but do it if it you’re superstitious. Just don’t overdo it, you’ll be needing those fingers in good working order.
3. We’ll dispense with the numbering system. The point is made that this is a logical process.
Rember always that arguments are like bowling balls—they’re bound to have holes in them.
Examine the enemy’s case closely for flaws. (‘Enemy’ is merely convenient shorthand.) You might get lucky straight off the bat: have they even written something worth rousing yourself to answer?
Be polite. It’s a rare skill, often confused with cowardice. It will confuse the enemy.
If this is a factual fray, document, document, document. Be meticulous with your sources and be ready at a moment’s notice to provide links, preferably more than one should your adversary show an indifference to your preferred authority. Bear in mind that both The Guardian and the Daily Mail (two well known mines to go digging for fool’s gold), which both employ professional journalists (not necessarily a compliment), are equally unreliable in matters of opinion, which often masquerades as fact.
Determine if the position is theirs or somebody else’s. Have they put in the work to hold it all by themselves? Are you going to attempt to knock them off a bandwagon, or are they standing on carefully prepared ground? If the latter, you may wish to retreat to fight another day, or better yet, accept that perspectives can differ. Even the itchiest brain can learn to accept this as a scratch of sorts.
Look for signs of hypocrisy. Should you find it, consider the labor-saving strategy of allowing them to tie their noose with their own words. Note that any gratification derived may be a private affair, given that hypocrisy is usually vampiric in nature.
it’s obvious who’s the fairest of them all
Use spellcheck if you don’t trust yourself, it’s right there on Google. Generally conform to accepted grammatical norms. Teasing grammar Nazis crosses the line into cruelty.
Don’t say “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” Whoever says this first, loses. While some may see this as politely sweeping away the gauntlet laid down, in truth it is the equivalent of loudly stomping off. There is no need to belabour the obvious.
Whatever you do, never announce that you’re leaving the discussion. This cannot be stressed enough. If you want to go, just go. Some warriors are amazed this is even an option.
Refrain from posting immediately prior to a period of being out of contact with the www, e.g., going to a wedding or funeral, a session of lovemaking, etc. I know you pride yourself on your ability to multitask, but should you think up a better comeback whilst indisposed, the itch will be visited upon you tenfold.
If you think your opponent is reading what he or she wants to read rather than what you wrote, well, everybody thinks this. Almost everybody is right. The mistake here is to openly parade your amazement.
Do not ‘Like’ or blot your post with smileys as an 11-dimensional chess gambit, should your chosen media platform offer these cheesy options. Duel with words, not rancid marshmallows. (Sounds a bit harsh, I know! We’re talking about Likes & emoticons as passive-aggressive weapons. It’s been known to happen.)
What to do if you ‘win’
Disabuse yourself of the notion that you have. Hardly anybody ever ‘wins’, no matter what humble admissions are uttered in the aftermath. The skull is a hardened silo impervious to penetration by even the most sensible argument; while the brain inside may be slammed and partially flattened by the impact of a new idea, it reliably pops back into its original shape.
There are, however, documented cases of people who actually have had their mind changed by a disembodied consciousness filtered through this thing we call the internet:
OK, I’m going to lay my cards on the table. I voted Trump.
Meme generator in same vicinity as rage generator
No, I didn’t. Let me repeat: I did not vote for Donald Jehoshaphat Trump to be President of the United States of America. That was just an experiment to see how you felt immediately after reading it. Pleasure at finding a kindred spirit? Pity? Disgust or even rage bordering on nausea?
Rage so great it can be seen from space
Did you even get past the first sentence (let alone the headline) in order to read this plot twist, or are the saloon doors still rattling back and forth from the speed of your exit?
There’s a not-quote-apropos YouTube moment for everything
The truth is, I voted none of the above, which in the eyes of some Democrats makes me just as bad as the people who voted Nader in 2000. (I voted Nader in 2000.)
I can read* (*the question is what one should be reading) and observe exquisitely unpresidential press conferences. I see how it looks. Amateur hour with clowns at the head table.
And yet, I can’t help but feel that anyone this widely reviled by the forces arrayed against him, including a press corps which made him despite themselves and is itching to unmake him (with the tremendous help of unforced errors), and political opponents more concerned about their stalled career trajectories than the nation’s stability, can’t be all evil.
He also seems inclined to want to act on his campaign promises.*
Sure he’s got his bad points, like clumsily showing concern for America’s borders by wanting to build a wall instead of a fence, or having disturbing tendencies to occasionally speak ugly truths (e.g., “for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…”, “You think our country’s so innocent?”) in between ugly tweets. His every syllable isn’t scripted like a Hillary Clinton’s, and a lot of people like a script.
Setting aside the pesky line of succession, I’m sure we can all think of a hundred other qualified applicants for head of state.
If you’re in the IMPEACH HIM NOW crowd
or the coup d’état crowd
When all you have is a guillotine, every problem looks like a neck
or even the please-report-yourself-to-the-Secret-Service crowd
Tainting the grassy knoll brand forevermore
imagine the almighty turmoil the country would go through if there were a transfer of power in the current climate. Remember that 60 million of your fellow Americans voted for him. They had their reasons, just as you did yours for voting Clinton, or third party, or not at all.
Maybe you have imagined it
Worst. Weather. Ever.
and still feel it’s worth it; maybe you’d be right. It’s something thoughtful people should be able to debate in a reasonable way.
Star Trek comes in handy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed a pop culture reference and reached for Kirk & Co. They’ve also provided fan fiction mulch on a few occasions.
This despite that I rarely rate it higher than Good Bad, the category which naturally falls below Good and above Bad. There’s also a Good Good, but I see no need for a Bad Bad.
I turn on the subtitles when watching anything. It’s not that I’m hard of hearing; it’s more that I always have a nagging worry about missing dialogue, and prefer the redundancy. These days all my viewing is done on a computer, making it easy to collect screenshots along the way.
The following are from the Voyager episode Alter Ego, which may have been the first to make me sit up from my usual half-interested slouch, one eye on the Netflix window, the other on some fresh hell in my chosen opinion aggregator, and say to my Oreo “Hey, this is better than Good Bad.”
After the preliminaries, which are nothing special else I would’ve taken snaps of them, we are presented with the sight of the ship’s senior logic jockey fiddling with one of those Vulcan games that make you wonder if this advanced race is all it’s cracked up to be. Humans discovered Pick-up sticks centuries ago.
In walks Harry:
“Grasshopper,” he forgot to add. Harry calls it:
as I was saying, the obviously troubled Operations Officer
wrong – this is the holo doc’s training tool for fumble-fingered humans
has come seeking wisdom from Lt Cdr “Know-It-All” Tuvok, who like Spock only has one name, all others having been dispensed with probably around the time the Vulcan High Command outlawed any emotion more severe than a raised eyebrow.
Harry has woman woes. A step up from Tribble trouble, if you ask me.
Well, this is Star Trek. Specifically, Harry is smitten with a holodeck character (“Computer, give me something from Baywatch, aged to perfection”) who’s the only one who really understands him. Or at least that’s what I assume the project notes said.
Tuvok looks into the situation
there’s something about Mary
and comes to appreciate what Harry sees in what’s-her-name. But it turns out all is not what it seems. Marayna (all writing is improved by research) isn’t in fact just another saucy tomato.
She’s a highly intelligent forehead being of the sort the crew is forever running into. But I’m getting ahead of myself in my rush to finish this before I run out of screenshots.
Mary lives on a space station, her job to keep an unruly nebula tame by twiddling dials to maintain that wondrous dampening field technology that awaits future generations. She’s a little like a lifeguard keeping her entire race safe, suffering from not-so-splendid isolation.
She’s managed to infiltrate the Voyager’s CPU or whatever and project herself as holobait. She’s done things like this before, to other ships. It passes the time.
Only this time she didn’t reckon to meet a mind as fascinating as Tuvok’s. She falls for him. She must have him, or else. The imminent destruction of the Voyager awaits, unless the crew can figure all this out before the credits roll.
A highlight of the episode is the hilarious fight between holo Hawaiian hotties (resistance to alliteration is futile) and B’Elanna.
Emmy for the new category of Bad Goodness
One wonders if junior Vulcan Voric paid to have that set up, fuel for the obvious Pon farr smoldering behind his bedroom eyes earlier in the show.
There is the usual meeting of the minds (Neelix is often the mascot begging for scraps at the table, but he’s too busy adjusting the feng shui on the holodeck of this love boat) who struggle to find a solution which doesn’t violate the prime directive of being too earnest. They fail, of course, as Tuvok allows himself to be beamed into the lair of the highly intelligent forehead being, who his tricorder identifies as the reincarnation of Alex from Fatal Attraction, to be faced with an ultimatum: be hers, or she’ll use her plasma nebula powers to boil the crew of the Voyager like so many bunnies.
There follows a genuinely touching exchange whereby Tuvok talks her out of this act of extreme jealousy
convincing her that she needs to get out more.
I’ve skipped a lot of details, but that’s the gist of it.
What struck me about this episode was how it rose like a phoenix from the ashes of my expectations, begging the question of why I still watch the various Treks floating forever in syndication. It seems that resistance really is
The new perfume by Borg. Not that Borg.
Look, I’m no TV reviewer. I was just pleased that Alter Ego was better written and acted than the usual ST fare; even, if I may be dreadfully patronising,
Is it possible I will be pleasantly surprised by future episodes I’ve already seen ages ago and conveniently forgotten?
* * *
Bonus shot of the doctor, still nameless (Shmullus doesn’t count) but now considering Don Juan.
Blast from the past:
More screenshots from the not-such-an-idiot-box here. I’d like to see how Janeway handles first contact with Swearengen.
In an alternate timeline B’Elanna eschews engineering for the entertainment industry and gets a gig directing an incredibly appropriately named episode of The Americans.
What home library would complete without the Bible? I’ve even read it, if speed reading counts. This is what I remember.
God clapped his hands and there was light. A few more claps took care of everything else under the sun. Man was given dominion over all the animals except cats. A snake got into the garden and tricksied Eve, the first scapegoat. Everybody moved away because you can’t go home again.
The birds and the bees begat. There were giants in those days, and X-men. Also prophets like Nostradamus, who predicted Hitler before spellcheck.
The world quickly became overpopulated with ne’er-do-wells so there was a flood. Only Noah had bought flood insurance.
Joseph got a nice coat for Christmas: too nice. This angered his brothers, as did the fact that he never had dreams about falling like normal people.
Baby Moses was set adrift in a model boat then grew up to part the waters. Unfortunately he later missed the boat to the Promised Land. First he passed along the X Commandments as chiseled by God, who was pretty high on himself even though things never seemed to go according to plan.
Abraham nearly killed his prodigal son because of voices in his head, but relented and turned him into a pillar of salt instead.
God made Job suffer terribly. The devil made him do it. Job’s response was to say “Thank you Sir may I have another,” so God gave him 14000 sheep and more asses than one man can covet in a lifetime as a kind of apology for being a good sport.
David killed Goliath to show he wasn’t going to be anybody’s bitch.
Moby Dick swallowed Jonah but spat him out again because he preferred plankton.
Joseph believed Mary, bless.
All you need is love, loaves and fishes.
Matthew Mark Luke and John weren’t always on the same page.
The committee of three is making a list and checking it twice.
Hell is other people going around in circles. If you’re going there you probably haven’t been bad enough to meet Hister, but you might be bumping into a few peeps from work.
There are no original sins because they’ve all been done before.
I like to think that I’ve matured enough to develop a little patience, but 13 weeks for an armchair, Multiyork? God knows how our lives will have moved on in 13 weeks.
Unfortunately they carried the only chair my wife and I were willing to allow across the threshold into our home, so it seemed we were stuck. Then one of us – it doesn’t matter who – mentioned IKEA. They weren’t shouting, it’s meant to be in all caps.
A quick search brought the Strandmon to our attention. [Google Translate: it means Strandmon.] While it didn’t possess the aesthetic perfection that we had heretofore felt necessary, it had other qualities which we also hold in esteem: it was a fraction of the price of the überchair, and it was available within that highly desireable timeframe of now. It wasn’t just a showroom tease.
Three trains and a bus (evidently the IKEA Bus – “Does this go to IKEA?” every other person asked as they got on) brought us to the big blue and yellow box in Tottenham/London, where thanks to many internet reviewers we were prepared to run a gauntlet of poor customer service.
We tracked down the chair. First we confirmed that we could bear the sight of it, as much of the life of a chair consists of not actually sitting in it, but having to look at it. Armchairs are very susceptible to being ugly. The Strandmon is too curvy and spindly for my taste, but that was better than an overstuffed monstrosity designed for Jabba the Hut.
When you’re considering a chair, naturally you ponder all of the sitting to come. At a basic level it has to be an improvement over the lack of a chair. Once it gets you off the ground, does it hold you the way you like to be held? Will you have worthy thoughts in it? Read great books? That’s not to say you can’t fall asleep gently drooling in front of bad TV, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire tumbled to the side. It’s just that whatever the future holds, it will include this chair in which you will spend some time pondering the future, an infinite loop which complicates the buying decision.
£195 resimplified the decision. It was available in a nice enough colour+fabric, I quickly divined that the high side wings would cradle my lolling head wonderfully, and apparently it passed the necessary tests back when it was in basic training on how to be a chair, so we got it.
Our first point of contact with an employee was to check it was in stock. She unbruskly and unrudely confirmed it was, then led us most of the way to its location in the warehouse in case we should get lost
I wrestled Strandmon onto a trolley
and after a bit of queuetime discussing how swimmingly it was all going we had our second encounter, a very nonunpleasant cashier who bid us have a nice day. So far we were having one. The direction of the day took a wrong turn when we pulled into the home delivery bay and discovered that our postcode was outside the store’s delivery zone and therefore this particular Strandmon wasn’t going anywhere. We took a number and waited for a refund from a woman who once again failed to achieve targets for surliness, then rubbed our faces in it with vouchers for a happy meal to make up for the disappointment of having to order it online instead.
Once it arrived it fit right in; accusations of curviness and spindliness were quickly forgotten.
Strandmon was later commandeered by a rabbit.
1991-1995 we lived on Sussex Street in Jersey City, our last address before moving to England. It was a 2 bed shotgun apartment in Paulus Hook, a neighbourhood clinging to the eastern edge of New Jersey. (Definition of a shotgun: one room leads directly to the next in a straight line, such that you can pull the trigger in say the kitchen, and if the doors are lined up as they were with ours, hit a burglar climbing through the bedroom window.) We were in 2L, though I suppose here it would be 1L. Rent wasn’t bad; it’s now a rather pricey area.
Therese appears to be reading the Newark Star-Ledger, which Sunday edition competed with the New York Times for roughage. I note that there’s a book called Medical Tests to her right, these being the days before Dr Google.
She’s sitting in one of a pair of wonderful old polished dark wood and velour chairs we bought at The Salvation Army charity shop for a song. (Most of our furniture was similarly sourced.) We would’ve carried them home a mile or so from the shop. They weren’t light.
The kitchen is in the back. The window overlooked the Statue of Liberty, perhaps a few dozen of her giant steps away.
I wouldn’t call Jersey City a “slice of heaven”, as the mayor suggested it could be to make the credulous feel better about their life choices, but we were reasonably happy there. It was a little like living in NYC but better, as it was cheaper and we had a grand view of the Manhattan skyline a few minutes walk from our doorstep.
The women just upstairs were lovers and fighters. When they weren’t scrapping they played Enya. This one, over and over:
Downstairs was Wanda, permanently stationed at her window on the world. She’d lived in the building since the Nixon administration, and held a grudge against the original owner for selling to a less than than scrupulous landlord. We liked Wanda. When she died in her 80th year a couple of Russians with no volume control moved in. Thanks to them and the Irish mezzo-soprano, we got in the habit of turning the stereo up. Those days are a far cry from peaceful Far East Sussex.
This is Stephenie Ralston, early in her tenure as manager of marketing and publications at The Lotos Club in NYC. I’m guessing 1994, when she was 53. She singlehandedly kept my typesetting business in the black by giving me their menus, invitations, and monthly newsletter. (Not this one. Occupy Lotos!) The fax would whirr, and I’d get to work on my Compugraphic phototypesetter. This marvelous machine featured WYSIWYG, still a novelty in the biz. Many was the night I spent hunched over a light table with my ruler and X-Acto knife, laying down sheets of cold type with hot wax.
I cut quite the figure in those days: long of hair, ample of belly, scruffy of attire. It’s a wonder I ever made it past the front desk to her office in the sanctum, “where timeless elegance and contemporary style meet.” She does appear to be looking at me with a degree of amusement.
The Club motto comes from The Lotos-Eaters by Tennyson:
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon
And alternate side of the street parking was suspended
Mark Twain was an early member, which has helped keep dues aspirational ever since.
Stephenie died in 2016. According to her obituary, she was an activist in the civil rights movement and an anti-war protester in the 1960s. In addition to her street cred, “her ability to complete crossword puzzles [presumably The New York Times] in record time was only matched by her remarkable chocolate cake and outstanding apple crisp.”
This next one is Nick Tartaglia, dust specks and all. He was in charge of the copier machines at the New Jersey print shop where I worked for a few years. He talked a mile a minute.
It was the easiest job I ever got. They were advertising for someone who could type, which I was able to do thanks to the only class in high school that ever advanced my career. I walked in, sat in front of the keyboard, proved that my fingers were up to the task without supervision by my eyes, and asked when I could start.
They then left me alone for a few weeks to figure out how to use the computer. You needed to input relatively simple code to configure text. It was kind of fun.
One of our clients was a certain literary club in the city.
The bosses treated me well. I wasn’t shy about asking for raises (despite being a mediocre typesetter; proper training wouldn’t have gone amiss), and I reached the grand heights of $500/week – a fortune.
I even talked them into letting me off the time clock, a hateful device. This lone act of chutzpah did not endear me to my co-workers.
Located in a former swamp, my employer may not have given Tony Soprano’s crew a run for their money, but they did operate in a bit of a moral vacuum. Nick later told me that they used to pay the chief pressman partly in cocaine, an arrangement which fortunately I was never offered.
During a flood I observed them throwing piles of paper stock on the water to increase the insurance payout. They also reported an expensive camera as a write-off, even though it had been untouched.
My personal favourite was when a customer hired them to make a counterfeit of the test results she’d lied about to get a job. Guess whose job it was to match the type and give her a higher score: a challenge I’ll admit was a pleasure, given my regard for standardized tests.
Eventually I grew unhappy with life at the print shop and set off on my own. Shortly afterwards The Lotos Club also jumped ship and landed in my lap. What can I say, I gave good customer service.
I’ve been carrying one camera or another for a long time. (You can say that again.) At some point it occurred to me that a picture is worth as many words as it takes to complete the picture. That number may be 0,
Elvis signing with RCA Records under the ever watchful eye of Colonel Parker, just out of shot. The two had taken the contract out of the office to cool off after a heated discussion involving a clause requiring the rising young star to gyrate his hips in a manner which he found objectionable on the grounds that his mother wouldn’t approve. “I’m sure she’ll approve of the new house you’ll be able to buy her,” the Colonel told him. Warming to the idea but still uncertain if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Elvis asked two young ladies if the suggestive thrusting of his hips would deter them from buying his records. They searched their conscience and assured him that it wouldn’t, provided he lived a wholesome life when not under the spotlight. Grabbing a pen and a boy passing on a bicycle, he signed. The rest is music history. The boy grew up to become a DEA agent and a big Elvis fan. More days in history
Everything and everyone is fair game, and I do mean everyone.
Computers grew impatient with humans
Professor Hawking admires what he thinks is a new ‘black hole’ screensaver. His wife hasn’t yet told him that the computer isn’t plugged in. (Yes, some of these are a bit old. RIP, Stephen.)
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is lost for words as he suddenly realizes the ferris wheel has torn loose and is headed straight for him
Their first fight was over ‘Spank me Sally’, whose calling card she spotted in the phone box, and later, his wallet. (Here comes the bride. And again.)
These strange times have short-circuited our normal expectations. Circumspect neighbours dance with enough distance between each other to satisfy a vicar chaperoning a school dance. The world watches a leader throw a strop with a(n admittedly often deplorable) press and somehow convince grown adults it’s in their best interest to drink cleaning products. And last week it was Christmas, at least here in our cozy pocket of Far East Sussex.
On St. George’s day the mail carrier left presents in the plague box outside the front door.
Out of frame: the Coronadragon
This is a recycling container, ostensibly the property of Rother District Council but abandoned by them since the contract was awarded to another refuse collection agency
and repurposed as a bin for packages from the outside world. Now I only open it wearing gloves. While the contents of envelopes are usually decanted into a plague tray to await the decontaminating effects of time – laugh if you want – boxes of supplies are unceremoniously gutted on the kitchen floor.
One was a delivery of Doublebase Gel, the best moisturizer in the world as far as my wife is concerned. (I’m a known sceptic of all known gels, lotions and potions applied to the skin – ick! – but have also been sold). Hands constantly washed are in dire need of first aid, and this stuff is the bomb.
The other package, a cylinder with a label bearing exquisite calligraphy, was a mystery. I had an outstanding small order for bike parts, but this did not look like the sort of wrapping a repair kit for a Topeak Joe Blow pump would be arriving in.
When I carefully applied the box cutter to it, green leaves immediately peeked out. What fresh hell was this, we both wondered, Therese bearing witness to the proceedings. As more leaves spilled forth, it suddenly struck me: This must be for Chompsky!
Not long ago I’d made the virtual acquaintance of Tom, a Yorkshireman who cycles, carves, and who knows what else when he’s not penning beautifully written travelogues. (Oh, here’s what else. He’s also a dab hand with photo editing software.) Aware of my love of the woodland creature who shares our home, he applied his talents to a switch of sycamore: “tarted up a cooking spoon” is how he put it. Who knew spoons grew on trees.
The leaves protecting this treasure were fresh willow, safer to introduce to our rabbit than the utensil, which will in due course appear with Chompsky in a photoshoot at a safe distance from his chompers.
We were advised to give this instant heirloom a little flax or walnut oil now and then, and hand wash only. I assume this is meant as a working spoon, but lordy, that will be difficult.
“It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself,” said the pint-sized Dali Llama [“Did you mean: dalai lama?” asked Google – no I did not] to Neo in The Matrix, spawning god knows how many spinoffs.
There’s more if you go back in time
Yes, I’m just just dumping these spoons in a big drawer at this point
Couldn’t find a clip of Marie’s kleptomania in Breaking Bad – what gives, video archivists?
This work of art, a mind-bending gift of generosity, is a sterling example of the silver lining of Covid-19. It has been widely observed that people seem friendlier of late. Obvs YMMV, but that’s certainly been my experience. I’ve lost count of the pleasant, if slightly breathless, conversations with people clearly happy to be out and doing something different than what they normally get up to – probably either working, or worrying about another strand of their life.
Although the forum where the woodcarver and I met was already heavily trafficked, I believe the current situation has increased the thirst for quality social interaction (defined as you wish, but for me, something more than idle chat). My reckoning is that he appreciated the care I put into my contributions, and saw a kindred spirit. “Filigree high in the rafters” is how it was put once upon a time.
Whatever his motivation to donate his creative labour, one is bid to pay it forward. There are worse articles of faith than ‘What goes around comes around’. Does it? I’m moved to say