No News Is Bad News

I like to keep abreast of current affairs. I find important issues such as elections, changing macroeconomic conditions and the name of Kate and Will’s latest to be extremely compelling.
In addition to keeping a watchful eye on these weighty issues I am also drawn to the weird happenings in the world. For instance this week I learnt of a 0.5km fun run in the Texan town of Boerne. That decimal point is not a typo, we’re talking 500m. I could do that – it’s a fraction of the distance I run every day looking for my keys, phone and wallet. The run starts at one bar and ends at another. One hundred and fifty metres into the run there’s a doughnut stand, which is beside a smoking area. It would be fair to say the emphasis is more on fun than run.
You could say the organisers of the Boerne fun run are “taking the piss”, but not as much as IKEA, as this next piece of news will reveal. IKEA recently placed a magazine advert for baby bassinets that doubled as a pregnancy test. Anyone who thought they might be pregnant was encouraged to pee on the ad that was splashed across the magazine’s pages. If they were pregnant the positive test revealed a previously hidden special discount price. If there are couples out there reading this and trying to get pregnant – not at the same time obviously – please note this only works for women.
Some people may discount weird items news as being improbable or inconsequential. Whereas I, having lived with myself these past few decades, find them entirely believable. Furthermore, I find they have value in allowing me to view the weird events in my own life less severely. For example, I read of a job interview that went awry when the applicant fainted and only regained consciousness in an ambulance. Which made me feel better about the time I went to the toilet while nervously waiting for a job interview. When I tried to leave the stall I found I was locked in. With my phone in my car, and my cries for help going unnoticed I resolved to commando crawl under the door. However I was concerned my clothes would get dirty so I stripped to my underwear then squeezed through the gap. While lying horizontal and scantily clad on the toilet floor someone came in; I was relieved – in every sense – when they didn’t hang around. However I did get the opportunity to explain myself fully to them when I saw them on the interview panel. You see it works, you’re already feeling better about your own worst interview.
It is incorrect that News is an acronym for either Notable Events, Weather and Sport, or for North, East, West and South. Rather the clue is in the name; news is to do with new information. Other explanations are fake (news).
Fake news, unlike real news, is intended to deceive. It is not news. Nor is it new – the term was used as early as 1894 in a cartoon by Frederick Opper. We owe a lot to President Donald Trump for the work he has done in the area of fake news. We are especially indebted to his broadening of the term to include accurate news that he doesn’t like.
Real news has power, and the people who vilify the fourth estate, or worse still harm those within it, realize this. News has the power to increase the engagement of ordinary people in society. Initially through increasing their ability to hold a conversation. Secondly, it facilitates the shaping the people’s opinions and beliefs. Then ultimately, news allows people to go out and shape their world. Clearly dangerous stuff.
So I’m going out to buy a quality newspaper with accurate reporting, reasoned editorials and a few job vacancies with interviews by Skype – not in an office block with a dodgy toilet door.
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Spammers Beware

The world of technology is a bit like Pandora’s box. Although when Pandora lifted the lid only evil escaped. Technology, on the other hand, has released much good into the world. For example, the world wide web can aid learning, it brings people together (whoever knew they had so many wealthy relatives in Nigeria?) and it allows 24/7 shopping for necessities such as Cecily calendars.
Today my beef is with spam. Which is odd because spam, the tinned meat, is made from pork and ham then cunningly disguised to look like spleen. Electronic spam takes its name from a Monty Python skit set in a restaurant where a table of Vikings – oh come on it’s not that unusual – sit in a corner loudly singing, ‘Spam, Spam, Wonderful Spam’, thus drowning out the real conversation with their unwanted message.
Electronic spam too is disguised, only not as spleen. Those Nigerian relatives, fake invoices and requests to confirm account details, etc. hide everything from brazen requests for your money through to links that will rob you of your bank details, money and faith in humanity.
What can we do I hear you ask plaintively? Traditional advice has been to delete any suspicious emails without opening them. All very sage, but not very satisfying. Firstly, this will protect you, but not others. Then secondly, and most infuriatingly, it doesn’t hurt the spammer. And let’s face it, what we really want is to do is have them beaten to a pulp or made to copy out Donald Trump’s autobiography 100 times.
However, now there is a way we can fight back. The New Zealand Government internet watchdog, Netsafe, has invented an artificially intelligent chat-bot that engages with the spammer and continues an indefinite conversation, thus sending the spammer on a fool’s errand, wasting their time and resources. All you have to do is forward any spam that you receive to me@rescam.org The chat-bot at Netsafe will strip off any identifying information to do with you, and then spend some quality time with the spammer. This software acts like a human, making both spellng mistakes and jokes, and can engage an infinite number of spammers at once. There is a God! And now her eye is on those pasty-faced highwaymen of the internet. You don’t have to be a New Zealander to do this, but if you are from elsewhere just remember that it’s my taxes that brought you this divine retribution, so please, no more sheep jokes.
If you feel so inclined Netsafe will send you a link so that you can follow their conversation with the spammer. While infuriating a spammer is not as satisfying as having them publicly flogged there is a certain poetry in turning the tables on these people that waste our time and cost the world’s economy an estimated US$50 billion each year. Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if that money and internet traffic were involved in education, reuniting old friends or on-line purchases of Cecily calendars.