Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, September 18, 2007

THERE was a time when, if you wanted to warn the citizens of the World of the impending arrival of little green men, who were sending you messages through your tin-foil hat, the only way to spread the word was to get on your soap-box at Hyde Park Corner.
It was the repository of the angry, the disaffected and the nut-job.
Then Tim Berners-Lee came up with bright idea of the Internet. Couldn’t he just have let it lie?
Now every wibbling Tom, Dick and Harry has access to the wired-up world to present their views in all their glory.
No longer are they limited to how much they can shout out before the men in white coats come along to take them to the room with the comfy walls, now they can spread the mad word 24/7.
The web has been hailed as the great democratiser of information. No longer is it the preserve of the likes of journalists such as myself, conspiring with my press baron masters to control the flow of news to the masses.
Now anyone with a PC can set up their own website and hey-presto, everyone’s a ‘commentator’ on whatever subject takes their beady-eyed fancy that particular day.
But a word of caution.
Electronic communication, in whatever form, has a tendency to exclude all reason. The more technically advanced it is, the less human it renders you.
There was a time when we communicated face-to-face, by letter, or by phone, and that was pretty much it. Talking to someone in their presence does, for the most part, have a tendency to force us to adopt some norms of civilisation, politeness, common decency etc.
The act of writing a letter, committing something to the permanence of paper that can be treasured, copied, or produced in a court of law, makes you think twice about intemperate language.
The telephone means whoever is on the other end can answer back, you can hear their tone and gauge the effect your own words are having.
All that goes out the window as soon as you sit down at a little screen with the World Wide Web as your oyster.
Normally sane and rational people suddenly have an attack of the screaming ab-dabs when they are put in command of a mouse and they start giving us the benefit of their obviously pent-up thoughts on life, the universe and everything.
E-mail is another nightmare in this respect. It’s instant and having tapped out a message that will make its recipient burn with rage, it is despatched at the click of a mouse, while a snail-mail letter once re-read, might have been rewritten into something less inflammatory.
Chatrooms, supposedly conducive to open debate, are quite the reverse, and become a virtual shouting match with more mud flying than there is at the bottom of a scrum on a wet weekend.
I have been unwise enough to indulge in these on news-sites and, having entered for a quick look at what was causing debate, have found myself, three hours later, in furious debate with some American redneck over the situation in the Middle East. A situation which, I hasten to add, it was patently obvious both of us knew nothing about, other than we disagreed with each other.
You have to wonder quite why people indulge in such grandstanding. Perhaps that what the higher-ups in the Labour party in Wales are thinking about David Collins’ contribution to the debate over the language. Namely, that he thought it was ‘brain dead.’ Unfortunately he thought it out loud on a website and was thus pilloried by every political opponent who smelt blood in the water.
Mr Collins, researcher for Vale of Clwyd AM, Ann Jones, has said it was a slip of the keyboard and that he meant to say it was a dead language, not brain-dead. So that’s alright then. But I would just say that the difference between the word dead and the phrase brain dead is pretty significant and that’s a long enough slip of the keyboard to stretch credulity.
The thing is, we should be able to have a calm, rational debate about the future of Welsh and the place it has in our culture. It is a minority language, albeit a large minority and more and more young people have a working knowledge of it now that they have to do it throughout their school life.
But using phrases like ‘dead’ or ‘brain-dead’ tends to halt any advance of that debate dead in its tracks, because it’s like red rag to a bull to those committed to the language surviving and prospering.
They then attack the person who made such remarks, call for Ann Jones to act, call for the Welsh Labour party to act, and they all naturally get on the defensive and issue statements distancing themselves from Mr Collins while not actually doing anything, probably in the not unrealistic hope that it’s a storm in a tea-cup and it’ll all blow over.
Until next time.
The fact is that for a politician, for Mr Collins harbours political ambition, in Wales to say Welsh is ‘brain-dead’ or even dead, is a pretty dumb thing to do.
I don’t mind my politicians being outspoken and opinionated, it’s what they’re there for – but being stupid is unforgivable.

ONLY in Wales do you get your rugby in stereo.
In one Cardiff pub last week and there was club rugby on one screen, in Welsh and World Cup on the opposite side of the bar, with patrons swivelling according to where the action was.
And it’s a joy to be in a bar where, when a transgression occurs, those present, nod, or disagree, but do not sit nonplussed waiting for the one ex-rugby player present (me) to explain to them the dark mysteries of the ruck (I was a winger, what would I know about one of them? I would just be lying at the bottom of one screaming @not the face, not the face’)
I ended up debating, at length, with a football fan the point of watching a World Cup where minor nations never produce upsets (he had, it turned out, missed Argentina’s opener against France)
I think that, unlike football, you can enjoy a rugby match in which your team go down fighting. Such as Wales Australia . But perhaps you enjoy it more knowing that the English didn’t even put a point on the board against South Africa .
Nul points from the South African jury.

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