Category Archives: News

Bad Mood

I’ve definitely had better days. My grandfather has been in a nursing home for the past couple of months and really isn’t very well, so I’m worried about him. I’m not sleeping brilliantly at the moment and so I’m permanently tired, which means that my stammer’s acting up – one phone call today was particularly awesome. And, just because it could, the office printer decided it was going to proclaim itself screwed after I changed the toner. After half an hour of increasingly fractious gaaaaaaah attempts to make it work, my brother came along and instantly made it better by… doing exactly the same thing as I’d been doing. It’s like the printer rebelled against me personally for shits and giggles.

But what’s really put me in a bad mood this evening is the so-called “Honeymoon Murder” case in South Africa involving Shrien Dewani and his murdered wife, Anni – in particular, how a clearly opportunistic and politically motivated plea-bargain arrangement with the taxi driver has somehow resulted in the South African wing of the Twitterverse completely losing its marbles, making countless people automatically believe the word of a convicted criminal over a man who has no criminal record and, more importantly (despite the desperate attempts to fabricate one), absolutely no motive whatsoever for seeking his wife’s death. There’s a very convoluted spin on the Mrs Merton joke, “So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” when it comes to the plea-bargain, but I believe I’ll postpone.

Once Dewani’s bail hearing has been concluded and we know a bit more about what’s likely to happen next – the initial bail agreement is currently under appeal by the South African representatives and I can’t really see why, other than them being pricks for the sake of it – I’ll have a lot to say about this case and what it reveals about national pride gone blinkered, the fickle nature of summary justice on the internet, and the casual racism of our mid-market tabloid press.

You may want to put on your best tweed jacket for that one.

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Wiki-Wiki-Wikileaks

*DJ Hero 2 Scratching Noise*

I’ve been supportive of Wikileaks over the past week. The leak of 250,000 US State Department diplomatic cables has prompted outrage from Governments around the world who don’t want their dirty laundry aired in public, but their constant screams of, “But this information will endanger every man, woman and child in the universe, and anyway, that Julian Assange is a rapist!” haven’t exactly seemed credible.

It’s been fun reading diplomats’ assessments of certain world leaders, but being able to work out that Russia is a “virtual mafia state” wouldn’t exactly flummox Sherlock Holmes, and these leaks have mainly confirmed things we already knew or suspected, rather than providing us with genuinely new information.

This morning, however, I read the first leak that I’ve actually been uncomfortable with Wikileaks releasing. It’s a list of “critical infrastructure and key resources” identified by the US Government – pretty much a little black book of targets for terrorists to hit. It seems to be me to be pretty irresponsible to leak, as these aren’t just military installations or obviously valuable buildings. The list identifies all the possible targets – many of them medical and industrial – that the US considers essential to its well-being. As such, it’s like painting a series of bullseyes over a map of the world.

So while I’ve enjoyed reading about Silvio Berlusconi’s “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard”, as well as Vladimir Putin’s alleged billions in Swiss bank accounts (maybe he could lend Julian Assange a fiver, as the Wikileaks founder’s own Swiss bank account has just been shut down as part of the noose quickly tightening around his neck – a combination of Governmental pressure, and puppet companies willing to play along with their obvious agenda), I do think there’s a limit when it comes to playing into the hands of America’s enemies. Assange and the rest of the Wikileaks team have every right to be “anti” when it comes to America given how they’ve been treated, but they do need to continue to act responsibly, lest their quest to lay the truth bare for the public turns into an uglier, and more dangerous, affair.

It’s worth pointing out that all these cables were given en masse to certain media organisations last week – this one was just found as a result of the massive trawling-through exercise that journalists are currently engaged in, so it wasn’t like anyone planned to release the key infrastructure list specifically today. Hopefully, therefore, the fact that this document is unredacted is merely an anomaly, and isn’t a sign of things to come.

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Ray Gosling – “Sheer Liar And Fantasist”

Today I thought I should follow up on this piece from February about Ray Gosling, the BBC presenter who claimed in a television documentary that he mercy-killed his terminally ill lover.

As you may know, the police interviewed Gosling as a matter of course after the show aired to see whether there was a case for him to answer. Instead of trying to work out whether to charge him for his supposed act of compassion, though (remember that assisted suicide is illegal in this country), they smelt a rat and began to suspect him of making the whole thing up. Today a court gave Gosling a 90-day suspended sentence for wasting police time, as the BBC reports.

Looking back and reading my blog entry about the original “confession”, I was rather suspicious about Gosling’s motives for revealing his story. I wrote at the time: “But from my point of view, there’s something incongruous between the act of Gosling smothering his AIDS-riddled lover with a pillow, and the overly theatrical way in which he explained it on the Inside Out programme, and his subsequent interview on Radio 5 Live in which, frankly, he sounded unhinged… I can’t help feeling that the theatrical way in which he presented the story, and the terminology used, seem to muddy the view that he simply did what he had to.”

The truth of the matter was staring me in the face. I had picked up the signs but hadn’t come to the right conclusion, which would appear to be that Gosling was simply attention-seeking. Perhaps he was trying to give himself a bit of notoriety to enhance a media career that was treading water. After the programme aired he claimed to be surprised by the intense public reaction, but now it looks like this was the intention all along.

Of course, the real victims here are the family of Gosling’s lover, who must be terribly hurt by this pathetic attempt at subterfuge. It came to light during the court case that the police spent over 1,800 hours investigating the false report, and that Gosling wasn’t even in the country when his lover died. Despite this, the presenter at first protested his innocence, claiming, “In my heart and in my head I plead not guilty.” His solicitor eventually persuaded him to change his plea to guilty, but it is clear that even now Gosling cannot accept exactly what he has done. Look at the language used: “Digby Johnson, my solicitor, tells me technically I am guilty.” Technically? And he still insists that the mythical pact with his lover existed.

As far as I’m concerned, Gosling isn’t right in the head. To make something like this up was incredibly cruel and self-serving, but at least his fantasist ways have been revealed and his career is certainly now in ruins. Looks like the karma police have got a result, then, even if common decency hasn’t.

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Journeyed

Today we learnt that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown didn’t always get on. I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked to the core. All that time in Downing Street, with everyone believing they loved each other so much that they probably shared a twin room whenever Cherie and Sarah weren’t looking, and actually they were secretly briefing against each other behind their backs, unleashing an arsenal of apparatchiks, loyalists, and those who have been described as “cultists” to slag each other off! Unbelievable! Next you’ll be telling me that the Pakistan cricket team is capable of corruption, or that Cheryl Cole is autotuned.

While the former Prime Minister’s autobiography, “A Journey”, seems to contain few surprising revelations beyond arch-rival Brown’s hamfisted blackmail attempt to prevent pensions reform, and Blair’s penchant for a nice couple of glasses of red after work, it has nevertheless sent the Labour party and the media at large into the kind of spin-frenzy that makes washing machines resolve to train harder next season. We had the Labour leadership candidates saying that it’s THE FUTURE THAT MATTERS while… er… digging the boot into their rivals about their roles in the New Labour project and past events; former allies and spin-doctors of both Blair and Brown taking opposing positions and firing broadsides at each other; every newspaper political commentator worth their salt nailing predictable ideological colours to the mast; and the BBC’s Nick Robinson admitting mistakes in how he portrayed the Blair/Brown relationship, probably because he didn’t superimpose their severed heads onto the screen and CGI a nuclear explosion around them every time he talked about their personal dynamic.

For me, though, the most interesting contributions came from those who have brazenly lied multiple times in the past when they said there were no problems between Blair and Brown – usually claiming that the very notion was a media invention. When challenged over why they pulled an Arsene Wenger and “didn’t see ze incidents”, they – including several MPs and spin doctors – pretty much all said that sometimes in Government you have to lie, and they couldn’t exactly tell the truth over this or it would have caused serious trouble for the party. Blair, meanwhile, said that he couldn’t get rid of Brown as Chancellor because the resulting disruption would probably have accelerated his rise to power. “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” basically. I find the politics within the politics of politics to be endlessly fascinating. The Thick Of It often seems like it’s pulling its punches (unlike Prescott, eh!) when you hear about what really goes on behind the scenes.

Despite all the sound and fury today, nobody’s position on Blair or his record has moved even one iota because of the book, as I predicted a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure that Blair didn’t write his memoirs in order to change anyone’s mind, though – they’re simply an opportunity for him to reinforce his own arguments and explain things from his own point of view. Hopefully the Royal British Legion will get a lot of money out of it, which will make the exercise worthwhile. In any event, Brown’s eventual riposte should be interesting.

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The Cost Of Ignorance

A couple of days ago I pulled my punches somewhat when I put forward my views about the Facebook page calling Raoul Moat a legend. It’s easy to sit here in my educated ivory tower and spake forth in a booming voice (probably saying “forsooth” a lot) about the stupidity of people that all the media assume are part of a so-called “underclass” posting to support Moat. We clutch our red correction pens, see badly constructed sentences and the language of bad text messaging, and instantly assume that the people writing the posts aren’t exactly clever. Frankly we instinctively believe that they’re bloody idiots, living on another planet. Then our consciences kick in, and we feel bad about coming to such an instant conclusion. In some cases, we’re being unfair. In others, however, our instincts were bang on, and maybe we shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about saying so. Anti-elitism has become more and more fashionable in the past few years, but maybe those who still believe in aspiration should kick back a bit harder.

Judging someone based on a couple of sentences on a Facebook page (no matter how ill-advised) is far from an exact science, but a full radio interview is something else. If you haven’t listened to the following clip featuring the woman who set up the infamous Facebook page, it’s an absolute must: a horrific insight into the minds of fools. The real sinking feeling, though, doesn’t come from her abhorrent, moronic views, but from the fact that she has two kids. I don’t know about you, but when I heard that, my face fell. I know the radio presenter sensed it too – the feeling of an inevitable cycle of ignorance. This interview raises fundamental questions about the course of society, questions far too complex to attempt to address late on a Friday night after a bottle of wine. But they’re there. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely the sort of person who knows what they are. And someone, eventually, will have to bite the bullet and attempt to address them.

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The Dote On Moat

The thorny issue of free speech has been rearing its ugly head again today due to the controversial Facebook page that supports Raoul Moat, the scourge of leafy Rothbury. Condemned by the Prime Minister today the page has, at the time of writing, over 33 thousand sign-ups.

Many of the comments on the page blame the police for his death, and some even say that Moat should have shot more of them. As befits the easy stereotype of such a powder keg, newspapers including (inevitably) the Daily Mail are already labelling it as being systematic of Britain’s underclass, taking great pleasure in printing the inelegant scrawls of txt msg Ingliss to underline just how stupid they think the contributors are.

To a point, I can understand the outrage (though the Daily Mail condemning hatred even though it published that infamous Jan Moir column last year – wow, headline edited yet again since I last saw it – is hypocrisy on an epic scale). I do think that signing up to such a group is questionable at best, considering Moat’s actions. But there is a section of society that doesn’t like the police for whatever reason, and Facebook’s refusal to delete the page is an understandable concession to everyone’s right to free speech, no matter how misguided.

However, refusing to excise a page that in part encourages the further shooting of police officers is an interesting decision when you compare it to the likely action that would take place in the case of religious, racial or sexual hatred. It seems that you can advocate murdering people who hold a certain profession, but not insult those who hold religious beliefs. This seems a bit inconsistent. In essence, there is a pecking order when it comes to discrimination, where public bodies don’t presently enjoy the protection that other groups have enshrined in law. Similarly, it has been acceptable – even encouraged – over the past couple of years to call for the extreme death and nads-crushing of bankers. “They ripped us off, we’ll rip their knackers off.”

From my point of view, saying that any group in society deserves to die, no matter who or what that group may be, is moronic to the level of a late afternoon ITV chatshow. Free speech might think about a bit of consistency when it comes to what is and isn’t acceptable. Either it’s all fair game, or none of it is. Encouraging murder? Personally, I’m not a fan.

The ultimate free speech doesn’t come from what you can post on the internet, of course. It’s all about who you decide you want to mix with, and who you call your friends. I’m sorry, folks, but if you have the right to publicly pronounce that Raoul Moat’s a legend, then I have the right to call you an utter bell-end for doing so. More importantly, everyone out there has the right never to speak to such people ever again. So if any of your Facebook friends have joined that page and posted something ‘controversial’, you might want to think again about being associated with them. After all, who we call our friends says a lot about us.

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Stranger Than Fiction

Storytelling is supposed to be logical. Even though I was talking about the importance of the element of surprise in my own writing earlier this week, any misdirection or major plot shift has to work within the context of the story. Real life, however, plays by its own rules, and often comes up with stuff that would be laughed out of any novel or script.

Picture the movie: MOAT. Raoul Moat, on the run from the cops, fuelled by a self-serving sense of injustice about his treatment at the hands of the police and how his parents named him (he does, after all, sound like a lesser Batman villain), survives for a week in and around leafy Rothbury. He’s helped by friends in the area, moving from campsite to campsite, always one step ahead of the authorities. At the end of Act Three there’s a massively tense standoff between him and the police, which ends either with him committing suicide or being captured. Studio notes decide.

The real life version of the story – the one happening right now – is seven shades weirder. Firstly, the news crews are running around like blue arse flies, speculating and indulging in wildly inappropriate interviews with witnesses and their “mams” on the phone. So far, so Russell T Davies scene-setting montage. Then out of left field comes something that even Paul the psychic octopus would think is a completely fucking mental story – Paul Gascoigne turning up in Rothbury to assist the police. Claiming that Raoul Moat is his friend. Bringing a dressing gown, a cooked chicken and a can of lager to give him. Even now I’m staring at my gin and tonic, wondering what the bloody hell it’s been spiked with. Anyone going to their script editor with this plotline would immediately be laughed out of Dodge.

Imagine the ending of Seven, with John Doe playing one last dastardly game with detectives Mills and Somerset. They’re all out in the middle of nowhere, and Somerset flags down a courier van that’s delivering a box addressed to Mills. The box is opened. But it doesn’t have the disturbing contents that the audience is expecting. Instead, a hundred dancing CGI unicorns pour out and quickly form a chorus line, joining Mills, Somerset and Doe in a Disney-style singalong. Cut to end credits.

THAT’S what Gazza turning up at the end of the Moat news story is like. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

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