Thursday, January 22, 2015

Beware The Euro In Your Wheelbarrow, or an idiot’s guide to big words

Quantitative easing? Isn’t that where a central bank tries to create just a little inflation to get the economy moving again while pretending it isn’t creating just a little inflation? Or is it where a central bank tries to create just a little inflation to get the economy moving again while pretending it isn’t creating just a little inflation, but creates a whole lot of inflation and fucks things up even worse? Nice term though, reassuring, as though they know what they are doing. Many of you will have come across the definition of an economist as someone who is able to explain convincingly to today why what he convincingly predicted yesterday didn’t happen. And if you haven’t come across it before you have now. The term ‘quantitative easing’ is related to that: sounds great, sophisticated, intelligent, reassuringly complex and if and when things go tits up, no one really knows why and it can all be explained away in a jiffy.

Economists are rather like ad agencies - those who resort to their services don’t really have any idea whether or not they are worth the money spent hiring them, but dare not do without them in case they do know what they are talking about. I am fascinated by economics, but at one remove.

Years ago I was one of many who was baffled by all the talk of us selling chairs to America and America paying us in bread, but got lost soon afterwards. Similarly with the ways of the City and the stock markets - I was suitably impressed by all the waffle until - in my case rather late in the day - I realised that all the jargon used was not primarily a means of fellow practitioners being able to talk to each other in their own shorthand, but was primarily intended to make sure the rest of us didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.

A good example is when talk turns to a highly leveraged company: well, you think, highly leveraged! Well! Must be a success! Then you find out that what it actually means is that the company has either
borrowed a lot of money or, at the very least, the money it owes is considerably larger than the financial value of its assets (many of which will be illiquid i.e. it would take a while to turn them into ready cash to meet your debts if you had to and, anyway, by turning them into cash you could well put yourself out of business - in Dick and Dora terms if a company’s main asset is the factory in which it produces goods, selling that factory for ready cash in order to see off creditors would pretty much mean the end of that company as it would be unable to produce any more goods (unless it leased back the factory).

It’s my contention that essentially economics is just another way of observing and describing human behaviour. But even on that simple, some would claim simplistic, basis, it will pretty soon fail as a discipline in that it assumes that in any given situation we will all more or less behave in the same way. The trouble is we don’t. Some might well settle for selling what they produce at the market price, but others, who are greedier, might well settle for trying to manipulate the market in order to push up the price they can charge.

That goes on in the diamond market where producers make damn sure supply is kept to certain limits in order to keep prices high. It is also going on in the oil industry where several oil producers have boosted supply to bring down prices - the price of a barrel has halved over these past months - to make shale gas a less attractive alternative and, they hope, in time to put shale gas producers out of business. Once they are, supply will again be limited, prices will once again go up and, the oil producers hope, life will get back to being grand again.

Economists are well able to describe what is going on - falling back on jargon, no doubt - but I can’t remember any economist predicting such a massive boost in oil supply and the resulting collapse in prices when shale gas as an alternative energy supply first came onto the scene. Then, if I remember, there was grand talk of the ‘decline of the oil industry’. Some bloody decline, as it turns out.

At this point, no doubt, some reading this will sneer that what I am writing is indeed Dick and Dora stuff, that it is all a lot more complex. To which I say: of course it’s a lot more complex - if you want it to be. But it needn’t be so complex. Years ago I did a lot of photography and dealt with shutter speeds, film speeds, f stops, depth of field and all the rest, and I contend it is perfectly possibly to explain to a six-year-old what goes on when a camera takes a picture without resorting to a single piece of jargon.

Children understand ideas such as ‘the bigger the hole, the more can fall into it. The smaller the hole, the less can get through’. That’s exactly what happens with the amount of light going through the camera aperture and hitting the ‘film’, only I would call the aperture a ‘hole’ not an aperture when describing it all to a seven-year-old.

A few years ago, I was explaining to my then nine-year-old son how the stock market functioned in similarly easy-to-understand terms. I even got onto futures, why they were created and how they are now abused. I think he understood. Which brings me to ‘quantitative easing’, a great, complicated name for a simple economic ploy.

Ironically despite all the denials that it most certainly does not risk stoking inflation, that is exactly what it is intended to do - just not too much. Put better, it is not intended exactly to stoke inflation, merely to create a little inflation. Folk fear, of course, that although it might work in the short term - actually, we know it does work - the danger is that in the long term we will be saddled with rampant inflation of the kind which brought the Weimar Republic to its knees and allowed the conditions to be created in which Adolf Hitler was able to seize power.

The European Central Bank has decided to introduce a programme of ‘quantitative easing’ in the euro zone and will be ‘creating’ €1 trillion with which - well, to create a little inflation. The idea is that if there is more money in the eurozone, banks will feel more inclined to lend it and the eurozone economy will take off again. Hm. And once again, hm. It seems - so far - to have worked in the US and here in Britain, so will it work in the eurozone? That remains to be seen.

One large caveat is that the US and British economies are single entities, whereas the eurozone economy, although ostensibly one economy, is seen from a different angle, made up of 25 economies which might resemble each other in some ways, but do not resemble each other in other ways. But isn’t that also true of the US, you might ask? And don’t individual US states have a say over how their own state economy should be run?

Well, up to a point: states, as far as I know (always a useful admission to make) can to a certain extent set their own taxes, but I don’t think they have any say over the Federal Bank interest rates. And despite the US economy now being ‘on the move’ - as, of course, it is obliged to be with a presidential election getting ever closer - individual states might be prospering or not as the case may be. Certainly a state such as Rhode Island or Maine will usually always be doing far better than Mississippi or Louisiana, yet nominally as equal constituents of the US they are all economically ‘on the move’. The eurozone, however, still doesn’t enjoy the kind of indentification with the whole of its individual members as the US does.

Of course, the governments of each eurozone state wants their country to pull through and get out of the economic shit, but just what to ‘the people’ feel? And what with the general election in Greece due in three days, the ECB’s grand plan to save the eurozone with a programme of quantitative easing might be defeated before it has even got underway if a new Left-wing government does what it says it will do - and, crucially, what those expected to vote for it will insist they do, which is to tell the country’s creditors to go stick their credit notes where the sun don’t shine.

Oh, to live in interesting times.

Don’t worry, pet, it'll all soon be over — the ECB has decided to
introduce a programme of quantitative easing

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cigars, The Sopranos, port, more cigars, Berlin, Lincoln, newspapers and two drunks (a father and his sadder son)

What with my daughter turning 19 next August and my son turning 16 in May, and me having turned 65 last November, and many of the items I hear about on the news being just retreads of items I heard on the news 30 or 40 years ago, with just the names being changed to protect the innocent as they used to declare as Dragnet started more than 50 years ago; and with most of the films I see being films I have seen before many times, with again just the names being changed to protect the innocents, I find I look back quite a bit more than once I did.

This afternoon, apropos coming across an short obit of someone I knew in the 1970s when I worked for a weekly newspaper in Lincoln, I found myself recalling life and work on a small weekly newspaper, the Lincolnshire Chronicle, where I was employed as a reporter. Later on, tonight in fact, after I had watched four episodes of The Sopranos back to back, polished off half a bottle of Graham’s port - over more than four and a half hours I must add, so the AA won’t be claiming me quite yet (and as the bottle cost £11.99, so half a bottle cost only half that, it’s cheaper than swilling beer or spirits) - and smoked four La Paz Wilde Cigarillos (available online from the Continent, and you would be sucker as well as being well out of pocket to buy cigars of any kind in Britain - those cheap enough to buy are crap, horrible cigars and those worth smoking are, at British prices well out of my price range) I got to be thinking, as one does, of the past.

This particular bit of the past was in the early 1960s when we lived in Berlin where my father was the BBC representative for four years (and, as I now believed, also provided whatever valuable help he could provide to Her Majesty’s foreign intelligence agency). We live in the Heerstraße, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. For our first year in Berlin, when I was ten, I attended Die Steuben-Schule in Charlottenburg, a Volkschule (primary school), while my older brother Ian, who died three weeks ago tonight, was already attending Das Canisius Kolleg in Berlin-Tiergarten, where I joined him in Easter 1960 (the German school year runs from Easter to Easter, not, as here in Britain from September to the following July). It was the cigars which brought back that particular memory.

From home we caught the tram which ran along the Heerstraße to what was then the Reichskanzlerplatz (now, I think, called Theodor-Heuss Platz after a former German President) where we caught the U-Bahn. We travelled as far as Nollendorfplatz and caught a bus to the Tiergartenstraße where our school was. (The pic below was taken before the war, but that is more or less what it looked like when we were there in the Sixties.) We always tried to make sure we caught

the U-Bahn before 8am as any later train would make us late for school. First thing in the morning the trains always stank of stale cigar smoke. That’s the link with cigars. Because of the cost of cigars in Britain, smoking them still seems to be a rich man’s pastime, but as they are considerably cheaper on the Continent many more men smoked them (and as this was Berlin, I don’t doubt a few women smoked them, too). So every time I light one up, I often have a similar sensation to Proust in his famous novel. Christ, I loved Berlin. And if I wasn’t firmly convinced of the wisdom of the advice ‘never go back’, I would go back like a shot to live there. But, of course, it  would never be the same. It never is.

PS When we first moved to Berlin in June 1959, we lived in a fourth (or fifth) floor flat in the

Olympischer Straβe in Berlin-Charlottenburg. This (pictured above) was the ‘smaller’ exit to the Neu-Westend U-Bahn station. It was just opposite our flat. Maybe it doesn’t mean a lot to you . . .

. . .

Earlier today, after googling the name ‘Robert House’ for no very good reason I can now recall, I discovered that the Robert House I had known in Lincoln, where he was the news editor of the Lincolnshire Echo, the local evening paper, had died in January 2011 at 83. I later came to know his son, also a Robert House, who, like his father, was something of a slave to alcohol and who topped himself in 2008 by jumping off a cliff. I worked with Robert House, the son, on the South Wales Echo, where I found him to be good company and where he kept telling me he wished he could introduce me to ‘his special friends’.

At first I had no idea what he meant until one night after a lot of boozing and as it was so late and my flatmate was away I agreed that he could doss down in my flat. He was very drunk and when I decided I wanted to go to bed, he tried to follow me into my bedroom telling me he wanted to sleep with me. I had other ideas and finally the cryptic remarks about ‘his special friends’ suddenly made sense. I had taken him to a ‘club’ in Cardiff called The Casablanca where I scored my dope and where he cut a horribly forlorn figure in his tweed jacket among the whores and black folk who, apart from me, patronised the place.

The Casablanca was actually nothing but an old disused church where usually there were fewer than 20 at the bar except when whoever ran ‘the club’ hired a sound system from Bristol to play reggae and when the place would be packed. It has since been demolished to make way for the gentrification of the Cardiff Bay area, which I have, however, not yet visited. I first came across Robert House, the father, when I by chance dropped in at the pub (I can’t remember what it was called) where he and other Lincolnshire Echo hacks went for after work beer.

Bob House was delightful and highly entertaining company when in his cups, but something of a bastard when sober. However, I rarely saw him sober. Sitting in the pub he was full of stories from his time working for the Daily Mirror in Fleet Street (though it wasn’t actually in Fleet Street, but

nearby), and I quickly developed a technique to extend his swift pint after work into a drinking session which went on until closing time. I waited until he had finished his pint an was on the point of going home and insisted I should buy him another. Once that was finished he then insisted, as I had stood him a pint, on buying me one. And so on. And on.

On one occasion he had bought and had with him in the pub a brand-new set of crockery acquired especially because he and his wife were having friends from France to stay. When I joined him in the pub and had bought him a pint, he then bought me one. This made him liable to be late and risk the wrath of his wife. So to calm his nerves I bought him another pint. Then he bought me one. Eventually he was so late, he knew he was in for it and kept postponing his departure hom because he knew he would get an almighty row from his wife for being late.

Finally, the pub wanted to close, so I suggested that if I came back home with him and helped him carry the new crockery his wife would find it impossible to rip him off several strips if I was there. It didn’t quite work out that way: when we arrived at the front door, with me carrying most of the boxes of crockery, she assumed I was the taxi driver, gruffly ordered me where to put down the boxes of crockery and began to give him hell. He explained I wasn’t the taxi driver, and then she became sweetness and light and after he went to bed to sleep off his laters binge, she and I sat up till two in the morning talking about I don’t know what and getting one well.

Not much of an anecdote, I know, but it’s the only one I have about Bob House, the father.

As for Robert House, the son, he really was a sad case. By the time he joined the South Wales Echo subs’ desk he was already an alcoholic, and it just got worse and worse. After our friendship had

cooled - I was rather embarrassed in his company after the night of his failed seduction - it seemed to get even worse, although I wasn’t the cause. I think he was ever more trouble with his partner - he was already divorced and had an ex-wife and two children in Windsor - and he would go on benders, turning up for work in a terrible state.

Again, not much of an anecdote, but it is only January. Pip, pip.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In case you missed it ... (and by the way, there's still loads more room on the bandwagon, but hurry – a new one will be along shortly)

The twisted cynic in me felt that the huge demonstration in Paris on Sunday in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo office murders and taking part in it was – and is – rather the cool thing to do and the in-place to be on the afternoon of January 11. And that nasty, nasty, twisted, unhappy cynic also suspects it will only be matter of time before some astute businessman realises there will be quite market for Je Suis Charlie brooches, pendants, necklaces, earstuds, cufflinks, fridge stickers, car stickers, but it will be important to strike while the iron is still hot. I fear the horrible murders and the subsequent outrage will be a question of Charlie who within months. Hope I’m wrong, but …

Something along those lines was also expressed the other day by Bernard Holtrop, a Dutch cartoonist with Charlie Hebdo who wasn’t at the offices at the time of the lethal attack because ‘he hates meetings’. Take a look here (and I’m surprised the story wasn’t also carried by the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian). Holtrop is rather taken aback by all the new ‘friends’ Charlie Hebdo has suddenly acquired. Well, Bernard, bandwagons are like that.

Years ago, I remember all those little red Aids ribbons which everyone and their grandma insisted on wearing ‘in solidarity’ with sufferers and gays generally. You don’t see too many of those these days, the caravan has moved on. At the time you couldn’t move for hearing and reading news of the latest Aids benefit in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles and Berlin, naturally attended by the great and good of showbiz and anyone else who could spot a passing bandwagon when she or he saw one. So where are they now? Who today sports a little red Aids ribbon? Arguably the Aids problem is just as bad as it was then, so where are the ‘campaigners’?

Well, largely they have jumped off the Aids bandwagon and jumped onto the global warming ‘we must save the planet’ bandwagon. Oh, and what with ‘advances in medicine’ and the development of new drugs, Aids is no longer the problem it was. Come again? Oh, OK, it is no longer the problem it was in the Western world.

It is, however, just as bad, perhaps even worse, in Africa and Asia. According to the worldwide Aids statistics from there are 23.5 million adults and children living with Aids in Sub-Saharan Africa – one in 20 of the populations are affected -, 4 million in South and South-East Asia but just 1.4 million in North America and Eastern Europe and Central Asia and 900,000 Western and Central Europe.  So there we have it: what’s the point of holding Aids benefits if we more or less have the problem licked in the Western world? I suppose that attitude does make a certain sense. I mean, if we here in the West don’t give a flying fuck that that three-quarters of a billion folk in the poorer parts of the world don’t have access to clean water – their water source is often the same as where they defecate – and 2.5 billion (check the figures here), what’s a million more Aids sufferers or two? Life’s a struggle, man, didn’t you know that? I mean just how much bleeding do you want this heart to do? Well, I’m a realist and neither expect more blood from those already heavily bleeding hearts nor attitudes to change. But what I can very much do without is the bullshit.

There are many wholly admirable organisations working to try to help Aids sufferers in Africa and Asia (which is a damn sight more than I do), but as a whole folk in the Western world, in their smug hypocrisy, are merely interested in the brownie points to be gained from – well, then its was ‘raising awareness about Aids’. Now it is ‘raising awareness about global warming’ and ‘saving the planet’ and crowding onto the streets of Paris shoulder to shoulder with the great and good to show solidarity with a satirical rag until last week those great and good loathed.

I think that’s what gets up Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard Heltrop’s nose so much.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What do ‘habeas corpus’ and ‘hypocrisy’ have in common? They both begin with an ‘h’. Or why in ‘the land of the free’ Shaker Aamer still doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being released after 13 years however many general elections David Cameron wants to win (though I’d dearly love to be proved wrong)

All last week one of our media saints, Melvyn Bragg, broadcast a daily 30-minute programme examining Magna Carta, which English barons presented to King John in 1215 and made him sign. By every account John was a rotten king - two-faced, inefficient, inept and unjust - and the barons had had enough. But it would not just be wrong but utterly ridiculous to interpret the insistence of the barons that John’s powers should be curtailed as ‘a blow for the common man’.

It was nothing of the kind, although ‘the common man’ did over the centuries come to benefit from various demands in the Magna Carta. (Incidentally, we are all, unfortunately, today members of the genus homo communis, despite eye-wateringly expensive private education, ‘posh’ accents and a superior manner - in fact, I have a rule of thumb: the ‘posher’ the accent, the more likely you are to be dealing with a nine-bob note (US nine-dollar bill, though I’m sure you guessed that).

As far as the barons were concerned they were doing nothing but strike a blow for ‘the common baron’ and protecting their own interests. For example, one of their demands was that there should be far fewer ‘fish weirs’ along the Thames. Come again? Well, it seems those operating those fish weirs were actually using them to halt Thames river traffic - goods being shipped to the markets in London - and charge a toll.

These days, I should imagine no one gives a stuff about ‘fish weirs’. In fact, I don’t doubt that there exists a heritage society which cares ‘passionately’ about fish weirs and is working tirelessly to protect for posterity and future generations whatever ‘fish weirs’ still operate. (Expect a full-blown rant from me in this ’ere blog about our heritage industry in the coming months. I always think it is a symptom of the decline of a civilisation when instead of looking to the future, it almost neurotically looks back to the past and is desperate to preserve as much of that pas as possible.)

There were other demands made by the barons at Runymede 1215 which are similarly irrelevant to today’s 2015 digitally aware folk, but there is one demand which is always trotted out which is still relevant to us today and is the cornerstone of any half-decent legal system: that the king - for which read the ‘authorities’ - should always observe the principle of habeas corpus.

If the Magna Carta (and I suspect it is more correctly not ‘the’ Magna Carta but simply Magna Carta - would some pedant or other reading this confirm?) is remembered for anything, it is remembered for its insistence that the principle of habeas corpus should be observed. Actually, as far as I know it is remembered for very little else. Habeas corpus was spelled out in Magna Carta (‘the’ optional): no one could be imprisoned or otherwise detained against his will be the king. If someone is held, a charge must be laid against him and in due course he must face trial before a jury of his peers.

Well, ‘his peers’ were in those days his fellow barons - to be honest and to the dismay of idealists the world over, they gave as much of a flying fuck for the welfare of the ‘common man’ as did King John, which is to say none whatsoever. They were simply concerned with their own welfare and making sure that none of their number ended up in the dungeons operated by John’s henchmen. But over

 the years the principle of habeas corpus was established, and broadly the democratic health (though why do I feel the need to put quote marks around the word ‘democratic’?) of states the world over can be gauged by how well they observe the principle.

The Brits, rather smugly it has to be said, often point out that its parliament became the template of parliaments around the world and its justice system was also widely adopted, not least in the United States. Certainly the US also likes to feel it conscientiously observes the principle of habeas corpus and if forever banging the drum about being ‘the land of the free’.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. It would, for example, be both interesting and enlightening to hear the views of those banged up in the Guantanamo Bay facility what their views are just how well the US adheres to the principle of habeas corpus. I’m sure their views would make interesting reading. As it is, of course, we won’t even get to hear their views: to all intents and purposes they have been locked up and the key to their cells has - metaphorically - been thrown away.

But I am retreading old ground. What I have just written has been said and written 1,000 before and much good it has done the Guantanamo inmates, though that notwithstanding, I cannot resist the temptation to add that unless and until each inmate there is charged and given a fair trial, the United States can stick its proud ‘land of the free’ ‘we want to introduce democracy to Middle Eastern nations’ bollocks right up its arse.

I am often inclined to believe that of all the sins mankind is capable of committing, the sin of hypocrisy is pretty much down there with the very worst. (Incidentally, a measure of just how cynical the Yankee administrations are - including that of St Barack Obama - the reason the inmates are held at Guantanamo Bay and not on sovereign US soil so that the administrations can ‘legitimately’ claim they are not a covered by the US legal system. Fuckwits, eh?

This entry is not, however, a general rant about Guantanamo - you might as well petition the Sun to rise in the West for a change for all the good protesting about Guantanamo would achieve. I want to be more specific: one of those held is a certain Shaker Aamer, and he has been banged up now for the past 13 years. Now, Aamer is not actually a British citizen but a Saudi citizen. But he is classed as a British resident and has a wife and four children living in Britain.

Naturally, the fact that he is ‘not British’ has been jumped upon by all the wiseacres who innocently ask ‘so why should Britain get so uptight about him?’ To that I would reply that although he is not de jure British, he is most certainly de facto British.

The news this morning is that David Cameron, who is off to schmooze with St Barack in the next few days (er, we have a General Election coming up which Cameron naturally would like to win being seen swanning around the White House is apt to impress the more impressionable and might be worth a vote or two).

While there he will be pleading Aamer’s case with the president - or, better his press wallahs have let it be known that he will be pleading with St Barack to have Aamer released. Although the two words ‘habeas corpus’ won’t necessarily be used - using them might embarrass St Barack too much and prove to be counterproductive - they are at the basis of what the matter of Aamer and the rest of the inmates is all about: shouldn’t both he and the rest of them be charged and face a fair trial if they are thought to be guilty of some crime?

So will Cameron return to these shores with the news that St Barack, who has the power, has granted Aamer a presidential pardon and released him? Don’t hold your breath. Or to reflect the mood I am in when considering the hypocrisy involved in the whole Guantanamo saga: don’t hold your fucking breath.

It does occur to me that St Barack, who would certainly prefer to see a Conservative-led government in Britain than one led by Labour, might do actually do the deed and Cameron could return to Britain with a trophy: one freed Shaker Aamer. I doubt it will happen, but if it were to it would have

very little indeed to do with insisting upon the principle of habeas corpus - that no man should be imprisoned at the whim of the king - and everything do with the snivelling hypocrisy with which the whole affair is shot through.

By the way, some relative figures: in China 172 adults are incarcerated per 100,000 of the population. In the United States it is 707, more than four times as many. In Iran it is 284 per 100,000 people, in Saudi Arabia it’s 162, in Russia 470. Oh, and by race the figures for the US are that per 100,000 of the population 380 of them are white, 966 Latino - and 2,207 black.

Read into those figures what you will. I know what I do.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

‘I abhor clichés, but will defend to the death your right to use them’ Appropriately, much ink has already been spilled in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders. And as far as the self-righteous jacks are concerned who have bullied clubs into not hiring a convicted rapist, there ain’t nothing like a hypocrite - they have threatened staff

I learned something today: Voltaire didn’t say ‘I disagree/disapprove with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’. Apparently, one of his biographers, a Evelyn Beatrice Hall, coined the phrase and suggested it as the attitude Voltaire had.

But he did describe the Prophet in his tragedy Le Fanatisme ou Mahomet, as an ‘impostor’, a ‘false prophet’, a ‘fanatic’ and a ‘hypocrite’. Strong stuff, eh, and from the little I know of Mohammed not something I would claim, but then I’m not - as you might have gathered - a French intellectual polymath.

I doubt it go down well with the lads at the Al Qaeda Arms where they are apt to gather of an evening to knock back a few sarsaparillas and elderflower cordials. Good Muslim boys these: you might catch them slaughtering a defenceless cartoonist in cold blood and beheading hostages live on A Question Of Sport, but you won’t catch a drop of the strong stuff passing their lips, no sirree!

It’s a tad tactless of me to rattle on about clichés and the indiscriminate use of them after what happened a yesterday in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices, but there you go: tact is for wimps. That hoary old Voltaire quote, which, of course, isn’t a Voltaire quote, was trotted out on at least three occasions in the radio coverage I was listening to on my journey back from Work In London to Home In Cornwall and when clichés are used in anger, they always bring me out in a rash.

Here are a few other favourites ‘clichés are the first casualty of war’, ‘no cliché survives the first encounter the enemy’, ‘he who doesn’t understand clichés is doomed to use them’, and ‘clichés corrupt and absolute clichés corrupt absolutely’. Expect a few more over the coming days.

As for the murders themselves, might I trot out a few rather hackneyed observations of my own? Just as it would be ridiculous to blame Roman Catholicism for murders committed by the IRA, so it is ineffably stupid to blame Islam for this slaughtering of 12 at the Charlie Hebdo office or the kind of shit the lads from Islamic State get up to. But that’s what some are doing. In Germany several thousand folk have been turning out in street protests against ‘the Islamification of Europe’. Shame they can’t find the energy to protest against, say, the ‘rampant commercialisation of everyday life’ or ‘the adulteration of our food in the interest of making ever greater profits’.

(NB There was also talk on the radio about the development of a new pill to ‘counteract obesity’. The obvious solution would seem to be for people not to stuff themselves full of food every time they stop moving, but actually there’s a far better solution: pass legislation to stop food manufacturers stuffing corn syrup, sugar and hydrogenated fat into everything they produce. But don’t hold your breath on that one: you might as well ask governments to cut their own throats.)

There can be no better response to what the Charlie Hebdo killers did than that of several cartoonists in the past 24 hours. Here is a selection:

PS One Andrew Windsor, aka His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, will be mightily relieved by this turn of events as it has wiped his name and suggestions that he has been shagging one of his mate Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged ‘sex slaves’ right off the front pages.

. . .

You always know those who see themselves on the side of the angels as they are usually the biggest hypocrites.

The other day I wrote about the only mob - ‘cybermob’ to the geeks - who are ganging up and signing petitions left, right and centre to ensure Ched Evans, the convicted rapist who has served half of his sentence and has been released on licence, isn’t signed by another club and will no longer be able to earn his money playing professionally.

First they bullied Sheffield United into withdrawing its offer to take him back, and now they have bullied Oldham Athletic into about-turning on the issue and deciding not to sign him.

According to the BBC sport website threats were made against Oldham staff and their families. Ain’t nothing like two-faced hypocrites eh: moral enough to insist that a convicted rapist shouldn’t be allowed to play professional football but not above getting down and dirty themselves to the level of a rapist by threatening the lives of other folk.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Anyone want to join a mob, burn someone and quench their bloodlust? Ched Evans is available. But be quick before you forget what it’s all about and Corrie starts

When most of us hear the phrase ‘mob rule’ or ‘mob violence’, I suppose we think of bygone centuries when folk rioted over the price of bread. In more modern times we’ll reflect on crowds threading through the suburbs of Arabian city streets, burning flags – usually the Stars and Stripes – and calling for death to this or that Satan.

But our modern times have also brought us more modern ways in which the mob can express itself fury and wreak as much damage as possible. I don’t much like mobs, although ironically – and inadvertently – I more or less organised one singlehanded (you can find and account of what happened here). And it was after

I witnessed how a bunch of otherwise rational, even decent, folk can turn almost in an instant and demand blood in their self-righteous fury that gained a very healthy distrust of mobs of any kind.

Courtesy of the net – the ‘information superhighway’ of yesteryear which, its proselytisers pledged, would democratise the world – the mob has now taken to ‘cyberspace’ – another buzzphrase we hear rather less these day now that it isn’t just the cool geeks but all of us who boot up, sign in, and check our email even before we have our daily morning piss. So if you want to organise a rabble of any sort, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own living room.

Here in Britain there is an ongoing campaign to ensure one Ched Evans, a professional footballer (soccer player – keep up you Yanks), one-time Wales international and convicted rapist never again is signed up by any club to earn his daily crust hoofing a ball from here to there. If you want a little background, you can choose the following sites: his trial and his release from jail two years later after serving half of his sentence (don’t ask, it’s one of the quirks of British life, in this case our justice system, which so delights foreign tourists, that and our bloody beefeaters, which has them arriving here in their thousands every month. Quite a few of them leave again, too).

Evans had played for Sheffield United and his club indicated that it would be prepared to take him back. And that’s when the mob gathered. ‘You can’t have a convicted rapist playing for your club’ the screamed, and when various ‘celebrities’ joined in and added their two ha’porth the bandwagon really got going. Sheffield caved in, so Evans was forced to try to find a berth elsewhere. Most recently he was lined up to play for Oldham Athletic, but the mob was having none of it and so Oldham, too, caved in and withdrew their job offer to Evans.

Evans and a fellow footballer Clayton McDonald were charged with rape after a very drunk 19-year-old woman had sex with them. They the act was consensual. The jury returned its verdict on McDonald first and found him not guilty. They then found Evans guilty and he was sentenced to serve five years in prison. He still insists he was not guilty and it is partly that continued insistence which has infuriated some.

In his sentencing at Caernafon Crown Court, Judge Merfyn Hughes told Evans: ‘The complainant was 19 years of age and was extremely intoxicated. CCTV footage shows, in my view, the extent of her intoxication when she stumbled into your friend. As the jury have found, she was in no condition to have sexual intercourse. When you [Evans] arrived at the hotel, you must have realised that.

The BBC’s report of the case goes on to record that Judge Hughes said the sentence took into account that there had been no force involved and the complainant received no injuries. He also said the complainant was not ‘targeted’ and the attack had not been ‘premeditated’. All in all the rape was not quite as nasty as some we have heard of. That doesn’t, of course, excuse Evans’s actions,

This is what members of a mob look like when they wear ties

but it does put them on some kind of context. I like to think that I would have – or rather as my shagging days now seem well and truly behind me make that ‘would then have’ – made sure the girl arrived home safely so that she could sober up at home. I wouldn’t have wanted to have had sex with her.

On the other hand I have also been in situations where sex was clearly there for the asking (I am thinking of one quite specific instance involving the extremely drunk Icelandic wife of a Time news editor who somehow ended up in my taxi home after a Christmas party, somehow came into my flat with me and made it very clear that she was mine for the asking. But she was so drunk – and I wasn’t exactly sober – that I left her in the sitting room to sleep off her torpor and I went to bed alone. That didn’t, however, stop her husband from putting two and two together and making five and that was the end of my run of subbing shifts on The Times.) I don’t doubt that other men (and woman) would be rather less scrupulous.

. . .

The case broadly elicits two main lines of argument: the one side is saying that for a club to employ Evans again would be wrong as he would be ‘a role model’ for young boys and having him play again would send the wrong message.

Others retort that Evans was subject to the due process of law, was convicted, served time and has now been released. Certainly he will always be a convicted rapist but he should be allowed to move on. At this point I should admit that I subscribe to the second point of view, but this entry is not about the rape, Evans’s conviction, and not even about whether he should or should not be signed professionally by any other club. Coincidentally, as I write this – in a slack period at work – the very topic came up with everyone chiming in and adding their two ha’porth. One colleague pointed out that a convicted rapist wouldn’t be re-employed by as a teacher and would certainly not get his job back here at the Mail.) This piece is about the mob mentality which can take over and which, in my view, is nothing short of mob justice.

When in the past few days it emerged that Oldham Athletic was considering signing Evans, the mob was revitalised and a blogger who uses the online pseudonym Jean Hatchet has organised a petition to send to Oldham Athletic urging the club to change its mind. You can find it here. Jean Hatchet had previously organised and petition urging Sheffield United to drop its plans to take Evans back. There is a certain self-righteousness about mobs, whether
they operate in the street or online, which I find nauseating. And there is a certain self-righteousness about Jean Hatchet’s petition which I find equally nauseating.

So far, according to the BBC, she has attracted 45,000 signatures. I urge you to read some of the comments appended to the petition page: in my experience a great many people do think about what they feel. Unfortunately, and equal number spend more than a second reflecting on an issue. (There was a celebrated survey reported in The Economist in which people were asked whether or not they agreed with a certain US foreign policy. Then those who said they did agree were asked what that policy was. Sadly, very, very few of them knew.)

So here’s my rule of thumb: if a mob is in favour, I’m agin it.

Several centuries ago mobs were often inclined to burn people, stone them to death, lynch them or, if they were feeling a little more benevolent, merely tar and feather them. And I’m sure that everyone of that mob would have regarded him or herself as upstanding and moral. I’m not a Christian by any means, but I think Jesus Christ hit the nail on the head when he urged those ‘without sin’ to ‘cast the first stone’. There is another very interesting piece on the BBC website which examines the legal issues in this whole affair. You can read it here.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My New Year’s message: stay young. But that means in spirit, not tighter pants, medallions, boob jobs and botox!

Well, after finding myself back to this ‘ere blog after some time away, I thought I might at least wish you all a Happy New Year, though having just passed my 65 birthday, I am bound to add that 2015 will most probably be no worse or no better than 2014.

A few months ago I somehow - I can’t remember how or even why - found myself watching a German TV drama doc about the 30 years war between almost everyone in northern Europe. During that time life was for almost everyone in the war zone bloody horrific. And the war zone was very large and it all went on for 30 years. Tonight I heard about the Republic of Congo where a similar state of affairs exists: there is no actual war, but the widespread lawlessness in a very, very large part of Africa means that rape and death are daily dangers most everyone faces.

So here’s a thought for folk reading this in France, the US, Germany, Spain, Greece and even, surprisingly, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and China: count your bloody blessings. We all have problems, but compared to those who might be raped tomorrow or even killed, they are comparatively minor. In a great many parts of the civilised world - make that ‘civilised’ world - a ‘tragedy’ is when the TV repairman doesn’t show after you stayed in all day!

. . .

One reason, I suspect, that I haven’t blogged as regularly as I once did over this past month or two is because I passed 65 and didn’t want anyone reading this to say ‘well, he would say that, wouldn’t he, because he’s just another old fart’ (or as my son - 15 - put it so gracelessly when I texted him a Happy New Year, ‘happy new year you old twat’. What surprised me most was that he knew the word ‘twat’, though he most probably doesn’t know what it means.)

You see it’s like this. As you get older - and as those among you who are ‘older’ will confirm - you get to see and get to get very sick of rather too many repeats: rather too many politicians promising ‘a better tomorrow; rather too many occasions when Britain grinds to a halt after a flurry of snow despite there having been a flurry of snow ‘since records’ began; rather too much conspicuous outrage of widespread paedophilia among the British establishment and rather too little being done to find out what went wrong despite the outrage.

It’s the same in music: too many ‘fabulously original artists’ playing the same old shitty chord sequences you have known for at least 40 years. In short: you’ve seen it all before one too many times. So you get jaundiced and rancid. But which ‘young one’ wants to hear the complaints of - to quote my darling teenage son - and old twat? I certainly didn’t when I was the same age as young Wesley is now and why should he be expected to be any different?

But that hackneyed old phrase ‘‪plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose‬’ is distressingly true: the establishment - any establishment - will always look after its own whether in Europe, Africa, Asia or America, whether black, white, yellow or brown. The odd thing is that I who as a young shaver fresh out of an English public school knew fuck all about everything and thought ‘socialism’ was all idealistic stuff and nonsense would now, if not in his dotage a damn sight closer than he was then, dearly like to take up a Kalashnikov and man the barricades. (The only reason he doesn’t is because he knows just how futile it would be: ever wondered what makes a cynic? Being alive.) But do you really want to hear all that? If you are young, you most certainly don’t.

So I am stymied in writing this ‘ere blog. How often do you hear me pointing out the sheer hypocrisy of the West cheering on the fucking ‘Arab spring’ when all the fucking ‘Arab spring’ has done in Egypt is to replace one set of repressive army dictators with another set of repressive army dictators? How often to you try to tread the fine line between swallowing Western bullshit about Ukraine and Russian bullshit about Ukraine and trying to swallow no bullshit?

Finally, there is the sheer despair at the limits of one’s own intellect. I wrote above ‘ever wondered what makes a cynic? Being alive’: but I don’t want to settle for being an increasingly grouchy, boring, dispomaniac cynic. The most attractive thing about young folk is their idealism. OK, when we are really dyspeptic we might thing they are pissing in the wind and then some. But I don’t want to leave it at that: I want them to be more right and I am. I want the to prove me wrong. I want them to show me up for a sad old cynical fuck who can’t be arsed to have faith in anything anymore. So bloody do it!

. . .

Along similar lines I have - I think - realised why I find it difficult to let go when I write, why I stick to pastiche and satire and keep everything at arm’s length: I can’t let go. So that is this year’s project: fucking let go a little, show a little passion

. . . .

One of our former prime ministers, John Major, once insisted he wanted to build a Britain in which the British were ‘at ease with themselves’. This took me a bit by surprise because I’ve always thought the British are at ease with themselves, although most usually once they’ve had a sherbet or five. Below are four pics which show several Brits completely at ease with themselves.

We might not lead the world in many ways, but we are world beaters when it comes to losing our dignity. The excuse was that they were celebrating the New Year. Actually, the Brits never need an excuse to get rat-arsed (U.S readers: ‘rat-arsed’ is a quaint piece of slang for ‘bladdered’, ‘completely pissed’, ‘out of your head’, ‘arseholed’, ‘loaded’, ‘shitfaced’, ‘sloshed’. Only elderly middle-class folk get ’squiffy’, usually around 1955).