Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A self-indulgent moment. My excuse is that I dislike being called a liar. It's not that I don't lie - of course I do, we all do - but on this occasion I didn't

My most recent post, a reproduction of an answer I gave on the Quora website, is to be followed by this one. Thinking about it, I am rather leading with my chin by posting it here, but I’m going to do it anyway. Some dick in Florida, a hack called Paul Ivice, left a comment on my Quora post, I responded to his, and it all degenerated rather quickly. I, of course, think I come out best; he, no doubt, thinks he did.

My reason for posting it here (apart from taking another single step towards posting 1,000 blog entries before I die) is because Mr Ivice – or that pompous Yankee prick in Florida as I prefer to call him – more or less called me a liar. Possibly, being a certain kind of American, he didn’t quite cotton on that, as always when I write pretty much anything, my tongue is quite a bit in my cheek. But lie I most certainly did not.

What I am pretty sure of is that he is a card-carrying po-faced prat who, like many other po-faced prats who work as hacks, believes his own bullshit and that every traffic accident he reports, every story he files about an extension to the city council restrooms is a blow for freedom and democracy. I agree that a free press is a cornerstone of a democracy, but it’s not quite as Dick and Dora as suggesting, as Mr Ivice and his ilk seem to, that the crucial role ‘the fourth Estate’ can play in a democracy means that every cough and fart by the media is somehow sanctified.

NB I put ‘the fourth Estate’ in quotes because the phrase began life as a snide gibe, not, as some now believe, as some kind of political wisdom.

(Later: I decided I wanted to flesh out the origins of the term ‘the fourth Estate’ and googled it - the posh term is ‘researched’ it which, of course, sounds a lot finer than ‘googled it’ - and came across the Wikipedia entry.

It seems the term was first used in the late 18th century by Edmund Burke to describe the press when they were first allowed to report on the proceedings of the British parliament, the ‘allowed’ being quite pertinent, of course, when he compared them to what he regarded as the other three estates of parliament, the Lords Spiritual (the bishops), the Lord Temporal (the nobility) and the Commons (the landowners and increasingly the merchants). The press, he surmised, would now constitute a ‘fourth estate’.

Given that, in contemporary terms, Burke was something of a progressive when he began his political life although he gradually calcified into a conservative, he would at the time most likely have welcomed press scrutiny of parliament, my claim that the term started life as a gibe, holds rather less water than I should like. But in keeping with what I allude to below - the sacred hacks’ principle of ‘not letting a couple of facts get in the way of a good story’ - please ignore this last piece of uncharacteristic honesty on my part.)

The Florida dick accuses me of being verbose and long-winded. Well, my response are certainly longer than his, but I shall leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether he was right or not. And if I were to provide and explanation as to why my contributions are not in grunt speak but a little more fleshed-out, it would be that the nature of Quora, where these comments are appearing, is that it is informative. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (Note to self: are you not more pissed off that you were called long-winded rather than that you were accused of lying?)

Here is the first comment left by the Florida prat (and from hereon in I shall mark out his comments in itals):

Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day: ‘Essentially, a reporter’s job is to provide enough words - copy - to fill the paper, and the sub-editor’s job is to prepare that copy for printing - laying out pages, cutting the copy to fit, checking facts, choosing pictures, writing captions etc.

To which I respond:

Good Lord, an idealist! A Lou Grant fan! ‘Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day’? Up to a point, Lord Copper (and I trust you get the allusion.).

Yes, newspapers are partly rooted in a desire to pass on ‘news’, and at its purest, that news will be, for example, proceedings in parliament and the courts (‘justice must not just be done, it must be seen to be done’). They evolved from the flysheets posted anonymously by political agitators and in the pamphlets which succeeded them, but a desire to ‘get the news out there and inform the public’ was not why they evolved.

They got bigger and more extensive because canny businessmen, initially the printers, realised that there was money to be made (as canny businessmen are apt to do) by selling advertising space on such publications and adding other copy which could interest readers who might otherwise be disinclined to cough up the cover price for nothing be loads and loads of ads. So the ‘news’ was the sweetener. It is best summed up by the cynical observation of the Canadian press baron Roy Thomson, later Lord Thomson of Fleet, who will have forgotten more about producing newspapers than you are ever likely to know in the first place, that ‘news is what you stick around adverts’.

That copy - that ‘news’ - was not just, or not even mainly political. Yes, it still included accounts of the proceedings in parliament, but it was also pretty much anything which the publisher thought might interest the reader - anything. It included small ads, advice columns, cookery tips, lurid and often exaggerated accounts of crime, accounts of executions, short stories, features - pretty much the same kind of crap which fills today’s newspapers. And that ‘anything’ had to be produced by the hacks he employed to produce his newspaper.

The journalists - the name ‘journalist’ was derived from ‘anyone working on producing a journal’ - had to come up with that crap, as much as was needed to fill the empty space. NB I once in the foyer of the offices of the Northampton Chronicle in the UK came across - under glass - a copy of that paper from the late 18th century, opened at random. I took a look. The layout was just column upon column of copy, but among the news items - so and so crashed their carriage on the road just outside town, a footpad is at large so be careful after dark - there was a column of lonely hears ads and, believe it or not, an ad for a washing with ‘a blue whitener’ with which users of Persil might be familiar.

As for your Lou Grant ideals, any reporter who refused to write a story because of her or his principles would be very swiftly invited to sling their hook and take their principles elsewhere. Don’t believe the shite on TV. ‘Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day’? Think again.

PS If you’re interested in why reporters were urged to ‘get the story first’, it was merely because for purely venal reasons you wanted to beat the opposition. In those days there were usually at least two rival papers in each town, and if you got the story first with more detail etc, and you were first on sale in the street, might gradually sell more of your rag, and when you had a bigger circulation (greater sales), you could persuade advertisers to come to you with their dosh rather than to your rival on the promise that the money they paid for advertising would go further. The only ideal at play here is ‘to make more money’.

I don't have time for verbose pedants. Good luck to you.

‘Verbose’? I’m not too sure you know the meaning of the word. Ain’t nothing like a bad loser. Sad, really.

Brevity is an art you have yet to explore.

What a very, very, very silly thing to say under the circumstances. Are you suggesting all answers to questions here on Quora should restrict themselves to 140 characters to accommodate the Twitter generation? And, dear soul, a Yank journalist - I see you scrape a living writing for ‘midsized’ newspapers - banging on about ‘brevity’ is a delicious irony all of its own, though perhaps you, like rather too many Americans are unfamiliar with the notion of ‘irony’.

Briefly, what principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations?

As a rule when I hear folk bandying about the notion of ‘principles’ I resolve to count the silver well before they go. What principles held by journalists are based on shaky foundations? Pretty much all of them, including ‘it’s my round but you pay’. I do suspect that you, rather like many other American hacks I have met who work for a ‘midsized’ newspaper, are inclined to take yourselves and your ‘vocation’ rather too seriously.

Face it, we’re really not that important. Yes, there’s the philosophical argument to be made about how our industry is an intricate part of ‘the fourth estate’ and that ‘the fourth estate’ functions as a bastion of every democratic society, though most people don’t hang around long enough to hear about that argument being made and, crucially, care even less. But this is all a tad to ‘verbose’ for you, I imagine. But I do wonder what you make of all those 4,000-word New Yorker features if you don’t like ‘verbose’. Do you just look at the pictures?

I suspect that you don’t have a clue what the specific journalistic principles are,so once again you spew a lot of words without any actual meaning.

Might I suggest you read my words just a little more carefully, then? You might eventually cotton on (with a bit of luck). Just a thought. All I get from you is ad hominem abuse. That’s the easy way. As for ‘specific newspaper principles’: as I pointed out before, I always take fright when I hear folk - such as you, perhaps? - bang on about ‘principles’. It’s almost always a sure sign of a nine-bob note (U.S. - as we have to translate for the sake of our transatlantic cousins - nine-dollar bill). To be blunt, U.S. newspapers might be long on ‘principles’ but what I have seen of them they are pretty bloody short on ‘interest’. ‘Waffle’ doesn’t even start to describe their content.

Why can’t you respond in a straightforward manner, instead of piling on more BS? What journalistic principles are you referring to? I still do not believe you know what they are.

You talk of bullshit? Well, how about the bullshit of talking about ‘journalistic principles’? As I originally wrote (though you snidely and inaccurately described my outline as ‘verbose’), ‘journalism’ is pretty much a moveable feast, from the extreme of Take A Break and the National Inquirer to the FT and The Economist.

The ‘principles’ of which journalistic tradition are you talking about? Those of the men and woman engaged in ‘serious’ journalism – ‘the first draft of history’, ‘speaking power to authority’ and all that malarkey - certainly do have ‘journalistic principles’: when ‘reporting news’ ensuring they stick to what they believe are ‘the facts’ and double-checking those facts, ensuring those quoted are quoted honestly and all the rest with which dedicated viewers of Lou Grant will be familiar (the irony being, of course, that ‘Lou Grant’ was a fictional character in a TV series intended to entertain and thereby attract advertisers to the TV stations screening it).

Or are you talking about the ‘journalistic principles’ of those working for Globe and OK! Magazine, folk who, given the oh-so vague definition of ‘journalist’ are just as justified to be described as such (as I pointed out in my original ‘verbose’ contribution)? Their principles most certainly do not include ‘facts’ and accuracy, more ‘entertainment’ and ‘boosting sales’. I heard and laughed at early on in my career – and often had to follow - the useful advice given to young reporters ‘don’t let a couple of facts stand in the way of a good story’. The ‘principle’ here was not to lie, simply not to tell the full truth. Which set of ‘journalistic principles’ is it?

I most certainly do not accept the denial by some (though thankfully not all) of those engaged in ‘serious’ journalism that those others, the Grub Street gang, hack pen-for-sale men and women, are not ‘journalists’. They are, often very good ones, but they just deal in other matters. And I have a great deal of respect for them and their abilities (and you never come across any of that posturing which makes the company of some other ‘journalists’ such a chore).

Meanwhile, there is a vast in-between of publications, all employing ‘journalists’: the weeklies (my first was the Lincolnshire Chronicle), the evening papers (the South Wales Argus), the provincial morning papers (The Journal in Newcastle), then the ‘nationals’ in London (I have worked at different times on, the Sun, the Daily Express, The Times, The Independent and several others, each of which demanded of me different skills).

You work for a ‘midsized’ newspapers, and I’m certain that in your working life (whether you are a writer or copy editor) you don’t just cover the serious business of the city council, the courts or the police department, but also the report on the new fund launched to build a library extension, the kid who has just built a replica of the White House from Lego bricks, this and that couple who have just celebrated and astounding 60 years of married life (‘give and take, that’s the secret, give and take’).

This might in your eyes – in, I have to say, your distressingly pompous eyes – be a ‘verbose’ way of answering your question, so to sum up: your question is as damn close to being a non-question as is humanly possible. It is far, far too vague, which coming from a chap who advocates ‘brevity’ is a bit bloody thick. As I said before, it is safer to keep a good distance between oneself and those who bang on about ‘principles’, whether journalistic or otherwise. The chances of infection are real. I prefer the company of doers not talkers.That straightforward enough for you?

Verbose = long-winded, and it was not only accurate, but this latest unreadable reply proves it. 

Yet again all you can come up with is abuse, not reasons. Just how is my most recent response long-winded and unreadable? I truly am interested. I aimed to make several points and only a moron would try (or expect) them to be conveyed in the 140 characters of Twitter speak. Come on, laddie, a bit more beef, or else I shall assume you, too, are all talk. You probably have done some copy editing: well take my most recent contribution and sub it down. There, a true challenge. But I shan’t hold my breath. (That damn verbose Lincoln, eh? ‘Four score and seven years ago.’ Why didn’t he just say ’87 years ago’? Three words instead of six. Long-winded cunt!)

Because you still have not answered the question, and all your dancing around it indicates you are unable to answer it. If you cannot give a straightforward answer, do not bother responding with more BS. And by the way, verbose was used correctly and fairly. It was you who did not understand its meaning, not me.

Sunshine, there is no ‘question’. That was the whole point. Christ, it’s like pushing string. You are the one who uses words to say absolutely fuck all.

The question you have carefully avoided answering is what are the journalistic principles that you claim are no longer being followed. How can you say they are not being followed if you do not know what they are?

I have just spent a bit of time going through my original response to the question, then your subsequent comment, my response to you and then the rest of it. In your fourth response you ask: ‘Briefly, what principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations?’ I did so because I was puzzled: I did not remember writing that. In fact, it turns out that at no point - in all I’ve said - do I claim that ‘principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations’. I might have been mistaken, of course, so I did what you apparently haven’t yet done: I double, then treble-checked. And, dear heart, I was right: I never claimed any such thing.

So your ‘question’ really is a non-question, which says rather little for your professional skills and abilities, ‘accuracy’ - oh, another ‘journalistic principle’ - apparently not quite your strongest suit. As we say in my country ‘fur coat and no knickers’. But by all means prove me wrong - where did I make that claim? And if you can’t give me chapter and verse, do what you should have done several rounds ago: fuck off.

You are mistaken. It was in your very first comment in this thread. How you could have missed it in reviewing the thread is beyond me, unless it was a matter of convenience. I took your words almost verbatim and challenged you immediately to back it up, though you still have not.

Show me - exactly.

I got no response, so a little later:

Still waiting…

You probably have revised your comments to extract it. When I asked you to elaborate on principles, I quoted directly from your comments as they were at the time. It was too painful to read through your verbose comments once; I will not subject myself to further pain by doing it again.

It was this, the implication that I had doctored my initial response, which pissed me off and which seemed to imply that I was lying, so I was blunt. But my initial response to the Florida Dick was deemed to breach Quora’s guidelines which insist that we be nice to each other and so it was deleted. Not to be outdone, however, and in some ways being just as much of a dick as Paul Ivice, I wrote a second response:

My initial response to your accusation that I have been dishonest and deleted a part of my message so as to alter it was blunt, to the point and highly relevant, but unfortunately Quora felt it overstepped the mark. So let me leave it at simply noting that the next twice you feel inclined to accuse someone of lying, think twice before doing so. It is not appreciated, as you can imagine. I shan’t resort to using the blunt Anglo-Saxon word I used before, but I can still invite you retreat to that place where customarily the Sun doesn’t shine where you can consider both your ‘journalistic principles’ and your rather distressing pomposity.

PS You use the word ‘verbose’ so often, it’s as though you’ve just come across it and rather like it. My son used to do that with the word ‘random’ when he was 7.

Being just as vindictive as the rest of you, here is a video which might amuse you. I googled - ‘researched’ - Paul Ivice and came across this on YouTube. It helped that he has a less than usual name. Google Patrick Powell and you will never track me down. This is a rendition of Van Morrison’s Moondance. I admit isn’t too bad to start with but nosedives at 30 seconds in. However, written by Van Morrison, murdered Paul Ivice. Christ, I’m a cunt, though I must admit that his voice isn’t bad. I can’t sing either, but at least I’m not daft enough to have my singing posted on sodding YouTube.

. . .

For those of you who like or even love this song (as I do, though being the middle-class modest, retiring sort, I will admit only to liking it) and need to be reassured that it isn’t quite as bad as Mr Ivice makes it out to be, here is the original. (Sadly, it might not play in the browser you are using. If so, try another.


And as we are on to Van Morrison, here’s is a song which I love and which gets right to the very core of me. If I’m quite candid, it sometimes makes me cry (and that is actually true, this and the opening of Beethoven’s fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, the Ode To Joy. I’m a bit of a softee at heart, but for fuck’s sake don't tell anyone!)  Oh, and it is not a love song to a woman, man, dog or cat, but, I’m told has rather more to do with Morrison’s spiritual feelings. Mine, too, it has to be said.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

PS I’ve just been on Spotify to listen to other versions of this song, and without exception they utterly crucify it. I’m a liberal at heart, but even I am astounded that there are so many stone-hearted fuckwits out there with recording contracts.

Amazingly there is no worst offender. All cover versions, from Jim Reeves to Elvis Presley, to Michael ‘Fucking’ Buble to Bing Crosby and the rest of the sorry bunch, so fucking execrable you wouldn’t think they are trying to sing the same song. If you want a laugh, go on Spotify and listen for yourselves. But if you want to enjoy the rest of your week in peace and equanimity for God’s sake don’t do anything of the kind. Stick to Morrison’s version and . . .

PS There’s an old joke about Van Morrison that the world is split into two: those who like Van Morrison and those who have met him. Well, simply going by this song, the man can’t be all bad.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Quite a simple post: how some of the phrases we used came about (apparently - better add that bit)

This blog is the successor to a diary I used to write, in long hand and in hard-backed A4 ledgers (I’ve still got them, about nine of them, spanning about 13 years). But that diary was also occasionally used as a commonplace book. So this entry of the derivations of several phrases we all know isn’t quite as unusual as at first it might seem. I cribbed it from a link on Facebook (heard of Facebook?). 

We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking to the past. History not only provides us with a nostalgic glimpse at how things used to be — like with these classic childhood toys — but its lessons can still teach us things today. Many of us fondly refer to ‘the good old days’ when times were purer and life was simpler.

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. Once a day, it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive, you were ‘piss poor’ But worse than that were the really poor folks who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They ‘didn’t have a pot to piss in’ and were considered the lowest of the low.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!’

Houses had thatched roofs with thick straw-piled high and no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the term, ‘dirt poor’.

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence, ‘a thresh hold’.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day, they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme ‘Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old’.

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could ‘bring home the bacon’. They would cut off a little to share with guests, and would all sit around and ‘chew the fat’.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the ‘upper crust’.

 Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a ‘wake’.

In old, small villages, local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (‘the graveyard shift’) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be ‘saved by the bell,’ or was considered a ‘dead ringer’.

Friday, January 13, 2017

‘Waste not, want not’. Great motto. Great time-saver, the slacker’s delight

A few years ago, looking for more info on something or other, I came across a website called Quora. It is quite useful. Ask a question, post that question on Quora and it will be seen worldwide. (Isn’t the web just marvellous, the information superhighway? Just think where we would be if it weren’t for the web. Bloody 1996, that’s where! Lord, I really do think I’m going to cry.)

Because you get responses from folk the world over - from all kinds of folk - not only can your question cover any number of subjects, but the responses could come from anyone - from a professor of linguistics in Papua New Guinea to a washed-up hack putting away a bottle of wine and listening to some rather fine jazz (Preach Brother by Fred Jackson. A link to a video is at the end) or even someone who knows what they are talking about and responds not just because they are in love with the sound of their own voice.

Over the years (and not that many, despite what that phrase makes it sound like), mainly about newspapers and related topics. And it has got to the point where if someone posts a question which the good folk who run Quora think I might care to supply an answer to, I get and email alerting me.

I received just one such email earlier this afternoon and have just spent the past hour or so writing a response. And in keeping with the title and on the principle of making as much as possible go as far as possible, I have decided to print my response here, too. The question was ‘Do journalists have a responsibility to remain unbiased in their reporting?’ Here is what I posted:

This question is not quite as straightforward as it might seem, and I shall get that difficulty out of the way first.

The problem is that the term ‘journalist’ is quite horribly vague: at its simplest it can be regarded to be pretty much anyone professionally and editorially involved in producing - well, what? All newspapers and magazines, all broadcasting news, all internet media intended to pass on information (often called ‘news)? If so, the chief political correspondent of the New York Times (or whatever she/he calls her/himself) is a ‘journalist’, but so is the most useless reporter or sub-editor (US: copy editor) on the most obscure of weekly newspapers in the back of beyond dealing with the local flower festival and chemist’s opening times.

Even someone writing editorial copy for a pornography magazine, or for Horse And Hound, What Car and Tunnels And Tunneller (which does, or did, exist) will qualify. So here’s my question: does someone writing smutty double entendre for a porn magazine and trying to think up yet another word for ‘twat’ also count as a journalist? Er, yes, they do.

The fiftysomething bottle-blonde beauty editor (we have all met her and sometimes even shagged her) compiling ‘the best, most effective diet ever to get rid of those Christmas pounds’ for the January edition of You And Your Ego is as much a ‘journalist’ as that esteemed foreign correspondent, the late Clare Hollingsworth (who apparently invented World War II when everyone else didn’t think it was possible), and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But I won’t labour the point.

Even if we whittle down just what that journalist is and stick more to what I imagine the questioner and others think ‘a journalist’ should be, her/his work - if she/he is not a specialist - covers far more than, as the cliche goes, speaking ‘truth to authority’ and ‘uncovering the truth’. Essentially, a reporter’s job is to provide enough words - copy - to fill the paper, and the sub-editor’s job is to prepare that copy for printing - laying out pages, cutting the copy to fit, checking facts, choosing pictures, writing captions etc.

Yet, were one to survey a random selection of the public who do not work in the media industries or who do not have any special knowledge and glean what they imagine a ‘journalist’ is, the cliches would continue to tumble out: she/he’s a professional who will work all hours to get to ‘the truth’, a hard drinker, someone

who would gladly do the job for nothing, someone for whom ‘the story’s the thing and nothing else matters’. Many journalists, the public fondly imagines live a life of shabby glamour, with the inside track on much, oh and have a cynical seen-it-all-before sense of humour. But it isn’t Hollywood or TV, believe me, although being the bullshitters many hacks (the technical term for ‘journalist’) are, they are more than happy to perpetuate the sexy fiction and bask in the spurious glory of it all. I know I am.

OK, so I’ll play the game (something I actually dislike doing): do journalists have a responsibility to remain unbiased in their reporting? In theory, yes. If we are dealing with that kind of journalist who is a first cousin to the unicorn and the man in the Moon, yes, of course.Yes, always. Meanwhile, back in the real world . . .

Are Breitbart staff not journalists? Are Russia Today staff not journalists? Were the hacks who earned their daily crust reporting for and putting together Pravda not as much journalists as the saintly folk reporting for and putting together Britain’s Guardian or the Washington Post? What of the Breitbart, Russia Today and Pravda truths?

I shall end, however, by saying that Spotlight, the 2015 film starring Michael Keaton and others about the Boston Globe’s exposure of the cover-up of paedophiles in the Roman Catholic diocese of Boston was rather better and got a little closer to portraying the usual working life of a journalist than the usual Tinseltown schlock. But please bear in mind that in their daily working lives, nine out of ten journalists deal with far, far less vital stories. Writing up a story about the book and staff shortage at your local library or a new ticketing system in the city bus service is more usual fare. Over to you, dear questioner (and get pissed a little more often, it does help).

A more reasoned and reasonable response might follow, but I think you and others get the point I am making, so probably not.

Hope I’ve put you off. If not, I have wasted 45 minutes.

. . .

Here is the Fred Jackson track. You might enjoy it more than reading the shite above.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

‘You pays your money and you makes your choice’

I think pretty much everyone reading this blog is familiar - not least because I have resorted to using it several times - with the old Chinese curse of ‘may you live in interesting times’. The implication is, of course, that there’s nothing intrinsically interesting about times of peace and stability because everything and everyone is wending their own contented way and there seems to be little trouble on the horizon.

But when things aren’t half as rosy, well, look out: the interest lies in wondering whether - in old China, at least - having fallen foul of some civil service penpusher or other you would still be alive by teatime. Admittedly, such a fate these days is hugely unlikely, although don’t get too smug: barely 80 years ago in Germany and more recently in the old Soviet Union just such a situation was still possible. And just such a situation is still possible today in countries not so far from Europe.

Well, what with Brexit and the election of Trump and coming presidential/parliamentary elections in France, Germany and The Netherlands (as well as Hungary, Albania, Armenia, Serbia, Slovenia, Norway, Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic, he writes, after a quick crib on Wikipedia), 2017 looks to be very interesting indeed, not to say unpredictable.

The various elections, many in countries which are members of the EU, are especially interesting given that Madam Guillotine herself, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front (or Front National as they care to name it - why swap the order, you wonder, but then that’s a silly question in a country which habitually eats cheese before pudding) is considered to have half a chance to become elected as the new president of France.

To those who said ‘no, she doesn’t’, I would respond ‘nor did Trump have a chance of becoming US president when the whole primary season kicked off last year’ and ‘nor did Leicester have of playing in the Champions League when they narrowly escaped relegation in 2014/5’.

The thing is that if Le Pen is elected, France might well leave the euro, and that would not be good or welcome news for le projet. The conventional wisdom is that because of the French system of voting in two rounds when they elect their president, with only the two leading candidates from the first round standing, the Left and the Right would stand behind whoever is opposing Le Pen in the second round to make sure she loses.

But I have heard several commentators claim that the mutual loathing of the Left and the Right in France is such that such a cosy arrangement wouldn’t happen and that Le Pen really could slide in. And then there’s the fact that the conventional wisdom predicted that Britain remaining in the EU was a dead cert and that Donald Trump did have a snowball’s of being elected US president.

So let’s put conventional wisdom in the corner for a moment and consider other possibilities. There seems to be less angst about the German and Dutch elections, although the question in Germany is not just how well will the Alternative für Deutschland do at the national level after doing rather well in regional elections, but will Angela Merkel (or Andrea Gerkel as my son called her recently) retain the chancellorship.

The elections in The Netherlands are interesting in that there is said to be a growing anti-EU sentiment and a certain nasty piece of work called Geert Wilders has been proving popular with some Dutch, but I think the election to watch is in France.

As for Brexit and what is to become of it - and what is to become of the EU - well, that is pretty much anyone’s guess. It really is a question of ‘you pays your money and you makes your choice’: just yesterday Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, declared that Brexit is no longer the main threat to the British and that it would do better than the Bank had previously forecast, while the president of Malta ominously, and rather maliciously, I should think, bearing in mind that country’s past relationship with Britain, vowed that there was no way Britain should be allowed to be better of out of the EU than had they remained a member. That last threat is disarmingly vague in substance, but it is the sentiment of it which should concern Britain. There is more than a hint of vindictiveness about it.

As for Carney, the man really has changed his tune: where before last June’s Brexit vote he predicted the birds would all fall from the sky if Britain voted to leave the EU, yesterday he claimed a ‘hard Brexit’ would harm the EU economically more than Britain. As it is the London stock market Well, which is it? As I say, you pays your money and you makes your choice. Me, I think just how Brexit will affect Britain’s economy will not become apparent for a year or two at the very least, and furthermore will depend on several other factors, including just how well the EU will survive without Britain, but also what happens in the rest of the world. In a sense it is a nonsense to use the phrase ‘and all other things being equal’ because all other things are never equal. And this, rather neatly brings me on to Trump.

. . .

The man has not yet been sworn in as president and it’s all beginning to look ever more murky. Yesterday was an entertaining day in the Trump soap, although I suspect we might soon be obliged, in matters Trump, to consider that the old Chinese curse I quoted earlier might well be rephrased ‘may you live in entertaining times’.

The allegations what The Donald was filmed by the Russian secret service getting down and dirty with a few Moscow whores and that the footage has been or can be or will be used to blackmail him into doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding are another candidate for all of us to pay our many and make our choice. Trump has naturally denied they are true and declared them to be phoney. And given that no corroborating evidence has been supplied, which is why media outlets offered the allegations several months ago decided to ignore them, they might well be complete bollocks, shockingly true or somewhere in between.

The story broken by CNN yesterday was rather oblique: it merely said that at the briefing given by the US’s security services to president-elect Trump last week, they simply told him that these allegations had been made and thought he should be aware of them. The ploy, of course, was for CNN to be able to make the allegations public without actually being thought to endorse the story - after all, there was no corroborating evidence.

As for the allegations themselves, it seems they were made by former British MI6 agent who now runs his own business spying agency (Orbis Business Intelligence - ‘Orbis is a leading corporate intelligence consultancy We provide senior decision–makers with strategic insight, intelligence and investigative services’) and named as Christopher Steele. He, or rather his business, had been hired by Clinton supporters to dig up dirt on Trump.

His report was passed on to Senator John McCain, a Republican who thinks Trump is the very definition of nine-dollar note, who passed them on to the FBI. And, of course, everyone involved has an axe to grind, though that is not to say they are not true. There again they might be complete cobblers. As I say, yet again you pays your money and you makes your choice. Interesting, eh?

Steele has been variously described as ‘reliable, meticulous and well-informed’ with one ‘source’ quoted by the Daily Mail saying he was ‘deeply expert’ on Russian affairs. There again he has also been sniffily dismissed as ‘slightly more showy and less grounded in reality than you might expect a former SIS person to be’, with another source saying he was not ‘hugely impressed’ with Steele’s expertise. So, a fair selection of opinions to choose from, and which description of Steele you believe will most likely rest on whether or not you want the allegations against Trump to be true or not.

. . .

In other news a slight flurry of snow is predicted to hit Derbyshire’s Peak District tomorrow, so we can expect the country to grind to a halt and for Fleet Street’s finest to resort to some of their more dramatic headlines when reporting matters.