Friday, July 22, 2011

Relief all round, the EU has found a solution: put Greece even further in debt

The newspapers are full this morning of how the fat was pulled out of the fire at the last minute and the euro has been saved. Greece will get another trillion billion of euros to help get it out of the shit, and this time, at the insistence of Germany's Kanzler Angela Merkel, those nasty moneymen, much distrusted by every right-thinking European, will also shoulder some of the burden. They won't acutally contribute any money, they will merely 'contribute' by not having the money they lent Greece repaid for another 30 years rather than after 10. Eveyone feared the worst and the 'markets rose' all over the world at the news that a soltuion had been found. Already, I'm sure, parades are being organised throughout the lands to celebrate this demonstration of unity. But hold on a minute.
Greece's problems will not be solved. The solution is merely that a country so in debt that it cannot afford even to pay the interest on money it had previously borrowed, is simply being lent even more money. In any other context the appropriate reaction would have
been a huge 'what?' and those coming up with the solution would have been hauled off by the men in white coats. The only excuse for putting forward what in any other circumstances (and a more rational society) would have been regarded as completely bonkers is that there was simply no other option. If Greece had gone down the pan, they say, then Portugal and Ireland would also have done so, and then it would have been the turn of Italy and Spain. This would have caused a severe economic depression in the rest of Europe and then the rest of the world. There would have been a global slump. So that's all right then: the world has been saved. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. The grand plan rests on the hope that Greece, Europe and the rest of the world will start growing their economies again, things will get back to normal and Greece will slowly come up out of the shit and start behaving like a good European. This seems to me rather like a bankrupt going to the races and betting his last sou on a sure thing: certainly his horse might romp home, but equally certainly it might not. The only abiding image of yesterday's meeting finance directors which is at all truthful is a lot of guys in expensive suits sitting around nervously and crossing their fingers.
What no one has been tactless enough to mention, so I'll mention it, is that we just shouldn't be in this mess in the first place (and I must now say we because even non-euro members are equally threatened). Twelve years ago when all those EU fuckwits were waving flags and setting off fireworks and treating the arrival of the new currency as the Second Coming, they all knew - all of them - that several of the member states signing up to join the euro had cooked the books to be able to do so. Never ming the figures, they said, feel the joy. This, they said, is the European dream.
Meanwhile, a great many economists were warning that the Europe-wide interest rate that would henceforth be applied to all those countries joining the euro was inappropriate given the disparate nature of so many EU economies. Well, here's a thing: why are Greece, Portugal and Ireland now in the shit? Why are Irish pensioners and those on benefits having their pensions and benefits cut? Why are the poor in those countries getting ever closer to penury? Why? Because when the economies of each of those three countries started to go awry, the one financiall measure they should have taken to cool down their economies - cutting interest rates - was no longer available to them. But no one has been honest enough to admit that, yes, they were wrong. In the real world, heads should have rolled. But you can bet they won't roll in Brussels.
My sister, who is a fan of the euro, thinks I'm some kind of Cassandra, only too keen to see the whole euro project collapse. She thinks that I'm talking pie in the sky when I claim that it can only get worse and that eventually those who have nothing to lose could even turn to violence in the streets. That has already happened in Greece, yet it is early days of the austerity measures. It is tactless to say so and given that the notion of 'democracy' began in Athens, quite ironic, but the tradition of democracy is still a little shaky in Greece which less than 45 years ago had a few years of dictatorship, and Salazar's 35-year dictator ship of Portugal only ended 45 years ago. How would Brussels react if in either or both countries a 'strong man' or a group of 'strong men' tried to grab power with the support of poor people who decided they had nothing to lose? Such a grab for power need not even be successful . It could well lead to civil war. And if that happened, how would Brussels react? The point I made to my sister was not that this is bound to happen, but that we would be foolish to think that such days are long gone. She said that 'government wouldn't allow it'. I pointed out that to stay in power, governments need the support of the majority of their people, and once they lose that support, they might well find themselves out of office, to be replaced by less salubrious types resorting to naked nationalism. It's not as though that hasn't happened in the past, and I can't understand why she and others insist it can't and would not happen again. When people are unemployed and have nothing to lose, they reckon they might as well try anything.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Some pix and news of three concerts. Finally a Screws, euro and Murdoch-free blog entry

Here are a couple of pics I took today, in no particular order and of no particular merit. I have also changed my blog pic for a while, just for the crac.

The picture below is one I saw a chap taking as I was driving home. 'What are you doing,' I asked him, and he told me he had been commissioned by Bradford City Council to compile a series of photographs taken in each EU member state which celebrated diversity in community which are intended to show solidarity with the European Union. Well, if it's good enought for him, it's good enough for me I thought, especially as he had a load of very expensive looking equipment whereas my pic was snapped on a GE C1033 on offer at E Leclerc in Lagon.

The table and chairs in the next picture were sitting next to me in the cafe in Bazas cathedral square and we fell into conversation (as you do when you are abroad) and the stories they had to tell! They were very good about having their picture taken and managed to keep quite still when I took it, keeping their natural Gallic exuberance in check.

There's a rather amusing story attached to my next picture. It seems that several years ago the Socialist mayor was defeated over some minor issue and never came to terms with his fate. Apparently, he began behaving in ever more odd ways daubing various buildings at night with Socialist slogans and symbols until finally the prefecture had to have him sectioned. He was a keen nuclear abolitionist in his youth and the people of Bazas, who were otherwise very fond of him decided the last symbol he painted before his arrest should be preserved in his honour.

Below is the pulpit in the parish church in Illats where I am staying. Last year, when the village got to hear that I keep a blog, they voted in (by a rather slim majority, but let's no go there) a district ordinance giving me squatter's rights whenever I am visiting (that is, I can preach from the pulpit whenever I like). I'm not too sure whether it is just a symbolic right or whether I could, in fact, exercise it, and so far I have decided to err on the side of caution.

Finally, no collection of holiday snaps would be complete without a pointless, though pretty, shot of a small river taken from a bridge. Here is mine, taken just a few minutes drive down the road.

. . .

Part of my stay was taken up going to concerts, although as I couldn't get away earlier in the month, we weren't able to go to any of those which are part of a Baroque music festival. However, we went to three, of which I enjoyed two and a half. Let me get the half out of the way I didn't enjoy. It was at the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Martillac, about 25 minutes drive away, in which a Roger Muraro (I'm reading from the programme - I'd never heard of him, but then I've never heard of most of these people) played pieces by Liszt, Schuman and then Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique rearranged for the piano by Liszt, or bloody Liszt as I like to call him. I like Schuman (although he can get a little close to the mid-nineteenth century lush romanticism of which a little goes a very long way) but I don't like Liszt. Nor, for that matter, do I like Chopin. They spend far too long aimlessly noodling around on the keyboard, and the main impression I get is that they are rather keen to show us how clever and versatile they are. In addition, Liszt does bang about on the keyboard as though it were a tympany. I think I had only heard the Symphonie Fantastique once before and it wasn't a piece I was in a rush to hear again, so you can imagine just how much I enjoyed Liszt's interpretation of the piece. It went on for way over an hour and at one point I think I even stopped breathing.
However, the night before was a treat, as was the night after. Monday's concert was at the same chateau, although part of a different festival. It started at 5.30pm with a masterclass given by a chap called Maxim Vengero (and my aunt can't get over that I had never heard of him. Then, in the concert proper, he played Brahms sonatas for violin and piano, encoring with a piece by Ravel, which I have yet to identify, but which was joy.
Last night at the Chateau Gravas a Barsac was a much smaller concert of French Baroque music played on a harpsichord, viol de gamba flute accompanying a soprano. And the older I get, the more I like that kind of music. Stuff bloody Liszt and Chopin, crash, crash, crash bang, bang.
Also at the chateau was an exhibition of work by some chap called Paul Flickinger (he's not German but from Alsace). My aunt like his stuff, I didn't. It reminded me of what I've decided to call 'corporate art', the kind of stuff huge conglomertes like Shell, Pepsi, Ford and Transnational Acquisitions pay through the nose for to hang in their lobbies and corridors. As soon as I saw it, the word 'contrived' came to mind. But then what do I know (except, of course, that Liszt and Chopin, and for that matter Wagner, are a pain in the butt. One reason why Wagner goes on and on and on was that he was paid by the hour. That always brings the worst out in a composer.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Those crafty lads at the FSB: now, apparently, they are running al-Qaeda. And the ‘hacking scandal’ – it gets even murkier, though one thing is clear: the Murdoch’s are on their way out

A rather contentious, not to say very odd, claim has come my way that the FSB, Russia’s successor to the KGB is, if not actually now running, at least in a good position to guide al-Qaeda. On the face of it, it would seem to be so much nonsense, but when you get into the detail, you have to agree that it can’t be dismissed out of hand.

At the moment, I am staying in the Bordeaux region for a week to attend a series of Baroque music concerts with my stepmother’s sister. She is a retired English teacher who most recently taught at the Bordeaux University and who regularly gets copies of The Spectator which are passed on to her by a friend. You might or might not be familiar with my opinion of The Spectator, but briefly although on occasion some of its writers can be quite amusing, I don’t much like it. I just get tired of the general pose of ‘isn’t modern life just awful. It’s counterpart The New Statesman is equally tedious with its neverending maudlin refrain of ‘God aren’t the right/Tories/middle class/Daily Mail readers such heartless bastards. Shooting is too good for them’. To sum up both are as bad as each other.

I happened upon a recent edition of The Spectator (the June 25, 2011, if you’re interested) and immediately turned to page whatever when I read on the cover the come-on ‘Are the KGB running al-Qaeda?’ In essence, a writer with a suitably Eastern European name claims that Bin Laden’s successor, an Egyptian called Ayman al-Zawahiri, was taken up by the then KGB and schooled for six months in an establishment it has in the North Caucasus. The course is is said to have been enrolled on dealt in all sorts from how to run an organisation so it does what you want it to – impeccably Leninist that – to clandestine operations. Interestingly, the KGB eventually did admit that al-Zawahiri was in the North Caucasus for six months but that he had been picked up as an illegal alien and held for the six months while it tried to establish his identity, and then expelled when it couldn’t. That’s plausible, of course, but not particularly convincing, although not being convincing doesn’t mean The Spectators claim is true. But to add a little to the claim’s credibility are comments made by the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who was bumped off in London (most probably by the KGB using a radioactive material) that al-Zawahiri was indeed the KGB’s man. Again claiming as much doesn’t prove anything, but the balance of probability is that the chap did have some sort of connection with the KGB and now with its successor, the FSB.

The Spectator’s tame Eastern European goes on to claim that once he had graduated from the KGB place in the North Caucasus, al-Zawahiri was sent to Afghanistan and told to infiltrate al-Qaeda and get as close to the top of the organisation as he could. Well, succeeding Bin Laden more or less achieves that goal, and I’m sure that – if the claims are true – a case of vodka and several kilos of Beluga caviar were sent on their way to brighten the chap’s leisure time. Though, on reflection probably no vodka. The obvious question is: why would Russia want to control al-Qaeda? To that the reply is that as the country’s economy is a bloody mess and it depends on the export of oil and gas, instability in the Middle East is to its advantage. It is also keen to portray the troubles in Chechnya not as a country’s struggle for independence, but as part of the global islamist troublemaking. And it also wants to be seen as a player in the anti-islamist movement. Or something. Anyway, as they say: believe it or not. Me, I’ll leave the jury out there for a while pondering the pros and cons.

. . .

Well, the Hacking Scandal – I think that by now it deserves the honour of capital letters, although I’m not too sure whether ‘Hacking Scandal’ is the name agreed upon or whether it is known as something else, Hackgate or something – is evolving by leaps and bound. I must, thought, admit that it is no interest whatsoever to anyone outside Britain except a few excitable careerists in in the US Justice Department who see it as a chance to climb the greasy pole and assorted swivel-eyed lefties wherever they live who regard Rupert Murdoch as the Devil’s representative on Earth – a sort of anti-Pope, I imagine. But for those who are inexplicably interested – I had a rather plaintive email from a pensioner in Sarawak who has asked me to outline what is going on exactly – I shall do my best to summarise the main points. And the first main point is that everyone is in the shit and sinking increasingly deeper, except the saintly Guardian, which over the past few years and especially the past few weeks has garnered so many journalistic Brownie points that it will soon be able to hold its own jamboree.

And by everyone, I do mean everyone, from Rupert Murdoch, Prime Minister David Cameron, virtually everyone in the Metropolitan police to everyone in the Labour Party, who were more assiduous in lining up to suck Rupert’s dick than anyone else. What is interesting (although I am bound to admit that I must use the word ‘interesting’ loosely) is that all those involved are involved in a slightly different way. There is nothing straightforward about the matter and there is talk of calling in the BBC’s cricket commentator’s to interpret it all, given that with their intricate knowledge of cricket, they are the only ones who can be relied upon to find understand such arcane detail.

Rupert and his idiot son James are in very real danger of seeing Rupert’s life’s work, skilfully and intelligently built up over the past 50 years unceremoniously go down the pan. David Cameron is fighting off claims that by employing the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson he is ‘guilty of an error of judgment’ (and a more severe failing it is hard to imagine. It makes Pol Pot’s genocide look like a minor social gaffe). The Met rozzers stand accused of accepting backhanders from News International hacks on an industrial scale. Labour assiduously sucked Rupert’s dick as much if not even more than the Tories which is making all their attempts at scaling the high moral ground utterly pointless. Our noble MPs, who were not at all averse to almost universally faking the expense chitties and were hauled over the coal by the Press for doing so, are relishing getting their own back and there is loose talk of ‘regulating the Press’. Well, their motives are lost on no one and. Only the saintly Guardian looks like coming out of this at all well.

Then there is the whiff of conspiracy about it all. Rebekah Brooks, the ‘flame-haired’ former Screws editor and former News International chief executive who finally resigned at the end of last week, is due, with Rupert and James, to appear before a Parliamentary committee tomorrow (Tuesday) to be questioned by loads of MPs. She was expected to give a full grilling on all aspects of the matter, not least about who among the Met was accepting backhanders, how much they were getting and for how long was this going on. Then out of the blue she was yesterday arrested by the Met on suspicion of whatever – because it doesn’t really matter: now that she is arrested, the MPs are pretty much restricted in what they can ask her because they will be warned that they could prejudice any possible future court action. And Rebekah will now be entitled to refuse to answer any question which, she could claim, might lead her to incriminate herself. No one really knows whether her arrest was intended to stymie the MPs questioning or whether was just the unfortunate decision of some cack-handed plod. I suspect it was intentional but then I’m just a sad old cynic.

Another development yesterday was the resignation of the Met’s Commissioner. He had rather blotted his copybook by appointing a former deputy editor of the Screws as a special advisor at a time when the Met was investigating the phone hacking and by also accepting £12,000 worth of free accommodation and treatment at a health farm which also employed that former deputy editor as a PR advisor. The Commissioner, a Sir Paul Stephenson, was called in by Boris Johnson, London’t mayor, and resigned after the meeting. The question everyone is asking – OK, not everyone but every Westminster and media anorak – is did he jump or was he pushed. And in his resignation letter, Sir Paul made a few cryptic allusions to ‘not wanting to compromise’ Prime Minister David Cameron which sound rather ominous.

In America those Justice Department careerists are wondering whether any phone hacking by Nws International went on in the US, where it is a federal offence and could see the Murdoch’s hauled into court. It’s a long shot and their motives are transparent in that the Murdoch’s enemies aren’t just confined to the shores of Old Blighty, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a hell of a lot of damage. To add to the Murdoch’s woes, the board of SkyB, is beginning to ask whether having James as its chairman might not be doing the company, of which the Murdoch’s crucially don’t have a majority shareholding, rather a lot of harm. This one will, as they say, run and run.

. . .

The pussycat which has stood in for me as my profile photo is being retired as I have finally come up with a picture which doesn’t necessarily make me look like a raddle old fool and with which I am content. All I ask is that you indulge me in this piece of innocent vanity.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

RIP News International? RIP News Corp? Remember Thomson Newspapers? No, hardly anyone else does, either. And the euro shit gets ever closer to the real world fan

When I first started in newspapers in the mid-Seventies a job with Thomson newspapers was something like the gold standard. Thomson’s paid well, were comparatively enlightened employers and the holidays were good. But above all they were successful in producing newspapers. The Times and the Sunday Times were Thomson, as was The Scotsman and a string of regional papers owned by a subsidiary, Thomson Regional Newspapers.
In July 1978, I joined The Journal as a head office reporter. The Journal was a Thomson paper, and one of the perks was a discount on a package deal with Thomson Holidays. (Incidentally, my stint with The Journal was not particularly distinguished. I was, technically, as good a reporter as any other, but unfortunately I wasn’t a reporter at heart. I don’t give a flying fuck about what passes for news for one thing, and just can’t get into the mindset. Also, the really good reporters, the ones employed by the national for very good money usually have the morals of an alley cat and would sell their mums for sex if needs must. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t. Then, about halfway through my time on The Journal, my inexperience landed me and the paper in an awful lot of trouble when I accidentally shut down Newcastle airport. But more on that another time, if ever, because it was not my finest hour.)
In the Sixties and Seventies, Thomson papers were respected. In those days, admittedly at a time when, as we now know, television was more or less in its infancy, there was no local radio or the internet, and many more people turned to read newspapers, both local and national, to keep up with what was going on, they did have a little more to boast about. The Sunday Times, under the editorship of Harold Evans didn’t rely on tarted up tittle-tattle and lifestyle pieces about what aftershave to use when opening a bottle of Californian red, but was, for example, known for the exposes of it Insight team. It also pioneered the magazine format and it had real photojournalism, not just glossy piccies of rich men’s yachts around the world and features on how to decorate your second home. (If the majority of its readers didn’t have a second home, they were self-regarding enough to believe they jolly well should have one and that, all things being equal, getting one was just a matter of time)
My point is that in an ever-changing world, Thomson Newspapers were a fixed point. But no more. These days, the Thomson Corporation is a multi-billion dollar enterprise but it doesn’t own a single paper, TV station or radio. (Lord Thomson, the man who began it all, got going when he bought a down-at-heel shop in provincial Canada which, among other items, sold radio sets. He realised that sales of these sets were so low because the area had precious few stations to tune into. So he simply started one. That sort of thinking lay at the basis of his business brain.) It might be a similar story with News International – in Britain – and News Corp worldwide: to suggest that a time when neither exists could be sooner than expected sounds mad. But don’t bet your shirt.
The problem for both is the both are Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, who might have become a naturalised American, but who thought and acted like the Australian he was born, is not just the brains of both companies, but their soul. His son and heir apparent James is, by all accounts not a patch on Rupert. I was talking to a guy here at work who was a Times reporter for ten years and sat through many talks given by James. James, the man expected to steer News International and News Corp from strength to strength refers to ‘readers’ as ‘users’ and ‘newspapers’ become ‘the end-product’. It might be impeccable and classic Harvard Business School speak, but in the real world of newspapers it is the kiss of death.
Rupert is in his mid-eighties, and from where I sit, the guy who once had one of the sharpest brains in the business and was not afraid to roll up his sleeves and muck in with the troops – which is why so many of those troops are loyal to him – had lost it. For all his brilliance, he did not know when to take a bow and leave the stage. It might be that in his heart he knows James is a duffer and that he didn’t want to relinquish the reins to a man who sooner or later is bound to fuck it all up. I don’t know. But his behaviour over the whole News of the World phone hacking scandal and his backing for that idiot Rebekah Brooks seem to indicate just one thing: he’s lost it.
. . .

But why should this mean that News International and News Corp could go to the wall a lot sooner than expected? Well, I am just another armchair pundit whose experience of finance and big business is restricted to shoving my debit card in a cashpoint every few days. So please bear that in mind. But I can see the following happening: already a staggering £4billion has been wiped off News Corp’s share price because investors are getting queasy about the whole hacking affair and how it is being handled. Who knows? Rupert pops his clogs in a few months’ time, James takes over, the investors don’t like him in charge and vote in another chairman, the new board decides to ‘rationalise’ the company (whose parts might be worth more individually than they are as divisions of News Corp), and within a few years the once mighty News Corp is no more. That’s just one scenario, but … (I reckon the same will happen to Apple, too, when Steve Jobs finally pops his clogs.)

. . .

The shit is getting every closer to developing a mind of its own and going for a head-to-head with the fan. Guess who’s going to come off best? I’m talking about the euro, of course. Now the, more or less ‘official’, talk is that it might not be such a bad idea if Greece ‘defaults’, the posh word for telling those you owe loads of money to fuck off and stop bothering you. The new big worry is now Italy. It is no longer just idiots like me who just wish the EU would just get on with it and bite the bullet. The trouble is that when the bullet is bitten, it will be the Ordinary Joes throughout Europe who will carry the can. All those dicks in Brussels will simply retire to their country of origin, accept an honour or two, allow themselves to be granted a sinecure and settle back to write their memoirs and how they knew it was all going to go wrong and said as much but no one would listen! Plus ca change …

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What’s worse than an unsentimental hack? A sentimental hack. Lord save me from them and their bullshit

Back at work after a week off sick when, coincidentally, the News of the Screws went to the wall, and I am fed up to the back teeth with all the maudlin crap from colleagues about 'how sad it is that the Screws is closing'. If I come across one more boasting of how they have bought three copies of the final edition 'because it's historical', I'll kill someone. The only sad thing about the whole affair is that around 200 people have lost their jobs, the huge majority of whom will be completely innocent of the skulduggery that went on at the Screws. Furthermore, the paper being superbly produced - and I am not talking of its worth as a newspaper but the professionalism of the hacks who brought it out every week - the vast majority of those 200 will be working in equally well-paid jobs within two weeks. They will be snapped up because of their kind they are the best of the best. By the way, last week not 200 but 1,400 will be lost at a firm called Bombardier which makes trains because the Government has handed a vital contract to a German firm - no hacks crying tears over them, you'll notice, and few if any of them will have been on the rather splendid salary the Screws will have been paying its staff.
As for the paper: good riddance. Don't believe a word of the self-serving crap about what important stories it 'cracked'. Off-hand I can't remember one. The Screws specialised in digging for dirt about those in the public eye - for example, Max Moseley who runs Formula One and who liked nothing better than being whipped by tarts dressed as Nazis - and then publishing it for the titillation of folk whose lives are otherwise dull, dull, dull. Someone this morning suggested that printing the story of one David Mellor, a Tory Cabinet minister who was playing away and who liked to shag his squeeze dressed in a Chelsea football strip was the kind of worthwhile story the Screws printed. Why? Because Mellor was a Cabinet minister. Give me a break. And 'the Great British Public' should also shoulder some of the blame: if it were not so bloody prurient and ready to soak up the latest salacious details of some D-list turd's sex life, the Screws and its rivals wouldn't bother publishing it.
There's a well-known saying - well, well-known to me, anyway - that 'news is what doesn't appear in the newspapers', so given that, with one or two honourable exceptions, our national newspapers choose to print nothing but celebrity tittle-tattle, diets, 'lifestyle features', property columns and pieces on where best to save your money, the next time someone brags about Her Majesty's Press, do me a favour and tell them to fuck off.
The one thing that does concern me is that after the MPs' expenses scandal of last year, those same MPs, many of who got away scot-free with more or less dipping their fingers in the till, will be queuing up to table motions about 'regulating the Press', 'harnessing and out-of-control' Press' and all the rest of the hooey. If and when it comes to a confrontation with MPs, I shall most certainly stand by my colleagues to fight against any control. But I shall still be obliged to hold my fingers to my nose in the company of some of them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Has Murdoch pulled it off? The Devil closes the News of the Screws and claims ‘I am blameless in this whole affair. Now bloody well get a move on and let my buy all of Sky’ . . . UPDATE. . . UPDATE. . .

Well, the news flows so fast that even this award-winning* blog can’t keep up (*St Breward and District Gardening Club (incorporating Blisland and Temple Green Fingers and Mount Friends of the Earth) Blog of The Year 2010). Yesterday, the news came through that several firms were so disgusted by the behaviour of the News of the World that they would be withdrawing their advertising. Their principled charge for the high moral ground came after the Screws admitted that the mobile phone of a young murder victim had been hacked into and it was further revealed that the mobile phones of the relatives of those who British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan were also hacked into.
The issue was obvious: the News of the World and all who sailed in her were scum and firms including Ford, Renault, 02, Butlin’s, Sainsbury’s, npower, Mitsubishi, the Halifax, Aldi, Virgin Holidays and the Co-operative were shocked to the core by the revelations and did not feel their good names should be associated with such a publication.
Well, forgive me if I don’t organise a parade in admiration for such high-minded action.
Notwithstanding the specific instances of abysmal behaviour — sanctioning, or at the very least, condoning the hacking into the phone of the murder victim Milly Dowler and the phones of war victim relatives — those firms will most certainly have been aware that thereunto the Screws’ reputation was not exactly on par with that of a virgin bride on her wedding day. You will have to be under 12 or living on the North Pole not to know of the many, many complaints over the years of ‘tabloid intrusion’ into people’s lives and as arguably the most successful red-top Sunday paper it was highly unlikely the Screws was the exception to the rule, especially as over the years it has been sued for libel and carried sensationalist stories every week. So the various firms’ newly adopted stance of ‘goodness me, who are we dealing with!’ is disingenuous to say the least. What will have been on their minds is that because of the shit the Screws had landed itself in, they would be in a very strong  and very welcome position to ‘re-negotiate’ ad rates and get the same volume of advertising for a lot less moolah. Naturally, this could not be allowed to happen overnight, but their ads would have slowly started appearing over the next few weeks — at a far more favourable rate, of course — in conjunction with lofty corporate statements along the lines of ‘the News of the World and its owners News International have re-assured [name of saintly firm] that it has dealt severely with staff responsible for past unacceptable journalistic practices and that such practices are are a thing of the past. In the light of this solemn assurance [name of saintly firm] is happy to continue . . .’ etc. ad nauseam. But in view of yesterday’s ‘shock announcement’ that is no longer how it will all play out.
For yesterday, Rupert Murdoch played, if not a masterstroke, a very clever move: he simply shut down the News of the World.

. . .

How clever doing so was remains to be seen. The point is that the big prize is ensuring that his company News Corporation, which owns News International, manages to get complete control Sky or, strictly, BSkyB, although calling it that was merely a sop when Sky took over — or officially merged with — the abysmal and failing British Satellite Broadcasting, whose unique selling point was the ‘squarial’, a ‘square aerial’. (Why this should somehow have improved whatever crap they were intending to broadcast I really don’t know.
In fact, the Brits have form in the way of utterly daft unique
selling points: the first Austin Allegro was touted as being rather special and different because it had a ‘square steering wheel’. That was soon dropped, but not before several hundred drivers had died in crashes while trying to get to grips with this important motoring innovation.) The whole phone hacking scandal was very damaging, not only to the Screws itself, but arguably to Murdoch’s bid for full control — so why not shut it down? It kills the hacking scandal far faster than it might otherwise have gone away and Murdoch can blame a corrupt culture in the Screws which had nothing to do with him and can attempt to claim moral high ground by shutting the paper and sacking staff who might have been responsible.
Furthermore, the Screws might have a long history, but in the upper echelons of hackdom folk aren’t nostalgic. More to the point, Murdoch can launch a ‘Sun on Sunday’ to take the place of the Screws, re-hire the Screws staff he values and get rid of any dead wood. All those oh-so-moral advertisers who announced that buying ad space from the Screws was now more than they could stomach can now buy ad space in the newly launched Sun on Sunday in good conscience (and most likely dealing with the same people they previously dealt with). And, dear friends, a new, more perfect era can begin. Naturally, everyone will know what is really going on, but all those anti-Murdoch critics who continue to call for blood — as they will — will now begin to look rather silly with News International claiming they had dealt with the problem decisively, there can be no doubt that the wrongdoers had been brought to book and further criticism was in bad faith.
The main flaw in this strategy is that Rebekah Brooks, now News International CEO, who was editor of the Screws when much of this is going on, has not been sacrificed, and critics can legitimately ask ‘why not’. Murdoch could, of course, announce that she had been given a stern talking to and that her canteen privileges have been revoked for a month, but the truth is he needs her and he needs her to keep her mouth shut, so she is in no real danger. Her successor as editor, Andy Coulson, is, we are told due to be arrested today, but I don’t think he is in much danger of doing time. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband has been banging on about how David Cameron appointing Andy Coulson as his director of communications was a ‘catastrophic failure of judgment’, but sadly for Ed that just sounds like so much politicking and no one give a toss. Anyway, it wasn’t. Cameron probably asked Coulson ‘were you involved’, Coulson probably said ‘yes’, and Cameron then probably said ‘well, we’ll see how it goes. If it gets too hairy, I’ll have to cut you loose, but let’s play it by ear.’
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists and all ‘concerned’ journalist — i.e. those on papers which hardly sell at all: the Guardian and The Independent — are all still banging on about the whole affair, but truthfully by closing the Screws, Murdoch has pulled the rug from under their feet. There’s also another ‘big story’ brewing — unprecedented famine in the Horn of Africa — so all those who still might have something to lose if the hacking scandal does linger on will be praying that it hurries up and gets far worse and starts taking everyone’s mind off the matter. God bless them all. It’s at moments like this that I thank my lucky starts I am nothing but an utterly insignificant little tick who drives an £800, 11-year-old Rover and is invisible to every good-looking woman he encounters. Actually, forget that last bit: it still irritates me.

. . .

Let me repeat what I have written here before and which will probably earn me the sheer disgust if not the outright hatred of many: when he bought The Times in 1981, Rupert Murdoch was asked to give his solemn assurance that he would not interfere in editorial policy of the papers. He is said to have replied: ‘I didn’t spend several million pounds buying The Times not to interfere.’ So the man can’t be all bad.

. . .

Since writing the above, I have a special edition of Radio 4’s The Media Show (available on all good radios) in which the usual suspects were trotted out to pontificate and observe, including the former Guardian editor Peter Preston and Bill Hagerty, a former editor of the Daily Mirror (now The Mirror) and The People, as well as Carole Malone, with whom I once worked with who could broadly be described, a la Private Eye, as one of the Street’s foremost Glenda Slaggs. It was, in my view, the usual whitewash and how the Screws always did its best ‘to get things right’ etc. Well, yes, but to keep their lawyers happy and to ensure not to much dosh was wasted on avoidable libel trials. And the observation that it always did its best ‘to get things right’ is pretty bloody irrelevant when the story you are doing your best ‘to get right’ is as vitally important as to whether Ryan Giggs is cheating on his wife or whether Blue’s Duncan James also bats for his own side. The distinction was made long ago, and is worth repeating here that what is ‘in the public interest’ and what ‘the public are interested in’ are not necessarily always (or even ever given the gormless nature of much of the tabloid readership) the same thing.
I don’t doubt that in the wake of the Press’s extensive coverage of MPs’ expenses scandal, that gang will not try their utmost to muzzle us as much as they can and then some. They have been handed a grand advantage thanks to the idiots on the Screws. And they mustn’t be allowed to do so. But please let us draw the line somewhere: yes, every democracy needs a free and, within reason, unfettered Press, but that doesn’t and will never mean that we should defend up to the hilt each and every nasty thing the Press does. It boils down to this: if a democracy wants a free Press, it must take the rough with the smooth. But I, for one, am not going to spend a single second arguing that the rough the Press gets up to is in the slightest bit necessary.
Another update concerns Rupert and his son James: apparently it was James who insisted on the strategy of shutting down the Screws. Rupert had to be persuaded.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

‘Citizen journalism’: complete cobblers or just a load of old cack?

I gather from the BBC News website that a UK edition of The Huffington Post is being launched today. I have spent the past few minutes trying to find it, mostly by using Google, but haven’t yet been able to track it down. But it’s still only 8.31 in the morning, so perhaps it’s a little late into work. All I knew about The Huffington Post is that it was launched my Arianna Huffington as a conservative commentary on the world, but is now regarded as more liberal, which is remarkable as most drift with age is in the opposite directions, i.e. we want to legalise everything when they are 20 and want to hang, draw and quarter everything by the time the are 40 and can’t go anywhere without a quart of whisky in our back pocket.

All I know of Arianna was that when she was still Arianna Stasinopoulos, she had a long love affair with the much older Bernard Levin (a big noise in journalism at the time, now I’m afraid ‘who he?’ for those readers who aren’t yet 70), but left him when he told her he didn’t want to marry and have chidlren and moved to America. She was later involved accused of plagiarism over parts of her biography of Maria Callas, married a man from a rich family, divorced him when she discovered that the other people he was seeing behind her back included men, and co-launched The Huffington Post.

While trying to track down the UK edition of The Huffington Post, I came across a website called the Online Journalism Blog (a rather clever name which seems to cover more or less all the angles; give it a print edition and I think it comes pretty close to having the full set) which reports the news of the launch. There I noticed that its report on the launch had already received six tweets (‘tweets’) and there is even a facility to ‘retweet’. Bless! And that got me thinking about the concept of ‘citizen journalism’.

On the face of it ‘citizen journalism’ sounds rather admirable in that it might be regarded as a ‘democratising’ force, but even after a just a few minutes reflection, there seems a great

deal less to it than meets the eye. What does it mean, exactly? Forget, for a moment, the ‘citizen’ bit and reflect on what ‘journalism’ is. There is, in my view rather less to that, too, than meets the eye.

Certainly, among others, the following will spring to mind: Horace Greeley (surely the patron saint of every spotty adolescent who has not yet paid a penny in taxes), ‘the public’s right to know’, the ‘public interest’, the Fourth Estate, ‘keeping sources confidential’, Watergate, thalidomide, Bernstein and Woodward, Arthur Christiansen and Dutton Peabody of the Shinbone Star. But let me beef up that list a little and attempt to rebalance it: Tunnels & Tunnelling and Carpet & Flooring Review (two publications which most certainly do exist, the first catering for men and women with a keen interest in tunnelling and the second for those whose lives involve laying carpets and other floor coverings. I have provided links for both to silences the doubters, and I should add that although the links prove a web presence, I first came across them before the web existed when they were most certainly print publication), the Daily Star, Asian Babes, Fox & Hound (pronounced ‘Fox and Hind), the St Breward Parish Magazine, Power News (the staff newspaper of the former Central Electricity Generating Board for whom I once worked), What Camera, the News of the World (‘The Screws’) and any number of coke-snorting alcoholics who earn their daily crust writing cobblers for the masses. My point is that this second list is no less legitimate and no less part of ‘journalism’. For the fact is that, in essence, ‘journalism’ is as much about being part of a noble tradition of ‘righting wrongs’ as so many would like it to be seen, as ‘eating’ is about ensuring the continued good health of the world’s population.

Certainly — and it is very important that I make this point — there are a great many men and women journalists who risk their lives in order that the public might know what’s going on; they are active — and given that many are killed that should strictly be ‘were active’ — in Russia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Argentina, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and many other places and are all doing an admirable job. (Let me mention some names with which I am familiar from listening to the BBC: Barbara Plett, Hugh Sykes, Damian Grammaticus, Lyse Doucet and Orla Guerin. There are many, many more) But there are a loads of others working in the media who are equally entitled to call themselves ‘journalists’, but whose work has nothing to do with ‘righting wrongs’. For example, my day at work consists of first checking the puzzle page proofs against the puzzles ‘hard copy’, then helping to read, check, correct and do whatever is necessary to the promo page, the letters pages and the ‘answers’ page; at what point in my working day is my life at risk? Which is all a very long-winded way of pointing out that being ‘a journalist’ as such doesn’t really add up to a row of beans. It’s what you do that counts.

And so we get to ‘citizen journalists’: I don’t know who first came up with the phrase, but don’t be taken in by it. It means very, very little and has more in common with advertising agency puffery than the real world. Yet it sounds so grand, doesn’t it, it gives the impression of democracy on the march, of a steady progress towards a more enlightened, more caring world. Here in Britain, as I’m sure is the case throughout the world, the websites of all the national papers now offer the facility to allow us, the reader, to leave our comments on a particular issue or news story. What does that tell us? Well, here is what it tells me: that a great many people have a great many different opinions on a great many different subjects. And none is willing or even able to listen to the other’s point of view. What counts, what is of supreme importance is that their voice should be heard. But you only have to spend a minute or two in your nearest public bar to establish that. What do you get when everyone is allowed to have their say? Nothing but a noisy cacophony in which nothing is intelligible. And so much for ‘citizen journalism’.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

And doesn’t it get sticky at the top. Here’s why one complete nonentity is sometimes glad that his life is basically sweet and, above all, simple

There are times, dear reader, when I am glad I am nothing but an ageing boring old fart whose one vice is to pontificate in this ’ere blog but who otherwise has a character which is without stain. Who in their right mind, for example, would want to swap places with the West African hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her and then was herself accused of being a prostitute? She is now suing the New York Post for libel after it published stories of her selling sex (pictured). Or who would want to be Rebekah Brooks (always referred to as ‘flame-haired’ and you can see why) as the affair
over a private detective hacking into mobile phones on behalf of the News of the World spins ever more out of control for — well, for one reason or another more or less everyone involved? Brooks was editor of the Screws while a lot of this was going on, but is now chief executive officer (one of those American titles we are slowly adopting over here) of News International. Or who would be Rupert Murdoch, who must be 80 if he is a day, who is seeing a great deal of his life’s work in danger of unravelling over the affair. News Corporation, which owns News International, is doing its damnedest to take over all of BSkyB, but the Tory government, whose approval it needs to do so will not want to give it the nod if this whole business with phone hacking gets any worse. Or who wants to be any one of several ‘senior police officers’ of the Metropolitan Police who appear at best to have been clay-footed and at worse turned a blind eye to their mates in Her Majesty’s Press. The trouble is it is all getting worse, more or less by the hour.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, conveniently referred to as DSK in tabloid headlines in New York is no longer under house arrest, and although he still faces various charges, might have had as stroke of luck courtesy of the league of private detectives employed by his expensive lawyers to dig up whatever dirt they can on the accusing maid to undermine her claims. So far, we are told, the story she told of being gang-raped in order to get asylum in the U.S. is a load of cobblers and there is ‘said to be evidence’ that $50,000 had been deposited in her bank account by a known drug dealer. Then the Post added its two ha’porth worth by claiming she was nothing but a tart touting for business at the hotel where she worked. Her suit against the Post raises the stakes because if she loses, she is utterly discredited, and if she wins, it will seem crystal-clear to the world that a nasty dirty tricks campaign is afoot against her, and the only one to gain from her being discredited would be DSK. Incidentally, there is still talk in France that once all this has blown over (of course), DSK might still be nominated to stand for the Left at the coming presidential elections. They are even talking of postponing the deadline for nominations to be submitted just to accommodate the old rogue. Whether of not they have also taken into account more rape claims made against him is unclear.
As for Rebekah Brooks, well she seems to be sinking ever further in the shit by the day. Strictly speaking News Corporation cannot be held responsible for any dealings, however murky, conducted by the News of the World, but we all know it doesn’t work that way. All Murdoch’s enemies will shriek (and they do tend to shriek) that if he allowed that kind of thing to go on in his newspaper division, who’s to say what he would allow at a wholly News Corp owned Sky TV? By the way, I do find the phrase often trotted out in these cases — ‘not a fit and proper person’ — to be pompous beyond belief. The Tories, of course, who like Labour are usually only to keen to kiss Murdoch’s arse (and allow him to take over Sky if at all possible — that should keep the old rogue sweet and onside for many more years) don’t know what to do. His problem is that he now has to hang on to Brooks through thick and thin whatever she might have done, for getting rid of her at this late stage will only make him look ridiculous. And, of course, she will know where several other bodies are buried. So that is why, dear reader, I don’t feel the slightest twinge of envy for any of those who reap the benefits of living in the public eye. Just give me my pipe, my half ounce of shag and several pint bottles of pale ale and I am utterly contented. Who would want the limelight?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Having ‘a spare’. Or is possessing seven laptops a symptom of early onset lunacy? No, sir, it isn’t! Please read on

One of the jokes at work is that I am something of a gadget queen, and I must admit that the shoe fits quite well. I do love gadgets whether the gadget is a laptop, an iPad (I inadvertently bought one recently), a portable digital TV for use in the car, several sets of handy screwdrivers the various tips of which fit out of the way into the handle, an infra-red gadget for measuring distances, a mobile phone, little wind-up pocket torches which can be attached to your keyring, a thingamajig for testing the voltage on batteries and how much poke is left, a small portable car tyre inflator, several digital guitar tuners in various sizes, a portable wifi radio — and I do mean portable, not one of those design disasters which would make a Thirties Bakelite model look elegant — a flash slave unit (very useful), well the list might go on, but I shall have to be in bed before dawn and there is more to right in this entry than merely a list of all the semi-useful crap I have accumulated over the years.

On the plus side, of course, if the fact that when someone shouts out aloud to the world at large: ‘Has anyone got a . . .’, I can invariably reply: ‘I have. Do you want a red one or a black one? And would that be in metric of imperial measurements.’ And this is not empty boast: a few months ago, a colleague’s reading glasses fell to pieces. ‘Has anyone got a minute screwdriver, so that I can put these glasses back together again?’ And I was able to shout back: ‘Yes, I have. Do you want one made here in Britain or a Russian-made one?’

Actually, that last bit is bollocks, but I did happen to have a tiny, tiny screwdriver which was specifically intended for the tiny, tiny screws which hold your glasses together. So who’s the fool? It is my proud boast that I am most surely the only employee at the Daily Mail who has a knife with a foot-long blade in his drawers at work.

And there’s no need to be alarmed: we have a tradition that whenever it is someone’s birthday, they bring in a cake to be shared with everyone else. And when I brought one in a few years ago, I got thoroughly few up with trying to cut it up with a stupid bloody plastic knife as everyone else did, which not only made a complete mess of the cake and ensured that no slice was as big or as small as the others, but invariably too much of a perfectly pleasant cake was left in pieces all over the desk.

So when I went out and bought a cake, I also went a little further up the road and bought a large knife with which to cut it. It does the trick very well and everyone else now uses it, too, except hacks being the self-centred fucks they were, are and always will be, it never, but never occurs to anyone to wash it and give it back to me once it is no longer needed. But that’s hacks for you: they think the whole world is there simply for their convenience.

There is, however, another, angle to my propensity to collect gadgets: I also, if possible, like to have at least two of then — a spare and another spare in case I cannot immediately lay my hand on the one I want, it gets lost or is stolen or something. I realise that on a rainy day your average pschyoanalyst could have a field day, but quite honestly it doesn’t worry me one little bit. So, for example, I own three digital guitar tuners, two portable wifi radios, at one point owned two of those nifty NextBase portable digital television sets, we have a total of eleven mobile phones in the house (two of which don’t work) and — ahem, six laptops, or rather I own six laptops but have the use of seven.

Now I do realise that all that makes it sound as though I am not playing with a full deck, but that really isn’t the case. I might point out that, for one thing, I am perfectly aware of just how ridiculous it all is and just how whacky I sound, and — this is the crucial point — if I were if I really were ready for the men in white coats, I wouldn’t be writing what I am now writing, but would, instead, insist that the situation is perfectly normal and that, furthermore, those individuals who don’t have, say, eleven mobile phones (working and non-working) are the ones we should be concerned about. But I’m not saying that, am I? See what I mean.

Anyway, if an individual such as me any whackier than all those think herberts who haunt the railway system of Great Britain recording the numbers of every train in service? Or what about all those complete fucking idiots who will travel several thousand miles with nothing but a pair of binoculars and a packet of sandwiches for a fleeting, 15-second glimpse of the Great-crested, lesser-spotted Whatever. Me mad? I don’t think so. My one ‘quirk’ is that I like to have ‘a spare’ in case.

Now let me explain the situation with the laptops. And let me reassure you that I am considering getting rid of at least three. Or at least I was considering getting rid of at least three until I logged onto eBay, looked up Completed Listings and realised what pitifully poor prices the kind of laptop I was think of selling now command.

Until recently, I owned an Mac iBook G4 and a Mac Powerbook G4. The trouble was that when you watch BBC iPlayer on a G4 — and the Powerbook has a top-spec 1.6ghz processor — it is all rather jerky. So slowly I began looking at what Windows machines were available on eBay and, to cut a long story short, I more or less accidentally bought a rather nice Samsung. (By the way, mention of the seven laptops above doesn’t take into account the several other laptops which have previously seen their way into our house but have since departed again. That would be another six — two 1400s, two G3 Powerbooks and two Dells.)

The Samsung became my pride and joy, not least because Windows, for all its myriad faults, allows you to play online backgammon. The iBook (which, like the Powerbook, boots a damn sight faster than any Windows machine) sits in my bedroom and is used first thing in the morning to check my email.

My daughter uses now uses the Samsung as she insists she needs a Windows machine because all the computers at school are Windows (or something — it’s a little hard pinning her down on that one). I suppose here is the place to record that although I loathe, loathe, loathe the whole ‘Mac community’ bollocks with the insufferable attitude of too many Mac users that they are part of the chosen few and Apples’ corporate arrogance, I far prefer Macs to any Windows machine. There, I’ve said it.

However, I finally decided to rationalise my collection of laptops. For the past five years Apple has been producing a new range of laptops using Intel computer chips and that meant that the new range of computers could also run Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 (which as far as I am concerned is the only Windows OS to date which should run off and hide its head in shame, though it, too, can all-too-often give you the runaround). So the plan was to buy two Mac Intel Macbook Pros and get rid of all the other laptops in the house. One would set up always to boot into Windows 7 so that my daughter could use it, and I would use the other one.

I bought the first MacBook Pro a week ago. The price was something of a bargain and I should have know better. Although the seller in insists the laptop was in ‘perfect working’ condition when she sent it off, when I took it out of its box last Sunday and booted it up, I immediately got a kernel panic. That, dear reader, is the Unix technical term for ‘something in this computer is completely fucked and this laptop is going on strike’. I shan’t go into the ins and outs of it all, but I am now assured of shot of the laptop and getting my money back.

In the meantime, I have bought two more MacBook Pros. They have, I’m told both arrived at work but as I haven’t since been to work, I have yet to unpack and inspect them. (I get several items I buy sent to me at work because my wife has a habit of getting into an awful tizzy when stuff arrives here at home in Cornwall and accuses me of ‘wasting money’.

Well, perhaps I do, but my argument is that she has never been left short of money, no bill has ever — ever — gone unpaid and, anyway, I like to have a life of sorts and if having a life of sorts involves buying all sorts of crap I want, so be it. However, unfortunately like so many women, she has a bloody-minded and irrational inability to

see my point of view, so getting ‘stuff’ sent to me at work saves on an awful lot of aggro. Why go looking for trouble? And as I am coming clean, I should also tell you that the three MacBooks I have bought (one of which I shall be returning) have the virtue of superficially looking almost identical to the Powerbook on which I am writing this blog. The theory is that, with a bit of luck, she won’t spot that I have bought a new laptop. Or rather two, but I’m still in the process of thinking that last bit through. Please don’t rush me.

By the way, the astute readers among you will ask: so what is the seventh laptop? Well, it is Lenovo Something Or Other supplied to me by work so that I can log onto the system at work for when I put together the puzzle pages. Rational or what?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Johan Hari comes a cropper or the Sad, Sad Tale of a Hero of the Left who has broken the Eleventh Commandment. And Greece: is it a tragedy of a comedy?

A curious, low-key spat in the Press these past few days about one of the darlings of the left who just might have been caught, metaphorically, with his fingers in the till. It concerns a chap called Johan Hari who in his day was something of a child prodigy apparently, having his journalism published when he was 16 or something (though I have looked on Wikepedia and can’t find any references to this anywhere, so perhaps I am just making it up, although if I am doing so, it is entirely inadvertent). Hari is notable in that as a gay man, he is an activist. According to Wikipedia he ‘has been named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the most influential people on the left in Britain and by the Dutch magazine Wing as one of the 20 most influential gay people in the world.
At his point I must mention that I have an antipathy to ‘lists’, especially to lists of ‘influential’ people. What exactly does ‘influential’ mean in this context? Someone might well be regarded as influential if others copy their dress sense and style, but beyond that, very limited, sense, I think it is simply cobblers to describe anyone as ‘influential’, especially a paid
hack such as Hari (right). As far as I am concerned, it is just another instance of media luvvies talking themselves up and making themselves sound just a little more interesting than they themselves suspect they are. Then there is the description of Hari as an ‘influential gay’ person, which I regard as doubly daft: surely to goodness we have come sufficiently far down the road to treat someone’s sexual inclination as being about as important as their toothpaste of choice. Whether or not a man or woman is gay does not make them either a better or worse person. They just are, and, as some do, to celebrate the fact seems to me just as pernicious as to hold it against them.
One thing Hari, who writes mainly for The Independent but also for several other notable publications, has in his favour, as far as I am concerned, is his ability to make enemies. In my book that is a definite plus, and although when I have heard him on the radio or read any of his journalism, I was inclined to regard him as something of a silly little tick, I yield to no man in defence of his right to be a stupid prick if he wants to be. But what I didn’t, and don’t like, about him is his tendency to occupy the high moral ground. And just how dangerous doing so can be is highlighted by the spat in which he finds himself. And if he hadn’t done so in the past, passing judgment on those whose behaviour fell short of what he thought was acceptable, the media spat in which he finds himself might never have started.
Hari belongs to the serious end of journalism, and in that he has my best wishes. Again according to Wikipedia, he has reported from, among other places, the Congo, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Venezuela, Rwanda and Syria. Whether or not he found himself in personal danger on any of these assignments I don’t know, but what he did is several million miles away from checking the puzzle pages and ensuring the commas are in the right places on the letters pages as I do and I can honestly say I have never once feared for my life doing so. That then one point to Hari, no points to me. But given that background – he has also won something called the Orwell Prize for his political journalism – what he is now accused of is odd in that if he is guilty, he surely should most certainly have known better.
Hari, it seems, has been interviewing prominent people – political activists, that kind of thing – and then including quotations from their work in the pieces he subsequently wrote. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, except Hari would paraphrase the quotations and use them as though they were what his interviewee had actually said to him in person – that is pretend that they were said as part of the interview. There is no question that it is a somewhat controversial thing to do, and I regard it as a form of cheating (but see my  below, for more on that point).
Hari, though, says he doesn’t and has come up with a somewhat convoluted justification for the practice. He says (and I now quote from the Guardian of today (July 1) that he distinguishes between the ‘intellectual accuracy of describing [interviewees'] ideas in their most considered words, or [it should be ‘and’ but that’s the Guardian for you] the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon’. As far as I am concerned, there is a distinct and quite unmistakable whiff of bullshit about Hari’s justification. What makes it all rather more complicated is that given his left-of-centre views and his homosexuality, Hari and his supporters are arguing that those criticising him have ulterior motives (although they don’t explain quite why he should be regarded so highly and why taking him down would be seem as something of a coup). That the many people who don’t like him are enjoying the chance to take young Johan (who, at 32, might not be quite as young as all that) are lining up to give examples of his duplicity speaks volumes. But then as a general rule, no one is quite as bitchy as a hack and the men are worse than the women.
I am not about to condemn him in the slightest and to do so would be despicable. I have made up many, many quotes as a reporter and sometimes as a sub, mainly because Joe Public as opposed to the great and good Hari mucks around with are horribly inarticulate, and if I had quoted them with 100pc accuracy, they would have come across as mentally deficient. Then there was the time, many years ago – at least 31 years ago, so I don’t’ mind coming clean - when I invented a complete interview (purportedly with the mayor of a small Sardinian town which was the centre of the kidnapping for ransom by the mafia of two well-off Brit holidaymakers). I was paid handsomely for the piece (in fact, due to a misunderstanding between the newsdesk and accounts, I was paid twice - a flat fee and then on lineage) and even though I say so myself, it might have been complete fiction, but Christ it was a rattling good read. But I am not going to condemn Hari. All I shall do is point out that if you are going to pull a fast one, make sure you don’t break the Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Allow Theyself To Be Caught Out. Unfortunately, Hari did. And I can’t help feeling just a touch of Schadenfreude that after all his high moral posturing, young Johan has finally been caught with his trousers down.

. . .

The Greek parliament united, more or less, to vote in an even tougher raft of austerity measures a day or two ago to ensure it received another bung from the other members of the euro club. And I admit I was very disappointed. I wanted the MPs (who will most certainly not be on their uppers over the coming years as a result of these measures) raise two fingers to the Greek government and Brussels, but it was not to be. I happen to think the whole ‘EU project’ as it is now is a dishonest mess and that the introduction of the euro was riding for a fall from the off. But that isn’t why I wanted the new set of measures to be shown the door. I don’t mean to sound precious but the fact that the Greeks are now most likely to get the second tranche of their bailout money offends – wait for it – my aesthetic sense. Yes, I know it sounds daft, but it does. Whether I inherited the trait from my German ancestors or whether it was from the Powell’s of South Wales that my genes were thus programmed, but I do like a certain order. If it is a German trait, let me call it Ordnung. But the whole Greek bailout saga is just one complete and bloody mess.
For one thing, you don’t help a country (or an individual in debt by lending it (them) more money. It doesn’t work that way. However much Greece is lent, it will eventually have to be paid back. And anyway, you can bet your bottom dollar that the next wallage of moolah to be handed over won’t go, as officially intended, to ensure the Greek civil servants are paid but will be used to buy back the – worthless – bonds bought over these past few months and ensure those most open to catastrophe in the event of a Greek default get as much of their money back as is humanly possible.
The official theory is – and a rather threadbare theory it is at that – that ‘once the crisis is over’ and ‘Greece is back on its feet’, the Greek economy ‘can then expand’, the books will be balanced, and sooner or later the Greeks will be in a position to pay of their debts. And, so ‘the theory’ goes, the euro project (‘one for all and all for one, especially if that one is France) will be vindicated and it will be one in the eye for all those nasty cynics. Well, stuff that. All that has happened is that the day of doom has been postponed, people who should not be carrying the can in Greece will carry even more of the can, and a bad situation will get even worse. In the meantime, those in Greece partly responsible for this mess simply because they do not pay their taxes will get off scot-free and most probably get even more prosperous. And, as I say, that offends my aesthetic sense.
Furthermore, exactly why does everyone think that the meaures taken will not in time lead to trouble. Those Greeks at the bottom of the pile pay taxes. Those at the top don’t. Does anyone really think that increasing the tax burden on already impoverished people while ignoring the tax evasion of those with piles of money will bring about peace and harmony. The cliché is that democracy was born in Greece. But more to the point is that not so long ago, the army organised a coup and ruled for several years. Is it really impossible that an army sensitive to the plight of those at the bottom of the pile will not decide that enough is enough, stage a coup and return to the drachma? They would, at a stroke, have popular support, and it would be wrong to imagine that their natural allies are the prosperous folk whose refusal to pay taxes is partly to blame for the mess.