Thursday, June 23, 2005

Further dispatches from the front line of the class war

Back to Wimbledon. There's a flower stall just by the station. You can buy roses there for Tim. His favourite. Maybe they'd make a nice commiseration gift? Thousands of lower-middle class half-wits, taking a short break from their innate misanthropy to shower the great loser with rose blossom.
Anyway. This flower stall offers you free smells. The free is underlined, they're that proud of it. That's right - they don't charge you for breathing near their flowers. What sort of insane business model is that? Everyone will just go up, smell their flowers, and not pay. Madness. They're bound to go bust within weeks.
Or maybe days. However long it takes before the last remaining English bloke is knocked out, and the hordes of Daily-Mail-istas abandon their pretense of being interested in sport, and return to more natural bigotries.
And damn this heat, too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


As a resident of London's popular SW19 borough, I am often grumpy at this time of year. Everywhere is full of Americans, or, even worse, Daily Mail readers who, for 2 or 3 weeks, are suddenly fully-fledged tennis fans, cheering on whichever no-hoper happens to be English, and losing at tennis, that particular year. Recently it's been Tim Henman. Proir to that, it was Jeremy Bates. Before him - I don't know, probably the National Front supporting Buster Mottram.
Why? Why do this bunch of braying Hoorays congregate every year around what seems now to be known as "Henman Hill" to cheer on yet another loser in the one of the most dull sports on the planet? OK, some of it I can appreciate. There's something in me that is attracted by the almost insatiable "naffness" of it all - the air of bumbling incompetence that always seems to be bubbling under the surface. A Woosterish Englishness. But always overridden by the sheer unpleasantness of the audience, who you know will be happy, once the tournament is over, worrying about falling house prices and racially abusing asylum seekers. And of course, the game is very boring.
I believe that George Orwell once wrote something along the lines of "If you want to wipe out fascism in England, plant a bomb under the main stand at Twickenham" (I may have the quote slightly wrong, but it's something like that). The modern day equivalent, now Rugby Union has become professional (although it still is dominated by the public-schoolboy "Let's drink beer out of each other arses, then beat up some working-class types" drone), must surely be Wimbledon.
And that's before we've even got onto the subject of Cliff Richard...

Celebrity Cat Island

I have seen the future of broadcasting. It is my new show "Celebrity Cat Island". Eight cat celebrities are transported to an island, where they swan around, purring, performing various spurious tasks and sleeping, whilst the Great British Public vote on which one they like, and which they want to see thrown off the island. Ultimately, we are left with one cat, who's prize is a year's supply of tuna, and the job of Chief Political Correspondent at the BBC.
The only problem anyone has managed to point out to me with this show is the lack of eligible cat celebrities. My initial suggestions - Bagpuss, Custard, Henry's Cat and Top Cat - were all knocked back on the (I thought rather churlish) basis that they weren't real. I could say much the same about many celebrities. However, on the basis that we can't really make Celebrity Cat Island with cartoons and puppets, here are the final cats who made the cut:
1) The cat at the start of Coronation Street;
2) The white, long-haired cat stroked by Blofeld in the Bond films;
3) Felix - the first cat to go into space;
4) The Cat From Outer Space - eponymous hero of the 1970s Disney film;
5&6) Jack and Jill - Blue Peter cats from the days when I used to watch Blue Peter;
7) Socks - former US presidential cat;
8) Humphrey - (possibly former) Downing Street cat - status currently unknown, as apparently Cherie Blair didn't like him, and had him thrown out. Or that may just be a Daily Mail lie...
On the basis that not all these cats are alive, their offspring will be used, justified by virtue of what I believe is known as the Callum Best Principle - that you are a celebrity as long as you have a parent who was, no matter how talentless, pointless and vaccuous you may be. Thus. Celebrity Cat Island. Enjoy it - you know it'll happen.

Monday, June 13, 2005

By popular demand....

Well, one person. I have a friend (no, really, I do...) who liked this short story I wrote. I entered it in a competition (100 words on the theme of time) - needless to say, it didn't win, but I was asked to put it up here. So here it is...


Physicists will say that time is a vector, its direction indicated by increasing entropy, a growth of universal disorder. On a smaller scale, the man sits at his desk. He knows the deadline is only a day away, he has much to do. Yet he is bored. He prevaricates: reads email, does crosswords – anything to avoid the necessary task. He dreams of his holidays – only two weeks away. He wishes the time would pass more quickly. He dreads the approach of his birthday in a month, another year older. Another year of life gone. He has so much to do.

Monday, June 06, 2005

European fun

Let's stay with major news stories, shall we?
Apparently, both the French and the Dutch have rejected the proposed European constitution. Which is as it may be, but is instructive in the way it's reported. Apparently Jacques Chirac, noted French conservative (connected, I believe with the UMP) was oppposed to what he viewed as "Anglo-Saxon" elements in it - mainly its dogamtic neo-liberal economics - Chirac was concerned with maintaining France's welfare and social policies. Meanwhile Mr Tony Blair, apparently leader of the Labour Party (note for younger readers - this was once considered the primary force for socialism in Britain) was a great supporter of these economic "reforms".
Is there some irony here? Some strangeness? Or have we all just grown used to this by now?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Reality television

I was around at a friend's house the other day. We thought we'd watch the news - see what was happening in the world. That sort of thing. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any news on television. Merely reality tv. Something called "Celebrity Love Island" in fact. According to the cognoscenti (to whose membership I constantly aspire - unfortunately that bastard Paxman keeps blackballing me...) this is generally recognised as the nadir of the genre. Although with their track-record in the area, I'm sure the programme makers can surpass (subpass?) it soon enough. A group of "celebrities" (people you probably haven't heard of, unless you watch other programmes with "celebrities" in them - I think Private Eye had the best definition of them, as people who weren't famous but had slept with people slightly more famous) are plonked on an island and expected to sleep with each other for the entertainment of the viewing public. Deplorable, eh? Much better to watch Big Brother where a bunch of exhibitionists with serious personality problems are so desperate to be the next "celebrities" (see above) that they'll do pretty much whatever their "captors" tell them. Charlie Brooker's Guardian Screen Burn column has a fairly nice overview, at for those unfamiliar. This is, of course, the respectable face of pornography. More blatant in the 'Love Island' show where people are only tuning in in the hope of seeing some sex, but also in Big Brother, where the voyeuristic obsession with watching someone else's life in minute detail is played out. And it doesn't seem remotely healthy. But more than that - as not merely are TV news programmes being dropped in favour of these, but we can't open even serious newspapers without learning about the latest moves of the island celebs/housemates/whatever. It's been written about before - entertainment replacing news. Who cares what happens in Iraq or Afghanistan when we can learn who's been evicted. Who cares whether our government wants to charge us 100pounds each for the privilege of storing our biometric details on cards, and being able to access them whenever they like, the woman who once masturbated a pig on television has just shagged a footballer's son.
As Chris Morris said on "The Day Today": Those are the headlines. God, I wish they weren't...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Spit or swallow?

I have, with a degree of interest, been reading about the revelations of the identity of the Watergate mole, "Deep Throat" today. I was going to write something about it, but I received the following email from American investigative journalist Greg Palast, (if you want to get them, you can subscribe to his mailing list too - go to his website, who put it far better than me. So I'm simply going to reproduce his work. Enjoy...
Deep Throat Cover Blown
Washington Post Still Sucks
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
By Greg Palast

I've been gagging all morning on the Washington Post's self-congratulatory preening about its glory days of the Watergate investigation.

Think about it. It's been 33 years since cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein pulled down the pants of the Nixon operation and exposed its tie-in to the Watergate burglary. That marks a third of a century since the Washington Post has broken a major investigative story. I got a hint of why the long, dry spell when I met Mark Hosenball, "investigative" reporter for the Washington Post's magazine, Newsweek.

It was in the summer of 2001. A few months earlier, for the Guardian papers of Britain, I'd discovered that Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida had removed tens of thousands of African-Americans from voter registries before the 2000 election, thereby fixing the race for George Bush. Hosenball said the Post-Newsweek team "looked into it and couldn't find anything."

Nothing at all? What I found noteworthy about the Post's investigation was that "looking into it" involved their reporters chatting with Florida officials -- but not bothering to look at the voter purge list itself.

Yes, I admit the Washington Post ran my story -- seven months after the election -- but with the key info siphoned out, such as the Bush crew's destruction of evidence and the salient fact that almost all those purged were Democrats. In other words, the story was drained of anything which might discomfit the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let's not pick on the Post alone. Viacom Corporation's CBS News also spiked the story. Why? "We called Jeb Bush's office," a CBS producer told me, and Jeb's office denied Jeb did wrong. End of story.

During the Clinton years, the Washington Post and Newsweek allowed reporter Mike Isikoff to sniff at the President's zipper and write about our Commander-in-Chief's Lewinsky. But when it came to a big story about dirty energy industry money for Clinton's campaigns, Mike told me his editors didn't "give a sh--" and so he passed the material for me to print in England.

Today, Bob Woodward rules as the Post's Managing Editor. And how is he "managing" the news? After the September 11 attack, when we needed an independent press to keep us from hysteria-driven fascism, Woodward was given "access" to the president, writing Bush at War,a fawning, puke-making fairy tale of a take-charge president brilliantly leading the war against Terror.

Woodward's news-oid story is a symptom of a disease epidemic in US journalism. The illness is called, "access." In return for a supposedly "inside" connection to the powers that be, the journalists in fact become conduits for disinformation sewerage.

And woe to any journalist who annoys the politicians and loses "access." Career-wise, they're DOA.

Here's a good place to tote up part of the investigative reporter body count. There's Bob Parry forced out of the Associated Press for the crime of uncovering Ollie North's arms-for-hostages game. And there's Gary Webb, hounded to suicide for documenting the long-known history of the CIA's love-affair with drug runners. The list goes on. Even the prize-laden Seymour Hersh was, he told me, exiled from the New York Times and now has to write from the refuge of a fashion magazine.

And notice someone missing in the Deep Throat extravaganza? Carl Bernstein, the brains and soul of the All-the-President's-Men duo, is notably absent from the staff of the Post or any other US newspaper.

But before we get too weepy about the glory days of investigative journalism gone by, we should remember that the golden era was not pure gold.

Newspapers are part of the power elite and have never in US history gone out of their way to rock the clubhouse. Let's go back to Hersh's stellar story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

The massacre was first uncovered by the greatest investigative reporter of our era, the late Ron Ridenhour. Then a soldier conducting the investigation on his own, Ridenhour turned over his findings to Hersh, hoping to give it a chance for exposure. That wasn't so easy.

Ridenhour told me that he and Hersh pushed the story -- with photos! -- at dozens of newspapers. No one would touch it until Ridenhour threatened to read the story from the steps of the Pentagon.

It's only gotten worse. After all, Hersh's latest big story, about Abu Ghraib prison, was buried by CBS and other news outlets before Hersh put it in the New Yorker.

The Washington Post has no monopoly on journalistic evil. If anything, the Post is probably better than most of the bilge contaminating our news outlets. This is about the death-march of investigative journalism in America; or, at least, its dearth under the "mainstream" mastheads.

Why don't we read more "Watergate" investigative stories in the US press? Given that the Woodwards of today dance on their hind legs begging officialdom for "access", news without official blessing doesn't stand a chance.

The Post follows current American news industry practice of killing any story based on evidence from a confidential source if a government honcho privately denies it. A flat-out "we didn't do it" is enough to kill an investigation in its cradle. And by that rule, there is no chance that the Managing Editor of the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, would today run Deep Throat's story of the Watergate break-in.

And that sucks.