Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Wednesday 30 November 2011

Justice (n.): the principle of being just, righteous or equitable.

WHEN justice is done it's often not enough.

A jail sentence or court conviction does not bring a loved one back to life, repair a damaged company or erase a scar. There isn't much that will, and the justice system invented by humans is merely a way to make the best of things, to mark a wrongdoing and provide a resolution which allows victims and perpetrators to know who was right and who was wrong.

When I went through a divorce from someone who hurt, abused and damaged me in the short, medium and long terms I craved justice of some kind. I thirsted for him to pay, whether financially, physically or socially, to hit back and be publicly vindicated as the party who had been 'in the right'. There was a point I was so angry I would have quite happily skinned him alive, slowly, over months. As time passed and the divorce was finalised, I was less bloodthirsty but still frustrated that the law meant neither of us were at fault. He could skip through life quite happily, while I was left licking my wounds.

That was a while ago, and while there are still some things I wish I was better at - commitment, for one - I no longer want to hurt him. I don't care any more. My life today has improved not because anyone made a court judgement but because I have come to realise the things he wreaked have been a force for good. I rather like my life, and that is due in large part to the awful pain he caused. On the rare occasions I think of him I hope he has learned from our past in the same way I did, and used it to make his world a better place (I bet he hasn't, mind).

At work I've sat through thousands of court cases, and interviewed hundreds of people who committed crimes or were victims of them, and it seems to me that very few people ever feel justice truly has been done. There is always a niggle, a lingering issue, that can be picked at like a scab until it stops trying to heal itself. They think justice is a thing, rather than an ideal we blunder towards.

Yesterday a stupid, arrogant, immoral and unethical man was given the maximum possible sentence for administering a drug to a patient which killed him. The drug was not medically prescribed, was not needed, but had been demanded by a rich man whose killer supplied him in return for large amounts of money.

Conrad Murray had the book thrown at him, and will never practise as a doctor again or be able to do the same to someone else. But the family of Michael Jackson are not happy with that. They are also seeking £1million for funeral costs, and £64m in loss of earnings for his children.

What the children lost was their dad, not his money. They've made more of that since he died than they would have had he lived, and I bet that fact doesn't matter a damn to them.

The family say they do not seek revenge against the doctor, despite the fact these legal demands would ruin him for life. Perhaps he deserves it, but it doesn't make him any more wrong in what he did. It's fairly clear that in the months and years to come there will be even more court cases as the event promoters, record companies, insurance firms, family and lawyers all argue over who owes what to whom; money isn't justice, but for some it's a good enough substitute even if it does cost more to argue about.

In truth there is no such thing - life is unfair, always has been and always will be. Justice is a nice thing to aim for but in the end it always comes down to someone deciding to cut their losses.

Or doing something else instead.

Revenge is a dish best served while steaming, and before you get bored.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

What have the unions ever done for us?

WHEN Britain was told to down tools for the day last April to celebrate the wedding of two rich young people we were told that it would do no harm to the struggling economy.

Prime Minister Dishface said: "Bring out the bunting and let's make it a day to remember!

It didn't matter that 29m people who would normally be at work weren't, that the economy would lose about £3bn and make only a third back in sales of food, booze and flags. He didn't mind that the event cost £10m to stage, that thousands of police officers who were on double-time, and security costs went through the roof.

No, it was fine. Because it gave Dishface a chance to wrap himself in the flag and all Press coverage of what he was up to would be knocked off the front pages for a good fortnight or so.

Yet apparently when a few million people go on strike tomorrow it will bring Britain to its knees.

There are around 7m people involved in trade unions in this country, and not all of them will be manning the braziers, but we're told their not going to work is more deleterious to the economic fortunes of Britannia than everyone stopping to watch a posh bird with too much eyeliner join the Royal family (again).

I don't entirely back the trade union members who are fighting over their pensions. They will have to work longer to be paid less after they retire, but with increased life expectancy it's not that bad. The public sector pension pot is in such a complete state it simply must be overhauled if any of them are to get anything at all. A bit of realism tells you something has to change.

Yet amid the scaremongering about how the country will grind to a halt is the oft-held belief that the union movement is bad for business and bad for people.

Except without that same union movement we would not have:
  • Two-day weekends
  • Eight-hour working days
  • Maternity leave
  • Retirement ages
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Workplace pensions
  • Paid holidays
  • Equality laws
  • The right not to be sacked because you got married, had a baby, or became ill (strange how they're seen as similar things)
  • Pay increases
  • The minimum wage
  • Collective bargaining
  • The right for the working classes to organise themselves
  • A standard of living above that of 1850s Britain
Oh, and children would still be going up chimneys.

The trades union movement was backed by the pope in 1891, philosophised by Engels and Marx, led to the creation of the Labour Party which itself has had a lot of valuable achievements not least the National Health Service, and is generally considered an essential part of a successful democracy and method of promoting economic development around the world.

Countries that outlaw trades unions are not nice places. It's generally a method of oppressing the masses, Hitler did it in 1933, and it's A Very Bad Thing.

Yet unions have also contributed massively to naffing things up for themselves and the rest of us. The General Strike of 1926 brought half the nation out in support until it was ruled illegal after nine days and led to the unions having their funds confiscated. The 1978-79 Winter of Discontent was a public health nightmare and led directly to millions of people turfing out the Labour government and voting in Margaret Thatcher, who herself went on to strip the unions of many powers as vainglorious Arthur Scargill led the miners into a strike which was futile, ill-judged and caused years of misery to his members while making him a rich man.

Good causes have repeatedly been hijacked by idiots and charlatans for their own ends, got lost in political bitchery, and in so doing have given people like our sainted Education Secretary Michael Gove the ability to blame "militants itching for a fight".

But just because a few bad people have caused trouble for others does not mean those others are bad as well. They still have the right to speak collectively, to be heard, and to act as one to make their point.

Over time the union movement has lost its way, not just because of the egos involved but as society has changed. These days people join unions not to help one another, but to protect their own interests.

And that's why many are striking - it's they who will feel the pinch in their pension pots. And it's why our government wants to restrict the right to strike even further - they think it will win them votes and donations from a few hundred businessmen, and the only thing they rely on a union for is to act as a convenient bogeyman.

Never mind that if they want votes from the 29m people who are trying to hold on to their jobs as we head into a new recession they need to make the economy grow. Never mind that many other countries in Europe are recovering better from the crash than us. Never mind that our youth unemployment is three times as high as other nations' and never mind that spending £5bn filling up potholes in the roads is going to make bugger all difference to a single mum in Manchester juggling two part-time jobs and barely keeping her head above water.

Because that stuff is tricky, and blaming the unions is easy.

And besides, what have they ever done for us?

 Militants itching for a fight - including a bespectacled Michael Gove - in 1989.

Monday 28 November 2011

How to behave on the internet.

AS SOCIETY has changed over time - be it aqueducts, cars, the telephone or iThings - humans have consistently failed to change with it.

That's why the social norms of paying your rent, working hard, and sticking with one partner fall apart under the urgings of the limbic system which tell the caveman in all of us to fritter, shirk and fornicate. The wiring of the human brain is based around the needs for food, warmth, shelter and procreation, and getting along with other people only as a means to one of those ends.

We talk less to each other in the flesh and more than ever before via the internet, a place where there is no body language, nuance, rule or apology. You have no idea whether the person you are talking to is a strapping 6ft Royal Marine who happens to appreciate the music of JLS, or a 70-something grandma who surfs the web looking for new nunchucks.

So in the style of Pippa Middleton being paid a mind-bending £400,000 for a book about how to throw children's parties - because let's face it, only a posh girl tangentially linked to royalty could possibly understand the complexities involved - here are some basic tips on internet etiquette for those of us whose unrefined brains struggle with it.

* The purpose of the internet is to ensure everyone has the same opinion. For preference, yours.

* And to look at boobs. For preference, someone else's.

* Be aware that everyone else on the internet is wrong. Always. Unless you agree with them or they have great boobs, in which case the two of you are best friends and it is all the others who are wrong.

* Everyone is on the internet because they know they're wrong really and just need you to tell them this. They enjoy it! Particularly Stephen Fry.

* Don't just tut, ignore or avoid someone you disagree with as you might in a public place. This is considered rude. The correct form is to get their attention and then TYPE OBSCENITIES, preferably in CAPITAL LETTERS. They will soon realise they were incorrect and see things your way.

* Do not attempt reasoned argument, or a polite discussion. They will never agree with you like that.

* Do assume the person you disagree with is one of Satan's personal horned minions from the blackest pits of hell, intent on poking out children's spleens with pointed sticks of flame, and address them accordingly. Do not, whatever you do, presume they may be entitled to an opinion, didn't see the same thing you did or perhaps have said something silly or ill-judged in the way humans have for millennia. The internet has made silliness impossible, except on YouTube where it is allowed.

* Anything written on the internet is a fact. Most of it has been personally approved by Stephen Fry. Even the boobs.

* If you mention a TV, music or film celebrity on the internet and they respond, this makes you better than everyone else you know. If you mention them in the ways outlined here, you are better than everyone else on the internet and are 30% better at sex than you were before.

* Your social status can be deduced from your use of acronyms and links. People who LOL are chavs and those who link to things you do not agree with are EVIL.

* It is illegal for anyone to disagree with any of the above. If they do, they can be hit over the head with a rock or in extreme cases banned from Starbucks for life.

Now I don't know about you, but I have some evolving to do.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Thursday 17 November 2011

Hi-diddly-dee, an actor's life for me.

IT IS easy to bitch about celebrities - the egos, the money, the gilded cage they live in.

Even the nicest and most normal ones, in my experience, will throw all their toys out of the pram if they are asked to join a queue or, worse still, they are mistaken for someone else.

I am not sure how George Clooney might handle someone asking him about his bisexual girlfriend, his speeding points or nuclear energy policy, for example.

(Sorry about that; once noticed the similarity cannot be forgotten).

Sometimes they make it even easier for us to poke fun.

An Emmerdale actor by the name of Rik Makarem, an habitual speeder trying to dodge a driving ban after totting up points for several offences, said that he should keep his licence on the basis that he was too famous to catch a bus.

Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that I wouldn't know who he was if he tap-danced outside my house wearing a sandwich board with "I'M RIK MAKAREM!" scrawled on it, and concentrate instead on the legal arguments he presented to the Dewsbury magistrate deciding the case.

The 29-year-old said if he had to use public transport - gasp! - his many fans would expect him to remain in character during his commute and it could make him ill.

He said: "Acting is a difficult profession. It's hard work. It has a dramatic effect health-wise. There is pressure of having to maintain this media personality that the public know. To have to do this on a daily basis would be an immense challenge."

Hang on. Standing where you're told to stand and reading words someone else has written in the way you are told to can make you ill? I never realised. Does this mean I can sue for being made to take part in the school panto when I was 10? How has Kirk Douglas survived so long? And has anyone warned the cast of The Only Way Is Essex?

Someone ought to tell this prat that acting is a piece of piss, and he's taking it. The difficult bit about the trade is not acting, which is what most actors do, and generally they use this time to moan, smoke, and "write this great play I've been thinking about for yars".

Being one of the few to have a very well-paid job is not quite the same as being down the pit, is it?

Rik ought to realise that firstly he's damn lucky to be in work considering the trade in he's in, and even more so bearing in mind that 2.62million people are unemployed and for the first time since records began there are 1million young school-leavers on the dole, a fact which has knock-on effects on their health and social well-being for the rest of their lives and which, in their usual style, our current Government is doing sweet-FA to reverse.

The magistrate, bless whoever they were, saw through this poncey pillock's piffle and banned him for six months so the good people of West Yorkshire can go about their business without being menaced by a man tearing up the roads while thinking he's Charlton Heston in Ben Hur.

It's just a shame he won't be spending the time looking for a proper job.

It's £2.60 return and get your feet off the seat.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Good ol' Grub Street.

THERE are two stories dominating the news today - the Leveson inquiry into the behaviour of the Press, and the trial into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago.

The two are entirely unlinked except for the fact they both hinge on the tabloids. If it were not for the worst excesses of - so far - five employees at the Screws of the World there would be no phone-hacking scandal, no closure of that newspaper, and no inquiry into whether and how to clean up Grub Street.

And if it were not for the same tabloid Press there is every chance Stephen's family would not now be sitting in a court watching the trial of two of the five men who have long been thought to have have murdered him.

In both cases there are many other factors that brought us here - someone leaving the evidence to be found, promotion of people without a moral compass to roles that need one, police failures and forensic experts finding things they'd once overlooked.

And where one is an appalling example of people acting beyond their powers for stories that weren't worth it, and traducing the reputation of the profession I love, the other is something to be proud of.

The Daily Wail has its critics, and rightly so. But it gives us Liz Jones and pictures of kittens dressed up as David Bowie, so it's all right in my book. And on Valentine's Day 1997, four years after Stephen's death as the police inquiry foundered, as it was announced the men thought to be responsible would not be tried and as the whole country despaired along with Stephen's parents, it did this:

It was brilliant journalism, because it hit every single target the tabloid press has to. It caught, perfectly, the prevailing mood of the nation. It summed up a complicated story in one word. It sold in its millions. And there was no chance they would ever be sued for it, because to do so would have led to those men probably being found culpable of murder in a civil court.

It was a brilliant flourish, and the effect was to reignite a scandal which was fading. It led to a public inquiry and a continued police investigation which is what has led us back to court this week after a re-examination of the forensic evidence.

That's why it was brilliant. Had The Groaner done it, around 200,000-odd city-based readers would have thought 'you can't say that!', so they'd never have had the guts. The same goes for the rest of the snoresheets, because they don't have the same weight as a paper which sells. Any of the tabloids could have made that stand, but only one did.

In the next few weeks and months those same tabloids - many of whose reporters had their phones hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, but none of whom have yet been found to have employed his services or his tactics - are defending themselves in front of Lord Leveson. Everyone is against us, and lots of things which are supposition are being presented as fact.

No-one speaks in praise of us, but then no-one ever does. It doesn't matter much, because a good tabloid doesn't need friends.

It has readers instead.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Double-oh George.

THERE are two ways of looking at the world - how you would like it to be, and how it really is.

As a hack I fall into the latter camp, but our beloved Chancellor of the Exchequer Gideon seems to veer to the fairytale side of things.

On the one hand there's his economic policies, which are all unicorns and dancing fairies and nice comfy toadstools for the pixies to sit on when they've finished their 36-hour shift solving all the problems of the Wicked Old Previous Administration.

And on the other there's his self-image.

Gideon is mean. Gideon is moody. Gideon, he probably tells himself in the mirror every morning, is good to go.

Gideon believes he is actually a secret agent using the alias George to fight the evil doings of SMERSH.

And after he defeats debt and unleashes a field of brightly-coloured ponies with names like Jobs, Growth and Small Business Loans he will go home to ravish his wife with a wink and a witty bon mot.

Which is a lovely fantasy for him to have, although it leaves me feeling a little unwell.

In reality his economics make him look like the fifth wheel in an international Monopoly game where he seriously believes that a dosshouse on the Old Kent Road is a worthwhile investment while he gets fiscally trounced by every other player, each of whom thinks he's an idiot.

In reality he is called Gideon, banks at Hoare & Co where you need £500,000 in readies and an invite to open a current account, is the future 18th baronet of Ballylemon and Ballintaylor, managed a 2:1 in modern history and has about as much idea of how to balance a budget as I do about tying a dickie bow.

Although he doesn't seem very good at that either.

Gideon thinks he's the man. But he doesn't realise the man in question is a puffed-up plump pillock just like Nicholas Soames, and should be banished to bark from the backbenches where he won't cause anyone much trouble and he can give us the occasional laugh, instead of being in charge from which position he's giving us bugger all to smile about.

Still, it's good to know that someone's making the most of the taxpayer-funded canapes.

 It'll shift a lot quicker if you run, mate.

Monday 14 November 2011

How to raise a celebrity child.

CHILDREN cannot be protected from everything. They will eat dirt, experiment with electricity, learn to swear and smoke and have their hearts broken.

The best any sane parent can do is teach them not to do any of those things too often, and keep their fingers crossed. Some parents take the opposite view and try to keep their children from everything that might harm them, trying to kill each germ, prevent every fall. It's understandable but not very clever; it merely delays children learning how to deal with the problems life will always hurl their way.

So I can understand the reaction of Hugh Grant to protect his new baby daughter from the attentions which his fame and wealth were always going to bring. The child's mother Tinglan Hong - presumably with Grant's money and support - has sought and won an injunction banning photographers coming within 100 yards of her home.

It also bans snappers from taking pictures when mother and baby are in private, something they're already not allowed to do and which newspapers cannot print under the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct; and from taking pictures of her in the street, which is a little heavy-handed since the concept of public places is something many of our laws are based on.

Since it's been known Ms Hong had Grant's baby, the home he bought for her in Chelsea has been attended by different bits of the media most days and some nights. Some have been TV crews, in the early days, and newspaper photographers; as time has passed they have mainly given up and now it is the paparazzi agencies, who remain because a picture of Bamboo (as the baby is known) would earn big money as the public would buy more papers, or click onto more websites, to see it.

More than anything what they want is a picture of Grant with his daughter, which is tricky seeing as since she was born he has reportedly spent more time playing golf than bouncing her on his knee.

On one of his visits he beamed broadly for photographs then barked his reason for the trip was "to protect my baby" - presumably from the attentions of photographers, which is ironic considering it was his slapdash attitude towards protection in the first place which is at the root of the story, along with the public reputation as a womaniser in which he has at times gloried.

Tinglan and Bamboo are not famous in their own right, and if they do not want to be pictured publicly that's fair enough. The injunction however seems a little over-engineered, especially considering it grants these two people a right to privacy over and above that granted to anyone else in the country. There are many simpler, cheaper, friendlier ways to ensure your photograph is not taken when you do not want it to be, but those are ways this angry dad does not want to take.

That's because of Grant's long, bitter, unhappy relationship with the Press. The bits that like him, he likes; those that criticise, he does not. The parts which take his picture in public places he reserves a special loathing for and he seems to treat photographers as the earthly outriders of Satan himself, out to snatch a piece of his soul along with their shots. In general, snappers are a friendly bunch whose undying loyalty can be bought with a cup of hot tea on a cold day.

Grant has taken a very different stance to publicity around his daughter to virtually every other superfamous person. David and Victoria Beckham politely ask photographers not to picture their children on the way to school, yet expect it at a public event. They posted pictures of their new baby Harper Seven on Twitter, as Coleen and Wayne Rooney do frequently with their toddler Kai. Elton John and David Furnish, Tom and Katie Cruise, J-Lo - there is a long list of megastar parents who have a reasonably balanced view of what is public and what is private, what is good for their children or bad. Even Michael Jackson, who used to veil his children in public or dangle them from hotel balconies, seems to have raised three well-adjusted youngsters.

Perhaps it has the tang of a deal with the devil but it is far more pragmatic to accept there will be interest, and either release an official photograph in return for donation to charity, or allow the photographers to get their shot and go away. Either way the public appetite to see it is sated and those children who are the offspring of a very famous person learn, from an early age, how to negotiate one of the more difficult aspects of something they will almost certainly never escape.

To deny that shot only increases the hunger for it, in the Press as much as in the public mind. And it merely delays and makes more difficult the day that Bamboo finds out she's the child of someone very famous indeed, and possibly becomes as bitter and unbalanced about that fact as her father is.

It seems that Hugh Grant is trying to be a good dad by paying for lawyers to eradicate everything he sees as a threat; when those threats would cause far less trouble if they were handled reasonably in the first place.

But then reason is never going to be an easy concept for a man who hurls Chinese takeaways and tubs of baked beans at photographers while screaming "I hope your kids die of cancer!" and then kicks them up the bum.

"Watch Daddy as he kicks the man!"

Thursday 10 November 2011

Press on.

YESTERDAY I went to church.

(I am as shocked as you, but it's all right because afterwards we all went to the pub and got drunk).

I'm not religious and I don't believe in God, but there is one place of worship I will gladly enter and that is St Bride's off Fleet Street, the journalists' church. It is a beautiful building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and its tiered spire is the inspiration for traditional wedding cakes.

Fleet Street is where the profession of journalism began 500-odd years ago, and from where it has spread around the world. It remains the spiritual home of every hack on the planet, and not just because of the pubs.

Last night there was a memorial service held to mark the sacrifice and remember the names of all those reporters and photographers who have died in the course of their duties in the past year.

The church was packed with journalists from tabloids, broadsheets, television and radio; foot soldiers, executives, foreign desks, and editors. Some had been wounded in the course of their work and others had lost comrades. The News International benches were a little empty, but then quite a lot of them have bail conditions to comply with.

The topic of journalists dying in harness does not always cause much concern, because as ITV news presenter Mark Austin told the church few people have sympathy for those of us who run towards the kind of things everyone else is busy running away from.

You might think we normally die in the crossfire; but as Mark also pointed out of those journalists killed in the past decade 70 per cent were murdered in cold blood. And of their killers, 80 per cent have not been brought to justice.

Being a journalist is a great privilege, and you get to do and see wonderful things. But you are also treated as less than human. If I am assaulted during the course of my job the police are unlikely to prosecute, and in many parts of the world if a reporter is shot by someone angered by what they have written it is regarded as their own silly fault. Each one, however, is still a crime.

Photographers in the Vietnam War showed the American public the truth of the conflict, and helped turn the tide of public opinion. Journalists embedded with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have done the same, despite the constraints of their position. Hacks operating as best they can under oppressive regimes in order to spread the truth put their lives at risk every day, and they are rarely thanked.

Britain is 19th in the Press Freedom Index, below Estonia and Lithuania but thankfully above the likes of North Korea. Anti-terror legislation, stalker laws and the new Bribery Act make it much harder to do our jobs these days, especially as none of these statutes was designed with us in mind and can be used by the idiotic or the guilty to stop the unwanted attention of journalists. After the phone-hacking scandal the bar for prosecuting journalists - whether it's hacking, corruption or anything else - seems to have dropped even lower along with our reputation.

We are not all changing the world, and we do not fight the good fight as often as we struggle to come up with a funny picture caption. But we do bear witness to all the things you want us to and some of those you don't, and we bear the scars of that too.

Tomorrow everyone is going to stop and remember the sacrifice of service people in the name of freedom. Journalists don't get included in that, so please have a few seconds' silence and thought today for those in my trade all over the world who have given the same in the past 12 months.

Fleet Street has been spread far and wide, but we are still here. You can beat us, shoot us, pummel us, sue us, and you can legislate against us, but we will always be here.

Gelson Domingos da Silva, Bandeirantes TV
     November 6, 2011, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Wael Mikhael, Al-Tareeq
     October 9, 2011, in Cairo, Egypt
Faisal Qureshi, London Post
     October 7, 2011, in Lahore, Pakistan
Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, Freelance
     September 24, 2011, in an area near Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
Phamon Phonphanit, Sue Samut Atyakam
     September 24, 2011, in Yala, Thailand
Hassan al-Wadhaf, Arabic Media Agency
     September 24, 2011, in Sana'a, Yemen
Farhad Taqaddosi, Press TV
     September 20, 2011, in Kabul, Afghanistan
Javed Naseer Rind, Daily Tawar
     September, in Khuzdar, Pakistan
Hadi al-Mahdi, Radio Demozy
     September 8, 2011, in Baghdad, Iraq
Pedro Alfonso Flores Silva, Channel 6
     September 8, 2011, in Chimbote, Peru
Noramfaizul Mohd, Bernama TV
     September 2, 2011, in Mogadishu, Somalia
José Agustín Silvestre de los Santos, La Voz de la Verdad, Caña TV
     August 2, 2011, in La Romana, Dominican Republic
Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, Pajhwok Afghan News, BBC
     July 28, 2011, in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan
Alwan al-Ghorabi, Afaq
     June 21, 2011, in Diwaniyya, Iraq
Shafiullah Khan, The News
     June 17, 2011, in Wah Cantonment, Pakistan
Edinaldo Filgueira, Jornal o Serrano
     June 15, 2011, in Serra do Mel, Brazil
Romeo Olea, DWEB
     June 13, 2011, in Iriga City, Philippines
Asfandyar Khan, Akhbar-e-Khyber
     June 11, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan
Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online
     May 29 or 30, 2011, in Mandi Bahauddin, Pakistan
Nasrullah Khan Afridi, Khyber News Agency, Pakistan Television, Mashreq
     May 10, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan
Chris Hondros, Getty Images
     April 20, 2011, in Misurata, Libya
Tim Hetherington, Freelance
     April 20, 2011, in Misurata, Libya
Karim Fakhrawi, Al-Wasat
     April 12, 2011, in Manama, Bahrain
Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, Freelance
     April 9, 2011, in Al-Dair, Bahrain
Anton Hammerl, Freelance
     April 5, 2011, in an area near Brega, Libya
Sabah al-Bazi, Al-Arabiya
     March 29, 2011, in Tikrit, Iraq
Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad, Al-Ayn
     March 29, 2011, in Tikrit, Iraq
Luis Emanuel Ruiz Carrillo, La Prensa
     March 25, 2011, in Monterrey, Mexico
Mohammed al-Nabbous, Libya Al-Hurra TV
     March 19, 2011, in Benghazi, Libya
Jamal al-Sharaabi, Al-Masdar
     March 18, 2011, in Sana’a, Yemen
Ali Hassan al-Jaber, Al-Jazeera
     March 13, 2011, in an area near Benghazi, Libya
Noel López Olguín, Freelance
     March 2011, in Chinameca, Mexico
Mohamed al-Hamdani, Al-Itijah
     February 24, 2011, in Ramadi, Iraq
Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, Al-Ta'awun
     February 4, 2011, in Cairo, Egypt
Le Hoang Hung, Nguoi Lao Dong
     January 30, 2011, in Tan An, Vietnam
Gerardo Ortega, DWAR
     January 24, 2011, in Puerto Princesa City, Philippines
Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, European Pressphoto Agency
     January 17, 2011, in Tunis, Tunisia
Wali Khan Babar, Geo TV
     January 13, 2011, in Karachi, Pakistan

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Hacks will be hacks.

JOURNALISTS will ask you questions. We will take your picture, ring your office and your home, we will double-check what you say.

We will knock on your door, keep tabs on you, and stick our noses where they're not wanted.

Sometimes people take money in return for allowing my prying into their lives, and sometimes they don't. They almost always resent it however politely I go about it and regardless of whether answering my questions has helped to get them something they want, like cold hard cash, landing a role or being elected to public office.

Then there's the times I sit outside their house and trail them around. This is usually when someone comes up with a tip, and before we go crashing the front door in we try to find out if it's true. If person X is allegedly having an affair with person Y, you need to get a picture of them together either holding hands or kissing before you go banging on the door and upsetting their wife. If you do it properly they never know you're there, and if it's not true you melt away and they were never any the wiser.

It's called research, and without it newspapers both tabloid and broadsheet would be sued out of existence by guilty people who know you don't have the photographic proof to defend a story. It's not just affairs - corruption, politicians with 'friends' sitting in on private meetings, Royals hanging around with paedophiles and dodgy businessmen, have all been proven by journalists trailing around after people who'd rather they didn't.

And none of it is illegal. None of it is equivalent to deleting voicemails on the mobile phone of a missing schoolgirl. It is, in fact, doing a difficult job properly. Anyone reading this who's ever suspected someone of cheating will know how easy it is to believe the excuses and how difficult it is to be sure - imagine finding your way through that every day, and getting evidence which would stand up in court.

It's time-intensive though and in days of constant cutbacks some of this work gets farmed out to photographers working alone, or private investigators. Some PIs are a disgrace and others make us look bad, so determined are they to sit outside an empty house until the wee hours when a hack would bunk off for a kip or a pint. The fact that the News of the World employed one to tail celebrities is not illegal, not surprising, and not a problem - unless you're the PI in question, and angry you didn't get a big enough pay-off when the paper was closed.

Using him to tail lawyers who are suing the paper is a bit of an own goal, but seeing as the instruction to do so came from a lawyer working for the Queen's favourite firm Farrer & Co it wasn't a hack who had the last touch on that ball.

Newspapers don't use PIs that often - but lawyers use them all the time. Insurance companies, local authorities and many members of the public use PIs to prove their points, expose wrongdoing and frauds, and win court cases. The security services use these deniable private contractors too, Boris Johnson used them when he was on the Wellygraph years ago and more recently Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly was employed them to investigate his own constituents after unfavourable stories about him were given to the Press.

Not always nice, not always justified, but not illegal either.

Of course that doesn't stop some of those people who have been followed around having a moan. Keith Vaz, who lost his job in government when his corruption was exposed by newspapers sticking their nose into his business affairs and private meetings; Chris Bryant, who was humiliated by publication of his Gaydar profile picture and being exposed for slipping his second home expenses repeatedly, are two prime examples of people attacking journalists for doing their job properly having been caught out not spending that much time on their own.

But the class-A holier-than-thou moaner has to be Zac Goldsmith, the Richmond MP who greeted the news that journalists research their stories before they publish with the same kind of bellowing belligerence as a 19th century country squire caught in the housemaid's skirts.

He said: "NOTW truly a rotten state within the state. Grotesque abuse of power. No org; media/bank/supermrket; shd ever be allowed to get too big."

This is the same Zac Goldsmith whose affair with his brother's sister-in-law was exposed by two newspapers who trailed him around for weeks; whose career is funded by inherited wealth from a man whose corporate raids damaged many companies, tried to bankrupt Private Eye and conducted vendettas against journalists who questioned him; who owes his position not to any discernible talent or craft but to his name.

So, Zac - an affair with an in-law is a rotten state within a state. Using your billions to bankrupt newspapers or run for Parliament is a grotesque abuse of power. And if the banks, supermarkets and newspapers aren't allowed to be too big for their boots then nor, I am afraid, should you.

I am sure your constituents would appreciate it if you stopped banging on about the stuff that bothers you and concentrated on what bothers them, which I will bet any money is not whether someone in your position is subject to entirely-justified scrutiny. No doubt you will carry on whining, but I am going to continue doing my job as well as I can whether you approve of it or not; in fact the less you approve the happier I shall be.

And if the Goldsmith clan hasn't employed a private detective at any point in the past ten years I'm a banana.

Now please stop bollocking on.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

A bad machine blames the programmer.

WHEN men do bad things, they usually do it to other people.

Carlos the Jackal - once the world's most wanted terrorist, the Osama bin Laden of his day - thought nothing of tossing hand grenades into packed bars, or firing rockets at a nuclear power station. He thought he was right.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn thinks nothing of seducing or attacking women, and doesn't seem to see the difference between the two methods. He also thinks he is right.

Dishface and Gideon think they were born to run the country, and that if their policies have negative effects on its people then it is the people's fault. The single mum should have got married, the pensioner should work harder, the disabled should find a cheaper wheelchair. Dishface and Gideon not only think they're right, they have been told it since they were babies.

And of course, Simon Cowell inflicts the X Factor on much of the English-speaking world.

Women, on the other hand, generally do bad things to themselves. And they always think they are wrong.

So someone trying to win a singing contest will dress like a hooker in order to persuade people to listen to her voice. Someone whose career depends on her looks will abandon them as they mature and let her face and body be cut, scarred, peeled and injected to make others happy.

Dawn French spent years telling us and herself how great it was to be morbidly obese, and now says next-to-nothing about losing half her body weight because whatever she says she will seem to have been wrong at some point.

Cheryl Tweedy, meanwhile, hasn't eaten a proper meal in years - Nando's doesn't count, love - and now announces she is under doctor's orders to fatten up, while posing for photographs that are airbrushed to make her look thin because looking normal would be wrong.

The way men and women are presented to the world by television, advertising campaigns, newspapers and magazines does not lead people to think these celebrities should be pitied. Instead, men behave like oafs because oafs are what they see, and women blame and hurt themselves for not being someone else's idea of perfect.

It can lead, in extremis, to cases like that of Rebecca Jones and her daughter Maisy. Rebecca has anorexia, is 5ft 1in tall and weighs five stone. Her condition means she does not have enough trace elements in her diet, including potassium which is vital to make the heart beat, and could have a heart attack at any time.

She encourages Maisy to eat whatever she wants, as she knows her own attitude to food is unhealthy. Unfortunately Maisy, seven, is a stone and a half overweight for her age and wears clothes for children two years older. Neither of them is healthy, although Maisy could well grow out of it.

The fact that in general men do bad things to other people and women do bad things to themselves is not new, but perhaps things might improve if we treated them more alike - if men sometimes asked for help rather than punishment, and if women could stop punishing themselves.

Yes, I know, pigs might fly. But I have lost count of the famous people I could diagnose as victims of something, and the number of times I have explained to someone that truly emulating such people would make them miserable, angry and probably hungry.

We can but dream that one day we will rise above our wiring.

Monday 7 November 2011

Humans seen from space, part deux.

"UGH, Mondays," said chief alien research scientist Grfelft as he leaned back in his chair and scratched at his nodule. "What's the point of Mondays?"

His junior colleague Bob did not look up from the viewing monitor that was trained on the blue and green planet thousands of miles below and said over his shoulder: "They're to make you appreciate Fridays more and not complain so much when you have to spend a weekend with your family."

"Huh," said Grfelft, who like Bob had a large family, as they and millions like them were born from eggs laid by the Big Wang in the methane pits of their home planet, many light years away. "My family all smell of farts, and so do yours."

Bob sighed and pushed the monitor away. "Are we in a grumpy mood, by any chance?"

Grfelft scowled. He was always in a bad mood - he had been running this human research project from a mechanically-unsound spacecraft for nearly five centuries, after all, and had witnessed the rise and fall of empires and the extinction of species, all of which had given him a healthy loathing for humans - but today he had something even more worrying on his mind.

Three of his tentacles stabbed at the keyboard in front of him and a small robot descended from the ceiling with a computer print-out in its metal claws, which it dropped into Bob's lap.

Bob picked it up and read it. His eye boggled, his eyebrow was raised, and then he put it down on the desk. "Ah," he said.

"Yes," said Grfelft. "The Big Wang has discovered Mondays."

Mondays on Earth are spent complaining, yawning, and looking at watches and clocks. It is a day of low productivity in almost every industry and nation, and is best explained by pointing out that for the staff of Earth's newspapers Mondays are spent rewriting what was in the papers the day before, because nothing else has happened since. Where in the winter humans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to a lack of sunlight, there is a rarely-diagnosed Monday Affective Disorder due to a lack of anything interesting.

On Bob and Grfelft's home planet there are no Mondays, because it has three suns and each day lasts for six weeks. There is no S.A.D. because one of the suns is always shining, and there is no M.A.D. because there are no Mondays.

But the Big Wang took a close interest in the goings-on of Earth, even more than all the other planets in the universe he had sent his researchers too. There was something about humans that fascinated him, like a child with a particularly ugly scab.


Bob and Grfelft looked at each other. "What the f*** are we going to do?" asked Grfelft, putting his head in his tentacles.

Bob cleared the desk and turned the viewing monitor back on. "Well, don't despair. There must be something we can tell him to cheer him up, that would fix the M.A.D. Right, America - oh, well turns out they likened Osama bin Laden to a Sesame Street character and lied about how and why he was killed. It wasn't a kill mission at all, so that's better, yes?"

He looked up hopefully. Grfelft shook his head.

Bob turned back to the monitor. "Something more positive, then. Um, well, the idiot running Greece has resigned and it means Europe might get to keep the Euro?"

Grfelft snorted. "How is that positive? Whole thing just leads to more Nick Clegg."

"Er, Berlusconi might resign?"

"They've been saying that for ages. Besides, he's crazy. Speaking of which, how is Liz Jones since you got her in for that rebuild?"

Bob shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Ah, yes. Well it seems she's been stealing sperm."

Grfelft shrugged. "So? She's only following orders."

Bob winced. "Yes, but she TOLD them she was doing it."

"WHAAAAAAAAAT? If she keeps malfunctioning like that they'll take a closer look and find her battery pack! Bloody hell, Bob, what did you do? Get her back up here, I'll fix her myself. Honestly."

Bob shamefacedly sent the Jonesdrone whistling from the aft tubes to collect the erratic remote device and after a few moments' silence cleared his throat. "If you want something cheery, we could always look at, she quite often does stuff on Mondays that..."

Grfelft rolled his eye. "Don't be ridiculous! The Big Wang wants a proper report! Give me the headlines, I'll pick something."

"Well, they've got to seven billion people, China's lecturing Europe on workers' rights, fireworks seem to have contributed to a massive motorway accident, war, famine, Kate and Wills are about to spend millions of other people's money on their house, Nancy's off Strictly, Downton's finished, X Factor's f***ed and I'm A Celebrity hasn't started yet," said Bob. "It's all looking a bit grim down there, if I'm honest."

"How about Gaga? She's normally good for a laugh."

"Oh, just another silly outfit. She's taking herself a bit seriously if you ask me."

Grfelft threw his pen down. "Look, this is just not good enough! Our home planet is in the grip of a dreadful human malaise and unless we can fix it the Big Wang will kill us! Actually kill us! I can't believe that on a planet of such infinite variety that doesn't have a single methane pit to deal with we can't find something to lighten the mood! Make it work or I'll tell the Big Wang Mondays are your fault!"

Bob yelped, and in desperation switched the viewing scope to the other hemisphere. "Oh, well, how about penguins in hand-knitted pullovers?"

"What?" Grfelft perked up.

"Yes, apparently there's been a massive oil spill in New Zealand and in order to save the afflicted penguins from being poisoned by cleaning their own feathers or dying from exposure people around the world are sending knitted penguin jumpers to help. They've sent so many they've run out of penguins to wear them."

"Are you shitting me?"

"No, look, there's pictures. There's even a knitting pattern."

"That's inspired. Send all that to the Big Wang, and chuck in the video of that latest David Attenborough documentary, that ought to sort everything out. Got to hand it to them, I hate humans - they're nasty, vicious, mean, cheating, lying killers - but they do the nicest things for animals. It's weird, when you think about it."

"But what about the dodos?" asked Bob.

"Whatever you do," said Grfelft. "Don't mention the dodos."

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Poor foolish humans.

Things that have gone wrong with the world today:

1. Hugh Grant's idea of "supportive" fatherhood is a half-hour with the baby followed by a four-day golf tournament he wasn't even in after the first three rounds.

"Well, this is going to be a handicap."

2. Someone's decided to ask the Greeks if they feel like doing any work after lunch.

3. We have 72m mobile phone handsets in a nation of 60m people; if you knock out those who don't have one, like babies, the frail and the insane, around 22m of us are having affairs.

Still, on the other hand, this means:

1. Hugh Grant may launch the kind of shagging spree which will make the last days of Rome seem tame.

2. These drachma receipt books will come in handy again.

3. Two thirds of us are probably busy hacking the text messages, voicemail and emails of our other halves using the 'how to' explanations so kindly produced by snoresheet newspapers in the past year, and therefore two-thirds of juries in the upcoming phone-hacking trials will be guilty of the same offence they will be trying a handful of journalists for.

All of which makes great copy for tabloid hacks like me, and also goes to show that the only thing you can ever rely on humans for is to screw things up.

"Apparently Andy Coulson hacked my condoms, which is a bally outrage. My golf game's really suffered."

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Jesus wept.

PROTEST can be a great thing. Suffragettes, Gandhi, Tahrir Square - without the right to protest our world would be a poorer, meaner and more unreasonable place.

But the #Occupy movement... well, they're doing it wrong. That bankers are motivated by money and need to be restrained from raping the planet in their quest for a buck is obvious, but I fail to see how sitting outside St Paul's cathedral until they make the Christians angry is going to achieve it. Maybe the bankers will be laughing so hard they'll be in a better mood on the trading floor?

The manifesto drawn up by the protesters living part-time outside the church in tents is so woolly and dim it makes a flock of sheep look like CERN physicists. It calls for the redistribution of global power, no less, an end to the Isle of Man, and 'total transparency' to everything everywhere in demands which themselves are about as clear as mud.

Moreover, in the past few weeks a lot of the people in those tents have been undercover journalists.

The reports - for papers of every political bent - are pretty much the same. Lots of students, a few poshos, couple of crusties and plenty of grass-roots-democratic-inclusive-LGBT-and-people-who-prefer-not-to-say holding meetings about whose turn it is to be Leader of the Revolution while ordering in Italian artisan baguettes and using the Starbucks khazi.

I'm not being cynical or making it up - I've been down there myself. I know hacks who got on the baguette rota and inclusion committee, who failed to get any sleep every night on cold concrete while watching dew form on the ends of their noses and who have arguably shown a lot more dedication to the cause than some of the campaigners. Half of them saw their copy spiked because one of their rivals published first, but if they were sent back there next week they'd do it all again.

I like a good protest; covering one with a purpose and even slight chance of success is an inspiring thing. I'm all for someone climbing Big Ben dressed as Batman, or a million people taking to the streets, or a man devoting himself for 10 years to shouting abuse at politicians about an illegal war. It's good copy and besides, we should hold tight to the idea that if enough of us show we are annoyed about something then someone might change it. I can't remember the last time that happened, but let's hold on to the belief all the same.

The one thing I don't like and which annoys me more than anything else on earth is faff. The doing of nothing in particular in a particularly laboured and annoying way for more time than it would take to do it properly is quite possibly the biggest waste of human potential it is possible to witness.

But protests often lead to faff. Stupidity leads to faff. Crime, wrongdoing, corruption, adultery, drugs, lying - it all leads to faffing about. If we outlawed faffing the whole planet would be a more efficient place with plenty of spare time for people to invent brilliant things, be nicer or at the very least just stop for a think.

If the clerics at St Paul's stopped faffing about whether to resign or evict protesters camped on their land, they might see that they could end the protest by using their influence to encourage the bankers who oversee their cathedral's charitable arm to donate their bonuses to the homeless for Christmas.

If the bankers who walk past St Paul's every day stopped faffing around with our bailout billions long enough to realise they could make even more bucks by being a bit nicer, they might open up the London Stock Exchange every night as a soup kitchen or at least sit down with the politicians in a spirit of true reform to fix the things they've all managed to break.

And if the #Occupy protesters stopped faffing about their inclusive baguettes and mission statements they might see that squatting outside almost the only organisation in The City of London to do anything for the poor is a total waste of time especially when GOLDMAN SACHS IS JUST DOWN THE ROAD.

As it is we're all going to witness a legal fight between one of the country's biggest landowners and a bunch of students who'll be claiming Legal Aid, each of them looking more unreasonable and unpleasant as the days pass and the story gets further removed from the bankers, who like the journalists go to work come rain or shine.

I don't know what Jesus would do, but I'll bet you any money his face has met his palm a few times.