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

Friday, 30 November 2012

Today the internet...

... itself comes under scrutiny by me for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

Have a nice weekend, and lay off the cat videos.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Not news.

HELLO, and here is a round-up of today's news from approved newspapers.

* The war in Afghanistan is going well, with Taliban insurgents being killed alongside young children who were being inducted into their evil regime. American troops are seen rescuing a duck from a well, which they have christened 'Mustafa' as part of their hearts-and-minds campaign. A budget analysis of the billions spent so far show all soldiers have had adequate kit and equipment, but public sector-supplied spanners have rocketed to £500-a-pop and the Defence Secretary is threatening to seek new spanners from private suppliers he is friends with.

* A girl has gone missing. We can't tell you anything else.

* A man has been arrested and held for questioning for three days over murdered Bristol architect Joanna Yeates, police said at a press conference. Detectives were unwilling to comment on why they later released him without charge, but thanks to the police everyone knows who it was.

* Journalists repeating unsubstantiated claims that the 1989 Hillsborough disaster was a cover-up orchestrated by senior police officers have been jailed. Calls for an independent inquiry by relatives of the dead were described as "baseless" and "grossly defamatory" by civil servants from regulator Ofpress, who gave evidence against the journalists.

* A man was arrested outside Scotland Yard during an unauthorised protest in which he alleged the Met Police were institutionally racist. The man, who was black, racially abused white officers involved with the Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor murder inquiries, which have never been resolved. He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

* There is no news about phone-hacking, which doesn't exist.

* A statue was unveiled today to the late Sir Jimmy Savile, who was smeared after his death as a paedophile. The majority of false allegations were reported in the tabloid press, which caused 300 people to be charged with wasting police time. The statue was unveiled by Jonathan King, the pop impresario, who said he was glad never to have experienced the slurs of "child abuse fantasists and journalists".

* Pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge topless on holiday have been printed, as is possible in all countries with a state-regulated media.

* Dean Gaffney has become a brand. We're very sorry about this, there's nothing we can do.

* A very rich man today won a big-money libel action at the High Court in London. Lord Dibdob says he was devastated at allegations he shot foxes on his country estate, and will separately sue animal rights campaigners for invasion of his privacy, trespass, and illegal journalism for videoing him without his permission. Lord Dibdob said the 17 foxes he was seen firing at over six hours while drinking brandy as they were tethered above his ha-ha were put down on the medical advice of his nanny.

* A separate attempt by animal rights campaigners to sue Lord Dibdob has failed to raise any public funds to pay for a court action and has been shelved. Calls for Legal Aid to be introduced for defamation actions were rejected by government ministers, who said poor people don't matter.

* Members of Parliament have voted for a new expenses and payment regime which evens out unfairness in the system. The new regime, hailed as more transparent and open than ever before, means all MPs will be paid an undisclosed seven-figure salary enabling them to live in a five-bedroom apartment within a mile of Westminster, complete with staff, furniture and food. There is an improved pension package too after a number of MPs barricaded themselves in the Commons bar and demanded better terms and conditions.

* Moves are afoot to make the internet illegal. Computer and smartphone sales dropped off after new laws were introduced demanding everyone with internet access consult a lawyer first, but judges say a "determined underclass" persist in surfing the "blackmarket net" with unapproved information disseminated among young people with devastating consequences, leading to depression, alcoholism, and underground journalism which can be highly addictive.

* And finally, Hugh Grant has been publicising his new film 'OH CRIKEY' in which he plays a new father who tries to make the world a perfect place, with unintentionally hilarious consequences. In one scene his character tries to gag and blindfold everyone in Britain in case they swear. "It's what any reasonable person would do," he laughed.

And that's today's approved news. If you want unapproved news, we can't help you!

Sleep well.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Love me like you used to do.

WHAT would you do if you could turn back time?

Ban Cher from singing about it, maybe. Right a wrong, say something you never did, stop a loved one dying.

Me, I'd go back to the point where I could find the individuals primarily responsible for causing the phone-hacking scandal (and who I won't name, because their convictions should be water-tight if and when they happen), tie them up in a basement somewhere and explain, before they start, why they should behave better.

I'd point out the hundreds of journalists who lost their jobs for something they'd never done; the thirty thousand or so print journalists in local and national papers fighting to restore reputations all tainted by association; and the fact people are threatening closing time at the Last Chance Saloon.

Perhaps I need to have more things in my life outside work, but I'm not a person who indulges in personal regrets and if I could just persuade those few irks to do different perhaps it would help improve millions of lives rather than just mine.

If they had been more thoughtful, we would never have heard again from Paul McMullan, a man who left Fleet Street in the same year I arrived in it and was regarded as something of an unusual specimen even by the oldest hands with the inkiest souls.

If they had been better, Milly Dowler's family could be angry with Levi Bellfield for killing their daughter, for his defence barrister for dragging their sex lives through a public courtroom, and with Surrey Police which mishandled the murder inquiry from day one, briefed journalists the father was responsible, and failed to investigate the News of the World in 2002 when its staff told officers they had listened to her voicemail.

We could have been spared the sight of Jonathan King being listened to by one of the nation's top judges as though he were a reasonable man instead of a pervert sentenced to seven years after exploiting his celebrity to bugger young boys.

We would not have had to listen to politicians in search of votes furiously demanding an inquiry, then before it's even published a report furiously denouncing it after realising it might suggest something which would cost them votes.

And more importantly than anything else, the 20 to 30 million people who read a newspaper in this country every day would not face the prospect of those newspapers needing to be officially approved in some respect before they're allowed to read them, something which at its unimaginable worst could damage and harm every single person, business, and institution in the country.

But we have had all those things, and there's not much we can do about them now. Campaigners against the Press demand and get personal meetings with the Prime Minister to fight their case, foreign journalists are pointing out the Press in other countries follows our model and any regulation will be seized on by tyrants, and just about everyone gets to shout the odds apart from people like me.

Oh, editors get to write leader columns and columnists get to pontificate. I mean your average foot-soldier - the person who is not management, not an award-winning pet of the boss, just a hack who gets out of bed every day to do something others dislike because they think someone ought to - doesn't get a say.

A normal journalist, whether it's local or national newspapers, has to have a degree of anonymity if they are to do their job properly. They need to sit unobtrusively in council meetings, pubs, car parks, and courtrooms. They need to take note without being noted themselves, and you can't do that if you're on the evening news fending off Steve Coogan.

So it's down to the figureheads to earn their money and do the speaking for all of us, and a few have. There are others who can't be bothered, perhaps because they're happy to take the money and glory of an industry they do not wish to admit being part of, and perhaps because they're so far up their own ivory tower they can't see what it's like for the plebs.

I cannot speak for others: but I'll tell you what I reckon.

I reckon the Leveson Inquiry was a mis-timed bit of theatre which was supposed to look at the culture and ethics of an entire trade but shone a light mainly on the bits which were old, screwy and defunct. I reckon it accepted opinions as fact, didn't ask the right questions and I'm pretty certain several people misled it.

I reckon most of us, journalists and civilians alike, wanted an inquiry which would explain how and why Milly's phone, among thousands of others, was hacked. Personally I'd like to see the journalists who commissioned the work, the person who did the deed, the phone companies which enabled it, the police who failed to investigate it, each hauled up in front of Robert Jay and torn a new one.

That didn't happen, because for the first time I can think of the inquiry was held before the associated court cases. That mis-timing reduced Leveson to looking at everything but the one, glaring mistake which caused such public disgust we got the inquiry in the first place.

The court cases are taking their sweet time, so perhaps this was the quickest way; but it is inarguable that because of the speed at which it was organised we may never get the answers we all want.

Three witnesses from phone companies spoke about a few dozen hacking victims and they've now improved their security. But for how long did they know security was flawed, how come the police say there's thousands of hacking victims, and how much have they been sued for? Private detectives told Leveson they need regulation, and the report Surrey Police is delayed until at least the end of the year and maybe 2014.

Some evidence was honestly given, but nevertheless mistaken. Kate McCann talked about the upsetting experience of being driven through a scrum of photographers outside her home after her daughter Madeleine disappeared. She said they had intentionally tapped on the car windows with their camera lenses, frightening her two other children, to get them to look up and snatch a picture of tear-stained faces.

I don't doubt that was the impression Kate got, but as most photographers are freelance and buy their own kit which costs more than £20,000, they're unlikely to smack a moving car with it.

I've never seen a snapper treat their camera with anything but tender loving care. I've seen scrums where the blokes at the back surge forward and the bloke in front get shoved against a car, and it inevitably leads to a smashed lens and a very angry photographer. Scrums, when you've got police press officers and your own media liaison to keep everyone in line, shouldn't happen. If they did there are more than just the snappers to blame for those tear-stained children.

Charlotte Church spoke about how she came to distrust all her friends, and that stories about her could "not have come from any other area" but phone-hacking.

When she said that I was sitting next to a pal who worked on a different newspaper. We looked at each other, laughed, and shared the names of half a dozen of Charlotte's friends who sold stories to hacks. One even sold a yarn about how she was feeding fake stories to friends to see if they could be trusted. Anyone who did hack her phone was just throwing time and money down the drain.

Ann Diamond said she'd been told to watch out for eavesdropping bugs in bunches of flowers delivered by journalists after the cot death of her son Sebastian in 1991. I'm sure she was told that, but in 1991 the battery pack required to run a listening device for more than ten minutes would have been the size of a house brick. The bunches of flowers were given to express sympathy and try to get a story, not hide something which would have weighed half a stone.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers announced she had decided for herself what public interest was, and the senior police officers who socialised with newspaper executives were not asked about the one thing senior officers generally do, in my experience, which is exploit those links to corrupt the truth.

It was originally reported George Osborne would not be cross-examined. When he did appear he was not asked about his links to a dominatrix which appeared on the front of two newspapers. A prime opportunity to ask a politician about his relationship with the Press and exposure of his private life which were the principle areas Leveson was supposed to be looking at; but for some reason no-one did. Isn't that odd?

They're all minor points perhaps, but when they add up it formed a misrepresentation which, had a journalist been responsible for it, would have called for a clarification at the very least.

A few glitches aside, the inquiry could have had an argument about what it is or is not reasonable to report about celebrity private lives, the report could outline where privacy ends and secrecy begins, it could resolve what to do about the internet, our 13th century libel laws which mean only the rich can protect their reputations and it could define the public interest.

It bet you it won't do any of those things, which is a shame because if it did it could clean up a lot of mess. But that wasn't the aim - the inquiry was always intended to be a quick bloodletting, kicking the Press while soothing the powerful, with a result which doesn't change too much.

And now we've got everyone mouthing off about what that result should be, before we actually know, and without taking notice of a few basic points.

No extra law could make the hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail more illegal than it already was.

There is no way that a missing girl, whether in Walton-on-Thames or Portugal, would not get blanket media coverage and the sense of intrusion that involves.

Any British couple made suspects in a foreign country or reported on as suspected killers by a foreign Press will see those claims repeated here like the McCanns did, and any man's personal proclivities announced in a public court of law will become public knowledge just as Bob Dowler's were. And there is no law which can make the loss of your daughter any easier to deal with.

More rules would not make the treatment of Chris Jefferies much different. Police wrongly arrested a short, skinny, older man physically incapable of strangling the tall, athletic girl whose killer they were hunting and held him for three days over New Year when there was no other news.

Several papers broke the law in reporting it in such a way as to make him sound guilty, but others still used his picture and details for days which, as Lord McAlpine claims, even if you are proved innocent leads some people to think you were involved anyway. Pictures and names of people arrested in high-profile murder cases and confirmed by the police cannot be made illegal.

Because of this scandal, we already have better corrections, a more careful Press, and more threats against journalists when they displease people, too.

The only thing more rules would change is that people would be too scared to tell journos things their bosses would rather they didn't. Like leaking details of the phone-hacking inquiry, for example, because with more state control we wouldn't have heard any of this.

More rules about what you can't say can only make it harder to tell the truth. Leveson's aim was not supposed to make that more difficult than it already is.

A friend of mine rang today and said: "Honestly, what a waste of time and money. What's it going to change? We're not all phone-hackers. They should nick the bad ones, bang 'em up, and let the rest of us get on with it. How hard can it be?"

And in the absence of a time machine, I can't see a better option. For you or for me.






Monday, 26 November 2012

Think on.

THE problem with the thought police has never been that they think too much.

They don't have a uniform, or a warrant card, or rules. Its members join in whenever they feel like giving someone a shoeing. And the only way you can identify the thought police is their lack of any actual thought.

They don't ponder the rights and wrongs of a situation first. They don't seek a consensus of opinion so they know they're in the right. They just get out the truncheons and wade in, policing all over the place like Gene Hunt on a bad day without at any point engaging brain.

That's why three foster children in desperate need of a loving family were taken from a Rotherham couple who voted for a political party that social workers didn't like.

That's why a white woman who'd fostered half a dozen children and raised four of her own successfully was told she'd never be able to adopt a black girl she'd looked after from the age of two months.

It's why a narrow group of individuals want millions of people not to be able to read popular newspapers they disapprove of; it's why we give £270million in foreign aid to Rwanda even when the UN thinks the president's a warmonger; it's why calling someone Australian is apparently now racist.

It's why idiots on Twitter are subjected to 3am police raids, why Facebook posts can land you in jail, because thoughts that just aren't fashionable are somehow considered 'bad thoughts'.

There are no rules against any person voting for anyone they fancy in this country, nor reading any newspaper, associating with people of different race or religion, or writing thoughts which go against the grain on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else.

A social worker - and anyone else for that matter - may support whichever political party they fancy, from BNP thugs to the stinky hippy Socialist Workers.

A white person may have babies with a black person, or become a step-parent, and raise children of a different racial background to either of them without the state intervening and taking them away because their ethnic mix doesn't 'colour match'.

You are allowed to walk to the paper shop and pick up whichever one takes your fancy, panders to your needs best or interests you without a self-appointed campaigner telling you that your choice doesn't meet with their approval.

But you and I can do all those things only so long as we conform to the general fashion. If you do it in such a way that does not meet with mass approval then you'd best do them with a bag over your head and not shout about it or you'll be beasted by Twitter, Hugh Grant or social services whether it's merited or not.

Social conformity is one of the many things which keep human beings generally in line - it's why we don't all put our clothes on backwards, walk around naked or burn the neighbours' house down. It's a good thing, most of the time, to try to fit in socially.

But individual conformity, forcing someone to fit in mentally on pain of prosecution or persecution, is always a bad idea and not so much the thin end of the wedge as a giant leap towards state control of the very thoughts in our heads. The King of Bahrain jails people for being rude, and these days so do we.

If you make the mistake of voicing thoughts which do not comply with the fashionable view you will be told that you're narrow-minded by people so narrow-minded themselves they can't bear the thought of you thinking differently to them.

If they stopped to think for a minute, they'd realise that's not freedom. It's how every totalitarian regime ever to scar the Earth began, and it's a really bad idea. Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if the thought police got their way.

Whether you like UKIP or not, if no-one voted for them there wouldn't be a debate about immigration and there's no reason not to have the debate about how much is a reasonable level and how much is too much for a small island to cope with.

If no-one was able to look after children of a different cultural background to themselves that would logically mean that inter-racial relationships were illegal and all nurseries and schools had to segregate different ethnicities among pupils and staff. I'm pretty certain they tried that in South Africa and it didn't go down well.

If you could only read a newspaper that met with the approval of the state and never kicked the powerful up the bum or entertained a living soul with a funny picture it would be called Pravda and, what's more, your taxes would be used to pay for it.

And if you can't refer to the country someone is from without breaking the law then we can't say who the Queen is Queen of, mention that Billy Connolly and porridge oats are Scottish, and we won't be buying English Breakfast Tea any more either.

The thought police didn't use to matter much, but there are more thoughts expressed these days and they are easier to see and hear. There are on social media, on comments below internet articles, and handed out on 24-hour news channels in discussion of the stories of the day.

Because we see more thoughts than we are used to we are taking more offence at the slightest thing without stopping to think whether we need to bother.

The thought police, you see, are not just dippy social workers or over-aggressive coppers; they're you and me, the general public who kick off whenever something upsets them without stopping to wonder where it will lead.

Too much policing and not enough thought leads, always, to a society where everyone thinks the same and if they don't they're too scared to say so.

It ends up that there are no fashions, no passing trends in thought or politics or anything else, just the suppression of every single sort of difference and criminalising of things which someone, somewhere, thinks is not the norm.

The fact is, it's normal to be different. It's normal to be imperfect, to think for yourself, choose your newspaper and vote how you please without someone telling you it's wrong.

It's not normal to shut down other people's mental processes, and nor is it free. Not only is it expensive paying for all those jackboots, the cost to our society as a whole is we lose all the imperfections which are what force us to be free and fair in the first place.

Now, there's an unpleasant thought.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gideon's financial wizardry...

... is the topic of today's post which can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

I recommend having an aspirin and a strong drink on hand before you read it. Possibly also a punch bag.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hysterical.

NOW, don't get upset, girls. It's only rape.

It's a sign you're attractive, you're wanted, that you can fit in, and have male approval. It's because you dress a certain way, drink too much, go out too often, or because your menfolk don't stop you doing those things.

It's not your fault, of course, but it's just a bit of fun. You like it really. And if you're a bit too young or a bit too troubled well, you've got to learn the lesson sometime. And we'll look after you, and we won't hurt you more than we absolutely have to, if you're good and don't tell a soul.

Because if you do tell anyone they're not going to believe you. Not you, from the children's home, nor you, whose parents don't pay much notice. Not you, who the police are already fed up with, nor you, who had a drunken row with her boyfriend and walked home through the park on her own.

Even if you're white, middle-aged, middle-class, speak the right way to the right people and were stone-cold sober wearing sensible shoes and corduroy while walking the dog one winter afternoon, no-one will think it possible a whole gang of people raped, stabbed, beat you and left you for dead.

People think that sort of thing just doesn't happen, because it doesn't get reported and when it does no-one believes them. So when you run off screaming to the police they'll write it down because they have to, then roll their eyes at each other about another silly girl who's got herself in a pickle. If you've been sensible enough not to scrub all sign of him away and there's a bit of forensic evidence the geeks might mess it up or drop it, and if it gets as far as a jury you'll be accused of lying, whoring, stupidity and mental illness.

Much better, when you're raped, to pull your knickers back up, go home and get on with things. Tell yourself you were stupid to get in that situation, and he was only doing what you gave him the opportunity to.

Maybe after a few years pass, you grow up a bit, have time to think, and worry that man will do it again to you or to someone else or learn that he already has, so pluck up the courage to complain, the very government of this noble country of ours will tell you it is the fantasy of an ovary-driven, inferior mind.

When 2,409 children were found by the Deputy Children's Commissioner (who's a woman) to have been sexually abused by gangs in the space of just 14 months - and that these figures were grossly under-reported and many police forces did not bother to keep proper records - official spokesmen (who are men) dismissed it as "hysterical" and "highly emotional".

They told journalists it was "difficult to overstate the contempt" with which they regarded the claims by the report's author and, by extension, the children who said they were raped.

Rape, you see, is nothing to do with rape. No no no, it's because of the colour of someone's skin, the behaviour of the female complaining, Page 3 girls' two-dimensional breasts. It's a political football, something with which it is possible for those with a cause to hit their opponents where it hurts, which is never their vagina.

Don't like Muslims? Let's bang on about rape. Don't like breasts? Let's bang on about rape. Want to bash the police because they've been irritating you? Well I've got an idea, let's bang on about rape.

Let's not, at any point, actually pay any attention to people like Teegan, raped from the age of 12 by a Turkish man who had befriended her, threatened her family, beat her and sold her on to others for £500 an hour, along with other girls whose photographs and ages were included in a special rape catalogue given to the 'customers'.

Let's not listen to Shaida, 17, abused by a family member, threatened with a forced marriage to cover up her 'shame', attacked by older men she turned to for help, then beaten for being pregnant.

Let's ignore Rebecca, 15, a virgin bullied by a gang of girls into submitting to rape by a boy in the school toilets while he filmed it on his phone.

The only contempt it is difficult to overstate is that with which rape victims are regarded by our government, judiciary, police, politicians, general public and everyone else with an axe to grind.

We have just witnessed a massive scandal, which is yet to be resolved, relating to sexual offences never reported, never acted on, and never accepted as true from as far back as 1959 and linked to hospitals, children's homes, hospitals, prisons for the criminally insane, Parliament and the state broadcaster.

And why in the name of everlasting hell do you think it took us so long to find out about it?

It's not because anyone involved was Asian. It's not because it's all the fault of glamour models or immigrants.

It's because it doesn't happen to men in suits, uniforms, and judicial robes as often as it happens to women and girls who don't have a cat in hell's chance of protecting themselves from something they should never have to protect themselves from in the first place.

It's because there are men and boys who are not ever told that they should not do those things and will get in trouble if they do.

There are millions of men who are Asian, Muslim, or look at glamour models' pictures. They do not all go on to rape anyone as a result, so to say their genes, faith or habits cause rape is illogical and based on fear, not fact.

Of the 1,514 attackers of 2,409 children, 545 were white, 415 were Asian, 244 were black, 49 were mixed race and the rest were 'other' or undisclosed. But seeing as that information came from only 20 police forces while 19 didn't bother to provide a single statistic to the report's authors those proportions cannot be relied on, and even those that did have not detailed offenders' faiths.

Men and boys rape women and girls because they want to control them. They want to subjugate them so they can prostitute them, they want to make themselves feel strong, they want to attack something they dislike - they want, and they take.

The few people who behave that way do so because the courts let men who film up women's skirts walk free. They do it because the police expected to investigate properly can't always be bothered. They do it because the Crown Prosecution Service thinks females who talk to newspapers must be lying. They do it because rape is blamed on skin, faith, drink, broken homes and broken minds.

They do it because the judges, police, politicians, spin doctors, government and yes, journalists too, propagate the idea that rape is about pretty much anything except bad men doing bad things because they damn well feel like it and are allowed to get away with it by idiots who dismiss and denigrate it rather than stare it full in the face and say NO.

Perhaps if they did that more often, then when women and girls say no they might actually be listened to. If I were raped, I think I'd deal with it myself rather than rely on the state to do anything useful.

The only hysteria about this report, admittedly a draft but no doubt published to try to shame a few more agencies into coughing up useful statistics they'd rather not for the full version, is the way in which it has been received.

The way fact, logic and common sense about rape and sexual abuse are ignored while mainly men flap about in fear at the sky falling on their heads and try to blame it on everything except the fact the institutions they have built and maintain without wish for change or improvement fail women and children on an industrial scale.

Even when the facts are plain - even when logic tells you the figures are probably worse than we know - men can still laugh it off, kick it into the long grass, or blame it on something they'd like to blame for everything.

It's sort of hysterical, really. I wish the silly, inferior-minded men would realise it's none of those things.

It's only rape.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Naughty, naughty.

JOURNALISTS are naughty. This is both a good and a bad thing.

It makes us the kind of people who persist in poking our noses where they are not wanted no matter how many times they are batted away, and in fact if you bat us away we're naughty enough to decide it must be worth persisting at.

The downside is that, trained and inured as we are to getting around obstreperous police, lying politicians, cheating love rats, criminal thugs and other ne'er-do-wells in which the ends really does justify most of our means, we sometimes behave in precisely that way when we didn't ought to and when the ends don't justify it at all.

Spotting the difference between the two isn't always easy, and even the most honest make mistakes. When a story is denied or legalled out of the paper the journalist who worked on it might refuse to accept they were wrong, pursue it long past the point of reason and will insist on their deathbed the little sod was bang to rights.

Sometimes they have genuinely stumbled upon a scandal; other times they are blind to the fact they were simply wrong.

This obsessive tendency, combined with our naughtiness, is something that doesn't earn us any friends, can lead to some stunning cock-ups, and more often than not is directed at people who are naughtier than us. So long as that happens 51 per cent of the time or more, it's a creditable deal.

There are other parts of society which cannot boast the same proportions nor offset their occasional bad behaviour against the public benefits of their continued existence.

Take Chris Moyles, for example, the recently-replaced Radio 1 DJ. You may like him or not, but it would be hard to argue the £500,000-a-year breakfast show he fronted for eight years investigated anything or stopped anyone doing things they shouldn't.

Newspapers don't do those things all the time, of course, and DJs can sometimes; but radio shows rarely come near that justification threshold of 51 per cent.

Anyway, Moyles was entertaining and maybe worth the public money he was paid by the BBC to bring in new listeners. He became a rich man and then invested in an aggressive tax avoidance scheme so the public who'd paid him didn't get quite the number of school meals and NHS bandages they were expecting from his taxes.

Well, perhaps we'd all do the same, eh? It's down to the rules and the accountants to some extent, so let's not be quick to judge.

Except that at a tax tribunal Moyles' lawyer argued that the public shouldn't get to hear about all this, as it might infringe his human rights.

The judge summarised the argument saying: "If it were to become public knowledge that he availed himself of a tax-avoidance scheme, his career might be damaged and his earning capacity reduced. He is already the focus of media interest for other reasons, much of it hostile."

He added that "adverse media comment" might "breach his right to respect for his private and family life".

Hang on. What about the human right of 62million people to a health service that's not cutting back on the bills, or street cleaners to a new broom now and again? School meals, street lights, filled potholes? And if he is so concerned that involvement in a tax avoidance scheme would be damaging to his reputation why did he, er, not get involved in the first place?

And then he hurls in that celebrity chestnut of 'privacy' when what he actually means is 'secrecy', deployed as a shield against "adverse media comment" that he's a filthy-rich hypocrite happy to earn more than he could reasonably spend and deprive an entire nation of his share of tax while the listeners who earned him that cash pay their whack and he squeals about how mean they will be to him if they know.

Well now we do know, thanks to naughty journalists and a sane judge who refused the request to keep it under wraps. Let the adverse media comment rain down upon him, and we'll await the UK Uncut sit-in on Moyles' doorstep.

But we will be waiting a while for that bit because most of the nation holds celebrities and high-profile people in a sort of unwilling awe. Their opinions about politics (Eddie Izzard), Darfur (George Clooney), media morality (Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan et other immoral al), feminism (Geri Halliwell, inexplicably) are absorbed without much thought as to whether people who stand on a stage and ask to be loved are really qualified to endorse anything other than hairspray.

X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos, for example, is a pretty and successful young woman whose dresses, hair and love life is a source of interest to some. Yesterday her dad Plato - not the Greek philosopher, but let's imagine - spoke out to defend her amid claims she had acquired a new boyfriend before he'd quite finished with his ex.

"What she says is always the truth," he said. "She doesn't lie."

But then she does employ PRs and lawyers. When she was found to have been in a sex tape sold by an ex it was at first roundly denied, with Tulisa's people saying it wasn't her, she'd never allowed anyone to film her at intimate moments, and being quite categoric about it.

Then thanks to naughty journalists it turned out it was her, she had let herself be filmed, and she sued her ex in the High Court before writing about it in her autobiography. Last week her lawyers sent out more legal letters to newspapers about her new boyfriend's ex, over claims there had been an overlap between the two women, while Tulisa was telling someone on Twitter: "Shame ur mum didn't aborted u, bet she thinks about it wen she looks at u now tho!"

At least newspapers show people how to spell.

Tulisa's not blessing us with her opinion on politics, the media or human rights but her use of PR and lawyers to deny the obvious is a trait displayed by plenty of those who do, who generally do more harm than good, and who also want to have more control of what the Press writes. Does it not sound like people in their position have quite enough control already?

The loudest complaints about how naughty journalists are come from people who are naughtier than us, be it misusing the law, asking for special treatment, short-changing the taxpayer or misleading the public about what kind of people they really are.

Nowhere is this fact more obvious than in the Houses of Parliament, a place where many people work hard to do their best and more than that all-important 51 per cent majority manage to do their worst.

Three years ago they were hauled over the coals of public disgust for snuffling £90million from us in free food, homes, sofas, duck houses, repaired tennis courts, pruned wisteria and mortgages.

This year they've so repaired the damage they claimed £89m while rewriting the rules so they could rent from each other for more than it cost for us to buy them houses to start with.

So remorseful are they that, a la Moyles, 51 don't want us to know who their landlords are for 'security' reasons, and others demanded a 50 per cent increase - an INCREASE! - in allowances so they could live within walking distance of Westminster and not have to commute.

I'm sorry, does commuting give you cancer? Is it something only plebs do? And if you're worried that if we know where you live we'll be so angry you won't be safe then HOW ABOUT NOT PISSING US OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I don't give a toss about Tulisa, care anything for Chris Moyles and probably loathe politicians more than is healthy. But generally speaking they're all rich, all trying to bend the truth, and regardless of whether it's sex, cash or fame that's just not on.

There is no-one else who points out people who are admired are less-than-admirable; no-one else who bothers to traipse along to tax tribunals and plough through company reports; and few who can be bothered with Freedom of Information campaigns cross-referenced with the electoral roll and Land Registry. It is just us friendless hacks, by and large.

Journalists are imperfect. We do need someone to watch over us and smack our hands with a ruler now and again, and we need to be held to account for it if laws are broken, fractured or circumvented.

But until celebrities are honest, rich men pay all their taxes, and politicians grow tired of the gravy train, then naughty journalists who become dangerously obsessive and do good only slightly more often than they get it wrong are the best, imperfect, hope we all have that the truth will ever out at least 51 per cent of the time.

It's time we had a break.


* Tulisa's PR and lawyer have asked me to point out this post originally and quite wrongly claimed they had misled the public on her behalf. This was a mistake and referred to allegations made elsewhere they had issued false denials about a story, and has now been edited to remove this implication.
It was not my intention to say her PR or lawyer were acting unprofessionally and I apologise for any false impression it may have given.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Face, meet palm.

IT'S Monday. It's still not Christmas. And everything is buggered.

People being slaughtered, porn everywhere, predatory paedophiles rampant, females storming the Church of England, Special Forces heroes banged up and terrorists skipping free.

And yet at the same time all is exactly as it's always been, because Monday is the day of reheated news. Generally from Sunday, sometimes last Friday, and occasionally from about 800 years ago. Allow me to explain:

1. Missiles are flying between Jews and Arabs. This has happened suddenly, is very worrying, and kills children. Yet it has been happening in one form or another fairly regularly since 1948. That's 64 years of the same news as politicians majestically fail to fix a very tricky problem. What does this teach us? Probably that the missiles should be pointed at politicians, and not before time.

2. Children as young as 10 are being arrested for rape which the NSPCC says is "undoubtedly" linked to online pornography. Maybe, but it's also linked to other things, namely parents who do not block their children's internet use and adults who are so keen on watching porn on the internet themselves that what used to be on the top shelf is now a few taps away on a keyboard. Yet kids have always passed around dirty mags and books, and we didn't all go on to become rapists. What's changed? Only the ability of victims to make a complaint and be taken seriously, which means we have to say it's a good thing children as young as 10 are being arrested for rape. And that'll never take off.

3. Predatory paedophiles lurk around every corner. It started with Jimmy Savile, it's been blamed on being Tory, and every older man is a danger to children. Except people with paedophile tendencies form less than five per cent of the population, just as they always have. It's got nothing to do with politics or sexuality, they're young and handsome as well as old and ugly, and four per cent of them are women. The main reason this disorder features in the national consciousness more is research on it started in earnest in the 1980s, the same decade the law was changed to make it easier to report and prosecute child sex abuse. It gets talked about more often because it can be, not because there's more of it. And why do we have to define them as predatory? Is there a kinder vegetarian version which can't really be bothered?

4. Sexual assault is apparently all right if you're a bloke. Dave Lee Travis was arrested about allegations of unwelcome physical advances and later told reporters it was "cuddling" as well as "of course I have groped a woman's breasts - I'm a man... but I have never walked up to a woman and groped her without her knowing". Dave, Dave, Dave. A cuddle is consensual, groping is not. The fact she was aware of it does not make it acceptable. Although I understand his unease at being nicked by the Jimmy Savile squad 40 years after the event, it is tricky being the female in that situation. To speak out is to invite insults and accusations of petty militant feminism, but to keep quiet and shrug it off is to condone it. It's a sticky wicket for all concerned and one best avoided by, for example, not touching the breasts of anybody who's not actually snogging you back. This has always been the case, and was as true in the 1970s and it is today unless you're a QUACK QUACK OOPS idiot.

5. The Church of England is about to vote on allowing women bishops. It has taken a mere 475 years since the church was formed for its members to get around to reading the Bible and wonder whether, since Jesus apparently included a woman among his disciples, someone with ovaries is capable of talking to a higher consciousness about something other than what she did all day and agonies over her hair/bum/shoe options. The fact the church is still arguing about this might explain why only 2.7 per cent of the population still bothers with it.

6. The internet, which was set up to enable the free exchange of information, is being sued for freely exchanging too much of the wrong kind of information despite the fact the internet is used primarily to disseminate stupidity, as any search for David Icke will prove. This kind of fact-enforcement may be entirely reasonable, but it is available only to the super-rich which means that, much like the internet, it will start out well-intentioned and could wind up stopping people speaking altogether. If you're poor and someone calls you a paedophile you'll have to ask them nicely to delete it, but with libel laws which date from the 13th century you can't expect much else. There's no appetite for reforming something 700 years out of date no matter how knackered it is, but then it's rich people who'd do the reforming so perhaps it's just as well.

7. An SAS sergeant who forgot he had a gun he shouldn't have is serving 18 months in military prison. This is unreasonable, but then so is the fact that something which would be a crime in civilian life is tried by a military court which has fewer rights of appeal or guidelines for punishment. Our soldiers get treated harsher than their peers outside the services, exactly as they always have, as though they were Coronation Street actresses who toughen up with a spot of persecution. And they wonder why they have to advertise.

8. Abu Qatada is the nation's most hated man. He's been accused by unnamed security sources of inciting murder, homophobia, anti-Semitism and religious hatred. Yet he's never been charged or tried for any of those offences and is, according to our rules, an entirely innocent man who has spent seven years in jail for things no-one's been able to prove. This would be shocking if only we hadn't done the same and worse to people in Northern Ireland, Kenya and South Africa in recent history and more of our own many times for centuries. The right of Habeas Corpus, which entitles an accused to trial or freedom, was established 800 years ago in 1215 and we've been ignoring it ever since. Makes me feel like bombing a few things myself.

9. Doctors have found a gene that dictates what time of day you die, so long as you die in a bed. Thanks, but I don't want to get old and dread the arrival of 5pm every day even if I can celebrate 5.01pm with a gin. Some science is not much use.

10. If we all hate corporate tax avoidance - and who doesn't? - the only thing we can do about it is not use Starbucks, Google, eBay, Amazon and Facebook. Only that's never going to happen, and big companies have been allowed tax deals and to bury their profits overseas legally for, er, centuries. I don't like Philip Green but I do like Top Shop, which means I'm contributing to the problem with every pair of jeans. I'm not going to stop and nor is he, which means the best way you can make sure all the super-rich people pay their share is to slap a sales tax on everything or at the very least on yachts, foie gras, champagne and Bentleys. Philip Green eats more cake than the rest of us, by the look of him, and it might be the best way to make him pay his share. Pay tax, get cake. He'll buy that.

You see? Everything is knackered, nothing goes the way it should do or makes any proper sense, and nothing really changes. Before you know it a one-trick pony entirely lacking any star quality will win the X Factor, and everyone will get tetchy about it without remembering Gareth Gates, Steve Brookstein, Matt Cardle, Shayne Ward, Michelle McManus, Leon Jackson, zzzzzz...

And then it will be Christmas, and next year everything will be different.

Except on Mondays.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

I'm A Criminal... Get Me Out Of Here!

THAT the law is an ass we already know.

But the one factor in its favour is that it is an ass to everyone, regardless of who they are, how much they earn, or what they believe.

That the law is applied equally to everyone is the over-riding reason why we put up with its occasional iniquities, the Justin Lee Collinses who are let off with community service, the John Leslies who end up being tried in the court of public opinion after the real courts bottle it, the Barry Georges who are nicked by desperate police and later found innocent.

It is a sign of a rotten society when the law treats some people better than others simply because of their wealth or social status. A fraudster is a fraudster, whether it's billions from a bank or hundreds from the benefit office.

Yesterday two different courts heard about two different women who had done slightly different things to steal money from the far-from-full public purse.

In the dock at Gloucester Crown Court there was Emma La Garde, a mother of five with a personality disorder, depression, and a series of medications.

She conned £85,898 by doing something quite spectacularly awful, which was to pretend her son had first an immune disease and later lymphoma.

She told her son he had cancer, shaved his head and eyebrows, made him use a wheelchair, told his school he couldn't take part in PE, told his siblings not to play roughly with him, told her estranged husband his son was sick, and using forged GP letters claimed a carer's allowance, motability car, tax exemptions and other benefits.

When she used the money to take the family to Disneyworld, she made her perfectly-healthy son sit in a wheelchair so they could jump the queue for all the rides. She later made false claims that her daughter was also ill.

It all took place over three and a half years, from the time her son was aged six. Yesterday in court she was almost asleep in the dock, clutching a bag of medication. In all she was charged with one count of child cruelty, eight of fraud and one of forging a doctor's letter, a total of 10 crimes, and she admitted each of them.

Meanwhile not in the dock at Southwark Crown Court was Margaret Moran, the former MP for Luton. Because she was depressed she was not expected to be present at a trial into how she acquired more than £53,000 with 21 counts of fraud.

The crimes took place during four years and included 15 charges of false accounting and six of using false information. She produced bogus invoices for £22,000 of goods and services which simply didn't exist at three different properties, one of them 100 miles from her constituency.

She invented firms which did not exist, produced invoices, submitted them and received thousands of pounds for a few minutes' work on desktop publishing programme. She had her curtains cleaned, Christmas cards printed, dry rot repaired, new carpet fitted and what's more paid for twice.

She was paid more than £2,000 for using a telephone line which never existed. When she had already claimed the maximum for one year, she forged invoices to claim it the year after.

When the expenses scandal first broke she spoke at length about how she was being made to look dodgy when she was entirely innocent of wrongdoing. "I make absolutely clear that I have done nothing wrong or dishonest in relation to my claim for expenses," she said, announcing her intention to resign because of the "bruising effect" the media storm had on her family and friends.

She went on to be caught on camera offering her services to a lobbying company on the same day she claimed to be too ill to work for her constituents.

She did not admit her guilt in court, because the court ruled she was too mentally fragile to go through a trial. After a three day hearing in which the claims were found true, she was not convicted and will not get a criminal record.

The judge ruled he could not "punish her as such" and will order either that she goes to hospital, is supervised, or absolved.

The cases of these two women are different, of course. One has been cruel to a child, which rightly carries with it a stronger sentence, and claimed a greater amount of money.

But the fact remains the MP committed twice as many crimes over a longer period, and they cannot all be attributed to mental ill health in quite the same way as the mother's can.

Margaret Moran stole less, but she stole more professionally and from avarice rather than illness. She was not as cruel, but she did not admit her guilt which according to the rules should reduce your sentence.

And if both women are so ill, why weren't they both excused the trauma of a trial? Was it because one was a nobody on benefits and other an ex-MP with three houses?

In the same week, a man who has never been convicted of any crimes in this country has been released after seven years spent, on and off, under lock and key.

Abu Qatada preaches hate against the West, Jews, gays and anyone else he can find. He is, apparently, a spiritual leader to terrorists, and as such we'd all quite like him not to be in our country or our prisons as in either place he costs us an absolute fortune to keep.

But the accusations against him come firstly from Jordan, which isn't the nicest place, and secondly from our own security services for whom it has been reported Abu Qatada used to work. Once he reportedly helped to negotiate the release of a BBC journalist held hostage in Gaza.

Just because he has not been convicted does not make him a nice man or someone we'd like living next door. But, according to the rules, it does mean he cannot be locked up or deported.

Because if we lock him up for seven years without charge on the whim of security services who do not show us the evidence for their claims, who else will we do it to?

If Abu Qatada is guilty, find the evidence, put him on trial, and if convicted deport the horrid little man. If the evidence cannot be found then we have no choice but to let him out until we get it because that is the law we apply to everyone else in this country.

Are we denying him the right of Habeas Corpus, something first outlined in the Magna Carta in 1215 to ensure no-one was held without charge, simply because we can't work out what else to do?

If the law allows crooked politicians to be treated more gently than they should be, hauls damaged mothers to court for crimes which should put them in hospital, and denies fundamental rights to people on the basis they are unlikeable then it is more than an ass.

It is a fractured, rotten, corrupt, hypocritical, braying, one-eyed ass which needs to be taken outside and shot for all our sakes and replaced with something which does the job not just to suit a few of our leaders but as it needs to be done.

Phone lines might be worth a try.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The national...

... and rather pitiless persecution of a fame-hungry thicko is the topic of today's column which has been snaffled by the Daily Mirror and can be read online here.

VOTE NADINE.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Suffer the little children.

OH, the gnashing of teeth, the wailing, the rending of the clothes!

All for child abuse? For corruption? For cover-ups?

No. Because of some ham-fisted reporting and inept politicking by the higher-ups.

The former pupils of Duncroft Approved School for Girls who first came forward to say Jimmy Savile abused them have been forgotten. The paralysed patients of Stoke Mandeville, the damaged residents of Broadmoor, the troubled children in care homes, the Top of the Pops audience and the Radio 1 roadshow fans - it's as though those 300 people never spoke.

The most important thing about child rape, you see, is that it has cost the head of the BBC his job.

The most crushing part of allegations of institutionalised abuse is that it might lead to the internet having a collective brain-fart.

And the 'real tragedy', if you listen to Boris Johnson, is that a wealthy peer was wrongly named as a paedophile.

Now, it's not right the wrong man was named not least because it's not a label anyone can easily shake off. That it happened is bad for journalistic business, and good for a spot of schadenfreude particularly when the journos who started the speculation thought they were so brilliant they should be paid for with a tax on newspapers.

It's news when the Establishment has a change of personnel or seems to have come unstuck, and it's a good thing the BBC is just about the only place a journalist can interview their own boss and be unfriendly about it.

But a frenzy of media tail-chasing, provoked by politicians busy pointing the finger out rather than in, is a bad idea and we know this because we have been here before.

Nine years ago the BBC was at the centre of another frenzy when it similarly accused the government of misleading the public.

Only then it wasn't child abuse, it was starting a war after publicly stating our enemy could launch chemical weapons within 45 minutes of the order being given.

Two BBC reporters had a contact called Dr David Kelly, who read intelligence files and proof-read the 'dodgy dossier' before it was published and told them he wasn't very happy about the claim. It was part of his job to brief journalists off the record, and had done so many times.

The claims were first reported on a flagship radio programme, and a few days later journalist Andrew Gilligan wrote a newspaper article saying his source said the person responsible for this 45-minute claim was much-disliked spin doctor Alistair Campbell. The claims were then added to by a second reporter, Susan Watts, on TV.

Cue a furore. The government was furious, Campbell spat feathers, the nation was furious and all parts of the media were falling over themselves to settle scores and ask whether we really went to war for the sake of spin.

Dr Kelly admitted to his bosses at the Ministry of Defence that he may have been the source. Alistair Campbell wrote in his published diaries "The biggest thing needed was the source out", in order to "f*** Gilligan".

The MoD gave statements to the media about who the source was which contained so much information Dr Kelly was effectively outed. When journalists asked if the name they came up with was correct, the MoD confirmed it.

The newspapers, thus diverted from criticising the government, then concentrated on working out whether what Dr Kelly had said was true. He was called to give evidence to Parliament and, distraught at being made to do so in public, under threat of losing the job he loved, and while being bullied by MPs said he was not the source of the story.

In fact Watts had already confirmed to the then-editor of Newsnight that he was her source and she had him on tape - the editor was one George Entwistle, late Director-General of this parish.

Kelly had told a lie; Gilligan had also named him as a source for journalists in an email to MPs; and Watts later said because his evidence was "less than frank" she no longer needed to protect him. When his lie was proven, he would be sacked and disgraced.

Two days later he emailed a friend, said there were "many dark actors playing games", went for a walk and was found dead. He had lain down under a tree, taken painkillers and slashed his wrists.

There are many who, despite his family's requests to be left to their grief and that Dr Kelly committed suicide while under intense pressure, insist he must have been murdered. They want more inquests and evidence and questions, none of which are capable of bringing him back to life.

The truth is, whoever wielded the blade, he died because even the best-founded frenzies always turn in on themselves. We forget what started the upset because it is too big or unpleasant to look at, and we concentrate on people we can put a name to.

In the course of the past week a BBC desperate to prove its journalistic credentials after failing to report the first claims of those girls from Duncroft has told us it had a second story about appalling child abuse at a north Wales care home, outed a Tory peer as a paedophile, admitted it was wrong and decapitated itself.

As with David Kelly, there was a single source for the claim. As with Kelly, the source has since denied it. And as with Kelly the source is a vulnerable man not coping well with the attention.

Steve Messham says he was shown a picture of his abuser by police, who said it was Lord McAlpine. It wasn't, and because a silly journalist didn't find this out first Steve finds himself at the centre of the storm. He has been accused by strangers of lying and while his account has been questioned - with good reason - by journalists he has not reacted well.

In the past few days he has tweeted: "my head is all over the place.going to take a couple of days away from all of this... my head has gone cant sleep and i keep seeing these evil people... please Lord Mcalpine i never never ever knew you were the wrong man i am so so sorry... I have had more tablets from my GP they dont work i have been up 54 hours now...why is it at night at home i cant stop crying i feel so sick i see everything."

The reason for this is all simple - Steve was in care because he had been sexually abused by his father. He was later, undeniably, abused while in care.

His story has changed several times over the years, and while that makes the evidence unreliable in a court of law it does not, for anyone who knows the damage sex abuse can cause, necessarily make it untrue.

It does however provide an opportunity for David Mellor to denounce him as a weirdo, for Boris to say defamation however serious is 'tragic' when it's not, for the BBC to convulse as it did in 2003 and clean out some executives, for politicians to score a few points and journalists to get caught up in the daily business of reacting to the latest events without time for deeper thought.

The entire Bryn Estyn story is something of a sideshow. Perhaps there are more criminals still alive to be found, and they should be, but any offences would be hard to prove in court at this late date and with victims in the kind of state Steve Messham is in.

The greater issue is the wilful blindness to the realities of child abuse that seems to permeate every part of our society.

The blindness that it is not just a story from the 1970s, that precisely the same reports of men waiting outside children's homes and taking youngsters away to be abused were found true by a court in Rochdale only a few months ago, and that hundreds of people have come forward to report abuse we were unaware of at BBC studios, hospitals, care homes, and prisons.

The blindness that means we don't notice the vulnerability of sex abuse victims may discredit their evidence but also makes them more likely to have been victims.

The blindness that is enabling an entire country to know all those things for a fact, and yet still spend its time talking about personnel changes at a TV station.

Those changes are making serious, intelligent, normal people discuss at length how awful or wonderful the BBC is, panic and flap and fear, while not one angry person is asking what the hell our politicians are doing to stop children being raped in the first place the answer to which is nothing.

There will always be ham-fisted reporting and there will always be politicians scoring points at the expense of vulnerable people they prefer to ignore unless they can kick them for something. The BBC has always been halfway up its own backside and is more interested in self-flagellation and its own corporate structure than doing what the people who pay for it want and need it to.

And what is more important than all those things which are never going to change is that there is something which really does have to change - the way people come forward to right a wrong, and are abused all over again by an entire society which plays games with their evidence and then forgets them as quickly as it can.

And that is as it happens.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

First impressions.

RULES are a lot like peas - it doesn't do any harm to have one or two smuggled into your daily diet, but they are rarely any fun and too many of them are just depressing.

There are big fat sludgy ones, shiny little round ones, and frankly I'm pathologically averse to all of them purely on the basis my parents tried to force them on me as a youngster.

One of their principle purposes seems to be being so unattractive that in rejecting or laughing at them we meet them halfway and half-follow the rules - or eat other vegetables, the metaphor is slipping now - without really noticing.

That's why people enjoy decrying health and safety urban myths about the wrong-shaped bananas and conker matches being banned even though they're not quite true. And perhaps they serve us well for all that, even if it's only in making us more careful when smashing each other's nuts.

Which is how something first mentioned as a joke on television 11 months ago has bloomed into an embellished remark on radio and then SHOCKING CLAIMS in today's newspapers about the terrible new health and safety-based world order.

Back in January during an on-air experiment listening to a distant planet to see if it was emitting a radio signal which might indicate intelligent life, Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain joked they'd had to comply with BBC guidelines to do it.

Despite the fact the listening, while very technical, is in alien-discovery terms akin to a paper cup and a piece of string which doesn't even have a cup on the other end, and it was about as likely to discover extra-terrestrials as it was Sienna Miller's bra, there was some light-hearted concern about what might happen if there was a close encounter.

Fast-forward 11 months, and Prof Cox joked: "We decided to listen. You never know. The BBC actually said 'You can't do that. We need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything'... It was incredible."

Maybe the BBC did say that - it certainly has the ability to flap about the silliest of things while ignoring decades of really serious stuff, like child abuse - but what's more interesting is that such rules do exist.

Not at the BBC, which manages to make a charter pledging to inform and entertain the nation last for 37 pages of barely-translatable tripe, but at the International Academy of Astronautics, a body we really ought to pay more attention to.

It is the IAA which set up SETI - the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence - and their panel of experts which search the known universe for signs of bacteria or lizard people and every kind of life form in between.

And SETI have rules for what to do when the little green men give us a wave, or a laser beam, or a brief burst of rock'n'roll on the airwaves.

The rules are, as rules are wont to be, detailed, well-intentioned, and ridiculous. But they're worth noting, just in case E.T. lands in your garden and it's you who will make first contact.

Firstly you have to verify beyond all reasonable doubt the contact is genuine. Seeing as this may need an autopsy to prove it's not a child in a Hallowe'en costume, first contact has now turned into first intergalactic incident and star destroyers are on their way.

Then you have to tell the relevant national authorities and observers, then the international scientific community, and when it's all been verified by the nerds and the airwaves have been locked down and everyone's had a jolly good think then, and only then, can you respond to the contact.

By which point, of course, E.T. will have got bored and zoomed off, died of methane deprivation, or killed us all with ray-guns or a terrible new disease.

The rules are based on the hope that it will be a well-behaved member of the scientific community who gets the radio message first, when anyone who knows anything about humanity, coincidence and the way dramatic-discovery stories work knows it will either be a maverick Doc Brown character or a quiet, utterly bonkers enthusiast in his garden shed.

The real rules for the discovery of extra-terrestrial life will therefore be more like this:
* Receive 'hello'
* Scream
* Double-check
* Scream again
* If English, make a cup of tea
* Triple-check
* Send a tweet
* Ring Max Clifford
* Be arrested for inciting a riot
* Fend off the Daily Wail
* Fend off Professor Brian Cox
* Fend off Sienna Miller's breasts
* Barricade self in shed
* Be praised as a scientific genius
* Be accused of bringing apocalyptic plague
* Get tired of the whole thing and say you made it up
And after that you could watch E.T. fade away into the galactic distance, thinking there was no-one here to talk to, and realise that while Earth might be missing out the spaceman probably had a lucky escape.

It's all very well having rules for how we handle the inevitable day when we discover either sentient life or interesting bacteria, either of which could easily wipe out humanity if we weren't careful, but if no-one knows about the SETI protocol it's all rather a waste.

On top of that it will be a farce if the rules aren't even capable of being followed; most of us would have no idea how to ring the geeks and tell them there's a space shuttle on the lawn, so we'd call the police instead and they generally take a dim view of intruders.

But then some rules show only how fit they are to be broken, particularly if they remove from humans' first contact with aliens the normal, human behaviour which at its best is about all we've got going for us.

If they come here, it's to see what we're like and the one thing the rules should state is that we show them some humanity, not rules and guidelines. Especially if we want our own health and safety to last past the point they get fed up with regulations and unholster the death ray.

So should you receive the radio signal or find a lizard-man in the flower-bed I'd advise ignoring everything SETI says, smile, and say hello. First impressions are important, and so is politeness.

Then ask him if we can have Elvis back.


They can have Dorries in return.








Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Legs akimbo.

PRIVACY. What is that, exactly?

The law hasn't decided, because it has 17 words in the Human Rights Act which say we have to respect something it doesn't actually define.

And we haven't decided, because one minute we're desperate to know which footballer's taken out a super-injunction and the next we're outraged someone took a photo of the future queen's jubblies, while doing a Google image search to see them for ourselves.

People claim privacy when what they really want is secrecy, and there are plenty who trade it in return for cash, attention or glory.

It's a hazy concept with, on the one hand, obviously private individuals like the families of Milly Dowler and Madeleine McCann thrust into the spotlight by events and staying there in an effort to find their daughters, and on the other self-publicising meaningless starlets like Sienna Miller.

Sienna has had her share of unwelcome and unreasonable attention. She accepted £100,000 damages from the News of the World after it admitted hacking her phone, and gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry about being hunted by marauding packs of paparazzi.

She said: "I would often find myself almost daily, I was 21, at midnight running down down a dark street on my own with 10 big men chasing me. The fact that they had cameras in their hands meant that that was legal. But if you take away the cameras, what have you got? You've got a pack of men chasing a woman, and obviously that's a very intimidating situation to be in."

Quite right she was too, sounds awful. In my experience though photographers generally just want a photograph, and if you give them one rather than legging it around alleyways life is a lot simpler. But if you're only 21 you're not to know that, necessarily.

Except that at the age of 21 Sienna was barely known, and a model rather than an actress. Her acting debut in a forgettable film was a year earlier in 2001, followed by another dud movie and a couple of unwatched TV series. After modelling for Coca Cola and Vogue, a breakthrough came in 2003 when aged 22 she posed in a thong, legs akimbo, for the Pirelli calendar.


Shortly afterwards she was cast in Layer Cake and then as Jude Law's love interest in the remake of Alfie, and when the film came out in 2004 it transpired they were a couple. Cue lots of interest in the photogenic, unknown actress girlfriend of the British acting megastar.

That year she went with the megastar to the Oscars, wearing a dress by up-and-coming designer Matthew Williamson for whom, by that point, she was 'a muse'.


During the following year or so both were undeniably hacked by the News of the World's private investigator, followed, and had every cough and spit of their lives spread over the newspapers. Sienna was 23 by this point, and that must have been difficult and uncomfortable.

Particularly when, in 2005, Jude made a public apology after being caught cheating on her with his children's nanny. It transpired Sienna had a fling with Layer Cake co-star Daniel Craig, one of Jude's mates. Then Jude and his ex Sadie Frost were found to have been wife-swapping with the drummer from  Supergrass.

All pretty tawdry, none of it Sienna's 'fault' as such, and it was in this period she was followed most by the paps. She was 24, which is still young, but not as young as 21.

And to some extent attention is perhaps to be expected if you get engaged to a very famous person, split up, get back together again, generally take your clothes off in films, appear in public in nipple-baring frocks and give interviews in which you discuss your love life to promote your latest project.

That doesn't make being chased by 10 men down alleyways all right, of course. But being regularly chased down alleyways might make a person check their nipples are covered when in public, now and again.


She got a few more film roles, nothing startling, which in 2008 included appearing in a film called Hippie Hippie Shake which nobody noticed except for the fact Sienna was employed to take her clothes off in it.

During one bit of filming, in the middle of a London park, Sienna was starkers in a pond filming a scene when an enterprising snapper snuck a few shots of her.

Now it's not nice being photographed when you don't know about it, but it was in a public place and there was a whole film crew on hand. Sienna was aware people would be looking, and that ultimately her boobs and bits would be projected on screens 30ft high for the public to gawp at.

Another picture, in that situation, is neither here nor there and what's more became the only useful bit of publicity the film got.

Sienna felt differently, and sued the newspapers which published the picture and won £37,500 for her trouble, which incidentally is more than the film ever made at the box office because it was never released. The production company was losing cash and canned the whole thing.

Around the same time she launched into an affair with the billionaire married father-of-four Balthazar Getty. They were pictured in public on a yacht in Italy, while Sienna was topless and cuddling a man she shouldn't have been.

Sienna sued the newspapers which printed the pictures, gave interviews saying she had ended the fling, that she was still in love with Jude Law, was asked by Jude to please stop talking about him, and then was seen again canoodling with Getty.

More recently, Sienna has settled with a new boyfriend and had a baby who she has been more than happy to gossip about with journalists to promote her latest film project.

And, today, it's been revealed she has posed in all her naked eight-months pregnant glory for an oil painting.


So - and let's be clear here, and use logic - Sienna's idea of privacy is what, exactly?

Because it looks to me as though she is entirely happy to trade on her baby, her boobs, and her lovers when it's on her terms and takes great offence if anybody inquires about any of them when it doesn't benefit her in some way.

It looks like she is happy to mislead a public inquiry into the ethics of the media while, thankfully, not having her own ethics questioned in the least.

It looks like the acting has not been as successful as the suing was, and it especially looks like when the harassment she complained of stops she responds by getting her kit off in such a fashion as to draw more attention back to herself.

It's a million miles from the intrusion suffered by the Dowlers and McCanns, and hardly in the same field as Kate Middleton being snapped topless a good mile from a public road.

Sienna once boasted she had changed the law on paparazzi and that "they can't take photographs of me anywhere I expect privacy. They can't sit outside the house, follow in cars – unless I'm coming out of The Ivy, which I'm not going to be".

Except that it was already the case that photographs cannot be taken anywhere people expect privacy, and it's entirely legal to sit outside someone's house unless they feel harassed in which case there's a law for that already too.

No, all Sienna has done is prove, with a quite majestic degree of hypocrisy, how much of a two-faced little baggage she is and how stupid judges and lawyers can be when faced with a pretty blonde whose tits they can all picture.

She doesn't get intruded upon anymore, which for some reason makes her all the more keen to thrust her publicity-hungry breasts at us whether we like it or not while barking about how awful it makes her feel.

You know, I never thought she was much of an actress.

Until now.

Monday, 5 November 2012

A quandary...

... about whether you'd let a modern-day Guy Fawkes blow up Parliament is outlined on the Daily Mirror website here.

Something to bear in mind when you're burning his effigy.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Today's missive...

... on the topic of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and what the rest of the world would like America to do is at the Daily Mirror website and can be read here.

Have a nice weekend, and don't go hanging any chads.