Sunday, 31 July 2011

Tabloid risk/benefit analysis

Never mind the hidden world of phone hacking and NI's dodgy relationships with tame coppers; I think the stuff tabloids splash on their front pages for all to see stinks to high heaven, too. This week, the Mirror was fined £50,000 and the Sun £18,000, plus costs,  for contempt of court, because the way they treated Christopher Jefferies, who'd been questioned by police in the Jo Yeates killing, but was eventually found to be completely innocent (the real perpetrator, Vincent Tabak, later confessed). The Sun and Mirror also ended up paying out undisclosed damages to Mr Jefferies (along with the Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express, Daily Star and the Scotsman) for the damage they'd done to his reputation. Roy Greenslade sums up how the 'bloids systematically trashed Mr Jefferies' good name in the pursuit of a sensational but bogus story:

He was alleged to have acted in an inappropriate, over-sexualised manner with his pupils in the past. Untrue.

He was alleged to have invaded the privacy of his tenants who occupied the two flats he let. Untrue.

It was suggested that he was an associate of a convicted paedophile and that there were grounds to investigate whether he was responsible for an unsolved murder dating back to 1974. Untrue in every respect.

And, of course, it was suggested he was responsible for the murder of Ms Yeates. Untrue.

I thought that tabloid newspapers had access to expensive lawyers to help them avoid this sort of stuff getting into print with such costly and embarrassing results. The charitable explanation is that they either didn't have access to such legal advice, or that nobody thought to run this story past the lawyers. The less charitable theory is that they did a Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company-style risk analysis, knowing full well that their story might be dodgy, but deciding to run with it because the potential increase in sales outweighed the potential fines:

The brazen nature of Jefferies treatment certainly accords with the point made by legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg in the latest Without Prejudice podcast that newspapers appear to have no legal expertise on hand to consider whether an article may be in contempt of court.

Another possibility is that the newspapers know full well the risks and choose to take them on the basis of a cold financial calculation; additional sales now make up for potential fines later. In this case, the newspapers have also apparently settled a libel claim brought by Jefferies, so it will have cost them more than the contempt fines.
UK Human Rights Blog

This is the sort of thing that makes me hold our tabloid press in pretty low regard. Which, according to Professor Frank Furedi, writing in Spiked, makes me a fully paid-up member of the cosmopolitan elite:

For the cosmopolitan elites, the tabloid is a lowlife and degenerate form of media, which could only possibly be considered satisfying or interesting by morally inferior people. For the millions of people who buy these papers, they are merely sources of news and entertainment.

This rusty opinion has been wiped down and wheeled out quite a lot since the 'bloids found themselves on the receiving end of a well-deserved monstering, post hack-gate. Draw attention to real harm being done to real people, generally with no credible public interest defence and you're labelled a stuck-up member of a pleb-hating liberal elite, so yar boo sucks to you. You'd think a professor of sociology could come up with an argument that relies on something more than a large helping of name-calling with a serving of tu quoque on the side. For the record, bullying is bullying, a lie is a lie and a smear is a smear, and anybody who claims a get out of jail free card for any of the above on the grounds that it's 'just part of  popular culture' has lost both the argument and the plot.

Friday, 29 July 2011


Over a year ago, I wondered why jellyfish were different colours. I must have been distracted by something bright and shiny, because I never got around to answering my own question, even though enlightenment was only a bit of light googling away. Anyway, the question popped into my head again today and, apparently, it's not the jellyfish themselves that are different colours, but the helpful micro-organisms that live within them (like the symbiotic algae that set up home inside the jellyfish inhabiting Palau's astonishing jellyfish lake). Here's a quick overview:

The different types of jellyfish come in a fascinating array of colors. Actually a jellyfish has a translucent or transparent covering. The colors that we see are due to its own pigments or pigments of certain micro-organisms that are living within the jellyfish. These micro-organisms live in a symbiotic relationship with the jellyfish, and are varied, and come in different colors. Zoochlorellae is [sic] one of the type of micro-organism, which is green in color, and this will make the jellyfish appear in a greenish shade. The presence of Zooxanthellae micro-organism will make the jellyfish appear brown. Generally blue coloration in a jellyfish is attributed to the presence of Cyanobacteria.

More jelly factiods here.

I'd assumed that the colours weren't relevant to jellyfish because:

Jellyfish don't have eyes, although some have a few light-sensitive cells that can distinguish light from dark. Come to think of it, they haven't got anything you could call a brain.

Apparently that wasn't entirely correct - Australia's notoriously venomous box jellyfish can, with the help of four different types of eye, distinguish light form dark and detect the colour and size of objects.

Silver machines

Art deco with wings. Shiny Ryan STs gleaming in the light of other days.

From the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives.

Air cooled

The business end of Boeing's deceptively cute P-26, from the University of Washington Digital Collections' photostream .


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The womb of monsters?

Until today, the horrible crimes of Anders Behring Breivik hadn’t forced me to change any of my preconceptions about the world. Most of the terrorist atrocities carried out in the West and Middle East in recent years have been carried out by Islamist militants, so a lot of instapundits rushed out boilerplate articles like this one explaining why Al Qaeda hates Norway, and ended up looking foolish when the real perpetrator and his agenda were identified within hours.

My own first thought, when I heard about a bomb and a gunman on the rampage was that Islamist militants, like those who’d bombed London and Madrid and run amok with guns in Mumbai, were probably responsible. When I heard that this was the work of a homegrown crackpot with a different agenda, though, I didn’t have to do any particular agonizing reappraisal. My first guess was wrong, but I knew that the world has had many other types of murderous lunatics and terrorists with other agendas and backgrounds. Just think Timothy McVeigh, or the Tamil Tigers, or Aum Shinrikyo, or The Lord’s Resistance Army, or the Continuity IRA for starters.

Breivik didn’t challenge my preconceptions about terrorists and what seems to motivate them. In fact, he seemed quite typical of the breed. Although he identifies himself as an extreme anti-Islamist, there seem to be a lot of similarities between this self-styled defender of Western Christendom and the jihadists.

The ideology of Breivik  and of the Islamists is, as far as I can see, exclusively about the politics of identity. There is a perceived in-group, whether Western Christendom or the Islamic Ummah that is supposedly under threat from the Other in the shape of  immigrants, Muslims, Infidels, liberals or Zionists. The in-group is the only source of virtue, the Other is the source of all evil and corruption. Therefore the Other and anyone who “collaborates” with the Other must be destroyed in a zero-sum battle for survival.

Brevik has been described as a Christian conservative, but I don’t think this quite covers it. From his rambling manifesto ("2083: A European Dealaration of Independence") he sounds like a reactionary rather than a conservative. He’s not trying to conserve the status quo, because he thinks that society has already gone to hell in a handcart. His aim seems to be to go back to a lost supposed golden age before things went all liberal and muticultural.

His manifesto makes almost comically nostalgic references to the 1950s as an age when chaps wore hats and come home to a dinner cooked by a little woman who didn’t worry her pretty little head with thoughts of anything but childbearing and looking after her home and master, an age when men could have a good laugh at the expense of ethnic minorities and homosexuals without the politically correct brigade objecting to  their allegedly  hilarious banter. All this pipes and slippers tosh sits rather weirdly with stuff about the Knights Templar, an order of monastic warriors that was abolished in the Fourteenth Century and is relevant to precisely nothing in the modern world, except for Brevik’s fantasies and the plot of a Dan Brown novel.

Again, if you strip out the cultural specifics, what he seems to want echoes the Islamist militants’ agenda:

  • A move back to a traditional, monocultural society. Check. 
  • Keeping uppity women in their place (viz. the home). Check. 
  • Disgust at a liberal society that judges gay people, like everybody else, by the content of their character, rather than by what they choose to  do in private with consenting adults. Check.
  • Historically suspect fantasies about a semi-mythical lost  world of virtue in the conveniently distant past, involving either crusading Knights Templar or the Islamic Caliphate. Check. 
  • Baffled by the concept of “live and let live.” Check.  
  • Getting disproportionately angry about all of the above. Check.

Maryam Namazie, a long time campaigner against Islamist violence and oppression, also noticed the correspondences between Brevik and Islamist terrorists and made this  simple but  powerful statement  on her blog:

For those who constantly 'advise' me and us to work with all sorts against Sharia law and Islamism, this tragedy is a confirmation of why we must stand resolutely against both.

You cannot fight Islamism, a far-right regressive movement, without also fighting the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and fascist European far-Right.

They are two sides of the same coin.

They represent everything our world must not become...

There’s not a lot I’d add to that, except to point out that, unbearably tragic though Brevik’s actions must be for those involved, we’re not involved in some epic existential clash of cultures or War On Terror here. Brevik’s actions were inexcusable, devastating and shocking, but, the chances of being caught up in a terrorist attack  are still minuscule compared with the risk of  death  from such everyday tragedies as heart disease, cancer, accidental injury, road traffic accidents, suicide, fire, electrocution, flood, or falling off a ladder. There are no vast networks of terrorists in the West, just a tiny minority of, isolated individuals and loosely connected groupuscules. The rest of us, whatever our background, have far better things to do with our lives. That’s the last thing that Brevik and the Islamists have in common – they’d all like us to join their frightened little world, become terrified and suspicious of the Other and retreat into a paranoid tribal huddle, which would be the worst possible reaction to their actions.

So far, so unsurprising. Brevik  fits the template and is the very model of a modern murdering maniac. Nothing here to challenge what I thought I knew about the subject. One thing, though, has made me pause and re-examine a long held preconception.

Coincidentally, in Texas, they’ve just executed another home-grown ideological killer, Mark Stroman, who described himself as a ‘proud American.’  After the September 11th attacks, Stroman went on a vengeful gun spree, determined to kill Arabs. He blasted away at three random, blameless strangers, killing two and seriously injuring one. Not only were the people he attacked wholly unconnected with September 11th, but they weren’t even Arabs, (they all came from South Asia). Stroman was killed by lethal injection despite his surviving victim, Rais Bhuiyan (a Muslim Bangladeshi), having appealed for clemency.

In some ways, Stroman also fits the Brevik/Islamist xenophobic template, having lashed out at the alien Other in defence of his tribal identity - in this case as a ‘proud American.’ But there’s one difference between Stroman and Brevik that disturbs me and challenges one of my preconceptions. Stroman’s attacks are an example of the most outrageous bone-headed pig-ignorance possible. He didn’t know and wasn’t able to, or couldn’t be bothered to, find out why a small group of fanatics carried out the September 11th attacks. As far as he was concerned, the attackers were Arabs, and that was all he needed to know. It didn’t, apparently, occur to him to ask whether any other Arabs supported the attack, and, if so, were they a majority, or just a tiny minority. He never considered the possibility that most Arabs might be just ordinary folk, as unconnected to the attack as any ‘proud American.’ Having made the assumption that all Arabs were exactly the same and all were guilty, he wasn’t even able to establish that his victims were Arabs – dark-skinned and foreign-looking seems to have been good enough for him.

Stroman’s attack fits my preconception that one of the drivers of such attacks is ignorance, the womb of monsters. If he’d been better educated, had the first inkling of a clue that the world is a complex and diverse place, was able to actually identify a Middle Eastern country on a map and had the basic mental toolkit for distinguishing fact from opinion and weighing up evidence, he could never have sustained the level of muddle-headed misconception and rage needed to justify his actions in his own head. Or so I thought.

Brevik’s manifesto, however, challenges this particular preconception. It is, of course, barking mad, but it’s not ignorant. Among all the delusional fantasies about the imagined Muslim demographic threat, the Knghts Templar, the uniforms and medals pertaining to his fantasy order of  Justiciar Knights and a “Cultural Marxist” conspiracy, there are profiles of figures such as Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm. There are citations and bibliographies and interminable  discussions of topics including historical revisionism, anti colonialism, the history of Islam, janissaries in the Ottoman Empire, the dhimmitude of Zorastrian community in Iran, the Crusades, eunuch slavery, the history of the Hindu Kush, the Armenian Genocide, the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, birth rates in different countries, feminism, the immigration policy of the British Labour Party, sociology, Hip-Hop and media ownership. He quotes from Tony Blair, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, The Koran, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, CIA reports, Nietzsche, Jay-Z, Yuri Bezmenov, (a ‘former KGB agent and expert on ideological subversion’) and Alexis de Tocqueville.

This is the bit that I found unexpected and truly worrying. Of course, being well-read is no guarantee that a person isn’t delusional or a psychopath, but I did have a belief, all things being equal, knowledge was better than ignorance and that exposure to a wide range of viewpoints, arguments and examples broadened the mind, sowed the seeds of doubt and questioning, and inoculated people against fanaticism. I was pretty confident that in a world where people like  Mark Stroman were exposed to diverse and challenging ideas and just knew more stuff, doubt and evidence would drain the swamp of irrational hate and fanaticism. It's clearly not quite that simple.

Ignorance is frightening, but not as terrifying as a mind that can be exposed to such a wide range of  knowledge and ideas, then twist the lot into one great mad mangled conspiracy pretzel. I hadn't relised until now how effective prejudice, obsession and cognitive bias can be at flattening the highest mountains of evidence. I think my world view just bumped into a reality checkpoint.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The dog ate my economic recovery

The UK economy grew by only 0.2 percent in the second quarter of the year. Apparently, the disappointing figures are being blamed on a number of factors, including the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, a warmer than usual April, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the start of ticket sales for the 2012 Olympic Games.

In short, as David Blanchflower said on the radio today, the government have a 'no-growth strategy and a lot of excuses.'

Rachel Whiteread for social insects

Here's an interesting vid, in which some boffins explore negative space by pouring ten tons of concrete into a huge ants' nest, with impressive results:

Friday, 22 July 2011

On the rocks

The rusting remains of the SARB-J, a trawler that ran aground near Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast in January 1994, geotagged on Geograph.

Photograph © Helen Wilkinson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Indoctrinated into a very specific Weltanschauung

Coping effectively with life's problems and failures requires realistic expectations. Psychologists call these expectations and judgements 'appraisals'. Life events (such as traffic bottlenecks or the boss's gruff voice) aren't a problem unless we appraise them as such. Life is never perfect and, to some degree, hassles and problems are a part of normal everyday life. If our appraisals are realistic, we're better able to react to day-to-day life events with a sense of proportion.

BBC Health article entitled Coping Skills

From cradle to grave – starting with the Kim-Jong-Il-Jr-style brainwashing offered by CBBC, moving on to oh-so-hip-Daddy-O pop broadcaster Radio 1, through classical Radio 3 to fuddy-duddily left-liberal Radio 4, not forgetting the achingly worthy and progressive TV channels BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4 – the audience for Britain’s dominant national broadcaster is indoctrinated into a very specific Weltanschauung.

That Weltanschauung, you won’t be surprised to hear, does not find much room for concepts like limited government, low taxation, liberty, political sovereignty and accountability. It is extremely unlikely that a Tea Party movement could ever take off in Britain: the main reason being that, unlike in the US, the British simply lack the political vocabulary and intellectual building blocks to demand one.

From a James Delingpole piece entitled The BBC Is at Least a Thousand Times More Evil and Dangerous than Rupert Murdoch

That's right, at least a thousand times more evil. Just like that Kim-Jong-Il-Jr. With all that information about an overarching conspiracy that's a thousand times worse than anything the Murdochs and their underlings ever got up to, James Delingpole should really be following the example of James Murdoch and presenting his evidence to a select committee. That should be a hoot:

Adrian Sanders: Finally, are you familiar with the term "a sense of proportion?"
James Delingpole: Mr. Sanders, would you care to elaborate?

Or, as the Flying Rodent put it:

Children's BBC!  Truly, when you're reduced to arguing with Rastamouse, you've long since lost.

Marvellous stuff. Although, in the interests of strict accuracy, I ought to point out that Rastamouse goes out on CBeebies, (the channel for kids aged 6 and under), not CBBC [insert boilerplate apology for not getting out much here].

Funny how Children's BBC is such a magnet for angry wingnuts. Personally I think CBeebies is quite good; we're happy for our kid to spend most of his telly time watching it, as the programmes are generally quite educational and well-made (if occasionally a bit irritating and/or goody-goody) and the channel scores big time from a parental point of view by not being peppered with adverts aimed at unlocking the potential of pester power. But for some people Children's BBC is apparently the nexus of a sinister cult to corrupt the innocent.

There's a programme on CBeebies called Waybuloo (it's apparently been cut from the schedules until later this year, to the anguish of some young fans and their parents). It's aimed at the younger element of the under 6 demographic and involves four brightly coloured characters who live in a benign never-never land and talk a kind of baby language (any resemblance to Teletubbies is purely coincidental). The characters are nice to one another, play with small children, do a sort of yoga, are rendered in impressively seamless CGI and float around in the air when they're really happy. The programme is inoffensive, maybe a little wet in a Christopher Robin-ish kind of way, a bit dull and repetitive if you're 40-something, but pretty wholesome and entirely appropriate viewing for toddlers, I'd have thought.

Apparently, though, Waybuloo caused something of a panic among evangelical Christian parents, concerned that the series was undermining 'wholesome Christian values' by incorporating that suspiciously oriental yoga-like thing and implying that happiness might be attained without explicit reference to the only source of true joy that can be achieved in this life, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I would refer these people (and James Delingpole) to the BBC article on coping skills, in particular the bit about how keeping a sense of proportion is good for your mental health, but they'd only accuse me of being a conduit for more outrageous BBC propaganda.

Bonus neologism of the day: guanophenia.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Ridiculous opinions'

I think that we've got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20% of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News ... I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.
The ED 9000 computer, (which is, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error).
Ed is not doing badly, but his call at the weekend for Rupert Murdoch to sell his newspapers showed that he sometimes loses touch with reality (who does he suppose will buy the loss-making Times?). It may hurt, but to get back on-piste, he must disown the more ridiculous opinions of those he surrounds himself with.
Daniel Knowles, writing in the Torygraph

Who's right here? If individual media organisations are less powerful, will this curb a nation's press freedom?  I looked at the top ten countries in the 2010 Press Freedom Index on the Reporters Without Borders web site (the UK ranked 19 last year, just below Australia and just above the USA). The OCED also publish a set of Sustainable Governance Indicators, which include the levels of media pluralism in the various OECD countries, so it's easy to compare how diverse the media are in the top ten countries (apart from Estonia at no. 9, which isn't in the OECD).

The OECD table offers qualified support for the notion that nations a free press doesn't necessarily entail the sort of market dominance enjoyed by the Murdoch empire. Eight, out of the top ten countries with the freest press* apparently have more plurality of media ownership than the UK. Correlation isn't causation, but at the very least this suggests that curbing oligopolies doesn't actually harm press freedom. I say 'qualified' because Iceland, which was deemed to have the very freest press in the world, (joint first with Finland) actually seems to have less media pluralism than the UK. Perhaps the relative concentration of media interest is counterbalanced by Article 73 of the Icelandic constitution, which states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and belief.

Everyone shall be free to express his thoughts, but shall also be liable to answer for them in court. The law may never provide for censorship or other similar limitations to freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression may only be restricted by law in the interests of public order or the security of the State, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights or reputation of others, if such restrictions are deemed necessary and in agreement with democratic traditions.

Estonia doesn't appear in the OECD figures, so I haven't been able to compare directly it with the others in the group when it comes to media plurality. Apparently, media ownership Estonia is mainly regulated by the country's Commercial Code and Law on Competition, rather than by any specific legislation about media competition, but I don't know how its media diversity compares with the UK.

In theory powerful media oligopolies might put the fear of God into politicians, keeping them on the straight and narrow and keeping the public informed about things the powerful would rather keep hidden. In practice, the UK's leading oligopolist was rather too cosy with politicians and senior cops to be taken seriously as an outsider speaking truth to power. If the media-political complex was a tent, News International was on the inside pissing out.

A convincing majority of the nations with (arguably) the freest presses in the world aren't dominated by such concentrations of media interests. Conversely, Italy, with Europe's most developed oligopolistic media-political complex, comes 50th in the Press Freedom Index, sandwiched between Burkina Faso and El Salvador. Italy's  incestuous tangle of media and political power, doesn't strike me as a model to emulate.

Press freedom might be in danger from ill-thought out or restrictive regulation of what the press can say or do, but it's not clear to me that rules ensuring media pluralism represent any such threat. Maybe Daniel Knowles has a point about large, profitable media companies subsidising loss-making but worthy projects, but somehow or other, a more diverse and apparently free press stubbornly continues to flourish in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, New Zealand and Ireland. All in all, I think this is one of the less ridiculous ideas in the EdBot 9000's memory banks.

*of course that's only according to one organisation, Reporters Without Borders,but it'll do for starters.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Strawberry or vanilla?

Just a picture of some seaside cottages in St Mawes, Cornwall. A bit chocolate boxy, but I thought the picture sort of captured the spirit of the place.

I originally posted this on Panoramio - I don't put much up there, but it's mildly gratifying to get your pictures on Google Earth. For some reason, this pic wasn't accepted for Google Earth, so I took it down again. I've not had many photos rejected, but I'm a bit baffled by the few that have been, as they don't seem to be inaccurately tagged, or to come under Paoramio's/Google Earth's list of "unsuitable subjects".

It's all the more surprising, as the most viewed photo that's I've ever had accepted for Google Earth via Panoramio is of a helicopter, which might reasonably be considered unsuitable, as pictures of any 'car, plane or any machine' are deemed unsuitable unless 'the object is an unavoidable part of a place'. I've also got a picture of a cruise ship onto Google Earth (see above) and the interior of a building, which is also supposed to be a no-no (excepting 'wide perspectives inside churches, mosques, train stations, and so on').

Compared to these, the photos that have been rejected (the one above, along with pictures of Heidelberg Castle and a Buddha statue in Sri Lanka) seem much more suitable  I resubmitted a couple of the rejected snaps a while back, but they weren't accepted on the second try, so I gave up. No biggie, but I'd be mildly interested to know what was unsuitable about the pictures which weren't accepted for Google Earth.

Monday, 11 July 2011


We had a visitor this morning, in the shape of a frog who'd somehow got into our conservatory, then obligingly sat still to have its picture taken. I managed to stop it hiding under the furniture and send it on its way to the relative moisture and safety of a flower bed, so no amphibians were harmed in the making of this picture.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

It's the luvvies wot won it!

I thought I had a handle on the basic facts about the phone hacking malarkey that’s done for the News of the Screws. It’s complex and murky, but the main points seemed clear enough.

Proximate cause: public disgust at what the Guardian journalists exposed.

Ultimate cause: Newscorp executives bringing the crisis on their own heads in one or other of two ways. Either, one, by being completely unaware that some NotW employees were not only behaving like unfeeling bastards (which, shouldn’t have surprised anybody who’s actually glanced at a Murdoch tabloid at any time in the past few decades), but were also routinely breaking the law. Or, two, by knowing perfectly well that the law was being broken, but turning a blind eye, going along with it, or even initiating it.

Carl Bernstein, (yes, that Carl Bernstein, as in Woodward and Bernstein) who presumably knows a thing or two about the newspaper business in general and investigative journalism in particular, favours explanation two:

As anyone in the business will tell you, the standards and culture of a journalistic institution are set from the top down, by its owner, publisher, and top editors. Reporters and editors do not routinely break the law, bribe policemen, wiretap, and generally conduct themselves like thugs unless it is a matter of recognized and understood policy. Private detectives and phone hackers do not become the primary sources of a newspaper’s information without the tacit knowledge and approval of the people at the top, all the more so in the case of newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, according to those who know him best.

And, you know what, he nearly had me believing that it was all Newscorp’s own fault. Until I came across this brilliant piece of investigative reporting from one Nigel Green, crime reporter for the Sunderland Echo and erstwhile freelance contributor to the News of the Screws, fearlessly exposing the real puppet masters:

Murdoch has been forced to take this action by a hysterical bandwagon made up of sanctimonious luvvies who sneer at tabloid newspapers and their readers.

Thanks for setting the record straight, Nige; with insightful pieces like that, you'll go far, mate.

Ha! Take that, Bernstein! You thought it was Newscorp executives up to no good who brought down the Screws, but that was just a set-up, you has-been. In fact, it was a tiny band of hysterical luvvies who got together and bitchslapped the world’s mightiest media conglomerate until it whimpered like tiny puppy left out in the rain.

Well, who’d have thought it, eh? I, for one, will be raising a glass of some suitably louche gin-based cocktail to our gallant thespians. Endlessly mocked for their shallow, narcissistic ways, their cravats and their Brylcreem, this tiny band of entertainers went up against the brutal might of Murdoch’s pan-continental empire of evil and came back glorious. Never in the field of British journalism has so much been owed by so many to so few. Never again will I make fun of a BAFTA acceptance speech, now that I know what these plucky luvvies have done for us all. By Jove, they make you proud to be British.

Luvvies of Britain, I salute you all! Darlings, you were wonderful! Mwah! Mwah!

Hat tip to The Null Device for the Bernstein piece.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Timely clichés

What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.

Stanley Baldwin, adapting a Kipling quote to denounce newspaper tycoons back in the 1930's.

When - only last week - compliant politicians from both main parties were still desperate to network with the thought leaders of the Murdochcracy, the first part of this well-used phrase fitted what was happening now. I don't think the 'perogative of the harlot through the ages' bit ever fitted. Harlot is a pejorative term, but it brings to mind dependency rather than real power:

For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.

Hosea 2:5

If we have to keep using this patriarchal insult to describe what's happening between media oligarchs and politicians, surely it's the politicians who deserve the label 'harlots' for the demeaning contortions they went through to please their Newscorp sugar daddy.

Another phrase that's become synonymous with the tabloid minions of Rupert's global vertically integrated media empire is "chequebook journalist." With 200 News of the Screws journalists about to be thrown to the wolves, I suspect that it won't be journalists from Newscorp who will be waving their chequebooks around this weekend, but reporters from every other news organisation, offering a nice lump sum to any disgruntled former NotW employee with some inside dirt on the filthier corners of Murdoch's Muck House. The Newscorp HR department must be a buzzing hive of activity at the moment as they finalise hush money and gagging clauses for the people they're letting go and try to find internal posts for any toxic hacks who know where the bodies are buried.

Mind you, with the British banks no longer honouring cheque guarantee cards, in their rush to phase out cheques in favour of electronic payments, calling people "chequebook journalists" will soon start to sound as outdated as describing them as "harlots."  Once cheques are history, I don't know what we're going to call them.* BACS hacks?

*without actually swearing

Friday, 8 July 2011

Alright my luvvers...

Just back from spending a week in a tent in the West Country. Normal service will be resumed dreckly...