Monthly Archives: September 2005

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the President his daily briefing

He concludes by saying: “And finally, I’m sorry to report that yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed.”

“OH NO!” the President exclaims. “That’s terrible!”

His staff sit stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits with his head in his hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, “OK, so how many in a brazillion?”

What is news?

With Kate Moss in the news this week over drugs allegations the question that begs asking is what is news? It’s had the press twisting around itself trying to figure out how to construct sentences which were not grossly hypocritical. Journos have been trying to work out how to report on something that really is a non-story. There are a lot of articles out there trying to work out why this is all so interesting just adding to the acreage of coverage (and of course this is one too).

The only story about Kate Moss is that she admitted taking drugs in 2001 and wasn’t ashamed about it. She admitted it while taking the Daily Mirror to court over allegations that she’d collapsed into a cocaine induced coma at a nightclub. She admitted she’d been taking drugs but that none of the other parts of the story were true. The Mirror after having to pay damages to her a month or so ago have released this story just to get her back. That is the real story.

There’s a famous phrase out there which fits this situation admirably, “News is what someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising”. Rather brilliantly several people claim credit for the phrase, at least two in the US Rubin Frank (former President of NBC News) and Bill Moyers another renound American Journalist. And in the UK we claim the phrase as being by Lord Rothmere. Which is all rather fitting in a way.

However this is not a new problem. Here’s a quote from a speech given by John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York Times. He was supposed to be toasting the free and independent press of 1880:

There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.

If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell the country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

Increasingly we get our news (and the meaning of this word is changing) from the internet. Most people have the internet at work and check a news site from time to time. We get just the headlines and sometimes read more in depth. This leads us to a situation where we are increasingly looking to newspapers for opinion – as though we don’t trust our own. The Sun newspaper even has a section called “What should I think” at the end of some of their more “complex” stories.

So what’s the point of a story in which journalists can’t even have an opinion because it would be hypocritical? And they can’t call it news because everyone knew it already?

Why did the model stare at the orange juice?

Because it said concentrate.

Sporting history

Sporting history is something that gets talked about a lot. Basically in the end superfans of any sport can make up any statistic about anything and sooner or later it will get broken. In fact in times of boredom for the sport it often seems that statistics are made to be broken.

I watch Formula 1. I’m an avid fan, I never miss watching a race. And I imagine for many of you just the idea of Formula 1 is boring. I however do not. The thing that makes Formula 1 interesting to me is the politics and the races are just a physical manifestation of that politics. Forget anything else that is simply about what you see during the game. Formula 1 is all about the things you don’t see. Cricket may be the worlds most complicated natural sport, Formula 1 is the worlds most complicated sport in total. The thing that makes Formula 1 most interesting is the fact that it is a world in which everything seems to be unseen – like politics – but in the end it is possible to know almost everything. From who’s going where next season to who has the most fuel in the car for this race.

But I also know that none of this really matters because unless you’re a fan you aren’t going to be interested. People don’t believe that Formula 1 is really a sport because the cars do all the work, and I can counter that by saying “tell that to the driver who has lost two stone in two hours through sweat trying to control his car round a 160 mile an hour bend”. It is a sport – it’s just a different one. But that too isn’t the point.

The point of this is to say that it isn’t very often when genuine sporting history is made. For the last few years Michael Schumacher has been the dominant force in F1. He has won everything. People had been saying the sport was boring as he kept winning. And the tv presenters had to find new weird and wonderful records for him to break each week just to keep it interesting: “If Michael wins this one he’ll…” etc. But that has come to an end. This season has truly been a turning point for the sport. Michael has only won one race and that was under dubious circumstances.

There was a joke on a tv program about the American grand prix this year. Due to safety concerns only 3 teams raced (the three teams who were on one particular manufacturers tires). The comedian pointed out that it was a very strange race because only 3 teams took place, but they said, despite this peculiarity Michael Schumacher still won. It was taking the piss out of the fact that Michael had been so dominant. However with comedy – as with most things – timing is everything. And this year that was the only race Michael won.

Today’s race had one close to meaningless statistic attached to it. Tiago Montero, had he finished the race would have equalled Michael’s record of most consecutive completions of a race. Actually Tiago didn’t finish, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be a huge star – I think he might just be.

But today had one real stat too. Today the first person to take the championship away from Michael won. Fernando Alonso was crowned World Champion. And he really deserved it.

And the stat? He is the youngest World Champion ever.

I wonder which Woody Allen quote is better?

The more famous “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying” or “i don’t want to go on living through my work i want to go on living in my living room”?

Impossible dates can’t save us now

I was talking to an American friend of mine a while ago about a strange phenomenon connected to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Despite our best efforts, the effect of globalisation have caused us in the uk to refer to those incidents as the attacks of September 11th rather than the 11th September as would be more appropriate in the English language. I was also mentioning that there was a rather nice symmetry in that the numbers 9/11 were the telephone number of the emergency services in America and that perhaps Britain would be protected simply by the fact that we don’t have a possibility of the date ever being 99/9. Obviously I can only say now – how wrong I was. She did make a point which I shall, for the time being, railroad neatly across. She made the point that it certainly wasn’t the first time that this kind of rampant globalisation had caused such an effect but that the last time, at least the last time she could think of, the effect had been the other way around.

In the week of the first attack on London the Olympics had been announced as having gone London’s way and that, it seemed was that. The London 2012 team had originally received a lot of resistance from Londoners to the Olympics. In fact in the original Olympic Commission report the apathy of Londoners was considered to be one of the main reasons to stay away. But our bluff exteriors had been worn away and a nice feeling of gentle acceptance had become the norm across London. The feeling of having won the Olympics here was a genuine one of joy – not something that often happens to a city of this size. Katherine and I walked up to the Freemasons on Wednesday evening and people were chatting away about where they had been when they’d found out that it had gone our way. People seemed to be genuinely excited, and on the back of the success of Live 8 and what with what seemed likely to be announced from G8, I found myself saying to Katherine as we settled down into a deep sofa with a couple of cold beers that we were clearly headed for a wonderful feel-good summer the likes of which the capital hadn’t seen for many a year.

If this sounds like dramatic licence then I can only assure you that it is not. London genuinely felt good about itself when it went to sleep on Wednesday night. Obviously this made it all the stranger when the next morning the events of the 7th July occurred.

Luckily for me, Katherine and I were at home on the sofa when we found out. We were watching a movie and my father called to find out if we were on the tube. He had been at work for a while already so was fine and was just calling now to check on what was happening. At that point it was being billed only as a power surge but soon enough we found out everything of what had happened.

There is a big difference between knowing what is exactly going on with the people that you love and when you don’t. Within about ten minutes of finding out what had happened I had discovered that all of the people that I expected to be in London were okay and safe. And from then on in I was watching the event as an outsider. Despite the strangeness of this being the place where I have lived for most of my life. And most of the trouble being in places right near where I have worked for years it just didn’t seem as real to me as what happened in Manhattan. The main difference, I feel, is that I knew people actually directly affected by the Twin Towers attacks. Whereas, so far, I don’t know anyone who was any more affected by what happened on Thursday then to have an unusual commute home from work in the evening.

Part of this feeling towards what happened was to do with the small number of people killed or injured in comparison with what happened in New York and Madrid, especially when coupled with the almost relief that the inevitable had actually occurred and that we had coped well. Part of this was due to the feel good factor that was already running in the city. And part of this was due to one other factor which perhaps it was only me feeling it but I’m not so sure about it.

It seemed, and this is going to seem trite I’m sure, like the British TV adaptation of September 11th. We couldn’t quite afford the special effects, the extras, the big action scenes and so on. And yet inside this insensitive belittling of people’s lives (not to mention the British television networks production values) there is some kernel of truth I think. We didn’t actually see any of the action, only the reaction. And as every good writer knows you don’t tell you show. I watched both events on TV unfold live, and one affected me more than the other. And the one in my home town should have affected me more I think (although the larger number of deaths and the fact I had lived in and knew people who continued to live in New York made a difference) the main reason is that we watched the disaster happen. Whereas with what happened in London we were being told of all of the things that had already happened.

Anyway I’ll leave that topic there for a moment.

The last thing I will say is about the previous globalisation event that was the precursor of us adopting the wrong way around date. It was of course the 4th July. American’s still say it our way around because it is the only holiday that survives since British rule and they didn’t change the date around until afterwards. But it still survives as a reminder of just how much our two nations do have to do with each other.

Why did the chicken cross the playground?

to get to the other slide.

The Bald Headed Eagle was a bird of low moral character.

I found a pair of shoes from America the other day. While looking a them I realised something was a little odd but I couldn’t figure it out. Several days later I twigged what the cause of my discomfort was.

In America they have a slogan which ou see from time to time side by side with their American flag. It says, “Don’t tread on me”. An odd sentiment for a flag one would feel considering much of it’s life is spent hanging on the end of poles up in the sky where there is little footwear present.*

But then that was the problem with the shoes. They had an American flag stitched right in there on the instep. How could you avoid treading on it?

* The story of the “Don’t tread on me” slogan is actually quite interesting. It actually doesn’t refer to the stars and strips flag at all but a different one altogether called the Gadsden flag. But sometimes the whole thing is combined. The Gadsden flag precedes the stars and stripes but then it’s subject, which is a rattlesnake, actually even precedes that.

The story begins in the French and Indian war. The colonies were wavering in their support for the battles. Some wanted to side with the French others with England. Benjamin Franklin realised that this was a very dangerous time for the United States. He drew a cartoon of a cut up snake with 13 pieces, which represented the 13 colonies,. It played on the superstition at the time that if you cut up a snake each piece of it would form a new snake. The slogan was “Unite or Die.”

The message was a powerful on and spread far and wide. By the time of the war of independence it’s significance re-emerged. In 1775 the colonies created their first joint forces these were the Marines. Because they were a joint forces they had not got a flag at this time. On the barrels of gunpowder the familiar symbol of the snake re-emerged. This time it was a rattlesnake and it had thirteen bands on its tail. The barrels were bright yellow to warn of their dangerous properties which is why the Gadsden flag is usually yellow. It also had the words on each barrel “Don’t tread on me”.

Later that year Benjamin Franklin wrote an anonymous letter to the Pennsylvania Journal. And explained why he thought the rattlesnake should be the national animal. He noted that the only part of the snake that changed was the number of rings grew as it become older. And he pointed out that the rattlesnake was a decent animal. It never attacked except when extremely provoked. And it always gave a warning of attack with it’s rattle which said “Don’t tread on me”. Franklin also believed that the Bald Headed Eagle was a bird of low moral character.**

**Yes this footnote is longer than the original article.