Category Archives: Truth

Gerbil’s toupee

It’s very sad for poor old Nicholas Owen:

He was once, as he is now, a popular television newsreader. But was it ever thus?


While in Croydon recently Katherine and I overheard the announcer on the tram service and noted at length that it sounded uncannily like Nicholas Owen’s canned voice.

Almost instantly Katherine asked what his voice was doing in such a low rent establishment.

And actually instantly I came upon the most telling realisation of perhaps, but not actually, my whole lifetime: He’s clearly been arrested in the illegal and frankly unhealthy trade of Gerbils for toupees and then forced as part of his probation to read out the tram announcements. I know – it seems so obvious now I’ve said it. But why do these, frankly, criminals continue in their trade?

Because Gerbils wear some of the finest toupees known to man. Hit it:

It’s a conspiracy

So all of my articles on truth have been leading up to some kind of conclusion, which was written around the same time as the Tony Blair articles about two or three weeks ago. The only problem is that there was a program on Sunday on BBC 2 which said the exact same thing as my conclusion and now you’ll think I’ve copied it. There’s a conspiracy to destroy my reputation and good name. The program? The Conspiracy Files. I haven’t actually seen it yet I have it recorded. But in conversation with my good friend Kris he mentioned the alarming similarity. But I may as well carry on regardless eh?

Have you ever wondered where conspiracies come from? There seem to be a lot of them about. And I think that they are very important way to see how people construct the stories that support their outlook on life.

The most compelling argument for how these conspiracy theories emerge is that they come because of the disproportionate nature of the truth the act itself. The true story doesn’t feel right. Like in the case of JFK people feel that the true story that a single individual murdered their president isn’t good enough. Almost as though they are critical of the narrative itself. As if they were saying, “if individuals could just go around killing presidents where would we be”?

It’s as if the killing of this great man wasn’t supposed to be the end of his story. He’d built up such a dramatic head of steam that he needs a really good ending. And the problem is that lone random confused whack job isn’t really a suitable ending. If that’s the ending then what was the reason that he was killed?

It also starts because at the begining of the situation we are as a society invited to join in the investigation. For the begining part of the investigation not even the experts knew what was going on. And because of that people are almost given a free hand to speculate.

Then add that lots of people are talking about the story and are eager to hear the latest news out of the investigation. And if there isn’t any new news then they may as well talk about the latest theory. And it’s during conversations like this that the theories cross that line from crackpot into conventional wisdom.

These things together create the ideal situation for the conspiricy theory to spread. Then if you add time you find that these theories with no real consensus on what actually happened become the truth. There are compelling stats about the numbers of people who think that JFK, 9/11 were conspiracys and the moon landings were all faked. Why? Because it makes a better story. An easier more comforting story. People going to space is scary and exciting. That they faked it to spook the Russians is more reassuring.

Let me let you in on a little secret though, which I don’t think they’ll have probably mentioned on the program. 9/11 actually was a conspiracy. Here’s why… There was more than one plane. There was more than one suicide bomber. So yeah it already is a conspiracy. The “conspiracy” in “conspiracy theory” comes from the JFK case where one side was saying “lone gunman” and the other was saying “no there were lots of people in on it”.

Anyway now I’ve got that off my chest the final point here is about the largest example of something of this order. Religion. Religion perfectly fits the three point model I created earlier. People don’t know what’s going on as the expert scientists haven’t worked it all out yet, people are looking for the latest news on why their crops have failed, baby died, the sun rose and finally the god version of creation is much more dramatic. I mean which one sounds more exciting to watch, a man in a beard magicking an elephant out of thin air or the slow march of progress over billions of years. “You mean I’ve got to wait here for a million years just to see if this rock turns into a zebra? Oh man I’m going to need a chair.”

When people saw the moon landings happening in real life with telescopes and we still can’t convince people that they actually happened good luck convincing them about something that happened before television.

The Truth Hurts

Here at gamboling we’ve been monkeying around with the idea of truth for the last few weeks. And in the end we all have to ask ourselves what really is truth?

I was addressing an envelope to a firm based in Milton Keynes. And I asked Katherine how to spell it and she said “Keynes like the economist, blimey I never thought of that. The city is named after two economists.”

Of course you may have known this already but until that moment of striking thought Katherine had been clueless about the whole situation.

Milton Keynes is a planned city, the largest in Europe, and when they were building the city the planners still hadn’t come up with a name for it. The call went out to the civil service and an economist in Whitehall came up with using the names of Milton Freeman and John Maynard Keynes because he thought somebody might see the irony of using the names of people who were against planned economies as the namesakes of a planned city. By the time the irony was realised it was too late and the name had been made public.

Okay so none of that last paragraph was true. The true answer is that there was a small village in the town called Milton Keynes. Which means that Katherine’s story is very dangerous.

Her story which she created, which was just the short part in quotes is incredibly potent because it sounds right. And tied to which the actual true story is quite week in terms of story. These are the ideal situations for the release of a meme.

A “meme” Alex are you sure you mean one of those things where everyone answers the same question?

I am sure. A meme is an idea or snippit of thought. It was an idea created by Richard Dawkins to talk about how ideas spread and solidify in society in a rather similar way to evolution. The set of questions that spread themselves are just a subset.

One of the most powerful proofs of natural selection are those humming birds with the really long beaks. You know the ones that have to get nectar from plants with really long stalks. And we can see that each one is growing to keep up with the other. In each generation the problem gets more pronounced. This shows a lack of intelligent design because a designer would have said “right you’re both five centimetres long”. And this is the same with stories. Stories aren’t retained because of their rightness they are instead valued on their ability to propel themselves. Their quality of their story DNA if you will.

The fact seems to me that if you heard this story then you’d be quite likely to believe it. And if you weren’t sure then what would you do? Check Wikipedia probably but how do we know that what’s there is true?

An American comic called Steven Colbert has been pushing his idea of Truthiness. Truthiness is the idea that you don’t have to believe what you read in books you should believe what you feel in your heart. Things that you thing sound true. And while that idea sounds crazy now it must have been how things were decided before there was writing.

Much of what is passed down to us has been checked and doubled checked and so we feel capable of believing it. But we are so used to believing it that we no longer actually bother to check.

Just think about the number of things that you use in a day that you don’t understand. I mean I know how a phone works in principal but could I actually make one? Right now I’m writing this post on a mobile phone and I’m going to send it in a while as an e-mail which I’ll then post onto the internet. There’s a lot of technologies right there. Not even considering the way they generated the electricity, mined the metal, shaped the plastic, extracted the oil for the plastic. And so on and on.

The day that one person couldn’t know everything was the day we needed a new solution. And writing was it. But the danger has been from the start: what if what you’re reading isn’t true?

Tone Deaf

[This is the third (and final) half of the increasingly inaccurately titled two part series recounting my encounters with Tony Blair. Part One: Two phone or not two phone. Part Two: Don’t call U.S., they’ll call you. Hopefully reading these will help you.]

Tony looked over at me as if I’d slapped him.

“People forget that you started with Clinton,” I made eye contact with him.
He looked away, but I went on, “yes people forget that. You were Clinton’s leading ally. And now you’re George W.’s. How did you manage that Tony? How did you survive? You sold your soul to the devil didn’t you.”
“You are out of line, Alex.”
“Forgive me Prime Minister. I got carried away. But I do know how it actually happened. I remember the situation weeks after George got in. Suddenly new Tory donors were coming out of the woodwork. There was agitation within your own party for the first time. And you, you could read what was happening faster than almost anybody else. You knew Bush was pushing to oust you. You knew he wanted an ally who was ready to go to war. And he thought he could never get it from you. And so you gave him what he wanted didn’t you? You promised to change. To become his kind of Prime Minister.”
“I had to. He would have gone to the Tories instead. His aides had already held meetings with Hauge. It was only international political protocol which meant he had to see me first.”
“And so you decided to save yourself.”
“It wasn’t myself I was saving. I was sacrificing myself. I did it for Britain, and the world. I couldn’t have somebody toadeying up to him. Saying yes to his every whim. A prime minister yes man. I needed to tame the beast. Even if my own party, my own country would hate me for it.”
“But that is what people think of you Tony. They do think that you are a yes man to the president. They don’t see anything different. And to be honest Tony. Among friends here. What have you actually been able to do?”
“I’ll be honest, not as much as I’d hoped. But the G8 was good.”
“But so much of that was because of the popularity of the movement. Most of it was Bob not you.”
“He couldn’t have got the meetings without me.”
“You know it was the second resolution on Iraq that destroyed you.”
“I know. I know. I still think about that moment every day. It haunts me. I can’t escape it. It defines me. If we had got the second resolution people would have seen me bringing George to the UN and not this mess. We, all of us in Britain, would be in this together.”
“But why didn’t you back down when you didn’t get the resolution? Why didn’t you stop there? By carrying on when you knew you were no longer being listened to was what made you look weak.”

He took a deeper breath, paused, and said, “I couldn’t stop.”

This admission hung in the air while I shifted in my seat.

Then I spoke, “so Tony, they’ve interviewed you again have they?”
“And you’ve brought me here because you want advice. And…”
I paused, to give the appearance that I was thinking about what I was about to say rather than I was inviting a question.
“And… You want to confide in me something that you were asked not to share with your staff.”
“Yes. Well no. Nothing more than I’ve said really. Except…”
“They’re going to arrest Levy”
“Yes. How do you know. I was told no one knew.”
“Well I have the benefit of being no one quite often.”
“Yes. I suppose you do”
“what are you going to do about it Tony?”
“I don’t know. I can’t know.”
“You want them to stop don’t you.”
“Yes of course I do.”
“And people have been telling you to stop haven’t they. Saying that if you stop the police will all go away.”
“But we both know it doesn’t work like that.”
“If you quit you won’t be the prime minister any more. And you won’t be protected.”
“But that’s not it. They still won’t arrest me I didn’t do anything.”
“Are you saying Levy did?”
“No, no. Of course not.”
“So it is entirely selfless?”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
“You’re doing it for Gordon?”
“I’m doing it for Labour.”

I was relieved. I knew he had been so stressed recently. I really had been worried that he had been loosing his political nose. The Tories were right on the money asking him to quit now. But any Labour party member asking for the same must be mad.

The first one hundred days of being in control are the most important for any politician. They make or break you really. Look at Cameron. He got off to a flying start right when everyone wanted to talk to him. And then kept them listening by keeping in the news. It’s easier to be in the news if you were in the news yesterday. Miss a day and nobody comes sniffing.

Imagine how badly Gordon would fair if the first hundred days were taken up with “The trial of Tony Blair”. And Tony could still read the party politics. I looked up at him and a small smile spread across my face.

“What’s that for?” Tony asked.
“Well I was just thinking, ‘thank God he hasn’t totally lost the plot'”.
“I just wish I could convince my party.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“So, Alex, what do I do?”
“I’m sorry Tony. I can’t help you. I can’t advise you any more. What would it achieve?”
“Well it would help me. You know for old times sake.”
“I can’t you know. I can’t advise you like I used to, not in the run up to the next one. It wouldn’t be fair. I can only tell you what I’d like you to do personally.”
“Well at least that would be something.”

“Well Tony I would like a complete Mea Culpa. A full and frank admission of guilt on your part. Admit you misled the public about Iraq and admit you did offer honours for loans. The people already think you did it, and you know the truth of what happened. But you should say exactly why you did it. And how it all happened. Explain the situation honestly. And then move on. Say that it would be wrong to remove the soldiers from Iraq now and that if we do there will be an even bigger humanitarian disaster than there is now and we’ll just have to send even more troops back in. Say all of that because Tony you seen like you are just constantly repeating your version of the truth in the hope that it will become true. Just because you say something out loud just because you write something down. Even if you say it and write it many many times you will find that it still isn’t the truth. Just because you or I say something has happened doesn’t make it true. We’re not that powerful.”

And with that I vanished.

Don’t call U.S., they’ll call you.

So I was on my way to Downing Street to see the prime minister at his behest. [If you’re lost at this point, wandering like child who has slipped the hand of their guardian at the fair ground then you may find it helps to read the first half of this post: Two phone or not two phone, but then again it may not.]

I exited Westminster tube and walked towards Downing Street. I was curious about the possible reason for the call it really was unlike Tony to call on the weekend. I got to the gate and showed my pass to the guard. I used to be allowed to go in without one but with all of the extra security these days the guards don’t know who anyone is anymore.
Henry on the door was still there though. I wondered, at first to myself and then out loud to him if he could possibly work twenty four hours a day seven days a week.

“I’m off when he’s off, ” he shrugged, “I work when he works.”
“Tough gig,” I said.
“It’s the way it’s always been. I get time off when he’s traveling.”

He waved me in and I was in the hall. I waited for Jennifer or somebody to pick me up. I doesn’t do to wander around. The hall was as busy as ever. People in and out of rooms and noises. I’d always found that it was busier in the night or the weekend in the hall. Because in the week day every one is in meetings.

Jennifer poked her head round the door.

“Hello Alex, good to see you.”
“Is he ready for me or should I wait?”
“No, no he’s ready for you now.”

I walked through behind her, through her ante room and stopped behind her while she knocked on the door and heralded me. Tony called, “Yes” and I went in.

“Good morning Mr Blair”.
“Good morning Alex, it’s really good to see you. Sorry to disturb your weekend.”
“Come in sit down.”

I quickly took in the room which was as immaculate as always. I have always wondered if this was always the case. People trust the advice I give them but they don’t always trust me. I deal with many people who would love to get hold of a look at the current papers on Tony Blair’s desk. I however am not one of them. But do they know that? I’m not always sure.

I chose my usual chair and Tony sat back down behind his desk.

“Do you fancy a drink?”
“No I’m fine,” I answered, “But please go ahead, you look like you need one.”
“Thanks,” he said, “you always seem to look calm. How do you do it?”
“Well I’m an advisor, I don’t actually have any responsibility.”
“But… You… You are THE advisor. Everyone listens to you. What you say actually happens. You can even get cross party support for things.”
“It’s not my fault if people do what I say. It’s theirs. And I can get everything done. I can’t change everything can I?”
“You’re going to chide me about Iraq again aren’t you.”
“No. Well… I was just using it to make a point.”

Tony finally stood up and walked over to his drinks cabinet.

“It always happens though doesn’t it. Whenever I think I know better. Whenever I ignore your advice. You are always proved right in the most spectacular ways.”
“Proved right?”
“Don’t read anything into that Alex. I know you want to. But take it from me I still know George and I did the right thing even though it wasn’t the popular thing. You just knew before anyone else that it wasn’t going to be popular.”
“Were you ready for the hanging?” I asked, because I never really liked to talk about how other people thought I worked.

Tony didn’t respond. He took the question as a pause and opened the drinks cabinet. He had to have known I was going to ask about it, so the fake deliberation and thinking face were somewhat lost on me.

“Are you going to have a drink or not?” he asked this as he poured what could only be described as a giant scotch for himself.
“Go on then. I’ll have a Scottish single malt if you have one.”
“You know I had considered buying some just for you. But still I couldn’t bring myself to ask someone to change the order.”
“I’ll have an Irish then – of course.”

In his kitchen in Shoreditch it had always been Scottish, and just after he arrived in Downing Street it all changed. It was the first thing that hinted to the rift. Of course the rift was patched up so many years ago now you would think that he’d go back to the Scottish. But whether it was that he had simply become accustomed to the taste, or if it was all part of his implementation of my strategy – to allow the British public to feel they could vote for Gordon because if Tony hated him and preferred David then it would make people think Gordon must be doing something right – I don’t know. Maybe he was just keeping up the pretence everywhere, just in case.

“So?” I looked up quizzically, as if you say, “you summoned me”, and he got the idea without me actually having to say it.
“It’s this damn investigation. They seem to just keep getting closer and closer.”
“The honours probe?”
“Yes. I mean, everyone knows what happened, everyone understands it. Why can’t we all move on from this.”
“The problem is Tony this is the Police. They work differently than everyone else. You’ve spent your whole political career on the most important thing a politician can ever do, on creating the right impression and now unfortunately you’ve come up against a brick wall. A wall which is looming over you if you can endure the unusual metaphor. In a straight fight between you and any other politician I’ve ever met, I’ve never found somebody as adapt at turning a loosing hand into a winner by pure bluff. It’s the most important skill a politician can have if they want to stay elected. But Iraq and this are different. There are laws here. There are deaths here. The only difference that the anti-war protestors are all dancing around is the fact that you can do what you like when it comes to war, you have ultimate power in this country for war. They can’t really win. But with this honours business, it’s much harsher. The law is simple and unavoidable. You can’t simply deflect it.”
“But every party has always done it. They’ve all done it despite the law, why are they coming after me?”
“Because Tony, people simply don’t like you.”
“But why? I had to make tough choices and I did them for the good of Britain”
“No you didn’t not all of them”
“What are you saying? I knew people, British people, would die in Iraq. But no war is without casualties. And if you’re saying I didn’t know it was going to be unpopular then you’re forgetful. Of course I knew. You sat right there and told me.”
“But you went and did it anyway.”
“That’s right. I had to, it was the right thing to do even if the people didn’t see it.”
“It was the first time that you really showed that you truly were still old Labour.”

I paused to take a sip of the whisky. He didn’t start speaking.

“That ‘mother knows best’ attitude seemed so ill fitting on you that day. You this man who had come from nowhere on a wave of popular opinion. You took the old nanny state mentality and decided on war. It wasn’t your style. Because you know, or at least you used to know, that the popular voice was the thing that got you where you were. That the popular voice was what rules the country. In every previous tough choice situation you had gone out to court the public, to convince them to come along for the ride. And every time it had worked. Why did you do it if when they still said no you you were going to do it anyway?”
“I’ve asked myself this. I really have. I thought I heard yes. I knew it was weak. But I thought it had just tipped towards us. And I thought that every day we were at war the support would grow. Look what happened to Margaret. No one thought she’d do it but it saved her career.”
“But you forgot something.”
“You forgot to tell people what winning looked like. Margaret had a result that everyone could agree on.”
“I know. I know that now.”

He stood up and walked with his empty glass back over to the drinks cabinet. He looked back at me and eyed my near full glass with what looked almost, for a second, contempt. He put his glass down and walked back to his seat.

“But that wasn’t what I was saying,” I said, “I was going to talk about allying your self with Bush. That wasn’t for Britain. That was for you. Clinton was your president. Not Bush.”

Well I was going to say more today, but now I’ll have to wait until some more comes out about Lord Levy. Check back next week for more.

Two phone or not two phone

I have two telephones for a variety of reasons. So when the other one rang on Saturday I knew it was important. Only a certain kind of person has that number and they are all under strict instructions not to phone me on the weekend unless it’s really important.

Truth be known I had felt bad having to reiterate the no weekend calling rules but Gordon is such a workaholic he often has no idea what time of the day or night it actually is let alone which day of the week. Add to that that David and he have only been given my number recently and then you’ve got trouble.

Tony was never as bad as these two even at the beginning. They both are desperate to win. My favorite caller is George W. He’s asked me for my number something like fifteen times and every time he thinks he looses it. The problem is he can’t ever remember my name. So the last time I met up with him I took his phone from him and put my number in for him. I made a little joke and said that he’d be able to find me now.

The truth was that I’d put my number in under the entry God. And so now from time to time I get agonized calls from him in the middle of the night. I tried to get some policy shifted initially but frankly he doesn’t remember half of anything I say and he of course isn’t really calling the shots. He’s started wetting the bed again so I try to be some comfort to him. It doesn’t do to kick a man when he’s down.

So who has access to my number? Most of the political leaders obviously. And some of the more likely candidates of the future. The Pope obviously, Bill Gates and Bono (if he leaves another musical voicemail that’s it I’m changing my number). The big corporate heads of course. And a few of the political operators but they know they aren’t supposed to call except in dire circumstances. Rove called during the Libby scandal which was fair enough. But lets just say that Mendelssohn is in Europe for a reason and that reason is waking me up at two in the morning to ask my opinion on a speech. “If the prime minister isn’t dead then you are”, I said to him.

But who was it on Saturday? Well blinking on the display was the word “Tone”. While I never permit myself to be that familiar with my subjects I couldn’t help but allow myself the little run every time I needed to “Ring Tone”. Terrible I know but it’s these small things that keep me amused while dealing with the demands of there incredibly powerful and insecure people.

I spoke briefly to Tony and it was obvious that I needed to go in. Sadly I cannot reveal my conversation with Tony until Wednesday (some things must remain secret even from you my dear readers), so I’m afraid you’ll have to tune back in then if you want to know more.

New cash for honours scandal brewing

I was trying to buy a packet of crisps* the other day, and in my change my shopkeeper gave me a Victoria Cross!

* Lake Geneva flavour obviously.

So the pope hasn’t called me back

Since September 2003 (when this blog started) I have been campaigning for a change in the calendar. I’ve written about it a few times:
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday,
Britney, Beyonce, Christina? Madonna! ,
Madonna! Pope Eugenius III. and It’s going well your Popeishness.).

But now the situation has come to a head. Another new year, and still no new calendar. But then it suddenly hit me, the old Pope was against the calendar but since those dim and dark days we’ve only gone and got ourselves a new Pope.

What? A new calendar I hear you ask? What manner of crazy is this? Well let me explain.

Very simply I don’t like the way that the months have a random number of days in them. And also I don’t like the way that all of the days move around and it’s complicated to work out what day something’s going to happen.

The solution is simple. We just need one more month. If we had 13 months then every month could have 28 days in it. This would give us almost the requisite number of days (364) and solve most of the problems.

The other thing which is good about 28 days is that 28 is divisible by 7 which means that every month would have 4 weeks in it. And every month could start with a Monday and end with a Sunday. So then you’d always be able to tell really easily what day of the month it was going to be. So say somebody said something was going to happen on the 15th you’d know quick as you like that that must be a Monday.

But hold on I hear you cry, what about the fact that the year has 365.25 days in it?

Ah yes! Well. The simplest way to deal with this is to have the 13th month have 29 days in it. And have whichever month we choose (say we stick with February) have 29 days in it as well on the occasions of leap years?

But hold on I hear you cry (you’ve been doing a lot of that lately and it is not becoming) if there are 29 day months then what will happen about the days of the week staying in order.

Well the simple* answer is that these extra days, “New Year’s Eve” and “Leap Day” will not be days of the week. So you won’t be able to say, “what day’s New Year’s Eve?” because it won’t be on a day. The week it happened would go, “Friday, Saturday, Sunday, New Years Eve, Monday, Tuesday” etc. Monday would be “New Years Day” but it would be “New Years Day” and “Monday” at the same time like now where as “New Years Eve” would be just “New Years Eve”.

So anyway that’s my plan, and the old Pope never really went for it. But I think with this new German pope he might be in for a much more efficient system like this one. Anyway Happy New Year. At least with New Year people are celebrating the right thing rather than at Christmas where everyone gets a bit confused.

*Okay it might not be that simple.