Friday, 9 September 2011

10 years on

As the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches tomorrow, the inevitable tirade of articles and TV pieces around the subject swarm our lives. This blog, of course, is exactly one of those things I speak of. But this is because I doubt anyone (well certainly in the Western world) won't be giving at least a fleeting thought towards that bizarre and horrendous day and many of us, myself included, a considerable amount of thought.

Anyone who was old enough to remember September 11th 2001, will probably know exactly where and when they were when they heard the news that the World Trade Center in New York had been hit by an airplane. I was 11 years old, in my second week at "big" school and blissfully unaware anything was amiss that day until I returned home. I was greeted by a group of adults, sat around the television, transfixed to the screen. I, in my ignorance, assumed they were watching a film. By the looks of it a film with outstanding special effects, in fact the special effects looked so good it could almost be real. Then I realised it was.

That moment of realisation was all the explanation I needed at that brief moment. Of course later on I wanted to know why? Who? How? But at that moment, knowing that the images I was seeing were real, made it clear to me how atrocious it was. Not only that but I couldn't look away. I spent all of that evening and several days after, glued to the television watching the increasing number of photos and footage from the heart of Manhattan. It's perverse voyeurism I know, but I guarantee there were millions of other people doing the same thing. It wasn't because I was enjoying it, I just couldn't take my eyes off it. The sheer scale and effect was mesmerising. Although we wouldn't quite know the consequences this effect would have until much later on.

Skip forward to present day and that moment in history marks the beginning of a series of conflict, mistakes, mistrust and propaganda. The most powerful nation in the world was brought to it's knees on that day, by a terrorist attack on their own soil. Then they had to decide how to get back up.

I have deliberately delayed including the word 'terrorist' for as long as I can. But inevitably in a blog about 9/11 it had to come up at some point. I've delayed it because this word has been rammed down our throats by politicians and newspapers so much over the last ten years, it has almost blurred it's impact. The USA's 'war on terror' is now a pseudonym for shambles. On September 12th 2001, America had the sympathy of the world. Now they have none. So what went wrong?

Well no one could judge the Americans for wanting to stand strong and united in this moment of extreme fragility. The American people were calling for retaliation, revenge, something just to show that they weren't completely exposed and vulnerable. George Bush saw his opportunity. An opportunity to complete a job his father had started 10 years previously - to overthrow the government in Iraq and seize all it's oi..ahem, I mean release it's people from a dictatorship.

Now I wouldn't be as crude as to say that President Bush exploited the heightened emotion of a nation and used his "war on terror" as a mask for another objective. But why the United States (and us lovely old faithful Brits) invaded Iraq is unfathomable. As the Hutton inquiry clearly outlined, the death of David Kelly - a man who dared suggest that the possibility of finding 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq was highly unlikely, was suspicious to say the least. Maybe Bush and Blair should have looked in their own back yards for these weapons, there's loads there. But then of course we need piles and piles of nuclear weapons (enough to destroy the planet many times over) apparently.

The man pinpointed as the 'mastermind' behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden, was believed to be in Afghanistan. Maybe we just thought it would be nice to visit Iraq as well, since we are in the Middle East. I hear Baghdad is lovely in the summer. At least it may have been, I'm not sure I'd bother now.

So here we are 10 years on. Phrases such as 'war on terror', 'WMDs' and 'terrorist mastermind' are now common language. Britain and America are embroiled in a war that they may never be able to leave (at least not in the foreseeable future) and rerun footage of the September 11th attacks just shows us the moment when America began to lose it's grasp on the role as the world's superpower. Then the money borrowed to fund this war contributed towards putting the US (and much of the rest of the world) into economic free-fall. I wonder if 10 years from now such a colossal shift will have occurred? Possibly, but let's just hope that it won't be another atrocity to trigger it.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

We're all going on a Summer Holiday!

As Cliff Richard once harmonised from the driver's seat of a double-decker bus, going on a summer holiday is brilliant. It's a time when we can all flock to the seaside and have a jolly spiffing time. Nothing wrong with that. People arrange appropriate time off from work and off they pop; unless you're a politician that is.

As David Cameron scuttled back from Tuscany, because there was the slight problem of riots across the country, I was amazed that politicians still have an eight week summer break. Why are they immune from the general four to five weeks that the majority of the population receive as holiday time (except teachers of course). Most people have to book their holiday time well in advance, to ensure that their job can be covered whilst they are away. And they would be extremely lucky to get all their allotted time in one block. Yet all the politicians that run the country are allowed to bugger off for eight weeks - at the same time!

I'm not suggesting that politicians don't deserve time off, but as in any job you need to have adequate cover whilst you are away. So if the prime minister is away, surely his responsibilities fall to his second in command until he returns? Apparently not, as farcical side-kick Nick Clegg was on holiday as well and had to make a sheepish, but brisk return to Number 10, in the wake of potential meltdown on the streets of many major cities.

Surely these riots outline that the ludicrous summer break that politicians enjoy is a massively outdated tradition that needs reviewing. And as Cameron, Clegg and Boris Johnson bumbled their way to showing leadership, all I saw was three ex-public school boys, so disconnected from the people they are damning and supposedly representing, it was laughable. But that's another issue.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Glory glory, Sheffield United

What's this I hear on the grapevine? My beloved Sheffield United, recently relegated to the third tier of English football and generally going through a bit of a financial crisis, are going to be taken over by affluent businessmen from the Far East with millions of pounds in their back pocket? Things are looking up at Bramall Lane!

Oh no hang on a minute. It's a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, exposing a consortium of wannabes and fantasists called the London Nominees Football Fund. A group of people who describe to unknown hidden cameras how they can flout strict FA rules and buy numerous English football clubs for one owner. And who is the guinea-pig club they are planning to buy in this way first? Sheffield United. To make matters worse, the figure-head for this supposed illegal transaction was former Blades manager Bryan Robson. Oh dear.

Thankfully, as the proposed buyers were Channel 4 reporters and not Indian businessmen as they claimed, the deal of course did not go through. But the ease in which it apparently could have done, was worrying for all fans of English football.

Football clearly needs to be regulated more thoroughly, a problem that has arisen in the last 25 years with the large influx of money into the English game. It started with agents moving players from club to club in order for large signing on fees and “bungs” to managers. The problem is now even more dire.

I think the documentary showed that Bryan Robson was being ignorant to what he was figure-heading, as supposed to an out and out crook; however, he should have been sensible enough to realise he was in murky water. Likewise, I think Mr Sim was full of a lot of bravado and embellishment, in relation to the connections he had with Sir Alex Ferguson.

This does not take away the fact however that something is clearly array in the apparent ease to breach FA regulations and buy a number of clubs, milk them for all they’re worth and sell them on. It outlines the danger of the collision between the high emotion concerned with football supporters and the businessmen looking to exploit it. The talk in the documentary of stripping clubs of their assets was very disturbing and to Bryan Robson’s credit, he expressed that he did not support this. Whether that was due to his love of the game or simply to protect his name is another matter.

Most fans would of course welcome an injection of money into their football club, in order to gain promotion and success, but if it all goes wrong then these consortiums will not hesitate to discard the club into the dreaded depths of administration – as was shown at Portsmouth FC.

Robson said in the documentary that "I disagree with people when they say football is a sport... Football is a business". To a certain extent he is right; with the sponsorship, endorsements and large amounts of money in football, it is certainly entwined with business. But the vast majority of people who watch or are involved with football, see it as a sport. A sport that they love. For the people at the top with the money to treat it like a business is dangerous. And if it is going to be treated like this, then clearly the regulations need to be stricter and stronger.

As for Sheffield United, with Danny Wilson at the helm, who needs millions of pounds... ahem.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The News of the World has gone? You are joking.

Hands up, hands up, who'd like to hear another opinion on the disbandment of the News of the World? No one?? Well you can all get stuffed, because here it comes.

Quick recap. As our friends across the pond celebrated their independence, the Guardian published a story that would rock British journalism at it's core - that the News of the World had hacked the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler. By the same time a week later, Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper had printed it's last copy; 168 years after it's first.

I was amazed at the speed this had happened. Admittedly the Guardian had been investigating the 'phone hacking' story for many years and this wasn't an overnight revelation. As far back as 2005, the News of the World had been accused of hacking. But the time period between the last nail in the coffin and it being six feet under was remarkably short.

Everyone was on board the movement. When the paper was accused of hacking the phones of royals and celebrities, people waved it past as immoral but 'hey, they could deal with it right?' Their lives are constantly under the media limelight so what do they expect?' When it became murder victims, or families of dead soldiers killed in the Middle East, or those who lost their lives in the London bombings, the public took note and the backlash was quick and brutal.

Rupert Murdoch has been described as the 'Ultimate Media Mogul' and named three times in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People - most recently in 2010. But it was clear that even he was going to struggle to fight this corner. The story headlined every newspaper and TV news bulletin all week. Phone hacking victim Hugh Grant appeared on Question Time, damning the newspaper and News International as a whole. Steve Coogan performed a similar act on Newsnight, going toe to toe with ex-News of the World journalist Paul McMullan - a man that could not look any more like a seedy journalist if he tried.

And so, on the 10th July 2011 the last News of the World was printed, with the "heart-wrenching" headline 'Thank you and Goodbye' and packed full of so much self-righteous, blow your own trumpet, I am a scapegoat journalism that I nearly threw up on Kelly Brook's milky puddings.

Hooray! We all shouted (well the majority anyway) 1-0 to democracy and justice. Right? Well, not entirely.

The Murdoch Empire has been in the game of controversial media for far too long to let this affect it. I don't think it will be much longer before we see the 'Sun on Sunday' on the shelves. In fact News International has already bought the online domain. The proposed takeover of BSkyB may prove a little more tricky now, but it's only a matter of time. If Murdoch agrees not to takeover Sky News, then Parliament cannot stand in his way anyhow. But Mr Murdoch has not earned his fearsome reputation as a 'Media Mogul' by rolling over that easily. Oh no, he won't stop until he's got the lot.

There is only one chink I have seen in the armour of this ruthless leader however. His loyalty. All of his moves in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal were logical. Except the loyalty he showed to Rebekah Brooks by not slinging her out into the wilderness. Not from a moral point of view (I would never accuse him of that), but from a business perspective. As editor, she has reduced the biggest selling British Sunday paper to a worthless memory and affected the price of shares for it's parent company News International, perhaps irreparably. Now if that's not bad business I don't know what is. OK, she hasn't been directly connected to the phone hacking... yet, but she was the boss; for destroying a business surely she takes the wrap?

In all this controversy however, there should be applause for the dedicated and persistent investigative journalism by the Guardian. It was excellent and served as a nice contrast of good journalism, when compared to the journalists is was 'outting' as crooks. Something tells me this won't be the end of the phone hacking saga. The Times has joined the group and before long I think media groups away from News International will be exposed too.

As for the Murdoch Empire, it remains to be seen whether these cracks in the foundations will eventually bring down the castle - but somehow, I doubt it.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Is online journalism the future?

The Times have recently started charging for their online material. Cynics would argue that this is a money grabbing effort by the Murdoch Empire - a large proportion of me would tend to agree. But we're used to the Murdoch sword wielding and whirling its way through the worlds media. The interesting side to this new development is whether by charging for its content, the Times have set a precedent that other online newspapers will follow and therefore stating the claim that online journalism is the future for the profession. This topic has been rearing its head for a while and has been debated fiercely by journalists and media types alike.

Personally I see online newspapers as a brief catch-up to the news. I couldn't see myself replacing an actual newspaper with its internet counterpart. This is partly because I enjoy the freedom of being able to take a newspaper anywhere (Apple would argue that the iPad has this role, but I see it as a go-between a phone and a laptop - and not really achieving the greatness of either) Partly because I find reading a computer screen for an extended amount of time difficult. Also, I think that although the Times has broken the mould by charging for its content, its actual website and news is inferior to say that of the Guardian. Subconsciously, as a Guardian reader I'm probably more likely to gravitate towards its output, making my last point seem massively biased. Certainly that is the case with its news; I like the Guardian's journalists so therefore I am bound to like its online articles. But in terms of structure, layout and being user-friendly, I genuinely believe the Guardian online is leagues ahead of all other British newspapers offerings.

However, that is slightly off the point. My question was is online journalism the future? Well in truth, yes I think it is. I don't think it has the credibility or accountability of print or broadcasting, but you just have to look at the numbers of bloggers and people that read online content, to realise that whether you like it or not, the internet is home to a plethora of journalists. A lot of it is rubbish. Some of it is outstanding. I don't think the newspaper will die, not just yet anyway, but it has been steadily declining for decades and the internet is booming. The real question is how online journalism will be managed? Well that is something I certainly don't have the answer to.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Why do Americans love a winner and Britons love the underdog?

Many argue about the differences between Americans and Britons. British people think America is full of obese, arrogant loudmouths who wouldn't notice irony if it came free with a supersize McDonald's. Americans think Britons are uptight, painfully posh and fear sex, parties and generally anything fun - in fact we live our lives like Sherlock Holmes (not the cool new Robert Downey Jr one, but the old, stifled one that had a worryingly surpressed homoerotic relationship with Watson). These are both of course sweeping generalistaions that everyone knows are so far removed from the truth.

So let's make a sweeping generalisation. I think the fundamental difference between Americans and Britons is their attitude towards success. America celebrate it with flashing lights and a marching band. Britons detest it and mock it mercilessly. Americans are brought up to think they could be the next President; Britons are told it will never happen to you. No American would have rallied so strongly behind a team like Portsmouth, when they played high-flying Tottenham in the Cup this weekend. They would have considered it a travesty that a recently relegated team who have so many self-inflicted financial problems they make Icelandic bankers look careful, could beat a side pushing for the English football elite. They would think why aren't we supporting the team that haven't shot themselves in the foot and have played some football this year that is worthy of a European place next year. Fair point. But in Britain (unless you are a Spurs fan of course) we loved to see essentially a Sunday league team fumbling their way to the final and making Harry Redknapp look increasingly more like a toad that's had a stroke... or five.

Look at the most successful sitcoms from the two countries in the last ten years. In America you have Friends. A group of good-looking successful people, who despite many pit falls along the way, in the end wind up happy, rich and essentially winners. In Britain there was The Office (yeah I know there's an American version smart arse). A sitcom basically based around the shortcomings and embarassment of a slightly seedy boss, who thought he was the next comedy genius. It was an office mostly full of losers, but we rooted for them. Britons wouldn't have liked a smart, sophisticated boss. Even in the American Office, Michael Scott is just that bit more efficient than David Brent.

None of this really matters, or is probably true and I'm sure there's thousands of examples that would blow my theory out of the water. Personally as a Briton, I hope nobody ever reads this blog because then it would make it successful and then where do I stand?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Stu-debt, No Food And Still Smiling

Student life. How to write this without hitting every layabout, tax-consuming, alcoholic stereotype that The Daily Mail churn out like sour milk. It's actually quite difficult; maybe the Mail was right all along? Well actually no, thank God. Rest easy in your beds, word on the street is that the Mail isn't always right. Who'd have thought it.

Yes it is true (well certainly for me) that students consume more alcohol than a Glasweigan stag-do that have been told their livers need to be destroyed or Scotland will never beat England at anything ever again. Or Peter Dowdeswell on a three hour bender. However, we do squeeze some work in there too. Perhaps more scattered and inconsistent than lecturers would desire. Not sure I'm going to be the next Oscar Wilde, but studying is occasionally undertaken and I do enjoy it... mostly.

University life has ticked a lot of boxes for me personally. Freedom, enjoyment and expansion of the mind, body and debt. Ah yes the debt. My favourite drunken subject, when I whinge about my current financial predicament. Let's be honest I'm not poverty stricken but I used to be able to buy bread and a pint of Guinness. I don't eat as many sandwiches now. My overdrawn account peers up at me pathetically at the hole in the wall, as another phone call is made to the parents to explain why I need bailing out or else I'm going to have to eat the desk. The desk is getting smaller.

That being said, university has met me squarely in the middle of my life. Right enough of sounding like a Guardian-reading twat (which I am). Have I proved the Mail wrong? Not really. Ah well, if my journalism course goes well I might be able to infiltrate them one day and sneak in a article about why illegal immigrants are modern-day heroes. Ha if only I had the nerve.