Gold divers and diazepam pens

What’s up with the world today?

Bread and circuses news: ‘Britain’ ‘won’ three gold medals in Rio yesterday. Actually, it was three people representing Britain … in a sense … who won three medals. In that they are young, fit and committed, they aren’t exactly representative of me or most people I know, none of whom took the time to watch them. Nevertheless, this news is wall-to-wall on every news website and dead tree outlet. You’d think we were insecure or something.

Running out of tunes news: Ed Sheeran, whoever he is, is being sued for plagiarising a Marvin Gaye track. Maybe we’re just running out of good tunes. Wasn’t there someone in the 18th century who went mad worrying about that?

Hillary health news: Some people are worried about Mrs Clinton’s brain function. On top of more-than-slightly odd behaviours on camera, the potential next leader of the free world appears to be accompanied by a minder with a diazepam pen. That’s used to treat fitting and mini seizures. Hope she’s all right. It’s a bit more of an important question than who’s best at falling gracefully from a 3m diving board. But for whatever reason the mainstream media won’t ask it.

Purple-faced news: Surveyors are saying that UK house prices paused for breath in July. It was Brexit, not the fact that the pool of buyers able to stomach stratospherically high prices is drying up. Yeah, right. Prices will soon be rising again, surveyors assure us. Could that be people whose fees are a percentage of their valuations talking their own book? Yes or yes?

Pushing on a string news: While athletes born and trained in Britain were winning athletic events at an athletic tournament in Brazil, the Bank of England was missing its bond-buying target in the latest round of QE. Seems the pension funds, at whose desperate plight this money printing bonanza is directed, inconsiderately failed anticipate the event and allowed their top people to go on holiday. In August. Can you imagine that? Your money. Safe in their hands.

Dreadful news: Tens of thousands of Nepalis are still living in squalid conditions a year after the earthquake. On top of muddle and corruption among officials, victims have been hit by an economic blockade imposed by India.

Helicopter hyperbole news: One paper is calling yesterday’s helicopter incident in Wales “The miracle touchdown”. No it wasn’t. There was a mechanical problem. The pilot set down safely on an open moor. Everyone got out before fire took hold and destroyed the aircraft. The story doesn’t even attempt to justify the headline. Which is par for the course these days.

Safe in their hands news: Hospitals in Middlesex, Devon, Lancashire and Shropshire are considering shutting A&E departments for lack of funds. They haven’t got enough staff. Their costs are rising faster than their incomes. But staff are the biggest cost and staff numbers are falling. So where’s the money going? Ah, that would be all those back-end-loaded PFI deals. Hospitals are getting what Tony Blair got paid for.

Habit of a lifetime news: Hard to believe it but the BBC is actually going to try to stop presenting misleading statistics. I know, I know. Some people think that is the BBC’s job. It says here that presenters will be urged to tell us when there’s no evidence to back up a claim, instead of giving us a “he said/she said” debate between two competing spokesmen. Three-quarters of stats from politicians quoted in BBC news stories come from the governing party, too. Will this be the end of meaningless tit-for-tat interviews instead of proper news analysis? Unlike the housing market I’m not holding my breath.

Green news: It was algae what done it. Turned the Olympic diving pool green. “Harmless” claim the organisers after the filtration system broke. “Not so sure about that,” says a tight-lipped spokesman for the UK Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group.

Vetus causa bellandi news: They’ve found a British steamship sunk in an arctic river in Russia. It sank 140 years ago and regional media say its the discovery of the year. Elements in Washington are hoping to find an excuse to start a war with Mr Putin over the loss of the vessel.

Clutching at straws news: Utterly aghast at having to live with a Republican presidential candidate they neither own nor control, America’s elite are going all out to diss Donald. His badly-phrased comment on the power of the gun lobby was immediately seized on as a thinly-veiled incitement for #2A-ers to assassinate his rival. Now that a day has gone by, the papers feel able to drop the scare quotes around “assassinate” and proceed as if that’s what he specifically said. While they studiously ignore the issue of Clinton’s physiological brain functions.

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Red relations and green water

So what’s new in the world?

Big news: Theresa May says its time to repair relations with Russia. That’s sticking it to A LOT of people, here and especially in the US. How the UK right wing media, who’ve been dutifully following the neocon line these past years, will take it remains to be seen.

Little news: The Olympic diving pool in Rio turned soupy green overnight. Global warming? Bad plumbing? A spell?

Bad news: Trump ‘jokingly’ hints that good ol’ boys might exercise their gun rights to ‘stop’ Hillary. As The Donald is the candidate most likely to be ‘stopped’ that way by Dark Forces from deep in the state, it’s hardly a funny line. Anyway, everyone knows that Clinton couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything to upset gun owners.

Chew news: Dogs in Britain are getting less fertile for the same reason as Californian condors are. It’s their diet, which is increasingly laden with toxins from the environment. Who’s next? People? That’s what the stories are saying.

Painful news: A hospital in Lincolnshire may have to close its A&E at night. One in Liverpool is planning to stop routine operations and axe its IVF programme. Staffing and funds are at the root of the problems. Actually, that’s more or less the same thing. No money, no staff. No-one’s saying so but the hot money would have to be on PFI repayments sucking the life out of the Trusts running them. No wonder those shadowy financiers gratefully funnel so much money to Tony.

Saucy news: HP Sauce is the favourite brand of Brexit voters. They also like Bisto, Birds Eye, Cathedral City and Richmond sausages (is the last one a brand?). Remain voters like BBC.co.uk, iPlayer, Instagram, Spotify,  London Underground, AirBnB, Virgin Trains and EasyJet. Obvious conclusion: Brexiteers are salt of the earth types, though probably somewhat prone to body odour. Remainers are masochistic, narcissitic  metropolitanites with their heads in the Cloud. Less obvious conclusion: remainers’ brand choices are ”progressive, up to date, visionary, innovative, socially responsible [EasyJet???], intelligent.”  You’d never have guessed that the conclusions were drawn by a bunch of metropolitan ad-men and the story appeared on BBC.co.uk

Tippy-toes news: Will Young is the second celebrity to make the line up for Strictly Come Dancing. No, I don’t know what any of that means. Nor the name of the first celebrity.

Repent at leisure news: More than a third of recent graduates regret having gone to uni. Reason? A bucket-load of student debt to pay off (average £44,000) and jobs that give them an average monthly disposable income of £160. Funny how the media that’s endlessly cheered for universal student debt, sorry, degrees for all, is all of a sudden discovering what a complete crock Tony’s companion debt-wheeze to PFI was bound to turn into.

Quis custodiat? news: Yesterday all the stories were about the Competition and Markets Authority giving the banks a hearty slap over their treatment of customers. Today, everyone’s suddenly discovered that it amounts to little more than a loud ‘tut’. Needless to say, the job of policing banks’ better behaviour has been left with … the banks.

Who that? news: Charles W Sweeney. Now, if I’d written Paul Tibbett, people would have got it easily. Yesterday was the anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki. It would have been tomorrow but the weather forecast was apparently bad. Sweeney flew the plane –  whose name no-one remembers either.

Shouty Americans news: Trump is reckless and not qualified to be a US president, say republicans. Apparently that means he’s not a complete two-faced puppet of corporate interests who’ll go back on all his promises as soon as he’s elected. Anyway, aren’t all the Republican high-ups promising to vote for Hillary?

We’ll never hear the last of this news: Tesla driver gets chest pains. Puts car in ‘auto pilot’ mode and it drives him 20 miles to hospital. He’s treated for a dangerous blood clot. Fans of autonomous cars will be all over that one like a rash. Anyone want to give me £60k to buy a Tesla?

Turn back 10 pages news: Tomorrow’s graduates will be applying for jobs working in virtual worlds and outer space, according to ‘experts.’ Future careers will include Virtual Habitual Designers, Ethical Technology Advocates, Space Tour Guides (I kid you not, these people will “use their knowledge to construct visits to the more interesting parts of Earth’s orbit”), and Personal Content Curators. The latter will manage software-brain interfaces, organising thoughts and memories for fellow graduates who are too busy spending their meagre £160 monthly disposable income and worrying about their student debt to think for themselves.

Vote Leave dulls down its message

EU-Guide-In         EU-Guide-Out

Did Vote Leave miss a trick when it designed its page in the Electoral Commission’s referendum voting guide? Or does it know something about a dull, impenetrable presentation that everyone else has missed?

Vote Remain pitches in with patriotic colours, punchy headings and big, positive bullets. Not forgetting snaps of happy, smiley people. Who will be..? Stronger! Safer! Better Off!

See? Didn’t even have to read it.

Vote Leave’s page looks like something you’d see wired to a farm gate during a foot and mouth outbreak.

Assuming that many undecided voters will go with their hearts rather than their heads on May 23rd, which of these layouts will leave them with more of a warm, fuzzy feeling if it was the last thing they glanced at before entering the polling booth?

Vote Leave actually has the better-written content, inasmuch as it picks two hot buttons – immigration and the UK’s £350 million weekly contribution to the EU budget – and repeats them. I’m not sure what the UK would do with 660,000 more nurses on top of the 300,000 it’s already got but I get the point they’re making.

Vote Remain blunt their messages in their haste to make a lot of positive points quickly. For example, they flag up the claim that EU membership is worth a net £91 billion a year to the UK economy. But calling it £1,800 million a week would have made it into more of a mind-sized number; much easier for people to sum up as five or six times higher than Vote Leave’s contribution figure.

If this was a contest over substance vs. style, you’d have to award the marks for substance to Vote Leave. But this is one of those situations where style matters a lot.

Vote Leave may have overestimated the importance of being earnest.

Brief flash of truthiness lights up the BBC

So slavishly does the BBC stick to the Establishment line that big, bald moments of truth rarely make it to its airwaves.

So let’s hear it for Misha Glenny for fitting not one but two hefty doses of reality into one sentence on this morning’s R4 Today programme.

“…both the War on Terror and the War on Drugs have been failures…” he stated during an interview about the vast amount of ex-Balkan Conflict weaponry now circulating  in criminal and terrorist hands across Europe.

“Criminal disasters” would be a more accurate description of the outcomes from a public perspective, because neither war can be said to have failed in terms of its instigators’ apparent agenda. Each has successfully generated decades of pointless fear, misery and – of course – profit.

It’s getting hard for even the most closed-in, Daily Mail-hardened mind to overlook the naked greed and callousness behind our ‘Wars Against Abstractions’, despite their relentless championing by the rest of the mainstream media.

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Which is why Aunty prefers never to mention WoD and WoT if at all possible. And, if it has to, never together. And certainly never, ever, ever to suggest that the lives and blood and freedoms and happiness sacrificed to them were casually tossed away for no good reason at all.

I’m no expert

A couple of months ago, the BBC accidentally got a real expert to discuss Boko Haram on the Today programme.

Unlike the comical Steve Emerson, the Boko Haram guy did seem to know what he was talking about. He outlined the widely-discussed idea that Boko Haram has been co-opted by elements in Nigeria’s government to serve their own political ends.

It’s an impressively murky situation. Some accuse ‘separatist’ politicians in Boko Haram’s northern Nigerian stamping grounds of backing the terrorists as a way of pressuring the main government. Others accuse southern politicians, high up in the national government, of funding Boko Haram to discredit the notherners while strengthening their own ambitions though fear.

Meanwhile the Western politicians and media (increasingly two sides of the same coin) can’t get past Boko Haram’s Islamist roots, so they funnel moral and financial support to the very elements in Nigerian politics who are allegedly secretly using Boko Haram for their own ends.

None of this narrative sits comfortably with the BBC’s default framing for content involving Islamic extremist groups, which is that ‘we’ are their ultimate target. Muddying the waters with messy details is to be avoided – especially when the details tend to show that a situation isn’t about ‘us’ except to the extent that our Governments are unwittingly (or otherwise) channelling support to one set of bad guys who wear combat fatigues via another set of bad guys who wear expensive suits.

Which is why the BBC’s main news platforms rarely give airtime to informed sources who are close to the action. Whether the topic is HS2, the NHS or terror groups, the Beeb almost invariably aims for its default framing device of two high-level talking heads – either political, corporate, or one of each. They ritually state their more-or-less opposing viewpoints before getting down to the usual arguments about who’s best at delivering growth, healthcare or security.

Imagine the BBC getting a lower-middle grade officer from a health service trust into the studio to describe the mounting monthly payments to Private Finance Initiative companies – some of which receive millions of pounds from taxpayers but don’t even have an address or web site. Ask them how they might do it less expensively. But that would imply that the pundits and politicians don’t know best. That our job as voters is to do more than accept the narrow ‘choices’ they present us with (often so narrow as to be no choice at all) and pick a ‘winner’.

That’s the myth of progress in action. ‘Make the right choice and we’ll deliver more progress, more quickly. Make the wrong one and the Tories/Labour/Lib Dems/UKip/the Greens will hold you back’.

As the Nigeria guy patiently explained, sometimes no one wins. It’s unlikely that Boko Haram and the other militias will go quietly into the good night once the politicians who think they control these groups’ loyalty have achieved their own goals.

They’ll become fully-fledged quasi-criminal, quasi-jihadist, quasi-political armies, funded and protected by members of the corrupt elites whose UK counterparts so often turn up on our TV and radio for the ritual ding-dongs that cover up for lack of action to tackle the grievances that give rise to discontent in the first place.

No peace for the wicked (except for big bad businesses)

Max Clifford. Stuart Hall. Just two of a lengthening list of public figures lately tried for decades-old sex offences.

Getting convictions is hard. I used to be a court reporter and know just how hard. Time and again, obviously-guilty defendants get off on technicalities. Or for lack of cast-iron proof or reliable witness testimony.

When they started charging celebs with sexual misconduct dating back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, I thought convictions would be unlikely. Not that the accused weren’t most probably guilty. Just that “no-witness” accusations from 30 years ago won’t usually stand up.

Happily, I was wrong. These bad guys’ pasts have caught up with them. Long-denied justice is finally being done. Hall admitted his guilt–if only in the hope of a lighter sentence.

There’s a theme developing here. Old guys. Old media guys. Old crimes and misdemeanours. No peace for the wicked. Blind eyes no longer being turned.

Today’s papers list Jeremy Clarkson’s long list of alleged on-air racist and homophobic slurs. He denies wrongdoing but patience is clearly wearing thin. Jeremy Paxman isn’t a crim or a boor. But his attempt to quit Newsnight gracefully is being marred with allegations of disloyal conduct.

The message to the public is: “We can and will hound individuals to their grave if we want to.” Amen to that if it makes sexual predators and other evil-doers think twice before screwing up some young person’s life.

But what about corporate wrongdoing? There is remarkably little of it. Well no. It’s rife. But no-one admits it and no-one gets prosecuted.

Today’s Naked Capitalism blog has another list of wrongdoers who’ve screwed the public with their unethical and illegal behaviours. The Pervasiveness of Health Care Corruption as Shown by Another Roundup of Legal Settlements. Its author concludes:

Yet there are very few examples of any individuals who gained ever being subject to any negative consequences. Given that lack, and the lack of any requirement for corporate leaders to admit responsibility, much less guilt, is it any surprise that these practices go on and on?

…to really deter bad behavior, those who authorized, directed or implemented bad behavior must be held accountable. As long as they are not, expect the bad behavior to continue.

Making the UK no country for nasty old men is a step in the right direction. But it won’t help if, like in the US, we remain a great country for bad big businesses.