Friday, September 28, 2007

This time, it really is about the news

Let it never be said that I don't make the same mistake twice. In other words, I bought newspapers again today. Two of them - the Sun and The Times. Actually, I meant to buy The Independent, not The Times, but clearly even at the purchasing stage I struggle to pay them adequate attention.

And I do struggle to pay them adequate attention; I seem to have some kind of aversion. Within a paragraph of any story, I've usually glazed over; assuming I've even got past the headline. And on the odd occasion I get to the end of a story, it's seemingly only after a supreme effort of will on my part; and the odd rest or two. I was being slightly disingenuous in my last post: often it's not boredom that stops me reading, it's some kind of mental reflex, equivalent to gagging. I find my brain rejecting the words, quite violently.

Let's take the front page of today's Sun:

I'm here, Dad...
I'll stay as long as it takes


Bollocks did he say that. Or rather, bollocks do they know he said that. Turn to pages 4 & 5 and sure enough, yep, they've paraphrased the words of "a source close to the family". There'd barely be a story at all without the words of this mysterious all-knowing "a source close to". There'd barely be a Sun, in fact. There's always an "a source close to". When we finally find this omnipresent celeb hanger-on he or she should be forcibly silenced so that we don't have to read yet more of these non-stories, the flappy-mouthed bastard. Perhaps by being forced to eat every single one of the innumerable words they've spewed out over the years - either they'll be too busy to speak for the next few decades, or they'll choke. Either way: result.

And what's the main headline?


I am this far away from slapping my forehead over and over until those five words have fallen from my brain. Or my brain has fallen from my head. Whichever proves most expedient.

Yes, I know it has inverted commas around it, but could that be any more sensationally misleading on first glance? The first line of the text box next to it might as well say: "Made you look." It doesn't of course, although that would at least be more honest. As for what it does say there:

Kate and Gerry McCann were horrified yesterday as desperate Portuguese cops amazingly claimed the couple had buried missing daughter Madeleine over the border in Spain.

The latest in a string of sick theories from cops...

Nice to see The Sun taking a typically even-handed stance on whether these poor innocent Brits* had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance, or are just being wilfully tormented by a bunch of nasty foreigners set on prolonging their agony.

Don't get me wrong, I expect nothing less of The Sun - after all, what would it be without emotive, biased, manipulative and xenophobic reporting? (Answer: readable; credible; less popular, probably. Depressingly). And I have no idea what's true and what's not in the whole McCann saga. But is it really still news - front page news? Hello, what about Burma? Oh, there it is, in a speech bubble next to the blonde head of Amii, 20, from Birmingham, who has this to say:

It's horrifying to see images of innocent protesters being gunned down by soldiers simply because they are marching for democracy.

Which is presumably why such images, and any other mention of Burma whatsoever, have been bumped to page 12. Nice to see that its Page 3 girls now have a hand in the Sun's editorial decisions. Who'd have thought we'd see that day? Truly, we have progressed.

Tossing The Sun aside, then, let's move on to The Times.

It too has plenty of faults, of course; not least blandness, and the same ownership as The Sun. And sometimes that is why I glaze over as I scan its pages, why my brain rebels against the words, but there are other reasons why I struggle to pay the news - the serious news - adequate attention: sometimes I find myself caring. I hate it when that happens.

I wore a red shirt today in support of the Burmese. I doubt very much that it helped. And I can't say that I saw anyone else wearing one. But it was easy enough to do. Which is probably why I did it: if it had been anything more arduous, I doubt I would have. I'm a hypocrite. And I don't like to care - via then not doing anything, it makes me a hypocrite.

There's too much to care about. Too many stories from which some little detail of someone's humanity could leap out from amidst the rhetoric, agenda and non-stories of whichever paper I'm reading it in, and trigger not the mental gagging reflex I talked about but a lump in my throat. Too many lumps in your throat and you can't breathe.

Today, flip-flops, of all things, made me care, made me want to do something; made me realise I won't; made me realise I can't. They were on the feet of protesters being shot at and beaten by Burmese police and soldiers; and they were lying on the road, left behind as they fled. When, I found myself thinking, would you ever need to shoot at someone in flip-flops? What person has ever been a threat to society whilst wearing flip-flops?

There were other details, as well, buried towards the end of the main article; recounted once the journalist finally had some room to write, having got the blander, more ignorable facts out of the way, as journalists must. He must have been praying that the end of the article - in this instance, perhaps the most important part - wasn't cut, like so many are. Fortunately, as far as I can tell, it wasn't. It contained details of the kind of one-to-one human encounters, that, reported more or less baldly, without The Sun's blatant emoting, can bring a story home to someone; that can make it real. Maybe make it real to someone who can do something. At least, I hope so. Though I'm not sure what anyone outside of politics can do, or whether anyone inside politics will do anything particularly effective.

I said above that I don't like to care. In the case of Burma, it's because I can't do anything, anything meaningful. In so many other cases, it's because maybe I could. And it's because I know I won't. Unless it's easy. Like ranting on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I've linked to this before, but now seems to be an apt time to link to it again:

Suu Kyi/Giacometti, on Locus Novus.

I knew nothing about Aung San Suu Kyi before seeing that. Shortly after, I happened to read a chapter from the then still Chancellor, Gordon Brown's book, Courage: Eight Portraits - it was also about Aung Suu Kyi. The chapter was syndicated in The Guardian. If anyone reading this doesn't know anything about her, or the issues surrounding what's going on in Burma at the moment, I'd recommend at least reading what he wrote. She really is a remarkable woman.

As for Gordon Brown, it's probably too early to judge. I just hope that, unlike me, he has the courage of his convictions; clearly, someone else needs to.

*They're British, they must be innocent, remember?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Yet more biting, news-based satire

I've had it in my mind for a while to write, every week, something funny about, or inspired by, things from the news. Not necessarily satire; maybe just a short story. So, last Friday, to that end, I bought a couple of newspapers. Having finally got around to reading them, I can now report that:

1) The Countdown numbers game on the back of G2 is way more difficult than the telly version.
2) Unless it's already filtered through humour: good grief, the news bores me senseless.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

The last few paragraphs might be worth reading, but I wouldn't get your hopes up

I decided I should blog more often. Sadly, I didn't decide what about. So, unless you have something better to do (I feel sure that you must; but apparently I don't, so I'm not going to presume), you'll just have to read along as - like some kind of curiously specific confectionery junkie in an understocked newsagents - I flail around, desperately, in search of a topic.

[Pauses a second for tumbleweed to go about its business].

Judging by that slightly tortured simile, your reading may not be entirely without pain. Or at least empathy for the plight of innocent similes, unwillingly conscripted into this mess. I'd apologise, but, frankly, if you're going to get sentimental about mere figures of speech, you're going to need to toughen up in this world, and fast. And receiving easy apologies from me certainly isn't going to do anything for your sense of realistic expectations.

Anyway, why should I? I mean, you don't have to read this; I, on the other hand, have to write it, and no-one's going to apologise to me for that, are they? No-one ever apologises to the author for what he's produced. No-one ever said to Joesph Heller: "Closing Time had lots of good moments, but overall was somewhat sprawling and oddly unsatisfying. Sorry about that." Did they? Most unfair, I think. After all, I'm sure he set out with good intentions. And didn't so many of us get to the end of Catch-22 wanting more of Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder, et al?

Of course, I'm not Joseph Heller. So I have even less right to expect apologies for what I write. And you, therefore, have even less right to expect apologies for having read it.

So there.

Of course, if none of you were expecting apologies, I apologise unreservedly.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Nowhere. As good a place as anywhere; though less preferable than somewhere (for a more exact, though less whimsical definition, see a dictionary). Oh well, I guess I could talk about fun stuff I've found on the internet...

If I'd found anything much lately, that is. I haven't. Indeed, last week, I found myself sitting in front of my laptop doing nothing, just staring at Firefox expecting to be entertained. At least ten minutes must have passed before I realised that that was what I'd been doing. "What the Hell are you doing?" I thought to myself, "You waste enough time without doing stupid things like that," and immediately loaded up FreeCell. Clearly, there is no hope for me.

Oh, I had a dream last night. I don't really remember it, but at some point I saw, handwritten very precisely in black felt-tip pen, near the bottom of a white-painted wall, the words:


I found it very pleasing.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

My continuing morbid obsession with the daddy-long-legs

There's a daddy-long-legs in my room. It's not relentlessy bumping into my head, trying to assault my laptop screen, or creating a strobing effect by flying round and round inside my lightshade. At least it's doing me that courtesy. No, instead it's endlessly half falling, half flying up and down a corner of my room, apparently with all the incompetence it can possibly muster. If anything I think that might actually be worse. It's not as if it's even a window that it's banging itself against. It's the intersection of two walls. There is NOT THE SLIGHTEST POINT to what it's doing. God, it's depressing.

I have said many times that I think the daddy-long-legs is the living refutation of the theory of intelligent design (unless God really did create it, in which case he's messing with our heads). Not to mention impossible to pluralise. I now also think it is the living embodiment of futility. And I DO NOT want to be sat here staring at the living embodiment of futility. How's a person supposed to achieve anything worthwhile whilst staring at the living embodiment of futility? How's a person supposed to contemplate the future? How's -


I think it may have just dropped dead and fallen down behind my bedside cabinet thing. If anything that might just make it even more the embodiment of futility.

Still, at least I don't have to stare at it now. Bloody things.