Thursday, February 08, 2007

Reep what you snow!

With the snow this morning came joy - for a time.

By seven thirty we knew that both schools attended by the young cubs were closed for the day; something unheard of when I was young! I work from home, and the girls mother was off today anyhow, so everything was rather well timed. By just past eight, they were out on the green, rolling ever growing snowballs towards the plan for the morning - a snow man!

I stood there for a moment. I had work to do this morning, mixing a jingle for someone's radio commercial. But the temptation was far too great! The client could wait a little, and I donned hat and gloves and set out to take charge!

It took us an hour of hard work, but then the fruit of our labours stood proudly in the middle of the green; a five and a half foot snowman - complete with arms, smile, round tummy and short stocky legs. Raymond Briggs would have been impressed. Work beckoned me back and I left the girls to play. What a wonderful start to a day!

A little later, news filtered up to my office that someone had knocked off the head. Then I heard that the girls had been building a snow wall, but some local teenagers had kicked it down. Then I saw the local young thugs walking out onto the green. Since the girls were still down there I wandered down too. Inevitably I ended up confronting this group of 13 to 15 year olds. Intelligent lot - all they could come up with was telling me I smelled. I turned away and left, realising how pathetic they were. When I came back they had destroyed the snowman completely - grinding its winter good wishes into the dirt.

I am powerless to do anything. If I had clipped the little brats round the ear I would have been hauled off and imprisoned for child abuse. They knew that and just gathered round trying to intimidate me. I am a little too long in the tooth to get intimidated that easily, but it was depressing.

What has become of our society that we have let it become thus? This is not the governments fault, this is not the fault of poverty or deprived backgrounds (these kids come from normal everyday families), it is our fault - us as a society. We have got ourselves into this positions by hiding behind closed doors, from tripping ourselves up with our own rules and regulations, by removing our support from people like the police.

When I was young, if someone caused trouble and the police turned up, the local mothers would point at the villain and tell the police "He did it!" And the police could then do something. Now, we keep quiet, we run away, we even blame the police, the government, immigration, the EU, Iraq, the man in the moon - everyone we can think of rather than blame the people who are truly at fault. Us.

There is a saying "The people get the government they deserve." This is ill-observed. It should be "The people will get the society they deserve." I don't know the answer, I wish I did. But I do know that the answer lies with us, nowhere else.

And in the meantime, the snow will melt, this little crime will be washed away, and another set of selfish brats will think they are kings of their very small world. I can only hope that they will never amount to anything and never make any mark whatsoever on their own or anyone else's life. They have not earned that.

We have photographed our snowman - for a very short time, he was a very brave snowman!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Telling a Story

Scrabbling around in my mother's attic, I have found my father's old Jetel Ukulele Banjo. Four strings tuned to "my dog has fleas" and a direct descendant of the Hawaiian uke this is a most simple of instruments. And yet, despite it's apparent lack of class this instrument has the ability to make people laugh with George Fornby or cry with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and his version of Somewhere over the rainbow - you know that one that almost wrecked us all when Doctor Green died in ER.

You see, it is not the instrument, but the story - how we tell it, how we feel it, what it is meant to achieve - that in the end is the carrier of the message.. Good story telling is a very powerful weapon. News people know this, but they do not always act responsibly, using the story telling weapon to further their own agenda (whether that is political or financial) rather than for the benefit of the public.

The natty headline, the witty prose - these all can whip a simple tale to a global incident, all without the writer, the story teller, having to leave their seat. Especially with television it is easy to believe that the pictures tell the story, that the voice over is only a helpful narrative, and pictures are not easily deceiptful are they? But again, the pictures, the film, is just the Ukulele - the words are telling you what to look at, how to interprate what you are seeing.

A most marvelous case recently was following the foot in mouth ongoings by Jade in the Big Brother House. As a reaction to her less than race tolerant outbursts television news showed us pictures of effigy burning by crowds in India. Indeed, the racism displayed was abhorrent. But those pictures - what was wrong with them. "Protests across India!" We are told. Now, I have filmed protests and riots before. If we are sensible, we find an upper story building, or the top of a lamp post so we can give a broad vista as to the thousands present and, incidentally, try to avoid getting flattened in the rush. These images however, were from a very low, close angle - the very center of the danger zone! Except if you looked closely - especially between the legs of the "thousands." About 4 legs back the crowd ended - and in the distance we could see people calmly walking along the other side of the road, minding their own business. Crowd? It was about 20 people.

This does not mean that Jade should be let off for her comments, or we should believe her well rehearsed tears. But it does mean that the story is being told inaccurately.

If you submit an article to Wikipedia (and anyone can write and edit stories for that noble tome) readers will give you a hard time if any claim is not properly cited and referenced. "Unnamed source" will not do it - because is it is unsubstantiated by a known and authoritative source, then how can we be expected to believe it? This applies to any and all encyclopedia or reference or trusted work. And yet, the news media expect us to believe anything and everything they say without being able to back up a word of it.

Channel 4's Sarah Corp wrote an article about her current trip to Iran at the invitation of the Iranian government to see, with others, the nuclear facilities. It is a good story, potentially, but could be so mishandled one way or another. To accept everything at face value would be daft at the least. But to dismiss everything too could be equally misleading. Sarah has a responsibility to report and justify what she sees and what she is told. But if her opinions are not backed by citation and reference, will her report have any more value that the press releases of the current Iranian government?

I leave you with a small anecdote:

A salutary lesson: I used to do a lot of work on newsreel footage. One of the clips that came past my screen was a German Ministry film of life in a concentration camp before WW2. It showed a happy group of children singing songs at Christmas time and having a party. Apparently the journalists invited to the event thought it was lovely.


Friday, February 02, 2007

It is all spinning needlessly out of control!

Channel 4 news blog today is looking for a strong interviewee to comment on all the hiatus surrounding the Cash for Honors scandal (or not) and Blairs imminent future (or not). The story needs to be "knocked on" they quote the editor as saying. I assume by that the editor would like to see the story pushed up to the next level of media hysteria.

But should this be happening like this again? If the media were to shut up about the whole affair until the CPS reported, and instead reported on meaningless little stories like global warming, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of my socks, would they be doign the public a disservice? Yes, the public might have a right to know what is going on, but does that mean we need to be force fed speculation, leaks, complete guess work, misleading headlines, etc? What service is this actually doing the country?

If we are getting bogged down in this affair it is not the affair that is doing it. I don't see the police running round telling the whole of government to down pencils and sit on their hands. Despite the protestations of David "throw his rattle out of the cot" Cameron, government is not, and in fact cannot be paralyzed. I would imagine that Cameron's own MPs are busy sitting on committees and conducting debates and doing constituency work.

The problem here is in the hands of the Media and the Pundits - and I include many politicians in that grouping. They have got their leads out of their masters hands and are running a muck in the park. Like dogs with irresponsible noses, they cannot see the woods for the trees, and the trees smell of sensation. Trouble is, the rest of us stopped living in trees a hundred thousand years ago or so - about time the media evolved to catch up!

Press almost hysterical over Cash for Honours

Channel 4, like every one else could do nothing but Lead on the news that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was questioned as a witness by police last Friday undertaking the Cash for Honours enquirey. Since that interview, or course, Lord Levy (Also known as Lord Cashpoint) has been rearrested and questioned on suspicion of Conspiracy to Pervert the course of Justice - though he was not charged.

Is this investigation picking up a pace to some fantastic climax as a government is pulled down by the scales of British Justice? The press would certainly like to think so, and of course they may as yet have their wish granted.

Equally plausible, however, is that the investigation is coming to a natural and rather uneventful close and the police are doing a final round of last minute interviews to help close the books. There is the worry here that they will throw a charge at someone just so it does not seem like they have been wasting time.

Of particular note today is the release of information about that interview last Friday. The Police requested of Blair that, for "operational reasons," the interview was kept quiet. Blair told very few people, not including his press people. The Police for their part also kept the knowledge of this interview to a minimum. Now, remember that there has been some ripe rumors concerning a mole, either in Downing Street or at Scotland Yard. The press have been reporting on this mole while using the info like crazy. Certainly more than one press shaped person must know from where the leaks are emanating. But suddenly, with this news black out, the mole was silenced. The press are furious!

We should know at the time, they squealed! It is our right!

Should they? Is it?

Personally I think the press have no automatic rights whatsoever. We, the public have rights - but not through the press, by ourselves on our own behalf. The press are just indignant that they have been caught out! Jon Snow at Channel 4 points out that the police requested silence as they did not want Levy to know that they had questioned Blair again. I think that is pushing it a little. I doubt me that Levy is a flight risk or that he has not been planning for all eventualities. This is a highly intelligent man - an accountant who was a highly successful impresario in the 60s and 70s. I cannot see that him not knowing that Blair had been interviewed would make a difference one way or another. He protests his innocence, and that is perfectly possible. Being innocent does not mean that one sits down and twiddles your fingers, however.

So what would those operational reasons be? I wonder if a little bit of Mole flushing has been going on ....

Toodle pip!