Wednesday, January 26, 2011

witless banter

Can you believe it ? They’ve allowed a Scots bloke to comment on football matches. Scots don’t know about football. How could they possibly understand the rules ? I mean, look at how lousy their national team is. There was a Scots bloke before who tried to do it, oh what’s his name.

When Andy Gray and Richard Keys said much the same about the assistant referee Sian Massey but in relation to her being female rather than Scottish they called it banter, a word largely used only by TV football people; when John Motson frequently observed ‘some lively banter in the crowd’ it usually meant they were shouting obscenities and trying to punch and kick the hell out of each other. Keys, prior to his resignation, amongst his unconvincingly defensive apologies mentioned sexist banter, claiming that it goes on in every football dressing room and is a part of the game. But it isn’t.

And anyway his conversation with Gray wasn’t just banter. There was a nastiness there, a male slobbiness, an arrogance, a conceit that they tried to smudge over all men who play, referee or just watch football. Don’t let women into the game, especially if they can’t even understand the offside rule. Haha. (As it happens I have heard many men, including premier league managers, say they don’t understand it but never a woman.)

Sian had the moral victory, showing in a most emphatic way that she knows all about the rule when she gave a marginal decison the right way during the Wolves v Liverpool match. But, through no fault of her own, she will be in the spotlight for some time, just what she didn’t want. And what if she had got it wrong, as all the flag carriers do many times; then she might not be seen on premier league grounds again. It was a close call for her, and still might be as every move of hers will be critically watched and clumsily commented on by the ever so predictable pundits.

Gray has been sacked, ostensibly for lewd remarks to a female TV presenter but they were sad little spoutings of a massive ego. It's the tackle on gender equality that backfired and brought him down. He is consulting lawyers (just as well he earned a fortune) and may even win whatever case he brings. The sentence having been passed, the evidence of bad character, however irrelevant, comes to light. Immediately after the sacking the Daily Mail treated its readers to “the sordid truth of Gray’s countless affairs”. Their point (apart from selling papers) is to tell us that he doesn’t think much of women and treats them with little respect. Yeah, thanks DM but we had worked that out already. They couldn’t possibly have unearthed all the tedious detail about his past and present love life so quickly and must have had it ready and waiting to pull out of their pockets as soon as the whistle blew on him. Red card for you mate, they are in effect saying, and here are all your previous offences to take into consideration. We have to kick you while you’re down ‘cause we know you’ll bounce up again. Andy will.

It’s not just tabloids, the whole of the media is loving it. Debate predictably flows across the phone-in shows and achieves its aim of polarising opinion. Just a joke. A disgrace. Prosecute him. Forgive and forget. Who cares! But whether or not he should have been sacked isn’t the issue. He should have resigned immediately and, if he had a sense of fair play, he would have done. It doesn't matter that it was off air; he was in a TV studio with microphones and he should have known better.

Whether or not he intended to be heard by millions is irrelevant; it is the underlying attitude that is unacceptable, not those particular words on that particular occasion. He publicy insulted someone who is an official figure in the sport he works in, someone who has the courage to do, not just to talk on and on about with the help of replays and snazzy technology that he so loves to play games with.

The reason accountability has to be forced on people is that most don’t volunteer it. If they can get away with wrong-doing then they will. Wait to see what public opinion makes of it then decide what to do. Hear the prosecution case before self-judgement. Doing the right thing ? No, doing the right thing for me.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

unfunny money

Some things are hard to write about. They induce such a feeling of abhorrence that they become almost taboo subjects, so loathe are we to think about them for too long lest our ability to contemplate life itself is so compromised that we fear not ony for our own individual futures but those of the world too. Such subjects must by and large be put aside by most people to avoid the deep and miserable despair that the focus on them inevitably brings. Children with awful illnesses, the horrible and unspeakable atrocities of war, the savage cruelty of nature’s disasters, and the vile, obscene and sickening remuneration of bankers.

Bonus upon bonus. Huge salaries. Gigantic financial rewards for the lives they have ruined by their crass, incompetent and unbelievably arrogant behaviour, kicking the economy down a steep hill by lending to people with no realistic chance of repayment. Oh I’m so sorry; we’re not allowed to talk about that anymore; from the sub-prime to the ridiculous. The prime minister says it it time to forgive and forget. Curiously, just a few months ago our Dave was dead against bonuses for bankers. But not now. Having once said that bonuses should be capped at £2,000 it seems that adding three noughts to the end is within his tolerance level. He has become a double agent. Even the demands of the Lib Dems (google it if you’ve forgotten who they are) for a bonus tax have been rejected.

Leading banker, Bob Diamond (I kid you not), said he thought the time for remorse and apology was over. Well he would, wouldn’t he, as was once famously said by Mandy Rice-Davies, a society prostitute, who knew a thing or two about scandals. The remorse Diamond refers to was hard to spot.

So when their bad deeds brought the world into financial chaos, we bailed them out. For losing their money we gave them ours and suffered the resulting hardship, or certainly will do if we haven’t yet, so that they could buy their fourth luxury property, their third flash car and their first charity flag for the lapels of their expensive new suits. And yet even now, when they would have us believe they are much the wiser and chastened by the humbling criticism taken to their hearts, they are not doing what they are there to do, that is to lend money to small and medium sized businesses that have been starved of the funding needed to survive and grow and give real, not imaginary, impetus to the economy. They are thinking only of themselves.

The disgust at their multiple-trailing-zero payouts is mixed with a wry smile at the many feeble attempts at justification. The craziest is that the government needs the tax they will pay on the bonuses, presumably to fund the benefits that will be paid to those who have lost their jobs because of the banks. The funniest is that unless they earn millions they will go abroad and the City of London will suffer. Well, there’s a chance worth taking.

There are many myths about banking. They love to claim that it is so difficult that only the premier brains of the country can do it well. But it won’t wash. It is all basically either gambling on market trades, or lending money (however cleverly they dress it up in complex and sophisticated sounding product names) which is actually very simple; the only slightly more taxing part is the judgement as to whether the borrower can repay, how much and when. We all know that they showed themselves to be inept at that in the recent past. In the present, they only lend where they can demand so much security from the borrowers that they take no risk at all. The bonuses are not from real cash generated by good business trading; they are given out from artificial money based on income they hope to receive in the future. The bankers can’t lose. We can, and do.

History will look back at the bankers and their extraordinary incomes with incredulity and distaste. Future generations will not understand why it was allowed. They will never understand how to reconcile those riches with the relative poverty that so many suffer, to a high degree as a result of the bankers. And they will never look back with approval of what the bankers have done to give themselves wealth on such a grand scale. At least let’s hope they don’t approve, because if they do then how frightening is that !

The banking crisis (crisis for us not the banks) was fuelled by greed and self-interest and insufficient intervention and control by a weak and frightened government. Nothing has changed there and that’s why there will be another collapse. The hope is that the next one will be so unpalatable to the people that government will have the courage and strength to take measures to prevent a repeat. That would be a bonus.


Friday, January 07, 2011

a game called hurt

Carol Hill is an SMSA (school dinner lady) who told parents that their seven year old daughter had been bullied. She was then suspended for a breach of confidentiality and later dismissed by the school’s governors, on the recommendation of the headteacher, for telling the story to a newspaper. Over a year later, an employment tribunal has said the sacking was unfair.

The school did not dispute that the girl was tied to a fence with a skipping rope by four boys and was hurt on her wrist and leg. The Head, Mrs Crabb, who in writing to the parents called it a minor accident, said that it was all just part of an inappropriate game. An inappropriate remark by an inappropriate Head.

Unfair dismissals are commonplace, so what makes this one special ? The sinister part of it is the concern the school showed over the bad publicity arising from the incident, more than the concern that a very young girl was being harmed by other pupils. And yet child welfare (safeguarding is the current term) is the highest priority for a school; Crabb and her ‘yes miss’ governors should know that. Far from being a breach of confidentiality, the parents had every right to be informed and the Head should have done so. At least Carol Hill did her duty; the Head and the governors did not.

Schools are in a competitive marketplace and they are in fear of their local competitors being seen as better in any way. Incidents of bullying can tarnish a school’s reputation and get it a ‘could do better’ rating from Ofsted. But bullying must be confronted, not given euphemistic names and not smothered by a collective pretence that it doesn’t happen here. It probably does. The truth is that nobody knows to what extent, not staff and certainly not governors, but the volume and frequency of reported incidents suggest the problem is huge.

There are many children at primary and secondary level who hate to go to school because of being bullied. Their parents, sometimes single mothers or fathers, are punished by being fined or taken to court by detached local authorities, backed by Heads and Education Welfare Officers, anxious to meet their attendance targets. The cause of the absence is often not investigated at all.

Bullies, who often use the flimsy cover of game-playing, come in all shapes and sizes and are a virus that attacks any school, from the best to the worst. They are rarely found out and can go on to become successful in all kinds of careers, even as doctors, caring nothing about the hurt and fear suffered by their victims. Anyone able to blow a whistle on them should blow hard.


Monday, January 03, 2011

trial by fury

The government has confirmed that, to reduce costs, 93 magistrates courts will close this year. The announcement has been greeted with concern and disappointment by many in the criminal justice system, wondering what difficulties the shortfall in resource will bring. Perhaps closures of crown courts will follow, after all they and the magistrates courts spend a lot of time carrying out criminal trials, determining the innocence or guilt of those accused; verdicts that can be reached so much more cheaply by newspapers.

They are having a good go at it in the aftermath of the terrible and tragic killing of Joanna Yeates. Her landlord, a retired teacher, has been arrested and extensively questioned by police and this alone was seen as sufficient reason by newspaper editors to publish what they mistakenly think is damning evidence about him. A 'wild-haired eccentric' said the Sun; 'Professor Strange' was the Daily Mail’s invented pseudonym. Perhaps Alice Cooper should beware a knock on the door; how did Patrick Moore avoid arrest for so many years ?

The Mirror gave us a detailed biography which, if anyone bothered to read it (and I can’t think why anyone should) was actually quite complimentary, but, ignoring its own text, headlined it as 'a bizarre past'. Most of the other papers have chipped in, providing in their totality a comprehensive but irrelevant profile: an oddball, a loner, a bit nutty, a private person, wealthy, posh, cultured, unconventional, unmarried, possibly gay, an only child and, closing the prosecution case with the breathtaking revelation that he has 'a fondness for polo-neck jumpers'. What a deviant; lock him up.

The Guardian punched hard, disclosing he was 'an active member of the Liberal Democrats', whilst the Independent exposed his 'idiosyncratic pronunciation of place names'. Former students of his have been questioned by the media, one telling that 'he would over-emphasise words and kept repeating them in an odd way; he would say things 10-15 times over.' A bit like the reporters on his case.

It seems many newspapers have made up their minds, if not ours, that he is not just helping police with their enquiries (as it used to be known) but is guilty of the crime. They have aired their pathetic evidence, using the past tense of an obituary, and encouraged the jury of hundreds of thousands of their readers to support their subjective and prejudiced verdict.

He may or may not be guilty; I have no idea, because he has not been charged, taken to court and either convicted or acquitted, depending on the evidence presented. If he is proven to be guilty then the newspapers will claim credit, but it’s not the way to do it. It could even backfire, as, given the publicity already received, any good defence advocate could make a persuasive argument that a fair trial might be impossible. If he, or anyone else, is ultimately convicted then let’s hope there is evidence more probative than personality, lifestyle and hairstyle. Let’s hope the killer is brought to justice, properly.

For now, the landlord has been released on police bail and the media should, and probably will, turn their intrusive attention to another topic. The police will continue their investigation, and should really try to preserve anonymity of suspects and helpers unless and until a charge is made. Trial by tabloid or broadsheet, based on speculation and defamation, is an insult to our intelligence and, more importantly, to the memory of Joanna and the feelings of her family.