Notepad on Life

April 24, 2018

Fiddling while Jose burns – when critics get too close

Filed under: Journalism — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,

pexels-photo-320617.jpegBiggest first-world problem of the week? World Press Photo Festival judges who couldn’t see the flesh for the flames.

Whether it’s food, wine, music, or photos, rare is the professional critic who doesn’t sometimes get so close to his subject that the bigger picture escapes him: a picture which, if only he could see it, shows the fine line between being lost in rapture and lost up your own rear end, blurring to invisibility.

I don’t say that Ronaldo Schemidt’s striking photograph of Venezuelan protestor José Víctor Salazar Balza, was beyond consideration for an award. Capturing the hapless Balza as he ignites in the aftermath of an exploding petrol tank, made for a compelling image, not to mention an unmissable metaphor for the social conflagration that Venezuela currently seems to be.

Most of the judges thankfully couched their admiration in such terms. But there’s always one…

“It’s a classical photo, but it has an instantaneous energy and dynamic,” gushed jury chairwoman Magdalena Herrera. “The colours, the movement, and it’s very well composed, it has strength.”

Oh good. I’m sure it will make all Sr. Balza’s agony and disfigurement worthwhile, knowing he got the composition and movement spot-on.

Saves him and Ronnie from getting together and having another stab at it, eh?


March 26, 2018

‘Faces of Evil’– here’s what I regret, Mike Norton…

Filed under: crime,Journalism,Law and order,News — - @ 11:25 am
Tags: ,

pexels-photo-952594.jpegBristol Post editor Mike Norton wants his city to know he’s sorry. So sorry, he splashed his contrition all over the newspaper’s front page earlier this month.

It stems from another Post front page 22 years ago, in which the headline Faces of Evil was accompanied by photographs of 16 men jailed for dealing crack cocaine. All of them happened to be black.

Despite the feeling that I knew what was coming, I studied Mr Norton’s apology in detail, hoping upon hope that I would read about one or more individuals who had been falsely accused, and whose photograph should have been nowhere near that eye-catching headline.

That appears not to be the case. “Now, I’m sure there are many people reading this who will be wondering why I’m saying sorry,” Norton predicts. “Weren’t these men crack dealers? Pedlars of evil? Yes, they were.”

Ah, right. Turns out I did know what was coming.

Mike Norton isn’t sorry that his paper didn’t do its job properly. He’s sorry because it was unhelpful to a narrative. Inclusivity is one of the mantras of our time and that 1996 front page, for all its veracity, got in the way.

Too bad, Mike Norton. Too bad.

Which is not to say that everything in his apology is invalid. The need to bridge community gaps and renew dialogue and his newspaper’s attempts to help drive those processes, are right and proper, but they are points that could have been made without selling out his colleagues or the requirements of his vocation.

Less commendable are his deflection tactics; The pretence of humbly acknowledging opposition, so as to pre-emptively diminish it.

“Of course, I am only too well aware of how this will go down with some of some of the more vociferous contributors to the comments section. I await their inevitable hate. They will probably call me a snowflake – the word adopted by right-wingers when they want to belittle millennial entitlement. Or a bleeding-heart liberal who’s been got at by the politically correct brigade.”

Calculated buzzword emphasis is mine. We see what you did there, Michael.

Thankfully, I can steer clear of such cheap labelling. How this goes down with me, someone in the same line of work, is that we have here a journalist who is, in effect, apologising for telling uncomfortable truths, arguably the very essence of his job.

In attempting to shore up the credibility of his newspaper, Mike Norton has done precisely the opposite. And he shouldn’t be surprised if many discerning BAME Bristolians have come to the same conclusion.

August 21, 2014

James Alexander Gordon – Reality 0 Over-Reaction 5

Filed under: Journalism,Nostalgia,Sport — - @ 6:20 am
Tags: ,

James Alexander Gordon was, by all accounts, a popular man.

He read out the football results on the radio every Saturday afternoon for 40 years, in a gentle, soothing Scottish accent that drew us all in and had us all trying to predict a game’s outcome based on wherever his intonation seemed to be leading us.

It’s safe to say that whoever reads the football results from now on, two generations of British football fans will forever hear them in Gordon’s voice.

And now he’s dead.

There you have it: an obituary that might be rather sparse but which nevertheless covers all the pertinent details. We’re not talking the composer of heart-rending symphonies here, after all, or mourning the first man on Mars.

We’re talking football results. Read from a script that he didn’t even have to memorise. Talk to Gordon’s family and friends and they can probably each recall 10 things that spring more readily to mind about him than his Saturday job.

A point apparently lost on the Daily Telegraph this week, as it declared that the “Scot’s lilting tones and perfect delivery elevated the classified football results from the mundane into an art form”.

Oh please.

“To do something seemingly so simple so expertly, time after time, and to make so many people feel happy and safe while you did it: what a beautiful contribution to our national life.”

You’re sounding dangerously like a luvvie, Alan Tyers. Oh, hang on a minute…

“Several years ago, I wrote and performed a pilot for a radio comedy sketch show about football.”


“It went to a swift and deserved demise on the BBC Commissioning killing floor…”

Right. Shame the Telegraph’s sports editor isn’t quite as discerning.

I don’t know what prompts this modern tendency to over-inflate people’s achievements beyond what they actually amount to, but it is maudlin, cloying and fast becoming something of a national malaise.

March 13, 2014

Child Bride

Filed under: Journalism,Kids,Women — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,

Glossy Women's Magazines Remind Us Some Girls And Women Are Living In Hell | Co.Create | creativity + culture + commerce

Glossy Women’s Magazines Remind Us Some Girls And Women Are Living In Hell

January 9, 2014

Syria, like Ulster, goes the way of all flesh

Filed under: foreign,Journalism,News,politics — - @ 8:55 am
Tags: , ,
Anti-Syrian regime protester holds a Syrian re...

Anti-Syrian regime protester. (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

From Radio 4’s Today programme of 8th January(2:48:30 mark here) an item on journalists kidnapped in the Syrian conflict and this telling observation from Italian journalist Domenico Quirico, held hostage there for 152 days last year:

“The Syrian Revolution is dead. The revolutionaries are dead. In their place are jihadists and criminals out to profit from the fight.”

It reminded me of a comment I read some years ago, in an interview with a former paramilitary, reflecting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. By the end, he observed, political idealism in the province was a mere sideshow. It had become a matter of turf war; gangsterism, plain and simple.

And in the case of Syria, let’s not forget, Britain was just a heartbeat away from becoming militarily involved in this amoral mess, thanks to politicians all too happy to talk war as long as it’s other people’s kids who do the dying.

Maybe there’s a good interview to be had between Domenico Quirico and Michael Gove

January 3, 2014

Mirror late to the party on Brady mindset, surely?

Filed under: crime,Health,Journalism — - @ 11:07 pm


An early candidate for Biggest So-What? Headline of Year. Compared to his other psychological problems, I’d say Ian Brady’s encounter with dementia is page five news at best.

So we may never know where the last undiscovered victim is buried? I’ve feared that was a given for some time. Perpetuating a secret that has tantalised a nation also perpetuates this wretched man’s macabre celebrity and I sense that he would regard taking that secret to the grave as the playing of his final ace.

We can only live in the forlorn hope that he forgets himself so much, he spills the beans regardless.

September 1, 2013

Gove’s their villain but knee-jerk political hacks can’t see it

Filed under: Education,Journalism,politics — - @ 10:52 pm
Tags: ,

Two central players in last week’s Parliamentary debate on Syria.

1) Prime Minister David Cameron wants to take the military option but does what he should and puts the proposal to Parliament, which happens to reject it. A number of his own MPs, who presumably see what Mr Cameron chooses not to when they ponder the fruits of our ‘involvement’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, vote with their conscience.

2) Education Minister Michael Gove, upon learning of their stance, it is claimed, regresses into childhood and would appear to demonstrate that democracy and conscience count as nothing in his eyes against blind loyalty to the Conservative Party. If such claims are true, it is with this glorified lout that we entrust our children’s schooling:

“Michael Gove was so furious with Tory MPs for voting down intervention he had to be restrained by colleagues, it was claimed last night.

The Education Secretary, a staunch backer of military action in Syria, shouted ‘you’re a disgrace’ at those MPs who opposed the Government in the tense vote last night.

Scottish National MP Angus Robertson said Mr Gove carried on yelling ‘disgrace, disgrace, disgrace’ at Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels in stunning scenes in the House of Commons around 11pm last night.” – Daily Mail

Which of the two does the Press focus upon? The Prime Minister. Out are wheeled the tired old clichés about ‘humiliation’, by the same tired old hacks who would have doubtless hammered him for snubbing democratic process, had he decided to avoid debate and simply committed British military support to the USA.

Yet again, I am reminded of the late Robin Cook’s laser accuracy in naming the media as being just as responsible for the lamentable shallowness of modern British politics as the politicians themselves.

Someone was indeed humiliated in the House last week. While I am no fan of our Prime Minister, it most certainly wasn’t him.


And a special mention, while on the subject of Politicians Making Fools of Themselves, of the USA’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, whom just a day after Britain refused to do the ‘special relationship’ waltz with its would-be American masters, pointedly described France as the United States’ “oldest ally”.

Many Brits may have wondered if this snub was just childish petulance. Those who have overheard what the average American actually thinks of the French will know it for a fact.

August 21, 2013

Jim Murray’s mastery went way beyond sport

Filed under: Books,foreign,Journalism,Kids,Sport — - @ 9:00 am

An anthology of the late American sportswriter Jim Murray was my holiday reading and he is turning out to be one of the few things in life that lives up to the hype. His mastery of wry observation and sense of the ridiculous denotes the best kind of sports journalist – he or she who never loses sight of the fact that games are but part of life’s bigger picture.

Did anyone quibble, for example, that the column he devoted to his wistfulness at having to abandon his home by the Pacific for one nearer his LA office, had little to do with sport? I doubt it, so beautiful a lament was it for irretrievable youth.

Then there is this piece on organised children’s baseball (and I hope the publishers will excuse me excerpting just one of the book’s many articles) – a gently withering denunciation of those who insist on making life far harder than it need be, merely to justify their salary.

You will either be appalled that social meddling by do-gooders is far older than you realised, or else inspired that it fared just as badly when colliding with common sense 40 years ago as it does today…

Click each image to enlarge it.


Murray 1Murray2Murray3

August 4, 2013

Condescension to Church shows sad state of Independent

English: User box for Separation of Church vs....

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure MPs at least, will be delighted with the Independent‘s recent leader column purporting to send those naughty Christians to their room without any supper.

It used to be left to the Right Honourable Members to reveal their breathtaking ignorance of the Christian faith by trotting out the patronising old canard about the Church of England sticking to preaching the Gospel and leaving politics to the politicians; you know, the experts…

Now the media are doing their job for them.

I knew there might be a secularist backlash when new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, showed early promise that he could be streets ahead of his predecessor when it came to being in touch with life beyond the cathedral cloisters.

I heard him handle with great aplomb an interrogation about the Wonga embarrassment, the highlight of which was interviewer John Humphrys‘ inability (or refusal) to see that this admittedly hilarious, if inadvertent, gaffe was fixable and posed no fatal threat to Welby’s proposals to provide hard-up people with a better alternative to payday loan firms and their eye-watering interest rates.

The Independent‘s nauseating arrogance and double-speak that same day, mind, makes Humphrys look the very model of perception.

Nick Baines has beautifully eviscerated the person responsible for it on his blog, so I merely pick over the carcass:

  • I defy even the their greatest critic to read the four Gospels and not see a Man as engaged with the world around Him as He was with the world He claimed is to come, whether you see Him as deluded or not
  • If Christianity was indeed a ship sailing nowhere and all about just hiding yourself away and mulling over scripture without ever putting it to work in the world around us, I suspect its membership past and present would be on a par with that of the Tufty Club.
  • “His efforts to…make the Church relevant…” Ah, so even you acknowledge that his approach has something going for it.
  • “[They] have no business in mainstream politics…” Everyone has business in mainstream politics. This is a democracy, where everyone gets at least a say, not some oligarchy where the only opinions that matter come from a self-regarding elite  in Westminster and the media. How many times, I wonder, have Independent commentators lamented the woeful turn-out at elections, and cried out for more ‘engagement’? Just not Christian engagement, apparently.
  • And once again, in a leader on this theme, no mention of the secular hypocrisy at the heart of it. Politicians want the Church of England to stay out of politics, while politicians continue to have a say in whom the Church appoints as its bishops. When it comes to clamouring for the separation of Church and State, atheists may be surprised at just how many Anglicans are egging them on.
  • “This is no swipe at religion”. This is like Ron Jeremy holding a postage stamp over his manhood in the hope that he’s covered himself. Of course it’s a swipe at religion. How old do you think your average reader is? Six? You think religion’s stupid, its practitioners belong in a soundproofed cell whose key has gone missing and you only wish you could say so in a national newspaper. You know what? So do I. Your transparent sincerity, at least, I could respect.

March 25, 2013

Health and safety and a dispirited nation – a letter to my local newspaper

Filed under: Consumer,Health,Journalism — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: , ,
Apple bobbing

Memories of a more brutal age  (Photo: Wikipedia)

I was saddened to read in your Readers’ View page recently of the decision to cancel this year’s Elm Fete on the grounds of onerous Health & Safety paperwork and escalating insurance premiums.

Sadly, this is no one-off. More and more, these days, I hear of people forced to ditch plans to organise a public event or club because the toll taken in terms of paperwork and money is simply too high. I have every sympathy with the Fete organisers but a growing concern about the way in which social life in this country is being stifled by an unholy trinity of insurance firms, Health & Safety mandarins and litigation lawyers who have sadly dropped all pretence of being a cut above their sue-happy American counterparts.

If the H&S people could produce evidence of the carnage caused by summer fetes down the years of course, this would go some way towards allaying my misgivings. It may be that they have filing cabinets full to bursting of tales of slipped discs caused by frantic apple-bobbing, or of innocent people mown down by friendly fire at the coconut shy. Somehow, I doubt it.

What on earth would our ancestors make of us? At a time when our society is less and less about community and more and more about the individual, we cannot even put a village fete on without our plans being effectively thwarted by an alliance of lawyers, paranoid insurers and salaried busybodies.

Am I the only one to see the irony of a country that strives to be healthier and safer, only to die of boredom?

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