Let’s invent a conspiracy theory

“Thank you for coming to the Palace. Have you come far?”

Of of all the conspiracy theories doing the rounds on the internet my favourite is not the one assuming George Bush to have a hidden set of smarts so vast as to make him capable of the cover up of the century.  And it’s not – despite genuine interest in SETI – about whether NASA is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Most conspiracy theories need that premise of possibility to sustain: The idea that Mohammed Atta’s passport survived the North Tower fireball in which steel had vaporised sounds a little preposterous.  Tony Blair’s government was the very embodiment of competence (sic), so it surely can’t just be a cock-up that there was no WMD in Iraq to speak of can it?

The problem with almost all theories of this kind is that they assume a great level of competence in the higher echelons of government even when the contrary evidence is staring at them in the face.

They also assume blue collar servants of the illuminati/Bilderberg Group/Facebook are in on it.  After all no one is seriously (sic) suggesting Bush and Cheney personally lined the World Trade Centre with explosives on their day off.  But what has the guy who drilled the rivets for the secret spaceships got to gain from not leaking a few cheeky snaps from his smartphone?  Or the people that do Area 51’s graphic design?

This is what makes the Rise of the Lizard People the best theory of all.  If “it’s because they’re Lizards innit” is the answer, we are definitely asking the right question.

I challenged a ‘truth activist’ about her theory that lizards masquerading as people run the world.  In response I was told that “some of us had more reptilian DNA than others.”  That evil people are cold blooded as a result of this and this explains all the heinousness in the world.  Bad shit?  That’ll be the gecko’s.

She got me thinking that it was actually a compliment to our ruling classes (or Chris Carter, whatevs) that she would sooner believe almost anything before accepting the possibility that the level of competence in our leaders is so normal, so disappointingly average, so “this pissup in a brewery you promised is really just me buying a round somewhere else for a change” that it’s a veritable wonder they can keep their PIN numbers to themselves.

So I thought I’d have some fun with her and the other people of underworked intelligence: let’s invent a conspiracy theory.  Was Diana killed by Bill Clinton?  Is Lord Lucan AIDS patient zero, and has the CIA implanted a camera in my digital TV?  (If so chaps, you in for hours of footage of chillumoxing and not much else.)

My aim is to put the best one into the piranha tank of the internet’s best tin-hatter sites and see what comes out the other end…

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World Ending. Rooney’s Fault.

The hunt for the Europ 2012 Scapegoat finished earlier than usual this year.

It was interesting reading of the Sven Goran Eriksson reaction to Wayne Rooney’s sending off against Montenegro.

Much derided now, but mainly because of matters that had nothing to do with football.  The fact remains that England’s best performances over the last decade were during Sven’s tenure. 

So on matters England he knows what he’s talking about, and when he is talking – and this isn’t meant to be catty – the rest of us can at least comprehend what he is saying. 

And what he was saying was interesting: that although the reaction to Rooney’s sending off was broadly the same as it would be elsewhere, the key difference here is the media’s need to keep the story bubbling for as long as possible. 

In Italy, says Sven, after the initial few days they move on.  But not here.  Our media drag the story out as long as possible.  Perhaps until the rest of us surrender to the message they want us to take.

Fortunately we can always rely on the Daily Mail to lead from the front in this sort of activity.  Especially when it is coupled with some ludicrous and hypocritical moralising

Because now the “shameful behaviour” of the “disgraced” Rooney has caused an impressionable young boy to copy him.  Seven year old Lucas Berry kicked a team mate in training.  His father “confirmed that the boy was imitating Rooney.”

Some paragraphs later the Mail eventually confirms that Lucas had been in trouble before “for punching, fighting and stamping.”  So it probably wasn’t anything to do with Rooney at all.  And thinking about it, at seven I couldn’t sit through 90 minutes of a European Championship qualifier.  Let alone one in which Fabio Capello is the tactical helmsman.

But if we’re going to keep this rubbish rumbling on until England’s inevitable betrayal of our national hype in June, then we’re going to need to demonstrate that children kicking other children, the Tottenham riots, Liam Fox’s resignation and the failure to arrest Gadaffi are all in some part because of the evil, intemperate unBritishness of  Wayne “Wazza” Rooney, 25.

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Match of the Day: it’s Getting Worse

Team won.  Horse didn't.Another Saturday night, another set of boring-but-expensive black shirts, unblinking eyes and clichés galore.  Alexander Netherton brilliantly described it as like a venereal disease:

 “Match of the Day is like herpes, there are periods of respite but you can never truly escape it,” he said before railing against the “barely sentient” Alan Shearer.  This week’s instalment was even more wretched and gormless than usual. 

It comes just a couple of weeks after the cretinous commentary we were treated to during Manchester Utd v Fulham.  The commentator and then post-match summariser felt cause to mention on no fewer than four separate occasions Alex Ferguson ‘keeping an eye’ on the Grand National, which took place on the same day and in which Ferguson part-owned a runner. 

Since he doesn’t speak to the BBC it’s fair to say they’ve got no idea whether or not he was informed about the progress of his horse in the National which took place while his side were playing in a reasonably important Premier League game.

But that didn’t stop Match of the Day speculating, again and again, that this might be what he was doing: they were in essence accusing him of following his hobby when his club might have expected his focus to be on the Match.  And this with his bosses sat three seats back. 

Four times MOTD accused him of being unprofessional with nothing that was broadcast or reported subsequently that backed this up whatsoever.

The BBC’s defence is that it was “common knowledge” that he had a horse in the National.  That might be true, and it wouldn’t shock me if he did have commentary in his ear. 

But suspicion based on what I’ve been told by the media about Ferguson, or the BBC’s assumptions based on the same, does not equate proof.  That Ferguson had a phone with him as he sat in the stand during a touchline ban was not unique to Grand National day, nor to other managers experiencing similar touchline bans who use the phone presumably to harangue the assistant.

Sloppy, casual, and a good specific example of how MOTD’s standards has slipped in recent years from being reasonably perceptive and analytical to being boorish, slovenly, predictable pub-level commentary.

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Curing Injunctionitis

Pay UpIt takes a heart of stone not to at least be curious about who the married celebrity that had an affair with his ex-wife after remarrying might be.  This might be why the injunction debate that got the press into such a frenzy before Kate came and finished them off feels so abstract.

But there is a great feeling that despite the best efforts of our national treasure wind up merchants the debate about injunctions and who can get one is missing the point. 

The campaign to shine a light on injunctions inevitably comes from Fleet Street, and more specifically, from those papers that revel in celebrity gossip to such an extent that their websites should be properly retitled celebporn.com.

I digress.  There should probably be a privacy law.  Having select, piecemeal details of your life thrown to millions of people in the interest of gratuitous sneering is an illiberal affront to human, personal dignity.

And it might sound twee to say it, but did we not lose a member of the royal family to what was ostensibly the tabloids pursuit of gossip?

But it should be Parliament making the law, not the Courts.  The scope of the European Convention of Human Rights and Human Rights Act were deliberately kept open to interpretation. 

But I’ll bet those British lawyers who drafted the Convention in post-war Europe didn’t foresee it being used to protect the privacy of millionaire adulterers who were kept in the shadows while their mistresses were thrown to the tabloid wolves and gagged all the same.

Parliament should enshrine a right to privacy and define more tightly what ‘public interest’ is.  And it should ensure that we all have the rights, so Imogen Thomas doesn’t have her part in some sordid affair exposed while **** ***** gets to hide his infidelity because of the money he can afford to throw at it. 

For me, the gender argument being thrown about is vague and nonsensical.  The bigger, clearer, evil at work is that this kind of justice is only available to the rich – getting an injunction costs tens of thousands – and that this distribution of justice according to means is only likely to grow.

Of all the cuts being made one of the most quietly depressing is in legal aid.  £350m is to be taken from the legal aid budget, which will mean that there will be 25% fewer civil cases supported by the government: 547,000 fewer people receiving legal assistance each year.

Inevitably, family law will take the biggest hit.  Divorce and child residence court cases will no longer be eligible for legal aid other than in narrow circumstances involving issues such as domestic violence or forced marriage.

This will mean lots more cases where wealthy, powerful men are able to hide behind legal means, even if it doesn’t give an opportunity to print a photo of Imogen Thomas on tabloid websites or for Julie Burchill to spill 1,000 words of eye-rolling guff our way.

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Let’s AV It

YesBeing not a celtic troublemaker means I’ve only ever been asked for my democratic opinion through public plebiscite on one occasion before. 

And how embarrassingly wrong I was to reject the entirely inevitable collective response to an increasingly globalised world. 

But when you have Thatcher and the French on one side of a debate it is so very tempting to follow one’s heart before one’s head.  Gratefully we remained part of Europe and our nation continues to benefit financially – and otherwise – to this day. 

“But you get to express your opinion at every election,” I’m told.  Well this may be true.  Especially if at any stage my vote had counted for what it was meant to count for: the constitution of our parliament or local councils.  And to that end, not once has my vote counted at all.  Not once. 

Living in a ‘safe seat’ with an MP from a party I have never supported means that the formation of our parliament is made regardless of my input, or the input of others like me. 

And, unlike those overrepresented chippy celts with their fancy voting systems, we aren’t a small but vocal minority.  No fewer than half of the electorate’s votes had zero bearing whatever on the constitution of the democratic segment of our parliament. 

It’s as if Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and much of England had been denied suffrage completely. 

The opportunity offered in tomorrow’s AV referendum is by no means the best solution.  But it is almost certainly the best prospect of reform on offer and it is clearly an improvement on the anachronistic, discredited, and Conservative-favouring ‘first past the post’ system. 

A grubby compromise indeed: but the best chance we have to end the shame of accepting millions of wasted votes when the insistence is on keeping the single-member constituency link.

The campaign itself has been wretched, and best viewed from behind your hands.  The ‘No’ crowd’s arguments are based on the classic fear and greed of (small ‘c’) conservative campaigns:

 a) worry Middle England’s obsession with money by claiming the change would cost some exorbitant sum, a claim based on counting machines that the Government Minister responsible has already said will never be used;

b) claim that the new system is far too complicated.  A damning indictment of your electorate, frankly, and anyone that finds it difficult at this stage probably deserves MPs who take them for granted anyway;    

c) make ludicrous international comparisons that show AV to be used so infrequently.  No mention of course to the host of places where FPTP has been rejected and replaced by a proportional electoral system that would be far superior to our grubby little compromise. 

In all of this negativity and spin, a semi-positive message drops out like a brass ring in dung.  ‘One man, One vote.’  And it’s true, this tweaks on the consciousness of the undecideds.  But again, we shouldn’t forget that our existing system doesn’t give one person one vote.  It gives Two men, One vote. 

Something that the Yes campaign – unimaginative and uninspiring as it has been – might have fought harder to remind people.  If it had the money, or the media, or the leadership.  As it is, those like me who support reform will rely on the pivotal choices of Labour supporters. 

If the campaign is lost Ed Miliband shall doubtless blame Nick Clegg; but if the campaign is lost it will be because millions of Labour voters and supporters saw Ed’s message of support for AV, and they ignored him.  

So at that point I will have one question: if the Labour supporters aren’t listening to Miliband, why should anyone else?

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Reports of LibDemageddon are Greatly Exaggerated

Bombs Away

Friday's press will make you think this is real

Local election week and there’s a default assumption playing in the media that the Liberal Democrats will take a battering in the local, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections on Thursday.

In the right-wing press the Lib Dems are loathed because they are Liberal and dare to part-govern, and in the left-wing press they are hated because they had the audacity to step out of the shadows of tactical usefulness and occasional woolly protest they had hitherto existed in.

Some of that of course is entirely the fault of the Lib Dems: not being able to resist the urge of championing leftish, populist policies at the same time as giving up on telling people what the values of Liberal Democracy are. 

If the party’s meaning to people was only as a vessel for a protest vote or a tactical shot at the Tories, then what purpose does it serve to those people now? 

This is why the left-wing press has been predicting the party’s demise on an almost daily basis since the coalition formed: because Liberalism is as alien to the Left as it is to the Right. 

To these commentators, if it wasn’t a progressive ‘B’ team which was basically a more earnest version of New Labour, it was nothing.  This is why to them Clegg’s part in the coalition is “betrayal.”  Had a Lib-Lab coalition formed it is unlikely any Tories would have described it in the same heartbroken way.

This kind of hatred from the left is something new for most Liberal Democrats; who identify more easily with principles of social justice and of the role and value of a public sector. 

And of course a vote for the Lib Dems is still a worthwhile protest vote to beat the same Conservatives who were stopped from forming a majority government by the Liberal Democrats a year ago; the majority of their seats were won in contests with the Tories.

But it would be typical of the Left to shoot itself in the foot – punish Clegg for the “betrayal” and let the Tories get exactly what they want on Thursday: wounded Liberal Democrats, a Labour leader failing to get his message across, and an electoral reform status quo now mandated by public approval. 

Little wonder one of the most successful Labour strategists has stepped in to the AV debate: someone who knew the difference between strategy and tactics.

For what it’s worth, this blog is predicting about 16-17% of the share of the vote for the Lib Dems.   There will be some non-Labour councillors elected in 2003 as a result of Iraq or in 2007 in the weeks before Blair’s resignation.  It’s natural some of those seats would go back to a Labour party in opposition. 

But there are plenty of strong, organised local campaigners who will get the backing of people who aren’t sure about Clegg or the Coalition.  Not that this would stop the media reporting whatever happens as a disaster for the Lib Dems.

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Why the FA Cup is Dying

Bin It

Ah the joy of a Cup weekend, where the cliché factor is high and the attendances are low.

The usual flam is trotted out about the romance of the cup followed by the almost perpetual complaints, usually from professional commentators who don’t pay to watch football, about why it wasn’t like this in them olden days.

So what is wrong with the Cup, and is it fixable? The dinosaurs of football commentary aren’t wrong to at least ask when you’ve got Blackpool resting players the minute the Cup comes along. Even the ‘important’ latter stages of the tournament aren’t free from this.

So the Manager’s clearly see the Cup as something other than an important priority. And so too the fans: no opinion poll in the world samples the view of the fans in the same way an empty stadium does.  Our constant complaint about ticket prices is still relevant and of course this transmits to the players, who can probably be forgiven for seeing the FA Cup as a distraction from the increasingly punishing Premier League.

This isn’t to say the PL is especially awesome by any means. But there is a trapdoor. It used to be that a handful of clubs were slugging it out for the title, another handful fighting to be relegated, and a morass of mid table mediocrity that like Butlins – as the old joke went – had their season end in October.

This has changed. We have a top five almost set in stone, but then a ‘bottom 15’. It only takes the wrong injury, a dip in confidence or a bad transfer window to slip from an allegedly respectable mid-table position and into a £40m dogfight for safety.

And that top-four haven’t helped matters: by both looking like they don’t especially care about the Cup but at the same time winning the damn thing again and again. Since Wimbledon’s unlikely triumph almost a quarter of a century ago only two teams outside of last season’s top-four+Liverpool have actually won it: Everton (1995) and Portsmouth (2007).

The dominance of the top sides in the Cup means that more often than not we can simply expect the Champions to pick up the FA Cup as a bonus trophy along the way. Winning the ‘Double’ used to be special: achieved only 6 times between 1872 – 1994 but 5 times since then. Even when the non-top-five side starts the final with a goal head start, they still go on to lose.

The Cup will remain a pointless distraction so long as the Premier League is so dominant in importance to its clubs. The Cup is a victim of the success of the Premier League: whether it be because the top sides in the PL now dominate the Cup effortlessly, or because the perils of falling from the top division are such that the FA Cup serves only as a distraction even some big clubs cannot afford.

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Decoding Premier League Hypocrisy

Cheese!

Me and George, we hate you all

“Rooney har skickats iväg igen, han är en huligan från Liverpool!”

It sounded urgent but I had no idea whether it was good news or not.  It turned out the Swedish commentator was lamenting a red card for our old friend Wayne Rooney. 

Having spent 80 minutes watching the live Premier League game – on a Saturday afternoon – with accompanying Swedish commentary, I could be forgiven for being disappointed not to have been able to fully translate the ire.  Alas, I had learned only that Stockholmers cannot say “Danny Welbeck,” in the same way you or I probably cannot say “Kukhuvud.”

Tradition dictates that Premier League games kick-off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.  Changes to this are usually television-related.  “Skyjacked” is the terrace term.  But what had been the weekend’s bigger game being moved to Sunday at 4pm has become almost the entire weekend calendar being televised throughout the weekend. 

Games are moved to another time once TV decides to broadcast them because of ‘blackout’ rules, ostensibly to protect smaller clubs. 

The thinking goes that if Wallsall are playing at 3pm in the rain some supporters will stay at home to watch Aston Villa or Man United on the telly if it is on at the same time.  By ‘protecting’ the 3pm slot and stopping any live broadcast of football then supporters can watch both Wallsall in the rain and come home to watch Villa on the telly afterwards.

But a side effect of the foreign decoder fiasco is that pubs showing television from elsewhere in the EU are able to get around the blackout.  This means if you, or your local, has a foreign decoder, you can avoid that rain at Walsall all along and watch some of those Premier league games kicking off at 3pm as the blackout doesn’t worry the non-UK broadcasters. 

Given how much cheaper it is to by the foreign decoder than either Sky or a match ticket these days, is it really any wonder in a free economy that more and more people are watching the match via Sweden or Greece?

Why is it then that as ticket prices continue to rise, football fans are criticised for exercising their rights as consumers, whether it be TV decoders in a European single market or when there are cheaper alternatives to a match ticket?

You’d think businessmen especially would respect such practice.  But not Sunderland Chairman Niall Quinn, who after giving it a lot of thought and with keeping things in proportion in mind described the practice and people doing it as “despicable”.

“Defending his branding of the fans he described as despicable, Quinn said he was trying to ignite the debate over the rights and wrongs of fans staying away from the Stadium of Light to get their match-day fix in the pubs.”

Poor Niall obviously has an interest in this: not just attendances at Sunderland which might be impacted by this practice (even if we might think the cost of tickets to watch football in an area hit hard by the recession has a bigger bearing) but also because of the end result of this unwelcome foreign competition:  It dilutes Sky’s exclusive Premier League product, which means the League can hardly demand the money it currently does for “exclusive TV rights” from Sky while at the same time selling ‘foreign’ rights to our Rooney hating friends in Sweden and expecting them never to clash in a single EU marketplace.

Despicable indeed.  Another kick in the teeth for poor Niall and his downtrodden Premier League colleagues!  Although to be fair, the money is barely touching the sides as far as the clubs are concerned.  The bigger Sky/ESPN contracts and excessive ticket costs simply funnel straight down into the yawning swag bags of the top-end players and the ever-growing ‘transfer industry.’

But Niall has a role in this.  When he decides how much to pay his players and how much to raise ticket process by in the same day.  When he goes into Premier League meetings and opposes a salary cap.  Niall has a stake in this and has done ever since he negotiated his first players contract. 

We can have the debate, Niall.  And it’s about time we did.  But it’s not the one you think we should be having.

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Viral Urinal

Viral Urinal

"What's Dutch for WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MAN?"

I can promise that the fact this video is in Dutch does not diminish from the magnitude of jaw-drop and general OMGness of the whole thing. 

Yes, I’m fairly sure you can work out what’s going on.

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Under 11s 5-a-side: Serious Business

"We all agree: Power Rangers are better than Transformers"

You can’t accuse fans of Lech Poznan for not taking their Under 11′s match against Tottenham Hotspur seriously.

Fair play to them.  In this country it’s a farce on a muddy pitch before the hardest Dad chases the Ref out of the car park. 

Watch.

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