Run with Eric + TIME

Berlin, unemployment and no more Nazi orgies

Sometimes I think there’s too much news. There were at least ten stories I wanted to write about or at least mention this week, but that would be playing havoc on my timetable and your patience.

For one, my local rag The Essex Chronicle – average paper, average toilet paper, brilliant inspirator for the best send-up of local news there is, The Framley Examiner – had a piece this week on an anonymous benefactor who paid a man’s court fine and gave him money to feed his nine children. He called himself Robin Hood. Admirable, certainly, but questionable too: if he lives by Robin Hood’s standards, he has presumably been helping the poor by first stealing from the rich.

One for the authorities, I feel.

Ultimately – and I predict this to be a sad necessity that won’t go away – I have to pick and choose what to write about.

But by no means are these the biggest stories of the week. Writing about the news doesn't always work that way. Sometimes I find a story interesting but know others won't. Sometimes the story is interesting but doesn’t provoke enough of a reaction in me to warrant writing my opinions on it, or I simply don’t have much to say on the matter. Sometimes I don’t have the space in this blog to study and evaluate the subtle complexities of a case and strengths and weaknesses of an argument.

And sometimes I just don't care.

Brown loses the dole poll
Obama's speech raises questions as well as answers
'Kiss and tell' stories Maxed out by Mosley
Okereke shaky after Johnny gets Rotten
They don't know they're born

Brown loses the dole poll

When it was announced that under new Government plans unemployed people will have to work for their benefit payouts, I immediately reminded myself to keep a close eye on the by-election in Glasgow East just a few days later. Glasgow East has more benefit claimants than any other constituency. Announcing the plans days before this crucial by-election was brave to say the least.

And sure enough, Labour lost. And even though the margin was only 365 votes, it was a massive defeat. Gordon Brown’s grasp on No. 10 now looks at its absolute weakest, and with the Conservatives calling for an election and his own party looking toward a new leader, it seems but a matter of time before he goes.

You have to feel a bit sorry for Margaret Curran, Labour’s Glasgow East candidate. She has been utterly shafted. Even with the SNP requiring a 22% swing to win, she was always up against it with Gordon Brown being Enemy #1 at the moment. And then the killer blow – a tougher time for benefit claimants.

It’d be a great shame if the scheme, revealed by Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell on Monday 21st July, ends up to be the final nail in Brown’s coffin. Because it’s actually very good. Despite The Daily Telegraph’s report opening with a wonderful sentence as contradictory as it was polemic – "the unemployed will be forced to do voluntary work" – the plans deserve to be lauded for their attempt to a) expose benefit cheats and b) get the unemployed working again.

And it’s not as if they are being reduced to slave labour the moment they hit the dole queue either. Anyone claiming unemployment benefit for more than a year will have to do four weeks of unpaid work. That’s hardly unreasonable. In fact, it’s only right for those happy to live a life on benefits. That should never be an option while you can still work, and Purnell’s plan – which will see those claiming for two years having to work full-time – looks like it may help to bring a stop to it. It will also force drug addicts to seek treatment if they wish to secure benefits, which is more good news.

So all in all, it’s a fantastic development. Shame it’s probably just killed Gordon Brown’s career.

Obama's speech raises questions as well as answers

His speech to Berlin on Thursday July 24th set in stone the world’s love affair with Barack Obama. The Berlin crowd helped his rock star image. "O-BA-MA," they chanted, "O-BA-MA." "Thank you," he repeatedly shouted back, seemingly trying to shut them up so he could get on with it.

Part apology for his country’s misdeeds,

part European history lesson and mostly promise of a better future, the 30-minute speech acknowledged the continental drift between America and Europe caused by ever-growing mistrust and resolved to unite the two once more in healing the wounds of the Bush administration. It was one hell of a speech.

But will it be enough? Not to cure the world’s ills – Obama’s not God, despite what sections of the media suggest – but for him to get the chance to try by winning the US presidential election first?

Ah yes, the election. In our Obamania, we seem to have forgotten about the formality of the great man becoming President first. John McCain hasn’t. He’s been questioning the media’s stance and, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the appropriateness of Obama delivering a speech in Berlin. McCain said he too would love to speak to Berliners, but "as president... rather than as a candidate". And maybe he has a point.

The concern for Obama, despite the enormous success of the speech, is whether he is targeting the right audience. He may be preaching to the converted. It is absolutely admirable that he should put aside campaigning to address Europe, in his own words, "as a citizen" (he made practically no reference to the leadership race), but he risks alienating voters back in the US. America votes, not Europe, and having done the job in the latter, Obama needs to keep his eyes on the prize. In short: he should get selfish, at least until – if – he wins the election.

If Obama wants to win America, he should remember: you’ve got to be in it to win it.

'Kiss and tell' stories Maxed out by Mosley

Motor racing chief Max Mosley, the man with probably the most publicised sexual fetishes in the world, won his case against the News of the World, after the paper alleged he was involved in a "Nazi-style orgy" with five prostitutes.

The judge, Mr Justice Eady, announced that the press had no right to publish private matters not constituting a serious crime. Implications for freedom of press aren’t good, with many proclaiming the death of 'kiss and tell' stories or even investigations into public figures’ private lives altogether.

Personally, I’m in favour of the press publishing whatever it likes as long as it isn’t dangerous in any way. That is, literally dangerous. For example, The Drudge Report’s irresponsible (but highly valued) exposure of Prince Harry serving in Afghanistan, which risked soldiers’ lives by drawing attention to one very famous comrade, or The Daily Express, the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Newspaper”, revealing the secret whereabouts of Mark Thatcher, a man with a bounty on his head. I don’t agree with the concept of a scoop at any cost, if that cost is life. Clearly I’m going to be a crap journalist, but them’s my Principles, which I have been made to understand are more than a high street fashion chain.

But the revelation of Mosley’s orgy was not dangerous. Embarrassing, perhaps – does it really save face to demand privacy in a high-profile court case, rather than just try to keep quiet about the whole sorry mess? – but not dangerous. Frankly, it saddens me that anyone should care about ‘stories’ like this, but while they do the media should be allowed to give them what they want.

Do we have a right to know about the private lives of public figures? Maybe. Maybe not. But Justice Eady’s example of supposedly transgressive journalism – "Would it justify installing a camera in someone’s home in order to catch him or her smoking a spliff? Surely not" – was a poorly chosen one for, as The Daily Telegraph pointed out annoyingly before I had the chance, what if that person was a politician leading a vehement anti-drugs campaign? Then the public should know.

As much as I hate ‘kiss and tell’ stories myself, people seem to want to know about what public figures get up to, and in some cases, they need to. Perhaps in Mosley’s case they didn’t, but Justice Eady may have just thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Okereke shaky after Johnny gets Rotten

There was some worrying news from Spain’s Summercase festival, as Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke claimed he was the subject of an unprovoked racist attack from ex-Sex Pistols leader and legend in his own lunchtime, John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, a.k.a. talentless arsehole who has been living off one album for 30 years.

I’m not one to take sides without knowing the full story, but quotes from those involved present some interesting contradictions. Somehow Okereke’s story seems more likely. Lydon’s protestations of innocence ("I feel very sorry for a man that needs to lie about what was a perfect evening") paint a scene out of a Famous Five book, while Okereke insists it was more of an Enid Blyton golliwog incident. Okereke claims Lydon and his entourage ranted about his "black attitude" and started a fight also involving members of Foals and the Kaiser Chiefs (the most interesting thing they’ve done to date) that resulted in some nasty bruises for the Bloc Party singer.

If his interviews are anything to go by, Okereke certainly has an attitude, and arguably quite a bad one. But "a black attitude"? What is that, exactly? Lydon’s denied saying it, obviously, but dropped himself in it a bit by adding that Okereke should "Grow up and learn to be a true man", concluding, "When you have achieved as much as I have, come back and talk to me." The first of those statements implies that there was a fight and Lydon is accusing Okereke of running to mummy, while the latter is just embarrassing.

Hmm. Suspicious.

They don't know they're born

Finally, I was a bit disturbed to hear that 117 pupils walked out of a school in Basingstoke in protest at plans to extend their school day.

My original shock was at the idea of schoolchildren going on strike, but then I thought of their grievance over losing leisure time and softened a bit. Nobody wants to spend all day in a dusty classroom. Then – I really should form opinions after reading a whole article instead of each sentence – then I read that the 20-minute extension was actually going to be to their lunch break. Finally, I found out that under the new practice they would end the school day at 3.05pm, and that they’re currently going home at 2.45.

Any sympathy I had for these kids is now long gone. How bloody pathetic. 2.45? Do they not realise how lucky they are? That’s practically lunchtime. And the extra 20 minutes wouldn’t be to lesson time anyway. What an absolutely stupid, stupid protest. These kids have been watching too much TV, with news programmes showing stories of strikes here, there and everywhere. I blame the parents.

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Berlin, unemployment and no more Nazi orgies + TIME