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December 2nd 2012
Lady Catherine de Bourgh once declared, in the pages of Pride and Prejudice: "Upon my word, you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person." I am not so very young - I am at least seven years older than Lizzy Bennet, to whom this was addressed - and my opinions are not, today, not so very decided. There are some issues on which I am confident, both matters of fact (a recent example being my contradiction of Simon's claim that the phrase "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" is tautologous) and matters of opinion (Ed Miliband being an unelectable goon, for example). The Leveson inquiry, which recently announced its findings, is not one of them.
For those of you who haven't been following the news, Lord Justice Leveson has spent over a year and many millions of our pounds leading an inquiry into the "culture, practices and ethics" of the press, with specific reference to their dealings with the public, with police and with politicians. The big question he had to answer - if I may condense a multi-thousand page report that I haven't read into the smallest of nutshells - is whether the press can continue to be self-regulated, or whether an independent body should be set up to regulate it.
The arguments on each side are both fairly compelling. Opponents of press regulation make much of the fact that a free press is a cornerstone of any democracy, and that any infrigement on this freedom ("shackling" or "muzzling" if you prefer) is not only a threat to our own democracy, but an example that would be taken up by the likes of Zimbabwe or Ukraine in their rather less democratic systems of government. But, retort the pro-regulation camp, independent regulation is not the same as government regulation, and if the likes of the BBC can be regulated without sacrificing their journalistic integrity, why can't newspapers do the same?
Well, as I say, I don't know. Independent regulation might seem fair and above board, but it wouldn't take much for a government - not necessarily in this country, but perhaps in another country that used our system as a model for their own - to run the 'independent' body in all but name. But, then again, that kind of argument could be used to block any and all independent bodies, and it's fairly clear self-regulation simply doesn't work.
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), not to be confused with Parochial Church Councils or Police & Crime Commissioners, has been widely derided as toothless, and it's difficult to believe that an alternative self-regulating body would do the job much better. In any case, the issue seems to bigger than how much money should be paid to victims of false stories, or whereabouts the Daily Star should place its corrections section (pages 1-20 might just about fit the bill, I guess). Ian Hislop made the excellent point, on HIGNFY, that there are already laws against most of the things that the press are being criticised for - phone-hacking being the most obvious example - One way to deal with the paparazzi, courtesy of Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield.and my corollary is that any regulating body would have to work to prevent these things happening, rather than defining punishment for them.
Looking very specifically at the issue of press intrusion into the lives of celebrities - and, while I don't agree that the Leveson inquiry was 'hi-jacked' by celebrities, it's obviously the case that Hugh Grant answering questions will make more headlines than Tom Rowland doing the same - a complete change of culture is needed. For every Sienna Miller, who took the trouble of fighting back, there are scores of public names who have to shrug and put up with the fact that the tabloid press camp outside their house, go through their bins and follow them up and down the street all day. When Heather Mills filmed this happening to her, or Elton John told some paparazzi that they were rats, or even when Cherie Blair told the assembled press that she wouldn't miss them on her departure from Downing Street, it is the victims of press harrassment who are made out to look the bad guys. We need a sea change, and the common-or-garden illegalities of the press - if there isn't a law against camping on someone's front door step, whoever they are, then there should be - are more worrying to me than the spate of phone-hacking that actually brought the News of the World down.
And this is where my indecision comes back into play. Because the argument against celebrity harrassment in tabloids is an easy one to make, and there is no really coherent answer (the standard drivel about celebrities not being able to complain about being photographed in Waitrose if they sold their wedding photos to OK! is so feeble as to be beneath contempt). But it feels a bit snobbish. If a story about an X-Factor finalist, say, were uncovered by reasonably legitimate means, then my lack of interest in it doesn't necessarily mean that it's not acceptable journalism. It doesn't even - necessarily - mean that it's worse journalism than a Times exposé on the new Governor of the Bank of England. A free press should be entitled to write unintelligent and unimportant nonsense if it so chooses, and while I view the Sun as worthless rubbish, I also view the Guardian as fairly rotten, and no one is suggesting that they should be shut down.
The big red herring in the whole debate, for me, is the Rupert Murdoch factor. If you can find me a Guardian reader who doesn't view Murdoch as some kind of anti-Christ, they'll be the first one I've met, and unfortunately this has led to a lot of fairly sensible people saying a lot of silly things. I would never accuse Tom Watson of being a fairly sensible person, and his witch hunt against Murdoch (about whom he just happened to have written a book, on sale now in all good bookshops) became frankly embarrassing. Even Watson can't truly believe that the head of a multi-national company, of which News International is a small fraction, has memorised or even read every email about low level employees that comes his way. Anyways, among the silly claims made about Murdoch is that he dictates the Times editorial policy (Hugo Rifkind likes to tell the story of a man he was sat next to at a dinner party, who informed him that Murdoch tells all leader writers what to write. When Rifkind pointed out that he was a leader writer himself, and that Murdoch had never told him what to write, his interlocutor simply turned round and spoke to the person on his other side), and that he holds sway over David Cameron.
Well, actually, it's indecision time again. Cameron is Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister relies to a certain extent on the support of the people. A lot of the people read the Sun. Murdoch owns the Sun. Therefore Cameron needs Muroch on side. It's a logical argument, and I reckon there's some truth to it, but the same argument says that he needs the BBC on side, say, considering that the number of people who watch BBC news programmes or peruse the BBC news website vastly outnumbers those who read the Sun. Where people really make a mistake is in attacking Cameron's decisions based on assumed or imagined motives behind them: no sooner had Cameron said that he wouldn't necessarily implement all of Leveson's proposals, then his critics were saying that it was because he was in Murdoch's pocket. That's just lazy, not to mention insulting.
Anyways, even if I were completely confident that the press should be self-regulated, independently regulated or state-regulated, I still wouldn't be sure how widely that regulation should apply. In these days of instant internet news, you can read the New York Daily Times, Digital Spy, Guido Fawkes or Colin's Online Diary just as easily as you can read the Mail Online, and neither the means of access nor the potential content is easily distinguishable. I still believe that a recognised daily newspaper holds some caché that an independent blog does not, but the way the wind is blowing means that this might not be true in even a few years' time. Perhaps Leveson has suggested 20th century legislation that simply isn't applicable in today's world. But, then again, that argument sounds like a fig leaf for newspapers doing whatever the hell they like, just because I can get away with it. Or, perhaps more to the point, a blog that people actually read can get away with it.
All of this has been a lot of words to say that I don't really know what I think. What we've got today doesn't work, but I don't know if Leveson's proposals would solve our problems or just create a set of new ones. I don't know. I'm not sure if anyone else does, either.

On this day in 2006... Tonight I went to see Casino Royale again - it was that good - this time with Iain, Becky, David, Christine, Tom and Rich.

December 9th 2012
In my life I've got to see Bob Dylan sing Ballad of a Thin Man; Don McLean sing American Pie; U2 sing With or Without You; Thin Lizzy sing Whiskey in the Jar; even Tom Paxton sing The Last Thing on My Mind. Yes, all of them were at least a couple of decades - and, in the case of Thin Lizzy, a few band members - past their peak, but they were all classic artists singing iconic songs, and events that I won't forget. I will never, of course, get to see The Beatles perform live, but on Wednesday evening I cameNot George or John as close as I'll ever be able to come, by going to see the Bootleg Beatles.
It was a Fathers Day gift for Dad, whom I accompanied to Colston Hall in Bristol, since he is also a devotee of the Beatles. I've seen tribute bands with him before - Talon (the first band I ever saw live) and The Illegal Eagles, both of which being Eagles tribute bands - and they were both very good, but the Bootleg Beatles took it to a whole new level. What I hadn't realised was that they performed the whole thing in character, so not only were the voices and instruments spot on most of the time, but so were the mannerisms and stage presences of the band: for example, John bobbing up and down when he sang; Paul's head movement round the mic and slightly awkward announcements between songs; Ringo and John exchanging waves during the set. Oh, and Paul playing the guitar left-handed: that's essential. They even introduced She Loves You as the new single "out today", although I could have done without the gag about digital cameras not being invented yet.
The performance was roughly in chronological order, with Cavern-esque performances giving way to Shea Stadium before the interval, after which the band came out in full Sgt Pepper regalia before moving on to to the rooftop gig to finish. As well as updating their look and their instruments for each new period, the band also adapted their mannerisms so that, say, Paul's exuberance was tempered, and John's sarcasm was increased, as the evening wore on. When they came back for the encore and finished on Long Tall Sally, Dad rightly pointed out that they'd clearly gone back to an early 60s vibe in their performance. The accuracy was particularly impressive given that, although the Bootleg Beatles have been around since 1980, their John and Paul only joined in 2011 and 2012 respectively
Of the four, I think the Bootleg John was the best, particularly in I Am The Walrus, but it's a tough call, because there were very few moments that didn't ring true: only With A Little Help From My Friends and Yesterday fell short; particularly the former, where Bootleg Ringo really didn't capture Ringo's voice at all. From a set list of probably about 40 songs - they really packed them in - that's a mighty impressive hit rate. It says much about the quality of the Beatles' output that the Bootleg version could play so many songs without doing anything particularly obscure (This Boy and Birthday were the least well known, I'd say, although there can't be many of the audience who couldn't have sung along to 'em all), and there were plenty of hits that they didn't play (Let It Be, We Can Work It Out, Revolution, Yellow Submarine, Hello Goodbye, Something, The Long and Winding Road, A Day in the Life, Paperback Writer, Eleanor Rigby, Day Tripper, Drive My Car, Lady Madonna, Michelle, Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da... none of them got a look in), although apparently the vary the set list every year, so maybe next time...

Beatles lyric of the day: Some kind of happiness is measured out in miles / What makes you think you're something special when you smile? (Hey Bulldog)

December 21st 2012
Christmas is nearly upon us, and today is already the third of my Christmas break: I like to save up my holiday for the Yuletide period, and I have been very happily pottering about the house for a couple of days, watching Bond films, reading the Times and drinking tea. Bliss. But I have been getting involved in festivities as well, you'll be pleased to hear, and I'll be pleased to detail here.
No bi-annual Christmas celebration would be complete without the Chiselborough Christmas Cracker, the local show in my parents' village in which the Thomas family always has a sketch (we also appear in its West Chinnock counterpart in alternate years, although it didn't happen last year). Over the course of two fun-packed evenings, the talented people of Chiselborough must, by process of elimination, be the ones in the audience watching as some of the locals - and some folk flown in from Bristol, Oxford etc. to beef up the numbers - perform sketches, songs and other musical items for their delectation and enjoyment. In previous years I have played Ray Hay (a man who is scared of rhymes); myself; half of Jedward; a Yorkshire clergyman; and a Spanish cardinal. These last two have required me to put on an accent, and this year was no different as Simon scripted me as a Welsh newsreader by the name of Edward Hughes (a hilarious, albeit Santa & Mrs Clausentirely unnoticeable, pun on 'Huw Edwards'). He claims that it was in retaliation for me making him do a Scottish accent two years ago, although my recollection is that that was his idea... anyways, I maintained a Welsh accent of sorts throughout, although it was somewhat overshadowed by Dad's high-pitched-Welsh-work-experience-boy accent which, along with Simon's backless shirt and Mum's Biona Fruce (geddit?) wig, brought the house down. They loved us. So far as I can recall... video footage (oh yes, it was filmed) may prove less kind. We had fun, anyway, although, elsewhere in the show, it appears that we haven't yet reached the point where people in general realise that men dressing as women isn't uproariously funny.
My Christmas celebrations have not, so far, been limited to that. On Tuesday of this week it was the fabled house group Christmas curry, with accompanying Secret Santa (see pic). Unlike some Secret Santas - the one I did with people from work, for example - the secret does not remain so, as we take it in turns to guess who bought us our gifts, and keep going round until everyone's got it right. For the first time ever, none of us got our guesses right on the first circuit, suggesting that there was some sneakiness afoot... or, in some cases, a lack of observation, since our hosts forgot to put away the wrapping paper that they'd used, but still weren't rumbled. Anyways, I was given a fabulous assortment from Rick, comprising a red cowboy hat (which my Facebook friends may have seen already), Simpsons socks, Sudoku toilet paper, a Mr Bump bruise soother and a Christmas tie. Since I'd turned up to the curry wearing a Christmas tie, I made a quick switch on receiving this new one, and am now spoilt for choice. Add to this the Christmas jumper that Simon's getting me for Christmas, and I'll soon be the most festive actuary in the South West.
As if that weren't enough Christmassness, I went over to Ben's house last night to watch It's A Wonderful Life with him and Kate; Ben and I have been planning to watch the film together pretty much ever since we met, five years ago, and I think it was worth the wait. I've seen it a couple of times before, but it was Ben's first viewing, and I think it's fair to say that we both of us finished the film with warmed hearts and, perhaps, slightly moist eyes. It really is a wonderful life.

Billy Joel lyric of the day: The boats were waiting at The Battery / The union went on strike / They never sailed at all (Miami 2017)

what was I listening to?
When the World Knows Your Name - Deacon Blue
what was I reading?
Goldfinger - Ian Fleming
what was I watching?
Licence to Kill
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