all the news fit to print

It’s been a busy old week for news. Can you tell there’s an election coming? Yes, you’re getting quicker flicking over to Glee when you hear the BBC News theme aren’t you?

Always a sign.

Tony Blair – remember him? Last seen doing the old science-fiction “retcon” trick over at the Chilcott Inquiry? – has been sounding the drum for his (auld) enemy Gordon Brown. This surely cannot have gone down well in the heartlands, as most Labour seats are lost as a consequence of Tony Blair sticking around looking and sounding exhausted and deceitful.

This kind of thing is quite common in football, though, with just about as much sincerity. “I respected the job he did at the club and there’s a lot of signs of his influence around the ground today…” he says, looking at dwindling crowd of anoraks Twittering around a Thermos while a huddle of unfit next-big-things hoik long balls towards the local paper reporters.

It was Blair, we remember, who gave Brown the title “clunking fist”, and for headline writers everywhere, Brown has not disappointed. He’s made a clunking fist of everything since taking over. He couldn’t even make a disaster work in his favour though; he’ll always have the longest, deepest recession in history to his name – after all, he created it – but Blair sanctioned an illegal invasion of Iraq. Second place again, Gordon!

Bigger, more meaty news-stories of recent times struggled to make the lead on either BBC or Sky. The former retreated into usual territory – the ban on methedrone was treated pretty much like the IT’S WAR! frenzy over on The Day Today – while the latter continues to push its forthcoming Leaders Debates slot as though self-referential programme plugging is part of OFCOMs definition of “news”.

In times gone by, the staggering achievements at the Large Hadron Collider would have been enough to send all workers and schoolchildren home to enable the population the honour of being within a screen’s width of life-changing science.

The…shall I say…”incident” within troubled waters excited those of us who have North Korea down on the “end of the world sweepstake”. Currently – I think, you know how these things change when North Korea are involved – the South claim the whole thing was caused by a mine. Possibly Northern. Probably one of their own. But it definitely did not start with warning shots being aimed at flocks of The Dear Leader’s Armed Seagull Division.

Though you never know.

Last night, Ribéry showed what comes when you’re an expensive top-league footballing talent who doesn’t lose concentration after 80 minutes. Tonight, may Allah be kind upon us all, Messi will treat Arsenal’s gameplay as a particularly cruel and cunning poker player toys with novices used to the occasional on-line flutter.

I understand, flicking over to cricket for as short a time as possible, that there is some concern over IPL commentators referring to players “scoring a maximum 6” and wondering if “all bases are covered”.

We warned them this would happen, did we not?

To conclude, I have two stories, but only enough space for one….So it will have to be….Toads can predict earthquakes.

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In no particular order…

As expected, Tony Blair has scribbled all over the newsgrids in place for January and his questioning at the Iraq War Inquiry. The former prime minister told renowned investigative journalist Fern Britton that had he known about the lack of WMDs in Iraq at the time of the Parliamentary vote on any proposed Iraq invasion, “other justifications” would have been sourced and used. This is the infamously grey area barely above the level of lying so favoured by the political class: the world of “known unknowns” and suppressed legal advice and other such curtains drawn to hide the facts.

The media have not done themselves any favours against claims of “dumbing down” in recent months, not least in their coverage of the Iraq Inquiry. With barely any headline news, it has become pretty much established fact that the war had its genesis years prior to the World Trade Centre attacks, that “regime change” was far above any other justification for invasion, and George W. Bush did not necessarily require the firm handshakes or solemn prayers of Tony Blair before sending American troops into battle. How the media will cover Blair’s actual questioning in front of Chilcott will be interesting now the “big admission” has been so subtly placed into the public arena “a month early”.

The bigger story for both BBC News and Sky News this past week has been Tiger Woods’ “moment of madness”. Interestingly, BBC News placed Blair above Woods in the running order only after placing them the other way around for most of the day. Sky News was still preferring Woods to Blair at first thing this morning. It is quite the unfathomable thing that the pulling out of British troops from Iraq and subsequent uncovered allegations surrounding the war have had barely anything like the media coverage at the time of the invasion. Is it boredom on the part of the news teams? Focus Group feedback?

As I potted down to Tesco this morning for a croissant and the NonLeague Paper, I noticed each and every tabloid front page was covered self-generated X-Factor press releases and speculation. The stars may not be the best or most talented – and anyway, why do I care now Stacy has gone – but the genius of Simon Cowell to ensure his empire strikes at the top of every office coffee break, breakfast table banter and indeed chart rundown shows no sign of being reduced. That he is considering taking the X-Factor model into some kind of international Eurovision-style festival of amateur talent should come as no surprise and as a warning to anyone who would prefer a return to the days when the ability to sing came above the ability to manipulate an audience to telephone vote for you.

It’s Christmas early-pay-day-week. And I’ve yet to start any Christmas shopping. I’m playing “Christmas chicken”, it’s a bloke thing. In any case, there’s every chance that financial pressures will tighten so why not wait until every scarf, chocolate box and voucher is available at cheapness for the right to say the purchasing was genuinely all in the spirit of Goodwill?

Yep, I’m convinced. More convinced than by Blair, I’ll say that….

11 September, 2001

“Someone’s declared war on America. Turn on the news, any news, any channel, it’s everywhere. Car bombs, planes flying into buildings, do it, it’s crazy.”

We all have these memories and recollections. “Where were you when…” We time travellers, visitors from the future watching endless repeats of the initial attacks, the aftermath; foreknowledge being a terrible thing.

How does timetravel seem now, with all of history expanded out around us with its gore and death and apparent seamless planning? Would we tell office workers in New York to stay well clear of the World Trade Centres completely? How many parents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan could be warned in time?

Timetravel seems a concept flawed enough without adding the realities of moral choices. How many dead Iraqis could have been saved for the want of the world turning in a different way on 10th September, eight years ago?

Of course, all the memories we have of that day are tainted by our very particular circumstances. The woman at my then place of work joking, “I hope my pilot has better eyesight than the one who has just crashed into the World Trade Centre”, had no idea what catastrophe would follow. Nobody did. Not entirely sure the other woman I worked with had any idea of reality at all when she declared with absolute sincerity that one effective way to beat Al-Qaeda would be to purposely mispronounce Osama Bid Laden’s name. I remember her saying it as clear as any memory could be, standing by the window, arms folded like a stereotype of the Northern Housewife. “Yeah, so I’m going to say Uzama,” sure and smug.

(Also, of course, from office colleagues and my dad the following weekend, “There’s a group of Asians [sic] celebrating outside Preston Sorting Office, they’ve all been sent home”)

The consequences of the attacks still crash upon the shore today. History recalls the (false) claims of WMDs in Iraq, the (false) claims of Cyprus being in the firing line of weapons “with only 45 minutes warning”. The hanging of Saddam, smuggled onto YouTube via mobile phone, a very modern, Western, way to die.

We have our DNA on databases, our movements watched by CCTV, our own versions of PATRIOT Acts banning the reading of certain library books. Freedom tainted by necessity, in this “strange new world”. I wish freedom tasted better. I wish faith in our leaders was stronger.

(“This is how it starts, Armageddon,” said my mum, at the time, watching the attacks on BBC News, endless loops, like a gruesome highlights package. ITN News, I recall, set the attacks to music. Enya. Got a slap around the wrists by the ITC or OFCOM.)

My mother had a point, I guess. No, not entirely. But how the “war on terror” will end nobody has decided. Withdrawal from Iraq leaves behind an altered version of the country but not one with flawless democracy or absolute peace. Any original aims seem somehow lost, distorted, if not entirely forgotten.

Afghanistan is a slow motion slaughter of innocents, its original aim (insofar as Bush had one) removed from the collective memories of man completely. History has been here before, Afghanistan does not suffer invasions lightly. The Presidential election is as tasteless a show as it is blunt an instrument.

(“The world will never be the same again,” said the man on the radio, during the attack. With no internet at all or television, the office in which I worked at the time had to listen to the unfolding event on the radio. The overall effect of which was very unsettling, as though the commentary was nothing more than a play, the voiceover an over-wrought script. When I first heard the claims of “world changing events”, I suppressed a giggle.)

Recent programmes on British television re-ran the news coverage and camcorder footage. Some scenes were too graphic to watch, which I found a sobering personal reaction. Suddenly the stunned faces, the voiceless gasps, the dust-covered streets empty of people but full of stories, filled my mind with the absolute reality of what remains an unbelievable day.

But today, what to think? Congratulate the “war on terror”? Feel sorry but stoic? How would timetravel work, knowing what we all do now, about the failure to stop terrorism from killing innocent people. “How would a timetraveller help” is not the question to ask; maybe “when” or “who” would be more accurate.

Today, eight years on from the attacks, history continues to be written. Lessons have not been learned at all.