Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Hour of London

Celebrations were held in London this week to mark the fact that only one year remains until the 2012 Olympic Games are upon us. Next summer will see the city play host to the world’s most eminent sporting event, with the best athletes from around the globe coming together to compete.

The modern Olympics have changed drastically since the first tournament was held in 1896, now basically consisting of massively expensive and ostentatious opening and closing ceremonies, with a few races thrown in here and there for good measure. Next year’s opening ceremony will be overseen by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. Perhaps the ceremony will be based on one of his films: an extravagant, futuristic celebration based on Sunshine? A Trainspotting-inspired journey through the darker recesses of urban British counterculture? Or maybe a return to the zombie-infested London of 28 Days Later, complete with Thriller-esque choreography? Whatever he decides to include, it seems the ceremony is in safe hands. Let’s just hope it doesn’t last for 127 Hours. Or star James Franco.

The Olympics used to be all about the events, and for the purists there is no better example of the famous adventurous Olympic spirit than the 1900 Games held in Paris. The Games were held for over five months, and along with the usual sports like athletics, football and gymnastics, certain events were trialled over the course of the Games that failed to become official Olympic sports. Among the stranger contests held this year were firefighting, hot air ballooning, delivery van racing and poodle clipping. The most bizarre, however, and certainly one that wouldn’t be allowed today, was live pigeon shooting. Nearly 300 pigeons were killed in the event, with the winner reaching a tally of 21. Pretty impressive considering Dastardly and Muttley couldn’t even get one.

Of course the 2012 Olympics will feature some ridiculous events too. Dressage, for instance, essentially involves a group of insanely rich toffs who are all related to each other trotting around on their horses. The medal is then awarded to whichever of them looks the most upper class. There is also the rhythmic gymnastics section, in which artificially shrunken pre-pubescents pretend to be cats and roll around with ribbons and balls and other feline accoutrements. Whoever comes fourth in gruelling events like the marathon each year must be really pissed to see one of these tiny cat-people come away with a gold medal after playing around on the floor for a while.

The Olympics these days is more about personalities than anything else. Firstly there’s athletics superstar Usain Bolt, the chicken nugget-powered fastest man in the world over 90 metres, at which point he slows down and moonwalks the rest of the race just to mock his inferior opponents. Secondly, adopted American son and über-celebrity David Beckham, who has stated he wants to play for the British football team in 2012. Maybe if they win they’ll finally give over about 1966. Let’s just hope it doesn’t go to penalties. And thirdly, eh, that Canadian curling guy. Yeah, him.

Aside from these few colourful characters, the inevitable bone-crunching falls in gymnastics, and the excitement of watching the hammer and the javelin in the hope that someone gets nailed in the head, there is very little of interest in the Olympics. A West African will run really fast and win the race. A Bulgarian bloke called Artem with no neck will lift slightly heavier things than anyone else and win a medal. And whatever Belgian cyclist has pumped himself so full of drugs that his heart beats about 700 times per minute but not so full of drugs that his calves explode, will win the cycling events. All very predictable and not very exciting.

What the Olympics needs is a breath of fresh air, something to reinvigorate it and make it compelling viewing once more. While going back to some of the events of the 1900 Games is probably not the way to go, there may be some inspiration to be gleaned from going back even further, to the Ancient Olympic Games.

Traditionally the last event of the Ancient Games was the ‘Hoplite race’, in which competitors had to compete in full body armour, including helmet and shield. This would certainly make the 800 metres a bit more interesting. Or the Olympic boxers could take their example from the Greek competitors who weighted their leather gloves with metal. Hitting a man when he was down was perfectly legal, however if you went too far and killed him, he was automatically declared the winner. Bit of a Pyrrhic victory really. One tradition that isn’t likely to be revived, however, is the nakedness of all competitors in the Ancient Games. Although it would probably make beach volleyball even more popular with male viewers.

Maybe all the Olympics needs is a new image. Its motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. How about ‘5 Rings to Rule Them All’, or ‘The Olympics – Drug Free Since, eh, the Last Olympics’. Although the way things are going, in a few years the motto will probably be ‘The Olympics – Silver Medals for Anyone Who Isn’t Chinese’.

The 2012 mascots are similarly disappointing. The puzzlingly named Wenlock and Mandeville sound like gay lovers from some rejected BBC period drama set in the stables of a stately home. They don’t even look particularly athletic, seeing that they are supposedly made of steel. The whole cycloptic thing they have going on can’t be much good for their depth perception either. They’d never get out of the blocks in the delivery van race, and as for poodle clipping, forget about it, they don’t even appear to have fingers.

Despite the somewhat faded grandeur of the modern Olympics, I will still no doubt be glued to the television for its duration. It only comes around every four years, and is the pinnacle of achievement for the athletes who have trained so hard and sacrificed so much to be there. Which is what makes it all the more enjoyable when they fail spectacularly. Now I’m off to find some pigeons. I reckon I can beat 21 before the day is out.


Hungry Hearts (and Minds)

The word tragedy has been thrown around an awful lot in the media over the past week or so. The tragedy of a young singer’s untimely, if not exactly unexpected death. The tragedy of the murder of 92 innocent people in Norway by a deluded lunatic who doesn’t deserve to get the press coverage and infamy that he inevitably will. And almost as an afterthought, the tragedy of millions of people, including around 800,000 children, who are at risk of death by starvation in the Horn of Africa over the coming weeks and months.

The fact that this story has reached the news outlets this week at all is simply a matter of mathematics. Famine and drought are a constant in this particular part of Africa, but the situation in Somalia only qualified as a famine under the UN’s very specific definition a few days ago. The fact is that Somalia’s recent history is a tragedy in itself, and this is just the latest chapter.

Most of the country outside the capital of Mogadishu is ruled by the Islamic al-Shabab group, a gang of militant rebels whose name literally means ‘the lads’ in Arabic, a translation that suggests them to be slightly more laidback and easygoing than the grim reality. Al-Shabab has stated that there is no famine, and have refused to allow any foreign aid to enter the affected areas. Obviously their resident statisticians noticed some discrepancies in the UN’s number-crunching.

Being a third-world country whose government is at war with oppressive Islamic militants, you would expect to see some American involvement in the area. Unfortunately though the Somalians have neither oil in the ground nor lithium in the mountains, so don’t expect to see Operation Freedom is Awesome or some other bullshit reach their shores any time soon. The last time the Americans were in Mogadishu was 1993, and they lost eighteen men after a chopper crash, the story that became the book and film Black Hawk Down. It is estimated that 1,000 or so Somalians died that day too, but unfortunately they couldn’t find any African actors with the screen presence of Josh Hartnett so they ignored that side of the story.

Of course the Americans still have a huge presence in that part of Africa, but it’s kept very quiet. Troops in Djibouti are engaged in ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns, which in fairness involve building schools and hospitals. What they also do, however, is train and arm Ethiopian soldiers, many of whom were involved when Ethiopia officially invaded Somalia in 2006. Anything to get rid of an Islamic threat, even when history is literally blue in the face from telling America that arming and training militants in volatile areas will probably backfire at some stage.

The Americans have also had some direct involvement in Somalia over the last few years. In 2006 the CIA handed over shedloads of cash to the same warlords that shot down Josh and the lads in’93, in an effort to persuade them to find some highly sought after terrorists. Needless to say this plan did not end in success. The US has also carried out a number of airstrikes targeting Islamic terrorists in the country. The first was in January 2007 and the Pentagon claimed to have eliminated ‘senior al-Qa’ida leadership’. However, reports from aid workers on the ground stated that the strike had killed a group of innocent civilians grouped around a fire to ward off mosquitoes. At least two more strikes occurred in the following weeks, neither of which were successful either, according to non-American diplomats in the area.

As if it wasn’t a miserable enough place to live after decades of being a tumultuous mixture of decadent, corrupt government, extreme poverty and botched Western intervention, Somalia is now facing the worst drought and famine it has seen in recent times. The refuge centre of Dadaab, in Kenya, has seen over 100,000 Somalians take the dangerous road to its gates already this year, putting the total at 380,000, and growing quickly. The UN and other aid workers do not have enough resources to feed everyone, and tensions are high. Stories abound of refugees being charged a fee to be supplied with food. Rape and assault are widespread. And these are just the people who were lucky enough to escape the country.

The financial response from some wealthy countries has been less than impressive, but then again we’ve seen before that much of this money invariably ends up in the wrong hands. Until structures are in place that ensure the aid actually gets to those who need it, we will have to persist with the band-aid approach whenever a new gaping wound appears, which will be happening all the more frequently in coming years given the impending weather patterns and the expected increase of drought and famine. Ordinary people are generally very generous and the amount raised by charities for African aid on an ongoing basis is laudable, but the reality is that it’s not enough to fix the problem.

The fact is that we live in a world where we can see a documentary about a man who weighs over a thousand pounds and has to be forklifted out of his house because of his own gluttony and stupidity, then minutes later watch a charity appeal that shows an emaciated child too weak to lift its head from starvation and disease. Sympathy and charity is all well and good, but without major governmental change, implementation of proper education systems, and a complete overhaul of Western attitudes towards Africa, all we are doing is easing the suffering ever so slightly, while the situation gets steadily worse.

As a country that had to suffer through a famine of its own long ago we should realise more keenly than most that while certain conditions are inevitable, Western interference in Africa throughout history has almost certainly exacerbated its problems rather than remedied them. A trend which looks set to continue long after this story goes away. Tragedy doesn’t even begin to cover it.


Google Nonplussed

It is only a few years since the world collectively abandoned the sinking ship that was Bebo and flocked like a swarm of slightly bored rats into the arms of Mark Zuckerberg and his slightly bluer, slightly better social networking site, Facebook. After the launch in the past few weeks of Google+, it appears another power shift may be taking place. Not content with shifting the ratio of advertisements to music on their newly acquired YouTube to something in the region of ten million to one, Google have decided they don’t quite own enough of the internet yet and are moving into social networking.

So what improvements have been made that make this new site so much better than Facebook? Well for one thing the geometry is completely different. You can now have your friends in circles instead of those boring linear patterns – I think they call them lists or something – the concept is so outdated now I can’t even remember the name for it. It’s a bold new world out there and all sorts of shit is going to be made out of shapes. Need to send a private message? Just enter your Messaging Cuboid and type away. Want to find someone you met yesterday and said six words to so you can add them as a friend? Just add their name to the Search Hexagon and let it work its magic. Updating your personal data? The Information Dodecahedron will make it a cinch.

The other difference is the +1 button, which is sure to spell the end of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button. Who needs to use a word to express their sentiments when a vague mathematical term will do? You’ve been using the internet for so long you’ve forgotten how to spell anyway. I think it’s a great idea, I really +1 where they’re coming from with that one.

Of course social networking isn’t about communication, it’s about advertising money. Facebook is so attractive to advertisers because it gathers data on its 500 million users and enables companies to target individuals with very specific ads. The way Facebook do this, however, is dependent entirely on user-provided information. You tell Facebook your age, gender, location, likes, dislikes and anything else that defines you as a potential customer, and Marky Mark passes the info onto companies who can then use a simple algorithm to fill your page with personalised ads.

The trouble with Google+ is that it will attempt to gather information on you based on the cookies from your browsing history. And unless you’re one of the three people left who still use Yahoo as a search engine, there’s probably an awful lot of sensitive information contained in your search history. While Facebook is very much a self-contained system where you can choose exactly how much of your privacy to give up, Google is so powerful and has such a massive presence on the internet that it is next to impossible to keep certain information from them.

Since its experimental launch three weeks ago, Google+ has already amassed some 20 million members, so obviously there is a huge market for another social network. It remains to be seen whether Facebook users will leave entirely or just use the new site as an auxiliary form of communication like Twitter. You would think that one outlet to share your not very interesting thoughts with people would be enough, but apparently not. Next thing we know everyone will be writing blogs about any bit of news that they have an opinion on. I wouldn’t +1 that at all.


Follow That Colour Scheme

Our fleet of taxis may soon be following the lead of those in New York, London and many other cities around the world in adopting a common design. The National Transport Authority recently proposed a “distinctive external branding” for the nation’s taxis, “such as a single colour.” This has led to some speculation over which colour we should choose, with The Irish Times seeking suggestions this week as part of a competition. Some of the replies are quite inventive, particularly the one that calls for them to be “painted a weak shade of yellow, to reflect the typical taxi driver’s jaundiced view of the world.”

Picking a colour will be difficult, however; we can’t just copy the iconic yellow of New York, or Britain’s classic black cab design. We need to come up with something original that has some sort of significance for us. Green would appear to be the most appropriate choice, and a post-box green taxi would certainly be very patriotic, as well as being easily recognisable. Though perhaps, seeing as our country is in the red for the foreseeable future, a nice hue of scarlet would be more suitable, symbolising our embarrassment at the excesses of the Celtic Tiger days. Or a deep shade of blue to reflect the mood of the country.

Maybe instead of forcing taxi drivers to accept a uniform colour, we should allow each one to decorate his own cab. No doubt this would lead to a lot of crudely painted Dublin flags and some truly atrocious spelling mistakes, but it could also yield some interesting designs. Given the nationalistic tendencies of many of our taxi drivers, there would inevitably be an awful lot of Irish flags and murals of dead Irish heroes adorning the streets. Imagine being driven home in a massive Bobby Sands memorial on wheels, it would certainly be an edifying experience. Get a history lesson and a ride home for the price of one. But whatever you do, don’t bring any food in with you. And don’t even get me started on the soiling charge.

The chance to design your own taxi would bring some healthy competition to the industry. We all know how much taxi drivers love that. There’d be a scramble at the rank every Friday night to get the Batmobile taxi, or the Ghostbusters taxi, complete with theme music. Getting a lift home would be something to look forward to as opposed to something that has to be endured. Who would mind listening to the driver waffle on about the government if you were being chauffeured home in Doc’s DeLorean? You might even get a few cars designed as giant soap boxes, for any taxi men with a keen sense of irony and self-deprecation. Probably very few on second thought.

There would also be an opportunity to earn the country some much-needed revenue in the form of advertising. Individual taxis could be sponsored by businesses – “If you’re getting the ride tonight, home that is, be safe. Get a Durex cab. We’ll get you there 98% of the time.” Or how about the Guinness taxi, which brings you three quarters of the way, then takes a break for a few minutes before dropping you home. The foreigners will never get the hang of that one though.

It’s doubtful that any of the above ideas will come to fruition, and if a common design is implemented, it probably won’t be very interesting. It is a shame because for such a creative country, most of our streets are rather drab and lifeless, and a splash of colour and imagination would be a welcome change. If the taxis do have to be altered in any way, one thing is for certain: you’ll be paying extra for it. If there is a chance, however, for the driver to add his own little personal touch, there is one very simple message that, if painted on the side of a cab, would ensure that it is always in high demand: “Silence guaranteed.” You couldn’t put a price on that.


Abusing my Religion

An Austrian man has won a long battle with local authorities for the right to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his driver’s license photo. While this may sound like the act of a babbling lunatic, it is in fact a satirical commentary on the special importance given to religion in society. No, really. In Austria any garment which is considered important to one’s religion is allowed to be worn in such photos, and Niko Alm, the man in question, regards himself as a member of the church of Pastafarianism.

Pastafarianism was set up by atheist and agnostic secularists to highlight the ridiculous nature of religion and lobby for separation of religious and state matters. Their deity is a Flying Spaghetti Monster (an updated version of Bertrand Russell’s teapot) and they celebrate festivals like Pastover and Ramendan. Have a look at their Wikipedia page if you have a few minutes, it’s very entertaining. They don’t just make excellent puns, they have also been involved in successful campaigns against the introduction of the teaching of intelligent design in schools.

This case raises the tricky question of what exactly constitutes a religion. As long as states continue to give special treatment to religious groups, it is only logical that people of no particular faith will feel aggrieved, and in extreme cases, invent their own belief system. We may yet see the birth of Matholocism, the world’s most eminent scientists coming together to worship the almighty Pi and the Feast of the Three Decimal Places. Or how about Rizlam, a group of devout ‘rollie’ smokers who reject the way of the pre-manufactured cigarette? Or the followers of Paul Ruddhism, who believe above all in the divine art of understated comedy and being extremely likeable?

While the matter of the pasta strainer was but a small victory for secularists, the issue is much bigger than that, and is now more divisive than ever; countries like France are taking bold, some would say excessive, measures, to ensure the state is fully secular, such as the ban on the wearing of niqabs and burqas in public. At the other end of the spectrum you have Islamist factions in the Middle East fighting to introduce their own interpretation of Sharia law, much of which is an outrageous imposition on human rights, as well as on common sense.

The US is, as always, full to bursting point with extreme opinions from both sides of the argument. Most liberals want to ensure that religion is kept out of schools, government, and the law, and in some southern states in particular, they appear to be fighting a losing battle. On the other side of the debate are the members of the conservative religious right, a scarily massive group of people, many of whom describe themselves as evangelists and espouse creationism, among other things. This group fears the rise of Islam and Sharia law, while without a hint of irony campaigns against evolution, the right to abortion, homosexuality, Harry Potter (seriously), and pretty much anything else that people might want to enjoy. How Christian of them.

Quite how someone who believes the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old is able to breathe without assistance, is just one of the multitude of puzzling questions we’re left with when examining the case for and against secularism. As long as religion remains such a sensitive subject, beyond reproach or ridicule, it will be difficult to excise its influence. Personal faith should, of course, be an inalienable right, but the imposition of religious ideals or convictions on societal matters is wrong, simply because of its biased and subjective nature. Superintendent Chalmers had it right when speaking of Springfield Elementary: “God has no place within these walls, just like facts have no place within organized religion.”

The problem with secularism, even in liberal Western countries where most people agree it is something worth striving for, is how to approach it. The heavy-handed methods of the French, which basically amount to censorship, will likely do more harm than good. Castigating people for their beliefs by forcing them to alter their appearance is a bit much, and will only lead to resentment. While the government’s intentions in this case are understandable, devout believers tend to see this push for fairness as an attack on their faith, and as long as that attitude exists it is hard to see how secularism can become the norm.

At the same time, however, many religious people need to grow up a bit and accept the fact that while they’re free to practise their faith, they do not have a divine right not to be offended, and they should be subject to the same laws as non-religious citizens. The state should not have to tiptoe around certain issues and make allowances just because of some people’s beliefs on how things should be. In a democracy we shouldn’t get to decide unilaterally what other people should or shouldn’t be doing relative to our personal belief system.

So whether people want to have a big gay wedding, watch the news without listening to some contemplative bell-ringing first, or even just draw a picture of some lad who had an epiphany in a cave a millennium and a half ago, they should be allowed to do so. The Flying Spaghetti Monster would want it that way.


Harper’s Bizarre

David and Victoria Beckham have announced the birth of their fourth child, a daughter, who is to be christened Harper Seven. While Harper is by no means a strange name for a child, especially in celebrity circles, the middle name ‘Seven’ is undoubtedly a little odd.

Everyone has, of course, assumed that it refers to Beckham’s former jersey number but that may not necessarily be the case. Perhaps the couple are big fans of the Brad Pitt film of the same name? Although one suspects that if you were to name your child after a film, you wouldn’t choose one where Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head ends up in a box at the end. Maybe being the powerful Hollywood couple they are, the Beckhams enlisted the help of Steve Jobs in creating some sort of android iChild, of which the first six prototypes were deemed to be faulty. It remains to be seen if the Beckhams will have trouble talking to Harper if she’s held at a certain angle. I hope she came with a manual.

Of course unusual baby names are nothing new in the world of celebrity. Zowie Bowie and Moon Unit Zappa, among others, will tell you that. Although the fact that both of their fathers were immersed in the somewhat psychedelic music scene in the 60’s and 70’s may go some way towards explaining the unconventional names. Less understandable is the decision by Jason Lee, the eponymous Earl of My Name is Earl fame, to name his son Pilot Inspektor. Lee is also a Scientologist, and as such believes that humans are immortal beings. Imagine giving your kid that name knowing that he’ll have to live with it for the rest of eternity. The lizard people will take the serious piss out of him for that one if they ever return.

While it has long been the remit of celebrities to bestow outlandish names on their offspring, the practise has also begun to creep into everyday life. It is one thing to have an odd name if your parents are famous and you’re worth millions; it is quite another to be a normal kid living in the suburbs getting the shite knocked out of you at school every day because your hippy parents thought that ‘Rainbow’ had a nice ring to it.

There is an argument, however, that such a name will toughen up the child as a result of all this bullying. John Wayne’s real name was Marion, and look how he turned out. By this reasoning, if you call your first son Princess, he’ll probably turn out to be the next Mike Tyson. Either that or he’ll end up dancing in a cage in a back room somewhere, wearing nothing but a gimp mask and a layer of baby oil and having money thrown at him by bloated Arab sheikhs and inscrutable Japanese businessmen. Both noble careers for any young man, that’s for sure.

In recent years there has been a massive growth in alternative baby names. Americans are huge fans of naming their children after abstract nouns: Hope, Destiny, Faith, etc. You know the world is in a bad way when children are given names that are too ridiculous to be given to dogs. These names also run the risk of becoming hilariously ironic: a militant atheist called Faith, a Harmony who can’t sing a note, a Chastity who’s a bit of a…well, you see where I’m going with this.

Realistically a child’s name should have little or no bearing on the way they turn out, provided it isn’t something outrageous. I can understand people wanting to avoid the old, reliable names in favour of something a little bit more original. Parents have to remember, though, that their child will have to live with their choice, especially during their school years, during which any sign of difference is often mercilessly ridiculed. There is a balance to be found between lazily picking any old popular name and selfishly picking something unconventional because you think it’s profound or funny. Either way, I would like to think that in a few decades time the Johns and Janes of the world will still greatly outnumber the Pilot Inspektors. I certainly hope so.


Ruse of the World

After a long, illustrious history of publishing nonsense and wilfully ignoring the presence of the word ‘privacy’ in the dictionary, the News of the World has finally run out of phone lines to hack and will cease to exist after this Sunday’s edition. This news will no doubt be welcomed by its tabloid rivals, as well as by anyone who values journalistic integrity, intelligent writing and stories that aren’t about Cheryl Cole. It is sad news however for its staff, who must now find another job that values misappropriation of the truth and harassing people on a daily basis. Perhaps they could find work in the PR department of the Communist Party in China? No doubt it would seem a little tame by comparison but I’m sure they could get used to it. As for the paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, apparently he has a small number of other media assets that should just about keep him afloat.

It’s all well and good to denigrate the British tabloids like the News of the World, The Sun and the Daily Mirror. It’s fun, too. But the fact is that these papers sell up to ten times as many copies daily as their broadsheet rivals like The Guardian and The Times. Supply inevitably rises to meet demand, and when demand calls for sensationalist lies, sordid details of the private lives of reality TV ‘stars’, and pictures of tits, the tabloids comply. So are they to be blamed for profiting from a gap in the market? Of course it is not just the content of these papers that infuriates people, but the intrusive actions of the journalists who pester and annoy and practically stalk certain celebrities, some of whom court that kind of media glare, but most of whom do not.

While the phone hacking scandal revolves around illegal activity, many of the most abhorrent practises of these tabloids, including harassment of people, are legal. Any complaint by the affected parties is met with excuses about ‘the freedom of the press’ and is summarily dismissed. One man who was at the forefront of the tabloid press in its halcyon days of the 90’s, and who has an awful lot to answer for, is Piers Morgan. This man built his career by destroying people’s lives when he was with the Mirror and the News of the World and has now somehow become the darling of American television, recently replacing the affable Larry King on his primetime talk show.

Quite how such a horribly smug, unscrupulous, reptilian character has managed to generate anything approaching popularity is quite beyond me. He spent fifteen years thinking up offensive headlines, printing doctored photos, and writing unnecessary books like “To Dream a Dream: The Amazing Life of Philip Schofield.” Contrary to the incredibly original and catchy title, I would imagine there is absolutely nothing amazing, dreamlike, or even booklike, about this particular waste of trees.

In 2006 Morgan took his place as one of the judges on America’s Got Talent, presumably securing the job because he would at least turn up to work less drunk than David Hasselhoff. Appearing on numerous series over the following years, it was breathtakingly obvious to anyone who watched that Morgan was an utterly charmless and manipulative individual, whose very deliberate and studied “I’m a cranky toff and you’re all inbred hicks” act was basically just a bad impression of Simon Cowell. He now spends his time being fawned over by drooling middle-American reality TV aficionados, and engaging minor celebrities in pointless, inarticulate Twitter arguments.

Morgan’s rise is an example not only of the power of the tabloid press, but also of the acceptance of its presence in society. The questionable methods used to serve up the latest gossip and scandal have been allowed to continue, with the line only being drawn recently at phone-tapping. Female celebrities, in particular, have to deal with being followed around by greasy little paparazzi, who instantly look to press charges if anyone comes near them or their precious camera. God forbid they should lose that photo they took this morning of Katie Price yawning, or that action shot of Lily Allen tying her shoelace. It is also nearly exclusively females who are accosted every time they enter or exit a car by photographers pointing cameras up their skirts. Although as awful as this is, all I can say is thank God we live in a world where it’s Cheryl Cole’s crotch and not Louis Walsh’s bollocks that sells magazines. Well, not those kinds of magazines anyway.

Ultimately we have to look past the likes of Morgan and Murdoch, who, while being amoral and exploitative in the extreme, are simply giving people what they want. When looking to vilify someone over the prevalence of such low standards of journalism and professionalism, the blame must ultimately lie with the consumer. As long as there are people whose fixation with celebrities extends to what they wear to the shops, which footballer they’re attached to this week, and other such banal aspects of their carefully stage-managed public lives, there will be Heat magazine, Piers Morgan and tabloid newspapers. The rest of us will just have to be thankful for the modicum of intelligent news reporting that is left to us. If it ever gets to the stage where The Guardian is printing pictures of Ed Miliband’s cellulite on his holiday to Marbella, I’m officially announcing the end of the human race. Stay tuned.